Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Whatcha Reading Tuesday!!


Once again it's time to celebrate the love of words and reading in this week's Whatcha Reading Tuesday!! Come on and share anything at all that you are reading. Also this week tell us who is your favorite author. Just a little getting to know our followers...or being nosy. The former sounds so much better :)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Imagining A New World With Help From A Blue Hen


The world of reality has bounds, the world of imagination is boundless -Rousseau
The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact -Shakespeare
Recently I was waltzing down the aisles at my local bookstore (yes I said waltzing) and I actually took a moment to truly look at what was available to read. I was stunned to realize how bland the selections before me actually were. Seriously. How uninspired the books felt.
Tell me if this sounds familiar. You make your way into your favorite bookstore. You’re greeted at the door with the aroma of overpriced yet delicious coffee and baked goods; the sight of aisles upon aisles of books waiting to be chosen like pound puppies sends your heart a flutter, and the store owner’s offers of a foot massage. Okay, aside from the last part, you are in a slice of heaven right now. You come across your favorite section; check what actually lines the shelves. Am I wrong? About ninety percent is the same book told in a different voice. Even in a category like Sci-fi/ fantasy you’re hard pressed to find many new ideas. Dragons, orcs, trolls, wyverns, oh this one has the fabled golden dragon, wait, I just read that one.
Where did all the imagination go? Where is that spark of originality? Where is that next ‘I never read anything like this’ or the next ‘This is a whole new take on the genre’? Hmmm. I for one blame the invention of cold cuts, something about the salt levels. However are there ways to combat the insidious lunch meats that manage to box us in to a mindset of ‘well it works for everyone else.’ Perhaps.
Hear me out and don’t send hate mail too soon. Maybe as you leave the bookstore with bundles of books in arm, perhaps you can swing by your local comic shop. HEY!! I said hear me out! I can hear the cries of ‘who allowed this fool on the blog’ and ‘he can’t be serious’ and ‘this is his first and last blog. Hurrumph!’ Give me a moment to make my case.
You’re first thought of comics is of superheroes dressed in tights, and wielding impossible powers. For the most part you are right, but only if you stop at the first rack for sure. Look beyond this to the independently owned comics, and there you will find a fresh crop of new and fresh ideas. You might even see some familiar names adding themselves to mix.
I still see arched eyebrows and fingers hovering over the send button to deliver a series of scathing emails on how horribly misguided and delusional I am. To put your mind at rest here are some established authors who contribute to comics: Jodi Picoult (Wonder Woman), Reginald Hudlin (Black Panther), Laurell K. Hamilton (her Anita Blake series), Neil Gaiman (Sandman/ Batman), Brad Meltzer (Superman/ Justice League), Joe Hill (Locke and Key), and many more. {For the hardcore nerds I didn’t add Stephen King because technically his assistant writes his Dark Tower and The Stand comics.} Okay, can you ease up a bit? Good. Now where was I?
I love independent comics because they have to be different. They can’t make an average superhero comic because it’s already been done to death. Sure there are fabulous writers manning these titles, yet it’s still a tried and true formula being used. For the independent comic creator however, they have to take ideas far beyond what the ordinary is to stand out and be profitable in what is considered to be a dying sub-culture.
Here are a couple of examples of the originality and imagination roaming out there. Joe Hill’s Locke and Key series is phenomenal. Three orphans wind up in a house full of door with different keys to open them. Each door leads to another world and adventure. One such door even allows one of the kids to enter her own mind to get rid of her fears which has the side effect of her now having no fear at all. But one door opens up a world of darkness which can destroy the world. Now you may say that some of that sounds like when Alice fell down the rabbit hole and saw all the doors surrounding her. What would happen if she went through another door instead of the one to Wonderland? True, but has anyone done it?
A personal favorite of mine and soon to be a show on the cable network Showtime is Chew by John Layman. On the surface it may seem like a run of the mill detective story, but when you add in the main character, Tony Chu’s, condition the premise elevates. His condition you ask; he is cibopathic. That means he can see and experience the final moments of anything he eats. As a detective he may be called upon to nibble on a corpse to figure out how the death occurred. Eww, right? But again who else has that kind of story?
I’m not saying that all imagination comes from trolling the funny books but what I am saying is that imagination comes from having no fear. The independent comic creator has no fear of new ideas. They step out of the box with both feet and don’t look back. That’s an attitude and mindset that requires a massive bag of testicular fortitude. You can fall in line with the other lemmings or you can be the lemming that calls itself an octopus and behave as such. Stretch those limbs into the unknown, wrap those slippery tentacles around whatever comes your way and build, build, build. Whether it is new worlds, new creatures, or new situations, the path to newness starts with one bold step.
We can sometimes allow the publishing industry to contain us and basically tell us how and what to write. Come on, be honest. There’s a story, a poem, a generally twisted tale burning in you that you’ve pushed to the side because you were concerned with what people would say. Or maybe you didn’t pursue it because the industry is more into hot teen vampires with emotional issues. Now you look in the bookstore and see that you wacky crazy idea has been done or that vampires are on the way out and angels and demons are in. Ugh! You tear the book off the shelf screaming “They stole my idea! Inception is real!!” Well, maybe that’s just me. All this could be avoided however if you took the plunge into the rabbit hole, dear Alice.
Whatever ideas you have chase them, pursue them, tackle them down and make them beg for mercy on the page. Dare to be original. Dare to be brilliant. Dare to be the trendsetter, just like you’re your fellow writers in the comic/ graphic novel field. Phew! Okay, are you still sending the hate mail? It’s okay. I’ll imagine them as something else :P

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Shorts: Victory is Not for the Weak

By: Michelle4Laughs


With head high, Claire approached the cave. The stench of the dragon wafted out to her and her eyes turned for one last look at her village tucked in the valley far below. Like a deserted ruin, it stood burnt and devastated. The dragon had taken her family. The young men of the village had perished one by one, their spears broken against its impenetrable scales, their bodies feeding its belly. The rest of the villagers hid in fright, knowing it would return for them.
She squared her shoulders and chewed her last handful of frothos berries. The berries would give her an edge the others lacked. Her belly full, she entered the cave, taking small steps until her eyes compensated for the darkness. The smell forced her to press a hand against her nose.

Even knowing the outcome, her hands shook and sweat ran down her sides in a clammy rain. Two steps turned to ten and then twenty. Her white dress clung to her legs as she trailed down the tunnel, counting. Once she’d hoped the dress could be a bridal gown. She mustn’t let down her family. Her own audacity made her tremble.

The cave opened out before her and she heard the raspy breathing. A scratching sound and the giant head reared high, contemplating her presence with huge green-slotted eyes. Scales scraped against rock as the beast levered itself to its feet, accepting its own ponderous weight. Great bat wings lay tucked against its humped back. It made no move toward her.

“Do you see your doom in me?” Claire whispered in wonder. She held out her empty hands, willing the shaking to stop. Carefully, she took two steps closer. “Go on,” she cried. “Do what you do!”

She approached until she stood directly under the beast, making no hostile move. Overhead, she could see the dragon’s fangs, its row upon row of razor teeth. The same teeth had feasted upon her father and mother, making a sport of hunting them as they ran in terror. Should not revenge feel sweet? Facing the great beast, she discovered no savor of triumph.

The frothos berries caused her stomach to cramp. Soon now. Even the smallest child knew to avoid them. With their red color and pleasant scent, they attracted the hungry, but a handful could poison a full grown cow. The amount in her stomach could do much more damage.

It hovered over her hypnotically. She noted the size of the dragon’s mouth insured it could finish her slight body in one bite. Slowly her fingers curled, the pain would be as nothing to the glory of saving her village. With a scream to attract the beast, she turned and ran. The white dress made a tempting target. Crashing footsteps lumbered behind her and the ground shook.

At the tunnel entrance, the beast struck. Claire made no attempt to evade. Her eyes drew one last look at her home. Saved.

By: Michelle4Laughs

Friday, May 27, 2011

How to Determine Your Book Title


Lately, I’ve been asking myself: What makes a good book title? How do you choose it? Because, besides the cover art and, of course, the story, the title might have been the reason that someone picked up the book in the first place.

Panicking yet? I know I would. Because, see, book titles not only have to intrigue, inspire and pull your reader in for the ride but you get only one shot at it. Make it count. Make the reader skim the shelves, find your novel, and wonder what you have to give them. Make them wonder what the hero has to face, what stands in his or her way?
The problem with that is that book titles are subjective things. To one reader, a title or a word might catch their eye while it’d send another reader running for the door. One might like titles that could have double meanings, another might like dark-sounding titles, while yet another reader may like titles that sound heroic or suggest magic and mythical creatures. There are a few universal “rules”—and I use that word loosely—about book titles (and what to look for in choosing your own) that stay intact, regardless of genre or reader preference.
They are:
Word Choice:
The word choice of your title is key, you want the title to be fresh and stand out in some way. Just like with your prose, your title can be simple but carry strong meaning if you use a strong word. Here, brevity is also helpful. Combine the two and your title will have a good chance at being memorable. Another key thing to notice is how the title sounds when read aloud. Depending on what you’re writing about, your title also has to suggest what the reader might be getting into. For example, if you’re writing a thriller novel, Tap-dancing with a Penguin will not fit as well as, perhaps, Crying Wolf.
Another question, regarding word choice, is to ask yourself:  Is the book part of a series or a single novel? You might have to choose a title that reflects the entire series and not only one novel.
Genre:
 Another title rule, that goes hand in hand with word choice, is genre. Are you writing a thriller, an epic, a romance? The title should reflect the story, how the story is ‘classified’ on shelves.

Target Audience:
Another thing to remember is: Who are you selling to? Who are you trying to reel in? Are you trying to reel in the fantasy readers or the horror, or the romance readers? Your title should reflect the genre of your novel (if also within a subgenre, then the prominent genre).
Symbolism and Importance:
Symbolism and the importance of the symbol to the story might also be the judge of your title. Let’s say you had a character and she was supposed to find a jewel called The Blue Flame. You might have Blue Flame (or a variation of that), using a symbol or idea as the title.

Some Resources: 
I like to search for title generators online. It might be my favourite thing to do besides trying to find character names. Here are some of my favourite generators, specifically for titles.
Title Generator: With this one you input your own words in and it randomly mixes the words around to create a total of about ten results. This one's a little more flexible then the ones below.
Serendipity's Fantasy Novel Title Generator: This one is best to gather tons (up to 50) of unique results. Might spark something for non-fantasy writers as well.
Random Fantasy Novel Title Generator: This one’s a quick, changeable generator. If you don’t like a result (Say you got Warrior Bane as your title) type in a new one into one of the 6 boxes (To get, maybe: Warrior’s Game). This might also spark something for non-fantasy titles as well.

Thanks for reading! :D
-          Maddie 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vanity Presses: Beware the Lure

(Reposted from my Weebly site.)

I still receive a lot of questions on exactly what vanity presses are, how to avoid them, and why you should. Vanity presses are something every writer should be aware of, so here, I'll cover what they are, how to spot them, how they work, and why you should avoid them.

First and foremost, Vanity Presses are SCAM ARTISTS. Nothing hurts me more than seeing innocent aspiring authors taken for their money and work by people who know how to prey on the desperate and the uninformed. If you never read anything from me, PLEASE READ THIS POST. And if you know anyone who has asked you about Vanity Presses, or who has been approached by one, before they answer a single email from these so called publishers, tell them to STOP. Tell them to stop right there, and SEND THEM HERE.

So here's how it works. You've completed your novel, and after months or years of hard work, you're looking for the perfect publisher. Or perhaps you've sent your manuscript out and the rejections have started coming in. Then, one day you receive an email from a publishing company saying they would like to publish you. Your heart soars. All your hard work is about to pay off, and all dreams are about to come true. All you have to do is answer that email, give them the list of things they ask for, and it's done. Best of all, they're not asking for much. A bio, a photo, a list of family members who want to buy your novel, and x amount of dollars. Easy, right? 

WRONG.

Writers, if ever you receive an email from anyone asking to publish you, this is not a publishing company. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A PUBLISHING COMPANY. It's a vanity press. It's a scam, and if you answer that email, you are in for a world of trouble.

For starters, authors who go through vanity presses and sign their books over are not being published, they are being PRINTED. Which poses one of the major issues for authors who ever wish to thereafter be published through a traditional publishing house. When an author writes a book, all rights belong to the author alone until the book has been printed by a business press. Once it has, that novel can never, ever be published.

Let it be said, vanity presses are not to be confused with self publishing. While self publishing is a legitimate alternative to traditional publishing, and authors do pay when they choose to go this route, there are big differences between them and vanity presses. If they are legitimate, self publishing companies always give you full say on your layout and cover art, the book is always stamped with an ISBN code (this allows the novel to be scanned by computer in stores and libraries, or via internet sales), and, provided you pay for it, the book is copyrighted by, and registered with, the Library of Congress, just like with a traditional publishing house (though traditional ones register it for free). Vanity presses do not always give ISBN's, they often steal the rights, take over the cover and layout, editing is poor if done at all, and if they register the book, the author's name or the novel title is often altered without the author's consent. Or, they offer to register it for a cost, and then it mysteriously never happens. With vanity presses, when registration occurs, it does prevent the work from being copied, but the alterations to the title or author's name are also a clever way to steal the rights. And even if the novel isn't formally registered, once you've been printed, you lose the rights to publish the work regardless. Furthermore, if any publishing house realizes you've been printed by a vanity, they will never touch you, not even with another book. Because of the reputation vanities have, associating with them tells publishers you don't know how the business works. Publishers network. They have ways of checking things out. While some traditional publishers will take works that have been self published, once you have dealings with a vanity, they blacklist you. Your writing career is over before it starts.

Typically, a vanity press works as follows. They promise, for a set amount of cash, to send out x amount of copies of your book to a known publishing house, where it will be sold and you will be published upon the acceptance of the book. Or they promise to sell your book if you provide a list of people who wish to buy your novel (and the money), whereupon you will receive the required amount of copies by such and such a date. Quite often, however, either you never receive the promised copies, or you do, but they come back with poor editing jobs, horrible covers, cheep bindings and no registration. And no publishing company will promise to send your novel to another company for you, free or otherwise. That's just not how it works. When these promises are made, poor authors who get sucked in find themselves out hundreds, even thousands of dollars, with nothing to show for it but a broken heart and a shattered dream.

In addition, Vanity Presses are good at disguising themselves as traditional publishing houses, to those who are uninformed about how the publishing business works. They disguise their name to make it sound like a real publishing house, and they use careful wording to hide loopholes so that when authors try to take legal action, nothing can be done to restore the author's rights to the book and return their lost income. Sometimes they also have a list of so called published authors or agents with whom they have worked. After all, why would someone risk using the name of an author or agent if the author or agent isn't real? Well, fact is, they shouldn't. But they do. Most often, these companies are banking on the author being so desperate that they won't check to see if the person is a real published author, or if you try to check the name, it comes up with nothing, and desperate authors will often overlook that. They wouldn't make up the name, would they? Yes. They would. Not to mention, it is easy enough to post a real author's name on a site, because there are millions of them and, unless the author is a well known name, the mentioned author will probably never find out. 

One of the most well-known vanity presses is a company called Publish America. They claim to be a traditional publishing house, but they aren't. Publish America is nothing but a con. There's a great post about them here. If you Google the words Publish America Scam, you will find hundreds of reports done on them, and horror stories from writers who have been conned by them. Also at the same link, you can find other great articles about how publishing really works. I also recently did a post, Book Deals: How They Do (and Don't) Work. Please check that out as well for more information on what to expect from legitimate publishing houses.  

So, you ask yourself, if vanity presses are so clever, how do I avoid them? How do I know if the company I'm considering is for real? Here's are six tips to avoiding the scam of vanity presses.

1) NEVER PAY FOR ANYTHING.

Above all, remember this - publishers pay YOU. If a company is legitimate, the money always flows FROM the publisher TO the author, not the other way around. Unless, of course, you choose to self publish. Save the small cost of postage, real publishing houses never ask for any money, EVER.

2) Publishers never solicit authors.

How many times have you seen that on your Google page, a posting that reads, "Calling all Authors," or "New Author's Wanted!" Yes, you guessed it, those are vanity presses. Case in point, Publish America does that all the time. Real publishing houses never, never advertise for writers. They get thousands of MS's or queries a month. Even the small out of the way publishing companies get dozens. They do not have time to email people asking for more.

3) Contracts.

Many vanity presses do not offer contracts. If you do your research, and everything looks on the up and up, you send in your manuscript to a company, and they finish said MS, when they send the letter back saying they are interested, they should be sending you a contract as well. Or at the very least, they should tell you they want to offer you one, and as soon as you say you want to see it, they should send it. If they do not, RUN. Likewise, if they send you one, and upon asking questions, they become evasive, confrontational, or otherwise inappropriate, they are a scam. No one should ever be afraid to ask questions in any business, and anyone who makes you feel that way cannot be trusted.

4) Watch For Promises of Success.

Publishing companies who know what they are doing know that there is never any guarantee a novel will sell. No matter how good the book, the agent, or the publisher, there is never any guarantee the book will do well. If they make this promise at any time, they are a scam. Also watch out for anyone who promises to make all your dreams come true, that they specialize in the frequently rejected, or makes a promise that they will take your book to Hollywood. No publisher can promise that. Ever. (Side note: I saw an agent online once who had that in her bio - "Specializes in the downtrodden, the disheartened and the rejected." If an agent has that on their page, turn away. Fast).

5) Do your research.

No matter how much you think you know about the publishing business, you can never know too much. Before you go with any publisher or agent, always do your homework on them. There are two great websites that list agents and publishers with dubious records, or who are known to defraud authors. Writer's Beware Blogs, and Preditors and Editors. If a publishing house or agent is red flagged by either site, avoid them. Likewise, if a publisher or agent disparages either of these sites, the agent or publisher is trouble.

6) Watch the wording.

As I mentioned before, vanity presses are great at using careful wording, in everything from their company names to their ads, from their emails to their agreement clauses. They will give themselves names that have the word "publish" in the title, or use the word "Printing" or "Press" in a euphemistic fashion. In their ads, they say things like, "publish with us," or, "Copies of Your book are free." First, just because they use the word "publish" doesn't mean that's what they will do. Second, notice that it said "copies." So the copies go out, but this still means you have to pay for the copies themselves, (so it's like getting free shipping and handling), and the promise of free copies does not say how MANY will be free. So you might get the first two free, but after those, you have to pay. And don't be surprised if the price of the books, which come back with poor quality to begin with, are hugely inflated. And that's if they show up at all.  

One last note. I am not trying to scare all the hopeful authors out there. Most publishers and agents are good people who just want to sell books. The key is not to let your hunger for the dream blind you to the crimson flags when they go up. The promise of publication is a powerful lure. Especially for authors who have been rejected many times. Vanity presses, like all good con artists, know how to prey on the vulnerable and the unaware. But friends, no matter how badly you want the dream, no matter how far away it seems, it isn't worth sacrificing everything to trust a vanity. Keep sending out those queries and MS's. Keep improving your manuscripts. Revise. Rewrite. And then try again. Trust me when I say, hard as the business is, good books do get through, and you'll be better off for it.

Well, that's it for this time, folks. Are there other red flags you think authors should know about when scouting for the right agent or publisher? Have you had an experience with a Vanity Press that you'd like to share? 

Until next time, everyone, write on!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bits O'Wisdom: Why Write Fiction?


Fiction:
a. An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.
b. The act of inventing such a creation or pretense.


Why do I write fiction? (No, it's not a dumb question.)

Actually, it's one that has been asked of me more than once. I'm sure I'll keep hearing that question as I continue down this sometimes manic journey called Writing.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the news, some kind of reality show, etc…Reality doesn’t allow us to imagine how our lives could be better. How they could be more. It doesn’t expand your imagination.

Reality tells us what is.

Fiction causes us to wonder, what if?

Reality is trees with green leaves and flowers that bloom in spring, while squirrels scamper happily up their trunks.
Fiction is those same trees giggling as the squirrels have a happy chat with the leaves about the spotted elf that lives just beyond the hill.

Reality is an accident scene where someone has fallen victim to black ice.
Fiction is a high speed car chase down a deserted highway as an escaped mental patient gives the grieving family member of his last victim a run for his money.

Reality says: It’s not possible.
Fiction asks: Why not?

Fiction gives us the ability—the power, the tools—to dream. In fact, good fiction (cuz there really is no excuse for bad fiction…come now) is how dreams are made flesh! It’s what gives our dreams drive and sends us on a quest to question what is ‘normal’ or what this world tells us is ‘good enough’ and dares us to search for that best part in us...that best part in our imagination.

Why do I write fiction?

Because fiction is what allows us to examine possibilities that don’t exist. It gives us the chance to explore beyond what could be and should be and is; beyond our world to a better one.

That's why.

Why do YOU write fiction?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Whatcha Reading Tuesday!!



Well, it's that time again for *drumroll please* Whatcha Reading Tuesday!! Whatever you're reading whether it be a book, a comic, newspaper, blogs, the ingredigents to hot dogs, anything at all, please share. Come on, don't be shy now :) Seriously, one day, if not already, it'll be your work someone posts here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Query Letter Do's and Dont's



So I thought I’d start my first post with something close to my heart, or maybe close to my nightmares.  I’ve just finished my second ms and have started the editing process, and it’s time to focus on the dreaded query letter.  Now admit it, who wouldn’t be nervous to rest all their hopes of publishing the next great novel on one short letter?  You’ve only labored on your ms for months and months. Trying to sum up that work in three paragraphs is a painful process.

After much research on agent blogs and writing sites, I reached a scary conclusion—nobody agrees on what a query should be.  From the smallest parts to the main content everyone has a different expectation.  One agent might want you to keep the query to one page, or, even more definitive, 250 words, and another doesn’t care about the length.  Some want to know a little something about you and others couldn’t care less about your past if it doesn’t relate to writing.  Most agents insist you put your first pages in the body of the email, but some demand them as an attachment.  There isn’t even agreement on where to put the word count and genre information, first thing or at the end.  And one and all, they don’t care if you break all rules if your query has that awesome ‘it’ quality of voice.

Where exactly does that leave us poor writers who are just trying to impress?  How do we know if we’ve got the perfect query or a dud in the making?

Here are a few tips that may help. 

Most agents want you to concentrate the query on the storyline of the ms and leave off the personal information.  Don’t tell them your husband dared you to see if you could write a novel. Oops, guilty.  They don’t want to know, and it sounds amateurish.  Don’t include that you have three children and four dogs or that you went to Harvard.  The only personal information should be what is related to writing or publishing credits.  If you don’t have any yet, then it’s better to say nothing about yourself and don’t sweat it.

Don’t include how the novel teaches about friendship and the value of self-esteem.  Agents don’t want to hear what lessons your novel inspires, they want to be entertained and to sell books.  If the ms has lessons that’s great, but it’s not why people buy books.

When writing about the ms, be specific.  Don’t fill up space with a lot of clichés.  Avoid phrases like, "Then Lassie was confronted by more problems."  Instead try, "As Lassie made his way home, Timmy fell in the well."  Which is more exciting?  "Sarah Conner ran for her life pursued by enemies," or, "Sarah Connor fights extinction at the hands of a ruthless humanesque machine."  Putting in those details and making them enticing is crucial, just don’t give away the ending.

Lead with your main character and the hook.  Don’t bury the name of your mc in the third paragraph.  We need to know what your mc wants and what keeps them from getting it.  Motivation is important; it’s what defines your mc.  Are they motivated by pride, revenge, saving a friend, or something less heroic like saving themselves? 

Avoid throwing too many names into a query.  Giving out names for every character or country makes the query confusing.  Limit yourself to the main story plot and avoid mentioning side plots.  You’ve only got one page.

Don’t worry about giving a physical description of your characters.  Again space is important, not the fact that your mc has big blue eyes.  Personality traits trump looks in a query.

Keep your query in the present tense instead of past tense.  Avoid those ‘ed verbs. 

Include your title, genre, and word count and personalize by including why you’re submitting to that agent.   

Don’t forget to include the agent’s name after the greeting.  Put in a simple thank you and avoid gushing.  And for heaven sake, don’t freak if you make a mistake when rushed.  At one time you’re going to forget and put Mr. when you meant Ms. or leave off the requested pages or synopsis.  It happens to everyone.

It’s all right to say your ms’ style is similar to so-and-so’s fantastic novel.  Just don’t write that’s it’s as good as or sound like you’re boasting.

On the other hand, no matter what stage your career is at be sure to sound confident.  ‘I hope you will like this poor ms of little old me’ is a turnoff and putting yourself down.

Use interesting verbs and nouns.  Think of the query as an action scene from your novel.  You want to add emotion and interest. Avoid flat verbs like was/were, are, is and had.  “Kindar is a princess with a disease and she is dismissed by her family,” versus “The gods marked middle princess Kindar with a devastating disease that leaves her shunned by her family.”  

The best advice is to not be in a hurry to get the perfect query.  Take lots of time to write a first draft, put it aside for a week or a month and then look over it again.  Show it to as many people as you can.  Get all kinds of advice on your wording.  There are great sites where you can get review of your query.  Sites like Query Shark and Evil Editor post and comment on queries by industry insiders.  Phoenix Sullivan, a writer and editor, evaluates queries and has great advice at her blog.  At Agent Query Connect, you can get advice from all kinds of writers from beginners to experts.  Nathan Bransford has a forum just for query letters. 

Don’t be frightened away from getting advice.  It’s a mistake not to take advantage of it.  You might not write the perfect query, but it won’t be a bomb either.

Let me hear your pearls of wisdom on queries.  Lord knows help is welcome on this subject.  Anyone know other great sites for query reviews?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Burning Bridges

by: Madelaine Bauman

Teetering on eggshells again and again,
Skating on the blades of lost opportunity and broken trust
I’m just waiting for one of us to slip and fall
We’ve tripped each other long enough
But you’re never satisfied with just bruising an ego
You want to rip out dreams by their roots too.


The roaring of blood in my ears
Is like the cradle of the sea
This place I’ve returned to isn’t home
But, instead, a proverbial Brazen Bull
You’ve soaked the brain in petroleum
With the misdemeanours of my mind
So I must pray for my anger to still
Before verbal fireworks, from an overworked tongue
Push me over the edge, into the fire.


I’ve slowly blazed trails through my subconscious
That you will never find
The map is lost, though I’ve tried to give you a hand
You slapped it away, determined to reach the endpoint
And, instead, I watched, as you carved a path of destruction
Trying to cross a bridge I’d already set on fire. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Shorts: Redbox Love (pt 2)

by: Ree Vera
**Click here to read Redbox Love (pt 1)**




Movie nights were always something I used to look forward to. Every Friday night my girl and I would hang out on the couch, basking in the glow of some film flickering from my crappy television set. Of course after she went and slept with my best friend, that all changed. She was now probably snuggling with him on his fancy leather sofa, watching some piece of trash action movie with bad acting and stupid lines—which I know she hates—and I was stuck renting a movie for a night in alone. With my mother.

I scowled at the concrete. The fact that it was her birthday didn’t matter. The thought was still depressing. I felt my phone vibrate and flipped it open. “Hello.”

“Honey, can you see if they have any romantic comedies? I love those.”

“Sure mom.” I rolled my eyes as two teenage girls giggled their way in front of me. Apparently the two thought they were cute enough that I wouldn’t say anything about cutting. They were not. But I wasn’t in the mood to cause a scene for a stupid spot in line for the redbox.

As my mother rambled on about what type of movie she had her heart set on, the doors to the Walgreens slid open. I’ve seen my fair share of movies. Seen the cheesy, overdone scenes where the guy first spots the woman of his dreams. Until then, I’d always snorted at them.

Never again.

There she was. Shoulder length hair the color of taffy set off a round, moon-like face with two dark eyes and full expressive eyebrows—one which arched when she spotted the lengthy line. Her lips pursed at this and she took another bite of the candy bar she held in her hand. I grinned.

The mystery woman click clacked her way towards the end of the line, which was right behind me. My mother’s voice kept rambling in my ear. “Mm hmm. Yeah.” I kept it up enough so she would think I was paying attention.

A snicker sounded in front of me and I noticed the two teenagers whispering. It was very obvious that whatever they were saying was about the woman that had just exited the store. I noticed her step falter, having obviously heard, and that’s when I realized why.

I’m not much for fashion. I’m pretty much a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy; even though my mother insists I should start ‘dressing’ up more now that I’m nearing the age of thirty. Not sure why that’s such a big deal but apparently it is. Even so, I was pretty sure high heels—sparkly ones no less—weren’t supposed to be worn with sweatpants. Very green sweatpants.

“Check if they have any of Meryl’s movies. I love her.”

I lowered the volume on my phone. “Ok.”

As the woman neared the end, her eyes caught mine. I smiled in greeting. She blinked twice, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and then went to stand behind me without a word.

I wasn’t sure why it felt so much like rejection when she didn’t smile.

I fought the urge to turn around the entire time, sighing into the phone while the line took forever to move forward. Just before the two nuisances in front of me were up, I risked another look at her. Once again, her eyes meet mine. She had been looking at me.

I turned away, but not before noticing the bright red her face changed to. Or the way she kept tugging at her shirt. A shirt with a picture of that lame excuse for an actor who played some kind of dog that girls went nuts for. I wondered if she was embarrassed.

At last it was my turn. I touched finger to screen and scrolled through the, let’s face it, slim and sorry selection of movies. It was dark out, but I still caught the woman’s reflection in the glow of the screen. She seemed to be trying to peer over my shoulder. I swallowed a laugh and went for It’s Complicated. I thought I remembered my mother mentioning she was a fan of Meryl Streep. Before I touched the button labeled ‘Rent’ I saw the face in the screen frown. Apparently mystery woman didn’t approve of my selection.

I don’t know why I did it. It wasn’t like I was going to watch the movie with her. But I slid over to the rest of my choices until she smiled. I stifled a groan. 3:10 to Yuma. My mother was not going to be happy.

I grabbed the dvd and snapped my cell shut. In my distraction, I hadn’t realized there was no longer anyone on the other end. Then I spotted the dvd in her hand and sighed. "I'm sorry for taking so long. I didn't realize you only had a return to make."

Her eyes went wide and once again, her face blushed a fetching shade of red. “Uh, no, I mean that’s fine. No problem.”

I gazed at her a moment longer. I wanted to ask her name in the worst way. I should have, but I didn’t. Instead, I smiled at her one more time, and then walked away.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bits O'Wisdom: Goals vs Expectations

Everyone has expectations and writers are not excluded from this. Oh...do we ever have our expectations! We throw them out there on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not. The problem is that some of us can create a lot of expectations, but we never bother building goals for us to meet them.
So what's the difference between the two?
Great question!

Things that you can control = Goals
Things anyone else can control = Expectations

Saying you're going to write a novel---This is a goal because nobody else has the power to do this for you. Sure they can wheedle, push, and demand but in the end, it's you and ONLY you who can pick up the pen and write.

Saying you're going to sell a book---This is an expectations because you can't control the market or even a publishers mind. Doesn't matter how much you wish it so.

It's important that we don't get the two confused because doing so can rob us of the joy we could have from achieving success in things we can control. Take this for example: You tell yourself that one day you will make the New York Time's bestsellers list. This is not a goal, it's an expectation (that control thing, remember?) and one that could lead to some misery if mistaken for a goal. What happens if you sell thousands and thousands of books but NEVER make the NYT bestsellers list? Does that mean you failed?

Heck no!

But in your mind, it may seem that way. Because you mistook an expectation for a goal.

Take some time to really think about this...sift through all those goals you have and strip away anything--ANYTHING--that you can't achieve on your own. It's great to have some expectations. Great to dream about the fan mail, the publishers clamoring for your novel, the word 'brilliant' after the title of your book in its first review. But it's more important to have goals that will help us get there.

So what are your goals? What are your expectations? Have you been able to tell the difference between the two?

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Whatcha Reading Tuesday!!



It's that time again......Whatcha Reading Tuesday!! Come on, take a moment and share what you're reading this week. Anything at all including your own pieces :D Share! Share!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Deals: How They Do (and Don't) Work



I’ve been seeing this question a lot from authors lately. What can I expect with a book deal? How do advances work? Are there royalties? How do they work? What about movie deals? There’s a lot of misconceptions about what comes with a book deal among authors, so I thought I would clear some of those up.

Many authors have the same idea of what will happen when they finally nab that long sought after book deal. Immediately images of 6 figure checks dance through your head. You see yourself on talk shows, posing for photo shoots, landing big movie deals, buying a mansion, a Ferrari and maybe a yacht. Psh. Yeah, right. Sorry, not how it works. So how does it work, you ask?

The Contract:

First, I want to reiterate the most important thing every author must understand about publication. Unless you are self publishing, money always flows FROM the publisher TO the author. Not the other way around. With the exception of the small cost for postage, publishers and agents NEVER EVER ask for money. They pay you.

So after the publisher has read your ms and decided to publish your book, or, if you choose to solicit an agent, after they have decided to represent you, the offer comes in the form of a contract. Typically, a publisher or agent will call your or email you first, telling you they are interested in publishing your novel (or in representing you). They may send the contract out with the initial email, or, upon your agreement to let them publish the novel, they will send out a second email with the contract included. Whether in the initial phone call or email, or when the contract itself is sent out, the details of the contract should be clearly laid out for the author before any contracts are signed.

When the call or email comes in from an agent or publisher, there are a lot of questions the interested party will ask you, and a lot of questions you should be asking them, before you enter into any deal. Here's a great blog from Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner, where she lists the questions you should ask an agent. Also check out this blog from her, where she tells you what usually happens when you get "The Call." In that post, she lists the questions she usually asks authors she's interested in representing. The questions a publisher asks are generally along the same lines, as are the ones you should ask them. The amount offered for advance, the percentage of royalties the publisher wishes to offer, how many books they want to publish from the author (there may be more than one, and I’ll get to that later), are all laid out in the contract, along with possibly a few other things, such as an escape clause, or the inclusion of movie deals as part of the rights. I’ll explain those in a moment as well. But, often there is confusion as to what advances and royalties are, so lets make sure we have the terms straight first.

Advances and Royalties:

 An advance is a loan paid out against the earnings the author makes on their novel. The amount is calculated based on what the publisher thinks the novel will make within its first year after it hits the shelves. So the publisher is estimating the amount the novel will make in its first year and paying that to you ahead of time. This means that until that money is made back in sales, the author won’t receive anymore money on the novel. Once the money is made back, any additional money the author makes on the book is theirs. The amount the author makes at this point is based on the royalty percentage offered in the contract. A royalty is a percentage of the money made from each book sold. Put simply, it’s the author’s cut of the sales.

With me so far? Good.

But what is the usual amount an author can expect for advances and royalties? This can fluctuate so much that there is no one answer. How much an author receives is dependent on a lot of variables. It can change depending on what kind of book you’re writing, whether you’re an established author or a first timer, how well known the publishing house is, and whether or not you’re a celebrity. If you’re novel is a mainstream topic for which there is a wide audience, you will get a bigger advance than if it’s based on something that’s considered relatively obscure, because there won’t be as many sales. If your name is big because of something else – so if you’re Lady Gaga or the Rock – you’ll get a larger advance, because fame sells. A first time author will get a smaller advance because the publisher has no track record on you. Publishers dole out advances based on what they think the book will make, and as a newbie, they have nothing to go on except the book itself. Bigger name authors like Stephen King or J.K Rowling get bigger advances because the publisher knows the name on the book alone will sell. From what I’ve read, advances to new authors are rare. There is no guarantee the book will sell, so they don’t want to take a chance on giving an advance the author can’t make back. Sometimes, when there is no advance, the royalty percentage is higher, but not always. Smaller, less known publishing companies also tend not to give advances. Advances are most often given by bigger houses and to known authors.

So let’s say, you’re a first time author. In my research, I’ve found that average advances range from zero to 2000$. That’s right. Barely enough to cover most monthly mortgage payments. I’ve seen them go as high as 10,000, but this is extremely rare for a newbie, and considered huge for an unknown. For first timers, most times there isn’t an advance at all.   

So what about royalties? Typically, new authors get between 7% and 10 %. It can be as low as 5%. Famous authors can get as high as 25%.

So here’s how it works. Let’s say your contract gets you a thousand dollar advance, and 10% of the royalties, on a novel that goes for 15$ apiece, the typical price of a paperback book. It’s important to understand that the advance isn’t made back when the book makes 1000$ in sales. It’s made back from YOUR CUT. 10% ON THE DOLLAR. Then, the rest of the royalties are yours. And that’s assuming you don’t have an agent. If you do have one, agents typically charge 15%. This means, the agent gets 15% of your 10% of the royalties, and 15% of your advance. And you still have to make the agent’s 15% of the advance back.

Oi. I’m probably scaring all of you out of making a living as a writer, and if not that, then out of getting an agent. That’s not my aim. (There are advantages to getting an agent, even with the cut-aways to your checks, and you can read about those here). But the truth is, making any real money off of writing is exceedingly rare. Even with the influx of books on the market today, the ones that become best sellers are a drop in the bucket compared to the number of books that no one has ever heard of. Writing must be a labor of love, done not for the money, but because you love telling stories. If you choose to become a writer for money chances are, you will wind up sorely disappointed, and probably broke. And don’t start spouting off to me about famous authors like King or Rowling. Writers who achieve fame such as that are the exception not the norm.

Anytime a contract is signed, there is money involved, and if you are an unknown, publishers take a huge chance on you. That’s why publishers and agents say they have to really love a book. It’s in a publisher’s interest to see that a book does well, and it’s in an agent’s best interest to see that every book they pick up is sold to a publisher, and that the author gets the best possible deal for their work. Getting a book to a publisher and getting it onto shelves is expensive. It costs agents and publishers thousands, sometimes millions of dollars a year. If the agent or publisher is not one hundred percent behind your novel, they won’t take the risk of losing the money involved.  

Escape Clauses:

I’m not certain this is the correct term, but with some publishing contracts, there is a clause by which the author can get out of the contract if things aren’t to their liking. I’ve heard of authors asking for one to be included in the contract up front. This is usually done with a newer, unknown publishing company. Escape clauses can be beneficial if the author is signed on for a series of novels in a long term contract. Before asking about this, check with a lawyer or someone else in the know to find out what the correct term is, and how best to approach the subject with a perspective publisher.

Multiple Book Deals:

It’s common for publishers to sign authors on for more than one book at a time. These days, series books are huge sellers. There are people who only read a novel if it’s part of a series. Publishers love these, because they are the gift that keeps on giving. If the first novel in a series becomes a best seller, the second book in a series has a greater chance of doing as well if not better than its predecessor.  

Take my series, Shadowsword for example. Shadowsword is planned to be at least three books, with the possibility for more. When the first book, Children of the Dragon, is published (yes, I say when, not if, lol) chances are the publisher won’t sign me on for only CotD. They will probably sign me on for all three books in the series. Why? Because if readers love CotD, they will want book 2, so it will probably do as well if not better than CotD. If book two does even better, Book 3 will probably do even better still. Signing me on for all three books guarantees that the money made from the books go to that publisher.

But what if you’re not writing a series? Will a publisher still sign you on for more than one book? If you have more than one book, possibly. Why? Because even if it’s not a series, if a novel from an author does well, the next book from that author will have a better chance of selling because it bears the author’s name. Signing you on for more than one book prevents you from going to another publisher until you write the required number of books according to your contract. It also allows the publisher to squeeze more books out of the same advance.

When it comes to multiple book deals, advances are sometimes split up over several books. Typically, with a multiple book deal, the author is required to write a certain number of books within a set amount of years, usually 3 or 5 years, with the advance sometimes split up over that 3 or 5 year period. Splitting the advance up ensures the books are delivered before the author sees the money, and offers less chance of a publisher ending up paying for books that are never delivered.This is why it's a good idea to get as many story ideas as possible, to get them down as fast as you can, and to try and finish every story you start. Having more than one book on hand lets publishers and agents know you won't be just a one book wonder, and that, even after your first book, you'll keep making them money. There's a great blog with more information on multiple book deals here.

Movie Deals:

Ah, the ever coveted movie deal. Every author dreams of seeing the world and characters they create brought to life on screen. There is something about the thought of seeing their character walk across a screen that makes writers go gaga. Not to mention the potential money they can make. But what are the chances of seeing your novel on the big screen?

Lately it seems for better or worse, every novel that does even semi well in book stores ends up on screen. There is a reason for this. Coming up with new and interesting story lines for movies is becoming more challenging for producers every year. With so many other forms of media to choose from, and with the ability to obtain much of it for free, producers have to rely more and more heavily on special effects to grab the attention of movie goers.  So it’s only logical that when the public loves a book, producers will jump at the chance to get it on screen. Plus, for us readers, there is something about seeing a character we have come to love walk across a screen that drives us to the theater in droves. How many of you have fallen head over heals for a character in a book and the moment you see an advertisement showing him or her in a live action film, you felt a huge rush, and proclaimed, “I gotta see that!” But what does this mean for authors? Doesn’t it mean that the chances of seeing your novel in Hollywood are petty good? Not necessarily.

Time works differently on film than it does in books. Slow or talkative books don’t do well in live action, so the story has to allow directors to adapt those parts so that they at least feel action packed. Plus, there are certain things readers will accept in book form, but as soon as we see it on screen, it becomes cringe worthy. It’s easier for us to suspend our disbelief when reading than it is visually, and turning something into a cartoon doesn’t always make it easier to watch.

In reality, the chances of seeing your novel in movie format are astronomically small. Publishers may include the right to turn the book into a movie in the contract. But this doesn’t mean the novel will be turned into a movie. What it means is that it’s included in the rights. What it means is that if a producer comes to the publisher asking to adapt your novel for a movie, you can’t prevent them from accepting the deal. If movie adaptations are included in the contract, you will need to ensure that your contract allows you to receive a percentage of the cuts, or that the right to sell the book to a movie company remains in your hands, but that’s usually a separate deal. Still, the chances of that happening are tiny. In reality, if a publisher or agent tells you right off the bat that they will take your book to Hollywood, it’s not only unlikely to actually happen, but it’s a red flag. Publishers and agents know this is a rarity, so if they promise it, I caution you to seriously question the legitimacy of the agent or house. It’s not impossible to see your book hit the big screen, but don’t expect it, and if someone makes that promise, something is wrong.

Promotion:

Writers often think that once they publish a book, the publisher or agent does all the work of promoting the novel and the author need only sit back and let the money role in. Not so. It’s important to understand that, while publishers will pay for printing and production of a book and get it onto shelves, and agents will help a writer find a publisher and secure a contract, in order for readers to buy a book, they have to know about it, and promotion is not included in the contract. Getting the author’s name and title out there is the author’s job. Publishers and agents will put you in touch with the right people and point you in the right direction, and they offer connections that make it easier to get your foot in the door with people who can get you exposure. But actually gaining that exposure is the author’s obligation, not the publisher or agent.

Editing and Rewrites:

When a deal is struck between publisher and author, chances are at some point in the production process, a writer will be asked to rewrite parts of their book. Adding scenes, deleting them, changing parts of the story or characters, all to make it more marketable and give the book the best chance of selling well. And since it's an agent's job to see that an author gets the best deal on any novel, they will often make suggestions on how the author can make the book more marketable. But authors need to remember that  publishers and agents don't do rewrites, agents don't offer line by line edits, and publishing editors only fix 1% of editorial mistakes. While agents will make suggestions for improvement, and publishers will ask for rewrites, it's the author's responsibility to implement the changes themselves.

Copyrighting:

This is one of the most common questions I see from authors – is it necessary for me to copyright my work before sending it out? This at least has a simple answer: No. It is not. Legally, when an author writes a novel, until it is either printed or a contract is signed, all rights belong to the author. And by printed, I don’t mean when it’s printed off your printer on paper. I mean when it’s printed by a vanity press. (Vanity Presses are a whole other issue, and they are a scam every writer should be aware of. I will be posting a blog on vanity presses later this week, so stay tuned for details on that).

When a publisher buys a novel, it is registered by the Library of Congress. It’s automatically copyrighted. Copyrighting your work before sending it out shows publishers you are an amature who doesn’t know how the business works. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, there are agents who steal work, and there are companies who pretend to be legitimate publishing houses in order to take an author’s work. But publishers who do it are usually vanity presses, and there are red flags to watch for when looking over perspective agents. Writers Beware Blogs has a list of agents and publishers who are known to scam writers. This list is updated regularly. When researching for agents and publishers, check out that site to see that the ones you're considering haven't been blacklisted on there.

In addition, I know that sometimes writers also steal work. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. But there are ways to safeguard yourself against this. I’ll also be doing a blog soon, explaining how to minimize the chances of being defrauded by agents and other writers.

So what is the bottom line, here? With the likelihood of making little to no money on novels, am I saying you shouldn’t enter a career in writing? Not at all. What I am saying is that if you think nabbing a book deal will make you famous or earn you buckets of money, think again. If you choose to pursue publication, be prepared for a lot of hard work, long hours, a lot of pressure, and very little pay. If you really love writing, and I mean really love it, go for it. The sense of accomplishment and seeing your name in print, the rewards of having even a small audience enjoy your stories, is more than worth it. I’ve seen plenty of writers regret having gone into the field for the money. But I’ve never seen one regret having written a book. If you enter into the field of writing, do it not for money, but for the sheer love of the craft.  

Until next time, everyone, write on!

Raven

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday Shorts: Eye of the Beholder

By AlinasVoice
Amy squirmed in her seat, eyes darting from ornate wood carving to solemn stone column. Pew, window ledge, pulpit and altar groaned with opulent arrangements of greenery, interspersed with flashes of red, courtesy of holly berries and poinsettia flowers. The Church looked beautiful, decked out in its Christmas finery.

A gentle glow rose up from the tops of imposing, cream white pillars, arranged in artistic groups. They flickered constantly, in an ongoing battle between heated flame and the cold drafts of air that constantly encircled the Church’s interior.

Beauty though, in Amy’s opinion, didn’t make up for the discomfort of hard wooden seats or the soporific drone of the Vicar’s voice. Her discreet squirm morphed into fidgeting. How much longer did she have to sit here? She was beginning to feel cold. The chill rolling off stone walls seemed determined to breach the warm defence of her coat.

Shifting in her seat yet again, trying to get comfortable, Amy pulled in a lungful of cool air and experimented with how long she could hold it in before bursting at the seams. One, two, three… her foot tapped out the seconds on the wooden floorboards… forty four, forty five…no, that was it. She let the air go noisily and dragged in another long breath, ready to start again.

“Amy!”

Looking up, Amy wasn’t surprised to see the exasperation on her Mother’s face. “Sorry Mum,” she whispered, then clarified the need for entertainment, “I’m just so bored!”

Mum, who wasn’t nearly as strict as Dad was, smiled slightly and leant down in a conspiratorial manner, “I know sweet-pea. Look, why don’t you go see your friend Tommy for a while? You can give him his present.”

Relief surged through Amy, at last. This was the green light she’d been waiting for. Nodding, she tried to communicate her thanks by being as quiet as she could, whilst squeezing through the tiny gap between the end of their pew and the wall.

Once free, she crept past the heavy Church door and across to the space behind the font, where Sunday school was usually held. There, she arranged herself, crossed legged on the floor and squinted into the surrounding gloom.

There was no need for words. She could already see Tommy, sitting on one of the simple wooden chairs. He was watching her silently, his dark eyes gazing at her with something approaching surprise. Amy smiled, Tommy was shy. She supposed it was because of his face. Not that that mattered to her.

Amy shook her head as she regarded her friend. Silly Tommy; didn’t he know? He was the centre of her world, next to Mum and Dad. He was the only adult, apart from them, who accepted her exactly as she was, without comment, without expectation.

Long moments passed. The staring continued. Then, finally, Amy gave in, reaching into her coat pocket and pulling out a folded piece of paper. She opened it up. Her eyes flicked back and forth, between the paper in her hands and Tommy. “I brought you a present Tommy.” She whispered.

Tommy didn’t reply, his poor, damaged face showing no hint as to whether he had heard her. Amy waited for another heartbeat, then placed the paper on the floor, right side up and slid it across towards him. She waited, stomach clenching, for his reaction.

Slowly, Tommy leant forward, his face finally clearing the shadows, the candlelight softening his ravaged, scar hardened features. Amy smiled in encouragement, pushing the paper a little closer to him. Tommy was beautiful to her, and so brave. His eyes shone out at her, offering her all the freedom she would ever need, to be herself. He reached out one hand, pulling the paper back towards him, into the semi-darkness. His eyes narrowed as he scanned it, in quick, jerky movements.

Amy held her breath. Would he like it? Would he mind?

The congregation had started to sing ‘Silent Night’, their voices filling the Church with reverent music. Tommy’s eyes suddenly widened, his mouth dropping into a softly rounded ‘O’ as he stared at the naively drawn picture in his hand. It showed a family, arms linked, with a Christmas tree beside them. Four figures with a child’s scrawl identifying them, ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’, ‘Me’, ‘Tommy’. He looked up, and Amy smiled in relief. He liked it...but…why was he crying?

Had she gone too far? She’d only wanted to make him see himself as she did. He was part of her family. The big brother she’d always wanted. Tommy seemed so alone and she’d wanted to show him that he didn’t have to be, especially now. It was Christmas, after all. He deserved better than that. He’d earned better than that.

“Thank you Amy.”

The words were so softly spoken; Amy almost missed them, the chorus of ‘Silent Night’ once more drifting into their private meeting place. Another cold draft blew passed, raising goose bumps along Amy’s arms, despite her coat. Where had that come from? She turned to see if the Church door had opened. Almost immediately, there was a scraping noise, the distinctive sound of wood against hollow floorboards, and the thud of heavy boots walking quickly away from her. Whipping her head around, Amy blinked for a moment, slightly dizzy from the rapid movement.

The chair where Tommy had been sitting was empty.

Nothing changed. He made a habit of leaving without saying goodbye. She didn’t mind; Tommy was shy.

Amy didn’t go back to her parents. Instead, she continued to sit, staring at the rectangle of white marble on the wall opposite. ‘Silent Night’ ended. The Vicar bade his congregation a ‘Merry Christmas’ and retreated to his vestry. Amy’s parents came to find her.

Dad crouched down beside Amy, before his big arms scooped her up into a hug. Mum laughed, ruffling Amy’s blonde curls, “Ready for home sweet-pea?”

“Yes.” Amy replied, burrowing her face into her Father’s shoulder. She was starting to feel sleepy. 8.30pm was late for a six year old, over-excited about Christmas Day. “Tommy’s gone.” She said her voice soft; tired.

“He’s probably on his way home to bed, just like you.” Dad soothed, raising an eyebrow towards Mum, “Did he like your present baby?”

Amy’s eyes were almost closed now; sleep tugging insistently on her conscious mind. She managed only a nod.

Carrying his now sleeping daughter towards the Church door, Dad glanced around carefully before nodding over towards Tommy’s chair. “It’s over there” he whispered, shifting Amy’s weight in his arms.

“I see it.” Mum said, bending to retrieve the drawing that was wedged between Tommy’s chair and the wall. She pocketed it, a thoughtful look crossing her face as she raised her eyes to the white marble plaque above them. It listed all those from their village, who had given their lives during the First World War. Amy's Great, Great Grandfather, ‘Thomas Mallory’ was the last name shown.

“’Night Tommy,” she murmured, turning to follow her husband and child.

From a darkened corner, Tommy watched them leave. For the first time in close to one hundred years, he felt at peace. And it was all down to one small girl, with angel blonde curls and a heart as big as... Christmas.

By AlinasVoice

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bits O'Wisdom: Author Bios

Ah the thing that we overthink sometimes to the point of madness. It's meant to capture the attention of your reader, or soon to be reader, in just a few sentences. And it should be 'like, totally you right?' Hmm. Yes, but what exactly makes a good bio?
There is no perfect formula. Sorry to disappoint you. But here are some tips:

Be Relatable
Simple as adding in that you like coffee or scary movies. That you sing in the shower. (ok maybe not that) but something that makes the reader see you as just another person like them. Not some unreachable author who wants you to buy his/her book.

Be Humorous
I think humor goes a long way and I love it when my favorite authors add some in their bios. Makes me smile and...well, it makes me like them even more. Now, if you're writing more serious stuff, or perhaps non fiction--that's probably not the way to go. But otherwise I think it works perfect with almost any genre.

Be Personable
Where are you from? You don't have to give your street address (probably not the best idea anyway) but even mentioning the state your in can give the reader a, "Oh! I live there!" or "I've been there before!"

Be You
Yup. It sounds too easy. That's because it is. It's YOUR bio. It's about YOU. So let that shine through! Give them a little taste of your author voice, as well.

Happy Writing!

Monday, May 9, 2011

No Motivation? Change Your Scenery

They say an animal must adapt or starve. Does that mean a writer must work in the same spot every day? Nope.

If you're like me and you work in one room in the house like an office or a bedroom—maybe, for this exercise, it's time to try a new writing spot. In my experience with this tip, the best thing to do is just to sit down someplace—be it a coffee shop, somewhere outside, or just your kitchen table—and let the ideas come. One day, while waiting in a parking lot. I had an argument between my main character and his wife planned, another—while at a park—I had the details of a novel planned out.

What a change of scenery does is let you take a look outside your work environment and think like a writer: “What can I use here? What details stand out?” For example, in your 'old' work environment—let’s say, the kitchen table—you may have had a character sit down and think about how his life has fallen apart. In your 'new' environment—let’s say a bedroom—you might look around and see a tube of lipstick on a drawer and have the character, instead of sitting and just thinking, find a similar item in the bedroom and show the reader, through that item and environment, how the character feels.

In this way, I've found, old environments become new. Sometimes, I feel like a detective searching for clues, piecing together evidence of a story, a single moment in time, a character or an entire cast.

Thinking outside your work environment also forces you to step back a bit and look at the writing with fresh eyes. In your normal work environment, for example, you may have had your character's overbearing wife argue with him because he's late getting home from work. Instead, once you've had a chance to play with some scenarios, you might have her pull a gun on him—effectively throwing the plot into a whole other, richer direction. What once was a slow, cliché scene becomes faster, more active.

Besides paying attention to the world around you, working in another place also forces you to pay attention to the characters--to ask yourself “Why are they doing this? What are their motives and goals and what is stopping them?”
 So at the same time, you, as the author, must play defence attorney and judge, best friend and enemy, bystander and participant.

Whether you write inside or outside, working someplace new certainly helps motivation, helps break down writer's block, lets us stretch our wings a little, see things outside the box.

Try it out. You never know what you'll come up with!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day



Happy
Mother's
Day

to all you amazing mothers out there!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Saturday Shorts: How the Moon Was Kind to Her Mother

I thought in honor of Mother's Day, I'd post one of my favorite short stories. I didn't write it...it's an old Indian tale I heard once and it stuck with me. Hope you enjoy....






Once upon a time, a long, long while ago, the Sun, the Wind, and the Moon were three sisters, and their mother was a pale, lovely Star that shone, far away, in the dark evening sky.

One day their uncle and aunt, who were no more or less than the Thunder and Lightning, asked the three sisters to have supper with them, and their mother said that they might go. She would wait for them, she said, and would not set until all three returned and told her about their pleasant visit.

So the Sun in her dress of gold, the Wind in a trailing dress that rustled as she passed, and the Moon in a wonderful gown of silver started out for the party with the Thunder and Lightning. Oh, it was a supper to remember! The table was spread with a cloth of rainbow. There were ices like the snow on the mountain tops, and cakes as soft and white as clouds, and fruits from every quarter of the earth. The three sisters ate their fill, especially the Sun and the Wind, who were very greedy, and left not so much as a crumb on their plates. But the Moon was kind and remembered her mother. She hid a part of her supper in her long, white fingers to take home and share with her mother, the Star.

Then the three sisters said good-bye to the Thunder and Lightning and went home. When they reached there, they found their mother, the Star, waiting and shining for them as she had said she would.

"What did you bring me from the supper?" she asked.

The Sun tossed her head with all its yellow hair in disdain as she answered her mother.

"Why should I bring you anything?" she asked. "I went out for my own pleasure and not to think of you."

It was the same with the Wind. She wrapped her flowing robes about her and turned away from her mother.

"I, too, went out for my own entertainment," she said, "and why should I think of you, mother, when you were not with me?"

But it was very different with the Moon who was not greedy and selfish as her two sisters, the Sun and the Wind, were. She turned her pale sweet face toward her mother, the Star, and held out her slender hands.

"See, mother," cried the Moon, "I have brought you part of everything that was on my plate. I ate only half of the feast for I wanted to share it with you."

So the mother brought a gold plate and the food that her unselfish daughter, the Moon, had brought her heaped the plate high. She ate it, and then she turned to her three children, for she had something important to say to them. She spoke first to the Sun.

"You were thoughtless and selfish, my daughter," she said. "You went out and enjoyed yourself with no thought of one who was left alone at home. Hereafter you shall be no longer beloved among men. Your rays shall be so hot and burning that they shall scorch everything they touch. Men shall cover their heads when you appear, and they shall run away from you."

And that is why, to this day, the Sun is hot and blazing.

Next the mother spoke to the Wind.

"You, too, my daughter, have been unkind and greedy," she said. "You, also, enjoyed yourself with no thought of any one else. You shall blow in the parching heat of your sister, the Sun, and wither and blast all that you touch. No one shall love you any longer, but all men will dislike and avoid you."

And that is why, to this day, the Wind, blowing in hot weather, is so unpleasant.

But, last, the mother spoke to her kind daughter, the Moon.

"You remembered your mother, and were unselfish," she said. "To those who are thoughtful of their mother, great blessings come. For all time your light shall be cool, and calm, and beautiful. You shall wane, but you shall wax again. You shall make the dark night bright, and all men shall call you blessed."

And that is why, to this day, the Moon is so cool, and bright, and beautiful.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bits O'Wisdom: Venting

There will come a time when something pisses you off. Whether it's a bad review, mean critique, or a rejection letter you don't feel you deserved. Anger and resentment will boil beneath the surface until you can't hold it in any longer.
Then what happens?
Explosion!
Oh yeah. Big time.
Which is fine. There is a time for everything and that includes venting. Stometimes you just gotta let it out. It helps you feel better. Well, it certainly helps me feel better :)
But just as there is a time for everything--there is also a place for it.
WRTIERS! The internet is NOT that place.
Oh, I understand how much social networks can be. I probably enjoy twittering more than I should heh heh and I'll say pretty much anything and everything that is on my mind. From how my writing is going to what I ate for dinner the night before. And yeah, at times when I'm having a dumpy day I'll let everyone know that too. I've also seen plenty of other people, writers included, tweeting or fbing about how suckish this or that was. Which is just fine. A little complaining never hurt anyone.
But there is a difference between complaining and publicly bashing someone.
For example:
"So and So is such a bastard. His reviews suck. Don't ever read them."
"I can't believe So and So made that remark about my writing! What does she know?"
"Stupid agent So and So...don't ever query them."

It's comments such as these that I'm talking about. DON'T DO IT.
Naming names is not only uncool--it makes you look unprofessional.
Yeah, I know. You may want to humiliate the ppl who 'wronged' you but in reality the only one you're going to end up humiliating is yourself.
Critics are a dime a dozen and let's face it...Crap happens.
So take it in style and be gracious.
Then grab a good buddy and (in private) let loose all those angry emotions.

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