Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Finish Lines

Some people are great with self-imposed deadlines. Somehow they're able to assign an importance to something that, well . . . isn't.

Maybe that's why I'm lousy at this exercise. I don't believe.

That said, isn't the term "finish line" a lot more optimistic than "deadline"?

And THAT said, I now have a self-imposed finish line for the completed first draft of Rough Waters.

Rather than just pick a date and cross my fingers, I've calculated how many words I need to write a day in order to cross the finish line. It's just a first draft, so it doesn't have to be perfect, but I'm still looking at an extended NaNoWriMo(s) time period. It will require me to write more words, more often. It will require me to become more dedicated to this idea I have of myself being a writer.

I like to set some easily achievable goals (write a post today) so I can get the feel of crossing the finish line. My "love language" is affirmations, and this is a little way I can spur myself on. If your language is gifts, make sure you have a reward waiting. An especially good piece of chocolate, for example. Or a decadent bubble bath.

Here's to our finish lines.

"There ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd 'a' knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't 'a' tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more."

CR: Daniel's Den by Brandt Dodson (and enjoying it . . . my review will be delayed because I'm leaving for Tucson on Thursday and will only be taking my Kindle. )

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tossed Salad

A few This and That's for today.

First a question/rant. I thought Kindle prices were supposed to be lower than traditional book prices. I'm seeing more and more books in the $14+ range and although it's a bit of a "deflator", there are still plenty available at $9.99 and under.

But here's what caught my eye (ire):

What's Race Got to Do with It? by Larry Elder. I can get the paperback edition for $10.17 or, wait . . . pay more ($14.82) and get the Kindle edition. What's with that? Is it the publisher or Amazon poking me in the pocket book? Someone needs to take a Reality Pill.

A magazine for suspense writers and readers. And, it's going to offer print editions! Check out Suspense Magazine. There are interviews, stories and contests. A great blend of established authors and the new kids on the block. What a leg-up for someone ready for exposure. Like, um . . . me, for instance. Hmmm. . . .

Need a kick in the derriere? I couldn't help but think of Pavlov's dogs when I first saw this. This isn't my cuppa (my love language is affirmations) but it must work for some people. Or could be, it's just a diversion. Take a look at Dr. Wicked. Enter a word goal, a time goal, click on Write . . . then do it. If you stop writing, you will get a form of "encouragement." Mine involved a car horn.

Two good books in a row. I thoroughly enjoyed Afraid by Jack Kilborn. It's on the violent side, but extremely well written and engrossing. It comes out March 31st. It has a definite military twist, but I don't want to spoil the story by telling you more.

The second book has been out for a while. The first half of Lazarus Waking by T.L. Hines was mildly interesting. I mean, a guy who dies three times and comes back to life is bound to be intriguing, right? But Hines ratchets up the second half and I ended up staying up until 1 o'clock in the morning to finish it.

The novelist daily at his task eats ashes, and if occasionally he encounters a diamond he is likely to break a tooth on it.

CR: Daniel's Den by Brandt Dodson.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Closer Look at Hooks

Hooks are words strung together with such power, you have no choice but to continue reading.

Hooks are part of the contract—or promise—authors make to their readers. And that promise is: Something Good is Coming.

My first hook is my opening line. Followed by my opening paragraph. Followed by my first page. Followed by my first chapter.

The responsibility is enormous. The intensity of effort can knock me to my knees. I have to have a good hook. And once I have one good hook, I'm on the hook. To keep my promise and give the reader something worth staying awake all night to read.

I can't just write a hook, and then move to a whole new fishing hole. Hooks are not cheap tricks to sell my story. I repeat, they're a promise. They have to have context, and they have to have follow-through.

What would happen if I wrote an opening line full of intensity? Pretty good hook, huh? But what if I followed up with a ho-hum white-bread paragraph? I just broke my promise.

Can I retrieve a lackluster chapter with a great hook? Nope. That promise thing again.

One idea for creating good chapter hooks (after having written a good chapter) is to stop the scene earlier than it was written. Try it. That old "late in/early out" of a scene thing.

Another is to refrain from resolving a particularly intense scene. Let the last part of the tension be the beginning of your next chapter.

I remember taking a book by one of my favorite authors and looking at the last line of every chapter. Was there a hook? Could it have been better? Try it, see what you learn.

Here's another fun exercise. One of the Internet loops I frequent will pick a random page, and ask for people to supply the first full paragraph on that page from the book they're reading. This week, it happened to be page 37. It's amazing how many great paragraphs there were, how many more awful, boring, paragraphs there were, and how many people insisted on going on for much longer than one paragraph in order to justify to the world that the promise of Something Good was being kept. They also supply the name of the book and the author. That means . . . I want to make it all Something Good.

I get great pleasure from writing, but not always, or even usually.

CR: If he hadn't drowned, none of that humiliation would have happened. He would be anonymous. Normal. First full paragraph, page 37, Waking Lazarus by T. L. Hines.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stay Clear of Crooked Hooks

When I'm browsing in a bookstore (or the book isle in my local grocery store) familiar authors I enjoy draw my attention first. They're a known commodity and I pretty much know what I'll be getting for my buck, and my time.

How did they become familiar favorites? By reading them once. Then twice. I'm always looking to expand my favorites list, so that means venturing out a little more.

For new authors, I take a look at the title. Then the cover. Then the book blurb (that condensed version of the story either on the inside flap or the back). I'll check to see if an author I know has added an endorsement.

Then I'll read the opening sentence or two. (Kindle supplies samples so I can really get a feel of the story and style of the writer.)

Each of these things--the title, the cover, the blurb, the endorsements, and that opening hook--they're all promises. Together they form a kind of contract that promises me a certain type of book.

Books with bright colors on the covers are different types of books than those with dark colors.

And that opening hook? I don't want to be expecting a light-hearted cozy and end up reading a high-intensity thriller.

Is the book you're writing/reading living up to its promise?

Writing came easy--it would only get hard when I got better at it.

CR: Waking Lazarus by T.L. Hines

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Review: AFRAID by Jack Kilborn

This is a seriously good book. It is on my favorite list for 2009. Before I even get to the review, I want to let you know that I read a bit of this on the author's website several months ago. Now, I'm not one to remember things past, well, past anything. But the opening parts of Afraid stuck. For months. When Joe Konrath (a/k/a Jack Kilborn) was looking for a few reviewers, I knew I had to be one of them.

Afraid is a thriller with some gore (and some language). So if you have a weak stomach, take a pass. But if you want something that will make you want to skip television shows you love, people you enjoy, or even an intimate dinner with your husband . . . no, not that . . . but anything else . . . get your hands on this book. You can pre-order it now through Amazon (it hits the stands March 31st) and it looks like there's a Kindle edition (I love my Kindle) coming soon.

If you like Stephen King or Dean Koontz, you gotta get this Kilborn.

Now, on to the review:

Safe Haven, Wisconsin, is a small town with less than a thousand inhabitants. And that number is about to get seriously slashed.

Late on an October night, with a dark orange hunter's moon as a backdrop, a helicopter crashes just outside of town, and Safe Haven will never be the same. Insidious, unstoppable evil knifed out of the wreckage, and worked its way through townspeople who, up until the crash, had led quite ordinary lives.

The only hope Safe Haven has lies in the hands of an aging county sheriff, a firefighter dogged by ideals, and a single mom.

Jack Kilborn delivers a dish best served with all the lights on. In daylight. Anywhere except in a small town in northern Wisconsin. Afraid will harness you for a thriller-ride where the words supplied by the author slither into your own imagination where you supply the rest. I put the book down a few times to ground myself, but ended up reading the entire story in slightly over a day.

If you're looking for a solid rush of adrenalin, with a plausible (if fantastic) premise, Afraid fits the bill.

Highly recommended.

About to start: Waking Lazarus by T.L. Hines.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Critiques vs Performance Reviews

A quick OT -- over the last several days, my husband and I had unexpected company and an unexpected wedding. After getting over the suddenness of it all, we can take a deep breath and feel that all is good. Our initial responses may have been a bit frustrated, but they were filtered with love, and love is the best filter of all.

NOW. Comparing critiques to performance reviews.

Most of us, at some time in our lives, have received a performance review. Many of us have also prepared them. For those of us who are writers, if we're lucky, we have found one or two people to share the critiquing process with.

Giving and receiving either can be anxiety factories. How to encourage and inspire? How to edify and uplift? How to evaluate and learn? What to receive and what to reject?

Here's where they're the same: there are certain fundamentals that must be mastered. On the job, you have a skill-set that translates to productivity for your employer. On the keyboard, you have a skill-set that translates to productivity for your reader.

There are objective and subjective areas in both. Quantifying results and management style. Grammar and artistic license.

Here's where they're different: a performance review has the power to change your life. From a promotion to a demotion to a you're-outta-here, a performance review can alter the fundamental way you survive.

With a critique, you can accept the comments or toss them out with the coffee grounds. A good critique leaves the power with you, the writer.


I've thought about this a little and believe that in the beginning, when everyone is learning the basics of writing, there is no problem with writers of different genres critiquing one another. The subtleties of suspense compared to romance compared to fantasy can all be layered in during later learning. The basics of POV and backstory issues are the same in every genre.

The curve widens where craft concepts need to fold into genre styles and elements. This wider part of the bell may be better served with writers who are on the same learning curve and writing in the same category. Pacing is different with suspense than it is with womens fiction.

At the other end of the curve is where you'll find writers who are comfortable writing their chosen genres, who have figured out a couple of key elements, and who understand enough about the other types of books they can identify the subtle differences. At this level, I think multiple-genre critique partners can work as well as they do for the beginning writers.


Personally, I love another set of eyes. Sometimes what's in my head about a certain situation never actually made it to paper.

I have grown as a writer because other writers have given me criticism, both positive and negative.

But not every writer wants or needs a critique partner. There are authors out there who never share their work while they write. My guess is they have established themselves and work with editors who understand their weaknesses and strengths from the get-go. I have to admit I'm a little curious as to the level and complexity of the edits they receive from the publisher.


Join an association of writers. Most organizations have online critique groups available to their members.

Check with your local library. If they don't have one (or they're all full) start one of your own.

Technique is noticed most markedly in the case of those who have not mastered it.

CR: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Potted Plots

We've all heard that there are no new plots under the sun. That may or may not be true (how does that concept explain J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series?) but assuming it's true doesn't mean writers shouldn't avoid situational plot cliches.

In Don't Murder Your Mystery, Chris Roerden offers up this advice:

A cliched plot won't cause the immediate death of your submission, because plot defects don't show up right away. Still, to round out our discussion of triteness, we ought to take a look at some cliched situations.

  • the wrongly accused who is saved by the arrival of a long-lost twin;
  • the sole witness for the prosecution who decides to walk her dog the night before she testifies and is not seen again (though Buster is found in a dumpster);
  • the prostitute who will quit the profession as soon as she saves enough to become a real mom to the baby she gave up years ago;
She includes a few more, including the urgent telephone call to the sleuth requesting a clandestine meeting, and well . . . you get the idea.

Unless it's a parody, you should create something new and fresh. If the cliche is useful to your plot, acknowledge it as a cliche so readers don't think you've created this blatant bungle by accident and they should no longer trust you as an author.

While we're talking about situational cliches, don't forget those red herrings, suspenseful foreshadowing elements, and plot twists. As readers become more sophisticated, these tricks of the trade become more difficult to successfully pull off in a story. The tendency can be to pile one on top of another -- we've all read books like this. Sometimes, less is more -- especially if it's the right one.

As you plant your plot situations, make sure they're indigenous. Mixing tropical with desert in one pot is usually not a good idea. (Okay, give me some leeway here. I liked my title and had to come up with a tie-in. Cliche?)

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it.


CR: Still working on The Chameleon's Shadow, and pulling together an ever increasing list of books I want to look into downloading on my Kindle. Too bad I'm such a slow reader . . .

It's all better with friends.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Writing and Stress

I've discovered that for me, writing stress comes as two different hats.

The first one is the kind of hat that denotes a professional. Like a chefs hat, or "toque blanche." It's still stress, but it's the kind of stress I love. My writing is going well, I've got the next few scenes plotted and I'm on top of my game. There's no pressure to clean or do laundry or cook. Time belongs to me and my work. The only stress is that at some point I must stop and take care of other things. Sleep, for example.

I wouldn't say I'm manic about my writing when it's flowing as smooth as buttah, but I am engaged. Like good roux, I'm ready to create something magnificent. The toque sits square on my head or at a jaunty angle, and I'm confident it won't fall off or be snatched away.

The second hat isn't really a hat. More of a hood. A dark, scary, lurking kind of hood. The Ghost of Christmas Future. (Did you ever connect it was a writer who came up with this?) This hat is all tied up in stress resulting from anxiety when I've not written for a period of time. Bony fingers poke me in the chest and tell me with a foul-smelling whisper that the jig is up.

This is the kind of stress that can become paralyzing. And paralyzation, or cessation of writing, is the only way a writer truly fails.

It's wonderful to have experienced both. Yes, really. With a hood looming and waiting, I don't get over-cocky when the toque is front and center. And when the hood is laying claim, I know that once I get the recipe fixed in my head, and the ingredients out on the counter, there won't be any time left for subterfuge or sabotage.

For a long time now I have tried to simply write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.


CR: The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters. (Interesting aside . . . the paper in this book is noticeably thin, and the ink lighter. Just an FYI.)

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What's Your Number?

You've heard of the sleep number bed. I'm convinced there's a word number book on the horizon.

The best writers make the fewest words go the longest way.


I received a wonderful complement today from someone on one of the writers loops I enjoy: "Your post was oh so simple, yet powerfully said."

Yep. That was it. Made my day. Forget my new haircut, my terrific new lip color, or even the seven pounds I've lost.

Someone took the time to respond to a tiny effort I made to form some thoughts. {sigh}

Dean Koontz is a favorite of mine. Aside from the stories he creates, I love his words -- his ability to draw a scene with a unique twist, using a few, well chosen words. To me, he is a master painter. My husband would rank him much lower on his favorites list -- a few too many words for his taste.

I also enjoy Marcia Muller. She writes sparingly. Her painting style is decidedly different, and although I like her, she's not on my Constantly-Search-For-New-Books radar.

Readers could probably all agree on the exaggerated end of the spectrum, where purple prose gets in the way of the story. Three pages of description would challenge the most patient of us.

But everything else is subjective and tied up with our expectations. I like to be surprised with a turn of phrase. It heightens the pleasure of the story for me.

My husband? "Get on with it, already."

What's your number? On a scale of 1-100 (with "1" representing the instruction sheet that comes with the build-it-yourself furniture from China, and "100" looking profoundly purple), I think I'd be about 35, with my husband pushing 20.

A good rule for writers: do not explain overmuch.


Just beginning: The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters for review.

Kindle update: Downloaded Three Weeks to Say Goodbye by C.J. Box and In For The Kill by John Lutz. Samples I'm considering are: Shadowfires; Mr. Murder; The Taking and By the Light of the Moon all by Dean Koontz, as well as A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley and Breaking Cover by J.D. Rhoades.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Kindle Connection

I'm a book lover. Even a bit of a book lover snob because I especially love hardcover books. There aren't many rooms in our home that don't have books within reach. I need more bookcases. (Many, many more bookcases.)

I'm a writer. Practicing the craft and continuing my education every day -- mostly from books.

Did I mention I'm a book lover?

When I first started critiquing the writing of fellow authors, I couldn't do it on my computer screen. I had to print out every page. I needed to touch it, to take the proverbial blue pencil to it in a most personal way. I knew that I'd certainly miss something critically important (good or bad) if I tried to read the work on a computer screen.

E-readers had been around for a while. I had no interest in them. I imagined them to be cold and impersonal, with a lot of glare and without the smell of a good book. No way could I cuddle up on a couch in front of the fire with a hard little computer screen that wouldn't stand a chance of whisking me off into another world.

Then along came Amazon's Kindle. It's everything they said it is, and maybe a little more.

Here are some cool features:

  • Search -- I can search the book (newspaper/magazine) I've got open for one word or phrase. This comes in particularly handy when I've lost track of some detail about a character. I can also search my entire content. Let's say I have downloaded several books on writing and and want to pull up everything on "backstory." Ta-dah! I can search the default dictionary that's included (New Oxford American) or go to Wikipedia or Google or the Kindle store or somewhere else on the web.

  • Clip -- I can clip and save favorite phrases or passages.

  • Bookmark -- It's automatic for saving my place, but I can bookmark as many other pages as I want.

  • Deleting -- When I delete a book from my Kindle, it's archived at Amazon so I can access it whenever I want.

  • Notes -- I can make notes as I read something. They're numbered and specific to that book.

  • Conversion -- For a "small fee", Amazon will convert my Word document.

It has a Text-to-Speech function (not to be confused with a professional audio-book), and the font is adjustable.

While I'm here, let me just say, the idea of buying more books is almost irresistible. Publishers have got to love that. Authors, too.

I also think there's a good possibility people who've not been interested in reading before, may find this new technology worth checking out.

By the way, I purchased a cover for mine that makes it look exactly like . . .

a book.

Imagine that.

CR: The Watchman by Robert Crais. (And checking out through downloaded samples on my Kindle, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man by Steve Harvey, In For The Kill by John Lutz, and Three Weeks to Say Goodbye by C.J. Box.)

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I've written about prologues before. I happen to like them. It's like being let in on some great, important, inner-circle secret. Of course, the prologue needs to make sense. It needs to belong right where it is. Before the beginning, so to speak.

It appears however, that prologue readers (let alone "likers") are in the minority.

Personally, I think the people who skip prologues are the same people who jump ahead and read the last page. So much is lost. Why bother reading? (Okay, full disclosure: I have skimmed the last few pages to make sure I see a certain name with quotation marks by it, or the name of a dog doing something in the present tense. But that's it. I promise.)

When a multi-pubbed author critiqued my first few pages, I thought I'd be clever and call the prologue chapter one. When I got it back, she referred to my "prologue." I decided that meant it made sense, it belonged, and so I've kept it.

Now I'm not so sure.

Chris Roerden devotes an entire chapter about the bias against prologues in her book, Don't Murder Your Mystery. In fact, she calls the chapter "Perilous Prologues." Doesn't bode well, does it?

Because there's not an issue of time in my prologue, I'll be taking a good look (after I've finished the first draft) and will see if it makes sense for it to either become my second chapter, or a second scene in the first chapter.

Do you like prologues? Do your manuscripts have them? Why?

If prologue is backstory, blast it out if you can weave the information throughout the NOW-story. Roerden suggest than an alternative is to rename it to scene one of chapter one.

It's important that the reader form a quick and sure bond with your protagonist. If the prologue is about someone else, or something not directly connected with chapter one, or worse . . . it makes the reader care about someone they assume is the protag, and before the know it, that character bites the dust. Their trust has been shattered and it's going to be that much more difficult for them to like the real protag who shows up in chapter one. No telling what might happen. . . .

Make sense?

My prologue shows the antagonist. The old body-on-page-one trick. So the reader doesn't meet my co-protags until chapter one. Hmmm . . . multiple problems for the manuscript of an unpublished writer.

When I'm ready, I'll toss a few things around. For now? It's a prologue.

Can anyone explain the following quote to me? I like it, but I don't know why.

Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders. ~WALTER BAGEHOT

Just finished: The Ghost by Robert Harris

It's all better with friends.