Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So You Want to Write a Novel?

This is a bit long (4 minutes) and kind of weird, because it's narrated with those text-to-speech robot voices... but it's hilarous, and definitely worth watching.

It was made with a free Internet toy called "text-to-movie" (I didn't make it) which could be very, very addicting if you ever tried using it. If you have a few hours you'd like to lose, check out Xtranormal: http://www.xtranormal.com/ where you can animate anything.

I've been resisting so far. I don't know how much longer I'll make it. *G*

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving means....

As the year begins to wane, now evidenced by the remnants of leaves on trees, I do as I always have and turn inward for inspiration.

Thanksgiving is that one time of the year that I am utterly, truly happy.

I enjoy being with family and friends, eating everything that I know I shouldn’t, planning the holiday to come, and writing. Always, always writing. For some strange reason, writing comes easily during the fall. When the weather is too chilly or wet to be outside, then writing and plotting from the ease of my living room is in the plan.

This year I am thankful for many things, but especially for the men and women of service. Whether it be law enforcement, fire protection, or military, these brave souls keep my hearth and home safe, and for that I am very thankful.

If you have a service man or woman in your life who is putting their life in jeopardy so that me and mine can sleep safely tonight, please know that their sacrifice is noted. Very, very, very much so.

I lift up prayers of thanksgiving for them and for you, because I understand that with such responsibility as they bear, great sacrifice comes to those who love them most.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and may this year be the happiest, most fulfilled ever!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Counting My Blessings

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

“If we all threw our problems into a pile and saw everyone else’s,
we’d grab ours back.”
 (author unknown)

I’ve been thinking about writing this article for over a week and started more drafts of it than I can count, but no matter what, it all boils down to family, home, and feeling grateful for the many blessings and opportunities that have come our way.

Living in a state where unemployment is at 9.5%, I’m grateful that when my husband lost his job, he had options—retirement. I’m counting my blessings.

Two years ago, our governor instructed all state universities to cut back. Our budgets were drastically cut back along with raises, but the following year we had an increase. Thankfully, no one lost their job in the process. I’m counting my blessings.

I’m grateful for the life lessons our son and daughter have recently endured. No matter how good or bad things are, they will change and it’s those changes that force us to reflect, learn, and grow. I’m counting my blessings.

I finished writing another book this past summer and have been trying to find an agent. A frustrating experience to say the least, and although my manuscript is being considered by an agent at the moment, this experience gave me pause to evaluate my purpose and future direction. Crazy or not, I’ve decided to pursue a masters degree in creative writing in the fall of 2011. If by chance I’m able to secure representation for my novel, great! In the meantime, I’m grateful I don’t have to depend on book sales to pay the bills. I’m counting my blessings.

I’ve recently gotten hooked on the TV show, House Hunters/House Hunters International. Last night I watched in awe at a group of young buyers who thought having $2,000 plus monthly mortgage payments on 1,100 square-foot (or sometimes less) homes were bargains. Yup, I’m definitely counting my blessings!

Over the years, I’ve seen countless friends and co-workers pass too early in life—it’s disheartening. At times, I mindlessly complain about my aches and pains, but in truth, they remind me I’m still alive and make me constantly grateful for the otherwise good health I’m enjoying. I’m counting my blessings.

The bottom line is, no one ever said life would be fair or that the road would be flawless. Still, I’m a true believer in the old saying that for every door that closes, a new one opens. Often the path leads me in a completely different direction I hadn't expect and in the end, it’s not the bumps in the road that will matter five years from now, but what I do with them now.

I’m looking forward to having family and friends sitting around our dining room table tomorrow. I’ll be thinking of all my cyber friends as well. Many blessings to all and best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving!

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 978-1-905202-886-7
Tradebook: $15.99
E-book: $9.00 from Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/7821  

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 798-1-905202-72-0
Tradebook: $15.50
E-book: $9.00 from Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/7812

Personal site: www.martastephens-author.com
Personal blog:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Normally this time of the year, I spend a lot of time being thankful for my family, my friends, the successes I’ve had, and the fact that I’m not out on the street yet.

I’m still thankful for all of those things. This year, though, I’d like to give thanks to something else.

The Universe.

I've never been a particularly religious person, but I do believe there's something. Call it God, Allah, the Universe - whatever you'd like. Too many amazing, unexplained things happen for there not to be something higher than us.

Anyway, I'm thankful, because the real miracle is that despite all the odds stacked against it, all the ways the Universe could have gone, all the crazy, irregular and highly unlikely conditions that happen to come together here on this big rock in space... we exist.

What's more, we exist in a truly magical time. We can get in our cars and drive to places that took earlier people days to reach. We can fly to almost any point on the planet we'd like to visit. We have a wealth of knowledge and information at our fingertips, no further than the closest Internet connection.

Most of all, we are alive. And it's amazing to be alive.

I'm thankful for that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Subtexting in Dialogue

by Brandilyn Collins
Many times when people talk, they don't say what they mean. Their words are on one level, and the meaning lies underneath. This is called subtexted dialogue.

It's a common error for fledgling writers (and, unfortunately, sometimes not so fledgling) to write WYSIWYG dialogue--What You See Is What You Get. All meaning is right on the surface—or “on the nose.” WYSIWYG dialogue that should be subtexted won't seem well written or real to life.

Say two women, Jane and Mary, have volunteered for a job at church. They eventually get into a disagreement. Jane makes a thoughtless comment and hurts Mary's feelings. They finish their work in testy silence. But Jane feels embarrassed and wants to make amends. She says, "Want to go get coffee? I'm buying."

But getting a coffee isn't really what Jane wants. If we were to write what she's really saying, it would look more like: "I'm really sorry I said that. I feel embarrassed about it. Would you let me buy you a coffee to make it up to you?"

Now the interesting thing about this subtext is that Mary will immediately understand Jane's underlying meaning. But she won't want to come out and say so. She'll respond within the same subtext. She might say, "Thanks. That would be great." Meaning: "I can see you feel bad, and I accept your apology." Or she could say, rather curtly, "No thanks. I don't have time." Meaning: "I'm still royally ticked at you and am not ready to accept an apology. If you feel embarrassed—good!"

Of course, some dialogue should be WYSIWYG. The trick is knowing when to subtext.

People have two general reasons for subtexting. (1) They don't want to admit what they're thinking, or (2) They don't need to say what they're thinking because the other person already knows it. The "coffee" conversation is an example of situation #1--Jane doesn't want to openly apologize because she's embarrassed about the incident and doesn't want to bring it up.

Situation #2 often occurs when the speakers stumble upon a subject that carries a lot of baggage between them. For example, your character Todd has a history of lying to his wife, Sue, and not supporting her emotionally. This has hurt her deeply. Now she catches him in another lie—something to do with helping their mutual friend Patricia. The lie in itself is a small one, but it triggers Sue’s memories of Todd’s numerous betrayals. Her response could be written like this: She pulled back, eyes narrowed. “How thoughtful of you to be there when Pat needed you.” Real meaning—how can you be so quick to help a friend when you’re never there for me?” Believe me, Todd will get the point.

Notice where the true meaning lies in subtexted dialogue—not in the words, but in everything that is occurring around them: through the characters’ Thought, Inflection, Movement, and Expression. You can remember these elements through the acronym TIME.

In GETTING INTO CHARACTER I use a scene containing five innocuous words of dialogue as an example of subtexting and the use of TIME elements:

“Sleep well?”

Let’s say this is the opening scene of a book. To this point we don’t know the characters at all. How might you write a short scene, using these lines of dialogue, that depicts an abusive marriage? That is, a scene without pages of backstory that simply tell us the marriage is troubled. Here’s an example:

At last, silence. Not even a creak from the padded rocking chair. She was too exhausted to push.

Early morning light filtered through the checkered curtains, patterning the floor at Missy Danton’s feet. Her newborn nursed in her arms, sighing in contentment with each swallow. For hours, Missy had despaired of this moment ever arriving. The baby had squalled all night, filling her with fear at the thought of waking her husband.

Missy smoothed a fingertip over the baby’s perfect cheek. How could Franklin still treat her so badly after she’d given him such a beautiful son? She’d been so sure a baby would change things. But the pain in her left shoulder, where he’d punched her twice yesterday, baby in her arms, screamed the bitter truth.

The nursery door pushed open. Missy raised dull eyes to watch Franklin’s head appear, hair matted from sleep. What she would give for the slightest bit of compassion.

“Morning.” Her voice was little more than a croak.

He slouched in the doorway, dismissive eyes flicking over her face, the baby. Languidly, then, he stretched, yawning with exaggeration. “Morning.”

Resentment rose like hot acid within Missy. She pressed her lips together, fingers tensing under the baby’s blanket. “Sleep well?” Biting with sarcasm, the words slipped from her lips of their own accord. The moment they were out, she wanted them back.

Franklin drew to his full height, eyes narrowing. His head tilted, and Missy could see the telltale vein on his neck begin to throb. She braced herself, drawing her baby closer. Franklin’s mouth opened in a smirk, his chin jutting. “Yeah,” he goaded, daring her to continue in such foolishness.

Fresh, nauseating fear blanketed Missy’s anger. She now had more than herself to protect.

Missy lowered her eyes.

Remember that subtexted dialogue occurs when (1) the speaker doesn’t want to say what he’s thinking, or (2) the speaker doesn’t need to say what he’s thinking because the other person already knows it. This scene between Missy and Franklin contains examples of both situations.

Let’s look at the subtexted meaning of each line:

“Morning.” Look at me just once with compassion, Franklin. I’ve been up all night with the son I’ve given you, and I’m exhausted. (Situation #1)

“Morning.” Yeah, what do I care? That’s your place, watching the kid while I get my eight hours. (Situation #2)

“Sleep well?” I’m sick of the way you treat me. You make me furious. How can you be so selfish, sleeping all night while I was having so much trouble? (Situation #1)

“Yeah.” You keep it up, Missy, you’ll be sorry. A baby in your arms ain’t gonna keep me from hitting you. (Situation #2)

There’s one more piece of this conversation, unspoken:

Missy lowered her eyes. Franklin, I’m sorry, I don’t know what got into me. Please don’t hit me. Please don’t hurt my baby. (Situation #2)

Relook at the scene, substituting the subtexted dialogue with its actual meaning. If the characters had spoken in such WYSIWYG terms, the scene would read as not “real” to life. Instinctively we know these two characters wouldn’t speak to each other so openly.

Let’s look more closely at how to use the TIME elements in a scene.

Thought: This doesn’t just refer to literal thoughts. You can do that once in a while, but they are jarring and quickly become tiring to the reader, so use them sparingly. In this scene, thought has been depicted through narrative. One word of caution, since thought is often the easiest technique to employ. Don’t overuse it, or you will simply move all meaning from spoken word to narrative thought. This will negate the need for other kinds of description and will deaden your scene, telling your story rather than showing it.

Inflection: One or two well chosen words can convey a magnitude of meaning. Missy’s “Sleep well?” asked with biting sarcasm spoke of her deep resentment and anger at Franklin. It had nothing to do with wondering how he’d spent his night.

Movement: This includes body language as well as large motions. A slouch, a jiggling foot, a flick of the hand—all convey messages.

Expression: Facial expression can be very effective even when a character is otherwise still. Remember that Missy’s final communication of accepting “her place” under Franklin’s abusive rule was conveyed merely through lowering her eyes. Such silent expression can tell the reader far more than words.

Take a look at the dialogue in one of your scenes. Is it written in WYSIWYG style when it should be subtexted? Maybe you’ve managed to subtext bits of it, while other parts remain WYSIWYG. Dig deeper into the meaning of the words—and show them through TIME elements instead of the dialogue itself. And when you’re not writing—when you’re simply conversing with others (or listening to a conversation) pay attention to how often meaning is subtexted. You’ll be surprised how much it occurs. The more you understand subtexting in real life, the more you’ll use it effectively in your writing.


Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense®--fast-paced, character-driven suspense with myriad twists and an interwoven thread of faith. Brandilyn is currently writing her 23rd book. Her latest release, DECEIT, was just named in Booklist’s 2010 Top Ten list for inspirational fiction. When she ventures from her writing cave, Brandilyn can be found teaching the craft of fiction at writers conferences. She and her family divide their time between homes in California and Idaho.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I'm thankful for.... nature and its incredible bounty

Savor the Moment: inspiration for writers
copyright, Aaron Paul Lazar 2010

It’s the last week of November. Winter has already stretched tentative tendrils toward us, chilling the evenings to icy temps and drenching the mornings with heavy dew. Today, as I rounded the top of a hill overlooking the valley, my breath caught in my throat. Before me lay the snaking path of the Genesee River, previously hidden from casual view behind fields and woods. Nebulous clouds of fog hovered above, revealing the river route that quietly meanders out of sight most of the year.

My soul exploded with a sensation of splendor best described by the Japanese philosophy, wabi sabi*. This was indeed a wabi sabi moment, a fraction of time linking nature and man, steeped in intense sensual beauty…so full of wonder it transports you to a moment of spiritual enlightenment.

In addition to the vapor-bound river, the countryside lay punctuated with farmers’ ponds, exposed via banks of fog steaming overhead. Normally hidden by tall fields of grass or corn, the wisps of moisture called attention to the quiet shallows, home to frogs and watering holes for livestock.

Stunned by the beauty, invigorated beyond belief, I continued on the drive that I’d taken thousands of times before. Heading north on River Road, whispers of “Thank you, God,” floated in my brain. Still and amorphous, the words vibrated in syncopation with stirring grasses.

Once again, nature presented a feast so lovely I choked with emotion. There, to the east, clusters of tall grass waved in the sunlight with heavy heads bowed under the weight of soaking dew, their curvatures swan-like as they moved in glistening silence.

The ephemeral nature of this phenomenon is part of the allure. That precise moment of intense immersion, that amazing connection with nature, will never repeat. The sun's rays may not hit the grass with exactly the same angle or intensity. The grass will change tomorrow, perhaps drier, taller, or shorn. This transient moment of staggering beauty must be absorbed and cherished.

What path do writers take to experience this? How do they open the channels in the brain that might have been content to listen to Haydn’s 19th Symphony in C Major, but blind to nature’s offerings? (this was playing on the radio when I delighted in these visions today.)

First of all, one must be a “visualist.” That isn’t a real word, but it describes what I mean. A person who is stunned by physical natural beauty (certainly not at the exclusion of aural, tactile, or emotional stimuli) possesses visual aqueducts to the world through his or her eyes. Infinitesimal flashes of stunning images move him beyond belief. These impressions are captured in his mind’s eye, never to be lost, forever to be savored. And often, when this type of writer is creating, they see the “movie in their mind,” pressing from within, allowing readers to feel intimate and involved in a scene.

What type of a reader are you? Do you soak up scenes written by others? Imagine them for days on end? Find choice gems of passages that affect you for life? Do you want your readers to feel this way about your own prose?

It is this deeply felt appreciation for nature, for life, for wonder, that promotes a good writer to potential majesty. Perhaps not to best-seller status – that illusory fate is in the hands of a publishing industry often not tuned into art, but focused solely on profit. Try to ignore that aspect when you are creating your next masterpiece. In time, if the stars are aligned and you achieve this pinnacle of greatness, it may happen.

Open your eyes. Reel it in. Absorb the beauty around you, whether it is the flash of love in an old woman’s eye, or the fragile petal of a tiny orange cinquefoil. Allow yourself to be in that moment, record it in your soul, and play it back for your readers for the ultimate connection.

And be ever so grateful... for this life of ours is a gift. Don't waste it!

* Wabi Sabi for Writers, by Richard Powell, Adams Media.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview with Author Sheldon Russell

Sheldon Russell, author of THE INSANE TRAIN
Interviewed by Marta Stephens

Q: Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

A: I’m an unlikely author, I suppose, having grown up on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma. We lived eleven miles from the nearest town, and playmates were hard to come by. But then isolation can turn one inward, and reflection is, I suspect, a large part of becoming a writer. I’ve since moved back to that ranch and once again spend my days living in my head.

I’ve had five novels published. THE INSANE TRAIN will be the sixth. I’m especially proud of the recognition my books have received. DREAMS TO DUST garnered the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction and the Oklahoma Book Award. REQUEIM AT DAWN was a Finalist for the Spur, and THE YARD DOG a Finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award this year.

Q: Why THE INSANE TRAIN? What prompted you to write it and what do you hope your readers will get out of it?

A: While poking around in the historical society archives one day, I came across a newspaper article written in 1908 about a fire in a local insane asylum. So many of the patients died in that fire that they had to be buried in a mass grave. About that same time, the federal government had turned over an old territorial fort to the state. The decision was made to transfer the remaining patients by train to that old fort.

This is just the sort of situation that makes for a great mystery: a collection of unpredictable characters, a journey filled with danger, and a train, of course, that time-honored crucible in which I could turn up the heat.

What I hope my readers will get out of THE INSANE TRAIN is a few hours of escape, a dose of intrigue, and a few belly laughs.

Q: Tell us a bit about your protagonist, Hook Runyon, and how he came about?

A: I went to school in a railroad town. My father worked as a machinist for the Santa Fe there, so I knew the railroad culture, how the men thought, how they talked, how they dealt with the dangers and difficulties of their job. Hook Runyon, rail detective, was a natural choice for me.

After losing an arm and his girl on the same day, Hook went on the bum. A year riding the rails taught him all he needed to know about how to be a railroad yard dog. He learned how to survive where others couldn’t, how to fight, and how to drown his troubles with popskull shine. In short, he learned who he was and, more importantly, who he wasn’t any longer.

A mixture of contradictions, Hook lives in a caboose, collects rare books, and drinks bust head liquor. It’s not always clear on which side of the law he’s operating. He’s uneducated but wise, tough but sensitive, gentle but lethal. He likes his women smart and his friends loyal. He loves his old dog, Mixer, and his sidekicks with equal fervor.

Q: Please share with our readers a little about the plot, the characters, the setting, of your novel.

A: A devastating fire destroys an insane asylum in Needles, California. The decision is made to transfer the remaining inmates by train to a fort in Oklahoma. Hook is assigned security duty for the transfer. The cause of the fire is suspicious, and many of the inmates were housed in the criminally insane ward. No weapons will be permitted in their control, and there’s a manpower shortage due to the war. Hook is forced to recruit a group of wayward vets who are living under a bridge as guards for the journey. Things quickly go awry on the insane train.

Q: Please describe the greatest challenge you faced in writing this book, why it was difficult, and how you resolved it.

A: While a train provides a small, high-pressure setting and lots of opportunity for conflict, consider Murder on the Orient Express, it can also limit the introduction of new characters and new situations. Luckily for me, the insane train, being an old worn out steamer, required a number of stops along the way, providing occasions for keeping the story vigorous and fresh.

Q: How much and/or what kind of research went into writing this book?

A: Research was an integral part of my job as a professor, so I not only understand how to do it, I’ve come to rather enjoy it. I read widely about the criminally insane and their diagnostic standards. I also did considerable research into how insane asylum “inmates” were regarded and treated in the 1940’s. I needed a working knowledge of World War II and its effect on veterans. I relied heavily on Santa Fe systems maps, railway museums, and the stories of railroaders themselves to establish Hook’s credibility as a yard dog.

My experience has been that the research doesn’t stop until the book ends. While I don’t feel the need to be an expert in any given area, I do try to make my books factually accurate. I’ve learned to never underestimate the intelligence of my readers.

Q: What do you find the most difficult part of writing in general and what do you do to overcome it?

A: Contrary to what many writers say, I find the rewrites the easiest part of the task. I like the business of polishing my work. Pushing ahead into the blank page, however, is more difficult for me, making certain the ideas are not only plausible but fun. I’ve also been known to write myself into a corner from time to time.

Two pieces of advice keep me going when this happens: The best way forward is most often to go back. When you can no longer think through a problem, stop thinking for awhile. I’ve learned to have more confidence in the power of the subconscious to solve my writing problems.

Q: How do you balance your time to make time for writing?

A: It’s a matter of discipline, isn’t it? And I’ve come to believe that consistency and quality are more important than quantity. I’m not a word counter and find that process both counter productive and tedious. As long as I’m moving forward in some degree, a book stays alive for me.

The best way for me to manage the material, both intellectually and emotionally, is to think of it primarily in terms of chapters. I’m far less likely to be overwhelmed by the process that way.

Q: What impact would you say completing THE INSANE TRAIN has had on you personally and on your writing?

A: THE INSANE TRAIN is the second book in the Hook Runyon series, so I encounter readers who have read THE YARD DOG and who are anticipating this book’s release. That in itself is rewarding and motivating for me. I’m no longer writing for an unknown audience.

In addition, I’ve learned a great deal about writing humor in this book. Not only did the characters lend themselves to it but so did the setting and the plot. I’ve grown more confident, less censorious, more willing to trust my instincts in this area.

Q: Who has been the greatest influence on you with respect to encouraging you to write and become a published author?

A: For writers there’s always those in our personal lives who sacrifice in many silent ways and who believe in us when the world doesn’t. Without them, it wouldn’t happen.

And then there are others who inspire us in different ways. For me, it was a college professor whose literary life was as real to her as her own life. She lived it and loved it and passed it on as a great treasure.

Q: With respect to your writing, please give us some insight into your writing process. In other words, did you outline the chapters? Did you think about the plot for a while before writing it? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?

A: This has changed for me over the years. When I first started writing, I relied heavily on creative energy, doing very little planning, thinking that it would somehow weaken my work.

But I’ve learned that planning pays. Now, before I write a word, I will have put together a schemata, a map of the journey I’m about to take. I know where I’m to start, how I’m to get there, and what lurks at the end, though I don’t know the turns and twists and detours that await me along the way.

Once my overall plan is complete, I develop each chapter in advance of writing it. I do this through drawing association diagrams, making certain that something happens in each chapter and that my reader has good cause to read the next.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m well into my third Hook Runyon mystery. The setting is the Johnson Canyon Railway Tunnel in Arizona, which was kept under constant military guard during World War II. Hook stumbles upon a secret there that could change his life forever.

Q: Any words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?

A: Writing is more of a practice skill than most people care to admit. Never confuse writing-related activities with actual writing practice.

About the Author
A retired college professor, Russell lives in Guthrie, Oklahoma, with his wife, Nancy, an artist. He has previously won the Oklahoma Book Award and the Langum Prize for Historical Literature.  THE YARD DOG, the first Hook Runyon novel, was nominated for the Oklahoma Book Award and earned high praise as Russell’s debut mystery. http://www.sheldonrussell.com/

Thursday, November 18, 2010

To Nano or not to Nano

Why I do not do NanoWriMo anymore
by Kim Smith

Because it is far easier to just sit my butt in the chair and write if I don’t have all the pressure of a contest to turn out a certain word count.

For some people, they need a bit of pressure. It encourages them to “get ‘er done”, or at the very least get ‘er started. I believe that anything that gets a writer going is okay. So, if you are hot on the trail of the next bestselling book, and it is thanks to Nano, then you are okay by me.

But we should all remember that writing is easy if you don’t care much about what you are putting on the page. Most times, writing is something akin to pulling out your own jaw-tooth with a rusty pair of pliers. It just ain’t gonna come out.

Sometimes we have issues that crop up. I have them nearly every day. I cannot write and take care of issues and worry about a contest that requires me to get in 1667 words. It will shut me down and I will NEVER get anything done. But there are a lot of folks who can do it and do so every dang year.

One of those great fall Sundays where I had a belly full of stew and football on the tube and man, that couch was just a ‘callin’ convinced me that Nano is timed all wrong for me.

I don’t need Nano. I write my utmost best in fall and winter. It’s too chilly or bad weather then to do anything outside, so naturally my attention turns inward. And my muse is always waiting.

But if you are a Nano-er and still sitting here reading this post, best hop to it. Your word count is calling. I just penned 300 words for you on this blog and it was pretty darn effortless. If I can do that, you can succeed too. Best of luck, and let us know how it’s going.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Critiquing critique groups

© Kathryn Miller Haines 2010 all rights reserved

I’m a big fan of critique groups. Ever since my first fiction workshop as an undergrad, I’ve thrived in an environment where I not only get a variety of opinions about my work, but the chance to read and respond to other writers work as well. I don’t think I would have ever gotten the Rosie Winter series published if it wasn’t for the beloved critique groups I joined after grad school. They gave me hope in my writing while pushing me to do better and I’ll always be grateful to the writers who were part of them.

But I know critique groups aren’t for everyone. Some of us work much better alone.

I think, in fact, I’m becoming one of those writers. One of my long time groups is starting to implode and I’ve found myself struggling with cutting the cord because I just like everyone so darn much. But there are folks who submit the same projects over and over again and never seem to never integrate anyone’s feedback*, an ongoing issue with quality of participation**, and, perhaps most egregiously, the caliber of snacks has greatly declined.

Actually, the food is fabulous, and I could probably overlook the other stuff, except that the group takes up a lot of time (especially now that there’s behind the scenes drama to dissect after each meeting) and as my life gets busier I need every spare moment I can find to write.

Recently, I did an experiment with a small group of published writers. We met over lunch once a week for four weeks*** to critique proposals and pages. The idea was to help jump start new writing projects that we were all struggling with.

The experience was revelatory.

Abandoning the usual rules that these groups involve, we bombarded one another with work, provided our fellow writers with the questions that were bothering us the most (Is this character too stupid to live? Why do you think my agent doesn’t want to try to sell this? What does this project need to help take my writing – and career -- to the next level?), and then sat back and listened to each other. I found myself stunned as projects I’d had problems with for years that had been praised by other groups were finally, ruthlessly, evaluated by the folks in attendance. It was like walking around with a nagging pain and having doctor after doctor tell you it was only in your head, only to finally land upon the one person who not only listened to you, but was able to name your disease and suggest a cure.

My disease, incidentally, is called “stop-stalling-and-get-to-the-dramatic-action-already-itis.” I’ll be starting a foundation to find a cure with my next advance check, if I ever get this damn book finished.

By meeting so frequently, we forced ourselves to respond to the feedback we agreed with and revise, revise, revise. It was amazing to not only learn about my (more successful) friends’ writing processes, but to see how they responded to our comments and banged out increasingly improved work. At the end of the four weeks, I hit the ground running on my latest book, feeling confident that I was finally over the hurdle that had stalled me for months.

Part of the reason it was so successful may have been the experience and wisdom of the writers I met with, but I also think that for where I am right now, and my own muddled writing process, intensive, frequent meetings, followed by months of just working, might be a better formula for me.

So what about you? Do you find value in critique groups? If you do, what do you think is the ideal set up for a group?

*The first rule of a critique group is, of course, that you don’t have to listen to everyone. You have to find the voices in the group who seem to get what you’re trying to do and are trying to help you accomplish that goal. They’re rarely the people who praise you the loudest nor the ones whose comments are the most harsh. That being said, when people ignore what everyone is saying, it does make you start to wonder if they’re just there for the free food.

**A group is only as strong as its weakest member. Note I’m talking about quality of participation, not of writing, though if all you’re contributing are tired proverbs in footnoted blog posts, you might want to consider another vocation.

***Full disclosure: I skipped a meeting. Thanks, horrible head cold.

About the author

Kathryn Miller Haines is an actor, mystery writer, and award-winning playwright. In addition to writing the Rosie Winter mystery series for HarperCollins, she's also writing a young adult mystery series for Roaring Brook Press, a division of MacMillan, the first of, The Girl is Murder, will be out in 2011.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hear The Writer Speak The Page

© Bruce DeSilva 2010 all rights reserved

Real people don’t sound alike when they speak, and neither should the characters in a novel. If they do, I stop reading and look for another book.

A mobbed-up bookie, an aged ex-fireman, a by-the-book police chief, and a 39-year-old investigative reporter may all speak English, but they don’t use the language in the same way.

When I began writing my crime novel, ROGUE ISLAND, I knew that my forty years in journalism had sharpened my perception of human speech. I’d interviewed, and listened closely to, people in all walks of life: politicians and prostitutes, cops and mobsters, firemen and arsonists, doctors and drug addicts.

Still, this was my first novel, so I was initially uneasy about whether I could capture the variations of human speech on the page. I began by throwing my characters together and letting them talk to see what would happen. When each spoke in a distinct voice, I knew I would be able to write the book I’d envisioned.

As the novel opens, an arsonist is systematically burning down the working-class neighborhood where the main character, an investigative reporter named Mulligan, grew up. With the police looking for answers in all the wrong places, it’s up to Mulligan to find the hand that strikes the match.

The tale is set in the claustrophobic little city of Providence, RowDIElin, where the natives speak in a variety of English that is all their own. I wanted my readers hear how it sounds, but I couldn’t write the whole story in dialect because it would be hard to read. Early in the book, I let readers to eavesdrop on locals rubbernecking at a house fire. I wrote the passage in dialect and provided a translation in standard English:

“Y doan dey spray moah wahduh awn duh ruf?” (Why don’t they spray more water on the roof?)

“Dey orda.” (They ought to.)

“Ats wot I bin sayin.” (That’s what I’ve been saying.)

“Shut up, daboatayuz.” (Shut up, the both of you.)

“Jeet yet?” (Did you eat yet?)

“Gnaw.” (No.)

“We kin take my cah tuh Caserduz if I kin fine my kahkis.”

(We can take my car to Caserta’s if I can find my car keys.)

“Wicked pissa!” (Good idea!)

And that, I figured, was enough of that. From then on, I occasionally used pronunciation spellings, dropping the “g” in words like “somethin’” or tossing in a “How are ya?” – but I shunned anything that would be hard to read.

One of my favorite characters in the novel is an aged ex-fireman named Jack Centofanti, an old family friend of Mulligan’s. Here’s what happens when Jack asks after Mulligan’s sister, brother, and troublesome ex-wife.

“So how ya been?”

“I’m fine, Jack.”

“Your beautiful sister? She good?”

“Meg’s great. Teaching school in Nashua. Got her own house in the suburbs. Got married last summer to a nice girl from New Haven.”

“Merda!” He stared at me a moment, then snorted. “Well, if that’s your idea of great, then I guess it’s okay with me too. What about Aidan? You two still not talking?”

“I’m talking. He’s not.”

“Must make it hard to have a conversation.”

“It does.”

“I never did like Dorcas.”

“I know.”

“Pazza stronza. A real rompinalle.”

Crazy bitch. A real ball- breaker. The closest Jack had ever been to Italy was the three-cheese-and-meatball pizza at Caserta’s, but he’d mastered the art of cursing in Italian.

Mulligan is also friends with another old man, a mobbed-up bookie named Dominic Zerilli. This character needed to sound different from Jack, so I gave his speech harder edges. Here, Mulligan has just asked Zerilli about a vigilante group the bookie created to combat the arsons in his neighborhood.

“They needed somethin’ to carry, you know, in case they run into trouble. Don’t need no more fuckin’ guns on the street. Got enough headache, pukes strollin’ in here with UZIs they buy in schoolyards, scarin’ the help half to death. So I got the guys twenty-four brand new Louisville Sluggers. Woulda set me back a few hundred bucks if Carmine Grasso hadn’t had ’em sittin’ around, you know, from the time he . . . ah . . . acquired a truckload of sporting goods. Charged me two bucks apiece. Ended up buyin’ eighty of ’em. Gonna stick the rest out front the store this spring, sell ’em to the kids. If spring ever comes— this fuckin’ snow— Jesus!”

The police chief, Angelo Ricci, is Italian, too, but he talks in official police-speak. Here he is at a press conference:

“At 11:57 last night,” the chief began, “two Providence police officers on patrol in Mount Hope observed two male subjects armed with baseball bats committing an assault upon another male subject at the southeast corner of Knowles and Cypress streets. The officers exited their vehicle, drew their weapons, and apprehended the suspects, who did not offer resistance.”

Mulligan’s bosses, an executive editor named Pemberton and a city editor named Lomax, are both professional veteran journalists, but they, too, sound nothing alike. Pemberton’s speech is formal and windy. Lomax doesn’t say much; but when he speaks he cuts to the chase. Here, they’re telling a resistant Mulligan why he’s going to have to mentor the publisher’s son, who has just graduated from journalism school:

“The lad was quite insistent that he begin his career in the newsroom,” Pemberton said. “He was equally insistent that he work with you. Apparently he has been reading your copy and has convinced himself that you are the best we have. I tried to persuade him that this is not the case, but to no avail. Frankly, Mulligan, you are the last person I would have chosen for this. I’m well aware of your irreverent attitude toward the owners of this newspaper. But the decision is out of my hands.”

“Jesus Christ!” I said, but it was out of His hands, too.

“We’re all going to be working for the kid someday, Mulligan,” Lomax said. “Show him some fucking respect.”

Hardcastle, another of the newsroom’s denizens, is a rawboned Arkansas transplant who writes the metro column. Here, he’s giving Mulligan a hard time about a story:

“Mulligan, you never could write, but your Sassy story was dog shit,” he said, blessing the word with an extra syllable—shee- it. “You take a homey little yarn about some nice folks and their amazing animal, and you write it up like you just caught the governor with his hand on your wallet. ‘Fleming claimed.’ ‘Alleged to have walked.’ ‘Could not be confirmed.’ What the hell was you thinking? Story like this, gotta stroke it like it’s your dick, have a little fun with it. . . . Got so many page-one stories you can afford to piss ’em away?”

I saw it clearly now. My story was dog shit, and I pissed it away because I didn’t stroke it like it was my dick. Why bother with journalism school when Hardcastle Academy is tuition free?

Getting all the characters’ voices right matters, but the most important voice in a novel is the one that belongs to the storyteller.

Ever been to a party where someone is telling a story and everyone gathers around to listen? It isn’t the story that draws them. It’s the person telling it. A novel works the same way except that the writer is asking the reader to listen to his voice for hundreds of pages. You may think you read with your eyes but you really read with your ears. You hear the writer speak the page.

ROGUE ISLAND is written in the first person, with the main character, Mulligan, telling the story.

Mulligan is a lot like me—except that he’s 24 years younger, six inches taller, and quicker with a quip. He’s an investigative reporter; I used to be. He doesn’t do well with authority; I do worse. He’s got a smart mouth; I get a lot of complaints about the same thing.

Here’s how Mulligan sounds when he talks directly to the reader:

From the outside, the drab government building looked like randomly stacked cardboard boxes. Inside, the halls were grimy and shit green. The johns, when they weren’t padlocked to save civil servants from drowning, were fragrant and toxic. The elevators rattled and wheezed like a geezer chasing a taxi.

It was easy to get that voice right, because Mulligan sounds like me.

About the authorBruce DeSilva worked as a journalist for 40 years before retiring a year ago to write crime novels full time. His first novel, ROGUE ISLAND, has been praised by 14 A-list crime writers including Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben and Michael Connelly, and has received dozens of rave reviews. The Washington Post, for example, said the book “raises the bar for all books of its kind,” and Publishers Weekly said the main character, Mulligan, is “a masterpiece of irreverence and street savvy.”

You can learn more at his website, http://brucedesilva.com/ , and his blog, http://brucedesilva.wordpress.com/  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Writing today, has it changed?

What does it take these days to write a book? Well, it takes first and foremost, someone with the desire to write it. Maybe someone with the credentials to write it. Oftentimes, someone who has the story already in their heads and can’t not write it.

But sometimes just wanting to write a book isn’t enough. You have to have some general knowledge of the writing world. I mean, heck, if you just picked up the number one bestseller and said, why, I think I want to write a book like that, and you set out to do it, you MIGHT manage. But chances are you would be lost before the first twenty pages were penned.

So what does it take to write a book these days? And why can’t wannabe writers just wing it? Well, they can if they don’t want to be published. If they do seek publication, well, that’s a horse of a color altogether never seen.

It could be the industry. Never before has the publishing industry been so tight. So closed to the very public that keeps it in business! Then too, there are the miracles that make it through.

I don’t have the insider scoop, but maybe you have something you want to add? What do YOU think it takes to write a publishable book these days?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Irons in the Fire by Misa Ramirez

copyright 2010, Misa Ramirez

Here’s a riddle for you:

How many irons can a mystery writer keep in the fire without getting burned?

Um, I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know when it happens.

Seriously, I do sometimes wonder how I keep my head afloat. My mother is always telling me to slow down, relax, don’t take on so much, etc. But I think it’s in my nature to keep busy. As Lucille Ball said (yes, that Lucille Ball), “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

I’m that busy person.

I rarely have time to waste, so I multitask expertly. TV time with the kids? I'm blogging (because I have 2 blogs I write for: The Stiletto Gang and The Naked Hero, or editing (because I’m a writer and there’s always something to edit or revise), or reading student work (because I teach writing at a local college), or working on my business, Books on the House, a website I founded to bring writers and readers together under one roof. Pretty good tagline, right?!

I’m a mother of five, ages 8-18, a PTA volunteer, a wife, an education advocate (but, man, that’s a whole ‘nother story built out of pure passion and necessity), book clubber, band mom... I could go on. And on.

Considering everything I have going on in my life, I often wonder why I wasn’t satisfied with just my writing. Why did I co-found The Naked Hero? Why did I join The Stiletto Gang? Why did I found Books on the House?

I think the answers really define who I am, as a person and as a writer. I’m proactive. I’m a doer. If I see a need, I jump in. If I want something, I figure out how to get it. There’s another quote I like, author unknown: Some people dream of success... while others wake up and work hard at it.

Just to clarify, I don’t see success as something finite or concrete. I already feel successful. I have set my mind to accomplish certain things, I’ve worked hard, and I’ve reached those goals.

I wanted to write. So I did. Every Monday night when my youngest was but a few weeks old, I went to a coffee shop with a friend and wrote.

I wanted to write a book. A character was born, then her family, then the mystery and premise of the book.

I wanted to have that book published and pursue a new career, although I never had expectations of bestsellerdom. I joined a writing organization, learned to hone my craft, found an agent, then another agent, and voila!, a short 3 years later, the book found a home at St. Martin’s Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books.

I wanted to venture into e-books, so I did, signing with and having two romantic suspense books (based on Mexican legends) published with Diversion Books.


After learning the hard way that publishers don’t help much with marketing and promotion, I wanted to create a way for authors, like myself, to inexpensively market and promote themselves and their books to a captive audience. Books on the House was born.

Being an education advocate, I wanted a similar site for children’s and YA books. Books on the House for Kids and Teens was created as an offshoot of the main site.

And now, as my career has grown (feeling less like a fluke after the Lola Cruz Mysteries with SMP and more like that career I dreamed of since I signed a contract for 3 books with NAL), I have a solid marketing strategy and the opportunity to build my career even more so I can continue doing what I love.

I’m first and foremost a mystery writer, but the silver lining from all the irons I have smoking is the unexpected success of Books on the House. Running this site has allowed me to meet some amazing people like the fantastic Aaron Lazar :), Sarah Addison Allen, Alyson Noel, MJ Rose, and so many more. I’ve met equally amazing readers who are so excited to discover new-to-them authors.

Six months ago I had a nugget of an idea about a way to bring readers and books together. Now I have a site which gets more than 60,000 page views per month, a subscriber list of more than a 1000, and is growing every single day is phenomenal. I’m so proud to have created something people respond to so whole-heartedly and that is built around my passion of books and writing, and seriously, what’s not to love about discovering new books and entering to win free books?

So, how many irons do you keep in the fire, and have you gotten burned?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Voting Results for the second Moore Mystery book title

Last week we talked about how hard it is to come up with an original book title that hasn't already been used by a hundred authors. I spent a day perusing American phrases, and made a list I thought was original and pretty exciting.

It was only when I did Amazon searches on them to be sure they hadn't been used before that I was knocked down a few pegs - almost all of them had been used, countless times, and by some very famous authors like Agatha Christie and Fyodor Doestoevsky.

What instigated this new title search was a request from my publisher, Lida Quillen. She thinks my original title doesn't quite match the excitement level in my second Moore Mystery (sequel to HEALEY'S CAVE), and so she asked me to come up with some options.

One tip she provided was not to worry about a previously used title. Of course, titles aren't copyrighted, so anyone can use any existing title. And what would differentiate this book, is the subtitle "A Sam Moore Mystery."

I asked my readers, friends, and anyone who was interested to vote on my short list. Here are the results:

  • Cat Among the Pigeons   46
  • Dying to Meet You            32
  • Snake in the Grass           28
  • Dark Horse                       28
  • Paper Tigress                   25
  • The Bluff                           23
  • Terror on the Hill               19

There were a few votes here and there for the other titles, but they didn't make the grade, so I left them off.

Now, there were also some "write-ins" on this poll! Quite a few folks had suggestions, and I wanted to thank them by showing them here:

  • Terror Comes Knocking                Don H.
  • With Cat's Eyes                            Karen F.
  • A Time of Terror                            Mary E.
  • Regards                                        Ginny S.
  • Inquest at the Pyramid's Eye        Jeni E. 
  • Inside the Cat's Eye                     Anita S.
  • All That and Something Moore    Wesley W.
  • Dark Terror                                   Angela A.
  • Dark Talisman                              Angela A.
  • Pigeon Among the Cats               Greg S.
  • I Almost Cried                              anonymous
  • Stranger Within                            Larry H.

Aren't they great? We have some creative people who took this poll!

So, Cat Among the Pigeons was by far the favorite (I love it, too!), with actually tons of votes for most of the other choices.

But as I mentioned last week, my publisher has the last word. She's pondered both lists - yes, I sent your suggestions to her! And guess what?

It's a tie!

As I write this, she's still deciding between Cat Among the Pigeons and Terror Comes Knocking, submitted by Don Harman from Charlotte, North Carolina. She wants to take her time to reflect on it, and will let me know when she's ready to announce the next title.

You never know, do you? When I started this list, I really loved Snake in the Grass and Dark Horse, but now I'm open to whatever she chooses. After all, she's been in the business a lot longer than me.

Thanks everyone, for participating, and have a great Sunday!

- Aaron Paul Lazar


Friday, November 5, 2010

On Writing Horror

© Joel M. Andre 2010 all rights reserved

Horror is a touchy subject. While many people believe it is nothing more than violence and language crossing the pages, there is a depth to it as well. Unlike torture porn that fills the screens in movies, such as SAW, most fans of the genre realize that suspense is essential.

Think about the classic Horror films you watched growing up. While Freddy Krueger may have watched you as you dreamt and Jason took you for a swim in the lake, there was more to the movies than just an endless series of deaths.

Certainly, they were more graphic than the Horror films of the 60’s and 70’s, but they still held a level of suspense. These films were designed to take the sense that a normal innocent place could hold something wicked.

Before the killer would come on screen, you were faced with an eerie sense that something wasn’t right. The film grew just a hair darker, and the music began to slowly rise. This knowledge that something bad was going to happen led to the suspense, and the killing only took a second and then the frame switched.

When you are writing a book, that very concept needs to be kept in mind. Your readers will need to know that something wicked is getting ready to happen, but you need to make them wait for it. This need to know what happens next is what will draw them into your text and leave them wanting more from your story.

Think about this, would you read a suspense novel that read: She knew someone was behind her. She turned and she died. I wouldn’t. The action was too quick and it leaves the reader uninterested in the actual content that is in the book. Instead try something like: Behind her, she could hear the soft falling of footsteps. Wanting to turn her head, she resisted the urge. There was only one person that it could be. But it was impossible. Feeling her heart quicken, she increased the pace in which she was walking.

Yes, the last example I gave you was a bit cliché, but the point was to show you there is more depth when you take a scene and run with it. The suspense is what will end up selling your book to readers. There has to be a reason for them to keep reading on. Give them the adrenaline rush they are looking for.

This leads to one more important concept, violence isn’t suspense. Many people fall into the trap thinking the more gore and violence they offer that readers will be entertained more. In most cases, people want the violence to be less than a few paragraphs with the scene being filled with suspense.

Remember that the actual art of Horror is bringing out the fear in people. Most of the time that can be done with a little suspense and then taking them to the edge of the murder. From there, their mind will do the rest

About the author:

Joel M. Andre was born January 1981. At a young age he was fascinated with the written word. It was at fourteen that Poe blew his mind, and Andre began to dabble with darker poetry. Between the years of 1999 and 2007 Joel was featured in various poetry anthologies and publications. In 2008 he released his first collection, Pray the Rain Never Ends.

Knowing there was something deeper and darker inside of his soul, Joel decided to take a stab at commercialism. Releasing the dark tongue in cheek, A Death at the North Pole, created a dark world among the death of Kris Kringle. Ultimately providing a tale of redemption.

October of 2008 saw Joel release his second book, Kill 4 Me. A tale in which a woman is haunted by a vengeful spirit through text messages and instant messaging.

Taking some time off and doing a lot of soul searching, Joel took things in a new direction and dabbled in the Fantasy Genre with, The Pentacle of Light. The tale dealing with five major races battling for control of Earth, and the acceptance of their God.

Finally, after missing his detective Lauren Bruni, he released the book The Return in October 2009, this time moving the action from the North Pole and placing it in the small Arizona community he was raised in.

Andre’s latest book is THE BLACK CHRONICLES: CRY OF THE FALLEN about a dead man who seeks revenge on the woman that tormented him in peaceful Northern Arizona. Andre currently resides in Chandler, AZ.

You can visit his website at http://www.joelmandre.com/ .

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Social what??

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, when I asked what a social network was, I got this:

A social network is a social structure made up of individuals (or organizations) called "nodes", which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.
Wanting to fulfill a curious question as to just what the big deal was about this phenomenon, I asked a youngster what social structure they belonged to. The answer from the kid was, “I don’t node, but my daddy nodes.” Really?

So, do you “node”, or have online interdependent relationships? And are you very worried about all the news of late about security issues and how they are being addressed?

Did you know about Microsoft’s latest security tightening on their web-based mail accounts? -- it’s getting a little scary to think that we need all these measures in today’s already threatened world of terrorism.

To think on it some, there is facebook, twitter, and digg as well as a lot of blog sites like this one. But the biggest social gathering that I know of for writers happens THIS month here at Nano Wri Mo or National Novel Writing Month.

And if you think that is easy, whew boy just try it!

Gosh, it was such a simpler time when you only had to worry about the mailman being delayed by the local hound-dog, or you could float a check because the bank would not be sending it through for a few days (now it is a matter of hours!). Now with the advent of electronic everything we have become an instant society.

But even still, it’s nice to have the luxury of electronic books, cyber friends, and online workshops for writers. I guess I am just going to enjoy my social “noding” and leave the how and why to the pros.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Charlie Schulz Philosophy

I received this in an e-mail some time ago. It struck a cord with me then, it's meaning is particularly clear for me today.  It is the philosophy of Charles Schulz, the creator of the 'Peanuts' comic strip.

You don't have to actually answer the questions. Just ponder on them. Read this straight through, and you'll get the point.

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.

4 Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

6. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?
The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies, awards tarnish, achievements are forgotten, accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:

1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.

2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.

3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.

4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.

5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.


The lesson:
The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They simply are the ones who care the most.

“Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia !”

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes mystery/suspense and the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).

Her books are available in paperback, Kindle, and e-book format online at Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, Smashword, and Powells. For more information about Stephens and her writing, visit http://www.martastephens-author.com.

"Life's too Uncertain, Eat your Dessert First"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Year in the Life

Holiday season is in full swing, and the year is almost over. This is the time when a lot of us think about where we've been and where we'd like to go.

I just ran across an interview I did with Fallen Angel Reviews just about a year ago. It was interesting to see where I was then, where I wanted to be, and where I actually am at this point.

The positives: I achieved my publishing goals and a little more. In 2010 I had the release of my second erotica title with Loose Id, HEARTSONG, and not one or two, but THREE of my House Phoenix series. DEVIL'S HONOR and MASK OF THE SERPENT came out earlier this year, and the fourth book, SHADES OF BLACK, was just released last week. And of course, my real-name debut MASTER OF NONE was released in March.

The negatives: I no longer have my own office. I didn't realize how difficult it was to not have a writing space of my own until I lost mine.

I'm hoping that 2011 will see the release of the final books in the House Phoenix series and my erotica trilogy, as well as the sequel to Master of None. Beyond that... who knows?

Here's the interview from last year. What have you achieved in 2010? What are you aiming for in 2011? I wish you much happy writing!


Everyone welcome, S. W. Vaughn. Hi S.W. and thank you for speaking with us today. Why not grab a cup of coffee and tell the readers something about S. W. Vaughn. S.W., if a reporter were to follow you around for the first part of the day, what interesting facts would they learn about you?

They’d learn that I don’t function at all for the first hour or so after I get up, because that’s how long it takes for the coffee to kick in. During get-ready-for-school time, my poor son is lucky to get monosyllabic responses (except when he tells me he “forgot” to do his homework the night before. That wakes me up fast).

They’d also learn that hanging around me is boring, because I spend almost the entire day in front of the computer, either writing, editing or working on some writing-related project like my website, trailers or blogs (or wasting time on Failblog and YouTube).

I love the covers to Hunted and Broken Angel. They both have a certain enigma that pulls in the reader to read the book. Would you please tell us a little about each book?

Thank you! I’d be happy to.

HUNTED: Grace Carrington is a freak with abilities she doesn’t understand. While on the run from a mother who wants to exploit her talents, Grace encounters two beings with powers stronger than hers...who for some reason want her dead.

What she doesn’t know is that her father was an angel, and that he’s far from the only one to have mated with humans. She is Nephilim: half human, half angel, and no longer alone.

But some angels are not all white robes and fluffy wings. Some angels do not suffer their children to live – and seek to destroy the Nephilim at every opportunity. Now Grace is being hunted by the angel who commands the Stalker: an inhuman killer of unknown origins, from whom no Nephil has ever escaped alive.

BROKEN ANGEL: For six months, Gabriel Morgan has hunted his missing sister through the underground of New York. But when he finally finds her, his nightmare is just beginning. Lillith has become trapped in the organization: a multi-million dollar underground world of street fighters and prostitutes, led by five ruthless men who control the action in each borough of the city.

Marcus Slade, a self-styled businessman who deals in flesh and crooked favors, rules Manhattan -- and he also rules Lillith.In exchange for her freedom, Slade demands ten million dollars... earned through Gabriel's blood. Gabriel must become a fighter in a ring with no rules save one: don't lose.

To prepare for the ring, Gabriel is forced to undergo a brutal training program with Slade's top fighters. He is soon introduced to Slade's lieutenant, Jenner, a sadistic torturer who warps his body with needles and his mind with twisted psychological games. Gabriel is given a new image and a new name: in the ring, he is Angel. And he does not lose...

Because the price for losing is Lillith's life.

Do you feel writing urban thrill-mance action works good for you when composing the stories?

Absolutely. I’ve never been a color-inside-the-lines type of person, so I tend to blur the lines of genre when I’m writing. Just a little smudge here and there makes things interesting.

I read that you have a thing for dark, scarred heroes and heroines. Who is your favorite dark character in any book you have read by another author? Hero or Heroine

Havelock Vetinari, the Patrician, in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, specifically the book Night Watch, which features Vetinari’s tragic and fascinating backstory. Though Pratchett does write comedy, his characters are amazingly developed and realized.

What would you say has been the greatest story, so far, that you have composed, that is close to your heart?

I’d have to say the House Phoenix series, starting with BROKEN ANGEL – just because it’s the one I’ve worked on longest (ten years and counting), screwed up the most, agonized over endlessly, and lived and breathed these guys for so long that they’re practically real. With four books out of five finished, I just hope I don’t screw up the last two. It’s a story that’s gone from wanting to needing to be told – because if I don’t finish it, I think my characters will kill me!

What does the start of the New Year hold for S.W. in upcoming works?

By the New Year, HUNTED will be available in print and BROKEN ANGEL will be released, and my first erotic romance, SKIN DEEP, will be out from Loose Id. In 2010, I hope to release at least the next House Phoenix book, DEVIL’S HONOR, and another erotic romance. 2010 will also be my “real name” debut with an urban fantasy from Simon & Schuster, MASTER OF NONE.

Do you ever make New Years Resolutions or just brush that thought aside?

Oh, I resolve the hell out of New Years every year. I just never actually get around to seeing those resolutions through...

Have you ever completely finished one book then suddenly decided you wanted to change the ending?

I have actually finished a book and then suddenly decided to change the entire thing. When I wrote the third book in my series, MASK OF THE SERPENT, it was like trying to knock my wisdom teeth out with a hammer the whole time, when all of my other novel writing processes had been smoother (none have been walks in the park, but at least things managed to come together eventually).

I finally realized what was wrong with the book. I’d written the entire thing from the point of view of the wrong character. So, after some painful deliberation, I scrapped the entire 90,000-word manuscript and started all over again.

It was the right decision, because all of my readers so far have agreed the third book is the best in the series so far.

How would you describe your working space?

The first word that comes to mind is MINE! I had no space to work in for a long time when I started writing, and I’d steal out a corner or a seat wherever I could. I finally have my own room, my office, and it has a door and everything.

Of course, the door jamb is broken, so there’s nothing to attach the hinges to, and occasionally the door falls on me while I’m working. And all four walls are different colors, because I haven’t been able to paint in here. And half the flooring is ripped up, and I share my space with a couple of field mice when the weather’s cold because there are gaps in the foundation.

But it’s mine! All mine! *cue evil laugh*

Do you have a favorite character that is close to your heart?

If I chose one, the rest of them would go on strike...

If you could be a character in any Disney Movie, which movie would you choose?

Captain Jack Sparrow. Without a doubt.

You are on a picnic, which do you go for first, hot dog or hamburgers?

Hamburgers. Especially if there’s mayonnaise. There’s something about a charred lump of meat that really hits the spot.

If you were given a choice to spend a day at the spa, or have a maid for a day, which would you choose?

I’d take the maid, and worship the ground she walks on, and tip her twice what they’re paying her to clean this place (assuming, of course, this is a pretend kind of situation where I actually have money).

You are trapped inside an elevator with a woman with a screaming baby, a toddler who wants to try to push every button and a teenager who is complaining because he is bored out of his wits; how would you handle the situation?

I let the toddler push the buttons. We’re stuck anyway, so he can’t make it worse – and little kids seem to have an incredible knack for fixing things anyway (when they’re not breaking them). I teach the teen and the woman how to play JERK (a fun movie game that requires nothing but talking), and we pass the baby around and take turns cuddling her until she falls asleep.