Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Meet Author George Weinstein & Get Details on the Upcoming Atlanta Writer's Conference!

Register now for the Atlanta Writer's Conference ! 
Today I’m excited to spend some time with George Weinstein, author, program director of the bi-annual Atlanta Writers Conference and Officer Emeritus of the Atlanta Writers Club. It’s a cool, rainy Saturday in Georgia, and our summer is quickly fading into fall.  George and I are sitting near the building entrance, playing hooky from a lecture.  Today is the monthly meeting of the Atlanta Writers Club at Perimeter College, and we’re both really looking forward to the ninth Atlanta Writer's Conference, held November 8 & 9 at the Westin Atlanta Airport.

I have to admit, I’m really excited about the conference, as I’m taking part in several of the events.  My Evil Little Manuscript is close to finding a home, but I’m not going to stop querying until that happens, and plan on seizing every opportunity & chance to further develop my skills as a writer.

As we talk about the conference, George smiles, and has a glint in his eyes.  To me, it’s pretty darn obvious this guy loves to write. 

Me:  It’s written all over your face-writing is a huge part of your life.  And for what it’s worth, my friends say the same thing about me-that my eyes light up when I talk about books or my latest project.  So how long have you been writing?

George:  Since I was six years old.  I wrote plays for our stuffed animals to amuse my sister and brother.

Me:  By the way, thanks so much for doing this interview.   I really hope some of my readers will attend this amazing conference. 

George: You truly can’t beat the quality of events you get for the price.

Me:  And I agree with you.  So tell me, what events do you feel sets apart the Atlanta Writers Conference from other writing conferences?

George:  I’d have to say it’s the diverse offerings we have for up- and- coming writers.  For one, we have a query letter critique, where the writer obtains valuable objective feedback of their query letter with nothing on the line. The agents and editors who do your query letter critique are not the ones you’ll pitch the next day, so you can relax, take in their comments, and then make your query letter better before it counts.

Me:  That is incredible!  So it’s a chance to pre-query, if you will, with either an agent or editor and see what they think about your query before you actually hit “send”.

George: Exactly, but there’s also The Pitch, where you get that rare chance to actually pitch your manuscript in front of agents or editors, that you wouldn’t get otherwise.  And the deadline is close, but there are also opportunities to have a portion of your manuscript and synopsis critiqued as well.

Me:  And there is still a chance to sign up for these events, right?

George:  Yes!  But just a few open spots are left.

Me:  Where is the conference held?

George:  At the Westin Atlanta Airport, and we’ve secured a special rate of only $99 per a night for those attending.

Me:  So I hear that your second book is coming out soon.  Care to give our readers a sneak peek?

George:  Sure.  My second novel, also from Deeds Publishing,  is THE FIVE DESTINIES OF CARLOS MORENO, and it’s a historical suspense.  I guess you could say it’s like THE GRAPES OF WRATH meets THE FUGITIVE. Deeds is accepting pre-orders on their site at http://deedspublishing.com/the-five-destinies-of-carlos-moreno/

Me:  I’m intrigued.  Tell me more.
 
George:  It’s basically the tale of a poor, innocent guy trying to outwit a relentless lawman during the Depression Era.  Many people don’t know this, but at the beginning of the Great Depression, President Hoover “repatriated”, or should I instead say deported, over one million Mexican-American citizens so that white Americans could receive governmental assistance and find scarce jobs because times were so tough. 
And back then, most people didn’t carry around any sort of license or legal document with them, so if you had brownish skin and were found by authorities to be without documentation, you were picked up and deported.  And my main character, Carlos, is a true American citizen, but because of his skin color he’s hunted down for deportation.

Me:  I’m sure I studied this in college history, but I’m really glad you’re bringing this dark part of our country’s past to life.

George:  Thank you.  And many of the people expatriated were American citizens, just like Carlos.  But the really sad part was quite a large percentage of those rounded up and deported were children.

Me:  I can’t believe that happened in my America-this is a book I have to read.  And it’s coming out soon?

George:  In October.

Me:  Great!  Now I know HARDSCRABBLE ROAD was your first novel, but couldn’t help wondering if the plot was based on the life of anyone you knew?

George:  Yes it was-it was based on my father–in-law’s childhood and the gritty journey he endured as a boy.

Me:  So let me ask…can we do a cover reveal for THE FIVE DESTINIES OF CARLOS MORENO on my blog? 

George:  Sure thing!

Deeds is now accepting pre-orders on their site!  Go to http://deedspublishing.com/the-five-destinies-of-carlos-moreno/ and reserve your copy!

Me:  Awesome!  I know our readers love being the first to get a look, and that is one incredible cover! Thanks for sitting down with me George, and for all of your hard work and dedication to our craft.  I really look forward to attending the conference in November.

Want to attend the Atlanta Writers Conference?  
Visit this site a.s.a.p.!  
www.AtlantaWritersConference.com

*It's easy to catch a flight in & out of Atlanta, and the hotel provides free transportation to & from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
  • Cost for events:  - Manuscript/Synopsis Critique on Saturday, November 9: $150
  • Pitch on Saturday, November 9: $50
  • Editor & Agent Q&A Panel on Saturday, November 9: $30
  • Workshop on Friday, November 8: $50
  • Query Letter Critique on Friday, November 8: $50
  • Best money-saving option?  Choose the  Atlanta Writers Conference package deal (all five activities): $300

*Note:  If you are not a current member of the Atlanta Writers Club, $40 in dues will be added to your total, with 365 days of club benefits, including access to writing contests with cash prizes, free and discounted workshops, and access to the May 2014 Atlanta Writers Conference.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Villain Crafting 101: Levels of Badness


Every manuscript has to have an antagonist.  The bad guy.  The person(s) determined to destroy your main character's hopes and dreams.  And I happen to think they're especially fun to create.  If you write thrillers, mysteries, or suspense novels, you better be good at building the bad.

That's why I also think it's fun to create levels of villains.  For example, in my latest manuscript, there's the Head Honcho.  He's untouchable, thinks on his feet, and has years of breaking bad to draw from, and is the puppet master to his hired guns.  Of the two corporate hitmen he controls, one is quite formidable-a linguistic expert, cold, calculating, and able to blend into any situation. An all-around bad ass.  But the other guy?  Ummm...he doesn't quite get the job done.  In fact, the Head Honcho even considers whacking the idiot at one point.

So why did I do that?  Easy.

CRIME.DOES.NOT.PAY.

If it did, there would be no universities.  No businesses.  People wouldn't want to become schoolteachers, want to cure cancer, or design rockets to bring humanity to Mars.  Nope.  They'd be packing heat and jacking their next door neighbors for fun.

And if you don't believe me, check out this site that proves my point:  Dumb Criminals.


Here's a little hint:  When I create my villains, I like to have one who does everything right. He's the guy who makes the mc shiver in her stilettos. And then the levels of badness come in, all the way down to the lowest tough guy,  like "Tracksuit" (that's what I named him),  that can't seem to do anything right. And it was great fun throwing obstacles in front of him, and imho makes the read even more evil fun.  Now, I'd love to tell you more, but hey...you'll have to wait.  The Evil Little Manuscript (To Die For) is getting closer to it's dream of becoming a published novel, so hang in there a while longer.

In closing friends, when you're writing, don't be afraid to embrace the less-than-perfect criminal mind sometimes.  It can make for fun writing,  reading...or watching!

Let's bring the post home with a little "Bro-Motion" by Key & Peele.  This video says it all.  Throw every kind of obstacle too in front of even the villains, because you never know what the end result will be.


Tell us-Have you ever created a villain that wasn't perfect?  How'd you do it?

Coming soon:  Interviews w/Vicki L. Weaver (author of soon to be released "Crown of Ice") & her agent as they answer the tough questions,  and we'll spend time with Michelle Hauck (author of "Kindar's Cure" & newly agented writer)! We're gonna learn how they landed their agents & got the book deal so we can do the same!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

An Interview with Robert K. Lewis

It's a dark and rainy day in Georgia. Despite being the middle of August, the temperature's a chilly 63 degrees.  Gone is my usual sweet tea, and I'm enjoying a cup of coffee on my virtual front porch fangirling with my friend Robert K. Lewis, (and my thriller writing hero). Rob's the author of UNTOLD DAMAGE, and created the character of Mark Mallen, one of my all-time favorite crime noir characters!
Get it NOW! By Midnight Ink Press
http://www.amazon.com/Untold-Damage-Mark-Mallen-Novel/dp/0738735760
From the Kirkus review: “Equally rooted in the struggle for justice and the struggle for sobriety, Lewis’ debut makes it clear that there may be no clear right or wrong.”
Robert also writes for the mystery & thriller supersite, Criminal Element!
http://www.criminalelement.com  (Love it!) 
JF: Thanks for stopping by Rob and pardon my giggles, but it's just that you are now officially one of my thriller writing heroes. I promise to try to keep my composure, but it's not everyday that one of my friends actually becomes a rockstar! 

*Rob looks away. I think I freaked him out a little.*

JF:  Now if you will, tell us a little about yourself, and reveal one deep dark secret to only my Soul & Sweet Tea readers. 

RL: Well, I grew up loving reading and movies. My folks split up when I was ten and my dad, on visitation days would let me see any movie I wanted, so I got to see films like The Enforcer, The Seven Ups, and The Warriors WAY earlier than any of my friends. Those movies helped shape the books I write. My dad was also part owner in a chain of bookstores and so I was never lacking for reading material. In grade school, I was reading at high school levels so I was always called on to read out loud in class. I wrote screenplays for a long time. I also am a devout lover of blues guitar. A dark secret? I always wanted to be Father Merrin in The Exorcist. 

*Cue the creepy piano music.

JF:  Your series is about a former undercover cop (Mark Mallen) struggling with drug addiction who has to dig himself out of a precarious situation when his best friend is found murdered.  What I love about your book is everything seems very, very real.  To me, this is a something that all writers should strive for, especially in our genre (thrillers/suspense).  Did you have any real life inspiration for this tale? How did you create such a great character like Mark Mallen?


RL: Well, in answer to your first question, about having real life inspiration, I DID live for a long time in San Francisco, in the Tenderloin. I’ve also seen, first hand, the ravages of drug addiction and the struggles an addict goes through. Once you’ve lived in that neighborhood for any length of time, you don’t forget it. Regarding your other question, about Mallen’s origins, he started as a character in a literary short story I had published in an online literary journal called Cherrybleeds. The story opens with Mallen shooting up in a church confessional on a cold, snowy night and a woman comes into the church looking for a priest to come home with her to give the last rights to her dying mother. I felt it was one of my strongest pieces. It was up on my corkboard above my desk, along with this other piece of writing that I felt was also strong. It was about a child killer coming into a room to feed “his little visitor”. I was literally looking from one piece to the other thinking, “junkie… child killer… junkie… child killer… junkie goes after a child killer. Why would he do that? Because he’d once been a cop!” And Mallen was born.

JF: I love the evolution of your character.  Now Rob, you and I became friends over at (the awesome site) AgentQuery Connect, and it wasn't so long ago you were like me, a writer deep in the query trenches.  So tell us how you got through this angst-y process?  Many a seemingly normal writer has gone mad querying. 

RL: Very simple: every time I got a “no” back in my inbox, I immediately sent out another query. Also, I was always  working on my next book. You just got to keep moving forward during this period. And trust me, I received a LOT of rejections in my time. My earlier urban fantasy novel? Sent out over 200 queries to agents and publishers. You grow a thick skin going through something like that. Also, as I mentioned, I’d been a screenwriter, sending out queries on my movie scripts. Got TONS of rejection there, too. You just learn to let it go and keep onward. If you believe in yourself and keep learning about your writing and the publishing business, you’ll get there.

JF:  You are represented by the wonderful Barbara Poelle, of the Irene Goodman Agency, and I've got to know-what happened when you got THE CALL? How did it  all go down? 

RL:  Hahaha… I never got the call. My wife did. I was at work, and it was my wife that called me, saying, “Hey, you have an agent.” I literally stopped in my tracks and my eyes teared up, because I’d been trying for almost TEN YEARS to get to that one spot: represented. And Barbara is as awesome as her reputation. She’s been wonderful to me, and for my career.

JF: I can't believe it.  You NEVER got the call! Now we all know good writers read good books.  Who are some of your favorite authors?

RL: A LOT of the old noir guys. Frank Kane. Henry Kane. Raymond Chandler. Hammett. Don Westlake, and his alter ego, Richard Stark. Ed McBain. However, I also love Kurt Vonnegut, David Mitchell, and Alfred Bester and Michael Moorcock.
  
JF:  Can you give us a sneak peek of what's in store for Mark Mallen in your sequel, CRITICAL DAMAGE?

RL:  No. Hahahaa…my editor would kill me. However, I CAN tell you that it’s like “The Empire Strikes Back” was to “Star Wars.”


JF:  I always tie music to books, and when I started reading UNTOLD DAMAGE, the song "You Belong To the City" by Glenn Frey (of the Eagles) came to mind. Do you have a song you associate with your book?

RL: Well, yeah… I guess I do. Mr. Brownstone by Guns n Roses.

JF: Thanks for stopping by Rob.  And for our younger friends who haven't discovered the total awesomesauce that is/was GnR, here's a hard rockin' tune in honor of Det. Mark Mallen.




Saturday, August 10, 2013

Put a Name On It!

"If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring TITLE on it."~Beyonce.
I <3 both Beyonce & JT! And if that song were about book titles, it would probably
make this blog post totally awesome, but this is serious stuff we've got to get out of the way.

It's time to talk titles.

I've seen the good, the bad, and the really, really stupid.  But before we chat on my virtual front porch, let me pour you a glass of sweet tea because it's getting hot out here.

As you may (or may not) know,  I'm seeking a traditional publishing contract and not going to self-publish, but hey---that could change in the future.  The world of publishing is going through a transformation and it's a wild ride. I'd say half of my writing friends are going the traditional route, and the other half are wading into the self-publishing waters.  But it doesn't matter which road you take, you gotta put a name on your manuscript.

That being said, I have a huge confession to make. It's hard to admit, but here goes. *Taking big sip of iced tea.*

In the past I've bought a few books because of a kick-ass title and good back cover blurb.

But for the most part, before I hand over my dinero to the cashier or toss the e-book into the teeny shopping cart on my computer screen, I look at the reviews, or read a sample chapter, but I have done the unthinkable in the past.

*Ducks under virtual porch swing.*

Call me shallow, but I'm like tons of readers who do this every day. We're lured in by slick cover art and cool titles.  And I think it's great! That means somebody's doing something right! The author/publisher got us to buy the book.

On AQC, (Agentqueryconnect) my favorite writing website, I frequently lurk about the area where writers ask opinions about book titles, because I think it's just.that.important.

You see, I want the title of a manuscript to actually be intriguing, yet somehow manage to convey genre and tone.

That's a helluva lot to ask from just a few words, but  it can be done.

And when I walk the aisles at my neighborhood bookstore, if I have no freaking idea what your book is about, I WILL NOT pick it up and buy it.  In fact, I'd be more apt to pick up a paperback called The Story of Poop, than pick up a paperback with nonsensical words on the cover.

You got a space opera called The Flagenroot of Zanderia self-pubbed on Amazon?



Get ready for NOTHING! Readers will think you've been listening to Pink Floyd and partaking in magic mushrooms, because they'll have no idea what your book is about. Your manuscript will have a lot of waiting to do, unless your mom or Aunt Sally or your best friend feels sorry for you and buys it.

So be really, really careful if your book title has a made-up word on the cover.  Now I understand in the high fantasy/science fiction genres this is common because of the extravagant world-building, but please, please at least have the other words in short title be relevant so the title will make sense to the reader/buyer.

A great example of this is J.K. Rowling's runaway hit:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban!

For SC-who loves Harry Potter.
And aw heck...I do too!
Nine years ago nobody knew what the hell an Azkaban was, but when a few key words were added, it was easy to infer Azkaban was a prison.  And since it was part of a series, her readers knew Harry Potter was a boy wizard, thus the book must be an adventure about someone in a magical prison! Voila! Ms. Rowling pulled it off in style!

Here's a few more great books and titles that get this point across.  You can infer the genre and plot from a few choice words.

Enough said. The title is JUST ONE WORD and it's all that and a bag of chips!!!
Even if you took away the killer art on the cover, you know what it's about, and you'll be
afraid to dip your big toe in the water after the last page.

I'm a thriller/romantic suspense writer & a huge fan of John Grisham.  I especially loved this one.
Many of his book titles easily convey to the reader the big action coming their way.

My favorite Dan Brown book. You know there will be good guys
and very very bad ones just from the title.  Plus the chosen words convey CONFLICT.
Yes conflict! Good work Mr. Brown!

So here are my suggestions for creating a killer title:
  1. Who's the protagonist & what is the conflict? Sometimes a title can be as easy as that. It's the good  guy or gal and their struggle against X. You fill in what X is. Sometimes there's more than one answer to these questions, so write it all down!
  2. Who's the antagonist? What do they want?
  3. Is there something unique that stands out about your plot?  What is it? Unique setting? Place? Time?
  4. Now write down ALL the answers (There will be many!) to these first three questions. If the answer to any of the questions are in the form of a sentence or phrase, break the sentence apart into single words.
  5. Explore different combinations of these words and there's probably a great title hidden in your word soup.  It's your puzzle and only you can figure this out.  
  6. Don't worry if you're halfway done with your manuscript and it doesn't have a name.  Sometimes after you write the ending, the name will come to you.  All in good time my Padawan. Within, your creative force lives. 
That's how I roll, and I even accidentally helped one of my fabulous writing buddies name her manuscript that's coming out! *Squee!* And the publisher is keeping the title, and I hope her agent liked it. But there's one thing for sure about her manuscript~the words on the pages WILL BE as good as the title.

You see, that's the even bigger challenge after choosing the right name for your bookbaby.

Make the words inside even better than your title.

No matter how great your title is, or how awesomely creative the cover art, it's the words that will keep the momentum going, so make the tale shine.  Make the character's struggle and emotions jump off the pages.  Let your reader feel like they're bff with your protagonist so they'll root for them. 

So how do you come up with your manuscript titles? Have you ever bought a book just because the title sounded cool or the cover art looked great? If you did, did the pages inside deliver and keep you turning pages, or were you completely let down? 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Welcome to Jurassic Beach!


Dino-bird of death on Johnson Beach.
An hour before sunset, this beautiful Blue Heron flew down right in front of us on the beach at Johnson Beach (Perdido Key, FL).  The four foot tall fowl didn't seem too frightened of humans, and walked in and out of the surf looking for dinner. And me, being the total science/biology geek, followed it around with my camera.

Eventually, our predator found a fish in ankle-deep water and skewered it with his beak, then tried to swallow it whole, but he wasn't able to get it to go down his long, skinny neck.

So what did he do next?

He carried the fish to a sandy spot near a dune, leaned his long neck back, and stabbed the flopping fish to death, using his sharp beak as a dagger.

Next,  he carried the dead fish to the water, rinsed it off, and gulped it down.  As he walked away, the tail of his victim could be seen sticking out of the side of his mouth.

I wish I'd gotten video of the event, but we were all too busy watching him attack the fish with our mouths wide open.

Seriously, this guy was like a modern day Velociraptor, and we totally understood the whole bird-dino link after that.
This was his footprint. Bigger than my hand! Jurassic indeed!
Substitute his feathers with scales, and you get this:

Now we didn't take this video below, but it's quite similar to what we witnessed, except our Blue Heron stabbed the prey more than one time and was a bit more brutal.
Be patient.  You gotta wait for it! This dude's a serious hunter, and he's quick when he strikes!  Got any fun vacation stories to share? Witness any of the thrilling natural world on your travels? Send them my way! Happy summer everyone.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Killer Couscous Salad TO DIE FOR!

Okay, so I couldn't resist putting the title of my manuscript in the recipe, but what do you expect when you have a thriller writer in the kitchen?

Here's what we had for dinner tonight.  And yes, you can serve it with iced/sweet tea (of course).

Killer Couscous Salad
Kitchen Weaponry:
  • sharp knife (of course)
  • fork 
  • vegetable peeler
  • small to medium sized pot
  • hand-juicer (the old fashioned kind)
  • large bowl 
Ingredients:
  • 2 boxes instant Parmesan couscous
  • 1 large cucumber
  • fresh basil (at least 3 tablespoons worth)
  • 2 bunches green onions
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1/4 lb. low sodium turkey breast from deli
Make it:
  1. Before preparing veggies, begin boiling water on stove for couscous. Follow package direction. Make couscous. After preparing, let it cool then fluff it with a fork.
  2. Use peeler to peel outside of cucumber, then slice in 1/2.  De-seed. Then use knife to chop into little bits.  Put it in your bowl.
  3. Use peeler to peel carrot into super-thin curls.  Add to bowl.
  4. Open packet of fresh basil.  Smell basil.  Smells like summer, doesn't it? Now rip off the leaves & chop finely with knife. You know what's next.  Bowl.
  5. Chop the green onions finely. Yep  it's going in the bowl again.
  6. Chop the turkey breast, but if you wish, you can omit the turkey if you're vegan or want the salad a little bit lighter.  It's great either way. Add to bowl.
  7. Fold the couscous into the bowl and mix ingredients. 
  8. Slice lemons in half, juice the lemons & add the juice to the bowl, drizzling it evenly over the veggie/couscous mixture.
  9. Drizzle the olive oil over the veggie/couscous mixture evenly.
  10. Chop the turkey breast finely, but you may leave the meat out to enjoy this dish meat-free.
  11. Thoroughly mix all ingredients one last time.
  12. You can serve immediately, or chill in the refrigerator to serve cool later. It's wonderful any way you decide to serve it.
It's so freakin' awesome, even Wyatt wanted a taste of couscous salad!
Nah, he didn't.  He just really wanted some turkey. Here he
is doing the "I'm cute, see me standing on my hind legs for food" dance.



Wyatt's Evil Twin

Wyatt the Wonderdog!
Some of you might remember me mentioning from time to time my hilarious havanese-Wyatt.  He's thirteen pounds of fluff and fun.  And he gripes.  If you hug someone in our house and Wyatt's not actually involved IN the hug with you, you get barked at.  Sometimes he acts like a cat, walking paw over paw across the impossibly narrow back of my armchair.

On the rare occasion  he is a watchdog, growling under his breath through the door at the dog across the street, but 99.9% of the time he's just too damned friendly.  I swear, he'd waggle his butt and lick the hand of a burglar if they smiled at him. And yea,  he actually does smile!  Geez I have to get a picture of him doing this, just so you'll believe me, but he's a smiley little dude.

And he jumps.  Oh boy does he jump!  He bounces up and down like a ball, and usually he does it whenever there's a food-ish item around that he thinks he'd enjoy. I gotta get a video of that too.

But he cracks me up the most when he's watching TV. His favorite channel is Animal Planet, and if we're watching a show and a herd of wild gazelle run across the screen, he follows them, going behind the back of the TV, looks for them and gets all confused.  Where'd they go? They disappeared! Come back here!

Here's Wyatt last year ago watching the "magic box". Well, at least that's what I think he thinks it is.
video

And during the school year he waits patiently at the front door for my son to get off of the school bus.

Sometimes I wonder what he'd say if he could talk. And I think I might have an answer, as I found Wyatt's evil twin on YouTube.  Apparently his name is Gryphon,  and he looks like Wyatt, except he's 1) A shih tzu  2) White-ish, whereas Wyatt is black-ish  and 3) Very very evil!!!  But I love this little guy too. And now after watching this video, it makes me wonder what Wyatt actually thinks about if he doesn't get his doggie biscuit before bed at  night.
If you liked that video, check out Toby Turner's YouTube channel. He's hilarious & has another Gryphon-themed one called "Crawlasaurus" that cracks me up, featuring Gryphon crawling on the floor.  And yea, Wyatt does that too.

Now don't laugh, one of these days I'm going to write a children's book based on Wyatt.  I've already got a working title for it-Wyatt The Whatever. You see, my little guy was born at a puppy mill where they bred designer dogs and we rescued him after the mill was shut down. When we adopted him, we just wanted to save him & could care less what breed he was, and honestly to this day, we're still not 100% sure. Our old vet said he looked like & had the fur, height, face, and body structure of a havanese, so we're sticking with that. The tale (or should I say tail?) would be about a puppy that's rescued, only to go to a dog park a few months later and meet other dogs, and then try to figure out what he is. Is he a beagle?  A poodle? A golden retriever?  What IS he?

But that's just me writing/thinking out loud here, and this idea is definitely high on my bucket list.

So tell me, does your pet do anything unusual? Do they possess superpowers? Tell me about it! And I'm going to start following my dog around more often with my phone (call me the "pup-arazzi") so I can catch him doing stunts that crack me up.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Save Your Characters With Word Economics!


Sorry for the unexpected interruption folks, but sometimes life hands you lemons and you must make a decision what to do with the sour yellow footballs. Needless to say, I grabbed a knife, hacked them in half, squeezed their juicy little innards out, and made the best damn lemonade evah!

"Lemonade-that cool refreshing drink."-Eddie Murphy
 So today we're going to enjoy a glass on my virtual front porch instead of sweet tea. And here's something else fun.  As a result of the last few weeks, I've also made a decision to leave my comfort zone and professionally move into a different realm which totally embraces my being a science geek/former biology major.  Sure, I'll still keep up my medical license and do all the continuing education requirements while keeping my lab coat in the office, but I'm excited to throw my hat back into the sales arena after a decade and a half haitus, and it's going to be great fun.

And I'll sure as heck never give a presentation like this.  But it is funny. And FWIW, I'd give them a parting gift after this presentation or a souvenir (Step Brothers humor. Pardon me. I love it.), so long as the bros didn't call me Pamm or Jodie or Ms. Lady. You may refer to their infamous job interview scene & can find it on YouTube.  I'd post that here too, but the language is a little flowery.


Gotta love black leather gloves & their R&D dept. It must've been hard to get the bees to hold still.  And for that, I salute them.

Anyhow back to the blog,  because in my private time, words rule!

And during my brief hiatus, I did something wild after editing & re-editing & re-re-editing my Evil Little Manuscript otherwise known as THE DEATH BROKERS.  I read. Yep,  I read one good thriller and began reading a whole stack o' books in different genres, but something specific stuck in my mind after having been in editing mode for so long, and that would be word economy.

It's hard to remove the editing hat once you're allowed enough time to actually read for enjoyment,  and despite my best attempt to toss off that hat, I'd still find ways to improve whatever I read.

As my eyes scanned a passage, I'd unconsciously find ways to make it read smoother, and in the thriller I read (not written by one of my friends btw) I found myself removing this or that mentally to make the action get the hell moving.

Earlier today I chatted with one of my fabulous crit partners and this topic came up. FWIW, he's one of the word economy kings, and now I'm proud to have joined the unofficial club of word-economists.  You should seriously think about joining too.  There's no annual membership fee & only thing you do as a member is use your words effectively.  We hold no meetings.  You're on your own & there's no cute  membership card to keep in your wallet.

Since I mentioned mentioned flowery earlier, let's talk even more about word economics.   It keeps you writing & staying on the plot path rather than wandering off into left field and into a literary meadow where there are purple flowery things growing.

The purple flowery prose may look beautiful, but they're really weeds!
Avoid or destroy.  
 Remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy wanders into the poppy field & falls asleep?  That's what happens to your readers if you give them a field of purple flowery prose or unnecessary sentences and fail to keep the action moving.
Imagine these poppies are purple.  YOUR purple flowery and/or over-written prose.

Let me further illustrate by making up a fictional paragraph ever-so-loosely based upon the really great thriller I just read. Character names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Now pretend after watching this clip, that MacGyver is Johnny in the following paragraph.  But he isn't outside fighting a drug czar with a fake moustache, he's in a warehouse and his love-interest-reporter is held captive on another floor.


"Johnny grabbed the off-white colored C4 plastic explosive putty & jammed it into the crack between the gleaming metal elevator doors. Next he pushed in the blast cap into the C4 and inserted the fuse into the  plastic explosive. 

Johnny thought of Susan, the reporter he wanted to save who was held prisoner two floors below.  She meant more to him than just a reporter who would keep their lives safe by exposing the truth; Susan was someone he cared for, with her beautiful chocolate-brown eyes and raven hair. This was the first time in Johnny's life he'd experienced love. The warehouse will blow sky-high, but he won't leave the warehouse without Susan in his arms. He lit the end of the fuse with his lighter he pulled from his ammo vest and ran several hundred feet away and ducked behind giant wooden crates."

Geesh.  What a mess.  Even his Royal Purpleness would say that's an awful waste of his favorite color. He's so bored & sleepy after reading that passage, he had to rest upon the royal couch.
Dave Chappelle channeling Prince.
My hands shook & my eyes almost bled writing that horrid example, but I want to hear from you.

How would YOU re-do this mess?  What would you delete/merge/rewrite? How would you move the action along? 

Let's make this fun! Can't wait to read your edits! Can you save Johnny?  Will he still pause to reflect on his love for Susan? Will they make it out of the warehouse? 

We'll find out when you post your replies!


Monday, May 27, 2013

Manuscript Taming Tips From the Editress of Awesome!

Whip?  Check.  Chair?  Check.
This writer 's ready to tame his unruly manuscript!

Today I'm thrilled to welcome to my virtual front porch T.J. Loveless, whom I call "The Editress of Awesome", and I'm pouring her a glass of sweet tea because she's about to answer a big question.  A really, really big question. But she doesn't know it just yet.

T.J. is a great friend of mine and an amazing writer, but also has a super-secret life as an editor, having put the finishing touches on the works of a few well-known authors.  And she also loves sweet tea!

I hope you'll really take notice of her tips, as I think they're incredible. And make sure to check out the deets at the end of our interview about the awesome contest going on over at Cliffhanger Editing.


Big contest to help tame your little manuscript!  Check out Cliffhanger Editing!
So T.J., I've got a question for you.  As an editor, what are the five most common mistakes writers make?  And I'm not talking just newbie writers, but published writers too.

She grins. 

I pour her more sweet tea. 

T.J. drinks, but I can tell she's thinking about this question.  I can't wait to hear what's coming next, and I know it's gonna be good.

She puts down her tea glass.  

T.J. Loveless:  I could go on all day, but here are the big ones.

 1.) Redundancy

This is the biggest issue I see in every MS - including my own. When we self edit, we have a tendency to overlook the filler, which is what it is. By redundancy, I mean to him, at him, with him, they both, we both, etc. Delete. Take it out and don't look back.

2.) Pronouns

Yup, I'm guilty here too. He/she/it/them/I, whether 3rd, 2nd or 1st POV, we use them and have a tendency to overuse them. I can almost guarantee a writer can wipe out 30% of pronouns right out of the editing gate and the MS will make sense and read a lot faster. The reader understands who is on stage at that particular moment. 

3.) Passive writing

*Raises hand* It was, for most of my writings, a huge problem. Had/has/that/this/have been, etc. Most of us write pretty action packed stuff. Using the passive makes it ... meh in feeling. The more active you write, the more you'll keep the reader hooked and turning the pages. 

Other words which can be removed and should be watched closely for constant use: than, then, that, this, there, before, slowly, just, suddenly, barely, etc. Yes, we write on an 8th grade level, but that doesn't mean your readers are stupid. If a change is made without warning, well, it's sudden, isn't it? You don't have to tell them.

4.) Beginnings

Oh dear, one of my biggest weaknesses. I usually start a MS eight or nine times before I figure out the real place to start. For many, many years, writers started their stories way back, trying to give background info to help a reader understand the players in their stories. In the past twenty years or so, that has changed. Most readers want to be closer to when the plot actually occurs. A writer should start close to the real action, and weave in the past. And as the one listening to the voices, only you can decide where that is. 

The other side of that coin is starting too late. When asked to start with action, many believe it is the middle of a fight. I've seen some that yes, it is where it starts. But by action they mean the characters are doing something - getting off a train in the town where it all happens. Taking a fated road trip. Dropping the egg that was supposed to be for breakfast but helps the MC see something strange in their home setting ... you get the idea. 

If you read your MS after allowing it to sit for a few weeks, you'll get a feel for where the story truly begins. Starting too early causes a very slow beginning.

5.) Tense/Point Of View

I always write past tense. It is becoming popular to write in present tense. This is, by far, the hardest to write successfully. We don't truly think in present tense, nor do we talk in present. A majority of the time, it is past tense. If your story is present tense, be very very careful. I mean watch every single sentence. Many authors inadvertently switch between past and present, and it makes for a very confusing MS.

Watch POV - without realizing it, many switch POV among characters in half sentences. Even when doing 3rd Omniscent - seeing everyone's POV - don't switch from one headspace to another without some kind of transition. If you are in character A's head, they aren't going to know why another character does something - unless they are highly psychic and you've established this from the very beginning. 

Think about POV as a camera in an action movie. Even in fast scenes, one character is taking the camera time, everyone else is in the background. If you switch from character to character, back and forth, over and over, without ensuring your audience understands, you're going to make them dizzy. They won't have enough time to reengage with any of the characters. And that, my friends, will make them put your book down. 

***

The five things listed are the biggest issues I see in every MS. It's almost universal. The Find function of your document is a good friend. Use it. Put in the phrases and words above, simply delete them, and then go to work on editing. It will help create a much better, faster read, one your audience is more than willing to pick up, time and again.
***

Many thanks to my good friend T.J., who is also a copy/content editor at Curiosity Quills Press and freelances at Cliffhanger Editing


She lives with one Editor Kitty, two Muses, a Hubby who prefers her mood when writing and a teenager who loves to tells stories of her mother on the floor trying to visualize “legs all akimbo” and how Writing Momma has long, often yelling, conversations with the computer screen.
You can find T.J., usually with a tall glass of cold iced tea, on

The Padded Room (her amazing blog)

Now shhh!  There's an awesome contest happening over at Cliffhanger's - where you can win a full comprehensive edit, a comprehensive partial or a beta read! All you need to do is email two paragraphs of the worst writing you can come up with - and be funny!  Seriously, she wants you to send her your best/worst scribblings ever!

Twitter 

Now memorize her suggestions!  Go!  Do it now! For if you do, you won't make these mistakes again while pounding away on the keyboard trying to create your opus.

And Happy Memorial Day friends.  Let us not forget the true meaning, which is to honor the fallen men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we may live free.  That's what this day is about.  Not barbecue, not burgers, not pool parties, but those who fought for the freedom we take for granted.
We're the land of the free because of the brave.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

It'll Only Sting For a Minute!

It saddens me to cut parts from my Evil Little Manuscript,
but it's for her own good.  (photo by me:  Joey Francisco) 

This is my evil, glass-topped writing desk.

Death by scissors sounds ghastly, but if you're a writer and you've completed a manuscript, let's hope you've experienced this trauma (and it is trauma) because you'll have to do it maybe more than once to some characters or scenes before your manuscript is truly ready for readers.

Sure, you want to give the entire backstory on a certain character, but does it make the tale stop the flow of the story?  Look for this when doing re-reads of your work, and also pay very very close attention to any advice given from beta readers, negative feedback from a crit partner, and especially pay attention to anything from an agent if you do a manuscript critique at a conference (did one last year myself) or from your rejection letter(s).

It's the hard truth we must come to learn to accept, and when you use your virtual scissors to delete parts of your book baby, don't forget to copy, paste, and save that excerpt!  That's something we forget to do too, and should you need it later, or realize that segment was an integral part to the story instead of another part you cut, you'll always need to be able to go back and add it in.

I for one know I went kicking and screaming (sort of) when my critique partners told me to ax this or that (can you tell we write thrillers?) and I wanted to cry sometimes when I deleted, but after a while this became far less angst-y for me.

Wanna know what really took the sting out of whacking away parts of my manuscript?  Shhh!  This is my little secret and the thing I do whenever I write dialogue.  I read the section aloud.  So what I do is highlight first the portion of my ms I'm considering to cut, and then read the section aloud without that part  and listen to the flow.  Did it make events move forward?  Did it sound smoother?  If it truly passes that test, then by all means delete away.

And after you receive the feedback, be sure to thank whoever gave it to you. As for me, I think it's never too late to continue tweaking, and last night just sent the ms to two more beta readers for their feedback.  Neither are writers, but both are avid readers and one is a businessman and can't wait to hear their thoughts on the E.L.M. So get rid of any remnants of your ego and do this because you:

  • Believe in your book.
  • Desire for your book to be in it's best fighting-shape for the query and submission process.
  • Won't finish it until it's perfect. 
Look, I know I'm asking you to do something painful. 

We all have to go through painful events in life before we get a good outcome.  Maybe you had braces as a teen? Maybe you trained athletically to make a certain team in high school? Or maybe you had a wiggly tooth as a child that hung on for dear life to a nerve?




Or maybe you were like this guy who got his ass served to him on a silver platter before coming back to knock out the opposition. >

Pardon the cheesy 70's music, but you get the picture. 
But we need to go throught his process to get the end result we want.  After all, as I said earlier, your manuscript needs to get into it's best fighting shape ever! Hell, there's a lot of competition out there folks, but in the end it's really you vs. you, and will take determination, hard work, and a little pain.  

Yell with me now, "Adriannnnnn!!!!"

Friday, May 3, 2013

What Puts the "U" in Your Man-U-Script?

It's okay to be a little different. 
 Isn't she cute?  Meet Pippi, a Zedonk
(zebra + donkey) who rocks both solids & stripes in Dahlonega, GA
at the Chestatee Nature Preserve. 
One thing I love about reading is discovering a certain type of flourish or feel that a particular writer expresses in their work. You can't find these nuances when reading a writer's first book, but it's so fun to recognize them when reading their second, third, or umpteenth offering. To me, it's what makes the writer unique and what keeps me buying their books.

I've been pondering this very thing as I write the sequel to my Evil Little Manuscript (E.L.M.) and an  Evil Side Project (E.S.P.). Both manuscripts are keeping me busy and are incredibly fun to create, but it would seem I've developed my own little "thing" within my first chapters.  Now I didn't know it at first, but it's definitely there, and it is the concept of synchronicity.

As a child of the totally awesome 80's, I was a huge fan of The Police and still am. In fact, I'm still mourning the fact I recently had to miss a free Sting concert in Centennial Olympic Park because of a manuscript deadline.  My loss of tantric ear-candy was profound, but I was glad to take care of business and do what I needed to do for my E.L.M.

One song in particular I wanted to hear was "Synchronicity II" and it reminds me of the wonderful time back in the day when I was assistant editor on the newspaper staff.  I'd stay up late at night and listen to the radio while creating the headlines for "The Trojan Times".  On one night in late October, I was stuck sitting at my typewriter, wracking my angsty-teen brain wondering how to capture the excitement of spirit week for a front page story when that song came on FM-100 (Memphis). I'd heard it before, but being stuck in "writing/editor" mode, I began to focus intently on the lyrics and discovered not only was this song amazingly angsty like the teen-me,  but it did something wild in the literary sense!  In the song there are two seemingly different stories presented, yet the way the tales meshed together at the frightening end was just too *rad* for my adolescent grey matter to handle.

*-If you were born after say, 1990, and do not know the meaning of the word, consult thine Wiki or watch "The Breakfast Club". 
A totally rad 80's flick. The plot showcases the concept of "synchronicity",
but we're just getting to that.
Hang in there. I'm trying to make a point.

 The Synchronicity II music video by The Police is sadly unavailable for me to share with you. I remember Sting's look in the video and could best describe him as a post-apocalyptic, "Mad-Max" newspaper editor clad in colored leather, who sang while papers blew all around.
I wish we had our MTV and could blink back to 1983 to watch the awesomeness, but alas we cannot. The DeLorean is still in the repair shop.  But I can  let you hear the song and show you the amazing lyrics to demonstrate the concept of synchronicity.
Needless to say, I went out and bought the album. Each time I heard Synchronicity II, another lyrical nuance jumped out at me like the monster at the end of the song, whose shadow falls upon the door of the cottage near the dark, Scottish lake. My hormone-fueled brain was overwhelmed by the concept of telling a story with different moving parts that somehow made the plot come together at the right time, thus causing the reader to blow their ever-lovin' mind.

Sort of like this:

 And especially like this! (Yay for chocolate and peanut butter! So different, yet so perfect together.)
At the end of the 80's I went to college, and during some psych classes, came to understand the actual concept of synchronicity as presented by the psychologist Carl Jung, who believed unrelated events can actually have meaningful coincidence.  Of course all of this blew my mind too. 

So now if you add twenty years of this wild concept floating around in my brain, you might better understand why I begin my tales a certain way. And since I write thriller/suspense sagas, to me it makes sense to present multiple events happening simultaneously in chapter one. Why? Well for one thing I believe when a nefarious plot is unleashed upon the world, it causes a karmic chain of events to happen. And two, it's fun to hint to your readers how you plan to take the main character, whose life is ordinary, and link them to the tidal wave of doom that's about to wash over them.  It goes together great, just like the peanut butter & chocolate. A yummy taste of evil!


What puts the "U" in your man-U-script? Do you have a certain "thing" or trademark you place in your work?  If your name wasn't revealed to the reader, would they know you wrote it?  What makes you write the way you do?  Tell me about it!