Tag Archives: writing

I Hate Writing to Prompts, But Just This One Time….

By Patricia Stoltey

I hate writing to prompts.

And I’ve been writing short stories for years without much luck getting published.

So when I had an opportunity to submit to an anthology of retold folk tales, in a genre I never write, I almost passed up the chance.

Then my sense of adventure kicked in…not to mention the lure of ignoring my To Do List for a few days.

I chose the old Norwegian tale of Three Billy Goats Gruff. You know the one I mean? The goats want to get over the bridge but must outsmart the troll who lives underneath?

What if the goats had been humans? And the humans were young ladies, sisters in fact? And they lived on an island with their parents, a rich although minor Norwegian king and his queen. If the demanding parents kept their daughters away from the outside world by letting that old troll guard the only road to the mainland, what would happen when the sisters made up their minds to escape? Could the three work together to develop a plan as the billy goats did? Or, being humans, would something go terribly wrong?

And that’s how I came to write “Three Sisters of Ring Island,” published in Tales of Firelight and Shadow from Double Dragon ebooks. RMFW member Alexis Brooks de Vita is the anthology editor as well as a contributor.

Tales of Firelight and Shadow coverYou can see the full table of contents and prologue on the Double Dragon website. Here’s a little hint of what you’ll find in the anthology from the inside flap:

Tales in Firelight and Shadow is a collection of short stories by well-known and fresh new writers of fantasy, speculative and science fiction, retelling folktales from many lands and cultures. Award-winning authors present challenging new twists on familiar tales: James Morrow’s museum curator and his university professor daughter discover the ultimate answer to the human condition; Mary Turzillo’s talking cat rats on a legendary illusionist; and Tenea D. Johnson’s fairies deal with the dream dolls of nightmare.

Writers testing the speculative waters with their risk-taking styles captivate and enchant us: an adventurous young professional tries out a new eatery, with disastrous results; a haunted lake binds the horrors of the slaveholding past to the land’s future; a boy steals what a Scottish fairy has no intention of parting with. A lonely girl in a beachside shack yearns for a mermaid godmother’s gifts. Shadowy stalkers haunt forests and dreams.

Emerging novelists delight us with old tales never before told like this: Jason Parent’s Salem shyster outsmarts his own self; Patricia Stoltey’s ogre is not at all what—or who—we think; Christina St. Clair’s loving wife on the ultimate spiritual quest seems to have gone horribly astray; and A.J. Maguire’s scientist alone on the moon with her husband and the man she truly loves must come up with the courage to choose if and how she will survive. We discover that fairytales and urban legends are the stuff of personal memory.

The folktales gathered and retold in Tales in Firelight and Shadow answer the oldest of our questions: “Why is my world as it is, and how can I find my way through it?” For, if folktales exorcize the pain of lessons learned over many lifetimes, then in this world of fairy, flame and chaos, enchantment—we realize with a start—is the only reality. We dream so that we may open our eyes.

Have you had a good result by stepping out of your comfort zone and writing in a new form or genre? Tell us about it.

6 Best Marketing Tips for Authors

By Heather Webb

Heather WebbAll authors are looking for that magic marketing formula. How much money should we spend on ads? What should our websites look like? How much time should we spend on social media? How do we distinguish ourselves amidst all of the white noise? But these are the wrong questions. The best way to establish oneself as an author, to be an effective marketing guru, isn’t quantifiable. *rips out hair* So what should an author focus on for promotion?

CULTIVATE YOUR VOICE Be yourself, which is to say, be unique! Don’t try to rip off another author’s style. It will not only feel phony to you and your readers will see that you’re trying too hard. Don’t assume they can’t tell. Give them more credit than that. A quick point about online articles and interviews—they are more informal in voice. You don’t want to sound like a stiff or a nag, or you’ll bore your readers.

BE CREATIVE Start your own writing-related services, writer group, or hashtag. Set up a bookstand with your novels at a soccer match, purchase inexpensive paraphernalia with your cover on it or maybe your character’s names. Sell it on your website, distribute it at conferences. People like stuff! Make cupcakes with your book cover on them and bring them to the day job, the community center, or the library. You get the idea. Think outside of the box.

RESEARCH A writer’s research is never finished. Pay attention to what is selling in the book market. Listen to what readers want. Track the changes happening in the industry. How will this information affect your current platform? How can you change to incorporate new trends and more importantly, to reach MORE readers? Do your research, if not daily, weekly.

Webb_Rodins LoverENGAGE Reach out! Find ways to connect to different groups of people, both in person and online. Attend conferences, book fairs, and author signings. Volunteer at writing organizations. Cheer on your fellow writers in their quest to publication. Form relationships with people. When your agent tells you to get on Twitter, what they mean to say is, TALK TO PEOPLE. Make friends. Swap anecdotes, swap war stories, or craft ideas, or gardening tips. Anything! What you’re actually doing is forming your tribe. Your tribe will gladly help promote your works because THEY LIKE YOU. Because they’re your friends. And NOT because you spammed everyone with and reviews and quotes from your novels. (I’ve avoided more book buying by seeing people clip a really horrible line from their book and posting it on Twitter or Facebook.) (Be sure to follow the 80%–20% self-promotion rule here. More writers break this rule than not, and it’s REALLY annoying.)

FOCUS ON READERS While it’s true we should be involved in our writing organizations, it’s imperative that published authors, in particular, shift the focus of their efforts toward readers. We love to get caught up talking to other writers and industry pros and traveling to conferences, but other writers aren’t your target audience. Reach out to book clubs. Purchase ads in book club newsletters. Speak at your local library. Write articles on your blog that tie in with your novels, your platform, and interesting or fun or exciting information readers would like to see. Readers talk and share these morsels with others. Word of mouth is still the single most effective method of spreading the word about your books. Direct the bulk of your efforts to getting readers talking.

WRITE AMAZING, DROOL-WORTHY BOOKS The best way to gain more readers, to harness your success, is to write more books. The kind of books that send readers on a journey, that wrench open minds with a crow bar, that break hearts. Never stop working on your craft. It’s a skill and can only improve with practice, hard work, and time.

So get writing! And remember that being yourself and building relationships are the most effective marketing tools.

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Heather Webb writes historical fiction for Penguin, including BECOMING JOSEPHINE and the forthcoming RODIN’S LOVER (Jan 2015). In addition, she is a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. When not writing, she kicks around a local college teaching craft and industry courses, flexes her foodie skills, or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

Learn more about Heather and her books at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Perils of First Person

by Katriena Knights

Many beginning authors start their writing adventures with first person. To many beginners, it feels more natural, more immediate, and even easier. But writing in first person carries a number of stumbling blocks and dangers that aren’t as obvious in third person.

So what’s the big deal? Write in first person, and your reader will feel like they’re right in the middle of the action, right? In fact, this leads to the first peril of first person writing—keeping your protagonist in the middle of the action. Which isn’t always as easy as it might seem.

If you decide to write your story in first person, you can’t recount any events that happen while your protagonist is absent. This can cause all kinds of problems, especially with a more complex story. You should take this into account when you’re plotting your story, and be sure your main character participates fully in any major plot twists. In Twilight, Stephenie Meyer commits a major faux pas in this regard by having Bella fall unconscious during a critical moment of the story’s climax. It’s a really good way to lose your reader. Apparently this didn’t bother her jillions of readers, but it bugged the heck out of me.

Another question to ask is particularly important if you plan to write a series. Can you sustain a first-person narrative over the course of your series? This approach is common in the YA and Urban Fantasy genre, but keep it in mind as you’re constructing your initial plans and proposals.

In the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon manages to make it through nearly two massive tomes without deviating from the POV of her main character, Claire Beauchamp-Randall-Fraser. But it’s not long before her story outgrows this POV, and Gabaldon starts dealing with the shortcomings of first person by using third person in various scenes. At first, she frames this as Jamie relating stories to Claire. But then she also needs to tell Bree and Roger’s story, and that’s when the first-person train goes completely off the rails. The bulk of Gabaldon’s epic series is told in alternating first and third person, with the only first-person sections being those told from Claire’s POV. I’m not saying it doesn’t work—it works very well in these books. But it’s a tricky thing to balance, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach.

Another fairly common approach to first-person narrative is to alternate the POV characters, telling each section from a first-person perspective. This can be an effective way to explore more than one character, but there are some pitfalls here, as well. Don’t try to use too many characters—your reader is likely to get confused about whose POV she’s in. Also, it’s very important to vary the narrative voice. I’ve read some alternating first-person POV stories where the voices of the characters were virtually identical, even though one was female and one was male. This made it very difficult for me to orient myself, since there were few proper names to let me know whose head I was in.

I’m not one of those readers who’ll flat-out refuse to read a book if it’s in first person—although they do exist—but like any reader I can be pulled out of a story if the technique falls short. So when you’re considering the structure and plot for your first-person story, think about addressing some of these possible problems so you can head them off at the pass.

(By the way, this post is brought to you by my laboring over my recent WIP, the sequel to Necromancing Nim, which is written in—you guessed it—first person.)

Free Your Writing Soul, and Write Better as a Result

By Tina Ann Forkner

My debut novel released in 2008 from a legacy publisher. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? And it was, for a while. When my next novel came out in 2009, it looked to some people like I was on the publishing journey every aspiring writer wanted. When 2010 came and went and I didn’t have a contract, I didn’t worry too much. I was tired, and besides, plenty of writers have gone a few years between books and it didn’t hurt their careers. Maybe 2011 would be my year, but that year came and went too.

Forkner_Waking Up Joy2012 and 2013 were years of several near misses, a few promising projects that fell through before a contract could ever be signed, and several all-out rejections. And now here we are in 2014 and Waking Up Joy has finally released. Yes, that’s five years from my last book, people. Five. So why did it take so long?

The answer is complex, but soon after my second novel was published, the book world was doing somersaults in the midst of huge economic and technological change. Somewhere in the middle of all the publishing craziness when my early novels were releasing, I lost sight of what mattered most. With publishers’ budgets shrinking, I needed to work harder to let people know about my books and it was no longer about writing.

All the pressure made me feel as if blog posts, tweets, and status updates were the keys to selling my books, and I didn’t like it. I felt as if I were toting a box of my books around on my back hollering to anyone who might be listening, “Here, buy my book! PLEASE!” I felt pathetic. I felt fake. I felt like a fraud, but I did it because a lot of people had invested time in my book. I wanted to be a good author, but when multi-published authors like myself were no longer guaranteed publishing contracts, I felt discarded and hurt by the industry. Not knowing when publication would come again, I asked myself why I was still busting my backside for no pay while I had bills to pay and my family stood outside my office door asking if I could come out and play.

I wanted to play again, so I decided to stop taking the pursuit of publication so personally, and I slowed down. Fortunately, I had a great agent who believed in the book I was writing and I knew he would continue to shop my proposals. In the meantime, I had three beautiful kids I’d shown off at both of my book launch parties who were growing up faster than the book industry was changing, and I decided to focus on what meant the most to me. I wrote, of course, but I did so at my own pace. I kept a half-hearted online presence, just in case I ever got published again, but overall, I laid low. Let me tell you, scaling back for a while was the best decision I ever made.

Slowing down might sound like a career killer to some writers, and sometimes I wondered if it would be, but I was willing to risk it for my own sanity, and for my family. It’s not as if I didn’t write during the breaks I took (I took more than one). I did, but on the days I opened my manuscript to revise and fine tune my story, I wrote slower and better. Sometimes, I didn’t write novels at all, and those were the times I gave to my family, to myself, and to my soul. I also went back to work, which I highly recommend for all writers. It’s good to get away from your desk to be around human beings, and I don’t have to tell any of you, there’s nothing like getting paid.

So, if you’re reading this and you know for a fact you don’t need a break, then that’s great. We are all on a different mile of this writing journey. But if you think you’re burning out and publication has become more important than the beautiful act of writing, or worse, more important than your personal well-being, then you might consider scaling back. Personally, it has worked for me.

It’s funny how when I slowed down and focused on the act of writing instead of on the frenzy of publication, the writing flow came back. Now that I’m releasing a new book, I’m back in the race, so to speak, but this time it’s not really a race, and I’m ready.

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Tina Ann ForknerTina Ann Forkner is a Women’s Fiction writer and the author of the new novel Waking Up Joy from Tule Publishing Group. She is also the author of Rose House and Ruby Among Us from Random House. Tina’s new book is set in Oklahoma where she was raised, but she makes her home in Cheyenne, Wyoming where she is a substitute teacher and lives with her husband, three teenagers, and two spoiled dogs.

Learn more about Tina and her novels at her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Memories and Milestones

By Pamela Nowak

Memories are precious things. I’ve known that for most of my life but was struck anew at just how priceless they are when helping pack up my mom’s household items as she moved to a much smaller residence last month. We came across box after box of old photos, school projects, handmade cards, and baby items. As we went through them, the past came flooding back, bringing smiles and tears.

Our writing20141014_151926 life, too, is filled with memories and milestones.

Several years ago, just after I was offered my first book contract, a fellow writer offered this advice: make a scrapbook—you will want to remember the emotions you felt during this journey.

It made sense because they were really great emotions!

I began packing things away in a plastic tote, deciding to 20141014_152021chronicle the whole journey. I pulled out my files of rejection letters, my contest entries with score sheets and comments, even old critique group comments. I’d saved them all, pat-rack that I am. Here was my chance to put them to use. I added in print-outs from emails…the offer, the negotiation20141014_152218s, the contract. I added congratulatory notes from friends, announcements I’d made on list-serve groups, cards and letters. I included pages from internet sites: my website, blogs I was invited to participate in, review sites. Added in were photos, reviews, news clippings, announcements of signing events, and other remembrances.20141014_152628

Purchasing scrapbooks, I sought background pages to reflect writing, romance, and dreams. I did the same with stickers and 3-D accents. In the end, I created several scrapbook volumes chronicling my writing journey.

Every now and then, I pull them 20141014_152743out and relive the moments of struggle and reward. Like my mom’s boxes, they are full of smiles and tears—exquisite, treasured pieces of the past. They reflect accomplishment and provide a sense of renewed commitment as I step toward the next phases in my journey.

Consider the idea of creating your own scrapbooks. Even if you don’t have a creative bent in that direction, keep the memories together in one spot. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy—just a collection of milestones to reflect upon and set your course for what’s to come.

Pen and Paper? Are You Kidding Me????

By Mark Stevens

I recently sparked a flutter on Twitter.

I mentioned that I write by hand.

Yes, full novels—start to finish.

By hand.

I mentioned this on Twitter and I could hear virtual jaws dropping from coast to coast.

Okay, in reality, I had five or six comments along these lines: “Are you KIDDING ME??????”

I also found a few like-minded souls.

Soon, we had a club forming. Men and women of the Pen & Paper Brigade will only listen to vinyl, take pictures with film and write books by hand.

It’s the only way to go.

First, a notebook is so damn portable. No hunts for electrical outlets in the coffee shops. Trains, planes, automobiles, canoes, rocket ships. Doesn’t matter. Got a place to sit down in the woods? In the park? A mountain cabin off the grid? You’re set.

Second, that sound. I’m addicted. That faint, dull scrape of ink going on a page. It’s visceral. It’s real.

Third, less time staring at a computer screen. Don’t we all need less? And no worries about outdoor reflections, moving around so the sun is just right. When you write by hand, it’s a non-issue. Have you ever headed to the computer and waited ten minutes while updates are installed? Non-factor.

Fourth, the process slows me down. My storytelling head is slow. Fresh copy goes on the right side and then the left is open and available for inserts and new ideas.

Fifth? Well, this is kind of a stupid reason but I dig seeing the notebooks stack up. I shoot for 500 words a day. That’s it, that’s all. I try to get in five days a week of writing. It never works out exactly. Some weeks fail, others get in a groove. But I recently finished a novel in about 14 months, including uploading the darn thing to a computer. Yes, at some point there is computer involved but then it’s a solid second draft.

Here are my tools.

  1.  College-ruled, 1-subject notebooks with perforated pages, 11 inch by 8 inch. I like 100 sheets per notebook. I’m not super fussy about my notebooks, but you get the idea.
  2.  A uni ball VISION ELITE. (I think the lower-case uni ball is official and I don’t want to be disrespectful so I’m going with it.) I prefer the “bold” tip. I like blue. Black is okay. I’ve tried many other options. Nothing comes close. (Dear uni ball folks: One case may be shipped to my home address in exchange for this endorsement. Email mstevens@ecentral.com for shipping particulars.)

Any downsides? None that I know of, other than trying to decipher that gnarled-up penmanship. Man, that’s some wild stuff.

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

Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.
Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

TOP TEN LIST: Things Overheard At A Book Release Party

By Kevin Paul Tracy

Caricature of David Letterman

Here is a list of the top ten things overheard at a book release party.

10. “My wife loves your books! Can you sign it to her: Roger Smith?”

9. “Is the author someone famous, or just a writer?”

8. “Yes, the author signed it, we couldn’t stop him. If you can find an unsigned copy, it’s worth an absolute fortune.” (A nod to the movie “Notting Hill”)

7. “I have the best idea for a book…maybe you could write it!”

6. “Wake up, honey, he’s done reading out loud.”

5. “You mean I have to pay for it?”

4. “I’ve written a book, too. It’s a 500 page memoir of my grandfather’s struggles with gout. I happened to bring it with me. Would you mind reading it and telling me what you think of it?”

3. “I always come to these things. You never know what’s going to turn out to be priceless…after the writer is dead.”

2. “I’ve heard of door prizes, but the book’s cover imprinted on a butane lighter? Doesn’t bode well for the book itself.”

And the #1 thing overheard at a book signing party:

1. “Is this the line for the restroom?”


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda” and a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow.”

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

By A Beer for the Shower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Grow a Novel

By Barbara Graham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write Only the Interesting Parts

By Kevin Paul Tracy

There is a joke which has been apocryphally attributed to various famous sculptors:

Bird Sculpture

HOW TO SCULPT A BIRD: Chisel away all the parts that do not look like a bird.

    As a joke this is worth a chuckle. As a fundamental truth about sculpting it leaves something to be desired. For example, I would submit that a sculpture of a bird, alone, is interesting only insofar as I am curious about the physiognomy, the outward appearance, of a bird. But what if I want to know more: Where does he live? On what does he feed? What are his interests, his passions, his pursuits? A sculpture of a bird alone does not tell me any of this, and is therefore of only passing interest to me.

There are those who will tell you, in regards to writing, to chisel away all those parts of your story that do not directly relate to your plot. Like most such rigid axioms about writing you are going to have to develop an instinct for when to break it before you become fully ready to publish. A novel about its plot and nothing but its plot is a very stiff, mechanical, utilitarian thing and while perhaps entertaining to read, isn’t very enriching or memorable.

If I were to rewrite the joke above to pertain to writing, I would put it:

HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL: Think of a story, then write down only the interesting parts.

Rather less like a joke, still it says what I want to say. Sometimes, some of the most interesting parts of a story do not necessarily relate directly to its plot. For example, in Jurassic Park, one of the most fascinating parts of the story is how Dr. Grant, a man with no experience of and no real interest in children, is forced to not only interact with, but to protect and even to comfort two young children during the course of the story’s events. Some refer to these as subplots, so be it. These are the things that enrich a story and make it memorable.

Go ahead, don’t be shy, say it: “But some of the most interesting things about my plot happen off-stage, out of sight or knowledge of the protagonist. How can I relate these parts of the story without violating the “One-and-Only-One-POV” rule?” The rule that says you must only portray the point of view of a single character in your novel, period. The answer is simple: violate the single-POV rule! But learn how to do it well and to good effect. For example, “head-hopping” is jumping from one character’s POV to another in a single scene. To a large extent this is not a good time to break the rule. One POV per scene still, by and large, holds true, though I have read some rather effective tales in which a scene is told more than once, each time from a different character’s POV. Still, as a rule, only shift from one POV to the next between scenes, or at least between narrative breaks.

Also, even if you shift from one POV to the next between scenes, still try to keep the number of POV’s in a single novel to a close few. We don’t need to know what every character thinks about every situation. Remember, we are writing only the most interesting parts of our story, and we are only shifting POV to provide a means to do so. Anything else is chiseled away.

Next, remember that subplots are like any other plot, they need to go through the same stages: the inciting incident, the complicating factors, the black moment, and the denouement. Even though a subplot is, by definition, less critical than the main plot, if it is left unresolved by the end of your novel it is a loose end, and bad form. So be sure to bring your subplots along on a pace with the main plot and resolve them at some point prior to the resolution of the main plot.

Remember, all of this is in service to writing only the most interesting parts of your story. If at any point you find yourself bored with what you’re writing, it’s a good bet your readers will be bored as well. Chisel it away!


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda” and a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow.”

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