You Can Never Learn Too Much

When it comes to writing, there’s always more to learn, either through instruction or experience. I think most writers love to learn, or simply to refresh what we think we already know.

You may have heard of the famous University of Iowa Writers Workshop that’s held every summer. I know of a few writer friends who have had the privilege of attending. I haven’t had the pleasure myself and really hope I can someday (when I’m able to afford both the time and the expense), but the good news is there’s an annual free online writing workshop sponsored by the University of Iowa that’s open to anyone interested in expanding his or her writing education. It’s called “How Writers Write Fiction” and this year’s course is currently in session (not endorsed by RMFW).

I attended last year and got so much out of it that I knew I wanted to take it again. This year they have both a beginning writer’s track and one for experienced writers, though students are free to participate in both. We’ve just finished the Welcome Wagon, a week-long introduction that includes getting to know our classmates, the instructors, the teacher’s aids and the moderators. The host is NovoEd, which has an interface similar to Facebook in the way it’s organized (but without all the annoying ads). Lots of great conversations are going on and this year we are encouraged to form our own discussion groups based on location, interests, writing levels and/or genre. It’s only been a week and I’ve already met some great people with similar interests.

Every day there’s a short video made by one of the workshop instructors. The first week’s daily videos focused on best practices, and every day there’s a link to a different writing article, usually essays by renowned fiction writers. All of them are excellent. Then a discussion thread is started for us to talk about what we saw and what we read. For example, today’s short video covered nine basic writing tips.

So far, we’ve had a series of writing practice assignments to prepare us for the actual lessons that begin right after Welcome Week is over. It’s getting us ready for Class Session 1 called “Starting With Character.” This was so helpful to me last year, and there’s even more focus on character this year, which is extremely important to me. Each week there will be a new class video, required reading assignment, discussion topics on best writing practices, writing assignments and peer feedback. Each week will also have a different fiction fundamentals video followed by a discussion and a quiz.

Everything on the course site is incredibly well organized. The course itself is set up like its own website with links to different areas that we can access throughout the course. It’s an 8-week course, entirely self-paced, and I could spend an entire day, every day, exploring the site and participating in all the different discussions going on. Hard to believe it’s all free, but I can attest to its value since I took it last year as well, however this year’s course is more extensive.

Each week will focus on a different area of fiction writing, as it applies to both long form and short form. Here’s this year’s course schedule after Welcome Week:

Class Session 1: Starting with Character
Class Session 2: Expanding on Character: Cast and Dialogue
Class Session 3: Working with Plot
Class Session 4: Using Character to Produce Frame and Arc
Class Session 5: Voice and Setting
Class Session 6: Immersion and Setting: Description and World-Building
Class Session 7: Embracing Revision
Farewell Class: Onward! The Writing Life

I’ve just started writing a new novel that I’m approaching from a new angle. This story is not genre specific for a change, so the course comes at a great time for me. I’m learning something new and I'm eager to dig in.

It’s not too late for new students to enroll this year, but as stated earlier, this course is not endorsed by RMFW. Since we’re only a week in, you can still sign up. If you'd rather wait until next year, you can get on the mailing list to receive advance notice. The Iowa Writing University has something going on all year long and there are lots of great articles on the blog. Check it out here

Happy learning!


Are Your Characters Larger than Life?

So what exactly is a “larger than life” character? You hear that term bandied about all the time, especially as one of the attributes agents and editors are looking for in a good story.

If you were to take the term literally, you’d be wrong. It fact, larger than life is often misused and assigned to god-like characters and Rambo-esque heroes. LTL characters are less likely to be big in size and personality, or to talk big and lead with their fists instead of their hearts.

Don’t get me wrong; the Rambos and Supermen and Thors are certainly memorable and deserve to have stars by their names. They’re big enough to be household names and have the neighborhood kids dress up in costumes that look like them on Halloween. But are they truly LTL characters?

My point is an LTL goes beyond the physical. You make your characters bigger than life so they’ll be worthy of the role they’ve been given, and deserving of the boon they'll win at the end of a book. The LTL character is put in extraordinary situations and forced to make extraordinary decisions, to make sacrifices and put the needs of others above their own. There are LTL characters in real life as well as novels and movies. Lets look at some.

Mother Theresa – She’s famous for saying “A sacrifice to be real it must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves.” She was big on sacrifice, but there were three things she said you should never sacrifice: your family, your heart, your dignity. She’s memorable and heroic for what she stands for, and this makes her bigger than life.

Winston Churchill – Small in stature, yet big in wisdom and courage, Churchill was the greatest statesman of the 20th century. As a leader, he perpetually demonstrated enthusiasm, determination, and optimism and was the lion that roared when the British Empire needed him most. Unforgettable quotes from his speeches are repeated to this day.

There’s a lot we can learn from the flesh and blood LTLs to help make our fictional characters more authentic. Flaws, foibles and insecurities as well as morality, compassion, empathy and countless other characteristics shape a three dimensional human being (or non human, depending on your genre).

LTL characters are deserving of a prominent place in our stories because they’ve risen above adversity and made the hard choices that led them to victory. Strength is superficial without the weakness a character is forced to overcome in order to win.

Who are some fictional LTL characters? I’m sure there are many who star in your favorite books and that’s why those books are your favorites. I have some, too.

Katniss Everdeen – Yes, I’m a big Hunger Games fan. Katniss is made of courage and compassion, and is a great example of a LTL faced with the horrors of a cruel government run by a totalitarian dictatorship that uses children to fight its battles. These atrocities affect Katniss’ family and her own district, and against all odds, she stands up to her nemeses and refuses to back down. She deserves to win.

Vivian Daly and Molly Ayer – These two heroines get equal billing in the critically acclaimed novel, Orphan Train. The best book I’ve read in years. What makes these two ladies LTL characters? Vivian is an elderly survivor of the torture she lived through as an orphan, shipped from home to home, one hard life to the next, starting in 1929. Molly is a teenager, a foster kid, who’s had to survive similar tribulations. Molly records Vivian’s story, which allows her to understand more about herself than she ever knew just by listening to the elderly woman’s memories. A truly moving tale of determination and guts. I’ll never forget these two. They were real, and yet they were more than real. They were larger than life.

Can you share any LTL characters you’ve read in your favorite novels? What makes them larger than life?


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.






Role Play for Fiction Writers

noun: roleplay
1. PSYCHOLOGY -- the acting out or performance of a particular role, either consciously (as a technique in psychotherapy or training) or unconsciously, in accordance with the perceived expectations of society with regard to a person's behavior in a particular context.

Adult role play comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s therapeutic, sometimes it’s entertainment, and sometimes it’s both. It can even be used as a training tool to prepare someone for a future performance and to improve abilities within a role, like aircraft flight simulation and war games for the military.

I decided to blog about role play (RP) because it’s not a subject I’ve encountered in the writing blogs I follow, yet fiction is at the heart of all RP. It involves imagination and creativity, and quite a bit of make-believe; the very stuff of fiction.

Star Trek_001
Star Trek RP

Remember when you were a kid and you’d get together with your friends to pretend you were a character from a cartoon, or a super hero, or you parceled out roles for a make-believe family? Or maybe you played doctor, or cops and robbers. RP is just like that, only for adults.

Role play can be done in a number of formats, like board games, card games, email, online forums, and virtual worlds like Second Life. I’ve never role-played myself, but a lot of my clients do in the virtual reality game-world where I run a business. I create 3D designs for computer gaming, and the Second Life computer game is a premiere playground for the RP community.

History of RP. Any theatrical performance can be considered a form of RP, which dates back to ancient Rome, Greece and medieval Europe. However, today’s RP is spontaneous, not rehearsed. There’s always some kind of backstory agreed upon by all players involved, but the play itself is improvised.

The futuristic city of Insilico

Genres of Role Play. RP can be based on popular novels, movies or television shows, where players take on roles of existing characters or make up new characters to parallel the storyline they’ve created. It’s typically a collaborative effort between all players who work together to create a narrative using what they know of the model story-world on which they base their RP. You might compare it to fan fiction.

Or role players can make something up totally from scratch. Create a planet and become an alien race, make up a village of dwarves and goblins and elves, produce a noir detective motif set in the forties, design your own zombie apocalypse, develop a historical community based in fact. The possibilities are endless.

Virtual Pregnancy

It’s important to know that RP doesn’t have to be fantasy. There’s military, law enforcement, and even family to name a few reality-based RPs. In fact, in Second Life it’s not uncommon for players to gather in family units and name its members mom, dad, sister, brother, son and daughter. There are child characters played by adults, usually because they’re recreating childhoods that may not have been so happy in real life, or reliving childhoods that were. Women who can’t get pregnant in real life have their avatars go through virtual pregnancies that include doctor visits, maternity clothes, baby showers, followed by simulated deliveries in virtual hospitals. RP can allow people to work through emotional and personal issues while buffeted by the support of helpful players who are sympathetic to their situations.

A version of Venice run by vampires.

RP as a writing tool. Similar to brainstorming, you can invite others to play characters from your story and work out plots together in real time. You may not know it, but you’ve already participated in RP when you did the character interviews for your story, or wrote letters in you character’s voice, or blogged about your characters from their points of view. The very act of writing your story is playing all the character roles yourself. However, traditional RP is a social game, not a solitary one.

I don’t role play, but I have dressed my Second Life avatar like my character and visited Second Life locations that are similar to my story’s settings, then parked my avatar there for inspiration as I write. I’ve found it to be very helpful.

Have you ever participated in role play?

Here's a link to some top RP sites:

If you're interested in Second Life, visit


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.

Descriptive Power on Page One

By Karen Duvall

Description often gets overlooked for the power it can have in a story. Some dismiss it as no big deal, just use the five senses and you're good to go. Some avoid using it altogether because they think readers skip that part to get to the action. Some worry over excessive exposition that could be perceived as an info dump. And some apply it strictly as a means for building their story world, period.

The above assumptions are mostly false.

Effective description is one of the most powerful tools in a writer's toolbox. There's a skill to making it work in an active way that enhances both plot and character, and can make the difference between an okay story and a compelling one.

I could spend an entire day teaching a workshop on description, but I'll condense the basics for the purpose of this blog. In fact, I'm going to start at the beginning. Of a book. Like, page 1.

An overall issue I see with a lot of first books is an eagerness to reveal the setting in a cinematic way. A literary camera pans across a vista in the land where the story takes place. Or the camera slowly zooms in on some metaphorical image that sets the tone of the story about to unfold. Or perhaps the lens is pointed out the window as thick clouds of fog roll across the screen to create atmosphere.

The above might work great for a movie, with a voice over done by the main character. And though screenplays share a number of similarities with the novel form, they are different medias. Film engages the viewer visually and captures attention that way. Books use words, and call upon a reader's imagination to conjure the image that's intended to be seen. This takes time, and readers are less likely to have the patience to translate all those words into something visually engaging enough to compel them to turn the page. A writer needs to hook them before they decide to go watch a movie instead.

But you want to set the tone, the atmosphere, and visually engage your readers, so how else can you do this? If you want to use description to open your book, your job is to create context. Associate the description with the action and the characters. Don't separate the two. Engage your reading audience by creating a balance that ties all these elements together.

Let's use the vista as an example. As your words paint a panoramic view of the story world, they need to include an active element in the story. You'll be in a character's point of view as you do this (please avoid omniscient if possible) so his emotions are attached to this unfolding landscape. Maybe it's morning and the character is tense because of something about to happen. What he sees and feels relate to this scenery in some way. Maybe his job is to slaughter a farm animal to feed his family and he's loath to take a life. Or he has to check the zombie traps that were set the night before and he's scared of what he'll find. Consider having some conflict at play here because readers will be most engaged by tension rather than entering the land of the happy people. Even if your characters are happy, there needs to be a hint of unpleasantness just around the corner. Tension on every page.

Just remember that context is key, especially for genre fiction. And even though you think you're showing rather than telling, a description that lacks engagement with the plot and characters is like a barren island floating in a sea of nothing. Dry. Boring. Stagnant. It doesn't take the reader where he or she needs to go.

Does the first page of your manuscript open with description or action?


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.

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.

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.