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Friday, February 25, 2011

Time to sign some books...

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, and it’s not one I’ve ever heard published authors say. So I might be like the masked magician on the Secrets of Magic Revealed shows. But I’m willing to take that chance.

In November 2011, I released my fourth book THE TAMING OF THE WOLF. There were various book signings set up, and the booksellers who hosted me were more than kind. But on more than one occasion, not only did patrons not approach the table I was at, they also avoided looking me in the eye. Maybe I’m intimidating in person (I truly don’t think this is the case). Or perhaps people are just uncomfortable approaching an author they don’t know. Or maybe they’d rather not have their neighbors seeing them talking to an author whose cover has a naked male torso on the front.

Whatever the reason, I haven’t seen a ton of success with book signings.

Stock signings on the other hand…well, that’s an entirely different matter. I talked to a couple of booksellers who said that if a book in a shelf with an autographed sticker on the front, it has more of a chance of being sold. So my take away was that people do want the signed books, they just might not want to talk to the author to get one.

Since then, I’ve made it a point to tour all of the bookstores in my area whenever a new book comes out and sign every copy they have on hand. And now, I do the same when I travel. Over the holidays, I visited my family out west and spent one whole day visiting all of the book stores within a 30 mile radius. And yesterday, I visited bookstores in the Tampa and St. Petersburg areas and did the same thing.

More importantly than signing books for readers, is talking to booksellers while you’re standing at the information desk signing the stock. If you’re pleasant and gracious, they might remember you when someone asks for a recommendation. Or they might even point out that an author was recently in and signed books. Talking to bookstore staff is one of the most important things an author can do, in my opinion.

Next Tuesday, my latest release IT HAPPENED ONE BITE will hit shelves. And you can bet that I’ll be making a grand tour around all of the Raleigh/Durham area bookstores to sign whatever stock the store has on hand – giving readers a note and signature and getting the chance to talk to booksellers.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Action Scenes Revealed! Part Two

Action Scenes Revealed Part Two

My last blog post revealed the key elements of an action scene and the set up. You can find it here http://ladyscribes.blogspot.com/2011/02/action-scenes-revealed.html

I posted a wonderful short clip of the “big wheel” scene of Pirate’s of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest.

Action scenes are comprised of certain elements that make them work. You can’t just toss in a few swords, some screams, and expect the reader to take anything away from them. Once you’ve intiated your initial set up, then we get to the meat of the scene. Every scene must have a purpose – a reason to exist in your story. If it doesn’t cut it.

Not only does every scene have to have a beginning, a middle and an end, it must have a turning point in the scene. Something must happen to change your character. Your character starts the scene off with one goal and by the end of that scene, his goal should be modified or a new goal must be established.

Let’s take a look at the scene I’ve chosen and do note this clip is short and doesn’t show the entire scene as it was written. But we’ll focus on this little piece at any rate.

We left off where Jack was caught in the wheel. We introduced several important elements and characters to the scene and now we’re going to focus on why this scene is important to the story itself. Take a look at how the camera zooms in close to Jack once again as the key around his neck slips off his head.

This is our turning point. Jack’s ultimate goal is to find the dead man’s chest. When he loses the key and it gets caught on the nail, he suddenly has a new goal. To reclaim the key. This is your turning point. Something has changed.

With his new goal in mind, the character now needs to seek it. Jack needs the key in order to get the chest. Now toss in the absolute worst thing that can happen to keep character away from his goal. And we see it here as this scene was cut in the middle. Instead of getting the key, Jack gets whacked by a metal bar and crashes to the ground as the wheel rolls off down a hill – key still attached. Poor Jack. The stakes are getting stacked against him and that my friends, is a good action scene.

Increasing the stakes and keeping the character from achieving his/ her goal is crucial to every plot.

Pacing is important to any action scene. To speed up action scenes shorten the sentences and get rid of any adjectives and adverbs. Now is not the time for long prose. Word selection is key here. Why fall when you can tumble. Why grasp when you can seize. These are what I term vanilla verbs and you need to spice them up.

Dialogue needs to be kept short and to the point. If there’s nothing reveal through dialogue I wouldn’t even use any.

Pov is important here as well. You must figure out which character has the most to lose in this scene and write it from their pov. What may be exciting to Joe, may be devastating to Alex. We the reader want to watch the devastation play out so keep us in the correct pov.

The key to any scene is in the details. Getting the research correct, and last but not least, feel free to act out your scenes. You may find it so much easier to write once you’re better able to visualize your scene.

And the absolute best way to write an action scene is to practice. Practice makes perfect and the more you write it, the easier it will become. I tend to hype up on caffeine to write my action scenes, tell me what inspires you to write yours or what do you do to prepare yourself before writing an action scene?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cooking for the summer season.

Here in the South, we always get a little hint of summer at the end of February. This year has been no exception. Several days last week we had temperatures in the mid seventies. The sunshine, perfect blue sky, and budding green grass hints at the long, lazy days of summer to come. It also serves to remind me, it’s time to buckle down, exercise and really concentrate on eating healthy, so I can fit into my swimsuit without being embarrassed. I do try to eat healthy all year long, but there’s something about knowing I’m about to enter into swimsuit and short season that makes me really concentrate on sticking to my healthy ways.

As I sat in the park the other day and watched my kids frolic in the grass and run without restraint, hair flying off their faces, grins displaying their happiness, I made a list of some quick, healthy recipes to try. Today, I bring to you one recipe my children and husband especially loved. I loved it, too. It was quick, easy, and inexpensive to make. This recipe is from the May 2008 issue of Cooking Light Magazine.

Classic Italian Panini with Prosciutto and Fresh Mozzarella

Total Time: 21 minutes

1 (12 ounce) loaf French bread, cut in half horizontally
¼ cup reduced fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh asil
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded fresh mozzarella cheese, divided
2 ounces very thin slices prosciutto
2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
Cooking spray

Hollow out top and bottom halves of bread, leaving a ½ inch thick shell: reserve torn bread for another use. Spread 2 tablespoons mayonnaise over cut side of each bread half. Sprinkle basil and ½ cup cheese on bottom half of loaf. Top evenly with prosciutto, tomato slices and remaining ½ cup cheese. Cover with top half of loaf. Cut filled loaf crosswise into four equal pieces.

Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add sandwiches to pan. Place a cast-iron or other heavy skillet on top of sandwiches; press gently to flatten sandwiches. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until bread is toasted (leave cast-iron skillet on sandwiches while they cook).

Yield: 4 servings
Calories: 316 (30% from fat)
Fat 10.6g

Hope you enjoy it. We are all going to look fabulous this summer!

Julie Johnstone
The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Show me the way…

It’s no surprise to anyone who reads the blog that I’m a little obsessed with England and the past. In fact, every manuscript and story idea I’ve written in the last three years has been set around two hundred years ago in the regency period. I’ve even convinced my dh to move the family to Great Britain should we ever be in a position to do so. But until that lucky day, I need to focus on the here and now, including trying to make sense of the future of publishing.

Given the recent failures of Borders both in the US and here in Australia, it seems the chances of securing shelf space for a new novel has become that much more difficult. For a new author with their first book about to hit the shelves, now non-existent shelves, it must be a particularly nerve wracking time, especially if they weren’t totally onboard with the increasing popularity of ebooks.

As I read through my daily dose of blogs and twitter posts I notice that every man and his dog has an opinion on which way the cards will fall. The only thing I can be sure of is that to succeed, to get a new book before readers, the authors must remain in control of their careers.

I’m newish to the publishing world, just over three years as an author, but I listen a lot and one of the first things I learned was that getting an agent and landing a contract with one of the big six publishing houses should be my priority. However if the big six have less places to shelf their sparkly new books then new authors have far less chance of securing space next to the NYT bestsellers.

Given all I’ve read in the last six months I no longer believe print publishing should be my priority. I’m already digitally published, and quite happy with how things have gone. And I’m reading of more and more established authors taking the initiative to digitally independently publish their backlist. I’m proud of them for embracing change. Good stories, well told, deserve to be available to readers and the beauty of digital publishing is the endless shelf space. No more hunting for an authors back list in every secondhand bookshop you find, not that I don’t love secondhand book shops, but its easier now to discover an author’s backlist with a few clicks of a button.

But that does beg the question: With established authors self-publishing their work and new authors considering it too could Indie publishing become the norm? And will readers care?

Ooh, late addition to the blog. I just stumbled upon this video of Margaret Atwood speaking at the O'Reilly TOC Conference. She very funny.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guest Blogger: Judy Duarte

PUBLICATION: 9 Lessons for the Road
By Judy Duarte

I can’t remember when I first dreamed of writing a book, but the desire to create a story and have it published grew until it was impossible to ignore.

But since English was my least favorite subject in school, I didn’t know very much about crafting fiction. And to make matters worse, I had no idea where to start.

Lesson # 1: God doesn’t give a person a dream without also giving them opportunities and the power to make that dream come true.

In 1996, while scanning a class schedule for the UC Irvine Office of Extended Studies, I noticed a weekend course called “How to Write a Romance Novel.” I was in luck! I was going to learn everything I needed to know—in one single weekend!

Lesson # 2: There’s something to learn every day—and being published doesn’t change that.
Had I realized how little I knew about craft and how long my first sale would take, I might not have made that trip to Irvine that day. But when I climbed into my car, I was enthusiastic and hopeful.

At the class, I met other aspiring romance novelists. One woman was writing a paranormal time travel. I didn’t read or particularly like paranormals, but something drew me to her. She was the only one who seemed to share the same burning desire to make our dreams come true. So I volunteered to read her work if she would read mine.

Lesson # 3: When it comes to finding the right critique partner, it’s not a matter of searching for someone who lives nearby and has Thursday evenings free. It’s more important to find someone who shares the same dream and who’s willing to be your “teammate” in every sense of the word.

One of our classmates mentioned Romance Writers of America. And can you believe it? There was a chapter that met at a restaurant only 45 miles from my house!

After attending my first meeting, I was in awe. I went home that day and blocked out every second Saturday of the month on my calendar. There was now a wealth of knowledge and resources available to me, so I watched my pennies and attended every meeting, signed up for every conference I could afford, and learned all that I could.

Lesson # 4: Seize every opportunity to hone your craft and to network with other authors.

Several months later, I finished my first manuscript and went to the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference, hoping to meet an editor who would buy my book. I knew it was just a matter of time before a publisher snatched up my masterpiece.

And the conference paid off! A New York editor asked for a proposal! I hurried home, printed out my pages, and mailed it to her. Once I knew the package had arrived in New York, I waited for the telephone to ring—and I jumped each time it did. Before long, I began to wonder if she’d ever call.

Lesson # 5: The journey will probably take longer than you think, so try to use the time wisely.

Instead of placing “the call,” the editor returned my manuscript and said, “I wasn’t taken with the writing.”

Lesson # 6: Expect to get discouraged at times—it’s part of the trip.

I polished that story and sent it out again. This time, while I waited, I started writing a second book and continued to hone my craft.

Lesson # 7: Just because God placed the dream to be published on your heart doesn’t mean He won’t require a great deal of work on your part.

One of my critique partners sold her first book, then her second. I was thrilled for her. We were a team, remember? And I wanted it as badly for her as I did for me. I was even more determined to follow in her footsteps.

When my second critique partner sold, I was thrilled for her as well. Never once did I feel jealous. But as the two of them continued to sell, seeds of doubt began to grow. Was my work as good as they insisted it was? Would I ever get the call?

Lesson # 8: As Gary Provost said: You need three things for success…talent, good luck, and persistence. If you have persistence, you only need one of the other two.
Four manuscripts, a scrapbook full of rejections, fifteen conferences and a hundred RWA meetings later, the rejection letters became more and more promising, the contest scores closer to the top. Then on May 7, 2001, while on vicodin and pumped full of an antibiotic because of a pending root canal, I got “the call.” Silhouette Special Edition wanted to buy my first book.

More than thirty-five sales later, the desire to write and sell is still strong, the wait on word from my editor about a proposal is still nerve wracking, and the call with an offer is still nearly as exciting as the first.

But can I let you in on a secret? I’m convinced that there are a lot of unpublished authors in the world who have more talent and skill than I do, but for one reason or another they became discouraged and quit writing.

Lesson # 9: Never quit dreaming, never quit trying, never quit honing your craft. Dreams come true—but not if you give up.

Judy Duarte has written over 35 novels, won the Readers Choice Award, and been a finalist for RWA's RITA award. You can find out more about Judy and her latest books here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Meal Would You Miss Most?

My youngest brother just got home for a two-week leave from his tour with the Army National Guard in Iraq. As soon as he got back to Texas, he wanted two things: sleep, and spaghetti with garlic bread.

They're fed fairly well over there. But no matter how good the cooking is, he misses that home cooking that you can't get anywhere but in Mom's kitchen. He said they've had spaghetti a few times since he's been over this time. But the army's version of spaghetti just isn't Mom's.

It got me to thinking about what meal I would likely miss the most if I couldn't have it for an extended period of time. Chili crossed my mind. Fajitas are a definite possibility. A good bacon and egg breakfast would be right up there. But none of those really hit the mark for me.

I think the thing I would miss the most is a dish we simply call Grandmother's Casserole in my family. Don't ask me why we never came up with a better name for it than that. I couldn't tell you. And I still make it the same way Grandmother always made it--except I've added a few of my own variations from time to time, to add a little more flavor. Anyway, here's the recipe.

Brown a pound of ground beef. (I add 1/4 of a chopped onion and a clove or two of minced garlic these days.) Add a can each of Cream of Mushroom and Tomato soup, carrots, and green beans (drain the veggies first). Frozen would work, too, but be sure you thaw them out first, or it will increase the time in the oven. (These days, I substitute a can of seasoned tomato sauce for the tomato soup--roasted garlic, or maybe basil and oregano--something to add more flavor.) Stir all the ingredients together and spread it in the bottom of a deep baking dish. Mix up one package of instant mashed potatoes, and spread it over the top of the meat and veggie mixture. (Again, to add more flavor, I use an instant potato that has something added to it like roasted garlic and parmesan.) Sprinkle grated cheese over the top, and bake in a 350 degree oven until the soup mixture is bubbling up over the mashed potatoes a little and the cheese is browning.

Yum. That's all I have to say about that.

What meal would you miss the most if you had to go without? And will you share the recipe with us?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What I Would Change About The Bachelor

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I watch The Bachelor. Overall, the concept of connecting people who are looking for marriage and commitment is not a bad idea. It’s not easy to meet potential spouses in this age. Back in the 1800s, England had a marriage mart for eligible bachelors and ladies. During the season, the ton would gather in London to attend balls, dinner parties and other social events for the purpose of making a match. It wasn’t a secret that by the end of the season every debutante hoped to bring a gentleman up to scratch—receive an offer of marriage. And on The Bachelor it’s no secret that each contestant is hoping the season will end with a proposal.

However, I don’t like a few things about the show. If I hear the phrase “I’m here for the right reasons” one more time, my eyes might become stuck in a permanent eye roll. It has become a Bachelor cliché. How refreshing it would be if someone said, “You know, I’m here for the free champagne and awesome trips.”

There is only one man. The women are crazy about this one man they barely know, to the point of bawling when he doesn’t pick them. It’s okay. You are all beautiful women. You’ll find someone else, a real relationship. Don't cry, please. Do you have any idea how many other girls he's been kissing?

Chris Harrison appearing in front of the camera during the rose ceremony to state the obvious is completely unnecessary. “Ladies, this is the final rose of the evening.” How much do those ladies drink at the cocktail party? Are they seeing double? Is simple math beyond their abilities? There were two roses left on the silver tray, but the bachelor gave out one. Hmm... There were two, he gave out one... Drat! I was never any good at word problems.

It’s not surprising that out of fourteen seasons of The Bachelor only one couple actually got married. (That’s not including the seasons of The Bachelorette.) Critics cite falling in love on camera as the problem for the failure of the relationships, but I think the problems run a lot deeper than a romance unfolding on camera. Helicopter rides, shopping sprees and private concerts are not part of the real world for most people, so is it any wonder the romance seems a bit mundane after the show?

I think to show a truer picture of a mate’s qualities The Bachelor and Survivor should be combined. Test what these contestants are made of. I mean, I want the guy who will help me build a sturdy hut and who can spear a fish. I need a guy who is going to feed me, or at the very least not eat off my plate. I hate that! If he can build me a bamboo car like on Gilligan's Island, that's even better.

But the producers of The Bachelor and Survivor might not agree to combine the shows, so I’ve come up with some challenges to make the experiences on The Bachelor more like real life. After all, does enjoying cliff diving and a catered lunch on a yacht indicate compatibility? I think not!

Here are my ideas for testing how compatible, or incompatible, the couples really are:

1. When the couple is trying to enjoy a romantic interlude in the hot tub, send a couple of kids to do cannonballs into the water. Then have the munchkins crawl all over the couple and blurt out random nonsense whenever they try to talk to each other.

2. Give the couple a project to complete, such as putting up a curtain rod. Then give them a toolbox without a single useful tool for the job.

3. On the night the couple can share a suite, wake them up every two hours with an ear-piercing baby scream then make them go to work the next day followed by another evening and night of the same thing. Now let’s see them enjoy a romantic dinner.

4. Give the lady 30 minutes to complete the following tasks - drop off a violin at school, drive across town to deliver a briefcase with important papers to the bachelor, answer two calls from work in route all while trying to make it on time for a meeting. When she arrives at the bachelor’s office, have him tell her it’s the wrong briefcase.

5. Make the bachelor and lady do taxes together.

6. Have the bachelor receive a call at work from the lady saying she has run out of gas. The bachelor has to find a gas can, bring gasoline to the lady stranded along the highway and stand outside in subzero temperatures putting gas in the tank only to discover twenty minutes later that what she really needs is a tow truck. (Thank you, Sweetie!)

7. Send the couple to a crowded amusement park—don’t close it for them—give them three kids and make them stay there for six hours in the middle of summer.

I’m sure I could come up with many, many more scenarios, so producers of The Bachelor, if you’re interested, give me a call. :)

What is a situation you would place the couple in to test their compatibility?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Finding the Best Historical Fiction for Children

Today I’d like to turn the tables and ask our readers for help with a chronic problem around our house: finding great historical fiction books for my ten year-old daughter, Sarah.

It seems simple, doesn’t it? YA is a flourishing genre. Historical books make up a significant portion of the children’s market sales. Yet our weekly tour of the local bookstores always ends in frustration. When it comes to historical fiction for children, the major publishers seem to have reached an agreement. We’ll get a new audience every two or three years. Let’s just keep re-issuing the same old books with new covers. They’ll never notice.

Sarah noticed.

That’s why I’m turning to you for help.

Now before you rush to the comment section to recommend the Little House series or The Sign of the Beaver, let me tell you. She’s already read it. If it’s a classic or was assigned reading when you were in school, she’s already read it. If it’s anything to do with fleeing the Nazis or spying for General Washington, she’s already read it and she doesn’t want to read it again. According to her, “All those books are exactly the same.”

For any publisher reading this, Sarah is your dream child, one of those 5% of uber-readers who account for 80% of all children’s book sales. A bout of childhood cancer and endless hours of chemotherapy left her with a book addiction and parents who can refuse her nothing. In addition to making regular bookstore purchases, she has a Kindle and can download whatever she likes.

As a result, the local librarians know her by name, and they ask her for book recommendations. So do all her friends and classmates. In other words, she’s a walking, talking advertisement for the publishing industry. And all she asks in return is for something new in the realm of historical fiction. What does Sarah mean by new? Great characters, a fresh setting, and a plot that’s not too predictable.

So authors, publishers, and friends, here’s your big chance to sell some books and help me out at the same time. Please post your recommendations in the comment section. If Sarah loves it, she’ll not only read everything else that author ever wrote, she’ll encourage all her uber-reader friends to do the same.

Some last minute guidelines: She’s already read the Dear America, My name is America, and The Royal Diaries series. Don’t worry about reading difficulty, she reads on a college level. And--this is probably the only time we’ll ever say this at the Lady Scribes—no romance allowed. She’s really hates that mushy stuff.

Thank you for your help. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. J

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love is Timeless

It is Valentine’s Day and our thoughts and hearts are focused on love. I’ll admit it right now – I am addicted to love stories and have been since I can remember. I’ve always favored the older, sweeter stories to the more modern ones. There is something about the innocence and the fade to black moments that make me sigh and just feel good. Not that I have any objection to more modern love stories, far from it. I am drawn to them because of their gift of weaving a love story. Whether there are fade to black moments or not, it doesn’t matter. These novels make me care about the hero and the heroine and make me want to see them with a happily ever after and sigh when I turned the last page.

Below are a few favorite love quotes that have withstood the test of time and have gone on to appear on screen, stages, still published, or are read at weddings.

Act 2, scene 2
William Shakespear

Sweet, so would I,
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.
Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow. [Exit above]

by: George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788-1824)

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

1 Corinthians 13

…Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

By Margaret Mitchell

Rhett Butler: [holds her tighter] Scarlett! Look at me! I’ve loved you more than I’ve ever loved any woman and I’ve waited for you longer than I’ve ever waited for any woman. [kisses her forhead]
Scarlett: [turns her face away] Let me alone!
Rhett Butler: [forces her to look him in the eyes] Here’s a soldier of the South who loves you, Scarlett. Wants to feel your arms around him, wants to carry the memory of your kisses into battle with him. Never mind about loving me, you’re a woman sending a soldier to his death with a beautiful memory. Scarlett! Kiss me! Kiss me… once…
[he kisses her]

And even though Rhett exited with these famous last words:
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” I think we all secretly know, or at least hope, that he did.

So, what will I be doing today? If you could pick only one romance / love story what would it be? What is your favorite love quote?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Guest Blog: Val Roberts

Our guest today is Val Roberts. Her science fiction debut, Blade's Edge, spent many weeks at the top of Samhain's best-seller list. Welcome, Val!

My friend Clarissa asked me to stop by today and say a few words about the up-and-coming genre Steampunk, which is basically historical science fiction. Sometimes Steampunk has paranormal elements, but very gadget-centric. Examples include the movies Wild, Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Sherlock, Van Helsing and even The Golden Compass.

The word “steampunk” was coined in the middle 1980s to describe a branch of alternate-history speculative fiction, just about the same time William Gibson popularized “cyberpunk” with the novel Neuromancer. Steampunk isn’t necessarily dystopian the way cyberpunk is, however; it’s more interested in airships, brass goggles, and giant gears.

In Steampunk worlds, beloved Victoria Regina is safe in London and nothing to do with the problem at hand, which might be a giant squid menacing the Strait of Gibraltar, or how Jack The Ripper escaped from a locked room at Scotland Yard, never to kill again. Government isn’t corrupt, and often tasks the lead character with the investigation into the initial situation.

And then there are the gadgets—giant mechanical spider transport, anyone? Or a submarine powered by giant brass coal-fed boilers, then, if spiders aren’t to your taste? I always wondered where they got the oxygen to burn the coal underwater.

Whatever a writer’s imagination can come up with given the constraints of Victorian-era science and technology is a viable steampunk gadget. They don’t even have to be practical; these were the people who put skirts on piano legs, after all.

Steampunk has spread beyond its literary beginnings, too. You can find steampunk jewelry, steampunk fashion, steampunk online role-playing games, steampunk blogs and conventions.

A few misguided souls have suggested that works by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle can be counted as Steampunk titles, which is roughly equivalent to confusing a 1914 Detroit Electric Car sedan with a 2010 Toyota Prius. Those venerable authors were writing ordinary speculative fiction during the age of steam (actually, they were inventing the genre, but that’s a topic for another time).

If you’re interested in reading a few books to see if you like the genre, I can recommend The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook, Steamed! by Katie McCallister, while Samhain Publishing (my publisher) has a whole series of Steampunk novellas.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One Size Fits All?

The longer I've been writing, the more I get annoyed by writers who tend to spout off "rules" as though they are the absolute end-all, be-all for a writer to be effective.

Write Every Day!

Well, if writing every day works for you, then sure. Go for it. Write every day. But some of us aren't effective if we write every day. Some of us have three days a week set aside for writing. Some of us write every day for spurts of time, and then need a week or a month off in order to recharge, and then do it all over again. (I'm in another recharge phase right now.) Use whatever method works for you.

Use Short Sentences!

Some people have a voice and a writing style that is conducive to short sentences. Others do not. Hemingway was a master at writing with short sentences. Faulkner was a master at writing effusive sentences. Both were successful. Don't worry about the length of your sentences, as long as they suit your voice and aren't actually unintentional run-ons or fragments. If the sentence is technically a complete sentence, and if your meaning is clear, then there isn't a problem. I, for one, love nothing better than a beautifully written, well crafted long sentence. Write what works for you.

Avoid Adverbs and Adjectives!

Maybe this one should be "limit" adverbs and adjectives. Excessive use of those pesky parts of speech can be a sign of weak writing. But completely (heh! I used an adverb!) eliminating them from your writing can make for some boring prose. They are in the English language for a reason after all. Learn what works for you, and stick with it.

Avoid "To Be" Verbs and -ing Verbs!

Again, overuse of "to be" verbs can be a sign of weak writing, particularly when they are utilized in a way that makes your sentence passive. But sometimes, a writer can work so hard to avoid using that pesky "was" that they create a clumsy, clunky sentence that isn't as effective at getting their point across. By the same token, those -ing verbs have gotten such a bad rap that a lot of writers will go through, pouncing on them all and eliminating them from their writing, when actually they should have left them alone. By changing them, you just might be changing the tense of your verb, and saying something that you don't mean to say. So learn the rules--learn what makes a sentence passive, and learn about verb tenses--and then it will be easy to figure out when you really should cut out the "to be" verb or eliminate an -ing verb tense.

It is so easy to get caught up in all the rules, to become so focused on doing everything the "right" way (whatever that is), that we lose our voice or lose our story in the process. There is no "One Size Fits All" rule for writing. That's not to say that we shouldn't learn why these supposed rules have been put into place. But don't get lost in trying to follow them.

What other "rules" are you ready to toss out the window?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To sleep, perchance to dream.

Undoubtedly, Shakespeare did have a four year old in mind when he wrote this famous line. I do.  My four year old had a bad nightmare almost two months ago, and since then he has slept through the night only twice. I am desperate to visit the land of nod and stay there for an entire uninterrupted night of blissful sleep.

I’ve always known sleep is important and a lack of it can seriously affect your life, but I have never felt it as acutely as I have the last couple of weeks. I can’t say why the repercussions of the lack of sleep seem more pronounced now compared to when my youngest was a newborn. Maybe my lack of sleep seems worse because I knew then that not sleeping through the night was normal for an infant, or maybe it’s because I could grab a twenty or thirty minute nap when he did way back then.

Either way, I’ve been living in a fog, which is beginning really to take a toll on my life. Last week I couldn’t figure out why my exercise pants wouldn’t stay up until I realized I had put them on backwards. I also sent a requested manuscript to an agent and spelled the title of my own book wrong. Nothing could be worse! I left a rambling message on the pediatrician’s phone because I could not remember why I called the pediatrician, and I found myself unable to write for several nights because I could not think clearly enough to concentrate on my plot.

On the worst night, my son got up somewhere in the ballpark of thirty times, on the best night, he got up once. After speaking with the pediatrician, my husband and I tried three nights of Benadryl to help put our little angel back on schedule. Our little angel laughed at our paltry effort and continued to get out of his bed in the middle of the night.

Our next attempt was an all-natural supplement called Melatonin. This also failed to put our son back on a sound sleeping track. Desperate times, yadda, yadda, yadda. You know the line. In the spirit of reclaiming the night we purchased a book last week called SOLVE YOUR CHILD’S SLEEP PROBLEMS by the well known director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders, Dr. Richard Ferber, M.D.

I’m sure a light bulb just illuminated in some of your heads. Dr. Ferber is famous for Ferberizing babies. This is not the same book, although, the man seems like a genius in this book as well. We are almost done reading it and are going to begin a multi-step approach tonight that involves addressing his mild fears, because of the nightmare, and re-setting boundaries at bedtime because he refuses to stay in bed after he wakes up in the middle of the night.

I wrote this blog for two reasons. I’d love to hear all advice everyone out there has on the matter. The other reason is my account of our sleep trials may be able to help someone else. Tonight we are trying a graduated door closing system. If your child goes to sleep easily, but then he wakes and refuses to stay in bed you may want to try this too. Basically, on day one, the first closing of the door is for ¼ minute. Second closing ½ minute. Third closing 1 minute. Fourth closing 2 minutes. Fifth and subsequent closings 3 minutes. In between each closing you can offer encouragement to stay in bed, but no lovey dovey tuck ins. If this problem rings a bell with you, check out Dr. Ferber’s book to read the whole text. Good luck to you and me. And if you have any advice, I’m all ears!

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Week 8: Wishful Thinking Tour of Britain

This week’s tour is still in the south and on the Isle of Wight. I’ve read about Wight before in romance novels but had never paid too much attention. Now, however, I think this place needs serious investigation.

Location: 4 to 6 miles across The Solent from the mainland

Getting there: Car and Passenger Ferries from Portsmouth and Lymington; Hovercraft for foot passengers from Southsea.

Getting around: The island is approximately 93,000 acres, 60 miles in circumference, has cliffs, woods and meadows so you’ll need some transportation unless you like to walk lots (500miles of well marked walking paths – including 67 coastal). The island has Cycle Hire, Car Hire and buses and even its own Steam Railway (http://www.isteamrailway.co.uk/)

Locations and Nearest Attractions


* Osborne House - Royal seaside palace overlooking The Solent where Queen Victoria lived with Prince Albert and their nine children. Osborne House offers a glimpse into the private life of the royal family and is filled with original furnishings and priceless artworks.


* Carisbrooke Castle - Crowning a hilltop south of Newport, this castle was the dominant defensive position on the Isle of Wight for more than 600 years.

* Newport Roman Villa - 3rd century Romano British farmhouse. Well preserved remains including bath house and garden.


* Yarmouth Castle - the last stone artillery fortress and most sophisticated addition to Henry VIII's coastal defences was completed after his death in 1547, with the first new-style 'arrowhead' artillery bastion built in England. Displays inside the castle include recreations of how the rooms were used in the 16th century, and an exhibition about the many wrecks which occurred in the treacherous stretch of sea which the castle overlooks.


* St Catherine's Lighthouse - situated at Niton Undercliffe, 5 miles from Ventnor. A lighthouse existed on the site from 1323, but the present tower was constructed in 1838 following the loss of the sailing ship CLARENDON on nearby rocks.

* Appuldurcrombe House - 18th century house set on 11 acres of ornamental grounds designed by 'Capability Brown'


* Bembridge Windmill - This tiny gem, the only surviving windmill on the Isle of Wight, is one of its most iconic images. Built around 1700, it last operated in 1913 but still has most of its original machinery intact. Climb to the top to follow the milling process back down.

* The Needles Old Battery - Perched high above the Needles, amid acres of unspoilt countryside, is the Needles Old Battery, a Victorian fort built in 1862 and used throughout both world wars. The Parade Ground has two original guns and the Fort's fascinating military history is brought to life with a series of vivid cartoons by acclaimed comic book artist Geoff Campion. An underground tunnel leads to a searchlight emplacement with dramatic views over the Needles rocks. The New Battery, further up the headland, has an exhibition on the secret British rocket tests carried out there during the Cold War.

The Needles and Old Battery -
Photo: Humphrey Bolton CCL


* Brading Roman Villa - One of the finest Romano-British archaeological sites in the UK. The Exhibition and Visitor Centre contains insights into Roman life in Britain, from preserved mosaic floors to Roman archaeology, including coins, pottery and tools.

Need Somewhere to Stay Overnight?

Wight Mouse Inn, Chale – 17th Century Coaching Inn
George Hotel, Yarmouth – 17th Century Building
Arreton Manor, Newport - circa 885. Now a luxury Five Star bed and breakfast accommodation.

Arreton Manor

I haven’t found everything there is to see on the Isle of Wight yet. The place might only be a quarter of the size of Sydney Harbour, slightly shorter than Manhattan Island, NY (and significantly lower in population), but I’m sure I could spend a few weeks getting lost here. Maybe we’ll bump into each other.

Heather Boyd
~ Lady Wicked

Interested in previous posts on the tour?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Time Management Has Gone to the Birds

As I sit here attempting to write this blog this morning, I'm finding it quite difficult to write the darn blog at all, never mind the fact that it's taken me a half hour just to come up with a topic. I finally decided to write about what I'm dealing with right now: time management, or in my case, lack thereof.

When I tell you, dear readers, that I have a 13-month-old daughter, you probably won't be at all surprised that I'm having trouble managing my time. As I write this, the little monster - ahem, princess - is standing next to me, desperately making an attempt to shut down my computer. Every time I turn her around to face the two dozen toys that are littering her floor, she turns right back around and goes to town on my power button. Where did my sweet little infant go? That's what I want to know! Huh...she must have taken my sanity and run.

She may look sweet and innocent...

I find that every day is a new attempt to carve out time for all the things I need to get done. Writing (hah! What's that???), critiquing, grocery shopping, cleaning the house (yeah, right)...oh, and of course, teaching, training, feeding, playing with, yelling at (did I just say that?) my one-year-old monster - darn it, I meant to say princess again!

But give her some yogurt...

Now, I'm trying to be as creative as I can be, and I try to use my 10 hours of nanny time that I get every week wisely. But it's not always easy, and I don't think I'm really that good at managing my time at all...which would explain why we still have our Christmas decorations up. [Pause to stop child from pulling a lamp onto her head]

Or try to get her to stand...and all hell breaks loose!

So I'm begging you, mommy readers, bring on all your most creative ideas for keeping your sanity in the face of budding toddlerhood. And even if you're not a mommy but you're just over-extended, share with us your most valuable time management tools!

Happy Monday, everyone!
Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Friday, February 4, 2011

Guest Blogger: Ava Stone

To me, the most fascinating part of writing or reading, for that matter, is a character’s point of view. I love getting in the head of a character and finding out what makes them tick. And realizing how the same scene and the same circumstance can seem vastly different to each of the characters in any particular scene. As people, we bring all the baggage of our upbringing and life’s experiences into any given situation. Characters are just the same, to my way of thinking. Just because a character is secondary or not the POV character during any particular scene doesn’t mean that those characters don’t have a POV that isn’t shown. But as authors we should know what it is to make our stories richer and more well rounded.

This summer I took my son to see Megamind. And adored the movie for showing us the villain’s point of view. He’d been belittled and mocked while growing up and eventually decided that if he couldn’t be good, he’d be bad. But he’s not bad and he never really was. It all depends on the lens in which the story is told. Remember that old quote from Jessica Rabbitt? “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”

So this idea I had, about who is telling the story and how others have their own un-shown POV was the catalyst for a pair of books I recently published. In both A Scandalous Wife and A Scandalous Charade, some of the same events transpire, but the reader’s takeaway is vastly different depending on the character whose eyes the story is seen through.

An unfortunate event occurred five years before the open of both books, involving the heroine from A Scandalous Wife and the hero from A Scandalous Charade. The two books happen concurrently, and though the main plots of each have nothing to do with the other, at one point the two stories collide and readers have the chance to see a couple of scenes told through a different character’s point of view. As an author, this was amazingly satisfying to write as I got to explore both sides of the same story.

Is there a story you’d love to read or see through a different character’s eyes?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Action Scenes Revealed!

I recently read a book from a well known author and normally, I truly enjoy reading her work. Although, this time, this particular author took the easy way out when her hero remembered watching the heroine as she took control of a ship but didn’t show the scene. I sat there for a moment and thought, wow, did I just get cheated out of a fight scene? I did. Was it relevant to the story? It could have been. Was it necessary? Again it could have been but more importantly, it sure as heck would have been entertaining.

And that’s what we do as writers. We entertain. We take the reader into another world, another time, another place away from their real life problems and daily stresses. It’s what we do. So don’t be afraid to “write big.”

I’ve run into many writers who’re intimidated by action scenes in the romance genre which is perfectly understandable. There’s a lot going on in an action scene and if you don’t know what to focus on, you’re scene can end up in a jumbled mess. So, this is the first post in a series to help break down the action scene into steps. That way, the information isn’t overwhelming and it will allow you to center on what’s important.

There are three elements to writing an action scene; the set up, the turning point, and the conclusion. Just as in plotting, you can break the scene down into three steps to make writing it much easier. I’m going to focus on the set up in this post and the rest will follow in subsequent posts.

I’ve taken a movie clip from one of my favorite movies and one of the most action packed stories I’ve ever seen before, Pirate’s of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest. We will break this scene down into tiny parts so you visually get an idea of what I’m talking about. So first watch the clip here
LOL, love that scene! It’s the most hilarious and fun action scene I’ve ever seen or read before. Aside from the great characters, there are certain elements needed to make a scene like work and believable.

You’re set up for the scene is like a mini opening. If you include too much detail you’ll slow the pace, if you include any backstory you’ll slow the pace and action scenes were meant to be fast paced.

So any information that you need to drop in that includes backstory or even an initial visual of the surroundings need to be done in the previous chapter.

In the scene we get a close up of Jack with Norrington and Turner sword fighting in the background. This is your set up. Jack falls into the freshly dug grave and then the camera pans to the fight between the other two men. Excellent set up. But the two men are not the focus of the scene yet. The camera is still somewhat far off for a frame or two. Why is this? It’s your set up. You will need to introduce your characters and surroundings quickly but efficiently. Notice the background is all somewhat neutral and green. That’s not our focus at the moment. You see a quick glance of Norrington and Turner and then a vivid close of up the wheel shaft breaking off.

In writing terms this means introduce one or two elements of your surroundings. They must be key elements of the scene. The wheel for instance plays a huge part in the coming scene. It’s relevant. So zoom your own camera in close on a single piece and describe it. Then pan your camera back to include why this key piece is important. Watch the scene again and you’ll see the camera man has done just that. We zoom into to our key element than back out so show why it’s important. Well done introduction of surroundings.

If you keep the environment clutter to a minimum and introduce only the strongest elements, you’ll have a well read set up.

As the camera bounces back to Jack in the pit, we see the wheel coming around and crashing right over his head. Again the camera is zoomed in because he is a key piece to the puzzle. He has the key around his neck and plays a huge role in the scene. What’s makes this almost seemingly unrealistic scene work is the detail. We can see and hear how old that wood is and imagine how easy it would be to break through. Do that in your work. Show the details of your key elements explaining why they need to be there and what makes them important to the scene. And describe nothing else! We as writers tend to over write things with flowery prose. An action scene is not the time nor the place to do that.

So there are the basic elements to writing your action scene set up. Next time we’ll go over the turning point in the scene. Until then, tell me what’s your favorite action scene in a movie or a book and why?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day: Any Excuse for a Party

Today is Groundhog Day in Canada and the US. If you’re not familiar with this holiday, it’s fairly nonsensical, in my opinion. According to folklore, the groundhog comes out of his burrow every February 2nd—his mastery of the Gregorian calendar is amazing—and looks around to see if he spots his shadow. If he sees his shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter, which never made any sense to me. Okay. None of it makes sense, but I really don’t get why seeing his shadow would make him go back into his burrow. Wouldn’t a sunny day encourage him to stay out of his hole?

But in the United States, the groundhog’s forecast is considered anywhere from 75-90% accurate, whereas the Canadian groundhog is only 37% accurate in his forecasts. That can only mean one thing: US groundhogs make better grades in their meterology classes.

Groundhog Day is not widely celebrated in my area of the country. In Wisconsin, we don’t need a fuzzy rodent to tell us we still have weeks of winter left. And quite frankly, I don’t think it would be safe for the groundhog to make such a prediction. You know, killing the messenger and all that. It's February! We’re tired of snow and cold, which is the reason those of you living in warmer climates might see some of our ghostly-white bodies on cruise ships and beaches about now.

However, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania makes a big deal out of Groundhog Day and holds a festival with approximately 40,000 participants attending the events. This year there is an early morning witnessing of the groundhog emerging from his burrow followed by other events such as a magic show, carriage rides around town, jugglers, music and even a ventriloquist. (I wonder if he’ll have a groundhog puppet.) A festival for a buck-toothed fur ball may sound odd, but the US is not alone in holding strange festivals.

In the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia, men dressed as devils jump over babies as they run from the church as part of Corpus Christi, a Christian feast day. That's right. They leap over babies! It’s part of a blessing ritual and symbolizes cleansing of the babies. This ritual has been held in this town since 1620. But despite the baby-jumping piece, it sounds like a fun festival, unless the part where men dress up like devils really terrorize and whip the people of the village. If that's the case, this festival sounds like a downer.

In the Japanese festival of Konaki Sumo, the babies have a baby smackdown with the help of Sumo wrestlers holding them aloft until one or both of them cry. The babies, not the Sumo wrestlers. The first baby to cry is the winner. The festival is based on an old proverb. “Crying babies grow fast.” Hmm… Perhaps it has something to do with the mothers feeding the babies more often to keep them quiet.

Residents of Geraardsbergen, Belgium celebrate a festival called Krakelingen where they throw bread and swallow live fish swimming in red wine. Thankfully, the fish are too drunk to care.

Then in Thailand, there is a festival to honor the monkey god Hanuman. Large amounts of fruits and vegetables are laid out buffet-style then the monkeys are invited to have at it. Anyone who has teenage sons with friends probably has experienced something similar, but this is still a sight I would love to see. Interestingly, the city of Lopburi has decided to embrace the Macaque monkeys who tend to be daring little gluttons rather than try to run them off for being pests. The monkeys live in the city and think nothing of stealing snacks from the locals or tourists. They’ll even rummage through your pockets or hold your hand. If you attend the Lopburi Monkey Festival, you may be issued a stick to discourage overly friendly primates.

There are many interesting festivals held around the world, but there’s not enough space here to do them all justice. Locally, our biggest festival is Oktoberfest. People come from all over to witness the Tapping of the Golden Keg. It’s a week long celebration of parades, food, music and camaraderie. And I guess that’s the bottom line. No matter the reason for a festival, whether it is centered around a rodent who sees his shadow or making babies cry, it’s all about observing traditions and maintaining a sense of community.

I'd love to hear about some of the local festivals in your area of the world, so please share. What types of festivals do you celebrate? It doesn't have to be strange. We also celebrate Cornfest, Applefest and Sunfish Days.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Five Tips for Judging the Golden Heart® (Or any other writing contest)

No scoresheet. No comments. No precise interpretation of the scores. A first timer might feel a little intimidated by the freedom of judging RWA®’s Golden Heart® contest.
As a writer who has judged the GH and dozens of RWA®chapter contests, I thought I would share a few judging tips I’ve picked up along the way. These tips should apply to all writing contests, not just the GH. But please keep in mind that these are guidelines I’ve created for myself and not hard fast “rules” put forth by any writing organization.
Go Ahead. Give the Perfect Score. Sometimes as judges, we feel like we are expected to find fault or mark off for violations of imaginary ‘rules of writing’. But it’s a horrible feeling to see your favorite entry eliminated and know that it might have won if only you hadn’t nitpicked. Focus on story. If you loved it, if it hooked you, give it a perfect score.
The 1’s are for the Cat. I have never given a one, but if I did, it would mean that the cat ran across the author’s keyboard and typed utter gibberish. Ones serve no purpose other than crushing the newbie author. In any contest, a three carries the message that improvement is needed without being unnecessarily hateful.
Love Your Category or Bump Up the Ones You Hate. In a perfect world, everyone would only judge their favorite category. But if you end up judging a category you never read, take the time to ask around and find out what’s expected in that subgenre. And if you know you hate a certain story element—such as the secret baby or the reunion plot-- bump up your score just a little bit to make up for your subconscious negativity.
Don’t Send it Yet. I never send my scores on the same day I judge them. I have found that certain unrelated factors—fatigue, interruptions, the number of entries I’ve judged that day—can affect my judgment. So I wait a few days, and then I look them over again to see if I’ve been consistent. Did I always count off the same number of points for the same type of problems? Was I too harsh on the ones I didn’t like? The stories that have stayed on my mind for days might get bumped a little higher just for having that “keeper” quality.
When in doubt, Pump it Up. You may have noticed that these tips are all about pumping up scores, rather than counting off. And that’s because writing contests serve two purposes 1) recognizing excellence and 2) encouraging new writers. As long as you’re not sending a lousy entry to the finals, it’s okay to score on the high side. Don’t be the evil judge. There are plenty of other judges out there willing to play that part.
So there you have my tips on judging writing contests. Did I leave anything out? I would love to hear how you judge your GH contest entries.