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Friday, May 28, 2010

It drives me crazy!!

We’ve all got pet-peeves; but some of us are more vocal about expressing them than others. Those of you who know the Jodie 1/2 of Lydia, know this is not an issue for me. One of mine, because I have too many list them all, is using your language correctly. I’m not talking about people learning a new language and the difficulties involved with all of that. I’m talking about using your own native tongue, and using it correctly.

My whole life, hearing words like “ain’t” or double negatives has always made me cringe. It just doesn’t sound right and it hurts my ears. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a grammar-nazi. And I believe it’s all right to break the rules from time to time – like for instance, beginning a sentence with And, But, or Or. Honestly, I’m not even talking about the written word, though it’s all related these days. Texts and emails affect speech patterns. I’ve actually heard people say “omg” and “lol”. So what was once texting and instant messaging shorthand has now become part of everyday speech. And I’m fine with that, although it’s a little jarring the first time you hear it. Still, each letter in those acronyms stand for an actual word – so they should still be used correctly.

I know I said I wasn’t a grammar-nazi; and, truly, I don’t think I am. But I do have to share this little story with you because it grates on my nerves every day. In the town I live, they widened a major road not too far from my house. When they did this, it caused some issues for the homeowners on that street. Apparently, some of the homes become flooded when it rains from the run-off from the new and improved road. And that’s awful. I can’t imagine my house flooding every time it rained. You can’t even move, because who is going to buy a house like that?

Anyway, one of the homeowners was furious over this and painted the front of his house with a message to the Powers-that-be in our community.

There was a huge outcry when this gentleman painted his house with this message. My town has a sign ordinance which the ACLU then took on. Long story short, the house is still there and the message still proudly displayed. Now, I would never take away the homeowner’s right of freedom of speech. But I would suggest a good English refresher class. Why is there a comma at the end? A comma?!? That’s completely wrong. A period or exclamation point I can see. Or even nothing at all. But a comma? It doesn’t make any sense. It seems like he meant to say something else and either got bored or ran out of paint.

I drive by this house almost every day. And the sight hurts my eyes. Please, sir! I beg of you, please, fix the comma at the end! Please, please, pretty please. Is it just me?

What drives you crazy on a daily basis?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Man is Known by the Company He Keeps

The title of this blog post is an English proverb, in case you're wondering who said it. It's been around for centuries, and still holds true today.

Remember back in high school, how if you were a cheerleader and hung out with other cheerleaders, people thought certain things of you, or if you were in marching band and hung out with other marching band members, people thought certain other things of you? (Yes, I was in marching band. Go on, think what you will. I went to band camp, too.) It's part of human nature, I think, to form judgments and opinions about other people based on things outside of themselves.

To go along with that, it is also human nature to take on certain characteristics similar to those one spends the most time with. For example, how many smokers would have started smoking, if they were never in the presence of other people who smoke? Did you ever have that one friend--the one who used a certain word constantly--and then one day realized that you were using that same word even more often than your friend? Yeah, I've been there too.

The same kinds of things happen to the writers of a critique group, too, but in a different way. The more we participate in the group, regardless of whether the work we're critiquing is that of someone who's been writing for ten years and is multi-published, or if it is a person's first attempt at a novel, the more we learn and grow. The same holds true in reverse--there is something to be learned in every critique you receive, regardless of the critiquer's experience with writing.

One caveat, though: This only holds true if everyone in the group wants to see everyone in the group succeed.

I've been part of a few different critique groups over the last couple of years. In one, I became frustrated by the members who seemed only out for themselves. What was worse, I felt a few members were out for themselves to the point of viciously attacking others' writing in order to elevate their own.

When I recognized that was the problem, I decided it was time to move on, even though I could still learn from others that were there. It was too stressful, too taxing on my emotions. It became something I dreaded instead of looked forward to.

It's easy to get stuck in a situation where you're giving more than you receive. It's much more difficult to find that equal balance.

The critique group I've found with the other members of this blog is completely different. The biggest difference is that in this group, everyone wants to see the success of all the members. We're a big mix of writing experience. We have writers with agents, writers published with large presses, small presses, and e-publishers, writers on the verge of landing an agent, writers who are struggling to figure out why we aren't on the verge, and writers working on their first manuscript. We're all over the board, with every level of experience you can imagine.

Still, it never fails that I'll learn something from every single one of them, whether it is through their critique of my work or through critiquing their work. I might pick up a particular phrase from one of them, or study the way another creates a sense of action, and try to incorporate it into my own work. Not only that, but we all act as cheerleaders for each other. We know the work of the others almost as well as our own--including their strengths and weaknesses. We can read a sentence and recognize it as belonging to one member of the group or another, based on the word choices or the voice.

So, if you're a writer, what kind of writerly company do you keep? Are you surrounded by other writers who support you as much as you support them? Or are you hoping to find somewhere to plant yourself where you can grow?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Hero to Love

Yesterday I received contest feedback on one of my manuscripts that my hero may not be Alpha enough. Having been a contest judge myself, I know it is hard to make a call with the limited amount of information provided. Still, first impressions are very important in this business. I won’t toss this observation aside without giving it some consideration.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t exactly sure how to interpret the comment. It seems there are different ideas of what it means to be an alpha male. According to Leigh Michaels in her book “On Writing Romance”, an alpha male is “powerful, driven, assertive, masterful, dominant, superior, successful and charming.” Yet, I often read historical romance novels where the hero is an overbearing, demanding, unyielding, unprincipled, womanizing jerk. In comparison, my hero is atypical.

He’s been in love with the same woman for years and only wants her even though there have been many roadblocks and still more to overcome. He respects his mother and has a close relationship with his younger sister. He’s also intelligent, and he’s built a nice nest egg from investments rather than squandering his yearly income. He’s protective of the women in his life, and he’s physically strong. In a nutshell, he’s not a bad boy needing salvation via the heroine’s love. He’s that great guy next door who will help the heroine escape her troubled past, or move her couch when she buys the condo of her dreams.

I find him refreshing. He’s the kind of guy I’d fall in love with in real life, which got me thinking. Is there some rule that says all romance readers are supposed to like the same kind of guy? I realize there are certain trends in what sells, but I know several women who don’t read romance because the macho hero of the 80s who ruled the heroine with an iron fist, behaved like an all-around jerk and then thought an apology led to a happily-ever-after ending turned them off.

In fact, I recently stopped reading two books written in this decade because the heroes literally made me feel sick to my stomach. Their attitudes toward women disgusted me. Now, I’m not making any judgments about readers who enjoy these types of heroes. I’m simply asking the question, “Isn’t there room in the market for the kind of guys I like?”

What qualities do you look for in a hero?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hands On Research

“Write what you know.”

That’s one of the first bits of advice most new writers hear. But unless you’re an adrenaline addict, that adage makes for a very boring story. Not many breakout novels revolve around a sink full of dirty dishes, youth soccer games, and PTA meetings.

Little Monk Soccer Match In Seoul

So we must do research. And if you really want to slip on your characters’ shoes, you’ll want to try hands on research. Writing unique characters means stepping outside our comfort zones and attempting things we would never do in real life.

I’m a hermit by nature, so signing up for RWA was an adventure in itself. But since I’ve joined my local chapter, I’ve visited a firing range and shot a gun for the first time.

Nathan Fillion, best known for his role in the cult TV series Firefly and his current lead role in the ABC series Castle , signs autographs after a TV appearance
Channeling Rick Castle, several chapter sisters have gone on ride-alongs with local police officers. Others visited a strip club and interviewed a pole dancer. A staple of our annual retreat is the nightly ‘research workshop ’ where members test fancy drinks so they can write bar scenes with authority.

And then there was that Reno trip to research casinos…but they told me not to talk about that…

Nothing inspires writers more than exploring the location of a new book. Writing a novel without visiting the setting is like submitting a love scene without first testing the choreography with a live subject.
St. Louis Hyatt Regency Arch

At CBC-RWA, when someone says ‘Gee, I’d like to set this novel in St. Louis, but I’ve never been there,’ she’s greeted with chants of “Road trip! Road Trip!” Our historical romance critique group plans trips to England and Scotland two years in advance.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to act out research, especially if you write thrillers. Debating the best way to poison a man while dining in a fine restaurant will you some odd looks from the surrounding tables.

Once, I sat with some writers in a hotel lobby, discussing a fictive terrorist plot to bring down a national landmark. After explaining in great detail how the antagonist would wreak maximum destruction, I noticed an anxious man nearby eavesdropping. Speaking louder, I immediately began tossing about writer’s words: characters, scene, etc. to make it perfectly clear that this was fiction we were plotting. I suppose I should be glad that he did not notify the authorities. But the terrified look on his face stayed with me and convinced me not to write the book even though I'd spent hours developing that story. I guess that was researching my audience, hands on.

So how about you? What’s the weirdest thing you have even done to research a novel? Has your hands on research ever got you into trouble? I would love to hear your stories.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

But Why Don’t You Want Me?

Upon completion of a novel, authors spend a number of hours writing the synopsis and then the query. The query is probably more important than anything you have written to date. Why? Because this is the very first thing an editor or agent will read. It comes before any synopsis or chapter.

What is the difference between a query and a pitch? To me, very, very little. Both must convey all the information about the characters, hook, market and the basics about the author such as publishing history. An author could spend as much time reading about how to craft the perfect pitch/query letter and synopsis as they do researching their novel. When deemed as perfect as perfect can be, in the author’s eyes anyway, it is shipped off to the dream editor/agent. Or, it is memorized and ready for your ten minutes at the valued editor/agent appointment, or the chance meeting at a convention.

Unfortunately, the rejections far outweigh the contract offers and sadly, authors often don’t know why. Was it in the delivery? The storyline? The color of my dress? Font used in the query letter? I understand that agents and editors are very, very busy and cannot take time to give a detailed response to each and every submission that land on their desk or in the e-mail. I’ve heard stories of the Dear Author letter that is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy that basically rejects the author. There have been postcards with simply “not interested at this time” and the no letter at all, just the returned query with a “no thank you” written on it.

On the bright side, the author isn’t sitting and waiting for a response, but on the other hand, they have no clue of what went wrong.

Like all authors, I have tried to prepare the perfect and concise pitch. I’ve read books, visited websites and attended workshops and have learned from each. However, I learned much more this weekend than anywhere else. On Thursday, Deb Werksman of Sourcebooks offered to take pitches at the Casablanca Author’s blog. Over 100 pitches were posted that day. And when I last looked, little over half of them received a response, though Ms. Werksman promised to respond to each and every one by midnight Sunday. I’ve learned more about pitching from not only her blog on the subject, also from the pitches themselves, and her requests and passes. Though nobody wants to hear “I am going to pass on this” it still is softer than, “Rejected”.

It takes a lot of guts to send a query off, but even more so to post it in a public forum for the world to read because that is the same forum where Ms. Werksman will either request or pass. It is hard enough to face a rejection but doubly so when the whole world can read about it. However, even when she has passed, it has not been cruel or insensitive, but very informative.

I am glad so many authors took the opportunity to post because each one of them is a lesson and pitching that every author, regardless on genre, can learn from. You can read her blog here.

Did you take the chance and post to Deb Werksman? If not, is there a reason? Did you read that blog? If so, did you find it as informative as me?

Is the Pen mightier than the Sword? Part Two

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

So is the pen mightier than the sword?

How about the axe? By the 9th century, the Vikings adopted a formidable weapon - the battle-axe, with its trumpet-shaped blade. They wreaked all sorts of havoc with these heavy axes. It could be used in hand-to-hand combat or hurled as a missile. Can you imagine the precision it would take to hurl such a weapon and hit the intended target? Incredible. The wooden handle could be as long as 150 cm and the crescent-shaped blade measured about 25 cm. Made of steel, the blade was capable of cutting off a limb or a head in a single blow. There were both single and double handed weapons, although double handed axes were more common. It was wielded with both hands so the warrior was unable to carry a shield and defend himself.

Maintenance on such a weapon was necessary. Can you imagine the damage to the flesh caused by a dull blade? Each warrior was responsible for caring for and keeping his weapon sharpened.

The mace could crush though armor and damage the tissue underneath. The battle-axe took this one step further. By concentrating the weight on a wedge, it crushed through armor and easily cut flesh.

The battle-axe was the main weapon used by King Harold’s housecarls during the battle of Hastings.

So is the pen mightier than the sword? Well, as a writer I like to think so, but it certainly does have some big shoes to fill. The sword is the most durable, the most maneuverable hand held weapon in history. Interestingly, the Saxons considered the value of a sword to be the equivalent of 120 oxen or 15 male slaves, and any man possessing a sword had great status. Simple to construct and easy to wield, these weapons remained popular in various forms throughout the Middle Ages.

There are as many variations of the medieval sword as there are years in history, it seems. You’ve got single-handed, double-handed, single-edged, double-edged, longswords, and broad swords. You can get an idea of the many different types of swords here in Wikipedia. The list is long and varied. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_swords

The word sword comes from old English sweord.

A sword consists of a blade, a hilt and a scabbard. It’s a long, edged piece of metal connected to a “handle.” It was used throughout the world as either a cutting or thrusting weapon, and occasionally for clubbing. Three types of attacks can be performed with the blade: striking, cutting, and thrusting. The blade can be double-edged or single-edged, the latter often having a secondary "false edge" near the tip.

Humans have manufactured and used metal bladed weapons from the Bronze Age onwards. The Aztecs used a sword that is wooden with obsidian shards in the blade called the Macana.

Around the 13th century BC, iron working skills brought forth the iron sword. And although it is mostly inferior to the well made bronze sword, it was an easier sword to make and could be produced in mass quantities.

Around the 11th to 13th century AD, the sword had its first major change. The quillion or cross guard was added. The swords of this period were both single-edged and double-edged and were predominantly used as cutting weapons.

In the late Middle Ages after the 13th century, as armor made advances in its ability to protect, the sword also made advances in its ability to thwart the defenses. Some of the advances during this time are the longer handle, which allowed for two-handed use, and a variety of specialized swords that could cut and thrust, seeking out weaknesses in armor.

By honing in your research and learning the different types of swords and weapons of your intended time period, you lend credibility to your writing. So take the time to specify your weapon to its time period and draw the reader fully into the world you’ve created. I wish I could go over every type of sword, but we don’t have that long. So do your research. Sometimes learning the differences between a broad sword and long sword is all it takes to make your writing much more vivid and realistic to your reader. I’ve left a few resources with which to get you started in your quest for medieval weaponry. I hope this helps some and yes, I truly believe the pen can be much mightier than the sword. The worlds we create in our imaginations can make the reader forget for just a little while their everyday problems. What can be more powerful than that?

Websites: Wikipedia is of course always an option.

Life in the Middle Ages http://www.kyrene.k12.az.us/schools/Brisas/sunda/ma/mahome.htm




—With arrow, sword, and spear: a history of warfare in the ancient world By Alfred S. Bradford, Pamela M. Bradford

— Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Methods and Techniques by John Clements

— A Knight and His Weapons by R. Ewart Oakeshott

— Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques [Hardcover] William R. Short


1. SCA Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.

The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Our "Known World" consists of 19 kingdoms, with over 30,000 members residing in countries around the world. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes & workshops, and more.”

Dungeons and Dragons http://www.wizards.com/dnd/ 
Surprisingly, a lot of information can be found on gaming websites.

So what about you? Have you run across some interesting resources, websites or books that give some great information on medieval warfare and weapons? I'd love to know where you get your research from.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Is the Pen mightier than the Sword?

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have time to search for more*

The beauty of fiction is your ability to create; the downfall of writing historical fiction is that you need to have your facts straight. No other genre has avid readers who’re just as intelligent as the writer him/herself.

So, writing in a particular era can be daunting and the research can become overwhelming. I’m currently finishing up my fourth MS. I’ve got a second in the works and third on the table. So you can imagine my research episodes. I have to be extremely organized to keep it all straight. I keep folders, three-ring binders, not to mention all of my links in my favorites separated in folders by era.

One of my favorite things to research is weapons. I have to admit the tomboy in me comes out and I can just imagine myself wielding the weapon with glee.

Every culture's arsenal is based on the technology and raw materials available at the time. So considering this, let’s take a look at the materials used during the medieval times. Wood was often used for handles and the Bronze Age introduced the development of metal weaponry. It persisted well into the middle ages, dramatically altering over time.

I’m only going to concentrate on hand-held weapons for this blog, as research on medieval warfare can become quite in depth and have a wide range within it.

Spears were some of the first weapons ever used. A spear consisted of a shaft or pole, made of wood with a sharpened head. Obsidian, iron and bronzed heads were fastened to the top usually in a triangle. This was a thrusting or throwing weapon. The Greeks were known for being well adept at spears. They evolved a new close-order infantry formation called the phalanx. These weapons were generally considered infantry weapons or footman.

These are not to be confused with Pikes. A pike is a pole thrusting weapon used extensively by infantry for attacks on enemy foot soldiers, and also as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. The pike is not intended to be thrown. They were used by European troops from the early Middle Ages until about 1700. These were effective when used in close order. There are a variety of different polearms and each has its own name and time it was used. They date back to the Stone Age, so instead of just saying polearm or spear, attempt to link it directly to the era you’re writing about. For instance the Spetum was used in Europe in the thirteenth century. A Guisarme was used in Europe during the 1000 - 1400’s. Learn the difference in their appearances and you’ll give yourself more credibility with your readers.

There are so many different daggers and dirks that I’m going to leave that for another day. On to blunt weapons. These are tricky because they often look alike, but there are obvious differences between them. Dating back to the Stone Age with your regular club, we still use these today as our police forces often carry one.

A mace is a ceremonial club that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful blows. These were highly effective against well-armored knights, as the blow from a mace is strong enough to cause damage without penetrating the armor. Unless it is a flanged mace. These were designed with protruding edges of metal used to penetrate armor. These were developed much later in the middle ages. They were quite common. Peasants, rebels, footmen, and cheap conscript armies used these. Do not make the mistake of having your knight use one of these unless it’s for ceremony. He can be trained in the use of maces but a man’s weapon was a symbol of status. (Funny how time didn’t change that lol.)

The morning star was a medieval club-like weapon that includes one or more spikes. All of these weapons are bashing weapons and when used can cause massive amounts of damage. This would not be a pretty sight, so remember that as you write.

The last of the club-like weapons is the maul and war hammer. It resembles a sledge hammer. In 1382, rebellious citizens of Paris seized 3,000 mauls from the city armory, leading to the rebels being dubbed Maillotins. The war hammer resembles a hammer and is used strictly for close combat.

The flail is typically depicted as one or more weights attached to a handle with a hinge or a chain, or often known as the ball and chain weapon. This was a bludgeoning weapon and did massive damage to its target. Many of the weights used were modified with spikes, so you can imagine the kind of damage these caused. Again peasant armies throughout the Middle Ages were known to use and carry these.

So tomorrow, I’ll cover the axes and swords, as well a list of resources available. So tell me what interesting weapons have you come across in your own studies?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

World Building - Helpful Hobbies

I’ve been a gamer girl since I was about two or three years old and could hold the joystick on the old Atari console. Some of my favorite games back then were Pitfall and Pacman. And let me tell you there is just nothing more fun than being “one of the guys” in a room full of men and playing video games. You get to see a side of men they rarely show the opposite sex. Boy, do you ever!

Then online gaming came out and whole new worlds opened up to me. Games like World of Warcraft, Eve online, Black Hawk Down, City of Heroes/Villains, Star Wars online, and sooo many more. If you’ve seen it, I’ve played it.

So as a writer, this experience has broadened my horizons so to speak in more than one way. First off, I got the chance to see men as they really are and what an enlightening experience it is. When you think you really know how they are when you’re away...chances are they’re ten times worse than you think. They’re more crude, more brass, more “manly” than even you can imagine. And I love it. Of course, I’ve got a crude sense of humor as well which is probably why I fit right in with them.

Being a gamer has also opened up world building in a whole new way for me. The worlds within these virtual games are endless, and it truly is breath taking. You get the sense that you know sort of what Lewis and Clark might have felt like as the vast new lands opened up to them. Vivid colors, in depth story lines, and compelling characters all await you within the world of games. You can learn a lot from kids sometimes. They love games the way we loved books while we were young. This is their creative outlet, so before you knock them for it. Try it yourself.
Gaming has also helped me with world building. Because not only am I a gamer, I’ve become a Simmer as well. What’s that you say? It’s a game called Sims. I play both Sims 2 and Sims 3. It allows my “girly” side to come out and play some too. Sims allows you to build your own virtual world in a way that brings you right into the stories. You get to build your own homes, so you can know exactly where every piece of furniture is in your characters homes and you don’t have to go magazine picture hunting to find one that looks similar to the one in your imagination. You can just create it. As you and your character see it. Brilliant.

The inside, the outside, the yard...everything is customizable. Even your playable characters. Here’s a few examples. I have one game for every book I’ve written. I know what they look like, where the live and even what their neighborhoods look like. There are even historically accurate player made clothes from the regency and Victorian era. It really makes the saying bringing your story come to life take on a whole new meaning.

It’s really worth the money just to be able to see your characters home in your own virtual creation. And on top of that you get to play the game and it’s a lot of fun. It’s kind of like playing a virtual Barbie doll.
This is how one of my hobbies helps me write my stories. So my question is this; what other hobbies do you have that coincide with your writing and help you write your stories?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The skinny on e-readers

Yesterday I decided to join the modern world and purchase an e-reader, but when I went to buy my new toy, my head swam with all the choices, and the desire to throw up my hands and forget the e-reader overcame me. I left the store convinced that I was just an old fashion “books only” girl, until my son came home from school bubbling with excitement and ideas on how to save the environment. One of the ideas his kindergarten class had come up with was for everyone to use e-readers to help save the trees.

What’s a mother to do when your six year old demands you stand up and help save the world’s resources? The only choice, as I saw it, was to do a little research. So if you are like me, easily overwhelmed when too many choices are thrown at you, I’ve created this little comparison of e-readers to help you make your choice.  Here are six features I wanted to know about.  Hopefully, together, our purchase will buy a brighter tomorrow for our kids!

Apple iPad
Price $499-699 3G/WiFi: $629-829
Size .5 inches thick
Weight 1.5 pounds
Screen Size 9.7 inches
Battery Life 11 hours
Storage Expandable 16GB; 32GB; 64GB/No

Amazon Kindle
Price $259
Size 8 x 5.3 x 0.36 inches
Weight 10.2 oz
Screen Size 6 inches
Battery Life 7 days with wireless whisper YNC on
Storage Expandable 2GB/No

Amazon Kindle DX
Price $489
Size 10.4 x 7.2 x 0.38 inches
Weight 18.9 oz
Screen Size 9.7 inches
Battery Life 7 days with wireless whisper YNC on
Storage Expandable 4GB/No

Barnes & Noble Nook
Price $259
Size 7.7 x 4.9 x 0.5 inches
Weight 12.1 oz
Screen Size 6 inches
Battery Life 10 days
Storage Expandable 2GB/Yes (microSD)

Sony Daily Edition
Price $389
Size 8.13 x 4 x 19/32 inches
Weight 12.75 oz
Screen Size 7.1 inches
Battery Life 7 days with wireless on
Storage Expandable 1.6GB/Yes (Memory Stick Duo/SD)

Plastic Logic Que proReader
Price WiFi/4GB: $649 WiFi/3G/8GB: $799
Size 8.13 x 4 x 19/32 inches
Weight 17 oz
Screen Size 10.5 inches
Battery Life NA
Storage Expandable 4GB; 8GB/No

Happy e-reader reading!

Julie Johnstone, Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Resurrecting the Dead

A romance novel does not always contain light and cheerful subject matter where everything about life is perfect. A novel can prompt a fascinating exploration of history, a subject that funnily enough made me fall asleep during my high school history classes. But once I started reading historical romance novels my views on studying history changed and I’ve followed many a twisted path, seeking to learn more than the romance novel I’d just read showed.

One of the most macabre subjects has been researching Resurectionist’s or Grave Robbers.

Much of our current medical knowledge comes from the habits of our ancestors that many today, as then, find abhorrent. Between 1800 and 1832, a British anatomist’s only legal source of material (human remains) for study came from those poor souls sentenced to death and dissection by the English courts.

It is suggested that only an average of 55 cadavers per year were legally offered for dissection in the early 19th Century. But in 1832 the British Parliament introduced the Anatomy Act and with the change came an increase in the legal supply of bodies to licensed medical schools: 600 between 1832-1833, but decreasing by 1845-1846 to a little over 300. But the new Act of 1832 did little to remove the fear of dissection by the poorer sector of the populace.

As with many things though, the supply of cadavers was outstripped by the demand from the anatomists and a lucrative underground trade flourished, mostly by those desperate enough to practice the fiendish art of grave robbing. Robbing a grave was considered a misdemeanor under the law and punishable with only a fine and imprisonment.

Do you realize that a wooden spade makes less sound than a metal one?

The thought never occurred to me, but apparently a wooden spade and a length of rope were all that were needed to pull off a nice bit of resurrection. They began by digging at the head end of a recent burial, breaking into the coffin, tying a rope around the deceased, and pulling the body out. To escape any potential felony charges, most resurrectionist’s were careful to leave clothing and grave goods behind.

Of course, the practice of grave robbing was disagreeable to the family and friends of the deceased. To avoid mutilation in the name of science, many families posted a watch over the newly deceased prior to burial and then over the fresh shallow grave as well as sometimes using iron coffins or a framework of iron bars (mortsafes) to thwart the body snatchers.

However, the grave robbers had ways to compensate for scrutiny. Some cut a man-sized tunnel a little further away from the burial, perhaps 15 to 20 feet, and pulled the body out through it. Once the square of turf was replaced a casual observer would never know the grave had been disturbed.

The trail of the resurrected body from grave to anatomist becomes a bit sad. Most were taken by roundabout means to the medical schools, some directly by hackney coach or spring-cart in broad daylight. Quite often the contents of the sack were known by those driving who were not against extorting a larger payment from their living passenger; one even paused in front of the Bow Street police-office to make sure his demands were met.

But given that a payment for a single resurrected body reached one hundred and sixty pounds, fights over a graveyards bounty was inevitable between opposing parties. And of course, some greedy individuals went just that little bit further to hurry their fellow man into the afterlife in search of a body. Since a resurrectionist was paid more for a fresher corpse, murder was an obvious next step for some, but that is a story for another day.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Complicated...but it doesn't have to be!

This weekend my hubby and I rented the new-on-DVD movie, It's Complicated. I had high hopes for this movie. It had an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, not to mention a lesser player, but none-the-less one of our favorite actors, John Krasinski. And the premise seemed fun enough: couple falls in love again after being divorced for ten years. I thought it would be 2009's Something's Gotta Give, a movie that I loved.

However, this movie fell a bit short for me. Why? Well, while there were some fun parts to it, there were also some "I'm going to shove the emotion down your throat" moments, too. And those will ruin it for me every time. I won't give anything away, since it just came out on DVD and likely there are people looking forward to seeing it. But I will say that some things just didn't make sense, but they happened anyway, and felt terribly contrived. As if the writer/director believed they'd get more tears from their audience by going in a particular direction, even if it didn't make any sense.

Don't get me wrong, though. It's still a comedy, so nothing really terrible happens, which might explain why the big emotional scenes felt so out of place for me.

What does this have to do with anything, you might ask? Well, it got me thinking about my writing. While fiction allows - and often calls for - a bit of drama, I think it's a fine line we walk between drama and melodrama. And when we write big emotional scenes, I think it's incredibly important that we make sure the drama makes sense. Would the character(s) really do this? Would they react to this situation in this manner?

What's hard is when you're writing from experience. You might pour all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that you had into the scene, but when you read it back you might realize you had maybe overreacted. Or perhaps the way you reacted really isn't how your character would react. You're simply imposing the reaction on your characters out of a desire for catharsis. Trust me, I've done this many times, and when I read back through the manuscript, I think, "Why is she doing this? So-and-so wouldn't react like this!" And there goes another rewrite :)

So I use It's Complicated as a cautionary tale. Be true to your characters. They aren't you, the writer. They have their own personalities, their own character, their own hopes and dreams, and you must dig deep into their psyche - not yours - to find out how they would react to the situation. Otherwise, you'll have a big ol' pile of melodrama that will leave readers scratching their heads.

-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Samantha's Garden

Does your garden have a history? When we moved into our 1950s house six years ago, we inherited a huge yard and flower garden. We own almost two acres, which is unheard of within the city limits. Unfortunately, we also inherited tons of work for which my husband and I were sadly unprepared.

We've since bought the right tools and we're making progress, but my husband periodically threatens to mow over all the flowers and be done with it. I'm adamantly against taking this action, because I think about the woman who lived here before us and all the loving care she put into planting everything. Clearly at one time, there was a plan. But in the years after her death, her husband couldn't keep it up so the gardens were neglected.

Aside from recognizing the effort the former owner put into these gardens, I have additional knowledge that gives me pause. I met her best friend a couple of years ago, quite by accident, and learned a lot about Audrey, the lady with the green thumb. One of those things I learned was she had a daughter who died when she was a teenager. The back gardens were planted as a memory garden for her daughter. When I'm out there admiring the flowers, I often think of this young woman I never knew and her mother's love for her. What a great tribute to make to a lost loved one. That's all the motivation I need to keep the gardens thriving.

Here are more photos of what's growing and blooming this week. Does anyone know what the purple flower below is called? It suddenly popped up this year.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Happy Anniversary

As some of you may already know, most of the authors that make up Lady Scribes first met through an online critique group. On May 14, 2010, the Historical Romance Critique Group celebrated their 2 year anniversary, and I cannot let this momentous occasion go unnoticed.

This group was formed by Jerrica Knight-Catania. She and I had been in another critique group together (and I think it was my 3rd online critique group) and we were not exactly happy with the advice we were getting. After receiving frustrating, and some downright mean, critiques, she decided to form her own group and I followed as a co-founder/moderator. Over the past two years we have had a number of members, some are not with us now, and the majority left due to time constraints. She had a few rules, but the most important was to “critique honestly but critique nicely”. We both felt there was a way to deliver criticism without crushing the muse.

At the moment we have 17 members, all at various stages in their writing. This blog is to acknowledge their achievements and to show what a good critique group can do for any writer. I personally feel a good critique group is a must for any writer, especially if they are just starting and/or unpublished. I know that these ladies have been invaluable to me.

Here is what we have accomplished in two years, in their own words:

JERRICA KNIGHT-CATANIA (founder and member since 5/14/08)
Since we started the group, I've had 1 (almost 2) full-length Regency Romances published (A Gentleman Never Tells, Nov. 2009; More than a Governess, Summer 2010).
My first publication came in February of 2009 in a romance anthology called Love is on the Wind, with my short story The Perfect Kiss. I've also had 4 short stories published in True Love Magazine (Vegas Vacation, Jan 2010; Finding Angela, March 2010; Taking the Plunge, June 2010; and Cruise to Destiny, July 2010.) I continue to write for True Love Magazine in addition to working on my 5th full-length Regency. I am a proud member of RWA with PRO status and will attend my second National Convention this summer in Orlando. But I think the greatest thing is seeing all the success that my critique partners have achieved since joining the group!

AMY DE TREMPE (co-founder and member since 5/14/08)
Since co-founding the group with Jerrica, I have only entered two contests. I have pitched stories to publishers and a full and a two partials were requested. Prior to becoming a part of this wonderful critique group, I did enter a contest were my publisher noticed me. Since, Loving Lydia was published in July 2009, and Pure is the Heart, is due out in June, 2010. I also published a short story in a romance anthology called Love is on the Wind and I will have another short published, murder mystery this time in Murder is in the Wind. Though I should have done it much sooner, I recently obtained my PRO status with Romance Writers of America, have attended the RWAs National Convention the past two years and plan on attending this year in Orlando. I also attended the Chicago North RWA Spring Fling Conference this year.

JODIE PEARSON (member since 5/15/08)
When I joined the critique group two years ago – I had completed 2 Regency Historical manuscripts and had my RWA PRO status.

After joining – I have finished two more solo Regency Historical manuscripts.
I have finaled in several contests, and how strange it is to not remember what they were anymore. I do remember that I took 1st place in the Gotcha! Contest in 2008. (Apparently, I can remember when I take 1st place and the others have been erased from my memory.)

I have been elected as President of my local RWA chapter – Heart of Carolina Romance Writers. And I have also entered into a joint venture as “LYDIA DARE” with Tammy Falkner. Together we have sold 7 different Paranormal/Regency romance books to Sourcebooks/Casablanca –
Book 1 – A Certain Wolfish Charm, April 2010
Book 2 – Tall, Dark and Wolfish, May 2010
Book 3 – The Wolf Next Door, June 2010
Book 4 – The Taming of the Wolf, November 2010
Book 5 – It Happened One Bite, Spring 2011
Book 6 – In the Heat of the Bite, Spring 2011
Book 7 – Never Been Bit, Spring 2011

I am happy to say that I am exceedingly grateful for all the critiques I have received in the last two years! (Well, most of them anyway.)

CLARISSA SOUTHWICK (member since 6/21/08)
Joining this group was the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career. When I started, I had no publishable manuscripts. I had never submitted to an editor or agent.

Now I have 3 completed manuscripts. I have finaled in more contests than I can count, including the Golden Heart and the Daphne.
From Baghdad with Love, won first place in the Lone Star writing contest, and Best of the Best in the Dixie Kane contest.
Overlander won the 2009 Chase the Dream contest,
Izzie’s Letters won the Sourcebooks Teen Fire Contest.

I have a verbal agreement with a fantastic agent, and I am only waiting on the final contract to make it official.

With Lydia’s “encouragement”, I joined RWA and became secretary of my local chapter where I met the most supportive people in Idaho. I attended my first RWA conference (ECWC), attended several workshops, and participated in several online classes.

But most importantly, I have made friendships here that will last a lifetime.

SAMANTHA GRACE (member since 8/3/08)
Since joining the group, I’ve completed three Regency Historical manuscripts, and I started a fourth last week. My story, The Ruination of a Rake took fourth place in the 2009 Between the Sheets Contest. I went on to judge the contest this year and thoroughly enjoyed giving back to the Greater Detroit group. I’ve also judged several other contests and will be judging The Golden Claddaugh this year. Just this week I learned that Unrequited Love, my third manuscript, took third place in the 2010 Great Beginnings Contest. I participated in the Dorchester Best Celler Contest on TextNovel with Maid for Seduction and had a great run in the top twenty for several weeks. More importantly, I confessed to all my family, friends and colleagues that I'm a romance author and received an outpouring of support. Maid for Seduction also earned an Editor’s Choice Award. I attended my first National RWA Conference last year in DC and plan to attend this year’s conference in Orlando. I also attended the Chicago North RWA Spring Fling this April and have it on my to-do list for 2012. I’ve pitched twice and didn’t pass out either time, so that is quite an accomplishment. I am a PRO member. I’ve had 4 short stories published in True Love magazine since January 2010. I created my own website and I’m one of the founding members of Lady Scribes.

JULIE JOHNSTONE (member since 10/14/08)
Since joining our wonderful critique group I have:
Won first place in the historical category of the 2009 Fools for Love Contest
Won first place in the Casablanca Authors Fifty Word Pitch Contest
Placed second in the historical romantic suspense category of the 2009 Golden Claddagh Contest
Placed second in the historical category of the Enchanted Words Contest
Placed third in the historical category of 2009 Golden Acorn Contest
Placed third in the historical category of the 2010 Fools for Love Contest
Received honorable mention in the historical romantic suspense category of the Daphne du Maurier Contest
Published three short contemporary romances: Crazy Crooner May 2010 Issue of True Romance Magazine, Springing Love May 2010 Issue of True Romance Magazine
By Summer’s End July 2010 Issue of True Love Magazine
Also, before I joined the group I had never gotten a request for anything. I have had so many partial and full requests now that I have lost count! Seriously, I have learned soooooo much with this group, and I may not be published full length yet, but I know I am a heck of a lot closer than I would be if I had never found you ladies.

HEATHER BOYD (member since 11/21/08)
Joined the critique group while in the midst of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Completed edit and then rewrote beginning of first regency, Lover in Waiting, with a huge amount of help from the members. Attended the RWA Conference in Washington - my first solo long distance flight and met Jerrica (1st of course), Amy, Jodie, Tammy, Michelle, Julie, and Kelli. Lover in Waiting placed equal third in the 2009 Gotcha Contest.
Novella, One Wicked Night, was published as an e-book in April 2010 by Noble Romance Publishing.
Completed edit of Broken, my NaNoWriMo novel, in April 2010.
Unfinished projects: Charity (novel), and three erotic regency romance novellas

PHYLLIS CAMPBELL (member since 8/24/09)
Oh, let's see...What have I accomplished lately... Since joining the group, I have finished two full length novels. I've had my dream publisher read my story - and reject it. I received a few more requests from big agents. Signed with an agent. Switched to writing Christian romances. Rewrote two of my previously pubbed stories for the Christain market. Had two publishers request one of the stories - and one finally made an offer.
Whew! That's quite a bit that's happened in the nine months I've been with ya'all.

LEANNE MAILLE (member since 9/1/09)
When I joined this fantastic group of ladies, I was greener than new grass in spring. I have learned so much in from these terrific writers. Since I was so new, and had so much to learn myself, I was not sure how much help I could be to this group of talented authors, but I figured, avid reader that I am, a fresh set of eyes and take on what they had written couldn’t hurt.

Almost a year and a half later, I am proud to say that I have my first erotic short, A Duke’s Desire, ready to submit, and I owe a large part of this milestone to the authors at historical romance critique. If it weren’t for their experience, support, and helpful, encouraging critiques, I may have given up a long time ago. Thanks ladies!

CATHERINE GAYLE (member since 12/9/09)
I joined the critique group in December of this last year. At that point, I had two complete manuscripts and had a third in progress for a series that I was soon to discover was not working. I’d been part of critique groups in the past, but something about this one clicked for me in a way that none of the others ever had. Since I joined, I’ve made some tough decisions about that initial series, and started work on a new project. Better than that, I think I may have finally stumbled upon my true voice! The critiques I’ve received in this group have been invaluable to me, but the most rewarding aspect has been the support. Without the feedback and camaraderie I found here, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to take this new step.

MELISSA DAWN HARTSELL (member since 12/12/09)
Well yes, I completed the Dynasty. But no contests wins, requests or anything. I did get my website up but that was pretty easy. I recently sent a query off to Wild Rose Press. Wish me luck on that lol.

ERIN KELLY (member since 2/24/10)
I recently attended my first conference, the Chicago North RWA Spring Fling, and as a result of my first pitch, I received a full request for a full. I have also received a partial request from a query letter. The group helped me hone my first (and only-lol) manuscript down to just the good stuff, and helped me with some grammar and structure issues. I did not final in the RTTA contest, but I submitted my manuscript before I found the crit group, and therefore have made it much better since then. I am still waiting to hear from the Spring Into Romance contest. I think that's everything. Just this week I submitted my first short story, and am hopeful it will be published.

SHELLY CHALMERS (member since 2/24/10)
Anyway, since I joined, I've completed two manuscripts with polish, and completed a rough of a third. Also have had full requests from two agents who I haven't heard back from yet but were very enthusiastic, and I think it had to do with the help I had polishing and revising that first chapter of the manuscript I submitted to them.

KERRI YOUNG (2/26/10)
I'm pretty new so the only thing I have to my name after joining is the completion of Burning Desire and I'm working on editing it now.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Going Unplugged

I recently spent an entire day (other than about an hour) unplugged--from the internet. This was a drastic step for me. I like to have access to Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com, and to be able to do some quick internet research on something I'm writing if needed. Oh yeah, and I also like to incessantly check my email, jump over to Facebook and waste time there, drop in to Twitter to post something really quick and then end up spending an hour in a conversation with someone, and explore blogs on writing and publishing and the world of agents.

I could literally waste an entire day, just by playing around on the internet. I've done it plenty of times. And then I'll sit and wonder what could have been if only I'd taken that hour I was playing on Facebook, and used it on my WIP instead.

Well, I did it. I allowed myself an hour--one hour, to check my email, read blogs, check Facebook, and all those other things that I tend to do. And then I pulled the plug. I literally unplugged the internet.

You know what happened? I got a ton of studying done (finals are next week at my university), and I wrote over 6,000 words on my WIP. Yes, that's right. More than SIX THOUSAND words. I've never written that much in a day before. Not even days where I've devoted the entire day to writing, plugging away at my keyboard--but then getting distracted by that spot of research, or a lot of emails in my inbox, or . . . you get the drift. The next day, I managed 4,000 words. Not too shabby.

I noticed something else, too, while I was doing this experiment. I spent more time reading that I normally would. And I still spent my usual amount of time watching the television, so that wasn't affected.

So I've decided to do this pretty much every day, from now through the end of finals, at least. I've got a lot I need to get done, and I really want to finish this draft of my WIP. Can I do it in a week? Probably not. We'll see. But I know that I've got a much better chance of doing it if I'm not online.

I'm going unplugged.

Hmm. I wonder what could happen if I cut the TV out, too?

What about you? What are your big time wasters in life (online or otherwise)? How do you combat them?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

No Secrets

In our critique group this week, one of the members told a lovely story about her supportive husband and mentioned in passing that they read each other’s email. Several other members spoke up and said they read their spouse’s email and vice versa. I was a little surprised by the number of couples just in our group who have adopted this practice.

Being the curious sort, I asked how this habit developed and why. The answers I received were that they didn’t have secrets between them, and they had established this behavior at the beginning of their relationship, or else their relationship with email. (Some of them were married long before the invention of email.) Also, it seemed to develop naturally rather than the couple making a conscious decision to read each other’s electronic correspondence.

The good news was that it didn’t stem from any mistrust or broken trust. This is the same reason I don’t read my husband’s email. I trust him. We talk and are involved in each other’s lives on a daily basis, the same as the email-sharing couples.

Maybe there are many people engaging in the practice of reading each other’s emails. I think this is great for couples who choose to be open in this way, but I have to admit it makes me rethink how open I want to be with people who share email with their partners. I know I don’t want to share anything personal with someone I don’t really know, so I will probably censor myself more. I think I’ll also ask some of my friends if their spouses read their emails, because truly, this never dawned on me before. (I have one friend who has her name and her husband’s name on their address so I know he shares the account with her, and it does influence what I send to that account.)

In reality, I know women share things with their significant others, but hopefully with a little editing. Or if they know that friend wouldn’t want something shared, they keep that part to themselves. When they share an email account with a spouse, there isn’t that option to keep things private between you and your friend. If I were on the telephone with a friend, I wouldn’t want her significant other on the other line listening to our conversation.

I can understand not having secrets from each other, but what if the secret belongs to someone else? Should there be disclosure that the email account is not private? (Yes, I realize there are hackers, but hopefully I’ll never go out to dinner with one of them.) Maybe I’m totally weird in my thinking on this topic, but I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.

Do you and your partner read each other’s email? If yes, do your friends know? Would it change what you shared with that friend if you knew someone else also read your email?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Public Library: Writer's Friend or Foe?

I rarely go to bookstores.

That’s a startling confession from someone who writes, someone who supports the publishing industry and spends an awful lot of money on books.

I didn’t even realize I’d stopped going until Lydia Dare’s first book came out at the beginning of April. I wanted to take a picture of her book on the shelf. That’s when I realized I hadn’t been there since Christmas. I’d been buying my books online.

How could I go four months without a trip to the bookstore? It used to be my favorite place. At a loss, I consulted my nine year-old daughter. She’s one of those Uber-readers, the 5% of kids who buy 80% of the books.

“When did we stop going to the bookstore?” I shouted in a panicked voice.

“When they covered up the YA sign with a paper that says ‘Vampires,” she answered. “I’ve read all their historicals. Now we go to the library or the church with cats.”

The church with cats is The Book Exchange in Nampa, Idaho. It’s a half hour drive from my home. The kids love this church-converted-into-a-bookstore because it has endless shelves of used books, every kind imaginable, not just the latest fad. And they have cats. Real cats.

I spent a few weeks feeling guilty about not shopping in the retail bookstores. Was I betraying my writer sisters by living at the library and used book store? I’d heard a published author say that using the library was like stealing money out of her pocket. And I would never do that.

Then I realized the role libraries and used bookstores play in promoting new authors. These places give us an opportunity to try out new authors that we might never read if we had to pay full price for them. If I like what I read, I’ll buy a copy for my mother or a friend with similar interests. I’ll check out the author's backlist. I’ll recommend her books to all my uber-reader friends. And when her next book comes out, I’ll be the first in line to pre-order it, hardcover and all.

Libraries and used bookstores are the source of that elusive word-of-mouth advertising no publisher can buy. Therefore, they help the author.

What do you think? Do you frequent used bookstores and libraries? Do you think they help or hurt the author?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Readers and Writers (is there a difference)

Before I started writing I was a reader. I read all of the time. It was not unusual for me to read a book in a weekend and probably two or three more during the week. Yes, I went without sleep – A Lot. My husband considered taking out stock in my favorite bookstores because I spent so much money there. When birthdays and Christmas came around, the family only needed to decide on a gift card from my favorite bookstore or my favorite gardening place. Either one was good.

But, then I started writing. I loved my first novel. Loved my characters, the story and everything about it. Then, I learned the rules. First, I had to cut over 100,000 words from that first draft. Yes, 100,000 – that is not a typo - the manuscript was 225,000 words. But, the problems didn’t stop there. I had more that one point of view (POV) in a scene, used too many “ly” and “ing” words. Of course, the word “that” appeared far too often to be acceptable in the market. I probably could have cut the manuscript 25,000 words by just removing “that”.

The thing is, I didn’t notice these rules when I was reading. I fell in love with stories, other worlds, and incredible characters. I didn’t notice if there was more than one POV or something may have not been written in past-tense. If I did notice a typo, no big deal. These things happen, right? Did it take away from the story? No. But now, I notice when the "rules" are broken in a published novel. It doesn't happen all that often, but I wonder how the author got away with it. However, the unpublished need to be very careful with the rules if they want a publisher and/or agent to notice them.

Personally, I think rules are good. It does make for a cleaner, less confusing story. But, some rules can be broke (in my opinion). If each and every rule was followed to the letter I feel the story would be dry. Of course, that is just me.

So, is it just writers who are conscious of the rules when reading a novel? I am curious, and this question is for the reader in you, and all readers out there, what pet peeves do you have when you are reading? Is there something that makes you want to put the book down? What is it you want to see in a good story and what drives you nuts?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Crit Friday: The Perfect Pitch

With the RWA Conference venue now confirmed as Orlando, its time for those attending to dig out their pitch speech and give it some attention.

Depending on your personality, pitching to an agent or editor can produce stress to varying degrees. Sadly, my first pitch was delivered with little confidence. The fact that I was probably suffering from jet lag too might have attributed to my overly nervous state. I’m fairly sure my hands were shaking, but the good news is delivering the pitch didn’t kill me! And the agent was super kind.

While none of us can claim to have the crystal ball to guarantee the agent you pitch to will love your story, we are keen to help you deliver the best pitch you can. To help you gather the information you might need to improve your pitch we’ve included a few links to agent blogs that have discussed the subject in depth.




So, what we are looking for this month is what you have now, today. Rather than make you wait a week, we’d like to see where you are starting from and we will give you another opportunity to repost any changed pitch over the next two consecutive Fridays.

Just in case the posting comments to the blog proves difficult, please email your pitch to ladyscribes@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Personal Editing

And no, I’m not going to discuss editing your manuscript today. I’m going to discuss editing yourself. What do I mean? I’m talking about selling yourself to the readers. This includes your online persona, the way you present yourself at conferences, in blogs, emails, crit groups, local chapters and so many more public domains.

It’s so easy to forget that we’re building our readership one reader at a time. Even if you’re unpublished, you should be thinking about how you present yourself. Another thing we often forget is that other writers are readers as well. This is a business. Even if you make friends, treat it as a business. When you bash another genre or another writer, you’ve just lost a potential reader. Think about it.

Your image is everything when you’re trying to sell yourself and remember selling a novel is only a tool, essentially you’re selling yourself because you want those readers to buy the next book. And the next. And the next.

Get it? Good. There are three things to remember when you’re self editing. Number one: Even when you think you’re attending a place that feels comfortable to you, keep your business face on and watch what you say. Relationships can go south quickly and unexpectedly. So even someone whom you believed was a friend can twist your words to make you look bad. And there’s nothing better than juicy gossip to a business full of women. =)

We all know it’s true. And we might as well embrace that side of ourselves and either live with it or learn to use it to our advantage. So even though I’m hanging out with friends I always remember to conduct myself with dignity. That’s not to say I don’t curse and cut up right along with everyone. It just means that if I disagree with someone I remember to watch my words. Words spoken in anger can come back to haunt you.

The second thing you want to remember is keeping business separate from pleasure. So twitter, facebook and all those other social media’s we all so love can be a tool to help your image. Use it wisely, young padawan. The things we say while logged in can have resounding effects sometimes. I’ve chosen facebook as my friends and family type of social media. I’m a little more relaxed about what I post there. I will post pictures of my kids, talk about the new furniture I just bought and so on. I do this because I can control who I befriend. That’s something to think about. If we let just anyone to friend us, you risk not knowing this persons intentions. Twitter however, is another story. I can’t always control who decides to follow me, although I do try. So this is my tool for networking. I’ve only befriended people in the business, I only discuss business, and I follow it religiously to see what I can learn. And you can learn a lot by listening to what people are saying on twitter. Not everyone is careful about their online persona...but you will be right?

Blogs are another place to post business only material. And I work very hard to keep them separate. It’s difficult sometimes because the two bleed into each other quite often. But it’s doable.

And lastly, the thing to learn about self editing is your website. This the first place your readers are going “meet” you. If the only thing that relates to you on your website is the fact that it sports your name, then you need an update. You’re theme should spill from your website, to your business cards, and everything in between. One of my critique partners told me last year, it’s never too early to start building a readership. I thought she was nuts because I wasn’t published yet. But she was right. Starting now, can save you a lot of hassle and time later on so when that call comes, the only thing you have to concentrate on is selling yourself.

So before you sell yourself to the reader, remember to self edit. Does your image need an update? Do you have any other advice you can offer for self-editing newbies like myself, please share it with us. It’s a business after all, one I am more than eager to learn.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Can you write the talk? – Tips on Mastering Dialogue

I’m on a quest to make the dialogue in my stories the best it can be. I hate reading stories where I feel like the dialogue is used to dump information on me or the dialogue does not move the story forward in any way. As we are all always trying to become better writers, I thought it might be fun to do some research and share the tips I came up with on how to write great dialogue. So here goes:

1. Listen to How People Talk.
    Having a sense of natural speech patterns is essential to good dialogue.

2. Not Exactly like Real Speech.
But dialogue should read like real speech. How do you accomplish that? Alfred Hitchcock said that a good story was "life, with the dull parts taken out." Edit out the filler words and unessential dialogue --that is, the dialogue that doesn't contribute to the plot in some way.

3. Don't Provide Too Much Info at Once.
It should not be obvious to the reader that they're being fed important facts. Let the story unfold naturally.  You don't have to tell the reader everything up front, and you can trust him or her to remember details from
earlier in the story.

4. Break Up Dialogue with Action.
Remind your reader that your characters are physical human beings by grounding their dialogue in the physical world. Physical details also help break up the words on the page: long periods of dialogue are easier for the reader's eye when broken up by description.

5. Don't Overdo Dialogue Tags.
Veering too much beyond "he said/she said" only draws attention to the tags -- and you want the reader's attention centered on your brilliant dialogue, not your ability to think of synonyms for "said."

6. Stereotypes, Profanity, and Slang.
Be aware of falling back on stereotypes, and use profanity and slang sparingly. All of these risk distracting or alienating your reader. Anything that takes the reader out of the fictional world you're working so hard to create is not your friend. Read some examples of how to achieve the tone you want without stereotypes, profanity, and slang.

7. Read Widely.
Pay attention to why things work or don't work. Where are you taken out of the story's action? Where did you stop believing in a character? Or, alternatively, when did the character really jump off the page, and how did dialogue help accomplish that?

8. Punctuate Dialogue Correctly.
The rules for punctuating dialogue can be confusing: many writers need help getting them right in the beginning. Take some time to learn the basics. A reader should get lost in your prose -- not feel lost trying to follow your dialogue.  ** Provided by Ginny Wiehardt from About.com: Fiction Writing

9. Good Dialogue is Realistic but Has Meaning.
From Time to time, everyone will come across bad dialogue, and every writer is guilty of it. Bad dialogue may be completely sound grammatically, but readers will cringe anyway. Why is this? One of the most   common mistakes a writer can make with dialogue is by pushing their own agenda into it. The writer, working in the background, is concerned with creating a story. Too often conversations between characters are sacrificed for the furthering of plot. This mistake is so common in fact that it has its own name: Expositional Dialogue. Try to use character conversations to more subtly advance the plot. To do this, do not be afraid to add details and description to fill in gaps for the reader, restricting the dialogue to what would be natural for the character to say. This is actually more enjoyable for readers in the long run.  ** Provided by Rachel Shoemaker from Suite 101.com: How to write dialogue.

10. Vary the Length of Lines.
      Here is why it matters:
  • If Character A says something using half a dozen words...
  • Then Character B replies using a sentence of the same length...
  • Then Character A says something back using another short sentence...
  • ...it can all sound a bit same-ish.
    A better conversation would look like this:
  • Character A says something...
  • Then Character B replies using a longer sentence. Maybe a couple of them. Or even three...
  • Character A just shrugs here...
  • So Character B says something else, something long again that goes on and on and on...
  • Until Character A cuts them short with a quick line of their own.
11. One trick is to come up with a word or two that one character — and only that character — will use a lot. *** This is my personal favorite! *** Provided by Robert J. Sawyer from Speaking of Dialogue.

The best way to tell if it does or not is to always trust your ear!

These are a few simple tips. Hope you find them as helpful as I did. I would love to hear tips from all of you and if you have taken a great dialogue class please share it.

Happy Writing,
Julie Johnstone, Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Member News: New Book Release

With much excitement, and a touch of nervousness, it's time for a bit of shameless self-promotion. I have great pleasure in announcing that my erotic regency romance, One Wicked Night, was released by Noble Romance last month. I can’t say enough good things about the wonderful team at Noble Romance Publishing including the beautiful cover they produced for my novella.


For one wicked night…

Benedict Abernathy, an untitled and wealthy gentleman visiting London, is heartily sick of his celibate existence. Determined to leave his shattered heart behind and move on with his life, he accepts an invitation for a night of debauchery in the arms of London’s infamous courtesan, Lottie Townsend.

…she will indulge his every desire

Lady Charlotte Goodchild has fallen far from privilege and longs for one night of pleasure with the man she loves. But Benedict must be spared the truth of her ruin at all costs. Posing as Lottie Townsend, a notoriously discriminating courtesan and old friend, she disguises her identity and invites Benedict to share the night of passion that fate denied them.


    To read the exerpt please click the link to Noble Romance


Now, for a bit of fun, I have a copy of my e-book (PDF or PRC file formats) to give away, but you have to work for it. Simply describe the preparations you would make to create one wicked night for you and your partner. Please keep your responses G-rated and I'll choose a winner and post their name to the blog tomorrow.

The most romantic, decadent or just plain fun description will win!