Category Archives: Writing

Why I Find Comfort in Crime Fiction

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A few months ago I almost signed up for an “urban escape” training weekend. We’re not talking getting out of the city and into the woods though. The course description is this:

While on an international business trip you are kidnapped and held for ransom. or, a terrorist attack closes the business district of your city and you find yourself in a dangerous, chaotic fix. How do you stay alive? How do you get to safety on your own?

This class provides leading-edge skills to civilians who live or work in challenging urban environments or who may find themselves in a destabilizing urban area during a crisis. Topics covered include covert movement (day vs. night), the judicious use of caches, understanding urban baseline movement and urban awareness training, the use of disguises and false papers/identification, lock picking, escaping from unlawful custody, obtaining and driving local transportation, the use of “specialized” urban gear, and instruction on how to develop urban escape and evasion go-bags. A one day urban escape scenario is held the final day of class.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? One of the classes was offered in Las Vegas during my daughter’s spring break, and I suggested we take it together–spend a couple days in Vegas ahead of time for fun, then go to the class to learn some new skills. Great mommy-daughter bonding time, right? She seemed as excited about it as I was.

When I suggested I wanted to do this, my husband was appalled. He didn’t understand why we would be attracted to this kind of weekend. Learning how to escape from being kidnapped? Sure, it would be awesome research for my writing, but I wanted to do it. For me. I still want to.

As I spoke to more of my friends about this, I learned that women were more likely to be attracted to the class than men. As women, we are taught to walk down the street with heightened awareness and actively think about the threats that surround us all the time. Is that man crossing the street toward me? What kind of lighting is there? Can I see who is around me? Who is nearby that can harm me? A class like this would give me some possible skills to use if I am ever pulled into a passing car or a bag goes over my head from behind.

As I rationalized my desire to take this class, I realized my relationship to reading (and writing), and my intense focus on all things scary had to do with coping in life. Crime fiction, mysteries and stories that deal with horrible things provide a sort of comfort to me. It is to many women what Grimm’s Fairytales are to children.

Reading about someone surviving a terrifying situation, especially if they are part of their own escape from it, helps us, as women, cope with the possibilities. It makes it so we can walk down the street knowing others have survived, we can too.

note:
I ended up not taking that particular class because of timing and cost issues. Good thing, too. The weekend I was looking at ended up being the same one where I had an emergency appendectomy. Being locked in a car trunk with an exploding appendix would have not been a good time. I’d still like to take the class sometime…

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(c) Can Stock Photo

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A new year, a new list…

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What’s on your list to read in 2016?  I got a few fun books to read over the holidays, (see photo) and I still have a backlog from book-signing events and conferences.

First up is “Purity” by Franzen. It was a birthday gift from my fabulous mother-in-law, and I have kept ‘meaning to get into it.’

Every book I read about writing gives me the same advice–write and read a lot. I tried to put every book I read in 2015 on my Goodreads shelves, but I probably missed one or two. But, it looks like I made my 52 book goal for the year.  Most were mysteries or thrillers. What a surprise!

As a writer, I have a couple of standard responses to books I read.  Often I think “wow…this is really good. HOW did this writer pull me in?”  I spend some time analyzing the craft of the author and feeling inferior.  The other response is “wow…this is really crap.  How did this writer ever get published?” along with the more peevish, “I write better than this, so what’s off about MY STORY?”

Regardless of my response, I usually learn SOMETHING as a writer with every book I pick up. Reading without the active analysis is harder for me than it used to be, so I love it when I get so sucked into a story that I forget to pay attention to craft details. When I put such a book down, I have a moment where I think, “wait…how did that happen? I read a story and didn’t even think about how the author used a gazillion adverbs and it didn’t bug me at all…”

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy, safe, and word-filled 2016.

 

 

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Why your epic-fantasy-detective-Christian-erotic-romance is having a hard time being found….

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I recently worked with a friend to co-edit and publish an anthology of erotic vampire stories. The collection includes some gay, some lesbian, some straight, some BDSM, and even one science fiction story. Given they are all about vampires, most of which suck blood or psychic ju-ju, they all border on horror.

If you’re  at all observant, you might have noticed the picture to the left. These are the categories publishers use as defined by the book industry study group.  When we went to publish the book, we were given space to choose three categories.  (I’ve included both erotica and fantasy categories, but the link to the group will show all categories–click on fiction for all fiction etc.)  Technically speaking, we could easily have chosen six categories for this anthology.

We chose to publish via Ingram Sparks, a distributor of books all over the world, rather than via Amazon.  Amazon is hated–and I mean HATED–by most brick and mortar stores, and we wanted to make sure this little anthology was available in small independent stores.  This is how it works. The publisher logs onto IngramSpark and adds a new title. They put in the ISBN, which they’ve purchased from a service. Then, they choose the categories and add in a bunch of key words to help readers with their searches. Basically, the publisher adds data to a database. They upload the documents for the book–cover, PDF, epub files etc. Then, retailers databases ‘talk’ to the distributor’s databases and computer magic happens and the book appears for sale all over the internet–Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, etc. Unfortunately, not all magic is magical. Databases talking to other databases don’t always match up field for field and nothing is 100% automated.  We still had to call Amazon directly for them to link the kindle version with the print version. Barnes and Noble managed to link the two versions automatically, but they got other metadata wrong because they pulled data from the wrong fields.

The bigger problem is, you can’t add categories or tweak them. We were stuck with the categories shown in the image. So, while there are several gay stories in our anthology, they aren’t ALL gay. And while there is one alien story in the book, it’s not a collection of science fiction. We could have just left it at “collections and anthologies” but we wanted to let readers know, somehow, there are more than just heterosexual interactions in the book. Our back cover, the description for the book, ended up being the only way we could inform readers of what they’d find inside.

As authors, we get asked this question by agents and editors all the time: “Where would your book go on the shelf?”  Now I FINALLY understand why. They want to visualize our books as part of the industry standards–the categories they know and understand. If they can’t click on one of the topics off that list, they don’t know how to sell our work. The category list is a lot smaller than you think it is.  Genre-benders almost always get turned down by agents because they can’t quite figure out which category to use that will sell the most books.  If it doesn’t fit into the list as they know it, they won’t want to rep or buy your book.

So, here’s the take away for writers.  If you have a book you want to sell, study the list. Figure out which three categories you would choose to best describe your book and use the top category in your pitches. You can do this even with cross-genre work by going with the strongest element of your novel.

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Deep breath, hit send. Fly baby, fly.

Betas and drafts.

Betas and drafts.

I might as well be standing outside naked–in a public park surrounded by people staring at me. That’s how exposed I feel right now. Today is it. The day I send Bound to Die out into the world. Yes, a few people have read it, liked it, even. But, today is the day I send it to agents and editors–the people I met at last year’s PNWA conference who said, “Sounds like a great story. Send it to me when you’ve got it.” The people who will pass judgment on it in a way that has me feeling raw and vulnerable.

I made a goal to send it off before THIS year’s PNWA conference. It’s July 3rd, and I’m meeting that goal by a scant two weeks.

I took all my beta-reader’s delicious (and sometimes painful comments) and worked through them over the last few months. I hired a professional editor to look at the result and rewrote based on his comments. All the while, I tried to maintain the integrity of my voice, my character’s voices. Did I make every change my readers suggested? No. I seriously considered every thoughtful remark and comment. I agonized over cutting characters, adding in more of this or that. At the end, I am feeling really good about the book. It’s got a beginning, a middle, and an end–complete and full story with characters who make me want to write more of them.

It’s hard work. I was consumed by it in a way I had never experienced before. Working late into the night is pretty strange experience for me, but that old Journalism degree pounded a fierce compulsion to meet deadlines into my psyche. I’m done…I’m finally done.

Well, for now, anyway.

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Beta Time

Beta PicPeople have been asking me questions that are some variant of “So, how’s that book coming along?” or “When is your book coming out?” and “Didn’t you win a contest or something?” and “Hasn’t it been a while now?”

It feels like FOREVER since I started Bound to Die for NaNoWriMo in 2011. I took a look at the original 50,000 words and realized I have kept about 5,000 of them. Ten percent. I point this out to illustrate that, as a newbie novelist, I am learning as I go. Writing a novel is about ten thousand times more difficult than reading one. And, when you do it the way I did, it’s maybe a gazillion times harder.

The problem with NaNoWriMo is, it’s all about process and not product. The problem with this is…well, it’s NOT about the product. So, my 2011 NaNoWriMo was a mess. It’s taken me three years to turn it around into something that is readable. In Mid-February, I sent the manuscript off to six readers to get their response.

The image above shows the first three manuscripts I got back. I used this image to illustrate the next step in my process. I will be comparing notes from all six readers side-by-side and page-by-page. For example, readers of two of the returned manuscripts have brought up an issue at the start of Chapter 23. They are having DIFFERENT questions, but this tells me that I have to re-write the transition into the scene or fix it some other way to keep people connected to the story.

As the author, I get to make all the decisions about things, but when half the people are being bumped out of the story, it’s clear something is not working. This is tricky, because writing by committee doesn’t work. I’m trying to work out a metric on this. If only one person is bumped by something, I look to see if it’s a big bump or a little one. If it’s something easy to clarify, I will. If it’s something that I think is just that reader’s ‘personal issue’, I’ll probably ignore it. If more than two have a bump, then I KNOW there is a problem.

One person told me he doesn’t like the name I chose for my protagonist. It just so happens he had a bad reaction to the name because he was projecting from a life experience. I get that, but I decided to keep the name I had very carefully chosen even though I know at least one person won’t like it. Heck, I know more than one person won’t like the book. (And, there’s the topic of my next blog post–thick skin…)

I’m heading off on a three day intensive editing retreat this week to go through all the fabulous and thoughtful responses I got from my “beta readers.” I have an appointment with a developmental editor in April, and then I’ll be ready to do one more edit before sending it out to agents. I had a bunch of them interested in the story at last summer’s PNWA conference, and I can’t wait to get it into their hands.

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Killing Some Darlings

My working binder.

My work in process binder.

I just opened Scrivener for the first time since I compiled the “full draft” for the writing competition I entered in May. A lot of writers find it is helpful to set a work aside for a while before a revision. This time away helps the writer gain some objective distance from the work. This distance helps us, or me at least, to detach from the minutia of the work. When I’ve just written something, I have a really clear idea of what it is I think I am writing. My knowledge and imagination fill in the gaps my actual words are leaving out.

I set today as my official “return to work on the novel day” back when I closed Scrivener and sent the document off to the contest. I knew I’d want some time to just let things settle, plus, I knew I’d be getting valuable feedback from the contest in August. Why work hard on making revisions knowing I’d be doing it all over? Besides, it was summer. We were taking one kid off to college and schlepping the other to camps and activities. I’ve never been good at writing with other people around, so I just formally decided to not even try.

In August, I got a personal review of my submission by the judge, Robert Dugoni. If you like a good page turner, I suggest you give him a read. The contest committee also gave me some very interesting things to consider. Then, I attended the Writer’s Police Academy in North Carolina last week. I KNEW that was going to give me a bunch of needed information on police procedure that I had been missing–and it did!

So, now, here I am back at home, ready to begin the next major overhaul of this novel. I’m hoping to be done with it by the end of October so I can spend NaNoWriMo roughing out the second book in the series.

In case you’re wondering about the title of this blog post…”Killing your darlings” is the phrase we use when you have to get rid of sentences, paragraphs, or whole chapters of writing (or characters, sub-plots etc.) when they no longer fill any purpose in the story. I find this much easier to do with some time between writing them and cutting them.

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Wanna help your writing friends or favorite authors? Review their books.

canstockphoto19884609As an emerging writer, I am beginning to look at this business a lot more seriously. Sure, getting published in erotic anthologies has been a lot of fun, but I don’t make much money for short stories. And, figuring it an hourly rate is downright depressing. I am a slow writer. Even for short works, it takes me about an hour per five hundred words for a draft. Then, there’s editing. And, I can’t just sit down and write for eight hours straight. If I could do THAT, I would be way more productive. On average, my brain is tapped after three hours of ‘creating words from nothing’ in a morning. Figuring all that in, I average about five bucks an hour on the erotic market.

I don’t even want to think about an hourly for the novel I’m working on. It probably wouldn’t be fair, either, since I have used this novel to really learn how to finish a novel. For those who aren’t keeping track, I’ve actually written five novels. Or started them, anyway. I have one I ‘finished’ but never went much beyond a pretty poor second draft–120K words that need cutting down to 90k, a complete POV re-write, and boredom have left it on the shelf for several years now. I have three others that I have what can only be described as ‘shitty first drafts.’ And there’s the mystery I’m finishing now. Really finishing.

What does this have to do with you reviewing books? Everything. Basically, a book with more reviews gets seen and purchased by more people. (And yes, this is all about me training you to write reviews so that you are ready to review my book when it’s time.) It’s all to do with the way various (online) book sellers choose to show you “if you liked this, you might like this” and other such magical and incomprehensible things called algorithms. I don’t understand how these things work, but I do know they make a difference.

It doesn’t have to be an arduous task. All you have to do is rate a book by clicking on one to five stars, then give one sentence about what you liked or didn’t like about the book. It’s okay to be honest if you didn’t like a book, but review it based on the content of the book and your experience as a reader of the book. Don’t ding the book because the shipper was too slow or they mangled the cover. If you’re an adult reading YA, don’t give a YA book a low rating because it ‘comes across like it was written for teenagers.’

You don’t have to write a book report, either. No need to give a synopsis. Just a sentence about what kept you reading or even what made you close the book and forget about it will do just fine. Your reviews DO make a difference. Your writing friends will love you.


(c) Can Stock Photo

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