Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Higher Standard?

Hey all,

I apologize for my prolonged absence. Life has literally been beating me over the head the past month or two. I've had a lot of work responsibilities that require putting in a lot of long hours... all to a good result, luckily. A promotion! Whoot. :) That said, with that comes even more pressure to keep putting in the hours. Topped with the holiday season and various odds and ends, there hasn't been much time for ME time... i.e. writing time. But luckily, with the promotion I'm able to reorganize a few things and will have a lot more available time to write in the upcoming months. I'm jonesing for some time with WIS.

I don't have a lot to talk about on the writing front, but thought I'd pose a question I've been wrestling with for... well, a long time. Book reviews. As writers, do you write them--even when you may have some negative things to say? As readers, do you hold writers to a higher standard than you would readers? Would it bother you to see a writer publish a negative review of another author's book?

I have to say, I'm torn on this subject, and probably fall in the minority. I do, generally speaking, think it's okay for authors to review books--even when they may not have altogether pleasant things to say about a particular work. I guess my reasoning is that if I shelled out my hard earned duckets to purchase a book...if I read a book from cover to cover with my limited amount of reading time, I'm sort of entitled to state my opinion of said book. Even when it's not a glowing review. For me, picking up a book is when Jen the author steps aside... and Jen the reader, the girl who wants to be swept away by a story takes over. I'm just as likely to be over the moon over a book...or in some cases, disappointed beyond all measure...as the next person.

Is the "right" philosophy to only say something if I have something nice to say?

Do authors REALLY have more influence over whether someone will pick up a book?

Any thoughts?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dreaming of a Write Christmas

Outside my window the snow is gently falling, the flakes like tiny bits of silver crystal. Silently and steadily it has snowed all day. The trees are gracefully laden with it. The woods are silent, hushed in snowy shades of deep grays and soft whites. I took walk through the woods and down to the mailbox in the late afternoon, making tracks in the powdery landscape. But I wasn’t the first to pass that way. There was evidence of others: footprints of a snowshoe hare and something larger, a fox or coyote. By the time I reached home again, my hat and shoulders were topped with snow and my cheeks rosy with the chill. I love a white Christmas.

This year, what I’d love even more is a write Christmas. It’s been a good long stretch between productive writing stints. There’s no one to blame for that except myself. It’s been a year in the writing wilderness for me, a time of wandering through my work-in-progress and to a greater extent, wandering through my intentions as a writer. What exactly do I want from this?

Then, just the other day, I came upon something in my reading that triggered a response in me, something immediate and solid that I could grab like a life preserver on a wave-tossed sea. The thought stuck with me and later that day, as I sat in a bookstore coffee shop sipping a hot drink, inspiration struck. I dug through my purse for a scrap of paper and wrote down my sudden insight. It’s scribbled on the back of a receipt - three acts, the main plot points, and the full story arc for REQUIEM.

So I may get my wish this Christmas. I’m inspired and eager to write again now that I've found a path out of the wilderness.

My wish for all of you this holiday season is that you also have a very write Christmas. May the words fall gently, may they laden your story like snow on graceful boughs, may you see the tracks of those who accompany you - fellow writers, crit partners, beta readers, and loved ones who support your desire to write.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Putting Yourself in the Story

Hey all,

I've been writing so much lately that I feel like a bit of a hermit. The holiday season has literally snuck up on me. Perhaps it's best that way, however. For when I find myself at a stop, I suddenly have the time to realize that my book will be out in about six weeks. Holy hell.

My book, my baby, is going to be out in full view of the world. Gulp.

I'll be the first to admit that it might be a twee bit petulant to be freaking out about one's book releasing. In the scheme of things this is a writer's dream. It ought to be a very good thing. But it also means that *I* will be out on full view of the world.

Because I am most definitely in that book.

We writers often use the excuse that this business isn't personal. Rejection isn't about us. The person simply didn't like our style, or the story. This is true. But it is also true that as writers we pour our hearts and souls into our work. We are there, lurking between the lines, on every page.

We ought to be anyway. Without putting ourselves, and by ourselves, I mean our passion, into every word. Without it, the reader can always tell that something is missing. If you don't love your story, how will anyone else?

And there is also the fact that I am in my characters. To be precise, my characters are NOT me. However, I cannot write a good character without using my experiences in life to give them depth. This is what they mean by writing what you know -or it ought to be, at any rate!

You may not have experienced the high thrill stakes of that fight scene you're writing, but you know what it is like to be afraid, to feel rage, loneliness, or joy.

For me, I write characters who feel ostracized and alone because I have most definitely felt that way before. And I write about characters falling in love, finding their inner-strength, and finding their joy, because I have felt that too.

So look at your own writing. Do you see yourself in it? You should. Don't be afraid to put your heart, soul, and experience in your story and characters. We write to share something with the world. Our stories might be profound, or they might be light-hearted. But they should all have something to say.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Very Booky Christmas

Eleven days until Christmas.

Usually those words would strike fear into my heart, as I am notorious for leaving my gift buying to the last minute. This year, however, and for reasons I am presently unable to fathom, I was all done with the Christmas shopping over a week ago. In fact, I'm so organsied I've even wrapped all bar a smattering of said gifts. I don't know what's possessed me; but whatever it is, I'm quietly accepting it and hoping it calls again next year.

Books formed a large part of my Christmas shopping list, for my kids in particular. There's something just so wonderful about giving books to children, and making an appearance beneath our tree this Christmas morning will be:

Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men
Steampunk! anthology edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J Grant
2012 Guiness World Records
Various Horrible Histories - Vicious Vikings, Measly Middle Ages, Groovy Greeks, Rotten Romans - by Terry Deary
Slinky Malinki's Christmas Crackers by Lynley Dodd
Legend by Marie Lu

And a little birdy tells me Santa might just be bringing me The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz. I'm rubbing my hands together in anticipation of that one!

Have you bought any books to give as gifts this Christmas? Which ones did you buy, and who did you buy them for? Do share, because as organised as I am, I'll always make time - and room on the credit card - to buy more books. :-)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sink or Swim

A short post from me today, but that's better than no post, which is what I've been managing lately. Apologies for my general absence!

I tend to find that there are times when I am, as a writer, either sinking or swimming. By that I don't mean the actual writing itself, but rather the ability to think, to focus, to concentrate, to create. To immerse myself in another world and put myself inside somebody else's head. Most of the time, given a little work, I can do that. Even if I'm in a dry spell, or just lacking time, I can get back to it if I put in the effort.

But there are other times, fortunately much more rare, where no amount of extra effort is going to help me. They're the times when life is being too much of a bitch to give me the mental space I need- the times where I'm so focussed on getting through each day that there's no chance of me being able to step outside my own troubles and create more for my fictional characters.

I'm in one of those phases now, caught up in the last few weeks of stress and anxiety before my second baby is due. I'm too busy putting all my energy into that to even contemplate writing. We have high risk monitoring going on, and plenty of other drama to take up our time. And as ever when you already have something to worry about, life seems intent on throwing down extra obstacles and dramas, until the day-to-day becomes something a lot more intense, draining and scary than it otherwise would be.

But more than any other dry spell, these phases always remind me that as writers we can pull purpose from the hard times. We can take a step back and let life carry on as it will, knowing that this too shall pass, and a few months down the line we'll be better able to process it all and spin it into a greater depth of human understanding through our words.

As a result, one day, our work might end up being the thing someone else reads when they're at lowest ebb; the thing that makes them understand something about themselves to help them get by. We might change someone's perspective- in a sense, we might change their life- because (not in spite) of the fact that we as writers have been through the wringer and back.

In a weird way, I think there's benefit in giving up the struggle and letting yourself sink now and then. When you hit the bottom, you can push up, and when you break the surface again, if you've taken the time to observe the journey down and back without simply fighting it all the way, you'll have something of consequence to describe.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nurturing the Young Writer

The Piggyback Ride, by William Bouguereau

All this talk of teen reading habits and the books that have influenced our writing has me thinking back fondly to those early, clumsy attempts at writing fiction.

It has also been on my mind recently as I watch a young friend of mine starting out on this magical journey for herself. Like the rest of us, she’s a reader and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without something to read. Lately, however, the books have been replaced by notebooks filled with her scrawling handwriting.

When she discovered that I wrote fiction it was as if she’d discovered a kindred spirit. And we are, though I’m much farther along the writing journey than she is. We share the common writer’s drive, that indefinable something within that urges us to put words on paper. Maybe she thought she was alone in this feeling, or maybe she thought it was an odd thing to want to do, considering most teenage avocations lean toward fitting in, being one of the crowd, and writers are not typically crowd-seeking. She now knows scribbling in notebooks is a legitimate activity. She’s found a fellow writer and is delighted with her discovery.

When I was her age (about 14) I shared my writing with exactly one other person, a trusted friend who lived across the street. She and I often wove stories together - orally, not written - but as an extension of that, I began to write them down. It never occurred to me to share these with my mom or a teacher or any other person. In fact, I’d have been mortified. (Not that the content was anything but PG.) No, I was just intensely private about my writing. Still am, for the most part, though I’ve learned to share for the value of feedback.

My young friend, though, has absolutely no qualms about sharing her own fiction. Like an eager young pup she nearly leaped around my feet in her joy at finding another writer. Would I read her stories? Would I give her advice? Would I edit something of hers when she was done? Her questions bounded around us, tangled in a string of explanations of just how many notebooks (nine) she has and how many of those are only half-finished stories. (Ah! She’s the kind of writer who has to start a new story just as soon as the idea comes to her…)

Yes, I said, I would read something of hers. Pick ONE for me to look at. This seems to have spurred her into finishing one. She assures me it will be done in a few weeks. Then the ball is in my court and I must think carefully of how to proceed from here, for while I’ve given critiques to fellow writers, I don’t think I’ve been given this much trust by any of them. The responsibility of nurturing a brand new writer, such a young, impressionable one, and of being her mentor, weighs heavily on me.

Over the years I was encouraged enough by teachers (both creative writing ones and just those who read my essays and book reports) to know that I was good at this craft. I believe wholeheartedly that without encouragement and without mentors, this part of me would be left unexplored and I thank God for those wise souls who crossed my path at critical, influential times in my life.

What advice do you give a young writer? How much gentle correction vs unadulterated praise do you give?

Do you remember the advice you received when you started out? What kept you going, who boosted your morale and stoked the writing fires within you? If you’ve got wisdom to share, please help me out as I come full circle in the writer’s life and begin to nurture a young writer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You Are What You Read

So I've been thinking about Rachel's Cheesemonkey post. In remembering what I read as a child, I can see the birth of what I write as an adult.

As a child, I read a mix of historical novels, murder mysteries, thrillers, crime fiction, and a whole lot of romance and womens fiction. Yes, I know, it was quite the heavy read for a thirteen-year-old. Some might say inappropriate. But I'll never regret it. In fact, I'd like to think it gave me a view of the world that my cosseted peers didn't see. So when it came time to face certain life trials, I wasn't caught completely unaware.

But to digress. :) As an adult, what do I write? Well, I write genre mashups. My stories are a mix of historical, romance, paranormal, thriller and mystery. I love it all, so I write it all.

What I've read absolutely has influenced what I write, and what I love.

So how about you? Do you think what you've read as a child, and what you read now for that matter, helped form the writer you are today?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Cheesemonkey!

Today is Child #1's (a.k.a. Cheesemonkey's) thirteenth birthday.

Yep, I now have a bona fide teenager living beneath my roof. Kinda scary ... though so far, he's looking as though he'll be a pretty low-stress teenager. Low stress for my husband and me, that is. Child #2 could be a little more challenging when he hits his teens (he's the one who, earlier this year, informed me he's going to take a year off - a "gap year" - between high school and whatever he does next. Hello? You're only in 5th grade, honey, a bit early to be planning "my life as a bum"!) And Child #3? Well, she's only seven, but she's one dynamo of a kid and I have no doubt she will do something spectacular with her life. The only problem is, I know it will come at the cost of my own sanity.

But I digress ...

All that Child #1 wanted for his birthday was a Kindle, and that's what he got. Consequently, we've been talking books - what he reads, what he likes. Books such as The Hunger Games and Christopher Paolini's Inheritance series, and anything by Terry Pratchett. He's also a big fan of Scott Westerfeld, and has made his way through Tolkein's The Hobbit and all the The Lord of The Rings books.

Frank Herbert's Dune series and Isaac Asimov's books fill out the substantial fantasy and sci-fi collection on his shelves, as do Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea novels and a bunch of Neil Gaiman's offerings.

He also enjoys Tintin comics, and an Asterix and Obelix or two.

I'm afraid - no, scratch that - GLAD he's not at all into the Twilight books. He did give the first one a try. His conclusion?

"That story is just SO dumb."


I've been trying to remember what I was reading when I was thirteen. It's a bit of a stretch for the old memory, but I'm fairly certain that was the age I became hooked on the Trixie Belden series. Oh my. I remember, so well, saving up my pocket money to buy each new instalment, and that feeling of holding the next book in my hands, knowing that very soon,  I'd once more be sinking into the world of Trixie Belden, girl detective .. sigh.

I was thirteen when I discovered Judy Blume's Forever and Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, and when I first cracked open some of the more "serious" leather-bound books on my parents' shelves -  Mutiny on the Caine, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights. I can vividly remember devouring  Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe one long, wet Sunday, too.

Thirteen was the age I began to dip into fantasy and sci-fi in the form of Anne McCaffrey's Pern series and Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama. And not long after, Anne Rice and her non-sparkling vampires, and Stephen King and his gloriously creepy imagination, well and truly hooked me ...

I guess I started off much as I have remained - an eclectic reader. I'll give most books a go, no matter the genre, because I truly believe great stories are to be found everywhere.

So how about you? What books were you reading when you were a teen? And have your tastes remained the same, or have they changed?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Good beginnings

This month's exercise at the Compuserve Books and Writers Community has been a really interesting one- we've been looking at the opening pages of everyone's novels, and what makes a great beginning to a story.

We've talked about this from a few different angles here at ATWOP before- see here- so I won't rehash too much. We all know what makes for a great start to a book for us as individual readers.

But what has been *really* interesting in this exercise has been the effect of reading a whole lot of different novel openings one after the other, mimicking slightly what a slush pile reader must have to do. There were about 30 participants in the first part of the exercise, so 30 novel openings to read, and another ten or fifteen in the second part. When you need to read a lot of different and varied openings in a row, you find that things start to stand out fairly starkly in terms of what makes you want to stop reading instead of carrying on.

For example, the obvious- bad spelling, grammar and word choice. While I wouldn't expect to find this in a published book (assuming everyone is doing their job right!), I'd give it a whole lot more leeway in an average critique. In this case, though, it tended to draw an instant "no" for me- as in, if I were an agent reading that, I wouldn't even care what the story was about. I wouldn't get that far.

Another thing that probably wouldn't bother me in individual stories but drove me nuts when reading in volume was the slow start. I don't mean that I'd pass on anything but a car chase/ nuclear apocalypse/ sex scene (actually, I can't imagine any of those three making me want to read more unless they're really well done)- just that if I don't feel a critical sense of movement in several openings, I start to get impatient. Who are these characters? What are they doing? What do they want? It doesn't all have to be on the first page, but I need a little hint of it and a definite sense that I'm progressing through a story-in-progress- not just waiting around for one to start. And the interesting lesson in this is, it might work okay in your story- but if your story lands on a slush pile full of similar beginnings, there's a good chance it won't get through.

There are lots more interesting lessons to be learned from the exercise- though the real trick is, figuring out how to apply it all to your own work, and not getting lost in the immense wealth of varied personal opinions.

With fairly good timing, I happened to start reading a book this week that in my opinion has one of the best opening chapters I've read in a while- Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants. Kind of appropriate, since it's also the most famous NaNoWriMo novel in existence. I think the opening of this story is a really good example of a couple of the most important things that make a good opening. The first paragraph doesn't do anything spectacular, but I already knew I was going to want to keep reading after only this much:

Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. Grady and I sat at a battered wooden table, each facing a burger on a dented tin plate. The cook was behind the counter, scraping his griddle with the edge of a spatula. He had turned off the fryer some time ago, but the odor of grease lingered.

For me, the best things about this paragraph and the rest of the first page are the strength of voice from the first line, and the way the author has managed to seamlessly stitch in lots and lots of great detail to set the scene and paint the background of what's going on. Voice came up over and over again in our November Exercise as a major factor in what made a good opening. And for me, my favourite openings all had lots of small detail that didn't attempt to steal the spotlight from what should always be the main show- the characters, their interactions and their actions.

If you haven't read it, you can read the whole first chapter of Water for Elephants here- just scroll down the page to Read an Excerpt and expand it.

All in all, lots of food for thought.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Writing - How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways ...

Have you ever noticed how much we writers love to talk about how hard it is to write? How much space in so many blogs and books is devoted to the tricky and hair-pulling things that go hand in hand with writing and the writing life? It's a lot, I tell you. From craft to voice to the psychological games we must play to force out those words; from the sting of critiques to the excruciating pain that is composing the perfect query letter; the nerve-wracking tension of being on submission, the strike to the heart that is opening that package and seeing the ocean of red ink covering your edited manuscript ...

This devotion to shining a light on the hard stuff is all good, by the way. Not talking about how tough we find these things would be much worse. We need to be honest so we know we're not alone, and to remind us that whatever we're going through is entirely normal. Those who do keep quiet - or worse, pretend writing is a complete breeze - remind me of those parents you sometimes come across, the ones who fervently insist, all glassy-eyed and in-your-face, that they positively revel in EVERY single aspect of parenthood - be it cleaning up vomit or sleep deprivation or the tantrums or the complete lack of a life of one's own -  and not only that, they enjoy it EVERY single second of every one of their blissful, child-centred, days. Yeah. Right. Either they're lying or they're taking some damn good medication. And the same goes for writing. If you can't be honest and admit that sometimes, things are just darn hard, you'll never find a way to deal with them.


Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what we love about writing and being a writer. To balance the scales, and to keep in mind on those dark days when we wonder what brand of insanity prompted us to think we could write anything more than a grocery list. Things like this:-

I love getting lost in worlds all of my own creation. I love dreaming up characters and letting them loose in these worlds. And I really love seeing what happens next.

I love the mental stimulation and challenge that writing brings, from pondering the exact right word to describe a particular shade of blue, to coming up with plot twists and reversals that (hopefully!) no one will see coming.

I love it when someone tells me they enjoyed something I wrote.

I love that writing allows me to indulge in some serious solitude.

I love imagining my book on a shelf one day.

I love that writing has allowed me to connect with so many like-minded people in this world, especially the ladies with whom I blog.

But most of all, I simply love telling stories.

So. My reasons why I love writing.

What are yours?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Make Them Care

On Monday, Claire had a terrific post about giving your characters convictions. Because readers connect with characters who have them.

I totally agree with this, yet Claire's post got me thinking -as all good posts are wont to do- about the writer's role in all of this. Now, there is a popular belief that the writer should be totally absent from the narration. In other words, no interference should come from the writer. I don't believe this. Yes, we tell our stories through the characters, and the deeper a writer goes into that character's point of view, the better the portrayal will be. However, the writer is the one controlling the show. We plot, and we use our crafting skills to tell the story.

So then, when we give a character a goal, a dream, or convictions, we need to manipulate certain things so that the reader cares deeply, and is invested in seeing the character reach these goals.

Because in good, lasting stories, there definitely is writer manipulation going on.

Let's take The Wizard of Oz for example. Before I go on, I'll admit here that I've read the book and watched the film, and I tend to like the movie better, only because it was the first experience I had with the story. Hate me if you must. :)

Anyway, you have Dorothy who has been whisked out of dry, gray Kansas and into the colorful world of OZ, and all she wants to do is get home.

Here's the thing, the reader has seen her dull, boring life in Kansas. What's to say that Dorothy isn't really better off just staying in colorful OZ where she has friends? Where she can rule by their side? Why is Kansas better?

Because of her family. Because of Aunt Em.

Dorothy wants to get back to them. But that wouldn't be enough if the author hadn't done a bit of slight of hand with this idea. What he does is this: he shows us a few key pieces of information. One, he shows Aunt Em and Uncle Henry sticking up for Dorothy when good old Toto is threatened. Then he shows their terror when they can't find Dorothy during the tornado. Finally, we see poor Aunt Em calling for Dorothy in the crystal ball.

So then, it isn't just about Dorothy and what she wants. It is about her family as well. The reader knows how devastated her family will be if she doesn't return, and how much she is loved in her own home. Thus we want her to achieve her goals just as much as she wants them.

This is the key. The writer must show, from various angles and points of view (if they can), why it is important for the hero to get his heart's desire, or succeed in his quest.

In genre stories, there is a certain element of expectation that can lead a writer to be lazy. IOW, we expect the hero and heroine to get together in a romance, so we don't need to work so hard in explaining why they need to be together. Wrong. That is the whole point of the romance. Show the reader why these two characters are better together than apart.

We need to know why a villain must be stopped in a thriller or mystery too. It isn't enough just to think, because he is evil. The reader must be as desperate to see the villain get his as the hero is.

And that is where we, the writers, come along with our nice little bag of tricks.

But truly, it is imperative in any story. Motivation, but the hero's AND the plot's, it what keeps us reading.

So keep this in mind when you are crafting your story. Be prepared to tug at your reader's emotional heart strings here and there -and not just from your heroine's perceptive, but throughout the entire story. Make it clear why she needs to win. Why we need her to win.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Redefining Success

As writers, it's very easy to get swept away by the idea of The Big Deal. We've all dreamed of the day when a publishing house plucks us out of the rubble, hands us a big fat advance, and continues to pay us enough money so that we're able to quit our day jobs and write full-time. It's the ultimate goal. Writing full-time. Letting our imaginations run wild without the constraints of time and money to hold them back.

The reality, however, is that most writers will never reach that point. Even semi-successful writers find it necessary to keep their day jobs because...well...this whole writing gig is a fickle beeyotch. You may sell today, but that doesn't mean you'll sell tomorrow.

How many times have you heard a writer say that unless you love writing, don't? I've heard it more times than I can count. And despite that, I've pressed on. Why? Because I DO love it. But the reality is, I may never be a "success." At least not in a conventional way.

It's just shy of a full month since I published BY THE PALE MOONLIGHT. Sales are steady...but slow. I've found myself struggling to get my name out there in any way possible. I have about a dozen reviews set in motion, some interviews sprinkled in here and there, and I'm praying that I'm able to push past the "family/friends" sales and hit readers who have stumbled across my book due to word of mouth or what not. It's a scary time because I have no idea whether or not I'll be able to push past this point and keep selling. I have no idea what the actual threshold is--perhaps it's all conjecture on my part--but it feels like I'm hitting it. Hey, I'm a writer. I fret.

Despite this general level of worry surrounding this entire venture, I'm finding myself quite satisfied with the process. I'm my harshest critic, and I constantly worry about whether or not readers are going to be satisfied with the story I've put out. I don't ever want to upset someone or make them feel like they've wasted their time or money. I know it's inevitable--it's just the way things are--but I want to have readers walk away from reading my book with a feeling of satisfaction.

Having my book "out there" has freaked me out more than I can possibly say. Because all of my hard work...all of the struggle and love that I've put into my book...is now open to anyone who stumbles across it. And therefore, open to be judged. Yes, I knew this going in, but let me tell you, there is NOTHING scarier than sending out your book for that first book review--no matter how much you may love it. The only thing that may possibly rival that first review is the first time you place your book in the hands of a friend who has never sampled your work before. *nail biting commences* Hell, at work one day, a group of co-workers got a hold of my Kindle and had a little "reading circle." They read the first couple of pages aloud, while I quietly FREAKED out on the sidelines, trying desperately to keep my outward cool. To be blunt, I've been a mess.

All that aside, I've been rewarded with some very special moments over the past weeks. There was the review from the girl who was HIGHLY doubtful I had any talent whatsoever--the one where she gushed and gushed about how good the book was. :) There was the reviewer who downloaded and read the book in one afternoon, and followed it all up with an email saying I needed to hurry up with book 2. There is the EXTREMELY surreal experience of having people list me as their favorite author on Goodreads...

I've had many doubts since publication...followed quickly by many highs that have made me pause mid-fret and remind myself that Big Money isn't necessarily the end all/be all of success. Success is knowing you wrote a story that people love. Created characters that people care about. Characters that they want to follow into the next book.

I'm by no means knocking it out of the ballpark with this novel...yet, I am. In my own small way. For now, that's enough.

What about you? What would define success for you?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Worth Spending Time With

What makes someone beautiful to you? Is it physical, like the curves of their body or the steely feel of their work-hardened muscles? Is genetics, such as the softness of their hair, the color of their eyes, the shape of their face? Is it personality: their humor, their loyalty, their love? Is it a little of everything, an indefinable mix of character and physical traits that makes a person uniquely beautiful?

I suspect all of us would readily agree that beauty is subjective. Beauty is also dependent upon the whims of society, on culture, on time and place.

Last summer, while parked on a bench at the Alaska State Fair, I observed the fair-goers and I was struck by just how few people would fall into the “beautiful” category. We humans are really, um, unattractive. (Can I say that out loud?)

I looked through the crowd of families, teens, lovers-in-arms, and oddities, gauging each person on the Hollywood Scale of Beauty. Shallow of me, I know. But I wasn’t being judgmental in that I thought I was better looking than any of them. I was a curious writer deep in people-observation-mode wondering what memorable character I could find here and cache away in my memory bank for later use.

Had I asked the fair-goers if they thought their husband, or wife, or lover was attractive, I’m sure most would say, “To me they are because…” The answers would be heart-felt and the stories behind the reasons probably better than any fiction.

But fiction is where my thoughts wandered to that day at the fair. I thought of the heroes and heroines of my favorite novels. The protagonists in them are almost always appealing in some way, either physically or by force of personality. It could be that I gravitate toward a certain genre, but I suspect that nearly all novels have characters that readers deem attractive. After all, not many of us like to spend time with people we don’t like.

There are very few physical descriptions of characters in my own writing, something I thought was a weakness. The descriptions are absent, not because I don’t know what they look like, but because I can’t seem to find the appropriate places to insert them. But an odd thing began to happen whenever I shared my writing: people not only liked my hero, but some thought he was sexy. Huh? How, I wondered, did they come to that conclusion?

Claire, with her ever insightful way told me why she thought others were attracted to Nathan Rivers. It was a matter of his personality, his actions, his beliefs, and his personal code of honor. I was deeply pleased with her reply, for it meant that even with my inability to describe a character physically, I had managed to create one that was admired.

What about you? What makes you want to spend time in the company of certain characters? Is it physical beauty, or some part of their personality that gives them their appeal, or both? Is it their journey that keeps you reading? How do you know a character is worth spending time with?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Let Me Explain

You know how it goes, you purchase a book, settle down in your favorite reading spot, and then the doorbell rings. It's the author. She's come to explain any confusion you might have with her book, as a kind service mind.

What? No? This doesn't happen to you? Heh. Me either.

And yet how many times have I seen writers try to explain away confusion a criter has with his or her writing? Or query letter, for that matter.

Too many.

Here's the thing: if you have to explain yourself, then you have failed in your mission to communicate with that reader. Now we cannot reach everyone. Some people won't get your work regardless, but if a group of people are saying the same thing, it behooves the writer to shut up and listen. Not explain.

This may sound harsh. Indeed, feedback, and growth from said feedback, can be daunting. But feedback, learning how to accept a crit, what to take away from one, and what to ignore is as valuable task as plotting, or character crafting. Because if you do go the way of publishing, you'll be working with an editor at some point. Depending on your frame of mind, working with an editor can be hell or very helpful.

For me, crits can be divided into two categories: learning crits and editorial crits.

Learning Crits

With learning crits, you the writer are putting your work out there to be critiqued in an effort to improve your craft. So these crits should be more nitpicky. Is your sentence structure working? Are you focusing too much on one aspect, such as description, when you should be focusing on another, such as forward movement?

A learning crit can be hard to take because you're apt to feel like a boob at some point, and start to wonder if you're just a hack. My advice for receiving such crits is to look at the source. Is this a writer whose work you respect? If so, then listen to her. Put your ego aside and try to see what she's trying to tell you.

A caveat of this is to beware of the writer how wants you to erase every so called "no-no" of writing. Is she spouting Elmore Leonard's 10 writing rules as if it is canon? If so back away, that way lies the removal of your unique voice.

Editorial Crits

This is more involved as there are many types of editorial crits. In general, however, we are talking about the critique you are going to get when you've mastered basic craft and are looking to publish. This is where you're getting beta readers, editorial comments and the like.

So here's the thing, an editorial crit is not for feeding your ego. You are not getting it to hear how awesome your book is and how much the reader liked it. Yeah, it's great to get praise. Who doesn't want it? But really, you need to stop viewing a crit as the place for praise -that's reserved for reviews (g). An editor won't do it. She'll be looking at what doesn't work, not what does. Why? Because she already bought the book. It's a given that she likes your writing and your book. Now it's time to fix the bumps that's keeping it from greatness.

Therefore, you need to concentrate on what isn't working. This goes to offering a crit as well. Do the writer a favor, be honest and tell them what failed. :)

Remember, if a reader says, hey, I really didn't get why you went into all that backstory; it bored me and I skimmed. You need to drop the impulse to explain. If a reader skimmed or got popped out of the reading experience, that is a huge red flag. Know it. Respect it.

Conversely, if a reader says, "I don't like heroes who cry, don't make your man cry." This is a place to ponder. Because this is a preference. You aren't writing a book to cater to everyone's preference. This goes for editors too. My editor and I have differing opinions on certain things. Now, since she's my editor, I do explain why something is a certain way, and then I explain why I want to keep it. :)

All of this is really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but what I want to impart is that a writer has to be able to put aside her ego when it comes to crits -either in receiving them or giving them.

A crit is not about how awesome a writer you are. It is about assessing what works and what doesn't so that you, the writer, can make your manuscript better. That's ALL it is. You put your work out for critique so that you can grow as a writer, because at some point, you can no longer judge where you are in the story. You need help and the crit is your tool to move forward.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Forty ... And Fine With It (Truly!)

It was my birthday on Monday. A rather significant one - I turned forty years old - and I was massively spoilt by so many people, and felt very happy and blessed. Not at all how I thought I'd feel upon reaching this milestone! But there's something to be said for ageing. Yes, things do become greyer and saggier, the old memory can take a while to crank into gear and birthdays you once thought made a person positively ancient are now only just around the corner ... but to balance all that is the absolute comfort with which I find I now wear my own skin. The confidence I have. The realisation that there's no need to rush through this one life we're given, trying to do everything, be everything, all at once. That things will happen when they're meant to.

And I also deeply appreciate that the more years there are under my belt, the more I have to draw upon as a writer ... and the closer I just might get to working out my writerly neuroses.

I was going to blog about these last points today ... but then found I was recently pipped at the post by one of the very talented Murderati bloggers, David Corbett, who writes so much more eloquently on the topic than I ever could. So instead, I'll be very lazy and simply direct you to his post, The Outer Limits Of Inner Life , for my offering today. (Besides, my neighbour just called to say she's about to bring round a bottle of champagne for a belated birthday drink. Cheers!)

Where was I?

Oh, yes. David Corbett's post.

Read it. Please.

It's brilliant.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sequel Conundrum

Like Claire, I'm finding myself backing away from my original NaNo goal this year. I very optimistically said I wanted to complete a rough draft of WALKING IN SHADOW. Did I really expect to have a completed manuscript at the end of it all? No. What I hoped for was a bare bones story where I at least had the main events hammered out, with some fillers needed here and there, etc...

Yeah, I'm not sure that's going to happen.

I'm not altogether ready to say I'm not going to meet the 50K goal--even though I'm at about 1K total so far (talk about optimism!), but I am willing to finally admit that if I don't hit 50K it will not be the end of my world. And it doesn't mean the month will not be productive in other ways. For now, I'm going to keep striving to get words on the page, realizing and giving great credit to the fact that I have A LOT on my plate. No beating myself up, in other words. I have two jobs. I work hard. And I'm trying to do as much promotion as I can for BY THE PALE MOONLIGHT. Add to that the fact that I'm friggin' tired from getting BTPM out there on the market to begin with. From September until now, I've been working non-stop with revisions, etc... Yeah, I'm pretty much worn to the nub at the moment. If I take a day off--or two or three--to help recharge the proverbial batteries, no big.

At any rate, on to the topic of this post. SEQUELS.

I'm wrestling around with a couple of things right now as I dive into WIS full force. One being backstory.

Ah, backstory. I tell you what, if you think backstory is a pain in the arse in a first book...it's even worse with the second in a series. Where do you put it in? How much do you put in? Are you going to annoy the hell out of the people who read the first book if you put too much in? Will you confuse the hell out of new readers who have no clue what happened in the first if you don't provide enough information for them in the second? It's a fine line to walk and I'm finding that the more I ponder the beginning of this book (Nope, haven't written it yet), I'm undecided on how much to throw in.

I have been told by a well-known agent *cough* that my opening to FAKING IT was completely without backstory... that it was the complete opposite of what most authors do in their beginnings. Rather than err on the side of too much, I went the extreme opposite. I think you could say I may have done the same thing with BTPM, though I don't believe it was to the same degree. At any rate, I hate backstory. I don't like to include it -- probably because when I first started writing I threw in every last bit of backstory I possibly could (yes, including the kitchen sink). I was chastised, and dang it, I paid attention. Well. (g)

I have to admit I sort of enjoy books where the author gives "credit" to readers who have followed along with the series up to that point, and use backstory VERY sparingly. And I have to admit that I get a little tired of constant backstory rehashing in long-running series. My goal with WIS will be to walk a very fine line between just enough/no backstory at all. It's what I prefer. Perhaps I'm crazy?

One of my friends suggested I start off book 2 with the ending scene of book 1. *blink* Isn't that cheating?! That's how it feels to me. (g)

What are your preferences with series?

At any rate, I am giving great thought to the opening for WIS. I hope, if I can get something on the page, to share it over in exercises at Compuserve. Here's hoping I can wrangle this nasty backstory stuff. :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Own It

How's November treating you out there? I hope the Wrimos of the world are enjoying a productive NaNo month, and everyone else is appreciating their own sanity!

It only took me three days of NaNo this year to figure out that I'm not in the right headspace to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Sure, I probably could have pushed on and done it anyway, but I think it would have been counterproductive. I wouldn't have enjoyed it. And I doubt it would have encouraged me to write on next month the way it did last year.

So I stepped back and took a look at what I was really hoping to get from NaNo this year. The answer was pretty simple- not a lot of words; just a bit of my mojo back. The desire to write, to finish the story. The enjoyment of getting words on the page without feeling like it's all too hard.

And I can achieve that without needing 50K to do it. Instead, I'm going to make sure I write something, anything- or research, or plot- on three days each week.

In looking at what I really wanted, it got me thinking again about all the roadblocks we throw in our own path, and all the tricks we pull out to try to get around them. This year, for example, I haven't written much at all, and I had it in my head that writing a whole lot of words in one month would be the deal-breaker to fix that situation. I already know that this is a placebo. I already know that the only thing I need to do to keep writing is, well, write. I've been doing this for a long while now, and I know all my own mental tricks.

So why do I keep on falling for them?

I think it's because the better you know your own avoidance tactics, the more you begin to accept them. Sometimes, as long as you're being honest with yourself, that's okay. I'm a bit over six months pregnant and dang it, I'm tired. If I dawdle on the internet for an hour in the evening instead of writing, I'm not going to beat myself up over it.

But other times, I think you have to be realistic about where you are in your journey. It's all to easy to say, I haven't been published yet, so I'm just an amateur at this. Who cares if I write or I don't? Kristen wrote a great post recently about treating your writing as a job- because if you're at all serious about it, that's what it is.

I'd add to that and say that the further down the writing path you travel, the less excuses you have not to be professional in your approach- to combat your avoidance tactics, and get on with the job.

It's all too easy to say you're still learning as you rewrite that chapter for the twentieth time. It's simple to say that you haven't changed that one thing you hate in your writing (too many adverbs, telling-not-showing, bad punctuation) because you'll get to it eventually but you're focussing on other things at the moment.

At some point, though, you need to own your own journey. Take responsibility for your own abilities. Forget this idea that you have to put down your own skill level to be appropriately modest. Don't go around acting like a jackass, of course, but recognise where you are. If you've been writing for a good many years, if you're turning out work that you *know* is quality, if you're sick to death of people (not just your Aunt Flo or that annoying guy at work) repeatedly asking when you're planning to start querying your novel, then maybe it's time you took a really close look at what you still have left to learn.

The answer may be, not as much as you think. The answer may in fact be, nothing that finishing a book and sending it out into the wide world can't fix.

And the only person standing between you and that goal, is you.

Me? I'm going to remind myself of that daily from here onward, and I'm not going to make the same tired excuses to myself anymore. Time to get writing, keep writing, and finish what needs to be finished. It might not take me one month, but I'll get there sooner with words on the page than I will with none.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hum Along to NaNoWriMo

For you dedicated WriMos, here's a song to kick off your writing weekend. The clever music video had me laughing at the young writer and her determination to finish the month with 50,000 words. Can you relate to her?

Thanks to Lauri's Blog for bringing this catchy little tune to my attention.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

All the other kids

I had a really nice, coherent post in mind for today, but then NaNoWriMo began to eat my brain, and now I'm not sure you'll get much more than mush. But I shall try!

I've been hearing the Foster the People song Pumped Up Kicks on high repeat on the radio lately- it's been in the top ten here for a while. I'd been tapping my fingers on the steering wheel, whistling away, for a good couple of weeks before I heard a DJ mention that the song was slightly controversial because it was about a Columbine-style high school shooter.

Say whaaa? I'd actually been singing bits of the song- you'd better run, better run, outrun my gun- without ever noticing what it was about. The catchiness neatly hid the lyrics, which apparently was intentional on the part of the band, to make a bit of a point about the acceptability of violence amongst teens these days.

As soon as they mentioned Columbine, my mind landed automatically on a few of the things I know about that event- even though it happened on the other side of the world, more than a decade ago now, I still remember the names of the killers.

Which, wow. Those names are really seared in my memory. And it got me thinking about what exactly resonates with us when it comes to powerful moments in history. I can think of many in the last two decades that I remember with similar depth.

The answer for me was pretty simple. I could give two figs about the guys who took guns to school that day and killed a lot of people. The ones I care about are those who were impacted. And I think that almost every event that has stuck with me has been the same- in 1999, I was one year out of high school, and Columbine rattled me because it was all so familiar. All those other kids? They were just like me.

I can think of so many other examples. In 2001, I was only eight months home from a working holiday in the US, and studying (from a distance) the Five Points archaeological material that was stored at the World Trade Centre, when September 11 happened. In 2002, boys my husband went to school with were amongst the dead in the Bali bombings. In 2004, I watched mind-boggling video footage of a tsunami sweeping into the grounds and swimming pool of a Thai hotel in which I'd stayed only a few years earlier. And speaking of tsunamis, in 2011 I watched similar footage from Japan, numbed by the vastness of the devastation. It wasn't until I heard about a school full of children still waiting for their parents to come pick them up days later (the parents not having survived the impact) that I really lost it and found myself a sobbing mess.

You get my point. Everything I mention above was a tragic event, but besides a basic sense of global empathy and community, these things really resonated with me specifically because I could identify with the people who were affected. In widescale tragedies, this means many, many people find themselves affected, even if they don't have a direct connection, because of the range of people and circumstances caught up in the event.

The way I've responded emotionally to these things has changed over the years, too- from simply feeling an understanding of what normal life was like for Columbine students before it was all shattered for them, to being in a relationship and feeling extreme empathy for those who lost their loves to a horribly unpredictable event, to having a child and feeling greater love and greater fear than ever before.

All this comes back to what makes good fiction really good, for me. Your circumstances don't have to be tragedies, nor do they have to be global in scale. But you have to make me as a reader identify with your characters enough to empathise totally with them and what they're going through. If you can do that, you'll have written a book I can't put down.

You'd have a very narrow demographic if you took the concept too literally. But making your characters identifiable and understandable to the reader isn't only about their age, race, circumstances, or any of those outward things. It's about being very in tune with the way they think and feel, so that anyone who picks up your book will come to know the person they're reading inside and out. Make them people with lives and desires worth caring about.

Like a moment in history, a book that gets this just right can stay with you forever. The outward events must have the impact, yes. But the inward effects are the core of what makes a great story.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

To Blog Or Not To Blog

I’ve noticed a slew of blog posts of late that discuss whether blogging really is a worthwhile endeavour for writers. I think these two posts cover the issues surrounding this question rather well: author 
Roni Loren’s post, Is Blogging Dead? and Anne R. Allen's Duelling Agent Advice On Blogging. The main argument against blogging appears to be that as a marketing tool, it doesn't work. Blogging just doesn't sell huge numbers of books. And - and this is just my opinion -  I do think there is truth in this point. Speaking as  a reader, I am much more likely to buy a book after reading a review of it, or when it's endorsed by someone other that its own author on their own blog. Word of mouth does sell books, but only when it's not the mouth of the book's creator shouting its virtues to the world. But I’m not convinced it’s time to stop blogging. Far from it, for a blog is so much more than just a marketing tool.

Blogging connects you to the writing community and helps you build relationships with other writers. This is so very important, especially for new authors (published and unpublished) who might feel daunted and alone in the world. Finding people who understand what you do really does help you find your feet and gain confidence in yourself and your writing, which takes you a long way to becoming a successful writer, no matter where you are in the game.  

Blogging is also a good way to showcase your writing and your personality, and what makes you tick. I don’t think there’s an agent alive who wouldn’t google a writer’s name if they’re interested in their manuscript, and a few lucky writers have even been signed by agents solely because of their blogging. And I’m convinced blogging makes you take yourself more seriously as a writer. Your name is on what you write, and what you write is being sent into the blogosphere for anyone and everyone to read … so you'd better do it well!

But most importantly, blogging about writing forces you to really analyse writing and the writing life, to dig down deep into issues you might otherwise have skimmed over or not given a thought to at all. I know that I’ve nutted through some of my writerly neuroses by blogging here at ATWOP, and have connected with others experiencing the exact same issues (always good to know that no matter how mad or messed up you think you are, you’re never really alone. :-) ) 

Some bloggers - Nathan Bransford springs to mind - say that it's the time-suck of blogging that has made them tire of the whole show, and they do have a point. Which is why I am grateful for the day our Kristen suggested we blog as a group. She says she was just being lazy; I say she was one smart cookie. :-)

In the end, the decision whether to blog or not depends on why you’re doing it and what you get out of it, and how much of your time it takes up. And if you’re happy with what you're doing, then just keep on bloggin'!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween Everybody!

If your household is anything
like mine, Halloween is an eagerly anticipated event. Or, as my daughter likes to say, one of the best days of the year!

This might have something to do with the free candy.

In honor of that lovely little concept called treats, my publisher Grand Central - Forever is holding a Halloween twitter party today. Prizes include books by my esteemed colleagues and me. Yes, they will be giving away a copy of FIRELIGHT at around 1:00 -1:30 pm EST. So visit @ForeverRomance on twitter, hash mark #4evrHalloween, for chances to win some great stuff.

Also, I still have plenty of bookmarks and trading cards to giveaway (sorry, my ARC is gone, but one lucky person will find it in their mailbox soon!) Simply send me an email @ kristen@kristencallihan.com if you're interested.

In other news (yes, this is all very important news!) our lovely fellow forumite, Jo Bourne has a new book out tomorrow.

The Black Hawk is Jo's fourth book in her spymasters series, featuring the much beloved hero Adrian Hawker. I don't know about the rest of you, but I've been dying to read this story. If the Publisher's Weekly review below is anything to go by, we won't be disappointed.

The Black Hawk is a starred review at Publishers Weekly:

Bourne mixes heart-pounding mystery and romance in her spellbinding fourth Spymaster historical romantic thriller (after 2010’s The Forbidden Rose). From childhood, Adrian Hawker spied on France for England while Justine DeCabrillac gathered intelligence for the Police Sècrete. They were teens when they met in Paris in 1794, and as they grew up, their paths crossed often in a changing world. Sometimes they were on the same side, and sometimes they were opposed, but it was inevitable that they fall bittersweetly in love, knowing that any minute duty could take precedence over passion. Their tempestuous love affair unfolds in flashbacks, alternating with scenes from 1818 London, where somebody tries to kill Justine and frame Hawker, now head of the British Intelligence Service with as many enemies in England as in France. Just the right amount of intrigue makes this vivid romance a gripping page-turner.

Yum! I'm off to order now. :)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's A Job

According to Dictionary. com, a job is defined as such:


1 noun, verb, jobbed, job·bing, adjective
a piece of work, especially a specific task done as part of the routine of one's occupation or for an agreed price: She gave him the job of mowing the lawn.
a post of employment; full-time or part-time position: She was seeking a job as an editor.
anything a person is expected or obliged to do; duty; responsibility: It is your job to be on time.
an affair, matter, occurrence, or state of affairs: to make the best of a bad job.
the material, project, assignment, etc., being worked upon: The housing project was a long and costly job.

Why, do you ask, am I putting up the definition of the word job? Well, because, as I see it, writing is first and foremost a job.

I know some will argue that writing shouldn't be seen in that way, that we should view it as a passion, or a craft, or perhaps a hobby. That is fine. But I'm not going to do that.

I once thought of writing as a passion, something that I did for fun. And I ended up nothing truly productive with my work. Sure I wrote every day, or very near to it, but I diddled, dawdled, and all around procrastinated with my writing. Nothing every got done. It just got rewritten. Over. And. Over. Again.

But once I saw it as a job? Well, I have responsibilities now, don't I? I'm obliged to finish. Expected to. It is my duty to write a book, not just play about with endless storylines.

It's easier now, because someone actually does pay me to write. I have deadlines, checks and balances that keep me from running amok in the monkey house. But even before I was published, even before I had an agent, I shifted my way of thinking. I became both employer and employee. Because I needed to know within myself that this thing called writing wasn't just a whim. It wasn't just something I tinkered about with. It was serious. It was real.

It was a job.

In the very best sense of the word! :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Voice Or Plot ... Which One Does It For You?

 Confession time: I love my Twitter feed. I really do. It throws so many great, thought-provoking links my way, every day, which sit there in a nice, chronological order, ready for me to devour. The only trouble is that I just don’t have time enough to get to them all    but one link I’m glad I took the time to follow came to me this week via @Text Publishing: an article by Gaby Wood on her experience of being one of this year’s Man Booker Prize judges.

(For those not in the know, the 2011 prize winner was announced last week as The Sense Of An Ending, by Julian Barnes.)

It’s a very interesting article (who knew so much work went into the judging? One hundred and thirty-eight novels, read in seven months! The mind boggles … and then melts) but I was particularly intrigued by this discovery Wood made during her reading journey:-

What struck me most, though, was how much I learnt about my own taste. I was swayed by voice over plot and by sentence over structure. (Of course, in the best cases one didn’t have to choose.)

(We all know what she means by voice - an author’s own style, that particular way of constructing sentences and arranging paragraphs and choice of words that uniquely conveys an author’s personality, or that of their characters, and makes their work instantly recognisable and one of a kind.)

Her comment made me think how highly individual and subjective this choice is, this preference for voice over plot – and vice versa. Many people can happily devour a book that lacks a great voice for the sake of its plot (flogging a dead horse here, but Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code springs to mind) whilst others will only put up with a so-so plot if it’s coupled with a dazzling voice.

I’m not sure where I sit. At the moment, I’m reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 for my book club, and at eight chapters in I’d have to say that the plot is nebulous, at best … but the voice! It’s fresh, crazy, totally unique and draws me right in so that I just have to keep reading.  But then again … I’ve adored the voice in many other books, yet have nevertheless set them aside, unfinished, when the plots have become a little boggy.  Carol Carr’s India Black is an example. I’ll give you a little taste of her voice … this is from the preface :-

My name is India Black. I am a whore.

If these words made you blush, if your hand fluttered to your cheek or you harrumphed disapprovingly into your beard, then you should return this volume to the shelf, cast a cold glance at the proprietor as you leave, and hasten home feeling proper and virtuous. You can go to Evensong tonight with a clear conscience. 

However, if my admission caused a frisson of excitement in your drab world, if you felt a stirring in your trousers or beneath your skirts, then I must caution you that you will be disappointed in the story contained in this volume. No doubt you’re hoping to read in these pages the narrative of a young woman’s schooling in the arts of love or perhaps a detailed description of some of my more memorable artistic performances. As for the former, there’s enough of that kind of shoddy chronicle available, most of it written by men masquerading as “Maggie” or “Eunice,” and therefore not only fictitious but asinine to boot. As for the latter, I’d be the first to admit that I was a tireless entertainer in the boudoir, but that’s another story for another time and will cost you more money than this volume when I get around to writing it down.

How’s that for a strong, individual and intriguing voice, right out the gates? It continues like this throughout the book … so why couldn't I finish? Well, I think the answer lies in where I set this book down - and I’m talking physically. See, it’s still on my bedside table, beneath four or five other novels, which means that subconsciously, I've decided I won't abandon it. It’s not been consigned to the “not to be finished/life is too short for this rubbish,” pile in the corner of my study. So yes, while a bit of sagging in the plot has caused me to turn aside for now, it’s not a permanent state of affairs. This is a book I will pick up again, and finish. And that’s all down to the lure of the voice.

So in the end, for me, I guess voice does win over plot. But as Gaby Wood points out, the very best books do both plot and voice brilliantly ... and that's something for us all to shoot for, isn't it?

Which wins out for you  - plot or voice? And if you were ever tapped on the shoulder to be a Man Booker judge, would you accept? I think I would have to say yes … then make sure I booked me a nice padded cell in which to recover after the event – no books allowed!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Let it Begin!

Just one quick bit of business before I get to my post. You still have time to enter the contest to win 1 of 2 paperback editions of BY THE PALE MOONLIGHT. For contest details, please click on the handy dandy cover in the sidebar.. You have until October 31st at 6PM CST to enter! Enter as many times as you like. :)

This past week has been a whirlwind. Literally. Last weekend I was frantically trying to get my book formatted to make it's way through the Meatgrinder over at Smashwords (it converts your book into all of the various formats for the different distributors)... Once that was completed, I began work on the print copy... All the while, I was desperately trying to cope with the nerves of knowing my book was Out There. Within the grasp of so many readers... Holy heck. I've been a wreck.

It's been a mix of emotions. Overwhelming anxiety over whether or not people will enjoy it. The extreme highs of hearing that a particular reader did... Hearing that they're eagerly anticipating book 2. EEEEE. Boy is that exciting to hear! A girl could get used to hearing that kind of stuff, I tell ya.


There's also been a sense of restlessness underlying it all. And I think I've finally managed to pinpoint what that is. You see, for the first time--ever--I'm going to be able to close a chapter on one of my books. There's no more questioning whether or not I should change this or that...no more second guessing whether I've got it just right. It is. It simply IS, now. Once I give the final approval for the paperback, I'm going to be able to move on to another project.

Good gawd, y'all. This is an exciting moment for me!

On deck? WALKING IN SHADOW (Book Two of the Moonlight series)

I'm signing up for NaNoWriMo and plan on knocking out as much of this book as I possibly can. I've got a good chunk written, but much of the book is still knocking around inside my head. I don't know _exactly_ what's going to happen (pantster, here), but I have a general idea of where I want it to go. I.E. Where I want it to end, because YES...there will be a third book. Maybe more. You just never know. This WAS supposed to be one book in the beginning. (ha)

Anyway, I am so geared up to begin. To stretch my writing muscles with something new. It's scary and exciting, all wrapped up in one. But finishing BTPM--finally finishing, makes me believe I can do it again. YAY.

Next Tuesday, hurry up! :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sisters and brothers

Sibling relationships- for those of us who have them, they can be one of the earliest learning grounds in our lives for conflict, natural justice, and emotions, both positive and negative.
I just finished reading 2011 Booker Prize short-listed novel The Sisters Brothers, and while there were many things I didn't enjoy about the novel, I think the thing that kept me hooked and reading was the relationship between the two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters. I have a brother of my own, no sisters, and ours has not been what you could call a harmonious relationship. And yet there are times where we've each needed an ally, and we've always known we could turn to each other.

Because of that, I could really identify with some aspects of the relationship between the Sisters brothers, two hired gun assassins in the old West who have a marked disregard for human life in general, but would do just about anything for each other, thanks to love, obligation, and all those other things that make up sibling relationships.

My own novel is driven by the core relationship between brothers Bill and Len, looking at the other side of the coin- a situation where the one person Bill should be able to trust screws him over and wrecks his life. How do you come back from a trust that broken? How do you even get to that place in the first instance? Exploring those dynamics never gets old for me. When I put those characters together, all kinds of things evolve. Like a fingerprint, no sibling relationship is just like any other, which I think is why they make for such fertile fictional fodder.

Not having had any sisters of my own, that dynamic is a little more foreign to me, though of course I know what it's like to *be* a sister myself, at least to a brother. Several authors I know write brilliant sisterly relationships- when Kristen's Firelight is released in February next year, you'll get to meet a trio of feisty ladies who make me wish I had my own girl gang (as opposed to wishing I was an only child, something my brother prompted me to do many times over the years).

And next year, I get to observe what happens when my own daughter becomes a sister, to a little brother, no less, and I'm sure that dynamic will be absolutely fascinating as well.

Siblings. Do you have them, or are you an only child? Do the good and bad parts of being a brother or a sister worm their way into your fiction, directly or indirectly? And who are your favourite fictional siblings?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear

Recently I was challenged to imagine that my hero is dying and to think what I might say to him. It was part of a series of thought-provoking exercises over at the Books & Writers Forum. The exercises were designed to get writers thinking about their characters in new ways. Kill my hero? Imagine him gone?

I couldn’t do it. As my mind roamed the possible ways Nathan Rivers might die and what I, his creator, might say to him before I committed him to eternal darkness, I was seized with grief.

This reaction came as a shock to me and I’m still thinking about it. Namely, I’m concerned that I’m too close to my character. Like the warning stenciled into every car mirror: objects are closer than they appear -- my own little rear-view mirror is mocking me: characters are closer than they appear. They’ve snuck into the very fabric of my being. They dodge my footsteps and shadow me during the day. Is that healthy or somewhat mental? (Okay, we all know writers are a little… crazy.)

The reality of a writer’s life is that we devote hours to shaping our characters. We spend intense stretches of time in which we feel what they feel. We struggle with them, cry with them, rejoice with them. We live with our characters - some of us longer than others. (In my case the bones of my story are 30-odd years old.) Is it any wonder that we become attached to our characters? That we identify with them so easily?

I know I’m not alone with this and I searched the internet to see what others have written about author attachment to characters. (Just to confirm that no, I’m not as nutty as I suspected. And happily, I’m not! Either that, or I’m just in good company.)

Jeff Bennington, a writer of thrillers, has noticed the phenomenon in his own writer's life. He calls it the Law of Attachment. (My disorder has a name even!) The Law of Attachment is this: a reader will relate to the people in a story to the degree that the author has grown attached to those people.

Brilliantly simple. If I don’t feel anything for the people I create, how will the reader ever care?

I’m no longer worried that I can’t kill my hero. My challenge now is to translate my deep feelings for him to the page so that others might feel the same way. And that, my readers, is another blog topic.

How do you feel about your characters? Are they flesh and blood and bone to you? Do you think it's necessary to have the Law of Attachment in effect to have a great story and to reach readers?

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I was going to write a post about writer responsibility -namely, owning what you say in a public forum, and creating the best damn product you can for your readers.


It's my birthday, and not only am I goofing off all day, I'm feeling quite happy. So instead, I'm going to talk swag. Mainly, my swag. *gg* As in, I haz it, if you want it. :D

So if you'd like any trading cards or bookmarks (such as these) contact me at Kristen@kristencallihan.com.

This is not a contest. However, I do have some other goodies...cough...Firelight ARCs...cough...sample books, so the first twelve or so requests will find their mail padded with something extra.

Next week, I'll fall back to writing about serious stuff. Well, mostly serious stuff, anyway!

ETA: don't forget to add your address along with your request! :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Are You Suffering From A Dose Of The "If Onlies"?

Well I’m back after my brief blogging hiatus, which some of you might recall was caused by the fact I was racing to get the revisions/rewrites of my WIP done before my kids started school holidays. 

Sadly, I have to report a fail on that front. :-(  Kids were sick, kids had a bazillion school plays and exhibitions and parades and so forth, family located overseas came home for a visit ... you know the drill. And although I've had a very enjoyable few weeks, my keyboard time got zapped and I didn’t make my deadline.

This has resulted in a certain amount of frustration on my part, and very nearly sent me into a downward spiral of the “if onlies” … you know, those times when you sit and moan into your glass of shiraz about how you would certainly, definitely, get your novel written  - “if only.” 

If only I had a better computer. If only I had a little cottage by a lake in which to write. If only I could quit my day job.

My personal “if onlies” range from “if only I had a clone,” to “if only people would quit interrupting me!” and “if only I could writer faster”…. and sometimes, on those dark days, “if only I had a damn clue about writing.”

But the “if only” I seem to repeat the most is, “if only I had more time.”

Now, perhaps there is a grain of truth in that one. Maybe I would get more done with more time. But after recently watching a repeat episode of one of my favourite TV shows, Grand Designs, I think that leaning on the “if onlies” as an excuse for not achieving what we want is a dicey matter.

For those of you not in the know, Grand Designs is a British production in which the host, Kevin McCloud, follows families and couples as they try to renovate or build the homes of their dreams. I ADORE this show – I think I was an architect or interior designer in a past life – and love the high drama involved in each episode: will they/won’t they come in on budget? Will the house constructed of used tyres in the French countryside end up looking rubbish? Will the husband and wife who can't agree on a single thing be divorced by the end of it all?

Anyway … the episode in question revisited an English couple who, in an earlier episode, had built their dream home for themselves and their daughter in Creuse, France. The wife was an aromatherapist, and the husband was a writer who made a crust writing technical manuals. He was convinced – absolutely convinced – that “if only” he had the perfect creative environment in this new house, he’d be able to churn out the novel he’d always wanted to write.

His writing zone turned out beautifully, a quite study set on a mezzanine level with gorgeous, uninterrupted views of the French countryside. To die for, really.

Well, seven years later, the Grand Designs team returned to see how the house, and life in it, had turned out for the family. They were still there; the wife’s aromatherapy business was thriving; but the husband? Well, yes, he’d written a book in that time, and it had been published. But it was a non-fiction book … on how to build a house in rural France.

The novel? Not a whiff of it.

Now, kudos to him for writing and publishing any book at all. But it seems to me that having his “if only” wish granted hadn’t turned out to be the magic fix he thought it would be.  That perhaps there were other reasons why he just couldn’t get that novel written.

Hence, my wariness of attributing my failure to get my draft revised – in fact, to get my novel written, period - to my “if onlies”. And I think it would behoove me to think long and hard about it all …

So, for those of you struggling to complete your book, or to find an agent, or to sell your work, what are your “if onlies”? And if your “if only” wish was granted, do you think it would make a difference?