Guest Post: Maura Weiler – Your Non-Agent Might Know Best. Or Does She?

By Maura Weiler, Author of Contrition

ContritionFinalCoverWhich is worse– an impersonal rejection letter from an agent, or a personalized rejection letter with feedback that would require a massive rewrite of your book with no guarantee that the agent would revisit it? Both. Oh wait... I mean, it all depends.

I entered the submission process for my debut novel, Contrition, with this policy: If two or more agents offered the same feedback, or if one person gave feedback that resonated with me, I would listen to it. If only one person made a particular criticism I didn’t agree with, I would disregard it. My policy seemed sound until I promptly ignored my own advice.

I was very lucky to have a great return rate on my initial submissions. Two of the seven agents I contacted wanted to take Contrition on. A New York agent was ready to send it out with very few changes. A California agent hit a roadblock when the founder of the agency didn’t give her blessing. What that founder did give was two pages of notes on how to improve the story.

I was initially cranky about the rejection, until I realized what a compliment it was for an established agent to give such detailed notes on a book she didn’t want. Sobered, I stopped to appreciate that. Then I got cranky about the notes themselves.

One of her suggestions was to turn the main characters- a journalist and a cloistered nun who clash over the meaning and purpose of art- into sisters raised apart. Oh, how the delicate genius in me gnashed her teeth over that one! Twins raised apart felt like reality-show drama and would entail a major rewrite of a book that another agent was ready to send out. This fancy founder/agent clearly didn’t understand my vision.

But I still wondered if she was right. Her other notes were very insightful and she understood the market. So I told my delicate inner genius to get over herself. Then I told the New York agent I was going to spend a couple of months rewriting some elements of the book, and silly me, I believed it.

It turned out that I needed at least two months to pout and mourn the loss of my original version before I could even fathom cutting it up. I had already written numerous drafts over numerous years– did I really have to rewrite it again? Yes, I did. Because as wonderful as I felt my original version was, I would now always question whether or not it could be better.

In the end, it took me three years to rewrite the book. I made most of the suggested changes, including turning my main characters into twins raised in different homes. The twins’ separate upbringings and freshly minted sibling rivalry brings a great deal of texture and complexity to their relationship. Now readers tell me they can’t imagine the story without the characters being sisters.

By the time I finished, the interested New York agent had left her agency. My subsequent querying didn’t result in a new agent until four years later when an agent discovered Contrition in her old emails and signed me. Three years after that, she sold Contrition to Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Infinite Words. It was all very unexpected and wonderful and I am thrilled to celebrate its publication day today.

If I had known that putting off a committed agent to do a rewrite she hadn’t asked for and I wasn’t sure I agreed with would delay the publication of Contrition by more than a decade, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I’m happy with my choice, because Contrition is a much better book as a result.

What would you do? What’s your policy on agent criticism?

Maura WeilerMaura Weiler grew up in Connecticut and earned her BA and MA in English Literature from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, respectively. She is a former columnist for The Connecticut Post and a trash artist whose work has been featured on NBC Television and in galleries and shows across the country. As Director of Development at Blue Tulip Productions, she helped develop the screenplays for such films as Speed, Twister, The Paperboy and The Minority Report. Contrition is her first novel. For more information or book club queries, visit www.mauraweiler.com.

Facebook: Maura Weiler Author

Twitter: @mauraweiler

Simon & Schuster Author Page: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Maura-Weiler/475408214

Maura is kind enough to be giving away her novel, Contrition. Just comment below and one lucky winner will be picked at random. You can comment until Friday, April 24th by midnight. Winner will be contacted by email.

The Learning Curve of a Reluctant Social Media User

By Pamela Nowak

I am past my second year of using (or, uh, having) social media and stepping back to take a look at my progress (er…learning curve).

I’ve had a website since I signed my first book contract, roughly eight years. It was updated as I added more books but I never really did much else with it. I finally took an online class on blogging and converted my website to WordPress. It took me awhile to do so but the online tips helped and I created a website I could maintain myself instead of paying someone else, one with a blog page!

The trouble was, even though I had a blog page, I wasn’t using it. I had a list of topics I developed during the online class but I wasn’t using the list. Life was busy enough! My page sat there, static.

I created a Facebook page and a Twitter account shortly thereafter. Being a private person, I didn’t post often, usually just news about my upcoming book release. I learned, from a RMFW conference workshop that year, that social media does not work well that way. No one wants a constant sales pitch. No wonder I lost a few friends. Sigh.

So I started changing what I was doing. It was slow going, at first…finding things to say that were personal but didn’t make me feel bare or ridiculous. I started with updates on my knee replacement progress and notes about my pets. It got easier.

During the past year, I’ve found that middle ground, posting occasional tidbits about myself while avoiding oversharing personal information. I share posts about things I care about or that reflect me or that I find entertaining. I now devote time each day to Facebook, choosing to do so during evening hours, after my work time. A new phone with a Facebook app allows me to do this anywhere. You can get a lot done during commercials!

Because I dislike conflict, I don’t share controversial posts and stay away from politics and religion. According to the class I took, I am supposed to let my views shine through but I choose not to set up argumentative situations because I realize I have lots of friends who don’t agree on things. I like and comment on others’ posts. And, I share good news about fellow writers. Every now and then, I share something about my books but I try to keep those posts to a minimum now.

I have reached out to establish relationships with other authors in my genre and network via Facebook. I’ve extended my network of friends. What I don’t like is dealing with “friend requests” that appear to come from someone who knows a mutual friend only to discover later that it is someone creepy (sometimes really creepy).

Recently, I discovered how to use Facebook and my blog page together to avoid that daunting “my blog is due” feeling. I post small factoids on Facebook (the only Facebook activity I do at my work desk) and then combine a week’s worth of posts on the same topic into a blog post. Easy-peasy. I still don’t have a blog following but, then, I haven’t yet started pushing my blog on group pages or following others’ blogs.

Twitter…well, that’s another story and I guess I’ll get there eventually. Maybe. The length limit on tweets makes it more superficial to me and less a priority on my time.

Do I have a long way to go before I am effectively driving any sales with my social media? Absolutely. But for now, I’m learning and I’m applying things I’ve learned. Yep, I’m making progress.

The GREAT Idea From Two Different Points of View

By Robin D. Owens

"I'm getting into the writing business," my ex said as we walked through the spring sunshine last month to the ice cream shop. What my ex knows about writing can fit on the point of a pin. "I have this GREAT idea. You can do the legwork." And now you know why he's my ex.

"No," I said.

"It will make us lots of money," he said.

I saw a penny on the sidewalk, reached down and handed it to him. "That's how much your idea is worth." (No, that didn't happen, it's just for the story). "Ideas are nothing without hard work."

He ignored me and kept enthusing about his great idea that has only been done a zillion times because, you know, he doesn't actually READ books like the one he wants me to write so he doesn't know the market. I don't think he reads fiction at all.

Nor has he done any basic research on the market, because that's the legwork I am supposed to do.

But, you know, I should be thrilled to write a coming of age story (which I loathe) about a new girl in a Catholic high school with a lot of sex. Sexy enough that both men and women will LOVE to read this book. Then I will write the screenplay and it will become a lucrative film.

I wish the above was false, but no. Thankfully he had another appointment to meet someone about another GREAT business idea SHE would implement and we only had about a half hour together, but I can tell you, I didn't enjoy my Irish Cream ice cream as much as I'd anticipated.

If you are a writer, this will happen to you. Words like the above will come to you from the least likely person in the universe. They will come from strangers after you've just met the person.
Everyone believes writing a book is easy.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, 1,000,000 words. Or 10,000 hours, and you will master the craft of writing. The same amount of work it will take to master any other profession.

And great (or not so great) ideas are a dime a dozen.

Here's another true story about another great idea from a different slant.

I had a friend in the business but a new writer say last time we met "Don't tell anyone this idea I had." She made a face because she knows that's a standard worry of amateur writers, but she meant it, too.

It was a lovely idea, and I don't know how long it would take her to write it, but I could write it faster. If I wanted it. I don't. As I've also said before, one basic idea (or pic) could be given to a roomful of writers and everyone would write a different story. The theme of this particular story that my friend has is not one that I agree with, so I won't do it. I would never use this idea of hers in a million years because I'm not interested in writing that particular plot, either. OTOH, if she gets it done, it's sufficiently interesting that I'd read it -- after she's put in all the research.

I have a lot of ideas of my own...some proposals that weren't picked up and I may never get back to or will be changed for something new. A SERIES that was dropped that I still have the outline for 3-4 books. Ideas that are my own that I can get excited about.

And, really, most story ideas have been done and we're just looking at permutations.

So, as for ideas...I've been reading a lot of different contests' entries (unpublished and published) and there are some that are interesting, but...they aren't mine, I might enjoy reading them, but never writing them.

Again, those people who think a published author (or other writer) would steal their idea mark themselves as amateurs. We have our own ideas that we love.

May you enjoy your imagination today,
Robin

Writing the Gender-Flipped Character

By Susan Spann

Good fiction requires both male and female characters, and every author needs to learn to write both types convincingly in order to put a compelling cast on the page.

Few authors have experience living as both a male and a female. Most of us are only dealt one hand of gender-cards. The trick, as an author, is learning to how to peek at what the other side is holding (pun intended). Successful authors, like successful gamblers, often cheat.

My shinobi mysteries features dual protagonists, neither of whom is female. However, I was born with "indoor plumbing" -- facts which, taken together, create a conundrum:

How can a woman write a book from a man's perspective? And, for other authors...How can a man see life through a woman’s eyes?

Pervasive gender stereotypes and snide remarks aside, it’s not only possible to write from the other gender’s perspective … authors can do it very well, with a little time and practice.

Here are some tips for writing from the “other plumbing’s POV":

1.  Character first, gender second. Trying to write “like a man" or to "sound like a woman” will get you in hot water, no matter which direction the gender flip is rolling. Instead, consider your characters as if they were real people. Learn as much about them as you can—personality, backstory (most which doesn’t make it into the novel), likes/dislikes, phobias--everything a "real" person needs to become a unique individual. The more well-rounded your characters become, the more convincing they’ll be—regardless of gender.

2. "The Ability to Speak Does Not Make You Intelligent.” (Bonus points for those who can identify the quote.) Dialogue is key to gender differentiation. Men and women speak differently. Many of those differences relate more to personality than to gender, though gender also plays a role. Men and women both speak referentially, but references differ according to gender, personality, personal preferences, and experience. An athlete doesn't sound like a stripper, and neither of them will sound like a ballet dancer, male OR female.

Statistically speaking, more men than women will recognize the quote that leads this paragraph* because the “sci-fi/gamer” contingency contains more men than women. That said, many of my female friends would know the quote immediately. That's the circle in which I run...and it points out another important facet of gender-swap in writing: don't let your preconceptions about gender control your writing. Investigate how the other half really lives. 

3. Tell Me About Your Feelings. Men and women often express emotion differently. My ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, considers his feelings only rarely, and almost never discusses them. By contrast, many of my female characters express emotion with less reserve. (Ironically, the era in which I write--medieval Japan--results in far less emotional display by both genders than you might see in a modern novel--once again, research trumps preconception.) Beware of stereotypes, and individuals do differ, but as a rule men spend less time discussing emotions, especially when talking with other men. Women (again...as a rule) relate better to emotional topics and tend to discuss them in more detail.

4. Observe. Listen. Take Notes. And Share it on Social Media. OK, maybe not the last bit, but the rest of this is important. Listen to conversations in public places. Watch how people interact. Pay special attention to the "other gender," especially when the people in question are similar to the characters you're writing. Watch the way they stand, the way they gesture, the way they move. Pay attention to word choice and rhythm when they speak. People act most naturally when they don’t think anyone is watching, so try to observe without being noticed...or arrested. Note: STALKING IS BAD, MMMKAY? Police mug shots look really bad on the inside cover of novels.

5. Cheat. Find a beta reader and a critique partner of the opposite gender. (Note: that's two different people, not just one.) The beta reader should simply read, without editing the manuscript, and tell you whether the characters of his or her gender sound like "real" people. Critique partners should read and also offer edits or suggestions. Both are important, because they will notice different things. Tell them you want to know if anything sounds wrong or out of place … and then pay attention to what they tell you.

My now-adult son acts as my alpha reader for every novel, and I also have a male critique partner. Trust me when I tell you that nothing—NOTHING—critiques your work as bluntly as a college-age male. (My critique partner is far more polite about telling me something's amiss.) However, I can rely on them both, and if Hiro or Father Mateo says or does something "wrong" I can count on one or both of them telling me: “No guy in his position would say that. EVER.”

Note taken. Revision made.

One of the most difficult parts of writing gender-flipped characters is avoiding stereotyping (it’s hard to do, even--or maybe especially--in posts like this). Knowing what men like, and how they act, helps woman write the male POV, and the opposite is true for males writing inside a female mind. (To whom I say...God help you all.)

What helps you write from the other gender's perspective?

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, will release in July 2015. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

The Sane Writer: Nurturing Healthy Expectations

By Kerry Schafer

What is the very first thought that rolls through your head when your eyes open in the morning? Or before they open, if you're like me and try to believe that both morning and the alarm clock will go away if you can just ignore them long enough?

For me it's very often a wordless primal drive. COFFEE. Which is fine, because coffee is a thing to look forward to. And moving into a simple pleasure first thing in the morning is a fine way to start the day. But sometimes, far too often of late, my very first thoughts involve overwhelm or regret.

I'm writing this post on a Monday, and when the alarm went off this morning the first thought that went through my brain was this:

"Where the hell did the weekend go, and how did I get so little accomplished?"

Now, I'll grant you that this first Monday morning thought was not quite so grammatical and articulate. It had more of an, "Mmph, alarm OFF, things not done, don't wanna" construction. But since I speak fluent morning I was was fortunately able to decipher my own garbled thoughts.

A few minutes later, as I plumped up my flattened brain cells with caffeine, I had another thought. And that thought attracted others until a whole flock of thoughts had gathered and arranged themselves into a sort of order. And the gist of them is this:

I don't want to wake up on Monday mornings with regret.  I want to live my life and adjust my expectations so that when the alarm goes off and my eyes open my first thought is gratitude for the weekend past and the next is happy anticipation for the week to come. When my zombie brain resurrects to the sweet tune of a perfect cup of coffee I want it to be able to savor that experience.

How do I make this happen?

Some would advise a higher level of organization. Get my ducks lined up, streamline my lists, work smarter and get more stuff done in less time. There's likely some truth to this. God knows I could use a little more organization in my world, although where I would actually come up with the time to do the organizing is a mystery.

But I suspect what really needs to happen is an adjustment of expectations.

The truth is that even though I feel like a slacker this morning because there are a number of items on the To Do list that are still To Do rather than Done, I accomplished a lot. If I was talking to a good friend I would likely look at her weekend and tell her, with total sincerity, that she is a powerhouse and should learn to relax. But my expectation for myself are pretty much unachievable.

Since I do have this license as a mental health counselor lying around collecting dust, I took a minute to ask myself a question this morning. "Self," I inquired, "What is to be done about this situation?" Since I find it much easier to dole out advice to other people, I'm just going to throw some ideas into the ring, since I'm pretty sure some of you suffer from the same problem.

1. If you're continually not accomplishing the things on your To Do List, consider paring it down. I know it sounds outrageous, but it's just possible that you're asking too much of your very busy self. Maybe there are things on The List that don't really need to be there. Take them off. Seriously. Write out the list, and then scribble out the things that don't absolutely have to be done. This works better than trying to let go of them in your head, because your brain tends to stick to things. Gray matter can be sticky stuff, like pitch or glue (except for things you want to remember - those get dropped faster than a bad date). Sometimes when you need your brain to let go of an item it helps to write it down and then take a pen and scribble it out. I think the subconscious thought process goes something like this.

Hmmm. Hand says this job is done. I trust Hand. I like Hand. Crossing item off list.

2. Consider adding new items to the List. Yes, I know I just said to take things off the list. But here's a radical idea. What if we added things to our lists that looked like this?

Read book for pleasure

Take nap

Lie in hammock in the sun

Enjoy a glass of wine with a friend

Laugh a lot

Listen to music

Look at pictures of cute cats on Facebook

And then, after we've done those things, we could cross them off The List with a vast sense of accomplishment. I don't know about you, but I need more pleasure and leisure in my life. These things are healthy, and also serve to refill the creativity well. So why is it most of us will put exercise on the to do list, but feel somehow like we have to sneak in the pleasure items?

3. Add items from other people's lists to yours. This is a tricky one. Boundaries are hugely important. It's not healthy to get so sucked into other people's lives and needs that you have no room for your own self and your own needs. On the other hand, it's immensely important (and right) to give, share, help, and generally contribute to the greater good. This serves to keep us decent human beings and prevents us from becoming insufferable, self-obsessed writing fanatics.

I confess that sometimes when a loved one has needs that interfere with my writing time, I experience a nasty little emotional cocktail of guilt and resentment because I have now failed to get things on MY List done. So what if I add those things to my List as they come up, and even prioritize them? I think we already do this when it comes to our kids and maybe our significant others, but not so much when it involves friends and other people in our world. And I'm not talking about the Big Science Project here, or the Cookies for the School Party. I mean simple things like taking time for a conversation about Life, the Universe, and Everything or lending a pair of hands to a home improvement project important to your spouse but not to you. This step would include items like "resolve point of contention with best friend - preserve friendship." I like this reframe much better than my usual take on fights, which tends to be, "well, that was a waste of time." If the disagreement works toward understanding and resolution, it is never a waste of time.

4. Remember to account for changes. Your list may seem sacred to you, but it is an organic and ever changing thing, not graven in stone by the finger of God. Stuff will come up, inevitably, that supersedes whatever you have already planned to do. This weekend, for example, I discovered that the paperback edition of my Indie book, The Nothing, was out on Amazon. This provided an important opportunity to create a little buzz on Social Media without being spammy. Also, I was excited and just wanted to let people know. So I took the time to post on Facebook and Twitter and to experiment with a new Amazon feature supporting giveaways. I think this was important and time well spent, but I did not allow for it on my list and ended up feeling guilty that other things went undone. Much as we'd all like to be Super Writer, we are human and the hours of our days are finite. I'm thinking that when unexpected things find their way onto The List it's going to be important to cross something else off, consciously and deliberately.

5. Create Another List I know, I know. List proliferation is an evil thing, but hear me out. What if we made a completely different sort of list on Sunday evening. Not things we need to do, or things we are dreading, but all of the little bright spots we think might come our way in the coming week. Then maybe - just maybe - when the alarm went off we'd be programmed to look forward with anticipation instead of backward with regret.

 

 

Guest Post: Samantha Ross – Recap of Carol Berg’s Western Slope Workshop

Are they real?

Are your characters real people? According to Carol Berg at the RMFW writers meeting on the Western Slope the answer has to be yes. Readers know it is a story, but the characters need to be alive. The goal should be that they are not characters, but people.

How do we do that?

Through Introduction:

Sum up the person through another’s POV. Start with the general overall such as gender, race, age and so on. Now move onto appearance. Keep in mind that you show rather than tell. What is the voice like, how do they carry themselves? Then attitude. Are they gruff, shy? Don’t forget to start showing gestures, patterns, and habits.

Maybe it’s a gradual introduction from the protagonist or antagonist. Or a few paragraphs. Create layers, and interactions with the setting and also with other characters.

Our people need to be complex. That means they have strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, dreams, and goals. Successes and failures both during the story, and before it started. Like everyone, they are going to travel through a range of emotions, thoughts, wants, actions, and reactions.

That character needs to want something here and now. They are also going to have a plan for the future. It may be a glass of water right now, and to win the big race next month. Remember it is colored by the emotional “why” they want it. Those whys are going to include things from the past, present, and future.

As we write this story, we need to create challenges/conflicts that showcases all the above. This person needs to be able to problem solve, take action, have the ability to grow and change as the story progresses.

Through Narrative POV:

 Whoever is telling the story at the moment has the narrative POV. Usually this is the protagonist, the antagonist, sometimes a secondary character. It is limited by the character; meaning every thing is filtered through this character at this moment.

A child at a funeral has a very different POV, vocabulary, actions and reactions than an elderly man. Even between two elderly men there will be things to contrast and compare. They each had a life before walking into the funeral that shaped them.

We learn who he is layer by layer. As he interacts with the other characters and setting, we start to understand him. We see what type of background he comes from, what he thinks of this moment he is in. There is action and reaction. There are choices, and responses. And more choices. And more responses. Dialogue both internal and external all reveals who he is, and what he is going to do. We see the contrast and compare in the narrative POV as he shows, or does not show his opinions, thoughts, and prejudices. How he acts upon these, or does not act reveals much about him. All of this shows us who he is.

We know that we have succeeded in making our characters into people when the reader says, “I knew he would do that!” When our readers thinks about this person outside of the book eagerly awaiting the next story to come out, or to simply open the book and keep on reading. Sometimes over and over.

Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.

 

Guest Post: Stephen A. Benjamin – Ideas: Where Do They Come From?

By Stephen A. Benjamin

How many times have writers been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” If we all had the proverbial nickel for each . . . Every time I give some nebulous and unsatisfying answer to the cocktail party query, I wonder if I should have something more cogent in my reply, and when I think about it, I do know where my ideas come from.

Agents, publishers, readers all look for originality when selecting novels to sell or read. As authors, we hope that we have come up with something new. But what does that really mean? When I think about the truly original concepts and stories I have read over the years, surprisingly they are not as many as I anticipated.

In the science fiction and fantasy genres, names like Heinlein, Asimov, Blish, Zelazny, and Niven come to mind. They were greats in their field, not only because of their superb writing skills, but because of their fertile imaginations and originality.

I realize that my own ideas are very much based in the works of the writers who came before me, and I cannot easily separate my imagination from what I have read and experienced. As a colleague said, “We are the sum of our experience.” I will use my science fiction novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, as an example. The main character, Dr. Cy Berger, was “born” in my mind over forty years ago when I reread Rostand’s classic, Cyrano de Bergerac. The idea of rewriting Cyrano set in the future intrigued me. Before you cry, “But Cyrano has been done umpteen times in literature and film,” hear me out. That idea in itself was not enough. Cyrano had some wonderful traits that I could use, but I needed more. My character became an empath—someone who could read emotions—but that ability made him ill. Empathy is not original in itself (recall Deanna Troi of Star Trek), but with Cyrano’s characteristics and Cy’s negative reaction to empathic perception, a more intriguing protagonist grew. Now Cy needed a calling. Enter George R. R. Martin with his Tuf Voyaging, a novel featuring a space eco-ark captained by Haviland Tuf who saved species and worlds from ecological disaster as he traversed the stars.

My background as a veterinarian made it natural for my character to follow in those footsteps, offering medical services to alien races across the galaxy (the old “write what you know” maxim). James Herriott’s memoirs, All Things Great and Small, of his veterinary practice in Great Britain, including the unique behaviors of animals and the idiosyncrasies of animal owners, was a source of inspiration, as well. Now I had my basic character with some traits very old, some quite new, and what he would do, but still not enough.

Then I read Michael Chabon’s wonderful The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. With my Jewish heritage, I saw how to set my story on a Jewish home world, one subjected to a fundamentalist Judaic tyranny to add some depth. Now my protagonist had antagonists. Though I had my star-hopping veterinarian fighting to free his home world from oppression, what happened while he hopped? He met and offered critical medical services to a variety of alien life-forms, and made allies of them to help him in his battle. Alien life-forms are always a good place for originality in science fiction, and I had some in the story, like a sentient jungle with its nine-mouthed, ambulatory plant predator, the hydra. But I also used dragons and werewolves.

Hold it! Aren’t those fantasy, not science fiction, and overdone in book and film? They are science fiction when you have a science-based genetic explanation for them in your universe. They are unique when you have a veterinarian who must treat epidemics of gout in dragons and mange in werewolves. When you dissect it, there are many aspects of my novel that are not totally new. Even the medicine Berger practices is extrapolation based on what we know about biomedical science today—no short cuts like the hand-held electronic cure-all of Star Trek. Some of the influences for the novel were overt, as I mentioned, but how many more ideas in my writing were subconsciously derived from others? I couldn’t tell you.

My ideas grew from seeds planted in my mind by previous writers, yet when they reached full growth, the resulting garden had bushes and trees unlike any other. I don’t think admitting to being influenced by others’ ideas diminish a writer’s work; I think they enhance it. I think of it as honoring great writers of the past. Now, when asked “the question” again, the inquirer had better grab a drink and a chair. They may get a longer answer than they anticipated.

 

Steve Snapshot Close (1)Stephen A. Benjamin is a veterinarian and Professor Emeritus in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. In publishing numerous scientific research papers over his career, he longed to allow his scientific speculations freer rein by carrying them into the science fiction realm. His novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, was a Colorado Gold speculative fiction finalist, and was published in November 2014 by TWB Press, Lakewood, CO. A member of RMFW, he lives in Fort Collins, CO. Links Facebook: Stephen Benjamin Website: www.stephenabenjamin.com

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.

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

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

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

 

 

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson Nine-How Much Sex? How Much Romance?

By Jeanne C. Stein

Sex in writing is always a touchy subject—pun intended. Where does love making end and erotica begin? How much sex is too much? Do you have to have sex in your story?

Let’s start with the last question first. To be frank, most readers of genres such as UF or (of course) romance, expect sex to be a part of the storyline. PART of the storyline. They also expect it to be pertinent to the story, not tacked on as an afterthought. It’s different in erotica--sex IS the story. In UF or paranormal or straight romance, sex should be a natural element of the bigger story though it does not necessarily involve long-term consequences—or romance in the classic sense. Remember the difference between paranormal romance and UF? We may have a committed couple, but there’s no guaranteed happily ever after. In romance, happily ever after or happily for now is implicit. Regardless of genre, however, writing sex can be fun.

But writing a sex scene is not as easy as one might think. How far do you want to take it? Do you want to stop at the bedroom door or fling it wide open and invite the reader along? For our purposes, we’re going to assume you’re inviting the reader in.

There are two main elements to writing a good sex scene—the emotional and the physical. Sexual tension between the characters should have been building long before they land in bed. Danger can be a catalyst for sexual tension, conflict can be a catalyst. The characters may be long time friends or lovers, they may have just met and extenuating circumstances thrust them together. After a dangerous or life-threatening situation, slaying a dragon, for instance, or banishing the resident evil, sex is often used as an affirmation of life.

So we’ve set up the scene. Our characters are headed for the bedroom. How do we describe what happens next?

Depends on what type of scene we’re presenting. Is this a tryst between two lovers who know each other well? Will they take their time? Will they light candles and slip into a bubble bath? Will they kiss long and passionately? Will there be extended foreplay?

Or is this the frantic coupling of two people who have survived an unspeakable horror and want nothing more than to block it from their minds? Are they in an elevator or a taxi or in the back seat of a car? Do they fumble and tear at their clothes? Do they explore each other with fingers and tongues? Is the consummation an act of desperation or thanksgiving?

Set the mood.

Now on to the hard part: describing the action. Use all five senses. Set aside your inhibitions. If you’re writing the first type of love scene, the language and action will be romantic and sweet. If you’re writing the second, it will be abrupt and crude.

Your characters should talk to each other. Your characters should describe what they’re feeling. Your characters should have physical reactions to what is happening to them.

Now, here’s the secret. If your sex scene doesn’t turn you on—chances are it won’t turn your readers on, either.

Does that mean it has to be graphic?

Not at all. Here’s an example from author Jeaniene Frost:

He laughed—and then whirled me up in his arms so fast, my feet were still flexing for another step His mouth crushed down on mine, taking my breath away, and the same mindless compulsion that had led me to act so bizarrely upstairs manifested itself in another form. My arms went around his neck, my legs wrapped around his waist, and I kissed him as if by willpower alone I could erase the memory of every woman before me.

I heard a rip. Felt the wall at my back, and then the next moment, he was inside me.

I clung to him, nails digging into his back with mounting need, mouth locked onto his throat to stifle my cries. He moaned into my skin, free hand tangled in my hair as he moved faster, deeper. There was no gentleness to him, but I wanted none, exulting in the unbridled passion between us.

Everything inside me suddenly clenched, and then relinquished in a rush of ecstasy that streamed down to my toes. Bones cried out as well, and a few shattering minutes later, relaxed against me… (From Halfway to the Grave)

If you’re not comfortable writing or reading open door sex scenes, don’t do them. They will lack sensuality and emotional content and the reader will recognize it. So will an editor or agent. Better to stay in your own comfort zone. Show us something that has an emotional and sensual set up but ends at the bedroom door.

Another point, it helps if what happens in the bedroom furthers the storyline. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. There may be repercussions as a result of the coupling that are not manifest right away, but are made evident later. That’s okay, too.

Is there a difference between sex and intimacy? You betcha. Though they’re often used interchangeably, intimacy implies a close personal relationship that goes beyond the physical. An important aspect of any romance. That isn’t to say that our protag should be shown as lacking moral fiber—we want her to be sympathetic. But in some genres, UF or paranormal romance, we are writing characters that exist beyond the bounds of a normal world. A world that may not recognize them or worse, brands them as outcasts. Finding solace in sex is a way of retaining that human connection.

Our last two lessons will be more about the business of writing than the elements of writing.

Next month we’ll look at the many ways writers sabotage themselves —both in their writing and with their careers.

Coming to Terms with Book Reviews

Sexy Games by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

This is the cover for the Italian translation of my erotic romance, Going Under. I love it so hard.

A girl never forgets her first translation. :-)

A little known fact about me (I think) is that I spent many years studying martial arts - primarily Chinese internal styles. I still practice some of the arts on my own, but no longer study with a school. It was a valuable experience on many levels and most recently fun to play with as I created a martial system for my warrior heroine, Ursula, in my upcoming release (May 26), The Talon of the Hawk. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe KennedyWith Ursula on my mind - particularly as I'm starting the fourth book in that series - I've mulling over the metaphor of knife-throwing.

Yes, I learned how to throw knives as part of the training I did, including a shuriken, which I confess I keep on my desk and have a tendency to toy with on annoying conference calls. One thing my teacher said about knife-throwing is that it's important to learn to enjoy the moments you DON'T stick the knife in the target as much as the moments you DO.

Counter-intuitive, yes?

Now, my teacher got any number of things warped and wrong (don't get me started), but I think he had something there. A lesson I've yet to fully internalize. See, it's very easy to get focused on success. Learning to throw knives can be an exercise in frustration - all those times the knives miss the target, barely stick and fall away or, the worst, bang loudly and ignominiously flat before bouncing off. When you manage to get it right and *really* stick the point deep in the wood, it's... satisfying. Even thrilling.

But my teacher's point is along the lines of the journey being the valuable lesson, not the destination. Viewed that way, it's irrelevant whether the knife sticks, because it's the process of throwing that's important.

I think about this - especially lately - when one of my books gets a less than five-star review. And yes, I confess I'm one of THOSE people who see anything less than five-stars as not-quite-good enough. It's the grade that's not an A. It's the room for improvement. It's the knife that kinda sticks but then falls away.

A five-star review, in contrast, feels as thrilling as the perfect throw with the point buried solidly deep. Every time.

And yet... I *know* I shouldn't feel this way. In my heart I know that the reviews and ratings are just part of the destination, that it's the writing, the journey that truly matters. Most of the time this works for me - diverting myself back into the work, focusing on the writing and what it means to me, where it takes me. In fact, that this is on my mind at all right now is likely a product of having been between books for too long. I need to get Book 4 of The Twelve Kingdoms started. In a big way.

At any rate, I suppose this is my particular room for improvement. One of the many ways I need to grow and learn. I understand in my head that not everyone will LOVE my books, but I have a ways to travel to embrace the miss in my heart as much as the hit.

Time to throw some more knives.