Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflections on Blogging

At the start of the year, I opened my blog to once-a-week guests, and, looking back, as we are wont to do at this time of year, I've learned a few things I think are worth sharing, and things I'll try to do better in 2010.

Suggestions for being a good guest

1. Know what you're getting into. Spend a little time reading the blog where you've requested a guest slot so you know if it's going to serve whatever purpose you have in mind.

2. Does the host provide guidelines? Read them! Follow them! Are there things you shouldn't say? Don't say them. Are there questions to answer? Answer them. Is there a minimum or maximum length? Stick within it.

3. Make a note of the date you're going to be a guest. Set up your own reminders; don't rely on the host. Get your post in early if possible to allow your host time to format in advance.

4. Communicate with the host. Problems arise, especially if you're scheduled months in advance. Give as much warning as possible if there will be problems.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another Year

What I'm reading: U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton.

Thanks, Tory, for sharing your adventurous life. If you haven't read or commented on her post, you should--she's giving away one of her books. Scroll down and comment there. The winner will be announced next week at Romance With An Attitude.

Hard to believe another year has slipped away. Aside from an early dinner at our local favorite Italian restaurant, we don't normally go out to celebrate, figuring there are too many crazy people on the roads, but we felt "obligated" to go out on New Year's Eve when 1999 became 2000. Was it really 10 years ago?

It's the time of year when everyone is reflecting on what they've done, what they should have done, and what they're going to do. For us, on the real-life front,we dealt with hubby's retirement and with trying to sell a house. For my writing, I contracted two short stories as part of an anthology that's supposed to come out in 2010, and I rewrote a romantic suspense which is due out in July. I also parted company with my agent, and am stepping off the edge of the cliff in trying to begin all over and find a home for it. And, like everyone else, it's time to look at goals.

For the past couple of years, I've shared Roxanne St. Claire's goal setting strategy as it pertains to writing. I've also been seeing other advice, so I thought I'd share those as well.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Today my guest is author Tory Richards, who discovered a sense of adventure. She's offering one of her books to a commenter. Contest runs all week, so you can leave a comment even if you get here "late."

Before I begin I’d just like to thank Terry for giving me this opportunity to talk about myself. Not my favorite subject but I’ll give it a try. It might be a case of once I get started, watch out!

I love to travel. Who doesn’t? And until my granddaughter was born three years ago my traveling buddies were my daughter and niece. We’re all very close and when we get together it’s like watching a sitcom of The Golden Girls. In fact, that’s what my son-in-law calls us.

We’ve been to neat places like Croatia, Spain, Rome and Greece but my favorite was when we took an Alaskan cruise. OMG was that a beautiful place. And I discovered a new adventurous side of me on that vacation…even if it was forced upon me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holmes. Sherlock Holmes

What I'm reading: Fatally Flaky, by Diane Mott Davidson

Hope everyone had a great holiday. And congrats to Betina Krahn's winners. Please make sure you email her so you can get your prizes.

I'm a guest at Writers on Writing, talking about my writing process. Hope you'll drop by there, too.

I was unplugged for a lot of the weekend. Not by choice, but there was trouble with Twitter feeds, and more trouble with Blogger. As I type this, I'm hoping that one's resolved. If you're reading it, I guess it was.. I can't say I was particularly frustrated about missing out on everyone's holiday Tweets, but I did miss my blog crawls, and wasn't pleased that I couldn't respond to comments on my own blog. I wonder if this was a widespread problem, or something more local. Update - as of Sunday evening, Brighthouse finally admitted there was a problem, and they were 'working to fix it.'

Seeing Sherlock Holmes Friday gave me something to think about. I'm very much a character person. Give me a character I love and I'll forgive mediocre writing. But give me a mediocre character and the most brilliant writing isn't going to do it for me. I know there are those who have their own reasons for going to the movies, and a good-looking star is right up there. But for this post, I'm trying to look beyond the outward appearance of Robert Downey, Jr. Judging from Tweets and Facebook posts, I'm in the minority when I say I wasn't totally in love with the movie. I'm not saying it wasn't good, or that I didn't like it but....

Keep Reading...

I hadn't paid any attention to previews or trailers for the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Hubby had picked it as our Christmas movie weeks in advance, and being a Sherlock Holmes fan since I discovered him in a high school reading assignment, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," and having watched the Basil Rathbone version on Netflix, and all the PBS variations, I gladly agreed, and went to the movie "cold."

(Minor digression to another reason we like Netflix. No need to sit through over 20 minutes of previews. The movie was scheduled to begin at 11:30. We arrived at 11:20, since it was the first show of the day and we had bought our tickets on line. We sat through ten minutes of commercials, and then the "movie" began. NOT. Preview after preview – long ones. The sort that make you think you've just seen all the good parts of the movie. Thank goodness I've learned to carry my trusty back-lit eBookwise)

Having read all of Sherlock Holmes, and having seen numerous television adaptations, I was a bit put off by the movie's "tampering" with characters I thought I knew. The pipe was wrong, no deerstalker. Sure, Robert Downey Jr was easy on the eyes. And according to Doyle, Holmes was fit—he boxed, and could handle a sword, as I recall. But the image still didn't ring true. I never saw Holmes as the action-adventure hero. A Victorian James Bond flick would have been almost the same. "Holmes. Sherlock Holmes."

Watson was probably more against "type", but I liked seeing him as much more sure of himself, and ready to confront Holmes. True to character, however, he was never fully able to resist what Holmes wanted him to do.

I got started writing in the fan fiction realm. I had many a beta-reader tell me "Duncan would NEVER do that." Readers have character expectations. If they deviate, there had better be a good reason.

The time in the movie spent on fights, chases, and Bond-type special effects didn't seem true to his character. One wonders how much Doyle the moviemakers actually read. Then again, movies made from books rarely ring true to the original beyond the title. But to me, this was a way to appeal to the younger set who probably has never read a Holmes story.

All in all, it was a moderately enjoyable movie. Definitely glad we went to the early, $5 show. A bit long, and probably because I saw little need for the extended "James Bond" marital arts/action/chase scenes. To me, it felt more like an author inserting scenes to meet some minimum word count requirement. Most of those scenes could have been cut by at least half.

And, as I spent much of the last few days further refining the final chapters of my manuscript, I couldn't help but compare the way Holmes resolved the mystery with the way I was trying to make sure I had all the loose ends tied up in mine.

In typical Doyle/Holmes fashion, Holmes merely "tells" how he deduced all the bits and pieces of the mystery. I would have preferred some of these discoveries to have been revealed as Holmes made them, as the film clearly showed Holmes zeroing in on the requisite clues. But the explanations had to wait until the bad guy was dealt with.

The other off-putting bit in the movie was the magic/supernatural theme. That seemed to be milking the current trend rather than sticking to Holmes canon. Granted, I expected Holmes to explain it all, but as above, didn't like that it all waited until the final few minutes of the movie.

There's a saying in writing that your first page sells the book, but your last page sells the NEXT book. This movie was a perfect example. It definitely left the door open for a sequel. Wide open. Almost dragging the viewer through it.

And, while looking for some images for this post, I happened across a reviewer who felt pretty much the same way I did.

Tomorrow, Blogger willing, my final guest of 2009 is author Tory Richards. Her topic: Adventure. And she has a commenter contest, so make time to stop by.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays

For many of you, Merry Christmas.

As promised, here are the 3 winners of Betina Krahn's newest book. Winners were selected by a random number generator:

Elizabeth Spann Craig
Jackie Griffey

You'll have to email her at: bkrahn007 (at)gmail(dot)com with your addresses. Congratulations!

As for us, this sums up our holiday celebration.

At least this year we agreed early on what movie to see: Sherlock Holmes.

And if you just want some mindless entertainment, you can try Slingshot Santa

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Twas the Day Before...

What I'm reading: Missing Mark, by Julie Kramer

First -- stop reading and scroll down to Tuesday's post, "New Challenges" by Betina Krahn. She's giving away three books, and if you comment before 6 PM Eastern time today (Thursday), you'll be entered for a chance to win. Winners announced tomorrow. What are you waiting for?

I must confess I will be glad when the holiday season is past. Not being a Christmas person, I find the obsession with the holiday gets old very fast. Blogs devoted to Christmas hints, gifts and books. Everyone wants a comment about what I do for Christmas, or my best Christmas memories. Well, at the very least, they've freed up my blog crawling time, because they don't draw me in, and I move on.

We gave up sending Christmas cards years ago, and I'm pleased that the number we receive is dwindling. All those dead trees and postage used to wish us a happy holiday we don't celebrate. I often wonder what all the people whose lists we're on would think if we sent the Hanukkah cards.

But my real peeve is how many people seem to think it's worthwhile to mail a card with a pre-printed 'signature' and nothing else. All we are to most of them is an address label and a stamp. Granted, a few do address the envelopes by hand. My feeling: if we're in communication during the year, then that's enough of a gesture of friendship, and we've probably exchanged holiday greetings of some sort already. If we're not, and you don't have time to include a brief note, then how much can you really care? And this year I got a card from someone who signed it only with a first name, and I don't have a clue who she is. I do feel bad about that one, because she included the hand-written 'hope you're having a happy holiday'.

Hubby and I have our annual physicals today. We're in pretty good physical shape (at least that's what I'm assuming), but we're at the point where everything is followed by, "for someone your age." At least our doctor says, "for someone our age, as our kids were in high school together. Let's just hope all the paperwork is processed in a timely fashion, because one of our surprises last month was that hubby's retirement insurance plan no longer offers the company we're with. This comes after having to switch last year. We'll end up back where we were a year ago, but at double the cost, which had already jumped over 400% the year before. But, looking on the bright side, at least we have health insurance. And no telling what plan we'll be with when we move, and the retirement options vary depending on what state we live in. Suddenly "our age" doesn't look so terrible, as hubby is only a year away from Medicare.

Note: I've changed the way to leave comments. Do you like it better? Prefer the old way? Don't care? Let me know. I can change it back.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Real, Right, or Good?

Thanks, Betina for being my guest. Remember, there's still time to win a copy of her newest book. Scroll down and leave a comment on yesterday's post. I'll announce the winner on Christmas.

My first crit group used to quote one of their writing professors. "Just because it's right, doesn't make it good." We often incorporate real-life happenstances in our writing, but if they don't come across as "normal" to readers, they're likely to assume we're making something up for the sake of the story. And "contrived" is NOT something we want in our work.

I strive for accuracy in my writing, but if there's a conflict with what a reader considers truth, it's a stumbling block. One very common instance is the CSI effect, where readers assume the police and forensic procedures they see on TV are the way it works in real life.

Or maybe it's simple terminology. How many times have you read a crime novel where the characters smells "cordite" indicating gunshots have been fired. WRONG. Cordite manufacture ceased at the end of the last century. Lee Lofland gives his feelings on this on The Graveyard Shift. And I just read a modern-day novel written by a prolific mystery writer who made the same error.

Then there's "APB". This is another term that's rarely used anymore. The current usage is "BOLO" (Be On the LookOut). But readers (and tv viewers) are familiar with APB. Until BOLO is common enough, the writer might feel obligated to explain, which can be tricky without getting into author intrusion territory.

I've been rewriting my final scene for more tension, and thought I'd done a fair job. However, when the hubster read the draft of the revised scene, he had 2 questions. The first: Should it be "German shepherd" or "German Shepherd"? I looked it up at various websites and found that although the dictionary went with shepherd, almost all of the dog sites wrote it as Shepherd. I can leave it for an editor to change, but I figure about half the readers will think it's wrong. Not much I can do about that.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Challenges

Today I'm very pleased to welcome NYT Best-selling author Betina Krahn to Terry's Place. Have you ever been afraid to try something new? See how Betina embraced the challenge of change. And be sure to leave a comment, because she's giving away books!

What’s life without a little excitement now and then? By excitement, I don’t mean “challenge that could drag you under if you don’t come through,” but it often seems to turn out that way. My writing life has been full of such moments and I’m not sure why. Karma, maybe? It seems to me that other people find their niche, zero in on their strength, and ride the slipstream of an early book straight to stardom. Or at least a comfortable career.

Not so the Krahn-ster.

Oh, I’ve had my share of success, no doubt about it. But there’s been nothing effortless or “slipstream” about it. I had published eight well-reviewed books before getting a break and snagging a livable contract. Then I did four more books (of varying themes and intensities) before finding a publishing house that understood how to market my work. I seemed to hit my stride—momentarily—for books 13-17 and then my life was overturned by personal trauma. After the death of my husband, the lavish historical romance I was known for writing no longer had a place in my bruised heart.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rewriting and Darning Socks

What I'm reading: Locked In, by Marcia Muller

Long, long ago, when I was a wee lass, my mother was teaching me all the ins and outs of what the school system called "Home Economics". I learned to knit (potholders), to cook (crushing Graham crackers for Mom's cheesecake crust) to make beds with hospital corners. I learned to iron starting with my dad's handkerchiefs (because then all men carried white handkerchiefs) and pillowcases. Mom and Dad's generation had lived through the Depression, and frugality was a way of life.

So even though Mom had a 'darning egg', I was surprised when she told me that if a sock got a hole in the heel, to throw it away "because you'll never get it mended smooth, and it'll raise blisters on whoever wears it."

As I mentioned Saturday, I've been working on revising a plot thread my crit partners had some trouble with.

The major question was whether there was a justifiable reason for a burgeoning relationship between the cop protagonist (Gordon), and Angie, who works in the town's #1 café. From the start of the book, it's been clear to everyone in town (except Gordon), that he has a 'thing' for her. The paramedics are betting on whether he asks her out before Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. So having them finally hook up in the book doesn't bother me at all. And since it's not a romance, there's no need for Angie to be a POV character.

However, the scene where they finally consummated the relationship (or, as one of my commenters said, "do the naughty") didn't seem to serve any purpose beyond the relationship angle. Having one reason for a scene isn't really enough justification for having it on the page.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Catching Up a Bit

What I'm reading: Lakeshore Christmas, by Susan Wiggs; To Scotland with Love, by Karin Hawkins.

Good Stuff from while I was gone -

I came home to an award from mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig, a previous guest here and a frequent commenter with a marvelous blog of her own. My kind of award - no strings! Thanks, Elizabeth.

And an invitation to present my "Storyboard Plotting for Non-Plotters" as a workshop for a Jacksonville RWA chapter in February. And while I'm there, I can hook up with Sandra McDonald, my first writing mentor.

Right now, I'm working on that pesky scene I mentioned a while back. The 'is there a reason for a budding relationship, and even if there is, how much needs to be on the page.' I had two plane trips to mull over it, and I think I've finally got a handle on it. I'll have more next week, after I actually write the revisions.

Hope you'll have time in your busy holiday season to pop in from time to time.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Criminal Thinking 5

This is the last installment of my notes from David Malinowski's workshop on Criminal Thinking, presented to the Civilian Police Academy Alumni in July, 2008. I suggest you read the other 4 parts first, if you haven't. I've run them for the last 4 Fridays, so they should be easy to find. This post originally ran in late July 2008 (worth noting with weather references).

To Change a Criminal: Corrective Thinking
Change is only possible when a criminal makes a choice to change.

When does a person change? When they are ready, and not a moment sooner.
The objective is to teach criminals to live without injuring others
Note: this comes right back to Malinowski's opening statement about concern for victims.

Corrective Thinking means:

Strict standards
No "feel good" stuff
No shortcuts
No rewards for doing what is expected – "Until your desperation factor exceeds your embarrassment factor, you are not a candidate for transformation."

Remember: Criminals Think Differently!

Change is a 4-letter word.
W – O – R – K

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Time Warp

Although technically I'm in Florida when you read this, I'm writing it on Tuesday and still in Colorado. Confused? Kind of the way I feel when I check the desktop weather icon on my laptop, which I never reset to Colorado, so right now it's telling me it's 81 degrees outside. However, a glance out the window shows patches of snow on the ground.

I figured I'd round out this Colorado blogging update with some more pictures. The realities of life will resume once I'm in sync with real time again.

In addition to house/relocation site hunting, we've done some tourist-type things. We went to the Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park:

And Garden of the Gods

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Queries and House Staging

As I write this, we've been in Colorado for three days. As you read it, we'll have been here six days and I'll be getting ready to leave.

We spent virtually all day Friday and Saturday with our Realtor looking at property. Since we haven't sold our house yet, we have no purchase power, but if we're planning to spend the rest of our lives out here, we wanted to get a feel for the various communities. The hubster has been adamant about not wanting to be near highways or neighbors, so we're looking in the mountains. We started by looking in a town out beyond the back of beyond, where we drove through nothingness relative to civilization, but plenty of gorgeous scenery. But to find the houses our Realtor had scheduled, we had to follow a dirt road complete with cattle guards for about 12 miles. Then we wound through more mountain roads until we arrived at the house. The owners hadn't been home since before it had snowed, so we tromped up the drive, up snow-covered stairs and entered the house.

(Yes, I took a picture, but I don't think it's appropriate to show it here, since I don't have the owner's permission. Instead, I'm sharing some of the views.)

Now, if you've been following this blog, you're aware of all the Realtor hoops we've jumped through to make our house attractive to buyers. Judging from many of the homes we looked at, this is a very loosely followed guideline. When we opened the door to this house, we were inside a small multi-purpose room. A very cluttered multi-purpose room. But what took us more than aback were the hunting trophies all over the walls, on shelves, everywhere. Elk, deer, a turkey and more game parts than I'd ever seen outside a natural history museum display.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blackie - A Lesson in Determination

Today my guest is Mary Ricksen. One quality shared by all writers is determination. Without persistence, the road to publication can be a dead end. Mary shares a real-life story that shows she has what it takes as she relates one of those unexpected, but worth the effort things, that grew to be more than she expected. Welcome, Mary!

Determination, that’s what it took, that and believing in the impossible.

We didn’t know about puppy mills when we saw him in the window of the local Pet Store at the Mall. I must have stopped there five times and gone in to pick up that fluffy black puppy. He was a pure bread German Shepherd and he was adorable. I fretted when I saw others look at him, or have him taken out to play with. I had to have that baby dog.

We’d just lost our first German Shepherd, he was rescued from a place where his owner had died, and my heart had a hole in it only a baby doggie could fill. It took some talking to get my husband to agree to buy him. I don’t know what it was, but when I looked into those big golden brown eyes there was a connection. I knew he had to come home with me. My heart about burst when I held him in my arms. He smelled so good, like a baby of any kind usually does. Little dog kisses washed me face and I fell in love.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Giving

We're now in the midst of Hanukkah, and this one's unusual in that it's not only the two of us. We're in Colorado, first, to celebrate our grandson's second birthday. And, as long as we were going to travel, we decided to do some preliminary relocation scouting.

It just so happened that our visit coincides with Hanukkah, and so we actually have family around. Or, rather, family has us around. With everyone scattered, and with a holiday that gets little recognition from employers as being worthy of time off, we don't usually have the opportunity to celebrate face to face.

Our kids are grown, and we've long since cut back our gift exchanging to immediate family, and even then, we rarely go all out. We've reached a point where "it's the thought that counts" much more than a tangible gift.

But because we were going to see two of our kids, and it was going to be during the holiday, I asked if they had any special wishes. My daughter-in-law suggested a donation to her favorite charity. We decided that was an excellent idea, and that is what we're giving to our kids this year. Donations in their names.

To me, that's the true spirit of giving. (And the fact that you don't have to hit the malls doesn't hurt either.)

Be sure to come back tomorrow when my guest, Mary Ricksen relates a tale about how she saved her dog's life by refusing to give up.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Criminal Thinking 4

Here's the next installment in my replay of "Criminal Thinking". It's original posting date was July 22, 2008.

Some more statistics

In a typical prison population:

20% are "scared straight" by the experience and won't be back

20% are "hard core" and will never change, no matter what
30% are still doing crime while they're incarcerated
30% want to change but don't know how.

The last group has the best chance for the requisite "deep change", but according to Malinowski, the last two groups tend to flip flop, often influenced by the other two.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plotting and House Hunting.

What I'm reading: Montana Sky, by Nora Roberts

By the time this post appears, I'll be on my way to a week in Colorado. We'll see family and have a chance to celebrate a portion of our holiday with two of our kids, their spouses, and our grandson. His second birthday precipitated the trip, and while we're out there, we'll also start some preliminary scouting for our relocation. It's all tentative, since our house hasn't sold yet.

Hubby spent a day taking the scientific approach to house-hunting. He took all the files the Realtor has been sending, looked at each one on Google Earth to see if they met his "away from everything" criteria, printed out the descriptions, and created a spreadsheet so he could see what we had. If he were a writer, he'd definitely be a plotter.

Meanwhile, I'm mulling over the revision process for my mystery. My critique partners have reached the final 3 chapters. One has suggested that a plot thread, giving my protagonist cop a "romantic" interest isn't needed in the book at all.

Since I'm very fond of the 'behind the scenes' lives of the cops and detectives in the mysteries I read, I wasn't thrilled to hear that. But it's still important that one consider feedback, whether one agrees or not. Should I remove the entire "my cop has a life outside his work" thread?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

SWAT Roundup 2009

Thanks to Amber for yesterday's post. She'll be announcing her winner tomorrow (Thursday) in the comment section of her post, so, depending on when you're reading this, there might still be time for you to enter. Be sure to scroll down and read her post for the rules.

Last Friday was the final event at SWAT Roundup. The obstacle course, which is the only point of action for the day. This meant our concession stand with it's functional kitchen was too far away from the action. Instead, we were moved to the grassy area by the course, along with an assortment of other canopied 'booths'.

Drawbacks: No electricity, which meant fewer options for the menu. We did (with permission) bootleg one outlet from the medical tent so we could provide hot coffee. But no steam trays, so no way to have our offerings wrapped and ready.

But the kicker was that it was Cold And Rainy. Everything from drizzle to deluge. The coverings provided some shelter, but when the wind blew the rain sideways, things got wet. No nice counter. We worked from tables. Wet tables. Still, everyone was in good spirits (helped by having that hot coffee available), and we did get to see some of the action.

The massage tent next to us was also very popular.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Call Me Crazy…Or Not

Today at Terry's Place, I welcome author Amber Leigh Williams, who brings more possibilities to that nebulous system of creating a story. She's giving away a digital copy of her award-winning novella to one lucky commenter. Rules at the end of the post. Welcome, Amber.

Authors all around me at conferences, chapter meetings, and online forums talk about their clear-cut plotting process. After writing romance novels for eight years and despite my publishing credits, I still don’t have my organizational ducks in a row. I’m one of those people who thrive in chaos. The state of my office and whatever flat surface in other parts of the house I choose to randomly commandeer makes my tidy husband cringe. Even spiders flee.

I start out with a notebook. An innocent, unsuspecting, college-rule spiral. Despite the thirteen years I spent under teachers’ admonitions to color in between the lines and write eligibly between them, my muse overcomes me. You see, if it wasn’t for her, I might have a chance at mild organizational skills. She is the real culprit, and when she takes over and the ideas start coloring the notebook page in blue or black ink, she goes bonkers! I may start out writing on the top line in readable script, but by the end of the brainstorm session, I flip back through the pages and find margins filled, tiny cursive text circling the words packed into the center of the page. Some of it is readable, but the part in shorthand looks like an ancient form of Arabic no Robert Langdon for hire however brilliant, appealing, or well-versed would have any chance of deciphering.

Monday, December 07, 2009

SWAT Roundup 2009

What I'm reading: Start Me Up, by Victoria Dahl

Thursday was our second day working the SWAT Roundup. More competition, more hot cops. No matter where you looked, the view was simply fine.

Of course, hubby's attention was focused somewhere other than mine a lot of the time. He loved the toys.

I'm not 100% sure which held the most attraction for him in this next shot, however.

Keep Reading...

These guys take the competition seriously and come from all over the world to compete. While they might be cutthroat on the event fields, when they dealt with us, they were nothing but polite. I haven't been called "ma'am" that many times since last year's competition. I asked the Dubai team if I could take their picture, and once they understood I wanted their shirt backs, not their faces, they were most cooperative.

In fact, I'm now the owner of a Dubai Police polo shirt!

If you're interested in descriptions of the various events, you can find them here.

I'll have more on Wednesday. Tomorrow, my guest is Amber Leigh Williams, and she's going to describe her plotting process. If you're a regular visitor here, you'll know that no two authors follow the same methods. Amber's ideas will give you more possibilities. She'll be giving away a copy of Blackest Heart, a western romance novella that was the first place winner in the 2009 More Than Magic Contest. Be sure to come back tomorrow to see how to enter.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

SWAT Roundup 2009

We're volunteering at the International SWAT Roundup for 3 days this week. First impression - lots of HOT SWAT guys.

However, with hubby manning the camera, he was more inclined to pick out hot female spectators in the crowd.

The Citizen's Police Academy Alumni cover the concession stand, feeding the hungry cops.

The grills were busy all day.

It's been a long time since I had to spend 8 hours on my feet, and I definitely felt it.

Here are some event pictures:

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Editing: From the Clouds to the Weeds

Thanks to Kimber Chin for sharing her writing techniques.

A while back, I mentioned Wordle as a nifty "toy" for making word clouds. Thanks to a couple of Twitter posts, I decided to plug in my synopsis instead of just giving the tool my blog URL. The more often a word is used in the text you feed, the larger it will appear in the cloud.

The largest words are character names, which is good. A synopsis will focus on the characters. I also noticed that many of the dominant words were critical plot points. Also good.

(if you click on the image, you should be able to see an enlarged view)

On a whim, I decided to paste in Chapter One of my manuscript. I got a couple of surprises—

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

In Awe? No Worries.

Today my guest is romance author Kimber Chin. She, like so many other writers have discovered, knows there is only one rule for writing, and that's "There are no rules." Welcome, Kimber.

When Terry mentioned guest blogging here, I was terrified. I mean, have you SEEN her storyboards?

The woman has her act together.

I'm, on the other hand, a disorganized mess. Before I start writing, I have a one sentence idea of what each chapter is like. For Invisible, chapter one's sentence was 'Loved one dies, hero and heroine meet.' That was it.

These are the notes I had for a recent short. I didn't even follow these 'guidelines.' I started writing and the characters took over.

(However, I do usually know my main characters as well as I know my best buddies. I know their greatest fears. I know they'll have to face them. I know what loved ones will conflict with yet 'fit' them. I know how they'll respond when faced with decisions.)

I recently attended a writer's retreat (my first ever). Other writers shared their plots, gathering input from everyone else. I didn't. Why? Because I can't write a story for someone else. I write for myself. If I think of readers when I write, I chicken out with the emotion. To get truly gritty and raw, I have to fool myself into thinking it will NEVER get published.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Conquering The Short Synopsis

What I'm reading: Make Her Pay, by Roxanne St. Claire

I finished the first draft of a two-page synopsis for my mystery. I used my storyboard tracking, and it was much easier than any other method I've tried. For longer synopses, some will summarize each chapter as they write, then combine them for a rough draft of a synopsis. However, to condense 32 chapters into 2 pages, I found it easy enough to look at my sticky notes, decide which points were significant enough to include, and summarized the book that way. Had I gone with a scene by scene, or chapter by chapter summary, it would have been much longer, and probably confusing to a reader.

Since the primary focus of the synopsis was the mystery, I spent most of the time on the cop's investigation. It wasn't necessary to include every step in the investigation, so the first 10 chapters of the book are covered in 5 paragraphs, and most of the middle chapters are condensed even further. Unlike a blurb, which is a 'teaser', a synopsis is supposed to cover the entire book, the solution of the crime and capture of the bad guy has to appear, and I spent about 4 paragraphs covering those points.

The short synopsis is the answer to "What is your book about?" more than "Tell me the story." Think being able to cover it over coffee, not a six-course meal.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Criminal Thinking 2

What I'm reading: Feel the Heat, by Cindy Gerard.

I'm continuing the repeats of my Nov. 2008 series on Criminal Thinking, taken from my workshop notes. See last week's entry here.

A brief recap: Malinowski defines "criminal" as someone who lives a lifestyle of crime. To a criminal, the usual boundaries of authority don't apply.

In his presentation, Malinowski also stressed the difference between cause and influence. For example, poverty does not cause crime, but it definitely influences it. For Malinowski, the personal motivation that gives meaning to his job stems from his belief that a criminal has three basic choices.

1. Continue the life of crime. This will result in the criminal returning to prison, dying on the streets, or dying in prison.

2. Suicide. Not a recommendation but nonetheless, still a 'choice'. Fear keeps most criminals from suicide.

3. Change. Must be deep change. Without deep change, there is only slow death, so change becomes a "life vs. death" choice.

Malinowski's goal is to help offenders see the need for change, and to give them the tools they need to effect it.

A quick statistic: 97% of incarcerated people get out of prison. (Often many times,) Only 3% die in prison, either by the death penalty, of natural causes, or at the hand of other prisoners. In the Florida system, there are 100,000 inmates, and 129,000 who are out "under supervision."

Malinowski suggested that the next time you go to eat at a restaurant like Denny's, or Applebees, or TGI Friday's, you take a look around the back. Are there bicycles parked there? Odds are good that these belong to people who are recently out of prison, perhaps on a work release program. Since they can't hold a driver's license, they'll bike to work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


One of our family traditions:
(which contains the answer to yesterday's question)

May you all find something to be thankful for, no matter where you are.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lizards, Turkey and Voice

Thanks to Jessica for sharing her experiences and reminding us that although things might be different, there's an underlying sameness to the basics of our lives.

A while back, fellow author Patricia Stoltey mentioned seeing some cow street art in Colorado. I was reminded of a LizArt project here in Orlando some years ago, in which artists created sculptures using basic lizard "templates."

As I Googled my way to digging up what I could find on the LizArt project (not knowing its name slowed me down a bit), I couldn't help but think about how this relates to writing. After all, for a writer, everything relates to writing.

There are writers who refuse to divulge anything about a project until it's published. I've read and heard comments from writers who won't enter contests because they're convinced the judges will steal their ideas.

I remember the first "brilliant" scene I created for my first manuscript. This was years ago, and cell phones weren't commonplace. How clever, I thought, as I wrote the following:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Cultural Divide. Or is it?

Thanksgiving is a time to be with family. Although my daughter can't be here in the flesh, she is my guest today. Please give a warm welcome to Jessica Odell; ju-jistu black belt, first reader, brainstorming partner, fight scene choreographer, and supplier of excellent Irish libations.

I found myself moving to Northern Ireland in the summer of 2006, thanks to hubby’s job in the UK military. How we met is another long story, so I’ll just skip over that part. Aside from Mom: The short version? In a bar in Albuquerque, of course.

I live about 10 miles south of Belfast, and before anyone starts to panic, it’s not as bad as it used to be. I was all prepared for severe security warnings, but most of it is common sense nowadays. I live in a regular semi-detached house, in essentially a regular UK-style neighborhood. There’s shopping accessible in the town, a movie theater, a small mall, restaurants, and decent-sized supermarkets within 3 miles. So, what’s the big difference?

Everything and nothing, that’s what. The biggest hurdle (after learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road) was getting used to the language! Now, people here speak English but it’s not like any English I’ve ever heard. The slang terms have completely inundated the language. You might get greeted by, “how’s the craic (crack)?” or “what about yas”? And everything good is “dead on”. Not only do I have to wrap my head around the standard British vocabulary (where the sidewalk is the pavement, and you ask for the toilet instead of the bathroom), I had to interpret all of the local dialects as well! I still can’t understand some of my friends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Does Size Matter?

I'm a warehouse shopper. A bargain hunter. Warehouse club over boutique store. Large economy size. I read the shelf tags that break cost down to amount per ounce. So when I'm shopping for a book, I'll tend to steer away from the shorter ones. I'm not looking for a 'read in one sitting' book for my money. My typical leisure reading rate is about 100 pages a day. I normally look for a book at least 300 pages long. I feel 'cheated' with shorter ones, like I'm paying too much per page, or too much per hour of pleasure reading. (Although I confess, I get most of my books from the library these days.)

Having been dealing with "appropriate" word count, I've been thinking about book length in general. I saw a post on another blog about someone having to wrap up her book within 75,000 words, and after I dealt with the terror that tidbit invoked, I started thinking about it. Short stories aside, I've never been able to bring a first draft in under 100,000 words. At the 75K mark, I'm just starting to roll.

Given the reality, what does the author have to consider? Publishers have word count guidelines. While they're not etched in stone, if you're submitting a 100,000 word manuscript to a publisher looking for a maximum 75,000 word limit, you're wasting everyone's time. If it's your agent submitting, some intervention might be possible. If you've already sold books to that publisher, you might get a pass, because you have a track record. But knowing your target market is a critical part of being a professional, and if that means conforming to guidelines you're not crazy about, so be it. The choice is yours.

Keep Reading...

Why is word count so important? Bottom line: money. And I'm talking print books now. And well-written, well edited books. I'm not talking about books that feel padded or sparse, just to meet a specific word count.

Paper costs money. If you're unknown, how much money is the publisher willing to risk?

Then there's the simple size factor. Mass market paperbacks that sell in grocery stores and other 'non-bookstore' outlets have to fit on specific shelves, frequently in compartments. Those tower displays in the bookstores also hold a specific number of books per slot. It becomes a matter of physical thickness. If the compartment holds 5 inches of books, better to have 5 one-inch books than waste space.

I picked up a mass market paperback recently. It was 388 pages, which isn't out of line. But the font was reduced well beyond that of any other book I've read recently, requiring I dig out my readers. Also, the margins were smaller, and that meant the print was perilously close to the inside gutter, requiring a definite physical effort to hold the book open enough to read.

Then there's the hard cover I'm reading now, which Is 820 pages and weighs in at nearly 3 pounds. When I'm not reading it, I can use it for an upper body workout. But the font is manageable and I don't have to use my readers if I don't want to.

Although both books are historicals, which normally has a longer accepted wordcount, both the above authors have proven to their publishers that they are worthy of more words, although the publisher for book #1 had to push the envelope in order to conform to finished size. Book #2 didn't have the same constraints, although I'll be curious to see how the product looks when it comes out in paperback. And I will admit that given the rigorous editing mode I'm in at the moment, I find a lot of scenes in this book that, although interesting enough, seem to be more of the "I researched all this cool stuff and I'm going to work it into the book" rather than "this is a critical scene to advance the plot." However, since I'm barely halfway through, it's too early to know whether these tidbits will show up again. And the author's audience has proven that it enjoys these digressions.

In reality, I'd have preferred both the above books in digital versions, where size really doesn't matter. My eBookwise is always the same size, and weighs the same no matter how many books I load into it.