Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Author Steve Liskow

So, Whadjuh Learn Today?



I’m still teaching myself to plot more effectively and write more vivid description, but now Who Wrote The Book of Death? comes off the presses in May, so I’m learning other lessons about writing that never would have occurred to me six months ago. Ironically, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that NOTHING messes up your writing schedule like actually selling something.



I need to help roll out the red carpet to welcome the new arrival, which means developing the marketing muscles I’ve never had to stretch before. Yes, my publisher is doing the heavy lifting, but they need me to do more than hold the door and steady the ladder. I drafted the bio, log line, cover blurb, and publicity synopsis. I suggested the basic cover design, too, and got a professional portrait (I hate my teeth, I hate my hair, I hate my chin, and Viggo Mortensen was out of town). The package will go to libraries, reviewers, and bookstores. I’ve asked other writers I’ve met to blurb the book. I’m selecting excerpts from the novel and a few stories to read at author events to sell the book.



As you read this, my Web site http://www.steveliskow.com/ is setting forth on the Cyber Ocean. I’m getting new business cards. Just to make you think I know what I’m doing, the new card and the banner on the Web site both have a typewriter on them, which is what I suggested for the book cover design, too. If they resemble each other enough, maybe people will make a connection and buy the book. Neat, huh?



I received the ARC last week and I’m now figuring out how to cut a scene so nobody will notice that two or three pages went away. What editors want you to cut and change could be a writing seminar all by itself because they look at the book from a dispassionate point of view—economic, not artistic—so they see issues you never think about in the heat of creation. I’m blogging and guest blogging. Busy, busy, busy. Lots of plates in the air. But, while I learn to do all of these things, remember the big lesson I mentioned at the top? I haven’t written a single word of completely new material since before Thanksgiving. Fortunately, I never throw anything away, which means I can still rework an old piece that’s hibernating on a flash drive.



“Stranglehold” won the Black Orchid Novella Award from the Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which will publish it this May, only five days before the novel appears. Since last summer, I’ve been sitting on a novel with the same characters that appear in “Stranglehold” that I hoped would become the first in a PI series. Now that the novella has a home, I’m finding time to incorporate the feedback from a critique and send that novel out. Strike while the gun is smoking, right? Since Mainly Murder Press is bringing Who Wrote the Book of Death? to life, I want to give them something else, which means I will finally get to write something new again.



Several people have agreed to interviews so I can start on a sequel. I hate book and Internet research, but I love interviews. Rather than hiding in a library or hunching in front of a monitor, I can be out in the real world, where there’s food and beer. I used to teach English and had a reputation for knowing my stuff. In the last six months, I’ve learned more than I ever had time to forget in all those years.



STEVE LISKOW has twice won Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard Story Award and won the 2009 Black Orchid Novella Award for “Stranglehold,” which will appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in May. His novel Who Wrote The Book of Death? will also appear in May from Mainly Murder Press. A member of both MWA and SinC, he lives in Connecticut with his wife Barbara and two rescued cats. Visit his Web site at http://www.steveliskow.com/.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring Author /Forensic Handwriting Expert Sheila Lowe

Kari: Can you tell us a little about your Claudia Rose series?

Sheila: Claudia Rose is a modern woman entering her forties; a forensic handwriting expert who meets her LAPD detective lover in the first book. She has a politically incorrect best friend who’s a family law attorney, and a former lover/mentor who’s a semi-retired psychologist. And she usually gets into the stories because of work assignments, where her knowledge of handwriting analysis helps her understand the people who are involved—the good, bad, and even worse. My books are psychological suspense (not cozy), and people who enjoy reading Stephen White, Tess Gerritsen, and Deborah Crombie seem to like them.

The first book in the Forensic Handwriting series is POISON PEN, which involves a death that the police have ruled suicide. When Claudia is brought in to analyze the suicide note, she discovers that the dead woman’s enemies had good reason to hate her. In WRITTEN IN BLOOD, Claudia’s client is a young trophy wife whose children have accused her of forging their father’s will. While getting acquainted with her client, she becomes involved with a troubled fourteen-year-old girl with secrets of her own. DEAD WRITE takes Claudia to the Big Apple to work with the eccentric Russian baroness who owns a high-priced dating service where serious mistakes made by the previous handwriting analyst have led to disaster. The fourth book, LAST WRITES, (which was formerly titled Unholy Writ—but my publisher didn’t like it—I still think it’s the perfect title) coming out July6, involves Claudia and her friend Kelly in a desperate search for a missing three-year-old inside a religious cult.

Kari: Are your books based on real life experiences you've had, and how did you come up with such fun sidekicks?

Sheila: There is a kernel of truth in each of my books, but they’re not “about” that incident or that person’s life. LAST WRITES has some elements of a fundamentalist religious group in which I was raised, and which I now view as a cult. The theme of the books is how dangerous it is to give up one’s power to group-think. As for Claudia’s sidekicks, when I started writing POISON PEN, Claudia’s two close friends, Kelly and Zebediah, were also handwriting analysts who she worked with, but my editor felt that took too much attention off her, so I decided that making them an attorney and a psychologist would help me expand my stories, and that seems to have worked out well. Detective Joel Jovanic is too important to her to qualify as a sidekick J.

Kari: What's it been like testifying in actual forensic cases? Can you tell us how that works?

Sheila: Working in the court system can be like movie-making—a long, boring process that involves mostly sitting around, waiting to be called. Then I could be on the witness stand anywhere from ten minutes to ten hours. Testifying is the area of my practice that both Claudia and I like the least. If you’ve ever watched live Court TV shows you know that the opposing attorney’s job is to make the expert witness look stupid. It’s the witness’s job not to help them, and sometimes that can be a challenge! Most of the time when I testify it’s a case of forgery, where I give an opinion on whether a signature (or other handwriting) is genuine. Or I might be identifying who wrote a threatening note, for example. I’ve also testified about state of mind at the time of writing.

Recently I testified in a probate case, where one sibling was suing another for forging their father’s name on a will (like in WRITTEN IN BLOOD). The attorney I was working with qualified me through voir dire (an expert witness has to be qualified every time he or she testifies), then we went through direct examination where he asked me questions about the case. I gave my testimony, showed exhibits to illustrate my points, then the opposing expert cross-examined me. When he was finished, my client’s attorney did a re-direct to clarify points that the opposing guy raised. Then the opposing guy re-crossed, and it went back and forth like that for a while, til I felt like a ping pong ball. When you’re on the witness stand you never know what’s going to come up, and some attorney can make it pretty stressful. That’s why some experts charge much higher rates for courtroom testimony than for other work.

Kari: Who are some of the celebrities whose handwriting you've analyzed? What are some of the surprising discoveries you've made?

Sheila: The most recent celebrities have been Tiger Woods and Angelina Jolie, but one of my favorites is Barack Obama’s. I was really pleased when I saw his handwriting, which is generally well balanced and has many excellent qualities from a personality standpoint. My non-fiction book, HANDWRITING OF THE FAMOUS & INFAMOUS, has celebrity writings from Galileo to John Lennon to George Bush and dozens of others. I have scads of celebrity writings that people have shared with me, many of which have ended up in my non-fiction books. The COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO HANDWRITING ANALYSIS (2nd ed), has around 300 samples of famous people, including lots of authors like Dean Koontz and Michael Connelly.

Surprising discoveries? I approach every handwriting with objectivity because with famous people they may not always outwardly project the person they really are inside—Their handwriting always tells the truth.

Kari: Do you have any tips or links you'd like to share?

Sheila: Of course! I’d love to share my links:http://www.claudiaroseseries.com/ (for the mystery series)http://www.sheilalowe.com/ (for information about handwriting analysis)http://www.writinganalysis.com/ (if you’d like to analyze your own handwriting for free, I wrote software for it) The tip I always give aspiring fiction writers, the one thing I’ve found made an enormous difference in my writing: cut out as many adverbs as you can—those pesky “ly” words that weaken the writing. I found that when you use adverbs, you’re telling, rather than showing. Use a few well-chosen verbs that help the reader see the action, don’t tell them what they should see. Your writing will be stronger.

Kari: Thank you so much for being here!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The TopTen Reasons Why I Can’t Finish the Damn Book!

When I saw this program title on my chapter website this month, I knew if I never went to another meeting, I HAD to go to this one. After all, I have been fussing about my current wip for so long, I’m even slicing my own cheese to go along with my whine.

So, I dragged my sorry butt out of bed last Saturday and drove fifty miles in the pouring rain because I was so excited. When I got out of my car at the hotel, my umbrella immediately blew inside out with the gusting wind. But I just knew the program would be worth it. The good thing is there were really a lot of great parking spaces up front. I figured maybe the rain had kept a few members home that day.

Can you even imagine how disappointed I was to find out I was there a week early???

Now, it’s not like I just joined DARA and didn’t know the meetings were on the fourth Saturday every month. I’ve been a member for almost eight years.

So, I’m telling you that story so you’ll know how anxious I was to hear the program today, Just Finish the Damn Book, by visiting author, Colleen Thompson. http://www.colleen-thompson.com/

I prayed she had the magic formula that would get me out of my funk and feeling good about my story. Why else would she come all the way from Houston if not to offer solutions?

Wrong, Kemosabe!! This lovely lady told us that of the seventeen books she has published, she has had doubts two-thirds of the way in EVERY single one of them. She calls her CP up and says “I need to send the advance back” every time.

NO! NO! I didn’t want to hear that. “Fix me,” I wanted to shout from the back of the room.

She went on to say we hit a brick wall when hard work is necessary. In other words, usually we know the beginning and the end, but we’re not sure where our muse is taking us in the middle. We have to work harder. Break those middle chapters down into bite-sized pieces, she said, instead of trying to pound it all out at once.

The best piece of advice she gave was to train yourself for deadlines. Decide how many pages a day/week./month you want to write and treat yourself when you accomplish it. Of course, if you don’t, well you may have to give up something you’d rather not.

I heard all that and will definitely put that deadline thing into practice in the next few weeks. But she had another interesting little exercise she does when she hits the proverbial writer’s block. She makes a list of the top ten reasons why she doesn’t think she can finish. She writes one every time she writes a book, then laughs about it after she’s sent the book off. I decided to give it a shot.

Liz Lipperman's Top Ten Reasons to Send the Check Back

10. What if nobody buys it after it’s published?
9. How will I ever write another one that’s as good?
8.The editor bought the series on proposal. What if she absolutely hates the finished product?
7.I’ve started reading other books from the publisher. Everyone writes better than I do.
6. I’ve run out of plot.
5. I’m stuck in the sagging middle.
4. The book isn’t as humorous as the first three chapters that sold her.
3. The book isn’t as funny as the ghost story she loved.
2. It was a fluke that she offered me a contract. She's trying to figure out a way to take it back as we speak.It's too early to say "April Fools!"

And the number one reason: Everyone will find out I’m a fraud and not a real writer.

Am I laughing yet??

Every one of these can be summed up in one sentence. I am so afraid of failure, I might be trying to sabotage myself. My goal this week is to mentally slap myself up the side of the head and snap out of it. A big help will be that as you read this I am on my way to Vegas for a few days. Woo hoo! I’m taking my laptop so I can see your comments. I plan on getting revitalized and recharged, and come back rich. (I should write fantasy!!)

In the meantime, my advice to you is just to finish the damn book. My advice to me is to practice what I preach.

Oh, and Colleen will be giving this same workshop at Nationals this year. I highly recommend it as there was so much good stuff, I couldn’t possibly hit it all in a blog.

Whaddya think?

Friday, March 26, 2010

How Yellow Stickies are Running My Life- Well, at Least My Story

I’ve mentioned a number of times over the last few weeks about my stickies. Today I thought I’d share what a change they have made in my plotting process. Those of you who are not plotters, this is where you might want to stop reading, or hang in there just to find out about “the other side.”

For my most of my books, I have done some plotting combined with some seat-of-the-pants writing. My editing has been pretty extensive. The worst was one of the years I did NaNoWriMo (another blog for that one—a great process for so many people). This time I decided to accept that I really am a plotter and want to understand my story right from the beginning. Alexandra Sokoloff, screenwriter and author, has a super blog and newsletter filled with information on structuring your novel. It’s basically all the same stuff we’ve read again and again, but she presents it oh so well. I took her advice.

So, this is how I have set up my current, and still very new, story.
- At the top of my table (use a big one, guys) I have a sticky that has my story’s premise—right there sitting in the middle of the table at the top, so I don’t lose sight of it.
- I divided the table into four vertical sections—Act 1, Act 2, Midpoint, and Act 3 (I did say that this is the stuff many have written about and we’ve all read—nothing new).
- At the bottom of each section I put a sticky that has the climax of that section spelled out. At this point it’s only a sentence or two, I’m not actually doing the writing.
- Then, I back up and start to fill in the scenes I’ve already thought through, so the scenes fall from my prior fussing and thinking. Each scene has its own sticky so I can move them around if I wish (and that happens a lot).
- I am shooting for 15- 20 scenes per act.

What works for me is that I know within each act or arc where I need to be—what has to happen in the plot. Questions constantly on my mind are: have I built the tension; has my character shown her true colors; has the bad guy been “bad” enough; what else can I do to torture my poor heroine, and so on. This is another way of asking—how do I pull it off? But, the structure sits before me, waiting for me to add more stickies ( no, I’m not OCD. You’d be convinced of that if you saw my closets).

I started this book while traveling. All of my beautiful stickies came home on kid’s school-book paper and they are now living lined up on four paneled doors in my office. This is a much more structured approach than I have used before. But, I confess I love the look of the soldiers marching in order, plus I love that I know my story. What I now have to do to is make this fun tale come alive.

Talk with me. What is your process?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mary's interview with Sherry Lewis on Self Editing

Self Editing – Now your baby is done, how can you edit anything out, isn’t it perfect the way it is?

Mysteries and Margaritas welcomes, Sherry Lewis: multi-published author of contemporary romance, romantic suspense and time travel romance for Harlequin & Jove. Writing as Sherry Lewis and as Sammi Carter, she has written two traditional mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. She is currently working on a third. She is a frequent guest speaker for writers' groups, and has taught writing workshops for more than fifteen years. She will help you understand what you need to do to polish your story for submission or know when it’s ready to go to your editor, clean. http://www.sherrylewisbooks.com
http://coaldancer.blogspot.com

Mary: Thank you for agreeing to our interview. Would you please give us a bit more about your background and any other places you can be found?

Sherry: I’m delighted to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

All my life, I wanted to write novels, and I played around with writing for most of my life. I started and stopped over and over again. I wrote several hundred beginnings and no endings. Finally, in 1992, I decided I either had to get serious or stop talking about it.

On September 23, 1992, I made a personal life decision to write every day for a period of 5 years. If I hadn’t “made it” by then, I’d quit for good. My definition of “making it” was to be supporting myself and my kids (I’m a single mom) with my writing. I had no idea how unrealistic that goal was when I made it, but I sold my first three books in November 1993 and quit my day job 4 years, 1 month and 6 days from the date I made that vow.

Since then, I’ve sold roughly 30 books, give or take. I love speaking at conferences and say yes whenever I can, and I teach writing classes online at http://www.dancingoncoals.com.  My author web site is at http://www.sherrylewisbooks.com

Mary: When do you edit? Do you edit as your write, or do you finish the first draft and go through and edit then?

Sherry:  I do a little of both, actually. Usually, I write a scene, then revise it at least once before moving on to the next one. I write in chronological order because the change in motivation or reaction in a scene can change the course of an entire book, so I can quickly box myself into a corner if I try to write out of order.

I keep writing that way until I hit a block, which I usually do at least twice in every book. I’ve found that a block usually means that I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. The first time it happens, I print out everything I’ve written and I read (revising, tweaking and polishing as I go) from the beginning to find where I made my mistake. Once I’ve found my wrong turn and fixed it, I write from that point on, revising all the scenes that must be changed as a result of the fix, and keep going until I hit the next block.

At that point, I print out everything I’ve written since the last block – the last place I knew for sure everything was working well. Again, I read, revise, tweak, and polish until I find the wrong turn, and I repeat the process.  I call this writing in waves, and it’s proven to be the most effective method for me.
Mary: How do you manage to objectively take a step back from your work to see your work through the eyes of an “editor”?

Sherry: The ability to be objective about my own work is a writing muscle, just like any other. We all have it, but if we don’t exercise it, it will be weak and flabby and ineffective. First, I never edit on my computer screen. That’s where I create, so I don’t allow my internal editor to sit there. When I revise, I use hard copy and I move to a different location. I’ve done it so often now, it immediately signals my brain that I’ll be using its logical internal editor side rather than its flower-child creator side.

Once I’m in place with hard copy in front of me, I have a mental dialogue with myself during which I tell myself over and over that this is just a story. I have no emotional connection to it. I don’t care anymore about it than I do about anyone else’s work. I tell myself that I’m going to read it as if it were someone else’s story, and I’m going to mark anything that makes me pause, even for a fraction of a heartbeat.

I work hard to break my emotional connection to the work because my emotion blurs the edges. Letting emotion play a part in the revision process is like putting a soft focus lens on the camera—it hides the wrinkles and bags, and makes all of my words look pretty.

We spend a lot of time in the romance writing world talking about our dreams and the books of our hearts. My dreams are important to me, and my books are very close to my heart. But there comes a time when it’s necessary to put the dreams away, block off the heart, and just get to work.

Mary: Do you have a formula that you go by, or is every edit of a manuscript different?

Sherry: Every edit is different. Some books are much easier than others. Some come to life only after a very slow, painful process. The only thing that remains constant is that I am determined to do whatever it takes to make the book the very best it can be before I submit it, even if that means rewriting it a dozen times.

Mary: Does there come a time when you’re so used to your editing and writing style that there is only a little polish to do to your manuscript before sending it to you editor? Or is it a major editing chore every time?

Sherry: See the above answer   Several years ago, I was in a store and I saw a book by an author I used to read automatically. I thought, “Hmmm, I haven’t read anything by her in a while. I wonder why.” So I bought a book and took it home, and discovered why within just a few pages.

My biggest fear as an author isn’t that I’ll never hit the NYT list, or that I’ll never be a big name, but that I’ll reach a point of success where I begin to believe my own press and then I’ll get lazy. I’m terrified of that happening, and I want to always be stretching and growing as an author, so I really hope I never think I’m at the stage where I only need to put a little polish on the manuscript. If I ever feel that way, I’ll know that I’m either lying to myself or I’m not growing.

Mary: There was a workshop that a well-known author made the statement ‘Don’t worry about the grammar, editors are looking for that break out story. If you have that, edits will clean the grammar.’  Is this true? How perfect does an editor expect your work to be?

Sherry: I didn’t read the comment in context, so it’s hard for me to say I agree or disagree with the point she was trying to make. One thing that saddens me about our world today is the lack of grammar skills among those who are trying to write. Words are our commodity. We ought to respect them enough to understand how to use them properly.

But by the same token, I think some people obsess over things they don’t need to obsess over. No matter how hard we try to make our manuscripts perfect, they’ll always contain mistakes. If we wait to submit until the mistakes are all gone, we’ll never submit.

It’s also possible to revise the life right out of a very good story, and I would strongly caution against doing that.

Mary: Are there any tricks to cut done the process? A formula you can follow the first draft so the polishing process is easier?

Sherry: I do a lot of pre-writing work, from characterization to working out conflicts, to plotting a vague organic road map to follow as I’m writing, to structuring my scenes using Dwight Swain’s Scene and Sequel methods. They’re tried and true methods for me, and without them my work is rambling and weak and unfocused. They’re not shortcuts by any means. They’re simply tools that make my work stronger and better.

Mary: You give workshops on this subject, what else can you tell us that these questions have not covered?

Sherry: Though most of us who are actively and seriously pursuing a career in writing are born with talent, we need to acknowledge that none of us is born with pure talent.  Every one of us has strengths and weaknesses.  Some people have a natural ear for dialogue but struggle to write sensory texture.  Others are great with motivation but struggle to write consistently.  Others are very strong on conflict in narrative but their dialogue is weak.  Others might be strong on pacing and weak on characters, or the other way around.

Acknowledging your weaker areas is essential to revising your manuscripts prior to submission because you have to clear away the big stuff before you can focus on the details. If your conflict is weak, trimming away the excess verbiage isn’t going to turn your manuscript into a publishable novel.  Strong conflict won’t make up for characters nobody cares about.  A killer plot isn’t going anywhere if your dialogue is contrived.  Some of us write snappy, witty dialogue and avoid conflict like the plague.

Whether we’re talking about revising by scene or the entire novel, I suggest focusing on your weakest areas on your first pass or two through the manuscript since they’ll take the most work. Critique groups work for several reasons. A good critique group can help us see our weakest areas, and can help us grow stronger in them.

Another value of critiques groups is that often we learn best by looking objectively at work we have little or no emotional stake in, then applying the lessons learned to the work we do care about. If you’re honest with yourself, and if you’ll let yourself, you’ll soon begin to feel when your words are working and when they aren’t.

One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is hanging on to something that’s not working just because she once decided it sounded good.  Hanging on to the wrong thing leads to inaccurate emotion, which leads to unrealistic conflict, contrived motivation, and clich├ęd situations. Be willing to listen to your character’s truth, even if it means you have to throw away your favorite scene or section of a book.  Even if it means getting rid of a secondary character you particularly like.

If you insist upon keeping something in your book that doesn’t work through the revision process, you’ll end up with a highly polished manuscript that doesn’t work.

Revising isn’t just about having the skills necessary to write well, it’s also about knowing when to hang on and when to let go.

Thank you, Sherry Lewis, for being our guest on Mysteries and Margaritas.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Please Welcome Guest Blogger Author Pat Brown

Los Angeles and Left Coast Crime 2010

Years ago I used to live in Los Angeles. I spent a lot of time walking some of the lesser traveled streets and met up with some fascinating and offbeat characters. The kind of people you don't meet in my neck of the woods. I fell in love with the city of Angels then, and that love affair has not abated over the years.

In 2008 I signed up for a mystery writers convention called Left Coast Crime, mostly because it was being held in Hawaii, another place I lived briefly and also loved. At the same time I saw that the LCC after Hawaii was going to be in L.A. I booked the conference the minute I could and sat back and waited and dreamed about the trip, hoping nothing would come up to prevent it, and feeling a mix of euphoria when all seemed good, and despair when it would look like Icouldn't go.

But in the end I went. I had wanted to stay longer than the conference, to give myself some time to reacquaint myself with the city, but that I couldn't manage. So I flew in on Tuesday, March 9, stayed at a friend's for one night, and bussed in to the city early Wednesday morning. That was the day before the actual conference started, but on that day we had a tour of the new California Forensic Science Institute where both the LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department have labs. What an incredible day. We had several lectures from the people who did the actual work at the labs, from DNA to firearms to a car bay with a hoist that will allow an investigator to search under an impounded vehicle for evidence. We were led through the processing of a complex crime scene that took their Scientific Investigative Division or SID four days to process. We saw how bullets and bullet casings could lead an investigation to a particular gun and how forgeries are detected. We had a detailed look at the labs they use to sequence and process both DNA and mitochondrial DNA and what the differences were between them.

All in all, it was a day well spent that I will find infinitely helpful in my future writing. I was also pleased to know that the money spent on our fees for the trip and the lunch we were provided will all go to the lab to help them in their work as this lab, like all the other ones around the country, struggle to clear the back log of DNA cases waiting on the shelves at CFSI. And we got to see the human side of what they do there and what it can mean to a victim or victim's family when results come from inside the lab and help solve a case and give peace and closure to them.
Both the conference itself and the Forensic Day were well worth it, and I would do both again in a heartbeat.

BIO:
Pat Brown is the author of the L.A series featuring gay LAPD homicide detective David Eric Laine and his lover computer engineer Chris Bellamere in L.A. Heat, L.A. Mischief and L.A. Boneyard as well as several short erotic stories and the recently released Geography of Murder. She wrote her first book at 17. She read her first positive gay book, The Lord Won't Mind, by Gordon Merrick, in the late 70s and had her eyes opened to a whole new world..

Pat Brown
http://www.pabrown.ca
Author of the award winning L.A. series of crime fiction

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring Author Kerri Nelson

And the winner of Kerri's book giveaway contest is JULIE LALONDE. Julie, go to Kerri's website www.kerrinelson.com and pick a book from her books page, then contact her with your choice via her contact page, and she will send the book to you. Congratulations!

Gooooood morning M&M readers! I woke up rested, refreshed and ready to write. So let's see what tidbits Kerri Nelson has to offer us to help us on our journey.

Kari: Can you tell us a little about your new romantic suspense CROSS CHECK MY HEART?

Kerri: Absolutely. This is a romantic suspense book featuring a sexy hockey player named Danny from the U.S. Olympic Hockey team. Well, he's trying to make the team but the new team physical therapist may have other plans for him. That new therapist is Jana and she's not only new to the team...she's new in town. The thing is...she's on the run from something dark and dangerous in her past. Check it out to find out what happens...now available in print and e-book from Eternal Press.

Kari: What is the biggest difference between romantic suspense and mysteries?

Kerri: Well, I believe that they are both mysteries. BUT romantic suspense contains both a real romance story in addition to the mystery and a happily ever after. I think it combines the best of both genres.

Kari: How long does it take you to write a book and what is your schedule like?

Kerri: My schedule is all over the place. As the mother of 3 young children (2 under the age of 2 years old), I can't really schedule a set time. I have to write when I can. Sometimes I can write one sentence before I'm disturbed and sometimes I can write a whole chapter. It just depends on the day I'm having.

It also depends on the length of the book. I normally try to write at least 1000 words per day, if possible. So, I can write a full novel in 2 to 3 months if I can meet that goal.

Kari: You do a lot of publicity and marketing for your books? What do you find works the best and what is a waste of time?

Kerri: Great question. I really enjoy doing blog appearances. Thanks for having me here today, by the way! Really anything that allows me to interact with the readers is crucial. Readers seem to love contests and giveaways. In fact, I'd like to offer up a free e-book of your choice from my backlist to one of today's participants.

I'm also a huge advocate of book trailers. I design custom book trailers for myself and other authors. It think they are a great form of advertising and I highly recommend them. I've bought several books after viewing great trailers.

On the other hand, I've never bought a book from a banner ad. I see them all over the place and they are so plentiful that I just ignore them. That's a sad thing because some of them are beautifully made. They just don't do anything for me as a reader--so I don't invest in them as an author.

Kari: I see you make book trailers. Can you tell us a little about that?

Kerri: Oops. Well, I just made reference to this in the last question. Yes, they are basically short commercials for books. They are just like a movie trailer but shorter and without a voice over.

You can visit my promotional website http://www.thebookboost.com/ to check out samples of trailers that I've done for other authors (including bestselling authors Ann Aguirre and Monica Burns) and read comments on those trailers. The pricing is also available there.
Hope you enjoy watching them as much as I enjoyed making them.

Kari: Who are your favorite authors?

Kerri: Wow. There are way too many to name here. Just to name a few I love Sherrilyn Kenyon, Brenda Novak, Roxanne St. Claire, Stephanie Bond, and Karin Slaughter. That in no way covers it but those are just a mere few.

Again, thanks so much, Kari. I'll be around to respond to comments and answer questions and I'll be giving away a book to one participant as well.

Kerri Nelson
Author of Romantic Suspense & More
http://www.kerrinelson.com/
http://www.thebookboost.com/

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Am I sprinting to the finish line or running a marathon?

Okay, this week I took a hard look at the way I write. I have always said I was a pathetically slow writer and I won't try to lie about it now. I have also said I usually have less traumatic edits at the end because I edit so much when I write. That's one of the reasons for my snail pace. I also read what I wrote the day before when I start writing. It takes me a good hour to actually pick up the pen (yes, I write long hand, but that's a whole other discussion.)

I've listened to a lot of writers say - just write, man.

"Forget about the edits and puke out words."

"You can go back at the end and edit."

"Unlike a blank page, even crap can be turned into something brilliant."

Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all. But here's the thing.

I can't NOT edit! I seriously have to reread it to get my train of thought going for the next scene. Call it OCD or whatever, but it just doesn't work for me any other way. My agent once asked me how fast I could write. When I hedged, she asked if I could write two books a year. "Yes, of course," I said. I hope I didn't lie.

Because I write a lot of plots and twists and characters, for me, the planning and research are the most important parts. I can devote the entire day to writing, yet not get a single word on the paper because I have no clue where I'm going next. I do my best plotting lying on my back.(So, I have to stop and take a nap!)

For me, there has to be time in between scenes to plan the next one, to integrate it into the overall plot without giving my mystery away. For me, all those writing deals where you pen an entire novel in one month or you see how much you can write in a week don't work.

Actually, I suck at them. I can't do it. Period. And I'm tired of people telling me the "right" way to write. I cannot sprint to the end. I have to take it slow and concentrate on the pacing. My goal is to write "The End" without shin splints or a heart attack. Don't get me wrong. I'm impressed that others can. I actually envy them, but I'm through beating myself up over it.

I stand proud. I am a Marathon Writer.

What about you? Are you a sprinter or a marathoner?

I just remembered I have a deadline. Oh hell! Where's my running shoes??

Friday, March 19, 2010

Locked Away and Trying to Write

I thank my dear colleagues for covering for me last week. Fridays are my day to blog. Well, last Friday I was without any Internet connection and depended on my stalwart comrades to cover my butt.

So, today I’d like to share (and have you all voice in) on the process of being isolated with only your words circling in your head.

I’m in Italy. Yes, don’t throw spit-balls at me. My books take place in Italy- it’s research, right? Well, in Tuscany it rarely snows. A small dusting, sure. This is March, remember. I was snowed-in in December when I was here, okay that’s understandable. March?? Eighteen inches, my friends. No power, no water, no heat, no snow plows, ran out of food, and NO INTERNET.

The power finally came back on (no Internet- see a theme here?), and I was finally able to see all the yellow stickies that are the scenes for my current book assembled on a table next to my desk. It was difficult to read my handwriting by candle light.

Okay. All this should be a good thing. After all, I came here to write. Can’t go anywhere in the car. No one can stop by. Great time to really tackle my new book. Don't you agree?

ERR. Well, I discovered that the total preoccupation with not being able to get the car out, not being able to check my email, not being able to research some factoid on-line, not being able to use the house phone became a strange distraction. Rather than hunkering down (Yeah! I get to write!), I began to fuss.

Interesting, I thought. I have the best possible of worlds. No one can reach me. I had to preserve the battery on my cell phone. I won’t be distracted by my email bings. I can only work on my story. Did I mention that I was also alone with my husband not due to arrive for four days? Yup, it’s as perfect as it gets. Right?

Nope. I found every reason possible to not work. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it was the sense of being out of sinc?

The power is now back on. I have more food in the house than I could ever eat. I still have the fireplace going, but that’s only because I love it. My Internet is just fine. And, I am back to writing full-time with gusto. What is this about?

Tell me. What has happened to you that has made you stumble in your writing? I thought the isolation would create the best weeks ever to burn through the pages. Not. I am, though, rapidly catching up.

And, by the way, the snow is gone and early spring has returned. The deer seem relieved they can graze in the front lawn and a giant hare (this is not a rabbit- rather a huge guy about the size of a dog) shows up frequently and sits by the back door patiently waiting for some scrap. I need to name him. Ideas?

But do tell me, what derails you? We love to write, but some days under the best of circumstances, it just doesn't work.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Great Beginnings--or so we hope

Good Morning, anyway it is here in the state of Utah. In fact, it's still dark outside and all I want to do is burrow under the covers and sleep another hour. Alas, that's not going to happen.

Today, I'm going to carry on with my comment on Liz's blog from Monday. She spoke of sagging middles. My problem comes a bit earlier than that. I write by the seat of my pants, so from start to finish, I write. When I'm done I start at the beginning and fill in any holes or sagging anythings, middles, scenes etc.

I have a problem starting that first sentence. The Great Beginning that's supposed to be the hook. Those all important words that hook and then reel in the reader. And your job after that is to keep them dangling - maybe tease them a bit, until the big bang at the end.

So I still have a blank page winking at me, has been all week. I've tried writing out my main characters GMC, then I did a full 9 page synopsis - something I never do. And the synopsis seemed to have worked, given me that 'Okay I'm ready to write' feeling.  I'm finally motivated and really want to start that page. I still don't know what I'll write for the first sentence, and it may--no I guarantee--it will probably change when I re-read my work. But at least I will get it down on paper today.

When you're stuck what do you do?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Jasmine Haynes

The Joy of Audio Books with Jasmine Haynes www.jasminehaynes.com

Thanks for having me, Kari, Liz, Cassy, and Mary! You’ve got a wonderful blog!

I started my career as a romantic suspense writer, although I admit it was on the very light side, but I’m still very proud that my first book, Sex and the Serial Killer (written as Jennifer Skully) won the prestigious Daphne Du Maurier Award. From the time I first joined the Romance Writers of America and the Kiss of Death Chapter, it was my dream to win a Daphne. I also wrote the sensual paranormal Max Starr mystery series as JB Skully. But, for the time being, I spend most of my time writing erotic romance as Jasmine Haynes (Take Your Pleasure, my next release, is out April 13th from www.loose-id.com) though I hope to get back into the mystery side of writing soon.

And with that in mind, I’ve been immersing myself in reading the mystery genre again. But okay, writing a book every 4 months to meet my erotic romance deadlines doesn’t give me a lot of extra time for reading. I get an hour in the evening to read when I collapse after writing 6 hours or 15 pages or 3000 words, whichever comes first. I do my reading in the bathtub, with chocolate to read by, of course. But I went from reading a book every 2 or 3 days when I wasn’t a published author to reading 2 or 3 books a month! I miss my reading! So, my sister got me hooked on audio books from the library and for Christmas the family clubbed together and got me an MP3 player. And I’m thinking of all the stuff I have to do besides writing to deadline, stuff like cleaning the house (wish I had a maid but I don’t), folding laundry (no, I don’t leave it all in the laundry basket and pick clean clothes from there), walking the dog (she requires 3.5 miles a day to keep her in shape and I probably require more, but I get what she gets), cooking dinner (yeah, wish I had a cook, too, but I don’t), washing the dishes (because I don’t live in a household where whoever cooks doesn’t have to wash up, I get both jobs!). So you get the picture, right. All of a sudden I went from being able to read for one hour in the evening to four hours! I didn’t realize I spent that much time cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and walking the dog, but I do! And my house has never been so clean!

All this leads me to being able to reacquaint myself with some wonderful mystery writers I enjoyed in the past and also to try some new ones. I’ve always loved Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole series. And I loved JD Robb, but I only got through book 6, I think. Well, now I’m moving through the whole Eve Dallas series! And of course, there’s my favorite romantic suspense authors like Linda Howard, Iris Johansen, Lisa Gardner, and yes, I could go on. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of my favorite authors that the library doesn’t carry in audio book so I’m having to find some new favorites as well. I’ve totally gotten addicted to Greg Iles. His stuff is so fast-paced and on the edge-of-your-seat (yes, sometimes I do a little extra cleaning so I can finish the next chapter!) I’ve also enjoy Kate Wilhelm and T. Jefferson Parker (I absolutely adored Silent Joe). But the library isn’t perfect. A friend of mine recommended a Swedish writer, Stieg Larsson. I put his first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, on my “hold” list. LOL, I am number 102 on hold for that book! But I’m patient. I know eventually it’ll come my way, and in the meantime there’s Lou Boldt and Harry Bosch and Bobby Dodge and Eve Dallas and Elvis Cole calling my name.

So tell me, do you listen to audio books, read e-books? And what’s the best mystery you’ve read recently?

Bio:
Award-winning Jasmine Haynes, www.jasminehaynes.com is the author of sensual and classy erotic romance and is a Rita Finalist and an NRCA and Holt Medallion winner. April 2010 brings Jasmine’s debut release with www.loose-id.com, Take Your Pleasure. Her upcoming May 2010 release, Hers for the Evening, is the second in her sensual series, the Courtesans Tales, the third tale, Mine Until Morning, arriving in Dec 2010. She also masquerades as Jennifer Skully, writing over-the-top, hilarious romantic mysteries, and as JB Skully, she’s created the Max Starr psychic mystery series available in e-book format from www.liquidsilverbooks.com. Visit her blog at www.jasminehaynes.blogspot.com and join her newsletter at skullybuzz-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits With Kari: Featuring Dorothy Howell

Dorothy Howell is the author of 26 novels. She's written for three major New York publishing houses. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages, with sales approaching 3 million copies worldwide. Dorothy currently writes for two publishers, in two genres, under two names. Her latest is the fashion sleuth Haley Randolph mystery series. The series has sold in the U.K., France and Thailand, and is available in hardcover, paperback, Large Print and e-book format. Dorothy has signed another 3-book deal to continue the series in hardcover from Kensington. She also writes historical romance novels under the pen name Judith Stacy. To find out more about Dorothy visit her website at http://www.dorothyhowellnovels.com/


Let's see what tidbits Dorothy has in store for us:


Kari: Having written more than 20 historical romances, what made you want to switch to writing a mystery series?


Dorothy: I'd written 23 historical romance novels--and loved every one of them! Most of my books took place in the American West in the 1880's, and during the 1890's in Los Angeles, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. After writing that number of books, I was ready to try something different. I've always loved mystery, so I decided to give it a try. Luckily, it worked out!


Kari: Which is harder to write and which do you enjoy writing more: historicals or mysteries?


Dorothy: Both romance and mystery have the two elements I most like writing about -- emotional involvement with the characters and a happy ending. In romance, the hero and heroine always live "happily ever after." In mystery, you always learn "whodunit" at the end. While each genre has its differences, I can't say one is more difficult to write than the other. Each has unique challenges that make them fun to write.


Kari: How did you come up with such a fun, quirky amateur sleuth like Haley Randolph, and can you tell us about the series?

Dorothy: Haley is 24 years old, living in Los Angeles, and having a big-time quarter-life crisis. she hasn't found her place in the world yet - something I think most of us can identify with. Her passion is designer handbags. She works at a mid-range department store where she is forced to deal with customers, co-workers, and upper management - and the dead bodies she keeps finding! I got the idea for the series after my daughter, a college student, got a part-time job at a retail store. She came home with terrible stories about how bad the customers, co-workers, and management were, and I thought, "Hey, this would make a great book!" Since a mystery series needs a theme to tie the books together, I decided to use designer purses because, like Haley, I'm crazy about them!"

Kari: I see your books come out a year apart. How long does it take you to write a book and what is your everyday writing schedule like?

Dorothy: The big difference, I've found, between writing a romance and writing mystery is the number of books you can release a year. I was very fortunate that my romance publisher, Harlequin Silhouette, published several of my books each year - almost as fast as I could write them! With mystery my publisher, Kensington, releases only one book per year in hardcover. Then that book is released in paperback 11 months later. I spent about four months writing each mystery. The rest of the year I'm doing research and writing other things. My daily routine is to write about four hours each day, five days a week, weekends and holidays off. I treat it like a business, because it is! I always know what I want to write before I sit down at the computer. If I find myself staring at the screen, trying to think up something, I walk away.

Kari: Do you have any tips or pieces of advice for those of us trying our hand at writing a mystery?

Dorothy: If you're going to write a mystery series, I recommend creating characters you love - because you're going to have to write them for years! Give them characteristics that leave room for growth. Don't nail down every aspect of their lives in the first book.

Kari: Who are your favorite authors?

Dorothy: I love Robert Crais - who doesn't! Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Michael Connelly are high on my list, as well. For romance, I really enjoy the work of Charlene Sands. I'm always excited to discover a new author and am usually willing to give a book or series a try.

Thank you so much for being with us, Dorothy. Again to find out more about Dorothy Howell go to www.DorothyHowellNovels.com

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Sagging Middle.

I'm Liz and I haven't written a word in four days.

"Hi, Liz."

Okay, that's not funny. Why can't I get motivated to write? Because I am at the sagging middle of my story. You know the part where you don't know where to go next and you try to fill it up with crap.

When I wrote the proposal for my mystery series, I assumed cozies were 50K words. Since I was once told by a Mills and Boon editor that I write way too much plot for category, I made sure I didn’t make that mistake in what I thought was my category-length mystery.

Imagine my surprise when the contract came back saying they wanted around 80K. Not to worry, I thought. I’m the queen of complicated plots and twists.

Have I told you lately I’m not a pantser? I like things all laid out on paper before I even begin a story. Mind you, they don’t always end up exactly as I’ve outlined, but usually the core synopsis points remain the same. It’s weird because anyone who knows me would say I am definitely a “spur-of-the-moment” kind of girl. Don’t try to pin me down three weeks in advance because something usually comes up and I can’t make it. Instead, call me the day you want to do lunch and I’m there.

So, why am I having such a hard time with the sagging middle? I’ve changed the killer, layered with subplots and still, I need about 5 more chapters before I can solve the mystery and write “The End.”

I’m screwed! I have a July 1st deadline and for some reason, Mr. Lipperman and I are going on three vacations before then.

Are you freakin’ kidding me? Who does this?

Okay, here comes the zinger. Knowing me, I did it on purpose. I'm a card-carrying crisis junkie who does her best work under pressure. Hopefully, this is how the saga will play out this time or – did I mention I was screwed?

These next two weeks are going to be critical for me, as far as the manuscript goes. I may do something I’ve never done before and write the last chapters now, then go back and fill in the others later. I need inspiration.

Thank heavens, Easter is right around the corner. I love those peanut butter and chocolate eggs.

Another dilemma. The chocolate may help me fix my “sagging” middle, but it won’t be pretty on my other "sagging” middle.

What’s a girl to do?

I’d love to hear how you tackle this problem in your writing. If you tell me you don’t have this problem, I will hunt you down and make you eat the marshmallow chicks that I hate so much!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Encore Blog Entry: Energized and Motivated Without Margaritas

Okay, so today is Cassy's day to blog, but unfortunately, she can't. It's not like she's a slacker, so I guess we'll have to accept her excuse.

She's snowed in in Tuscany. Yep, you heard me right. Our Cassy is stuck in Tuscany, Italy, where they're having record snowfalls.

From Cassy sent via iPhone. "Can you believe it?? Haven't been out-except to tramp around- since Monday. No Internet. Can't get on our blog on my phone. Gonna have to bag the post on Friday. Sorry everyone. I think my next blog will be about being locked away. At least they brought in food in a monster truck that could get up the drive."

I feel so sorry for her - NOT! She's in freakin' Italy with no husband, no distractions and a truck load of food! A writer's dream!

Anyway, instead of not posting anything, I copied an earlier blog of mine from the first week before my blogmates joined me. It's about rejection letters and staying motivated. I would love your comments.



I just got home from my DARA meeting (Dallas Area Romance Authors) where the guest speaker was Christie Craig (http://www.christie-craig.com.) She told us at the beginning of her program that she would entertain us, educate us and motivate us, and wow, she hit a home run on all three. The entertaining part had the entire room in stitches as she told a story about her "frugal" husband, a cheap rental car, a mattress on the Interstate and a good old Texas boy. OMG! I was crying! It's too long to tell here plus it's her story, but trust me when I say, if you ever meet her, ask about it.

Next, she moved to the educating part, centering on Plot, Setting, Voice, etc. Now anyone who's been an RWA member for very long has already sat in on dozens of workshops on these topics. Another OMG! She said the same things I've learned before but in a way that made me think I hadn't. There were so many lightbulb moments when she spoke, I wondered how I had ever penned a novel without her words of wisdom. If you have an opportunity go to her workshop, do it. It's very enlightening.

Lastly, she pulled out a big packing box with 2 large envelopes (the Tyvex kind you get at the PO.) As she told us how someone like her who quit school in the tenth grade decided one day she was going to write, she kept dumping rejection letter after rejection letter into the big box. We were all amazed at the number of letters. Then, she pulled out another envelope and kept dumping. There were probably 2 or 3 hundred. That was our motivation part. Since those letters, she has published six books plus a "How to" romance writing book. (Check out her website.)

The moral of the story - never let anyone else tell you that you're not a writer. You only lose that title when you stop writing.

I came home really excited and can't wait to get back to my manuscript (after my nap, of course.)

Oh, and I got my roses today. DARA gives a white rose for the first sale and a pink one for every one after that. I love pink!!

So, I decided rejection letters would be a great subject for us to jaw about today. What's the best or worse one you've ever received? My best one came from the late Kate Duffy at Kensington who said I was a talented writer. The worst was a printed postcard with "No" on it.

Geez! Why bother?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interview with multi RITA Finalist and Author RaeAnne Thayne

I visited NYC over the weekend and on the long plane ride I spent my time reading a novel by RaeAnne Thayne. The emotion was marvelous and it brought to mind that I'd once interviewed her for another blog. I emailed and asked permission to share that interview with you. And she graciously agreed.

If you want to write great emotion, here's the master! 

The Power of Emotion: What to do to increase the intensity of your story with emotion. Special Guest RaeAnne Thayne, 2009 RITA finalist and author of more than thirty books. Her books have won many honors, including three RITA nominations and a career achievement award from Romantic Times. She will tell us what her trick is for emotion.

Mary: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed today RaeAnne. You’ve done many a workshop on The Power of Emotion. So I’m going to do this interview a little different and more or less just ask you to give a mini blog workshop instead. I hope that is okay with you?

RaeAnne: No problem. Thanks so much for having me.

Mary: Before we start, could you tell us a bit more about you as an author? Where we can find you etc.

RaeAnne: I started writing in 1990 when I was home on maternity leave with my oldest child and my first sale, a two-book contract, in 1995 to Bantam Loveswept. Since then, I've written thirty-two more for Loveswept, Silhouette Intimate Moments/Romantic Suspense and currently write mostly for Silhouette Special Edition. My books are just about everywhere.

Mary: Please tell us about The Power of Emotion and how you use this in your writing.

RaeAnne: Thanks for asking, Mary. This is a very condensed version of a workshop I'm actually giving this weekend at the New Jersey RWA conference.
    My favorite scene in the Disney movie Aladdin is near the end when Jafar, the wicked sorcerer, is consumed with greed and ambition and uses his last wish to become a genie. As the shackles clank onto his wrist and he begins to be sucked into the whirling vortex of the lamp, he suddenly remembers all that goes with that particular gig. I love Aladdin's words as he parrots Genie from earlier in the movie – Anybody remember what he says?
     "Phenomenal cosmic power ... Itty bitty living space."
    Word counts are shrinking across category and single title programs. As writers struggle to adapt, we sometimes forget that since the beginning of storytelling, what our readers have always turned to our novels to find is that emotional connection they make with our characters. That tug to the heart. That awww moment that you want to savor and stretch out as long as possible. So how can writers bring that to the page? Unfortunately, there's no single magic solution. I wish I could make it that easy by saying "hey, do this and your book will brim over with emotion." I can't. Instead, it's more important than ever that you hone every single writing tool at your disposal and never, ever, ever lose sight of the power of emotion you should be creating with every single word.
    Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself about your current manuscript:
   
✓ WOW CHARACTERS: This is the most basic element, but are my characters compelling, vivid, larger-than-life people that my readers can easily relate to? Even if they're aliens or shapeshifters or demons, do they possess emotional depth that resonates with my readers?

✓ EMOTIONAL HONESTY:
Do my characters cycle through their emotions responsibly? No depth-of-despair stuff one second, then a hot, steamy love scene the next, with no transitional moment for the reader? (FMI, see Robert Plutchik's wheel of emotions, http://www.fractal.org/Bewustzijns-Besturings-Model/Nature-of-emotions.htm)

✓ TRUE CONFLICT: Have I created a conflict between my H/H that cannot be resolved without flaying them open, digging deeply into their psyche and exploring their innermost fears and insecurities?

✓ PROPER PACING: Have I paid careful attention to proper pacing, interspersing moments of raw emotion with levity or sweetness or quiet reflection? Have I taken my readers on a truly thrilling roller coaster ride? Are there small bumps leading to bigger hills until they reach that final stomach-clenching ascent on the way toward the plunge of the dark moment and then the happily-ever-after slowing down to the ride's exit?

✓ DIALOGUE: Have I used dialogue appropriately to best convey my characters' moods and emotions? Not just what they say but how they say it: Terse, hard words during moments of anger; softer, rounder sentences in times of reflection or quiet sharing?

✓ POINT OF VIEW
: Is the point-of-view character I've chosen in a given scene the appropriate one to best intensify the emotional arc? (Sometimes it's best to show a scene through the character with the most emotion at stake. But sometimes moments of deep angst and raw emotion in a heroine can be better shown through the hero's eyes, which not only gives the reader a little breathing space from the pain but shows the hero's reaction to those deep emotions in the heroine. And vice versa, of course!).

✓ SETTING
: Have I truly utilized setting as effectively as possible to enhance the emotions my characters are experiencing? Weather, time of day, physical location -- all can be used to reflect the emotional mood -- or conversely, to highlight a character's feelings in an unexpected way for the reader, like a scene at a graveyard in brilliant sunlight that only seems to make the character's grief more raw and real in contrast.

✓ THE WRITING! Have I "layered in lusciousness" as Barbara Samuel so eloquently puts it, by using all sensory tools at my disposal to accentuate my characters' emotions through texture and scent and color? (FMI, http://awriterafoot.typepad.com/a_writer_afoot/2007/10/layering-in-lus.html)

✓ LIVE THE EMOTION Finally, have I been willing to dig as deeply as I can -- in my characters' psyches and in my own -- to explore the wide range of feelings inside us all? If I tend to shy away from intense emotions in my life, am I willing to overcome that instinctive self-protective mechanism in order to allow my characters to experience reactions that might personally frighten me?

Even with shortened word counts, I promise that if we can pay a little more careful attention to all those writing tools at our disposal, our stories will sing with emotion. We will create beautiful, inspiring stories that touch people's hearts.

Mary: Thank you, RaeAnne, again for your wonderful insight into Emotion! RaeAnne's Blog is: http://raeannethayne.blogspot.com/ if you'd like to check it out!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Lynn Romaine


Please join me in welcoming Lynn Romaine, author of Long Run Home, as our guest blogger this week. Take it away, Lynn!

Thanks, Kari, for inviting me to participate in your great blog!

Let’s get the age thing out of the way now and let’s say I’m past fifty, leaving it at that. As for writing, I have a master’s degree in information and have written mucho nonfiction, but I did not start writing novels until seven years ago. I write romantic environmental suspense, a genre I made up myself. I have had three books contracted, a fourth waiting for editing and a fifth I’m at work on now. I live in Bloomington, Indiana, have a fabulous 25 year old daughter living Seattle who is making a difference on the planet, and a fantastic ex-husband who is my best friend. Besides writing and my family/community, my other commitment is to my organization Red Pants For the World. Right now Red Pants is sending money to bring books and educational materials to a rural village in Afghanistan. My long-term goal for Red Pants is to build a school for girls in Afghanistan and in this country, to support young girls living in difficult circumstances discover their ability to create their lives through writing. You can read more about me, writing and Red Pants at:
http://www.lynnromaine.com/
http://www.womenwritersunderground.blogspot.com/
http://www.redpantslegacy.com/

So you want to Write A Novel!

Over the first fifty years of my life, whenever I ran into someone who told me they’d written a book, I found feel myself envying them and longing for that myself, particularly those who got their books published! Well, I'm here to tell you –if I can do it YOU sure can! (I started at 54 years of age and I now have four books written, three published, and I'm at work on my fifth romantic suspense novel).

Want to write a novel yourself but confused about how to get started? Here's one author's answers to some basic questions:

Where would I get a story?
Answer - somewhere in all of us there's a story - maybe not an entire scene by scene story, but some dream-or longing-or even bad stuff that happened once. Then take that event and write it down. Do it fast, use as many words as you want, but don't edit it. If there are more scenes, then write those down as well. They could be fantasy, they could be true, they could be somewhere in between. When you're done, you'll have a basic starting point (or points). Then figure out how you want it to end - write that scene. There you go--you've got a basic skeleton of a story.

What about my characters?
Once you have the skeleton, sit down and make a list of characters so far. Then, for each of those characters, describe how they look, what they think, what they like or don't like, their family background. Make them real for yourself. Oh, and most important, their names.

How do I fill it out and make more scenes?
Well here's how I do it. I write down any scenes that are right there already in my head (usually only 4 or 5 scenes I pull out of my head). I let it sit but start jotting down scenes I see - scenes in passing, driving down the road, sitting at the airport, waiting in the doctor's office. If they make me smile or cry or feel something, even fear, I make a note. Sometimes they're from news stories (my 1st book came from a story about environmental terrorism in our local newspaper). Sometimes it's a scene I happen upon driving to an appointment (my 2nd book, Blind Spot has a scene I saw of a little girl racing around a go-cart track in a huge helmet!) Use anything that catches your fancy - good or bad. When you get a flash of a scene, go home and write it down. Again, don't worry about your best writing, just write it down.

What do I do next?
It's time for copy and paste. Take all those snippets and full scenes and paste them into some sense of a story. Begin where something happens that changes your character. That's your starting point for the book. Just paste it all together, make sure you have a beginning and end and some stuff in the middle. Once you have that, go back and fill in the blank scenes. Don't worry or try to get it RIGHT, just fill in scenes. The only rule is to make something happen in each scene that changes your characters. You'll be amazed that you'll find the scenes and the story will develop if you relax and have fun with each scene.

What now?
Okay, you've got yourself a rough draft of a novel. Congratulations! Don't worry that it's a bit awkward or not perfect grammar or if it's not complete. Just congratulate yourself, sit there and look at it! Give yourself a little time to enjoy

So that's it - your first novel! The next steps will be a lot of work, but much easier:
1) Edit and edit and edit and edit. If you need help, join one of the many critique groups on-line or in your town. (Did you know the average published book gets six to eight edits). Or find a friend who is writing and edit with her. Editing is the workhorse of writing. My first book got edited only 2 times before I submitted it to a publisher. The more I write, the more time I spend editing since I'm getting pickier about trying to find the exact words for the story I want to tell.
2) Now you're edited and ready - jump right in and submit your book somewhere - to one of the many on-line publishers, to an agent, to a contest. It's scary but a risk worth taking in the learning process.

Okay, that's it. The basic steps to writing a novel. I'd be happy to answer questions or if you just want to come visit my web site, stop by www.lynnromaine.com and email me from there. PS my books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or The Wild Rose Press.

Oh, I have one other thing: Malcolm Gladwell has written a great book called "The Outliers" and it in, his research has proven that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master of anything in life. So, don't beat yourself up if you're not one with the first book. Instead, have a blast writing and let me know when you get your first novel done!

Lynn

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits With Kari: Featuring Linda Kupecek


I am always fascinated with how people come up with their ideas, why they choose to write in a certain genre, and what their writing schedule is like. And since Linda Kupecek has a fabulous new mystery series out called Deadly Dues, I thought I'd ask her. Let's see what tidbits we can learn from her.

Kari: Why did you decide to make your debut in the mystery genre?

Linda: When I was younger, I read the classics and what could be categorized as serious literature. I read Crime and Punishment when I was eleven, and I can't say I recommend this to anybody. In the past ten years, I have read many mysteries. I was writing non-fiction which was selling well (Rebel Women: Achievements Beyond the Ordinary) and was wondering what I wanted to write next. The light bulb went on. I was reading mostly mysteries (along with deeply spiritual self-help books which I am sure were making me a more magnificent person with every page) so why not try my hand at writing a mystery?At the same time, my then publisher asked me to contribute some creative non-fiction to a holiday anthology, and my contributions ended up being a book of four short stories, Fiction and Folly for the Festive Season, shared with illustrator B. Ian Bazley. I later realized that most of the stories were mini-mysteries. Go figure.

Kari: How did you come up with the idea for your mystery series DEADLY DUES and can you tell us a little about the series?

Linda: I worked as an actor for many years. It was an easy step to riff on the life of the actor within the mystery genre. One of the stories in Fiction and Folly starred an actress to whom ridiculous things happened. I enjoyed writing it, and decided I wanted to have some more fun. Hence, Deadly Dues. The series stars Lulu Malone, once famous star of the Bow Wow Dog Food television commercials, who, in Deadly Dues, is reduced to slinging fries at McDonald's in order to support her enormous sheepdog Horatio, her former co-star, while she struggles to find work. Throughout the series, the basic ingredients will be .... Lulu's uncertain profession, Horatio's huge ego, her wild agent Mitzi, her actor friends, her elderly neighbour Mrs. Lauterman, and of course, the twist that very early in each book, poor Lulu will be hit, crushed, slammed, terrified and bewildered by a dead body.

Kari: What went into creating such a fun heroine like Lulu Malone?

Linda: My love of actors and my memory of the years I spent not only working as an actor in film and television, but also in sharing war stories over many drinks with my colleagues. I want Lulu to have the joi de vivre and the resilience that characterizes so many performers. She may endure countless rejections, but she bounces back with a dimple and a glass of chardonnay ..... and a meditation on the life of the artist .... and a further thought on whether or not she could get a grant out of her mental meanderings. And what would she wear if this ever got funded?

Kari: How many books do you see this series being and when does the next one come out? Can you tell us a little about that one if you have it planned out yet?

Linda: I will write as many books as the publisher, TouchWood Editions, and the readers want. The next book, Trashing the Trailer, is tentatively scheduled for a 2011 release, depending on how fast I write. Trashing the Trailer (big surprise) starts with Lulu, temporarily back in the game as the star of a new series, being horrified by having her makeup artist fall on her and inconveniently die. Of course Lulu has to snoop around, in order to save the series and her career. All I can tell you for sure is that Horatio lands a Smart Car commercial. And that Lulu shops for shoes, in between muggings.

Kari: What's your schedule like? Are you a pantser or plotter?

Linda: I am so much a fly by the seat of your pants type of artist. I read Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way) and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) and find that stream of consciousness writing works for me in the initial draft of a work of fiction. (Non-fiction, of course, is an entirely different discipline.) So far, in my experience, after I have written the first mess of a manuscript, I retrack my steps, and then, start to storyboard the plot and timelines. I have a wonderful editor, Frances Thorsen, who owns Chronicles of Crime bookstore in Victoria, B.C., and she is immensely helpful in getting the plot into place. I usually have a wild idea of the plot and just surge through on creative energy. Ultimately, it is invaluable to have another set of eyes look at the work and point out the gaps or inconsistencies. I work late at night, generally from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., due to my other commitments. I am agog at writers who say they leap out of bed at 4 a.m. (when I am retiring) and type while birds are chirping. Wow. But we all have different schedules, robins and owls. And I am so much an owl.

Kari: Who are your favorite authors?

Linda: Janet Evanovich: laughing is so good for the soul and I laugh out loud at least once during every one of her books. (If anybody laughs out loud reading Deadly Dues, I would be so happy.)

Elizabeth Peters: I love the Vicky Bliss series, because the heroine is smart, educated, funny, sardonic and is willing to laugh at herself.

K.K. Beck: I am entranced by her heroines, and her crazy wit.

Dorothy Gilman: I don't know if she is still writing, but her books are keepers. Mysteries with immense wisdom and spirituality and humour.

Anthony Bidulka: his Russell Quant series is terrific, a gay detective in Saskatoon, who is smart and funny and tender.

Sharon Wildwind: I always wait for her next mystery and was disappointed to hear she was ending her Pepperhawk series.

Lou Allin: I have read only one, but I was intrigued. Excellent writing, and characters you want to know.

M.C. Beaton: I really enjoy Agatha Raisin's unreasonable crabbiness, such a nice change from the dignified, kind detective (which ultimately is, of course, more admirable, but sometimes it is fun to have an anti-heroine).

Louise Penny: the Inspector Gamache series is deservedly much acclaimed, for character, setting, and the depth of the writing.

Eric Ambler: books I keep forever.


Thanks for doing this,Many thanks for having me. I enjoyed the opportunity to riff on writing and writers.

To find out more about Linda, go to http://www.lindakupecek.com/ Check out this video on YouTube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2Ti5XfF378&feature=youtube_gdataand check in the next months for the new site http://www.lulumalone.com/, where Lulu will riff on her life and times. Recipes. Auditions. And more.

BIO: Linda Kupecek, after graduating from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama, worked as an actor in theatre, film and television. She has survived children’s theatre tours, improv in the park, series television, major motion pictures, low budget flicks, and too many auditions to count. She is trying to forget the time a costume fell off onstage. That's what chardonnay is for. Her previous books are the bestselling Rebel Women: Achievements Beyond the Ordinary (Heritage House Group) The Rebel Cook: Entertaining Advice for the Clueless (TouchWood Editions) and Fiction and Folly for the Festive Season (Heritage House Group, with illustrations by B. Ian Bazley). Deadly Dues is the first in a series of Lulu Malone mysteries from TouchWood Editions.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Networking At Conferences: Mother, Do You Have To Talk To Everyone?

To this day, my kids still ask me that. I love to talk to people and usually do, which brings me to the first part of my topic, networking at conferences.

There is no better place to connect with people who “get” you than at a writers’ conference. Even if you are an introvert, someone like me is going to come up to you and ask what you write. Before you know it, you will be talking to a perfect stranger (me) and wondering exactly how many lattes I had that morning. (Remember Kramer on that one Seinfeld episode when he had too many? That’s me.)

And you wanna know something? Nine times out of ten, your answer will surprise the heck out of me. While I pictured you writing sweet romances, you will floor me with plots of steamy erotica or vampire-hunting, shape-shifting werewolves. I love conferences for this reason. Even the smaller ones are great for networking. Matter of fact, sometimes they are more intimate and allow for better access to one-on-one time with the editors and agents in attendance.

That said, I LOVE RWA Nationals, one of the biggest ones out there. I adore the crowds, the goody room, the bars at night where everyone in there is talking writing and just about everything else, including the great workshops where you can’t help learning new stuff.

Insert plug here:
This year in Nashville, our very own Christine Witthohn and fellow M & M blogger and my Berkley sister, Kari Townsend, along with Doug McKeon, a Hollywood director who has optioned Kari’s Middle Grade story, The Samantha Granger Experiment: Fused, will offer a workshop about exactly that – when Hollywood comes calling. I will be moderating. (Something you probably don’t know about me is that I gasp for air when I get in front of crowds.) So, plan on being there if you go this year, and get there early. My guess is, it will be packed. Oh, and bring an oxygen tank if you have one lying around!

Anyway, I digress. At all the conferences I attend, I like to collect business cards. Because I am of the age where memory doesn’t always serve, I write a little something on the back to help me put a face to the name. Last week, I was going through my stack and decided to share some with you. Most of them simply say things like - Canadian at breakfast, Dallas 2007, bookseller at lunch in DC 2009, etc. Some are more specific and a few are downright interesting. Those are the ones I’m gonna list. I’ll leave out the names to protect the innocent – and to keep from getting harassing emails.

A police homicide commander from Atlanta who said to call him anytime. If I remember correctly, he was cute. I think I might need some help!!

A woman who won the Librarian of the Year award in 2006. It pays to know librarians.

Two women I met at the Harlequin party we crashed last year. Both belong to online book clubs and said to let them know when I sell, and they’ll get the word out to their friends to buy my book. Yippee!!

A Wild Rose Press editor who acquires dark paranormal. Since I don’t write that, I just partied with her.

A young guy from my chapter who asked if I’d look at some of his work. Not being able to say no - another thing I am famous for – I said yes and he whipped out seven chapters. Fortunately for me, his seven chapters were only 20 pages total!!

And last but not least, in Reno, I sat with an older guy who was a chiropractor. He said he was shopping his book – are you sitting down? – a 650 page book that involved the colon.

You can’t make up stuff like this!!

One hundred and forty-two days until Nashville!! I can't wait to add to my card collection.

Got any good stories about networking?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Multi-tasking: For Better or For Worse

I have always prided myself on being able to accomplish numerous things at once. You know the drill. I can make notes to a grocery list, let the dogs out, move the laundry from the washer to the dryer all while balancing the phone on one ear. That’s only at home.

I have commuted many states away to get my PhD while my children learned to do their own laundry (with a step-stool because they were too short to reach the controls on the washing machine) and kept up with a full-time deanship at an Ivy League university. Okay fine. Done that. Phew. But, it all didn’t seem that hard—then.

My husband and I have talked about this topic many times, that of multi-tasking. He thinks I am a little nuts. He runs a good-sized firm that demands a lot of international travel. He manages a lot. But, somehow he is able to hone in, dig deep, get rid of the extraneous babble that threatens to erode one’s concentration and reach the finish line. Man, when he is working on a project the house could explode and I don’t know if he’d notice. While, I on the other hand, fuss about each detail of our lives. There isn't a creak in the floor or a rattle in the wall I don't hear.

What does this mean? Well, it does mean that we usually have milk in the house that hasn’t reached the expiration date. But...this is the BIG but...what does this do to my writing??

When you work at home, as I now do, everyone in the world sees you as doing nothing. You are there. You are available. And, when your prior life is one of “No problem, I’ll take care of it...” then it’s very hard to clue folks in that, well, it is a problem. I am writing. I am at work. I am not playing some game at my computer.

So I have to take responsibility. Let the world know that I’m “at work.” I need to set times that I’ll be available, and the times that aren’t so good to check in. Of course, with two kids, four parents, a dear husband, the fridge that broke this week, two Golden Retrievers who absolutely have no concept of work and, golly, the list goes on—I tell myself I am the only one in charge. My writing comes first. Right?

Don’t misunderstand. I am not complaining. I am recognizing the challenges of what we all have on our respective plates. So, tell me. What do you do to control the background noise—the conflicting expectations of all who need you—the ability to get to your work and put the best words possible on the page? I’d love to hear your stories.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What to say? (Writing through Life's Crisis's part two)

Today is my day to blog. And I have nothing prepared so I'm not sure what to say. The last few weeks have been a roller coaster for me. It's been hard to focus on anything outside of my family and friends.

But I have a writing career, or I hope I'm building one anyway. This is my day job. And everyone knows you can't stay home from work if your baby is sick, etc. I work/write from home. What is my excuse not to write? I don't have one.

I wrote about this last week in my post Writing through Lives Crisis's today is more or less a continuance. I read through my post when I finished last week, and thought hey this is all good advice. So why didn't I follow my own advice? Things should be on a better road or path to a normal life, right? Wrong, because yet again I received more bad news on Monday about a very dear friend. Someone I've known almost my entire life, and no I'm not telling you how long because then you'd know how decrepit I am! Any of you have one of those friends that when you think back in life, back to your school days. Memorable times. There's usually one person who was there with you. This is my friend. If I were in trouble, I was usually in cahoots with her.

Anyway it doesn't matter what news, it still threw me for a loop and here I am rolling through another of life punches.

With a day job, you can shuck all your worries and your problems as you walk out the door, jump in the car and lose yourself at your desk or whatever you do. I'm not saying it's not in the back of your mind, but it's easier to cope in different surroundings.

My job is at home. All the reminders of my life sit on my desk. Like the obit of my dad, it's laying right in front of me, why? I don't know why I haven't put it away. But it's just an example I need to learn to focus and block everything out for at least a period during the day when I can write.

After all I don't want the boss to fire me!

Life goes on and you make the best of it. Tonight I leave for NY for a weekend of play with friends. I am going to re-energize myself, and do a little research on my WIP--My goal? To come home enthused about my new story and hopefully the words will flow.

Next week I promise there will be no part three.

Any advice you can give me?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Kris Yankee

I'd like to welcome fellow Book Cents Babe, Kris Yankee.

Kris should’ve known long ago that she was a writer: her obsession with all types of writing instruments and large stacks of paper were her clues. It wasn’t until she was home with her two boys did she realize that her dream was in telling stories. She whipped herself into writing shape by taking refresher courses in fiction writing and joining several critique groups. Since 2004, Kris has spent her days caring for kids and crafting characters. After many rounds of edits, it was Kris’s first women’s fiction manuscript that ultimately landed her agent, Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency in 2008. Kris currently works as an editor/project manager for a publisher in Northville, Michigan and is keeping her fingers and toes crossed that she’ll sell soon.

Take it away, Kris!

Thanks, M&M Ladies, for hosting me today. I’d like to talk about writing for different genres.
When I first signed with my agent, the wonderful Christine Witthohn, I wrote primarily women’s fiction. Emotionally charged books that dealt with topics that I felt were important to my generation. I was drawn to women fiction authors and their stories, and being a career-minded-woman who decided to go the stay-at-home route, the stories I wrote were the ones I was living – or leaving behind. I identified with this genre so well.

Christine called me and said, “Women’s fiction isn’t selling. You’ll have to write something new.”
I was game and decided to try my hand at YA. When a critique partner let me know that my voice was way too young, I was disappointed. I had been told by my writing mentor years earlier to try YA. I felt like I’d failed miserably in those three short chapters. I’m the type that has to write what I know; I can’t make up characters that I really don’t understand no matter how many Disney Channel shows or movies I watch.

I had an idea that had been lingering in my head for a few years. Since the main character was a ten-year-old boy, I never fully explored that storyline. After my utter failure with YA, I realized, “Hey! I’ve got a ten-year-old boy! I can write this now.” I took a step and fell into middle-grade fiction.

I pitched my idea to Christine and wrote three chapters. The words came easily, and I felt very comfortable with the characters. It didn’t hurt that my life was like a MG story with a third grader and a fifth grader running around. Dialogue flowed as if my two boys were speaking. It seemed very natural.

So I leapt from women’s fiction to middle-grade chapter books, a series no less. To me, that wasn’t the scariest part. The scariest part was that I decided that there would be fantasy aspects to this story.

My point is I don’t write fantasy. I write women’s fiction. Not MG fantasy. I was a bit intimidated, to say the least. But I couldn’t get away from the fantasy aspect: the main idea was that a boy from this world would be sucked into another world. When it came to writing the story, I was caught up in the fact that now I had to create a world. I had never written anything remotely fantastical (if that’s even a word!) and I was really worried about creating a whole new world.

My husband was wonderful. Every time I had a doubt, I’d ask, “Does this sound stupid?” Most of the time, he said no. He helped me see that this new world could really exist.
I finished the first draft of that book, SAVING REDWIND, in record time (for me) – something like 2 ½ months. That may sound like a long time, but it was nothing compared to how long it takes me to write a women fiction manuscript. Women’s fiction manuscripts are usually 85k-95k words, and this one was only 45k words. More importantly, the words for this story flowed out like water.

I’ve started another MG fantasy series because publishers like to see other manuscripts that writers have written. I’m hoping that it will be liked as well as the first one.
I recently participated in a Twitter chat about authors writing in different genres. The chat was attended by published and unpublished writers, agents, and publishers. It was interesting to read that the agents and publishers in attendance wanted writers to only write in one genre. They didn’t want any crossovers. Their argument was that a writer should master one genre, establish themselves, and then try another genre. Most writers who write in two genres argued that if they were able to sell in both, that it only gave them greater exposure and a larger audience.

I don’t have an opinion on this just yet. I truly enjoy writing in both genres, and they are two very different audiences. I highly doubt any of the MG readers would read my women’s fiction! When my agent asked which I would pick to write, I had to say middle-grade. I don’t know if it’s because I’m living a MG story right now, but that’s where my heart lies. That’s not to say, though, if my women’s fiction sold that I wouldn’t write more women’s fiction! I’ll write whatever they all want me to write.

I’m hoping that readers of this blog will understand that sometimes the genre you write isn’t selling well, and you can be a much more marketable writer if you can adapt and write to a different audience. That’s what I’ve learned from this experience, and I’ve found that I truly enjoy writing in a genre that I thought I would never write.

Fantastic blog post, Kris, and thanks so much for joining us today.

Kari