The winner of a copy
of Barbara Graham‘s novel
Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt
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 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.
By Jeanne C. Stein
The topics we’re going to cover today involve some basics of storytelling. In fact to some of you, this may be nothing but review. Especially if you were lucky enough to attend last weekend’s conference. It’s the first one in the seventeen years I’ve been a member of RMFW that I had to miss. I’m going through withdrawals. Anyway, if so, skip it and come back next month when we’re going to tackle some “rules” of genre writing.
The first consideration of any work is determining whose story we’re going to tell. Point of view. Whether you plan to use multiple POV’s or one, establishing our protagonist and antagonist are crucial to good story telling.
First, then, what is POV and what are the different kinds? Let’s review the most popular briefly:
1. First person – the one telling the story. Told in one perspective, the narrator’s, as he or she experiences it.
I saw the boy the same time he saw me.
2. Third person – the one telling the story is a witness; may or may not be not involved directly in the story.
She saw the boy at the same time he saw her.
3. Limited omniscient – the “God” point of view. Everything is revealed through a non-participant in the story. Allows you to relay events happening to more than one character in the story, but feels more detached.
She was looking at the boy and at the same time he was looking at her.
There are others, Second person for example, but it is a difficult one to pull off and not used as frequently.
You looked at the boy at the same time he looked at you.
There are many resources available if you need more examples or clarification. If you decide to write in more than one POV, for instance, first and third, there are some factors you must consider to keep the narrative from being jumpy. You can change perspective via chapter changes or drop downs. You can keep POV shifts uniform, that is first person, third person, first person, third person. The thing to keep away from is head-jumping or shifting from one POV to another in the same paragraph or page. That is extremely difficult to pull off and often is very distracting to the reader. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Can you think of an author who pulls this off smoothly? Nora Roberts springs to mind but she’s had years (decades) of practice.
Once we’ve decided how we’re going to tell the story, we cast our characters.
What defines a compelling, interesting protagonist? She should be multi-dimensional, meaning she has inner conflicts as well as outer problems. She should be believable and consistent throughout the story. That is not to say that she cannot grow from the beginning of the book to the end. She must grow in order to make her sympathetic—we want the reader to be cheering her on, after all. To that end, she must have clear motives and goals. As for physical description, some writers are very specific in describing physical characteristics, others, not so.
Whether you want to describe your character down to the mole on her rear or paint her in broader brush stokes is a matter of personal style. Devoting four pages of your first chapter, though, to a minute blow by blow of your heroine staring at herself in the mirror is a good way to lose your readers before you’ve had a chance to hook them. We’ll discuss this more in Lesson 5.
What about the antagonist? The same rules apply when introducing the villain(s) in your story. No matter how horrific his (or her) actions, it’s important to remember that the villain has a reason for doing the things he does. He has clear motives and goals that while they may be in direct conflict to our heroine’s, are as real and compelling to him as her own. Cartoon villains aren’t interesting to a reader, just as a one-dimensional heroine isn’t interesting. The most successful, suspenseful stories are those that keep the reader guessing until the very end. And the highest complement is a reader who says, “I never saw that coming.”
One caveat, however: springing a villain on the reader that we haven’t met anywhere in the story before the end is cheating. As is the “evil twin” ploy. You can hide clues, conceal the villain, create mistaken assumptions to confuse our readers. But don’t cheat. The answer must be buried in the story somewhere.
Some writers devote a great deal of time to defining their characters, writing detailed biographies that cover everything from IQ to their childhood pets. If that appeals to you, by all means do it. Horoscope signs, Tarot Cards, Myers-Briggs personality tests, Enneagram Types—use whatever you want to flesh out your characters. What you mustn’t do is include every detail of the results in your narrative. Better to show personality traits in the reactions of your protag to story events than tell us why she’s reacting a certain way.
Of course, some writers start with a story and construct the setting and characters around it. Nothing wrong with that approach. Whether we decide to use a real city (or rural setting) or to make one up, anchoring our readers in things they recognize is the first step to getting them to accept the things they don’t, especially in a genre like Urban Fantasy.
An example of this is Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. We watch Rosemary decorate her New York apartment, make curtains, set up a nursery. It’s so real, we fully accept that in the apartment down the hall, a powerful coven of witches has enlisted her own egocentric husband in a conspiracy against her.
Some writers use real places, others find it easier to create a fictional locale, still others use a combination of the two. It makes no difference. How you describe your setting, how authentic you make it feel, is the important thing. If you are going to use a real place, familiarize yourself with it. You can take certain liberties (I turned the streets in Mission Beach around a little so Anna’s cottage would face the ocean) but if you say a highway runs north/south and it really runs east/west, someone will notice. And they’ll call you on it. Readers pay attention to detail. This is where Google Earth and Google Maps come in handy. Except when done intentionally, there really isn’t an excuse for getting a point of geography wrong. Literally, the whole world is at your fingertips via the web.
Obviously, you have to be careful about the way you use real businesses or people. Calling the real-life mayor of your town by name and then branding him an ax-murderer or pedophile will likely get you in trouble.
So once you’ve decided where you want to set your story, the next decision is to define the paranormal aspects of the place. This is the crux of world building in genres like UF and it’s great fun. How do you want to populate your universe? Is magic universal? Or are humans unaware of the otherworldly creatures in your story? Do you want to use vampires or werewolves or shapeshifters or any of the more exotic paranormal creatures—fairies or angels or demons?
Don’t be afraid to tweak the mythology either. You can change any “rule” you want as long as you explain it to the reader. If it’s logical to your story, the reader will accept it. Just remember: once you set your rules, stick to them. If your protagonist has to hide his real nature from the world at large, it adds another layer of conflict to the story—particularly if exposure would mean becoming the target of bigotry and fear.
Think about the story you want to tell—define your protagonist and antagonist, set the world, populate it.
We’ll end this lesson with another interviewee: Anton Strout is the popular author of the Simon Candrous series and the new Spellmason Chronicles. His novels are perfect examples of UF. See if you recognize why.
1. You are often included in lists of Urban Fantasy Authors. How do you feel about the tag and do you like it? Why or why not?
I like the tag, personally. I know some writers hate to be pigeonholed, but writing is a business and there’s simply no escaping categorization. And hey! There’s some good company in my category- Butcher, Hamilton, you- and Urban Fantasy sounds like so much better a category name than Buffy/Ghostbusters Fan Fiction!
2. What makes your books fit in the UF genre?
My series takes place mostly in and around Manhattan, which is about as urban as you get. And my main character works for the Department of Extraordinary Affairs’ Other Division, which is an underfunded agency dealing with paranormal activities. These are folks trying to get through their workday, somewhat normal people dealing with fantastical things happening all around them that the average New Yorker tends to block out or not pay attention to. So my writing is a mix of city life and the paranormal that lands me smack dab in the middle of UF.
3. Did you set out to write UF?
No. I set out to write a story about this average guy named Simon, but over time, I realized I wanted to tell a ghost story/mystery set in New York City. I wanted to write the type of things I like to read… or watch. I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan. I love his mix of the fantastical and the humorous and when I write, I strive towards that type of balance in my own work. I was also a huge fan of Douglas Adams and his humor and I didn’t really know many humorous urban fantasy authors were out there, but I knew I wanted to be one once I looked at the first draft of Dead To Me and said “Oh, that’s what I was trying to do.”
4. Why do you think UF is so popular with readers?
I think there are several reasons. I think readers like stories about familiar fairy tale monsters set in places they can identify with, such as the modern world. There’s built in accessibility. Also, I moved to New York because there was a romantic notion to it all, and mixing the spooky in with that really appealed to me. When I set a scene, I try to think what the average reader knows about New York. I can skip describing a location for three pages, simply by mentioning a scene outside the Empire State Building. Even if the reader’s never been, they still have seen it in movies or on TV or in other books. That gives me more time to spend giving them the payoff from character development and dialogue. Perhaps it’s a bit of a shortcut, but I think it just makes sense for the writer using the modern world.
* * * *
Set in New York, the protagonist a bureaucrat employed by an agency that deals with the paranormal—Urban Fantasy—genre.
Next time we’ll look at how you write for a genre audience.
By Jeffe Kennedy
This is release week for Rogue’s Paradise, the third book in my Covenant of Thorns trilogy. The first book, Rogue’s Pawn, came out just over two years ago, in July of 2012. It was the first novel I wrote and first published – which took a long time, as the genre of Fantasy Romance wasn’t as well known when I first started shopping it. So, this feels like the end of a long adventure for me.
Or, maybe more accurate, a lovely stopping-off point to catch my breath and enjoy the view.
As the last two years have passed, the series has slowly gained readers, largely by word of mouth, which has been interesting to observe. One thing that struck me over time was the consistent misinterpretation people made.
I’d describe the book – or series – as being about “a scientist is trapped in Faerie.” If their eyes didn’t glaze over or roll, I’d go on to explain about the magic, the struggle to gain power and control, the bargain to bear a firstborn child for Rogue, a fae lord. At this point, far more people than I imagined would furrow their brows and say “firstborn child? How can he have a baby?”
See, they heard “scientist” and thought “male.”
It was funny to me, because it had never once occurred to me that people would have that problem. To me, the books were obviously heroine-centric – written in 1st person POV – so when I described the plot in terms of what happened to my scientist, I figured people would know that was my heroine. I might have made the implicit assumption, too, that of course people would recognize that my scientist was a woman because I, myself, am a female scientist.
Still, it’s been instructive. And a great adventure.
If you’re interested in checking out the trilogy, you can enter to win any of the books over at one of my other group blogs, Here Be Magic.
By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer
One of the things I learned this past weekend at the RMFW conference was how to draw your attention. Pat (my amazing, fabulous, awesome co-editor) and I had a brief discussion on blog headlines and titles. We decided and I’m thinking rightly so, not to cheat and lie to our readers with misleading headlines. That means, I must give you at least one way to improve your sex life. I’ll leave that to the end, so to keep your interest…
I had a great weekend at the conference. Colorado Gold is one of the top conferences around. Ask anyone. We had an array of workshops ranging from Body Language to How to Distribute Bodies…or was that books? Damn. I might need to rethink some things.
I learned a whole bunch. I always do at these things.
For example, Shannon Baker, our illustrious Writer of the Year, can sure hold her booze.
But that’s enough about Friday night other than to say, a good time was had by all. Thanks to Who Else Books (Nina and Ron) who hosted the booksigning with what seemed like a million authors. Too many books to choose from. Not a bad problem to have.
Saturday was a day filled with learning and, for me, that was learning from my workshop attendees. I did a Guerrilla Marketing session, and was amazed by the intelligence and insights of my fellow writers.
The banquet was a festive event with the winners of the CO Gold contest being revealed. The air was thick with tension as the names were called. Or was that the stench of author stink after a day of workshops? Either way, it was great to see the finalist and the winners enjoying the moment.
That was followed by the Rick Hanson Simile Contest, always the classiest of events. And this year didn’t disappoint. The night is much of a blur, but I do remember selfie and sphincter. Like I said, classy.
The night was capped off with a speech by the controversial Mark Coker of smashwords fame/infamy. Apparently Mark and Donald Maass won’t be lunching together anytime soon. Following his speech, there was an author reading. It was a fun event, and interesting to hear the variety of works. Carol Berg brought down the house with her short story from an upcoming anthology.
Sunday morning…well I missed most of it, having slept like the dead. But I did attend the iPAL and PAL meetings, which were, as always, informative. RMFW is a special organization and it’s all volunteers, who work their butts off, to make it so.
Susie Brooks did an awesome job this year, as did all the board, guest speakers, presenters, and volunteers. Though, what made this conference so special for me, were the 125 first time attendees. Everywhere you looked there was new blood. People excited to learn craft, to pitch to agents and editors, to be a part of a vibrant community like ours.
For those who attended this weekend, what was your favorite part? What did you learn? Did your pitch go well? Please share your experience. If you didn’t attend, we missed you and hope to see you next September.
Now, I promised one tip to improve your sex life, and that is…
Please friend me on facebook (as I’m very lonely) at https://www.facebook.com/JulieAKazimer.
You can also check me out (in a figurative sense) at www.jakazimer.com.
By Barbara Graham
Probably because I’m in the midst of trying to get my garden to produce something other than really healthy weeds, and my next book is in the formative stage, the comparison between gardening and writing a novel seemed ideal.
After all, they both start with high hopes and big plans. Each beginning I think—this will be the garden/book that won’t have “issues” like weeds, blight or repetitive phrases. The characters will be fascinating and the tomatoes won’t have blossom end rot.
Before beginning such a fabulous project, there is some studying involved. I peruse the seed catalogs and gather ideas for the best vegetables for the sunny end of the garden. Can they grow in our short season? For the book, what will the story line be and because I write mysteries, who should I kill this time? The first book in my mystery series, Murder by Serpents: The Mystery Quilt was inspired by a headline in the newspaper. It simply read, “man found dead in car.” No snakes, no other tie to the storyline. I began playing with the scenario. Why would a man be dead in his car? Any number reasons. You pick one of your own and write that book.
So, we plant a seed and soon there is a sprout. The seedlings go into the garden on the recommended date but I like to cover the tender sprouts. I often use plastic milk bottles without lids and the bottoms cut out. They form individual greenhouses. Also too tender for early exposure, ideas and characters being developed now should avoid the early critique situations. Let them get some roots and a good strong stem before hearing from the critics. Something fabulous could wither and die from early exposure to the world.
Pull the weeds and throw on some fertilizer. Add more words, maybe create a world with murderous garden gnomes. This is the waiting game. Slog through the pages adding on. Fix the dialogue. Protect it from outside intruders like deer stomping the tender leaves with their sharp hooves, making a mess, it is your world to save.
The garden is planted, out of human control, except for watering and constant weeding. Heavens, some weeds are taller than the desired plants. Every first draft of the next book, I find myself wondering “who wrote this mess?” Is that a weed or something worth keeping? Sometimes in the early stages, they look the same. There is much work to be done. Peering at the vegetation, you see emerging baby carrot tops. They look like fine parsley but sharing the same spot is some nasty broadleaf weed. The weed must be carefully extricated without killing the carrot. It is the garden equivalent of excising the wrong word in a sentence, a writers’ weed destroying the intended meaning.
Is anything worth keeping? Yes. Throw some more fertilizer in there, use better words. Plants and story are both improving at last. The plot has only a couple of small holes now, easily mended, and your hero is worthy of the name. There are small, dark green tomatoes on a plant. Green peppers on another. The potatoes plants are tall and covered with small purple flowers. There are jewels in the dirt.
One more rewrite. A walk through the garden again. The ripening tomatoes are even more gorgeous than expected. Maybe you should enter them in the county fair. Let the judges see what a real tomato smells like. As for the novel, a few more rewrites, queries and maybe a contract, all yours for the picking.
Barbara Graham began making up stories in the third grade instead of learning to multiply and divide. A native Texan, she later lived in Denver, New Orleans and East Tennessee. Inspiration for Silersville (home of her imaginary friends) comes from her Tennessee period. An unrepentant quilting addict, she lives in Wyoming with her long suffering husband and the spoiled dog. Her motto is “Every book needs a dead body and every bed needs a quilt.”
Her most recent book, Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt is book five in her Quilted Mystery series featuring Tennessee Sheriff Tony Abernathy and his quiltmaker wife, Theo. Visit Barbara at her website.
Barbara is giving away one copy of Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt to a lucky U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on this post by midnight Mountain Time Friday, September 12. The winner will be selected using random.org and the name posted here on Saturday.
By Mary Gillgannon
Many RMFW members are attending the Colorado Gold conference this weekend. I, unfortunately, have to miss it due to a trip with my daughter later this month. But I’ll be waxing nostalgic the whole time. I went to my first conference over twenty years ago, and I can still remember what a magical experience it was.
I started writing fiction about two years before that, and had a completed historical romance and a second one started. I was actively marketing the first one with no success. Back then, I worked in a public library (where I’m still employed). It’s an ideal job for a writer because everyone, co-workers and patrons alike, love books and are incredibly supportive. So, of course, when my co-workers found out I was going to a writers’ conference, they were all convinced I was on the verge of my “big break”.
I was more skeptical. I’d heard all my life how hard it is to get published. But that didn’t stop me from lying awake most of the night before my pitch sessions. On some deep level, I was convinced that this was my chance and I was terrified I’d blow it.
The actual appointments with an editor and agent were kind of a let-down. The editor, who’d heard me read my manuscript opening in the previous day’s critique session, listened rather impatiently to my pitch and then said, “Send it to me.” I asked, “All of it?” and she said “yes.” The agent interview was even terser. She asked me if I saw this book as a series and I said “yes”. She nodded her head and told me to send her the first three chapters and a synopsis. Of course, she didn’t offer to waive the agency’s $50 reading fee, which meant that it would take me months before I felt flush enough to send it to her.
But it wasn’t really those encounters that were memorable about the conference. It was the exhilarating experience of knowing, for the first time in my life, I was with people who understood and shared my dream. It was that sense of camaraderie and the excitement of feeling that anything could happen for any of us, that I remember the most. Quite a number of the people I met at that conference are still involved with RMFW. Two of them have become my dearest friends.
The other memory I have is of rushing back to my room on the second night, getting out my notebook and immediately starting to revise the beginning of my book. After nearly a year and a half of writing and revising, and revising again, I had, deep down, sensed that the book wasn’t quite “ready”. But after attending several Colorado Gold workshops, the light bulb went on. I finally knew what was wrong and how to fix it.
And the real magic did happen. Nearly six months later, I got a letter from an editor who worked at the same publishing house as the editor who’d asked me to send her my manuscript. This second editor wrote that she “loved it” and wanted to buy it. Thus began the most exciting time of my life.
A lot has changed in twenty years. Nobody writes on a typewriter anymore (like I did with my first draft). It’s all about web presence now, and tweets and likes and blog hops and a dozen other things that didn’t exist back then. But some things never change. Like the joy of being part of an organization that’s all about sharing dreams, and the thrill of knowing you’re setting off on the great adventure of being a novelist with a couple hundred compatriots by your side.
Colorado Gold rocks!
By Kevin Paul Tracy
There is a joke which has been apocryphally attributed to various famous sculptors:
HOW TO SCULPT A BIRD: Chisel away all the parts that do not look like a bird.
As a joke this is worth a chuckle. As a fundamental truth about sculpting it leaves something to be desired. For example, I would submit that a sculpture of a bird, alone, is interesting only insofar as I am curious about the physiognomy, the outward appearance, of a bird. But what if I want to know more: Where does he live? On what does he feed? What are his interests, his passions, his pursuits? A sculpture of a bird alone does not tell me any of this, and is therefore of only passing interest to me.
There are those who will tell you, in regards to writing, to chisel away all those parts of your story that do not directly relate to your plot. Like most such rigid axioms about writing you are going to have to develop an instinct for when to break it before you become fully ready to publish. A novel about its plot and nothing but its plot is a very stiff, mechanical, utilitarian thing and while perhaps entertaining to read, isn’t very enriching or memorable.
If I were to rewrite the joke above to pertain to writing, I would put it:
HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL: Think of a story, then write down only the interesting parts.
Rather less like a joke, still it says what I want to say. Sometimes, some of the most interesting parts of a story do not necessarily relate directly to its plot. For example, in Jurassic Park, one of the most fascinating parts of the story is how Dr. Grant, a man with no experience of and no real interest in children, is forced to not only interact with, but to protect and even to comfort two young children during the course of the story’s events. Some refer to these as subplots, so be it. These are the things that enrich a story and make it memorable.
Go ahead, don’t be shy, say it: “But some of the most interesting things about my plot happen off-stage, out of sight or knowledge of the protagonist. How can I relate these parts of the story without violating the “One-and-Only-One-POV” rule?” The rule that says you must only portray the point of view of a single character in your novel, period. The answer is simple: violate the single-POV rule! But learn how to do it well and to good effect. For example, “head-hopping” is jumping from one character’s POV to another in a single scene. To a large extent this is not a good time to break the rule. One POV per scene still, by and large, holds true, though I have read some rather effective tales in which a scene is told more than once, each time from a different character’s POV. Still, as a rule, only shift from one POV to the next between scenes, or at least between narrative breaks.
Also, even if you shift from one POV to the next between scenes, still try to keep the number of POV’s in a single novel to a close few. We don’t need to know what every character thinks about every situation. Remember, we are writing only the most interesting parts of our story, and we are only shifting POV to provide a means to do so. Anything else is chiseled away.
Next, remember that subplots are like any other plot, they need to go through the same stages: the inciting incident, the complicating factors, the black moment, and the denouement. Even though a subplot is, by definition, less critical than the main plot, if it is left unresolved by the end of your novel it is a loose end, and bad form. So be sure to bring your subplots along on a pace with the main plot and resolve them at some point prior to the resolution of the main plot.
Remember, all of this is in service to writing only the most interesting parts of your story. If at any point you find yourself bored with what you’re writing, it’s a good bet your readers will be bored as well. Chisel it away!
By Rebecca Taylor
I think there may be a singular question that, at some time or another, burns in the soul of every writer.
“Am I good enough?”
As we barrel towards the 2014 RMFW conference this weekend, I know it’s a question that many writers are hoping to have answered for them. Whether they are waiting to hear about the contest results, hoping to stun an agent during a critique workshop, or praying for a partial request after a pitch appointment— the central premise for many aspiring writers is the same.
Am I a good enough writer to make it? Will I receive some evidence, a contest win, a request for more pages, a good critique, that will provide me with a fricking floatation device that would suggest I continue to dog paddle out here, alone, in the middle of this dark and stormy writer’s life instead of jumping aboard the next Disney Cruise ship filled with normal, happy, smiling people that get enough sleep?
And if I’m not good enough, will you just say so? Out loud and clear as a bell so that my head and heart can stop bleeding from wanting this thing that I don’t have a chance in hell of ever achieving?
Over the years, I’ve come to believe that this question doesn’t actually get answered to the satisfaction of many writers. Furthermore, it’s not even the correct question.
When we want someone to tell us, just tell us the truth, regarding our writing ability, we are only really looking at one piece of the “making it” puzzle—the talent piece. We want to know if people, the experts, think we have any talent for writing.
Talent is important, but it’s only going to get you in the door, and sometimes, if you don’t have these other two pieces, you’re not even getting that far.
What you need to find out is if you have three things:
In my opinion, number two and three are totally learnable skills (if you’re willing to actively seek out and study ways to get better.) Admittedly, number one is more difficult. I happen to think that anyone can improve his or her narrative voice, but that we tend to have a range of innate ability, or talent, to work with.
This is just my opinion.
Having said that, I know and you know that there have been PLENTY of books published by traditional houses that excel in concept and structure, but fall pretty flat in the narrative voice, or innate writing talent, department. So really, if we have nailed a great concept and we’ve become a Jedi Master of novel structure, there’s still hope for those of us with only a mediocre amount of talent—right?
So what’s my point? My point is, while you may be hoping for an agent or editor to fall all over themselves as soon as they hear about your fantastic book (or your concept) just remember it’s almost never as simple as, “Am I good enough?” (or am I talented?) The real question is more like, “Do I have a sufficient amount of writing talent that I have applied to a great concept in my skillfully structured novel?”
I mean, don’t ACTUALLY ask an agent this because they will definitely lean waaaay back, give you the “you’re a crazy writer” look, and then signal to the moderators to escort you as far away from them as humanly possible …just realize that these are the things that agents are looking for after they smile and say, “Send me the first thirty pages.”
Rebecca Taylor is the young adult author of ASCENDANT, winner of the 2014 Colorado Book Award. The second book in the Ascendant series, MIDHEAVEN, will release in 2014 and her standalone novel, THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, is now available.
You can find more information about her work at www.rebeccataylorbooks.com.
By Mark Stevens
Do you have “crutch” words?
Words you inject into your prose without thinking?
I mean, they are such great freaking words that you when you ask a reader to plow through your latest incredible best-selling novel, she comes back and says:
“Well, not bad. But did you know you used the word ethereal 187 times?”
Or (fill in the blank for your go-to word)?
Guilty as charged. I’ve got a few. They change from one piece of writing to the next.
They are words my inner brain fell in love with, most likely, decades ago.
I pull them out of the dust-covered brain cells that are my word filing system and I drop into the prose without really thinking.
(Question: Why can’t my ability-to-edit brain see the heavy repetition of my crutch words? When I read manuscripts by other writers, their crutch words jump out at me like something from Sharknado. “Did you mean to use the color ‘salmon’ on page four and page 196?”)
Which brings me to Visual Thesaurus. (http://www.visualthesaurus.com/)
It’s a word lover’s daily jolt of caffeine.
First, take your crutch word and enter it in the search engine. VT will give you a visual rendering of the universe in which your word lives—all its relatives, close and distant.
If you want to tweak your favorite plum word in one direction, you click on that word within the sphere (Do mean “hot” as blistering or “hot” as spicy?) Suddenly, you are charging down another path looking for the right word.
Plus, VT has daily columns about word derivations and interesting takes on word usage. A recent column looked at “anxious” versus “eager.” Knowing the difference is the kind of distinction that might give your prose more accuracy.
If you subscribe ($25 per year), you get a daily ‘word of the day’ in your email and lots of nifty/nerdy info to go with it.
As I write this, today’s word is ‘theurgy.’ (“Magic performed with the help of one—or more.”) Recent words were cheroot, caliphate and hypernym. As Visual Thesaurus says: Dog, for example, is a hypernym for dachshund, Chihuahua, and poodle. Some folks call ‘em generic terms or superordinates.
In fact, Visual Thesaurus will help you avoid hypernyms (and your damn crutches) and be as precise and fresh as possible.
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.
Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014