Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writing for a Memorable Performance

This week there’s been quite a bit of valuable advice on writing dialog from my fellow Wicked Writers. And, there certainly are a lot of books written on the subject, as Steve pointed out. Oh, and google “writing good dialog” and you’ll get back 17,300,000 search results. Yikes! I have to say it’s made me take a second, or should I say fifteenth look at the dialog I’ve written.

Now it’s my turn to add my two cents, and deciding what to write has been challenging, to say the least. Then it came to me while watching American Idol, when Simon Cowell said, for probably the five hundredth time, “That was a forgettable performance.”

Whether on stage, screen or in a book, dialog is just another part of a performances intent on entertaining an audience. Right? So you can follow all the rules for writing good dialog, but if the delivery is forgettable, the reader won't hesitate to trade in your novel for another selection.

To further my point, when you read these quotes, what do you hear and see in your mind’s eye?

"You talkin' to me?"

“I coulda been a contender.”

"E.T. phone home."

"...Bond. James Bond."

"I'll be back."

"Go ahead, make my day."

"Here's looking at you, kid."

"There's no place like home."

"You can't handle the truth!"

"I see dead people."

And the list goes on...

Even though each quote is only five words or less, I personally heard the character's voice and relived the background scene from each movie, and I'm sure you did too.

Dialog comes to me in the voice, personality, accent and tone of the character as I write. From there, I show what's going on around the dialog, striving to create moments for the reader that are just like reading one of those movie quotes. If I can create even one moment as memorable as Judy Garland clicking her heels and saying, "There's no place like home," I'll go to my grave a happy writer.

Make 'em Talk the Talk

Most dialogue clunks because writers try to make it do things we don’t normally do with speech.  Speak in complete sentences, for example.  Begin or end most sentences with a noun of direct address, Bob.  Present ideas in clear, logical order.

Tell the truth.

The best hint I can give you about writing dialogue is don’t treat it as people talking, treat it as people doing. The characters in your scene want to accomplish something, and if you give them different goals or desires, you create conflict.  Make them argue and never let them agree until the end of the story, if then.  That’s assuming that they listen to each other, which is pretty rare in real conversation, too.

If you limit scenes to two people, your reader can keep track of who’s speaking with fewer tags.  When you do use tags, stay with “said,” and avoid “yelled,” “murmured,” “whimpered,” or “bellowed.”  People don’t notice “said,” so they keep their attention on the story—which is what you want—instead of on intrusive telling verbs.  Besides, if you write clear dialogue, readers can tell if the speaker murmured, yelled, or whimpered without your telling them.

I like action tags because they can show reactions along with the speech, which gives you action and still saves words.  For example:

“You really piss me off, you know that?” Melissa picked up her steak knife.

Oh, by the way, nobody can nod, smile, laugh, or shrug a speech.

Second best hint: Use the dialogue to depict character.  Screen writer Thomas Sawyer says that if you can give a line of dialogue to a different character without rewriting it, it was badly written anyway.  Use vocabulary, imagery, and sentence length to show the person’s age, mood, education, interests, intelligence, and maybe even geographical location.

After Wuthering Heights and Huckleberry Finn, people decided that phonetic spelling for dialect was distracting (which it is), so just mention the character has a Southern, Boston, French, or Jewish accent instead.  If you really need it, you can give a foreign rhythm to speech by changing the usual word order or avoiding contractions.  I suggest an accent by mentioning that several consecutive syllables in someone’s speech have equal stress.

People with different backgrounds give you potential for misunderstanding and conflict, too.

Third best hint:  Real people don’t discuss things they already know about.  All the inane chatter (what we call “as you know, Bob” dialogue) you put in just to give information to the reader looks like inane chatter you put in just to give information to the reader.  If the speakers seem to know what they’re talking about (but don’t explain it), the reader will figure it out, too, even if you don’t treat him like an idiot.  If you do treat him that way, he’s going to resent it and put your book down.  Forever.

Slang and new expressions have a short shelf life, so be careful they don’t date your story, yo.

Allow your speaker no more than two or three sentences without being interrupted.  More than that is orating.  If it’s a longer speech, the speaker has to be upset/passionate/excited or he’ll bore the readers and they’ll start skipping pages.  Even if he goes on at some length, break it up with other people’s reactions or mention an event or action in the area: a phone rings, a car backfires, someone drops something, etc.  Otherwise, you risk falling into a monotonous drone.

Notice how I like an occasional one-sentence paragraph?

It works, bro. Word. Trust me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“This Story Needs More Dialogue,” She Gasped

Writing believable dialogue in fiction has been a topic very much on my mind lately, and not only because it’s the Wicked Writers’ topic of the week.

In the past few years, I always thought writing dialogue was the easiest part of putting a novel together. Character A meets Character B at Location X and tells him/her Important Information Z. Simple. I invested much more time crafting plot lines, researching the accuracy of my settings, and so on. But now as I revise, I’ve discovered the trickiest element to get right is the one I gave least thought to.

One reason I may have downplayed the importance of dialogue is that many novels I love use it either sparingly or in between long passages of narrative (that is, non-dialogue). Middlesex, Water for Elephants, Life of Pi, and Poisonwood Bible are all contemportary novels that stuck with me long after I finished the last page.

I just finished reading a suspense novel recommended by one of our Wicked Writers followers, Suzanne Adair (thanks!): A Trace of Smoke. It’s an excellent example of a book that strikes the right balance between strong dialogue and a cinematic narrative style, evoking crisp images of Berlin in the turbulent year of 1931. (If you’re interested in other recommendations, please check out more of my favorite books on

However minimal dialogue appears within a piece, I’m discovering that it’s the engine that moves along any narrative. In recently editing and critiquing other writers’ works of fiction, I find that nowadays I’m often tempted to put down any book that relies mostly on large blocks of narrative to tell a story (or backstory). I need to understand the characters and hear their voices, not just learn details about their past. And as Greg pointed out in his post yesterday, these voices need to impart more than simply their words but give me a sense of who they are and what they're all about.

I’ve found that editing for a living, and now with a new eye on dialogue, has helped me to see the spots in my own writing that need tweaking. It comes almost second nature to me, when I see other writers insert three or four blocks of consecutive descriptive passages, to suggest, “break this passage up with some dialogue.”

Trying to apply that advice to my own work has been quite an eye-opener, to say the least. I can now understand the oft-heard lament of, “I had to skip those parts and jump right to the action.” Isn’t that what dialogue is in most stories—the action and interchange we all seek?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Did he just say "intercourse"?

Did you know that in Victorian England, men and women often had intercourse several times a day?

And men were known to ejaculate quite often.

I didn't know that until I read the dialogue in some of the short stories in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Doyle, of course, wrote his Sherlock Holmes stories in the 1890's during the reign of Queen Victoria. Back then, "intercourse" meant conversation and "ejaculate" meant "exclaim."

Today, we'd get calls from the PTA about such language, but in order to write believable dialogue, we have to talk like the characters would really talk or really did talk.

As readers, we have to understand this and take it in context. Thus, when we hear Little Richard sing "Good golly, Miss Molly, she sure likes to ball," we have to know that "ball" in the 50s meant "to party."

Or when Doris Day crooned "By the light of the silvery moon, I want to spoon, with my honey and croon love's tune," we should make it a point to understand that, in the 1940's, spooning was holding your loved one close in public, not cuddling up nude in bed after a one-night stand.

As a writer, it's my job to make the readers understand that. Don't be fooled by those novels set in the Old West or Shakespearean times or in a fantasy realm akin to Lord of the Rings or in the 50s like Rebel Without A Cause where the characters talk like your next-door neighbors. That is the author being lazy.

Unfortunately, I have been lazy at times in the past with my own dialogue. I've produced enough cheese to supply Mickey D's for a year. But, I've learned a lot over the years, so let me tell you some of the things I have learned and see if you recognize them from your reading (if you're a writer, learn from them, please).

#1) Use real people

Do the characters in your book read like the cast of Jersey Shore? Do they talk like them or are they as believable as Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and  Russ Tamblyn passing for Puerto Rican in West Side Story?

It took me a few years, but, eventually, I got away from copying people from the movies. Why? Because those people in the movies are actors. They are acting.

I've been halfway around the world in my travels with the Navy, with newspapers and magazines. I've built up a wealth of knowledge and experience. For example, I can have a Boston character say "wicked" every third word and feel comfortable about it because I grew up in the Boston area.

I also freely borrow from all people. For example, I copy black people from all walks of life, just so you readers don't think we all just walked off the set of the latest Friday movie.

Note: Please try to avoid stereotyping. Not every Italian sounds like Joe Pesci. Maybe they talk like Joe Pantoliano, Annabella Sciorra, Al Pacino, Jennifer Esposito,  Vanessa Ferlito or Robert DeNiro.

#2) I ask the experts

An "expert" is anyone who knows more than me or has more direct experience in something than I do. Therefore, we are all surrounded by experts. If I want a character to sound believable when he talks about military intelligence, I ask my older brother, who was an intelligence officer in the Army.

If I don't have an expert readily at hand, I hit the Internet to make sure the terms I need are correct. After all, Devereaux Marshall Fox, the male lead in Land of the Blind, can't be in Antarctica enjoying the Aurora Borealis, now can he? Not when the Aurora Borealis is also called the Northern Lights, better seen in Alaska from the inn of C.J. Ellisson's Vampire Vacation.

#3) I take hints, suggestions and criticism

With a grain of salt, sometimes, but I take it. The readers offer insights that I can't get -- namely, the views and perspectives of other people. Maybe the reader is from Brooklyn and doesn't think my Brooklynite cop sounds authentic. Or maybe the reader is a retired general who points out that, in real life, a one-star general would not be talking to a battalion as if he were in charge of it.

When I was younger, I had this penchant for contradicting my dialogue. I tried to write a story based on the old TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Whenever the ship was in danger, I would have the captain order "Left right rudder!"


In other words, I was just being verbose in saying "go straight."

Someone was kind enough to point that out to me that it should be "Left full rudder!"

#4) Shift the attributes

Professionally, I am a journalist. A sports writer specifically. In the journalism world, dialogue generally begins with the quote and ends with ," such-and-such said.

C.J. pointed out that I use this form of attribution way too much. And I agree.

I guess it won't kill me to put the attribute first such as Jodi groaned, "I knew you were going to say that." Or "I knew you were going to say that." Jodi slapped her head and groaned.

I guess variety can be the spice of talk.

A special note: one thing I do disagree with from many of my critics is the word "said." Everyone tells me to just use "said." Can you imagine using that word fifty kazillion times in a novel? I like to use synonyms such as "stated," "explained," "noted," "exclaimed," eh, I mean "ejaculated."

#5) And finally, check, recheck and then check again

Once I do the dialogue, I often post it on But, before I do that, I say it to myself over and over again to see if it sounds natural. If it sounds like real people having a real conversation.

Because, if I don't believe the dialogue I've written, then what's the point of showing it to other people?

Feel free to leave a comment and let us know what kind of dialogue you like.

When Life is Like Seinfeld

I've often joked with my friends and family that our lives—my husband's and mine—are like a Seinfeld episode. Wacky things happening, weird bizarre luck shaping our day—and hysterical dialogue that seems to pour forth from the people around us. This week, the Wicked Writers are going to discuss what we do to create believable dialogue within our work, and trust me, it's not always easy.

Sometimes, the best lines are too well crafted.  You can only have so many sharp comebacks in one chapter. After that, it becomes contrived and forced.  I mean, after all, people aren't "on" 24/7, are they?

The best way I've found to interject realistic dialogue into my stories is to listen. I will listen in on to three and four conversations circulating around me at once.  And keep track of all the pertinent information in each one at the same time.  Was I trained as a spy?  No.  I have a gift and a curse of never being able to turn my mind off.

At it's worst, this gift causes me to lose sleep and I toss and turn at night, waiting for the peaceful oblivion of nothingness to finally arrive.  At other times, this high level of awareness enables me to steal excellent dialogue and interweave it into my story.  The heart of this gift is a young woman who would always think up snappy comebacks after the person who insulted her had walked away.

Isn't that essentially what writing is?  I get a chance to think up snappy, funny lines and have no pressure to do it in front of a group at the drop of a hat.

One thing I've noticed from all my eavesdropping, excellent hearing in a crowded restaurant, and retelling of funny stories in front of drunks at a party is this—people do not always speak in grammatically correct sentences.  Lots of fragments are used.  Sometimes nouns and verbs are implied. No one speaks in this day and age without using a lot of contractions—unless they're angry and trying to make a point (or maybe speaking to children or trying to calm an animal).

Above all—to write the best dialogue you must listen, listen and listen some more. How do you know when you've succeeded? You read your lines out loud and see if it sounds real or fake.  Great writing needs the dialogue to convey pertinent information in as little words as possible, but it also needs to be appropriate. Don't have your ten-year-old character sound like an English professor. Neither should your lovestruck hero sound like a sniveling sap spouting romantic drivel.

If you didn't hear the kid at the grocery store say it, your own husband would never utter the words, or your last cab driver didn't quote Socrates—then don't do it in your writing.

Publishing Update: Last week I filed a "doing business as" under my existing business license as a publisher with the county (state filing will be this week), bought a block of ten ISBN numbers, filled out documentation to get an account with a printer, played around with fonts on a 400 dpi cover image, and began laying out the interior of the book for pricing purposes. In addition, this weekend, I received news that Vampire Vacation won first place in the 2009 Beacon Unpublished division—it's my very first contest win. Yay!!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Is Dark Rural Fantasy a Subgenre?

I’ve already mentioned a few times that my novel is a mix of fantasy, horror and comedy, but those are the main literary genres. What about all those subgenres out there? Where does it fit with those?

I hadn’t really thought too much about subgenres until I read …What is Dark Urban Fantasy over at All Things Urban Fantasy, coincidentally the week before writing this post. Read it and you'll find there is no clear description for this subgenre, but the author provides some great examples that lead me to believe The Courier could fall under dark urban fantasy. Still, I wanted to investigate further, so like the author, I ended up on Wikipedia.

Starting at the top of the list, with the historical genre, I found speculative fiction as a subgenre. One of my favorite short story categories to read. There are aspects of distorted history in my story, and book three may have some time travel in it. Check that one off as a possibility.

Science Fiction? Well, cyberpunk may fit because my protagonist, Barry, is a computer genius, although he doesn’t get to use his skills in book 1. Who knows where it might take him in future books…evil laugh.

Am I boring you yet?

I know I was bored until I happened upon:

Splatterpunk—a term coined in 1986 by David J. Schow at the Twelfth World Fantasy Convention in Providence, Rhode Island—refers to a movement within horror fiction distinguished by its graphic, often gory, depiction of violence and "hyperintensive horror with no limits.”


The book cover to the right was written in the 1920s though. Have to say that Story of the Eye is one of the grossest stories I’ve ever read, but still one of my favorite books. I aspire to write romance as well as Georges Bataille, although there's not much romance in my series!

Considering I've just segued into horror, add ghosts and occult. Enough said. Wrap it all up in dark comedy and you have The Courier, except I still haven't settled on a subgenre for fantasy.

Most of the first two novels in The Courier series are certainly dark and fantastic, but primarily set in a rural area of Colorado. Not until the third novel does Barry return to Denver. So is there a dark rural fantasy category? Why did they throw in urban anyways? It's not like all the evil characters in the world would flock to the cities. For all we know, cattle mutilations could be the work of vampires and zombies, and not aliens.

And now, back to the true purpose of this post. How do I write in all these genres and subgenres? Well schizophrenia runs in my family. But seriously, folks, our lives could never fit into one genre, so how could the stories we tell fit into one?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Spoonful of Romance Makes the Violence Go 'Round

When you teach long enough, read enough books, and accumulate enough grad credits, everything becomes this dense literary stew.  Even if you can pluck out the ingredients, you may not be able to tell where they come from.

A literature major, I never took a formal creative writing course, but everything I read during my deformative years bubbled underneath and eventually fought its way to the light.  In grad school, I thought the idea for my first novel came from Faulkner’s Intruder In the Dust, but it was also from Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Greek mythology, The Hardy Boys, and probably ten thousand comic books.

I taught myself to write fiction by revising that novel for years.  Each new version became more complex and added different elements—what I called “depth,” “texture,” or “bull,” depending on my level of frustration.  Courtesy of Faulkner and Lee, I wrote a courtroom drama, which implied a mystery from the very start.  Both their stories use a young protagonist, too, so my book was vaguely YA/Coming of Age.  The romantic subplot kept blossoming with every rewrite, too.

Two radically different drafts garnered enough rejections to make me shelve the whole thing and write a straight-forward mystery—which didn’t sell either—until I needed a thesis for my sixth-year degree.

Realizing that the novel had to be “scholarly” to justify a grade and a degree, I added literary and mythological allusions to prove that I actually knew that stuff.  A vaguely Merlin-like mentor emerged as another major character, and I added examples of ironic “Appearance versus Reality,” very big in my school’s curriculum at that time.

Amazingly, my demanding and helpful advisor felt that it all clicked and urged me to send the MS out again.  It still didn’t sell, but that coming-of-age courtroom mystery romance with literary pretensions is my favorite of eleven unsold novels.

In fact, I’ve restructured it to give the opening more impact before I send it out yet again.  I’ve added a prologue and epilogue to clarify the restructuring and written transitions to lead into and out of flashbacks.  I’ve also expanded two scenes featuring a supporting character.  But about ninety per cent of the book is still what I wrote over twenty years ago because it still says what I wanted it to say and does what I wanted it to do.

If you’re still with me, you see where I’m headed.  The book mixes genres—YA, mystery, romance, “literary”—and my college advisor didn’t even blink.  The “Great Writers” have always done it.

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare tells a love story.  He uses Samson, Gregory, Mercutio, and the nurse for bawdy humor and kills six people, five of them on-stage.  In iambic pentameter.

Dickens layered comedy and melodrama into his dark urban poverty.  Twain’s Huckleberry Finn shows the evils of racism and slavery at least partly through the hilarious schemes of the King and the Duke, both of whom are reprehensible scum.

Huxley’s Brave New World (The title comes from Shakespeare again) plays John the Savage’s love off against the cruel mechanized society that eventually drives him to kill himself.

Maybe the real issue is How Can You NOT Mix Genres?  Love and Death make our stories matter, so you include one or both in everything you write except a grocery list.

What if we define writing or genre not by content, but by style?  If the language calls attention to itself and the writer—what we now call a literary style—it’s Type A.  If the language keeps the readers’ focus on the characters and action--what we now call mainstream, or commercial (Like it’s a bad word!), or even genre—it’s Type B.  That shouldn’t be a hierarchy.  There’s good and bad writing at every level and type, no matter what you call it.

But that’s a can of worms we don’t want to open here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Guest Blogger - Heidi Noroozy

Our guest blogger this week is novelist Heidi Noroozy. I met Heidi through Sisters in Crime last year, when we both discovered we write about main characters straddling two cultures. I was more than a little intrigued when I found out that her novels feature an Iranian private investigator who solves crimes both in the U.S. and in Iran. Equally fascinating is Heidi's background. She's an American who travels regularly to Iran, is fluent in Farsi, and writes about a culture few of us have an opportunity to see close up. Heidi is contributing to this week's topic on writing and marketing cross-genre novels.

Thanks, Supriya, for inviting me to blog with you today. And on one of my favorite topics, too.

The first time I realized my novel was cross-genre was the day I started querying agents and had to come up with that important little phrase: my completed 90,000-word…what? Couldn’t I just call it a novel and be done with it? Nope. I had to find a way to set it aside from the hundreds of other fiction queries agents receive every week. I had written a crime story. That was a start. But there are whole shelves of crime novels in every bookstore – even entire bookstores devoted to the genre. So I thought some more. My book featured a female private investigator. So far, so good. The problem was, without even taxing my brain, I could think of at least ten other authors who were writing series featuring female private investigators. I dug deeper. She’s Iranian. Born in Tehran, raised in California – a person of two cultures. Bingo. I had it: a multicultural P.I. novel. A cross-genre story.

It may be that some authors set out to write cross-genre and combine various interests to come up with something new and different. Mysteries populated with supernatural beings (Charlaine Harris), police procedurals set in the future (J.D. Robb), a medieval knight-turned-private investigator (Jeri Westerson). For me it started with a challenge.

I’d been hanging with Iranians for years. I’d been to Iran, spoke the language, could even cook a decent pot of saffron-scented rice without burning the tadiq – the crispy bits on the bottom of the pot. But everywhere I looked in the media, I saw images of Iran that didn’t fit with what I knew. On TV there were women enveloped in black chadors, crowds raising fists and yelling “Death to America”, those propaganda murals painted on the walls of the former U.S. Embassy that seem to be mandatory footage for every CNN newscast on Iran. In the movies, the Iranians were the terrorists who got blown up by the good guys in the end.

Where were the funny, teasing people who were always cracking me up? The bottle-blonds with pouty red lips and cats-eye mascara jobs? The bossy matrons who lay down the law in the home and out-bargain the savviest merchant at the bazaar? The big, noisy family gatherings with enough food to feed a small nation? The taxi drivers who can recite Rumi poems while performing death-defying maneuvers in Tehran’s killer traffic? I put them all in my books. And added a mystery/suspense plot.

My entire series is cross-genre in a way. The first book is a straight whodunit-type mystery. The second suspense, with the murderer revealed up front and a sleuth determined to make him pay for his crime. The third? Well, I haven’t written it yet, so that’s anybody’s guess.  It definitely won’t have a terrorist in it. That’s been done to death.

Thanks so much for blogging with us today, Heidi! Your novel sounds incredible and exactly like something I'd pick up in the store.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hey, some of my best stories are mixed

The Thing From Another World. John Carter of Mars. Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. The Lost World.

Classic fiction. And great examples of mixing genres.

After all, what is Forbidden Planet but bringing Shakespeare’s Tempest into the future? Star Wars is really nothing more than a mix of Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress with westerns and science fiction.

Horror and science fiction have been mixing genres from nearly their inception. Action. Adventure. Mystery. Thrills. Romance. They all figure into horror and science fiction.

In fact, I submit that you can’t help but mix genres when you write. There is even a mixed genre unto itself -- action/adventure. And look at science fiction. It is often lumped together with horror and for good reason. The two are almost inseparable.

Case in point, take John W. Campbell’s 1938 classic “Who Goes There?” (in film form, you know it better as The Thing from Another World and the 1982 remake The Thing). It involves an isolated research post that happens upon a crashed alien ship. They thaw it out but accidentally destroy it when the magnesium hull ignites. They do, however, save the alien pilot, a being that can take on the physical and emotional essences of whatever it touches. Soon, it is taking over bodies as the scientists try to stop it. They’re picked off one by one.

As it reads, it sounds a bit like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, though it was written eight years earlier. It has claustrophobic tendencies that have   turned up in films like It! Terror from Beyond Space and Alien. The UFO fulfills the science fiction plot. And there you have it -- science fiction, horror and mystery all rolled up into one classic story.

I mean, the mere mention of aliens or even Big Brother-type governments invokes our deepest fears. Invasion of the Body Snatchers certainly couldn't have succeeded if it hadn't played on the horror we feel at losing our individuality.

I can’t speak for other genres, but I find that science fiction gains the most from incorporating other genres into its matrix. Just look at James Cameron’s treatment of Alien. Remember the terror when the alien burst through Kane’s chest. Then, there was the action of hunting the creature, the thrill as Ripley raced through the ship trying to stop the self-destruct sequence, the horror as she tried to get into the EVA suit inside the escape pod without alerting the alien. One could feel the tension and frustration. Action, adventure, terror, horror, science fiction, all brought together.

Now, how do you incorporate another genre into your writing? I can’t personally say, just say I let the words come to me. When I flesh out my plot, I often don’t notice the other genre until I go back and look at it. That’s because science fiction and horror have always incorporated other genres. I mean hunting down and killing a vampire automatically involves suspense. Throw King Kong and Godzilla into man’s world and you automatically have to have action.

One thing I can say is don't force the issue. I wrote a book called Slow Boat to China. At the urging of friends, I decided to throw some sex and romance into the mix. BIG mistake. I went through the story, adding in romance and sex and it just mucked up things. For instance, some of the heroes went to a casino/brothel to investigate smuggling. Upon rereading, I saw that I had just thrown the brothel scenes in as an excuse for the sex. It was like a porn flick where a road crew goes to a house to use the bathroom only to discover all the women inside are strippers with nothing to do. Yeah, like that really happens.

For a more visual example, try a run-of-the-mill sci-fi flick called Monolith Monsters. In this movie, the villains are mysterious rocks from space that absorb water and grow into monstrous stalagmites that become unstable, fall over and shatter into thousands of smaller pieces that begin to grow into their own stalagmites. Anyone touching a piece is leeched of silica (the substance that makes our limbs flexible) and turned literally into stone.

If you've ever seen the movie, you'll know that the monoliths take a back seat to the forced love story between Grant Williams (star of the classic The Incredible Shrinking Man) and Lola Albright (Peter Gunn). These two create enough syrup to keep Denny's and IHOP in business for a year. Add in their campy struggle to save a little girl and you end up wishing the monolith monsters would crush them. That is not the feeling you want your readers or intended audience to have.

I have to admit that, if I have a major failing in writing (and I do have some), it is with romance. I have trouble creating believable romance. Therefore, you may find the romance genre non-existent in my books. Lord knows how much trouble I had building the romance between Anna Velasquez and Maria Red Horse in Land of the Blind.

Instead, for a better example of mixing genres, look back in history at the first half of the 20th century. You’ll get the clearest sign of genres mixing by examining early pulp fiction to the Golden Age of Science Fiction to the New Wave of Science Fiction. Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World. L. Ron Hubbard's Buckskin Brigades and the classic Final Blackout. H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines. The Golden Age of Science Fiction with A.E. van Vogt (Slan), Theodore Sturgeon ("Killdozer"), Phillip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale), Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers, Puppet Masters), Isaac Asimov (Foundation, Nightfall), Walter Miller (A Canticle for Leibowitz). Heinlein's classic Stranger in a Strange Land successfully mixed romance, sex, science fiction and counterculture drama.

Some of the best names in science fiction came during this period: Poul Anderson, Robert Silverberg, John W. Campbell (father of space opera), Heinlein, Lester Del Rey, Arthur C. Clarke, L. Sprague de Camp. They all mixed genres freely.

Or, if you don't like sci-fi, try Daphne du Maurier's classic works such as The Birds, Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and Don't Look Now. Agatha Christie mixed mystery and suspense with thrills in the aforementioned Ten Little Indians (also known as Ten Little Soldiers and the original title that I won't mention here, save to say it used the N-word in place of "Indian"). More recently, we see Stephanie Meyers mixing supernatural elements with teen angst and romance for her Twilight novels. Laurell K. Hamilton has done the same with her Meredith Gentry and Anita Blake novels.

See how they all mixed everything together and came out with popular fiction. One thing I can say is that all of those writers planned ahead. They didn’t stick things in just to stick them in. If an editor said a story needed romance, they went back to the beginning and added romance; they didn’t just pick and choose spots.

So my advice is to go back and read. Then, feel free to copy from the masters, like James Cameron freely admitted he did with Alien.

Who knows, maybe mixing genres will make you the next Heinlein, Clarke,  Hamilton or Meyer.

If anything, it will give you license to experiment. Who knows what classics may come of it.

Cross-Genre = Where Do We Put Your Book?

As most of you know who've been following the blog for a while, I'm the least experienced writer in the bunch. This week we're tackling the topic of crossing genre boundaries within our writing and how we do it. My opinion on this topic is limited because I've only written one thing and I've only been writing for a year.

I didn't know I was mixing genres when I wrote. I had a story I wanted to tell, simple as that. I wanted it to have hot sex, so I wrote that in. I wanted action and adventure like my favorite movies have, which also meant it needed some suspense to keep the reader turning pages. Oh, and I wanted to make my own world up to play by my rules, so I threw the fantastical into the mix as well.

Hmm... let's see -- that's an Erotic Action/Adventure Paranormal Suspense. Gee, okay. And where do we stick your book on the shelves, lady? I'm not so sure myself. The books I buy range from horror, to romance, to fantasy, and finally to mystery. I like them all and I see elements from two or three genres crossing into the current bestsellers. I think Steve explained it best in his post on why he writes crime. Every story has a puzzle behind it, or it wouldn't be worth reading.

Now to the question of how - how do you successfully mix all these elements into a story and make it believable? I hark back on Greg's excellent post on believability equals credibility. You must plan well. You must be able to incorporate all of the facts about the world you've created, balance it with character developing subplots, manage to move the main plot of the book along in every chapter and make sure the sex is not gratuitous, but actually appropriate within the story.

How did I do it? I wrote it all out in a brief outline and had key points I wanted to string together - then I worked toward that goal. I knew my ending, I knew the sex scenes I wanted to write - heck, I even planned out a mild woman on woman scene and worked it in with the main focus being the monogamous married couple (and how, you may ask?  Read it to see! ;-)) Sometimes planning out a cross-genre book is simply stringing together a bunch of wild scenes you've imagined and giving them life.

I had an absolute blast writing my one and only book so far. Sometimes I made my husband read scenes right as I finished writing them because I was desperate to see if it came across as hot as I'd hoped.  And yes, he said they did. Scoff and laugh all you want - but sex sells. As long as it doesn't fill every page and there is an actual story to go along with it, then readers will love it (or at least that's one of things I love as a reader).

How about you? What's your favorite mix of genres? I'd love to hear because I'm working on my next book and learning what people like is invaluable.

Important Update: My husband and I discussed things extensively and made the decision yesterday that I would self-publish my book for release this May. Let's look at it as an experiment -- one I invite you along to witness each step as I take it. Who knows? The end result may surprise us all.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Winner in the Valentine's Contest!

Winner announced today for our very first contest -

Big Congrats to Maered!

You're the recipient of eight romance books (two signed by the authors), a small heart shaped box of Russell Stover chocolates and a $25 gift certificate to Borders.

Please check your spam folder in case you don't see my email, we'll need your address to send you your prize.

Thanks to everyone who entered and I hope we see you back for our next contest!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Social Networking or Stalking

This week I’m inspired by Brian Hodge's post, Scaling the Rat Hole over at the Storytellers Unplugged blog. Go read it if you like, but please come back.

Like Brian, I kept a record of what I wrote, even competed against myself to write more words than the previous day. I changed my motto to, “Networking? Who has time for that?” I was way too busy writing.

Side note. This partially explains why I dropped off the face of the earth for nearly two years. Prior to finally deciding to hit the fiction writing full and hard, I ran a local in-person networking group, specifically to help nonprofits, and became a business and social networking guru of sorts. I was one of the first Facebook users, but I used it to post events, considering my preference has always been networking face to face. Not an easy thing to do when your audience is all across the world though.

When I decided to venture into writing a Twitter novel and entered the Textnovel contest last year, I had to make time for social networking, again. And so, the little "distraction" (as Brian so appropriately calls them) began interfering with my writing, again. My daily totals went down drastically. I realized yesterday, while waiting for my car at the dealership with no WiFi, that Mr. Hodge provides the best solution...unplug the router.

In my opinion, social networking is out of control. For example, imagine my dismay when I opened my Gmail yesterday morning and found Buzz, yet another distraction to discuss with the world what you're up to. Don't tell anyone I posted a few messages. I had to try it out.

How different is social networking from stalking, really? Think about how Facebook works. You spy on people, I mean read through personal status, for just the right victims, I mean friend. Then you make your move, the attack, I mean commenting or following their lead. There are also the members you don't know, who request your friendship. If you let them in, nine times out of ten, they take the next step and send you countless requests to join groups and fan clubs, along with messages to attend their events. Yes, I'm guilty of it too. Oops, forgot the harassment via instant message. We've all had to deal with it, yet we keep going back for more. It's like cold calling for the 21st century, with an actual audience.

My #1 stalking method has been Twitter. Why? It's quick. Well kinda. And, you can reach more people, theoretically, through search terms and replies. In addition, I love the Ning social networks, where it's easier to communicate with members, but not much different than the groups over at Yahoo, MSN & Google. Yawn! I also blog on and off, but you have to use all the other social networking tools to get people to read your blog.

Argh! There's no getting away from it if you're trying to promote yourself. It's part of the job. So if you wanna network with me, I suggest you check out the links in the right column of my blog. Adding the links here could take the rest of my morning.

Working The Room

Social networking is a complete waste of time and a royal pain in the ass.  Unless you want to sell books.  Or aluminum siding.  Or lemonade.  Or anything else.  Or unless you want a job, a date, or tips to improve your golf swing.

Writers often forget that real people need only two things: food and shelter.  Everything else is a frill.  When we pay a guy ten million dollars a year to play a kid’s game or an actor fifteen million dollars to play dress-up, it’s easy to lose perspective.  The truth is that nobody needs the Super Bowl or Avatar or American Idol.

And they certainly don’t need my books.

Which means I’d better make those books worth their while to read.  That’s easier to do if they know who I am.  It’s even easier if they like me.

Social networking—remember when we used to call it “making friends?”—has become vital for any author who plans to do more than write a journal and stick it in a trunk.  I’ve started blogging—hey, you’re reading this, aren’t you?—but I can’t see myself twittering or tweeting.  How can you take it seriously when the verbs evoke images of canaries on speed?

I am on Facebook and Classmates (I’ve even volunteered to help with my high school reunion this fall), and I will soon have a Web site, but my favorite forms of “social networking” involve face-to-face communication.  It’s part of that Do-Something-For-Others-So-They-Will-Do-Something-For-You compact.

Every word I’ve published—not that you’re going to mistake me for Joyce Carol Oates (I’m taller)—is because someone gave me a hint or a contact.  Now I’m trying to pass that generosity along. As Harlan Coben puts it, “Nobody else has to fail so that I can succeed.”

I love to run a writing workshop and watch people discover the magic in their own words.  I’m starting to arrange library events (we used to call them “readings”) for my own novel because I love talking with real people—“tweeting,” my ass—and hearing their reactions and questions.  I love the visceral contact of shaking hands.  And if people like the way I treat them, maybe they’ll give the book a chance.

I joined the Guppies for critiques and info groups because if I want feedback, I should give it, too.  The best part was actually meeting two dozen members at Crime Bake last fall and putting faces and voices to the e-mail addresses on my monitor.  I volunteer for Crime Bake.  I contribute—far too rarely—to other blogs.  I wrote a study guide for a book Hallie Ephron cited in 1001 Books For Every Mood.  We used to call all this stuff “sharing,” and it was a big deal when I was growing up.

Now I’ve started research for a new novel, interviewing a man and woman last Saturday night.  I met them at a Roller Derby match, and their combined age probably totals 2/3 of mine (Remember why you hated word problems in math?).  I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun. Well, I do, but that’s between me and my parole officer.

My daughter, who also does Roller Derby and is designing that Web site I mentioned above, is giving me the names of a referee and three players from other teams so I can interview them, too.

Social networking?  Nah.  It’s making friends.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wading Into The Deep End

Social networking is one of those fads that has taken over our culture at lightning speed. And as it should: what a great way to keep in touch with everyone you know at the click of a button or two. Yet the faster technology moves, the harder it is for me to keep up.

My most social network to date is the online chapter of the Guppies, which stands for the “great unpublished” and is a branch of the mystery writers’ organization, Sisters in Crime. Despite the name, many of its members are published and a good portion well on their way. As a member, I subscribe to a yahoo group and receive a digest of emails on any number of topics that come to my email account a few times a day. While I’m not as active a participant as I probably should be, I learn something new from reading through the other emails just about every day. I’ve also met and become virtual writing pals with other mystery writers, who help me offline with line edits, manuscript swaps, brainstorming sessions, and pep talks.

As for other networks, I’m pretty limited. I’m not linked in, I don’t tweet, and I only opened my personal Facebook account a little over a year ago to find out what all the hype was about. In the first weeks, you couldn’t pry me off it. (My kids told our friends that I worked for Facebook, which they really believed.) In less than two months though, I was just about over it.

It was wonderful reconnecting with people and seeing how great old friends were doing after all these years, but beyond that, I didn’t really need to know what they had for breakfast or how their morning commute was on a day-to-day basis. And I had little news of my own to share with  the world. Prior to December, I was happy to have a chance to peruse the news feed once or twice a month.

Unless of course, I have news of my own. Like I have lately, and then the social network and all its various attributes takes on an entirely new significance.

When it came time to publicize Wicked Writers, I was glad to have all these connections. The day I updated my Facebook status and notified my Guppy friends about my first blog post, our site had over 200 hits. And since we launched just over six weeks ago, we’ve had more than 3,500 hits. That’s quite a bit of traffic for five writers trying to generate some buzz. We’re thrilled, of course, with our success and hope to keep the energy going. I’ve also had some folks—both long-lost friends, other writers, and some potential fans—who’ve reached out to me personally, making the excitement about my book and my writing life feel more like a reality than it had earlier as well as making me work harder than ever.

I may be a long way from publishing my book, it’s hard to tell with that decision not entirely within my control, but as I wait, my perspective on social networking keeps evolving. I’m learning more about all the exciting resources for booklovers, such as, for example. But I have a long way to go.

Any blogs, online book review sites, or other places on the web you can share with us? I would love to hear your recommendations.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Starlene Stringer: Personifying social networking

This week's topic asks us the merits of social networking. Today, I have the honor of presenting an interview I did with a good friend of mine -- Starlene Stringer.

This woman personifies social networking.

I first met her when I was a reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, at a meeting of Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Black Communicators (now called DFW Association of Black Journalists, the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists) back in the day when social networking was done face-to-face (the 1990's in case you were wondering). We didn't have Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or LinkedIn. Just a telephone and a monthly meeting.

In case you're not familiar with Ms. Stringer, she is the morning show co-host and News & Public Affairs Director at 94.9-FM KLTY, host of the weekly talk show "DFW Perspectives with Starlene" and host of the syndicated TV talk show Even Greater with Reinhard Bonnke. Add in being a news anchor, producer, director, actress and model, she's a certified fitness instructor for both Bally and 24 Hour Fitness. She's also a motivational speaker who has authored two inspirational books -- Speak Through Me: Diary of a Military Brat and I Am Her...and It's Actually Okay!


It's the last line that I managed to interview her about (see above images). This might be encouraging to the readers who want to be published and have gotten short shrift from the publishing houses.

Believe it or not, even someone with Starlene's credentials had a tough time getting published. So, naturally, she did what any one of us wouldn't dream of doing -- she started her own publishing company (Epiphany Productions & Publications). Yeah, I know. Kind of hard to work for the Man when you are the Man or Woman, but, as Starlene will show, it's working. Both of her books are bestsellers (Diary of a Military Brat is an Essence Magazine national bestseller, #5 July 2003).

Greg: What made you decide to publish your writing  yourself?

Starlene: With my first publication, timeliness was critical. I didn't have time to wait for acceptance and approval, etc. I had shared some of my poems on-air and people wanted copies. So they need to be available, right away. The other reasons I chose to create my own publishing company was so that I could have the freedom to write whatever I choose and not have someone try to change my words.

Greg: What was required for you to do this?

Starlene: I had to do lots of research. I consulted Black book store owners, attended publishing classes and read online articles. I established a LLC, got copyrights and barcodes, selected a graphic artist, chose a printing company, etc.

Greg: What would you say was the hardest part of self-publishing and why?

Starlene: The hardest part is you have to do it all. It's very time consuming and it takes away from the time you could spend being creative and writing more.

Greg: Do you publish other writers?

Starlene: No. I don't print the work of others right now. I've had a lot of people ask me to, but I don't have the time.

Greg: Would you say it was all worth it? And why?

Starlene: Yes. It was worth it. I accomplished what I set out to do and that was to share what I had to say with others.

Greg: Again, thanks for all of your help and assistance. By the way, when is your next book coming out?

Starlene: Later this year.

Fortunately for those of us who desire to follow her and not wait for the next book, she's on all the social networks -- look up "Starlene" on FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Of course, you can always check out her personal website

And,  you know, I just realized that she said she read some of her poems on-air and people called in, demanding copies.

Now, that's social networking.

Facebook, My Platform of Choice

Social networking is the controversial topic this week. Why controversial? Well, some people think it's a great idea for business and others think it's a colossal waste of time. I believe that almost everything connected to the Internet is an invaluable tool, one in which learning to use it properly could set you apart from your competition in achieving success.

When I launched my business page on Facebook last spring, I did so with no preconceived notions of what was considered right or wrong. I filed my applications with Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime a few weeks earlier using my pen name. I'd been exchanging crits with strangers for a few weeks and posting my work on for over a month.

I'd received a ton of mixed responses to my present-tense style and thought, "Why not ask readers what they think?" After all, how else would I know if what I was writing would appeal to anyone? It was the best thing I ever did, and yet a decision most fellow writers told me was wrong and a mistake —except for a rare few who listened, watched and tried it.

They said publishers wouldn't care how many "friends" I had. Wouldn't care how popular I was, and wouldn't like that I posted so much of my work online for public consumption. They said Facebook, Twitter, blogging—all of it was a waste of valuable writing time.

I ask you this: how many times have you read a book jacket to be disappointed that the story didn't measure up? Or read an excerpt only to realize the author chose the best possible passage to post and the rest of the book didn't appeal to you?

It's happened to me and I've spent more money on books I've never finished than I care to admit. And you can bet your sweet-patootie I didn't spend money on that author again. Why not post a good chunk of your story and see what readers thought? If they liked the fifteen to twenty percent you posted for free, why wouldn't they care for the rest of your work? If you give part away, they'll gladly buy the rest when it becomes available.

Think about it like buying a car. Wouldn't you take it for a test drive? Or would you read the sticker only and say, "sure, I'll buy that! Where do I sign?" Think of your sample chapters as that test drive.

I chose Facebook because I could put an age restriction on my page to block out the underage kiddies, post my chapters on the Notes tab where comments could go underneath for feedback, and make connections with REAL people who will become my reader base once I can get that magical and ever-elusive publishing contract.

A business page on Facebook is not like in Field of Dreams: "build it and they will come." You need to work it, big time. I gave myself a budget for a set period of time—some days it was $2 and some days it was $10—and advertised on Facebook. Think about what the average author spends on hiring someone to build a web site ($350 to $1,500), professionally edit their work ($5-$10 per page), make a book trailer ($250 to $2,000), and then promote themselves ($100 to $1,000) prior to their book being released. Did you think the publisher pays for that stuff? Maybe they will if you're a proven author but not if you're a newbie like me.

I've been in sales for over fifteen years, and most of those early years I was scraping to get by. The old adage is very true: "to make money you must spend money."

I spent money from my two-year budget on Facebook ads to attract readers to my page, but they stayed and became fans because they like my work. Not because they're my friends. I've met some incredible people online, a few terrific dreamers like myself, and received invaluable advice that helped in shaping my story. I have always known the direction the book would go, but my readers helped me make it just that much better, so that it would appeal to them even more.

Will it help to get my book published? Time will tell. Tune in here to see.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rebel Writer Without a Cause

Okay, who picked this week’s topic? I hope it wasn’t me. No really. The last thing I want to talk about this week is where I’m at with my current novel. Hell, I think I’d have more fun gouging out my eyes than talking about finishing The Courier. Hey, C.J., could we use another guest blogger this week?

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="160" caption="Mmmm... James Dean as my protagonist."][/caption]

Anyways... Lately, The Courier is like a relationship with your teenage child. You love and nurture him from the very beginning, but towards the end of his teens, he’s lucky he’s still alive. The only saving grace is when he receives his first acceptance letter to a college, and you realize it's only a short while before you can boot his ass out the door. In the case of my novel, throwing it in the fireplace and burning every last stinkin’ bit of it would be more than satisfying at the moment. But yesterday, Steve said, "never throw anything away," and that’s some really valuable advice. Especially five seconds into the burning, when I jump into the flames to save Barry, Nina and all their evil friends.

I guess it’s normal to have a love/hate relationship with your novels. And, I suppose this phase of writing the damn thing was inevitable. Remember me saying I started writing The Courier as a fun experiment, not really taking it seriously. Now, six months later, I'm so freakin' wrapped up in the story line and characters, I can see them all glaring at me from across my desk, disappointed I'm not moving their lives along quicker.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="191" caption="Go get him, Michael"][/caption]The shit really hit the fan when I read in Manuscript Makeover, and a few other places, that it's hard to sell a novella as a first time author. ARGH! That's exactly what I had been writing. Shortly before that, I started contemplating serializing The Courier. Oh, and my agent also asked if I had thought about adding in more of the traditional and biblical acceptance of Satan and the origins of evil. I replied I had for a later book, but that answer seemed absurd. When I wrapped it all up in one package, the story no longer made sense as a novella.

So where am I now? Still organizing chaos, like I was a couple weeks ago. It's getting easier though. I've rewritten the ending, lengthening it and twisting in more conflict for a better flavor. Took me a few months to really figure it out though, which is frustrating considering I had hoped to have the first draft completed by now.

On a good note, I got a couple reminders from friends that things could be much worse, one being a ridiculous ad, posted by a not so nice individual, looking for writers to edit 500 word articles for $1.25 a piece. Yeah, I'll take my troubles with my novel over that work any day.

Where Do We Go Now?

When I was in theater, I always needed a Plan B.  Now that I’m writing, Plan C, D, and even E get a fair amount of mileage.  Things change quickly and you need to adjust along with them.

Last October, I was in Plan A, sending queries out to several agents about one novel, sent the full MS of another novel to a publisher—who I thought would reject it because it was too long—and polished the pitch for the opening novel of a PI series.  That pitch would go to an agent at Crime Bake in mid-November.  It went well and the agent told me to send three chapters.  I returned home Sunday night with everything under control.

Monday, Plan A went south.  The publisher accepted the novel—but needed me to cut 5000 words, which shifted me to Plan B.  Tuesday, I learned that I’d won a prize—and summer publication—for a novella that I entered in a contest the previous March.  Since the novella features the cast from the unsold PI series, pushing that immediately became Plan C.

I have a sequel to the PI novel in a messy draft and two more books in solid outlines, but I can’t do anything with them until Book One finds a home somewhere and I know what needs to change.  That’s why the writing gods created the flash drive.

I sent out ten queries on that novel last week, and Plan D involves waiting for something to happen.  That means doing NOTHING for a minimum of two months.  Yeah, right. Enter Plan E.

When you write, never throw ANYTHING away.  There’s always a character, a plot twist, a line of dialogue, or an evocative description you can recycle.  The soon-to-be published stand-alone needs a sequel and the Idea Store, AKA those wonderful flash drives, is always open.

Among the wreckage, I have a novel with the same general tone and similar characters.  If I change one character’s back story and cut a subplot, maybe it can become that sequel.  I’m writing myself revision notes and finding the problems that need the most attention.

Plan F involves a completely new book with those same sold characters.  My daughter, who is also my web designer and a writer herself, dropped an idea in my lap last week.  The more I play with it, the more it reveals  itself as a Truly Beautiful Plan F, great eyes, great smile, singing to me like the Sirens with a pitcher of old-fashioneds on the rocks.

Unfortunately, the setting and premise are a completely foreign world to me, and I hate research.  Don’t get me wrong: I’ve taught English and directed twenty plays—six of them Shakespeare—so I know how to use the library and the Internet.  But I’m a knowledge junkie.  One piece of cool trivia can send me off on tangents and suddenly I’m hitting the back arrow and closing websites and wondering how I left the object of my original quest behind two hours ago.

But there’s good news, too.  I know someone from theater who travels in this foreign land and can introduce me to other experts.  So can my daughter.  I love interviewing people and this topic means lots of cool details that might build into a plot faster than ants raid a picnic.

So I’m starting to come up with questions to ask when I interview people.  While I’m doing that, I can still work on Plan E, the rewrite, too.  New is always exciting because until you start, the possibilities are unlimited.  On the other hand, old friends are good to have in your corner, too.

And who knows?  Maybe one of those agents will get back to me and say “I LOVE this series,” the one with a sequel on paper and two more in outline.  If not, there are the four short stories in various rewrites, too.

Oh, remember that novel I sent queries about in October?  Right now, I’m still waiting for 13 responses.

So much for Plan A.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nailing Mercury

Explaining to anyone what stage I’m at in my novel this year is a difficult proposition, since I’ve been trying to do several things all at once. I’ve partially written book two in my Across Black Waters series but stopped to go back and finish revising and polishing book one and figure out how to market it before getting back to book two. I hope to put the finishing touches on Breathing in Bombay by mid-March, take a few more weeks to aggressively polish it up, then start the query process and launch a web site.

If that weren’t enough, I entered three contests for unpublished authors in January, and was surprised when one of them asked me to be a judge for another category in the same contest. I agreed, in the expectation that I will be “between books” at that time (late March to early April). I hope I’ll be between books, that is, or else I’ll be juggling more than usual those weeks.

The March deadline looms heavy at the moment, since it’s taken me the better part of the month to prep just the first four chapters for the contests. I made between five to ten passes on each of those chapters individually before considering them complete and error free. And of course, as soon as I entered the contests, I immediately found all kinds of things I could have improved before submitting. Nature of the business, I suppose.

I’ve  been working on the same first novel for a few years now but this is about the fourth rewrite (or so) and I’m hoping the last. Some chapters have seen up to ten rewrites so it’s difficult to quantify the progress. The overall manuscript is in better shape than I’d thought, at least that’s what I’ve been told, but needs finalizing.

Revision is slow and can be painful for me but I need the fairly grueling schedule. It’s exciting to have a challenging deadline and try to push forward to meet it. Researching agents, working on the query letter, and figuring out web site design also help keep up my momentum and energy level. And editing the work of other writers also keeps editing of my own work more focused. The combination of all these tasks remind me every second of my end goal, something that eluded me till this year.

With lots of luck and hard work, I hope to get back to book two before summer, with plans to flesh out plans for books three and four in more detail before the end of the year. If I’m able to meet these other self-imposed deadlines, who knows? I may be writing book three at NaNoWriMo this fall. Tune in here to find out.

Monday, February 1, 2010

From "WIP"-ed to "Published" (I hope)

If I may be real for a, seriously. I really mean it.

I finally got frank and earnest (they weren't cheap either; sorry, I tried) with myself and started getting my stuff published en masse.

The reason?

It’s called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA), sponsored by’s CreateSpace publishing division.
[ Deadline Feb. 7, 2010 or first 5,000 entries (be quick). Right now, the site is accepting unpublished manuscripts (ones that have not had any contracts tendered for it) until Feb. 7 or  until 5,000 entries are received, whichever comes first. ]

Anyway, the ABNA contest spurred me to finally stop tweaking Land of the Blind and send it in as early as I could.

Before this, I had sent things piecemeal to various small groups like I dabbled with vanity publishers, but dismissed them when they wanted tons of money up front. I finally found and made myself content with putting my writing on the site, occasionally trying contests on the site.

By not paying attention to the publishing end of the writing thing, I missed valuable opportunities like the most recent edition of Abaculus from Leucrota Press.

I did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which only gave me the satisfaction of writing a novel in a month (though not one even close to publishable). While I did that and felt satisfaction at writing more than 50,000 words, I almost missed ABNA.

Fortunately, I started paying attention and entered ABNA. Prepping for ABNA got me researching for possible publication sites. That led to looking at online sites and other venues, which led to a flurry of activity on my part. I'd been sluggish for the last several months and needed that swift kick in the...pants.

So, I am now concentrating on the next reason to finish something. It’s called “Page To Fame” from

Now for what I sent out during my flurry of activity.

I currently have part 3 of my novella Crawl appearing in the latest edition of Spectacular Speculations.

I just published They Call the Wind Muryah, Dark Tidings (Vol. I) and Dark Tidings (Vol. II) on Smashwords, an ebook service that puts items through a literal meat grinder and reworks them to be compatible with Kindle, Sony Reader and others.

I submitted a short story called “Onward” for Farspace Anthology 3 and another called “Atonement” for And I’m still not sure what I’m going to submit for Writers of the Future (which I can only do until I sell 5,000 books or get 5,000 or more hits on ebooks).

One thing that getting published on Smashwords and the other sites did was get me to go back into my old folders. I had stories in one of my files marked “finished” that I hadn’t done anything with. So, now I am editing stories like “Romantic” and “Only Human” to send out.

I’ve also gone back into the “Unfinished stories” and “Story ideas” files for more writing stuff. With Land of the Blind and all the aforementioned items published or submitted, I suddenly have time on my hands.

Finally (and none too soon), I am trying to figure out what to do with Hunters, my first completed full-length novel worth publishing. I had a contract for publication with the late (but not lamented) Mystic Moon Press (an ugly mess I won’t get into here). Now, the rights are back with me. I could try PublishAmerica and let them have first right of publication for seven years or I could go with a small, independent press.

Ah, decisions, decisions.

In the meantime, I'll get my idle hands active (sorry Lucifer) and start doing the research, leg work and prep work for sequels to Hunters and Land of the Blind, along with some short stories from my "ideas" file (including ideas from the 90's).

Sometimes I wish I could be like Bethany Page, this week’s guest blogger. She’s juggling six titles, plus a household, numerous contests and — gasp — teenagers. Meanwhile, I’m fretting over a novel I finished a year ago and wondering how I can juggle all of the things I want to do.

But, that is where I am at the moment with my writing.

Until I top the bestseller lists, enjoy the blogs and view my stuff — please (before I become rich and famous like...oh, wait, I'm not supposed to mention her in my blogs for awhile...let's make it Wendy and Supriya).

It looks as if my attempt to be serious is failing, so I will sign off.

P.S.: If you haven’t read Bethany’s guest blog, by all means do so. After seeing her ordeals, trials and tribulations, your efforts won’t seem so bad. You’ll get a lot of inspiration.

Guest Blogger - Bethany Cagle

Today marks the second month our blog has been in existence and the beginning of guest writers taking one of the Wicked Writer's spots each week as well as starting monthly contest giveaways.  Our first contest will based on book selections from the Romance genre in honor of Valentine's Day, please stop by to check out the contest info under the tab listed above.

Please allow me to introduce Bethany Cagle, who writes under Brynna Curry and Brianna Roarke, in our first guest blogging spot!  I met Bethany last year only a short time after I began writing.  She was a member of the first crit group I joined and she had to drop out when a publishing contract came knocking. She's had a whirlwind of a year between working full-time, being a mom to three teenagers, writing and revising non-stop, and judging contests -- all in addition to participating in three blogs: her own blog, a book reviewing one, as well as a group one.

By the end of 2010, Bethany will be able to proudly say she's authored six published books (an accomplishment I'm still in awe of!). Bethany is going to kick off our weekly topic with telling us where she is in her current novel. Without further ado, here's Bethany!

Thank you, C.J., for inviting me to blog with you today. It’s a pleasure to visit with you and your readers.

I always seem to be working on something new, finishing a book, or reviewing a book.  Last night I was finally able to close the screen on To Take Up The Sword - Elemental Magic Series Book Two. My editor will be thrilled. She’s been waiting on it for a while now, but I couldn’t have finished it this quickly without C.J.’s help critiquing the manuscript. Thank you. Now it’s on to Wait for the Wind - Elemental Magic Series Book Three.

If you’re familiar with Earth Enchanted, the first book in the series, then you know with the third book, I’m moving the series to Ireland, a place I've always wanted to go, but haven’t made it to yet. It’s time for Ryan Corrigan to return to Ireland after eleven years of living in the United States. But his troubles are far from over; Kate McConnell will walk back into his life with daughter Allaina. Ryan will have to learn to forgive, to trust, and open his heart to magic again.  I’m hoping to be finished with this book by May, but with two more in the series and the entire serial deadline due at the end of the year, we will just have to wait and see. But that’s not all I’ve got going right now.

I’m judging five different contests before summer, something I love doing. Since I write paranormals, I usually judge that category. It’s nice to see how entries change from contest to contest, to find a favorite one that keeps getting better.  I keep expecting to see a couple I’ve judged pop up in book searches, but they haven’t yet. Their progress is fun to watch.  I have to tell you Vampire Vacation is one of those I’m keeping an eye on.

Project wise I have a total of six books in progress. Three are part of my series. The others are single title ones. Cullen’s Luck is a short shape-shifter novella that I plan to send to Lyrical Press when finished, but I’m not in a rush with it.  Cassidy’s Emerald is another that is kind of at a holding stage. It’s the first book I’d ever written -- back when I was in high school and that was a loooonng time ago. I decided to take what I’ve learned over time and rewrite the book. It’s a time travel ghost story on the sweet side and I’ll probably submit it to Lyrical as well.

Circle of Seven is my pet project and in the writing/researching stage. It’s a little out of my comfort zone. By that I mean its urban fantasy but also a paranormal romantic suspense with vampires. Tons of magic and vampire lore along with a ‘save the world’ mission and strong romantic subplot make it hard to decide where to send it when finished. Seven doesn’t fit in any one category or with a specific agent or publisher, but I know it will eventually find a place. The biggest challenge with this book is point of view. My vampire, Kail McKenna, demands the story be told predominantly from his viewpoint and as you can imagine, that’s difficult from a woman writer’s perspective. So far its going great and a lot of fun.

So what about you? What projects are you working on? Readers, what books do you like to read and why? I’d love to hear your comments and of course you can find me at my many online homes listed in the links above.

Find me on Twitter and Facebook as Brynna Curry

OR for more information about Earth Enchanted at Lyrical Press -

You can also email me at

Be blessed,


Thanks so much for stopping by and telling us about your current works in progress, Bethany!