Category Archives: I’m a writer too

Should Authors Write Book Reviews or Stick with Book Promotion?

Last week, Kirsten Lamb (leader of the #WANA Writer’s Tribe and author of  #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer) stirred up some controversy in the writer-sphere. Her blog, a wealth of writerly words of wisdom, is one of the first I read daily (and if your a writer, you should read it, too). Like most of her readers, I’m an aspiring novelist, and her post made me wonder if by posting book reviews I’ve written myself into a corner.

 The Three NEVERs of Social Media (for writers) via Kristen Lamb

1. Never be nasty in a blog comment.  Agree. Unless the blogger is an ass-hat writing about raping and pillaging as a hobby or something else ridiculously offensive.

2. Never be nasty on twitter. Yes. Though I’d never intentionally be nasty to another tweeter, I should cut down my snarky commentaries about celebs and politicians (unless they fall into the “fair game” category). Maybe even then.

3. Never write a bad book review.  Yeah, but…  What constitutes a “bad” review?

“This doesn’t apply to book bloggers and book reviewers. That’s your job and we love that you give us guidance on what to read. But, as authors? I believe in what Candace Havens calls Writer Karma. If I can’t give a book a five-star rave review? I just don’t review it. Again, publishing is a small world and we all need each other. The world is already out to throw us under a bus. We need each other to keep from turning into cutters.”


What if someone is a book blogger AND an aspiring author? 

How many books truly worthy of a five-star review are out there? Reviewers seem to base their star ratings on a sliding scale. Some dole out stars like cheap Halloween candy, whereas I hoard my fives. In my imagined ratings scale, a three-star is book good, not amazing, but decent read if you happen upon it. A four-star is excellent, a book I recommend. A five-star is blow-me-out-of-my-chair, go buy this in hardback NOW, then pass it along to all of your friends and family.

I read many good books, even more excellent novels I’d wholeheartedly recommend for others read, but very few works that take my breath away.

So, should I only review those few? Are my expectations too high?  Should I revise my ratings scale? Or is that shifting from a review to book promotion? 

On my blog, I refuse to give star ratings. I prefer to discuss what I loved about the book. By highlighting the positives—the way the author wove subplots, developed character, or uniquely captured ideas that resonate— potential readers can decide if this book is for them. Most books I review are character, not plot driven, and sometimes I explain what drove me nuts about a particular character. But nicely. Subjectively. It’s just my opinion. And infuriating characters are often a part of a damn good (four or five-star) novel. Anyone who’s a member of a book club knows how amazing books often open our minds to different ideas and occasionally heated debate. Passion leaves an impression.

In the comments of Kristen’s follow-up post Should Authors Write Bad Book Reviews many commentators discussed correcting grammar and critiquing technical issues “so the author could learn from their mistakes.”  Whoa. Stop the presses. Publishing critiques?

A BOOK REVIEW and a BOOK CRITIQUE are not synonymous.

A CRITIQUE should be done before a book is published, in private, so the author may find issues within a manuscript before publication. Here’s where one can point out homophones and misplaces commas, plot holes or factual errors. It can also be used in the classroom (and many English Lit majors spent years dissecting everything from Shakespeare to Shel Silverstein). Trust me. My work in progress is in the process of being critiqued shredded so I can piece it back together. I invite knowledgeable readers/writers to constructively dissect it so it can improve. Without claws and in private, please.

Reading through her post’s comments I was shocked how many writer/readers have sent emails to authors gigging them on grammar. I could never EVER imagine sending an author a note of criticism, constructive or not, about what I disliked about their published work. Some authors wrote how this skewed their heart. Others said they appreciated the constructive criticism.

A BOOK REVIEW is an impartial commentary, written so that others can decide if they would like to read the book. Reviews should be written from a reader’s POV, not a writer’s. It should be helpful, mentioning a plot summary and character sketches. It should discuss setting, themes, readability, and memorable scenes. It should explain who the book would appeal to and why. It can discuss issues that might have rubbed the reviewer the wrong way. But it should be cruelty-free.

And it should be honest. If a reviewer gushes about every single book, their credibility evaporates.

The Book PROMOTER vs. REVIEWER

Some book blogs and reviewers primarily promote books. Now, in today’s world where authors (even traditionally published) are often responsible for 100% of their own book promotion, they NEED people to write about their books. If no one is reviewing them, posting about them, or singing their praises over their social media networks, no one will know their baby is “out there” in the seemingly infinite book market. But a book promotion post is often not a review—it may be a summary, book blurbs, author Q&A, or funny antidote. Many times, the blogger may not have even read the book. And it’s overwhelmingly positive. That’s all good, so long as readers understand it for what it is.

Again, authors desperately need straight book promotion. And they need reviews, good reviews, with at least four to five stars to get anywhere with Amazon’s ever-fluctuating algorithms. Reviews help sell books. Writer’s need to eat.

And maybe, in this touchy world of book reviews, Kristen is suggesting authors (published & non-published) become more promoters than reviewers?  Writers have vast and enduring memories. Friends can be hard to come by, and enemies hard to shake. So why make any? We’re all in this together, right?

Then there’s the whole issue with karma…

Kristen spurned so much discussion with these posts, she kept the dialog open with a third installment, Is It FAIR for Authors to Review Other Authors? Do We Ruin the Magic?  If you’re a writer or a book reviewer, these posts and their comments (each as over a hundred) will get you thinking. Even though I didn’t agree with the whole “Only Five-Star” bit in the first of the series, I loved the dialog these posts stirred up.

I won’t be writing any more negative reviews. (I think I’ve only written one, as I had to express my disbelief about the Fifty Shades phenomena. Oh wait—I didn’t care for Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy either. Both authors made enough moula that I don’t believe my rant hurt their sales much.)  I’ve received many books from publishers which I’ve declined to review. If I couldn’t say anything nice, I chose to say nothing at all.  But I think I must review more than just the lofty five-star works. There are too many authors out there who deserve praise and publicity … and hopefully a few more sales.

What do you want to learn from a book review?

Should authors review books?


Do you write reviews or base you book buying on reviews? 

photo credit: orangeacid via photopin cc

Launching from the Depths

If anyone is still out there…I’m still here.

 I haven’t been posting much lately. My brain has been fried nightly grading standardized student MATH exams. Did I mention I hate math. Grading 500 4-part algebra/trig/geometry problems an hour has been penance for every wrong I’ve ever committed or considered. The quality of work truly made me fear for the students of this generation. No, I cannot reveal which state’s horrible exam I graded, but if your kid is in summer school or flunked a grade becasue of me, I’m sorry.

Wait. I’m not at all sorry. If I marked it wrong, it was WRONG and the kid needs to learn. Ack, the guilt.

But it was a temporary paycheck. 

And lately, I’ve been in dire need of some cashflow. Would you believe that being an unpublished aspiring novelist doesn’t pay well?

Recently I’ve felt as if the Fates have been messing with me. Everything is breaking down. Dear family friends passed away. The car brain (and several other cranky parts) fizzled out. Our main a/c broke again and must be replaced. The kiddo’s tween hormones and attitude kicked in. So it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise that my blood pressure spiked higher than an obese senior’s with a 50-year smoking habit, right? Even though I’m thin. I eat my veggies. I do yoga for cripes sake.

Too much.

So I set my writing and blogging aside in a sudden reprioritizing of my life. I ignored social media, my immense list of unread blog posts, and my floundering manuscript.

Well, after I tidied that manuscript up for a contest.

The contest’s word limit was a scant 4,500. My first two chapters weighed in at about 7,500. Crap. I whittled and slashed and sometimes squeezed my eyes shut as I hit delete repeteadly. But I nitpiked that sucker down. 

Then I discovered the place in hell they save for those crafting that nasty little Two Page Synopsis. (For those not in the industry, imagine condensing a 100k novel into 450 words including all relevant characters, plot, subplots, tone, voice, everything.)

While the pictures in my office to get me in the mood all look like this:

I may as well have been staring at this:


Christ In Limbo by Hieronymus Bosch, 1575. Image: http://www.imamuseum.org/art/collections/artwork/christ-limbo-bosch-hieronymus

 

But I did it. I submitted my chopped 4,500 first chapters and my synopsis. (Which never would have made any sense without the brilliant guidance of my critique partner–thank you!!)

And…

I won.


Someone besides me (after a few glasses of wine) thinks my manuscript is not total crap.

Sometimes that’s all a girl needs to get back in the game. 

{If you happen to follow this link you’ll find the first duly edited version of my entry. Edited once because, as stated before, I hacked the hell out of my first two chapters to fit it into the wordcount. And twice because it’s a Christian affiliated website, and my characters tend to swear. So no, my Ivy doesn’t say “Cuss” — some situations call for the f-bomb.} 

10 thing to do today besides work on my query letter

 photo Banging-head-on-desk.gif

1. Practice drawing the perfect heart across my draft with a red pen. Switch to blue pen. Draw stars instead.

2. Search for a ‘real’ job because there is no way I’m ever going to sell this book. Build frustration level—I’m not even qualified to be a lingerie maid or sign spinner.

3. Contemplate a bike ride. Obsessively check the radar and decide the possiblility of a shower makes this a bad idea. Decide it takes too much effort to pump up my bike tires anyway.

4. Clean out every closet in the house. Oh, crap — did that last week.  Kitchen cupbords?

5. Stalk agents on Twitter.

6. Ooohh, maybe I should bake something. For my family. There should be thousands of ideas on Pinterest…

7. Organize my notes from my first writer’s conference last weekend. Search for all the speakers on Twitter. And Facecbook. Hell, maybe they’re on Pinterest and have a great cookie recipe listed. Check.

8. Nap. Working this night temp job is killing me. I’ll feel refreshed and ready to write after a nap.

9. Check the garden. Maybe another tomato ripened since earlier this morning. I’ll bet my zucchini has grown a tenth of an inch already. I should investigate.

10. Reread every blog post related to writing queries. Imagine Nathan Bransford, Janet Reid, and Jane Friedman are my BFFs. Lurk through hopeless writers forums for snippets of wisdom and success stories. Disconnect internet and stare at blank page.

****SIT ON MY DAMN YOGA BALL AND JUST WRITE****

Now What—>Writing Goals


You know you’re a WRITER when you can’t leave the house without a notebook.
You know you’re a BLOGGER when you must take a photo to prove it.

I’ve neglected my writing, pushing my dreams and ambitions aside as I dealt with my paralyzing fear of failing and the messiness of my everyday life. So many (imaginary) roadblocks kept going up before me: back to school, conferences, surgeries, illness. I’ll get back to it after . . . it’s after. Now what?

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I will rebuild my optimism muscle. I finished my $hitty first draft TEN months ago, yet I’m still floundering. Because I allow myself to flounder, I don’t hold myself accountable, I give in to my doubts.  As Carleen Brice wrote on Writer Unboxed, “The stronger my optimism muscle gets, the more I write, and the stronger I become as a writer.” Rehab can strengthen even the most weakened parts of us. While my hubby rehabs his knee, I will rehab my optimism. I can do this.

I will still the voices in my head and burst the unsaid speech bubbles hovering over my doubting friends and family. I will banish the “You’re STILL not done?” The “but you don’t have a real job—what do you do all day?” The “if you were any good you would be finished/agented/published/rich and famous already”. 

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“Find what it is you are meant to do and what you are deeply passionate about, and allow that to flow through you. Don’t resist or fight it. You know you are in your sweet spot when whatever you’re doing gives you energy instead of depleting it.”

~Oprah Winfrey

I will hit that sweet spot more frequently. I’m at my best after I’ve completed a scene that flows like a Class VI rapid. The story pulls me along in its current, makes my heart race, my stomach lurch with anticipation, and joyful laughter break free. I spend hours smiling afterwards—hours!—and I laugh, gasp, or shed a tear each time I reread that piece of work. I’ve brought words to life, and I feel blissfully alive. That’s my sweet spot.

I will learn to live more in the moment, but make most of the moments I dedicate to my craft. Far too often I waste time worrying, planning, overcompensating for my doubts instead of appreciating the joys, the LIFE going on around me. I must dive in and play the water, savor the glass of wine, tickle my son until he bursts, LIVE. And when it’s time to work GET IT DONE.

I will organize and find balance between writing, blogging, and social media.  My recent experience at my first blogging conference flooded me with almost too much information, too many ideas. I can’t do it all. I must prioritize, organize, and be efficient. The notion of “be everywhere, do everything” doesn’t work for all of us, especially when we should be buried deep in our writing cave. Set times for social media and blogging (with a timer if necessary).  Block it during writing time. Schedule tweets, blog posts, and Facebook updates.  Write a blog post in an hour, not half a day. Be efficient.

I will make use of every moment. Too often I make excuses: I only have an hour until my son comes home, until dinner, until an appointment—not enough time to immerse myself into my manuscript. Books are written in these stolen moments. Just do it. I will learn to make better use of my early morning and evening time.

 I will make time for creativity and daydreams (as they are the things books are made of) but I will put my fingers to the keyboard and type.

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I will finish my edits and rewrites. I will have my manuscript ready for querying by the New Year. Just over a year ago I wrote my November Manifesto proclaiming I would finish my first draft by the end of the month. I finished ten days later. It’s all about the goals. I will get this shit done.

**Sorry WOE: I totally forgot about my 300 word limit until I went to link up. The first 300 can be JustBeEough’s. The second half is all yours.

**

BlogHer & RWAs ~ both, either, neither?

If somehow you missed bumping into a shy redhead at BlogHer this year in New York City — well, that’s because I wasn’t there.

Somehow, I also missed the Romance Writers of America Conference (RWAs) in Anaheim. 

With all the gorgeous pics of beautiful (inside and out) writers and  bloggers having a blast, I felt like I needed a pic up too. This photo isn’t beautiful, and it’s from 2010, but I was at the RWAs. Though I didn’t attend the full conference, I did get to meet some of my favorite writers — Jane Porter, Mary Kay Andrews, Meg Cabot, Nora Roberts {though I can’t read her books. . .shhh!} You can read about my experience here.   As I mingled and wandered amongst hundreds of published authors I vowed I would attend the full conference soon. Apparently, just not this year.

Instead, this is how I spent that weekend. Somehow someone (I shall not name names) left the water on while working on our master bedroom shower. Water permeated the drywall and flooded under half the bedroom suite’s floor. Which I installed two years ago. By hand. After the plumbers and drying crew left, I spent the weekend ripping up my floor (while some kind volunteers ripped out the vanity) and redoing the whole damn thing. I lost my ability to write for two weeks as the only words I conjured were far too vulgar to put in print (and certainly not original).

And while I would have LOVED to have loaded my arms with goodie bags, hobnobbed with celebs, and met about 5,000 of my best blog friends IRL last weekend (not to mention learning so damn much about blogging my head would’ve probably exploded — that must be why they all hit the parties afterwards). . .



I  wish I was going to BlogHer '12 

I chose not to steal any of the thousands of images of my 
wannabe friends living it up and bonding in the Big Apple 
(because that’s just not how I roll).

. . . Instead I nursed my poor kiddo through his third oral surgery. {I refuse to post an actual picture of his mouth. I can’t look at it for more than a few seconds, and if I released the image into the blogosphere he’d probably sue me when he turned of age. Look at this model. It’s much prettier.}

I totally stole this image from an orthodontics website. 
If you want to see the myriad of medieval torture devices that may be in your kids’ futures, click here.


Yes, those are exposed teeth way below the gum-line attached to braces by dangling gold chains. My kid will be sporting some REAL mouth bling at back-to-school time (unlike fake-out Ryan Lochte — dude, I totally do not get it).

When I calmed down and forced myself to think about which event I regretted missing the most, I realized it was the RWAs. Don’t get me wrong, I’d nearly give my left breast to go to BlogHer, but I’ve realized I will never make my living as a professional blogger. Free wine, books, and toothbrushes — heck yeah — but I won’t be funding kiddo’s college fund with my blogging proceeds.

But it’s not just about the money. (Although making some money someday from my writing would be the cat’s pajamas.) It’s about my passion for writing, my need to give life to my stories, and my goal of publishing my freaking novel. To reach these goals and live the life I dream about, I must hone my craft and mingle with other writers. I’m dying to hear about their struggles and  successes, to soak up every blurb of advice they may offer. I need to familiarize myself with the dirty details of the publishing industry if I ever want to find an agent or sell a book. I need pay my RWA membership so I can feel like a real writer who deserves to be there.

So while I’d still LOVE to see the bloggers, writers, humorists, and culinary divas I read each day and feel as if I already know at BlogHer 13  . . .

My goal is set: I will attend RWAs next year in Atlanta. Time to start saving, keep writing, finish editing, and kick my life into gear.

Romance Writers of America®
33rd Annual Conference
Atlanta Marriott® Marquis
Atlanta, Georgia
July 17-21, 2013

Join more than 2,100 published and aspiring romance writers, editors, agents, and other industry professionals in Atlanta, GA. Conference attendees will enhance their writing and knowledge of the ins and outs of publishing at more than 100 workshops; get the inside track at panels and round-tables featuring publishing professionals; schedule a one-on-one pitch meeting with an acquiring editor or literary agent; attend parties and network with the stars of romance fiction; and be a part of RWA’s “Readers for Life” charity book signing. And let’s not forget the 2013 RITA®  and Golden Heart® Awards.
Registration for RWA2013 will open in late January 2013.

Who’s coming with me?

http://thingsicantsay.com
 a href=”http://thingsicantsay.com/” target=”_blank”>  





Be gentle, it’s my first time

 I sent off the first chapters of my manuscript for critique last week. Old friends and fellow writers held my temperamental, sometimes ugly baby at their mercy. To critique. To read. To shred into 90,000 rough pieces.

Except for the few brief snippets I’ve posted here, no one had read any of it yet. Not even my Hubby. {To be fair, I know he’d just say, “It’s great.” Though the sentiment may keep me from going all medieval, it isn’t particularly helpful in developing the work.}

Now they have.

Three different people with three vastly different opinions.  No one told me to toss it into the grill and use it for fuel for my 4th of July barbeque. Not one said I should wipe it from my hard drive and fill the memory space with ALF reruns instead.

But I have quite a bit of work to do to whip these words into shape.  I’ll be hiding in the depths of my manuscript for a while if you need to find me.

 ******

Blogger/Writer Tip:

Thanks to the helpful and generous writers at Writer Unboxed I’ve discovered an amazing tool for all bloggers and writers: EditMinion.com. Paste in your text (it seems to handle at least a couple thousand words in one bite) and it spits out a list of issues you may want to check.

The program highlights all of these issues in your text enabling you check them, change them, or curse yourself for having so many sentences that end in a preposition.  Though it cannot totally replace a thorough proofread, it certainly helps to pick out things your eyes may glaze over.  And it’s free. Check it out.

Frankly my dear. . .

This excerpt is from The Last Resort, my WIP. Just a snippet, cut down for proper size.

*******************************************
A yellow jeep sat in the bodega parking lot. My stomach dropped. Rye strolled across the pavement, whistling, his arms heavy with shopping bags. Zoe dragged me across the alley towards him. 
 
“Hey hot stuff, we need your help,” she said.
 
“Nice to see you  Zoe . . . Evie . . .” His eyes seemed to brighten as he said my name. I swallowed down the butterflies rising through my chest. “I’m always willing to come to the aid of a damsel, or sea nymph, in distress. How can I be of service today?” 
 
Zoe nudged me forward. My voice seemed to be snagged somewhere in my throat. I stood taut as wild horse about to bolt.
“I need twenty-five dollars cash to open my dead husband’s post office box.” The words just burst out, harsh and forthright. My fists clenched at my sides. 
 
Rye’s face hardened. He crossed his arms and leaned with a deliberate grace against his jeep. He studied my face, taking in each freckle dotting my flaring nostrils, each eyelash quivering as I seethed.
“What can you give me for collateral?” His voice was firm and smooth, his eyes slits, measuring my worth.
“Collateral?” It was twenty-five dollars, not a high-risk mortgage. Was he making fun of me because he knew I defaulted, my credit was gone? Why was every man out make my life impossible?As hysteria threatened to send me over the edge, I noticed a tic jumping from the side of his lips. His chest jerked against his  forearms,and  soft snorts escaped though his slightly asymmetric nose. Then the dam burst and laughter spilled from him in choppy waves. 
 
“Relax, Evie. Didn’t you ever watch or read Gone With the Wind?”
I blinked at him blankly. 
 
“Famous book? Oscar winning film? Rhett was in the horse jail. Scarlett asked him for money to save her plantation. She blurted it out just like you did.” He shrugged and flashed his suggestive half smile. “I just couldn’t resist a little tease.”                 ****
I nearly melted into the asphalt sizzling below me. Fate was fucking with me.  As a teen I’d cuddled up with my worn copy, dreaming of luring the shameless Rhett Butler away from his lusty ladies of the night, of becoming a woman so irresistible he couldn’t live without me. Layla said my infatuation with the cad had left me destined for a life full of scoundrels and bad boys. Like my former husband. Like Rye. 
The man standing before me looked far too blonde and scruffy to be mistaken for a swarthy Clark Gable, but he was just as sexy, just as dangerous, and much more attainable. I didn’t want to give a damn. 
“Of course I’ve read it. It’s just been a rough day. You caught me off guard.”
“That seems to happen often.”
“And if I recall correctly, Rhett was asking for quite a bit more in collateral than I’m willing to provide.”
“Hmm. . .” Rye pulled out his wallet. He removed three bills and fanned them between his erect fingers. “So, you’re not willing to become my mistress for twenty-five bucks?”
“Not a chance. But I will gladly borrow your money, thank you very much, and return it to you as soon as I find a working ATM in this ass-backward country.” I snatched the bills from his fingers, startled by the charge created by the brief brush against his skin. “I’ve already spent too much of my life being a kept woman. It’s high time I struck out on my own.” Flashing my most flirtatious smile, I pivoted away from him, and strutted away on my terms. “Besides, you couldn’t afford me.” 
His hand cupped my shoulder, halting me mid-step. “Forgive me for being so forward, 
but. . .” His hand slid down to my hip. My gasp sounded more like a drunken hiccup as he firmly and slowly brushed against the seat of my jeans. Shock waves coursed through my body.
 “You had dirt on your pants. We wouldn’t want you going around town with everyone staring at your derriere for the wrong reason, now would we?” 
 
Damn it. I just could not be around this man without turning my own shade of scarlet.
******************************************
 And if you were wondering about the waterfall from the last excerpt/prompts (Into the Wild), this was my inspiration for the ethereal setting.

Linking this up with the Yeah Write Challenge. Check it out.
read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Wild Locations: Trifecta and Write On Edge Prompts

I haven’t linked up with any writing prompts lately, but this week’s suggestions worked perfectly with my WIP. While I had an infinite amount of passages relating to location and wild, finding one only 250 words long was a killer. I settled for this one. The following excerpt is from The Last Resort. Be kind.

We started down a rockier path. Our pace slowed, our hands traced along the mossy ravine wall for balance. The air cooled and grew saturated with water, the pregnant molecules bursting upon impact with my sweaty skin. The patter of rain falling, heavy and fast, echoed through the valley. 

“Sounds like we’re going to get wet,” I said.

“I fully plan on it,” Rye answered.
The roar of water grew louder, as if the clouds had ripped open, allowing all the rain to pour out in one great deluge. Forget wet; we were going to get drenched. I stopped to zip my camera inside a plastic bag.
“If I were you, I’d keep the camera out.” Rye grinned like a pirate, his eyes wild and daring. “Come on. The picnic area is just around that bend.” 
 
My legs brushed against damp, drooping fronds. Scarlet blossoms stood erect with perfect drops of water dangling from their petal’s supple tongues. The rainforest’s dense canopy opened up, allowing the sun to stream down and illuminate the foliage, turning the leaves near fluorescent shades of green. The air smelled alive and slightly electric, as if charged ions still lingered after a wicked thunderstorm. 
 
We turned the corner. A cascade of white water crashed down a mossy cliff into a resplendent blue lagoon. The water shimmered in the sunlight, a pool of undulating aquamarine gemstones, with waves gently lapping along the rocky banks.
Rye’s warm hands grasped my bare shoulders. “I told you it would be worth the wait.”
Trifecta’s one-word prompt.  This week, they gave us:

WILD (adj)


1 a : living in a state of nature and not ordinarily tame or domesticated
   b (1) : growing or produced without human aid or care  
      (2) : related to or resembling a corresponding cultivated or domesticated organism

2 a : not inhabited or cultivated
   b : not amenable to human habitation or cultivation

 The Write on Edge prompt for this week is to use setting to deepen the development of your story.  You can use it to give insight into a character or a conflict or simply to evoke an emotional mood from your reader. 250 words or less.

Joshilyn Jackson made me change my book

While I sucked up every little hint of writing advice offered at the UCF Book Festival a few weeks ago, one session threw a wrench in my WIP.

I’ve already blogged about sitting utterly enamored in the audience, scribbling away in my old spiral notebook during Writing Place: New Fiction form the South: with Nicole Louise Reid, Joshilyn Jackson, and Karen White.

Joshilyn Jackson described writing her most ominous novel, Backseat Saints, as a journey into the depths of hell and back. After she rose from that dark place, she pleaded with her agent and publisher to let her write a nice, funny book. Since she is such an amazing writer who they didn’t want to go completely off the deep end, they said of course dear, whatever you want.

So she wrote a light, funny book. And the readers she trusted with her newborn words said it was good, but it just wasn’t her.

Don’t be afraid to let your characters go to dark places.

She had to go deeper, let her characters crawl into a dank, tight grave reeking in desperation and heartbreak. And she rewrote the whole damn book. And that book, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, ended up being the perfect blend of laughter and drama, at times leaving you gasping, at others snorting sweet tea out your nose. It worked. Well.

Her words seemed to glow across the room like firefly had spelled them out in a country dark night sky. (Didn’t you  ever read Sam and the Firefly?)

My most “popular” writing piece of late came not just from my heart, but from a time when that fickle organ had shriveled into a dull husk cowering on the bathroom floor. It was a dark piece, but it was transformative as well: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  (That should be my new writer’s mantra.)
I thought about a piece Joshilyn posted on her blog back in February, an utterly devastating, fearsome, and transparent piece. I could see her heartbreak scrawling across the screen with each word.  Though the damn post made me cry,  it was a thing of beauty just dripping with an overwhelmingly distinctive voice. I actually made my Hubby read it, as ingesting the words seemed to be the only way to explain just how powerful a voice in writing can be — he cried too. (Okay, I didn’t get wife of the year that night, and we spent our pre-dinner wine time reminiscing about our lost furry babies, but I needed to prove a point.)  Go read it, you’ll understand: Faster Than Kudzu: No Pictures.
We all have our own dark places, pieces of our lives we’ve buried deep within — areas riddled with cobwebs, weighed down with concrete blocks of guilt, and permeated with the lingering coppery stench of blood. Our characters should as well.
Don’t be afraid to let your characters go to dark places.
You see,  at the time I’d heard those words, I’d been about chest deep in my second draft, working in plot changes and character developments.  I’d been plagued with this niggling feeling that something was still missing, my main character need just a bit more motivation for her actions. 
Evie needed to go to her dark place.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of  death, deception, and all that other nasty stuff already in there. (And believe it or not, it still kind of funny. At least I hope it is.) My Evie’s life had basically turned into a twangy country song: she’d lost her husband, lost her house, lost her money, lost her sanity, and she’s pretty sure that if she had a dog, it would’ve been hit by the garbage truck, too. But she had to lose something else, something not superficial, to keep propelling her through the plot.
So, I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to work that extra element in, weaving it into my story like  raven’s wing black streaks into a braid. 
And I think it’s working.
Thanks Joshilyn.

Authors & Aspirations at the UCF Book Fest

I slogged through cross-town traffic, a torrential thunderstorm, and skipped my Kiddo’s soccer game to attend the University of Central Florida Book Festival. It was totally worth it.  I hadn’t set foot on the college campus since a Tori Amos concert a lifetime ago. I put on my big girl panties and a trendy outfit (so I wouldn’t look like one of the college kids’ mothers, which technically, I could be) and marched into the arena…alone.

Vendors, authors, and makeshift bookstores filled the arena floor.  There were twenty-one author panels spread across four meeting rooms to choose from, and a few times it was a tough call  deciding which session to attend.  In the end, I sat in on:

The Liberal Arts Life: From Jazz to Journalism to Novel to Script: keynote author James McBride

Writing Place: New Fiction form the South:  Nicole Louise Reid, Joshilyn Jackson, and Karen White

Stories From the Ladies of the South: Rachel Hauck, River Jordan, Marybeth Whalen, Lisa Wingate

Killing People in Exotic Places: Nancy J. Cohen, Bob Morris, Neil S. Plakcy

Embracing Imperfections through Young Adult Lit: Ellen Hopkins, Jessica Martinez, Ty Roth

Some of the authors I’ve known and loved for years, some tickled my interest, and some I simply must go out and read their books immediately. Or as soon as I eke out some time.

As a lifetime lit fan, occasional book reviewer,  and aspiring author, I hung on every word spewing from these successful writers’ mouths. I thought I’d be generous and pass along my favorite tidbits gleamed from the wonderful panel discussions.

James McBride (The Color of Water, Miracle at St. Anna,  musician, journalist, and screenplay writer): Learn to fail, and fail better — every successful person has learned to accept his failures and move on.  Since I’m prepping myself for the excruciating process of finding an agent and landing a publisher, I MUST remember this. If The Help was rejected 100 times, I can’t imagine how thick my stack of rejection letters will grow.

Nicole Louise Reid (So There!): A successful writer is someone who is good at lying, not in person, but on paper.  I’d never read any works by her before, but her reading was lovely, her words were lush, lyrical, and from the heart…or at least that’s what she’d like you to believe.


Joshilyn Jackson (A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, Backseat Saints): People should buy your book not because it’s good, but because your whole heart is in it.  And don’t be afraid to let your characters go to dark places.  I’ll admit, Joshilyn was my main draw. I’ve loved her work since I read the first page of Gods in Alabama years ago, and I totally have a writer crush on her now.  I’ve been reading her blog Faster Than Kudzu, for a while, and now that I’ve met her, I understand. Shes whimsical, slightly manic, and funny as hell.

And, as you can see, my new BFF. Or writing partner. In my DREAMS.  I can only hope that by standing so close to her I sucked up a few drops of her writing talent by some type of  author osmosis. (Hey, I could write a story about that…)  (And I look totally horrible in this picture, I blame it totally on the kind old guy behind me who snapped the shot without any time for me to stand up straight or position my arm properly. It’s not that fat, I swear.)

Rachel Hauck (The Wedding Dress) Fiction is hyperbole, life on steroids, so yes, writers always take from real life.  Character inspirations, settings, and scenes are all around you — suck them up.


Marybeth Whalen (The Guest Book, She Makes It Look Easy) If it’s a priority, you can make it happen. Marybeth has six kids, and still can balance the writing life and family life. I have no excuse. We live in a very visual society now; write it like you’d see it.

Neil S. Plakcy (the Mahu mystery series) I don’t get mad at people anymore. I just kill them. (In his books, of course.)

Bob Morris (Baja Florida, Bahamarama) I like to put real peoples’ names in books, just too see if they actually read them.

Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Perfect) Another reason no one should ban books, or consider certain books inappropriate for a certain age: it’s better to let people, especially teens, learn about the bad things in life, the rough patches, through a book. It gives them a frame of reference, a way of coping with a difficult situation.  And every time (I) am told one of my books has been flagged as inappropriate, I send a stack of letters to that person, letters from fans stating how that book saved their life. I fight for it.



I caught author Karen White (who was charming, witty, and wonderful, but I neglected to take notes of any of her sage advice) signing an e-reader cover instead of an actual book. The wave of the paperless future?

 I had a wonderful, enlightening day.  I also managed to get scared out of my mind by my most-likely masochistic career choice.   I can only dream I’ll be invited to attend one year as a published author myself.

And if not, I just discovered I SHOULD have applied to attend as a blogger. I totally missed an awesome Friday night meet and greet with the authors. Lesson learned, failure noted and accepted. I am taking notes.