Friday, April 30, 2010

Rejection Is So Yesterday

As I prepare to start pitching to agents in the coming months, I anticipate plenty of rejections along the way. I know they’re coming, but I’m nonplussed. Right now, I’m more concerned about pulling together a 25-word capsule (the infamous elevator pitch), updating my query letter, and making sure there’s nary a typo in my manuscript.

Rejection is where all writers--all people, really--come together, after all. It comes in all shapes and forms, doesn’t it? The longer you live, the more of it you’ve experienced. If I were a more youthful writer, I’d probably be more emotional about it. (That is, I was more emotional about it at one time.) But these days, it’s like a ding on the car door. Annoying, but quickly forgotten.

Unless I can learn something from it. Remember my story about the boss who called me into her office to discuss the typos in my emails? Well, I have to say, I’m kind of OCD about typos now. In a good way, I hope. (You should see my to-do lists. Such penmanship!) We can learn a lot from a sincere rejection when we’re willing to stop, listen, and be humble.

Stories abound of famous authors, past and present, who received plenty of rejections before making it big. Or authors who were ridiculed in their own lifetimes then their books became required reading in later generations.

It helps that I know many accomplished authors, published and unpublished, who’ve amassed their own heaps of rejection letters. It doesn’t mean their books aren’t worthy. In fact, the inverse is often true. I’ve lost count of all the awful books I’ve read and wondered, “how did this one make it??”

Stephen King has a great story in his inspiring book, On Writing, about collecting his rejection letters in a box until it overflowed. If I recall correctly, he had to get another box. And look at him now—the most successful writer in the world.

So yeah, I’m nonplussed. Though you might want to check back with me in a couple months.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rejection? A question of culture...

It was reinforced to me, today, as I spent a pleasurable few hours lecturing about change and the management of change to a very important student of the educational institute I am now a member of, that we can never take anything for granted. Cultural differences separate us all. Even in the confines of a single village, there are differences. And don’t get me talking about the two nations – the UK and the US - separated by a common language! (And I say this with affection!)

[caption id="attachment_2369" align="alignright" width="70" caption="This has nothing to do with rejection - but it is a good book!"][/caption]

There is a quote from a philosopher, MacIntyre, that I frequently use in talking about culture: ‘I am brother, cousin and grandson, member of this household, that village, this tribe… These… characteristics… [define] partially at least and sometimes wholly my obligations and my duties.’

So, where am I going with a discussion on culture in relation to a post on Rejection? Stay with me, friends – I will make this short. It is, after all, (as I sit here typing this post) late here in good old London, England. And I have been out networking and drinking wine!

Back to the subject at hand.

Together with the reinforcement of my belief in the richness of value in cultural difference, I received an email of a post from a fellow UK writer and writing consultant. (I will not name her here). And a timely post it was – on the subject of rejection.

The post attempted, in all good faith, to interpret various rejection letters in answer to a question: “what do letters actually mean?” A couple of examples might help here:

Q: What does "We regret we're unable to take on any new writers," mean?

A: Exactly that. Have they read your pitch? Probably not.

Q: What does "Your synopsis and opening chapter have promise, but we already have a similar author on our list," mean?

A: You are right to feel encouraged. They can see the potential in your work.

[caption id="attachment_2374" align="alignright" width="124" caption="Neither has this. But I liked it the last time, too!"][/caption]

You get the picture.

But what can we actually say? Is it right to try and interpret such rejection letters? To try and read something into the words that have been written? To suggest there might (or might not) be some ray of hope trapped inside?

I would argue that there really is no point in trying to decipher a rejection letter. We cannot, as an individual (because of all the variety of differences that make up our individual cultural profiles) really know what someone is trying to say in the space of a few lines of bland English typed on some fairly nondescript parchment.

Is this bad news?

NO! A great big resounding NO!

The rejection letter in your hand has been written by one individual in this world of individuals. There are one heck of a lot of other individuals out there who would like to read what you have to say. So do not take a rejection letter to heart. Keep trying; submit more. Or, if you are impatient like me, you can always publish yourself these days – but then that is a subject for another week.

Happy writing, and don’t worry about rejections. JK Rowling – one of our more famous UK authors - was rejected many times!

And in the words of Donald Sutherland, in Kelly’s Heroes, “Quit the negative waves, Moriarty” :)

You Can’t Handle the Truth

Rejection by publishers and agents is the least of a writer’s worries these days. What disturbs me is the changing industry and what the Internet has done to create a means to avoid rejection.

Self-publishing is on the rise thanks to the Internet. It’s a quicker path and unless you decide to reject yourself, publication is a sure thing. Some writers are also following this path in hopes of being noticed by large publishers. Reading Jim C. Hines novel survey results shows this isn't the case. But what will the future hold with more self-published novels out there? I’m more inclined to believe these books will be reduced back to manuscript level and publishers will be even less interested in weeding through them.

It used to mean something to win contests, but they're popping up all over the Internet, not necessarily from a reputable group. The Courier is a perfect example. I don’t expect the contest I co-won to hold much weight with a publisher, considering the contest is run by my agent.

How can authors possibly accept rejection when they have so many social networks to feed their egos? I’ve even heard about authors creating fictitious followers they use to comment on their own blog to make themselves look more popular. Huh? There are also those writers who pester (or should I say stalk) everyone on the social sites to increase fans or followers. I was personally pestered by a few authors a couple years ago, in hopes I'd buy their books. There was never a friendly conversation from these people. Only countless emails about how wonderful their book was and requests to confirm I'd bought a copy.

I spent a lot of time on writer’s sites like Booksie and Authonomy last year, in hopes of receiving constructive criticism on my writing. But Greg’s post yesterday was right on. Writers only want to hear how wonderful their own novel is. I've even seen profile pages that announce only positive comments are welcome. I question whether many of the members actually read other writers' work. It's more obvious they figure dropping by to say something nice and generic about your novel will get them a glowing review of their own. Out on sites like Authonomy, you can claw your way on to a HarperCollins editor's desk. Imagine the unethical practices going on over there.

Rejection doesn’t end with an acceptance letter from a publisher. Lately, I’ve been watching the book review blogs and don’t like what I’m seeing. There are virtually thousands of reviewers who are competing to get free books, the most author interviews, review the most books and get noticed themselves. Alienate a few of these people and an author risks having their book rejected by parts of the reviewing community, even if it is a good book. In addition, I really don’t like the idea of someone reviewing my book after spending two hours skimming through the text.

I know I’ve just touched the surface here. So now I hand the discussion over to our readers. How else do you see writers avoiding rejection?

Now, I'd like to announce that this is my last week blogging with the Wicked Writers. Due to a lack of progress on my novel series this year, I've decided to concentrate on writing, editing, and paying my rejection dues to publishers. I've had a great time, everyone! Thanks so much for dropping by to read.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rejection: Yeah, It Still Pisses Me Off Sometimes

I wish I could say that I was as confident and forward as CJ, but I’m not. Otherwise, I’d have been more widely published sooner.

The truth is: rejection pisses me off. And when I get pissed off at something or somebody, I tend to ignore it or him/her, sometimes to my own detriment.

Then, that rejection can get into my head and make me not want to try. Yeah, it’s a weak excuse for not doing things, but I’ve let it hamper me off and on for years now.

I guess that puts me somewhere in between the multitudes who want to publish but never even try and those who try but constantly get rejected.

So, I have to tell myself every day that getting rejected is no big thing. If my story doesn’t get picked up, what really has changed? I’ll still be unpublished. It’s not like I’m a free agent who needs to get the contract to put food on the table, even if it’s with some really crummy team from New Jersey.

I think a good example of rejection pissing me off is I have offered average, good and great reviews and ratings to authors. As a courtesy, I’ll offer writing tips, suggestions and ideas to people who rate only 2 out of 5 stars. I’ll even toss in lots of gift points as encouragement to lessen the sting if I have to give a bad review.

On the other hand, when I get a bad review, I go ballistic. I keep thinking that, at this point in my writing career, my stuff should at least be worth 3 out of 5 stars. And if I’ve been getting 4, 4.5 or 5 for the story and some chap gives me one or two stars, I’m ready to fire off a mean-spirited reply.

Fortunately, a cooler head prevails and I remember advice of long ago to let bad things slide and take things with a grain of salt (which might explain my salt consumption problem). I know there are people – readers and writers – out there who feel the same way. Otherwise, who is buying those Stress posters -- you know, the ones that talk about the confusion created when the mind overrides the body's basic desire to choke the living crap out of some bastard who desperately deserves it?

I have learned to take the bad reviews and rejections as confidence builders. If I can weather some hack who thinks my story sucks, then I can handle the pros who think my story sucks.

I also use Uber Jerk as a model, something to remind me to avoid getting a big ego.

Uber Jerk was a guy on WDC who I gave a rating of 3 out of 5. He sent me a reply telling me that I was “a worthless piece of s—t, who doesn’t know anything about what a real writer is and will never ever be good enough to even get a letter-to-the-editor published.” He said that he was “a published writer now” and that he didn’t need to listen to guys like me. He then said to never ever read any of his stuff again, because I wasn’t “worthy of reading a published writer like himself.”

At first I wanted to rip his head off until I realized that it was impossible without help from Wes Craven. So, I let it slide and now his rant gives me a laugh or two, along with a moment to reflect. I mean, he really was the ultimate rejection of something I'd done. I can’t imagine an editor being that rude or stuck up, especially one who had gotten one thing published and now considered himself to be superior to everyone else on WDC.

I have learned to remain realistic. I know that I’m not going to get some ridiculously big fat book deal right off the bat (like I’m some literary version of David Beckham). It's unrealistic, like watching Jude Law as a Russian sniper with a British accent in Enemy At the Gates or Kevin Costner with an American AND English accent in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.

Anyway, I also have to remember the market and make sure I take a good look at the smaller publishers, along with the big boys (and girls). That can lesson the chances of rejection.

Thus, I have been looking more at publishers like Leucrota and others who accept lots of manuscripts from unpublished authors. I have gotten rejection letters from them, but they have been kind enough to tell me exactly what they were looking for and what I was lacking, such as when Leucrota took a look at my first try with Land of the Blind.

So, what does it all mean? Let the rejections slide off your back. Think of it like life. If you think about it, you’ve been rejected all of your life. When someone else got the job you wanted. Or the girl. Or the guy. Or even the last parking spot close to the mall on Christmas Eve.

Think of rejection like that and you’ll be ignoring it so well and moving on to the next thing that you won’t even worry about it at all.

Maybe one day, I'll actually follow that advice to the letter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Doesn't Kill, You Makes You Stronger

This week the Wicked team will be discussing rejection and how we deal with it.  This one is kind of funny to me. Funny in a good way.  I've dealt with rejection for most of my life, and I'm sure if you all look deep inside, you'll see that you have, too.

Rejection is a huge part of life.  How we deal with it, and our actions that follow, dictate whether we will ultimately succeed in life or fail miserably. I've been picked on, bullied, beat-up, teased, labeled a lesbian in eighth grade (which seriously put a crimp on anyone from my own school asking me out on a date for five years), fired from my first job at age 15 and... well, the list could go on and on, unfortunately.

You do what you must to feel better, and move on.  Such is life. But these instances shape you and help to create the person you will become.  I can't imagine what a weakling I would be if my elementary and teenage years hadn't sucked so bad. Dealing with bullies and standing up for myself left me with the courage as a young military wife to leave an abusive spouse and get out of a mistake of a marriage at the age of 21.

Life is not fair - it is what it is.

This is the attitude you must have when you submit your work to agents and publishers. You will have some that like it, but can't sell it (a very important distinction to understand).  Some who don't care for your voice, your main character, or your story.  You will have some that don't even tell you why they don't like it, and simply reject it. C'est la vie.

If you took the time to write it—and re-write it, polish it, and edit it to the 9th degree—then I can guarantee it will appeal to someone.  You just have to find that someone. And it may take a long time.

I took the path less followed in my writing career. I went to readers and not fellow writers to tell me yay or nay on my work. Of course, I asked writers to help me improve the piece before readers saw it, but the insights they offered to me were just as valuable as the ones provided by the readers. Oh, and lots of them didn't like it, be sure about that.

The important thing is this: lots more did.

So how do I deal with rejection?  I ignore it for the most part. Unless of course, it's from a fellow contestant's co-blogger while I'm competing in a huge national writing contest. But hey—we all learn as we go, and I certainly learned it would have been wise to keep my mouth shut on that one, no matter how coincidental the timing was.

Don't count your rejections in life; it's a waste of time.  If someone gives you some valuable advice hidden in the venom, wait a bit and see what you can do to utilize it to improve your work.  But overall, ignore the rejections. I've received so many in my life it would take too long to list them all - and what would be the point?

I've succeeded in business and in my personal life to spite all of them, or perhaps, because of them. Shake it off and go on.

You can do it because what you write is worthy. You just have to believe.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

According to Jane by Marilyn Brant

I was contacted by Marilyn Brant to read  ACCORDING TO JANE, which is her debut book to that released Oct 2009. This is by far one of the best books I have read this year. I think without going into serious detail and giving spoilers that I can tell you this touched me in such a way it is hard to describe. This book, a love story that spans 20 years approx is so..... well, how do I say, true to life. There is such heartache, passion, love, work in a few bad choice in boyfriends, a bitch of an older sister who tears you down at ever turn, insane family members who you love, but drive you to madness. Most of all there is a friendship that is so on and off, fragile and non-existent at times it took all I had not to just flip to the end of the book and read what the hell happens to these people. This is the friendship of Sam Blaine and Ellie Barnett who have a very fragile friendship if you can call it that. The book opens on Ellie and Sam's sophomore year in high school, where you can tell just from Sam's touches and Ellie's response to him that there are deeper feelings that both hide very well. Through flirting and a lot of jealousy on both ends there is an undying connection. Intertwined with the lives of the two characters there are family members who make you cringe and want to give a good shake. How can they be so heartless and cruel to Ellie? I think some of us will recognize some of these characters within our own lives as well. I especially loved Ellie's cousin Angelique who plans an importance roll throughout the story and grows into a mature woman with a beautiful family, even though she still spews nonsensically in french from time to time much to the annoyance of Ellie and myself. I think that is why I loved her so much, she is so real and quirky it is hard not to like the darn girl! Elli's sister also plays a huge part through out the book, first we see Di as a pretty much emotionally abusive older sister constantly calling her geek and tearing her down. But Di loves her sister Ellie as much as she knows how to at first, but as time goes by grows to appreciate Ellie and their friendship. I too grew to love Di as you saw a woman who had to surpass her own internal struggle of insecurities only to come out on top at the end. Then there is Sam, he is Ellie's soul mate, but as with life nothing works out the way we want. With his constant moves to make Ellie jealous he hits on girls through high school knowing that Ellie is watching his every move steaming mad and hurt by Sam's actions. Not that she helps, she is too afraid to act on her feeling until a week before their senior year ends they have sex, much to Sam's shock Ellie is a virgin. The strength of that bond I believe scares both, Sam into acting indifferent towards Ellie and Ellie's resentment at the rejection from him. They go their separate ways through college only to meet again at a bar, where their encounter is less than cordial when once again jealously rears it's ugly head. This time Ellie can no longer hold back the hurt and anger that spews out of her mouth only to ruin Sam's already faltering relationship with his girlfriend. What I enjoyed most is that not all these encounters were perfect, the relationship that Ellie and Sam have with each other and their significant others (however long or short the relationship ends up being) is so raw and sometimes downright so realistic that once again you forget this is a work of fiction. Ellie's romances throughout the twenty years are what has made her into the strong woman she is, one of the most important being the relationship with Jane. Jane Austin that is, who lives in her head since that fateful day back in sophomore English class when Jane decided to make her grand entrance. She and Ellie have an almost comical and if not at times mother-daughter if not mentor relationship. Jane sticks by Ellie throughout those years helping her cope with all of life's pitfalls but when it comes to Sam, Jane is in complete disapproval and calls Sam Ellie's Mr. Wickham. Who if you haven't read Pride and Prejudice Mr. Wickham is a complete scoundrel. There is a secret that Jane holds from Ellie and that is her connection to her, why she chose Ellie and why she has felt the need stick with her through thick and thin. Those not so pleasant times when Ellie felt so alone and unloved. I found the relationship humorous at times and feeling Ellie's frustration when Jane bashed Sam. Sam not so undeserving of some of Jane's criticism, but the man redeems himself in good time. If you count twenty years good time. I loved the ending of this story and was also sad to see it end as well. Sam needed time to grow up frankly, become the man that Ellie new he was inside. And Ellie, through her mismatched relationships with her past boyfriends and her family she too needed to grow up and forgiveness is apart of that maturity. It's a rough road to ANY Happily Ever After and as far as I am concerned no two characters deserve it more than Ellie and Sam. All I can say is, again without any spoilers is that Marilyn Brant you have a new super fan and I am singing your praises.


SNIPPET: "It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet “tsk” of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there.
Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go—sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.
Still, everyone has something to learn about love—perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending…"

ISBN-10: 0-7582-3461-9

ISBN-13: 978-0-7582-3461-2

Friday, April 23, 2010

Genre Hopping and The God of Good Luck

When my first child was born, I came across an anthology called The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha. It’s a collection of mythological stories about the iconic elephant-headed god, a poetic rendering that downplays the violence without losing the original essence of these stories. It’s beautifully done, and I read portions of it aloud to my two-year-old, iffy whether she was old enough to appreciate it. She was captivated, raised lots of interesting questions, and wanted to know more.

I was so thrilled by her reaction that I emailed the author, Uma Krishnaswami, to let her know how much we'd enjoyed her book and that someday, I too hoped to be able to write stories my daughter would enjoy. Why did I throw that last line in? I’m not sure, but Uma replied immediately, something along the lines of, “no time like today. I teach an intro class on writing for children at You should sign up.” Whoa. I was thinking some day, not now. I hadn’t expected to start writing right away but why not? It seemed like kismet, and the class sounded both challenging and exciting. So I signed up.

Of course, it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Uma was a wise and generous instructor, and I learned a ton, but I’d sort of assumed reading lots of children’s books to a young child each day gave me some kind of institutional knowledge, like I had a leg up on everyone else taking the course. Not by a long shot, it turned out. I couldn’t quite master the voice to write for young kids. With each consecutive assignment, I began writing towards older kids. First picture books, then middle grade, then young adult. Nothing worked. My style just didn’t fit the genre.

By the time the class ended, story ideas began brewing any way. Already a voracious reader, I started reading a wider variety of fiction to figure out where my voice did fit. It took me another year to find it in mysteries and, now six years later, I've completed a full-length novel and a good chunk of another in the works.

But my journey really began when I read Uma’s beautiful collection of stories. It’s certainly fitting, considering that in Hindu custom, all great journeys begin by invoking Ganesha, the lord of beginnings, the patron of letters and learning, and the remover of obstacles. And maybe someday, I'll be ready to write those children's stories.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'A box?' said Alice...

I have a confession to make! I also write non-fiction – mainly academic stuff (under my other name)! But, funnily enough, I have the same problem with non-fiction as I do with fiction (and if you have a spare $99.95, you can see what I mean!)

[caption id="attachment_2292" align="alignright" width="116" caption="At peace, at last..."][/caption]

I don’t do boxes (sorry, Greg, no offence!) …It’s just that the only box I think I would be comfortable with is my own coffin! (At a more appropriate time in my life, of course.) In the meantime, I insist on writing either a story (for fiction) or fiction (for non-stories).

[caption id="attachment_2294" align="alignleft" width="140" caption="A box? Really?"][/caption]

What do I mean by this? Is this some wacky Brit’s idea of what passes for nonsense? A sort of contemporary trip down Alice’s rabbit hole, into a world of nonsensical irrelevance, just so I can post a certain number of words on a subject I find difficult to relate to?


Most definitely not…

(…though I am a wacky Brit – at times).

Let me start by suggesting that all knowledge is fiction. And that all fiction is (potentially) knowledge. The "what ifs" of  Wendy’s speculative fiction are no different to the musings of science that grow, embryonically, within the research scientist’s mind. The ideas of those who practice science and the ideas of fictional authors are one and the same. They are ideas. Valuable, interesting ideas! Possibilities!

[caption id="attachment_2295" align="alignright" width="92" caption="That's it... of course!"][/caption]

Ideas – they are the seed of the future and the unrealized possibilities of the past. Ideas are not bound by titles, badges, genres, processes or outcomes. They evolve within the mind of the individual – they are not categorised until they come into contact with others who have expectations. Wendy’s competition judges, for example – for whom tagging a genre for her story could be tricky!

Expectations are the killers of any art form – even the art of science. Science cannot become knowledge unless academic “peers” decide that the “science” presented by a scientist “fits” with their expectations. And, unfortunately, fiction is frequently not fiction, unless it conforms to the genre expectations of those who “gate keep” the industry: the agents, the publishers and the competition judges.

But the gatekeepers are not to be blamed (entirely), because, in general, we all have our own expectations. We are conditioned by our schooling and experience to “expect” certain things that we have been subjected to in the past. We read something we like, with a certain label, and we look out for that label as a reference point when we look for something else to read. We all appreciate our comfort zone. We taste something we like, and we look for the same things on the next menu we see. We forget that we can have fun, as children have fun, and look at something we have never, ever, seen before – and have fun and enjoy it!

[caption id="attachment_2297" align="alignleft" width="116" caption="Or is it...?"][/caption]

So where does this leave me? I write stories. I like to think that I can borrow from anywhere to write a story. So, for $99.95 you can read about why I think the study of art is useful to understand how to manage organisations. And, for a substantially smaller amount, you can read a story that starts with a crime, moseys along with a deal of suspense, has a paranormal influence through a recurring dream, and ends in a love story… though I never set out with that mix of genres in mind!

Happy writing and reading. And remember, in my world there are no boxes, and we should all act like children! Wicked ones… :)

So Many Genres So Little Time

Call me a genreholic, but I can’t help myself when it comes to experimenting with other genres. Heck, I read all of ‘em. Why can’t I write in all of ‘em?

I think the main reason I dabble across genres is because I read quite a bit of nonfiction, particularly historical and religious in nature. And, I am a geek at heart, so science is pretty high on my list of reading too. Considering most of what I write falls under horror, mixing it with just about any other genre is pretty easy.

Now I’d like to stray a little off topic or just twist it a bit. A couple weeks ago I decided to enter The Courier in this year’s Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Colorado Gold Writer’s Contest--that was a tongue twister. It’ll be my first year at the conference, and I’m pretty excited about attending. But when I got my latest newsletter with entry information, I noticed the genre categories are mainstream, mystery, romance, action/thriller, and speculative fiction (spec-fic). Uh oh, I thought. My novel is lumped into speculative fiction, that infamous catchall category for all kinds of stuff.

Speculative fiction is an umbrella fiction genre generally encompassing the more specific genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history.             --Wikipedia

On a side note, I’m going to plead ignorance for a moment and say, I thought spec-fic was more of a “what if” category, related to history. What if Germany won WWII? What if The Cold War ended in thermal nuclear war. What if a major volcanic eruption occurs in Iceland? Oops that one's actually happening. Then again, I suppose “what if” is such a loose question, it could be asked in regards any one of the genres listed.

Now back to the contest. One of the members of my critique group mentioned that tagging the genre for The Courier will be tricky. That made me pause. He mentioned that the judges don’t exactly read and judge well outside their chosen genres. For example, I’ve been classifying The Courier as fantasy, but a judge for that genre would likely throw my entry to the side, favoring traditional Tolkien style stories. Hmmm…

According to the contest, the categories listed for spec-fic are science fiction, fantasy and horror. So, I’ll have to submit to horror and hope my synopsis gets the story to the right judge.

This leads me to ask you all a question about your reading habits. How often do you stray from reading your favorite genres? Do you find yourself reading critically or giving up on a story that’s outside your preference?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Deborah LeBlanc: Outside The Box

This week, we are talking about thinking outside the box – and no, not that Taco Bell thing. We’re talking about writing outside of our primary genres. I really haven’t strayed far from science fiction and horror, except for one western (“Atonement”) and some drama (“Bump and Grind”).

I’ve thought about doing some fantasy because I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring trilogy, along with C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine, the White Witch saga and Marion Zimmer Bradley (Avalon).

But, the truth is I'm rather apprehensive about writing in another genre. There are just some things in my life where I want to stay in my comfort zone. Maybe one day I'll be able to do it, like Stephen King did with Duma Key, but not now.

Don't listen to me ramble on about it, though. Let's check in with today's guest blogger.

Today, we're lucky enough to get  some insight to the subject of writing outside one's primary genre from Deborah LeBlanc, an award-winning, best-selling author and business owner from Lafayette, Louisiana. Interestingly enough, she is a licensed death scene investigator (only for death scenes, not crime in general). She has been an active paranormal investigator for more than 15 years.

Deborah is the president of the Horror Writers Association, the Writers’ Guild of Acadiana and the Mystery Writers of America – Southwest Chapter. Back in 2004, she created the LeBlanc Literacy Challenge, an annual campaign that encourages people to read. In 2006, she founded Literacy Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting illiteracy among America’s teens.

Her most recent novel is Water Witch.

And, despite those impressive credentials, even Ms. LeBlanc has some trepidations about writing in another genre.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


[caption id="attachment_2263" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Deborah LeBlanc"][/caption]

Believe it or not, I’ve been asked, and contracted, to write a paranormal romance. (One, one thousand, two, one thousand….okay, time’s up, you can stop laughing now!)

The paranormal part comes easily to me, of course. The romance part . . . well, for those of you who know me, no further explanation is needed. For those of you who don’t, think GI Jane playing the part of Juliet in Shakespeare’s infamous play. If you can’t quite wrap your brain around that picture, let me give you a hint of how the dialogue would run….

“Hey, Romeo! Yo, Romeo, where the hell you at?”

Yeah, unfortunately, I never did get the whole girly-girl type of romance most women seem to enjoy. I mean if a guy sends flowers and candy, I’m appropriately impressed and appreciative, but to tell you the truth, it makes me a little antsy. Stupid and irrational, I know. I think it’s some screwed up internal mechanism inside me that suddenly clicks on at the sight of candy and flowers, making me fear the guy will soon expect me to start acting like…well, like a real girl. You know, painted fingernails, frilly dresses and all that.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against women who paint their fingernails and wear frilly dresses. I just ain’t one of them. I’m more of a jeans, t-shirt, and boots kind of girl. Sure, I enjoy candlelit dinners and late night strolls on a beach, but that’s lagniappe in romance, in my opinion. The crux of a romantic adventure, for me anyway, is when a guy has interests similar to mine, has a fast wit and sharp mind, and he’s just as comfortable skipping rocks in the ocean with me as he is just talking while we stroll along its shores. A guy who’s not afraid to talk about anything, no matter how bizarre the topic and who understands my need to ‘touch’ everything so I can experience it fully. Like the time I had myself locked in a casket . . .

So, as I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, tuning into a ‘standard’ romance is a bit of a challenge for me. Although I’m sure not all women hold the same definition for romance, I’d like to get as close as I can to what’s ‘typical,” so it at least rings true to most women. Feels weird, though . . . asking your daughters and sister for that answer.


* * * * * * * * * * * *

I want to thank Deborah for making us feel so antsy about going outside the box. It's nice to know that someone else is feeling the same way.

Just like all those kids in the back of the class who bombed the math test and suddenly become best friends until the bell rings.

For more information on Deborah's fiction and her work against illiteracy, please visit and

"Genre" Is Just Another Label

My writing buddy told me last month that she had nothing to say on some of the upcoming topics on our schedule. I kind of brushed her off at the time as being dramatic--I mean after all, I think she has tons to say on all aspects of writing. But maybe that's because I listen better than most people.  Heck, she even calls me when she forgets her great advice.

And yet, here I am, struggling to write about our chosen topic this week:

Do you ever write outside your genre, and if yes, what do you like and why?

See, this is where being a one-trick-pony really hurts.  What I can tell you is that my one and only book crosses many genres. Similar to many popular novels for sale right now.

I can also tell you I have plans for other books and they are in other genres.  First and foremost, I'm planning a series of erotica short stories. The kind which will not be welcome in our short story contest this month. :-D  After all, we do need to post it for everyone to read.  Speaking of the contest, we're extending our deadline to April 25th - so all of you procrastinators out there have a bit more time 'til it's due.

Back to the porn (bet you thought I forgot). I'm calling my new series:

Johnny Living Dangerously

Butt Boy and the Receptacles

It's about a lead singer named Johnny, and his all-female band. They play in nightclubs all over Manhattan and have a grand ole time living up to the name of their band. Right about now, you're thinking, "Is she serious?" Yes, sadly, I am.  Those of you who've read Vampire Vacation (and couldn't get enough of the sex scenes) will love it.

What can I say?  I've got a good sense of humor and Pete and I had a lot to drink one night and brainstormed for a bit. We were laughing so hard, I almost spit my beer out, but hey, that's not to say it isn't going to be a helluva read when I'm done!

Next, I plan on penning a young adult series. My kids really want their names in one of my books and no matter what, it will not be an adults-only book with sex in it.  I'd really like them to be able to read something I've written when I'm done. So, I'm going to create characters for them and let them have their own grand adventures. Perhaps on my upcoming vacation, we can all come up with some story ideas together. I bet they'll get a kick out of it.

And lastly, I have an entire children's book in my head called Sasuke, the Ninja Kitty. Anyone out there who has watched G4's Ninja Warrior may recognize the true Japanese name for the series. My kids loved this show for about two years and if you can read the subtitles and watch the action, you're in for a hysterical treat. Kids' books may be short, but where and how and finding the right "voice" are still in the planning stages for me.

As far as the why of why do I like writing erotica? I hadn't really thought about it much. It's something that just is. I've noticed in my critique groups, sex scenes can be one of the hardest things for a writer to write well. A lot of writers will gloss over the scene or make mistakes with the actions.  And the reader does notice it, trust me.

Erotica is something I have a fun time writing.  It's hot and thought-provoking... and well... the words seem to spill on to the page for me. And if I ever run out of ideas there are always lots of products out there to inspire me--check out Sex Toys on the Sixteenth to see what I mean.

And yes, if you read it, I want to know if you clicked on any of the links.

You're naughty, aren't you?  ;-)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Education Unbound

Years ago, soon after I’d first moved from Texas to Washington, D.C., I was riding in a car with a good friend and her two-year-old son on the outskirts of the capital, in suburban Virginia. My friend was driving and I was navigating, which of course explains why we were, er, a bit lost. At one point, bewildered, I asked her, “is this Lee Highway?” Before she could answer, a tiny voice behind us asked, “Lee Highway? As in Robert E. Lee?”

I was floored, and turned to my friend, who explained, “we go to the library a lot.” That little tyke, back then a massive consumer of anything related to the civil war and the solar system, is now a brilliant, articulate college student, who rest assured, is not only a future leader, but already a successful leader at the age of nineteen. Sure, he’s smart, driven, and has great parents who want only the best for him, but he also had this amazing local resource that opened up new worlds and fed his enormous curiosity and enthusiasm to learn.

While it’s easy to underestimate the role of libraries in American life, this week forced me to dig deep and examine a pillar of our daily life. My own daily life, that is. I now live in suburban Virginia myself and check my library card online at least several times a week to put books and movies on hold for myself and my family, check my overdue status (not that bad, really), and see what’s new. At this particular moment, our family has 36 items out on loan. And yet, our library is so much more to us than a place to check out free stuff. I’ve even had to start limiting our visits there as time stands still once we walk inside.

Sure, they offer a lot more than books. We get the latest movies (we finally canceled our Netflix subscription after we found our library offers most of the same movies, albeit with huge waiting lists), free Internet, and even the educational computer games my kids love. (My four-year-old is particularly hooked on one where she has to map the route to hidden treasures. It’s helped her math and geography skills more than her expensive preschool has been able to accomplish toward the same goals.)

This past month, my seven-year-old walked in and asked the librarian for books about “Middle English.” I was skeptical. I’d remembered studying Old English back in college, but Middle English? Would our community librarians even know the term? As it turned out, we walked out with several stacks of books that took three of us to carry. A couple of them were marked up with post-it notes, highlighting notable chapters on history, linguistics, and famous literature. Oh, and needless to say, we didn’t spend one red cent. On our way out, I was reminded of an earlier  evening (and some thirty bucks) wasted at Chuck E. Cheese to keep the same kiddos sufficiently entertained.

A couple nights ago, I attended a community service meeting at my daughter’s school. I’d arrived early as did one other mom. We made small talk, admiring our fine school library, when she said, “you know, when my daughter came home on the first day of school raving about this library, I knew we were off to a good start.”

True enough. We get so much more from our libraries than just books, don’t we?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dar al-kutub… On the House of Books

It has been a busy week for me, back here in the UK. I have taken up a new position in a London-based institute of Higher Education, and this has left me little time to think of something interesting to say to support you all, my good friends, in celebrating National Library Week. But, here goes!

The trouble with books and the libraries that hold them is that many people seem to think they are dying!

I had chance to read, this week (in keeping with the historical bent of Greg’s post), that the appearance of the Television led to a prediction that the shelf life of books was doomed! DOOMED, I say! (Repeating myself merely for effect.)

[caption id="attachment_2240" align="alignright" width="150" caption="A future library?"][/caption]

Yet here we are, into the second decade of the 21st Century, and books and libraries are still with us. And as we can see from the posts of this week, books and libraries are for ever important to us and the communities we live in. It is no different to libraries here in the UK and, I dare say, in most other countries abroad. But, with i-technology and e-books… are the doom-sayers to have their time?

The book is dead! Long live the book!

Books captivate, inspire and draw the reader into a silent and personal world.

[caption id="attachment_2236" align="alignleft" width="89" caption="A Brave New World?"][/caption]

Books are written by authors, people like us here at Wicked Writers, because we have something to share with you, our readers. They are a means of sharing knowledge, whether that knowledge be factual, of a history passed or a moment of “now”, or of a fictional world of monsters and vampires. Consider the mundane science fiction of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – inviting us to consider the state of our world in years to come – or, simply, a good old fashioned, hard-boiled crime novel. Books create, in the reader, a shared knowledge.

In the eighth century, the dar al-kutub’s of Central Asia, or “houses of books”, grew as centres of intellectual activity where writers and scholars talked of their work and ideas in discussion with mixed audiences of the young and interested lay people. Anyone and everyone could take part in the discussions. Professional scribes then copied the results of these discussions, creating books of knowledge.

[caption id="attachment_2238" align="alignright" width="150" caption="A house of books..."][/caption]

In the 21st Century, anyone, young or old, knowledgeable or in search of knowledge, academics or lay people, can still call on the library – our “house of books” – to share in knowledge. A house of books is a tradition, centuries old, that unites individuals into communities. And long should they be celebrated as such, whether they be in the good ol’ US of A, the UK or any other country of the world we live in.

[caption id="attachment_2239" align="alignleft" width="80" caption="The book lives!"][/caption]

Under the threat of modern technology, books are not doomed, nor are the libraries that hold them. While people exist, there will, I suggest, always be a desire to share knowledge. A desire to come together to talk, discuss, write, read and do any number of things closely associated with the function of the venerable House of Books. There will always be a demand for a place in society where we can gain access to the silent and personal world that offers such inspiration and captivation – though the form, as with books, may change.

The Library is dying? No! Long live the Library, our House of Books.

Endangered Community Libraries

Monday I was out on The Neverending Shelf, a blog I recently added to my watch list, and happened upon The Fate of Our Libraries, a guest post by Courtney Webb, a children's librarian and blogger at Stiletto Storytime. I was so impressed by Courtney's post, I got permission to repost it this week.

But first, I'd like to mention the State of America's Libraries Report 2010, released by the American Library Association (ALA) on Monday. The picture to the left in no way represents the state of our libraries today. Just thought it's a fun picture that shows you can't stop people from going to the library under any circumstances.

Now back to the library report. Before you even get to it on the ALA website, this statement reaches out and begs for your attention.

Recession drives more Americans to libraries in search of employment resources; but funding lags demand.

In the press release, you'll find that we are flocking to our libraries for more than media. And Americans' opinions show that we know the value of our libraries.

The report shows the value of libraries in helping Americans combat the recession. It includes data from a January 2010 Harris Interactive poll that provides compelling evidence that a decade-long trend of increasing library use is continuing—and even accelerating during economic hard times. This national survey indicates that some 219 million Americans feel the public library improves the quality of life in their community. More than 223 million Americans feel that because it provides free access to materials and resources, the public library plays an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.

Yet, my community voted down a tax increase for needed improvements to our libraries, and I'm still bitter about it. I'm there at least once a week and we support paying higher taxes towards such a valuable community resource. Opposition would say libraries take donations. Support them that way. Well, we do that too. Unfortunately, I've done more than my fair share of fundraising for worthy causes, and trying to get people to donate during hard economic times ain't so easy unless they're backed in a corner as you'll see in Courtney's post. It's a mad catch-22, folks.

And now, here's more for you to think about on the state of our libraries from Courtney Webb. I ask you to remember her post and the State of America's Libraries Report the next time you find yourself in the voting booth, faced with a decision to increase funding to your library district.

The Fate of Libraries

by Courtney Webb

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="137" caption="Courtney Webb, Children's Librarian and Stiletto Storytime Blogger"][/caption]

In the last year we have all been affected by the recession whether personally or through our business and financial investments. We’ve all had to cut back a bit or at the very least know people who have. Unfortunately in the budget crisis for communities often the first thing to go during tough times is funding for libraries.

For example take the Charlotte, NC Public Library system, which announced recently that due to a reduction in the Mecklenburg County budget was told to shut down 12 library branches and lay off over 140 employees. This was a rather personal case for me since this is the system in which I started my library career. My first job as a children’s librarian was at one of their most needed branches in a low-income area of Charlotte. A branch that was so dear to the community for a plethora of reasons. The computer lab provided access to an area where most individuals could not afford a home computer. This meant quite simply no access at the library equaled no computer access period. Imagine the effects of that when kids could no longer do homework or research, adults could not work on improving their computer skills or even search for jobs in this critical time. This branch was also across the street from the local high school and provided a refuge for teens after school keeping them out of trouble and in a safe environment.

Unfortunately it was also a community whose children were the least introduced to books and the magic of reading. Storytimes and programming were crucial to that though it was often hard to make parents understand the need. There were Summer Reading Programs were I had children come simply because I offered food and they had not had lunch that day because they had simply been dropped off at the library. This library was a haven in this community and was to be shut down within a few weeks of the announcement. The community was stunned.

However that did not happen and the reason is that the people spoke. The residents of Charlotte protested and gave their own money to try and help the library budget in a grassroots effort that saved the 12 libraries from closure and some of the staff from unemployment. Unfortunately the majority of those let go were librarians since they had the larger salaries because of their educational background and experience. This was also because the libraries were now trying to focus on the most basic of services. This generally is circulation and simply getting books in and out, something which requires only a high school degree and which has a much smaller hourly wage. All of the county’s libraries will now also run on reduced hours and all employees took a large pay reduction. And yet the future is still not clear since predictions are that the budget will once again go down in 2011.

What does this say about the future of libraries and librarians? To me it says that when times get tough sometimes our leaders are willing to sacrifice what we need most. They will let go of what does not make a profit and looks like a loss on a spreadsheet. Libraries and librarians may not look good on a spreadsheet but chart their efforts and contributions to the community. Libraries are the ultimate equalizer. They provide information to everyone and information is power. These libraries that have been saved may be open but with far less qualified employees running them. When a patron enters a library they may not realize that there are very few actual librarians. Librarians are trained individuals with Masters Degrees in Library Science who have studied the art of knowledge and the keys to finding it. It’s sad they are now being laid on the altar in the name of saving a few dollars. The library may be open but at what cost? Who is now doing the story time or running the reference desk? Are they qualified and are you and your family getting the best service possible?

This Library Week I ask you to remember the library, library staff and librarians in your communities. Please use your voice and make sure that everyone knows their worth so that the travesty that has taken place in Charlotte does not happen in your community.

* * * * * *

Thanks so much to Courtney Webb for allowing us to repost The Fate of Libraries, and thanks to Kate over at The Neverending Bookshelf for all your help in making this repost possible.

Don't Miss My Writer Wednesday Blog Tour

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hurray for Libraries

In the mid-1950s, concerns were raised about Americans’ reading habits. Research showed that citizens were spending far more on radios, televisions and musical instruments than on books.

Sound familiar? Replace “radios, televisions and musical instruments” with “cell phone, computers and laptops” and it becomes clear.

Now, you can see why we need National Library Week and why we should have National Library Month.

Back in 1954, the American Library Association and the American Book

[caption id="attachment_2184" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Library service, Oregon, 1950s"][/caption]

Publishers formed a nonprofit citizen’s organization called the National Book Committee. The NBC strove to encourage reading in leisure time. The goal was to “improve incomes and health” and develop a “strong and happy family life.”

Yeah, it does sound like Leave It to Beaver, but, seeing society today, that might not have been so corny.

Anyway, by 1957, the NBC had developed a plan for National Library Week (NLW). They hoped that once people were motivated to read, they would support and use libraries. With the help of the Advertising Council, the first National Library Week – with the theme “Wake Up and Read!” – was observed in 1958.

The NLW was so successful that it was done again in 1959. The NBC disbanded in 1974, but the ALA stepped in and assumed sponsorship.

This week (April 11-17, 2010), libraries across the country will observe National Library Week. This year’s theme is “Communities thrive @ your library” in a nod to today’s technological advances.

Fortunately for us, many school libraries will celebrate the entire month of April as School Library Month. Sponsored by the American Association of School Librarians (a division of the ALA). Also, Wednesday will be National Library Workers Day. Far from the smoldering brunettes who longed to take off their glasses, let their hair down and throw themselves at Humphrey Bogart, librarians and other library workers perform a valuable service to our communities. They play a big role in the education of our next generations, despite efforts by this and older generations to budget them out of existence.

So, let's do our part and support our libraries. Visit them. Get your kids away from the television and computer and cell phone. Take them to a library so they can get lost in books.

Personally, I may have been heavily influenced by Creature Double Feature on TV, but I was stimulated and motivated by books at the library, to the point that I walked miles there and back. Even when I didn't have school assignments.

Hopefully, we'll have libraries around for many decades to come.

For more information on National Library Week and the ALA, visit their website at

Volunteer - It's Not Just a Word

This week here at Wicked, we're dedicating a our posts in honor of National Library Week. Our nation's libraries are an incredible resource, one most communities often take for granted.  I wanted to talk about something besides the books--I wanted to talk about the people at the heart of our libraries.

There's an old African proverb (a previous first lady also used it as a title to book) which means a lot to me:

It takes a village to raise a child.

I live my day-to-day life by this proverb. If I see your kids acting badly and you aren't around to correct them, rest assured, I will (and I'll even try to do it politely, I swear).  I won't tolerate bullying, vandalism, cruelty to animals, or sass from a child, and I will speak up when I see it happening.

Where is one place you always seem to see a lack of such bad behavior from children? Our libraries.

The safe haven and quiet setting call out to old and young alike. There are no social boundaries, no class distinctions, no separation of race, gender or age--nothing other than the love of books and learning when you cross the threshold.

I'm not a person who is comfortable with organized religion. Before you judge me too harshly, let me state that I believe in God and I believe religion is personal, just like politics. The feeling I've always had when I enter a library is the same feeling most people equate to church. I feel welcomed. I feel at ease. The general silence seeps into me the moment I arrive and I feel transported into a place and time where books, and the knowledge they contain, are a world unto themselves.

Why did I head this post talking about volunteering? Because it needs to be something people do and not just talk about. The people who run the libraries aren't paid a lot. Yes, the work environment is sublime being surrounded by all the books, and it's a pretty quite place--but it's not a job most consider in college. These men and women call out to me on a base level.

They are always polite, helpful and informative.  They add book and non-book programs for the patrons to keep the community active and get them involved. They organize reading programs and offer storytimes. The libraries even allow groups free use of the space to gather for meetings or teaching in available rooms.

Last year, I volunteered for half the year at my daughter's elementary school in the library for 90 minutes each week. For those of you who know me, and for those of you just getting to know me, there's one thing you'll find. I don't talk. I do. I stopped volunteering when my health got worse and I needed to focus on getting better. But that time in the library each week--rubbing elbows with the quiet, peaceful ladies who ran a tight ship and making sure every child was involved--meant a lot to me and my child.

She saw me not just donating books, as we usually do, she saw me volunteering my time in a place that held value to me. And I can now say I understand the Dewey decimal system perfectly and children should be happy they don't have to use card catalogs anymore like they did when I was growing up.

Don't just donate books to the library. Donate your time--do a reading for kids, participate in a poetry reading for adults or teens, lead a book club. Above all, get involved. The library is the community center of our future and I'm proud of every moment ours lets me come in and help.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book Review: Tales of The Red Moon Clan

This weekend marks the first post from on newest member-- Book Reviewer, Brande Waldron! She's always busy posting over at Book Junkie, and here's a popular re-post she did on March 30th.

Do you ever read a book and say to yourself, "wow, I love this book", like you couldn't wait to find out what happened next?

When I was asked to read Tales of the Red Moon Clan by author Cherie De Sues I jumped at the chance. I can't get enough of those sexy shifters, and after reading the blurb I was more than enticed. I thought the statement "oh, I just love this book" quite a bit while reading it! It contained a ton of action, and the story was written so well, that it captured me from the moment I started.

In the first few pages our story is set: Assistant D.A. Sara Hughes is on a suicide mission without knowing it. She's too worked up thinking about what has to be done to realize she is writing her own death warrant. She heads to a seedy bar, hoping to question the owner, Daniels, about a man who works for him in regards to the murder of a young woman. Little does she realize (as sharp, intelligent and downright fearless she is in a courtroom), that she's way out of her element. Daniels and her suspect, Codger, have the upper hand. Overhearing Daniels confess to not one, but two murders, is going to all but seal the deal on her death. That is, if Daniels and Codger get their way!

In comes our hero: Neol is out to catch his bounty (Codger) and bring him in. Instead, he catches sight and scent of the stunningly beautiful D.A. He's been watching her for some time in the courtroom as she works to put his bounties behind bars. Usually he sits in the back, admiring her from afar, knowing that he can't touch her. He'd be a goner.

Neol holds many secrets in regard to his Red Moon Clan. Two years ago he had to give up his life as a cop, a job he LOVED, when his Grandfather called him to take his rightful place among his people and become a medicine man. He would become a shifter, become one with nature, and in turn would be able to control the Earth's elements. A powerful job with a huge responsibility that left him feeling honored to take, yet hesitant to fulfill.

Everything changes when one night he hears Sara screaming for her life, desperate to get away from Daniels' men, who plan to rape then kill her. His inner cougar calls out and he knows he has to rescue her.

What follows is a story of growing trust between Sara and Neol as he helps her run for her life. They bond instantly. Sara is a clever girl and knows that although this handsome rugged man just saved her, about a dozen times, there is something about him deep down that he holds back.

Neol, skilled and fearless, still drifts through life as he continues to take the highest paying and most dangerous bounties. His success hinges on using his skills as a Navajo Medicine Man to help track his prey. But this time, things are different, the reclusive man can't hold back.

Someone is after his True Mate and he will do anything, even kill, to save her.

The adventure keeps going and the romance heats up the pages, making for a delicious and explosive ride! Cherie De Sues masterfully created two lovable and in-depth characters. She perfectly illustrates who they are and how they feel while dealing with their own insecurities and inner struggles. And she does it all while still balancing their budding relationship. The plot is entertaining and left me on the edge.  Right when you think you can take a breather, De Sues sucks you back into the action for another dramatic roller-coaster ride. It will leave you wind-blown and gasping for air!


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Neol Pallaton walks alone through the bowels of society as a bounty hunter, until he shifts into a cougar to save Assistant D.A. Sara Hughes from certain death. A relentless killer keeps them moving by day through the Oregon forest—and by night under the full moon, passion rules their hearts.

The rugged forest is no place for a beautiful and feisty city woman, but Neol’s determined to help Sara piece together why she's being hunted. Sara thought bounty hunters were brutal loners who stretched the law she’s sworn to uphold. But Neol proves that no one can hunt, track and protect her like a Navajo medicine man from the Red Moon Clan.

Neol is willing to anger the spirits to protect his one true mate. Sara will have to bend the law to keep Neol and her alive—and together forever.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Keeping ‘Em Short

An interesting thing happened on the way to this post. I’ve read voraciously my whole life, but I’ve never been much of a fan of the short story form. I don’t know what I was picking up before I started writing fiction but I typically found short story plots underdeveloped, with endings either too abrupt or too open ended for my taste (maybe both).

Recently, I’ve been working on an attitude adjustment. Conventional wisdom suggests that for first-time novelists looking to attract agent or publisher attention, literary credentials such as publishing short stories in magazines and anthologies can help move our queries up in the slush pile.

I do have an idea for a short story that happens to takes place here in Virginia, and while I’m noodling on it, I’ve actively started reading short stories again to better learn the form. Not surprisingly, I’ve had better luck getting into mystery short stories.

Laura Lippman is a new favorite, and her range often surprises me. Her stories can get pretty dark, which catches me off guard for another reason: have you seen the wholesome mugshot of her, with that broad, sunny grin, on the backs of her books? Could she really be writing some of those scary stories?

I’ve also been reading a lot of fellow authors from the Mid-Atlantic area, in particular, a series of anthologies by the Sisters in Crime Chesapeake Chapter, which I recently joined. I’ve greatly enjoyed what I’ve read from their first three collections. Their fourth anthology is out and the big launch party is this weekend (I hope to attend). And guess what? They’re calling for contributions to the fifth one. Only one requirement: the story has to be set in the Mid-Atlantic. Hm, maybe I should stop noodling and start writing?

Maybe you should too? Check out our own upcoming contest:

The Wicked team will be holding a unique contest this month. We’re asking our readers to try their own hand at writing short stories. Entrants submit a non-erotica short story under 3,000 words to by April 20th, 2010. First prize is to have your entry critiqued by three members on the team, the story will be posted here on the site, and you’ll be invited to guest blog with us in May! Second prize is a critique by two team members and to also have the story posted here on the site. Third prize will be one critique and an honorable mention.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My First Time… (or, The Virgin Short Story Writer)

There I was, idly sitting at my desk, twiddling with my mouse, thinking about more marketing moves to help with the promotion of River of Judgement, when I stumbled upon a competition. A short story competition was to be held as part of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, in the lovely Yorkshire town of Harrogate.

‘Here,’ says I, ‘is my chance to mix it with the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Stuart MacBride, Christopher Brookmyre, Jeffery Deaver and Joanne Harris.’

All that was asked of me was to write a short crime story between 2,000 and 5,000 words long, beginning with a first line provided by Stuart MacBride:

“In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it”

‘That,’ says I, ‘might be the start of it… but how the hell do I get from there to the end in under 5000 words?’ I’d never written a short story in my life! I don’t count those stories you get to write at school; I was never very good at English as a subject – either language or literature, but that is another, long, story.

Over a pint of ale (not Theakstons) in the village ale-house, my good friend, neighbour, and ex-journalist turned PR consultant, Ian, offered me a gem of advice. ‘Like a mini-skirt, David. Long enough to cover the essentials and short enough to hold your interest.’ (A very male point of view, I admit – but this is a Wicked place.)

The essentials? The plot. A crime would be a good start, and taking a lead from Aristotle: a beginning, middle and an end; the classic three-acts. Yes, I knew all that, but under 5000 words? ‘Come on... get real! And forget flash fiction, I’m not ready for that! I need help’, I (nearly) cried.

As luck would have it, I listen to a lot of talk radio during the day. That week there had been a series of afternoon plays, all adapted from Chekov short stories. ‘Hey, he’s famous, isn’t he? I heard myself say. ‘He wrote loads of short stories! Now what was that one I heard on Tuesday?’ I tried to remember the one that I missed the middle of because I was distracted by something. ‘A short skirt, wasn’t it?’ I mused.

[caption id="attachment_2129" align="alignright" width="86" caption="More Plotting?"][/caption]

Why re-invent the wheel. If, according to Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic plots, then we must all borrow from someone, somewhere along the line. ‘Why can’t I borrow from the Master!’ And, isn’t the internet wonderful? Moments later, after recalling the title, I had downloaded a copy of Anton Chekov’s The Black Monk – a great story with a supernatural theme.

I read The Black Monk, re-read it, and leant back in my chair. ‘Cool, this guy can write short stories.’ So, being an engineer I deconstructed the plot. I worked out that it had nine plot points. Not listing these, but if you are not sure of how something should look, deconstruction is a technique I would recommend. Why do some people love taking things apart? I always took things apart as a kid, then put them pack together again. Lego is a great toy! But I digress. This post is about a virgin short story writer.

‘I love that essential theme. The Black Monk. Brilliant! An inevitable decay into madness, punctuated by a love story. I want to mirror that theme and structure in my crime story. Now what’s that line again?’

“In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it”.

Pen and paper. I love the old ways. I sat and (cheating here, with a calculator) divided my 5000 word challenge into nine sections. And, realising that simple is always best, I rounded each section to a maximum of 500 words (4500 is under 5000, so I figured I was OK with that). I wrote on my paper nine section titles which basically mirrored the plot points I had identified in Chekov’s story, and started writing. In two afternoons I had completed the story. With my good lady wife doing one editing run through, a few minor changes including ‘… This name doesn’t sound right,’ says she who (sometimes) must be obeyed.

‘Why?’ says I. I had no idea, but a women’s intuition should be listened to (sometimes)!

Some superfluous verbiage was cut out, the titles disposed of and the sections re-grouped into eight, and I had my first proper, non-school short story.

But was it good enough for the competition? Would it win me an audience with some of the great and the good in crime fiction? Would it win me a free entry to the Festival and a chance of being spotted by an Agent or Publisher?

I will never know! I never sent the story into the competition.

‘Why?’ echoed a voice from nowhere.

I liked it; my wife liked it; my mother-in-law liked it. Even one of my four sons liked it.

‘Only one,’ echoed the voice.

‘He was the only one either old enough or not studying for exams at the time. Now, quit with the echoes.’

I thought, ‘Hang on a cotton-picking minute… Am I not a publisher as well as an author? Have I not the courage of my own convictions? Do I really want to wait months for the announcement that my story might, or might not have won? Only to have wasted that time, if it had not. And what was I doing on this planet anyway? (Again, that is another, long, story!)

‘Be serious, a moment,’ I told myself. ‘There you were, sitting idly at your desk, twiddling your mouse, thinking about more marketing moves to help with the promotion of River of Judgement. Don’t you think…?’

[caption id="attachment_2131" align="alignright" width="99" caption="Go on... click! It's free."][/caption]

‘Of course!’ Inspiration. I’ve heard that short stories are a great way of showcasing a new writer’s work. ‘Why don’t I publish the short story alongside my novel?’ says I. ‘Marvellous,’ I replied.

The End.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Served Up Short with a Side of Gore

Let me get right to the point this week. The horror genre is best read as a short story or novella. Unfortunately, the publishing industry doesn’t seem to agree with me. Case in point, Stephen King’s long drawn out horror novels like It.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of Mr. King and consider him a master of horror in his older, shorter works. And, he’s certainly not the only author who’s written a looonnngggg horror novel I didn’t enjoy. I’m also a huge fan of Clive Barker, but after suffering through The Great and Secret Show, I won’t pick up another one of his longer novels.

I read and write horror for the shock and gore factor. Isn’t that the point of the genre? To make the reader squirm? Over four-hundred pages of background details, character development, subplots, and love stories are just a waste of time if everyone is going to die a gruesome and tormented death in the end.

Looking back at my reading history, I remember a specific childhood trip to the library, where I happened upon collections of short ghost stories for young adults. I sat with the first book, eyes glued to the pages, start to finish, frightened to the bone. I read through every book in the collection with equal fervor. Those books fed my addiction to horror, and ever since, I’ve sought out short fiction that‘s equally chilling. Poe was one of my favorites as a teen and today my favorite short horror author is Ramsey Campbell, but there are so many other collections by various authors I can’t resist. Unfortunately, more often than not, you end up with an anthology of the really good with the really bad.

Thanks to my freshman high school English teacher, I later found myself addicted to writing horror. Amazing woman put up with my horrific short stories. While everyone else wrote about their lovely Christmas holidays, I handed in a short story about Mrs. Clause beating Santa to death with a frozen turkey, after he arrived home late to Christmas dinner. It wasn’t exactly an original idea if you remember an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, Lamb to the Slaughter. In the show, the wife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, then feeds the cooked lamb to the police officers investigating his murder. Hey, we all gotta start writing somewhere.

I still write a lot of short horror stories. I especially like to take a break from a novel, during the onset of an over-thinking rut, to torture a few people in a flash fiction tale. Or, take a step back and write my entire novel in 50 words, a little trick I learned from Gaynor Stenson, the publisher I interviewed here a couple weeks ago. Over at Vamplit Writers, she challenged us to write horrific fifty word stories. Here’s the one I wrote for The Courier.
    Unable to hold down a job, Barry acquiesces to serve Satan for a lifelong paycheck. Soon overcome with remorse, he seeks a way to resign, but the only possible escape is through the lesser of two evils. In the end, he’s still held accountable.

It’s a constant work in progress. I spent a half hour updating it just to present it here, and still hate it. Reads too much like a pitch.

So I challenge you to warm up for the short story contest by leaving a 50 word story in the comments here today. Doesn't have to be horror.

Don't forget to drop by my Writer Wednesday Blog Tour

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Short & Long of It (sort of)

While novels can get one on the book shelves of Barnes & Nobles, as well as the New York Times bestsellers list, one has to start somewhere.

Stephen King started with short stories and I still have my tattered copy of Night Shift somewhere. I love the Golden Age of Science Fiction with those great  short stories by Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Heinlein, Lester Del Rey and Isaac Asimov, among others.

Novellas fit in there, as well. What we called "books" as kids were, in fact, novelettes and novellas. And thank goodness. When my elementary and junior high schools were doing those reading contests to raise money for school field trips by seeing how many books you could read, it was fantastic that the books were only 40-50 pages.

When I began writing fiction, I went with short stories because I'd been exposed to them first. My intro to novels was Silas Marner, so you can see that reading long tomes would not pique my interest for a long time.

I love writing short stories. I have so many ideas I can't keep up with all of them. Whether it's walking through the mall, "relaxing" on set during a 14-hour film shoot or trying to get in and out of Publix without a plea for money from one of the many panhandlers, I think of new ideas for short stories.

Novellas sort of just develop when my short story refuses to end and I don't feel like cutting and editing the hell out of it. It has gotten me into trouble   sometimes, like when They Call the Wind Muryah went over 17,000 words and couldn't be entered into the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest (I trimmed it and received Honorable Mention Top 10% in 2007).

Ironically, I don't like reading short stories as much. I used to, though. Too many aspiring authors are aping what's popular in movies and YA lit (with apologies to Monday's guest blogger Kerri Nelson). I can't find a decent old-school vampire story anymore and the vampires-as-romantics has gotten old real fast (except for Viv, of course, CJ).

It's kind of sad because I really used to read and review short stories on I made suggestions and awarded high gift points for good stories and smaller GP's for effort and encouragement. Then, the stories got more and more monotonous and bad.

And believe me, I know about the subject. My early short stories were based on things like Godzilla, King of the Monsters, Star Trek and Space: 1999. Yeah, they were bad. Really bad. Cliched to the hilt. Characters more wooden than the Tracys and Brains on Thunderbirds. I haven't even had the desire to go back to visit any of them again (though the fact that they were written in pencil on cheap, wide-ruled notebook paper in the 1970's has a lot to do with it).

On a good note, I do want to get back to reading short stories again. I just want them to be readable. If anyone has any good suggestions, I'd be pleased to hear about them...


...or I could just wait until April 20 and read all the entries submitted to Wicked Writers' latest contest (see below):

The Wicked team will be holding a unique contest this month. We're asking our readers to try their own hand at short stories.  Entrants submit a non-erotica short story under 3,000 words to by April 20th, 2010. First prize is to have your entry critiqued by three members on the team, the story will be posted here on the site, and you'll be invited to guest blog with us in May! Second prize is a critique by two team members and to also have the story posted here on the site. Third prize will be one critique and an honorable mention.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Does Size Matter?

This week's topic is short stories and we've got author Kerri Nelson (who also writes a YA line under K.G. Summers) here this week as a guest blogger to share her thoughts on the subject. I met this multi-published author this past fall when we were in a not one, but two, contests together. Kerri recently received a contract with a New York publisher from participating in one contest and her future looks brighter by the day. She manages not only her own blog, one designed to give author's sales a boost, but has a side business designing book trailers as well.

So, basically the question is… does size matter?  At least when we are talking about the novel versus the novella, I believe the answer is a resounding “YES”!

What is a novella?

According to Wikipedia, a novella is shorter than a novel but longer than a novelette.  HUH?

In my experience, a novella is typically anywhere from 10,000 words to 40,000 words as a general rule.  Yet, in Young Adult fiction, a 40,000-word manuscript is considered a full length novel in that genre.  Then, a short while back, I pitched a 65,000-word historical manuscript to an agent and she referred to it as a “novella”.  Again, I say “HUH?”

As it turns out, the idea of what makes up a novella is a wide and varied concept in the world of publishing.  I’ve written quite a few novellas and they range in word count from 8,000 words to 25,000 words.

Besides the length, the main difference between my novellas and my novels is the complexity of the plot and the lack of multiple subplots in a novella.

Should you write one?

I, personally, find them incredibly fun to write.  In fact, I’ve already agreed to make several of mine into a continuing series of novellas.  I enjoy writing them because they represent a highly achievable short term goal.  The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t seem so far away when you start out knowing that this will be a short story.

Plus, they are in high demand with quite a few e-book publishers.  If you’re new to writing and/or seeking a quicker path to publication—I highly recommend pursuing completion of a novella.

Who wants to read these things anyway?

As a reader, I find that sometimes a simple and satisfying plot is all I need to quench my thirst for a good book.  Let’s face it… with our hectic lives these days… we don’t always have time to read a full-length book.  I find that I can fly through a novella either on my computer or on my e-book reader in record time.

I equate it to having an in between meal snack.  It is a satisfying treat that can hold you over until you can get your next full novel fix!

Who wants to win a copy of one of mine?

Want to try a taste of a short story that I’ve penned for Whispers Publishing?  Today, I’m giving away a copy of my book entitled “The Saucy Celt”.  It is a contemporary romance short set in the majestic Green Isle of Ireland.

I’ll give away a free copy of this novella to one participant today.  All you have to do is leave a question or comment for me here at the blog today AND promise to write me and tell me your honest opinion of the book after you’ve read it!

Thanks to W W and the mega talented, C.J. Ellisson, for hosting my appearance here today.

Thanks for joining us, Kerri. I look forward to watching your progress this coming year and your release of Courting Demons with Dorchester Publishing in 2011!

More about Kerri:

Kerri Nelson has always been passionate about reading books but when she wrote her first poem in the second grade, she discovered her love of writing.  At the age of sixteen, she became a columnist for her local newspaper as the high school correspondent for the weekly "Panther Tales" column.  She won the Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year Award for her efforts.

After an education and career in the legal field, Kerri began to pen romantic suspense novels with a legal or law enforcement theme.  She is a true southern belle and comes complete with her dashing southern gentleman husband and three adorable children.  When she’s not reading or writing, you’ll find her baking homemade goodies for her family, feeding her addiction to blogging online or designing custom made book trailers.  Kerri is an active member of Romance Writers of America as well as numerous Chapters including Gothic Romance Writers,  Futuristic Fantasy & Paranormal, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers.

Kerri is a multi-published author of romance in every genre from romantic suspense and paranormal to young adult and inspirational novels.  In 2009, Kerri wrote and sold twelve books to multiple publishers using her Book Factory method.  Her latest paranormal romantic suspense “Courting Demons” will release from Dorchester Publishing in 2011.

For the latest news and updates from Kerri, follow her on Twitter here:

The Wicked team will be holding a unique contest this month. We're asking our readers to try their own hand at short stories.  Entrants submit a non-erotica short story under 3,000 words to by April 20th, 2010. First prize is to have your entry critiqued by three members on the team, the story will be posted here on the site, and you'll be invited to guest blog with us in May! Second prize is a critique by two team members and to also have the story posted here on the site. Third prize will be one critique and an honorable mention.

Write on, everyone!