Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bullies and their Victims

In Massachusetts, 15 year old Phoebe Prince killed herself after months of harassment and bullying. It's a heartbreaking tale. And one that repeats itself with alarming regularity.

It's hard to understand what goes on in the minds of kids who prey on others, but I know a little bit how the victim feels. When I was in middle school, I was bullied.

For no reason I ever discovered, two girls I thought were my friends suddenly turned on me. We didn't have the internet back then, so there were no harassing emails or nasty posts on Facebook. But they were inventive note writers and drew cruel caricatures of me (I was an early bloomer and not very happy about the changes in my body anyway.)

My gut churned everytime I found another note on my desk or jammed into my locker. They weren't happy unless they reduced me to tears.

One day, a teacher found a note and turned it over to the principal. The three of us were called to the office and the girls were forced to apologize to me--an exercise in futility. We all knew they didn't mean it.

The notes stopped, but I never learned why they began in the first place. Though my experience was tame compared with the bullying others have suffered, the taunting and shame changed me. I made fewer friends after that. I pulled inward a bit. It was hard to trust other girls. How could I be sure a new friend wouldn't turn on me too?

In my case, I have to give the teacher and principal high marks for dealing quickly and decisively with my bullies. According to news reports, the high school in Hadley MA did nothing to protect Phoebe. Granted, they can't control what kids do on the internet unless they access it from school property, but if there was bullying on campus, something should have been done to make school a safe place for Phoebe Prince.

What do you think? Have you been bullied? Do you think school officials should be held accountable if they know about bullying and do nothing?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

10 Things Never to Buy New

The other day I was checking my email and one of the little filler news stories on AOL caught my eye. The title--10 Things Never to Buy New--appealed to my thrifty nature. So I clicked over and was totally bummed to find "Books" at the top of their list.

Ok. I understand that books are a discretionary purchase. And it's tempting to buy a used book. After all, you can't wear the words off the page by reading them. When my DH and I were young and poor, my library card was my best friend. I get it. In tough times, a new book is a guilty indulgence for many.

However, if all the reading public buys are used books, their choices of reading material will soon contract. Publishing houses (and authors) make NOTHING on used books. Zero. Zip. Nada. Used book sales don't count toward an authors sales numbers, not to mention bestseller lists. They do nothing to support the career of the author or the genre or the publishing house of the used book. And for better or worse, authors live or die by the numbers.

This hurts more than debut authors. Seasoned professionals can fall to the numbers blade as well. Last weekend at the writer's conference, one of our speakers (who'd been published for 20 years with more than 50 titles to her credit) found herself cut from her publisher's list because of "the numbers." And because publishing is a very small world, "the numbers" follow an author everywhere they try to go. This wonderful author, who'd given reading pleasure to thousands upon thousands of readers, found herself without a publishing home for a couple years before a new opportunity arose.

Believe me when I tell you I understand needing to economize. My DH was out of work for 6 months a few years ago, so I know what it means to tighten a budget belt. But if you can afford it, please consider buying your books new. Every time you do, you'll be supporting the authors and genre you love and guaranteeing more books from those authors will be coming your way.

One of the reasons I decided to post a free novella on my website this year is because I understand that readers may be a little strapped. If you'd like a quick read, I invite you to give A DUKE FOR ALL SEASONS a try. While you're there, be sure to enter my quarterly contest for a $100 bookstore gift card. I'll draw the winner late on March 31st and announce the lucky reader on April 1st! Good luck!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Road to Publication~Gayle Ann Williams

Every writer's journey to "the call" winds through different paths. Today, I've invited debut author Gayle Ann Williams to share her travels with us. Welcome, Gayle. My blog is yours.


Hi Emily,

And can I say how nice it is to be here today? Thank you so much for having me.

My name is Gayle Ann Williams, and I live on a small island off the coast of Washington State, approximately sixty air miles from Seattle, WA. I originally lived as we say, “East of the Mountains,” in cowboy country, but I traded my spurs for a sea kayak and moved to the wet, but oh so beautiful Pacific Northwest coast.

Today I’d like to talk about my publishing journey, because for me, before I got “The Call,” I was (and still am) always fascinated how people achieved their dream of becoming a published author.

For me the road led to a win in a contest; the Dorchester Shomi Fiction contest. I was currently writing Paranormal and Urban Fantasy, and I liked the edginess of the Shomi line and the stories that were being written there. When I saw the contest, and that the winning manuscript would be awarded a publishing contract, complete with advance and royalties, I knew I wanted to try. And I’m so glad I did. The result for me was a dream: a publishing contract for TSUNAMI BLUE, my post-apocalyptic, paranormal romance that debuts from Dorchester Publishing tomorrow. And yes! I’m so excited.

Here is how I approached my entry. First, I based the idea of TSUNAMI BLUE on a personal experience. On Christmas night, in 2004 I boarded a plane out of Seattle and flew right into the Southeast Asia Tsunami. In the air when the deadly wave hit, I knew that if I had arrived earlier, I might have been a statistic. As I traveled around the region, I listened and observed, hugged and cried, and all along, the writer in me asked, what if? Little did I know a few years later those amazing memories would be the basis for my novel, TSUNAMI BLUE.

Second, I took elements of my personal life (the old adage of write what you know), and incorporated them into my story. For example, I’ve lived on a sailboat, I’m an avid poker player, and I placed the story in my home setting, the beautiful San Juan Islands of Washington State. I even wrote my favorite rain boots into the story. Curious? You can see them here.

Next, I mixed in my imagination, writing what I didn’t know. What would a world be like decimated by deadly tsunami waves? What if there was no infrastructure and society was ruled by “Runners,” modern day pirates? And what if Kathryn “Blue” O’Malley, my heroine, known as Tsunami Blue, held the paranormal ability of knowing when the next wave will hit? As a writer, I can’t encourage you enough to keep asking, “what if?”

And third, and perhaps most important, I did my homework. I read the Shomi books. Not one. Many. I understood the tone, the edge, the feel. I asked myself, is this the kind of story I wanted to write? Was I excited about it? Was it for me? The answer? A resounding yes. The result? TSUNAMI BLUE, the winning entry of the Shomi Fiction Contest.

Dorchester Publishing still continues to publish, exciting, cutting edge books of this type, and I would encourage you, if these are your kind of stories, to look for them.

And in closing I would like to share a review from RT Book Reviews Magazine in the April edition for TSUNAMI BLUE. I was thrilled to be rewarded with 4 1/2 stars.

"This original romance starts quietly enough, like a calm blue ocean, and gradually builds until you're holding on for dear life, hit with page after page of creative, taut action. You'll be left grinning, grateful for the ride, thanks to original characters, a fantastic story and action that will keep you up late, turning pages. Can't wait to see what Williams has in store next!"
RT Book Reviews Magazine April, issue
4 1/2 Stars HOT - (Fantastic-Keeper)

It has been a whirlwind year as I prepared to bring TSUNAMI BLUE to the readers. I signed with my dream agent in the process, and I’m so happy to announce that as of last week a second book in the Tsunami World has been sold. And all this for me, through a contest.

Happy reading to all and the best of luck to those of you who are writers. I hope my story is helpful. And again, a big thank you to Emily for inviting me to share my story.

My pleasure, Gayle! What an interesting path to publication. Great advice to those who are trudging along the way. And here's the link, so YOU can buy your own copy of Tsunami Blue.

Leave a comment or question for Gayle and you'll be entered in the drawing to win a copy of TSUNAMI BLUE. She's picking 2 winners today!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Just a Reminder

Only time for quick note! Today, I'll be at:

NEC Book Fair for Literacy
March 27, 2010
4-6 PM
Sheraton Tara
1657 Worcester Rd.
Framingham MA 01701

Hope to see some of you there! The conference is going great. Sat in on a terrific workshop by NY Times Bestseller Brenda Novak. Wow! I'll tell you all about it next week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rita Finalists!

I'm happy to report that my publisher Dorchester is well represented in this year's crop of Rita contenders. First up is Elisabeth Naughton's STOLEN FURY for Best First Novel and Romantic Suspense!

This title was edited by Leah Hultenschmidt, who's also my fabulous editor.

My fellow Chatelaine, Joy Nash has made it to the finals for her A LITTLE LIGHT MAGIC in the Contemporary Romance category!

Alicia Condon was the editor.

In the Novel with Romantic Elements category we have Gemma Halliday's Scandal Sheet, also edited by Leah.

In the paranormal romance category, Marjorie Liu's THE FIRE KING got a nod. Christ Keeslar is the editor.

My fellow A CHRISTMAS BALL author, Alissa Johnson was named a Regency Historical finalist. Another Leah Hultenschmidt title!

You can find all these wonderful titles at Dorchester!

I'm off to the NECRWA conference in Framingham, MA. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Jane Lange

It's Thursday so it's time for another online critique. Today our willing victim, er I mean volunteer, is Jane Lange. Regular visitors to my blog will recognize her as commenter Jane L. Because she submitted the winning name in my Name A Character Contest last summer, when STROKE OF GENIUS comes out on May 25th, Jane has a special thank you coming from me in the acknowledgements.

Jane is an aspiring writer and I met her for the first time at RT when she came early for Bobbi Smith's Aspiring Writer BootCamp. Jane actually sent me two versions of her excerpt this week. The first was one she'd worked on with a writing coach whom she'd paid to go over her manuscript. The result was disjointed and flat. The coach had edited out her voice. This second version (which was her original) has a better flow. I share this with you as a cautionary tale. Not all manuscript doctors are worth your dollars. If you consider using one, make sure you get references and call them. Ask if the changes the coach made resulted in a sale or a contest win before you plunk down your cash.

As always when I do a critique, I'm only offering my opinion. It may only be worth what you're paying for it, Jane! (Which is nothing, in case the rest of you are wondering!)

The following excerpt is from her historical manuscript Love's Soft Surrender. My comments are in red. Jane's responses are italicized in purple.

Love's Soft Surrender Be sure to add the apostrophe to Love's. Otherwise, it seems as if there are multiple loves in the manuscript--which would be a different sort of story altogether.

Spring 1864
West Virginia I'm sure you know this already, but the historical market is skewed toward Regency England. I've even heard acquiring editors say that first time authors should set their story in the Regency if they want to increase their chances of selling. That said, write the story that moves you, wherever and whenever it takes place. Writing to the market can backfire if you don't have any passion for the setting. This is so true. A writer must write what inspires them and for me, my heart is in America.

Brianna lifted her trembling hand and reached out with bloodstained fingers. The blood of her parents before she buried them. She traced the profile of her face in the dusty mirror. The soft peach kissed glow of her skin (was) gone. She moistened her dry, cracked, lips with the tip of her tongue. The shadowy circles under her once sparkling green eyes reflected the torment of the last few days. Something inside her snapped after witnessing the death and destruction the Yankee Soldiers rained down on her family’s home. When would this nightmare end?

* You're ahead of me already. You named your protagonist right away, when I let mine wander around without one two weeks ago. But I want to talk about names for a minute. Choice of name helps ground your reader in another time. Brianna wasn't a popular female name in 1864. Though it may have Celtic roots as the feminine of Brian, in fact, it surfaced in the 1970s and is in the top 20 female baby names now. Visit for a listing of common US names based on the census from 1800-1999.
* I wasn't expecting bloodstained fingers. Good hook.
* Dead parents. Another good hook and a hotbutton emotional issue that will grab readers.
* Having your heroine stand in front of a mirror so you can slip in a description of her is an over-used device. I'm more interested in what's going on with her emotionally than physically at this point. But just to illustrate a principle of writing I highlighted a few of your excess adjectives in green. They aren't as heinous as adverbs, but try to avoid overusing them. Go for specific nouns and descriptive verbs and you'll be ahead of the curve.
* The word 'was' was missing so I added it. Try reading your work aloud. I miss small words all the time and tend to hear they're missing quicker than I see something's wrong.
* Soldiers shouldn't be capitalized.
* If she witnessed the carnage, how did she escape it? You don't say in this excerpt.

She glanced down at the shears on the edge of the basin. Grabbing them in her fist, she held them to her heart. The cold metal points grazed her skin. The crimson of her own blood trickled down her ivory skin. The will to end this torment inside consumed her. If only she possessed the ability to carve away the pain and bitterness plaguing her, like some horrible insect, burrowing its way deep into her soul.

* You don't need 'own' before 'blood' here.
* We're in her POV. Would she think of her skin as ivory right now?
* Is she thinking about suicide? It's not clear. The Prime Directive of Writing is Be Clear. Don't make your reader have to guess what's happening because the prose isn't specific enough.
* I really hate bugs. This image of the burrowing insect makes me squirm . . . and not in a good way! I think I'd cut this sentence. I knew you would say that. Lol!

She slammed her fist against the mirror. “Damn the Yankees!” she cried out.

* Yay! We have some dialogue, but she's talking to herself!

They stripped her of everyone and everything that was dear to her. One of the few things left were her memories. She would never allow those memories to be taken from her. The intense hatred she felt consumed her, igniting a passion for revenge against them.

* This whole paragraph is wandering over ground we've already covered. I'd cut it all except the bit about revenge. I'd like to do a little "less is more" exercise. Here's your sentence:

The intense hatred she felt consumed her, igniting a passion for revenge against them.

Try this:

Hatred consumed her, igniting a passion for revenge.

These are still your words. There are just less of them. Cutting extraneous words strengthens what you're trying to say. Yes, it reads much smoother.

* A revenge plot is a strong one. Think Moby Dick and The Count of Monte Cristo. Just be careful your heroine doesn't sound unhinged. We want our heroine to be smart. Because I read your previous incarnation of this story, I know she intends to go to war disguised as a man. We need a hint of that here so her next actions are motivated. It's not such a crazy idea actually. There have been so many women sneaking into male regiments over the years, the Beaumonde RWA Chapter is sponsoring an online class about Women in War starting later this month. You've got a historically valid premise here! But she can't wreak revenge on the whole Union army. Have her settle on something or someone more specific. We have her shouted curse. Then we need action, not rumination and fortunately, you provide some in the next paragraph.

After a moment’s hesitation, she lifted the shears to her head, grabbing a chunk of her long, brown hair in her free hand. Savagely, she clipped away the curls, throwing them on the floor. She reached around and held the shears high, snipping away the remainder of the silky locks. Her beautiful curls, tossed away and soon to be forgotten, like the lives of those she loved.

* You did much better than me in the -ly word department, but you're addicted to adjectives. Yes, her hair may be long, brown, silky and beautiful, but she's not thinking about it like that now. It's just something to get rid of lest it keep her from her goal. Write like your character thinks.

The sound of footsteps pounding on the stairs startled her. She heard a gasp and swung to face the door.

“Good Lord Miss Brianna! What have you done to yo hair chile?”

* If you're doing an accent, editors want it accomplished using syntax (word order) not unusual spellings. Is this speaker a slave? One of the reasons the market shies away from Civil War romances is that this was such a painful time in our nation's history. My friend Eboni Snoe, the African-American author who got me started writing, says there is nothing romantic about that part of history from her perspective. Can't say I blame her.
When I chose this time period, I interviewed and researched several African-American people from the south. The pain and suffering of their ancestors truly is heartbreaking. I do not condone or glamorize any human beings suffering. This was truly a humbling experience for me during my research.

A very emotional premise, vivid imagery and your character's motivation is very strong. Thanks for letting me critique your work, Jane. I'm mindful of the honor. When someone trusts you with their writing, they are trusting you with their heart. But we're also doing this public scrubbing for the edification of all my readers, so if you don't mind, I'll pull out the loofa and go to work on a few things.

First of all, I'm seeing a pattern here. The opening of my excerpt two weeks ago had a lone character. Last week, Saranna DeWylde's hero was dialoguing internally. And now your heroine is all by herself, talking to the mirror. We all need to give our H/h someone to talk to. Bring in the speaker at the end of the excerpt much sooner. Dialogue will make the scene read faster and you avoid the sense of an info dump.

Did your heroine consider suicide for a moment in this scene? If so, be careful. Your readers want to walk a mile in your heroine's shoes. Make sure they don't pinch so much at first, readers will yank them off and hurl them across the room. Later in a story, when we're invested in the character, we'll be willing to entertain darker thoughts. In the beginning you need your readers on your heroine's side.

You've done a terrific job motivating your heroine's extreme actions. I'd like to see her goals be a little better focused. Is there a Yankee unit or better yet, a Yankee officer whom she blames above all others? Make the goal as personal as her motivation. You're setting up the conflict here and the bones of your story are strong. It'll be interesting to see how you flesh it out. Make the conflict mean something down the road by making it personal.

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Jane! Please let us know when you sell.

I would like to thank Emily for the opportunity to experience a detailed critique. It is important that aspiring writers understand these are learning tools and should be used as such. You can take what you feel is valuable and leave the rest on the table. Finding a good critique group or partner will help you see these types of simple mistakes. Thanks again Emily! Now I can focus on my edits!

Author Bio: Jane Lange is an aspiring author focusing on writing historicals that are set in America. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, collecting antiques or traveling with her real life hero, her husband Bryan.

And as a saavy pre-published writer, she's got a terrific website up already. Please visit for more info!

And now it's YOUR turn. Did I get something wrong? Do you have any suggestions for Jane?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pointers for Pitchers

On Friday and Saturday, I'll be going to the NECRWA's Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference. This is the first of several conferences for me this spring, and it'll be the most relaxing. I'm not presenting a workshop this year or pitching any manuscripts (my agent's got that covered!) but NEC is my local RWA chapter so I'm going to support my friends.

If the thought of attending a national conference gives you the willies, I encourage you to look into the smaller regional conferences. The fees to attend a regional conference are much less than for nationals but there are still wonderful writing craft workshops, the opportunity to network with industry professionals and pitch to acquiring agents and editors.

Pitching is nerve-wracking for most writers. The first time I did it, I felt my career would be doomed if my tongue tripped over a single word. Ridiculous. A pitch is more like a job interview than anything else and it goes both ways. The editor/agent is interested in hearing about your story, but they also want to know if you're the type of person they can work with for the long haul. A writer needs to find out if this editor/agent is a good fit for them.

Here's what they want to hear in your pitch:

1. What you're selling--title, subgenre, word count, FINISHED MANUSCRIPT (Please don't pitch less than a finished manuscript if you're not yet published. It's a waste of everyone's time. For first timers, an editor needs to see that you can deliver the finished product.), which of their specific lines you think it would fit (shows you've done your homework!)

2. Brief synopsis
--Main character's goal and why it's not happening. Last week, Saranna DeWylde encapsulated her story in a single sentence. It's a tough roe to hoe for a Cupid who doesn't believe in love. If I was doing one for STROKE OF GENIUS it would be An artistic genius transforms an American heiress into the most sought-after Original, while trying not to fall for her himself.

3. Stop talking and listen. Let the editor/agent ask you questions. They know what they want to know better than you do. Don't try to control the conversation by talking without a breath.

4. Send in what they request. This seems like such a no-brainer, but editors and agents tell me they often get excited about a proposal at a conference and it never appears on their desk. Maybe the author said the manuscript was finished and they only had three chapters, so they're scribbling furiously to finish it. This is such a no-no. First, you started the business relationship with a lie. Not an auspicious beginning for a relationship based on trust. Second, the quality of your work is bound to suffer for the rush. And third, by the time you finally send it in, the editor/agent will have moved on and is interested in something else.

If the editor/agent asks to see your material, send them exactly what they request. If they want 3 chapters and synopsis, don't send the full manuscript. Following directions is a good indicator of how well you'll respond to revisions. And send it quickly! If you get the request on Saturday, put the package in the mail on Monday!

So if you're pitching, take a deep breath and relax. No one is going to buy or reject your work based on what you say in the pitch session. It's still about the writing. Don't feel you've blown it if you didn't get a request for material. They may already have enough of what you're selling. A pitch appointment is like a bus. There's another one coming.

And if you're in the New England area this weekend, I'd love to see you at the "Open to the Public" bookfair on Saturday:

NEC Book Fair for Literacy
March 27, 2010
4-6 PM
Sheraton Tara
1657 Worcester Rd.
Framingham MA 01701

Mary Janice Davidson, Judith Arnold and Brenda Novak will be there. I hope to see you as well!

Have you had a pitch experience you'd like to share? Any questions? Suggestions?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Care and Feeding of a Muse

First of all, let me say I don't believe in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy either. A Muse is a romantic idea, of course. Who doesn't like the thought of a tortured artist struggling to find the embodiment of their inspiration a la SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE?

But there is no Muse, no mystical, magical component in a writer's psyche that enables them to create their fictive dream. Remember the Muse is an idea brought to you by people who like to make things up.

And people who like to pretend not just anyone can do what they do.

The truth is fiction comes from inside the writer's mind and heart. And there are ways to make that creative side we all possess more lively in its expression. Here are a few things I do to stay motivated and inspired to write:

Tickle your imagination. I surround myself with art and music. I take walks by the river and let the natural beauty of our world wash over me. I'd rather travel than have a new sofa because it feeds my psyche with new experiences and ideas. Do whatever excites your mind and turns your thoughts in new directions.

Set a deadline to finish your work. Doesn't sound very romantic, but it works. Whether I'm under contract or not, a deadline looming lights a fire under me. Pick a date and figure out what it will take to meet that goal. The unconscious mind is a powerful thing. It finds a way to do what you tell it to. Tell yours to finish the book by (fill in the date) and see what happens.

BITCHOK. This stands for Bottom in the Chair, Hands on Keyboard. Writing is a muscle. You get stronger each time you exercise. Don’t wait till you “feel like writing.” That time may never come until you lose yourself in your story. Jump in with both feet.

Getting Unstuck. Every writer has moments where they've written themselves into a corner or find their plot hits a wall. To get moving again I do a couple of things. I'll decide only to write dialogue for a couple of pages. My characters will often show me the way out as they ping back and forth. I tend to write and revise as I go (one step forward, two steps back). As a variation on the deadline idea, I set a time for 20 minutes and promise myself I will only go forward. No revisions, not even to fix typos.

Professional practices. Lots of writers have day jobs. I used to be a banker, enslaving people to debt by day and scribbling snippets on my WIP during lunch and breaks so I wouldn't have to face a blank screen by night. I planned my writing with as much thoroughness as I brought to my 9-5. Writing is a business. Treat it like one. If you want a hobby, you can loiter around waiting for the Muse to show up.

Writing is an art and a craft, but mostly a craft. Of course you need a fabulous idea (which of us doesn't wish she'd thought up vegetarian vampires?) but you also need the sticktuitiveness to see that idea through to a completed manuscript.

Work hard and your Muse will find you hunched over the keyboard, creating without her magical touch. Because YOU are the magic.

What do you think? Do you have a pet muse and think I'm all wet?

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Wild Marquis by Miranda Neville

*Prize alert!* Miranda has chosen Glynis to receive a copy of THE WILD MARQUIS. Please contact Miranda through her website with your mailing info. Thanks to all of you who left a comment or question.

Meet Miranda Neville. She and I became acquainted sitting near each other at the NEC Writers Conference book signing last year. She was friendly and funny and after I read her Never Resist Temptation (her debut title from Avon) I became an instant fan.

Miranda Neville has lived in the US for more years than she cares to reveal, but when writing she reverts to the accents of her native England. Her favorite activities are chatting, complaining, and procrastinating. Nevertheless she has managed to complete three books. The Wild Marquis was released this month, so I wanted to share it with you.

Emily: So tell us, Miranda, what inspired you to write this story?

Miranda: Inspiration comes from so many places. My hero, the Marquis of Chase, started as a minor character in an unpublished manuscript. He was one of those characters who quickly developed a life of his own so I knew he had to have a book of his own one day.

The background setting of the rare brook trade was inspired by my own career (now long over) as a rare book expert at Sotheby’s. The Regency was an important era in the history of book collecting but it was an aspect of Regency life I hadn’t seen covered in romance. (And believe me, they are hard to find!)

Putting my rakish hero and an apparently dry and respectable background together seemed a natural.

Emily: I love that sort of odd juxtaposition. What else will we love about your hero?

Miranda: Cain, as he is called, is charming, witty and sexy (in appearance I envision a younger Daniel Craig). What I love most about him is that he loves women. Not just to sleep with (though that too) but as people. His best friends are women and he really understands them. He is totally lacking in the male chauvinism that was normal for the time.

This sensitivity comes from his past: he was basically disowned by his father at the age of 16 and ended up robbed and beaten in a London gutter until rescued by some friendly prostitutes. Living for several years among “working” women he has genuine affection and respect for them.

Juliana, my heroine, is trying hard to maintain her late husband’s book shop but she’s not getting much respect from male collectors. When Cain needs a rare book expert she is delighted to find he has no problem working with a women.

Emily: Cain. The perfect name for an outcast and yum for resembling a young Daniel Craig! What was the most enjoyable scene to write?

Miranda: I think my favorite scene in the book takes place after Cain and Juliana make love for the first time. They are chatting in bed (a new concept for her: her late husband was a roll-off-and-snore man) and she tells him about a childhood game in which she learned how to identify the different kinds of leather used in bookbinding. In my first draft the conversation took place between Juliana and a woman friend. The friend was cut when her subplot disappeared, but I liked the exchange so I moved it. It worked much better with the hero, as you can tell from this excerpt:

“Let me try one,” he said. A pile of books tottered on the small table that filled the space between the bed and the wall. “What about that big one?”

He had to reach across her to get to the volume but stopped half way. He tugged the blankets down to expose one of her breasts.

“Smooth,” he murmured, stroking it with the tips of his fingers. The breast tingled happily. “Soft as silk.” He closed his eyes with a look of deep concentration. “Some kind of skin is my guess.”

“Idiot,” she said. “All leather is some kind of skin.”

To her regret he removed his hand and pulled up the cover again. “Thanks, Juliana, for spoiling that moment. Before I start associating breasts with old boots, hand over that book.”

Emily: LOL! I'm hooked! What was the hardest scene to write?

Miranda: The scene when Cain confronts his mother. Cain’s mother always supported his horrible father against her son. She was abused by her husband and clung to her believe in his goodness even after his death. Cain has to force her to do something, but he truly wishes for a reconciliation.

Emily: One of the things I really love about your characters is their complexity. So tell us what's coming next for you?

Miranda: The Wild Marquis is the first in the Burgundy series, featuring a group of book collectors. Next up is Sebastian Iverley. If Cain loves women, Sebastian hates them. Then he meets Diana Fanshawe and falls hard for her. When he learns she is trifling with him he swears revenge and gets an “extreme makeover.” The mild-mannered bookworm becomes The Dangerous Viscount. I think the book is a hoot, kind of Regency Revenge of the Nerds. And you only have to wait until October to read it.

Emily: Lovely! I'll watch for it. Maybe we can have you back then to give us a reminder.

Miranda: Thanks so much for inviting me, Emily. I have fond memories of chatting during the NEC conference book signing.

Emily: Me, too. Booksignings always make me feel a little like a zoo animal in a cage. (Maybe it's the people pointing and laughing.) Anyway, it was fun to spend the time with you.

Miranda is giving away a copy of The Wild Marquis to one lucky commenter, so please let us know you were here. You can leave a question for her or answer mine for you. Miranda mentioned Daniel Craig as her hero's look alike. If you could cast your favorite romance novel as a movie, who would be the hero?

Buy The Wild Marquis!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Last Romance Taboo

It's splashed across the cover of magazines. It's fodder for primetime and the movies. Our newschannels fill their spare air time with the foibles of the famous. It's estimated that 30-60% of all married people in the US will engage in it at some point.

But it's a third rail romance authors are leery of touching. It's infidelity. And while the romance tent is expanding in a number of ways, this is one topic that isn't finding its way into print very often.

Most recently, Sherry Thomas, (one of my favorite authors) danced around the theme in her NOT QUITE A HUSBAND. But even the fearless Ms. Thomas couldn't deal with it directly. In this story, the infidelity took place prior to the wedding vows, but the husband's last fling tainted the marriage so deeply, the story begins with the couple about to finalize a divorce.

It surprises me sometimes that we romance readers are willing to accept rakish heroes who will mount anything that moves, so long as he instantly becomes the rock of constancy once he meets the heroine. Perhaps our genre should be renamed Romantic Fantasy.

Infidelity is a rich minefield of human experience for an author to explore. Yes, it's painful. It's devastating. Many people decide to throw up their hands and walk away from the relationship, and I can't blame them.

But I think the story of two people losing each other, finding each other again, and reinventing their relationship is one I'd like to read. Re-establishing trust is the deepest of all internal conflicts and the outcome is not a certainty.

What do you think? Have you read a romance with an infidelity theme? Would you be more likely to read a novel about infidelity if the cheater was female? What would a straying character have to do in order to merit a Happily Ever After?

PS. It's Chatelaine Friday! Please join me over there for a peek at my spring travel plans!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Saranna DeWylde

Last week, I blogged about the art of critiquing and then did a slice and dice on my own sad first manuscript to show you how it's done. Amazingly, I had some takers on my offer to critique their work for my blog. The first brave soul is Saranna DeWylde. Saranna has already received "the call" and her debut title HOW TO LOSE A DEMON IN 10 DAYS will be a November 2010 release from Dorchester. .

One of the first things I tell my critique partners is: "This is a smorgasbord. Take what you like and leave the rest. All I'm offering is my opinion. Do with it as you will."

The following excerpt is from her new WIP How To Lose An Angel in 10 Days. My comments on Saranna's work are in red. Her responses are italicized and in purple.

Blurb: It's a tough row to hoe for a Cupid that doesn’t believe in Love (3rd in the 10 Days Story Arc) (Very smart. It's important to be able to encapsulate your story in a neat sound bite like this. You never know when you'll get a chance to do an "elevator pitch" at a conference and you need to be able to give an editor a quick idea about your story. She'll use it to sell your story to the marketing and sales department who will in turn use it to sell copies of your book to the distributors. However, "tough row to hoe" would work better for a hero who's a gardner. Can you think of something archery or mythology related that will serve as a metaphor here? Point of grammar. Should it be Cupid who instead of Cupid that?) Yes, yes and more yes. I have a tendency to overuse “that” when really, I don’t need it or it should be another word. A tough cherubim to diaper? A crooked arrow to shoot? Hmm.

Chapter 1- The Cherubim Chore

Falcon Cherrywood hadn’t meant to smite Cupid in the ass with a fireball. (Good opener. Sets a sassy tone. Lets me know you'll have some paranormal elements by mentioning Cupid as if he is real. And unlike me last week, you named your hero right off the bat!)

It had all been a grievous mistake. One he was certainly paying for now that he had to fly a mile in the other guy’s wings. ( ;-))The worst part wasn’t the diaper. He could get over that with the right amount of whiskey. It was the wings themselves. Tristan had gotten some badass black ones that made him look like the Angel of Death. (Is Tristan your hero from book 1 or 2? Is he Falcon's friend? Give me a little more here so I know why he's been mentioned.) In fact, he’d heard the post was open—Death that is. (Since we've got 2 guys being talked about make sure I know which one you mean when you use a pronoun.) He wondered if he could get a transfer. This flow here is a little awkward. You have a great eye! Tristan is from book 2, and he didn’t fare so well. I want this book to able to stand alone, so maybe I should cut him completely?

Falcon had been hoping for black (wings), or maybe a really dark blue. The color of the sky after the oranges and reds had faded to purple—that blue just before the pitch of night. (I think I'd cut everything after purple. Guys are more apt to be color blind or as my DH says "color ignorant." Don't overdo the specificity of hue here.) That would have been acceptable. Love was Hell after all, so he could’ve even made the bat style of wing work for him. (Good! You've slipped in how he feels about love very neatly.) This read “off” to me as well. I couldn’t place it, but it’s so obvious. ;-)

But no, not only was he forced to play the Diapered Archer; he had to do it in pink. By Merlin’s teeth, pink. (I love original swearing like this! Places us in the special world of your story.) If that wasn’t enough to make him reconsider his man card (;-)), they were glittery. Like the inside of a thirteen year old witch’s locker at Academy. He was surprised that his swaddling didn’t have a unicorn print. (I don't think he's reconsidering his man card. I wonder if he thinks someone else is trying to revoke it for him. I like the mention of Academy. You've dropped your reader into an alternate reality and made her scramble to keep up.)

Bastards. (Ah, the man card revoking scum!)

He’d thumbed through his Heaven’s Helper manual briefly, but wasn’t impressed by anything he saw. Even in Eternity, you still had to watch the employee videos about how not to pick your nose in front of the customers. It was ridiculous. The manual actually referred to them as customers. Who were they kidding? If Cupid chose to shoot them, then they could damn well take what they got. This wasn’t Burger King; they didn’t get to have it their way. (This is such fun and I'm enjoying the tight POV!) Yay! Thank you.

There was another problem. (Yay! We wouldn't have a story without them!)

He couldn’t shoot a bow and arrow to save his life. Or anyone else’s. (Yay! He's thinking about saving someone else. I knew he was a hero!) He’d been hoping to find the answer in that sodding manual, but no. There was nothing actually helpful in the thing. Cupid taking archery lessons; another side of ridiculous with an entrĂ©e of are-you-freakin'-kidding-me? (I changed your F-bomb to freakin' because this is a PG-13 blog. But while we're on the subject, let's talk about profanity. You're in your hero's head in a good tight POV. These are his words and they suit his character. However, be aware that the largest segment of the US romance market lives in the Bible belt. You may lose readership by going for the gold in the F-word department. When in doubt, be true to your character, but this is something to consider carefully. If I'm in a psycho serial killer's head, yes, by all means, drop the F bomb. Is it absolutely necessary for a comedy about Cupid? That's what you need to decide. Sometimes profanity is used to prop up the comedy. Sid Caesar, a brillliant old school comedian, complained that modern comics sometimes take the easy route by going for the shock giggle with profanity. Frankly, your writing is hysterical enough without it.) Good advice! You know my problem with “that”? Yeah, I have the same one with the F-bomb.

Falcon couldn’t do much about the wings, but he was definitely changing his outfit. (I expected him not accept those wings without a fight since they are obviously what irks him most. Remember Jack Daniels will get him over the diaper.) The diaper thing just didn’t do it for him, or for the thousands of women who were going give it up to be shot with an arrow from his quiver. He might see what he could do about using bullets instead of arrows. Then he could ask them in all seriousness if they wanted to see his love gun. (What naughty fun!)

Yes, these were the thoughts that occupied (the new) Cupid’s mind as he stood in all of his diapered glory (;-)) at the Pantheon of Gods waiting for an audience.

Boy, there's so much to like here! What a fun, snarky voice you have, my dear. However since you volunteered for this public bath, I feel honor bound to dunk you a little.

I’ve got my nose plug on, dunk away.

Your hero is suffering from the same problem mine was last week. No one to interact with. Have you considered having his friend Tristan waiting outside the Pantheon with him for moral support? I'd love to see what you could do with this scene using dialogue pinging back and forth. Readers like dialogue. It leaves more whitespace on the page and makes the story seem more approachable than reams of narrative.

It’s so funny that you should mention that, I’ve been accused of having too much dialogue and banter. You’re so right though, the story should start right in with the action. I like the Tristan idea. It would be a good way to keep him in the story without a boring info dump and add more interaction.

You've hooked me with lots of questions about this Falcon character. One of the best was that he thinks Love is Hell. The other stuff, his embarrassment over the wings and diaper, is funny, but the 'Love is Hell' touches on his emotions. And emotion is what pulls in your reader and keeps them turning pages. I'd like to see a little more of that interspersed with your sparkling wit.

*likes the sparkles*

You're incredibly talented, Saranna, and you've been a really good sport! Please say you'll come back and guest blog for me when HOW TO LOSE A DEMON IN 10 DAYS comes out in November.

Of course, I’d love to guest blog. ;-)

Thank you so much, Emily. Not just for having me, but for the great critique. (And you know, the talented. I will take that over cheesecake.) This wasn’t painful at all. In fact, I’m feeling energized about my WIP and ready to get back to it with all of these fantastic suggestions. I’m looking forward to seeing what else the readers have to say as well.

Author Bio:

Saranna DeWylde is a full time Amazon Goddess and former corrections officer who decided she’d seen enough shanks and skanks. Originally a horror writer, having written her first story at her 8th birthday party in colored pencil after watching The Exorcist, she further decided that her dark quill was meant for Happily Ever After instead of the things that grab your feet if they hang off the end of the bed. Her debut novel, How To Lose A Demon in 10 Days will be available from Dorchester Publishing November 2010. For more info, please visit

Now it's your turn. Do you have suggestions for Saranna? Did I get it all wrong? What did you like best about Falcon Cherrywood?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Foot in the Door

When I was a kid, I learned about the parts of a business letter (for a refresher click here). Today I'm taking it a step further. I'm going to share the parts of a business query letter.

This is an author's first chance to show the editor/agent that they can put together coherent sentences and follow the rules (an important consideration for starting a relationship based on the ability to deliver a polished product and willingness to discuss and implement revisions.) You've worked hard to finish the manuscript. Don't skimp on putting together a dynamite query letter.

I learn best from studying an example. Here's the query I'd send if I was shopping out STROKE OF GENIUS (coming May 25th to your local bookseller!)

My Real Name
Mailing address
City, State, zip (I'd add an email and phone number as well. Make it easy for the agent/editor to reach you.)

Agent/Editor's Name (Pick a specific target! Know who's buying/representing your type of fiction.)Company
Mailing Address
City, State, Zip


Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name; (You'll never go wrong with too much formality. Later you'll be on a first name basis. No need to be pushy here. Make sure you've got the gender right. If you send something to Ms. Chris Keeslar, he might be amused, but you'll feel pretty silly. If you are doing multiple submissions, make sure you match up the name with the right mailing address. Nothing will get you "File-13'ed" faster than sending a query to one person with the name of their competitor here.)

I enjoyed meeting you at the NECRWA conference last weekend. Here is the proposal for STROKE OF GENIUS you requested. (If you have pitched the project, this short opening is the place to remind them. It also allows you to go ahead and include the three chapters and synopsis or full manuscript they've already asked you for. If you haven't pitched, here's where you show you've done your homework. If they represent/buy books similar to yours, demonstrate that you are saavy enough to connect the dots. For example: I enjoyed your author Lisa Kleypas's latest release, Tempt me at Twilight. I hope you'll be interested in my light-hearted historical as well.)

STROKE OF GENIUS is a 90,000 word, sexy historical romance set in the heart of the Regency. It's Pygmalion meets Cyrano De Bergerac. (This is the "tell 'em whatcha got" portion of the query. It's essential to give them an approximate word count, sensuality level and romance subgenre. Don't say your work defies classification. They need to know where to shelve your story in order to sell it. Don't offer them a 150,000 word manuscript and tell them you wouldn't know where to cut it because it's all too beautiful. Be sure you've checked the submission guidelines on their website to make sure your offering fits their parameters. If you have a one sentence way to give them the gist of the story, insert it here. Then follow it up with a short--no more than three paragraphs--blurb style description of your story. Help the editor/agent envision the back cover of your book.)

Crispin Hawke is revered by the ton. His artistic creations are celebrated in every fashionable parlor, tales of his fiery bed skills whispered behind every fashionable fan.

Grace Makepeace is determined to wed a titled lord, but her Bostonian bluntness leaves her least likely to succeed. To be accepted by the ‘high-in-the-instep’ crowd, she has her hands ‘done’ in marble by the incomparable Crispin Hawke.

Crispin schools Grace in flirting and the delights of the flesh. But when she catches the eye of a marquess, Crispin regrets helping her. Can an artistic genius transform an American heiress into the most sought-after Original without falling for her himself?

A partial and synopsis of STROKE OF GENIUS is available upon request. (If you are a first time novelist, you must have a completed, polished and thoroughly sanded manuscript. Until you finish the book, you have nothing to sell. Once you're published, you may be able to sell on three chapters and a synopsis, but until then, only query completed works.)

(The next portion of your letter deals with your publishing credits. Contest wins go here. If you've had a non-fiction book published, share that info. If you earned an MFA or journalism degree, that doesn't hurt. If your day job relates to your fiction, be sure to point it out. Demonstrate that you have a platform--a group of people who will be interested enough in your work to buy it. Do not share how much your mother loves your work or what being published would mean to you. Keep it professional.)

My most recent release, A CHRISTMAS BALL (October 2009 Leisure Books) was listed in the top 100 romances on Bookscan for 8 weeks. I have a frequently visited website,, an active blog, and a vibrant web presence on the major social networks. I am represented by Natasha Kern. (A caveat here: Natasha wouldn't let me query my own stuff. She'll do it for me, but I help her pull together the same sort of material you see here. Other agents may want you to send editor queries.)

Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope to hear from you soon.


Your Real Name
w/a Your Pen Name

Then you wait.

And wait.

After a couple months, you may drop a quick email just to make sure your package was received. Do not press them for a decision or I promise you it will be "no." If you are submitting to multiple parties and receive a request from one of them, as a courtesy to the others, you may wish to let them know you've granted an exclusive to X for a certain length of time. This is a gray area since most agent/editors hate multiple submissions, but the wheels of publishing grind with such glacial slowness, it's a fact of life.

If someone has asked for a partial or full manuscript based on a face-to-face pitch, it's good manners not to submit elsewhere till they've had time to review your work. If you're a newbie, after six months with no response, I'd think it would be logical for you to send the party a note letting them know you're ready to start submitting elsewhere. This may move your work up the TBR pile, but maybe not. Be prepared to move on.

And of course, while you're waiting you're busy writing the next Great American Novel, because once they buy the one you've queried their first question will be: "What else have you got?"

Remember what you're looking for is not just the sale of one book. You are looking for an agent or a publishing home that will help you grow a career. Good things take time. And finding the right agent and publishing house are both good things.

Ok, now it's your turn to ask questions, correct my mistakes or offer your own advice! I look forward to hearing from YOU!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Trashy Historical Romance

Ok, I'll admit it. I have a Google alert set on myself. If someone says something about one of my books online, I want to see it. Most of the time, when the alarm trips, it's a happy thing. I usually find good reviews or positive reader comments. Then the other day, Pleasuring the Pirate popped up with an alert on GoodReads.

When I clicked over, I was confused. My cover was posted, but there didn't seem to be anything about the book. Just a rambling post by some guy. Pleasuring the Pirate wasn't mentioned by name, but the words "trashy historical romance" leaped out at me.

Granted, Pleasuring the Pirate is easy to lampoon. The cover is old-school and the title lends itself to frat house jokes. But the love story between Gabriel and Jacquelyn isn't a bit trashy. It's funny and tender and, I hope, moving.

Trashy historical romance . . . The words grate on my soul. They are usually uttered by people who've never cracked the spine on a historical romance. They just think they know what the book's about--gratuitous, poorly written sex.

I beg to differ.

Historical romance is about relationship. The level of sensuality in the sub-genre covers a broad spectrum. If you read an inspirational, YA or sweet historical, the bedroom door will be firmly closed. If you're looking for explicit sex scenes in a historical, you can definitely find them. But when my characters consummate their relationship, it has to mean something. Most writers I know agree with me. Love scenes aren't about body parts. They are about two people connecting in the deepest way possible--heart, body and soul.

What's trashy about that?

Have you ever talked to anyone with a preconcieved notion about romance novels?

If you haven't read Pleasuring the Pirate, you can try an excerpt on my website. While you're there, check out my Pirate Pick-up lines and hilarious Talk like a Pirate page!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Contest with Sandra Cox!

As you know I often host other authors as guests on my blog. Today please welcome Sandra Cox and her newest release, GROUNDED. Sandra graciously agreed to visiting with me and you're invited to pour yourself a cup of coffee, put up your feet and listen in! My words are in bold, Sandra's in regular type.

Sandra: First of all, Emily. Thanks for having me. I appreciate your hospitality and I’m looking forward to chatting with your readers. For anyone who leaves a comment and sends me an email at with Emily Bryan in the subject line I’ll put their name in a drawing for a PDF (e) copy of GROUNDED. The contest ends Friday March 19th. The winner will be announced Saturday March 20.

Emily: Great! Everyone loves a contest and a chance to win a free read. So, Sandra, tell us about GROUNDED.

Sandra: Thanks for asking. GROUNDED is an urban fantasy about a reclusive young woman.
On the surface, Gillian Stone has it all: wealth, beauty, and the freedom to come and go as she pleases…at least from sunset to dawn. But, from dawn to dusk, she’s grounded in several hundred pounds of marble. And if that’s not bad enough, her life expectancy is preordained to be short…unless, she can find a certain genie and reverse the wish-spell.

Emily: Bummer. Guess I'll have to read the book to see how this calamity happened!What will we love about your hero/heroine?

Sandra: As far as the hero, Darth Hunter is your typical bad boy who passionately cares about the people he loves, but he’s not real big on letting it show. If you’re in a tight spot, he’s who you want in your corner.

Gillian Stone is a young woman who, through no fault of her own, has been dealt a tough hand. But she doesn’t whine or complain about it. She just deals. After being encased in marble everyday, her outlet at night is fast cars and motorcycles.

Sandra: I understand this is a story for young adults. What's the biggest challenge about writing for the YA market?

Sandra: I really enjoy writing YA. It’s a lot of fun. As far as the challenge, I think it’s letting folks know that what I write is as much YAH (young at heart) as YA. The audience I write for is from 14 to 90.

Emily: YA really does have a wide readership. (OK, everyone who's read Harry Potter or Twilight, raise your hand!) Can you tell us what's next for you, Sandra?

Sandra: Vampire Island, the first of the Hunter series was released last month. I’m currently working on the 2nd in the series.

Here's an excerpt from GROUNDED:

Be careful what you wish for.

While I’m dropping pearls of wisdom let me add, read the fine print.

Why am I wasting my time offering warnings that no one is going to listen to?

Because as humans we have this unconquerable urge to try to help others learn from our mistakes. Or in this case my great, great, great, great grandmother’s mistakes.

She came from a very poor background and consequently wanted it all, riches beyond measure, beauty. Need I say more?

Great-great-plus Grams stumbled onto a genie’s lamp and made her wish.

You don’t believe in genies?

Trust me. They’re real all right. Unfortunately, when my ancient relative made her wish she didn’t bother to listen to the genie’s warning of strings attached. This lack of foresight has a direct bearing on the first born daughter of each generation, i.e. me.

To put it mildly, my life is complicated. I am literally grounded forever.

I live on a lavish estate in the mountains of North Carolina. Between sunset and dawn, my life is my own. But during the day I’m grounded in several hundred pounds of marble. If you happen to wander by the Stone estate and peep through the fence, you’ll hear the rippling sounds of water from a lovely manmade pool surrounded by lush fragrant flowers. Beside it stands a life size statue of a young woman, with long flowing hair and classic bone structure, draped in a Greek toga a cat at her feet.

The cat is Merrick.

The young woman is me.

Author Bio: Sandra Cox is a multi-published author who writes YA, paranormal and historical romance, and metaphysical nonfiction. She lives with her husband and a menagerie of pets including an occasional foster cat. If you’d like to see the brood, visit her website at

To Buy GROUNDED, click here!

Thanks for coming by, Sandra. Ok, everybody, be sure to leave a comment and send Sandra an email at with "Emily Bryan" in the subject line to enter her contest! If you found a genie in a bottle, what would YOU wish for (this hypothetical genie doesn't have any unpleasant strings!)?

Friday, March 12, 2010

WorldBuilding Primer by Rebecca Lynn

A couple weeks ago, I did a post on WorldBuilding and lo! and behold, one of my readers had a whole workshop prepared on the topic! Rebecca Lynn, a consulant and writing coach, offered to do a Bloggers Digest version of her workshop for us here (to be continued on her own blog). So thank you, Rebecca for sharing with me and my readers! My blog is now yours.


There are two general brands of world-building: Cosmological and Contextual.

Cosmological World-Building is all about the vertical, and structural part of creating a new world. Contextual, on the other hand, is horizontal, and more narrative. There is no "one magic way" to world-build. Since everyone has different strengths and a different personality, everyone will have a different approach. It's important to know what yours is, because the more aware and intentional you can be, the better world-builder you will become.

Cosmological World-BuildingThink heirarchy, think pyramid, think flow chart... whatever vertical picture works the best for you. When approaching world-building from the vertical dimension, remember that each level of the pyramid directly effects the level above or below it. So there are two basic ways to build vertical worlds.

Top-Down: Think big-picture, then focusing in. People who build top-down will start will bigger thoughts. Philosophical or theological concepts might form the basic structure, and then they'll dial down to the next level, until they eventually get to the practical details. They start on the 10,000-foot-level, and let the answers to the questions they find there (who rules this world, what is the relationship between good and evil, what is the basic philosophy of this country), then let those answers make the next decisions (how is the "good" country's government set up), and then the next (how does the ruler make decisions), and so on.

I worked with a writer who is very much a Top-Down World-Builder. He'd spent so much time creating the philosophies and big concepts of the world that he actually decided to build a whole board game before he wrote the book. Then, he was in the middle of writing, and he called me to see if he could run some world-building by me. We sat down for about six hours and hashed out the theodicy (system of reconciling the presence of evil) of his world. His desire had been to make certain that all of his philosophy made sense before he wrote himself too far into the novel. Classic Top-Down.

Bottom-Up: Think specifics, then moving to the general. Bottom-uppers will typically start with details. They like to research. They like to collect information and/or trivia. These are the types of world-builders who will spend their time mapping. They create languages for their cultures and people-groups. They research the difference between katana and naginata swords for their futuristic-set Samurai fantasy. They read books on how to build time machines for their steampunk novel. Then, from those details, they might move up the vertical ladder, getting up to cultural practices. For instance, they see an A&E documentary on royal marriages and are intrigued by the story of Katherine Parr. They think, wow, a woman nursing a king and falling in love with him, that would make a really interesting novel. So they research the details of medicine in the Renaissance era, then perhaps the royal family; they eventually get up to the big-picture (philosophies, religions, cosmologies). But maybe not.

I tend to be a bottom-upper. I have high Input, so I like to organize details. I love to research, and I generally come up with my ideas based on the details of something I read somewhere. I tend to do a ton of research before I ever start writing, because I'm an incubator. The story rolls around in my head, getting fleshed out from the details up to the bigger picture. When I wrote my first historical fiction novel, I researched for three solid months before I ever put anything on paper as far as a story goes. I had a basic plot outline in my head after about a month, but I mostly spent my time figuring out where my characters were going to live (before they even had names), what clans they would belong to, what language they would speak, what clothes they would wear. Eventually, and this was long after I'd started writing, I moved up the vertical ladder. But I am at my best when I'm down in the details.

Contextual World-Building
Whereas the structure is the key for the Cosmological, intuition is at the heart of Contextual world-building. People who tend toward this type of world-building are not bad at research, or at thinking. In fact, they may often employ both strategies to create more structure as they get farther into the process. (Although in my experience, Contextual World-Builders tend not to do all their world-building ahead of time like Cosmologicals.) Many of the writers I've worked with, coached, or critiqued fit into one of these Contextual categories.

Inward-Out: Think character-driven world-building. Often, innies start their entire story with the creation of a character, and then build the story around that character. Their characters are usually memorable, in my experience, and have characteristics (more so than contexts) that are unique. For innies, the decisions of how to create the world (from big picture to details, from plot to structure) revolve around the character. Think What Would _______ Do. They ask questions like, if my character is a witch, and a lesbian, does having her girlfriend around make her weaker or stronger, or perhaps if my character were to have a superpower, what might that be. Not always consciously, sometimes subconsciously, but always people-focused. They often create and name all their characters before they figure out anything else about the whole book. Then, once their characters and their traits are solidified, the other decisions get made from there.

One of my critique partners is an Innie. Mary is in the middle of a chick-lit novel that began with the creation of a very unique character. Let's call her Lilly. (I couldn't use her name, because even that part of her world is so unique, it felt like giving away part of her essence.) Mary is very much the What Would Lilly Do writer. In fact, when she first started writing the book, she really let Lilly direct the flow of the book. When she was about five chapters in, and the mystery started getting complex, I asked Mary what she was going to do for plot outlining. She said she didn't want to outline her plot because she felt like she didn't want to enforce something on Lilly that wasn't natural for her. Instead of stopping to do a plot outline, she wanted to keep writing. See where Lilly would take her. Given what I've read of the book, that's exactly where Lilly should be.

Outward-In: Think plot-driven world-building. Outies are very plot-focused, and they build the context around the plot. Details of world-building need to happen around the details of the plot. This is the type of writer who may read a piece of research and then put a slight twist on a real historical event. They might have a dream and then create a world around this great plot idea. The plot becomes the belt of the whole novel. It is the external boundary, where all details need to conform to the plot. They might ask questions like I want to write about the Scottish Wars of Independence, so who was ruling at that time or my Arthurian-based fantasy needs a political philosophy that meshes with the war between the punk-fairies and establishment-humans.

I worked with a screenwriter once who was a big-time Outie. He had been watching Heroes one day and came up with an idea for a future-based fantasy plot that was a combination of Freaks & Geeks, Heroes, and Empire Falls. We're sitting down to do world-building, and all his thoughts focus around the plot. Whatever questions I asked about the rules of the world, he interpreted his answers by the boundaries of the plot that he wanted to create. As he developed the idea further, he focused in farther and farther. He tended not to do character development--left that to his writing partner--but he loved the excavation of a good plot.

Stephenie Meyers is the most obvious Outie I've ever heard of. Her story of the creation of Twilight is practically legendary in the writing world. She had a dream about a boy and a girl lying in a meadow, having a conversation about how he is in love with her, but he can't stop himself from wanting to kill her. She woke up and wrote the story down, then created the world of vampires in the Northwest around this plot of a girl and her muzzled-killer of a boyfriend. I know I've worked with several other writers who work this way, and they all make the same types of decisions. The plot is the lens through which all their structure is created.

In the end, most of us use all of the strategies of these four types to some extent. But what is really important about how world-building gets done is the awareness of your strengths. Let me just say, world-building takes a lot of time. The more you can lean into your strengths, the more quickly your world-building goes, the faster your novel gets onto the shelves of bookstores. And, of course, each of these types of world-building has its strengths and weaknesses. We've talked about the strengths. Let's look briefly at the weaknesses.

A Top-down Cosmological might, for instance, try to include all that philosophical backstory in the early chapters of their fantasy. An Innie Contextual might write chapters they eventually take out because their characters are driving the story, and it turns out the scene with them watching old basketball videos might be important to character development, but not particularly relevant to moving the plot forward. A Bottom-up Cosmological might get so caught up in the details of their research that their plot gets too complex for a single novel. An Outie Contextual might make a decision to sacrifice a certain world-characteristic that would have made a much more engaging story because they want to stick to the original plot they created.

So knowing your preferences for the "how" of world-building is important because you need to know what to lean into and what to pull back on. Using all the strategies, on some level, for really solid world-building is important, in my professional opinion, as a coach. But the most imperative part of world-building is the doing. However you go about it, do it early and often. And you can stop by my blog all this week to pick up the rest of the discussion on the who-what-when-where-why of world-building.

Emily here again: Wow, Rebecca! Good stuff! And these are things every writer needs to consider, not just the fantasy/paranormal types, because we all have to create the special world of our story within the pages of our novels.

Please be sure to visit Rebecca's blog NewKidOnTheWritersBlock for the rest of what she has to say on this important topic!

P.S. Today is my day to blog with The Chatelaines. I'm talking about cyber-friendship and how it stack up with real life relationships. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Red-Penciling Myself

Today, I'm going to critique the opening of the first manuscript I ever wrote. The working title was VOICE ON THE WIND. (Believe me, that voice was a cry for help!) I haven't looked at this in years, so it's practically new to me. This is the sort of critique I give and expect to receive from my critique partner. My comments are in red.

Chapter One
1866 (If I'm going to give the date, I should add the place: Savanah)

The bay gelding’s feet were wrapped with cloth to muffle the tattoo of his hooves on the cobbled streets. (Not a bad opener, but not great either. At least there's a hint of a question. Why is the rider trying not to be heard?) Every creak of leather and harness seemed unnaturally loud to the lone rider. His gray-green eyes, icy and forbidding as the Irish Sea, scanned the occasional passerby in the steamy night, searching for familiar faces. (I think I'm in this guy's POV, but it's such a distant view, I'm not sure. How about if I said 'He winced at every creak of leather and harness.'? It's much more immediate and I get a better sense of him. Wouldn't hurt to slip in his name. I need to cut the next part. No guy thinks about his own eyes as 'icy and forbidding as the Irish Sea'. The word 'scanned' leaps out at me as too contemporary. Sure enough, it wasn't used like this till 1926.) If they caught him there, they would kill him. (OK that's a good hook.)

Down by the river, the folks in shantytown had pulled their beds outside, hoping for a stray breeze on the hottest May night in recent memory. (Could I be more wordy? I should cut everything after 'breeze') To avoid them, he reined his horse down a rutted alley. Silently, he lifted a shirt and pair of trousers from a sagging clothesline, changed into them and stuffed his uniform into his saddlebag. (Wait a minute! He stole someone's clothes. Is this the hero or the villain? And what's his name anyway?) Even now, more than a year after Lee surrendered to Grant, it wouldn’t do to be caught alone in Savannah in a Union uniform. (With this sentence, I don't need to give the date and place at the beginning. It irritates readers when writers are redundant and say the same thing twice! ;-))

Especially since he spoke with a southern accent. (Ok this is an intriguing tidbit. He's a Southerner who fought for the Union. That makes for a conflicted character. I'd keep reading.)

Up on the hill, where the fine homes and the fine people were, he slowed the bay to a walk before moving into the eerie gaslight. (Usually, I redflag repeated words, but using 'fine' twice here is deliberate for emphasis.) Ponderous live oaks, heavily bearded with Spanish moss, concealed him in shadow as he stole into a small graveyard. He tethered his mount to the wrought iron fence near the mass grave for last year’s scarlet fever victims. (Evocative. I can see the scene, but I can't hear, smell or feel it. Use all the senses. If he hasn't been there, how does he know about last year's scarlet fever outbreak?)

“Be still now, Davy.” He gave the gelding a reassuring pat on the neck. (What? I know the horse's name, but I still don't know who this guy I'm following around is?) “I’ll be right back.” From there, he’d be safer on foot.

He moved with the stealthy grace of a panther, every tensed muscle under complete control. The borrowed trousers weren’t quite long enough for his legs and he could barely button the shirt across his broad chest. His hair was such a dark brown it was nearly black. His Celtic ancestors had bequeathed him fair skin and the contrast with his hair was striking. A raw-boned wildness in his features and turbulent pale eyes made his a face that sent many feminine hearts into palpitation. He would have been considered handsome save for the scar that ran from the tip of his right eyebrow nearly down to his square jaw. Even though the scar left him with a rakish and slightly arrogant expression, some women thought that only added to his attractiveness. Men recognized him as a dangerous man, one not afraid of a fight. (Where do I begin? First of all, if I'm in his POV, I can't have him give this self description. And if he did, he wouldn't use these words. They aren't "guy-speak." The whole thing has to go. Parts of it can be salted in later in small increments, preferably from an interested female's POV. No 'stealthy grace of a panther' though unless she regularly works with wild animals.)

But he wasn’t looking for a fight just then. He was just looking to see her. (Finally, we know what he's up to. Sort of. The whole scene is a little nebulous.)

The young man traced a route from his childhood through several expansive yards, past splattering fountains, and a rose garden perfuming the night with early buds. (Yay! Something to hear and smell!) A geriatric bloodhound roused himself from a carriage house doorway and nearly raised a tired alarm. (Oh, no. Geriatric wasn't a word until 1909! And if he nearly raised the alarm how do we know it would have been tired?)

“Hush, Boomer.” He massaged behind the dog’s long limp ear. “It’s only me.” (I've got to be kidding me. Now I've told the horse's name AND the dog's name, but not the guy's name. Sheesh!)

Boomer whined in pleasure and thumped his tail against the intruder’s legs. Boomer’s master would have been less welcoming if he’d known who was softly trekking across his property. The young soldier took a moment to survey the dark outline of the elegant house he grew up in. (Point of grammar. Don't end a sentence with a preposition.) The house where he was no longer welcome. (Ok, I'm liking this guy. I always pull for the outcast underdog, but what the heck is his name?)

Nimbly, he scaled the rock wall and dropped into the neighboring lawn. Here the fountain was plugged with old leaves and sludge. The Georgian-style home, grand enough in its prime, now whimpered for a fresh coat of paint. A graying shutter on the upper story swayed drunkenly on one hinge. No lamps were burning, but he could see in the moonlight that her window had been left open. (A tad overwritten. I'm personifying the house too much. Be careful about -ly words. I highlighted them in orange through out. I try to limit myself to 2 to a page. I've got 2 to a paragraph here. Think long and hard over whether adverbs are necessary. No guy would think of a home as Georgian-style unless he's not the sort to be interested in a woman's open window. But the open window suggests we're getting closer to the guy's goal.)

He sprinted across the yard and climbed the ancient cottonwood that overhung the narrow veranda girdling the upper story. Cat-footed, he dropped onto the veranda and froze, listening for sounds of arousal in the house. (Bet I mean 'rousal', not 'arousal' at this point.) Not a breeze stirred the muggy night, the air as thick as warm honey. Sweat trickled in rivulets down the ridge of his spine. Only the crickets’ song, and the low rhythmic march that he recognized as his own heartbeat, resounded in his ears. (Now I'm in a good tight POV. My heart is in sinc with his, but I still don't know the guy's name!)

The beckoning window stood open. (We know that already.) His body momentarily blocked the moonlight that fingered its way over the sleeping form under the gauzy mosquito netting. The sleeper was a young woman; a fitful sleeper to judge from the way her sheets lay bunched by her feet. (Oops! I've told then shown. If the sheets are bunched by her feet I'm insulting my readers by telling them she's a fitful sleeper. They can already see that.) Her coppery hair, in near-torrential waves, spilled over her pillow and curled in damp tendrils at her temples. The humid night air caused her thin shift to mold itself to the peaks and valleys of her form. (Near torrential waves of hair is serious overkill. Tone it down, girl. And I can tighten up the next sentence to 'Her thin shift molded to the peaks and valleys of her form.' Cuts 7 words. Less really is more. And he knows her name. If he told us the horse's name and the dog's name, he can think the girl's name, for Pete's sake!)

He paused for a moment to study her face, to measure her against his memory. The sleeper’s pert upturned nose was liberally sprinkled with freckles, which he knew she (And at this point, my two pages are mercifully up. The problem with this opening is that my hero, if that's who he is, has no one to interact with. It's almost empty of dialogue. I've started the story too early. Nothing has really happened. I'm sort of clearing my throat for a couple pages waiting for the action to start, which won't be until he slips into that bedroom window. Which I'm sorry to tell you is still another half page away! Everything up to this point needs to be axed.)

Ok, I'm relieved that's over. But if you're a writer, this post was designed to give you hope. This is how I wrote in 2001, before I attended any RWA meetings, critique groups or even read any "how to" books. This was just me trying to capture something and set it on paper. I had no idea about the elements of storytelling, little sense of POV and no sense of reader expectations. I share this with you because wherever you are along your writer's journey, you need to understand all those things are skills that can be learned. Writing is an art and a craft. Mostly a craft.

Become a student of the writing craft and take a healthy dose of critique regularly. You'll be amazed at the change in your writing over time. Have you ever received a critique suggestion that changed the way you approached telling your story?