Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Creative Ideas for Character Development

I’m thrilled to be a monthly blogger here at DowntownYA, and I want to thank all of you for the warm welcome and the thoughtful comments you left on my first blog here. I’m excited to announce that the winners of the signed copies of EVERLASTING by Alyson Noël are… Ashley Cobuzzi and Jamie!!!

The characters in EVERLASTING are some of my favorites, so I hope you enjoy reading this final installment of Ever and Damen’s journey. And, speaking of characters, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few FUN ideas to help develop the characters in your own novel.

1. Live a day in the life of your character

Spend some time imagining what your character’s day-to-day life is like. Eat at her favorite restaurant. Blast her favorite tunes in your car. Shop at her favorite stores. Imagine how she would redecorate her room. If you can’t do everything your character does, cut out pictures from magazines or bookmark photos online that remind you of your character.

Here’s a collage I created for the protagonist in my YA mystery—Emma England, a seventeen-year-old aspiring fashion editor. This is a sample outfit for the opening scene, a Gossip Girl-style party (complete with designer dresses, cute boys and more!) at her private high school in Orange County, CA.

2. Interview your character

Character interviews are a great way to get in touch with the psychology and inner workings of your characters. Alyson Noël was kind enough to share this sample interview with Riley Bloom (Ever’s ghostly little sister in The Immortals Series). I instantly adored Riley’s character from the moment I picked up EVERMORE. She’s spunky, sassy and can instantaneously change her wardrobe and makeup anytime she wants just by imaging how she wants to look (every girl’s dream come true!). I can’t wait to read WHISPER, the fourth book in Riley’s series, which will hit stores April 24!

1. If you were granted three wishes, what would you ask for?
It’s funny you should ask about wishes, when I was in ancient Rome (WHISPER 04.24.12) I got everything I’d ever hoped for—only it didn’t turn out quite like I’d thought. So now I save my wishes for the kinds of things that always feel just out of reach: the end of human suffering, a healthy, thriving planet, and for people on earth to someday realize just how connected they are to each other, so they can replace war with kindness.

2. What three things would you take with you to a deserted island?

Trust me, there’s no such thing as a deserted island. What most people don’t realize is that ghosts can be found just about anywhere! Which is why I would be sure to take Buttercup, Bodhi, and my new friend, Dacian—together, we can cross over even the most malevolent spirit!

3. Is there anything you've always wanted to do but haven't done?

Being dead at 12 robbed me of a lot of experiences . . . or at least that’s what I thought before I realized there was a whole other magickal life awaiting me in the Here & Now. After learning to fly, and being lucky enough to travel the world on super-exciting soul catching assignments, my main goals now are to rid the world of ghosts, and glow brighter and brighter—I’m pretty ambitious!

4. If you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be?

Pistachio. Partly because of its awesome, sweet nutty flavor—and partly because it matches the color I currently glow!

Who are your favorite fictional characters? What tips and techniques do you use to create your characters?

Comment below for you chance to win a signed copy of a Riley Bloom book by Alyson Noël.

Chat soon!



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Are You Living Your Dreams?

Photo Credit: antibarbie
Three deaths in the past month have left our family reeling. Two were expected; both family members had cancer, and in some ways it was a blessing. But that doesn't mean there isn't an empty hole in our lives.

The third was totally unexpected. A friend died of a sudden heart attack, and her death was the one that affected me the most. She was close to my age.

I keep wondering if she had any dreams she kept putting off, and if she'd known her time was limited, would she have done more to pursue them? I wish I could ask her now: What are you sorry you didn't do? If you had one more day on earth, how would you fill it? Is there any advice you'd give those of us who are left behind?

When something like that happens, it makes you examine your own life more closely. Is what I'm doing right now the most important use of my time? If not, what should I be doing? And most of all, if I were to die suddenly, what would I be sorry I never did?

So much of life is spent on "have-to's," obligations, and to-do lists, that we rarely have time for our dreams. Have you ever found an old list and laughed at what you once thought were life-and-death deadlines? I have. And I've even found lists that I'm not sure were written this week or years ago. Some of the same things keep turning up on my lists again and again.

For more than a year, I've had a historical novel waiting patiently for me to pick it up again. It needs some revision and some research. (If anyone knows an expert in Ming China history who'd be willing to critique it, please let me know.) But neither of those tasks is daunting. I'm a former librarian; I adore research. And finding the time to write isn't the problem. I've managed to complete several other novels and finish multiple nonfiction books for publishing contracts. Getting it published also isn't a concern. My CPs say it's my best work so far,  it's won two contests, two agents have requested it from a partial, and a National Book Award-winning author is convinced it will set off bidding wars at publishing houses. So what's holding me back?

Fear. What if it really is good? So good that it does well, and I get a lucrative publishing contract? And then I can't produce another one like it? Or worse yet, what if I get my hopes up because of all the positive feedback and then the book crashes and burns? What if no one wants to publish it? What if everyone's just saying that to be nice? What if...? What if?

Those two words can be the scariest words in the English language. They've stopped many people from reaching their dreams. But they can also be the two most empowering words. What if things turned out well? What if it soared beyond my wildest dreams? What if it made my career as a novelist? And those two words--what if?--are the start of every new novel.
Photo Credit: Dimitri Castrique

So those three deaths started me wondering. What if I died tomorrow--would I regret not finishing that novel? Maybe not. As long as I keep my manuscript in a drawer (or on my computer), I don't have to face either the fear of failure or the fear of success. I can keep the dream of future possibilities awake in my heart without worrying if this novel will live up to my or other people's expectations. Maybe that novel serves a purpose as my daydream, my hope for future bliss, and it keeps me writing other things. If I don't finish it, I can always hold a secret close to my heart: I have a fabulous novel that could have made me famous if I'd ever finished it. And I never have to find out if that's true.

Maybe that's why so many of us start novels and never finish them. I read a statistic that said 85% of people in America say they want to write a book, yet only 1% ever finish. I wonder how many, like me, don't do it because they're holding onto that dream of future fame and riches, but deep down they don't believe they'll ever attain it, so they never put pen to paper.

Do you have any dreams that inspire you, but you never try to fulfill?

Angel in the Mist
Photo Credit: Zsolt Zatrok

With so many deaths on my mind, I suppose it's only fitting that I received word that my short story, "Angel in the Mist,"  a tale of star-crossed lovers who meet on the other side, was accepted for an anthology.

Annie, heading to America to help support her starving family during the Irish potato famine, sacrifices her place on a lifeboat to save two younger children. Shades of Titanic, yes, but this happened before that fateful voyage, when most steamers carried only a few lifeboats. But through her death, Annie finds a new way to fulfill her mission and saves not only her family but also her whole village.

This charity anthology, edited by Ann Stewart, and published by Sunbury Press, will benefit the Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill, PA.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Happy Days! Parties and Prizes!

Forgive me for making this post about me! But, happy days!

How lucky am I that my scheduled day for Downtown YA is also the Australian release day for my YA, Dead, Actually!

Sadly,it's not yet available in North America, but that's no reason not to par-tay with my lovely friends here - so to help me celebrate I'm offering a copy of the book! And wait there's more. I'm also throwing in a pair of the gorgeous heart-shaped sunnies featured on the cover. They may not be red, but they'll be cool anyway! (I'm partial to the white ones - very Marilyn...)

All you have to do to go into the draw is pop in and say hi on this post, or join the chat about one of my fave topics - ghosts! Or at least spooky stories.

In Dead, Actually - the heroine Willow, is haunted by a ghost. A very bitchy, teenage ghost A-lister ghost who's not going anywhere until Willow finds out who killed her.

Wanna see the trailer? Check out:

I adore ghost stories - and hearing about sightings and all those spooky things. So, have you ever seen a ghost? What's the best ghost story you ever heard? Whether you believed in them or not - they're still great stories, right?

One of my fave stories features an older close relative. Man! She was spooky! But in a good way. For many years she always knew when someone in the family had died before we'd actually been advised. It always rocked her but we could always tell when it had happened. She'd see a black carriage emerge from a kind of mist - usually in her dreams, but not always. Always the driver, a ghostly being in black would stare at her until she asked the question: Who have you come for? And the driver would name someone.

It always freaked me out when she'd tell us it had happened again - and then we'd wait and sure enough someone would arrive to tell us of the passing. It was uncanny.

And I can tell you if it hadn't been a long time back, and if distances and poor transport weren't in play - I'd be thinkin' she did them in herself! LOL!

So what about you? Real or fictional? Any good stories. if you don't have one - just pop in and say hi! You'll still go in the hat for the prize!

Thank you for helping me party! Hugs to all!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Writing the Dark Stuff - A Little "How-To"

Those who know me know that I love writing dark, emotional stories. My debut series, the Requiem Series, is a dark romance with Gothic elements. My next project (which I get to talk about SOON....) is a psychological thriller. And the next several stories I have planned out all fall into this same dark, thrilleresque genre.

So, I thought I'd share a little about how to craft thrillers and Gothic stories.

While DIES IRAE is not strictly a Gothic story, it does have several elements of this subgenre. Typically a Gothic novel has the following features:
  • ·         Setting: Typically a Gothic tale takes place in an old castle of house, full of gloomy shadows, long dark hallways, trap doors, etc. In more modern takes, a Gothic tale may take place in a rundown part of a city.
  • ·         Mood/Tone: An atmosphere of suspense and mystery overrides every aspect of a Gothic tale. Typically, the setting itself is used to portray and enhance the tone.
  • ·         Story: Gothic novels usually include an ancient prophesy of some type, omens and nightmares, women in distress of one form or another, and mystery.
  • ·         Characteristics: A Gothic tale has supernatural occurrences in the story and usually pulls on mythology and Jungian archetypes.
  • ·         Language: The rhythm of the writing is somewhat fluid and lyrical. The emotional content is intense and overwrought throughout the majority of the story.
  • ·         Romance: Yes, there is often a romance, usually involving a woman trying to get away from a tyrannical male, and the hero meant to save her.

The Requiem Series fits nicely within these guidelines, tapping into almost all of them.

Similar to the Gothic story elements listed above, thrillers are dark, spine-tingling stories. A few of the common characteristics include:
  • ·         Setting: Since I write psychological thrillers, I fill focus on the mind, using it as the setting for the story in many ways. I may even make it a character of sorts.
  • ·         Mood/Tone: Varies, but it is typically dark. Foreboding. And can be done through a series of literary devices designed to elicit the emotional response of fear.
  • ·         Story: A thriller typically focuses on WHO committed the terrible act, or HOW it was committed. The pacing is typically fast and furious, all designed to keep the reader at the edge of their seat.
  • ·         Characteristics: These are not your overarching moral-tale kind of stories. Thrillers are all about one thing—eliciting a feeling of fear from the reader.
  • ·         Language: Simple and quick, designed to mirror the pacing. It may be fluid and lyrical, but the variance of sentences will still maintain the pacing.
  • ·         Romance: I use romance, albeit a dysfunctional romance, in my thrillers as a motivating factor for the crimes being committed. I find love the best emotion to elicit a response, you know?!?

As you can see, there is a lot in common between these sub-genres, and indeed, I fluctuate between them often, pulling elements of each into every story I write. Not sure what this says about me; I guess I just have a flare for the macabre. Hopefully my readers will like the stories as well.

For more information about my series, you can click here. And the next time that I see you guys, I will be announcing a special giveaway. I can't tell you what it is yet, only that involves the release of my novel, LACRIMOSA - a story of angels and demons, sacrifice and vengeance, good and evil. And yea, it is a Gothic Romance.


Saturday, February 25, 2012


There are a plethora of articles on the lack of privacy on the web. Everything from the social networking woes to the technical grabbing of information from every time we log in. Probably you've read many of these articles. You already know not to give out the sacred information (social security number, credit card info) but what about the fact that in the large scheme of thing we end up probably putting in enough information about ourselves to let someone recreate us if they had access it all? Yeah, I wonder about that when I can't sleep.

What if someone took photos off FaceBook, added information from my university loan account, hacked into my HMO's health program, checked out the vet's web page on my dogs and cats, managed to see what I ordered from Amazon (eek!)....add that to my tweets, and emails. They could emulate almost anyone with that sort of information. Yet there it is. Corporations, governments and individuals are too dependent on this form of work, research, and communication to back out now.

I'm not going to repeat the warnings of be careful what you post on social media. The old adage, if you don't want to see it on a billboard on your local freeway pretty much applies times a gazillion with the internet. What I want to alert you to here is the fact that you are connected and revealed by your ISP. The recent activities with SOPA might have alerted you to the scary attempts to allow the Government (and by extension anyone who wanted to motivate the Government) to by simple subpoena be able to get a judge to allow them access to all the personal information attached to an ISP. Ex Parte. This means without any notice to you. Your Service Provider would have to give them that information and was under a very vague obligation to let you know, with lagging time limits. You'd find out, eventually. Not that you could do much by then, and the damage would be done.

There are other ways to get ISP information or your email, some legal, some not. This is why you are warned not to put in your name, address, even do 'vanity' searches, on your own computer. You've also probably heard of how all the providers, but Google, gave up the search information for thousands of ISP's while identifying the account owners a few years ago? This isn't news, but it needs to be emphasized, your internet searches are not private.

The money being made by monitoring every single thing we do on the internet is too high to be ignored, and a good portion of web sites have cookies, beacons, and other methods of tagging your isp, knowing when it hits one of its fellow bugs at another web site, gathering that information all for marketing and business. Right now most of it is done by ISP. Right now.

On March 1, Google is changing its privacy policy on its search history. Until March 1st, you can go in and delete your past history on Google for all searches. I would suggest that you do this today, before you forget. Go to all your Google accounts to : . Delete your history there. You won't change the fact that Google has that history internally or that law enforcement agencies could get to it but there are higher standards required by the Courts).

There are some ways to keep yourself off the radar so to speak, but they require a lot of diligence, wiping cookies out, using various operating systems. I use both Linux and Windows. At some point, I think we have to acknowledge that if it is on the internet, by its very nature, there is a weakened expectation of privacy. How much is what is being battled out in the Courts. There are some excellent authors and bloggers on this subject. There was a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a 4th Amendment issue involving privacy, GPS and a drug dealer which was kind of interesting on the issue of how much can the government get into the home...but if and how that will intertwine with invading into our privacy on the internet, we'll just have to see.

Enjoy the leap day next week, now go clear out your Google search history!

Friday, February 24, 2012

SCRIVENER, My Favorite Novel Drafting Tool.

Ever try to write a novel with MS Word? I had multiple versions open at the same time, another document that served as a parking lot.  MS Word liked to mess with my head and auto-correct words I’d created as part of a fantasy landscape.  And I’d have to insist it add the words to the library so it wouldn’t second guess me. So years ago I raised a white flag of defeat (and exhaustion) and discovered a software program called Z-Write. Z-write allowed me to keep all my individual chapters indexed on the side, along with research notes, thoughts about characters, etc.  It was a godsend.

Until it wasn’t. When the programmers stopped developing new versions, I thought life had come to an end.  No more versions coming down from on high to satisfying the needs of my computer’s latest operating system.  So I moved on to MacJournal.  And once again rays of light shown from the heavens and I was now able to keep all my projects for specific publishing clients in one place as well as paste in photos, charts and a host of other tools.  Meant as a blogging tool, I found it handy for just staying organized.

One day I stumbled on Scrivener by accident. A link on Twitter was offering a discount for users and I thought, what do I have to lose? I ordered the full version since it was - at the time about $20. It was love at first sight.  Truly.  I don't think I've ever loved anything more (except my husband and maybe my children).

Scrivener incorporated all the tools I had found in Z-Write and MacJournal only with more functionality and a nice new bag of tricks.  I could import all my novel drafts and break the chapters into separate files.  I could create a section for research notes, keep a split window going, and bounce from chapter to chapter in random order with the program remembering my cursor location in each chapter.  I could open a file drawer and keep general notes for the entire document (a secondary character’s eye color or spelling of their last name, for instance), or just notes for that specific chapter. 
You can't see it from the screen shot but I do have a folder for research that contains character notes, photos that remind me of the places and people, etc.  Even their playlist.

When I was attending a writing retreat lead by Patti Gauch who at the time was VP at Penguin and mentored a lot of award winning authors. She blithely suggested I keep all my complex ideas on 3x5 cards. That way I could move them around, sort them, etc. So I showed her that Scrivener did that for me automatically, and I could just drag the cards around to play with themes and plot sequencing and it would move the chapters accordingly.  She ran to another room to show it to other writers (the only time I've scored one on the world's most magnificent editor).

Note: some chapter cards are blank because I didn't write the synopsis on them.  If you are so inclined, Scrivener also auto generates an outline, (top menu right of the card button), but I don't use that feature. And if all the "noise" gets in the way of your writing, switch to full screen version and it allows to read or work on your manuscript with everything else darkened out (the menus, your desktop, etc).

Even better I was able to take a “snapshot” of each chapter before revising so I never lost an older version.  No more parking lots, unless I wanted to create one. Now happy and content with my world, I  created a new Scrivener document just to keep track of writing ideas I didn’t have time to develop.

Fast forward to 2011. Scrivener evolved to meet the e-book revolution and I upgraded while working on FLOW  Not only could the program import my draft from Word, but it could export the same document out as a .mobi or epub for e-readers.  Instead of lugging my laptop on a plane or to the doctor’s office, I could read my manuscripts on a iPad, annotate it on the fly, then add the edits to the Scrivener file when I was back in my office.

When it came time to test the e-book market, I exported an epub which was immediately readable by Barnes and Noble’s Pubit program.  One week later the book was live.  Apple took a little bit longer - they have their own software that checks the accuracy of the file.  It was a day before I realized that Scrivener had included a “check box” on the compile page for the book cover that you uncheck if you’re sending the book to iTunes or the iBookstore.  Once I found it, the upload to Apple took only a few seconds.  Likewise, Scrivener’s conversion to Kindle was equally easy. I made one adjustment in Calibre because Kindle's algorithm tended to break novels into smaller parts to conserve memory. I'm thinking that's probably changed by now but Calibre is free software and cleaning up my Scrivener expoort involved 30 seconds and a single check box.

To convert in Scrivener(called compile on the software) you select the format you want (you have choices of Kindle, epub, PDF, MS Word, etc.) and the program makes the appropriate changes.  It will number your chapters, create an index based on your specifications, and even ask if you want to convert the types of quotes you used (straight or smart). I was able to tell it not to indent the first paragraph, and to give the chapter headings a color (if I used them at all - which I can turn on and off at will). 

The compile menu (note drop down lets you select the "version") and generates options accordingly so that this:

became this on Goodreads (epub):

And this on Kindle: 

I created a folder for each chapter so that the text was in files inside of the folder. Each text file in a folder is a separate "scene." If you do that, Scrivener will put a space or hashtag or whatever you tell it between them when you compile/export it:

This chapter with two scenes

looks like this when exported

You can also ask the software to use the "folder" title as a chapter title (optional) and you can tell it if you want those to be a color (It defaults to black on Kindles but I chose blue which shows up nicely on iBooks):

You can also store multiple drafts of jpg covers in your file and tell Scrivener which one you want to export as your final version.

And although I do keep a copy of MS Word around because it's the industry standard for commercial work and for tracking changes, I don't use it as much. I will confess that when I import those files into Scrivener it keeps the tracked changes and comments intact. I just haven't figure out how to annotate the file and re-export it for an editor. But I’m learning and if I figure that out, I'll report it here.  Still - you CAN export clean Word copies to send to an editor.

So here’s to user-friendly, author friendly software that - with a modest learning curve has more functionality than I think I’ll ever need.  Life as a writer is hard enough without needing to keep track of all the moving parts (read random slips of paper on my desk.)  Happy writing!

H.C. Lawrence

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Developing Ideas

In my last post, I wrote about coming up with book concepts or pitches. In this post, I’m going to talk about how to develop those budding ideas. I am a pantser so I can’t do detailed outlines or scene cards like many of the writing craft books suggest. I wish I could. That way, I couldn’t get into so much trouble with writing myself in a corner and getting stuck. But for me, the creative process doesn’t work in this linear way.
Even for the textbooks I write, I don’t proceed in a linear manner. I write the sections that I am inspired to write first, cutting and pasting little sections from my other works that I then build up. One of my co-authors is the exact opposite from me. He starts on chapter one and writes that all the way through; then on to chapter two and so on. He also focuses on one project at a time, whereas I write until I’m stuck or bored with one project and then jump to another, and another, and another. I also switch back and forth between writing my fiction and non-fiction.
For my fiction, I’ve recently used a few different methods to build up my ideas into actual plots. The first tool is to write a synopsis. Although this is usually used as an end result when you are submitting manuscripts to editors or literary agents, it can also be used as a way to formulate a plan. The first time I heard using a synopsis as a plotting tool or a map was Judy Morris, the author of Writing for Children, in a workshop at the Bethesda Writers Center. The synopsis works for me well because it a way to approach the work in progress more globally with some general ideas of where the story is going to see if it all fits together. When I developed my cozy mystery proposals that I mentioned in a previous post, I used the synopsis method since I knew I was going to have to write them anyway to show the literary agent. So I used the synopsis to both develop the plot for the nine storylines and for the submission process.
There are some great tools on the internet about synopsis writing. Charlotte Dillon, a romance writer, has collected numerous Internet links and resources. Many of these examples are geared toward romance writers, but you can still learn a lot from perusing this site, even if that’s not your genre. Another wonderful resource is In addition to her solid advice, if you scroll to the end, you will find a list of other blog posts that detail synopsis writing.
More recently, I decided to develop one of the ideas I mentioned in my last post, the dark YA Blood Cut. I used a couple of other tools this time. One was plot layering described by C.S. Lakin on The other was reverse outlining presented by K.M. Weiland on First, I brainstormed all the plot layers I could and came up with six. Then I used the reverse outlining idea and thought about where each layer should end, combining both tools. Of course, I still have to connect the dots to make all the plot layers work, but at least it gives me enough to go on. And since I have a habit of writing short, so this should guarantee that I have enough of a story. I put the beginning of it up on Wattpad. When I get enough reads, it’ll motivate me to write on it some more. Here is my entry

Have you put up your work on Wattpad before?

What is your favorite plotting technique?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

True Confessions: Gas Station Conversations

In my continuing series of posts about my eavesdropping exploits, I want to highlight one of the best places to hear great male conversations. Don’t know if you’ve noticed but guys love to hang out and talk at the gas station. Most women hit and run but guys definitely tend to buy drinks, snacks and linger. As I always sleuth for convincing male dialog the gas station is my go to place to snag some great lines. Like this conversation. After a slow start, I sensed there’d be a big pay off so I made sure to fill up my car and wash my windows!

“Hey man, nice wheels.”

“Thanks. Spent a whole year fix’n her up. Almost done.”

“I can tell. Can I check out the inside?”

“Sure. Had the seats done in TJ but think they came out pretty good.”

“Great looking leather.”

“Yeah, I paid extra for them not to use road kill.”

“Worth every penny.”

“Still have some engine work to do but rides great.”

 “I’ll bet on those rims.”

“Spent two pay checks on em.”

“Totally worth it. Makes your car look like a million.”

“You say‘n my car’s a piece of crap?”

“No, Dude.  You did a great job. Wish I had something as cool.”

“Stop messing with me. You’re driv’n a Porsche Turbo. Must have cost at least 100 grand.”   

“Yeah, but your car’s vintage. Classic muscle car. Chicks dig that.”

“Better than a Porsche? No way.”

“You’d be surprised. I don’t get lucky as much as you think.”

“Doesn’t look like you’re doing too bad by the looks of your girl. She’s hot.”

“Thanks, but that’s my Mom.”

So the next time you are looking for some genuine male dialog head to the gas station. You might run across a winner like this one.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Do You Read a Book Because of the Cover?

I am kind of fixated on covers this week, because my cover is up for an award on two websites. The first one, opened February 11th and I didn't even realize it. The voting is going on now:

You go to the website and scroll down past my cover to the comments section. Your comment is a vote. Don't worry, you can vote for other covers too!

The second one where my cover is up for an award is and that one starts today. For this one I think you vote on the the number you want.  Mine is #5.

All of this attention on covers makes me think about why people will want to read a book. Certainly, I am drawn to read a book from the cover, but I have read books with very plain covers and have wanted to read them for another reason. The thing is, books that are ebooks might need an extra boost, because the reader is unable to browse through the book as you would a print book. Sometimes, I like to read more than the first page. I will skim through a book to see what kinds of situations are going to happen. Then there are times when I don't even look past the first page. This is good for ebooks, because they usually include a first chapter for the reader to see before you buy the book.

I don't know how many of you were here when I agonized over my cover. When the cover artist, the talented and special Kaytalin Platt, sent me my first cover the present cover was the image I saw. At the moment I saw it I felt something. It was like a lifting of my heart, but in my mind this was not the cover I had wanted. I felt my story was a little lighter and this cover to me was too dark. I dickered about using it and drove my CA and my publisher to the wall about this. I am a very picky person and since this was my very first published novel I wanted it to be the way I had it in my mind. Then suddenly, after much discussion and seeing the opinions of the head CA and my publisher I decided to go with this cover. Then, of course, as soon as I decided on it, I fell in love!! Now I'm so in love with my cover I can't even remember when I disliked it.

The real test of a cover is how well readers like it. So when I displayed this cover for the first time the response was so positive and so many people commented that I realized this was the right one. In many cases, this cover has caused people to buy my book. Also, when I showed this cover to a bestselling author she wanted to read it. 

A cover can influence the sales of your book as I found out with my experience. Now, I love the cover so much that I have entered it in two different contests. So far I am ahead in one and I hope you will get a chance to vote for it. I now use my cover as my icon, because i love it that much!!

How do you feel about book covers? Does the cover of a book make you want to read it? How many books have you read because of the cover? Until the 7th of March enjoy the rest of February, which though a very short month seems to be the longest to get through!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Year in Publishing

Greetings All!
I recently read a blog written by Arthur Slade (YA writer) about his year’s experience of putting his books up as Ebooks. He did well, overall. Here is the link to his blog if you want to read more:
My one year anniversary of publishing is coming up on March 15th. That’s the day I put up my YA faerie book, AINE on Amazon.  I don’t have cool graphics to display like Arthur Slade does and I don’t have the sales he does but I didn’t do too bad overall. The best seller by far is AINE with FITZROY: THE BOY WHO WOULD BE KING coming in second. FAERIE FOLK is third, WITCH HUNTER is fourth, THE FAERIE CHRONICLES is fifth, INTERLUDE is sixth, PLEASE TO SEE THE KING is seventh and NINA is eighth. My two published books by small publishers, THE CRAZY NURSE and IF IT’S MONDAY, IT MUST BE MURDER were not included.  I also didn’t include my free children’s book on Nook and Smashwords, CALLIOPE CAT either although I do have an excess of over 200 downloads of it Am I happy? YES! So, thank you, readers. May you continue to enjoy my books as much as I enjoy sharing them with you!

My current book news is that I am revising and resubmitting an 85K fantasy novel (not YA) to a publisher who is interested in it. I don’t know if they’ll take it even after the edits are done but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

I am still awaiting the cover for LORE OF FEI. I now have a cover designer and we have agreed on a picture. I can’t wait to share it with you!

I finished writing a 2K word short story about zombies for an anthology and submitted it for possible publication. It’s about a secret government agency who’s been preparing for the zombie apocalypse for years. It’s more of a serious story. My zombie novel is on the back burner for now.

I will be querying my contemporary YA novel this coming week to agents. I hope someone is interested!

I finished formatting my NaNoWriMo vampire novel and am getting it ready to put up on Kindle. I do have two agents I queried about it so I have to wait to see if they are interested in it before I put it up. If they pass, I’ll put it up. I have the cover ready to go. I am thinking of putting it on Kindle Select just to see what happens with it. I know some people have had success with the Kindle Select program and some haven’t so I will be curious to see how the vampire novel does. If I’m not able to put it up (because an agent likes it---OMG) then I’ll put up something else. Possibly my zombie novel I am currently writing.

I am eagerly awaiting the second round cuts in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award which is coming up on Feb. 24th. I am also awaiting the second round of Crystal Kite awards, my historical fiction YA, FITZROY: THE BOY WHO WOULD BE KING is nominated.

And that’s my writing news for February! Don’t forget to keep following me on Twitter, Facebook and on my website at  for all my latest news. I update at least one of them once a day.
Take Care,
Until Next Time,

Friday, February 17, 2012

Will You Stand By Your Words?

How many of you have written or started writing a story knowing full well you would be expecting criticism and flak from others? Did you stick to your guns? I have. The novels I have written thus far began on one road before taking a slight detour along the road of improvement, enhancing the story despite disapproval and condemnation.

From friends? Family? Fellow authors? Yep.

In fact, my fellow author’s critiquing did nothing but help me. For some of my friends, they fussed when story elements had to be changed from its original conception. They worried more about themselves than the idea that a story coming to fruition that they had a part in.

Did I deviate? Nope. Did I feel bad? Nope.

What about those coming against the content of the story? Did I veer from my intended goals? Not at all. I knew there was a reason to write. I knew there was a reason I was blessed to write; to share an entertaining story to others with a message, especially YA. I was not going to conform to what others said just to appease them, and neither should you. If there is a reason deep in your heart to scribe, or paint, or sculpt, or speak. Our First Amendment rights give us the unique ability to write and speak on almost any subject in a variety of different methods. Some authors are calm as can be, writing children’s books and such, while others push the limit of what is allowed in print. The neat thing as an author, we can take topics considered taboo in certain societies and weave the concepts into a special world where ‘said’ topic becomes tolerable, readable, and at times educational.

I guess the bottom line of this short blurb today is to not let anyone deter you from what is on your heart. Write what is given to you, the passion delving in your mind, the urgency to scribe into words feelings haunting you since day one. Like Nike says, just do it.

Take care,


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Do You Know Jeanette Marie?

So many people enjoyed Jeanette Marie's blog, when she visited Sandra's Blog, I'm re-posting it here at Downtown. I think you'll enjoy it too.
I'm also pleased to mention that Jeanette will be a regular at DowntownYA. She'll be posting on the 29th of each month.
Here's Jeanette's post:
I’m currently an assistant for New York Times best-selling author Alyson Noёl, which means I get to help one of the nicest and coolest authors on the planet with administrative tasks and PR outreach, which can include everything from selecting SWAG items to scheduling interviews with reporters.
Over the past few years working with Alyson, I’ve learned a lot about the publishing industry. Perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned from Alyson is perseverance. Her personal road to publication is truly amazing (she worked on her first book for more than 15 years before it got published).
Life without Harry Potter would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?

If every writer who received a rejection gave up, the shelves at your local bookstore would look a little plain and empty right now. That’s what’s so great about this business—it’s a marketplace of ideas. And there’s always room on the shelf for another great idea.

I’m an aspiring author myself and, as I’m sure most writers can attest, the publication process can feel a lot like playing the lottery--

Step 1 - Write awesome book.
Step 2 - Query awesome agents.
Step 3 - Cross your fingers and hope you have the winning ticket.

Your email is then crashed by a flurry of requests for your book and you skyrocket to #1 on the NYT bestseller list.

Okay, so it only happens like that in the Hollywood movie version.

There’s no doubt that the publishing industry is challenging, and building a career as a successful author takes a lot more than winning a golden ticket. When I was a teenager, my dad always told me no one was going to knock on my door and offer me a job. If you want a job, go out and get it. If it doesn’t exist, create it.

So if “author” is the career you want, go for it. And don’t let anybody stop you.

Read. Write. Revise. Repeat.

Don’t stop revising that book and sending out query letters until someone says yes to you.

If aspiring authors gave up and took “no” for an answer we wouldn’t have…

Life without Harry Potter would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?

If every writer who received a rejection gave up, the shelves at your local bookstore would look a little plain and empty right now. That’s what’s so great about this business—it’s a marketplace of ideas. And there’s always room on the shelf for another great idea.

Alyson has donated a signed copy of Everlasting to one random commenter, so be sure and add your email addie.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Keeping Love Alive

So what do you do to keep romance alive? Make special dates, take getaways, tell others of your love, do special things to nurture the relationship? Do you pick out gifts to surprise that special someone? Do you have fun together?

Ah, I thought so. Now think about those things for a minute in relation to your writing. You do love writing, don't you? So why not treat your writing to the same wonderful activities you use to keep your passion going strong?  

Make special dates. Don't just squeeze writing into the time left over after all your other obligations are met. Set aside precious time to spend with your loved one. Write it on the calendar, and don't let any other activities steal that time. You wouldn't break a date with that special someone. Give your writing the same respect.

Take getaways. Whether it's conferences, writers' retreats, or just weekends alone where you and your muse commune, it's important to have writing vacations. You'll come back energized and more in love than ever.

Tell others of your love. Share your passion. Let people know you're a writer. It doesn't matter whether or not you're published, if you're working on a story, an article, or a novel, you're a full-fledged writer. You wouldn't wait until you're married to tell people about the special person in your life. You wouldn't say it wasn't a "real" relationship until you had legal papers to prove it. So why hide your writing until it's "official"? Publishing credits don't make you a writer any more than a wedding ring makes you a lover. Those are outer symbols of inner truth. It may take years before your relationship turns into marriage, and it may take years before your writing gets published. Celebrate the love now. And be proud enough of your passion to tell the world.

Nurture the relationship. Do you light candles for atmosphere? Spend time gazing into each others' eyes? Try it with your muse. Spend time talking heart to heart with your characters (OK, so don't do this when other people are around, or they might have you committed), but find ways to have private trysts with your muse and/or your characters. You'll get a chance to get to know each other intimately, and these private times together will result in a much more productive relationship.

Give your love gifts. Do you pick up little surprises for that special someone? You know just what will delight your significant other. What would thrill your muse? Maybe it's a new computer or a particular writing conference. If those are out of your budget, what about a gorgeous new notebook, an unusual color pen, a research book from the library, or even a single flower on your writing desk? Surely you can find ways to surprise and delight your creative side. You'll find it will pay off because your muse will reciprocate. And what could be better than gifts from your muse?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Relieving wrist and arm pain: Exercises for writers + Bonus booklet–

As the title states - this blog is about pain relief for writers - the easiest way ever. But before I get into that, I want to make note of an great FREE 166 page booklet recently made available by NINC (Novelists Inc.) Forgive me if you already have it or know about it. Maybe I'm just the last one to know about this???

However,if you happen to be like me and just finding out - this book will prove to be a great gift. It's entitled 'Comprehensive Guide to the the New world of Publishing' and it's obviously a guide to e-publishing. But best of all it's written in language even I can understand. Now that's worth my love...

So now on to the main event...

I don’t know about you, but I, and many other authors I know, suffer terribly with hand problems. It seems to go with the industry. These days, as never before really, we have to produce enormous amounts of work in a relatively short time.
And it takes its toll. On our backs, our bodies in general, our arms, our necks, our eyes, hands and fingers.

For me one of the most stressful is the hands and fingers. Actually it’s almost the entire arm thing. I get horrific pain right down my forearms, through my wrists and into my hands.

I’ve tried many things to get some relief – and three things have been successful. One of those though, rates just a tad above the other because it’s instantaneous, effective and I don’t have to leave my office.

So, what are my Top Three Relievers for arm/wrist pain?

• Acupuncture
For me it was very effective. Takes some time though as the treatment itself takes more than an hour. I like that it lasts for several months. I’d certainly recommend it if you get to a stage where nothing else works.

I love chiropractic care and I love Lisa McKee, my chiropractor. Chiro has kept me walking for years when traditional medicine said I should have been in a wheelchair after a bad car accident years ago. I owe it and my practitioners a heap.

This is the one I want to focus on today. These actually came from my chiro Lisa and I’ve been extolling the virtues – hers and the exercises – for years.

What to do:
Part 1
1. Extend right arm straight out in front.
2. Hand must form an upward right angle. (I.e, as in ‘speak to the hand’. Got it?)
3. Place your left hand over the fingers of the right.
4. Push these fingers back towards your shoulder.
5. Hold for a count of ten.
6. Repeat 5 times.
7. Extend left arm straight out in front
8. Copy the exact directions above (3,4,5,6) this time using your right hand to glasp the left.
9. Repeat this exercise several times throughout the day - especially when in pain.

Part 2
1. Extend right arm straight out in front.
2. Lower fingers toward floor – so that your hand is at right angles again to your body
3. Using the left hand, glasp those right-hand fingers and push them back towards your body.
4. Hold for a count of ten.
5. Repeat 5 times.
6. Extend left arm straight out in front
7. Copy the exact directions above (2,3,4,5) this time using your right hand to glasp the left.
8. Repeat this exercise several times throughout the day - especially when in pain.

If you’re doing this correctly you’ll feel those contracted muscles extend – and it will hurt a bit. Maybe even a lot. You’ll feel the pull, the resistance. For me, part two hurts more. I can feel that pull along the top part of my forearm. Agony and then ecstasy...

I’m not going to tell you, however, that I know all the medical reasons this works – but I know it does extend certain muscles that are continually placed in a contracted position due to the nature of our work. I imagine it aids circulation as well.

What I DO know is that it works. Not just for me, but for literally dozens – maybe hundreds – of other authors I’ve shared this with.

Good luck, I hope it works! Let me know and if you have any other exercises that would aid writers – please let me know!

(And forgive me for this being a little late, today. We've been experiencing a slew of electrical storm down here in my part of Oz - and the power keeps getting blown out...)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Focusing on Charaters

Today I wanted to talk about characters. Specifically, how to make our characters jump off the page by using their character traits to SHOW not TELL the story.

I went to a fabulous writer's workshop a while ago, taught by Amy Koss. In this workshop, she talked about using character traits as a way of showing the story. For example, if you have a character in your story that is "lazy", don't describe him as lazy. Instead have him speak and move and act in a lackadaisical way.

I know, nothing new here. This is stuff we have heard. But honestly, it is NOT something I do as well as I would like to.

To help "teach" the point during the workshop, Amy had us make a list of our primary and secondary characters in a current WiP. We then had to come up with one or two words to describe the main attributes of the character. She suggested having this list written or printed where we could refer to it often as we revise our manuscripts.

Wow! What a powerful exercise. I have to say, this simple process has not only helped me maintain my characters voices in my current projects, but it has also really helped be zero in on my characters.

Here is a sample of the list I created during that workshop for one of my projects, TRANSCEND:
Ien - submission, insecure
Erik - confident, dominating
Katherine - controlling, scared
Kiera - untouchable, free
James - loyal
Sister Anne - passively controlling, illusive

This list literally lives on a 3x5 card I pulled out throughout the revision process. This is a strategy I now use at the beginning of my drafting, rewriting it as the character grows and develops in my mind. It is a godsend to me in the revision process, and one I hope will be helpful to you guys as well.

Try it out for yourself and let me know what you discover.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Geekalegal: DOJ investigates!

When I was a 'trash lawyer' (aka I worked for many wonderful years for a waste disposal company) we had more than a few anti-trust cases brought against us. Even after seeing some of the more famous quotes end up in the Sopranos tv show, it has always been interesting to watch how the government focuses on a particular industry's (alleged) efforts to monopolize a market. Now it is the publishing world's turn, and wow, it is going to be interesting!

Recently the United States Department of Justice confirmed it has joined a European Commission's investigation into E-book pricing, including looking into the practices of Apple, Inc. and their negotiations with publishers when they first came out with the iPad. The EU Commission has included Hachette Livre, owned by Lagardère SCA; News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers Inc.; Simon & Schuster of CBS Corp.; Pearson PLC's Penguin; and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck.

How did this happen? When Amazon first started selling e-books, it sold them at a consumer friendly price, taking the cut on the profit margin, to spur the growth and sales of e-books, much to the chagrin of the publishers and of course, ultimately diminishing sales of the hardbound or paperback trade. It began the end of the publishing industry as it had been for many decades, a tale that is seen repeatedly in the IP world when technology appears.

When Apple entered the market with its iPad it changed the marketing strategy again, to gain an edge on what was a competitive, 'wholesale model'. Apple negotiated with the publishers tosell the e-books as part of their iPad launch, and at the same price, or pretty close to it, in exchange for 30% of the profit, putting e-books back on the same price base as the hardbound/pbk. This gave the publishers leverage against Amazon who had to then agree to their terms. This is called agency-pricing. It also takes away the ability to compete and offer better prices to consumers.

It is a potential violation of the anti-competition laws of the United States, most states, some treaties and other countries. Note I said potential. I'm no antitrust expert, and this is why there is an investigation by the European Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and at least two states (Texas and Connecticut, to date). There is a class-action suit filed in California, and if I could get my Pacer account to work (wouldn't you know a geekalegal would have techno issues this morning!) I'd tell you more about it, so I'll just have to update on that one. One article noted that Steve Jobs, before his death, admitted to the agreements with the publishers, but how that will be viewed legally is a determination for the investigators and Courts.

So why write about something that is still 'in investigation' and all about the money? Because that is the core of any business, and certainly the core of the publishing business. It is one reason I went back to get an LLM in Intellectual Property & Internet Law, because of the changing legal issues as this giant industry moves into a new world.

Whenever there have been major changes to the laws, it has mostly come with changes in technology. We have all watched as the technology of e-books has filtered into the traditional publishing world. The business paradigm has changed, we will be watching the law change with it. These investigations make sure that the playing field is level for the consumers, the readers.

We've watched as authors, some professional organizations and others have fought to keep e-publishing rights in tact, viable or even reformed in a contract. It boils down to profit margins, ultimately it is always about the money. I for one, am hoping for the transformation of an industry that recognizes the changing times, and comes up with some creative business plans to make the publishing world both adaptable to the ever changing technology and profitable for the entire commerce stream. I have some ideas on how that could happen, and maybe will write about them sometime here. In the meantime, I'll be watching for news on these investigations and keeping you updated. We always hope that there is no fire behind the smoke, and Jobs' own alleged statements to the contrary, it would be nice to think that there was no collusion and violation of anti-competition laws by the publishers that would make it impossible for Amazon or others to compete in the e-publishing world.

What was up in the Soprano show? Oh some sort of statement like “We'll squash them like a bug”.... Now those were the days my friends! Happy writing.