Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What? No Candles?

Good news. You’re peeking into my writing corner on a good day. Bad days there are dirty coffee cups stack
ed like a Jenga game on the desk, chewed bits of paper on the floor (from my dog, not my anguish), and research books laying around like dead little soldiers.

As you can see, there aren’t a whole lot of romantic inspirations on those two walls. No photos of dashing young heroes—that’s what Pinterest is for. Here’s my hero board. There’s not a cut-glass bowl of dark chocolates. Hah! As if that would last even two minutes. And you’ll notice there are no candles or soft fabric or fresh flowers. So, what in the world inspires me to write romance? Two things that are invisible . . .

Music

Spotify is my usual haunt that I play in the background as I write. For each of my stories, I make up a soundtrack. Here’s the one for Brentwood’s Ward. Or check out my playlists on Spotify under mmgriep. Almost always it’s instrumental music that makes my mind wander and heart melt. Think about some of your favorite movies. It’s not just the story and visuals that touch a person’s soul. Music has a way of crawling into the deepest parts of the human psyche.

Scent

I’m not a hippie, but there are some lingering aftereffects of being born in the 60’s. I love the smell of patchouli, myrhh, and lavender. Not all mixed together, though. That would make me sneeze. The thing is that writing is sensual, and no, not in the 50 Shades of Grey kind of way. I’m talking the five senses. Engaging all the senses tends to make me enter into a scene more realistically and/or romantically. Sounds kind of mystical, eh? Not really. Studies have shown time and again that the brain fires all its pistons (disclaimer: my technical term for a big word I can’t pronounce) better when the senses are engaged.

There’s your peek into my little writing corner of the world. I admit, though, there is a chair in the corner at my local Starbucks that’s a little worn from my behind as well.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Last Stop on the Giveaway Train

This is it. Today's the day. The Goodreads Giveaway train is about to leave the station. Don't miss your chance to get on board the steam engine rolling down the tracks to El Freebo Ville. You've got until midnight tonight to scoop up a free copy of WRITER OFF THE LEASH: GROWING IN THE WRITING CRAFT.

Click HERE.

Whisper

What if the words
YOU ARE LOVED
went down deep inside
if you swallowed them
and they became part of you?
What if you camped on those words?
Allowed them to soak in every part of your life?
How different things would look.
Not nearly as scary or depressing.
You'd have more compassion spilling out to others
because you'd have nothing to prove
no pretense
no fear.
And yet you are loved
whether or not you chew and taste
and fall back in the grass bloated with those words.
Oh, God,
help us to hear that whisper.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Pomodoro Technique

When I think pomodoro's, I think a whopping big can of tomatoes at the center of a table that the server sets a hot pizza on. So when I first heard of the Pomordoro Technique, my tummy started growling. Fat Lorenzo's here I come!

But yeah, just like when I thought pilates was some kind of pastry, I was totally wrong about the Pomodoro Technique as well. Turns out it's a fantastic way to manage your time.

All you do is set a timer (preferably one of those cute plastic tomato types) for 25 minutes, then spend that time slot working like crazy nuts on whatever task it is you want to accomplish. The key is not to do anything else for those minutes, and when the timer dings, take a break. A short one. After 4 sessions you're allowed to take a longer one.

There are several benefits touted by users of the Pomodoro Technique . . .

  • Regular, short breaks can revitalize the brain, meaning you ought to be more creative and productive.
  • It forms a habit of focusing on a task by working in short, intense bursts.
  • Helps you plan your time more effectively.

I haven't tried the Pomodoro Technique myself, yet. But it's a great excuse to go out and buy a cute little tomato timer.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

5 Sites That Make Me Smile

This week I'm tooling around the country, wreaking general havoc wherever I go. Okay, so really I'm in Seattle for a friend's wedding, but hey, it's a good time and I'd like to share the smiles with you. Check out some of my favorite sites . . .

One-Star Book Reviews
Sure, my books have been dissed by grumbly readers, but so have the greats, and this site has great 1-star reviews of classic books. And nothing is sacred. Even the Cat in the Hat takes a hit.

Silk
An interactive art generator. Just squiggle the mouse around and whammo, you're a Picasso. You can also change the settings to try different colors, mirror techniques, or spiralling. And if you hold down the cursor, it keeps on designing.

Koalas to the Max
Not only is this another interactive art generator, it's also a hypnotizer, super-stress reliever, and possibly a portal into an alternate reality. Okay, so really it's a big circle that splits into a bajillion others as you move the mouse around, but what the heck? Why is this so calming? Ditch the pyschotropic drugs and just go to this site.

Pointer Pointer
This one's interactive, but it's got nothing to do with art and everything to do with a pointer finger. Just hover your mouse anywhere on the screen and shazam! A photo pops up with someone pointing their finger at the exact spot you chose. Yeah, it's stupid, but in a highly entertaining way.

Coldplay Turtle
Speaking of entertaining, turn your volume up and watch this YouTube. Could just be my twisted sense of humor, but this one makes me laugh every time.

Anyone here brave enough to share some of your favorite sites? Paste a link into the comment section and I promise I'll visit them. After all, I am on vacation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Get Over It

Whenever I tell someone I'm an author, immediately following the deer-in-the-headlights stare, the person I'm talking to invariably says, "Hey! I've got this great story idea."

To which I reply, "Then you should write it."

That's when Mr. Slump Shoulders takes over, and the person wilts in front of me. "Yeah, I should." Then they slink off into the sunset, and I know that book will never get written. Why? Three reasons . . .

Overthinking
Yeah, I get it. Thinking about writing a book can suck the living breath right out of the hidey holes deep down in the caverns of your lungs. No, really, I get it. If I dwell on the magnitude of work it takes to write a book, I'd curl up in the fetal position, too. So here's what you have to do . . . just say no to your gnarly thoughts. You don't have to have every plot point figured out, research a bajillion books, know all the characters and their motivations and what they like to eat for breakfast before you start writing a novel. Those things can be added in on later drafts.

Overstressing
Lots of people start writing a book, but then they make the same mistake I did when I first began -- going over, and over, and over the first few chapters, trying to perfect them. That's when it hits you upside the head that you're not perfect, and neither are your words. Stress sets in as you try to rearrange phrases, sentences, paragraphs, your rubber duck collection, and all of it crashes in on you, landing you in the corner with your thumb stuck in your mouth as you call for your mama. As tempting as it is to make sure you've got things right before you move on, here's a piece of advice for you . . . MOVE ON! Write the first draft. It won't be perfect. It doesn't have to be. It's a freaking first draft for crying out loud so cut yourself some slack.

Overwriting
Some people barf words on a page like a drunk who's been on a month long binge. I'm talking word explosion. Descriptions of characters down to their nostril hairs. Entire narratives on how the wind sounds in the beech trees at sunset. Pages and pages and pages of dialogue about the heroine's favorite tea and why darjeeling trumps earl grey. To which I say, "Stop the madness." Cut the crap. Fight the urge to let your fingers run too wild on the keyboard.

If you can get over these three writerly hurdles, then you, my friend, will soon be the proud parent of a brand spanking new manuscript.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

5 Non-Negotiable Hero Traits

I finally got around to finishing up last season's Downton Abbey. I'm still behind a season on Person of Interest, but that doesn't come out on DVD until August. That means I'm on the prowl for something to fill the void for the occasional freakish moments when I can actually park my heinie on the couch and watch a show.

So I flicked on the first episode of Hell on Wheels. I know. I hear you. What's a good Christian girl like me doing watching a show with a filthy title like that? It's just a title, so cut me some slack. Yeah, it's a stupid name, but hold on . . . it was the premise that hooked me.

The story is the Civil War has just ended and it's the great race to build the transcontinental railroad (hence the sensational stupid name). I'm not a railroad buff, nor a Civil War junkie, but the story part I was most interested in is the hero, Cullen Bohannon. His wife was killed during the war by some rogue soldiers and he's out for revenge. I'm a huge Count of Monte Cristo fan, so that's why I was super excited to watch this. Despite my enthusiasm, though, one episode was enough. Why?

Because I didn't like the hero.

Don't get me wrong. The actor, Anson Mount, is a hunka-hunka, so no complaints in the eye candy department. But his character is kind of a jerk. Oh, he's got the smoldering looks and the grief of losing his wife, but doggone it, within the first 5 minutes he shoots a guy in the forehead at point black range, in a church, in a freaking confessional booth. Really? That's not a very endearing quality for a hero, which brings me to my point . . . there are some qualities a hero MUST have.

5 Non-Negotiable Hero Traits

1. Like-ability
Just because a hero's special someone is dead and he's grieving doesn't make him likable. Show him petting a puppy or helping an old lady across the street or something.

2. Honorability
Shooting someone in the head is not an honorable act. If a reader or viewer can't root for the main character because they're ticked off the hero is a cold-blooded killer, then Hoss, we have a huge problem. Deep down everyone wants to cheer for virtue and nobility.

3. Purpose
A hero needs a purpose in life other than checking off a list of who he's going to kill. He's got to have a goal that's respectable. Capping people off is not a good aspiration.

4. Truth Lover
First and foremost, a hero must be a lover of truth, one who will forsake half-truths, deceit, and seek to find out the facts before he acts.

5. Compassionate
Can you relate to an unemotional automaton? Yeah, me either. Heroes care, not in a teary-eyed, sniffly manner, of course, but in a deeply emotional, heart-wrenching fashion. If the hero doesn't care about others, then it's just as likely the reader (and/or viewer) won't care about him.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Strategy for Becoming Anti-Social

I've got some exciting -- as in blow-the-wang-doodlers-and-kick-up-your-heels kind of exciting -- news that's about to hit the fan sometime soon. Don't worry. I'll warn you first so you can suit up in a plastic poncho.

Anyway, the dealio for me is that I've worked myself into a corner in which I must suddenly become anti-social because I need gobs of alone time. Sure, I could just quit showering and eat garlic at every meal, but honestly, my family has banned me from that maneuver. It didn't go over so well last time I tried it. And so instead, I give you . . .

3 Tips to Become Anti-Social

Step Away From the Internet
As great as the wonderful world wide web can be, the flip side is that it's a giant, sucking, creepy monster making sloppy wet smacking noises every time it hoovers up minutes of your life. If you've got an internet twitch that makes you check your email or Facebook or iwastesomuchtime, then it might be worth it to invest a few bucks over at Freedom or Anti-Social. These are just a few sites that are set up to block digital distractions.

Say No
I'm from Minnesota. Minnesotans are nice. Therefore, I should be nice and never turn anyone down, right? Uh, no. As hard as this is to grasp, saying no is sometimes the nicest thing you can do, especially if you've made a commitment elsewhere and get sidetracked from keeping that commitment.

Stick to Your Schedule
Unless the zombie apocalypse breaks loose, force yourself to accomplish your task, whatever it may be. Write it onto your daily planner, in blood if you must, and just do it. No, really. Just freaking do it. You're the only one who can make yourself accomplish what you've set out to do, so don't go blaming others or busyness or Bush. Just. Do. It.

Those are a few ideas I'll be trying during this crazy season. What are some of your favorite ways to become anti-social?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Now

It's enormous to consider the now;
it's opening a door,
one with a sign hanging from it,
smack center,
that reads "e-m-o-t-i-o-n-s."
It might hurt to live in the now.
It's risky.
I gasp.
Maybe that's what faith is for.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bookish Father's Day Ideas

Yo, buddy. Father's Day is Sunday. That gives you a few days to whip up a present for good ol' daddy-o. Need some creative ideas? Watch this . . .


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Randomly Assorted Writing Hacks

You know those Ikea make-it-yourself furniture kits, the ones that contain a plastic bag filled with screws and wingnuts and those goofy-butt thingamabobs that require hex keys? Picture in your mind dumping that bag onto the floor. See the mess?

Yep. That's what you're getting here at Writer Off the Leash today. No, not a new bookshelf. I'm talking a heaping pile of assorted writerly hardware-type stuff all heaped into a mess for you to sort out. Ready?

10 Completely Unrelated Writing Hacks

  • Don't stall out when you're writing by taking a detour into researching something you're not sure of. Just highlight the part and go back to it later, otherwise you'll hijack your daily word count.
  • Say no. Go ahead. Open your lips and force air past your vocal chords. Don't treat your writing like a hobby. You don't have to be queen of the carpool or king of the laundry pile. Cut out extraneous activities from your schedule. Do not feel guilty for pursuing your passion.
  • Before you start writing new material, re-read the page where you left off to refresh your memory and ground yourself back into the story.
  • Your story doesn't stop when you close your laptop. Think about your story throughout the day, even when you're not writing. You just might come up with a new plot twist or a character quirk.
  • Read your work out loud. You might want to do this when no one is around, though.
  • Read. Good writers are readers.
  • You don't have to write your story in order. You can hop around.
  • Ignore the naysayers, or punch them in the head if you must. Ain't nobody got time for negativity.
  • Set realistic goals but stretch that realism now and then. For example, once you've mastered writing 700 words a day, go for 800, then 900 and so on.
  • Dark chocolate. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Getting Stuck on the Perfection Spin Cycle

"You're not in the perfect business. 
Stop pretending that's what the world wants from you."
Perfection causes fear.
Fear causes paralysis.
Paralysis sucks the creativity out of you.
Have you ever been stuck in this crazy spin cycle?

If so, here's the deal . . . there is no perfect writing. Don't even go there. Beating yourself up when you write something because you think other authors could put the words together better than you is a big, fat lie. How can anyone be creative when they're stifled with that kind of pressure?

You don't need to write perfectly. You just need to write. 
Print that out on a sticky note and slap it on your computer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Goodreads Giveaway


Happy birthday to me . . . and you! Yep, you heard me right. Today is my birthday and what better way to celebrate than partying with y'all? Today is the kickoff of a 2 week giveaway for a few signed copies of Writer Off the Leash: Growing in the Writing Craft.

Here's a blurb:

Are you a writer at heart? How can you tell? And if you are, how do you go about composing and selling the next Great American Novel? WRITER OFF THE LEASH-Growing in the Writing Craft answers these questions and more-all in an easy to understand, tongue-in-cheek style. This is more than a how-to book. It's a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn't know how to take their writing to the next level. Award-winning author MICHELLE GRIEP blows the lid off stodgy old-school rulebooks and makes it clear that writing can-and should-be fun.

So pop on over to Goodreads to enter and spread the cheer with everyone you know. Who doesn't like to score a free book whether it's their birthday or not?


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Writer Off the Leash by Michelle Griep

Writer Off the Leash

by Michelle Griep

Giveaway ends June 30, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Monday, June 15, 2015

Bad Headlines

I read a headline this weekend that said:
Judy Blume and Stephen King Debut the Indie Bestseller List

What are the first thoughts that run through your head when you read that? What do you think the article is going to be about?

At first I thought Judy Blume and Stephen King were teaming up to write a debut novel, in the sense that it would be the first book co-written by them together. And I was like, what the crap? That's an unlikely pair. Would the story be about an angst-filled teenager coming of age as a serial killer? And if so, what other unlikely authorly combinations would we see coming down the pike . . . Francine Rivers and J. K Rowling? Nicholas Sparks and Ted Dekker? Me and Maurice Sendak? How does one co-write with a dead person?

Which makes absolutely no sense, so I started to think that maybe I was off-track. I re-read the headline. Oh yeah. Now I see what it's about. Judy Blume has gone indie and so has Stephen King. They've both self-published a book. That's what it's all about.

Nope. Wrong again. That's not at all what it's about.

The point of the article was that small, independent bookstores have a list of what's selling the most in their stores, and Judy Blume and Stephen King are at the top of the list. Oh. Sheesh. Why didn't they just say that to begin with?

Well, they thought they did, and therein lies the problem every writer faces. What is so clear in your mind can come out all wonky and mean something completely different to a reader. This is why a great editor is to be adored, given Godiva chocolates, have their toes licked for crying out loud. If know an editor like this, send them a thank you card today. If you have a critique buddy who catches your glitches, pop a card in the mail to them as well. We can stamp out the problem of bad headlines one thank you at a time.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Joyless

"No man can live without joy."
~ Thomas Aquinas

There are zombies among us.
Living, breathing, dead.
Those who have no joy.
They feed off others,
devouring to fill their own emptiness and thirst.
Envy. Strife. Fear.
Easy to point a finger, cast a label, throw a stone,
but how many times do I willfully turn my back on joy
even when it's handed to me on a cross?
When trouble knocks on my door, trials bump into me,
tribulation breaks like a thunder cloud over my head,
that's when choosing joy is hardest
and it's easier to walk the day in glassy-eyed despair.
But rejoice is a verb.
An action.
A choice.
What will you choose today?

"Rejoice in the LORD, always. Again, I say rejoice."
~ Philippians 4:4

Friday, June 12, 2015

Need Some Therapy?

I read a news article the other day that claimed reading can help relieve stress. Well, duh. This is news? Apparently bibliotherapy is all the rage as a form of psychological treatment to promote healing. But it got me curious about what other kinds of therapies are out there, so I did a little research . . .

Coma Therapy
In 1927, Dr. Manfred Sakel accidentally put one of his patients into a coma. When the patient (who was also a morphine addict) woke up, suddenly her cravings were gone. So he tried it again with another addict, and voila. Instant cure for addiction . . . for those who lived through it, anyway.

Rotational Therapy
This little gem of a treatment straps the patient down on a board and spins them around. Originally this was used for mental disorders, but it was found that it's really good for treating respiratory illnesses.

Urine Therapy
Eew. You really want me to explain this one?

Snake Therapy
Anyone up for a snake massage? Of course, if snakes are a huge fear of yours, this probably won't work out so great to relax you.

Coining
Theoretically, scraping or rubbing a coin against the body is supposed to cure fever, colds or pain. Personally, you might just want to use those coins to pick up some ibuprofen.

Bee Sting Therapy
Bee venom contains anti-inflammatory properties that can help with diseases such as arthritis. I'm not convinced that getting stung hurts any less than that, though.

Rebirthing Therapy
This one involves lots of breath work. This breathing supposedly allows one to let go of current problems by recalling aspects of birth to release unwanted emotions.

I know. Right? Weird. Interesting, though, that I didn't come across any Ben & Jerry's therapy. Hey, maybe I should invest in a freezer, put up a shingle and an open sign, and see what happens. Want an appointment?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Embrace your Weirdness

"I don't pretend to be captain weird. 
I just do what I do."
~ Johnny Depp

I don't have teenagers around the house anymore since my baby turned twenty. But when my four punks were, well, punks, not a day went by when one of them didn't say, "Mom, you're weird." It was a badge of honor. Who wants to be told they're normal? What? You do?
Didn't you know there are perks to being a bit eccentric?

The Top 3 Benefits of Being Weird

Except for a few tight-laced, pinch-lipped snobs, weirdness creates community.
When you reveal your true colors, it's a beacon to others, allowing them the freedom to let down their guard and be their real selves.

It's a time saver.
Flying your freak flag high and in sight either repels or attracts people, which prevents wasting time on a relationship that wouldn't pan out anyway.

Your perspectives stand out from the crowd.
Competition is fierce in publishing and many other career choices. It's a tough economy all the way around. If you want to make an impression, being your genuine self is always the best way to go.

If you're a writer, an artist, a musician, or entertainer, being a tad off the wall is kind of a given. But even if you're not pursuing any of those careers, go ahead and embrace your weirdness. Nobody likes a poser.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

10 Reasons to Become a Writer

You enjoy getting punched in the head with crappy reviews.

The story ideas and voices in your head won't shut up no matter how many drugs you take.

You always wanted a job with a pajama dress code.

Your health insurance doesn't cover psychotherapy.

Writer is a more desirable label than unemployed loser.

Because you have control issues and possibly a freakish desire to play god.

The commute is easy peasy.

You stink at science and math so neurosurgeon and/or astrophysicist are out of the question.

You'd like to leave some kind of legacy other than a trail of empty candy bar wrappers and Starbucks cups.

Fame and money. Just kidding.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On Losing A Contest

Recently I had a friend email me (yes, contrary to popular belief I do actually have friends). She was in wound licking mode, having received contest scores on her submission that blew a cannonball right through her writerly sails. I hate it when that happens. Why do we give so much power to nameless "experts?" Why do we live and die by the criticism of others?

And why do we assume the best writing will win an award in the first place?

Here's the deal, folks . . . writing is subjective. That means what one person loves, another will hate. That's how art is. I can look at a piece of contemporary vomit on a canvas and walk away feeling like I've just viewed the results of an artist who slugged back one too many beers. But others will look at the same picture and feel all warm and squiggly inside, and it just might inspire them to pick up a paintbrush themselves.

Before you go hanging the Negative Nelly name placard around my neck and lock me in the stocks, I'm not naysaying against contests. Awards are great, but the vast majority of writers never win any. As in zero. As in el big fatto zippo. Nada. None. Just because you lose a contest doesn't mean you're a crappy writer. All it means is that you lost a contest. End of story.

Awards are not your validation that you're a writer. Your written story is your validation that you're a writer. Go ahead and lick your wounds, but then get back out there and write.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Price of Privilege

It's a rare book that pulls me out of reality and immerses me in a story world so much that I'll willingly park my heinie on a chair and allow the world to go by. It's an even rarer author who writes so beautifully that my eyes get all watery and I want to throw away my laptop because I know I'll never be able to pen such haunting prose. Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta is just such a book.

Here is a taste of some of the word pictures taken from the story . . .

Thus we were caught up in our daily affairs like dogs running at full speed, when reality finally pulled hard on our leashes, catching us by surprise.

I felt as though I were walking over a slippery beam as I crossed the chamber on Isaac's arm.

Tormented eyes searched mine. It seemed as if, on the other side of an unreachable shore, Isaac was silently screaming and pleading for help behind his polished mask. Then his eyes went vacant as if something vital had died inside him.

This book took guts to write. It's not an easy thing to kill off a beloved character (don't worry, no spoiler as to whom), nor is it a piece of cake to expose layer after layer of hurt caused most often by verbal but sometimes physical abuse. Make no mistake, this is not a light read. That being said, this trilogy is on my keeper shelf because the story and the characters demand they will not be sent away.

If you love historical fiction and really want to get a feel for Victorian England, from the pulpy street view to the upper echelons of society, then run -- don't dawdle -- to the nearest bookstore and snatch yourself up a copy.

Friday, June 5, 2015

It's Normal to Feel Like a Loser

So you're writing a novel, la-de-dah. Typing away like a rock star. Day after day after day.

After day.

And then, out of nowhere, whap! A horrific thought slaps you upside the head, yanking you out of the story and paralyzing you so that your daily word count takes a serious nosedive. Suddenly you wonder if you're an author, that maybe all the things you write are just slobbery bits of drivel bubbling out of you. Panic sets in. Perhaps you're not a for-real writer. Maybe you're an imposter. A poser. An orangutan mimicking kissy noises in front of a mirror. Or worse -- maybe the zombie apocalypse really did happen and you're nothing but a body operating on rote memory because shoot, if you read what you've written, those words certainly look like a person with no brain wrote them.

Or maybe you're just a loser.

Never fear, little writer. I'm here to tell you that you're not a loser. You're normal. Every writer hits this point at some time in every single manuscript they write -- and sometimes more than once. Hating your writing and feeling like pond scum is par for the course. Why?

Because creation is the process of making something out of nothing, and that something takes blood, sweat, and tears to mold into a beautiful masterpiece. 

Think about this . . . Babies don't pop out of their mothers all smiley faced and swaddled in fluffy rubber ducky blankies. They come out screaming and howling, all mucked up with oobie-goobies and require a good cleaning and lots of love. You don't think that mom had second doubts during the heat of labor? She'd have packed up and gone home at that point if she could.

That's how it works for your story, too. Don't pack it up. Press on through the birth pains. Push out that ugly butt story so that it can be cleaned off and wrapped up into a beautiful book cover.

The only way out is through, folks, no matter how you feel. Take your hand off your forehead (yes, I see that big "L" you're making with your forefinger and thumb) and get those fingers on your keyboard instead.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Amateur Hacks

"Criticism is easy to do, but rarely worth listening to, mostly because it's so easy to do."
~ Seth Godin

If you're bent on writing a scathing review here's a piece of advice: have someone else read it before you post it, or you might end up looking like an idiot.

Case in point . . . I received a review on Goodreads the other day from a disgruntled reader who wasn't happy with my latest release, Brentwood's Ward. The big grump was all about the clothes on the cover model because the reader thought it looked like she was wearing a kid's coat. Uh . . . no. That "kid's coat" is called a spencer and was all the rage in Regency England, making the model's clothing period appropriate. Chalk up a point for the amateur hack who wrote that review.

Critical reviews are a necessary part of the literary game and are useful for authors to grow in their writing skill. But (and I've always got a big but) writing a critical review takes a bit of finesse. Here are some pointers so the next time you feel you need to point out shortcomings in a book, you won't look like a fool.

5 Things to Do When Writing a Disparaging Review

1. Attack the writing, not the writer.
If you feel the writing is schlocky, using way too much telling versus showing, employing an overkill of adverbs, or whatever, then go ahead and say so. But don't go beating up the author by calling them ugly names or slurring their mother. It's the writing you didn't like, not the writer.

2. Be honest and fair.
Okay, so you hated the hero and went into a rage because the dog got killed off. But if you really think about it, you did kind of like the plot twist at the end. Don't just be a hater. Be fair and say what you liked as well.

3. Be humble.
Writing and reading are subjective. What you think is a stinker of a tale is another reader's favorite. Newsflash: you are not God. State your opinion in a winsome manner.

4. Be specific.
Sweeping statements aren't useful to the author or to other readers. What exactly did you not like about the book? Spell it out.

5. Edit.
If your review is full of grammar or spelling errors, no one will take it seriously.

There you have it. Follow those rules next time you must blast a book so you don't end up looking like an amateur hack.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Do You Live in a Well-Read City?

I live in Minneapolis, which is known for several things . . . crazy liberal politicians, the shopping mecca Mall of America, and it's the land of 10,000 lakes (and a corresponding mosquito population). Theater is big here, but apparently not reading. Minneapolis did not make the cut of the top 10 well-read cities in America.

Did yours? Read on to find out.

A recent study done by the mother of all booksellers -- Amazon -- measured sales for both print and Kindle formats from April 2014 through April 2015 and here are the results:

10. Louisville, KY
9. Denver, CO
8. Albequerque, NM
7. San Francisco, CA
6. Austin, TX
5. Washington, DC
4. Tucson, AZ
3. Las Vegas, NV
2. Portland, OR

And in the number one slot where the most readerly beasts reside is Seattle, WA.
So, did your city make the cut?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pitching Pointers

It’s writers conference season. That means there’s a whole lot of angst-filled author wannabes out there, biting their fingernails down to stubs . . . which makes it super hard to type anything.

Not that it’s scary to go to a conference, mind you. The real terror sets in when it’s story-pitching time. Sitting across from a god-like agent or editor who can crush you faster than the bat of an eyelash—or fast-track you to stardom—is a bit daunting. But never fear, little writers. I’m here for you, and today we’re going to talk a bit about your pitch, your one-line, your grabber . . . whatever you want to label it. Here’s the deal: you need to be able to tell your story in one sentence, and that sentence needs a few elements to reel in that editor.
3 Pitch Perfect Pointers

Snarky
Not as in sarcastic, but as in ironic. The best pitches are those that incorporate the opposites attract theory because whammo! Imminent conflict instantly grabs a person’s attention. See if you can find the irony/snark in the following:

A 17th century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where a roguish yet charming pirate captain teams up with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England’s daughter to reclaim his ship.

The irony here is a pirate is going to save a proper lady, and yes, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

Succinct
Every word counts in a pitch, so make the most of them. Yeah, you’ll sweat buckets of blood while working this out, but in the end, it’s worth it because you’ll be able to state the soul of your story in one sentence while other wannabes will babble themselves into oblivion. Example:

A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea.

There you have Titanic in 18 words.

Cinematic
Paint a picture in the listener’s mind so that they can visualize your novel, and I guarantee you, you’ll make an impression. Keep it simple and use common words that everyone’s had experience with. Example:

A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife when her office building is taken over by terrorists.

Can’t you just see the tough-guy cop taking on the masked, heavily armed bad guys? Shoot, I can even see the wife hiding underneath a cherrywood desk, and I’ve never even watched Die Hard.


If you incorporate these three tips next time you write a pitch, you’ll be a step ahead of the rest of the writerly bunch. Sure, you’ll still have nails gnawed down to the quick, but even so, you just might land yourself a contract.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Save the Cat!

Those who know me well know that I hate cats. Yeah, I realize that statement alienates fifty percent of the population, but cut me some slack here. I grew up with a feline demon from hell who looked for opportunities to jump out of nowhere just to take a chunk out of my flesh with his sharp pointy teeth and used my bed as his litter box.

Nevertheless, my new favorite writing craft book is Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. Technically it's a screenwriter's how-to but the principles are spot-on for fiction writers as well. It doesn't actually have anything at all to do with cats, crazy cat ladies, kitty litter, cat naps or catsup. The title comes from a principle all great stories should have . . .

"Liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story."

And that is accomplished by "saving a cat," so to speak. This is the scene, somewhere near the beginning, wherein the reader meets the hero and the hero does something heroic -- like saving a cat. This act defines who the hero is and makes the audience like him.

Need an example? In my current WIP, the reader meets a law officer whose assignment is to go undercover to figure out who the traitor is. That's the first scene, which lets you know who he is and what he's doing. The second scene shows him noticing a scam artist taking the last coin from a young boy at a carnival game. He exposes the scoundrel and makes him give the boy his money back. What's not to love about that heroic act? Bonus: this principle works for heroines as well.

Think about the stories you love most. Did the hero (or heroine) do something that endeared you to him/her at the beginning of the tale? Chances are your answer is heck yeah. Next time you set out to write the Great American Novel, start the story with a cat-saving incident. Your readers will love it.

 
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