Tag Archives: Advice

The Perils of Writing Tribute Characters

Going Under CoverBy Jeffe Kennedy

My new novel-length erotic romance, Going Under, comes out on Monday, so I’ve been doing a lot of interviews and so forth, getting ready for that promo push. One question I get a lot is whether I’ve based my characters on anyone real, or who I know.

I try to give this a thoughtful answer, because I understand that readers are really interested in this idea. Characters feel real to us, so we always wonder, on some level, if they somehow are real. So I don’t give them my immediate, heartfelt answer.

NO.

Never.

No way.

Not that I feel strongly about this or anything…

Okay, I do. I feel strongly about anything that gets in the way of the story. In my mind, the story should always reign supreme. All decisions should be about whether or not [X] makes the story better. While I suppose it’s possible to base a character on a real person and still make decisions based on the betterment of the story, I think this is akin to getting back together with an old lover and kidding yourself that what happened to break you up before doesn’t matter.

It’s not really about what you’re thinking now, but about all that emotion underneath, driving you when you’re not really aware of it.

See, truly basing a character on a real person is nearly always driven by the desire to somehow memorialize that person, or otherwise work out persistent emotions tied to them. Usually intense ones. I’ve had several author friends who’ve wanted to do this – usually for someone close to them who died – and it just never works out well. The need to “serve” that person bogs down every other choice. Decisions are no longer about what’s best for the story, but about that person.

Worse, it just never works out. Because, really, it’s impossible to fully memorialize a complex human being by turning them into a character. No matter our characterization skills, no matter the nobility of the motivation, a character in a book can never be as fully realized as an actual human being. We’ll always fall short in some way.

Then both the effort and the story have suffered.

For me, characters come together more like Method actors do it – by drawing on fragments of my own experiences. In this way, we can access pieces of people we know, pulling in those traits, thoughts, experiences or moments that we hold precious. But then the character becomes someone new, someone who is no longer that tribute character we tried to resurrect in fiction.

Better that they rest in peace.

The Top 5 Best Pieces of Writing Advice I Ever Got … by Trai Cartwright

1.   If you’re holding something back for later, drop it in now.

Last Thursday, a friend and I both had one of those explosive days you live for as a writer: the day when your story just electrifies you, delights you, reveals itself to you. She told me she had just written the scene that told her it was just another 25 pages until the supernatural elements of her book could be introduced. I’d just written a scene that was wholly unexpected: a dude who wasn’t supposed to reveal his true nature for many (many) pages to come suddenly whipped off his mask.

This reveal not only changed my whole book but radically improved it in an instant.

This trick comes from a writing teacher I reviled except for this gem. Don’t hold on to the secrets. Don’t write an entire book knowing that in the last 30 pages, all will be revealed. It drains your writing of life-giving creative energy. By “giving away the store”, I was seemingly left with nowhere to go. In fact, I was forced to imagine greater. My story expanded in the most delicious ways because I didn’t hold back.

So my advice to my friend who’s waiting 25 pages to unleash her tasty goodness: just do it now.

2.   Write something beautiful, something grotesque, and something odd on every page.

This one came from a poet who’d just published her first novel, and it’s what her editor said transfixed her. The poet had always used these tricks in her poetry, and had unconsciously carried it over to her fiction. The effect: pages and pages of surprises in the sentences, creating a unique texture that illuminated her world in unexpected ways.

3.   Don’t let the reader catch you writing.

This is from Elmore Leonard and a habit I had to break in my early years. If you’re overly-enamored with your own scintillating, bombastic, lyrical writing style, chances are your readers know it all too well. My voice often over-took my story, and instead of carrying my readers away on a fantastic journey, I was demanding they stand in awe of my cleverness. The point is this: you’re a storyteller first. The voice has to be in service to the story, not your ego.

4.   Don’t confuse, don’t bore.

This from my MFA director Tod Goldberg. Written in big letters on the board, first day of class. If your readers are busy trying to sort out why someone said such-and-such, how they got from the parking lot to Rockefeller Center, who it is they are talking to, when their mother became reanimated because you could swear she died in the first ten pages, they are being carried way on a fantastic journey. They are confused. Confusion equals disengagement as we readers try to conjure the answers that are not on the page.

And boredom, well that’s easy too. If you’re bored writing your story, your readers will have already put your book down. The fix? See #1.

5.   Stop with the semi-colon. And the em-dashes. And the parenthesis.

This is from my god-like genre teacher, Stephen Graham Jones. We all do this. We all suddenly fall in love with some punctuation device that to our minds displays brilliance, adds essential information, and in the case of parenthesis, delivers a dollop of writerly humor.

Readers get exhausted by these devices. Semi-colons create complex sentences that can feel like a challenge to some. Most of those sentences can live independently of one another, so drop in a period instead.

Em-dashes—which, to our mind, can create urgency, provide delightful intrusion, or give crucial tangential information—work maybe every five or six pages, but more than that, it’s a red flag to readers. We start tracking your over-use of the device rather than read your story. It’s like using a word like “stupendous” on every page—we will notice. And it will annoy us.

And as for parenthesis (those semi-smiles of bardic narrator grandstanding), they often break the fourth wall just so you can impart your own sense of humor rather than the character’s. Or worse, it’s a piece of exposition that the writer couldn’t figure out how to include any other way and shoe-horn it in awkwardly. The answer is simply to not employ them. We probably didn’t need that info to follow the scene anyway. And we certainly didn’t need the distraction of your joke.

So that’s it: my top 5 best pieces of writing advice.

What are yours?

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Rebecca Taylor

By Rebecca TaylorThe Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza

Yesterday, I uploaded my most recent book, The Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza, to Kindle—Yes, I self published it. And as I, only hours later took it down to make changes (I suspect it won’t be the last time) I wondered:

Why don’t more writers make the leap into self-publishing?

I thought about it all day and here’s what I came up with:

  1. In truth, self-publishing still reeks a bit of failure (if you think it has completely lost all stigma, then you’re not looking hard enough outside the self publishing community. Like it or not, self publishing is still judged pretty harshly in some circles, especially the ones surrounded by the high gates of traditional publishing. There are only two things that truly mask this odor: Winning legitimate awards and big sales.
  2. If you do it right, it’s a ton of work. It can be super easy and not at all a ton of work if you just take your first draft, upload it to Kindle, and slap one of their cover generated images in front of it. Of course, if you do it that way you should also expect to get out what you put in—which is almost nothing.
  3. And finally, and this I think is the big reason why many don’t take the plunge, you stand completely alone beside your work, taking a huge risk that, even after all your labors the only sound to reach your ears is the eerie silence of your one hand clapping (the other one is, of course, occupied holding up your book to a world that doesn’t give a shish.)

Yes, number three, lack of self-confidence, I suspect it is the real reason why many writers don’t give it a go—of course this may be simply because it was the real reason why I didn’t.

Confession: I am always a little bit in awe of someone in possession of flagrant self confidence. I watch them, without even the slightest hesitation of self doubt, they will happily spread their feathers befor2000 x 1333e you and shimmy—it has been my experience that these people are usually connected to the theatre in someway.

When that self-possessed someone happens to be a writer—well I’m flat out flabbergasted to be in the presence of such a rare bird.

In March of this year, I sat on a publishing panel answering a variety of questions from writers. Towards the end of the session, one young woman approached the microphone and asked, “What one piece of advice do you have for aspiring writers?”

Now, there are many, many good answers to this question: Write, Don’t give up, Learn the craft, etc, etc. But what popped out of my mouth was, “Toughen up.”

Yes, find those bootstraps and pull them hard because the truth of the matter is, if you are still a walking wound of self-doubt, anxiety, and crippling insecurities when your first book, traditional publisher or no, comes out—that first three star review is going to knock you to your knees. And that one star, the one with the especially snarky, and yet cleverly crafted, dissertation-length review, may likely drive you from your dreams of writing anything ever again.

I think many writers, who might otherwise be interested in the allures of self publishing, still avoid it because they believe having a publisher (regardless of the publisher’s size and actual knowledge of the publishing business) is going to fill that void, that empty gaping hole where the writer should believe in themselves, and their work. That acceptance acts like a Band-Aid of, “Look, it’s not just me…someone else likes my book too.”

And maybe that Band-Aid will be enough.

But I will tell you, if this is how you are going to prop yourself up, by leaning against the facade of traditional legitimacy, all it will take for it to all disappear is for fickle winds of favor to start blowing the other way.

And then, where does that leave you?

Ever heard the tale of the traditionally published debut author that didn’t sell enough books to earn out his meager advance? It left him with no sales, no offer for that next book, and no confidence in his ability. Even with traditional publishing, nothing is guaranteed!

Self-confidence is an absolute MUST in this business.

Be bold! Stare the very real potential of deafening silence in the face and say, “I’m not afraid of you.” Once you face that fear, whatever yours may be, it can’t hold you in paralysis any more.

When it’s ready, when you’re ready, get your work out there anyway you can. If a traditional publisher wants to stand with you—great! Just don’t fool yourself into thinking they’re going to sit up with you in the middle of the night and rock you back to sleep.

Kind of like your kids, no one will ever care about your work as much as you do. (except your mother—for both examples.)

This is just my opinion, but I happen to think you have to stand at the center of your writing career and act as the captain of your own ship—no agent or editor is going to do that for you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to talk you out of your Big Five dream—I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone. Truth be told, I actually hope it’s not the only avenue forever open to me because I’m probably the first writer in line to lick the feet of a Random Penguin should it happen to deign glance in my direction. I still want my books in Barnes and Noble just a bad as you do.

But, if it turns out that the publishing powers that be don’t want me there, I’m not afraid to stand alone, book in hand, and brace myself for silence. My biggest fear is not that I will make a fool of myself—it’s that I will stop trying.

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Rebecca Taylor 2000X3000Rebecca Taylor is the young adult author of ASCENDANT, a recently selected finalist for the 2014 Colorado Book Award. The second book in the Ascendant series, MIDHEAVEN, will release in 2014 and her standalone novel, THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, is now available.

You can find more information about her work at: Web: www.rebeccataylorbooks.com, Blog: www.rebeccataylorbooks.blogspot.com,  Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebeccaTaylorED,  Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/Rebeccataylor, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaTaylorBooks, Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/RebeccaTaylorED

 

How to Make a Damn Good Living as a Writer

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

 

With a title like that you’d think I’d have an answer, right?

Well I do.

Just not one writers like to hear. So let’s get the nasty part out of the way now.

Here goes: Only a very small percentage (under 8%) of working writers are making a living strictly on their writing alone, and those that are have a backlist a mile long. Whether you buy into Digital Book World’s latest report that 85% of writers make less than $1,000 a year or not, the possibility alone is a stunning one.

At least to those not involved in the publishing industry.

We know better.

We have author friends who make little more than a college student during their internship at McDonalds. We just received a check from our publisher which was less than the stamp it cost to mail, and worse, our agent took 15%. We live in a world where daily checks of our sales, in order to determine whether or not we can afford to spurge on the whole wheat bread or just buy the white, mushy crap again, are a regular occurrence.

Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit. But for most of us, if we didn’t hold a day job or better yet, an understanding spouse/partner/sugar daddy we wouldn’t be able to support our writely habit. A habit, yes. Because, let’s face it, we aren’t in this business to become rich.

Which is what I said a few weeks ago during a presentation I was giving on social media for writers. One of the attendees disagreed. He was, in fact, writing to make money. He’d done the research, found a niche, and wrote a book, a book he admits isn’t the best, in order to make a living as a self-published author. And he was making some dough at it. Not enough to retire for good, or even make rent (but close).

Now my publishing/artist ego (the one who suffered over 10 years of rejections and strife to become a published author) immediately reacted. How dare he! We write because we can’t do anything else. We write to live, to breathe, to be titled, WRITER. Those who write for money are hacks!

And then I took a step back, let go of my emotional baggage, and thought about what I now want from my writing career, which is the ability to make a living as a writer. At one point in my life, I wanted nothing more than to be published. To hold the title of author. Now, a total of 12 books in, I want to make a living wage doing what I love.

Maybe he was on to something.

Now I don’t necessarily agree that your book shouldn’t be the best book you can write. If it’s in the world, it should be the best you can give. That being said, I do think we, at least I am guilty of this, I don’t take advantage of the cold-bloodied business side of publishing. I can research who my audience is, and then gear my work toward that audience and advertising. That makes complete sense. There is nothing wrong with writing what you love, and turning it into a revenue stream.

After all, doctors don’t just cut you open and start digging around until they find what ails you. They test, and retest, looking for what needs to be added or removed, and then they get to work. And then you get a huge bill in the mail. See, the system works.

All that being said, you do have other options for making a living as a writer. In fact, I’m currently exploring one of those opportunities.

Online dating.

Or better yet, trolling the internet for anyone will to support my writely habit.

I’m a catch!

So far I’m weighing my choices. It’s a toss-up between a Nigeria Prince and a guy selling Viagra online. Both are very interested in getting to know me better.

As long as I send $50 for a processing fee.

I’ll have to check my sales…

Look Who’s Coming to the Colorado Gold Conference: Peter Senftleben

I first met Peter Senftleben at the Colorado Gold Conference in 2010. After reading his bio, I joined the critique workshop where he and other writers gave feedback on 20 or so pages of my manuscript. The couple of hours I spent in that workshop changed my life.

Forever.

Peter ended up buying that manuscript, which became CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale, in a two-book deal less than a month later.

Surprisingly Peter still speaks to me, even after editing my last book.

Peter’s awesomeness as a editor is but one reason to love him. A few of the others include his taste in TV shows, romance novels, and humorous twitter feed (follow him at @gr8thepeter and find his full bio at the RMFW website).

And without further ado, here an interview with Peter the Great, Associate Editor at Kensington Books:

What genres are you actively looking for? Are there genres you would prefer not to read?
I’m looking for all types of fiction, but mostly every subgenre of romance (of all heat levels), cozy mysteries, thrillers, psychological suspense, upmarket horror, reading group-type fiction, Southern novels, and LGBT fiction. I’m not actively seeking urban fantasy at the moment (the market was flooded), and I don’t acquire westerns for Kensington. We also don’t publish science fiction or fantasy (with one exception), so I’m not really looking for those either. I also don’t have much interest in non-fiction or straight historical fiction (as opposed to historical romance or mystery).

What plot and/or character do you never want to see again? What would you love to see in the next manuscript you read?
I can’t say there’s anything I categorically don’t want to see because even the most tired plot or clichéd character could be fresh with the right voice or twist. That being said, I tend to say no to terrorist plots, simply because I find them trite and often writers use an organization as a  faceless villain. I prefer my bad guys to be human, with realistic motivations, and something specific for the protagonist to target. Often this can be extended to drug lords and human trafficking as well. But, again, they’re all possible if the writer does it well and creates a three-dimensional, dynamic antagonist.
Whenever I start a new submission, I always look for one thing: the desire to keep reading. I recently read something while I was on vacation that I kept going back to as my “fun read” even though it was for work. That’s what I need in everything I read, because that’s what the readers will want to feel as well.

What’s the best advice you can give to writers submitting their first novels?
There are a few things, and if they follow me or other editors and agents on Twitter, they’ll probably learn them (as they will if they attend conferences like Colorado Gold). Above all else: follow submission guidelines; nothing will get your query deleted faster than not sending it the right way. Also, make sure your manuscript is complete and as polished as possible—some of us will overlook a few typos, but some won’t, and sloppiness is just too much work to correct when you’re up to your eyeballs in manuscripts. Third, be patient; your submission is one of hundreds, or even thousands for some agents.

 As a returning Colorado Gold editor/faculty member, besides seeing me of course, what are you looking forward to the most about attending the upcoming conference?
Besides seeing you? Are there other activities? :) There is the hospitality suite… Actually, seriously, my favorite part of Colorado Gold is the critique workshop. It’s great to get a taste of writers’ work and to be able to give them concrete feedback. (For me, at least; they might not like what I say!)

 And finally, what is your all-time favorite books/movies/tv shows?

I’ll start with the easiest, TV: Profiler (except the last season), The Facts of Life, Arrested Development (except the last season), The Mole (when Anderson Cooper hosted), The Comeback (the only season), Scooby-Doo (the originals), Designing Women, Golden Girls, The Twilight Zone, Parks and Recreation (except the first season), Scrubs (except the last season), and the sublime Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies. I’m probably forgetting something, so maybe that wasn’t the easiest.

Movies: Clue! Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion! The Goonies. Memento. FEDS starring Mary Gross and Rebecca DeMornay. I love actually-scary horror movies and stupid comedies, but not usually together.
Books: Too many to list, but everything I’ve worked on, of course. Also The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Dreamboy by Jim Grimsley.

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

Amazon Ranking: From Loser to Bestseller and Back Again

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

*The words/numbers I am about to bore you with are all true.

- You can trust me. I would never lie.

Amazon…*sigh*

Did anyone else get a little flutter just saying the word? Are your hands starting to sweat?

If not, then you probably haven’t launched a book recently. You see, Amazon is now the big dog in book distribution and indie publishing (as to if this is a good thing, that’s another discussion for another time, but let me just say, you shouldn’t trust that a corporation has your best interest at heart and/or put all your pretty Easter eggs in one basket).

In their ultimate wisdom, Amazon has kindly ranked you and your sales (try and hold your applause).

In some ways it’s nice of them since before ranking our sales an author would have only their publisher (which could take months) or Bookscan’s word (which is only a piece of the sales pie) on how well your book is doing or not doing.

So you were basically in the dark unless you hit some bestseller list.

Ah, it was such a saner time.

You lived your days writing instead of obsessing this or that particular number meant.

What does a ranking of 15,038 mean in terms of sales? How many books did I sell today? What does it mean when I drop 100 ranking points? Will someone show me how to work this damn DVR?

But I digress. This is not a tale of personal sales self-discovery. Okay, it is, but there is a bigger point.

On February 28, 2012 my first book, CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale hit the shelves.curses

This was the day my descent into true madness began (which is good to know when explaining your incoherent mumblings about sales to the guys with the white, hug-me jackets). The first few days my sales ranking hovered around 40k (for the sake of brevity, I’m going to only talk Kindle sales and not print copies). When I googled this number, it supposedly meant I was selling about 1-3 books a day (using the kindle sales rank calculator).

Cha-ching!

Yeah, I was as disappointed as you are.

Okay, much, much more. But stay with me.

I was checking my sales ranking every day, and feeling more and more desperate for sales, after all, I’d heard so many times about the horrors of a debut author’s first book tanking. I was convinced I would have to change my name, and move to Florida (Yes, I said it. Florida, a fate worse than Ohio).

Then something magical happened.

Amazon and Kensington (the publisher) worked out some deal where CURSES would be on Amazon’s month long $3.99 and under deal for the month of May 2012. Suddenly my sales ranking dropped to around 700. I hit number 2 on the bestseller list for Science Fiction& Fantasy.

For the entire month I stayed within the top 10. Suffice it to say, I checked those numbers every hour. I grew so obsessed about my ranking that I couldn’t stand to be away from the computer for long, fearing I would miss a big sales jump.

Yeah, I was a wee bit crazed.

But by June 5th my run was over, and my sales started to slump to an average of 20k once again. I still checked every day, sometimes up to seven or eight times for a nice little dip. But slowly my sales ranking obsession eased, and I could focus on writing again.

FROGGY STYLE COVEROver the next months, a couple of other books of mine were released, none setting the Amazon rankings on fire. I did see dips in my sales after certain promotions, the biggest one being when I was on John Scalzi’s The Big Idea with Froggy Style. My sales dropped to somewhere in the 5-7k range.

Which is one of the advantages of sanely watching your sales ranking, you can sometimes figure out what sort of promotional event or marketing worked. Then again, sometimes you have no idea why or what is prompting or hurting your sales.

The disadvantages are many, the main one being, everyone else can see how much you suck too!

Go ahead, look at my rankings. I know you want to. *sigh* I’ll wait.

Oh, you’re back?

Quit laughing. That’s just mean…

Anyway, since Froggy Style was released in March of 2013, I stopped watching my sales ranking so much, checking in maybe once every couple of months. I stopped because, while it’s nice to know how my books are doing on Amazon, sales rankings aren’t the whole picture.

And even more important, I have little to no control over the ups and downs. I cannot control if and when someone buys my books (Yes, I have to repeat this daily, hourly even).

I was feeling much better about my writing career and more importantly myself at this point.

A ranking was no longer controlling me or my life.

And then my latest book, a romantic suspense, The Assassin’s Heart, came out to little fanfare. assassins_heartExcept a few days after its release, RT Book Reviews gave it a 4 ½ stars as well as a gold designation, calling it ‘in a class by itself’. Odd since I’m fairly sure I’m a total hack.

After that, my ranking plummeted from 70k to 1,500 in a day. And the Amazon monkey hopped on my back once again. For three days I obsessed, didn’t write a single word, and watched as a website took control over my life once again.

As of writing this, my sales’ rank for The Assassin’s Heart hovers around 10k (I only checked for the sake of this post. I swear.)

And I’ve joined a 12-step program.

I hear admitting you have a problem is half the battle.

The other half, of course, is your internet connection.

Next time I want to talk about your author ranking on amazon, and how it can turn you into a mass murderer. In the meantime, anyone else experienced sales ranking obsession (SRO)? How do you handle it?

 

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

The Importance of a Good Beta Reader

by Katriena Knights

If you’ve seriously pursued writing for any amount of time, you know you can’t be trusted to judge your own work. Scenes that seem wonderfully constructed in our heads are completely incomprehensible to other people. Glorious flights of poetic prose are actually pools of verbal quicksand from which no reader will ever safely return. It’s a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless.

This is why we need Beta readers.

A good Beta reader will help you find those holes in your manuscript where your brain fills in the details but a reader gets confused or completely lost. She’ll find continuity errors, wobbles in character development, and help you figure out where you’ve indulged yourself too much and could really stand to cut things down a bit.

A really good Beta reader will call you on the phone and say, “Hey, mostly I liked the story, but there’s this one thing I HATE with the BURNING PASSION of a THOUSAND MILLION SUNS. Change it.”

True story.

Yes, we’re still speaking.

My Beta reader iBloodontheIce-ART-Smallers also my best friend. She doesn’t just read my manuscripts, she also feeds me story ideas. For example, my upcoming novel from Samhain, Blood on the Ice, is entirely and completely her fault. And yes, she betaed it for me. A couple of times.

Early in the writing process, she read through some chapters and said, “Wait. Your game schedule is a complete mess.” And then she sent me a link and said, “Use this.”

The link was the entire Chicago Blackhawks schedule from the 1955-1956 season, when the NHL only had six teams. “Just plug your six vampire teams into this schedule. That way it’ll make more sense.”

I think I banged my head against a wall for fifteen minutes. It worked, though. Using the actual schedule—even though I did tweak it a little—added a background continuity that made the Vampire Hockey League more realistic. And if there’s anything that needs added realism, it’s a hockey league populated entirely by vampires.

When my final draft was ready, she told me we could get together over Instant Message on Memorial Day and go through the manuscript. I figured we’d chat for a little while, I’d make a few notes, and then I’d be off to finish my submission-ready draft.

Eight hours later (you read that right—EIGHT. HOURS. LATER.), I had about 25 pages of notes copied and pasted out of IM into a document. I was also really freaking hungry. Over the next few days, I reordered several scenes, added some exposition, and took out an entire character. (You know how they say to kill your babies? This was an ACTUAL BABY. Her whole subplot got removed. Poor thing. Maybe she’ll fit into the next book.)

That right there is what every writer needs in a good Beta reader.

I’m always grateful that my BFF happens to have a ridiculously good story sense and isn’t afraid to tell me when stuff just plain sucks. It’s the kind of objective eye every writer needs. I can’t tell you how to find your own—all I know is you can’t have mine.

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

On Mastery

By Kerry Schafer

Finish the damn book.

I know you’ve heard this before. You’ve heard it from writers far more well known than I am, people like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. There’s even a Finish the Damn Book Contest out there you can enter, if you need that kind of encouragement.

Why?

Because every book you finish teaches you something new about writing. Every story you complete improves your craft, brings you to a higher level of skill, makes you a better writer. The places that make you want to walk away to a new and still shiny idea are the places where you need to up your game and learn something new.

If you give up in the middle, if you abandon your characters and story when the going gets messy in the soggy middle, you never learn how to fix that middle. You’ll never learn how to go back and tweak the beginning to make the middle work. Or rewrite the end so you can fix the beginning.

When you quit, you never really give yourself a chance to become the best writer you can be.

This morning I chanced upon an article about the concept of Mastery that a friend posted on Facebook. It’s written by Maria Popova and is called Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Difference Between Success and Mastery (It’s about a book called The Rise, by Sarah Lewis, which is likely also well worth reading.) Popova talks at length about the gift of failure and the difference between mastery and success. One of the things that really stuck with me was a photo of the Women’s Archery team at Columbia University in about 1920.

These women spent “…countless hours practicing a sport that requires equal parts impeccable precision of one’s aim and a level of comfort with the uncontrollable — all the environmental interferences, everything that could happen between the time the arrow leaves the bow and the time it lands on the target, having followed its inevitably curved line.”

Think about that in the context of the writer’s life. We spend countless hours writing the books - shaping, polishing, perfecting. But after the books leave our hands there are so many interferences beyond our control. Agents, editors, the vagaries of the publishing business, current trends in readers and the market.

I’d like to be Robin Hood, with a level of mastery so magical and mythical that every book I ever writes hits the bulls eye.

But I’m not. And chances are good that neither are you.

So what do we do? We keep writing books. We keep practicing. We keep pursuing mastery of our craft because that is something over which we do have control.

And we never quit.

Which brings me to this, from the unquenchable Chuck Wendig:

“I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started.

I will not whine. I will not blubber. I will not make mewling whimpering cryface pissypants boo-hoo noises. I will not sing lamentations to my weakness.

My confidence is hard and unyielding. Like a kidney stone lodged in the ureter of a stegosaurus.

These are my adult pants. The diapers have burned away in the fires of my phoenix-esque rising…”

Read the rest, here. Then put it on your desktop. Print it off and paste it to your wall. Chant it in front of the mirror.

And then go finish your book. And write another one.

~~~~~

Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2012 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on February 14, 2013. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

10 Myths about Being an Author

By J.A. Kazimer

My name is Julie and I’m an author.

You know I’m telling the truth, because it says so right there on that book —>

Anyway, people are always asking questions. The big one is “Would you like fries with that?” but sometimes the questions relate to being an author. I’m not sure how they know that I write books for a living. Perhaps it’s my author-like scent. I’ve heard all authors emit this special sort of scent- Ode to Words, but I never believed it. Not till my first book was released and I noticed this stench clinging to me. Sure you could blame the whiskey, but I prefer to think that the smelly author myth is actually true. By now you’re probably asking yourself, is there a point to this rambling?

And the answer is…”Can I supersize my drink?”

Okay, now that my order’s complete, let’s talk myths, especially those 10 little ones that cling to authors:

10.  Books are easy to write.

I hate to burst this particular bubble since most people I know say stuff like, “I should write a book.” (And they should. Everyone should try at least once, and then I would never, ever hear that statement again). But book writing (at least good, publishable book writing) is damn hard and it takes months, sometimes years to finish.

9.  Authors are all rich.

Sigh. I wish.  Like me, most authors I know have a day job or a very nice spouse who supports the author’s dream. Even semi-famous authors aren’t making the big bucks. For every six-figure book deal you hear about, there are twenty four figure ones. Worse, if you get an advance, you have to sell enough books to pay that advance (called earning out) before you make a dime on any book you sell.

The recent survey by Digital Book World hubbub showed us all, basically saying, most authors (60% Traditionally-published and 80% Indie-published) make less than $1,000 a year. Ouch. Not that I’m bragging (because I am so not, by a long shot), but I made slightly more than that last year. Mind you, I had 10 books for sale. By the time I have 1,000 for sale I might be able to afford a Venti at Starbucks….But I doubt it.

8.  Authors sell thousands and thousands of books.

To who? Please tell me where can I sell that many books? An average mid-list author with a new release will sell anywhere from 500 to a couple thousand book a year. Most books don’t even sell that many copies.

7.   Once an author sells a book to a publisher, the author can just step back and reap in the royalties.

Ha! How I wish this myth was true.  I sold my first book thinking this same thing. Boy did I learn a lesson over the next year. I had to arrange every book signing, send out all newsletters and press releases for media attention, and buy all my own book swag.  A publisher does their part with editing, printing, and distributing my book, as well as helping to promote it but most of the work falls on the author.

This isn’t Castle. No fancy, black-tie booksignings for me. I’m lucky when a bookshop will let me beg outside the doors for change. That being said, Broadway Bookstore/Who Else Books is the exception to this. Nina and Ron Else are huge supporters of the community. And it’s a great place for a signing!

6.  All books are somewhat autobiographical.

Let me answer this as quick and easily as I can: NO. No. No. No. I am not a fairy tale villain. I’ve never been a fairy tale villain. I don’t shoot people, though sometimes I want to. Nothing in my novel is me or about me.

5.  The narrator in the book is the author.

See the answer above. Whatever point of view a book is told in is a decision made by the author as a means to tell a story. I, the author, am not the narrator. I am merely the chick who types the words.

4.  The day a book is released it will be front and center of the bookstore.

Not true. Here’s another painful lesson I learned. The books you see in the front of the bookstore, well, those are there because someone, likely the publisher, paid the store to place them there. Sadly, bookstores have less and less space for books. Many are now selling e-readers in space that used to house books. So the odds of finding your book on a store’s shelves are about 30/70, even less if you aren’t published by the Big 5.

3.   Authors love attention and talking about their book.

Some do. Others, like me, would rather not be the center of attention. But it’s the nature of our business. If I want to succeed I have to tell people about my book. I’m getting better at this, but the idea of trying to sell my book to a stranger is still hard.

2.  If a book has vampires, ball-gags, or a kid named Harry in it, you’ll make millions.

False. Please, for the love of all words, stop writing to what you think the market is or wants. If J.K. Rowlings or Stephenie Myers jumped off a bridge would you? Be fresh. Be unique. Be yourself.

10.  All authors are young, sexy and hip.

That one is obviously true.

Any myths you would like to add? What are the questions non-writers ask you and how do you respond?

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

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

WORLD-BUILDING WARREN’S WAY

By Warren Hammond

Why do you read fiction?

You might say compelling characters. Or high-stakes drama. Maybe you love the plot twists you didn’t see coming.

Those are all valid responses, but when taken alone, isn’t each of them inadequate? Don’t you read fiction for all those reasons, plus probably dozens of others that I didn’t list?

So I’ll ask again, why do you read fiction? It’s a simple question that seems to defy a simple, one-sentence response. Yet, I’m about to attempt it.

You read fiction because you want to be transported to a different time, place, and emotional state.

Reading is travel.

Visit any location in the world or any point in history from the comfort of your own sofa. Pass the time on that dull bus ride exploring fantastical worlds that push the limits of imagination. Journey into the mind of a serial killer or the queen of a medieval realm. Tour all of the emotions available to us humans. Love and despair. Joy and terror. Satisfaction and guilt.

Fiction can take you anywhere you want to go. Every last remote corner of human (and non-human) experience is accessible through fiction.

That is why you read.

And why you write.

Accept that premise, and you see why world-building is a required skill if you’re going to write good stories. I don’t care what genre you write, world-building is required. You can’t transport your reader unless you have a fully realized location to take them to.

That said, the amount of world-building you do will very much depend on your genre and the kind of story you want to tell. For example, you’d expect to do lots of world-building for an epic fantasy set in an imaginary but vaguely medieval universe. None of your readers have ever lived in such a world, so you’ll have to spend a hefty percentage of your word count orienting them so they don’t feel lost. Lucky for you, in this case, many of your readers have read other books set in vaguely medieval universes, so you’ll have a broad range of well-known tropes to borrow from. But use too many of those tropes and you’ll be accused of being derivative. The trick is to find a pleasing mix of original elements and tried-and-true tropes accepted in your genre.

Write a novel with a contemporary setting, and you’ll dedicate fewer words to building your world. Your readers will already be familiar with cars and computers and cell phones. Set your novel in a city like New York and your job will be even easier since your readers will certainly be familiar with the city even if they’ve ever been there in person.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll be off the hook entirely. Say you want to write a mystery centering around the murder of a yacht racing captain. Now you’ll have a sizable job ahead of you. Most of your readers won’t be familiar with many of the nautical terms, nor will they have much of a clue of how professional yacht racing works. What are the racing rules? Where do yacht teams get their funding? What is the social structure within that world?

Okay, so now that we’ve established the fact that all stories require world-building to various degrees, I’d like to share my guidelines. Guidelines? But you wanted a step-by-step how-to manual. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Writing is a very organic process, and also very personal. What works for one person will likely fail another. The best anybody can do is offer a framework of generalizations, and I hope you’ll take these guidelines as such.

1.       Build a fully-formed world rich with detail. Your world should include all of the following:

Culture – Traditions, clothing, food, language, architecture, manners

History – War, famine, exploration, scientific advancement

Environment – Flora, fauna, weather, geography

Economy – Trade, currency, class structure, resources

Religion – Beliefs, ethics, values, rituals

Unreal* – Futuristic or alien technology, magic, supernatural elements

Politics – Government, military, foreign relations, legal system

This first guideline even comes with a built-in pep talk. Notice the first letters of each line spell CHEER UP!

*Not all genres include elements of the unreal

2.       Use only the relevant details

Now that you’ve built a complex and compelling world, you have to seriously consider which details to include in your story. Include them all, and you’ll slow your plot to a crawl. Instead, you’ll need to choose only those details that have a significant impact on your story and its characters. Don’t bore your readers with minutia they don’t need to know.

3.       Avoid info dumps

Don’t tell us about your world. Put us in your world.

This is fiction, not an encyclopedia. When you introduce a new gadget, show a character using it, and we’ll learn soon enough what it does. When you want to dig into the nitty-gritty of a subject, let your characters discuss the subject in dialog. Or better yet, amp up the tension by turning that discussion into an argument.

Long passages of background information need not apply.

4.       Imbue your world with mood and atmosphere

Don’t forget my original premise, that readers want to be transported to a different time, location, and emotional state. How do you want your reader to feel when they’re in your world? Scared? Awed? Enchanted?

To achieve this goal, show us how your world affects your characters. If the world makes your characters feel scared, it’s likely your reader will feel scared too.

Also be smart with your word choices. Take a simple sentence like this one.

The wind rustles through the leaves.

Replace the word rustles with any of these verbs (whistles, weaves, whips, roars, whispers, barges, snakes), and I think you’ll agree that each one invokes a unique mood.

Create a proper mood, and your world will come alive!

Happy writing!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Warren grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Upon obtaining his teaching degree from the University at Albany, he moved to Colorado, and settled in Denver where he can often be found typing away at one of the local coffee shops.

Warren is known for his gritty, futuristic KOP series. By taking the best of classic detective noir, and reinventing it on a destitute colony world, Warren has created these uniquely dark tales of murder, corruption and redemption.

Always eager to see new places, Warren has traveled extensively. Whether it’s wildlife viewing in exotic locales like Botswana and the Galapagos Islands, or trekking in the Himalayas, he’s always up for a new adventure.