IT’S A WRAP … by Kay Bergstrom aka Cassie Miles

Kay BergstromIt’s easy to start a book. Here’s a clue (4 little words): Once Upon A Time...

The hard part comes when you finally type (2 little words): The End.

In my fantasies, I end the book accompanied by a majestic choir rising from a cloud and singing hallelujah while critics, fraught with anticipation, rush to invent an accolade more laudatory than five stars and fans with real dollars form lines to purchase my own perky prose.

Hah!

Fantasy aside, “The End” results in three possible outcomes: it’s good, it’s not-so-good or it’s done. For example, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good book, while Girl on the Train is not-so-much, and I read all the way to the end of Gone Girl.

Criteria for a Good Book:

There’s no shame in saying that some books are better than others. (I’ve published over 80, some fabulous and some suck.) Like a good parent, I hate to admit I have favorites and prefer one over the other. So, I’ve come up with guidelines.

How can you tell if you’ve written a good book? Reviews and second reads aren’t always helpful. If there were truly as many 5 star reviews as are given on Amazon, we would undoubtedly be living in the golden age of literature. Are we? Are we really? The following are craft-oriented ways to judge.

  1. Genre Fulfillment: Each genre, including literary, has certain reader expectations for the ending. In mystery/suspense, the villain is captured. In romance, it’s HEA (happily ever after). In science fiction, the alien scum is thwarted and good prevails. In literary, life goes on, with or without the main character; too pat an ending will ruin a literary book. The more genre-specific, the better. Example: In teen dystopia, the teen comes into his/her powers and saves the day (follows the classic Hero’s Journey plot).
  2. No Loose Ends: All those cheerful digressions that made writing the novel so much fun need to be paid off. Otherwise, the reader gets to “The End” and, instead of reveling in the joys of a book well-writ, is worrying about the dwarf mentioned in Chapter Three. Consider keeping a character list and planting a plot tree with all the twigs and branches, conflicts and motivations.
  3. Character Arc: Your main character MUST change during the course of the book. The whole point of fiction, the reason fiction is different from real life, is that the struggling protagonist ALWAYS changes. As referenced with loose ends, conflicts and motivations must be resolved. A good way to make sure you’ve done your job and changed the protagonist is to place them in the same situation in the opening and at the close. Example: My current book, Mountain Bodyguard, starts with the self-centered heroine in a dark room with no electricity and ends with the electric being purposely cut so she can escape after saving a life and catching the bad guys.

Bottom line with a good book: If well-written, the ending is incredibly satisfying.

If Not-so-Good:

2016_Bergstrom_BodyguardSuppose you get to the end and decide your novel isn’t “as good as it can be.”

Sitting on your right shoulder is the cheerful writing muse who will tell you, in dulcet tones, that this is a grand development. You can rewrite. You have a chance to go back, review the plot and characters and fix it.

On the left shoulder is The Critic, a total curmudgeon who will tell you that it’ll never be good enough. You could rewrite until doom’s day (which probably isn’t far off), and it’ll never be good enough.

The truth is somewhere in-between.

  1. You can become a constant re-writer, polishing and polishing until you’ve worn the poor book down to a nub.
  2. You can turn your back on those imperfect pages and put the book out on line. Or start shipping it to editors and agents who will surely love it because your every keystroke is sheer genius.
  3. Re-write for a set period of time, until you reach a point when you feel the book is good enough. Call it done and start marketing.
  4. Re-write until you come to the sad realization that the patient is terminal. Have a nice cremation and/or burial, say good-bye and move on to the next project.

It’s a Wrap:

I’m not talking about a poncho or shawl. Not talking about one of those truly heinous fur pieces with the fox’s head still attached. Not even talking about an infinity scarf that truly goes on for infinity.

There comes a time when the writing process is over, and the book is a wrap. Good, bad or indifferent, completion is its own reward, although a chocolate and champagne celebration is nice. Remember, when there’s an ending, another beginning is possible.

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Kay Bergstrom aka Cassie Miles has published over 80 books of romance and suspense, has also sold screenplay treatments, radio plays and articles. She’s been on the USA TODAY Best-seller List and her last book was on the PW Best-seller List. She’s been RMFW Writer of the Year twice, and served as President, Veep and Treasurer. Her current Harlequin Intrigue is Mountain Bodyguard.

Which is Stranger—Truth or Fiction? … by Margaret Mizushima

“Humankind cannot take too much reality.” ~T.S. Elliott

Margaret MizushimaI love it when a grizzled detective on Dateline or 48 Hours shakes his head in amazement and says to the interviewer, “This crime is so twisted. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.” As a mystery writer, I can’t help but think, Oh, but we do.

Crime fiction writers spend countless hours researching their novels—the law, law enforcement, crime scene investigation and technology, the elements of their crime, you name it—but we still rely on our imaginations to utilize the information and create scenes from what we’ve learned. And you know what happens when a writer’s imagination kicks into gear? Mighty chaos can break loose. We try to “stick to the facts, ma’am,” but it doesn’t always work out that way. The truth might get tweaked or facts might be dramatized for fictional purposes.

Still, facts and fiction intermingle. I’d like to give you a few examples from my debut, Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery. Prior to writing the book, I was fortunate to shadow two skilled police dog trainers and watch them work with dogs and handlers. These professionals told me stories about the amazing things their dogs accomplished on the job. The crime fighting duo in my Timber Creek mystery series are Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, a dog cross-trained in narcotics detection and patrol. So when I sat down to write, what does Robo do? He finds the body of teenage girl!

This discouraged me, because patrol dogs are typically trained in cadaver work or narcotics detection but not both. A phone call to one of my consultants solved my dilemma. “The trainer could have tested the dog for cadaver work when he was young but ultimately decided to go with narcotics detection training,” she said. “Some of these dogs remember everything.” Ah…okay then. Keep writing.

Mizushima_Killing TrailHere’s another example: My husband is a veterinarian and he helps me plot my stories. Before I wrote Killing Trail we brainstormed elements of the crime and came up with the idea that drug traffickers would use large dogs as mules by force-feeding them balloons filled with cocaine. Several months later, I was walking the treadmill while watching television and saw a news clip on drug traffickers in Columbia who used greyhounds as mules by surgically implanting bags of heroin under their skin. This example of how reality followed fiction told me a couple things—one, our idea wasn’t too far-fetched, and two, these crooks can be more cruel and inhumane than my husband and I can imagine.

And one more: In my series, ranchers and merchants of Timber Creek are concerned about drug traffic through their community, so they donate money for the sheriff’s department to buy a narcotics detection dog. After the book was written, a friend of mine sent an article from a small town newspaper about townspeople organizing a committee to raise money for a narcotics detection dog for their police department. The town council nixed the concept. Some speculated it was turned down because several council members were participants in the local drug traffic problem. Hmm…fact or fiction?

Don’t you think T.S. Elliott would be shocked by the reality television shows we have in our world today? I know I am at times, and I agree that it’s debatable whether or not some of these shows are scripted. But I’ve come to believe that both fiction and reality can startle, shock, and sometimes be downright unbelievable. And as to which one is stranger—I think it’s a toss up.

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Margaret Mizushima has a background in speech pathology and practiced in an acute care hospital before establishing her own rehabilitation agency. Currently, she balances writing with assisting her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her fiction has won contest awards, and her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 anthology, Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking, and she lives with her husband on a small ranch in Colorado where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/Author Margaret Mizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website.

This post was previously published in December 2015 at Patricia Stoltey's blog.

Editorial love and the question of who hires whom … by Laura Lis Scott

So infinity scientists walk into a bar.

Editor—This is very unbelievable. Infinity isn't a real number. Nobody will believe this. And what does the bar look like? What kind of bar? Irish bar? Modern slick bar? Dive bar? Give us some details!

Version 2Are you traditionally published? Are you indie? In many ways, it doesn't matter, does it? A book is a book, isn't it? The process is essentially the same, isn't it? Well, except for the marketing budget.

I submit that there also is a difference when it comes to the editing phase. Let me explain.

In traditional publishing...

...the author-editor relationship is defined by the editor's (presumed) interest in the author's manuscript. Why else would they be working together? The relationship begins when the editor likes the author's submitted manuscript enough to deem it good enough (or salvageable enough) to potentially appeal to readers.

Under this dynamic, where the editor initiates the relationship, the author can proceed under the following assumptions:

  1. The editor is interested in her work.
  2. The notes the author gets from the editor can be read with the belief that the editor likes her work.
  3. The editor holds the keys to publication. In the case of differences of opinion, the weight of the author's opinion (right or wrong) depends on the editor's judgment, ethics, mores, and clout within the publishing organization — not to mention any policies the publisher itself may have in place (e.g., no characters who own ferrets, no portrayals of cigarette smoking).

The first scientist says, "I'll have a beer."

The second scientist says, "I'll have half a beer."

Editor—Is it possible to order half a beer? I've never heard of this. What if the second scientist orders a small beer?

In independent publishing (or self-publishing)...

...the author has the initiative. The (smart) author seeks out and selects an editor. She may or may not know the editor's work very well, aside from what it might say on the editor's website. The editor's decision to work on the book might be driven in part by schedule and financial imperatives. After all, who wants to turn away paying work? In this case, the author must operate under different assumptions:

  1. There is no reason to assume that the editor even likes the manuscript. The editor may actually hate the manuscript. Or the author's style. Or where the story goes.
  2. The notes the author gets from the editor must be read with that caveat.
  3. For better or worse, the author holds the keys, and makes the ultimate decision as to what ends up in the final published book.

A third scientist says, "I'll have a quarter beer."

A fourth scientist says, "I'll have an eighth of a beer."

Editor—Nobody is going to believe this. What is the point of this scene? Things are happening very easily? Where is the obstacle? Squeeze some juice out of this scenario. Are we going to see ANY of these scientists later in the story? What do they look like? Are they male? Female? What ethnicity? Are they old? Young?

2016_Scott_cover art1Disclaimer

I expect many will object to this assessment. Generalizations are not generals. Any traditionally published author can end up with an editor who doesn't like her book. And any indie author can randomly end up with an editor who loves her book. My hope is that every author can and does find the ideal editor for her book.

But consider that in traditional publishing the vast majority of books are rejected many many times by many many editors before they finally find a home. Most editors are not likely to like any given book. That's only natural. Think about it. If you were handed a published book chosen randomly from a bookstore, how likely are you to like it?

A fifth scientist steps up, but the bartender raises his hand and says, "I understand."

Editor—This is wonderful. It builds anticipation. I am wondering what he understands!

2016_Scott-cover artWhat is an indie author to do?

First, understand that good editors are professionals. On one level, any good professional editor is going to help you by catching plot holes, grammatical errors, continuity errors, consistency problems, etc. And if she knows your genre, she will also be able to catch issues that might trip up your genre's readers.

But let's face it, readers read books for love and enjoyment. On some level, the ideal situation is to have an editor who loves your book like you do, like a reader would — not so that the editor will kiss your butt but so that she'll be able to bring an emotional dimension to her helping you, the author, achieve what you're trying to achieve.

If you're an indie writer who has hired an editor, your challenge then is to parse out the valid critiques of your own writing from the notes that might, just might, reflect only the editor's dislike of your voice, or ignorance of your story's milieu, or inability to grok your sense of humor.

The bartender pours two beers.

Editor—I don't understand this. Why is the bartender pouring two beers? Who ordered two beers?

Personally...

...I think this is a difference in the relationship, but it doesn't have to lead to a disadvantage (either way) in the outcome. It's just something to keep in mind.

As a writer, as it turns out, I'm blessed to be working with a wonderful editor who is a huge believer in my work.

As an editor, this paradigm is humbling. I feel fortunate to have edited mostly stories and novels I've chosen. My days going through the "slush pile" were only as a reader. My respect for freelance editors braving this world rises every day.

Editor—Suggest this rewrite:

Two scientists walk into a shadowy Irish pub with sawdust on the floor and dart boards across the back wall. The two well-groomed women, who wear lab coats over business suits, approach bar. The taller woman says, "I would like to have beer!"

Her friend says, "I'll have the same."

With a friendly grin, the bartender pours two tall, frothy dark ales.

Editor—Now we can get on with the story!

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Laura Lis Scott is author of the feminist political satires A Spy in Stilettos and The Colonel's Secret Service. She is editor, designer, and co-founder of Toot Sweet Ink, a new indie publisher of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, magical realism, and contemporary fiction. Lis Scott has waited tables, delivered campus mail, driven a truck (more like a van), wordprocessed business and legal documents, written and produced videos, produced B-movie trailers, directed television, designed and developed websites, edited magazine articles, blogged professionally (and amateurishly), served on non-profit boards, co-founded a web development company, raced cars (on actual racetracks — street racing is dumb), and written a handful of stories. She has lived in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles; now she lives in Colorado, where the sun always shines, even on the cloudy days. Laura has BA from The University of Chicago and an MFA from Columbia University of New York. She can be found on Twitter @lauras. Her website is lauralisscott.com.

 

A Study in Scarlett (Or: Can I Be Sued For Writing That?) Part 2 of 2 … By: Chuck Greaves

2016_Chuck GreavesYesterday we discussed defamation. Today we'll cover two related concepts that can also expose a writer to liability, as well as some defensive strategies that writers may wish to adopt.

"Right to Privacy" simply refers to the right of an individual to be left alone in her personal affairs. As with defamation, privacy laws vary from state to state, but with common elements in most states. Generally speaking, an aggrieved plaintiff must prove (a) that publicity was given to matters concerning her private life, (b) that the matters made public would be highly offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities, and (c) that the matters publicized were neither newsworthy nor concern any legitimate public interest.

This last element of the tort – newsworthiness or public interest – effectively precludes invasion-of-privacy suits by celebrities or other public figures. But authors of biography, true-crime, and other forms of nonfiction often write about real people who are not celebrities, and even novelists will sometimes base their characters on people they know. Care must be taken in these cases to avoid invading the privacy rights of your subjects, whose identities are either explicitly stated or can be gleaned from the context of the writing.

Memoirists who publicize private and embarrassing information about their (non-celebrity) friends or family run an especially high risk of being sued for invasion of privacy, and this is doubly true of self-published authors who cannot cite a traditional publisher’s support for her work as evidence of its inherent “public interest.”

As is the case with defamation, only a living person can sue for invasion of privacy. Unlike defamation, however, the truth of the statement in question is no defense against potential liability.

"Right of Publicity" refers to the commercial value of an individual’s name, likeness, or identity. If you’re planning to sell t-shirts with Justin Bieber’s unlicensed image, for example, or to use his name to advertise your other products or services, you can expect to be sued.

Unlike defamation or the right to privacy, which are considered “personal” rights, an individual’s right of publicity is a property right that exists during her lifetime and that, in many jurisdictions, survives her death and may be enforced by her estate. (So much for your fallback plan to sell Elvis Presley t-shirts.)

But can you put Justin or Elvis on the cover of your latest book? The answer is . . . it depends.

Unfortunately for authors whose works are, of necessity, published in all fifty states, the laws governing right-of-publicity actions are a veritable hodgepodge of inconsistent state laws. Roughly half the states, for example, have statutes that expressly govern right-of-publicity claims, while half still rely on common law principles that prohibit unfair competition or preclude the misappropriation of a person’s name or likeness on privacy grounds. Moreover, in those states that have enacted legislation, the laws vary widely, with some affording post-mortem protection to all citizens and others protecting only those persons whose name or likeness had demonstrable commercial value during their lifetimes. Also, in those states with right-of-publicity statutes that include post-mortem protection, the length of that protection varies, from a low of 20 years after death (Virginia) to a high of 100 years (Indiana.)

Fortunately for authors, some states expressly exempt books, as well as advertisements for books, from right-of-publicity claims. Many, however, do not. And while the First Amendment has been held to protect so-called “creative or expressive works,” both factual and fictional, some courts limit First Amendment protection only to those works whose creative or expressive character is found to “predominate.”

The upshot is that authors, unlike commercial advertisers, should be safe from suit on right-of-publicity grounds where their work is predominately creative or expressive in nature. That means (subject to the photographer’s copyright) using Elvis’s image on the cover of your Elvis Presley biography is probably safe, whereas using it on your Elvis coloring book is inviting a trip to the Heartbreak Hotel.

Remember also that First Amendment protection may not extend to works that are published or to suits that are filed abroad, as the Scarlett Johansson verdict – a five-thousand Euro defamation award in France – clearly illustrates.

There are a few commonsense steps that you as an author can take to avoid being sued. In choosing your book's subject matter, for example, you can avoid reference to living persons. For authors of true crime and historical literature, that may mean choosing events that occurred more than a century ago. If that is neither possible nor desirable, then take care in your research to avoid factual errors or embellishments. In memoir, consider changing the names, physical descriptions, or other identifying characteristics of the real people – particularly the non-celebrities – about whom you write. In fiction, be sure your characters do not closely resemble real people you know or have met. When in doubt, consider obtaining written permission from those you wish to portray.

Lastly, please bear in mind that the foregoing is merely an overview, as was yesterday’s discussion of defamation, and that a full explication of the law in this area could and does fill entire textbooks. At the end of the day, buying an hour or two with a lawyer experienced in the publishing field may be the best investment an author can make.

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A retired trial lawyer, Chuck Greaves is the author of five novels, most recently Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo (Bloomsbury) a Wall Street Journal "Best Books of 2015" selection. You can visit him at his website.

A Study in Scarlett (Or: Can I Be Sued For Writing That?) Part 1 of 2 . . . By Chuck Greaves

2016_Chuck GreavesYou’ve heard the horror stories. Scarlett Johansson sues acclaimed French author Grégoire Delacourt for invoking her name in describing a fictional character. A jury awards Jesse Ventura $1.8 million against the estate of American Sniper author Chris Kyle over Kyle’s account of an alleged barroom brawl. Novelist Haywood Smith suffers a $100,000 jury verdict for her pseudonymous description of a friend in her bestselling The Red Hat Club. Augusten Burroughs settles with the family depicted in his bestselling Running With Scissors and agrees to rewrite the book’s Acknowledgments and Author’s Note.

As these and other cases illustrate, there are risks inherent in writing about real people. And since most publishing contracts require the author to indemnify the publisher in the event suits like these are filed, those risks fall squarely on the writer’s shoulders. Fortunately, lawsuits over literary depictions are rare, and adverse outcomes rarer still. Authors should nonetheless familiarize themselves with three legal pitfalls that, if ignored, could expose them to substantial attorneys’ fees and costs and, in some cases, to liability for monetary damages.

Today we’ll discuss defamation, the first and most common, and therefore the most dangerous, of these pitfalls:

Defamation refers to false statements of fact that result in reputational injury to another. Spoken defamation is called “slander,” while written defamation – the kind we’re concerned about – is called “libel.” While the laws governing libel vary from state to state, all have certain elements in common. In order to win a judgment for libel, an aggrieved plaintiff – that's the person bringing suit – must usually prove that a statement of fact (a) was published, (b) was false, (c) was not privileged, and (d) caused injury to the plaintiff’s reputation.

Note that libel laws pertain only to statements of fact, and not to opinions. Thus, the statement “I think Jones is a jerk” should not be actionable, whereas the statement “Jones is a child pornographer” would likely be actionable, depending on Jones’s ability to prove the other elements of a libel claim. Note also that simply couching a statement as opinion – i.e., “I think Jones is a child pornographer” – will not necessarily insulate its author from liability where, as in this example, the statement implies the existence of supporting facts.

“Publication” in the context of libel does not mean that the false statement was actually printed and sold; it simply means that the statement was communicated to a third person who understood it. Thus, a libelous falsehood that appears in the first draft of a manuscript that the author shares only with her agent, or with a few beta readers, has been “published” for purposes of the libel laws.

Because “falsity” is an essential element of defamation, it follows – and this cannot be overemphasized – that truth is an absolute defense to a claim of libel. But if suit is filed, who has the burden of proving the statement’s truth or falsity? Ordinarily it is the plaintiff in a civil action who must prove all elements of her claim. In libel law, however, a “media defendant” – which includes an author, journalist, or publisher – bears the burden of proving the statement’s truth unless the plaintiff is herself a public figure or official, in which case the burden remains with the plaintiff to prove falsity.

“Privilege” will often, on public policy grounds, insulate an otherwise libelous statement from liability. The First Amendment, for example, protects authors and journalists who fairly comment on matters of public interest, or who accurately republish official statements or proceedings. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the false reporting of facts about a public figure or official by a media defendant enjoys First Amendment protection unless the defendant acted with “actual malice,” meaning with knowledge of the statement’s falsity or reckless disregard for its truth.

“Injury” to one’s reputation requires more than just hurt feelings, and a libel plaintiff must ordinarily prove actual monetary loss. Where, however, the libelous statement accuses the plaintiff of a crime, or of sexual misconduct, or of conduct (such as dishonesty) that’s incompatible with her trade, business, or office, then monetary damage will sometimes be presumed.

A final, important attribute of defamation law is that you cannot defame a dead person. This means that neither a deceased person’s estate nor her heirs or descendants can sue an author for libel unless the false statement in question also independently defames the suing plaintiff.

That’s a brief overview of the law of defamation. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the related concepts of invasion of privacy and the right of publicity, as well as some defensive strategies that writers may wish to consider.

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A retired trial lawyer, Chuck Greaves is the author of five novels, most recently Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo (Bloomsbury) a Wall Street Journal "Best Books of 2015" selection. You can visit him at his website.

Returning to the Horror of it All … by F. P. Dorchak

After I released Voice last year, my thoughts once again turned to something I’d been considering for a while...

Short stories.

Now, I’m not an award-winning anything (I’d always wanted to be some kind of a William F. Nolan— who at one point claimed to have published everything he’d ever written—but I’m not...), rarely known (in fact some of my writer friends still greet me as “Heeey, youuu...”), and I’m no longer agented (five years, three novels, no takers, parted amicably). I’m an Indie author and for good or ill I’ve been writing since I was...well...very young. To be honest (and not unlike all of you), I love making shit up. Love messing around with the imagination. And I did a lot of that through short stories, most of them unpublished. Arguably, these stories weren’t doing anyone any good where they were (in cold, dark, computer files...), so why didn’t I take a look at them and see if any were worthy of non-traditional publication?

So, I dove in and now have nearly 20 of them out there on one of my blog sites; in fact, I’m currently scheduled out through the beginning of July with them and have (plenty?) more still to be released. Some are not as good as others, but the ones I am releasing are the better of my repertoire (to use a cool word). They’re not released in a particular order, and I release a new one every Friday.

But there was another reason I’d gone back to all my old short work: I’d wanted to revisit the roots of my writing.

2016_Dorchak_VoiceI’d cut my teeth (and other body parts—not all of which were mine...) on horror fiction. I wrote about blood and gore and creepiness. I’ve since largely departed the horror scene for what I call “paranormal fiction,” where I write about the weird and the metaphysical and supernatural...but I’m not above throwing in a little grit now and then. It is quite eye-opening to see where my head was at as a younger guy. Some of my work was quite nasty—and not all of it is meant to see the light of day—but it’s interesting to see “The Possession of Frank,” as he was driven to write all this early stuff. Since we’re talking 30 years, I’d actually forgotten about many of these stories! So, it was (and is, since I’m still doing this) quite enlightening! I’d experimented with different kinds of stories, done some prose and those other “rhyme-y kind” of poems, and for a period of time even tried to write as short a story as possible...and this was before anything called “flash fiction.”

I believe, above all else, story is King (or Queen, if you prefer). To me, I’m inspired by the story...and again perhaps like many of you, I don’t sit around and intentionally think this stuff up. It just comes to me and I feel compelled to write it down...effect the incorporeal corporeal. None of them are perfect, but that’s another cool part about them...their imperfections...the imperfection of a twenty-something-or-younger trying to find his way...his voice...his story...and do his best in bringing all of it to liiife!

Yes, some of my older work is, indeed, horrific—and not in a genre-kind-of-way—but, still, it’s fascinating to me. Future-Me is unearthing Past-Me, and I’m uncovering all kinds of passion and art in these archaeological digs. I willingly gave (and still do, though not to the same zealous extent anymore) much of my life to sitting down behind a typewriter-and-later-computer to create and work these things at the expense of a lot of other things. It has rekindled the passion of Past-Me into Future-Me. I am going to publish the better of these short stories under my Indie imprint, Wailing Loon in the next year or so. In fact, I’m soon-to-be releasing one of them, “Clowns,” as an e-short story on Amazon’s KDP Select. It’s one of those “short-shorts” I’d mentioned. Two pages. A fun, creepy tale of good clowns gone bad. And knives are involved.

I hope all writers (and artists) out there will have a time in their lives where they, too, can afford to revisit the roots of their writing. When I was younger I was still propagating my roots; when I was done with one piece, I literally was on to the next. Not much looking back. I was constantly blasting forward...sending things out, out, and out. Writing, writing, writing! Constantly starting new stuff, so much so, that after thirty-some years (I started treating writing as a business in the mid-eighties), I’d forgotten about all the stuff I had written...but now I’m rediscovering them.

Rediscover your roots.

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F. P. Dorchak has written many short stories, forgotten most of them, and is the author of Voice, Psychic, ERO, The Uninvited, and Sleepwalkers. Hopefully these are not forgettable. His short story, “Tail Gunner” is in The You Belong Collection – Writings and Illustrations by Longmont Area Residents regional anthology, and his latest release, the very short story, “Clowns,” is soon-to-be-available through Amazon’s KDP Select, once the cover is complete. As far as he can recall, he blogs at Runnin Off at the Mouth and Reality Check. His recently remembered website is www.fpdorchak.com, and as far as he can tell, his Twitter handle is https://twitter.com/fpdorchak. He vaguely recalls other forms of social media...all of which are on his website. He’s forgotten more than he ever knew.

The Absolute, Total, No Doubt about It, Guide to Writing … by Richard Keller

Rich-KellerTake a look at the Internet – without stopping for cute puppy videos – and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of blog posts and news items labeling themselves as the be-all, end-all guides to writing. Compare them to each other and I bet you’ll find large similarities between them all. There’s a finite amount of material these people provide, and most of it comes from sites other people have put together from other people on the web have put together that –. Well, you see what I mean.

Now come back here, because I have tremendous news. I am now going to provide the absolute, total, no-doubt-about-it guide to writing. Regardless if you’re a seasoned author or someone sharpening the last pencil in their vast collection, the following is the definitive guide to become a galactically-successful author. You no longer need to go to any other site for writing advice.

1. Don’t write what you know. Let me clarify. You can write what you know if you’re a space alien ready to invade Earth, a superhero, or a super spy with a whole bunch of cool gadgets. You can also write what you know if you’re a musician/actor/artist who had a horrible childhood, gained humongous success, burned out on drugs, got clean, burned out again, got clean again, found God, and was probed by aliens. Should you be someone who’s greatest achievement is getting free premium channels when you didn’t pay for them, think about writing about space aliens, or a superhero, or –.

2. Be a snoop. Do you know how Weird Al Yankovic came up with the hit parody “Like a Surgeon?” He heard Madonna had asked her friend when Weird Al would parody “Like a Virgin” with “Like a Surgeon.” You know how J.K. Rowling came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series? She watched wizards and witches run through a column on Platform 9 of Kings Cross Station. Authors need to have their eyes and ears open at all times in order to absorb a potential story idea. Just don’t put together a book of stories inspired by overheard conversations at the coffee shop. I have that gig in the bag.

3. Admit Writer’s Block is just an excuse to watch Real Housewives. Please, you’re a creative talent! Story ideas and words should be flowing through your mind from the time you wake up to the time you to bed. And, as long as strange inner voices aren’t interrupting those ideas and words, there’s no limit to what you can put down on paper. Can’t think of the next chapter for your manuscript, switch to a short story, a poem, or a letter to Bravo asking them to start a Real Housewives of Hoboken series.

4. Copy current trends. Let’s see … that means you should imitate the following themes: dystopian futures; apocalyptic futures; dystopian, apocalyptic futures; teen angst; dystopian teen angst; apocalyptic teen angst; dystopian, apocalyptic teen angst; futuristic, dystopian, apocalyptic teen angst; and cookbooks.

Finally,

5. Well, maybe you should go to other sites.

A version of this post was first published on Patricia Stoltey's blog in November 2014.

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New Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers member Richard Keller is the founder of Wooden Pants Publishing and the Associate Director of Northern Colorado Writers. Richard has written over two thousand articles over the last three decades for various media outlets, including USA Today, RM Parent, Fort Collins Magazine, BellaSpark, The Coloradoan, and AOL TV. Richard resides in Northern Colorado with his wife and five children. In his spare time, Richard likes to read, travel, perform Improv, and sleep in a sensory deprivation chamber to get at least one minute of peace.

To learn more about Richard and his publishing company, visit the Wooden Pants Publishing website. He can also be found on Facebook.

Romance – my addiction of choice … by Desiree Holt

DesireeHolt200x263Okay, okay, so I’m a sucker for a happy ending. But here’s how I look at it. Every day there is so much pain and misery in the world, not to mention the problems we face dealing with everyday life. When I curl up with a book, I want to know that the ending will be happy and satisfying and the hero and heroine will end up together. Oh, their road to happiness will certainly be filled with rocks and thorns. Where’s the fun in having them meet, fall in love and just trot off into the sunset? And who’d believe it , anyway?

Because romance, for all that it’s fantasy, also has to be grounded in reality. The readers I know who love romance want to change places with the heroine. They want to meet the hero, flawed though he may be, and be the woman he falls in love with. They want to be tall, short, thin, curvy, blonde, brunette, redhead—something they are not in real life. Because even in the happiest and most fulfilling relationships, there is always the desire to dream and fantasize. Romance gives women that opportunity.

I didn’t come to the romance genre at once, though. I thought I would write mysteries, because that’s what I read growing up. But when I finally sat down to write that first book, I could not get past chapter three. Then I read my first romantic suspense and I thought, This is what I am going to write. I wrote that first book in an effort to create my own hero like the one I’d fallen in love with—dark, dangerous, self-controlled except in bed. A bad boy who did good. And so sexy I wanted to find a way to bring him to life.

It certainly wasn’t all skittles and beer after that, though. There were far fewer opportunities to “break the barrier,” so to speak, then there are now. Self publishing wasn’t even on anyone’s horizon. But I plugged away at it (totally necessary) and eventually got my first break. Others followed. And as my backlist grew along with my readership,. I discovered I could spread my wings and test other subgenres.

Maybe it was my age. I was seventy years old when my first book was published, arriving at a time in life where I didn’t feel constrained to be bound by strict rules. I read two romances about wolf shifters and fell in love with the genre. Five series have been born of that. I love the wolf. I think he is a magnificent, romantic animal so writing about wolf shifters was easy for me.

2015_Holt_DH_RawEdgeofDanger_KindleI enjoy action adventure movies and television, and read thrillers by several authors, so it was natural for me to say, okay, let’s try that subgenre. And what fun that turned out to be. No one told me I couldn’t do it, because by then the marketplace had changed drastically. I loved creating those darkly adventurous men who jumped out of helicopters, fought terrorists and took down the bad guys. And of course, were incredible lovers. As a writer I was free to let my imagination run wild and I did, drawing with words the kind of heroes I wanted to drag into my house and lock the doors!

Then I got a little more adventurous, and created heroines I wanted to be myself. They practiced at gun ranges, were crack shots, could take down criminals without blinking an eye. And were rewarded with a romance that sizzled their toes.

It has been and continues to be such fun letting my imagination run wild. As I said before, you reach an age where you ignore restrictions and create in the pages of your stories the kind of life experiences you’d like for yourself. And romance is really the only genre where you can do this unfettered.

I’ve met a lot of people on my journey. I should probably dig out my tee shirt that says, Careful or you’ll end up in my next book. Because that happens so often. I meet interesting or good looking people and immediately start creating a story line for them.

But let’s complete the circle and get back to romance. In a romance story you can push the boundaries, give your imagination free rein, write scenes that your readers can live vicariously. As you get older, it becomes so much easier to do that. To “cast off the bonds of restriction.” To write yourself into a story, playing out your fantasy.

Do you have a story in your head? A character you’d love to create? Or meet? Then sit down and put your fingers on your keyboard. Let your imagination flow and go wild. I promise the end result will be worth it.

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Known as the oldest living author of erotic romance, Desiree Holt has produced more than two hundred titles in nearly every subgenre of romance fiction. Her stories are enriched by her personal experiences, her characters by the people she meets. After fifteen years in the great state of Texas, she relocated back to Florida to be closer to members of her family and a large collection of friends. Her favorite pastimes are watching football, reading, and researching her stories.

Learn more about Desiree and her novels at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook and her Facebook author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

Note from Desiree: I will pick one commenter at random (using random.org) to receive a $25.00 Amazon.com gift card. This giveaway is open to anyone anywhere, but please post your comment by midnight U.S. Mountain Time on Thursday, December 17th.

The Power of Communal Marketing … by Mari Christie

2015_Mariana GabrielleA year ago, I released my first Regency romance as an indie author, Royal Regard, under the pen name Mariana Gabrielle. Two days ago, one of my books was mentioned in USA Today, a box set that has been on the Amazon Hot New Release and Bestsellers lists for three months, and today, my newest book, a perma-free novella, hit the Amazon lists for the first time.

So, does this mean I am “successful”?

At the risk of breaking the secret author code, let me jump into the numbers a bit. I have increased my income this month—from $1/day to $6/day—though one never knows when such a drastic change will occur or how long it will hold true. As of August, I had been pretty consistently selling an average of half a book a day for months, with occasional rises for new releases and sales. For the past three months, I am averaging three hundred downloads a day (though the royalties do not accrue to me), and I have momentum, which, to me, feels meteoric. I don’t have an agent or publisher or virtual assistant, but somehow, I have managed to claw my way onto the very first rung of the ladder to becoming a HistRom lower-mid-lister. A milestone, by the by, that doesn’t even remotely come with a paycheck yet.

At this rate, after all the promo copies and contests and swag, and box set royalties to charity, I won’t break even financially for another 100 years—1000 years, if you think I should be paid for my time, too.

Bluestocking Belles logo-02But still, ‘tis the season for gratitude and celebration! So, I decided to reflect on how I got here in a year. There are a couple of primary factors, foremost the holiday box set featured in the USA Today column, which was predicated on the best marketing decision I have made thus far—creating the Bluestocking Belles.

To be clear, I have been a marketing and promotions professional since pre-Internet days, but the “E-Book Marketing Milieu” is really a whole new world for me, often highly uncomfortable. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and I have been a co- and cross-promotion proponent for years. When I saw Mark Coker’s general advice, about a year ago, in a spectacular Smashwords blog post on the future of the industry, a few things really resonated: “Take the long view. Network with fellow indies. Take risks, experiment, and fail often. Publish multi-author box set collaborations. Dream big dreams. Celebrate your fellow authors’ success.”

As members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, of course, we believe in the power of writers banding together to advance ourselves and our industry, but this article made me wonder, as a long-time co-promoter, whether it might it work in a more targeted, individualized, sales-focused way, even in the Amazonian jungle of a marketplace? These ideas coalesced into a general online call to other historical romance authors interested in long-term co- and cross-promotion. After talking to a couple dozen writers over the space of a couple of months, eight of us finally committed to a long-term group plan and officially launched The Bluestocking Belles in March 2015. I have no compunction in suggesting that we are the hardest working Regency writers online, busting our tails to entertain our readers.

And it has paid off nine months later, to the tune of 300+ $0.99 downloads per day of our box set (guesstimating about 9,000 total by the time this blog posts), with the 35% royalty going to the Malala Fund. With another three months left in this sales cycle, we have already raised more than $3,500 for charity via royalties and direct fundraising, far more than I could have raised alone. And as far as sales of my income-generating books, my perpetual half-a-book-a-day is currently three books a day. (Meteoric, I say!)

To be sure, the success of the box set was also predicated on many hours of work the Belles have put in on other projects, establishing ourselves as a brand in the historical romance marketplace.

On top of our own individual marketing efforts—blogs, websites, social media pages, etc. —common to all of the Bluestocking Belles, managed by various individuals and committees, we have a website; an excerpt book; a twice-weekly Regency “gossip rag,” the Teatime Tattler; Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages; a monthly book discussion group; a quarterly newsletter; constant online events, an impromptu storytelling group on Facebook, the Bluestocking Bookshop; and a very active street team with its own, secret web page.

2015_Gabrielle_booksThis “communal marketing” concept is not a game for the faint of heart, but it has, in the main, been working.

  •  Our first box set, Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem, has spent three months in multiple Top 20 Amazon Hot New Releases and Bestseller lists, in Regency Romance and Holiday Fiction, earning thousands for the Malala Fund and many new readers for the Belles’ books.
  •  Our excerpt book, The Bluestocking Belles’ Guide to a Good Time, which we use as both promo tool, street team gift, and prize, features more than fifty pages of games, puzzles, riddles, and historical romance excerpts, available as a free PDF download or bound as a fundraiser for the Malala Fund.
  •  All of the Belles (even “Bluestocking Belles,” with its own Author Central page) have, at some point or another, now seen an author ranking in the Top 100 of Amazon Historical Romance writers.
  •  All of us are seeing increased sales to varying degrees.
  •  Our monthly book discussion group and guest spots on the Teatime Tattler have attracted appearances by multiple USA Today and New York Times Bestselling HistRom authors, like Grace Burrowes, Ava Stone, and Lucinda Brant.
  •  Our street team members are recommending and sharing Belles’ books and posts regularly and automatically, and are steadily reading their way through our 34 (and counting) books and writing reviews.
  •  Our books appear next to each other regularly in “Also Bought” and “You Might be Interested in” on retailer sites.
  •  We have a central “swag depot,” where one Belle acts as “swag queen” and postmistress general, making sure our contest winners get everyone’s materials.
  •  We all now have a physical presence at personal events and appearances we couldn’t otherwise attend. My coupons will be at a table at the Wairarapa Book Fair in New Zealand next week, and our Belle in Dubai can give out signed excerpt books at the RWA convention without lifting a finger.
  •  We have a communal marketing budget, an attitude of sharing when it comes to ideas and opportunities, and an inherent circle of support when it is needed.

The process of uniting into a functional group was not without its growing pains (still) and it has required a stalwart bunch, with reliable senses of humor, broad and complementary skill sets, and a lot of communal wisdom, but if I had to start over as an indie tomorrow, and I could only choose to bring one of my marketing tools with me, there is no doubt, it would be my Belles.

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Mariana Gabrielle is a pen name for Mari Christie, who is not romantic—at all. Therefore, her starry-eyed alter ego lives vicariously through characters who believe in their own happy-ever-afters. And believe they must, as Mariana loves her heroes and heroines, but truly dotes on her villains, and all bring hearts bruised, broken, and scarred long before they reach the pages of her books.

She is a professional writer, editor, and designer with almost twenty-five years’ experience, and a member of the Bluestocking Belles, the Writing Wenches, and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She has released four Regency romances, Royal Regard, Shipmate, ’Tis Her Season, and La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess, and will soon release a mainstream historical, Blind Tribute.

You can learn more about Mari and her books at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, on her Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads.

About the Belles

The Bluestocking Belles' books carry you into the past for your happy-ever-after. When you have turned the last page of our novels and novellas, keep up with us (and other historical romance authors) in the Teatime Tattler, a Regency scandal sheet, and join in with the characters you love for impromptu storytelling in the Bluestocking Bookshop on Facebook. Also, look for online games and contests and monthly book chats, and find us at BellesInBlue on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Come visit Amy Rose Bennett, Susana Ellis, Sherry Ewing, Mariana Gabrielle, Jude Knight, Vanessa Riley, Caroline Warfield, and Nicole Zoltack at www.BluestockingBelles.com and kick up your bluestockinged heels!

You will find the Bluestocking Belles’ fundraising campaign for the Malala Fund at www.classy.org/BluestockingBelles.

Words of Warning …. by Kay Bergstrom

Kay BergstromThere are no bad words...only bad writers.

Some words, however, set off warning alarms, signaling that the writer is venturing toward a danger zone and should back away slowly. Before you use these words (if you must) be aware of what you’re doing.

Here are a few examples:

Suddenly: The word is okay to use in children’s books because children’s books are limited in word length. The author doesn’t have time for motivation, transition and goal. “Suddenly, I came upon a dragon” is perfectly fine. In fiction targeted at grown-ups, “suddenly” might indicate that the writer hasn’t made a transition. Where did the dragon come from? How did you find it? Or “suddenly” could show a lack of motivation. What does it mean to find a dragon?

Almost: Catalogued with almost are: nearly, kind of, sort of, a little bit, and so on. Check these qualifiers. You’ll almost always (sorry, it got by me) find a stronger way to say what you want. “A little bit of scotch” becomes “two fingers of scotch.” “Almost afraid” becomes “afraid.” “Kind of greenish-blue” becomes “jade and teal.” Almost isn’t accurate, i.e., almost pregnant.

Very: Consider the same warning as almost but in the opposite direction. A “very large kitchen” becomes “a kitchen as big as a basketball court.” There are times when “very” is accurate. As any mother who has been even a few days overdue will tell you that there is a state of “very pregnant.”

Laugh: The phrase “we laughed” doesn’t make the reader want to laugh. We laughed so hard that we all fell down and peed our pants is worse. Pointing out humor doesn’t make it funny. As writers, we have accept the fact that much of our cleverness and wit will go unnoticed by the reader.

Smile: Imagine the variety of emotions Meryl Streep can convey with a smile. She could be sad or loving or menacing or nervous or angry, etcetera. And the observer would understand because he could see her face and hear her tone of voice. Alas, as writers we don’t have a Streep to illustrate what kind of smile is being given. There are many words to describe facial expression. Pick one that more clearly indicates what the character is feeling.

Walk: While we’re on the topic of finding the best word to suit the action, “walk” is a warning word. Whenever I use “walk,” I visit Ms. Thesaurus to look for something better: sashay, stride, shuffle, dance, leap, bound, skip. Each of those words conveys an image that plain old “walk” doesn’t show.

Exclaimed: It’s hard to think of a situation when “exclaimed” isn’t redundant. Use an exclamation point! I have two digressions here. 1) There’s nothing wrong with exclamation points as long as they aren’t popping up on every page. 2) In dialogue tags, using “said” doesn’t become redundant. Similar to a script where each piece of dialogue is labeled, “said” disappears.

Phat and other cute slang: Slang that’s current now is dated in a couple of years. I’ve never thought of my books as something that would be read years from now, and so I have been known to indulge in slang. At times, I threw around “dude” like Wayne’s World. The joke is on me. My first book was pubbed in 1984 and is available as an e-book.

“Ah jist knows dat’s de bestest.” Dialect should be used very gently. Consider whether you want the reader to stumble.

F-Bombs and all their x-rated friends: I love the f-bomb and use it frequently in first drafts to convey down and dirty rage. In final draft, the profanity usually comes out. There are too many readers that get pulled out of the story by cursing.

Not a car: If you’re writing anything set in Colorado, your character will probably be in a vehicle. Be careful not to identify the character as the car. “I made a U-turn” isn’t accurate. The car turned, you didn’t. Nit-picking, but why not?

Feel: As a writer of romance and suspense, my characters are feeling all the time. They’re scared, sexy, courageous, seductive, outraged and hurt. Whenever I use “feel” (guilty admission: yes, I use it), I stop and think about another way to say how the character feels. Better yet, I need a better way to show how they feel. Is it worth a scene to show? Where did the feeling come from? Do I need a flashback?

It: Not the Stephen King novel. Each and every time you use “it,” you’re missing a chance to say something more descriptive. Unfortunately, “it” is one of those necessary words that can’t be totally avoided. “It” is always there, like Pennywise the Evil Clown. When you see “it” on the page, let it be a warning to you. There might be a better way.

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Kay Bergstrom (aka Cassie Miles) is the author of 79 novels of romance and suspense, has been on the USA TODAY Best-seller list and has twice been RMFW’s Writer of the Year. Her next book, Colorado Wildfire, will be available in January 2016.

Kay is starting a developmental editing service. Contact her at: kaybergstrom (at) hotmail (dot) com