Category Archives: Blog

Writing Through The Dark Times

By Robin D. Owens.

I reached the end of a book in a long series I love and found a note that the series, which the author had anticipated writing for years, had abruptly ended. She’d had a major upheaval in her life and couldn’t overcome her new circumstances to reach back into the core happiness and central theme of that series and continue.

This is an epublished author and series and she designs her career. Of course, I empathized, and I’m deeply sorry that she’s going through this, and I will darn well miss that series.

I know she’s crafting a new life, but I think she is making a career mistake.

I’ve seen the promo for the new series she’s writing under another name and I don’t think the majority of her readers will follow her to it. Or if they do, the first book will have to be so EXTRAORDINARY, the characters so completely engaging that she’ll pull her readers along, and that’s a tough job. And I think her new genre is too niche to attract more than a few new readers.

Now I know something about the above. I know about writing a niche series. I know about readers following you (or not) to other series. I know about being the sole support of yourself and your family with your writing. I know about a train wreck happening in your life that changes it into a shape you’d barely imagined.

For me, in 2010, I hung onto my series (and I do write lighter, more humorous stories and that was a concern) and added a collection of stories to what I’d already contracted for.

And there is the big difference. I was contracted for more books in the two series I was writing at the time. I didn’t have the luxury of walking away from them without paying back money that was mostly spent and thrashing around in legal complications.

I had to reach into myself and still pull up what I needed to continue those books, and hope that what I found inside would be sufficiently close to what my readers expected.

I’m sure if someone really analyzed my writing before and after April 2010, you’d see it’s changed, perhaps gotten an edge here or there it didn’t have. But one of my series, the Celta “Heart” books (all the stories have “Heart” in the title) is still continuing. The other series, Mystic Circle for Luna did not, but due more to the publisher and the changing face of publishing than my personal angst.

If I presumed to give advice to this writer (who I believe is much more successful than me), I’d tell her: fake it until you make it. Or perhaps that’s not quite an exact a phrase: wring out what you can minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and string it into a story.

Yes, writing is an emotional experience, based on inner feelings. But writing is also technique, and writers CAN be professional and carry on, especially if you have no choice.

Like I said before, you find that spot, that core of you that you reveal in bits through every story and you hang on tight to that and go there and mine it.

You also do exactly what you do during the darkISH times – the tough times we all have learned to write through. You use those processes you already have in place that work for you such as journaling (Morning Pages for those of you who follow Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), venting to friends, afternoons away (Artist Dates), rearranging your office or going to somewhere else to write. You use everything to keep on track.

You also depend on your beta readers and critique group to see if the technique and the emotion you can put in will carry you through as you limp, then return to your stride.

With this particular writer, I think that she will find she has to go back to her previous series, first because it is a money maker, then because she loves/loved it too, and she can. And I think she will try shorter pieces first with enough of the emotional resonance of her first series until she can return. Her writing may be different, but perhaps not as much as she anticipates. Time helps.

Now, that’s emotional darkness. What about LITERAL darkness? In these short days of winter light, writing can be a problem. I know it is for me. As I learned through research for my Summoning series, Denver has an average of three hundred days of sunshine a year. I have trouble writing when it’s gray. Gray days are for snuggling and reading.

Personally (and I don’t know the facts), this November and December have seemed grayer for me, and I’ve struggled, but, again, I have procedures in place and have instituted new ones. These work for me: a full spectrum light on my desk; taking a walk in the sunshine if/when it appears and if it doesn’t taking a walk in the gray; writing with friends: online in a war room, sprints on twitter, and in person.

Or grab yourself some strong coffee (or tea), some music that will put you in the mood, and just march forward word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence.

May all your writing dreams come true and may next year be even better than this year!

Robin

Protecting Your Copyright in Anthology Contracts

By Susan Spann

Happy Holidays!

Today, we continue our ongoing series on writing for anthologies with a look at copyright clauses in anthology contracts.

IMG_5212

Anthology writing differs from other forms of publication, and though the contracts often look similar, authors need to be aware of the critical differences between anthology contracts and those which govern publication of single-author (or even two-author collaborative) book or novella-length fiction.  

Anthology contracts should contain at least two clear statements of copyright:

1. A declaration that copyright in the author’s work remains the sole property of the contributing author; and

2. A declaration that the copyright in the anthology “as a collective work” belongs to the anthology publisher.

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

1. The Author’s Retention of Copyright.

The anthology contract should contain the following statement (or something substantially similar): “Author is the sole copyright owner of the Work, and retains all rights to the Work except for those expressly granted to [Anthology Publisher] in this Agreement.”

This ensures that the author owns the story, even after its publication in the anthology. Elsewhere, the contract should also address any limitations on the author’s right to publish the story elsewhere (tune in next month for more details on that issue). However, the contract needs to contain a clear statement of copyright ownership — which declares that the contributing author remains the sole owner of the copyright in the story.

2. Anthology Copyright in the Publisher.

The anthology contract will probably also contain a statement similar to the following: “To the extent a separate copyright attaches to the Anthology as a collective work, [Anthology Publisher] is the copyright owner of any such copyright on the Anthology as a collective work.”

The reason for this second clause is to ensure that no one else can infringe the publisher’s copyright by reproducing or publishing “pirated” (i.e., infringing) copies of the anthology without permission. A statement of the publisher’s ownership in the collective work gives the publisher the sole right to produce that collective work. The copyright in the work as a collective work is not the same thing as the copyright on the individual stories, however, and you should never give the anthology publisher ownership of your copyright in your work.

To repeat: The publisher doesn’t need your copyright to publish your work as part of an anthology or other collective work.

You may ask the publisher to add: “provided that no collective work copyright will limit or prevent Author’s rights to exploit, publish, and profit from the Work separately from or in addition to the Anthology except to the limited extent provided in this Agreement.” That language isn’t absolutely required, but it’s something authors might ask for if there’s any ambiguity in the contract with regard to copyright. (It’s also something to ask for if you don’t know the publisher well.) 

A Word About Copyright Registration

Publishers often want to register copyright on an anthology as a collective work. That’s OK, as long as the registration is clear that you, the author, own the copyright in your contribution. Make sure the contract is clear about the manner in which copyright may (and may not) be registered, and states that:

(a) The publisher will include an appropriate notice on the verso page (commonly known as the “copyright page”) of the anthology, properly identifying the contributors as the owners of the copyrighted material contained in the work; and

(b) If the publisher registers copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, that registration will cover the collective work only, and will acknowledge the author(s) as the copyright owner(s) of the contributed works. 

A little attention to detail can help protect your copyrights and ensure a more successful anthology experience.

Have you contributed an an anthology? Did you notice the copyright language in the contract?

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 on July 15, 2014. 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.

It’s Not My Door – Or Is It?

By Kerry Schafer

This past week I ran across a Facebook post that bothered me. Only one, you say? Yeah, I hear you. There’s a lot of stuff on Facebook that is inane or stupid or downright inflammatory. This one was masquerading as good stuff. It was just one of those inspirational posters – a pretty picture and a quote meant to make you a better or at least a more thoughtful person. This was a picture of a lovely old barn with a barred door. The message read:

Schafer_Morguefile

If the door won’t open, then it’s not your door.

Now chances are that my life would be a whole lot happier and more peaceful if I were the sort of person who follows this sage advice. I would also be agentless and unpublished. Maybe I wouldn’t ever have completed any novels. Because those doors, my friends, didn’t open easily for me. What if I’d queried a couple of times, collected my rejections, and just sighed with resignation and walked away, saying, ‘Guess it’s not my door. Publication is not for me.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in mindfully accepting the things I cannot change. Like the weather, for example. Wishing it bright and sunny on a rainy foggy day is a waste of energy. But I also know how terrifyingly easy it is to tell myself comforting little lies.

This is not my problem.

This is too hard.

This is not my door.

Sometimes these thoughts may be true. But often it’s fear and self doubt talking. Just because a door sticks a little doesn’t mean it isn’t mine to enter. Even if it’s locked, maybe I’ve had one of my blonde moments and misplaced the key. Or locked myself out by mistake. Or maybe it isn’t my door but I need to engage in a little breaking and entering to rescue somebody on the other side. Or, you know, get at the buried treasure…. Sure, there’s probably an easier door somewhere, but what’s the fun in that? Most of the doors that don’t have locks on them lead into places not worth entering.

I mean, what if Gandalf and company had walked away from the Doors of Durin? Picture that. Gandalf gives the doors a try or two and says, “Well friends, this door is not ours. It will not allow us to pass.” And with that, wizard, dwarves, and hobbits all go back to where they came from. Okay, sure, they wouldn’t have wakened the thing in the deep and Gandalf wouldn’t have had his near death experience and a lot of danger and destruction would never have happened. But just look at the story we would all have missed out on!

As writers, I think we’ll be forever coming up against locked doors. Sometimes we’re shut out by the manuscript itself — the plot that won’t quite come together, the contrary character, an awkward sentence construction that refuses to flow. And the publishing business is pretty much composed of barriers. Rejections from agents and editors, books that don’t sell, series that don’t take off, bad reviews. Indie writers face stigma and distribution problems and questions of how to finance covers and editors. Let’s face it, there is no easy way to be successful in this business.

Every now and then some writer gets lucky and all of the doors magically open while angel choirs sing. Most of us aren’t going to have this experience. Of course, beating our heads bloody against a solidly sealed door is not productive. But neither is giving up. So what are we to do?

Let’s go back to Gandalf and company at Moria. The inscription on those doors could only be seen by moonlight and starlight. And the right words needed to be spoken in order to gain entrance. Even a great wizard like Gandalf had to work at getting inside.

So it is for us. When the doors don’t open, it might be that the time isn’t right. Or that we’re lacking the knowledge and skill we need to gain entrance. If the doors of publishing seem to be locked against you, here are a few things you can try.

  1. Increase your knowledge. Take some classes or go to conferences.
  2. Don’t try to do it alone. Connect with other writers to form your own adventuring fellowship. It’s helpful to have others people’s eyes and brains and creative energy involved.
  3. Keep writing. This is the only way to become a better writer.
  4. Keep on testing the doors. You never know when the stars are going to align and that door that shut you out is going to open.

Change

By Pamela Nowak

Change…it’s a quiet word, not really representative of all that’s associated with it. For each of us, it has a unique set of implications. Since I’m in a contemplative mood, I’ll spend today exploring them.

When I was younger, change represented the unknown, with all its uncertainty. It was something I usually avoided. It often brought implications I didn’t like. I was forced into new ways of doing things and reactions I didn’t expect. Most especially, there might be risk in change and I wasn’t a fan of risk. It took me out of my comfort zone and I rather liked my little box.

We’re often advised not to make major decisions during times of change or to not make changes during times of stress—I’ve heard both bits of wisdom cited. This implies change is to be avoided, that it may be sought without thought, or that it may come back to bite us. It suggests that change somehow controls us.

Yet there is the adage that change is good. When we’re “in a rut,” change may prompt good things…new ideas, fresh takes, etc. It is the reason we build in turn-over in governing by-laws and we bemoan the lack of it when talking about entrenched politicians.

So, is change good or is it bad? I suspect it can be either—sometimes at the same time and altering upon the unique circumstance. Certainly, new ideas are to be applauded but the loss of old wisdom may be mourned. It is up to us to look at it from each angle and to adjust to it, be it positively or negatively.

At this point of my life, I choose to look at change as opportunity. How I react to it, what I do with it, is up to me. I’ve come to see that boxes can hold me back, make it impossible to stretch myself, to try different things or to react in new ways.

When I moved to the Denver area after several significant life changes, my dear friend Liz Roadifer gifted me with a gorgeous angel figure releasing several butterflies from her extended hands. The card that came with her indicated she was Arabella, the Guardian of Change. This quote was on the card: “Happiness always looks small while you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and you learn at once how big and precious it is.” (Maxim Gorky).

Arabella sits above my desk. She reminds me daily of the gifts that are in change and my role in releasing them. I can’t control what happens, but I can control how I react to it.

So, what does all this have to do with writing? It is a writing blog, right?

During our writing journey, from our first floundering attempts to becoming authors and building careers, we will encounter change after change. At first, we will be forced to decide if we will adapt our writing techniques as our craft develops. Will we reject painful critique or find the grains of truth in it? We will encounter reality that is different from our expectations with each rejection letter. We will see sales that may not be what we anticipated (be it low sales or a run-away best-seller). All of these are changes, all of them in addition to the changes we will meet in “regular life.” How we respond, what we find in each fork in the road, is up to each of us.

Life is not always kind, nor are our journeys smooth. The changes we are confronted with are not always those we would ask for, nor are they what we want. But they all hold opportunity…if we look hard enough. As you think on this year nearly gone and the new year approaching, I hope all of you are able to find the possibilities in the changes that have come your way.

A Book List for Holiday Shopping — Part Three

The members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers are both traditionally and indie-published in almost any genre you can imagine. Last weekend I posted a few books available for purchase along with a buy link so you can learn more about the novels (and click that “Buy” button, of course). That was just a drop in the bucket for an organization like RMFW. You’ll find Part One on December 6th, and Part Two on December 7th.

Here are a few more of our incredible authors and their recent releases.

Dorchak_PsychicPsychic
By F. P. Dorchak
Wailing Loon
Paperback

“A humble, guilt-ridden hotline psychic becomes embroiled in the ultimate government conspiracy.”

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Lane_TraitorTraitor’s Moon
By Janet Lane
Dreaming Tree Publishing, LLC
ebook

“When half-Gypsy Stephen Ellingham accidentally kills Nicole’s father, he puts her family at risk of losing their holding, so he marries her to protect her 12-yr-old deaf brother from their uncle, who covets their lands. Then the War of the Roses begins, and the uncle finds a good way to be rid of Stephen: orchestrate a charge of treason against him and send him on to the executioner.”

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Berg_DustandLightDust and Light
Carol Berg
NAL/Roc Books
Trade Paperback/e-book/Audible audio book

“Lucian de Remeni is humiliated when the Registry contracts him to a common coroner, restricting his magical gift for portraiture to dead beggars, starvelings, or soldiers. But sketching the truth of dead men’s souls brings unforeseen consequences – sensations not his own, truths he could not possibly know, and mysteries that threaten the future of a kingdom and the world…”

~~~~~~~~~~

Biafore_Fresh SqueezedFresh Squeezed
By Bonnie Biafore and James Ewing
Slow Toast Press
Paperback, Kindle, Nook, epub, Google Play

“When Juice Verrone, a former Mafia enforcer in the Witness Security Program, is pinned in his boat by agiant hot dog, fiberglass bass, and plummeting corpse, he teams up with the police chief and Rudy Touchous, a forensic accountant, to find the killer. Instead, they discover a utility with financial problems, a troop of NASCAR-addled, bass-fishing rednecks, and a vegetarian commune that is tossing more than lettuce into its salad bar.”

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O'Flynn_ExpatriatesThe Expatriates (Book One: Song of the Sending)
By Corinne O’Flynn
Big Ink Books
Paperback, ebook

“They told him his world was destroyed and they were the last to escape. They thought he was safe, but they were wrong.”

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Goff_A Rant of RavensA Rant of Ravens
By Christine Goff
Astor+Blue Editions
e-book

“In an attempt to escape hellish matrimony, Rachel Stanhope sojourns to her Aunt Miriam’s ranch in Colorado in search of some peace and comfort. When Rachel agrees to host meetings of the local birdwatching society, she makes a much more disturbing discovery: a dead body.”

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Kennedy_THE TEARSThe Tears of the Rose
By Jeffe Kennedy
Kensington
Trade paperback and digital

“Amelia has never had to be anything but good and sweet and kind and lovely. But the chess game for the Twelve Kingdoms has swept her up, and she must make a gambit of her own. ”

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Harper_ReckoningReckoning
By S. J. Harper
Roc/Penguin Group
Mass market paperback, ebook

“The second in the Fallen Siren series finds Emma and Zack entangled with political tensions in the vampire and were worlds while unraveling the mystery behind a series of kidnappings in Southern California. Called the perfect blend of magic, mystery and romance, Reckoning will appeal to readers of any genre.”

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You’ll find many other extraordinary authors from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers writing posts for the RMFW Blog, teaching classes and workshops in the Denver area and on the western slope, and showcasing their work at the Colorado Gold Conference in September. Stay connected to RMFW by visiting the website and blog regularly. Even better, join us and get all the news through our newsletter and e-mailings.

Adventures in Self Publishing

By Karen Duvall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 and is self-publishing a new urban fantasy series starting with Demon Fare, Book 1 of The Spawnster Chronicles.

www.karenduvallauthor.com

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson Five

By Jeanne C. Stein

Story Structure – Plotting, Inciting Incident

This class we look at story structure, beginning with constructing a plot.

There are as many ways to plot a story as there are writers to plot them. When I started writing the Anna Strong series, I used the “seat of the pants” method—I knew the beginning, I knew the ending, I knew the characters. I planned to let the story unfold as I went. It had always worked before.

But I hit a snag. In my sixth book, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. Panic set in. I had only four months to write that book and I wasted one trying to get it off the ground. For the first time, I had to sit down and write a detailed synopsis.

I hate writing synopses. But it saved my butt. Thirty-two single spaced pages later, I had the story. After that, came the book. I realized my problem all along had been that I hadn’t clearly defined the story question. Now that I’m writing collaboratively with another author, we actually do a scene by scene, detailed outline so we can each work on different scenes at the same time and they will meld together.

And that brings me to the point—no matter what method you use, defining the story question should be the first step.

What is a “story question”?

The story question is the theme of your book—it’s the defining objective your protag struggles to achieve. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? For some of you, it is. You know exactly what your story question is. You have already come up with that log line (the TV guide, one line description) that you’ll use to catch the attention of an editor or agent. You are the lucky ones. For the rest of us, it may take as much time to define the question (or questions—there can be more than one) as it does to flesh out the rest of the story.

Now, let’s assume we all have our story question. As I mentioned before, there are many, many devices out there to help you translate that idea into a book. The three I’m presenting are not genre specific. They are the most popular and easy to use.

The W Curve—just what it sounds like. The top of the W (1)is the beginning; the first down stroke(2) is a setback; the top of the second upward slash is the midpoint (3), a point where it looks like our protag has won the day; the second down stroke (4) is when we realize she not only hasn’t won the day, but she’s in danger of losing everything which leads to the final upward slash (5) where she fights her way back in a stirring climax that leaves our readers breathless and clamoring for a sequel.

Stein image

The W Curve is probably the simplest plotting device of all. The beauty of it is that you can add as many “W’s” as you like to correspond to subplots. Subplots are important because they add depth to the story. Just as real life is a balancing act between what we intend to do and what we sometimes are forced to do because of extenuating circumstances, our characters should face the same dilemmas. External conflict (the main story question) and internal conflict (how our characters react) each play an important role in bringing our stories to life.

Writers who use this method, often add the “M” curve for the antagonists journey, matching stroke for stroke how the villain is going thwart the hero until the very end.

Outlining—Not necessarily the way you did it in school, although many writers use the classical form. More often it’s a list of the main points and a rough idea of what you intend to do with them. It’s setting stakes and creating conflict. It’s chronological and covers the hook or initiating event, rising action, climax and resolution. It can be a chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene breakdown, which is what Samantha and I do. It can be a synopsis.

Three Act Structure—Sound familiar? Of course. It’s the way every movie, TV show or play is constructed. A Beginning, a Middle, an End. As you might expect, the beginning introduces the characters, the setting, the story question. The middle, well, it’s just that (and it can be deadly, no pun intended.) Hopefully, your middle will be fraught with tension and escalating danger. Here’s where subplots play an important part. Where everything changes. Where it looks like our protagonist will lose it all. It’s where she experiences her darkest hour. Then, we reach the end. She faces her greatest challenge, her biggest fear. It’s the resolution. It’s the return to “normal.”

In every case, the resolution must be satisfying. It must fulfill every promise you’ve made to the reader. It should leave them clamoring for the next book.

Now that I’ve described some plotting devices, let’s look at how to use them.

Let’s assume we have the story question. We have our protagonist and antagonist. We have a pretty good idea of our secondary characters. If we choose the Three Act Structure, for instance, the beginning should comprise about the first 50-60 pages of a 400-page book. The first pages of a book are the most important you’ll ever write. Editors and agents often say they won’t look past the first paragraph if it doesn’t grab them. In fact, at a recent conference, Senior Berkley Editor Ginjer Buchanan said just that in a panel entitled “What SF Editors Are Looking For.” She won’t read past the first page if there’s not a fresh voice and unique opening scene to capture her attention. Sad but true. And what does she look for? That the writer has a command of the basics of writing, a unique story, a compelling story, a story worth reading.

So what must the opening do?

Set the hook.

With action, with character, with setting. Let’s look at some examples.

One way is to introduce your protagonist by showing her in action. If she’s a supernatural, she’ll be chasing demon bad guys. If she’s human, demon bad guys are chasing her. No long passages about the setting or the weather. No back story to explain how she found herself in that predicament. No detailed physical descriptions of how her hair is as black as a raven’s wing or her eye’s as blue as a cerulean sky. There’ll be plenty of time for that later. Right now, you want to hook the reader with excitement. Draw them into the story, set them down smack dab in the middle of the action.

With action: Here’s the opening of Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave:

“I stiffened at the red and blue lights flashing behind me, because there was no way I could explain what was in the back of my truck. I pulled over, holding my breath, as the sheriff came to my window.”

With character: Who is our protagonist and why should we care about her?

Here’s the opening of Marta Acosta’s Happy Hour at Castle Dracula:

“If I had been a rational human being, I would have had a normal job and I would never have gotten involved with any of them. But I was not a rational human being. I was and remain a square peg in a round world.”

With setting: what can we identify with in our protag’s world…and what’s different?

Here’s an example author, Devon Monk. The first sentence from Magic To The Bone:

“It was the morning of my twenty fifth birthday, and all I wanted was a decent cup of coffee, a hot breakfast, and a couple hours away from the stink of used magic that steeped through the walls of my apartment building every time it rained.”

See the hook? Starts out sounding like a typical day in anyone’s life. Then, bang! Magic!! Not only introduced as a subject but introduced in a way that says we’re now entering the UF Zone. In one sentence we learn the age of our protagonist, that she’s hungry and thirsty, that she doesn’t live in a typical apartment building and that most likely, she’s not going to get the two hour escape she wants.

Each example establishes a unique and compelling voice using language, style, attitude and pacing.

The beginning is where the story question is established or foreshadowed. Conflict is introduced. The reader gets to know your world. It’s a lot to ask of a few pages, but it’s necessary if you want to grab and keep the attention of an editor or agent and after that, all those readers who’ll be lining up to buy your book.

Set the mood with tension, anxiety and emotional control.

Build empathy with the character.

Create setting and build the world.

Next lesson, we have our beginning, now what?

Facing Fear of Failure

By Jeffe Kennedy

The Talon of the HawkThis is the cover for my next TWELVE KINGDOMS book, THE TALON OF THE HAWK. It comes out May, 2015, but the Addicted 2 Heroines blog is running a Hottest Heroines cover contest for all covers revealed in 2014. I was thrilled they chose the TALON cover for round one, and even more delighted that it won that round! Even more, I’m really pleased that Kensington gave my warrior princess such a strong pose.

She’s fearless and it shows.

Not so easy for the rest of us, but then our battles tend to be less overt. I was talking with a writer friend the other day about fear and how starting each new book is an act of courage. She’d tweeted something that struck a chord with me and we went back and forth about it. It was a well-timed conversation for me because I’m drafting a new erotic romance, the third in my FALLING UNDER trilogy. And this week I saw two Publishers Weekly reviews for my books. One, for UNDER HIS TOUCH, the second in the FALLING UNDER trilogy, which comes out in January, is pretty good. But it penetrated my brain, little whispers of it echoing as I draft this new book. Worse, the other review, for THE TEARS OF THE ROSE, the second book in THE TWELVE KINGDOMS, which came out two weeks ago is really quite terrible. One of those deals where the reviewer did not get at all what the story meant to do. If the very same book hadn’t been nominated for best Fantasy Romance of the year in the RT Reviewers Choice awards, I’d have been devastated.

As it is, I can recognize that this sort of thing is inevitable when I make bold choices as a writer. In THE TEARS OF THE ROSE I took on writing an unlikable heroine. One that most readers say they feel like slapping for the first half of the book – until they discover they’ve slowly grown to like and admire her, until at the end they’re cheering. That’s exactly what I wanted. I don’t think our heroines should be perfect people. We celebrate the deeply flawed hero who redeems himself – I wanted the same thing for this heroine. I knew going in that some readers would not get this at all. We can talk about the social reasons that women are held to different standards of likability than men, but it’s an old conversation. This book was my offering to that dialogue.

It took courage to write it anyway. It’s hard to hear harsh criticism, even when you knew it was possible, even likely.

I think it’s even more difficult to battle this fear in this age of dense social media. Everywhere I turn I see harsh reviews, pet peeves and rants about books. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post on how damaging I think it is for writers to read any of those lists or articles on “tropes that need to die.” The upshot is that fear of criticism kills creativity.

As I said, all of this has been heavy on my mind as I draft this new erotic romance. I’m a write-for-discovery writer. While I know my general premise, I follow the story as I write. This book is taking me to dark, angsty places. I resisted the story for a while, thinking about potential criticism. Which led to me spinning for a number of days. When readers and reviewers question why the author made a particular choice, I think they don’t realize how often it’s not our choice at all. It’s the story’s choice. At least, that’s true for me – I can either follow the story or I can fight it. Guess who eventually wins?

Still, it takes courage at every stage – writing, sending out to my agent and editor, revising, release day, facing reader feedback and reviews.

If only I had a big golden sword, huh?

Lessons Learned: Words Hurt Your Career

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

In case you hadn’t heard, and really how could you not have since I’ve begged everyone to The Fairyland Murders_ebook (1)notice, that I have a new novel coming out…well…yesterday. The Fairyland Murders hit the streets and all of the publishing world is abuzz. Reviews are coming in. Newspapers are asking for interviews. Readers are smiling in anticipation of spending the entire night reading.

In my fantasy world.

In the real world, it’s more like a slight blip on anyone’s radar. The publishing world is hardly abuzz with my name, let alone excited by anything but the promise of two weeks off at the end of the month. Newspapers can’t ask for interviews because they don’t exist anymore.

But I hold out hope for those readers, the ones who wait months for a release. I’m that kind of gal. I pre-order than mark it on my calendar so I know when it will pop up (at 1am) on my kindle.

But this isn’t going to be a rant on how no one loves me.

Today’s post was going to be on what I’ve learned since 2012 when CURSES! first came out. Trust me, it’s a lot. But something else came on to my radar that I think might be more important to talk about.

What is appropriate for us writers to say and NOT to say on social media.

In case you haven’t read recently about a certain writer’s twitter blowup when her book didn’t make the 2014 most notable list. Now a couple of things came to mind when I read her response. The first was, though I hate to admit it, yeah, well mine didn’t either so what makes you so special? Then I started to think of all the writers behaving badly things we’re seen over the last five years. And how many writers refuse to get personal on social media and all the articles that say we shouldn’t discuss anything on social media we wouldn’t discuss over a nice dinner.

I suggest if you agree with that advice, when I invite you over for (pre-made) dinner, you say no. Yes, I see why people offer this advice, and why many writers think social media is akin to standing outside in your underwear flagging passing by cars over while singing tunes from The Sound of Music. Again, I get it. TMI is all around, especially at the dinner table when sat at the adult table and Aunt Mary discusses her latest colonoscopy results…in vivid, mind shearing detail.

However, social media proves that individuals have power. That, whether their individual voice is heard or not, documenting the world matters. In good and bad ways. If you’re not on social media or if you are and are afraid to post personal stuff, please don’t be. Yes, no one wants to hear about your colon I detail, but knowing a little about you and your personality is a good thing…until you go off the deep end, and then we can point and laugh. After all, life is about jeering your peers.

What social media lessons have you learned? How do you feel about writers behaving badly on social media? What is our responsibility to our readers?

Writing a reader-friendly historical romance

by Janet Lane

For thou with me while iuel shall I not dread…

???????????????????????????????My first inspiration to write fiction involved a thought that flashed through my mind when entering rather boring sales data into date fields. I inadvertently entered something like 1798 instead of 1998, and a “What if?” idea flashed above my head, just like in the commercials. What if my protagonist entered an ancient date and was somehow transported to that time?

That initial spark grew into a time travel romance, which has yet to see the light of day, but the vision revealed my passion for the past. I told my husband, John, that I was writing a novel. I visited Denver Public Library and hauled home a dozen monster books on England, covering the twelfth through the eighteenth centuries, and dragged them to bed with me for late-night research.

“I thought you were going to write a book,” John said. “You’ve been reading these books for a month.”

And so my research began. I eventually settled in the fifteenth century, in Somerset. To this day it feels to me as if I indeed traveled to the past.

Writing about it, though, was a different story. I studied dialogue in historical fiction novels, learning antiquated sentence structure and vocabulary, and laboriously inserted it into my story. I was bombarded by helpful contest judges with comments like, “Your dialogue is so stilted.” “Your scenes sound formal, unnatural.” And, “Don’t be afraid to use contractions!”

My research was helpful for scene-setting, describing dinners and clothing, but dialogue continued to mystify. Writing in the 1400s, was I limited to the vocabulary of the time? Fearful of being called a research flunkie, I hauled entire chapters to the library (little was available on the Internet then), painstakingly researching the history of each suspect word.

Chaucer was not much help: “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heath.” (During a plotting session, I asked Jasmine Cresswell for help. She amazed me by speaking flawless Middle English. It was exquisitely beautiful, but more suited for academic tomes than historical romances.)

Four historical romance novels later, I’ve reached a comfort level with my dialogue. Here’s what I have found useful for my fifteenth century characters.

  1. I write my first draft dialogue as it naturally leaves my pen or keyboard. I refine it later in revisions.
  2. I take more freedoms with narrative than dialogue. For example, if I find a word that came into use in the sixteenth century, I have no problem with using it in narrative. I hesitate to use such words in dialogue, however, and research further for similar words specific to my century. If I can’t find a suitable substitute, however, I am not a slave to etymology. My genre is historical fiction.
  3. I purge all obvious slang and anachronistic words or expressions that will wrench my reader from the historical world I’ve so carefully created. I purge them from both narrative and dialogue.
  4. I get help. Fresh, more experienced eyes can catch seemingly small errors that may disappoint and upset an avid reader who knows better. For example, fellow RMFW member and accomplished historical writer Denee Cody pointed out that I used a screw-top lid when a scrivener inked his pen to begin recording a legal document. Forewarned, I had the scrivener remove the stopper. (I also avoided referring to a cork.)

Contractions and more familiar sentence structure make the writing more graceful and easy to read–provided it isn’t peppered with anachronistic words or phrases such as my protagonist “rocking” his latest set of armor or having a “meltdown” moment.

Lane_TraitorCover11_14_14And there are appropriate times to inject a feeling for the past, when my characters appropriately say, “Good morrow,” “Nay,” or “Godspeed.”

To evoke the past, I added historical dialogue in my latest release, Traitor’s Moon, but I made it brief and added a succinct background for the reader. Queen Margaret is recruiting young boys to accompany the king to the Battle of Blore Heath (King Henry VI was devout and ill, and even in times of war, Margaret brought young boys to the battles to entertain him by singing hymns.)

Here’s that dialogue.
Enchanted, James clapped his hands and began singing, “Gabriel fram heven-King, sent to the Maide sweete, Broute hir blisful tiding, And fair he gan hir greet…” He sang the carol with a clear and perfect pitch, a song of the angel coming to Mary with news of the conception and salvation of mankind.

That’s my personal history on the struggle with historical dialogue. Have you had a similar struggle in your genre? If so, how did you solve it?

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

Lane_Coin Forest 1 2 3 copyJanet Lane is an Amazon Bestselling Author. The latest book in her Coin Forest series, Traitor’s Moon, released recently on Amazon as a Kindle. Her awards include Best Novel of 2006 Award–Preditors and Editors; Best Seller List–Rocky Mountain News, and Best Romance Novel—RMFW Colorado Gold contest. Her social media sites include her website, Facebook, and Twitter.