Author Archives: Karen Duvall

Coming to a Genre Crossroads

I’ve always been big on mixing genres, long before it became a thing. I’ve blogged about it before. I love the various juxtapositions you can get by tossing a genre salad into an innovatively unique story.

As an omnivorous reader, I can’t help but enjoy adding a little of this and a little of that to my own work. It’s been my process for over twenty years now, and I’ve met with some success and some failure. You won’t know how a genre mash-up will work until you spin it out. There was a time whe I could afford to indulge in such experiments. My work schedule allowed it then. Not anymore.

I’m unable to write as much as I used to because I’ve had to increase the amount of paid work I do, which is graphic design. Must pay the bills somehow. So I’m trying my hand at mainstream fiction through short stories to see if it’s something I’m even any good at. I’ve always been a fantasy writer, but to be honest, I’m a little burned out on the woo-woo stuff. I have a few contemporary fiction ideas calling for my attention. Will there be magical realism? Well…

When you come to a genre crossroads, it’s comforting to know you have options and that self-publishing is one of them. I’m not a big fan of self-publishing for myself, but hey, it’s there if I need it. And kicking the tires of a new story in short form is a great way to discover, or rediscover, enthusiasm for something new and different.

After twenty-plus years of writing, I’d hoped to be settled into a genre comfort zone by now. Ha! Looking back, I remember when I lived and breathed RMFW and read volumes of craft books, missed only one conference in the twenty-one years I’ve been a member, and then I became a teacher myself. Teaching writing workshops is one of my favorite things and I do it every chance I get.

I’ll really miss all my RMFW writer friends who’ll be at this year’s Colorado Gold. The conference is the highlight of my year and I was so looking forward to attending, but unfortunately neither of my workshop proposals (one on pacing and one on story endings) was accepted. That means I can’t afford to attend this year. I’ll try again next year and hope to see you all then. Who knows what’s in store for 2016? By then, I may have discovered a whole new genre, or gone back to writing what’s familiar. In any case, every year is a journey of new discovery. There should always be something to look forward to.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

 

 

The End: Bringing Your Novel to a Close

There’s a lot of emphasis put on story beginnings as well as its muddy middle, but what about the end? I think the topic deserves more consideration.

Every book has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning must be engaging enough to hook the reader, and the middle has to hold your audience’s attention until the end. It would be awful for a reader to stay with the story all the way through and then be disappointed by how it ended.

The goal is for your book to leave a lasting impression. We want readers to close our books with a sigh and jump online to search for another book we’ve written. How the story ends is a direct reflection on an author’s skills as a storyteller.

What do we know about endings? First off, we know there are four ways to end a story.

Happily Ever After – A happy ending fulfills the promise made by the author to a romance reader because that’s what’s expected. The audience has stayed with the hero and heroine for a few hundred pages, witnessed the couple’s trials and tribulations. The romance reader’s prize is the reward of a blissful union, possibly marriage or at least an allusion to one. That’s why they read romance. They want to see good things happen to good people they’ve come to care about.

Romance isn’t the only genre that works well with a happy ending. Many genres have stories about characters that grow and achieve their goals so they can be rewarded for their efforts. In a mystery, the bad guy is brought to justice. In women’s fiction and a lot of commercial mainstream fiction, the story concludes with happy characters that rejoice in the favorable outcome of their journey.

Satisfying Ending – This can also be considered the “happy for now” ending. When the story reaches the final page, it’s not all sunbeams and rainbows. The main character is relatively pleased with the outcome, at least for the time being. He may have had to sacrifice something to reach his goal. Maybe someone dies in order for another character to live, or the character had to lose his job or wealth or title to achieve his objective. It wasn’t what he wished for, but he knows it was inevitable for the greater good.

Any genre can have a satisfying ending that’s not necessarily “happy.” But plot problems have been resolved, all questions answered, and readers are left feeling hopeful that a better life for the character or characters is on the horizon.

Cliffhanger – You can expect a cliffhanger at the end of a serial or a series book, however the central story question has already been answered. A mystery is solved, a romance engaged, a war won, a world conquered, a throne claimed... But somewhere along the line a subplot came up that hasn’t been resolved by the last page. Hints are left at the end to let the reader know to expect something more in the next installment.

The important thing to remember about cliffhangers is that neither cliff or hanger suddenly appears on page 351 of a 352 page book. It’s an established plot line that came up earlier in the story. Maybe the king’s illegitimate son was kidnapped twenty years before the story ends, and the last chapter alludes to the boy’s return as usurper. Or what if, at the end of a romance, the hero’s brother comes home injured from his last tour in Afghanistan and hits it off with the heroine’s sister, who just enlisted in the military. We know something is bound to happen with these characters, and we hope to read about it in the next book.

Unresolved Ending – Or what I consider the ambiguous ending. Can you tell I’m not a fan? Some readers enjoy being left to ponder what might happen now that the story is officially over without a conclusion. It’s left up to their imagination.

I can see the literary appeal of this sort of ending. Maybe the final note is a shocking event the reader wasn’t expecting. Or it ends with no one getting what they wanted, or there’s no foreseeable future for any of the characters, or not only is justice not served, but the antagonist comes out the winner. This could also be referred to as the unhappy ending. It’s kind of like one of those write-your-own-ending type of stories. It makes me think the last chapter was accidentally, or purposely, left out of the book. Nope, not a fan.

Should you plan your ending before you start writing your book? I think it’s a good idea to know where your characters will end up by the last page because that can help you figure out the middle and plan your character arcs. Synopsis writing is helpful for this.

What type of ending is right for your story?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/

http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com

https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall

http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

 

Your Character’s Loss is Your Gain

Let’s talk about character and plot for a minute, and how one can’t exist without the other. Everything that happens in the plot forces your character to react, and your character’s reaction impacts what goes on in the plot. This creates a connected string of events that lead to the story’s ultimate conclusion.

Action/reaction. Time and again. Do you think this constant interplay could get repetitive? It can if it’s strictly played out on the story’s surface. That’s why every good novel has two kinds of plots running parallel to each other. I’m not talking about secondary plots, which are also vital to a multi-layered story, but about the all-important A and B story-lines.

But let’s not call them A and B because it’s too easy to get them mixed up. An A plot in a mystery novel might be the B plot in a romance. So get rid of those labels right now and call them what they are: the External Plot (EP) and the Internal Plot (IP).

The EP—as you’ve already guessed—is the conceptual plot for your genre story. It’s catching the murderer in the mystery, taking down the drug cartel in a thriller, finding the secret talisman in the fantasy, saving planet Zignog from obliteration by asteroids in the science fiction novel, etc. Metaphorically speaking, it’s that giant rollercoaster the characters will ride for 400 pages. The external plot is the tactile, the visible, the elephant in the living room. It’s the plot that gets in your face.

The IP, on the other hand, is all about the character and his inner story, his inner drive. It’s the plot that focuses on what he has to lose if he doesn’t get what he wants from the EP. It’s not so much about him avoiding taking a bullet while in pursuit of the murderer, but about what’s personally and emotionally at stake for him if he doesn’t accomplish what he sets out to do. The IP is what drives the emotions in your character and in your readers. The IP is what compels your reader to turn the page. In fact, depending on your story, it might behoove you to put greater emphasis on the IP than the EP because on a subconscious level, that’s what readers really want anyway.

Let’s look at an example of what happens when the EP and IP are braided together starting from page one. There are many great novels like this, but a recent bestseller comes first to my mind because I just finished reading it: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. If you read it, you either think it’s brilliant or the most manipulative piece of crap on the planet, but the one thing it doesn’t fail to do is make you feel something. Passionately.

I, for one, adored this book. I loved the articulate writing and the honest voice, I thought the stylistic treatments were brilliant, and the unreliable narrator kept me on my toes. My point is that the entire book, love it or hate it, mashes the EP and IP so closely together that it’s hard to tell them apart.

Another book that might be a better example from a commercial fiction standpoint is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s a violent, emotionally gripping story that keeps the IP for Katniss completely meshed with the EP of the game and its puppet masters. A gripping read by many accounts, but again it’s something you either love or hate. There’s rarely a lukewarm consensus for a truly great novel.

The most common question asked of a story is: What does your character want and why can’t he have it? That’s a decent starting point, but if you really want to dig your heels into the guts of your story, ask your character what he has to lose. His answer is far more compelling to your reader. Braid this with your EP and I can almost guarantee you’ll end up with a better book.

So what books have you read that you feel have an equally compelling EP and IP?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she recenly released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

 

The Next Big Thing

We've seen all these phenomenal books take off to best seller status – The Da Vinci Code, Gone Girl, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Gray – and now there's mutterings within the writing community about what the next "big thing" will be. Well, those mutterings never cease, but it’s a new year and therefore new mutterings.

We know it's unwise to clone what's already selling big at the moment because we're told time and time again that manuscripts bought today won't be on the shelves for another couple of years. We shouldn't follow trends because they're fickle. Most of us write according to our passion anyway, trends be damned. But still, it's fun to speculate what the next big thing will be; what genre, what new idea will spark the reading consumer into buying more books?

Ideas come from everywhere. The next best seller is probably sitting on someone's hard drive somewhere, the queries rejected left and right, partials getting turned down as often as bed sheets in a brothel, but it's out there, waiting for its time. Could it be yours? Hmm…

It's fun to speculate what people want to read in terms of fiction. What appeals to the American reader? We could look to television for our ideas. Not the shows so much as the themes. How about all the reality shows that are taking over primetime? Some authors have taken advantage of this craze by using it in their plots. It was popular for a while, got people's attention, but never really broke out into anything newsworthy.

So if themes aren't where the next big thing will spring from, how about genre? Genre mixing is THE topic of discussion at many writers' conferences. A couple decades ago, authors tried to mix romance and suspense and mystery and horror together, and were told their manuscripts were unmarketable. That’s all changed. I think authors have a sixth sense about these things. Are publishers as tuned in as we are?

So if you were to take out your crystal ball and shine it up, what would it reveal to you about the next big thing? Could it be a style of writing, like what happened with the chicklit explosion when Bridget Jones' Diary came out? Or an Internet chat/email format like a quirky YA novel? Or how about those graphic novels and manga? I'd never in a million years have imagined comic books coming back into fashion this way.

We can't predict for certain, but it's a lot of fun to think about. High concept literary fiction has always been a big deal. Same with up-market women's fiction. Both have a wide audience, which is why it has such broad appeal. How about retro historical fiction, like high concept stories set in the fifties, sixties, seventies? Sex, drugs and rock and roll. What do you think? Care to take a stab at what will be the next big thing?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she just released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

Adventures in Self Publishing

By Karen Duvall

Self-publishing continues to be a hot topic among writers and just when I think I’ve heard enough, there’s more I need to learn.

I dipped my toe into the self-publishing pool for the first time about a year and a half ago. The water was ice cold and I ran away screaming, but not without learning a few things first. I tried an experiment to see whether or not self-publishing is right for me. Having been traditionally published first, I wasn’t prepared to be the one doing all the work.

Desert Guardian SmallThat first effort was with a romantic suspense novel that had been previously published and my rights were returned, so I figured why not give it a try? However, I admittedly didn’t try very hard. I released it as an ebook only, no paperback, and only on Amazon.

Now I’m doing it again with another book, a book that’s never been published before. I’m publishing it under a pen name, Cory Dale, to differentiate it from my traditionally published books. It’s probably not necessary, and I may even regret it, but it’s something I want to try. I learned a lot with the first book I self-published, so I sort of know what I'm doing even though a lot has changed since that first effort. There are more distributors now and better software for ebook conversion, and there are a ton of experienced self-publishers willing to selflessly share their successes as well as their missteps.

I am self-publishing the first book in a new urban fantasy series that my agent shopped to New York publishers to no avail. Many of the editors liked the story and the characters, but no one wanted to take the risk. Urban fantasy was already on the downswing, and this book is a fusion of urban fantasy, alternate history and steampunk. Too different, and in a genre that wasn’t getting the same attention that it used to.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00024]Rather than let a story I believe in languor in the lonely depths of my hard drive, I decided to make it available to readers. I received feedback from beta readers (thank you, Shannon Baker, Jim Ciaramitaro and Alan Larson) and made revisions. Then I had it copyedited (thank you, Margaret Bailey) and made more revisions and corrections. Next it was thoroughly proofread (thank you, Chris Devlin) followed by more revisions and corrections. Producing this manuscript took time and money, and I now have a whole new appreciation for how hard a publisher works to produce a book. Wow.

I’ve been a professional graphic designer for over thirty years, so I designed my book’s cover for both the ebook and the print book along with the interior pages. I bought Jutoh, a highly intuitive piece of software that makes ebook conversion a breeze (unlike my first effort). Now that production is complete, I still must actually publish the book.

Sample PageSo I’ve gone from dipping my toes to wading into the deep end of the self-publishing pool. Next stop, e-tail distribution. A new player has been added since my last foray into independent publishing: Google Play. And now you can also sell direct from your website or blog, so I’ll be using Ganxy for that. I’m exploring my options.

The book I’ve been talking about, Demon Fare, is now on Amazon for preorder with a release date of December 20. The print book is there, too, and I was told it will be another week before the “Look Inside” feature is active. Setting things up on Amazon was fast and easy, probably because I already had an account with KDP for my first self-published book. Demon Fare is up for preorder on Kobo, too (not as easy to set up). It’s set to go on Nook (Barnes & Noble) and on Google Play (which was complicated and had more approval steps) just as soon as I hit the publish button. iTunes, or iBooks I should say, is the last to complete and it’s a good thing I gave myself a couple of weeks to set all these up. E-tail distribution has involved far more than filling out forms and clicking enter. Apple has its own software that you must install to produce your book for iTunes, and you have to make sure there are no other bookstore links in your ebook because they’ll reject it if you do.

Page graphicI already belong to a few yahoo groups within the self-publishing community so I’ve re-entered the fray to glean from their wisdom. There’s also the Kindle-boards to peruse for advice and warnings and recommendations. Preparing for self-publication has practically been a full time job these past few weeks and Demon Fare isn’t even released into the wild yet.

Now that my distribution channels are established, I have to get the word out about the book. I won’t go crazy with promotion because it’s my understanding a lot of promo won’t do me much good unless I already have other books available in the series. Demon Fare is the first book of my Spawnster Chronicles and I won’t have the next one published until spring.

Even though I won’t be doing much promotion for Demon Fare, I have to do something. I was fortunate to be interviewed for the December issue of Electric Spec Magazine, so that helps. I’ll be in RMFW’s next promotional blue mailer that reaches 350 bookstores and all of RMFW’s membership. I also signed up for a 5-day book blast blog tour at the end of December/start of January that includes 11 different blog stops with a mix of reviews, interviews, spotlights and guest blogs.

Reviews are tough to get. I have a month rented on Netgalley, which is a service that connects reviewers with books to review. Most book review blogs have a policy against reviewing self-published books, not necessarily because those books are badly written (though some may be) or because some reviewers have suffered harassment by authors who didn’t like the reviews they wrote, but because there are so many books. Reviewer’s can’t keep up. I have a list of indie-friendly reviewers to query, but I’m not banking on many yeses. Even so, it never hurts to try.

So there you have the beginning of my big adventure in one blog post and I’ve barely touched the tip of the self-publishing iceberg. However, I thought it might be helpful to share with others what I’ve done up to this point in case any of you want to embark on your own adventure.

Which do I prefer: Traditional or self-publishing? It’s too soon to tell, but I must say I have had wonderful experiences with my traditional publisher. Now that I’m giving self-publishing a fighting chance, I feel better about it this time around. My expectations are reasonable and my goal is the same as if I were publishing traditionally: To put my stories in the hands of readers. Wish me luck.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series and is self-publishing a new urban fantasy series starting with Demon Fare, Book 1 of The Spawnster Chronicles.

www.karenduvallauthor.com

Write Deliberate Dialogue

By Karen Duvall

We’re deliberate about everything we write, so why should dialogue be any different?

Here’s the thing: Remember when you wrote your first story? As soon as your characters started talking it became a “wow” moment. The words flew onto the page as if your fictional people had taken on a life of their own. They’d become like real people having real conversations. Writing dialogue was (and still is) fun and you considered it your strongest writing skill. Perhaps you still do.

Writing down those conversations was the easiest thing in the world, and we were damn good at it. How could we not be? We talk to our friends, our spouses, our kids, the neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store… We know how to talk because we talk all the time. So writing dialogue is the most natural skill ever.

And then we discover it’s not as easy as we thought.

There is a skill to writing dialogue and I think it’s one we improve with practice. Lots of practice. It’s not just about ditching the dreaded speaker tags, or using “beats” to create natural pauses and add character actions to conversations that bring them to life.

There’s also planning involved. Which is what I mean by deliberate.

Most of us started out writing by instinct, probably because we’ve read so much over the years that some aspects of the writing craft were absorbed by our subconscious. This could also be why we assume writing dialogue is so easy. It feels easy. Planning it, however, takes more thought.

I recall one of the first lessons in dialogue I ever learned was more about what not to do than what should be done. First rule: don’t be boring. In other words, don't write a conversation like this:

“Hi, Mary,” John said. “How are you today?”

“I’m fine,” Mary said. “How about yourself?”

“I have a cold,” John said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mary said.

Yeah, pretty bad. But what makes it bad? Well, for one thing, their conversation isn’t going anywhere. It’s not adding anything of value to the scene and it’s not revealing anything about the characters other than John having a cold. Big woop. If it were Ebola, maybe we’d have something there, but even then, it’s the presentation of this bland conversation that gives it a D-. Point is, this is not the kind of dialogue you want in your story.

Let’s say it’s important to establish these two characters greeting each other. It’s pivotal to the plot. Things can’t progress without Mary and John saying hello and confirming he has a cold. It’s a short greeting that has purpose. So if the conversation is going to be boring, do we have to use it? What other choice do we have?

Here is where being deliberate comes in. There are two kinds of dialogue: direct and indirect. Most of the time you want to use direct dialogue to show the characters interacting. You want to see them in action, hear their voices. But when the action isn’t important, or the details are superfluous, you use indirect dialogue. Basically, it’s a summary of the conversation.

It seems like such a simple thing, but how often do we run our characters off at the mouth only to discover what they had to say wasn’t any big deal. The big deal was for them to speak to each other. The precise content of the conversation itself isn’t important.

We can do this one of two ways, either of which is far more interesting than a he said/she said conversation. With indirect dialogue, you summarize the conversation in narrative:

I saw John yesterday and he actually said hi to me. I couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t spoken in weeks, then suddenly it’s like the fight we’d had in the store never even happened. And you know what? He looked like crap. Said he had a cold. I hope it’s mono.

Now you’ve skipped the boring part, went straight to the meat of the conversation, and added character development to boot.

Your second choice is to summarize the dialogue within direct dialogue:

John curled his lip in a snarl. “Yeah, I saw Mary. She tried to ignore me, but I refuse to stoop to her level. I said hello. Sure, she said hello back, but in that snotty way of hers, acting all high and mighty. I may be sick as a dog, but at least I have manners. More than I can say for her.”

Boring? No. There’s conflict here. We didn’t need John and Mary to have a conversation on stage, though they could have had one, depending on the needs of the plot. Sometimes you have to move quickly from one scene to the next so that you can get to the important part. The tense greeting between Mary and John is the propellant that ignited whatever flame scorches the root of their conflict. That conflict is more important than the boring banter we skipped to get to the juicy bits.

So be deliberate with your dialogue. Make decisions about what needs details and what can be summed up in fewer words. Then have fun writing it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing as Cory Dale, Karen's latest urban fantasy, DEMON FARE, will release December 15, 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

On a Quest for a Good Book

About a year ago I decided to limit my reading diet to self-published books. Not forever, just until I found some new favorite authors to follow. I really want to support the self-published community as much as possible and figured I’d have a strong list of auto-buys by now. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

I know there are fabulous self-published authors out there because I have found some, and I must say I’ve been doing my picking based solely on blurbs, reviews and sample pages. I figured that would be enough to help me gauge my enjoyment and justify an investment of reading time.

Here’s where I went wrong: I should have asked for recommendations. I have discovered that most reviews are unreliable, both the good ones and the not-so complimentary ones. But I’m stubborn. I wanted to make my choices based on objective sources. Lesson learned.

Why have I had such a difficult time finishing these books? It’s mostly my bad luck, but I did discover structural problems in the majority of the stories I deleted from my Kindle after reading only a few chapters. Of the books I selected, the writing was fine, grammar good, voice passable, but plot and character suffered from a lack of practiced craft and developmental editing. They read like manuscripts that passed muster with a critique group, but not an editor.

They started out great or I never would have bought them. The sample pages caught my interest, the premise captivated me, so the beginnings of these books rocked. But I stopped reading somewhere between 20% and 30% of the way in. Maybe they suffered from contestitis, where the author had made edits and polished the beginning pages based on contest feedback. The rest of the story never received the same attention.

We talk a lot in RMFW about strong beginnings, effective hooks, introducing interesting characters, establishing stakes and obstacles… but it shouldn’t stop there. The strength you start with needs to carry through the rest of the book.

The problems I encountered were:

Bland characters – Characters who start out strong, then lose their purpose, or lack motivation, or just don’t care enough about the goal they had to begin with.

No tension – The story’s tension leaks out like a slowly deflating balloon. Time is spent exploring secondary plotlines instead of the main one, and the problems faced at the beginning are put on hold. Not good. Not good at all.

Disappearing characters or too many characters – It’s hard to focus on a main character when everyone in the story begins to have equal billing. Or when the most interesting person gets killed off or drops out completely, I lose interest in reading any more.

Likable characters become unlikable – It really upset me when a character I cared about seduced her stepfather about a quarter of the way into the book. I’d thought he was a nice guy, too. He’d raised her, for crap sake. They both turned out to be turds. Ugh. Those are hours I’ll never get back. I didn’t start reading another book for a couple of weeks after that.

Confusion – Mysteries I like. No, mysteries I love. But I don’t like it when things stop making sense. Confusion annoys me.

Meandering plot – Starts out heading in one direction then veers off in another for no apparent reason.

Exposition overload – I’m really tolerant of backstory, and probably enjoy reading it more than most people do, but even I have my limits.

Too many pretty sunsets – Or sunrises, or beaches, or gardens, or forests… You get the picture, which is the problem. Too many pictures. I adore good description and even teach a class on it, but too much kills the pace and saps life from your story.

Repetition – Same scene, different setting. Again. And again. It helps to change things up now and then.

Chaotic choreography – Action is a very good thing to have in your story, but it needs to be handled with a practiced hand. Fights, tangled lovers, car chases… When a lot is happening all at once, it should be clear in the reader’s mind what’s going on.

Call me picky—because I am—but I really wanted to love these books. I’m looking for an enjoyable reading experience and my goal is to find some great self-published books to fill that need.

Do you know of any self-published books you think I’d enjoy? If so, please leave the title and name of the author in a comment here. Thank you!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

 

Twenty Years of Conference Memories

by Karen Duvall

I had such a blast at the Colorado Gold Conference last weekend. It brought back memories of the very first Gold I attended in 1994. Twenty years. Damn, I feel old. I think I've only ever missed one conference in all these years and that's because I moved to Oregon and the airfare would have killed me. I'm still in Oregon, and airfare is still a killer, but I make sure to save my pennies so that I never miss it again.

I recall my decision to attend the 1994 conference after hearing about it from a writer friend's wife who was also a writer. She raved about RMFW and the conference, and since I'd only recently completed my first full-length manuscript, I thought it would be a great opportunity to find a publisher.

Okay, you can stop laughing now. I can hear you all the way from here.

I didn't know much about what a conference entailed so I wasn't prepared. I didn't know there would be workshops and published authors there, and I'd only recently heard about a special group of publishing professionals called literary agents. What a wonderful concept. I'm in!

As for publishers, I don't think I met an editor that first year. I was too intimidated. Especially after I heard one of them speak. I'm pretty sure it was Michael Stedman of Walker that put the fear into me, but I could be wrong. It was a long time ago.

When I found out an agent had the power to get a writer's work in front of an editor I thought, "Sign me up!" So I got in line for a pitch appointment with one. In those days you didn't have to preregister to pitch to an agent or editor. So after hearing about this amazing chance to chat with an honest-to-god agent, I signed up to pitch to a literary agent named Grace Morgan. Once I sat down in front of this professional business woman who never cracked a smile, I lost my ability to speak. Seriously. I'd never had such a bad case of dry mouth in all my life. After a few awkward moments of silence and watching me on the verge of apoplexy, she patted my hand and said, "Honey, it's okay. I won't bite." I wasn't so sure about that, but her reassurance helped. I still choked. Even so, Ms. Morgan requested pages and I was beside myself with joy.

I also met some wonderful writers that weekend, writers I'd continue a strong friendship with for the next twenty years. I met my longtime friends and conference roommates, Shannon Baker and Karen Lin, at that first conference. We've shared our personal lives as well as our writing woes and triumphs, our wins and losses, and supported each other throughout our writers' journey. We never would have met if not for RMFW and the Colorado Gold.

My first awards banquet was an eye-opening experience. I'd never before felt such a strong sense of community. I was privileged to see Rick Hanson himself read the simile winners and watched Alice Kober hand out the valuable prizes. I was awed by all the talented winners of that year's writing contest. I didn't personally know the winner of the Jasmine Award, but I teared up with everyone else when she walked up to the podium to accept her plaque (ten years later I accepted my own). I knew then that this organization would change my life, and it has.

When I returned home on Sunday after the 1994 conference, I tried to keep that experience alive by going through all the materials I'd brought home with me. So much information! It was overwhelming, but also exhilarating. My journey had finally begun because now I had the tools I needed to really get started. That folder of paper had ripped corners and coffee stains, highlighter marks and pen scribbles, and it reminded me of the Velveteen Rabbit because those papers were so loved.

The following year I signed with my first literary agent (not Grace Morgan). I was a finalist in the writing contest in 1999. I got my first publishing contract in 2000. I joined a critique group (go Alphas!), served on the board as PAL rep, volunteered for contest and for conference, presented workshops, started the anthology project, and though I'm now 1200 miles away from Denver, I still stay involved with conference and RMFW as much as I possibly can.

Last weekend I found myself reflecting on my first conference and all the memorable moments in between. It's been one incredible journey that hasn't ended, and I hope it never will. For those of you who attended conference for the first time, I hope your experience was as amazing as my first conference was, and that you'll come back next year. And I hope you get involved with RMFW because this fabulous group of supportive writers will stand behind you every step of the way. You have my word.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series and plans to publish her new urban fantasy novel, Demon Fare, before the end of 2014.

 

Pitch it to Me, Baby

By Karen Duvall

Wow! I can't believe the Colorado Gold Conference is only one month away. I'm refraining from packing my bag too early, but I mentally add to my packing list every day. I'm all registered for conference, my plane reservations are made, my hotel room is set, I'm super excited to see my kids and grandkids while I'm there, and I'm eager to visit with all my Colorado writer friends again. This promises to be an incredible trip.

As I prepare for my journey, I'm also preparing for the conference itself. I feel very lucky to have made it into a critique workshop with Kensington editor Peter Senftleben on Friday morning. Though I have an agent, it never hurts to network and the manuscript pages I'm having critiqued is from the book my agent is preparing to submit to publishers. I want my pitch to be tighter than a banker's wallet.

It's fortunate for me that I'll be teaching a "Pitch and Query" workshop for the Central Oregon Writers Guild on Saturday, August 23, at COCC in Redmond, Oregon. Perfect timing, yes? Because not only will I be helping guild members work on pitches for their novels, they're going to help me with mine. It's a win-win for everyone.

Guild members aren't preparing to pitch at any specific conference I'm aware of, but it's smart to have one ready for any situation when you might need a tight description of your book. During the workshop we'll be working on queries as well. Conferences aren't the only opportunities to pitch a novel. There are now many pitching opportunities online that include blog events with editors and agents, writer group forums, Twitter, Facebook and online writers' conferences that are growing in popularity.

This is all the more reason why a pitch should be brief and effective. Step one -- It needs three vital components for a solid hook:

  • Paint a compelling mental picture.
  • Offer an idea of genre.
  • Have a killer title.

What elements go into the pitch? First we state who the hero is, what his goal is and why he must have it, and what prevents him from getting what he wants. It's vital that we focus on the conflict at the heart of our book. Put this all together and you have an ironclad formula for a successful pitch. If it falls within the purview of an agent's or editor's acquisition needs, you'll probably get a request for pages.

I recommend writing several versions of your pitch. When you think you have a good one, don't stop there. Polish it, let it sit for a while, then read it again out loud. The goal is to hook your audience, so it should be short and to the point.

As usual, it's easier to use movies as examples because popular movies are the most familiar. Here are two fairly good single-line pitches:

"A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists." - Die Hard

"A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend." - Pretty Woman

Both these examples use hooks to grab attention. Once you capture an editor's or agent's interest, you can take it one step further. Both these one-liners set the stage to continue on with the hero's character arc and the emotional stakes that embroil him and the antagonist. The first line of your pitch is usually conceptual, an overview of the big picture. Once your hook has found its mark, it's time to reel in your audience with theme and conflict.

Be prepared to answer unexpected questions that may not be covered in your pitch. You might be asked something like: Who's your villain and what does he want from your hero? Where did you get the idea for your story? Who are the other characters and why are they important? Plus myriad other possible inquiries. Know your story inside and out.

Practice your pitch on a fellow writer or critique partner. If you pre-registered for the one-on-one pitch coaching sessions on Friday at conference, you'll have a chance to try out your pitch and get feedback from a professional.

During my workshop here in Oregon I'll be breaking up the class into groups so they can brainstorm and practice writing their pitches. But as a warm up, I have an exercise planned. They'll get a list of vague pitches for popular movies that that can be "beefed up" to power pitch level. Vague pitches can be misleading and lose power due to a lack of specificity. I've collected a bunch and the class can revise as many as they want as practice for creating their own pitches.

Can you revise any of these poor pitch examples?

Batman: A man deals with the deaths of his parents.
Superman: A Kansas farmboy moves to the big city and helps people.
Spider-Man: A nerdy teenager learns to stand up for what he believes in.
Captain America: A troubled young man takes steroids, attacks foreigners.

Feel free to post in comments whatever you come up with.

Though I won't be giving my pitch workshop at Colorado Gold, I will be presenting a workshop on Plot Devices: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on Saturday, September 6, at 4:30 p.m. I'll have a few tools to share for your writer's toolbox so don't miss it. See you then!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen Duvall lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She's an award winning author published with Harlequin Luna and is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy series.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

So You Think You Can Write

One of my favorite TV shows is So You Think You Can Dance. I watch the episodes streamed on Hulu.com because I’m never able to catch them at the time they’re televised.

While watching the show the other night, I noticed some similarities between dance as an art form, and writing.  Dance is an art, as is theater, music, the visual arts, and of course the various literary arts. Each art can be performed with varying levels of creativity.

One of the points made by judge Little C was how each dancer, as an artist, interprets dance differently. They may each execute the same steps, but it’s how the dance is performed that makes the difference. Some dancers are superb technicians with impeccable timing, posture, extensions, and all the other myriad moves that are choreographed into a performance. But if their heart and style and individuality is left out, they won’t rise above the ordinary. Dancers who give it their all and let themselves feel the joy of dance, who pay less attention to their steps and more to how dance lifts their souls, are the ones who become extraordinary artists.

So I got to thinking about how writing is much the same way. I should change the title of this post to So You Think Can Write a Novel because writing, like dance, is interpreted different ways. There are superb technicians who are competent wordsmiths. Journalists and technical writers might fit in that camp. If you can write an excellent software manual, can you write an equally excellent novel?

Maybe.

Good skill in one area does not guarantee excellence in another even if it’s the same art. Aside from the X factor no one can quite put their finger on, when it comes to writing fiction, there’s so much more to it than good grammar and a knack for stringing sentences together. A great poet may be a poor storyteller, a fabulous storyteller may suck at journalism. I think it’s rare for a writer to be especially good at writing everything, but I’m sure there are exceptions.

So tell me, writers, are you a good writer? Or are you a good storyteller? Do you think there’s a difference?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.