Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Tied to the whipping post." - A. B.

My face-to-face critique group meets tonight at my house for one last thrashing of "One Promise Too Many" before it goes out to agents one last time. If no takers this time, this WIP goes into the dark closet of doom. I'll have two dishes to serve them. They better critique wisely.

How many books do you have in the dark closet of doom waiting for resurrection when your novels are selling like hotcakes at a Catholic breakfast and Spielberg has you on speed dial for movie rights to your next novel?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've been nominated for a Nobel!

Well, not really. But now that I have your attention, you ARE my guest blogger today. Don't just pass through, leave a comment about a writing concern you have. Maybe together or with the other people passing through, we can shine some light on a dark area of writing and get you one step closer to a Nobel, okay, maybe a National Book Award. No, a Pulitzer. Oh, I see. Just being published would be fine.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


When I write, I use a breakdown of "The Fugitive" (yeah, I know it's a movie) as a model for my ups and downs in my story, when my right angle turns occur, when my character learns what he/she needs to know to fight back, and when my character learns the antagonist's Achilles Heel that helps the protagonist fight back during his black moment in front of the climax.

I'd love to use "Casablanca" (my favorite movie), but "C" does something unique as pointed out by Robert McKee in his book "Story". "C" starts off setting up the subplots before the inciting incident of the main plot line occurs. It is brilliant and tough to match up against.

What book/movie do you hold up as a model for guiding you through the pacing of your novel.

Monday, January 28, 2008

MMWUC for January 28, 2008

EXERCISE: His crumpled dead body occupied the center aisle when the first student stumbled into the class room. Yellow police tape surrounded him like a forgotten May pole game. One student screamed; one nearly passed out; two giggled until they detected the faint coppery smell of blood emanating from a small pool of it. Shortly, a tall thin man entered the room his detective badge displayed over his coat pocket. "Sit, relax, close eyes. Take a deep breath." A few students coughed as the decaying process moved forward. "For the next ten minutes, write 'I wanted it not to be true, but...'."

MUSING: I think I need to go work in the morgue with Lindsey Lohan for a couple of days. The grist of reality might help my (or anyone's) writing. Or maybe I'll just learn some new drinking games from "Lindy".

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Books that make you dumb.

Fascinating little survey about your readership of your novels at the college level mapped against multiple colleges and universities. I don't even want to tell you where my college ended up, but I think I need to repeat some English classes at Duke up the street.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Flash Fiction

Need to get those six sentence stories off your chest? Try the 6S site.

Don't have enough for six sentences? Try 55 words.

Got another site for flash fiction?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Marketing: Getting your book out there

Need to get your book in front of more people? Try looking at this site for a list of sites to freely list you novel.

When you write your novel, do you purposely create tie-ins for marketing or do those things evolve after-the-fact when you think, "Holy cow, I've got to sell this thing?"

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Inspiration Initiator

If Monday Morning Wake-Up Calls (MMWUC) are not enough for you, spark your imagination from this site. The site is now listed as Writing Prompts under Writing Help should you need it later.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Birth of Your Character

Guest blogger, Ron Voigts, wrote the "Penelope" YA mystery series that his agent is shopping around. We met at the Triangle Writers Circle in Cary, NC in 2001, and he has been a member of my face-to-face Movable Critique Group since 2003.
I’m always curious how the character in the story developed, or perhaps a better word was born. Did Harry Potter start out with blonde hair and blue eye, but then J.K. Rowling realized dark hair, spectacles and a lightning bolt scar worked better? Was Monk a manic-depressive, but then the show’s writers found phobias and OCD had better viewer appeal? Was Harry Holmes a flop until Sir Arthur Conan Doyle changed his name to Sherlock?

In my YA series, I originally had a college aged woman returning home for the Christmas holidays; the problem was her antics were too immature. So I scaled back her age to sixteen, but that brought along baggage that I didn’t want and the character still seemed to be younger. Finally I made her thirteen years old, wearing bib overalls. She was short for her age and had terribly curly hair that she hid under a stocking cap. Suddenly she came alive, disagreeing with adults and taking on the supernatural to solve a murder. Penelope was born.

How were your characters born?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Better Off Wed" by Laura Durham

The 2005 Agatha Best First Novel winner is a well-written cozy that is a breeze to read with some off-beat but believable characters, including Annabelle Archer, the troubled wedding planner protagonist who has to suffer with the much hated mother of the bride before she's murdered at the wedding reception by the end of Chapter One. I vow that there is no bloody gore, but the reveal at the end is a bit too pat even though it is pulled off with a classic bit of panache. Good humor rings throughout, and her assistant, Kate, mangles enough phrases to keep the best punsters in snitches. An excellent first wedding of humor and mystery, but it was a bit light and somewhat predictable for my taste. I give it a four; however, cozy lovers will decorate it with fives.

Monday, January 21, 2008

My MMWUC Exercise. Share if you dare

The wind had died during the night, and the quiet cold settled in the usual places, around the deck, the open front lawn, and my knees as I walked around filling the various bird feeders and casting seed on the frozen ground that crunches underfoot like shredded wheat in my cereal bowl. The bird baths are frozen, so I take the little one inside and thaw it next to the wood stove that warms the inside of the house. It's cold, not bitter inside at sixty-four degrees, but the master bedroom is usually five to ten degrees cooler. The sun has inched over the horizon miles in the distance, and its light casts bony shadows in the yard. The early morning feeders, cardinals and titmouse, peck away earnestly at the seeds. The sparrows, various finches, chickadees, and other visitors will wait until the brightness of the morning signals them. A raccoon and cat have left their tracks on my deck in yesterday's fresh snow. I will have to set the re-education trap for them. I fill the bird bath with warm water that will freeze in forty minutes, and as I place it on the deck, a slight southwesterly breeze pushes the cold aside for a moment, and the birds chirp loudly in celebration.

MMWUC for January 21, 2008

Writers are on strike. They left this message for me. "Close your eyes, take a deep break, and relax. In the next ten minutes write one good paragraph about a cold frozen morning."

Musing: The muse dances within my head, strokes my brain with tantalizing ideas, and then splits with George Clooney, leaving me to struggle on my own. Oh, we writers do most things on our own.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Do Nothing. Avoid criticism.

That is a Dilbert philosophy as he sleeps leaning back on an uncomfortable office chair in a cartoon. It is not the credo of any author I know.

Get it. Got it. Write it. There is only one rule!

But for today, I think I'll find a comfy chair and stare at the rare southern snowfall, a disappointing two inches, and temperatures not rising above freezing while rooting on my favorite teams in the AFC/NFC Championship games.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"In Stereo Where Available" by Becky Anderson

Phoebe Kassner, a 29-year-old virgin, inches her way into a romantic situation that could be the real deal. When it does turn serious, it surprises her obsessive, list-checking roommate, Phoebe's not-so-identical twin Madison (a Yankee in the "Belle of Georgia" television show seeking her own perfect mate), and the rest of her family. Some of the light-hearted chick-lit aspects of the story take a backseat as contemporary adult relationship issues are dealt with heartfelt honestly. Chick-lit novels are not my forte, but some of the not-so-right dates Phoebe endured had me reminiscing about some of mine and made me smile. The humorous antics of Madison on the reality show nearly steals the novel away from Phoebe. An excellent first novel from an author who shows lots of promise, I gave it a four on the five star scale.

Friday, January 18, 2008

How to write about a disaster! Create one!!

Morning? No coffee; no diet coke; no chocolate; no sun. Shelves in pantry fell down. Must fix. You don't understand the size of my pantry! 17x6!! Note to self. Never store the Kitchen Aid on the upper shelf. Is that molasses on the floor or dragon blood? Amazingly, no glass broke, but there's this eerie looking pattern on the back wall that I think leads to the fourth dimension. A trail of socks leads to it, and I'm sure that something passed through it to knock down the shelves. This is how adventures begin. Who knows where it will lead.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Kashmir Kid

Okay, I have this little map of the world at the bottom of my blog that indicates where people are when they access my blog. I find it mighty interesting, but then again, I'm into maps. The scale is rather small, but who is accessing me from Kashmir? Is that you, Osama?

The Garret

2:43 yesterday afternoon. I had tired of chopping wood and had been filling out job applications ever since Judge Judy made a deadbeat pay the maximum of $5,000 to an ex-girlfriend for bills he ran up. "I didn't think she'd mind" was his defense. I couldn't get warm. I was waiting for today's snow, which never came. I looked around my office and the junk piling up. "I look like a poor starving writer living in a garret," I said to Sydney, my cockateil. He bit me sensing another pity party afternoon.

Lightning struck inside my brain. The muse landed with a thud, and the basis of a story hit with a beginning, middle, and ending!

Yeah, yeah! I know. I'm struck with inspiration twenty times a day, but this...well, it was different. It had the smell of novel in the afterglow. I wrote down what I could, and this morning I looked at my notes. IT WAS STILL THERE. Mark this day. Six months from now, you'll hear more about "The Garret" (tentative title).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kicking the Query Letter up a Notch

Today we have a guest blogger: Ron Voigts. I met Ron at the Triangle Writers Circle in Cary, NC in 2001. He has been a member of my face-to-face Movable Critique Group since 2003. His agent is pounding on Publisher's doors with his series of YA books. So Ron, what saith you?

The careful shopper compares products and asks why should I buy this brand? Most literary agents are careful shoppers. They read your query letter and ask why should I buy it? Or why would the publisher? Or the book shopper?

Good query letters should have a catchy opening (the hook), summary of book (title, word count, characters and plot idea) and closing (asking them to buy). But most often omitted is a pitch why your book is better than the rest, why the readers are waiting for this book and what benefits the reader receives.

When searching for an agent for my first book, a murder mystery with a thirteen year old detective, I added the following line to my query:

“With today's young readers moving up grade levels for adventure and excitement, the story line presents them with the classic murder mystery, while minimizing the violence.”

In 25 queries, I had three agents request the book and landed agent number three.

Remember: it’s not enough to write a good book, unless that shopper (or agent) has reason to buy it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Twisting Your Plot

Plot twists are great. Here is a list of what the Premier website thinks are the 20 best of all time. My favorite was the ending to "The Sixth Sense." Totally didn't see it coming. What's your favorite?

Monday, January 14, 2008

MMWUC for January 14, 2008

EXERCISE: I awoke late and exercised by sprinting to class where I found all the writers gone, save for one who had backed himself into a corner with a thermos of coffee, squeezed into minefield of tables and chairs, hidden behind a stack of papers as though he was in a writer's bunker. "Where are they?" I asked. "Writing," he said, not raising his head or missing a stroke of his quill pen. "Oh," I responded brilliantly despondent that no one would hear my brilliant and inspirational words. The writer heard my sorrowful one-word response. "They're writing," he said. The scratching of his pen halted. "That's all that matters."

MUSINGS: Got the point. Let's get to it. The lack of a muse can't stop you from laying words on a page. Sometimes you have to purge yourself of the meaningless words before the muse will return. The muse doesn't like to work in a trashy environment.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Banishing Overused Words

Lake Superior State University has come out with its 2008 list of words (or phrases) that need to be banished. (Thanks for the reminder CJ.) It made me think of four things when writing.

1. Don't overuse unusual words in your stories, for example, purloined. (Unless, of course, your name is Edgar Allan Poe.)

2. Don't overuse common words. (How many times are you going to use "up" in that scene?)

3. Rein in the jargon and popular cliches least you end up dating your material before it is even published. (Unless, ya know, that you're like, ya know, doing a period piece, hehehe, about some silly female pop singer who screws up her life, like ya know, I'm a pop princess and I can do, oh is that another dog I can get while I go into a strip club with my kids in a car?)

4. Use the correct word. Always look up the definition of those words of which you only THINK you know the definition. (You can't whine like in Mrs. Brown's seventh grade class, "Well, you know what I meant.")

Have a great well...cheer your favorite team...write...write...write.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Steal this idea - "Mom Kills Car"

Good for the mom who sold her son's car after finding booze under the front seat. Good for Judge Judy when the kid sues the mom for the cost of the car claiming he paid for it. I don't have a fully formed story idea because I'm suffering from chocolate cake withdrawal, but this seems like the kind of thing that should inspire someone even if just for a scene in a novel.

Two guys try to cash a dead man's check in a for real "Weekend at Bernies". I'd make a separate posting for it, but the idea has been done already. Can you improve on it?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Because we get into ruts

Don't forget to feed the world one grain of rice at a time and learn some new vocabulary words.

Check the list of contests. There's plenty to be entered for those who enjoy that.

And don't forget the label DA GUIDELINEZ as you revise your stories.

Psst. The alien food eating French Poodle (see yesterday's post) was standing outside my deer fence last night. It's eyes glowed at me when I arose at 3 a.m. and looked outside. It bayed at the moon (even though it was cloudy). It's getting weird out there. Soon, she'll be shooting crepe flambeau from her mouth and making little children do her bidding.

Ya'll have a nice day.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Aliens have Landed

Well, at least I thought that the pod people had arrived in my backyard. And man, you can't imagine the hundreds of stories that ripped through my head as I examined the alien pod I found after raking away some leaves. It was the size of an enormous white chicken egg or a turkey egg. In fact, I thought it was an egg. I picked it up and the tissue thin white outer layer started to peel away. At that point, I was glad I had gloves on, but the memories of the blob racing up that old man's pointy stick made me put the object down. I pulled back part of the white tissue and noticed that the inside was a greenish gelatinous mess, and underneath the mess was what looked like dozens of small eyes. For a fleeting moment, I thought about an old monster movie where a monster evolves quickly from a small egg, Gorgon, I think, from Venus. However, the thought vanished the moment I remembered that there was a root to this thing: a dozen or so angel hair pasta extensions, the longest being about eight inches long. I didn't dare put my face closer. I'm no fool. That's exactly what it wants so it can grasp onto my face and suck my brains out. (Boy, would it be disappointed.) The eyes, however, looked lifeless, and as I looked at them more intently, I was wondering if it was making me do it or if I was doing it on my own. I decided, not eyes, but almost a small pockmarked pit with dark centers in each of the indentations.

I called a master gardener friend, figuring this was organic. She told me to leave it be. Then her cell phone cut out. Could it be that the pod people had gotten to her already?

I checked the Internet, and though I can't be certain, I think what I found was the egg stage of the Stinkhorn mushroom (Phallales Stinkhorn Gleba) which grows to be a penis shaped fungus about eight inches high and stinks like rotten meat or bad smelling feet to attract flies to suck of the gelatinous mess and spread its seeds. And in France, they eat the pit. EUUWWW. YUCK! Give me McDonalds.

I just checked outside to verify the dimensions. It's gone. Some paw-shaped footprints go off into the woods. All my lights are now on. My doors are locked. And I'm on the lookout for my neighbors French Poodle. Spooky.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Steal this idea - "The Chicken Bones"

Bones is a popular word in many book titles recently: "The Lovely Bones", "The Bone Collector", "The Bone Garden", and many more. How about "The Chicken Bones". Stay with me here. Some schmo burglarized an apartment, ate some chicken, and eventually got caught because of his DNA on the chicken bones. That's kind of funny in of itself, but what if that is only the tip of the iceberg to the story. What if one of the guns he stole out of that apartment led to a famous historical murder and the cops have a new clue, but some powerful people don't want the murder to be "resolved." Could be dicey.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

Murder and mayhem and psychos and villains;
Killers and victims and coppers and hit men;
Assassins who kill the queens and the kings;
These are a few of my favorite things.

Chases and shoot-outs with fiery crashes;
Hoods in dark places with knife blades that slashes;
PIs with tight lips stare jailbirds to singing;
These are a few of my favorite things.

Men in deep trouble and women in peril;
Heroes with dark pasts who always are sterile;
Moments so dark that my readers are tingling;
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the dog bites,
When the bee stings,
When I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

MMWUC for January 7, 2008

EXERCISE: Eager writers fill the classroom seats. Most are writing; some adjust their caffeine drips; one dozes with a thin silvery stream of drool no wider than floss angling across the table. Emily Dickinson floats up the aisle without meeting the students' stares then stands before the students. She has been dead, after all, for almost two hundred years, her shyness intact. Her pale blue eyes focus on a matchbook size piece of paper. She clears her throat. "Tighten, tighten, tighten," she roars louder than a foghorn, clears her throat again, and in a voice slightly more than whisper, "Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. For the next ten minutes, write from the protagonists POV, 'I never saw...'." A puff punctuates her sentence, and she is gone.

MUSING: I'm revising for the last time one of my novels. It either sinks into the abyss after this or swims like swan fully emerged from an ugly duckling. I've given it a fair chance to find its way. My efforts have proven futile nearly one hundred times. I love the intricate story, but some characters lay like toy soldiers on the floor in the recreation room of my childhood rising to action only to the tune of my imagination and no one else's. We will see what the last revisions can do, and then it's on to the next story beating on the lid of the toy box to be let out.

Steal this idea - "The Dead Candidates"

John Wilkes Struthers is fed up with the political system, and his unlikely friend, next door neighbor, Xi Chang, agrees that something must be done to stop the flood of illegal immigrants, high taxes, and America's involvement in foreign lands. Xi even agrees that English should be the official language. "I work very hard to speak my adopted country's language. All these other wahoos can do it too."

John, an ex-demolition expert in the army, sets out to level the playing field with financial support from Xi. "If I blow up all those yakking politicians at the next debate, maybe someone with commonsense will run for president." While John and Xi start to figure out how to get rid of the politicians in Capital City's big debate in three weeks, Xi, a Chinese mole, has his small organization plow the field to make sure John can execute his plan. With the current set of candidates out of the way, the pro-Chinese candidate will surely rise to the top.

Who will stop him or can this plan just work to our advantage.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Saturday in the Park

You'd not confuse today with the fourth of July, as the song lyrics would suggest. It's winter. Normal winter again, not that bitter cold stuff sent from my writing friends in Maine, but an average winter day in central North Carolina. I'm finishing the clean-up from my NYD party, catching up on emails, and looking for work. (The horror;the horror.)

I've written a few email responses on the craft of writing this morning, and I must confess. I now have to again, go back to some of the basics about the craft and ensure I'm not delusional in what I'm writing, that I need to put some writer Visene in my eyes and make sure I'm following all the good advice I've picked up over the years that I parrot out to others.

Is there tension on every page? Is there tension on every page of what you write? Even if it isn't a thriller, I need to make my reader squirm in his/her seat about the potential of my protag not reaching their stated goal. I want the reader to be afraid to move forward in the story because they've invested so much in the protag, that they don't want him to fail, but must read on just as I have to go down in my crawlspace, cold, dark, dank, probably bug infested, with maybe some mice or a rabid opossum, and find out what that noise is that I hear and hope that it's not Lestat. Pray for my character; pray for me.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Workshops to Catch

Okay! Everyone is back at work and sneaking a peek at their favorite blogs. Here's hoping mine is one of them. Several writers have asked me about workshops lately. Here's my favorite...

Writers Retreat Workshop in Marydale, Kentucky in late May/early June is ten days of great instruction by wonderful people in a learning environment on YOUR material at a great price.

Here's an on-line workshop that I think will be tops for mystery/action/adventure writers...

RWA's Mystery/Suspense Chapter's COFFIN College of Felony and Intrigue MURDER ONE online Workshop for the month of FEBRUARY 2008 taught by Bob Mayer.

Looking for witticism's this morning? Go away. It's hard to be witty when your sweetie rushes into the bedroom and yells, "The car won't start," and you have to stumble out of a dream starring Jane Seymour from the bond movie into a 21 degree morning (hey, that's cold for central Carolina) and figure out why. Could it be connected to the glove box that was reinstalled on New Year's Day? Stay tuned for updates or just check out the workshops mentioned above.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


I think I have a hangover from eating too many fried wantons at yesterday's New Year's Day party at my house to ring in the new year.

The second lead story on the noon news today was about the minuscule line of snow flurries sneaking through the Raleigh area. It snowed for four minutes and twelve seconds at my house. That was just long enough for me to check and see if we have enough milk and bread, find my snow shovel (I'm the only one on the street with one), and my big boots. Yes, that was sarcasm.

Reminds me of the time I drove to Wilmington, North Carolina in November out of boredom. I had little money, no work, and time. A snow squall spawned from a cold front followed me down I-40 for the three hour drive while every radio station broadcast its progress. Hunger overcame me when I arrived so I stopped at small hamburger joint and ordered a late lunch. Two burgers, a large fry, and a soft drink arrived at the counter a few minutes later. As I pulled out my wallet, a strong gust of wind that hit the building like God doing a high-five and a horizontal burst of snow quickly obscured the buildings across the street. The middle-aged women behind the counter screamed as though Godzilla had asked for four thousand fish sandwiches and she only had six prepared. Quicker than Marion Jones, she dashed to the door shouting, "My kids. I've got to get my kids home from school."

A thin layer of white covered the ground five minutes later. Ten minutes after that, the wind had blown the snow to the edges of the parking lot into mountainous drifts four to six inches high. I walked out into the sun-dried parking lot to my car and assumed the woman had saved her kids. Thanks be to God for southern snowstorms and free lunches for a poor man.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My Doppelganger Wrote This

I can't believe no one wanted to steal my idea from 12/30/07. Oh well.

For you sci-fi writers, check out this article about the REAL possibility of parallel words. Can you imagine the credibility in your story by quoting a CERN scientist that someone like me is writing the exact same words at this moment! Maybe I should rent the doppelganger movie that was out in the 1970s. Start off the new year blowing my mind with possibilities.