Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Resolutions....

Hey -- this is as lame as it gets. New Year's Eve - it's 10:23 - my son and I are sick, I just watched RENT (oh the guilty pleasures) my husband is at a party and I am blogging. Ugh. I can barely stand it.

But it's been a great holiday - I've been too sick to do much work so I've been doing a lot of thinking. I am a resolution fanatic. Love 'em. And Maureen told our critique group a while ago, something that sounds pretty basic but really made me feel better about my career == my resolutions can't be things I can't control. IE -- be published more. I have no control over that since I am not a buying editor at a publishing house. What I can do is write more publishable books -- but that's not one of my resolutions because that sounds hard. So here are my resolutions - the things I plan to control in the New Year.

1. Figure out what kind of writer I am. I'm not talking about writing romance, or writing fast or even what my voice is or what my themes are. What do I write? What do I want to write? What do I want to accomplish with my writing? What do I want my readers to think when they put down a book of mine? How far can I get writing this way? I am beginning to formulate an answer to this which I think I am going to talk about next week - inspired as I am by ROCKY BALBOA!!! That's right -- I saw it and it really made me think about my career and my writing and why don't I work out more. Anyway - more about that next week.

2. When something is really delicious I am going to stop asking what's in it. It's always butter. Or as I was stunned to find out this year about my Aunt's fantastic orange slice cookies -- LARD. That's right. I honestly didn't think you could buy that anymore.

3. Discipline. I've said this one every year for the past few years after I realized that just saying I was going to lose weight had very little to do with actually losing the weight. But I need to be a lot more disciplined about my writing. I'm not sure if you've noticed but I watch a lot of TV - some of it very bad and that is time better spent writing. So I resolve to be more disciplined about writing at night.

4. Figure out commas. I'm 31. I'm a writer. This nonsense has gone on long enough.

5. Forgive myself the days when I just don't feel like writing. I'm a pretty hedonistic person -- like Maureen I can be talked into just about anything (Sinead, she's a tough nut to crack sometimes - Maureen will always have another drink) But when I decide not to write for a day - because I'm tired or sick or I need to recharge or I need to read or take a break or stop thinking about how to get my hero and heroine in bed - I always feel guilty. That's going to stop this year.

6. Use what I learned this year. Challenge myself. This year was a banner year for craft learning for me. The McKee Seminar was amazing and now I just need to keep that stuff in mind and not be lazy about using it.

That's it for me. Are you resolution people? What are they?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More Guilty Pleasures

Hey, We’re lucky enough to have Kim Howe back blogging about Guilty pleasures, a definite theme for us for the past couple of weeks.

I want to remind everyone, Kim’s made it through to the next round of the American Title III, so please go to the Romantic Times website and vote for her.

Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures…we all have them. Sinfully dark chocolate coupled with a glass of Merlot, luxurious baths filled with sensual oils, fries with mayo and ketchup. I could go on, but when it really comes down to it, the guiltiest pleasure of all is free time—something writers desperately need.

Our lives are filled with deadlines and obligations. Most of us race from car pools to local schools, trying to squeeze in all our commitments. We juggle work and family and rarely find time for ourselves. When we have a spare moment, we check our e-mail for urgent messages, and then squeeze in an hour of writing.

Definitely not ideal conditions to welcome the creative muse.

So, how do we change our mindset and set aside free time? Perhaps we can draw insight from one of my other guilty pleasures—traveling. In North America, we have a “work harder, work better” mentality. Maybe this isn’t the right approach?

People in the islands don’t worry if they can’t complete a task today. “No pressure, no problem” is their frustrating reply to our urgent request for service. In Africa, the greatest pleasures are derived from the simple things in life, like watching the sun set over the Mara. Desert dwellers in the Middle East spend hours roaming the sands with their animals. Time is equally precious, but not as frantic.

I know we all have commitments, but maybe canceling a social engagement or booking in personal time is the right approach for writers. Lessons learned from other cultures can help us carve out time to write, allow us to daydream about writing, let boredom set in.

Boredom? That’s right. Our best ideas often come from our subconscious. Consider your experiences for a moment. When do most ideas come to you? Unless you’re really lucky, it’s not when you’re sitting at the computer trying push forward in your plot. It’s usually in bed at night or first thing in the morning, while you are doing a routine activity (like washing those Christmas dishes), or during rhythmic exercise. At those times, you are relaxed and open to exploration. Our right brains aren’t squashed by our left brain’s logical dominance. If we don’t allow ourselves that critical free time, our subconscious can never unleash its incredible powers.

Next time a family member finds you relaxing on the couch, don’t feel guilty. You really are working.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Kim Howe
American Title III Finalist, ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS
Please visit

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Guilty pleasures...

This topic Molly raised made me think, especially because it was in the context of reading. (Now, if we were talking about food and guilty pleasures, or TV, I could blog for days...)

My reading tastes over the years have varied, wildly, but probably for the past 20 years, most of my pleasure reading has been literary fiction, and the biased world being what it is, those books generally aren't thought of as guilty pleasures, per se. Isn't it crazy that any reading should make us feel guilty? I know since I've been writing commercial fiction, I find myself defending the choice--to write books I hope lots of people will read--all the time. Crazy. Great stories simply told with a wide appeal. What could possibly be wrong with that?

I've been thinking back to when I was reading a lot of mainstream fiction, and it was during high school and university. Then, I had lots of school reading to do and therefore really wanted my pleasure reading to be a serious break. I also hadn't discovered movies in a big way yet then, or more accurately didn't have access to them like I do now both because of the cost and the ability to get to them. (Lived in a small town during high school.)

So, books were my main source of entertainment. It's possible that if I were a decade younger, I would have been a voracious romance reader (like Molly and Sinead) but from what I understand, romance publishing didn't take off in a huge way until the 1980's and while I was in University in the 80's... I was in high school in the late 70's and feel like I missed that wave. So, what did I read? Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz, Andrew Greely... and countless other authors whose names I've forgotten. Basically, anything that read quickly and had some good sex scenes... Given those reading preferences, why didn't I discover romance? Don't know. I expect the covers would have turned me off... but I don't remember making that judgement. I also think some of the heroines in those 1980's romances would have turned me off. But I realize it's not fair to say that, having read none of them. (Actually, I recently read an old Janet Daly I found via a bookcrossings drop and HATED the heroine...)

After I graduated University, I started reading mostly literary fiction and was reading that (with a few exceptions like John Grisham and Anne Rice and a lot of "cross-over" authors like John Irving and Ann Tyler) pretty exclusively until I started writing. Now that I've discovered the romance genre and rediscovered mainstream fiction... I feel like I read mostly for "work" and the books that sweep me up and become "pleasure" instead of work... Well, I don't feel any guilt about those. Recent mainstream authors who've done that for me include Emily Giffen, Sophie Kinsella, Robyn Harding, Gemma Halliday, Diana Peterfreund and of course Molly O'Keefe.

I think what it boils down to, is that for me, reading is not a guilty pleasure at all.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

OH! So guilty and delicious....

We must have stumbled on to guilty pleasures if Sinead is admitting those Johanna Lindsey books on her shelf. Is she even still alive? Or are there a "team" of Johanna Lindsey's pushing out those books. Have they hooked her brain up to a computer somewhere?

And in the dictionary under guilty pleasures isn't it just a picture of the first season Nip/Tuck DVD?

I only mock to deflect any attention to those books on the lowest shelf of my keep case. Yes. It's a case. But since Sinead can be a man about it -- so can I. Elizabeth Lowell - the older the better. Love them. Love the Alpha Male, the BIG MISUNDERSTANDING, those doormat virgin heroines and seriously the very un-pc sex scenes. I love the old series, the old historicals all of it. She lost me recently but I'm not parting with those old ones.

You know about Friday Night Lights but my real secret is So You Think You Can Dance. I PVR it all the time and end up watching each episode at least twice. I know it's a guilty pleasure because I turn it off when the husband walks in the door. But frankly, it's artful and interesting.

I hope you all have gotten your holiday shopping done. I have one stop left and then I am done. Not too shabby.

Friday, December 15, 2006

books, books and more books, please

It’s Friday, I’m behind in my Xmas shopping, writing and housework. I’m largely OK with this, but I’m also behind in my blog writing. So I apologize in advance if this makes if this rambles aimlessly.

One of the things top of mind lately is I want to read a really good romance. I’d settle for just one over the Xmas season.

So I’m looking for recommendations. Any and all, bring ‘em on.

One of the saddest aspects of getting better as a writer, is becoming a far harder to please reader. I no longer have any patience for those scenes where the heroine reviews how her last meeting with the hero went, or the hero contemplates his hard, neglected childhood. I recognize the problems with static scenes like these now, but before, I probably just skipped them, without even blinking and they certainly didn’t interfere with how I felt about the book.

Now they do.

But I think I’m still willing to forgive problems in a book, if overall the book entertains and intrigues me. I’m easier to please in this respect than Molly. (Anne Stuart’s latest is proof positive of this. That hero alone was enough to get me to love the book)

But mostly I’m going back and re-reading old favourites. Anything written by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Laura Kinsale, Iris Johansen’s historicals are high up on my list. I know I’m missing out on some amazing books, because that haven’t hit my radar.. (a subtle plea for recommendations…)

Let’s share.

And did anyone see the Golden Globe noms. Michael C. Hall was deservedly there for Dexter. Nice to see a non-network show get noticed in some way. As was Big Love, which is also a great show and Bill Paxton, but where was Jeannie Tripplehorn, who is the glue holding that show together?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Publishing from the writer's perspective

Okay, first off, an acknowlegement is due to Vanessa Jaye, on whose great blog I found this amazing little penguin clip. Still can't stop laughing...

She has it as a header for her list of links to agents and editors... Too funny. And it really does sum up how the publishing industry can feel to a writer at times. Put yourself out there a bit, take a risk to walk out onto the ice... and whack!

No matter what way you look at it, publishing is a tough business and writers need very thick skins to survive the cold water and ice. And I know from friends that getting published doesn't suddenly make it easier, either... Molly was already published when I first met her nearly five years ago and I hope she won't mind me saying I've seen her go through just as many struggles as the rest of us.

A couple of days ago, Diana Peterfreundalso talked about the myth that things get easier when you get a book contract. From Diana's blog:

"...getting published is like levelling up on a video game.You're the same character as you were before when you were at the top of the last level, you're just playing in a much much harder field that requires skills and weaponry you haven't earned yet."

Love that analogy Diana! (or is it a metaphor?)

If you're a writer, no matter what stage of your career you've hit, you're bound to get slapped down, to have your knees taken out from under you, to suffer a little humiliation in front of others...

And yet we still write.

That doesn't make us masochists, does it? No, I think we do it for the times we are above the water with the sun on our faces, the times when we're sliding giddily on the ice, or swimming at high speeds in water teaming with fishies and not a sea lion in sight.

Why do you write?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Making a Scene

One of the first things I really learned that blew me away after I started writing I learned from Kristin Hannah (and it has nothing to do with commas -- which I know should be in that sentence somewhere). Kristin Hannah said a scene must do three things:

1. Forward Plot
2. Reveal Character
3. Foreshadow or disclose backstory

We call this the Holy Trinity. Well, maybe not we. Just me.

And lately I've been really obsessed with sharp scenes. I think sometimes it's hard in this genre either straight romance or even women's fiction to realize that there is a plot to forward. They are love stories - relationship books people meeting and talking and saying those small things that reveal character and backstory etc... but that is a PLOT. And just because scenes don't have explosions or kidnappings doesn't mean they don't need to be carefully crafted and plotted.

I am beginning to look at all my conversation scenes and decide what needs to be revealed, what small barriers breached and how much closer or further away from getting into the sack or reaching a happily ever after my characters are. Those idle conversations HAVE TO GO SOMEWHERE - I am beginning to think of them like fights almost, even when they don't fight. Who is giving away too much. Who is making the compromise, who has the most at stake?

So, what are scene killers? Well, only have one of the Holy Trinity is one way to kill a scene. (Sinead is a holy terror about this -- don't tell her but I have kept a few of my nice scenes that don't do anything but reveal character.) Having the same things that are at stake at the beginning of a scene at stake at the end. Killing off conflict, making your characters too kind, or too understanding. Another thing is repetition.

I read Anne Stuart's new book - Cold As Ice. I love Anne Stuart - she gets away with stuff with her hero's that most people couldn't DREAM of pulling off. Her black moments are absolutely heart wrenching each and every time I read them. Almost all her historicals are on my keeper shelf. I love her. And I liked this book but I think at the beginning of this book her scenes were not sharp. There was so much dialogue repeated.

"you're going to kill me."
"maybe I will, maybe I won't."

Next scene

"I guess it doesn't matter if you're going to kill me."
"I won't kill you."
"you just said you will."
"maybe I will, maybe I won't."

I am paraphrasing this - but that is the jist. This made the scenes so fuzzy. Killed character and tension -- which she's so so good at. That said of course I'm going to get the next book and go back and buy the first book because she's still one of the best romance writers around.

If you have a scene that doesn't work go back and see what you're missing in terms of the Holy Trinity. Where you are not being clear and where you are simply repeating yourself.

If the scene is working -- don't mess with it. Hear that Maureen? DON'T MESS WITH IT :)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Understand the Rules…. Then break them

One of the amazing benefits to belonging to RWA and our local chapters is, there are wonderful resources and courses for a beginning writer to learn from. I know I’ve benefited and become a much better writer because of it.

But we hear so much about the rules these days. No prologues, start the book with action, no backstory, (Maureen covered how this really well in her last post), chapters should be 20 pages long, and countless others.

These so called ‘rules’ were created for a reason. Too many authors dumped pages upon pages of boring backstory at the beginning of their books. Books started with long, boring conversations that went nowhere.
Not sure how the chapters rule came into being…..

The results of the rules have been positive in most cases. A lot more books start with a bang, literally in some cases… Backstory has been eliminated from the first three chapters, and that is a good thing in most cases.

But, it’s also created something of a homogeneity in books. A lot of books are starting to feel really familiar. The romantic suspense that starts with the heroine in danger, the straight romance that starts with a meeting where the hero and heroine meet and sparks fly, the historical that starts in a ballroom, and the hero and heroine meet and sparks fly.

These books are doing everything right, they are following the ‘rules’ and yet they’ve managed to become boring.

Screw the rules.

Do anything really well and it will be fascinating read.

Create a prologue that opens up all sorts of questions in your reader’s mind. Give us backstory that both answers questions and creates more questions. (Again refer to Maureen’s post, cause she’s way smarter than I am). Start the book with a conversation, as long as the conversation is interesting.

I know it’s a lot harder than it sounds. Break the rules, because you know why they exist, and in the process create a book that feels fresh and different and compelling, because it’s different from 95% of the other books out there.

And if someone chastises you for breaking the rules… well, great storytelling trumps every rule out there. Tell a great story and I’ll be first in line to buy that book.

To finish, FINALLy saw Bond. Two words.. Daniel Craig. Is that man sexy or what……

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Backstory... Just say no! (or yes)

Commonly held wisdom in the commercial fiction writing world is that while it's important to know your characters' back-stories—it's the kiss of death to put any of it in your book, except perhaps in the subtext. In fact, Donald Maass, in his “excruciating tension” workshop, asserts that you shouldn't include any back story—ever. (But he also does a workshop on breaking rules.)

Lately, I've been considering whether this “rule” applies equally to all genres of commercial fiction. My problem is, in women's fiction, relationships between the main characters are paramount (there not generally being a big suspense or mystery or romance or other plot involved) and it’s hard to develop deep, meaningful, believable relationships between characters (with their friends, lovers, family, etc.) without touching on how the characters know each other, or what problems they’ve had in the past.

So, what to do?

Without a doubt, in commercial fiction, what's happening to the characters and their relationships during the actual story (not the past), is the most important aspect of those relationships and should be the focus. I also concede that in well-crafted writing, it’s possible to reveal aspects of how those relationships evolved into what they are. That is, writers can find ways to reveal, in the characters' present, evidence of the baggage and history in their pasts. (without telling us exactly what that baggage and history is.)

But for me as a reader, in many of my favorite stories, tidbits of events which occurred between the characters in their pasts are like golden nuggets. The tasty nuts on top of the story sundae. Hence my dilemma and why the absolutely no back story advice gives me pause...

On a related side-note, my fellow drunk writers and I have spent the better part of the last year discussing why Emily Giffin's books are so dang readable. (Okay, Sinead and I have talked about it once or twice.) And I would assert that Ms. Giffin includes loads of back story about her characters and I think it’s often the back story that makes her books so rich and interesting... (And obviously lots of people think her books work, evidenced by the whole New York Times bestseller list thing…)

So, I've been busy developing my own back story rules and theories to apply to my writing... (Not claiming my rules are original… just that these are the rules I’ve picked out for me.)

Where am I right now? I think I have 2 main rules:

Any time back story is revealed, it should be as detailed yet succinct as possible. (I know, these might seem to contradict--but I don't think they do.) By detailed I mean I think it’s weak to say characters Jen and Kim had a big fight in Jr. High over a boy. I think it’s better to say Jen pulled Kim’s ponytail in the third floor girls room at Rolph Road public school when she learned Kim told Jimmy Fenwick that Jen had a crush on Billy Jones. (Okay, not so succinct, but my point on succinctness is that this shouldn’t be a ten page flashback scene showing the fight. Just some great details to make the reader believe that it happened, and was important enough to one of the characters that she remembers it vividly.)

Back story must come as late in the novel as possible—each back story detail arriving at a point where it has the most impact, where the reader is dying to know what happened between these people, or at a point when it surprises the reader and changes the readers understanding of everything between the characters. (And yes, when used with caution and very sparingly, as late as possible might be in the first few chapters, but the writer should think about this and consciously decide whether it wouldn’t be stronger to hold back that information until later.)

So, that’s what I’m thinking right now… Do you have any back story rules? Do you even care?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Fall Break???

Sorry for not posting last week. Like apparently ALL of my favorite TV shows I went on a small Fall Break. What the hell is going on? Fall Break?? Is it because of American Idol starting? Does American Idol need five nights of itself? Luckily Friday Night Lights is sticking around...maybe now, you will all get a chance to see it's brilliance.

I was going to write this post on how writing is like exercise. Not a totally new revelation that's for sure. I know Sinead and Maureen and I have all lamented that once we've gotten out of the habit of writing, like exercise it's SO hard to get back into. I went home for Thanksgiving (had a ridiculously unsuccessful booksigning the day after Thanksgiving because they put me way way back in the computer book section!! The only strangers walking by me were men who could not make eye contact with me -- not exactly the type of folks to pick up a book called His Best Friend's Baby.) and have come back and still can not get into the groove. I have tons of deadlines too -- I actually have work to do. But still can't get involved. Instead I have done all my holiday shopping on line. Which is good - but not terribly productive in terms of those deadlines - one of which is actually MONDAY.

Well, that was before today when suddenly it was quality romance everywhere. And I am INSPIRED. It all started with, believe it or not Waterworld (which got a bad break off the bat and is actually a pretty good movie) the scene when Jean Tripplehorn (or whatever her name is) offers herself up for the life of the kid and Costner says, obviously lying "you have nothing I need." Over the top -- sure. But I loved it. And then because it's Sunday and on any given Sunday you can catch Unforgiven the scene when the blond prostitute who was cut up at the beginning has that great moment with Eastwood and offers him a free one. He declines, she thinks it's because of the scars and he tells her it's not that. She's beautiful, it's because of his wife that he is still faithful to and then painfully and awkwardly he says if he wanted a free one it would be with her. Great scene -- wounded tortured folk. Love it. So I capped all of that womanly offering up with some rereading of the great Anne Stuart historicals. Clearly not very PC of me or even really forward thinking, but it did the trick tonight and I am ready to sit down tomorrow and get a whole lot of work done.

So what stuff inspires you guys when the going gets tough?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

My not so dark secret….

I have to admit, sometimes, I’m just not a nice person. I carry grudges, people piss me off, usually with good reason, and I remember slights for years and years.

Why the reason for my true confession.

One of my favorite things is to put people I don’t like into my books. Not exactly as they are. And names have been changed to protect the innocent, but they’re in there.

Never as the villain. I like and respect my villains far too much to associate them with annoying, petty people. Nope, they’re usually the buffoons, the annoying co-worker, the cowardly associate, whatever works for the book.

Occasionally these people from my past/present are a minor, minor character. Sometimes a major. I combined two people I disliked for a major character in my current WIP. He turned out to be my favourite character in the book, also the most spineless, weak and morally compromised.

When ever I do this, I think of the quote from what was a really silly movie, A Knight’s Tale. The Paul Bethany character, playing Chaucer, threatened to eviscerate one of his tormenters in print. I always chuckle when I remember that quote.

It’s one of the rarely talked about advantages about being a writer. The ability to take someone we don’t like, and make them an unpleasant character in our books.

In doing so, I’ve found interesting sides to those characters, sad histories that explain their behavior, a sweet side they rarely show others. I’m sure this also applied to the people they’re based on, but I’m probably never going to know.

Am I alone in this? Do other people do this? Or am I the only petty writer out there.

Has anyone else read the book Poison Study by Maria Snyder, I finished it recently and was swept up in it, and completely entertained. I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Discussion Topic: Summing it up in one line

I think it's amazing when a writer can sum up a character with one line of dialogue, one telling action, one perfect piece of description or internal thought.

In the new Bond movie, a bartender asks Bond whether he'd like his martini shaken or stirred. Bond turns to the bartender, a slightly annoyed expression on his face and says, "Do I look like a man who'd care?" (or something like that)

What I love about this line is that it not only defines his character, but it also defines the new direction the franchise has taken. Bond is no longer a fastidious invincible cartoon hero but a real rough tough man who bleeds (and makes others bleed more).

Love it!

So, what perfect characterization lines do you love? In a book, a movie, your own work...

Post Script:
Depending on your perspective, I'd like to say either, "You're welcome," or "I'm sorry," for this uncharacteristically short post.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What’s Left – McKee, character vs. plot

To re-emphasize, personality issues aside, McKee’s seminar was amazing and informative and several lightbulbs went off in my head during the LONG three days.

The man has exacting standards, has no time for clichés, no room for poor characterization, and God help you should you try and resolve a plot using coincidence.

One of the things he did really nicely was define character driven and plot driven.

Character driven – Here he told us, the hard part is creating the story. The central question being, what would have to happen to a person to make them change?

Plot driven – Here, the hard part is creating the characters. They have to be interesting, but not too complex, or the story becomes about the character.

Lately, I’ve heard a couple of people express that character driven stories don’t have a plot, which I’ve never agreed with. What McKee confirmed for me, was that plot is essential for an effective character driven story.

Consider that for each scene, a value in the protagonist’s life has to be at stake and at the end of the scene, the value has to have changed. Each turning point has to raise the stakes for the character, all leading to a climax that resolves the questions created throughout the book.

Tough to do without a framework.

McKee does not believe in writing without a structure. He believes the first thing that comes to a writers mind is inevitably a cliché, and not until we dig deeper, much deeper do we come up with ideas that will surprise and delight our readers. This I very much believe. We have to meet the emotional expectations of our readers, while surprising them along the way. If they expect a rich, engrossing romance, we have to give it to them, but not in the way they expect.

Easy to say, way, way harder to put into practice.

I definitely have a lot to think about going forward, but now I have great ideas for structure and character and guidelines to help me when the book isn’t going well.

The man may have been annoying, but those three days were really worthwhile, even with the constant burping and cursing.
On the down side, I still have not seen the new Bond… have to see that

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More on McKee and 3 Dimensional Characters

It's hard to know what to talk about from the McKee workshop this past weekend. My brain's still spinning and I haven't even opened the notebook I almost filled. I used up two pens.

With a day or two of hindsight... I don't think he said much entirely new to me, but I think concentrating so much intense information over a short period of time, using a consistent vocabulary, helped solidify some concepts for me. I hope. Maybe I’m still under the McKee cult induction spell.

As obnoxious and offensive as he is, I do think he’s intelligent and I think it's been a while since I've really felt challenged by someone in that way. Probably since University, or maybe since my stint as a researcher in California. I've missed using that part of my brain.

His section on creating 3 dimensional characters is what's sticking in my mind most right now. I think the reason this topic stuck out is because it's going to help me, I hope, with a particular problem I'm having right now.

Anyone who's been to more than one writers’ workshop has seen plenty of questionnaires and charts and various other techniques to help create fully developed characters. But really, most of these tools are about characterization, not core character values.
Don’t get me wrong, developing all those quirky details that make our characters interesting is important. But they aren’t core values. That is, how that character would behave under pressure.

McKee contends (and most writers would agree) that main characters need 3 dimensions. But I doubt many writers could define what they actually mean by 3 dimensional. Not flat? Realistic? Fully developed? All abstract explanations that aren’t really practical in helping to develop characters. What impressed me about McKee is that he actually suggests a definition for 3 dimensional characters.

Based on his definition, a character should have at least 3 major values that define them, that won’t change significantly during the course of the book. (except in an educational plot--which is the kind of story I write--and then one of them should move along the negative/positive scale over the course of the book.)

What excited me, was the idea that to make characters 3 dimensional, a writer should have their main characters display both the positive and negative sides of each of these 3 core values during the course of the story. I don’t know if I’ve thought of it this way before.

That is, if a protagonist is brave, we should see times when he/she is fearful. If a protagonist is kind, she should show hints of cruelty. If she’s self-assured, she should show moments of vulnerability. This helps creates a 3 dimensional character. A metaphor the reader will mistake for a real human being.

What I liked even better was his suggestion about secondary characters. He suggests they should be no more than 2 dimensional or they’ll take over, and that bit players should be one dimensional—display only one major core value. Also smart.

I know I have trouble creating secondary characters at times… either going too far or not far enough in their characterizations. I also know I’m not always purposeful in how I create them. (I think I have done this well at times… Sophia in my Miseducation story was very purposefully created to contrast April… But sometimes I just toss characters in because I need them to forward the plot.)

McKee’s suggestion was to create secondary characters which bring out different combinations of the positive and negative sides of your protagonist’s core values. In other words, secondary character A might bring out your protag’s vulnerable and kind side. B might bring out your protag’s brave but cruel side. And C might bring out her self-assured but fearful side. (Okay, that one might not make sense, but you get the idea.)

Let’s face it, we don’t behave the same way around everyone we know and neither should our characters. Some people know how to push our buttons and bring out our negatives sides. So, why not purposefully use your secondary characters to help you show the readers these traits in your protagonist. Smart.

I found this really exciting because in my current WIP I’ve been having a problem with the protag’s siblings. I keep changing my mind about how many sisters she has (one or two), what they’re like and how they’ve affected the protag’s life. (I know my protag’s life has always been overshadowed by her sister(s?) but how is the question I keep waffling on.) Also, I’ve changed my mind 3 times about what kind of subplot I should give the sibling(s?) to best enhance my main plot.

Haven’t figure it out yet, but I’m really feeling hopeful that McKee’s ideas will help. And soon. The GH deadline approaches. Ack!

Oh, and I saw the Bond film tonight. Great fun, yet not silly like some of the Bond films and what a sexy, sexy man.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Robert McKee comes to Toronto...

....and manages to insult Canadians, the French, the physically challenged, M. Night Shamalyn, homosexuals, modern playwrites, women, feminists, most of his audience, the Germans BUT oddly enough not romance writers.

We're, as he remembers from speaking at an RWA conference years ago are tough broads. I think I'm complimented.

Drunk Writers just spent the last three days 12 hours a day listening to the storytelling guru Robert McKee. And I'm still at loose ends. The guy is a dinosaur, he's rude, crude, burps constantly into his mic but...he is GOOD. My craft and process will be different after this weekend.

He created a way for me to help myself through the worst part of my process - writing the beginning of the book. Two concepts - that the inciting incident of your novel creates in the mind of a reader the scene that reader needs to read to be satisfied by the book - however, my job as writer is to give the reader that scene in a way they could not possibly expect. For instance in the book I have coming out in July 2007 (now titled UNDERCOVER PROTECTOR) when she decides to go undercover in the heroes house - the reader expects to see that scene when the hero finds out - I just have to give it to them when and how they don't expect.

The other concept that your protagonist as a three dimensional character has to show the contradictory sides of three different traits. If your hero is courageous at some point they have to be cowardly, if they are kind at some point they have to be cruel and if they are indifferent at some point you have to show them engaged. As a romance writer I admit -- I settle at two. I need three.

I understand as I type this that these are really simple concepts but thinking about them up front - man that changes the nightmare of the first three chapters for me.

But McKee himself is actually pretty unlikeable. He believes he invented the concept of "the inciting incident" and clearly has not read The Hero's Journey. He attempted to save European film, but sadly, not even he could accomplish such a feat. He contradicts himself 30 times a day. The stringent parameters he uses to determine a film as good can be applied to films he has decided are bad for no other reason but that he doesn't like them. IE -- The Others -- good movie. The 6th Sense -- mind fuck.

But his parameters are wide - he is deeply in love with film of all types. Borat for crying out loud! Those parameters are just inconsistent. I think like most people how have created a system and applied it to an art he sees in black and white and taste constantly falls into the mix.

What I am really amazed by is how RWA has gifted me (and most of us) with huge possibilities to learn and study craft. I think many people in that room were learning theories we know well - show don't tell, dramatize exposition, etc - for the first time.
All in all a great weekend. Is the guy a hero? Not really. He's good - but he needs an editor.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Welcome back Kim Howe

We invited Kim back, not only because she's a really talented writer, but also, because there's been some controversy about one of the judge's comments about her heroine on the Romantic Times American Title contest.

A lot's already been said about the comment - And I'm paraphrasing here - about not liking a heroine who would choose military service, and I know I feel that comment was sort of ridiculous, but a lot of readers bring with them predjiduces regarding what the heroine and hero should be. I'm not condoning it, but I think it's far more prevalent that we would like.

We asked Kim about it, as well as some other questions we were curious about.

What sort of books have inspired you, what authors, and why?

When I first started writing, I protected my characters with the ferocity of a lion guarding her cubs. It didn’t work. The tension fizzled, the stakes were laughable. I studied other novels, looking for answers. The books I couldn’t put down had characters who faced incredible challenges, failed, tried again, and finally triumphed. Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon, Savages by Shirley Conran, and The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell are all excellent examples of brilliant character torture, and they were all bestsellers. I learned a valuable lesson not to overprotect my protagonists. To truly change, characters need to face and conquer their deepest fears.

Why do you write romantic suspense?

Romantic suspense is my favourite genre because I’m able to write two novels in one. Sometimes it’s tricky layering the story, but the challenge makes it interesting. Each scene must further the romance or the plot, but I love it when a scene does both! The suspense keeps the pacing strong and the romance gives the novel emotional depth. Romantic suspense also satisfies the both aspects of my personality—the thrill-seeker and the romantic!

Can you expand on why you chose Kenya as your heroine? You definitely avoided the cliché of the scared woman in peril.

More like “scarred” woman in peril. J Kenya is more than capable defending herself in battle, but when it comes to her heart, she is incredibly vulnerable. I was inspired to write about a female sniper after learning about the 2,000 female snipers who participated in the battle of Stalingrad. They were more successful than their male counterparts because of their patience and skill. Unfortunately, only 500 women survived to share their experiences. Kenya’s grandmother Tatiana became one of them and that’s where the story started.

All we're trying to do is create differentiated fiction, and a sniper heroine is a great hook. A lot of readers would pick up the book based on that alone, but some would put it down. Not sure where I'm going with this, except we won't please everybody, but we can try and really please a select few.

A sniper heroine is definitely a little off the beaten path for a romance novel. I hope readers will give the unique premise a chance. When I read novels, the heroine’s occupation is always an interesting addition, but what really matters to me is character. If the protagonist is someone I care about, her job will not get in the way. If readers allow Kenya into their living rooms, maybe she’ll ensnare their hearts. Besides, a sniper is always a good friend to have and Kenya works freelance now.

You’re represented by the Evan Marshall Agency. What drew your agent to this book?

Evan told me he liked two things about my work: my voice and the fact that ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS was different than anything he had read—not all romantic heroines prefer Glock over Prada. J
At this point the controversy regarding the comments made about your entry are ALL over the internet—do you think that's going to help you with voters?

It’s not about the votes. Rather, it is the principle I feel strongly about. Women form an essential part of every democracy and we have a right and responsibility to participate in all aspects of the countries we love so deeply. Women have fought and died for their beliefs for centuries, and there is no reason to exclude strong, capable women from serving their nation. Romance readers are educated, wilful, and independent women who are making their own way in the world. The idea that women don’t belong in combat hurts the image of our genre, and tells us we should stay in a limited role in our life. As a modern woman, I take offence to anyone telling me to be a good girl and let the men do the fighting, especially in fiction! If we cannot explore cutting edge or new ideas in women’s fiction, we will stagnate as a genre. I am most surprised and pleased by the number of women and men who have rallied to support me on this issue.

Thanks for re-joining DWT, Kim. We're thrilled you're coming back.

Kenya and I both appreciate your invitation. Nothing better than joining the Drunk Writers after a hard day sniper-crawling through the publishing jungle!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Holly Jacobs Drops by for a drink

Today, we're happy to be sitting down for a some writer talk with Holly Jacobs who, with Sherryl Woods and and Darlene Gardner, is part of the Harlequin Christmas Anthology, DASHING THROUGH THE MALL. (Great title.)

Thanks for stopping by, Holly!

I want to thank you all for letting me visit!! I brought along a gift that, given the name of the blog, I hope delights... (Holly plops down a pitcher of her strong margaritas and some homemade salsa and chips!) Dig in everyone...and thanks again for letting me guest blog.

Anyone who comes bearing margaritas is welcome! Tell us how this Anthology came about.

Harlequin came to us with an idea...a Christmas book that takes place at a mall on Christmas Eve. Thus Dashing Through the Mall was born. The three of us (Sherryl Woods, Darlene Gardner and myself) spent a couple weeks brainstorming three stories that were set in the same mall, but pretty independent of each other. Mine, Deck the Halls, involves Dr. Ed Hall and his three sons who won a Christmas Eve shopping spree, and Joy O’Connell who finds herself stuck shopping with them. Either Santa has a wicked sense of humor, or he came early to Joy and Ed.

Can't wait to read it. What is your favorite thing about writing? Your least favorite?

I love finding a story. Love watching it unfold, and being surprised by it. That surprise part is my favorite. When I come up with a character, I think I know them. But frequently they surprise me. Now, if I weren’t a writer, having people come to life in my head and do their own thing might result in a prescription for some serious medication. But because I am a writer, I get to embrace this little foible, and run with it. Right now I’m working on a fun short contemporary, Everything But a Groom. When I initially wrote the hero’s stepmom in the synopsis, I thought she was going to be an unpleasant character. As I wrote her scene, I realized she really did have a good heart, but just wasn’t adept at showing it. Surprise! She’s all bristles on the outside and totally gooey on the inside. Love those moments.

What don’t I like? I’m not a huge fan of the editing at the end. I have this weird reading quirk. Most of the time, when reading or writing, I don’t see the words on the page...I see the story unfolding in my head. Now, this is a joy while reading. It’s like a movie playing in my heads, and the characters always look just as I imagined them, which doesn’t always happen in a real movie! But this quirk makes editing hard. I have to constantly remind myself to look at the words, not the story. I’ve gotten better at it.

What is your typical writing day?

Back when my kids were young, I had a vampire-like schedule that involved writing after they went to bed. But now that they’re all older and in school I get to embrace the light! LOL Seriously, I get everyone out the door, then curl up on the couch with my laptop, the dog curled next to me, and write. I stop for lunch, and occasionally get called away by family stuff, but most days I write from about 8:30 to 2. I set a five page minimum, but never mind if the story is flowing and I get more done! In between all that, I balance four kids and a husband...and a slightly neurotic dog, Ethel Merrman!

Are you a pantser? Plotter? Do characters come first or conflict?

I was a pantser. My first handful of books were sold as completes, and I had no real need to write a synopsis, no need to figure out where the story was going in advance. Learning to do that was so difficult, but as I sold books and was able to sell a proposal, it was necessary to learn. The trick for me has always been presenting enough of a plot to satisfy an editor, while leaving enough of a mystery to leave the pantser in me a few surprises!
Oh, and for me, it’s all about the characters. Figuring them out, learning about them...that’s the fun of it.

Thanks for the margaritas. How do you recommend making them?

Frozen and strong. I didn’t think they were all that strong until a friend had a first sip of one of mine, then promptly turned an interesting shade of red and choked. She informed me that indeed, I do like them strong! LOL

They're great. Hic! About Christmas... Are you more scrooge or santa?

Well, I hate Christmas decorations and music before Thanksgiving (and don’t get me started on either before Halloween is even finished!) and I’m no fan of shopping chaos (which is how the idea for Deck the Halls shopping’s done way before that!), but I am at heart a santa. I love the season. Love baking. The last few years, we’ve been scaling back on the Christmas presents, and trying to put more emphasis on family time. For instance, we started a brand new tradition...jigsaw puzzles. We start a new one on Christmas Eve and spend the next day all working together to try and finish it. I try to find very hard ones. And we’ve been adding a new game to our cupboard, and try to spend time playing them. And of course, there’s the family watching of Rudolph!

It was great chatting with you, Holly. Thanks for stopping by.

You're welcome. And you’re all invited over to my place ( I’ve got a nifty little contest going on for the holidays!

Thanks again Holly. We hope to have another surprise guest blogger later in the week.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

CAGE MATCH: Prison Break vs. Friday Night Lights

Tonight I am admitting my love of Friday Night Lights. Yep. The Texas High School football show based on the non-fiction book of the same name which was made into a movie of the same name and now, thanks to Peter Berg I have something else to watch on Tuesday nights.

Now, admittedly, I am from a small town where on Friday nights the whole town rolled out to watch the high school football game...and my dad was a coach...and my brother a player. I am so so white bread.

Anyway -- all that aside -- this is a great show in the same way Prison Break WAS a great show and why both shows are helping my writing in a BIG BIG way. Here is what I've been spending way too much time thinking about...

The weight of both shows rest on two incredibly LIKEABLE MAIN CHARACTERS. Scofield and The Coach. It helps that Scofield is hot - though that whole Clint Eastwood tone of voice he uses, endlessly infuriates me and the Coach is always sweaty and sloppy looking (like a real coach). Both of them are fighting battles in which there is no gray area between winning and losing. Scofield if he fails will go back to jail or be killed and so far in Friday Night Lights if Coach loses I really think he might be killed or sent to jail too. Because of this stringent black and white both men are being morally tested and are PROVING THEY ARE WILLING TO BEND RULES and are NOT ALWAYS HEROIC. Scofield manipulated pretty nurse Sarah and Coach illegally influenced a high school athlete displaced by Katrina to come to his school to play. This shit comes back to haunt them all the time. As it should. Heroes can't always be heroes but they should feel bad about it. These kind of heroes are like romance gold mines.

Anyway, both men put forth Herculean efforts to get even the smallest amount of success which in GREAT story telling fashion, is only rewarded by increased stakes and MORE TROUBLE/BAD STUFF.

My editor constantly reminds me of the power of the +/- factor to scenes. If a scene begins with a positive event, or the character feels good something has to happen through the course of the scene - information has to introduced or events change that forces the scene to end on a negative note. Cliffhanger style. Both shows do an amazing job loading their scenes with the +/-.

Now, I totally understand this - but frankly it can be hard so I maybe get this 70% of the time. But, also I think doing that a hundred percent of the time gets predictable and you loose a chance to build into bigger climaxes. Prison Break is spinning off into completely unbelievable areas in terms of Scofield's boy scout preparedness for every single possibility. And the +/- reversals are coming so fast - that they are completely losing their effectiveness. Last week for instance -- Sarah and Scofield meet up Yeah!! Bad FBI guy finds them - oh no!! They get away - yeah!!! Scofield apologizes says he's glad she's with him - yeah!! He gets out of the shower and she's gone - oh no!!! She's in the car and decides not to leave him Yeah!!! She gets out of the car and there's the second scary FBI guy -- oh no!!!

Come on let us catch our breath -- let something build a little bit more before you chop it off at the knees.

Friday Night Lights has set up really excellent pacing and like the incredibly well written DEXTER - it allows us to feel good while the characters feel good (or as good as Dexter can) because the show, the concept and the momentum built up has it's own cliffhanger. We know what's at stake, we know what COULD happen - so let us enjoy the good stuff while it's happening. I think it gives us a chance to truly root for the characters, to get invested so the pluses are higher and the negatives lower.

I agree that ending a chapter with a character falling asleep is an invitation to the reader to put the book down and get some shut eye themselves but ending a chapter on a high note is not the same thing -- like going into commercial break on a high note can be just as much a cliffhanger as the manipulative stuff Prison Break does before a commercial break.

I think it's about pacing, characters the case of my new favorite show...high school football. I know my fellow drunk writers will not let me live this one down.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Where I go for inspiration –

A really common question writers get asked is, where do you get your ideas. Many authors have developed witty, cute responses to this, but me, I actually sort of know, I can usually pin it down and God help the person who asks me, because they might get an answer that will bore them to sleep.

95% of the time, I get my ideas, from the movies, or my husband, who lately, has been throwing incredible concepts at me left right and center. I am a lucky girl. And he can cook too…

Some movies just make me think of a whole host of different ideas, characters, ways of playing with plot structure. And it’s not necessarily the best movies, or the most well written either, in fact, some Molly has ridiculed me for loving.

The most recent movie is Serenity, which is playing on and off on one of my movie channels. I LOVED this movie, but then again, I loved the TV show, and whenever I see even ten minutes of this, I’m reminded of how shaking up an old concept, giving it a different setting and a great cast of supporting characters can really revitalize a genre. Like the Western, which this movie is, just one set in space.

Or the Long Kiss Goodnight, not a great movie, but another movie I whole heartedly loved. The scene where Geena Davis comes out of the water while being tortured and tells the bad guy he’ll die screaming. Pure cheese, but I know I can attribute many of my ideas on both character and plot to that movie. (Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I’m not sure)

Lots more movies have given me great ideas. Ideas that go in a completely different direction than the movie. Films like Le Femme Nikita, From Hell, Aliens, History of Violence, Whale Rider, these are movies that give me ideas for concepts and guide me in what tension should be. There are tons others of course, more than I could possibly mention here.

What movies have given you fodder for the next book?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Babel and Alternate Structure

I'm a sucker for alternate storytelling structures. If I continue wanting to write popular fiction, this may well prove my downfall... but I do love books and movies that use unconventional devices to tell a story.

Maybe I just like to be challenged a little while I'm reading/watching something? Maybe I need an extra something to keep my attention these days? Not all the time. I also enjoy a simply-but-well-told story. But some of my all time favorite books and movies have had some kind of alternative structure. (And alternate structures--particularly fractured timelines combined with heavy use of flashbacks--seem to have overtaken the TV writing these past couple of years. So far, I'm likin' it. Studio 60 had a reversed timeline last week...)

One of my favorite movie structures is interconnecting stories. (I've been working on a book like this, but it's in very early stages and I'm not sure how well it's working.) While struggling with that book I've been thinking movies have a bit of an advantage for this structure, because it's easier to show the reader which story they're in using visuals--such as the actors themselves, the setting etc. It's harder, in a book, to flip between stories when the reader is still getting all the characters straight. Not impossible... Just harder to suck a reader into a book that flips around a lot and still not bog down the pace with too much description and/or narrative.

But other alternate structures can work in popular fiction... I blogged a while ago about Journal of Mortifying Moments, by Robyn Harding which used a journal as a literary device. And Deidre Knight's Parallel series books use time travel to allow the reader to replay events in the book and/or see events out of order. Other books released as literary fiction but which crossed over to mainstream that used alternate structures by way of multiple or disjointed timelines include Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. LOVE both of these books.

But I was going to talk about interconnecting story movies. There are plenty like this in the "art house" genre. (Robert Altman is a god. (Nashville, Gosford Park, Short Cuts) Paul Thomas Anderson has done some great ones, (notably Magnolia) and Babel filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, (21 Grams, Amores Perros, Babel) is a master at this style as well.) Plus, he's cute. (Blogger wouldn't let me upload his photo. Maybe he's too hot?)

In addition to these less commercial films, a few movies using this structure have crossed into the mainstream. LOVE ACTUALLY comes to mind. In fact, I might argue that many episodes of Seinfeld used this structure. That is, seemingly unconnected story lines for each of the main characters end up connecting in an unexpected way. Love that kind of thing.

But back to BABEL.

I don't know if BABEL has opened everywhere yet, but it opened here in Toronto last weekend and I saw it in September at the film festival. I liked it enough that I may go again now it's been released. It is a long and challenging movie and the stories aren't as intricately connected as this filmmaker's earlier films... (like 21 Grams) but I was really impressed none the less. I found it a totally engrossing film.

And what a great theme for our times: Miscommunication.

Miscommunication because of language differences.
Miscommunication because of emotional baggage.
Miscommunication because of deafness (which I guess is just a special case of language differences)
Miscommunication because of cultural bias
Miscommunication because of prejudice.
Miscommunication because of politics.
Miscommunication because of fear.

If you haven't seen it, go. Brad Pitt actually made me cry. Something I really didn't think he, as an actor, could do. And the strange thing about my crying is, the way the story unfolds, it's not like the audience is finding out new information at the point he made me cry. (It was during the scene in this photo.) We'd see one side of this conversation early on in the film, so by the time we see this scene, we know what's going on, and still, as much as I've fallen out of love with Brad Pitt of late, it was hard not to admire how he evoked strong emotions in this scene. For me, anyway. Now I really want to see the film again.

And speaking of celebrity marriages... (Okay, Brad made me think of them.) Britney and K-Fed? Those two crazy kids.... Who saw that divorce coming? Shocker.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

For the LAST's NOT a @#!$*&! FORMULA!!!

I love my job. LOVE IT. I love romance. And right now, I really really love Harlequin. But I'm getting a twitchy feeling these days from reader expectations and the non-believers.

We'll begin with the my grandmother...and lot's of other people in the world who, I agree with Maureen, believe that because romance is read primarily by women, written primarily by women, about issues paramount to women (family, love, children, self-respect, finding one's strength and keeping one's humor in the face of the daily shit that can beat us down, clothes, hair, gossip, chocolate, world peace, education, politics, war, violence and of course -- sex) it must be of less value than other books. Add some crappy covers over the years (DAMN YOU FABIO!!!) and some even crappier books and we romance writers might as well walk around with targets on our backs.

Because the books have a man and a woman and must end with some kind of commitment (A+B=C) the non-believers think it must be easy because after all...A+B=C...the formula it's right there! Well, let me tell you -- it's not easy to get two emotionally damaged, fragile, commit-phobes - believably at HEA in around 300 pages. Beliveable being the key word. That 'formula" is more like a dark, overgrown path in a jungle with lots of possible wrong turns. And poison ivy. And a bad flashlight that keeps shorting out. Oh, and there's a bear. A bear that is actully my critique group and a cliff that is my deadline and a cheerful woman with a gun that is my editor.

So - nope. Not easy. No formula. Bear. Gun. Woods. Bad flashlight.

Add to that scenario -- the incredibly avid romance reading audience. Who open every romance with expectations about what a hero should be and what a heroine can and can't do. Reviews are coming in for my latest book - His Best Friend's Baby and they are strangely lopsided. What I belived would be my problem - my hero and his brooding self-indulgence - is getting eaten up. People love my battered dark, suicidal hero. They HATE my misguided, earnest, heart of gold heroine who is ready to do anything for a little love and approval. We talk about rules and loving the books and tv shows that break those rules - but man, don't mess with the romance readers heroine. That's been my lesson this week.

On a far more fun note -- I spend WAY too much time thinking about Laura Kinsale's novels. If you haven't read these brilliant brilliant romances -- you need to. I love the Shadow and the Star and all this Daniel Craig talk (and the poster I saw today outside the movie theater - we saw The Queen) has made me decide that he would be a perfect Samuel. Him or Christian Bale.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dexter and Characters who break all the rules …. And why I love Daniel Craig

Molly got me started on my new love, Dexter. Great recommendation, Molly. I love, love this show, and especially him.
Well, he is the show really. That they had the balls to create a show around a serial killer, without any real emotions, or much a conscience is amazing. They’ve pulled it off, and I’ve been thinking about how, lately.

First off, they gave him moral guidelines. They’re not his, but his father’s but the character, in a way, that is really true to character, has made them his own. So he’s a serial killer who doesn’t really kill good people, but he really enjoys killing bad people.

Secondly, they’ve surrounded him with vulnerable supporting characters, who are great foils to his character. The sister especially. He loves her as much as he’s capable (which isn’t a lot) but he gives her leads on cases because he has no ego unrelated to killing, and therefore no need for glory in his job. These are small touches, but go a long way towards humanizing his character.

They’ve made him really good at his job, which is, not surprisingly, blood related.

They even gave him a girlfriend and a nice way with her children, which we know is an act, but still manages to make him more sympathetic.

Then there’s the subplot with the serial killer. Spoiler Alert: His admiration for the other serial killer, their little game, and his absolute lack of empathy for the victims of the other serial killer, nicely shown in a scene with his sister, who has nothing but empathy for the victims. It’s brilliant. I love this subplot.

So the writers and actor, took what should be a standard villain, and made him fascinating, and funny and completely watchable.

This is a perfect instance where the rules would say this character would be the nemesis of the hero. Screw the rules.

It’s also why I’ve loved great TV shows more than the movies I’ve seen this year. I find the writing sharper and the characters better defined and more interesting. Shows like Firefly, Buffy, Dexter, 24, have all gripped me more than all the movies I’ve seen on the big screen this year. (There are a few others that should be on the list, but we’re still playing catch up. Right now, I have DVD seasons of Battlestar Galactica, Six Feet Under and Band of Brothers still to watch)

Why I love Daniel Craig. Well, I’ve seen him in a few movies, but a movie called Layercake, (Molly has already blogged on this) will explain why he’s going to be a great Bond. He has this undercurrent of dark, something in his screen presence says he’s capable of being bad if required, and I believe the character of Bond desperately needs it. Or else we’re back to the Roger Moore days… shudder.

Plus, like some other actors, Clive Owen jumps to mind, Edward Norton has the same thing, minus the British accent, they come across like men, not boys playing at being men. No offense to Jude Law, or Tom Cruise.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rule Breaking and Little Children

Okay, that title sounds like I'm going to do a post offering parenting advice. Ha!

Actually, I saw the film Little Children last night (instead of handing out candy to real little children) and was blown away. In spite of feeling absorbed in the story/characters, I knew I had to blog today and so the movie made me think of something writer related -- rules and rule breaking.

In the romance world new writers are faced with a lot of "rules" some of which I started to think had been made up by the writers themselves. Amazing what rumors can do. But in all genres of writing there are lots of rules of good writing we learn. Don't dump backstory. Stay in one character's POV at a time. Don't include too many POV's. Don't include too much exposition. Don't do prologues. Don't do flashbacks. Start with action. Each scene should move the plot forward. etc. etc. etc.

At the Surrey Writers Conference last week I went to a workshop by agent Donald Maass on breaking the rules and getting away with it. He read some examples of good writing from published books (one example was from a new Anne Perry manuscript to be published next spring) and each of them broke some golden rule, yet worked. One of my favourite things about this presentation was that two of the examples he used were from romance novels. You should have heard the collective gasp in the room when he casually dropped in that one of them was a Harlequin. Everyone had been praising the prologue, saying how tight and tense and ominous it was... Then "gasp" It's one of those novels. Gotta love Donald Maass. But I digress...

I was thinking of rule-breaking during Little Children tonight. It did some things that not only broke "writers" rules but also broke "film making" rules -- at least as I know them. Big sections of the film were narrated with the narrator telling us very omnisciently what each of the main characters was thinking. Robert McKee would not approve. But it really worked. At one point, I noticed there was no more narration and I thought, "Oh, he only did that at the beginning to set up the characters. Now we know them, we don't need it anymore." But later I realized the narrator was back and then gone and then back.

I'm making the narration sound distracting... but my point is that it wasn't distracting at all. If I hadn't been trying to keep track, I don't think I would have noticed and even trying to keep track I blew it, not noticing until well after each switch, because I was so caught up in the characters.

Todd Field, the filmmaker, who I don't remember as being a very memorable actor when he was an actor, is certainly a talented filmmaker. His previous films include In the Bedroom which also blew me away. Such a talent for exploring the darker side of human nature that resides even inside the most normal/sympathetic people. Master of quiet tension, too. Very good.

Highly recommend this movie. Two beer mugs up.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Let the race begin...with The Departed

Sorry for the delay - Monday is my day and I was in Pittsburgh with my 92 year old grandmother. I had not anticipated the little love affair that would bloom between Oma and my 9 month old son whose name she never remembers - but it happened and that combined with a wind storm convinced me to stay an extra day. Mick was a delirious flirt for two days and lit up like a sparkler every time he caught sight of her - how could I break them up?

Anyway - it gave me some extra time to think about favorite time of year. Recognizable not so much by the turning of the leaves or the cool nights. But by the appearance of Kate Winslet, Sean Penn and Clint Eastwood films at the movie theater. Yep - it's Oscar race time.

Pretentious and overreaching and exciting all at the same time. Now - Maureen is really the reigning film fan - and my standards have taken a serious blow (Sinead's standards have taken a hit since admitting she owns the Chronicles of Riddick - still can't get over that) with lack of sleep. (We rented Benchwarmers the other night and I howled until I cried at the various ways Jon Heder could hit himself in the balls with a baseball bat) but I adore the Oscar race. All that earnest over-acting (sorry Sean Penn) gets me pretty revved up.

Last week we went to go see The Departed - the new Martin Scorsese film. While not a huge fan of Scorsese I can appreciate what he's done for modern movie-making (the man deserves an Oscar alone for bringing us DeNiro) and there's a pretty good chance that he'll get an Oscar for this movie. Most people will say it's sort of an honorary Oscar -- like Denzel Washington's for Training Day (when he deserved it for The Hurricane) but I gotta say -- The Departed deserves it on it's own merits. It is a hell of a movie.

I think leaving behind New York and his usual cast revitalized him. And the cast he assembled for this film is brilliant. He found the right guys - and it's not just about getting the right South Boston accent -- it's about finding the actors that can portray men that live on that line between good and bad and have no qualms about going one way or another whatever the situation dictates. Mark Whalberg might very well have been playing some kind of version of himself but I have never seen such authentic non-acting. And Jack -- just when you thought the guy was going to keep phoning in performances he pulls this monster out. He's terrifying and electric. DiCaprio should finally get that nomination he's been so pissed about. And he looks really good in jeans. Really good.

Scorsese knows how to put together a cast and a soundtrack -- both are amazing.

What I really love is how the characters are what they are. The motivations are simple and they permeate every single action -- as they should be. He doesn't spend a lot of time showing us why or how (although he does a bit with Matt Damon) these men just explode on the screen - same as the one female role -- all of her motivation summed up by DiCaprio saying "you're the kid of an alcoholic." And the action just unfolds -- nice and slow no manipulation, no flashbacks - every character reveals himself, further creates the tone and mood and then pushes the action ever forward which starts slow and then beings a horrible gut wrenching wind up that is unrelenting. My heart rate was elevated to an uncomfortable level for the last half of the film.

There's a lot of violence -- poetic and raw in the Scorsese style. Some amazing camera tricks (Mark Whalberg in the briefing with Alec Baldwin in front of the task force -- WOW!) And Scorsese will be nominated and so far -- I think he should win. Sorry, Clint.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Confessions of a conference slut

I’ve been to a lot of writing conferences this year. So many, I’m embarrassed to admit the number (6).

In my defense, I started 2006 determined this would be the year I’d sign with an agent. To that end, my motivation for registering for 3 winter conferences (in Florida, San Diego and Arizona) was to meet and pitch as many agents as I could (and to get a little winter warmth at the same time). I carefully picked conferences which had agents I wanted to meet in attendance (and writer friends I wanted to connect or reconnect with). But since I actually got the offer-to-rep-call from one of my dream agents, Pamela Harty, a day before the first of these three “meet agents” conferences, I guess that excuse for conference promiscuity doesn’t hold water. (I actually picked up the message at the conference. Story here. Scroll to February 8.)

When I decided to do the winter conferences, it was supposed to be in lieu of going to RWA Nationals in 2006. But that plan fell apart too, because the agency I signed with is The Knight Agency who were throwing a 10th anniversary party at that conference. Couldn’t miss that, or the opportunity to bond with my agent, could I?

For attending the NJRWA conference in early October, I have few reputable excuses. Basically, I wanted to go to have fun with my fellow drunk writers. Nuff said.

The Surrey International Writers Conference in mid October? I wanted to go to a conference outside the RWA world (which is great, but a tad insular) and also wanted the opportunity to do the “Blue Pencil Café” sessions, during which best-selling authors (including Jennifer Crusie, Diana Gabaldon and Bob Mayer) read 3 pages of your work and then discuss it with you for 15 minutes. I really wanted to get Jennifer Crusie for this session, but who knew Bob Mayer would help me solve the biggest problem I was having with my book! Yippee! Thanks Bob.

Not conferenced out yet, I’m still cooking up new reasons for going to more, so I thought I’d put together a list for others searching for reasons.

Reasons for the newbie writer:

  • Learn the basics about the craft of writing. If you’ve never been to a conference or taken a (recent) writing class, you probably don’t know as much about writing as you think you do. (Your high school English teacher thinking you were talented doesn’t count. Sad, but true. Chances are he/she didn’t know as much as he/she thought either.)

  • Learn the basics about the industry. (If you’ve done your publishing industry research by watching movies with author protagonists, you’ve got a few rude awakenings ahead. Publishing is like no other business (and it’s certainly nothing like it’s depicted in movies). If you want to be part of it, learn as much as you can.)

  • Reasons for the intermediate writer:

  • Explore craft topics in greater detail. Are you using POV to greatest advantage? Will using the hero’s journey help to deepen your character’s arc? Will 3 (or 4) act plotting improve your pacing, make your stories more compelling? Are your characters’ motivations rooted deeply in human psychology?

  • Engage in drunk (or sober) writer talk. This recent conference has reminded me how much I enjoy talking about writing with other smart writers. Fun, fun, fun. (This reason stands for all stages.)

  • Meet other writers for support, for critique partners, for connections, for friends. (This reasons stands for all stages.)

  • Reasons for the advanced writer:

  • Share your wealth of knowledge with others

  • Argue with the instructors to spark interesting discussion

  • Get strokes if your work is praised (we all need strokes)

  • Think critically about your work

  • Perhaps be humbled…(okay, what is an advanced writer? IMHO anyone who claims to be one may just not have realized what else they have to learn yet. Or worse, may have stopped learning too soon.)

  • Reasons if you’re submitting:

  • Conference pitches can help you avoid the dreaded query letter stage of the submission process. (Skip query, go straight to submission. Sadly no $200.) While many agents I’ve spoken to say they’ve found more clients from their slush than from pitches, there’s a lot to be said for skipping over the query stage.

  • Seeing agents in “real life”. I think this is often overlooked, because when you’re looking for an agent, it’s hard to remember that writers have any control in this whole process. At conferences, you get to meet agents to help determine whether you’d want them to represent you. NB. Only submit to agents you’d love to have as your representative.

  • Reasons if you’re “close” to selling

  • Madeline Hunter does a great workshop on “Surviving Almost There” and I’d suggest that simply attending conferences and meeting other writers in a similar position can help survive almost there. Acutally, I could have simply listed Madeline Hunter as a reason to attend conferences. And Jennifer Crusie. And Bob Mayer. And Eloisa James… and lots of other good writers and editors willing to share their expertise and experience.

  • Making your own luck. There’s a lot to be said about luck and timing in this business, but if you’re not putting yourself and your writing out there, you aren’t creating opportunities for luck. Diana Peterfreund sold off contacts her critique partner made at a conference, co-drunk-writer Molly O’Keefe became involved in a Valentines anthology WHO NEEDS CUPID? based on contacts she made at a conference. Eileen Cook got a great blurb (Jennifer Crusie) for her January 2007 release IN THE STARS based on a contact at a conference.

  • Reasons if you’ve just sold

  • Writers are voracious readers. If you meet lots of writers at conferences, you’ve created a pool of people more likely than the general public to purchase your book when it comes out. At least they’ll know the book exists!

  • Writers (for the most part) support other writers—especially those they’ve met and who’ve made a good impression. Therefore contacts made at conferences can lead to future help via buying books, recommending books, reviewing books, giving cover-blurbs, blogging about books, cross-promotional ideas. All these types of things can happen via contacts made at conferences.

  • Reasons if you’re getting stale

  • Writing never gets easy. Markets change, readers get bored, writers develop blocks, editors leave, agents disappoint us—they also retire. There are lots of reasons to keep learning and keep making contacts throughout your career. (So I assume. I’ve been hypothesizing for some of these stages.)

  • Wow! There are plenty of reasons to attend a good writers conference. I’d better think about going to some more. If you’ve been looking for a good excuse and I've provided you one?—you’re welcome. Always happy to help rationalize an expensive (but smart) decision.

    Wednesday, October 25, 2006

    Why I used to care about hair color and now don’t.

    To start with, this post is not my own hair color, which is pretty boring. I used to open a book and look for the scene where the writer described the heroine.
    Actively hunt it down, because I must have cared.
    Why? Sad thing is, I can’t remember.
    This is a while ago, before I started writing myself, but I remember it being really important. I needed a visual of her, more than I needed to know what she was like, character flaws, any of that stuff. And to be frank, and I’m not proud of this, I wanted her to be beautiful.
    Perhaps it connects back to the whole reading as escapism, which I know is particularly true with romance. It was easier to get swept up into another world if I could place myself in the shoes of someone who was gorgeous and virtuous and in hindsight, pretty uninteresting.
    Now, a few years later, I don’t really care what she looks like, unless it enhances her character in some way. I really dislike virtuous heroines, I find them boring and for a book to really sweep me up, it has to be different, unique and have characters who are deeply flawed and conflicted.
    What’s the difference between now and ten years ago. I’m pretty sure it’s the writing, although I’m also sure a lot of readers out there would make a good case for non-writers also not caring about the heroine’s hair color.

    But sometimes I worry that puts me out of touch with some potential readers. By trying to create books I want to read, am I creating books that don’t have enough escapism, characters who have too many flaws, am I skipping over that all important description scene(which I know I do now)

    The answer won’t change anything. I write the books I want to read, or what’s the point.
    But perhaps I should try for a balance between escapism and character, which is what I’m trying to do now.

    Monday, October 23, 2006

    The numbers that make me feel better...

    Numbers in any context usually scare the bejesus out of me - make my eyes glaze over and I instantly turn back into a freshman in Mr. Kerestes Algebra 1C class (math for idiots and, as it would turn out for the kid next to me all semester -- drug dealers). But as I go to conferences and get overwhelmed by the number of people making serious efforts to write romantic fiction -- any one of whom could be far more brilliant than me - I remember what someone told me....

    Say every second person in North America wants to write a book - so you take 100% of those people. 1% will actually do it. Of that 1% only 1% will actually finish the book. Most get stuck around page 100 and they spend years talking about thier novel but never work on it (because writing is really hard). 1% of that 1% who finish will submit to a publisher -- now .00000001% will sell that first book - they don't add into the math here (because they are rare and they sold thier soul to the devil.) Now the 100% of people who submitted - almost all of them will get rejected in some fashion - some will get a great rejection letter with an invitation to resubmit but most will get a form rejection letter. And because it takes a seriously thick skin, the kind of which can only be built up by years of "good" rejection letters - most will only see the "no thanks" which will read in thier minds like "you suck." 100% will have wine or chocolate. Perhaps Margaritas. Perhaps pizza.

    Only 1% of those who submitted will either make the revisions needed, or do the smart thing and hide that first manuscript, join RWA and start a second book. So, I don't know what our percentage is now -- but there aren't that many of us still standing and we've only really just started.

    So, we've got 100% of people working on a second book, they're learning some craft things and realizing how much more fun it was to write when they didn't know anything - some will stop right now because it's not as easy as they thought. They thought people just sat down and wrote books - no one said anything about POV and character motivation. And frankly, it's been two years now and they only gave themselves a year to be a NYT Bestseller. Time to move on.

    So 1% of people who finish a second book, working so hard on craft and query letters and that @#$% synopsis actually submit. And now, thier chances start to improve -- they might sell. They've put in some real time and sacrifice (and we all know that nothing good comes with out sacrificing something - TV, social life, time with family and friends, that olympic swimming career...) and now the publishing Gods smile upon them. Well, on .5% of them.

    Of the other .5% only .1% (is this math even making sense anymore?) will be able to keep going. And some will have to keep going for fifteen years - through 10 manuscripts - each one better than the last and each one getting them closer and closer to the validation we writers NEED after spending so many years dedicated to this cause. It's no longer about the money at this point -- that's simply ludicrous. More and more people will lose heart as those rare stories surface about the lucky (devil worshiping) writers who sell thier first mms.

    But the point of all this faulty math is -- if you stay in this business long enough AND if you work hard on improving your craft constantly (writing the same problematic stuff over and over again won't help your cause) and you get wise to industry stuff (stop sending out that western idea to editors who HATE westerns) -- the odds are actually in your favor.

    See...totally heartening information. Right?

    On an unrelated side note -- the TV show Dexter? Anyone watching this? I'm blown away. Seriously blown away by this show.

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    The Beginning…. And the End

    Molly blogged about finishing a book, which is a huge event. And deserves huge congratulations.

    Any writer that finishes a book, published or not, deserves a serious pat on the back. Well done, you’ve accomplished what so many people talk about, but never actually do.

    I’m in the process of finishing a book as well. Another 50 or so pages, some serious editing, and I’ll be done. This book suffers from some serious mistakes as well. Starting it, I thought it might be a little lighthearted. I don’t do lighthearted well, so a third of the way in, the tone changed, probably for the better, but the beginning all needed to change.

    The relationship between the hero and heroine also changed significantly. Halfway through I gave them a past history, so more re-writes and a lot more of me wishing I’d figured all this stuff out before I’d written the book.

    But, at the same time I’m finishing this book, I’m also starting another.


    I can’t resist. One of the joys of writing for me is starting a book. I love it. I love writing that first chapter. I love thinking through the upcoming plot twists and the character reveals. The idea of an unwritten 400 pages invigorates me. I know this makes me weird, but hey… I’m weird.

    I also usually know writing that first chapter how the book is going to go. Whether the book is going to be easy to write, or hard. This next book, the first three chapters have come together really well. My first draft is solid, which is really unusual for me. Why this book and not the one I’m finishing?

    Why is it, some books flow so well, are joyful to write and everything comes together easily, and others are like slogging through quicksand.

    I’d love to hear whether other writers have the same issue. Are some books easier to write than others? And why? Because right now, it’s a mystery to me.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    The End...sort of

    Big week here. Honorary drunk writers - which, frankly I think we should have more of - and I finished the latest mms today. Done. The End. Epilogue too. Exactly a month and a half before deadline - which isn't to say I'm actually done. Oh no.

    My critique group used to celebrate these sorts of events with champagne and then we got wise to the fact that actually finishing the book is just the beginning. Oh! Those sweet days of ignorance and champagne.

    I've sent versions to the critique group and now, I just await the real work. Revisions.

    I know what my BIG problem with the mms is -- I really have no clue of what's going on. Scenes aren't clear in my head, GMC is all over the board - if it's there at all and the whole character arc is pretty muddied - if I remember correctly my heroine has her major life changing epiphany while eating eggs. Now, that happens to real life people all the time but I'm pretty sure the readers of Superromance are expecting MORE. (His epiphany happens at gun point, well, knife point, but I think that's an improvement.) As Sinead so wisely said while critiquing one of my earlier books -- "basically the guy goes for a walk and changes his mind." I inferred from her tone that that wasn't good enough. Anyway - that's only one of the major things I have to change.

    The second major thing is that I have her loving her job in the first 30 pages but after that I decided she hated it. I also could never remember her hair color and was too lazy to go back and change it so she covers the spectrum. I also couldn't remember the official name for the hats police officers wear with their dress uniforms so I just have BLAH BLAH HAT - reminding me that I have to do a little research - which I could do now - but I won't.

    I also, I'm sure you've noticed from reading this blog, have no clue what to do with a comma. It's embarrassing and every once in a while I figure I should just learn the rule - but then I don't. Too busy writing, maybe. I also need to change just about every character's name. There's a heavy Hispanic influence in this book and because I never think about these things all the character's last names end in EZ. (thanks, Maureen for pointing that out) OH! And I have my hero hiding behind a couch in a very un-heroic way during a big shoot out- which was funny to me while writing it- but I don't think that's going to fly. I also think maybe he does too many drugs. And there are too many scenes with food.

    So - yep. Book done. Except for those few things.

    Regardless - I'm celebrating tonight with leftover meatloaf, Hershey kisses and two hours of watching exactly what I want on TV. Husband is gone and I'm watching Food Channel and Entertainment Tonight...That's so sad.

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    Introducing... ATIII Finalist Kimberley Howe!

    Today, we have a special treat. Honorary drunk writer, Kimberley Howe, who is a finalist in the American Title III contest. Kim is an amazing writer, “on the verge” and her romantic suspense manuscripts have finalled in multiple contests, including last year’s Golden Heart.

    We’re all rooting for Kim in ATIII and hope you’ll vote for her too!

    She’s done some serious research for her romantic suspense novels—how many writers do you know who’ve done a course in Advanced Tactical Training!—so we thought she might share some of her research tips with us today.

    Welcome, Kim!

    Thanks to Molly, Maureen, and Sinead for asking me to stop by Drunk Writers. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the fascinating world of research. Perhaps the invitation stemmed from the fact that the words, “drunken oblivion,” can be found in the first sentence of my novel, ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS. :-)

    Ed note: Use of the word “drunken” in the first line of the book certainly helped! But we’d have asked her to blog, even if her characters always remained sober.

    When I decided to set my romantic suspense about a former Army sniper in St. Lucia, I had never been to St. Lucia, and I had never shot a gun. That’s what is so exciting about writing—the process of discovery, the opportunity to learn. I figure that if you’re willing to commit several months of your life to a project, you had better grow as a person during that time.

    A writer’s life is disciplined, not unlike a sniper’s. Heck, we both get shot up when we falter in our work. Precision is crucial and we need to get our facts right. That’s why I’ll let Kenya—the heroine of ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS—take point on our mission of discovery, allowing us to delve into research and low-crawl in the trenches.

    Reconnoiter. Scout out your target. Learn everything you can about your subject before you speak to any experts. Use the internet—an invaluable tool. The library also offers excellent resources if you have a sniper’s patience. Be creative. Out-of-print books about a variety of subjects can be found at or I purchased videos and books from Palladin Press, a company that specializes in material about sniping and guns. The History Channel had a series on snipers. I ordered the DVDs and learned that in Stalingrad, 2,000 women snipers participated in the battle and only 500 of those women survived. One of these heroines became Kenya’s grandmother, the person who first taught her how to shoot.

    Infiltrate. The best way to get the facts about a subject is to spend time in the middle of the action. Now, to clarify, by no means did I join a mercenary group and travel to Sierra Leone, but I did visit a gun range where I had the opportunity to fire the exact rifle Kenya uses in the novel. I also took a course in Advanced Tactical Training and participated in simulated combat with a bunch of guys. FYI, Prada has nothing on Camo Wear.

    Ambush. Okay, maybe ambushing is more Kenya’s style, but you can go for the subtler approach and ask questions without a full frontal attack. Experts are usually quite willing to share their knowledge if you do your homework first. For example, Kenya runs a dive charter in St. Lucia and the hero approaches her about assisting in the recovery of a sunken Russian satellite. Although I’m an avid scuba diver, I’ve never had the chance to use trimix, the mixture of gases that allows you to dive deep with fewer side effects. My eye doctor travels the world on diving vacations, so I dropped by his office to ask if he knew much about trimix. He introduced me to an instructor who specializes in it. The man called me from a deep diving expedition off the coast of Ireland. I had more details than I had dreamed about. And discovering the waters of St. Lucia was definitely the highlight of the research.

    The lesson in all of this is to immerse yourself in research. Be fearless like Kenya when pursuing the facts. Also be open to double-checking. My mentor at Seton Hill University was a former New York homicide detective and a Vietnam sniper. When he read the book, I was proud that he didn’t find any technical errors. No matter what subject you’re tackling in your novels, zero in on your target.

    If you have two minutes to spare, please log onto and vote for ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS in the American Title III Contest. Kenya would be most grateful, and a sniper is always a good friend to have.

    Thanks Kim! We'd love to have you back, anytime.

    I think we should all vote for Kim. She’s right. It’s better to have snipers as friends than enemies! To vote, simply send an e-mail to with the words, ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS in the subject line. Vote from every e-mail address you have. Tell your friends to, too!

    To see all the contestants and their opening lines, check out this link.

    Good luck to Kimberley Howe!

    Secret Guest Blogger!

    Stay tuned...

    The Drunk Writers have a guest blogger today! The post should be up around noon.

    Very exciting!

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    What I learned at NJRW – Editors and Agents

    First off, this is a great, really well run conference that I’d really recommend. Small enough that you can meet people and large enough that it gets a good turnout from editors and agents.

    I attended the agent/editor panels, so I’m going to cover them. Not that I ever find them that informative.

    The editors present were from St. Martins, Avon, Kensington, Harlequin(Luna, SIM, HI) and a new publishing house, Samhain.

    The usual questions got asked, what are you looking for? What trends do you see in the marketplace, yada, yada..

    First and foremost, all of them said, they’re looking for a well written story. I really got the sense that they’re open to a lot of different genre’s, as long as the story is compelling. Not one said they’re looking for any particular genre specifically.

    But here are the specifics
    1) Westerns. No one there other than Samhain was willing to consider Westerns. They haven’t sold well in the past. Personally, I think someone is going to write an incredible Western romance and change all this. Maybe, I'm just really hoping that’s the case.
    2) Paranormals, still selling well, but if you’re going to do a Vampire or Werewolf story, you have to put a really unique spin on it, as they already have established authors writing the more standard Vampires and Werewolves.
    3) Hot… sexy sells better. In almost all genres. Up the saleability of your book by adding great sexual tension and smoking sex scenes.
    4) Check the Barnes and Noble best seller lists and see what’s selling, and that will give you a strong indication of what’s selling. That’s what the editors do.

    The agent panel, had six agents. Sorry, but I either won’t get the names right, or I’ll misspell them. Not much came out of this, except they are looking for really well written saleable stories across all genres.

    My impression coming out of these panels are that they are open to almost all types of stories(westerns aside) and are looking for something different.

    What else I learned from the New Jersey conference.
    I agree with Molly. Eloisa James is a very smart lady and I really wish I’d attended her workshop.
    Most bestselling authors are bestsellers because they write great books, but also, because they are really knowledgeable about the publishing industry and what it takes to progress in their careers. I aspire to be half as smart as Eloisa James, Ann Stuart and Jennifer Crusie.
    I’m trying to be half as nice as Virginia Kantra, Roxanne St. Claire and CJ Carmichael. Class acts, and really lovely ladies.
    And even though we only see them once a year, it was so fun hanging out with Anna and Brenda Harlen.

    Great conference, catch it next year if you can.
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