Category Archives: Blog

GOING ROGUE – THE INDIE REVOLUTION OF AARON MICHAEL RITCHEY

By Aaron Ritchey

I have become like Kurtz in the Congo.

I have gone native.  I am living in a hut, out in the jungle, and I’m writing books that don't have the approval of the British elite in London.

The horror!  The horror!

But do you know what?  It’s awesome and scary and nerve-wracking and freeing and sometimes I feel like Prometheus and sometimes I feel like the eagle eating Prometheus’s liver and sometimes I feel like Prometheus’s liver.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 started like any normal day. I was struggling.  I’d gotten back some wicked, flesh-eating edits from an editor, and I’d gotten some ass-smacking criticism from one of my beta readers, and lastly, the small press who published my first novel The Never Prayer was going under.  On March 31, 2015, I was going to get my rights back.

I had always planned on going to another small publisher once my contract ended, and yet, on that Tuesday, I talked with my lovely wife and discussed the pros and cons.  Many of which I blogged about on this very blog – http://rmfw.org/get-big-by-going-small-the-top-five-reasons-to-publish-with-a-small-press.

Here’s the thing, a small press can be great—editing help, marketing help, cover help. But do you know what?  I think even more important, at least for me, was that it was another person in the world who believed in me.  Finding editors, cover artists, marketing help, all that takes only a bit of time and money.  But finding someone to believe in you?  That's priceless.

But how much is it worth?  Is it worth 30%, 50%, 70% of your royalties?  Is it worth someone else’s timeline?  Is it worth the waiting, the headaches, the general hassle of trying to squeeze yourself into someone’s else’s to-do list?  Because when you are with a publisher, you become a line item on someone’s to-do list, and unless you are bringing in fat stacks of cash, you aren’t their highest priority.  Even the ones that love your stuff.

No one will work harder on your writing career than you.  No one.  Unless, of course, you are making mad money, and then people will come out of the woodwork to “help” you.

On that fateful Tuesday, my wife and I decided we wanted to take hold of the reins. I still have other publishers I’m working with, but I am seizing control of my first three novels, including my newest novel which will hit the streets May 7, 2015.  You are all invited to the party at Hanson’s.

The name of my new publishing company will be Black Arrow Publishing because my stories have been forged by my father and his father before him.  The true king under the mountain.  And I aim to take down dragons.  Oh yes.

But in many ways, I have it easy.  I’ve had four publishers of various sizes like my work and want to publish it.  That really helps me.  I have huge respect for those authors who went Indie and they never had that kind of validation.  They have big ol' huevos of iron.

Still, it was hard for me to take this leap.

Part of it goes back to the original dream I had of becoming rich and famous.  I so wanted the huge literary agent, the six-figure book deal, the advance, the book tour, the Gulfstream personal jet, the whole Stephen King dream.

Going Indie meant having to mourn that dream all over again.  I wasn’t a princess in a castle adored by the big-five publishers.  I was just me.  Just a writer.

But who are my books for?  Are they for agents, editors, presses big, small, and in-between?

Not really.

In the end, my books are for the world and for the readers who read them.  I don’t know why I haven’t been loved and adored by millions.  I mean, my books seem to be well-written and people like them.  Goes back to validation.  Which I’m learning is cheap, cheaper than an empty Coke can in the gutter.

I still like the idea of the agent, the big publisher, the glory and teeth-gashing of that game.  And some of my projects will eventually go that route.

But other stories?  Man, I want to write books.  I want to write a lot of books.  And I’m tired of waiting on other people to help me get my books out into the world.

The time is now.

I’m going rogue.  I’ll get a developmental editor (Vivian Trask), a copy editor (Chris Devlin), a cover artist (Natasha Brown), and a formatter (Quincy J. Allen).  I’ll get help.

And with that help, I’ll shoot arrows at the sun, baby.

I’ll bring that star down and put it in my pocket.

Dancing About Architecture

music-girl-wallpapers-headphones-hair

By Colleen Oakes

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

Having the right music while I'm writing is of the utmost importance.  In so many ways, it elevates the craft of writing, and it stimulates my brain in a way that nothing else can. Except for maybe, you know, writing.

When I wrote Elly in Bloom, the music I listened to had a lot of influence on the mood in my scenes.  For the happy, wedding-filled chapters, I listened to buzzy pop music, or bouncy-women-driven songs (Ingrid Michaelson,  Sia, Sara Evans, Carrie Underwood, Brooke Fraser).  When I had to take Elly down into her betrayal and the anger, it was all about Kelly Clarkson's "My December", a melodramatic and angry album that captured the depths of betrayal and the rage of a woman betrayed.

That album had everything I needed, and if I were to name "an album for Elly", that would be it. Towards the end of the book, I listened to Lifehouse's "Breathing" on repeat. There was just something sweet and lovely and old school about it, and I wanted to capture this new blossoming that was happening in Elly's life, and the hope that I wanted to carry into the sequel.

For Queen of Hearts, it was a totally different story. I could not write - well, anyway - to music with words. I needed grand and epic music, music that stimulated my imagination in the most direct way.  I didn't need Clarkson. I needed Zimmer and Williams and Elfman.

I needed movie soundtracks, and lots of them. I needed dramatic music to inspire scenes that were so big that I could only write them in a deconstructing way and then put them back together.  I needed music that made me feel angry, deceitful, rushed, panicked, terrified, betrayed, elated and devastated - all at once.

I needed music to burn a city down and to lift up a field of magical flowers.

For two years, this is what Queen of Hearts looked like: me, hunched over my little netbook at a Starbucks wishing I was at a Caribou, typing and frowning, typing and frowning, checking Pinterest, typing and frowning.  All during that time, I was graced with GIANT headphones that my husband bought me.  This let me get lost in the music, which enabled me to get lost in the book. I can truly say that without the music, Queen of Hearts would not have happened.

I would start out every writing session with the same song, something I highly recommend. Take a few hours and find that perfect piece of music, and let it lead you where you want to go. Let it be a marker that you are departing from your present reality.  My song was  A Kaleidoscope of Mathematics by James Horner: There is no other song I know that really gets my brain focused and working like this one. The quick pace of the song, and the way it climbs the scales, through quick, intense almost frantic piano notes...I can't perfectly explain it without seeming a bit unhinged, but when I close my eyes and listened to this song before I started writing Queen each time, it was like I was seeing a thousand doors unlock, one after another.  Then I saw a tree unfurling its branches and the branches became a forest, the forest a world.  My world. There is something about this song that prepares and bares my mind to consuming imagination. All the pressures of daily life fell at my feet. Yeah, it's that good.

When I begin writing a novel, I usually find a piece of music to power the climax of the novel as well. When I was writing, I would listen to the song at the end of every writing session, a bookmark, and something to look forward to. I would think "Soon, I'll get to write this amazing scene, this amazing ending."  My musical bookends. Everyone writes different, but for me, it's very important that when I write the first chapter that the last chapter is completely in my mind.  The song for the end of Queen was "Now we are Free" by Lisa Gerrad.   I knew exactly what I wanted to happen in that scene, and it sounded like this song; free, uplifting and dramatic. I listened to it leading up to the epilogue, letting it guide my writing to that spot.  It has a finality and resolution to it that resonated just right with that scene. It's so beautiful, it makes me so weepy and when i finished Queen of Hearts, I did indeed weep.

Did I ever listen to music with words?  Occasionally.  It just didn't suit this book. There is something about picking the right kind of music that rearranges the brain in a way that it's ready to write. It's ready to get lost in something, to dip its toes into the creative side of your life, your education and your passion.

My advice? It's worth the time to find the right soundtrack to your book.

I'm happy to report that even though my writing looks the same - Hunched over, typing, frowning, typing - but in my ears the cheerful beats of a new book are sounding.

A story of new beginnings and fresh words.

Never Let Them See You Sweat: Hot Chicks in Leather

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

According to The Wall Street Journal (my go to for all bookie news. No, really. I only look at the pictures), “On the average, a book store browser spends eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover.”

What does that mean for an author?  Well, chances are if you are an urban fantasy or paranormal romance writer, your book cover will feature a chick dressed in black leather, even if your story takes place in the middle of the desert.

Don’t get me wrong. Like any girl I love tight black leather and heels. I often spend my nights dressed in the form fitting stuff and carrying extremely heavy weapons halfway tucked in my pants.

What girl doesn’t?

And we're not even discussing how one washes black leather catsuits. A secret only a dry cleaner knows.

But I digress (something I seem to do a lot around you people), my point is do these dark, sexy covers do more harm than good for authors and readers alike.

As a reader have you ever hid the cover of the book you were currently enjoying?

Ever felt ashamed of a book because of the hot chick in leather on the cover or the muscle bound hunk smeared in oil (baby not olive, I assume)?

Or have you ever picked up a book strictly because of the hot chick on the cover? Did the tale live up to the artwork?

Authors complain a lot about their covers, from little things like my main character has red hair and the woman on the cover is a blonde, to a publisher actually changing the race of the character on a cover in order to sell books to a wider demographic, a disgusting practice, but one done more often than we know.

So my question to you, my writer/readers is, do hot chicks in leather sell books? And what are some of your cover art experiences, both good and bad?

 

Want a free ebook? Visit me at jakazimer.com. Want to send me graphic pics and talk trash on social media? Friend me on Facebook or tweet me on twitter.  Please. Pretty please.

Writers, sing along with me… the heart and soul of dreams

by Janet Lane

These are the times that try writer’s souls. Are your writer’s dreams getting battered in the maelstrom of the current publishing world?

I have experienced the many frustrations of writing fiction, and I understand my fellow RMFW members’ struggles with rejections, disappointing sales, the daunting task of getting reviews or an editor or agent’s attention. It’s easy to become overwhelmed in a market that demands more and more from us.

We turn to each other for support, and our friendships with fellow writers, gifted people who share our dreams, help us right ourselves after our personal defeats and challenges. And many find solace in music. My dear friend, Robin Owens, shared some of the music that she uses for inspiration during her writing sessions, and I’ve found it beautiful and helpful.

This weekend, I got a boost of inspiration and hope from music in an unexpected place.
My daughter and her significant other gave us tickets to one of the nine Garth Brooks concerts! We’ve enjoyed his unique brand of country/crossover pop music over the years, but I would have never gone without the special enticement. At the concert, Brooks sang a song I didn’t remember ever hearing. How could I have missed this gem? It was released in April, 1992, and I was busy with my toddling daughters. I hadn’t started writing fiction then, and likely my world was too busy to hear it.

But it’s never too late! The song is “The River.” It’s about precious dreams, and our commitments to them.

Lanr_The River (Garth Brooks blog)I was far from alone in admiring this song. The Pepsi Center’s 20,000 fans roared with delight, then quieted to hear the beautiful lyrics. The Denver Post’s “Home” columnist, Francie Swidler, was there. Not a Garth Brooks fan, she was surprised to enjoy the songs and wished that she, like most of the happy fans, knew all the words. She had never heard “The River,” and to her surprise, when Garth sang it, she cried. Yes, it’s that good. She heard the heart and soul of the song.

At the time it was written (co-written by Garth and Victoria Shaw), Garth hadn’t yet found success. In fact, he worked as a bouncer in a bar to support his dream. He was seeking a new song, but the heart of the idea was just out of his reach. To get inspired, he and Victoria played some James Taylor songs. (We do this as writers when we re-charge our batteries by reading other’s novels, not to copy, but to gain inspiration). The idea came to him, and he said, “You know, a dream is like a river…”

The song is four minutes long, too long for a single release, and even after recording it, it didn’t make it on his next album. In an interview, Victoria Shaw said that might have been a good thing, because that album (minus “The River”) sold very well, and “he was so huge that people gave him the courtesy of listening. It was over four minutes. It was so different, and had it been any other artist, they would have thrown that song out.” They listened, and they loved it.

From the song ….
I’ll never reach my destination if I never try
So I will sail my vessel ‘til the river runs dry

If you’ve never heard it, you’re in for an inspirational treat, a gentle shot right to your writer’s heart. If you’ve heard it and forgotten it, listen again. It is, to this writer’s soul, heavenly.

Youtube link:

..and another great version with the beautiful lyrics on screen…

I hope you listen, and I hope it nourishes your dream like it did mine.

Even if you don’t have time for it, consider the story behind this song. The lyrics speak of dreams--you never know where they will take you. Because you dare to follow your dream, you will find many days a constant battle. We’ll never reach our destination if we never try. Letting the waters (of time) slip away jeopardizes our chances of achieving our dreams. Sometimes timing is everything. Garth has sold more than 100 million albums, and he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2011. But back when he wrote this song, he had a choice: stand aside and let the waters slip away - or follow the dream. Had Garth not kept pursuing his dream, we would never have been able to enjoy the messages in his songs--especially this one.

???????????????????????????????Sail your vessel ‘till the river runs dry.

Where do you get inspiration? Does music play a part in charging your creative batteries?

Hook me, baby.

By Robin D. Owens

Hook me, baby

Occasionally I pick up one of the unread books I've purchased and say, "hook me, baby." Most of the time I realize why I didn't read the book right away, and often I just go to something else. The amount of time I can spend reading is extremely limited, and if there isn't a good hook, I'm gone.

My bias: I am a firm believer in getting the hook in the first line, and if not the first line, then the first paragraph. I think the longer you take to set the hook, the more likely it is that the reader will skip to the next book in the pile (or on their device). I believe that no matter your status as a writer – unpublished or New York Times #1 Best Seller, you should attempt to hook the reader as soon as humanly possible. Don't expect the reader to have read any other books of yours, especially if you write series. Work your hook, always.

Like I said, this is my bias and this is the point of view I'm coming from in this article. And as a reader, I want to be drawn into a story quickly. (I once had an agent turn Heart Thief down because she "liked to sink into a story.")

The following are some openings that DON'T work for ME. These are true examples, pretty much as I flicked through my electronic library, but the authors will remain anonymous.

1) Starting with the weather. I don't care if it's hot and sultry, or if a thunderstorm is raging. Why, if your hero is making a pact with the devil at the end of the paragraph, don't you put that in the first line? Or if your heroine senses danger outside in that storm, you wait until the end of the second paragraph before telling me? Use it up front to get me interested in your story.

2) Five people named in the first two pages. What? Who? Why? What is going on that there are so many people? Who are they, and who of these five are important? Where are they? You have to keep track of them all, what they look like, their ages, and who moves where. This was especially necessary in the mystery I'd started. This becomes less of entertainment and enjoyment and more work for me, the reader.

3) Ten pages of standing and looking out the window and thinking about backstory, or driving somewhere and thinking of the past. When will the action/story actually start?

4) The hero or heroine embarrassing himself/herself or acting stupid in the first scene. If I'm putting myself in that person's skin, I don't want to feel embarrassed or stupid, I can do that just fine on my own in my own life, thank you, I expect more of my protagonists. At this point, unless I know and trust the author, I don't know if the character will really improve or not.

5) Point of view of a wonderful person, an obvious victim who will die before the end of the first scene. I especially don't like to be tortured to death. You had better have a very good story reason for this, and you had better not have been manipulating my emotions gratuitously. This is a cheap-shot to try and get me involved without giving me information on your main protagonist.
Note: I finished this book, but am still irate that the New York Times best-selling author didn't find a better way to give us information that the main characters didn't know. S/he should have mastered a better technique to do so, and if s/he doesn't know a better technique his/her editor should have. I reread the books I buy often. I have never reread this scene.

Other ways of opening that may or may not work, depending upon the reader and/or the technique of the writer. These you should consider.

Starting with a dream. Conventional wisdom states this is a no-no. I can't say "never," since in my twenty-four published books, two have started with a dream, including the latest, Heart Fire, which begins with a nightmare of a past event. Two pieces of advice: Make sure readers know up front it's a dream, and keep it as short as possible.

Single character on stage. I've also used single character on stage; again, keep the backstory to a minimum, keep the time the person is solo as short as possible, and make sure the character's voice is engaging, or the events s/he's immersed in are active -- fast action and/or a dangerous situation.

Tense and/or Point of View, for instance:

First person present tense. I, personally, have a problem with reading this. It makes my head ache. If there isn't something especially wonderful about the book, I close it. Be aware of tense and point of view with regard to the genre you're writing in and your audience.

With regard to point of view, I like deep third person past tense. I don't particularly care for omniscient point of view as it seems distancing to me as a reader and the less engaged I am in the story, the more likely I am to put the book down. Again, some genres and readers accept this better.

And that's my two-bits on hooks and hooking me to read your work. Other people might have other sensitivities, but I will say that I try my best to stay away from what bothers me as a reader as I craft my own work as a writer.

Be aware what hooks YOU and keeps you reading, study the books and the openings that particularly worked for you as a reader and figure out if you can use the same technique.

May all your writing dreams come true,
Robin

Five Ways to Improve YOUR Conference Experience

Many (if not most) professional authors understand the value of attending writers' conferences. In addition to offering valuable writing tips and marketing classes, conferences provide an unparalleled opportunity to network and connect with other authors and industry professionals.

But are you getting the most from your conference experience?

Here are some tips for turning a fabulous, educational weekend into a practical boost for your writing career:

1. Identify your conference goals and make a "conference plan" before you go. Whether you're attending to improve your writing skills, develop a network of business contacts, find an agent, or simply re-connect with writing friends, you'll achieve the most success if you go in with a plan.

A conference plan doesn't have to be complicated (or even in writing, unless you like making lists). Think through your reasons for attending the conference. Why are you going? What do you hope to achieve? When you leave at the end of the weekend, what will you feel happy about accomplishing (or disappointed not to achieve)? Those are your conference goals.

Try to establish at least three goals for each conference: a personal goal (such as "meet and remember one new person each day"), a professional goal ("learn to pitch my book effectively in a single sentence"), and a "reach goal" - which could be anything from "finding an agent" to "learn how to use Twitter properly for my writing career." The key is making sure you have a range of goals, at least some of which are within your exclusive power to achieve.

2. Get involved! Teach, Volunteer, or Serve on a Conference Committee. It can be difficult to get panels or workshop teaching spots before you achieve publication, but try to find the places where your special skills or experiences can benefit the conference. If teaching isn't your thing, consider volunteering or joining the organizing committee. Making a personal investment in the conference's success can help you have a successful experience too.

3. Identify and attend conferences that focus on your genre. General conferences are great, and definitely worth attending, but many conferences also offer specialized experiences. Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention), RWA National (for romance writers), and the Historical Novel Society Conference are merely three examples of national-level conferences that promote in specific types of writing. Local and regional conferences also offer topic-specific choices. Some are writers' conferences, while others cater primarily to readers. Find and attend the ones that work best for you.

4. Select a "home conference" to attend every year. It's nice to experience different types and sizes of conference, both to discover your personal preferences and to reach the broadest possible audience. However, it's also important to establish a presence at a conference where people can get to know you well. Having one conference you "always" attend can help develop your personal and professional networks, and offer a "safe harbor" where you always feel welcome and at home.

5. Have fun, and let it show. People are drawn to happy, confident people. Readers like authors whose attitude is friendly, open, and fun. Conferences may seem overwhelming (especially when you go in with a plan and have things you want to achieve) but don't forget--for many of us, a conference represents a chance to meet up with old friends, make new ones, and take a vacation from reality. For three, glorious days, you can be a writer---and only a writer-- around other people who love books and writing as much as you do. Take the time to enjoy it!

15C18 networking

And while you're looking for that conference home, may I recommend our own Colorado Gold? It's happening September 11-13, 2015, at the Denver Westin, and registration opens May 1. It's been my "conference home" since 2010, and I look forward to it all year. I hope to see you there in September!

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.

Five Things You Might Not Expect Going Indie

By Kerry Schafer

I'm very nearly through my first venture in independent publishing, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I didn't see coming.

I'm not going to spend time on the things that are easy to see. Obviously you're going to need a cover and some sort of editing. But there are some other things you'll need when the manuscript is all polished and shiny that you might not have thought about in advance.

1) A blurb for the cover. In traditional publishing, often your editor will ask other authors at the publishing house to read and endorse your book. Or at the least, remind you that it's time to start looking. With independent books, it's up to you to track one down. You snooze, you lose. (And yes, when The Nothing comes out that little endorsement quote is probably going to be missing.)

2) ISBN numbers. You need these so bookstores and librarians can find your book. Some of the platforms (Amazon, etc) will give you one, but all of the research I did points to it being a very good idea to get your own. You do this at www.bowker.com. These are kind of spendy - $125 for one ISBN, and if you're doing epub and paper  you're going to need at least two. I went with the bundle of ten for $295, since I figure I'm likely to do more Indie books down the road.

At this cost, you might be wondering if you really need an ISBN. You do, and here's why. From the Bowker website:

"The most important identifier your book can have is the ISBN. As the U.S. ISBN Agency, Bowker is the ONLY official source of ISBNs in the United States. ISBNs provide unique identification for books and simplify the distribution of your books throughout the global supply chain. Without an ISBN, you will not be found in bookstores, either online, or down the street from your house."

3) A Library of Congress Control Number, or PCN. I'm told librarians will use this number to find your book, so you want one. Good news - it's free! It's just a little bit of a hassle to sign up for the account and request the number. It also takes about a week, so allow for adequate time. You can get started at http://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/. Click the link for Open an Account and get started. There will be an email you need to respond to in order to complete the process, so watch out for that! You will also need to send a print copy to the Library of Congress as soon as it is available.

4) Copyright Page and Application. Technically, your book is protected by copyright without actually applying for an official copyright, BUT it seems if there is ever any legal involvement with your book going to court you will need the copyright to have been registered, and that means you have to file with the copyright office. You can do this online here: http://www.copyright.gov/. The advice I've read is to wait until the book is published to file, so I haven't done this yet. I understand there is a fee involved - somewhere around $50. Once again, you will need to send in a print copy.  There is some terrific copyright information here, including what to put on the copyright page: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/03/how-to-copyright-your-book-2/

5) Paper and ebook Covers Are Not Created Equal. Your cover designer needs to make two separate files. The ebook one is straightforward. The cover for a paper book has some extra requirements. In order to finalize a cover that will fit properly across the spine of the paperbound book, your designer will need the exact number of pages of the book after it's been formatted and set in PDF. He or she will also need back cover copy and the aforementioned endorsement if you've been able to secure one.

6) Formatting. From all I've read, formatting isn't difficult so much as it is time consuming and nit picky. I fully intended to learn to do it myself, but time and life got in the way and I ended up getting some help. You'll need two different e-formats - .mobi for Amazon Kindle, and .epub for everything else. You'll also need a pdf of the interior of the book for paper. Since I didn't do the work myself I don't have a whole lot of advice here, except that my friends who have done this a lot advised me to stay far away from Calibre and to use Adobe InDesign. The ebook version of The Nothing was done in Scrivener, however, and it looks clean and professional.

And that wraps up this edition of what I've learned about Independent Publishing. Maybe next time I'll share what I learn in the process of getting The Nothing set up for print on demand and up on the various platforms.

Finding My Heroic Fantasy Chops Only to Descend into the Horror Pit Of Marketing … by M. K. Theodoratus

Kay TheodoratusStory telling has been part of my life since I went on “adventures” with an ‘imaginary” friend. Over the years, I’ve written lots of fiction in many genres, but I usually gave up on most writing projects about a third through.

Writing was like an unscratched itch for me, so, I decided to study the “gurus” who could teach me to be a successful writer. Result? I decided to try short stories. All I had to do was write, and I would get better. After all, “you get better by writing”. Sounded to me like a dog chasing its tail, but I thought the practice wouldn’t hurt.

I set out to find my fiction genre while I wrote short, self-help articles in the pre-internet days. I read mostly mysteries of one sort or another. So for a while I wrote mysteries, and discovered I can’t plot a who-dun-it worth a bucket of warm spit. My attempts at writing romances failed worse because they kept turning into worse mysteries. As for fantasy, my ideas were original enough. Besides, the genres kept tangling in my head…for years, in spite of my best efforts. So, I gave up on writing fiction.

Funny thing. I wasn’t on the wrong track. Publishers started publishing cross-genre works. Only I wasn’t writing fiction any more, just reading it. I was too busy writing non-fiction.

Then, I retired, after some major surgery, and soon got bored. Sitting and reading wasn’t my thing. Too passive.Then, one day I was dozing in the chair, and this woman with long red hair blowing in a retreating gale popped into my head. She stood on the edge of seaside cliff in despair. Worse, she wouldn’t go away.

Theodoratus_The_Ghostcrow_newSo, I started writing heroic fantasy about the Far Isles Half-Elven with no intention of doing anything with it. Just keep writing about the problems the leaders of hybrid elf-human population faced. I wrote and wrote for a couple years, creating 400,000 words as I explored how genetic drift influenced the social structure in my world of the Far Isles Half-Elven.

Then, the itch took hold, and I began writing fiction in earnest until I had the equivalent of several novels set in different worlds sitting in my computer.

So, I studied the “gurus” again on how to market fiction. Ended up isolating a novelette featuring Mariah, my red-haired woman, Taking Vengeance. I sold it so long ago that the rights have reverted back to me. I ended up self-publishing it again because I had put up a couple Far Isles Half-Elven stories to form my “writer’s platform”.

Then, a short story about gargoyles defending a city from invading demons sold to a British speculative fiction magazine. My gargoyles intrigued me more than my “half elves” and became a novel There Be Demons, which an indie publisher contracted. I was back to building a writer’s platform for my world of Andor where demons preyed upon humans.

I self-published a few of the revised short stories before the publishers toes curled to help build my platform to help them. The stories got some good reviews, and figured I was a dark fantasy writer as well as a heroic fantasy one—until my reviewers kept saying they liked my innovative horror stories.

But my stories aren’t the horror I was facing. I now had to market my stories on my own. No one else is going to do it for me. So, I find I’m not only writing horror but also living it. Dread crowds into my brain every time I hear the words promotion or marketing. On the other hand, I’ve been writing too long to give up.

Maybe, some day, I may convince myself that marketing isn’t a horror pit. But it won’t be soon. I just self-published The Ghostcrow, a dark fantasy about a teen who sees ghosts and attracts the attention of a demon looking for a host.

If I had my way, I’d return to the days of yesteryear, when I first started writing fiction, and publishing houses did things like bailing their writers out of jail.

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Theodoratus_cv gargoylecover04 (121x175)Hooked by comic books at an early age, M. K. Theodoratus’ fascination with fantasy solidified when she discovered the Oz books by L. Frank Baum with his strong female characters. She has traveled through many fantasy worlds since then. When she's not reading about other writers' worlds, she's creating her own.

Most of her stories are set in the Far Isles where she explores the political effects of genetic drift on a mixed elf-human population. Lately, Theodoratus has been setting her stories in an alternate world of Andor where demons stalk humankind.

You can learn more about Kay and her stories at her website and her excellent blog. She can also be found on almost all of the places writers and readers hang out, including Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and You Tube. When you go to her Amazon Author Page, you can see all her available stories and the beautiful cover art lined up next to a full bio. She also has a presence on Smashwords.

The End: Bringing Your Novel to a Close

There’s a lot of emphasis put on story beginnings as well as its muddy middle, but what about the end? I think the topic deserves more consideration.

Every book has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning must be engaging enough to hook the reader, and the middle has to hold your audience’s attention until the end. It would be awful for a reader to stay with the story all the way through and then be disappointed by how it ended.

The goal is for your book to leave a lasting impression. We want readers to close our books with a sigh and jump online to search for another book we’ve written. How the story ends is a direct reflection on an author’s skills as a storyteller.

What do we know about endings? First off, we know there are four ways to end a story.

Happily Ever After – A happy ending fulfills the promise made by the author to a romance reader because that’s what’s expected. The audience has stayed with the hero and heroine for a few hundred pages, witnessed the couple’s trials and tribulations. The romance reader’s prize is the reward of a blissful union, possibly marriage or at least an allusion to one. That’s why they read romance. They want to see good things happen to good people they’ve come to care about.

Romance isn’t the only genre that works well with a happy ending. Many genres have stories about characters that grow and achieve their goals so they can be rewarded for their efforts. In a mystery, the bad guy is brought to justice. In women’s fiction and a lot of commercial mainstream fiction, the story concludes with happy characters that rejoice in the favorable outcome of their journey.

Satisfying Ending – This can also be considered the “happy for now” ending. When the story reaches the final page, it’s not all sunbeams and rainbows. The main character is relatively pleased with the outcome, at least for the time being. He may have had to sacrifice something to reach his goal. Maybe someone dies in order for another character to live, or the character had to lose his job or wealth or title to achieve his objective. It wasn’t what he wished for, but he knows it was inevitable for the greater good.

Any genre can have a satisfying ending that’s not necessarily “happy.” But plot problems have been resolved, all questions answered, and readers are left feeling hopeful that a better life for the character or characters is on the horizon.

Cliffhanger – You can expect a cliffhanger at the end of a serial or a series book, however the central story question has already been answered. A mystery is solved, a romance engaged, a war won, a world conquered, a throne claimed... But somewhere along the line a subplot came up that hasn’t been resolved by the last page. Hints are left at the end to let the reader know to expect something more in the next installment.

The important thing to remember about cliffhangers is that neither cliff or hanger suddenly appears on page 351 of a 352 page book. It’s an established plot line that came up earlier in the story. Maybe the king’s illegitimate son was kidnapped twenty years before the story ends, and the last chapter alludes to the boy’s return as usurper. Or what if, at the end of a romance, the hero’s brother comes home injured from his last tour in Afghanistan and hits it off with the heroine’s sister, who just enlisted in the military. We know something is bound to happen with these characters, and we hope to read about it in the next book.

Unresolved Ending – Or what I consider the ambiguous ending. Can you tell I’m not a fan? Some readers enjoy being left to ponder what might happen now that the story is officially over without a conclusion. It’s left up to their imagination.

I can see the literary appeal of this sort of ending. Maybe the final note is a shocking event the reader wasn’t expecting. Or it ends with no one getting what they wanted, or there’s no foreseeable future for any of the characters, or not only is justice not served, but the antagonist comes out the winner. This could also be referred to as the unhappy ending. It’s kind of like one of those write-your-own-ending type of stories. It makes me think the last chapter was accidentally, or purposely, left out of the book. Nope, not a fan.

Should you plan your ending before you start writing your book? I think it’s a good idea to know where your characters will end up by the last page because that can help you figure out the middle and plan your character arcs. Synopsis writing is helpful for this.

What type of ending is right for your story?

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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 Eight–Suspense

By Jeanne C. Stein

How do you keep a reader engaged? Creating and Maintaining Suspense

Our goal as a writer is to entertain, and make the reader care about your story.

How do you do this? By creating and maintaining an emotional bond with the reader, by manipulating their emotions, by creating and maintaining suspense.

We’ve already decided that we want our books to be as thrilling as possible. That each chapter should end with a hook designed to grab our readers and not let ago until they’ve reached the last page.

Let’s look at some of the most popular ways authors accomplish that same idea throughout their books.

1. The ticking clock. The ticking bomb. This is probably the most often used. Our protag is up against a deadline. If she misses it, the world as she knows it will be changed forever.

2. The “fifth” character. Also called the “disposable” character. A character the reader has come to know and love. Our protag’s friend, sometimes, our protag’s mentor. As readers, we are invested in that character. We love him or her. Then in a startling development, that character is killed off. It ups the stakes for the protag and ratchets up the emotional impact for the reader.

3. Personal agendas. Giving our secondary characters motives unknown to our protag that make it more difficult for her to achieve her goal. This sets up anticipation in the reader who realizes a verbal or physical clash is bound to occur.

4. Red herrings. Should be used sparingly. It’s okay to create a couple of false leads, but peppering the book with a different one every chapter will frustrate the reader. The opposite of this, of course, is one we mentioned earlier: cheating. Don’t wait until the very last chapter and spring an antagonist on us we’ve never met before.

5. Greatest fear. Make our protag face what she fears most. Can be a physical or psychological or moral challenge. The important thing is that the result of failing that challenge means utter disaster.

Those are a few of the more common ways to create suspense. Now how we write it.

We mentioned Dwight Swain in the last lesson. In his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, he shares the secret. They are called Motivation/Reaction Units. Or stimulus/response units. Here’s how they work.

The motivation is something our characters see, hear, feel, smell or taste. It’s a stimulus that results in a reaction or response. Motivation is external and objective—something happens. The reaction is internal and subjective—our character’s response.

Jack Bickham in his book The 38 Most common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to How to Avoid Them) puts it like this:

The law of stimulus and response works at the nitty- gritty level of fiction, line to line, and it also works in melding larger parts of the story. For every cause, an effect. For every effect, a cause. A domino does not fall for no immediate reason; it has to be nudged by the domino next to it.

Taking this one step further—the reaction/response must always occur in this order: feelings, reflex action, rational action. For example, our protag is attacked unexpectedly. First, she’s surprised (feeling), then she falls back (reflex action) next she gathers herself and responds to protect herself (rational action.)

Why do I say reaction MUST occur in this order? Because it’s logical. When the telephone rings, we answer it. Not the other way around. Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? It’s such a small thing, why should we pay much attention? Because a sentence constructed this way: I walked to the door when the bell rang, marks us as amateurs. Remember when I said editors and agents are looking for reasons to stop reading our submissions? This is a big one. Along with typos, improper manuscript presentation and improper grammar. We’ll hit more ways to shoot ourselves in the foot in Lesson Ten.

But back to writing the page-turner. What else do we need to make our books come alive? Action verbs. Sophie plunged head first into the water. She didn’t throw herself quickly or drop precipitously into the water. Use action verbs. Omit adverbs and adjectives. Keeps the writing fresh and taut.

Use all the senses. Use sensory details and internalizations to:

Make the reader buy into our world (by suspending disbelief).
Create empathy with our characters.
Modulate pacing and tension to keep the reader hooked.
Keep the reader oriented in the story.
Key the reader to the important plot points.

Sensory details place the reader in the story through:

Sight
Sound
Smell
Taste
Touch (sensations)

Here’s an example:

Sophie smelled brine and seaweed before the cold enveloped her. Salt water burned her throat as the darkness rushed up to meet her. There was no sound. Just immense silence followed by…nothing.

Of course, you’re not always going to use ALL five senses. But use more than one. Brings the action to life.

Don’t interrupt action with back-story. There’s nothing worse than being pulled from the NOW for a trip down memory lane. If your protag is fighting for her life, there’s a good chance she’s not going to be thinking about how she came to be in this predicament. She’s going to be concentrating on overcoming her opponent. It’s all the reader should be concerned with, too. Our aim is to create a powerful emotional experience.

Let’s review, then, how we construct a good novel. We use:

Scenes containing Goals, Conflicts, Disasters

Sometimes followed by Sequels: Reaction to the disaster presenting a Dilemma, which leads to a Decision (used sparingly)

And we write these scenes and sequels as a series of Motivation/Reaction Units

In every paragraph, motivation/reaction units should propel the action. Every paragraph. It won’t be easy at first. In fact, what I want you to do now is to look at a scene you’ve already written. Make it the best scene in your entire book.

Now rewrite it as a series of motivation/reaction units. Get rid of everything else. Make sure the sequence of your M/R units is correct: feelings, reflex action, rational action (including dialogue, by the way.)

Done right, you should have an action packed scene that leaves the reader breathless.

Here are some examples of the Good, Bad and Ugly of what we discussed:
The Good: Warren Hammond’s EX-COP:

She ran her hand across the rack’s surface and began fiddling with the shackle again. I found my eyes moving from one rack to another. She caught me in the act, and smiled naughtily, fully back into her kinky librarian persona. I felt a good kind of stirring in my stomach that made its way down into my pants. For the first time in forever, I felt intoxicated on something other than booze.

The Bad:

She left the bar, drink in hand, and headed back to her table. Oh no! Somebody bumped into her, knocking the drink out of her hand.

The Ugly:

Bryce turned to see Jackson, who had just tapped his shoulder. He shoved Jackson with two hands, the memory of what Jackson had done to him making it impossible to control his emotions. Bryce’s cheeks burned red with a rush of blood.

The Ugly Revised:

Bryce felt a touch on his shoulder and turned to see Jackson. The memory overwhelmed. Blood rushed into his heating cheeks, anger surging beyond his control. He shoved Jackson with two hands.

Remember, too, every stimulus deserves a proportional response.

Try these simple exercises:

Stimulus: The waitress whizzed by, dropping the bill on the table, a waft of perfume hitting my nose a moment later. I eyed the bill, the seven-digit number making me think those were some damn expensive eggs, until I realized I was looking at a hand-written phone number.

What would be an appropriate response?

Every stimulus deserves a proportional response
Stimulus: The growl echoed in the dog’s chest, ears pressed against her head, and she pulled her lips back. Incisors. Canines. Molars.

What would be an appropriate response?

Every stimulus deserves a proportional response
Stimulus: The guy came out of nowhere, shoved me back against the car. “Give me your wallet.”

What would be an appropriate response?

Every stimulus deserves a proportional response
Stimulus: I looked at the wad of cash in my hand. The bank teller had given me too much. “I think there’s been a mistake, “ I began. She looked me right in the eye, “I never make a mistake,” she said.

What would be an appropriate response?

Next we have some fun: SEX—Do we need it (in our books, I mean ☺ )? How much do we need? How do we write it?

Remember, until next time: BICHOK—Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard!! See you in May!