Category Archives: General Interest

Guest Post from A Beer for the Shower: The Ten Commandments of Writerly Collaboration

By A Beer for the Shower

Hi folks. We’re Brandon and Bryan. We co-write a lot of things together. Sometimes it’s web-comics. Sometimes it’s novels. And sometimes it’s a product dissatisfaction email for that Pineapple Slicer-N-Dicer 3000 that only succeeded in coring a left arm down to the elbow nub.

But whatever the writing project may be, we often work on it together. No, it’s not because we’re co-dependent man-children; that’s just a coincidence. It’s because we find that collaboration in writing has helped all aspects of our lives, and as self-proclaimed experts who’ve been doing this for longer than some folks have been married, we’ve got plenty of insights on this topic. And so we proudly present to you: The Ten Commandments of Writerly Collaboration.

I. Thou Shall Not Butter Thy Partner’s Biscuits – Wow, that sounds dirty. Well, don’t do that either. But what we really mean is not to be a suck up. If all you do is nod and say “this is great” when it’s really not, without giving any form of constructive criticism, then you’re not helping yourself or your writing partner. Collaboration is all about honesty. You have to be able to tell your partner the truth – even if it’s not always what they want to hear. After all, bad writing doesn’t just make your partner look bad, it makes you look bad, too.

II. Thou Shall Not Take the Name of Thy Work in Vain - Well, not more than one or two dozen times a day. Any more than that and it’s pretty clear you should have chosen a better topic/genre/storyline to begin with. Don’t start having buyer’s remorse when you’re 80K words into your intergalactic space opera. Pick something you’re going to love until the bitter end and stick with it. Inconsistency is the killer of collaboration. Which leads us to our next Commandment…

III. Thou Shall Remember the Brainstorming Day, and Keep it Holy – Once a week we get together to work on new story ideas. Some people might call those meetings “the creative process,” but we like to think of them as “a mildly legitimate excuse for midday drinking.” Coming up with ideas is the most fun part of the collaborative gig, so don’t cut yourself short and really spend some time using your double brainpower to not just pick out an awesome story to tell, but to continue working on it as a team.

IV. Thou Shall Not Bear False Copyright Against Thy Writing Partner – This one’s pretty easy. Sometimes in a collaborative project things just don’t work out. Some people just aren’t meant to work together. Don’t be a dick. Don’t go on and finish the project without your partner’s explicit consent. Unless you scrub out all of their writing and do it all over again… In which case, you’re still a dick.

V. Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Prose – As you’ve probably already guessed, consistency is key in forming a collaborative voice. Instead of trying to mimic one another’s already established “voice,” sit down and create the theoretical style of prose you both want a specific project to have before you start writing. And if possible, try to compromise on something that’s common ground between your writing style and your writing partner’s.

VI. Thou Shall Not Restrict Collaboration Just To Writing Novels – One of the big things we always hear is, “Well, why do I need to collaborate? I write novels on my own just fine.” But collaboration is good for more than just passing off half your work to a warm body. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with someone’s writing style (and vice versa) so that you have the ultimate critique partner. Or maybe it’s just a way to write a few short stories together and get yourself familiar with someone else’s writing process. Collaboration isn’t just about output, it’s also about learning.

VII. Thou Shall Not Kill… The Written Word – Come on, when you’ve got two brains instead of one, there’s no excuse for pumping out some awful fad novel just for the sake of an easy sell. Put some real brainpower into your collaborative idea and make that sucker as clever and well-written as possible. Well, unless that easy, brainless sell makes you both millionaires.

VIII. Thou Shall Honor Thy Father And Thy Mother… And Thy Writing Partner – In other words, if you feel stuck or you get suddenly busy (as things happen), just keep your writing partner in the loop. Don’t blow them off and hope they won’t notice those last 10 text messages they sent are all un-replied to but each have a status of ‘Message Read.’ Just tell them it might take a little more time. Or, one of our favorite tricks is to tell the other person, “I’m a little bit stuck on this part. You mind taking over for now?” It’s a great way to shirk responsibility temporarily but in the most thoughtful way possible (no, really).

IX. Thou Shall Not Murder Thy Writing Partner – No, seriously guys. You will go to prison. And you’re too pretty for prison. Trust us. But in all seriousness, collaboration can be pretty damn stressful. Which is why you’ve got to find the right person: one that you can work well with. It’s a trial-and-error process, unfortunately. There’s no way around that. And both of us have plenty of horror stories from our sideshow selection of failed collaborations past.

X. Thou Shall Get Jiggy Wid It – We just really wanted to say that statement as a Commandment. But kidding aside, the last, and possibly most important Commandment of all just means to have fun. If you’re not having fun, it will show in the writing. And while some see collaboration as a stressful stranglehold over who gets to butcher what, it’s important to see it for what it really is – a thrilling opportunity to explore a new story from two perspectives.

So even if you don’t aspire to be the next Stephen King and Peter Straub or the next J and K Rowling, we think it’s worth it for every writer to collaborate at least once. Not just because it’s a rich experience that allows you to see something you love through the eyes of another, but because if you should fail, you can at least say, “Hey, it was his fault, too.”

Brandon and Bryan are a pair of fraternal, non-related twin brothers who draw and write politically incorrect things on the popular web comic/blog A Beer for the Shower. Their published works include the novella collection The Graveyard Shift, and the novels Dead and Moaning in Las Vegas, The Missing Link, and The Sensationally Absurd Life and Times of Slim Dyson, all of which have great reviews from people that are not their mothers. Brandon’s solo novels include Lovely Death, and Chasing the Sandman. Bryan’s most recent solo novel is Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship. Maybe some day they will grow up and get real jobs, but until then, you can find them over at www.abeerfortheshower.com doodling, writing, and generally not taking anything all that seriously.

Our solo Amazon pages are:
http://www.amazon.com/Brandon-Meyers/e/B009KXWSEO/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_2

and here:
http://www.amazon.com/Bryan-Pedas/e/B00A71IYS2/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

So You Want to Publish An Anthology? Read On…

By Nikki Baird, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Anthology Chair

nikkibairdAnthologies have experienced something of a renaissance, thanks to the indie publishing market. Lots of writers have short stories that they’ve written over the years, and in a lot of cases, the publishing rights to those stories revert back to authors fairly quickly, so there aren’t a lot of legal reasons that get in the way of republishing.

Plus anthologies can be great marketing tools. They can help promote a collection of authors by making the workload something you can share, and they can provide a way for readers to try a lot of new authors for a low entry price. For single-author anthologies, they can also serve as a “try before you buy”. Anthologies are also great books to give away for free when promoting a new novel, especially when they are stories you’ve already written.

So what goes into making an anthology? Well, a lot, trust me. But I’ll give you three big ones, with a primary focus on multi-author anthologies, since that’s where my experience lies.

A Theme. An anthology needs something to hold it together. For single-author anthologies, the theme is simple – it’s the author! However, even then, you might want to think about selecting a collection of short stories that relate to each other.

When you come up with a theme, probably the biggest challenge is to make sure that it is rich in possibility. The core conflict or tension needs to be easy to grasp and yet also deep and/or broad. Also, the theme should relate to your group. Sometimes this means genre – for example, you wouldn’t really want to throw a blood-and-guts zombie story in with a bunch of regency romance. But if you’re looking at a collection that crosses genres, then a core subject or theme becomes particularly important in helping readers understand what to expect from the book.

For the RMFW anthology, particularly because we chose open submissions, we put theme front and center: Colfax Avenue. We could’ve chosen Sunset Boulevard, or Madison Avenue, or some other historic/infamous street in America, but as we are the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, keeping the location close to home seemed important. Plus I was dealing with a precedent set by previous RMFW anthologies. Dry Spell and Tales of Mistwillow were both based on themes important to the Rocky Mountain region – water, and life in a (made-up) mountain town. RMFW’s third anthology deviated from this theme (Broken Links, Mended Lives), and we may stray from a Rocky Mountain angle again in the future, but this year the Colfax idea quickly took hold and became a slam-dunk.

 A Submission Process. If you’re soliciting submissions, you need a well-defined submission process. We had to navigate several choices. Do you want to invite specific authors to contribute? Famous authors, when you can get them, can help sell the book. But their time is very precious, especially writing time. If you’re looking to hook a famous author, it helps to either have an existing relationship or to have a cause that they support as a beneficiary for anthology proceeds.

For Crossing Colfax, we opted to not pursue specific authors. One, people like Carol Berg, Mario Acevedo, and Jeanne Stein have already been very generous in the past. Two, we specifically opted to open submissions only to RMFW members in order to feature and promote the writing talent within RMFW. So it didn’t seem quite right to hold spaces in the anthology for select authors when what we really wanted were good stories no matter who they came from within our community. In the end, we had about the right mix: 3 stories from established authors (Linda Berry, Warren Hammond, and Thea Hutcheson) and 12 from newbies.

We held open submissions with only the membership requirement. We also had a blind reader panel, rather than a committee. There were a couple of reasons for that. One, not everyone was co-located, so trying to have meetings was going to be difficult. Two, and this one’s all on me, I liked the idea of getting basically as much reader input as I could. A small selection committee can fall into group-think mode, where everyone ends up reinforcing each others’ opinions, and radical new ideas get lost. With blind readers, this was in some ways like stopping people on the street who like to read and asking their opinions. Stories that I didn’t particularly like at first came back with thumbs up from readers, and stories that I loved didn’t do nearly as well as I thought they would. In the end, we ended up with a collection that I think is the better for it – with a wider appeal, and a more varied set of stories than we otherwise might have.

A Contract. This one’s always the fun part. The last RMFW anthology was published in 2009. That contract included no provisions for e-pub. In fact, that is why you don’t see any past RMFW anthologies in e-pub format in the market today, because we only have print rights to those books. Someday I’d love to go back and get the e-rights to bring the past anthologies online, but that is work for another day. Since we are writers helping writers, it seemed silly to have the kind of contract that makes agents wince, so we tried to be very open and fair. We asked for exclusive rights for one year, and perpetual rights to the story as long as it was published in the anthology. Outside of the anthology itself, RMFW has no rights. So after the year is up, the authors are welcome to publish their stories in other anthologies or stand-alone or however they choose. I will say, though, that we had our contract reviewed by Susan Spann, who volunteered her considerable legal services. And I would not recommend skipping that step!

Is it all worth it? From an editor perspective, you bet. It’s hard work, and multiplied because you’re working with multiple authors, but I get a smile on my face every time I see the Crossing Colfax cover. I’m so proud of the variety, the freshness, and the imagination that sits within those pages. Over the next year, I hope I’ll also be able to say that it was a valuable experience for our authors too – because, while a lot of the work is over, a lot more work has only begun!

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

Originally published at Patricia Stoltey blog September 18, 2014

You can find out more about Nikki by reading the RMFW Spotlight post from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog.

Crossing Colfax is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

“Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?”

By Liesa Malik

The first post on this topic was published on August 22 (Hachette vs. Amazon–Do We All Lose?) As before…any opinions expressed here are mine as an individual and do not reflect an official stance by RMFW or its members . . .

As the battle between Hachette and Amazon continues over the pricing and distribution of ebooks, Authors United took a second swipe at the on-line giant by publicly asking individual Amazon board members to reconsider the sanctions imposed on Hachette authors.

In May, Hachette and Amazon broke away from the bargaining table and took their disagreements public. While stories about the conflict started showing up in the press, Amazon apparently took out its wrath on individual authors who happen to be represented by publishing giant, Hachette Book Group. These authors, many of whom are household names, had things like competitive pop-up ads cover their author pages, delayed shipping of books, and removal of buy buttons from some of their titles.

I sat down with author Douglas Preston (co-author of the best-selling Pendergast thriller series, as well as several fiction and non-fictions works of his own) to talk about what authors may want from Amazon.

Photo credit: Christine Preston

Photo credit: Christine Preston

“We’re not taking sides in this dispute, but simply asking Amazon not to target authors,” said Mr. Preston. “Basically, there is a lot on the web misrepresenting our position, so this is a good opportunity to reinforce what we’re trying to say.”

The quiet and thoughtful writer said he decided to take action when he noticed his sales drop by 60% to 70%. “I wrote a letter hoping twelve brave authors would sign it. I’ve received over one thousand responses.” That’s how Authors United was formed.

The letter, an open missive to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, asked the online retail giant to curtail the harmful practices that were hurting individual authors. The letter went viral.

In response, Amazon started Readers United, with more verbiage to debate Mr. Preston’s assertions.

Then, in the week of September 14-20, Authors United decided to take the additional step of contacting each board member of Amazon. In part, the new letter reads:

“No group of authors as diverse or prominent as this has ever come together before in support of a single cause . . .”

“We are literary novelists, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and poets; thriller writers and debut and midlist authors. We are science fiction and travel writers; historians and newspaper reporters; textbook authors and biographers and mystery writers. We have written many of your children’s favorite stories.”

“Collectively, we have sold more than a billion books. Amazon’s tactics have caused us profound anguish and outrage.”

Mr. Preston said, “This feels like betrayal. Amazon wants authors to put up author pages, which is mutually beneficial, but we help them sell our books by listing other authors we like, reviewing other author’s books, and occasionally writing blogs for them about books we like to read. We’re happy to do this because everyone benefits.”

Then Mr. Preston’s voice took on an edge. “To add gratuitous insult, when you go to my page and pull up one of my books, a big pop-up window emerges suggesting I might enjoy another book (not by a Hachette author) at a better price.”

Mr. Preston said that he’s always had warm feelings for Amazon, and is himself, a Prime Member of the on-line store. But with this conflict his feelings may be undergoing change. “They (Amazon) shouldn’t block sales or inconvenience customers. I can’t get my own book in less than a few weeks.”

Was the second letter effective? That remains to be seen, but last weekend (September 20th) an annual secret soiree held in New Mexico for big name authors and hosted by Amazon was missing some invitations—significantly, invitations to Hachette authors or those who have publicly shown support for Authors United.

I asked Mr. Preston in August if he could see a happy ending to the dispute. “What I hope,” said Mr. Preston, “is that we can create a healthy eco-system in publishing for Amazon, for Hachette, for authors to be able to support themselves and feed their families.

Side Note: Attempts to contact representatives for either Amazon or Hachette have been met with refusal and reference to public relations bulletins. While I will keep an eye on this situation, this ends my entries for the RMFW blog for a while.

Upcoming RMFW Programs and Events

DENVER AREA MONTHLY PROGRAMS are free to both members and non-members. They are typically two hours long on a Saturday morning or afternoon.

October Workshop

How To Write a Series That Will Sell—Endlessly
Presented by Joan Johnston
Saturday, October 18, 2:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M.
Southglenn Library
6972 S. Vine Street, Centennial, CO
MEMBERS & NON-MEMBERS WELCOME

November Workshop

Are You an Innie or an Outie?
Presented by Kathy House
Saturday, November 8, 1:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M.
Standley Lake Library
8485 Kipling St., Arvada, CO
MEMBERS & NON-MEMBERS WELCOME

 

THE 2015 RMFW WRITERS RETREAT
March 11-15, 2015
YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, Colorado

RMFW is thrilled to announce our third annual writers retreat! Our 2015 location, one of the brand-new eight-bedroom retreat cabins at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, is nestled in the heart of some of the world’s most majestic mountains. You’re sure to find inspiration in the natural beauty that will surround you. Come write with us! Registration will open November 2014.

The JOY of THE END

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Very few things in life can make me as happy as typing the last word on a manuscript. I’ve doThe Fairyland Murders_ebook (1)ne that 10 times so far. The last time being just last week as I finished up Book 2 in the Deadly After Ever series (Book 1, The Fairyland Murders, releases on December 8).

Now I just have to wait to see what my editor thinks. Which explains the burning in my stomach. The ringing in my ears. And the desire to drink a whole lot of whiskey.

Waiting is the hardest part of being an author. We wait to finish a book. We wait to get better at our craft. We wait for agents to request pages. We wait for editors to get back to our agents. We wait for our contracts. We wait for cover art. For formatting. For our final page proofs.

Then we wait for the book to be released.

We wait for reviews to come in. And we wait for readers to fall in love with our characters. Then we wait again for royalty payments. Which a) is never enough and b) seem to take even longer to come my way than it took to write the damn book.

But I’m used to the waiting game by now.

I don’t like it. But it’s part of the business.

The thing about all this waiting, other than the hemorrhoids, is the ability to take a moment to smell the roses. To appreciate what you’ve just accomplished. You WROTE an entire book. Know how many people think they can write a book? 80%.

Know how many people finish writing that book? Less than 10%.

You’ve achieved something with each chapter you write. And when you finish that book, you will know what I already do: Finishing a manuscript is the little death the French refer too.

Viva la THE END.

How many manuscripts have you finished? If you haven’t finished any, how close are you? How do you feel about typing The End?

 

Friend me on facebook (no, I won’t stalk you and yes, you probably will regret it), follow me on twitter at @jakazimer or learn more about me and my books at http://www.jakazimer.com.

Implementing Your Conference

By Katriena Knights

Author’s Note: Several people are posting their reviews of the recent Colorado Gold conference. I decided to do something different rather than just post, “Colorado Gold was Awesome!!!1!1!!!1.” So instead I’m going to talk about ways to use all the great ideas you get at conferences without overwhelming yourself with change.

Writer’s conferences are a great way to network with other writers, learn more about your craft, and find out what’s working for whom in the world of promotion and sales. A serious writer should probably attend at least one or two a year to keep on top of the latest trends in the industry and to bump elbows with other writers who are undoubtedly experiencing the same struggles and frustrations. You can learn a ton at a good conference–sometimes enough to kick your career or the quality of your writing up to that next level.

Conferences can also be overwhelming, though. You come home filled to bursting with great ideas, but when you start trying to implement them, it’s just too much. Adding that great promotional idea takes away too much time from the manuscript you’re trying to finish, or the kick in the pants you just got about the book you’ve had on the back burner diverts your attention so you can’t focus on the manuscript you’ve got under deadline.

So how do you reconcile these conflicting needs? The best way is to break down what you’ve learned and figure out how to ease into the new routines. This way you can take advantage of what you’ve learned without derailing everything you’ve already built. Here are some ways to accomplish this:

  1. Organize your notes. Look through the notes and materials you brought home from the conference. Sort out the things that got you really fired up—the ones you want to start doing immediately. Set other ideas to the side for future reference.
  2. Figure out what’s relevant. Which of these ideas address an immediate concern? Is there a promotional tool you think will prod your sales up if you use it consistently? Is there a brainstorming idea that looks like it could get you out of the writer’s block you’ve been battling on your WIP? Put those on the top of the pile.
  3. Prioritize. Figure out what makes the most sense to try right away, and what would probably fit into your routine if you leave it for a bit later. For example, if you’ve already committed to a project that has to start immediately after the conference, don’t try to start a new writing or promotional routine that will eat all the time you have for that commitment. You might even put everything aside for a few days to get other work out of the way or to let your ideas marinate.
  4. Implement one thing at a time. Don’t try to change your entire routine in a day. Ease into the new approaches. If the promotional guru you heard at the conference presented a complex posting schedule for your social media, try bumping up your posts gradually on one platform at a time rather than tackling the full schedule from day one. That way you’ll have a new routine in place right away and can build toward the final goal.
  5. Keep building. Once you feel comfortable with the new routine, add to it. Whether your goal is writing more words or posting more promo, keep moving forward incrementally. Go from a post a day to two posts a day. Go from 250 words a day to 500. If you keep moving forward, you’ll end up where you want to be, even if it takes a little longer than you’d like.
  6. Weed things out. Just because a particular method works for one writer doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. If something isn’t comfortable or doesn’t produce the results you’re after, ditch it. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong or that you’ve given up. It just means that particular approach didn’t work for you. Never be afraid to do this. Trying to struggle through a routine that you find tedious is rarely going to get you the results you want.

Working through what you’ve learned at a writers’ conference and getting those tidbits to work for you is a challenge, but in the long run it can be the best way to give your career a kick in the pants. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t be afraid to take it slowly, either.

The First Rule of #PubLaw: Don’t Be a Jerk

By Susan Spann

One of the lessons I seem to repeat most often in my #PubLaw posts has (on the surface) little to do with law. In fact, I repeat it so often that I’m officially calling it #PubLaw Rule #1:

Don’t be a Jerk.

It’s a slightly more “SFW” version of the gaming community’s popular Wheaton’s Law (Google it…research is good for the soul.) and no less applicable in publishing … or anywhere else in life, for that matter.

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to keep your cool when dreams are on the line, especially when negotiations, contracts, reviews, or sales don’t go your way. And at some point in your career, all of those things will go against you.

Today, we’re taking a look at some ways to prevent yourself from being “that author” … the one who ends up on the bad behavior lists.

1. Don’t Let the “Submit” Button Go Down on Your Anger. Business moves much faster–and more publicly–in the digital age. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter give us instantaneous access to other authors, readers … and everyone else on the planet with a computer and a few extra minutes to kill. Unfortunately, that also makes it faster and easier for authors to make angry public statements which feel justified in the moment but which, upon reflection, were unnecessarily hostile or ill-advised. The best rule is never blog or use social media when angry. If you must write something, write it offline and give it 24 hours to “settle” before you post. Review it only after the initial anger passes…and see whether you still believe the comments are justified and constructive.

2. Don’t Kick Sleeping Dogs, and Don’t Respond to Bad Reviews. Some people won’t like your book. Some people will actually hate it. Some people will say, in public, that your book should be burned as a service to humanity, to prevent an innocent reader from accidentally stumbling across it in a used bookstore (yes, that’s a real review, which a friend of mine received). DO NOT RESPOND TO BAD REVIEWS. Period. End of story. Even a troll has a right to an opinion, and no single review will make or break a novel. What can break a novel–and a novelist– however, is a reputation for arguing with readers and reviewers in public. Let the reviewer have his or her opinion. You’re free to disagree–but do it in private.

3. Compliment and Support Other Authors. Rising tides float all ships, and getting people interested in reading helps all authors. Read a good book? Tweet or Facebook or write a review–and don’t expect repayment in return. Authors who give to others acquire a good reputation; those who never read, never give a compliment except in exchange for “equal value,” and never share their own love for books are missing a great opportunity. Nice people do nice things. Be nice. It comes back around to you.

4. Try to See Negotiations, and Other Publishing Situations, From the Other Person’s Point of View (Not Just Your Own). The more you practice seeing situations from someone else’s side, the better you’ll be at spotting creative solutions, not only in negotiations but in  all aspects of your publishing career.

5. Kill Your … Emotions (Once You Reach the Business Side). Emotion increases myopia, so do your best to remove the emotion from the negotiating and publishing process. Pour your feelings into your writing … let your passion flow on the page. But when you reach “The End” remember: writing is an emotional process, but business belongs to the logical brain.

These aren’t the only ways to keep yourself from becoming “that author” in public…but they’re a start. Publishing might seem large, but the business itself is surprisingly small, and reputations follow us much longer than we imagine in those early days of a writing career.

The more positive you are, the more attractive others will find you … a rule that applies as much in publishing as it does in the rest of life.

Got more tips for keeping things on the positive side? Hop into the comments and share! 

Susan 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 named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases 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).

Lesson Two: Where to start? Point of View, Setting and World Building

By Jeanne C. Stein

The topics we’re going to cover today involve some basics of storytelling. In fact to some of you, this may be nothing but review. Especially if you were lucky enough to attend last weekend’s conference. It’s the first one in the seventeen years I’ve been a member of RMFW that I had to miss. I’m going through withdrawals. Anyway, if so, skip it and come back next month when we’re going to tackle some “rules” of genre writing.

The first consideration of any work is determining whose story we’re going to tell. Point of view. Whether you plan to use multiple POV’s or one, establishing our protagonist and antagonist are crucial to good story telling.

First, then, what is POV and what are the different kinds? Let’s review the most popular briefly:

1. First person – the one telling the story. Told in one perspective, the narrator’s, as he or she experiences it.

I saw the boy the same time he saw me.

2. Third person – the one telling the story is a witness; may or may not be not involved directly in the story.

She saw the boy at the same time he saw her.

3. Limited omniscient – the “God” point of view. Everything is revealed through a non-participant in the story. Allows you to relay events happening to more than one character in the story, but feels more detached.

She was looking at the boy and at the same time he was looking at her.

There are others, Second person for example, but it is a difficult one to pull off and not used as frequently.

You looked at the boy at the same time he looked at you.

There are many resources available if you need more examples or clarification. If you decide to write in more than one POV, for instance, first and third, there are some factors you must consider to keep the narrative from being jumpy. You can change perspective via chapter changes or drop downs. You can keep POV shifts uniform, that is first person, third person, first person, third person. The thing to keep away from is head-jumping or shifting from one POV to another in the same paragraph or page. That is extremely difficult to pull off and often is very distracting to the reader. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Can you think of an author who pulls this off smoothly? Nora Roberts springs to mind but she’s had years (decades) of practice.

Once we’ve decided how we’re going to tell the story, we cast our characters.

What defines a compelling, interesting protagonist? She should be multi-dimensional, meaning she has inner conflicts as well as outer problems. She should be believable and consistent throughout the story. That is not to say that she cannot grow from the beginning of the book to the end. She must grow in order to make her sympathetic—we want the reader to be cheering her on, after all. To that end, she must have clear motives and goals. As for physical description, some writers are very specific in describing physical characteristics, others, not so.

Whether you want to describe your character down to the mole on her rear or paint her in broader brush stokes is a matter of personal style. Devoting four pages of your first chapter, though, to a minute blow by blow of your heroine staring at herself in the mirror is a good way to lose your readers before you’ve had a chance to hook them. We’ll discuss this more in Lesson 5.

What about the antagonist? The same rules apply when introducing the villain(s) in your story. No matter how horrific his (or her) actions, it’s important to remember that the villain has a reason for doing the things he does. He has clear motives and goals that while they may be in direct conflict to our heroine’s, are as real and compelling to him as her own. Cartoon villains aren’t interesting to a reader, just as a one-dimensional heroine isn’t interesting. The most successful, suspenseful stories are those that keep the reader guessing until the very end. And the highest complement is a reader who says, “I never saw that coming.”

One caveat, however: springing a villain on the reader that we haven’t met anywhere in the story before the end is cheating. As is the “evil twin” ploy. You can hide clues, conceal the villain, create mistaken assumptions to confuse our readers. But don’t cheat. The answer must be buried in the story somewhere.

Some writers devote a great deal of time to defining their characters, writing detailed biographies that cover everything from IQ to their childhood pets. If that appeals to you, by all means do it. Horoscope signs, Tarot Cards, Myers-Briggs personality tests, Enneagram Types—use whatever you want to flesh out your characters. What you mustn’t do is include every detail of the results in your narrative. Better to show personality traits in the reactions of your protag to story events than tell us why she’s reacting a certain way.

Of course, some writers start with a story and construct the setting and characters around it. Nothing wrong with that approach. Whether we decide to use a real city (or rural setting) or to make one up, anchoring our readers in things they recognize is the first step to getting them to accept the things they don’t, especially in a genre like Urban Fantasy.

An example of this is Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. We watch Rosemary decorate her New York apartment, make curtains, set up a nursery. It’s so real, we fully accept that in the apartment down the hall, a powerful coven of witches has enlisted her own egocentric husband in a conspiracy against her.

Some writers use real places, others find it easier to create a fictional locale, still others use a combination of the two. It makes no difference. How you describe your setting, how authentic you make it feel, is the important thing. If you are going to use a real place, familiarize yourself with it. You can take certain liberties (I turned the streets in Mission Beach around a little so Anna’s cottage would face the ocean) but if you say a highway runs north/south and it really runs east/west, someone will notice. And they’ll call you on it. Readers pay attention to detail. This is where Google Earth and Google Maps come in handy. Except when done intentionally, there really isn’t an excuse for getting a point of geography wrong. Literally, the whole world is at your fingertips via the web.

Obviously, you have to be careful about the way you use real businesses or people. Calling the real-life mayor of your town by name and then branding him an ax-murderer or pedophile will likely get you in trouble.

So once you’ve decided where you want to set your story, the next decision is to define the paranormal aspects of the place. This is the crux of world building in genres like UF and it’s great fun. How do you want to populate your universe? Is magic universal? Or are humans unaware of the otherworldly creatures in your story? Do you want to use vampires or werewolves or shapeshifters or any of the more exotic paranormal creatures—fairies or angels or demons?

Don’t be afraid to tweak the mythology either. You can change any “rule” you want as long as you explain it to the reader. If it’s logical to your story, the reader will accept it. Just remember: once you set your rules, stick to them. If your protagonist has to hide his real nature from the world at large, it adds another layer of conflict to the story—particularly if exposure would mean becoming the target of bigotry and fear.

Think about the story you want to tell—define your protagonist and antagonist, set the world, populate it.

We’ll end this lesson with another interviewee: Anton Strout is the popular author of the Simon Candrous series and the new Spellmason Chronicles. His novels are perfect examples of UF. See if you recognize why.

1. You are often included in lists of Urban Fantasy Authors. How do you feel about the tag and do you like it? Why or why not?

I like the tag, personally. I know some writers hate to be pigeonholed, but writing is a business and there’s simply no escaping categorization. And hey! There’s some good company in my category- Butcher, Hamilton, you- and Urban Fantasy sounds like so much better a category name than Buffy/Ghostbusters Fan Fiction!

2. What makes your books fit in the UF genre?

My series takes place mostly in and around Manhattan, which is about as urban as you get. And my main character works for the Department of Extraordinary Affairs’ Other Division, which is an underfunded agency dealing with paranormal activities. These are folks trying to get through their workday, somewhat normal people dealing with fantastical things happening all around them that the average New Yorker tends to block out or not pay attention to. So my writing is a mix of city life and the paranormal that lands me smack dab in the middle of UF.

3. Did you set out to write UF?

No. I set out to write a story about this average guy named Simon, but over time, I realized I wanted to tell a ghost story/mystery set in New York City. I wanted to write the type of things I like to read… or watch. I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan. I love his mix of the fantastical and the humorous and when I write, I strive towards that type of balance in my own work. I was also a huge fan of Douglas Adams and his humor and I didn’t really know many humorous urban fantasy authors were out there, but I knew I wanted to be one once I looked at the first draft of Dead To Me and said “Oh, that’s what I was trying to do.”

4. Why do you think UF is so popular with readers?

I think there are several reasons. I think readers like stories about familiar fairy tale monsters set in places they can identify with, such as the modern world. There’s built in accessibility. Also, I moved to New York because there was a romantic notion to it all, and mixing the spooky in with that really appealed to me. When I set a scene, I try to think what the average reader knows about New York. I can skip describing a location for three pages, simply by mentioning a scene outside the Empire State Building. Even if the reader’s never been, they still have seen it in movies or on TV or in other books. That gives me more time to spend giving them the payoff from character development and dialogue. Perhaps it’s a bit of a shortcut, but I think it just makes sense for the writer using the modern world.

You can check at www.antonstrout.com or the League of Reluctant Adults for future release dates.

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Set in New York, the protagonist a bureaucrat employed by an agency that deals with the paranormal—Urban Fantasy—genre.

Next time we’ll look at how you write for a genre audience.

How to Grow a Novel

By Barbara Graham

Graham_MurderBySunlightProbably because I’m in the midst of trying to get my garden to produce something other than really healthy weeds, and my next book is in the formative stage, the comparison between gardening and writing a novel seemed ideal.

After all, they both start with high hopes and big plans. Each beginning I think—this will be the garden/book that won’t have “issues” like weeds, blight or repetitive phrases. The characters will be fascinating and the tomatoes won’t have blossom end rot.

Before beginning such a fabulous project, there is some studying involved. I peruse the seed catalogs and gather ideas for the best vegetables for the sunny end of the garden. Can they grow in our short season? For the book, what will the story line be and because I write mysteries, who should I kill this time? The first book in my mystery series, Murder by Serpents: The Mystery Quilt was inspired by a headline in the newspaper. It simply read, “man found dead in car.” No snakes, no other tie to the storyline. I began playing with the scenario. Why would a man be dead in his car? Any number reasons. You pick one of your own and write that book.

So, we plant a seed and soon there is a sprout. The seedlings go into the garden on the recommended date but I like to cover the tender sprouts. I often use plastic milk bottles without lids and the bottoms cut out. They form individual greenhouses. Also too tender for early exposure, ideas and characters being developed now should avoid the early critique situations. Let them get some roots and a good strong stem before hearing from the critics. Something fabulous could wither and die from early exposure to the world.

Pull the weeds and throw on some fertilizer. Add more words, maybe create a world with murderous garden gnomes. This is the waiting game. Slog through the pages adding on. Fix the dialogue. Protect it from outside intruders like deer stomping the tender leaves with their sharp hooves, making a mess, it is your world to save.

The garden is planted, out of human control, except for watering and constant weeding. Heavens, some weeds are taller than the desired plants. Every first draft of the next book, I find myself wondering “who wrote this mess?” Is that a weed or something worth keeping? Sometimes in the early stages, they look the same. There is much work to be done. Peering at the vegetation, you see emerging baby carrot tops. They look like fine parsley but sharing the same spot is some nasty broadleaf weed. The weed must be carefully extricated without killing the carrot. It is the garden equivalent of excising the wrong word in a sentence, a writers’ weed destroying the intended meaning.

Is anything worth keeping? Yes. Throw some more fertilizer in there, use better words. Plants and story are both improving at last. The plot has only a couple of small holes now, easily mended, and your hero is worthy of the name. There are small, dark green tomatoes on a plant. Green peppers on another. The potatoes plants are tall and covered with small purple flowers. There are jewels in the dirt.

One more rewrite. A walk through the garden again. The ripening tomatoes are even more gorgeous than expected. Maybe you should enter them in the county fair. Let the judges see what a real tomato smells like. As for the novel, a few more rewrites, queries and maybe a contract, all yours for the picking.

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Barbara Graham began making up stories in the third grade instead of learning to multiply and divide. A native Texan, she later lived in Denver, New Orleans and East Tennessee. Inspiration for Silersville (home of her imaginary friends) comes from her Tennessee period. An unrepentant quilting addict, she lives in Wyoming with her long suffering husband and the spoiled dog. Her motto is “Every book needs a dead body and every bed needs a quilt.”

Her most recent book, Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt is book five in her Quilted Mystery series featuring Tennessee Sheriff Tony Abernathy and his quiltmaker wife, Theo. Visit Barbara at her website.

Barbara is giving away one copy of Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt to a lucky U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on this post by midnight Mountain Time Friday, September 12. The winner will be selected using random.org and the name posted here on Saturday.

Twenty Years of Sharing the Dream

By Mary Gillgannon

Many RMFW members are attending the Colorado Gold conference this weekend. I, unfortunately, have to miss it due to a trip with my daughter later this month. But I’ll be waxing nostalgic the whole time. I went to my first conference over twenty years ago, and I can still remember what a magical experience it was.

I started writing fiction about two years before that, and had a completed historical romance and a second one started. I was actively marketing the first one with no success. Back then, I worked in a public library (where I’m still employed). It’s an ideal job for a writer because everyone, co-workers and patrons alike, love books and are incredibly supportive. So, of course, when my co-workers found out I was going to a writers’ conference, they were all convinced I was on the verge of my “big break”.

I was more skeptical. I’d heard all my life how hard it is to get published. But that didn’t stop me from lying awake most of the night before my pitch sessions. On some deep level, I was convinced that this was my chance and I was terrified I’d blow it.

The actual appointments with an editor and agent were kind of a let-down. The editor, who’d heard me read my manuscript opening in the previous day’s critique session, listened rather impatiently to my pitch and then said, “Send it to me.” I asked, “All of it?” and she said “yes.” The agent interview was even terser. She asked me if I saw this book as a series and I said “yes”. She nodded her head and told me to send her the first three chapters and a synopsis. Of course, she didn’t offer to waive the agency’s $50 reading fee, which meant that it would take me months before I felt flush enough to send it to her.

But it wasn’t really those encounters that were memorable about the conference. It was the exhilarating experience of knowing, for the first time in my life, I was with people who understood and shared my dream. It was that sense of camaraderie and the excitement of feeling that anything could happen for any of us, that I remember the most. Quite a number of the people I met at that conference are still involved with RMFW. Two of them have become my dearest friends.

The other memory I have is of rushing back to my room on the second night, getting out my notebook and immediately starting to revise the beginning of my book. After nearly a year and a half of writing and revising, and revising again, I had, deep down, sensed that the book wasn’t quite “ready”. But after attending several Colorado Gold workshops, the light bulb went on. I finally knew what was wrong and how to fix it.

And the real magic did happen. Nearly six months later, I got a letter from an editor who worked at the same publishing house as the editor who’d asked me to send her my manuscript. This second editor wrote that she “loved it” and wanted to buy it. Thus began the most exciting time of my life.

A lot has changed in twenty years. Nobody writes on a typewriter anymore (like I did with my first draft). It’s all about web presence now, and tweets and likes and blog hops and a dozen other things that didn’t exist back then. But some things never change. Like the joy of being part of an organization that’s all about sharing dreams, and the thrill of knowing you’re setting off on the great adventure of being a novelist with a couple hundred compatriots by your side.

Colorado Gold rocks!