Genre: So You Wanna Branch Out…

July 5, 2016

Years ago I had an author whose book was lovely. We all put a ton of effort into marketing and promoting the author and the book. Our efforts were rewarded with some very nice sales and wonderful reviews. We had discussed his next book, and I awaited his outline with glee because I was anxious to ride the wave of publicity we’d already gathered.

Then he told me he wanted to write fiction. F-I-C-T-I-O-N. Don’t get me wrong, I adore fiction. But that isn’t what we publish. Um, where da outline for your next book that we’d talked about?

Welllll……

He didn’t wanna write that anymore. Sure, it totally sucked for us, but more to the point, it sucked for the author. Tremendous effort and expense had gone into gathering up a solid readership; readers who would happily suck up his next book. Question was, would his memoir readership suck up a novel? I had serious doubts.

It broke my heart because I felt he was sabotaging all of his and our efforts and basically starting from scratch again. Sad to say his efforts to switch genres did a horrific crash and burn.

For Whom Are You Writing?

There are plenty of authors who aren’t pegged in any one genre. They write SF, romance, mainstream, horror. Whatever scratches their itch. And that’s fine as long as they realize their readers aren’t going to follow them to those other genres. So it’s important to ask yourself, for whom am I writing?

If you’re writing for yourself and don’t give a rip about who buys your books, then I applaud your creativity in having so many wonderful ideas in so many genres. I’m such a one-trick pony

However, if your goal is to become known and have a faithful following, then you might want to take a second and third look at how you might be diluting your readership, thus spinning your wheels.

Genre-hopping works is if you’ve already attained a large, faithful readership. Many may follow you over to your new genre book, and that will help create the groundswell. But if you’re still in the process of gaining a foothold in the marketplace, you would be wise to consider genre-hopping with great care.

Now go out and be brilliant!


Writing With Intention is a lot Like Chicken Piccata

February 12, 2016

chicken piccata

Writing with in intention is what keeps a storyline moving in a forward direction. What do I mean by that? It means that you’ve defined exactly what you want/need to say in any particular chapter. It means that you know the elements/scenes that will keep your story moving in a forward direction. This is what separates a great story from one filled with aimless fluff.

Think of it as following a recipe. (Not my recipies – god help us all – but real people who actually know how to cook without calling the fire department) Let’s say you’re cooking chicken piccata – a dish that I actually cook really well (after many do-overs).

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1 chopped onion
Garlic
Chicken breasts
Olive oil
Flour
Butter
¼ cup sherry
3 tbs. lemon juice
1 cup chicken stock
Parsley
Capers

Directions

  • Saute onion until just tender – set aside
  • Dredge thoroughly beaten-the-sh*t-out-of-the chickie through flour, and lightly brown on both sides in butter, set aside
  • Add onion and garlic
  • Over high heat, add broth, sherry, and lemon
  • Let thicken
  • Take a little of the juice out and mix with a little flour
  • Pour into sauce and allow to thicken
  • Add chicken
  • Serve over noodles or spaetzle

Easy and straightforward. What you don’t see in the recipe are the copious amounts of wine I drank when I burned the first batch of chicken. You don’t see me pondering whether this would be a good time to order Chinese take-out. You also don’t see me cutting up the burned chicken and feeding it to the dogs.

Why? Because it doesn’t have anything to do with the recipe. It’s filler at this point. A recipe is writing with intent. It’s an outline to keep you on track. The ingredients are the essential elements that make up your story. The directions are the outline. The ingredients and directions support each other. They have to. If they don’t, then you’re writing without intent, and going free-range.

Now let’s re-title the recipe to Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata. Because  the title, ingredients, and directions are clearly set, it’s easy to write about the burning of the chicken, considering Chinese take-out, and feeding the dogs, because it’s forward movement and supports the ingredients and directions…and the overall theme of Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata.

You have to ask yourself with each new chapter, “What do I want to say and do these scenes support the overall theme of Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata?” If not, readers will throw your recipe across the room and say naughty things about you.

In short, the boundaries need to be clearly marked so you don’t go outside of them. How can you do this? Well, let’s say in the example above I include some scenes about taking a phone call from an author excoriating me because I didn’t give them a reason for rejecting their manuscript (really happened). This has nothing to do with Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata, so the story loses its forward movement.

If I include copious scenes about how it snowed and I nearly took a header off the porch stairs; how a huge tree branch fell in during high winds; how The Rescues insisted en masse that 13 degrees was far too cold to go outside – now I’ve lost all cohesiveness to Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata because these scenes have zero to do with the subject matter.

So you can see that writing with intent is vital to keeping your story cohesive, moving forward, and sticking with the theme. If Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata has almost zero to do with the elements of an adventure while cooking, then you know you’re out of your zipcode.

Write with intent. Be brilliant!


Mainlining Drano

March 31, 2015

There are a number of things that make me want to drink/mainline Drano. I’ve talked about them over the years…and wouldn’t you know, but I have a new batch of goodies.

  • Font color: Write your query letter in light gray, so that my weary eyes strain to the point of crossing.
  • Begin your query by admitting your work probably doesn’t fit our guidelines: (actually, this is a benefit of sorts, because I can delete that much faster without having to read the entire query). For crying out loud. If your work doesn’t fit a publisher’s guidelines, then why in the name of all that’s holy are you querying them? Editors are busy folks, and they’ll simply delete without replying – so you’ve wasted not only your time, but the editor’s as well. Not a smart idea.
  • Word Count: Make sure your manuscript is miles under the minimum word count. For example, the sweet spot for most mainstream publishers is between 50k – 100k words. They will usually specify that they publish shorts. But if you’ve written something that clocks in at about 30,000 words, it becomes more of a pamphlet than a book. This is especially irritating with nonfiction because, really? A nonfiction pamphlet on how to survive getting laid off/leaving a cult/dealing with falling in love with your best friend’s boyfriend…How much depth can you attain with 30,000 words? Puhleeze.
  • Request Help: Ask me for help in directing you to a publisher who does publish your kind of work. Um. Yah. Nothing would excite me more than to do your work for you.
  • Query Length: Just today I had a query that went on for six pages. SIX. Deleted without reply.

After thirteen years in this business, I still remain gobsmacked at the ability of authors to shoot themselves in their own feet and guarantee instant, sudden death rejection…especially since it takes so little research to understand how this crazy business works and the most beneficial ways to approach an editor or agent in a professional manner.

Okay, pass me the Drano…

 


Of Love Notes and Track Changes

February 28, 2014

beagle hugsI love a good note. I write them to myself all the time. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t remember to buy chicken tenders and toothpaste. I even leave myself little notes in my writing. When penning Donovan’s Paradigm, I left myself love notes that were almost as long as the manuscript itself…”Insert heart attack scene here.” or “Ask about drugs used for patient allergic to morphine.” or “Insert screaming match here.”

I totally get love notes – you’re either creating a chapter foundation and don’t want to interrupt the flow, or needed to go back and research a bit more. But it might be a better idea to insert these love notes in the margin so it stands out. It’s too easy to miss a love note that’s in the manuscript. Even if it’s another color. I know because I see them in submissions. [Insert chess scene here], or [Change names of everyone in this scene]. This is like seeing a manuscript’s lacy Victoria Secrets. I don’t wanna see this. I want a finished manuscript.

Track Changes

Same thing goes for the Track Changes feature. Authors forget to Accept or Reject Changes and turn the Track Changes feature off. So I’ll see all the little love notes between the author and their beta readers or indie editor. “This part is really rough, you need to beef this up.” “An editor will skewer you if you leave this in.” Ouch. Talk about seeing lacy Vickie Secrets.

Don’t be in such a hurry to bang a manuscript out to an editor’s desk if she asks to read your full. Do yourself a favor and insert all your editorial notes in the margin…which is hideously easy. In Word, there is a Track Changes feature, which allows you to do all sorts of things, and inserting a comment is one of them. In later versions, you’ll find this feature in the Review tab.

Love notes and Track Changes are great, but they’re meant to be private. Oh, and that reminds me that I’m almost out of designer doggeh chewies…


Chapter Content – Too Much or Not Enough?

February 10, 2014

pondering
Have you ever read a book and thought a chapter or three went on for too long? Or not long enough? Or worse, they seemed to be a confusing mish mash of information all piled on much like the old college prank of stuffing a VW bug? This aberration comes from a lack of proper organization. Sounds simple, no?

The answer? Re-organize, and you have great chapters. Okay, if it were that easy, we wouldn’t have this problem of wonky chapters, right? Here are some of the things I look for when I edit.

Chapter Intent

I look for chapters that are clear about what they’re saying. I want them to have a clear direction. It’s like the time when we first moved to Pittsburgh. We were trying to find a particular furniture store, and Zelda (what I’ve named my phone’s navigation app) took us on the wildest goose chase that I’m still shocked we didn’t end up in Ohio. Bitch. If she had just gotten rid of all the ups and downs, turns and twists, we would have gotten to the store in fifteen minutes, instead of forty-five.

It’s the same with chapters. If a chapter introduces a character, then zaps over to backstory, then teleports over to the history of the setting, I’m going to request the author’s bloodletting, because there’s no sense of direction.

A lot of us just sit down at the computer and barf out our chapters. It isn’t until subsequent drafts that we begin to refine and define. This is why an outline can be helpful at some point in the revision process. It forces you to stay on task and prevents you from wandering off the railroad tracks…or from going on and on and on and on…

A chapter should have a beginning, middle, and an end…which leads me to…

The Middle Stuff

If you’re clear on your chapter intent – example: “This chapter explains why I have Rescue Beagles in my employ, and why I won’t allow them to answer the phone anymore” – then the middle stuff needs to support that intent. If you keep it clear, then it makes it easier to know how and where to end your chapters.

Chapter Ending

There have been times when I’ve reached the end of the chapter and turned the page looking for the rest, because I didn’t realize I’d reached the end. Instead, the chapter left me hanging and had zero impact. I call that Endus Abruptus. To me, abrupt is only effective when the Rescue Beagles of Questionable Breeding breeze into my airspace to polish off my margarita. The only solution is to shout out an abrupt, “Get your own damn drink!”

Endus Abruptus shouldn’t be confused with a cliffhanger, which is equally abrupt. Oh nay nay. These offending chapter endings leave a scene unfinished. It’s like a punchline that makes no sense, and you need further explanation in order to get its meaning.

Conversely, I’ve read plenty chapters that actually ended two pages ago, and the authors seemed unaware of that fact. Instead, they rambled on and on until the ending sort of faded away – in much the same fashion as my imbibing one too many Fireballs.

There are all kinds of ways to end a chapter, but they have one thing in common; they make sense. Where and How to end a chapter is as intentional as the plot and character development.They satisfy whatever transpired in that chapter by giving enough information to keep you turning the pages. They have a Mini-Me version of rising action, climax, and falling action.

Paragraph Transitions

I’m big on transitions because I can be thick between the ears. You gotta lead me from Point A to Point B in a logical fashion. If one paragraph is about a character’s thoughts on the weather, and the next one goes into firing one of his employees, then you need a transitional sentence that leads into that next paragraph because, without it, there is nothing remotely linking those two paragraphs together.

Think of transitional sentences as couplers between railroad cars. They’re the magic that keeps the entire train together. Take out a coupler, and the train falls apart. Same goes for transitions between paragraphs of differing topics.

Example:

Being a native Southern Californian, I had no idea about the dangers of snow and freezing rain when I moved to Pittsburgh. I’m an idiot that way. Most I ever had to worry about was whether to put on short sleeves and bring a sweater, or just wear long sleeves and ditch the sweater. Weather meant looking at the surf report, not ice skating on my driveway in my best shoes. Though today, it looked like ice skating would be the main course of my work banquet, since I finally decided to fire the Rescue Beagles – their antics were taking a toll on my last shred of sanity.

“Rescue Beagles, you’re fired. You can’t type, you refuse to file, and your phone manners are dismal. I give you points on your margarita-making skills, but you can’t continue biting the pizza delivery guy and expect to collect a paycheck.”

The sentence in red is the transitional sentence. Without it, the reader would do the blink blink thing before hurling the book across the room. Avoid the book hurl.

Chapter Balance

This is where I go all feng shui and call people “Grasshopper.” Balance is a delicate internal gauge that ensures the information in each chapter has the proper weight. For example, if your chapter exposes how your main character discovers pygmy yaks have been eating all her Coach purses while she’s at work, then you need to put the proper amount of literary weight behind which element you feel is most important. Is it the discovery behind who’s eating the purses, or is it how your main character caught them?

It’s easy to throw off an entire book by giving more weight to inconsequential things, while paying less attention to the really important stuff that needs explanation. Recently, I read a manuscript where one chapter talked about meeting her long lost aunt, whom she thought was dead. It was quite pivotal. But instead of talking about that, the author chose to go into backstory, and paid scant attention to actually meeting the aunt. Grasshopper wrote that chapter completely out of balance.

So, dear Grasshopper, chapters are the building blocks of your book. If they’re filled with a clear intent, are well-balanced, have effective transitions, and come to a logical conclusion, then this makes it easier to edit (which makes me deliriously happy) into a bright package of fabulosity. Go forth and rocketh your world.


Literary Caboose – Satisfying Endings

January 12, 2014

I lurve me a book with an ending that scratches every literary itch and leaves me spent. After all, endings are the literary caboose to your story. Your writing can be the stuff that bring nations to their knees and beg for a good spanking, but screw up the ending, and it’s, “Book, meet Wall.”

Your literary caboose can’t be taken lightly. Evah.

The good thing is that, like writing, there aren’t any real rules to endings. They can either knock you on your ass, or hint at the how the character’s conflict resolves itself, and they can be equally satisfying.

Balance

I look for endings that, first and foremost, are equally balanced to the story. If I read a thrilling adventure story, then I expect an equally thrilling ending. It’s a lot like my meatloaf dinner (about the only thing I cook well). I need to have an equal amount of mashed potatoes and meatloaf, so I can have a bite of each in one forkful. If it’s out of balance, I can go back and get more of whatever I ran out of. Unfortunately, the reader isn’t as fortunate, so they’ll simply say terrible things about you and throw your book to a couple of ravenous Rescue Beagles. Eeek.

Conflict

To me, an ending that puts the jam in my jelly doughnut is proportional to the conflict. Conflict gets my attention – the bigger, the better because the protagonist has more to lose. So I keep turning the pages to see how it turns out…will the protag get what s/he wants? Given the enormity of the conflict, I’m expecting a good payoff.

mommy-tinyAn example of conflict is in Kate McLaughlin’s book MOMMY, I’M STILL IN HERE. Kate’s daughter was diagnosed with one of the most severe cases of bipolar disorder docs had ever seen. Her cycling could happen in a matter of hours instead of days, and her daughter’s behavior threatened hers and her family’s life in the most horrific ways – which kept my heart in my mouth as I flew through the pages.

Because so much was at risk, I expected a huge payday…and I wasn’t disappointed. At. All. In fact, I think it was the first time I finally blinked.

So ask yourself whether your literary caboose is in proportion to the conflict. One shouldn’t overpower the other.

Evokes An Emotional Response

Testicles-smI remember reading Melissa Haynes’ LEARNING TO PLAY WITH A LION’S TESTICLES. I blubbered and laughed my fool head off throughout the entire manuscript. The animals of S. Africa (including the one on two legs) taught her so much about life and coming to terms with her mother’s passing, and I was right there along for the ride. She had me so emotionally invested in her story, that her ending was like landing on a soft cloud. I couldn’t read another book for about a week because I wasn’t ready to leave the aura of her story and the impact it made on me.

Melissa knew exactly how to tap into a reader’s soul (even those of us who don’t posses one), and give it a gentle massage.

Is your book an emotional story? If so, does your ending give the reader an equally emotional response?

Main Character Takes Action

Since your story has a main character and something is happening to him/her, and they’re working toward some kind of outcome, it only goes to reason that the ending would include the main character taking action.

Example:
Rescue Beagle #1 tries to figure out if stealing the ham off the counter is worth the risk of Overworked and Underpaid Editor’s brain blowing up. She decides that not only is it worth it – because ham is oh-so yummy, but that it would be kinda fun to see OW&UP Editor’s brain blow up. So she decides to go for it, and has Rescue Beagle #2 hoist her up on the counter.

The part in red is the action. Without taking any action, the ending – the literary caboose – falls flat.

The Great Hint

That’s not to say that you always see the main character taking action “on screen.” Sometimes a story is equally powerful if the ending hints at the main character’s action – and leaves it up to the reader’s imagination.

9781933016573-frontcoverA prime example of that (wee horn tooting here) is with my novel, DONOVAN’S PARADIGM. New surgeon Kim Donovan has gone from crisis after crisis with her new hospital and the lead surgeon (love/hate relationship), and her soul is weary, used up, spent, crapped out. She needs a change of scenery, but it scares the hell out of her because she’s worked so hard to get a new experimental healing program at her hospital, and she’s afraid to let go.

I don’t reveal what action she takes because it felt emotionally right to do so, and actually made for a more powerful ending. Instead, I leave it up to the reader to decide what she does. Hmm…slight spoiler alert, huh? I will say I thought it a great ending.

Is the Hint Ending a good choice for your book? Sometimes writers simply don’t know how to end a story because they don’t want to leave some mystery. This could be a good option to think about.

Showdown Ending

I lurve me a good showdown. You know, where the bad guy, who’s been kicking everyone else’s ass, finally gets his own come-uppance.

REDEMPTION - HIGH RES - final frontI have to think no further than Chris Baughman’s REDEMPTION – Book 2 of the OFF THE STREET series. Ho-lee-crap. This is one of the most amazing showdown endings I’ve ever read. I remember standing up on my couch and belting out a whoop and screeching, “Oh hell YES!”

The reason I was filled with such bloodlust is because Chris does such an exemplary job at making me hate, hate, hate the pimp in this case – which was actually a kid Chris had gone to high school with <shudder> – by showing the evil that drenches every cell of his pathetic being.

Throughout the whole story, I was itching for Chris to bust this guy’s ass into next year, yet Chris shows admirable, yet frustrating, restraint. But when it becomes absolutely necessary for Chris to take action, the showdown made my intestines explode. I was exhausted, yet exhilarated, when I got to the last page.

Is there a showdown in your book?

Other niggly things that I look for in a satisfying ending also include:

Climax: This is the part that leads to the ending, so it shouldn’t be rushed. Takes your time preparing your reader for the big kapow. Okay, I could get a bit X-rated here to refine the point, but you get the idea. Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am doesn’t work anywhere.

The Big Kapow – keep it short and sweet: This is the actual ending, the big wrap up. It’s what happened to the main character as a result of the Climax. It’s the closure. And it’s short and sweet – a scene, max. If it dawdles on too long, it cancels out the climax, and the reader gets bored. “Yeah, yeah, I get it, they rode off into the sunset. No need to show that Mr. Cowboy Pants doesn’t know how to light a fire and asks the Western Beauty if she brought a lighter.” That’s for another book. End it and be done with it.

Deus Ex Machina: Oh, how I detest this element. Maybe someone can come up with an example where this was used effectively. But to me, this is what inexperienced writers do, and they’re so contrived that it makes me want to mainline cheap gin. Deus Ex Machina solves a seemingly unsolvable problem by introducing a new character, object, or event, and boOm…instant ending. Blah. I say rip the skin off that suckah. I usually refer to this as the Scooby Doo ending. Double blah.

Logical/Believable: A satisfying ending means that it makes sense. If your main character is a serious surgeon who’s wanted nothing more than to practice medicine and is passionate about incorporating alternative healing methods in her surgical practice, then it makes no sense for her to chuck it all to join the circus and ride elephants. The story HAS to lead the reader to that possibility. Readers are smart, and they have a good feel for what your character would and wouldn’t do. Your ending can have a surprise, but it has to be logical. Check to make sure readers will buy off on your ending.

If you’re stumped on your ending, try messing about with it, using some of the examples I put here. It could be that your literary caboose will have nations falling to their knees and begging for a good spanking.


Friends and Lovers of Writers: Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned…

January 4, 2014

writers rules1. This warrants a quick kick to the shins of the person who deigns to ask such a ridiculous question.
2. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this question. I always tell them that I have written the latest bestseller.
3. Ok, I wanna show of hands for those of you who have heard this and wished you had a dime for every time someone uttered this. If we pooled our money together, I bet we could throw one hell of a party.
4. True story: I asked an ER doc about the weirdest thing he’d ever seen while on shift during a full moon, and he regaled me with a story about a patient who presented with a hairdryer up her hoo hoo. Now I had to research that. Hey, don’t look like that…you’d do the same.
5. My family has personal experience with this. Entire conversations took place that I have absolutely no memory of. The fallback in the Price Batcave was, “Was Mom writing when you said that?” It was my get outta jail free card.
6. Oh. Hell. Yes. To that bitchy teller at the bank…Chapter 3 is on you.
7. I…oh…um…yeah, whatever.
8. I can attest that I have NEVER done this. Ever.
9. To this I say, bless Doris Dumrauf and Annette Dashofy and their Christmas gifts…
10. Word.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,375 other followers

%d bloggers like this: