Talk to the Paw: Halloween Choices!

by Karen Duvall

Halloween is creeping up on me. I haven't done a very good job preparing for it this year, mostly because I'm staring down the barrel of a deadline. What do you know, I have to have this book turned in by October 31. What a coincidence that it's the same day as Halloween! Scary. It's also my son's birthday.

Last week my dog tried on a shirt she thought about wearing for Halloween, but she wasn't sure she liked being a dinosaur. I thought a Princess might work.

Princess Kinsey
Too girly?

She wouldn't let me paint her toenails or do her hair.

Next we tried something that better fits her personality.

Devil Dog
Ah, much better.

Thankfully, I had at least one person respond to my begging plea for a Halloween costume photo of her pet. Thank you, Pat Stoltey! Katie Cat is adorable even if she did feel insulted and turned her back to the camera. A valiant effort from you both!

Katie Cat
Kitty Couture... Katie makes a fashion statement.

It's not too late to send me your pet costume photos. Halloween is exactly one week away, so I will post what you send me if you get it to me by Halloween day. Your pics will appear on the blog Friday, November 1. Please send your pet photos to jkduvall@bendbroadband.com

My cat Ted thinks all this Halloween stuff is pretty funny. He went through his humiliation last year so this year is pure entertainment for him.

Laughing Ted
You guys crack me up!

Have a screamy Halloweeny!

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

Karen Duvall

Karen 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.

 

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/

http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com

https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall

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

The Blank Spaces in our Stories: The Messages Writers Send Readers Between The Words

 

By Kym-n-Mark Todd

As writers, we all spend lots of time thinking about narrative craft – plot, character, setting, dialog – but what about the blank spaces between all those words?

Readers don’t give much thought to those spaces – unless they’re missing. So it’s up to writers to fill the blanks with implied meaning. And it’s part of the unwritten “contract” we create every time we ask a reader to invest storytime with us.
Part 2 – Why we break to new scenes or new chapters: The blank spaces between narrative sections

Poets know all about blank space. Dana Gioia, former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts and a fine poet in his own “write,” defines poetry as “writing where the right-hand margin matters.” He’s talking, of course, about controlling the empty space in the margins as a way to draw attention to what’s important in the words.

Authors use this strategy as well to signal important transitions by using what are called ellipses or space-jumps – the insertion of extra space or a cluster of asterisks between one block of paragraphs and a consecutive block of paragraphs within a chapter.

The implied contract between writer and reader concerning ellipses usually specifies one or more of the following:

  • a change in narrator
  • a change in place
  • a change in time

We personally love this little manipulation of blank space. It’s purely our own preference, but we use this transition to set up mini-cliffhangers, interrupting key sequences with other subplots designed (we hope) to keep readers from going to bed at night. (By the way, we hate it when our favorite authors do this to us, and you only have to look at the dark circles under our eyes to see how effective we find this technique.)

We also adhere to the other unwritten law of maintaining a single point of view within a section between ellipses. Following this practice helps readers see who’s important within a section, but it also allows for a bit of creative irony.

For example, in Silverville Saga, #1, Little Greed Men, we use ellipses to set up an important misunderstanding between protagonist Bill Noble, a minor con artist who’s come to town, and the local woman who wins his heart, Skippy Price. Billy idealizes her, not knowing she has her own shady past. When we’re in Billy’s head, readers see how he views Skippy; when we shift to Skippy’s head, readers find out more than Billy will ever know. That’s called dramatic irony, and it’s the ellipses that let readers in on important insights neither character finds out.

The blank space between scenes also lets the reader move to new places or different times without having to walk through the implied, mundane progression of the story. And who wants to read – let along write – scenes that are boring? These snap-your-fingers-and-poof transitions accustom readers to accept sudden changes, and even sequences that alter the order of linear events without resorting to cumbersome signal words such as “but before that,” or “much later than that.”

Thinking about transitions brings us to the larger ellipses embedded in most novels called chapter breaks, divisions which hold a lot of implied fine print in the writer-reader contract.

We doubt readers expect all authors to handle chapter breaks the same way (we’re don’t when we wear our reader hats, and we bet you don’t either). Nevertheless, it helps readers sort out what this bigger use of white space means if authors break for new chapters using some internally consistent rationale. It’s akin to expecting a good fantasy world to adhere to internally consistent magic.

We don’t use the same strategy in every novel we write but, unless something alternative seems to fit the story better, we do have a default: plotted episodes. We’ll use a chapter – though sometimes we use a larger division, the so-called “part”  – like a playwright or screenwriter builds tension through different acts (with the scenes inside each act divided by ellipses). Of course, we also interlace the scenes within chapters, interrupting one with the next to create those mini-cliffhangers we mentioned above.

Sometimes we’ve let chapters tell cohesive subplots, letting the space between chapters signal that what follows will all deal with the same thread within the story. And other times we’ve allowed chapters to be faithful to just one narrator for each chapter.

So long as the various divisions – those blank spaces between the words – are consistent and help guide readers through the story, it doesn’t really matter what the sections signal. So long as YOU know what it means when you decide to insert extra space.

But does the end of the novel mean the end of the story? The biggest implied space may exist between books – the subject of the third and final part of this series.

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By day, Kym is a graphic designer, Mark a writing teacher and director of Western State Colorado University's MFA program in Creative Writing; by night, they’re caped crusa – er, writers. They collaborate on the paranormal adventure-comedy Silverville Saga series, including Little Greed Men, All Plucked Up, The Magicke Outhouse (forthcoming next month), and Colorado Boo(m) Town (forthcoming in late 2014) – all published by Raspberry Creek Books. Mark is also author of the SF novel, Strange Attractors – A Story about Roswell, and two collections of poetry, Wire Song and Tamped, But Loose Enough to Breathe.

 

Writing is an Act of Love

By Nicole Disney

When I first decided it would be fun to try blogging, I had this vision of myself creating ten, twenty, even thirty posts. They were going to be stacked tight and aligned like a fresh ream of paper, somehow undisturbed by any of my three wall-vaulting cats. The contents of these pristine entries were to be brilliant, each of them a gem of insight.

Then real life happened, which looked a lot more like me cleaning the house with one hand, trying to tame my frizzy curls with the other, and perching my phone on my shoulder while attempting to plan my wedding well enough it would at least be recognizable as such. Each day was a succession of rushing to my full time job, then to my part time job, shoving a little dinner in my face, and getting in bed just in time to get that almost-enough-but-not-really, amount of sleep.

My blogging process was shoved anywhere I had a few extra minutes, and always concluded dangerously close to my deadline. I would spend my drive to work brainstorming topics, my first ten minute break writing my favorite ideas down and choosing one. At lunch break I would produce a rough version, and my half hour between jobs was used to type it into the computer and shine it up a little. All of this just for one silly, five to eight hundred word blog. The good news: I know I am not alone.

Writers achieve phenomenal feats of multitasking, job juggling, and personal relationship management. When writing a quick blog can accumulate the urgency and scatter of a SWAT raid, how do we hope to keep up with things like writing novels, submitting queries, and marketing? And yet, we do. Granted, most of us are plagued with a perpetual sensation of being behind, but when your brain is constantly sprouting new characters, plots, and chapter beginnings, it's a wonder we get to things like doing the dishes.

So I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the immense accomplishment it is to be a writer. Yes, before you are a New York Times best seller, before you are published, before you have an agent, you are already achieving something most people cannot. I have heard countless stories of single parents who work three jobs and still have a prolific collection. When are they writing? Or better yet, why are they writing when they already do so much?

I think the answer is that we are always writing. We are always hearing those pesky voices and searching for scrap paper to record vague but priceless ideas. Writing is an act of love. And we make time for it because there must always be time for love. Writers come home from the scuffle of the world, underpaid and beaten down, and decide to spend the precious last moments left in the day to creating something. That is truly beautiful.

I hope each of you will always keep writing, even when it's exhausting or means making sacrifices. This intense labor of love is worthwhile. It is necessary. It is a gift. Even though life will challenge this constantly, art is always better than money.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Nicole Disney
Nicole Disney is the debut author of the contemporary lesbian fiction novel, Dissonance in A Minor. She lives in Denver, Colorado where she continues to write dark, edgy novels. She is also a martial arts instructor and teaches Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Karate. For more about Nicole, please visit her website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

WANTED: Writerly Friend for Fun and Whining

By Julie Kazimer

A couple of weeks ago the book and blogging wizard, Chuck Wendig, at his blog, terribleminds (a must read for every writer), had a guest post from Karina Cooper or as she prefers to be called, Karina F***ing Cooper, which I must admit has a nice ring to it.

On Chuck’s blog, Karina discussed what a writer should do while waiting for feedback from agents or editors. Her advice is, write another book. For the RMFW community that’s a no-brainer. We are writers. We write. A lot. Hundreds of thousands of words a year. Maybe as many as a few million during November alone. That’s just how we as a group, roll. While I highly suggest you read the rest of Karina’s very funny and informative post, I wanted to talk about one thing she mentioned.

Make friends.

She wasn’t talking Facebook friends or friends with that couple down the block who may or may not be swingers, but rather, writerly friends. Those who understand your plight. Who support you. Who find your three hour rambling about your character’s headspace, if not interesting, at least not cause for a homicidal rampage.

Now if you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you might remember Sheldon’s quest to make a new friend. He followed a simple plan found in a children’s book, which had the basic message: make friends with someone who has a similar interests as you. FYI, if you’re reading this, you and I have a similar interest, other than me, I mean. We both love writing, and if you are like me, you could use at least two more friends (I hear you need at least 6 good ones to be your pallbearers).

So let’s be friends:

Check - Yes

Check - No

Check - Maybe Later, I’m Washing My Hair Right Now

Other than the obvious begging above, how do writers make writerly friends? We connect with each other, on social media, at conferences, at workshops, and at booksignings. We help each other out by providing helpful hints about PR, query letters, and what agent is looking for what.

Let’s start a RMFW revolution today. Let’s get to know each other. If you’re a member or even if you aren’t, post a comment with your social media info, and let’s start a conversation about writing or cupcakes, or even why the standard number of pallbearers is 6.

Friend me on facebook or follow me on twitter and I will do the same. I look forward to meeting you, and finding out how weird you really are. How do I know you’re an odd duck? Well, you’re a writer. I like that about you already.

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include The Body Dwellers, CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming romance, The Assassin’s Heart, and the upcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

RMFW Spotlight: Mark Stevens

The new RMFW Spotlight feature will introduce a few of our RMFW officers and volunteers. We started out with the first three members of the board of directors, sat them in the hot seat, shined the bright light on them, and channeling our best inner Oprah, plugged them with a few questions. Here’s what we learned from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President, Mark Stevens.

1. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I’m currently president, at least for a few more months. I’m involved for one reason only: I love this organization. I’d be at home staring at blank sheets of paper and walking around the room in a useless daze if it weren’t for RMFW.

Stevens_Two Covers2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

The third book in the Allison Coil Mystery Series, Trapline, is with Midnight Ink and they plan to publish it next fall. They also asked for a fourth book. Well, they did more than ask, they gave me a contract so that’s my WIP. The first two books, Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan, are available pretty much everywhere books are sold.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists-- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

I would love to spend a few weeks in New Zealand and Australia. Oh, and to make my way around Scandinavia. And Eastern Europe. And China. And certain parts of Southern Africa. I wouldn’t mind a sailing trip around the Caribbean, either. You asked!

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

Ugh. That’s easy. Action scenes. I think I’m doing somewhat okay and then I go back to read the draft and those sections are usually downright awful. I miss my late friend Gary Reilly, who was an excellent editor and really knew how to pull these off.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

What happens on the page...how ideas and story directions develop when you’re least expecting it. You’re innocently doing something else and then some idea pops into your head and you think: “that could work.” It’s the surprise factor. I live for those jolts that come out of the blue.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Simple: write more, write more, write more. Get more feedback and then write some more. And read a ton, too.

Stevens_Desk
7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I write by hand. My desk is the dining room table. I keep a watch handy to keep me focused. I give myself 45 minutes to an hour each morning.

 

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

Just finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Now reading The Cut by George Pelecanos.

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

Mark, thanks so much for participating in our Q&A. Julie, you can switch the light off now. Mark has left the building.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Talk to the Paw – Preparing for Halloween

by Karen Duvall

Halloween Ted

Teddy already knows what he wants to be for Halloween, but Kinsey can't decide. She tried out this Dinosaur shirt, but she's not quite feeling it yet. We're going to have to explore a few more options.

Kinsey the Dinosaur

I suggested a princess. I told her I'd even paint her toenails pink, but she's not going for it. She's a bit of a Tomboy, so it looks like we'll be looking more in that direction. We still have time to find a costume she's happy with.

How about your pets? Send me photos of your pets dressed up for Halloween and I'll post them on Talk to the Paw. Just email them to me here.

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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.

Examining the Elephant: Publishing Contracts, Part 1

By Susan Spann

Autumn has arrived, and it's time to turn the monthly "legalese" column from thoughts on pitching to talk of publishing deals.

My legal practice focuses on publishing contracts, so it makes some sense to focus on the "terms and conditions" part of the publishing process here. In the months to come, we'll talk about everything from negotiations to contract pitfalls (and if you have questions, please ask them - I'm glad to help!)

Today, we're starting with a macro view of the contract: what is it, and why do you need one?

The many new publishing options have changed the "face" of contracts a little. Ask a self-published author about the "contract" and some will say "I haven't got one, I use Amazon" (or CreateSpace, or Smashwords, or something else entirely) - but the reality is that every published novel has a contract. Sometimes that contract comes in a form that's titled "Terms of Use" but that's a contract, nonetheless.

The wide variety of contracts and terms puts me in mind of the old joke about three blind men examining an elephant. The one who felt the tail said "the elephant looks like a rope," while the ones who examined the trunk and legs compared the beast to a snake and a tree (respectively). Authors with different kinds of contracts may see a different side of the publishing deal, but one thing unifies them all: every publishing deal involves a contract of some kind.

So, What is a Contract, Anyway?

If I offer to publish the books of everyone who reads this blog for a year, is that a contract? If I promise to publish your book because you read this single entry, is that a contract? If I promise to publish "the first good manuscript I read" - is that a contract?

Would it matter if we pinkie-swear? If I offered you money? If I published in electronic formats only?

The answer requires looking at the law.

Many people think of contracts as “agreements” or “promises” to do or not to do something. (Note that the law considers corporations and other forms of businesses to be “persons” who can enter into binding contracts as long as right biological person signs the contract on the company’s behalf.)

By law, a contract is “an agreement which creates legally enforceable obligations.” In plain English, a contract is an agreement you can force the other person to comply with, by means of a lawsuit if necessary.

People make all kinds of promises and agreements which are not contracts because the law refuses to recognize the promises as enforceable. An unenforceable agreement isn’t illegal but it creates no remedies – meaning the injured party has no recourse if the other party won’t perform.

The key, then, is knowing whether your contract is enforceable or merely an “illlusory” promise where the other party won’t have to follow through if he changes his mind.

Generally speaking, a valid, enforceable contract requires five things: an offer, an acceptance, consideration (which has more to do with money than with kindness), proper parties, and appropriate subject matter. 

That's a lot to take in at once, but let's break it down a little:

THE OFFER usually needs to be made in writing - either by terms of service or in a written contract created for the author. It needs to describe the terms of the deal in sufficient detail for the parties (and a court) to understand what's actually being offered and what the terms of the deal will include. Beware: if something isn't in the writing, it isn't part of the offer or the deal.

THE ACCEPTANCE occurs when the author signs the contract or clicks "I accept" or "I agree" on a website's terms of service

CONSIDERATION means "something of value given in return for the parties entering into the contract." In the case of a publishing deal, this usually means (a) for the publisher, acquiring the rights to publish a work, and (b) for the author, publication and the promise of royalties on sales of the work.

PROPER PARTIES means people (or companies) with the legal authority to enter into the contract. Minors can't form valid contracts (a parent or guardian has to sign on a minor's behalf) and authors who enter a publishing deal have to own the rights to the work in question.

APPROPRIATE SUBJECT MATTER basically means the contract can't be an arrangement to perform an illegal act (like a murder) or otherwise contain illegal terms (like selling the author into. Generally speaking, a contract to publish a book is considered "appropriate subject matter." Also, be careful: a contract with bad terms (even oppressively bad ones) doesn't become "inappropriate subject matter" - the general rule is that you can make as good a deal, or as bad a deal, as you are able. Subject matter questions are generally limited to whether the contract involves a promise to break the law. If not, it's usually acceptable.
You’ll notice the things I didn’t mention. A contract doesn’t have to involve the exchange of money. It doesn’t have to be "fair." it doesn't have to promise certain things or guarantee the author money, success, or even publication (Surprise! Read the fine print!)

Makes your head spin, doesn’t it?

Before this series is through we’ll discuss all the elements of a contract, how to make an agreement legal, and how to protect your rights through the contract process.

For the moment, though, we'll leave it here.

Did you know the elements of a valid contract? Do any of them surprise you?

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Susan Spann is a transactional attorney and former law school professor whose practice focuses on business and publishing law. Her debut Shinobi mystery, Claws of the Cat (Minotaur Books) released on July 16, 2013. You can find Susan online at http://www.susanspann.com, or on Twitter @SusanSpann, where she created the #PubLaw hashtag to provide business and legal information for authors.

The Worry List

The Worry List - by Kerry Schafer

It's hard to write when your head feels like the kitchen junk drawer. You know the one. It's the place for random elastic bands and those little plastic things from bread bags. Coupons you're going to use some day. The screw that inexplicably dropped out of the bottom of the kitchen table that you will definitely put back in. Soon.

Mine also holds three kinds of tape, scissors, flea medicine for the dog, and a roll of stick-on Christmas present labels.

Don't judge.

If you don't own a drawer like this you are probably still a good person, and you are welcome to borrow the image of mine for the duration of this analogy.

Anyway, let's agree that your head is stuffed to the point of spilling over. So when you sit down at the computer to write about a galaxy far, far away, instead you find yourself thinking about the drooping plant, the car that needs a brake repair, finances, not spending enough time with your family, laundry, what are you going to make for dinner and OMG – that blog you should have written for RMFW days ago but somehow forgot.

Panic ensues. Now you really can't write anything at all because you're much too upset and you need to dip into a container of ice cream first. Or have a drink. After which bed is the logical choice because things will look so much clearer in the morning.

And you manage to fall asleep because you truly are exhausted, only to be awakened by a crushing list of things to do or worry about. Sometimes the LIST takes on the qualities of Terry Pratchett's Luggage (if you haven't read the Discworld books and don't know what The Luggage is, you should definitely add reading these books to The List right now).

One of the best cures for worrying that I know of is to actually give The List full focus for a space of time. It really doesn't make it bigger, believe it or not, and it can actually make it more manageable and let you get back to getting things done.

Allot whatever time you can to this. I recommend clearing the decks for an hour in order to fully concentrate your attention on worrying, but I recognize this may  not be possible. If so, you can complete the tasks in stages.

  1. Collect your supplies. You'll need blank paper (a notebook is good), pen, different colored hi-liters, and a beverage of your choice. If at all possible, clear your space of children and spouses and maybe even cats. (I hear you calling me delusional. This is unkind, but possibly very true)
  2.  Start jotting down the worry items, one to a line, in no particular order. This is a free writing activity. No item is too "trivial" to be included. Even if you know this is not a rational worry, write it down. If the problem of Goldfish Doesn't Wear Socks came into your head, then it deserves a spot on your worry list. Keep that pen moving and keep on jotting down all the things, either until you run out of worries or your time is up. (New items may pop up later - just add them onto the end if they do.)
  3. Now here's the fun part. Take a pen and cross out every item on that list that is not worth your worry time. That goldfish who doesn't need socks, for example. Eliminate them.
  4. Next, read through and cross out all of the things over which you have absolutely no control. They may be very important personal or world problems, but if it's something you know you either can't or won't take any action to fix, cross it out. BE RUTHLESS.
  5. Still with me? Now it's time to begin categorizing the items that are left. Pick a hi-liter color for items that must be dealt with TODAY and mark them.
  6. Choose another color for the things that need to be dealt with this WEEK.
  7. Choose another color for the things that need to be dealt with this MONTH.
  8. If you're an organized or compulsive sort of person you may feel the need to go on marking things for every month of the year. This is the point where I just choose a color and designate everything else on the list as "to take care of sometime." I just can't focus out more than a month at a time.
  9. Create an action plan for the things of today, promising yourself you'll do the same again tomorrow for the next day's needs.

Hopefully now you feel a little lighter, a little less cluttered, and can get on with the very important business of writing. Or sleeping.

Thanks for stopping by the blog today. Next month we'll tackle a bit of the psychology involved in Writer Procrastination.

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

Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

The Blank Spaces in Our Stories: The Messages Writers Send Readers Between The Words

 

By Kym-n-Mark Todd

Kym-n-Mark give a Silverville Saga reading in Kreuzberg, Germany, alongside Berliner novelist/screenwriter Knut Kohr. The bar for the reading was 100 yards from the largest drug drop in Berlin.)
Kym-n-Mark give a Silverville Saga reading in Kreuzberg, Germany, alongside Berliner novelist/screenwriter Knut Kohr. The bar for the reading was 100 yards from the largest drug drop in Berlin.)

As writers, we all spend lots of time thinking about narrative craft – plot, character, setting, dialog – but what about the blank spaces between all those words?

Readers don’t give much thought to those spaces – unless they’re missing. So it’s up to writers to fill the blanks with implied meaning. And it’s part of the unwritten “contract” we create every time we ask a reader to invest storytime with us.

Over the next three posts, we’ll remind fellow writers of the messages they intuitively (and, we hope, intentionally) include in the blank spaces of any good story. It starts at the sentence and paragraph levels, but it builds as we accumulate the sections and chapters of a good tale, and it even plays a role if we decide to expand our universe into multi-book series.

Part 1 – “Half-Halts and Full-Stops”: Why we add the breaks between sentences and paragraphs

As a part of writerly trade, we all know that every conversation – and especially every sequence of constructed dialog – tells as much or more through the subtext rather than the spoken exchanges. On the street, we express important information beyond our words by the way we gesture, inflect tone, screw up our facial muscles. On the page, we do something similar by how we use blank spaces, communicating important information that readers sense at a metatextual level.

It’s kind of like the subtle cues a good rider uses when “talking” to a horse. All our lives, we’ve bred, raised, and trained horses, and we’ve never cared for the term “horse whisperer” – that’s way too loud to characterize what takes place in the conversation between rider and ridden.

If performed correctly, that’s why the art of dressage is boring to watch from the sidelines because nothing seems to happen. There’s no slapping or spurring or yipping; but there’s a constant, subtle conversation occurring nonetheless, one expressed with a two-ounce pressure on the reins, a slight shift in the seat, a quarter-inch drop in the heels. These quiet cues, call “half-halts,” tell the horse important information is about to come, and then one slightly more assertive “statement” signals the next executed movement.

Similarly, the tiny breaks in the forward motion of our writing prepare readers for how to read our words. When we elect to fill our sentences with commas, we’ve slowed the pace, signaled the reader that important little packets of information are arriving, and each needs its own moment. But when our sentences roll on in long and flowing streams of words, we give readers the sense that the gush of ideas should speed up the reading pace to keep in step with our lengthening strides.

Same thing for the short, single-sentence or -phrase paragraph.

It’s that empty space at the end that signals to readers the importance of a single, stand-alone statement. Kinda of like a “full-stop” for a horse, telling the mount to think on what just happened for a moment before continuing. Our paragraph breaks function much the same way.

Of course, the spaces that punctuate breaks between sentences and paragraphs are part writer’s style and part style guide. For example, journalism tends towards very short paragraphs because newspaper articles flow down narrow column widths, and long paragraphs make a column look too gray and uninviting. Book-width pages can pack more in, but a leaf without paragraph breaks still looks daunting, and maybe the reason short, snappy exchanges of dialog can “open up” a page, encouraging readers forward.

Pages dense with type signal readers by the lack of blank space, telling them to take a deep breath, to slow down and pay attention. In this sense, writers carry on conversations with readers even before readers’ eyes focus on words and phrases.

Nothing inherently wrong with dense passages, of course, if that’s the message a writer intends to send. But blank spaces – or their lack – signal readers about what’s ahead and how they should approach the reading.

Less subtle are the larger blocks of blank space separating one section or one chapter from another, where a completely different sort of meaning takes place. Readers recognize these blank spaces say something important, and the audience assumes writers know how to use that space to set up what follows next – the topic of the next posting.

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By day, Kym is a graphic designer, Mark a writing teacher and director of Western State Colorado University's MFA program in Creative Writing; by night, they’re caped crusa – er, writers. They collaborate on the paranormal adventure-comedy Silverville Saga series, including Little Greed Men, All Plucked Up, The Magicke Outhouse (forthcoming next month), and Colorado Boo(m) Town (forthcoming in late 2014) – all published by Raspberry Creek Books. Mark is also author of the SF novel, Strange Attractors – A Story about Roswell, and two collections of poetry, Wire Song and Tamped, But Loose Enough to Breathe.

Why I Decided to Hire a PR Company as an Indie Author

By Colleen Oakes

Last night, at approximately 11pm, I decided that I would make some promo images for my upcoming novel, Queen of Hearts. I’m up late frequently these days, which is not very conducive for sleeping or for having a newborn. I’m up late doing weird things like promo images, because in this new, strange world of indie publishing, social media and promotion is key.

The fact that I’m staying up so late at night doing promotion was one of the reasons I decided, as an indie author, to hire a PR company.

Oakes_EllyA bit of history: I had an agent. My agent disappeared (literally!) and I was left behind in a huge publishing house. What I hated about having an agent (yes, I said it) was the long wait. I waited for a year while they messed around with Elly in Bloom and then at the end, nothing came of it. That was infuriating, and I swore then that my timetable would never again be based on anyone else's whims. After all, that's one of the great beauties of indie-publishing, and patience is not one of my virtues. As a control freak, I like and need this.

About six months ago, I was getting ready to launch Queen of Hearts. It has taken me two years to write this book, and that includes a huge chunk of time taken out to launch Elly in Bloom, the first book of my chick lit series. The book, FINALLY, was ready. It felt incredible to be done, to write “The End”. I am so ready for people to read it, to love it, to hate it. I know now that it will be a bit divisive and I can't wait to see those arguments play out. I was overjoyed to be finished with this beautiful monster. But the idea of launching another book on my own was daunting because I am already sick of it…

Self-Promotion.

Let’s be honest: it’s exhausting! I worry about it constantly. Am I putting out too much? Too little? I don't have a Tumblr - should I? I only have 250 Twitter followers. I should have more. Do I need two author FB pages, one for the Elly in Bloom series and one for Queen of Hearts? I only have twenty five Instagram followers - that's pathetic! Do I blog enough? Do I need ANOTHER blog? Do I have enough reviews? How is my Amazon Author Central? My Goodreads author page? My Smashwords page? My LibraryThing page? All of these things have to be kept hip, relevant and recent. It's overwhelming and intimidating and I worry that it's annoying to those that know me.

It's a constant stream, and at times I felt like I was drowning in my own words.

I explain it non-writer friends like this: Imagine that every single day, wherever you work, you had to petition to save your job. You had to remind your bosses of how great you are, every single day. You had to enlist co-workers to publicly state that you deserve your job. You have to email and tweet and stay totally relevant minute to minute, lest your company fires you, because you face that every afternoon. That's what it's like to be an indie-author right now. We are all fighting for the same spot, and social media is the key. You want to sell books so that you can write books. To sell books, you have to get readers to find your books. To unleash your creativity, you have to become a marketing expert.

The fact of the matter is that the indie pub revolution is here. It's happening right now, and the market is flooded with indie-authors. You have to work three times as hard to get noticed, just to rise above the fray. Writing a good book is the first and most important step, but after that it's all elbow grease and networking. Then, once you've risen above the fray, gotten the reviews, you have to maintain that. Blog. Tweet. Post. Facebook. Grow your followers. Make fans. Make friends. Sign books. Do blog tours. It's a lot.

Please don't misunderstand me - I am blessed to be able to do what I love to do every single day. My dream of becoming an author has come true and it's everything I thought it would be.

But. But. I did not anticipate the level of PR and self-promotion that I would have to undertake, just to stay relevant and selling books. It has cut dramatically into my writing time, which is something that the writer cannot abide. I find myself often making choices like "PR today or writing?" Do I focus on what I'm writing NOW or do I spend the time promoting what I've already written? It's always one baby that is left in the ocean, and that baby cannot be your writing.

And that’s why I have signed with a very cool PR company, Booksparks. They have taken the load off my chest, and put their resources on what’s most important, which was something I worried about. What promotions were worth it? Which ones were not? One of many obstacles facing indie authors is discoverability and getting your name out there. If you don't have a huge publishing house churning out your name to potential readers, what do you do? How do you find people? How do people hear about your book? I'm hoping that the PR company is the answer, and that they will not only take the burden of PR off my back, but also because I want to see what my books can do with a little (big) push behind them. It was the perfect time to hire a PR company, because I will be launching THREE books this year. I'll need help with that.

Hiring a PR company was like an intervention of sorts. A writing intervention.

Now I can get back to business, my business, the business of being creative.

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Colleen OakesColleen Oakes is the author of the best-selling novel Elly in Bloom, which debuted in September 2012. A die-hard Colorado native who really enjoys living in other places, she attended Concordia College in Bronxville, NY where she received her BA in Creative Writing. When not writing, Colleen enjoys swimming, traveling, and immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She now lives with her husband and son in Denver. Colleen captures her thoughts about life (the good, bad, and awkward) pretty frequently over at her blog, The Ranunculus Adventures. Her first foray into epic fantasy, the first book of the much anticipated Queen of Hearts series, arrives this holiday season, with the sequel to Elly in Bloom not far behind. She is signed with Sparkpress Publishing.

For more information about Colleen and her books, visit her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.