Monday, May 14, 2018

My mission, should I choose to accept it

Ana muses about a writing challenge.

Last week, the plot of my next chapter requires the hero to battered, put aboard a steam freighter, and expected to die of his injuries. Naturally, being the hero, he lives, but wakes with amnesia. My original draft of this chapter was in a secondary character's POV. Reasonably well-written with dialogue reveals of the hero's situation and condition.

First feedback from a round one crit partner was thumb's down. "Too telling. Try from his POV."

Hmmm. How to write a scene from an unconscious character's POV? Guess he can't be unconscious.
Here's what I have now. What do you think?

The man awoke to drumbeat throbs in his head. He tried to fill his lungs.
Pain stabbed his ribs. 
With an effort that almost left him spent, he forced one eye to open a crack. The other stayed shut.
Somewhere behind him, a hissing lantern cast a faint light. 
He lay prone on a floor, hands crossed on his chest like a corpse. Stacks of burlap sacks towered above him. He swiped his parched tongue over his lips and loosened a chunk of crusted blood. A gash oozed, refreshing the sickening taste of metal coating his mouth.
Feet shuffled past his head, followed by a heavy thump. 
He tried to cry for help, but all that came out was a barely-audible groan.  
“Think he’s stopped breathing?” a man whispered.
“I hope so,” a second replied. “I’ll check.”
Did they mean him? His heart raced with desperation. He’d heard of people who appeared dead and were buried alive. 
A floorboard creaked. Grunts sounded near his ears. Something thin and sharp-edged touched his lower lip. A piece of glass or broken mirror.
Summoning his last ounce of strength, he exhaled and prayed his breath would fog the glass.
“Sonofabitch,” the second man exclaimed. “He’s still alive. He must have medicine man blood in his veins.”
“You still wanna dump him overboard?” the first man asked.
“Can’t until he’s dead. Damn. How am I going to explain this to the captain?”


Monday, April 30, 2018

Murphy's Law or Fate?

Debra's writing has taken an unexpected turn.

Not to get too religious here, but I'm a big believer in letting God lead me in the direction He wants me to go. When I got a rejection on the mss I'd submitted to a new publisher, I took that as a sign that I wasn't supposed to make a huge career change from teacher to full-time author. Yes, yes...I also know the old adage of not putting all of your eggs in one basket, but like I said, I'm a big believer in signs. And I figured He was sending me one. Not to mention that things in my day job were looking up. (The school year got off to a rough start, but the kiddos and I had finally reached an understanding, and I was enjoying being in the classroom again. For a while there...mid-life crisis perhaps?...I really was contemplating getting out.) To me, that was another sign to stay put.

As I was cleaning out my inbox and deleting old e-mails, I came across the one I'd gotten from Wild Rose about getting my books into audio. I'd re-upped all of the contracts necessary to start the projects, but to be honest, with the keep-to-the-path-you're-on signs I seemed to be getting, and a bit of laziness thrown in to boot, I'd kind of lost interest in the idea. So, I deleted that e-mail.

Wouldn't you know it? A day or two later, our marketing rep contacted me and said she was going through old e-mails/files and saw I'd re-upped all of my contracts, and unless I had any questions or special requirements for narrators, she would mark those books as ready for audio auditions. I told her to go ahead, honestly thinking those auditions were hard to come by and it probably wouldn't amount to anything in the long run.

By know I really should know better than to tempt fate, right?

In the next few days I was inundated with auditions for my books. There were coming in two and three in a day. And then things really got rolling.

As it stands right now, here's what's going on:

I have one book (New Year's Eve at The Corral) almost ready to be released. There was just one small correction in one chapter.

(I wanted to attach the 'retail sample' audio clip here, but in reading directions in how to do that in blogger, it seemed WAY too complicated, so I'm not even going to attempt it right now! LOL)







I have another book (Wild Wedding Weekend) mid-production with the narrator sending me chapters to approve as she gets them done.

I've approved chapter samples for two stories (One Great Night and Valentine's Day at The Corral.)

And, I've heard and approved auditions for six other stories, which should mean that contracts have been offered and I'll be getting chapter samples on those soon.

Which means that all of my stories except for my original Corral trilogy (Which I haven't re-upped the contracts for...long story...yet) and An Unexpected Blessing are the only titles not at some stage in the audio process at the moment.

Keep in mind that all of this started on April 5. Less than a month ago.

So in addition to being excited about getting my stories...especially the older ones...out there in a new format and giving them new life, here's what I've taken away from this whole thing.

Apparently God wants me to be multi-dimensional in my life's pursuits.

And I'm getting more excited about my writing again...even though with the school year quickly winding down (which involves more projects, special nights, and field trips than imaginable) I really don't have time to write these days...and am looking forward to sitting down with my laptop once summer comes and figuring out what the heck to do with my completed mss that needs some work and the mss I started for NaNoWriMo...which is a GIANT mess...and (hopefully) getting that sucker finished. Where they'll go once they are fixed/finished is anyone's guess at this point.

But I'll be keeping my heart and mind open for signs from above, and what is meant to happen with them will happen. He always lets me know...in His own time.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Adverbs or No Adverbs?


Paula looks at adverbs in our writing.  

‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs,’ said Stephen King.

In one sense, I agree with him. Adverbs can often lead to lazy writing. Recently I read a novel (by a best-selling author) which was littered with adverbs, especially after dialogue tags. On one Kindle page alone, there was: said truculently, said coldly, retorted sarcastically, said wearily, reiterated sullenly, said dourly - and when I got to 'she ejaculated hoarsely’ I nearly splurted my coffee in the middle of Starbucks!

Yes, there are times when we should avoid adverbs, especially when they are redundant (‘she whispered quietly’) or when the adverb can be replaced by a stronger verb (‘he raced down the street’ instead of ‘he walked quickly’). With dialogue, it is usually better to show (with a simple action/gesture) how a character is feeling, rather than giving readers a plethora of adverbs to tell them how someone said something.

However, this doesn’t mean that ALL adverbs have to be deleted! Sometimes an effort to do that can lead to ‘clunky’ writing, especially if the writer is simply substituting an adverbial phrase in place of the adverb. Isn’t it better to say ‘He stroked her cheek tenderly’ instead of ‘He stroked her cheek in a tender manner’ (or any other verbose description of what ‘tenderly’ means)?

Do a search of your latest chapter for ‘ly’ words, and you’ll probably (there’s one!) be surprised by how often you use words ending in ‘ly’. But then consider how the sentences containing each of those words could be rewritten. Could I have removed ‘probably’ from the above sentence? Yes, but then I’d be assuming that you WILL be surprised or, worse still, insinuating that you have used millions of adverbs! Omitting that adverb would change the whole meaning of the sentence – and that can be true in our fiction writing, too.

I do think we need to be aware of not overusing adverbs, but at the same time, not go overboard trying to find other words. Sometimes a simple adverb is the best word to use.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Writing Workshop

Jennifer attended a writing workshop...

I went to my first writing workshop in a long time. It was a master class, taught by a respected romance writer and the topic was using verbs to plot your story. 

Now, I’ve gotten into a rut with my writing. Yeah, I write daily. And yeah, I’m publishing books steadily now. But I’m having a harder and harder time getting what I want on the page. The techniques that used to work for me don’t and I’m beginning to see the necessity of plotting, which is terrifying for a pantser.

So I decided that taking a class offered by my local writer’s group was a good idea. No matter how talented you are, you can always stand to learn, polish, become better. The fee was reasonable, I’d heard great things about the instructor—like, really great things—and it was a weekend where I was completely free.

I went.

The morning session was instruction and exercises. The afternoon was taking what we learned in the morning and applying it to our own story. It was suggested that we bring an idea for a story or an early-stage manuscript to work on. Since I’ve just started a new manuscript, the timing was perfect. 

Basically, the idea of the workshop was to come up with strong, specific verbs to describe our character. Verbs lead to action. Action makes a compelling story. So, for example, if my hero is hiding from his past, his overarching verb would be hide. Every scene he is in would be either described with a synonym for hide or it’s opposite—a synonym for reveal—as his arc progresses. Once you know the action for each scene, it’s easy to flesh out the rest of it—description, motive, backstory, etc.

And in theory, it is. Unfortunately for me, in practice, it was difficult. I kept shying away from verbs and using adjectives or nouns. It’s not that I don’t know what a verb is, but this was a totally new concept for me and I’ve always been more attracted to the why than the what or the how. Plus, it’s plotting and I can’t do that. So while I could totally see what he wanted me to do, there was a huge disconnect in my brain when it came to actually doing it.

Ultimately, I don’t think this method is going to work for me. It might be helpful for me to come up with stronger verbs when I’m writing, because word choice is essential, but no matter how many times I tried it, it didn’t feel natural. Even the workshop leader said if it doesn’t feel natural, don’t do it, which I appreciated. Every writer is different and writing isn’t something that everyone can do the exact same way.

But it was another tool to add to my toolbox, and it was good to make a conscious effort to get out of my rut. Education is always beneficial, and reminding myself that I’m never too old to learn can only help me.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Blog Tours?


Paula’s thoughts on her week’s blog tour.
At the end of last year, I paid a ‘blog tour organiser’ to set up a tour for me. It seemed like a good way to promote my re-published Irish novels in the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. I had detailed instructions from the organiser about what she wanted, and I duly forwarded to her five different blogs and also excerpts which illustrated the blog topic, together with bio, links, covers, and other photos. She then sent me the list of blogs where my posts would appear.
All well and good – or so I thought. To begin with all seemed to go well – my first blog appeared last Monday, I advertised it in various places, and received quite a lot of comments (including those from HWH members – thank you, all!)
Tuesday’s blog appeared – and again I advertised it, but this time in some different FB groups, so as not to promote to the same people. After several hours, I realised there was a small problem – no comments appeared. Neither the usual one I write thanking the blog host, nor any others, although I know for certain that there should have been at least two other comments, and there may have been more. Yes, the message popped up that comments would be posted ‘after approval’ but it would seem this blog host didn’t bother to ‘approve’ any comments (as evidenced by other posts on the site, which also had no comments).
Wednesday – I waited all day for my blog to appear on the third site. It didn’t – until later on Thursday! This meant that I needed to advertise two blogs on the same day – not an ideal situation. Hardly surprising, therefore, that no comments have been made on either of these blogs. Oh, and neither of these blog hosts used the photos of Ireland which I had carefully selected to accompany my blog, either.
Friday – well, we’ll wait and see. The blog post is there, and I’ve advertised it in various groups…

My conclusions at the end of this week:
1. Five consecutive days of blogging is counter-productive. Yes, people visited my first one, but after that, nothing. Were my blogs too boring to comment on? I hope not, because I worked hard on creating completely different topics for each day.
2. In this case, the blog tour organiser formed the contact with the hosts, and I had no contact with them at all (and in fact only one of them actually responded to my thanks to her). The others simply posted what the organiser sent them.
3. Last but not least: effect on sales? As far as I can see at the moment, not a single sale!

So what would I do in future?
1. I would set up my own blog tour, with requests to friends with blogs. This way, a more personal contact is made, and also the blogs will probably follow a different format, rather than all being presented in the same way.
2. I would space out my blogs. Five in one week is too much. People don’t have the time to visit the same person’s blogs every day. One a week (or two, at the most) is enough.

Having said all that, I am seriously beginning to question the value of blogging. Personally, I think it has had its day. It’s nearly ten years since we first set up this blog, and although it is good to ‘chat among ourselves’, how many other comments do we get? Nowhere near as many as we did in the early days. And, if we’re being really honest, how many other blogs do we visit and leave a comment? I know I used to visit (and comment on) a lot more than I do now.

Apologies if this sounds very negative, but this week has been a real disappointment for me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

I'm An Author!

Jennifer finally believes in her career...

I have decided that I must be a real author.

I know, this sounds crazy, so let me explain. I’ve been writing professionally for twelve years. I have a long way to go to before I can completely support myself doing this, but I make money off of my books, people buy them and even enjoy them. It’s something I love doing.

But no matter how many books I publish, how many readers tell me they like what I write, I’m filled with doubt. I think that’s normal—at least I hope it is.

In order to achieve my goals, I set to-do lists. They include things from my real life as well as my author life, and I know the importance of sticking to the list to make sure I’m productive. Without an office and a boss making sure I hit my targets, it’s too easy to get distracted. So I do my best to stay on task.

Until Friday. This past Friday, we were hit with a Nor’easter that knocked out our power. Without power, our basement flooded. Temperatures in the house went down to 46 degrees. We moved into my parents’ house a town away, but went back and forth, trying to protect our things, deal with the insurance company, get our stuff, etc. During that time, the things I needed to get done for my upcoming book launch didn’t happen. The writing and editing I intended to do didn’t happen either. And I stressed.

Now, some would say that’s a natural reaction to what was going on, and I agree. Of course the situation was stressful. Even though we were all safe, had a warm place to be, and didn’t lose anything that can’t be easily replaced, it’s stressful. I’m not saying I shouldn’t have felt it. But this was the first time I stressed over my writing career.

Which means, in a very roundabout way, that I’m a real author. Because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have even thought about it. So while I definitely need to work on ways to manage my stress, the good thing I’m taking away from this is I’ve got enough of a career to worry about. Yay!


By the way, my upcoming book that I’m now woefully behind on marketing  is available for preorder here.

Monday, February 26, 2018

My Kind of Vacation

Ana muses about her recent mini-vacation.

Two weeks ago, my hubby drove to a farming conference in Tennessee, a major expedition from winter in northern Minnesota. I stayed home and tended the cows, six water-pipes-will-burst-if-they-go-out heaters, and two spoiled house cats. I was on vacation.

Don't misunderstand. I love the man. I enjoy cooking his breakfast and don't mind bunching his socks. But not having to share the television remote was sheer bliss.

I turned the channel to Hallmark and indulged in their Valentine's Day movie marathon. Romance stories about professional women clashing with fairly good looking ex-boyfriends and sparring with really good looking career-focused men.

One was set in a California winery. Another in a Montana ski resort town. A third in a bed and breakfast in Vermont. An in-debt-with-time-running-out Wyoming ranch. Sumptuous locations.

All the secondary characters were there. The best friend confidant who tells her what she doesn't want to hear: that the hero who pisses her off is her perfect partner. The supportive and long-suffering parents. The long-distance boss who doesn't care how much she wants to come back to the city. Complete the assignment or look for another job. The crabby/nosy neighbor who finds fault at every turn.

Immersed in a romance atmosphere, free of distractions, I worked on my WIP, book 2 of the Prairie Hearts series. If I'd gone someplace sunny and warm, I probably wouldn't have written a word.

I'll take holed up alone any day, but don't tell my hubby. He's still apologizing for leaving me with all the chores.