Category Archives: General Interest

Finding Your Words Through Passion

By Liesa Malik

My_Workspace-300x2251This is so embarrassing that I hate to see the word in print--BLOCKED. I’ve been blocked. I know that professionals do not allow themselves to succumb to such a silly and amateur problem, but I’ve been stuck in the quagmire of “my writing sucks--I have no ideas--why did I ever want to be an author?” kind of whine and cheesy party for far too long. With little to no income from writing, I’ve been on the verge of giving up and going to find a day-job.

Yesterday, I even spent half the day submitting a resume on-line for a position I’m pretty sure I don’t want. And the process was excruciating. The site kept crashing 20 minutes into my application and required much more than a resume. Forget blood. I practically had to donate my total genetic map, and still find references before the process was through. Now I have to wait—don’t call them, they’ll call me. Right.

With a hopeful heart, I tell you I hit bottom when hitting that submit button.

And then it happened. I had an unexpected conversation that changed things around.

Over dinner, my good guy made a heroic attempt at talking with me beyond the usual discussion about when I was going to pick up the laundry or what’s for dinner tomorrow. I usually refer to adventures in new topics as pressure cooker conversations, because he pressures and I get hot under the collar. My friend started peppering me with “business” questions about my work. Things like:

  • If you’re not making a living with your current publisher, why don’t you find a new one? (Can you tell he’s unfamiliar with the publishing world?)
  • In most of the detective books I read, the hero has a super-power. What super power does your Daisy character have?
  • If I were to write a book, I’d like to knock off my old business partner. How do you make victims and bad guys?

BINGO! That was it. I agreed with my guy about how satisfying it is to kill off or make someone you know the villain in your book. I’ll never admit to murdering anyone I know, nor will I say that a killer in a Daisy story is really some neighbor or ex-colleague. But real people often inspire my stories. It’s those real people who generate the kind of true feelings your writing work needs.

With my latest novel, for several months I’ve been “researching” a general topic about which I know little and have no strong feelings for. Can you say “directionless?” I’ve dabbled with a few character sketches and even “tried on” some murder suspects as the one who really did it. Nothing ignited any excitement in me. There were no aha moments.

But in recalling and talking about my first two stories with my good guy, I remembered those whom I had strong feelings about being the frame on which I built other characters. Suddenly, there was a clear reason my work on book three had stalled.

Stories are about people not topics. Stories and characters can be built, but they need the skeleton of genuine people and their life stories underneath. You can change your friend’s gender, looks, occupation, and more, but to create an interesting and believable character, you need to have memories from one to five others to refer to.

After dinner, I charged up to my room and hit my ideas journal. I started writing down the names of people I feel passionately about. I grouped them in terms of “I really respect this person,” “I truly despise this person” “I think this person is funny” kind of thing. In the privacy of a personal journal, you can get away with such judgementalism. The only rule was to have passion about whatever name I put down.

Now I have something to channel my characters with. And hopefully, this small tip will help if you’re feeling stuck. Experience your passion to write passionately and avoid getting stuck. Good luck to you . . . I am off and running to play with a little murder--passionately.

The Dirty Shameful Things I Did In High School That Help My Writing Career Today

By Aaron Ritchey

So the delightful Delilah S. Dawson blogged about the perils of book promotion, how to do it wrong, and how to do it right. So really, I’m not covering any new ground, and you should probably watch the Star Wars Episode VI trailer again. Right?

Shortest. Blog post. Ever.

You can do a quick search for the Star Wars Episode VI trailer, or Ms. Dawson’s blog posts. Or, you can read about me and what happened to me when I was in high school, because in high school, I had to do some dirty, shameful things to further my writing career.

And I hated every minute of it.

What did I have to do in high school?

Let me paint a picture for you. It was in a dusty old classroom, it was about ten of us literary geeks, working on the Regis Jesuit High School literary magazine, Impressions. The magazine ran a short story contest, and we all voted on first, second, and third place. Pat Engelking always won first place. That rat bastard.

And I always submitted a story. And I always voted for my own story, and I HATED having to vote for my own story, but what were my options? Let Pat Engelking walk away with first place again? Never!

My own vote was critical. There were only ten of us. I never came in first, but I always placed.

In my fantasy, I would walk into the room, people would bow their heads, the voting would start, no one would raise their hand until my story was called, and then every single hand in the room would go up. Unanimous! I had won! I would then vote for Pat Engelking’s story, and he would win second place and all would be right in the world.

Didn’t work that way. However, I did learn that if I didn't have a story, I couldn't enter the contest. I had to write and edit to get my story ready. And once ready, I learned that I had to believe in the work. I had to vote for my own stuff.

And I still have to vote for my own stuff. Promoting my book is raising my hand and saying, “Yes, I wrote something good, that you should read, that is worthy of your time. Here are the details on how to buy it. Thank you for your support.”

Ideally, the entire marketing team at Simon and Schuster would be voting on my stuff, but they haven’t yet. Someday, though, someday. But as it stands, even if I got a big contract with a big publishing house, guess what? Most likely, I’d still have to raise my hand and vote on my own stuff. Because unless you hit it big and are chosen by whatever fickle gods look down upon us authors, the money will flow to the sales, and if you don’t have sales, you don’t get the marketing dollars, and as newbie authors, it’s up to you to get sales.

Now, there are a variety of ways to promote your books without making yourself look like an asshat. I try and use the 30/30/30 rule. On social media, I spend 30% of my time promoting my stuff, 30% promoting other people’s stuff, and 30% posting pictures of kittens, or commenting on the Star Wars Episode VI trailer, or sharing interesting links.

In the end, though, my job isn’t to sell you my book. No. My job is to listen to what you are looking for, look for a need, and, as readers, we all have needs, and then point you to a book that will fill that need. If you are looking for an adult romance, I wouldn’t offer you my book. I’d point you to RMFW’s own Andrea Stein, or Joan Johnston, or Cassie Miles (a.k.a. Kay Bergstrom).

In the end, like it or not, part of my job as an author is to vote on my own books, talk about books, offer readers information on how to buy my books.

I didn’t sign up for that, but it’s part of the deal. *sigh*. Until I become rich and famous. Which is going to happen any day now. Any day.

This is me. Raising my hand. Voting for myself.

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

By Maura Weiler, Author of Contrition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook: Maura Weiler Author

Twitter: @mauraweiler

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

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

The Learning Curve of a Reluctant Social Media User

By Pamela Nowak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GREAT Idea From Two Different Points of View

By Robin D. Owens

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

"No," I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May you enjoy your imagination today,
Robin

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

Are they real?

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

How do we do that?

Through Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

Through Narrative POV:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

By Stephen A. Benjamin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

By Jeanne C. Stein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set the mood.

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

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

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

Does that mean it has to be graphic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whack the Cliché

By Mark Stevens

Is it possible to write a 100,000-word novel that is devoid of clichés?

Completely scrubbed free of all tired descriptions, predictable scenes, over-used descriptions, seen-them-all-before characters?

A panel* on clichés at Left Coast Crime last month in Portland sparked my thinking.

First, check this out:

The word cliché is drawn from the French. (My source is Wikipedia; there are several versions of this.)

In printing, "cliché" was the sound made by a printing plate—one cast from movable type—when it was used. This printing plate is called a … wait for it

A stereotype.

When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly, as a single slug of metal. Thus, “cliché” came to mean such a ready-made phrase.

Cliché—ready-made. Too easy. Banal, commonplace, shop-worn, old-hat, hackneyed.

Sound like a novel you want to read?

A side note, also from Wikipedia: Most phrases now considered cliché originally were regarded as striking, but have lost their force and impact through overuse. The French poet Gérard de Nerval once said "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.”

OK, imbeciles, join me over here in the land of predictability and tell me: how do you avoid them? How do you avoid the ready-made crap?

These were a few cited by the Left Coast Crime panel:

The sassy Latina detective, say. Or staging a high-speed chase in the city (and no cops follow or give chase as well). The “slight” gunshot wound in the shoulder, yet our hero carries on. Isn’t a ticking clock, the device itself, a cliché?

Here’s one I can’t stand: the bad guy manages to bring a knife a few millimeters from our hero’s eyeballs, yet the hero’s resistance is j-u-s-t enough to hold it off. Ack!

There are cliché scenes, cliché gestures, cliché sayings, cliché lines of dialogue, too.  "Cover me, I'm going in!" "Is this some kind of sick joke?"

How do you keep the writing fresh, original?

Fill in the blank. As tough as _____.  As cool as a _____.

Go.

I mean, 100,000 words—all those characters, all those scenes and all that prose: how do you make sure it’s all original? Fresh?

And, should it be?

Wouldn’t that be exhausting? Can an entire cast of characters in a well-populated novel, every bit of description and every line of dialogue … be original?

Martin Amis thinks so: “All writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”

So there’s a standard for you.

Worth shooting for?

--

* The LCC panel was The Taste of Copper and the Smell of Cordite: Clichés in Crime Fiction. Panelists included David Corbett, Lisa Alber, Blake Crouch, Bill Fitzhugh and James Ziskin.

The Goodreads Connection

By Patricia Stoltey

So far in my series about blogging and social media I’ve discussed blogs and Twitter. In addition to blogging, I try to use a limited number of social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Google+ so far).

I’m signed up on Library Thing, however, and may get busy over there once I figure it out. I understand that’s where an author finds a lot of librarians. We love librarians!

Regardless of your social media interests or lack thereof, there are good reasons for choosing a site or two to establish a presence. But no one author can do them all. That would be crazy as well as a monumental waste of time.

Today I’m going to focus on Goodreads. I haven’t been active there long, but my limited experience proves there’s a solid reason I should put this site at the top of my priority list. That reason? Because Goodreads is where readers hang out.

1. Authors can create and be approved for an author site and add all of their book editions and covers. You can check out my Goodreads page here.
2. Readers can enter giveaways for ARCs and printed books. So far, I’ve done one ARC giveaway and one hardcover giveaway.
3. Readers can read and leave comments on my blog posts within Goodreads because I opted to add blog posts to my author page.
4. Readers can ask questions and get personal responses.
5. Readers can recommend books to others.
6. Readers can mark our books as “Want to Read.” When they do so, they will be notified if there’s a new giveaway for the book.

In my experience as a reader, if I mark something “Want to Read,” I might buy it or borrow it from the library, but I’m also likely to post a short review once I’ve read the book. Not all reviews are good ones. So be it. Every book does not appeal to every reader, so I take the bitter with the sweet.

Now you’ll notice in my list above that I focused on what readers can do on Goodreads. That’s because readers are the people we want to connect with on Goodreads. Once my author page was set up and my blog available on site, I tuned in to the reader side of my brain and began looking for the things that would help me find the books I want to read, and the things that would most likely help the authors I admire.

Every time I visit the site, I find another “Want to Read” book to add to my list. If I read a book and like it, and can honestly give it four or five stars, I also leave a ranking and short review.

And one of these days I’ll figure out what I need to know to do an author event. There is a lot more to learn on Goodreads, and if it’s like other sites, it will continue to change over time. I think an author can even buy ads on Goodreads, judging by the header and sidebar content.

I may have just scratched the surface for promo opportunities. I wonder, is there a “Goodreads for Dummies” book out there yet?