Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Community of Writers

When I was a fledgling writer, I sat at a conference table with an author who was accepting a major award. She told me that her crit group had been together for ten years. They were all unpublished during first five years. Then one after the other, they each got book deals. Over the next several years, they all made the New York Times bestseller list, sometimes multiple times, and every one of them had won at least one a national book award.

I was in awe and said I hoped I could find a group like that. I believe God (or the Universe or a Higher Power) hears when you set an intention like that. A short while later, I ended up in two terrific critique groups. And the members have gone on to get published in many genres. One particular group has reached its fifth year, and we, too, have now all been published.

 When we got together 5+ years ago, The four of us were all unpublished writers working to improve our craft. Since then, between us, we've had more than 25 books published. And now we've done something we've always wanted to do: all of us had stories accepted for this anthology, A Community of Writers. And between us, we've managed to fill 1/3 of the anthology. Yep, 8 of the stories are from my CPs and me.

I love hearing others' success stories, so I hope this one will encourage you if you've been struggling to get published. If you're serious about writing, find some critique partners to share your work with. Beta readers--friends, classmates, relatives--are great for stroking your ego or pointing out dangling plot threads or areas of confusion. But if you really want to get published, you need other writers who are studying the craft, working on their own work, and are knowledgeable enough to help you move your work to the next level.

It's nice if you're all writing in the same genre, but that isn't necessary to be effective partners. You may find you need to explain some of the conventions of your genre to your CPs, but good writing techniques are the same whether you're writing picture books or erotica or anything in between. Our group has reviewed stories and novels from a variety of genres: nonfiction, mystery, romance, thriller, YA, picture book, short story, and paranormal to mention a few. And we all learned a lot in the process. I also belong to two critique groups specifically for my YA and children's writing. It's fun to discuss the unique needs and sensibilities of our readers. And I find that children's writers rarely lose their sense of fun and wonder.

Critique groups also have other advantages beyond editing manuscripts. They're because you're all partners in the publishing venture. You not only share advice and techniques, you also share submission tips. And you offer moral support when rejection letters roll in. And each person in the group has different contacts in the publishing world. We also share those. We've introduced each other to new publishers and arranged for crit buddies to speak at conferences or participate in booksignings. That kind of help is invaluable and slowly builds your contact lists. You never know when someone your CP introduces you to might end up as a resource for publishing/editing/speaking gigs.

So get out there and search for some like-minded CPS if you don't have any. If you do, be sure to thank them for all they've done to help improve your skills. And for those of you in crit groups where the majority of you are still unpublished, don't give up hope. Keep plugging away. Study, read, learn. Attend conferences. Bring back the materials for your CPs. One day, you, too, will be holding a group booksigning.

Oh, and if you're interested in getting a copy of A Community of Writers, it's for sale at Sunbury Press and on Amazon. If you love libraries, you'll be glad to know that all royalties from the sale of the anthology will support the Fredricksen Library. Cool, huh?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How To Write A Book

It starts with a page.  Just one, simple, plain white blank page.  The sight of that page can send writers into screaming fits of terror, complete with hair-tearing and face-scratching.  But sooner or later, we all have to calm down and face the page, because that's where every single one of our stories start.

A lot of people ask me, "How do you write a book?"  I'm never quite sure how to answer that question.  I just...write.  I know that probably sounds inane and somewhat pretentious, but the truth is that you can talk about writing until you're blue in the face, you can take writing classes until the cows come home, and you can read every single book ever written on "how to write," and yet you still have to sit your butt in the chair, every day, and WRITE.

Slow and steady wins the race just as well as fast and furious.  One page a day will produce a 365-page novel by the end of the year.  That's quite a respectable length.  Even if it's crap - and trust me, even the best writer on the planet produces crap in a first draft - you've still written it.  You've written a novel.  One page at a time.

I've been reminding myself of this a lot lately because I just started a new novel.  I'm not quite sure where it's all going or who all the characters are, and I haven't fallen in love with it yet.  But I know that as long as I keep showing up to that blank page, every day, and writing just a little bit (even 300 words counts) that after a while, I'll have a book.  And that's a huge victory.

Nora Roberts said, "You can edit anything but a blank page."  I love that quote.  It's so true.  No matter how bad that page is, no matter if there are split infinitives and passive voice and telling instead of showing all over it, you can fix it.  But you can't fix it unless you write it in the first place.  And who knows - maybe you're the lucky author-in-a-million whose first draft stuff comes out like Shakespeare!  You never know unless you sit down, and write.

So here's to the small victories - the 300 words that felt like pulling teeth, the five pages that flew out in under an hour, and the pages that have black type and red ink all over them.  Celebrate that!  And if you're still pulling your hair out and scratching your face, take a deep breath, put your hands on the keyboard, and start writing.

Nicole Maggi is thrilled to join the voices at Downtown YA!  She writes YA - paranormal, historical, and beyond - and strives to have something available in bookstores soon.  She's represented by the fabulous Irene Goodman of The Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband Chris, their daughter Emilia (after the Shakespeare character), and two cats Sawyer & Hurley (after the LOST characters).  Yeah, she's a geek.  Check out her website & follow her on Twitter!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

GEEKALEGAL: Post Settlement & More

It has been a crazy couple of weeks here in the Geekalegal world. There has been much written, blogged, and tweeted about the settlement of 3 of the major publishers in the DOJ anti-trust investigation. What does this mean? Who does it effect? What about the authors? What else is going on?

There remain 3 defendants in the DOJ action including Apple. Whether or not they will continue to attempt settlement or it is time for more investigation and an actual lawsuit is a big question. By the time I publish this blog there could be an answer, things move either very fast or very slow in these types of cases.

But keep in mind, there are also states that are suing. In fact, my place of residence, Texas was the first to begin investigating the parties, and first to file against them. I would imagine there are discussions about settlement going on at least with the parties that already settled with the US Government. Let us not forget also the European Commission's investigation.

As for what it means to authors, that depends on one's contractual terms, how royalties are determined, and e-book provisions. Does this mean less money for authors if the e-book prices go down? One way of looking at this is that the DOJ alleges that these publishers and Apple, in participating in the price-fixing scheme that is alleged here, wanted to 'squash the competition- in this case Amazon- like a bug' (phrase borrowed from another anti-trust suit, and heard later on the Sopranos!) The anti-trust laws are geared to protecting competition in a market place, better prices for the consumer. Was not Amazon providing competition by having lower prices? Was doing a back door deal with Apple really the best way to approach what is essentially a complete change in business paradigm? If they really were destroying e-mails to hide their activities, as alleged, one wonders at the reasons behind such actions. Most assume it was primarily to protect the publishing businesses, not necessarily the authors.

Are authors really being screwed by the competitive pricing, or is there a different paradigm that might work. I'm not going to comment on which side to choose, mainly because I don't think there is a side anymore. E-books, the idea of reading a book digitally is a huge business. I've heard experts anticipate the decline and demise of printed books as a major medium in anywhere from 5-10 years (not just about the reading experience, but also for environmental reasons). Schools are moving to e-texts, (ironically using Apple iPads) raising new generations with totally different reading experiences and learning.

E-readers themselves will evolve, and eventually we will see different distribution methods for books in technology we haven't yet imagined. But given the history of technological advances, the print publishing industry has changed. Should not the contracts, the pricing, the royalties for authors change along with it? The value of the traditional publishing process isn't lessened after all, but if there is a pricing difference, then should it be reflected? Will the authors suffer if readers move towards e-books that are not as pricey?

It is interesting to note how the business of publishing is following in the footsteps of the recording industry. The music industry resisted new technology. While it was fighting duplication technologies and going after even users, Apple perfected iTunes and there went the eventual demise of brick & mortar stores selling CDs. Was the money spent on litigation and lobbying really worth the effort given that we can get a song for very little on iTunes?

I know these were a lot of questions, much more than answers. One thing I will say. If authors don't begin to take charge of this issue, they could find themselves dealing with royalties that are dictated to maintain a past business structure rather than being paid a fair percentage of what is owed them.

It seems that the real issue is making money. The businesses that have succeeded in technological change are the ones who recognize the inevitable, and change to accommodate their business. Those that fail to account for the world that is dictated by technology, and not by them, are doomed to repeat the mistakes of other industries. These anti-trust investigation and suits is a good example.

These are just my thoughts as we watch the anti-trust lawsuits develop. I love this world, and hate the growing pains that are resulting in possible illegal activities. So much money and effort that could be going into a new business model. One thing is clear, competition as a right is being vigorously maintained by the governments, state, federal and foreign, and the technology is here to stay.

On a good note, I saw that McMillan is removing the DRM from its e-books. DRM is the mechanism used to prevent copying of a digital program. The theory behind this is that ultimately this will make the consumer happy, and keep buying e-books from them, rather than abandon the publisher for more accommodating e-book platforms. This is an awesome development and kudos!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

LORE OF FEI thoughts on pubbing

Greetings All!
I had hoped to have some agent news to share but not yet. *soon I hope*
I have now put up all the chapters of THORNFIELD MANOR on my website here: under sample writings.

My YA faerie fantasy LORE OF FEI is coming out next week!!!! 

I have a new website just for LORE OF FEI, that address is:

I have been working on the second book in the LORE FEI series, this one is called WAR OF FEI and I am in the process of editing it. Right now it is 75,000 words but it may be more or less after editing is done. I typically do five passes. The first pass is just to check plot and timeline, the second pass is to get rid of passive words like was, were, had, have, the third pass is to check character descriptions, the fourth pass is to do a line by line edit and the last pass is to check it all over again! I usually have the computer read it aloud at this point. I know I’ve said some of these things before so that’s all I’ll say on the subject for now.

I don’t know how many of you attend #yalitchat on Wednesday night on Twitter (9p EST) but you should. There is usually an interesting topic and guest authors/editors/agents. Last night the topic was about how your life has changed since publication. I would say that in my case, one of the things that has changed is that now I devote more time to writing than I did before I was published. I used to skip days sometimes even weeks before I’d write but now I write EVERY SINGLE DAY, even if it’s only a few hundred words. My life has changed as far as social media goes, this blog, Twitter (over 1,000 followers) and a fan Facebook page with over 1,000 likes along with (now) two websites has made me more “out there.” So, yes, publication has changed me in subtle ways. I promote my books more, too. I used to think if I wrote a good book that people wanted to read, they’d find it and poof, I’d be on my way to the NYT bestseller list. LOL. With the advent of Ebooks, there are so many people out there writing and publishing, if you don’t promote, you don’t get readers. Oh, I forgot to mention Goodreads, You Tube (book trailers, I love these!), and book signings. There’s Google+ (still haven’t figured it out) and Pinterest (l like this one!) and others I’m sure you could name that I forgot. So, yes, publication has changed me. My critique partner is one I found through publication. I’ve met some great writers online and hope to meet more. No, I didn’t get the riches and fame or a castle in Scotland (JK—you know who I mean), but I love writing and even if no one read another one of my books or bought another one, would I still write? Yes!!!!  It’s in my blood so to speak. What about you?
Take Care, Until Next Time,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Argh! Plot Hole!

The problem with writing series is that no matter how carefully you try to make notes of everything you could possibly need to know, you're bound to miss something. And sometimes you don't catch it until a book has been accepted--or even until it's been published.

I have a young adult novel coming out late this year about a fifteen-year-old boy who's turned into a werewolf while being assaulted. The novel is a spin-off of one of my adult romance series (yes, I'm blurring the lines a bit), and so I carefully made notes from the adult books before I started the YA.

Except I missed something. Something that was just a tiny comment in the adult romance, but that has a major impact on the plot of the YA. An impact that now necessitates rewriting three chapters of the YA.

The YA is under contract, but fortunately hasn't made it to edits yet. I was lucky to catch this hole before the book got too far in the process for me to be able to fix it. But you'd better believe I'm going to be even more careful with my notes from now on!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Eternal Spring

I'm very excited to be part of this amazing collection of YA stories.  Amanda Brice and I put it together and we couldn't be more proud.  Right now its FREE on Smashwords, then we will be putting it up on Amazon and getting it to go FREE as well. We want to get it into as many hands as possible.

My story DATING AFTER DARK (WITH CLOWNS) is a short story starring Caden Butcher.  The events in this story happen before those in DEMON WHISPERER.   It was an amazing way to introduce teen exorcist Caden and his demon buddy Dan, and his girl, Aspen Spencer.

Here is a little taste of that story....

As I turned up the Sum 41 tune blaring from the CD, the speakers rattled in the car door. The stereo system in the new Toyota Matrix kicked ass. I had to thank Dan for loaning me the car. I didn't ask him when he got it, mind you, or why he needed it. There are just some things a person just shouldn't ask a Great Duke of Hell . But I had to have some kind of vehicle to pick up Aspen. It was our first official date, and I didn't want to come off as a complete douche with a pocket full of bus fare and a transit map.
I checked Google maps on my iPhone while slowing to a stop at a four-way intersection.  When I accelerated again, there was a definitive pop in the air and the smell of cigarette smoke filled the car. I glanced in the rear-view mirror to see Dan lounging in the backseat with a cigarette dangling between his pale lips. As always.
"You’re going to be late, brother.” He blew a perfect smoke ring, and it floated toward me with a happy face inside.  The face winked.
For a demon, Dan had an incredibly upbeat personality.
"Go away.” I said.  “You’re stinking up the car. Now she’ll think I smoke.”
He sat up and hung his arms between the two front seats. "Just tell her about me. Problem solved.”
"So not going to happen.”
"She’ll believe you, she is a necromancer.”
"Necromancer in training.”
"Whatever.”  He waved his hand, scattering cigarette ashes on the seat.
“Watch it.”  I brushed at my jacket.  “I actually washed this with my own two hands, you know.”
“Mate, she’s totally not going to care.  All she’ll be paying attention to are those big beautiful eyes of yours.”  He ruffled my hair.  Hair I’d spent exactly twenty minutes on to get that perfectly messy look.
I slapped at his hand. “Don’t you have some demon-like thing to do tonight?”
“I suppose I could go possess someone, but it’s only fun when you’re there to exorcize me out of them.”
Not only were Dan and I best friends -- well as much as an exorcist and a spawnling from hell could be friends -- we also worked together.  He possessed them, and I saved them for a disgustingly large fee.  Most of our clientele resided in the City of Angels, Hollywood.  We didn’t con just anyone.  We picked out marks carefully.  Only those truly deserving of a little trickery and thievery. I’d seen true possession and the damage it did to people, so Dan and I limited our jobs to the real dickwads of the world.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hunger Games or Twilight?

These two YA authors are on fire in the literary world.
I loved both series of Twilight and Hunger Games, but my reaction to the books was surprisingly different.
Ms. Meyer's work pulled me in subtly. It took about thirty pages for me to realize I was hooked. After I'd read the series, I would put the books away then go back and revisit them. I ended up reading the entire Twilight series five times.
I sat down with The Hunger Games and it took a few pages for me to decide whether I really wanted to read it or not. I wasn't too thrilled when Katniss talked about trying to drown Buttercup as a kitten. And I'm opposed to hunting and trapping. But once I got past that, I literally couldn't put the book down. I started it in the afternoon and finished it at ten o'clock that night.
After that I was more cautious about reading Catching Fire. I decided to wait till the weekend so I wouldn't stay up half the night reading. Then when the weekend rolled around,I was too busy to read it. When I saw it at Target that Friday night, I decided I'd buy it so I'd have it on hand when I had more time to read it. Uh Huh.
Then I decided I'd read just the first chapter. I could stop after one chapter. Right? Again, I couldn't put it down till I finished it.
The following weekend I picked up Mockingjay. I only put it down long enough to go to the theater to see Hunger Games, then came back and finished the book.
But here's the odd thing. Even though I couldn't put this series down till I finished it, was totally caught up in it and truly enjoyed it, I have no desire to reread it.
The only thing I can figure out is that Hunger Games was starker than Twilight.
What can be starker than werewolves and vampires killing each other you ask? Those who have read both books know the answer to that. Children killing each other.
I've got a poll going on the right. If you've read both books, which is your favorite?
On another note....
I'm pleased to announce that Minder will be released next month at MuseItUp Publishing. This is my first book with Muse and so far I'm really liking the company. The publisher makes every effort to keep Muses' business dealings transparent and to stay in touch with the authors. My editors have been great to work with and my cover artist...well her work speaks for itself.
Other Downtowners that write for Muse: Nick Giannaras (the first to join Downtown YA), Pat Dale and Barbara Ehrentreu.


Among the northern tribes there is a legend passed down from generation to generation about shape-shifting Minders—guardians of the innocents—and how they came to be.
It is said that nowadays only a handful of Minders exist, hunted to near extinction by a fearsome beast. Of the remaining Minders, only one wears a garnet-studded collar, the symbol of protection and royalty.

Even when my aunt told me the story, and handed me an ancient garnet-studded band, I had no idea the tale applied to me. After all, it’s only a legend…

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Choose Your Words Wisely

Words have power. They can wound or maim. They can also bring great joy. As writers, we wield that power. Each word we place on the page conveys a message. What message are you sending with the words you choose?

April is poetry month. A time to bask in words. Poetry can help any writer--fiction or nonfiction--develop an ear for cadence, precision, and gorgeous language. Because they have hundreds of pages to fill, many fiction writers add boring, bloated descriptions. They wax eloquent about the unimportant, dragging in unnecessary details and backstory.

Poets, on the other hand, must hone every word. They cut repetition unless it has a purpose; they choose specific nouns and verbs. They make every word evoke emotion. Fiction writers would do well to follow their example. Think lean. Think precise. Think emotion-laden.

I took a class recently where we had to choose an ordinary word that we repeat often in our manuscripts (e.g., look or walk). Then we listed as many synonyms as we could. A thesaurus can help with this exercise. But the what made it valuable was that we ranked the words in order of their power. For example, look may range from peep/peer to glance to ogle or even glare. Each of those words carries a different weight and shade of meaning. There's a huge difference between glancing at someone or staring at them. Using look when you mean leer underpowers your writing. Writers sometimes try to add meaning with adverbs, but how much better to choose a precise word instead.

Why not try this exercise with several boring words you use frequently? Be careful, though, that you don't choose unusual synonyms when a normal word will do. Most people don't amble or stroll across a room. They walk. Too many amped-up words make it appear that the writer is trying too hard. Save the impact for where it counts most, but always be aware that another, more precise word may work better.

To increase your word power, I highly recommend The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes. She makes poetry come alive. By breaking poems down into their basic components and giving multiple examples of each, Mayes teaches writers to be mindful of emotion, texture, sound, rhythm, and meaning--all important considerations whether you write poetry, fiction, or nonfiction.

Here are a few examples she gives of telling vs. showing using lines from poetry:


She dresses sloppily.


She wears her clothes as if they were thrown on with a pitchfork.  ~Jonathan Swift


The waves are rough.


A sea
Harsher than granite.  ~Ezra Pound


His hand was ugly.


A hand like a fat maggot  ~Jean-Paul Sartre 

Which of these would you prefer to read? Showing not only gives a more vivid picture, it also adds the pleasure of surprise. The unexpected word choices give you a shiver of joy when you read them.

Taking your writing to the next level may mean spending extra time choosing the perfect word or phrase, but if it gives your reader a thrill, it's worth the effort.

Have you read words, phrases, or short passages that gripped you?  Please share them so we can all delight in the joy of well-written words. Be sure to credit the source, so we know who to thank for that pleasure.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Launch Theme! I finally 'got' it!

You know, as I came to write this up, I was thinking that it seemed like ages since I'd been here - and you know what? It is!! I am mortified to admit that I missed my 26th March stint - and I apologise profusely to my fellow bloggers. It was the day after my official launch and I was very weary and obviously my tired brain just didn't compute that it was also my blog day.

Mea culpa! Everyone's invited to my place for coffee and freshly baked choc chip cookies to make up for it, okay???

So, for the last several posts I've been banging on about my new release and the upcoming launch, and I'm promising that this post will be the last that focuses solely on that subject.

But, a while back, I asked you all if you had any ideas of how I could 'theme' my launch day, given that the subject and title seemed to focus on death. Funeral directors just didn't seem to cut it, you know? :-)

It came to me about February, that maybe I could focus on communicating with the dead, because in reality, that's what happens in the book. Though in 'Dead, Actually', communicating with the dead may not be quite the same as a visit from John Edwards. Not unless his visit includes a snarky teenage ghost who's not beyond a bit of blackmail.

So the idea was born. It took a lot of organising and a lot of time finding the right people, but we finally settled on (and employed) a Psychic Medium who spoke for a few minutes on that subject - communicating with the dead and then, after the close of the official proceedings and while people mingled and I signed books, she and three psychic readers, whom, we'd also employed, offered free mini readings to all our guests.

And I have to say, it was huge success! People lined up and they kept those poor psychic busy for the way past the allocated time! For me, it was just wonderful to see people leaving with smiles on their faces and the knowledge that we'd 'given back' to all those fabulous people who turned up to support me and celebrate Dead, Actually.

It was very much a family collaboration. My husband created the most fabulous 3-D stiletto shoe display (there's a shoe theme through the book) which took my breath away. The photos won't do it justice but I can tell you, every gal in that room wished they had feet big enough to wear it. Magical!

My daughters and friends helped me bake, and my daughters and husband organised the activities and ensured the day ran smoothly. And as for the actual launch? That was tricky as I knew I wanted someone who not only knew me well, but also knew the book well. The answer was under my nose all the time - and I chose my writers group to do the actual launching! They're called the Valley Girls and they were brilliant!

There were close to 150 people and to keep things moving we also had various activities that were associated with the book. Things like - small cardboard tombstones, we'd already cut out and upon which guests wrote what they'd like on their epitaph. Sounds morbid but it went down a treat and everybody got into the spirit. These were then pinned on a board for all to read and then my helpers took them down at the end of the afternoon ad we drew some out of a hat for prizes. My faves were: 'Get off!' and 'See? I told you I was sick!'

Another activity that moved away from the dead theme was a similar set up, in that guests wrote down the best things about being a teenager. This was such fun as we had older people remembering and reminiscing, down to teens who were in the throes and then the younger ones who were looking forwards to that magical time ahead. Again we did the hat trick thing as it was the fairest way to award winners.

It was a fun day and I was blessed with loads of love and good wishes. I couldn't have asked for a better launch. Oh yes - maybe there is one thing... Maybe I could remember - next time - to take my freaking camera out of my bag!!

The photos here are courtesy of my son, Paul, and others who kindly and thankfully offered theirs.

I've asked before, but I want to ask again as maybe since that time you've attended a launch that was themed, but what has been your favourite? Or are you happy to just go
along and don't think a theme is necessary?

As I go, I hope you all enjoyed a happy and safe Easter? It's still school holidays here, so I'm trying desperately to make hay while the sun shines! Or finish the next book, even...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

GEEKALEGAL: Enhanced E-Books

Update on Prior Blog re DOJ:  Three of the five publishers investigated by the DOJ have settled, you can find more information at:

A recent survey by  the Pew Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center, 21% of Americans have read an E-book and those who read e-books tend to read even more.  The ownership of e-reader increased, and this was before the last holiday where every store seemed focused on selling selling selling all kinds of e-readers and accessories. 

I think I may have mentioned before that a friend of mine who teaches New Media has told me that there is a prediction that in ten years all books will be electronic, not just because of reader preference but also due to green issues and policy pressures.  As a former librarian, a once lonely child that roamed the Tallahassee Public Library after school every day to escape into fiction worlds, and just old enough to have too many books in every corner of the house, that makes me sad.  As a GEEK, I can get it.  And for areas where space is an issue, cultures that don’t have the luxury capacity for storage of a gazillion books, perhaps this is the trend.

But whatever the future holds, e-books are here in many forms, and the one that has my attention is the ‘enhanced e-book’.  I saw this in an email that came from one of my feeds, and first though it was a spam, you know, one of those enhance your special body parts… but no, this was about the trend that goes up and down to make e-books “more”.

More in what?  Add to the writing almost anything you can think of beyond the words on the screen:  music, questions for the reader to ponder while or after reading the book, author interviews, and wait, there’s more!  Some books, notably children’s (including the recent Oscar winner APP books _________) are mini films,  or you can have interactive books where the reader can surf the book and change characters, settings, even outcomes.

Most comments on this form of book vary from the “oh wow gee whiz” factor to the “naw, it doesn’t really work”.  One word:  OSCAR.   Maybe it is something more for children who still remember their other sense.  Or teens who love to multitask with headphones, cell phones, internet and e-book going all at once.  But for adults?  Some say no way, not going to happen.  Or maybe the right hook just hasn’t appeared on the screen yet?

One thing is crucial, if you are planning to develop anything along this line, using an APP of some sort for the Apple products or through the Android platform, you need to make sure that the work is free to use.  In other words, who owns the copyright?  If it is music, and it is not public domain or you created it yourself and it is your copyrighted work, then you’ll need to get a license for it.  If you are using artwork, be sure to get the owner’s consent or license.    You will have to sign agreements with the platform you use.  Apple’s licensing agreements are strict, unilaterally in their favor and mostly non-negotiable.  Just the way it is.   They do clear whatever goes in as an app on their systems,  and you can work with services that are now available for a fee to create your product.  Other platforms are not quite as formulaic and may have less strident licensing terms. 

Do I think enhanced e-books could work for teens?  Yes.  Where I think it could be a real gain is with the ever needed ‘boy’ reader.  So many are into gaming, role-playing, sports.  Would there be a way to take that interest and transcend it into an e-book that gets them to also read?  Works for me.   And who’s to say it is just fiction for teens?  Non-fiction would have some great potentials as well.

Many publishing houses are experimenting with these forms, baby steps but steps nonetheless.  Some start up companies have tried and failed, but is that a function of the market, economy or because they were start ups?  The survey that started this blog indicates the e-book market is alive, thriving and growing.  What is going to be majorly geeky fun is to watch all the exploration.  Imagination in a new technology is imagination, and if it brings readers to books, I’m all for it.  Then again, I’m a bit of a geek!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Getting out of the chair and into the setting: Part I

Coveting what we see close to home.

One of my favorite movies is Silence of the Lambs. I had read the book by Thomas Harris, and the movie adaptation came close to mood I had envisioned.  But this conversation between the protagonist, Clarice Starling, and the villain, Hannibal Lector, is what I remember most years later.

Lector: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
Starling: He kills women...
Lector: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir...
Lector: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Starling: No. We just...
Lector: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?

The last phrase, "We begin by coveting what we see everyday," struck a chord. I consider it when I'm writing because it's so easy to look at things from a distance without "seeing" what is actually there.  I think about it again when I'm critiquing manuscripts and notice a scene "describes" what is obvious and perfunctory, but not doesn't go deeper. We "see" a school, a tree, a house - but we don't use it in our work effectively because we are focused on characterization and "voice" for the protagonist and secondary human characters.  The landscape and setting should be another "character" much as selection of a film score can make or break an otherwise good movie.

When working on FLOW I actually walked the terrain where my character tracks her opponent, and entered a bar I wanted to use as a backdrop (not called Harvey's by the way):

Harvey’s bar serves liquor which means there’s no chance of getting past the bouncer. I’m underaged so I have to revert to stealth mode. I slip in as a couple leave arm and arm.

He asks, “What can I get for a $100?”

She smiles, flashes her ample cleavage and says, “Fireworks.”
Inside, a landscape of brown uniforms greets me through the fog of cigarette smoke: refugees from the UPS facility a few blocks away. They’re joined by people looking to do business out of sight of the cops. The business associates of the “Fireworks” woman sit at the bar and in booths hoping to take advantage of the financial opportunities that will sprout as the alcohol continues to flow.

Fairaday sits at the far end of the bar nursing a drink, looking out of place in his tweed jacket. The bottle in the bartender’s hand reads Stolichnaya, 100 proof. Fairaday takes a long drag from a cigarette, downs the rest of his drink in one gulp, then gestures for another. The bartender seems skeptical but obliges. The drink disappears the same way as its predecessor, as if Fairaday is trying to drown his troubles in a flood of alcohol. Working for the school district will do that to a person. After two more drinks, he dashes his cigarette in the ash tray, drops a fifty dollar bill on the counter, and heads for the men’s room. I almost follow, but there are some things I don’t want to see—especially from a hairy man fully loaded on Russian booze.

I move closer to the now unoccupied stool and take the time to process the scents. The cigarette isn’t a commercial brand; the abandoned pack reads Indonesian Kretek. The tobacco is mixed with cloves. The scent of Stolichnaya is strong as well. The combination will make it easier to distinguish Fairaday’s scent once he’s outside the building.

I wait.

And wait.

After ten minutes, a man dressed in jeans, a plaid shirt and a John Deere cap leaves the bathroom. He smells of cloves and liquor. Another man follows behind him, in a UPS uniform, carrying the same scent. He waves to his buddies and heads for the door. A third man stumbles in a drunken stupor before falling to the floor. This leaves the bathroom door open long enough for me to smell the stench of bodily fluids and take a visual inventory. There are only three urinals, three sinks, three stalls . . .
. . . and no sign of Fairaday.

At the far end of the bathroom, an open window leads to an alley on the other side.

Game on!

© HCLawrence 2011

Here's an exercise to try:

1. Get out of your comfort zone and travel somewhere (near or far) that is unfamiliar to you but would work in a scene in your book.  It could be a simple as a cave in your state, a farm, a building with an old waterwheel, etc. Turn your adventure into a mini day trip.

2. Sit on a bench, or under a tree, and pick out something specific about your surroundings.  Start with one thing: a tree for instance, and describe it in terms as if it were human:  Example:

The tree stood first among many lined up in and orderly row, tall and imposing. Its branches swept upward, intertwining with those of its companions to form an impenetrable barrier against the sunlight.

 Green Park, London UK, © HCLawrence 2012

3. Next, zoom out and describe the setting for that object. Remember, it's your character, not a setting, right now. What is nearby? Is is protecting something? Sheltering something? Are there people? What is the scale? Are they dwarfed by the trees or embraced by them?

4. Now zoom back in. Are there bugs? Leaves? Bursts of color? Flowers? What is there that wasn't obvious on the first look? What you didn't see on first glance often is inspiration for artists who have trained themselves to notice every detail and nuance - the way light strikes the subject - or the absence of it.

4. Add sensory data. Close your eyes to enhance the other senses. What do you hear? What do you smell?  Now (if it's legal) go touch it. Is the bark of the tree rough? Chipped? Carved?  Is the statue cool to the touch, or warm in the sun. Is the stone smooth and worn down by years of weather, or rough and uneven.  What about the grass? The flowers? 

Remember - one of the first rules of mastering any artistic media is learning to see and record what you DON'T see.  I used part of my own exercise, sitting under a bridge at night taking in the sensory data, when it was time to write a scene for the novel:

I close my eyes to shut off all visual stimulation, knowing that my other senses will be heightened. I hear the coos, sighs, and groans of the Fireworks club’s satisfied customers. Tires rumble and engines grind as cars descend and ascend the creaky viaduct. The dull whomp of eighteen-wheelers reverberate against the asphalt as they exit the UPS facility down the street. I detect the clink of glasses, the smell of Boulevard Beer, Vodka Tonics, and shots of Tequila from Harvey’s. The aroma complements and contrasts with the Mad Dog 20/20 being guzzled from paper bags beneath the bridges to the north. The evening’s smorgasbord is topped off by the stale odor of frying burgers at a 24-hour diner a half mile away. A Cessna engine strains as it approaches municipal airport. Tires screech as the jet lands, hard, on the tarmac. A 737 extends its flaps, slows its speed and banks toward the airport twenty miles away. Above it all, police helicopters attempt to do the same futile job that I’m doing. Search for a killer ready to strike at midnight. 

The rumble of a motorcycle passing beneath the viaduct blends with the whistle of an freight train passing two blocks behind me. Both fade as they move away, but the motorcycle spins and returns in this direction.


My eyes snap open to find David, clad in black leather, sitting in front of me. His bike dies down to a dull rumble as he kills the throttle.

“What are you doing here? Don’t you know there’s a curfew?”

I’m tracking a killer and, instead, the universe sends me a knight on a shining Harley.

© HCLawrence 2011

Whether or not you use the data you collect in the exercise, it can't help but strengthen the writing overall.  Carrying a journal to collect observations is helpful. In a pinch, you can use a smartphone or iTouch to record notes. 

So get out of your comfort zone. Travel to that place you use for your setting, and immerse in it. Then write down what you experience as if there were no characters involved except the non-human elements that surround you.  Mine the data, and the emotional connection you made while there, to flesh out the scene in your book and transport your reader.

Let your eyes seek out the things you want -- and then use it.

For Part II on May 10: Transport Your Settings by Going Away click the link below:

Monday, April 9, 2012


Since I am a YA writer, it made sense to order the movie Young Adult. And who doesn’t like Charlize Theron?

But how many ways can I hate this movie?

First, Charlize Theron was way too tall and beautiful for the role, and therefore, it did not make any sense at all that she was pining after – and throwing herself at – this very average guy, who used to be her former boyfriend.

Second, she wasn’t really a YA writer, more of a ghostwriter for a franchise. Apparently it paid the bills.

Third, she lived in the big city (e.g., Minneapolis), which seemed to be about thirty minutes away from her home town; yet, she had never been back once since high school graduation. So she was surprised to see that a combo Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken had sprung up, as well as other fast food restaurants. Really?

Fourth, I have a particular pet peeve that first sprang from watching Barfly in the 1980’s with movies shot in bars with people getting drunk. This is not an amusing past time. If I wanted to have silly adventures, I would rather be getting drunk myself, rather than watching people play acting at it. Needless to day, Young Adult had several such scenes.

I can’t possibly spoil the ending for you, since I turned it off before I could get there. Even the next day when I thought of it, I was awash once more with irritation. Another movie to ask, how did get this get made, and why?

Have you seen the movie Young Adult? Do you share my opinion or do you have a different one?

Jacqueline Corcoran
Author, Time Witch
YA coming soon: Memoir of Death

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Inspiration Comes From Everywhere: Hurray for Holidays!

I thought it was only fitting that on Easter I’d talk about how the holidays can be a great source of inspiration. One of my favorites is Easter. What’s not to love about bright colors and lots and lots of chocolate! But when my friend Linda asked me to go to an Easter egg hunt I balked.  

“I feel kind of dumb going. I’m not seven.”

She gave me a smile. “Exactly.”

“Okay, so why are we here?”

“Who says it’s just for kids in grade school. Don’t you love candy? And I know for a fact you’re addicted to chocolate.”

I was a notorious chocoholic. I swear I must have smudges on my face all the time they way my friends teased me. “Dugh.” 

“Then this should be like Heaven.”

Once I realized there was such a thing as an adult Easter egg hunt, I was good to go. When the host blew the whistle my seven-year-old self ran to the far side of the yard and dug around a planting bed until I found an egg. My hand shot up, “Found one!”

No one paid me any attention---they took their hunting seriously. I sprang into action and found six more eggs. Felt great to watch my little Easter basket fill up with yummy goodies. But I was most proud of my major prize--- a chocolate bunny.

I met Linda on the back porch and we dug into our candy just like kids on Halloween.

Linda shoveled down a Reece’s peanut butter egg while I plowed through a handful of jellybeans. I gave her a smile. “Thanks for inviting me. I feel like a kid again. Like I can do anything.”

She wiped some chocolate off her chin. “Go for it!”   

I pealed the foil away from my prize and bit off its head. Polishing off the chocolate, I gave Linda a mischievous grin. “I forgot how much fun it was to decapitate a bunny.” 

Happy Holidays everyone!


Friday, April 6, 2012

I'm Finally Here!

Last month I missed the two days I should have posted and Sandra, I am so sorry. My month was so busy with my husband's health appointments and my own schedule that I forgot I was supposed to post. So this time I am here and plan to be here from now on.

For anyone who doesn't know it, today is the first full day of Passover. Last night most people had seders and celebrated the Jew's exodus from Egypt. It's all written down in something we call a haggadah, which is a pamphlet and everyone gets a copy.Anyway, for anyone who doesn't know about how a seder works, there is a big plate in the middle of the table filled with unusual things. There is a burnt egg, a mixture of apples, walnuts and wine called haroset, sprigs of parsley, a small bowl of salted water and a burnt lamb shank. These are all symbols of things that are important to Jewish tradition for Passover. The burnt egg symbolizes fertility and the fact that the Jews were able to find the land of Canaan and live in peace. The haroset symbolizes the mortar used for the first temple. The sprig of parsley is for the bitter herb, to show the suffering the Jews had when they wandered in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. The burnt lamb shank symbolizes the lamb that was slaughtered so the Jews could put its blood on their doorposts when God smote the Egyptian's first born. God said this would protect them. The whole story is told in the haggadah, which details what everyone at the seder should say and do.

The seder starts out with the head of the household, usually a man, washing his hands and saying a prayer. Then he shows everyone the seder plate and the stack of matzohs sitting next to it. He breaks off part of the first piece of the matzoh for the Affikomen, the dessert the lucky finder of the piece after the dinner wins. Then the youngest person there asks the 4 questions and the seder continues. We never go through the whole seder and go through it pretty fast to get to the Meal!! Let me tell you. Never eat anything the day before a seder. You start with a hard boiled egg dipped into salt water. Then you have chicken soup and matzoh balls. This is followed by gefilte fish. Sometimes there is chopped liver too. After all of this the main course is brought in and it's usually brisket or turkey with all the extras. You can't have anything with flour, so it might be potato pancakes, or a potato dish, vegetables and wine. Oh, I forgot the wine part. Everyone gets to have a little wine on Passover, because it's part of the seder. When you sit down you have wine in front of you and there is always an extra empty place at the table for Elijah. During the dinner you are supposed to open the door to invite him into your house. It is tradition on Passover to invite guests over to share your dinner with them and to share the story of Passover. The full cup for Elijah stays on the table the whole time. During the seder service you have to drink from your cup several times.

After a seder there is a kind of dessert. Usually it's fruit and Passover cake or macaroons. The aftermath is so awful, because you feel like something is weighing you down! Then you have a whole week of matzoh to look forward to.

Anyway, this has nothing to do with writing, but it might be interesting for anyone who didn't know about it.:)

This is also April and in April I do Poem a Day, which means I write a poem a day for Poetic Asides with Robert Brewer and post it on the comments there. We all use the same prompt, but the poetry is so spectacular you would never know it. I am going to post a few of the poems I wrote this month here and will continue to post the poems I wrote on my own blog, Barbara's Meanderings. Let me know what you think in the comments here:

April 1, 2012 - Urgent communication

They lay in their glassine envelopes

taunting me with their placid outsides

When I gather them from the tiny metal
box where they are placed I have hope
that some of those envelopes will be
a chance for happiness and not the

numbing sameness of monotonous

figures depleting my small store of

cash for the glory of corporations
copyright 2012 by Barbara Ehrentreu

April 2, 2012 - Uninvited guests

Uninvited Guests
After adding the juice of plump, rosy San Marzano tomatoes
to the simmering brown mixture filled with cuts of onion and

sweet garlic bits – me in those gray loose pants I wear for the

joy of being at home, stirring tomato sauce, tasting watching the

plops of red blossom around the pan on the snow white stove top

Sauce to the point of perfection, tasted and seasoned and ready

The glass bowl set near to catch the delicate spaghetti coated

with the luscious sauce waiting like a performer to begin the

show, we heard a knock, knock on the door. My daughter,

bowl in hand tentatively opened the locks and peeked outside

just a crack to see our uninvited visitors. He with the ready
smile and open face asked the question while his companion

popped up smiling too. My can opener, they needed my manual
can opener and I passed it to them a bond between two new
copyright 2012 by Barbara Ehrentreu

April 3, 2012 - Two for Tuesday, write an apologetic or non-apolgetic poem

Wall of sorrys
After so many years the sorrys flow like a wall of water

too many and too few to fill the gaps of our days

We were inevitable, the force between us unbroken
and we moved ahead like logs in the river no boundaries

for our boundless love

knowing always the shelter of your strong arms

the pleasure of our shared moments
and it’s not my fault you turned away
my company no longer enough for your

selfish pursuits and I nurtured the seed of our
love watering it with my tears hoping it would

grow and flourish and become supple as it once was

yet your loveless glances continue and we bump
around in this alien world like boarders
only occasionally do I see the peek of light

in your eyes and I am sorry to see it for it
reminds me of the laser beams I used to know.
copyright 2012 by Barbara Ehrentreu

April 4, 2012 - a 100% poem

Striving for 100%

We all do it
worship the number
pray for it
cry for it
stay up late forcing
words into our brains
cross our fingers
when the papers
reveal the truth
and we infuse
this desire into
our children with
their first attempts
rewarding with gold
stars those who
achieve the magic
while the stragglers
develop cement feet
and though they try
can never quite meet
the heights
they drop away to
find the easier route
gaining hundreds
for their limited attempts
forced to watch
the stars who soar
on the backs of their
100%s separated from
their talented friends
soon to be the haves
of the school.
copyright 2012 by Barbara Ehrentreu

Until the next time, try to write a little poetry this month. I find I am addicted to it when I start and it helps to bring out feelings and thoughts only poetry can! I have the ones for April 5 and up on my blog.

If you are interested, I am currently a guest on Jane Richardson's blog, Home Is Where the Heart Is for her One Link Lowdown. You won't' believe what you don't know about me.:)