Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Writing Goals in Review

It seems appropriate at this time of year to review the writing goals I set a year ago, and reflect on how I did with them.

DEATH SCENE was released in 2011, and I pledged to promote it. I did what I could, but sales figures indicate that there could be some improvement in this area. Still, sales of SUFFER THE CHILDREN picked up in its second year of publication, so maybe DEATH SCENE will start to come into its own in 2012.

I also pledged to get to the end of the first draft of the sequel to DEATH SCENE. Happily, I was more successful here. DEAD COOL, as the WIP is currently titled, is in its third draft and has gone out to beta readers.

Finally, I pledged to get the UF WIP to a stage where it was ready to be critiqued. I failed dismally here. After all my beta readers unanimously felt the plot wasn't working, I've trunked this project.

However, 2011 did see the start of a new project. I'm over 20,000 words into the first draft of a new horror novel, something that wasn't even an idle thought this time last year.

On the whole, it's not been too bad a year writing-wise. So what of 2012? Well, it will see the publication of my short story collection, SOUL SCREAMS, so there is something to look forward to. And herewith I set out my goals for 2012.

1. Finish DEAD COOL and get it out on submission. If I get a contract for it, even better, but I'm trying not to tempt providence.

2. Get the horror WIP completed to beta reader stage.

3. Step up the promotion a notch or two, and aim to increase sales of the published novels.

So it's going to be a busy year, writing-wise, as I've got two WIPs on the go at present. But it will be good for me to focus. I need to develop more discipline when it comes to writing.

I wish you all a Happy New Year, and all the best for 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Do You Really Want?

Hope everyone enjoyed your holiday. I'm taking advantage of being able to stay up late and sleep in.

Hard to believe I've been posting here for almost a year now. During that time I achieved a series of firsts: judging a contest, in which I also served as category coordinator, participating in an author reading, and sitting on my first panel. And yes, I've worked on my writing, promotion, blogging, etc. My intention is to secure two contracts in 2012.

While I can't guarantee I'll meet my goal I can say there is one way I won't achieve it. If I do nothing. And that brings me to the point of this post.

If you want something, go after it. If you want to be a writer, write. Stop making excuses. Even if it's only 100 words a day, that's better than zero. 

That said, there are situations that make it difficult to write. I'm talking about people who wistfully talk about wanting to write but never make any attempt at it.

Why is this? Is it a fear people won't like their story? A worry they won't be published? Hell, I submitted a story to my editor and she gave me a "revise and resubmit" type of rejection. Am I going to cry in my beer? Hell, no. I'm polishing that damn manuscript til it gleams then resubmitting it. Should she reject it, I already have a list of publishers to send to.

I want to be a published author with more than one contract. This is my motivation, my drive to succeed. I understand my stories are too short (novellas and short novels) to attract an agent. That's okay. Maybe one day.

Look hard and long at the reasons holding you back from achieving your goal. If it's something you can change, go for it. Because you're the one who has to want it badly enough.

All best to you in 2012!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


The second Shara Summers book - entitled DEAD COOL - was critiqued by my writing group this past weekend. Much as I fantasise about writing a book to which the response of all my beta readers is, "this is amazing. Don't change a word", I know it's not going to happen. I don't think it even happens to the award-winning, rather more famous writers.

So what was the verdict on this second Shara adventure, in which she investigates the case of the defenestrated rock star? There are some logistical problems with the plot. Yes, I did already know that. Between draft 1 and draft 2 the murderer changed, throwing up some issues with the original plot - pointing to the first murderer - that now make no sense with the second murderer. I just haven't worked out how to fix them yet.

I got some comments about Shara being too emotionless and wooden to be an actress and/or main character. I got the same comments about early drafts of DEATH SCENE, which I endeavoured to fix. I guess I haven't yet, or she would not be attracting the same comments in the second book.

I am very lazy when it comes to research. This has been thrown up, too, and it's something I have to hold up my hand to. Particularly when it comes to scene setting. This book is set in London, but in some parts I don't know too well. Instead of just skirting over specific locations and street names, I'm going to have to pin the locations down a bit more - have Shara visit specific places, near specific tube stops.

However, there is one particular sub-plot of DEAD COOL that my beta readers appear not to like. When I wrote DEATH SCENE, Shara's love interest Richard was only ever going to be a brief fling. I started Book 2 assuming he was out of the picture for good. However, in writing the book it became clear that Shara had unresolved issues when it came to Richard, and in one scene she decides she wants him back. Well, she is tied up in a basement at the time, thinking she's about to die - such a situation can encourage serious self-reflection.

Anyway, in the next draft I tried to flesh out the relationship between Richard and Shara, and there is a scene at the end where she meets him to try to resolve things between them. My beta readers didn't like that scene. "Too much like a romance novel", they all said.

It has to be said, however, the beta readers present at the crit session were all men. I have not yet had any feedback from my female beta readers. I don't write romance novels. But Shara is a single young woman, and an actress, and if she is to seem like a realistic character she has to have physical relationships. My editor advised me as much, and felt that in the initial draft of DEATH SCENE there was not enough about Shara's relationships. I have been endeavouring to fix this. But the boys thought they were reading a romance novel. Possibly they are not the target audience.

I think I might need some female opinions before I start writing the romance out of the next draft. It will be interesting to see if they have a different view.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pitching Fast-Talking Balls of Advice

Looks around. Oh, right. Today's my turn to post.

Except I'm not really up to it. Had something in mind about advice writers receive and whether or not it's good or bad, depending on one's particular situation.

But since I'm here, why not go for that? Over the past year, I've thought about all the advice coming hard and fast at me and other writers as if from an out-of-control pitching machine. Either swing, miss, dodge, or get hit.

"Write what you know." We hear this one a lot. Isn't that what research is for? It's not that our experiences can't make for a story but why limit our ability to learn something new? For example, I knew nothing about steamboats when I plotted my NaNo project this year. At some point, I'd like to combine this research with river life on the Ohio River and write a book about river pirates.

"First books don't get reviewed." Aside from a few Amazon & Goodreads reviews, Death Sword has garnered only one from a book review site. And none are from sites the review coordinator submitted to. That said, I also have a review scheduled for March and am waiting to hear from another after the holidays. I decided to start looking for reviews rather than wait for them. And why shouldn't a first book get reviews? Is it any less important than the second or third book? I worked hard on this story and if anyone thinks I'm going to toss it aside, well... Yeah, right.

"You need a backlist." Okay, I tend to agree with this. But I've also heard you shouldn't promote your first book and it'll take two, three, maybe even four books before you find your readership. Duly noted. However, I'm going to promote my lonely debut while I work on other stories. Again, it's simply a matter of not abandoning the first book, even if it's not perfect. Hell, we all have to start somewhere.

You have to look at your needs and situation when considering another's advice. What might work for someone else may not work for you. It's not the advice is wrong or right. Okay, there is bad advice out there. Definitely ignore that. You know, like if someone says you should submit your manuscript written in tomato sauce on a pizza. Bad idea.

That's about enough of that. But a shout out to Creativity Cauldron for coming through with a beta for the angel UF.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Appropriate Music

Most writers seem to listen to music of some kind when they write. I prefer silence. I think this probably stems back to my teenage years. I spent a lot of time then holed up in my room, either doing homework or writing, and for both I needed quiet to concentrate.

However, when I have my early-morning writing sessions in Starbucks there is usually music playing. Generally, if it's not very interesting music, I tune it out. If it's music I know and like, I find myself listening to it, which makes it harder to concentrate on the writing.

At the moment when I sit in Starbucks I'm getting bombarded by Xmas songs. All well and good, but I'm writing a horror novel. Festive cheer is hardly encouraging the right mood.

Last week, sitting in Starbucks, I was working on a particularly difficult funeral scene, for one of the young victims of my supernatural monster. There are some key conversations that have to happen at the funeral to demonstrate the strain on the relationships between the main characters. I'm finding these scenes hard enough to write at the best of times. With cheesy Christmas pop songs going on in the background, it was even harder.

But then 'Hallelujah' came on. This has become a Xmas song simply because it was released by the X Factor winner a few years ago and hence was guaranteed to become the Xmas Number One. Whoever decided 'Hallelujah' was an appropriate choice for a Xmas song clearly hasn't listened to the lyrics. It's a beautiful song, but very depressing. And violent. However, it seemed aptly fitting for my downbeat funeral scene, and proved to be an inspiring song to write to.

If you're not familiar with the song, I include the Bon Jovi version here. This is admittedly not the best version - there are many - but this one's not bad, and I do enjoy looking at Jon Bon...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thank You

Writing is a lonely business. No, I’m not the first person to say this and I won’t be the last. But there are people who stand by us, and this post is a thank you to those who’ve supported me during my writing journey this year.

My husband, who always encourages me when I get depressed over weak sales or no reviews. I’ve tried to follow his adage that soldiers (he’s a retired Vietnam Veteran) don’t give up. Not easy but it helps keep me focused.

Kate Lynd, fellow writer and cheerleader. She promotes my book and even allowed me to share in a book signing at the library. Some people talk about supporting an author. She walks the proverbial walk. 

Michele Lee, reviewer. Not counting the few Amazon or Goodreads reviews, Michele is the first one to give me a review on a book review site, Monster Librarian. Much appreciated.

BIAM_Writathon and Creativity Cauldron, two of the most supportive writing groups I belong to. Not saying my other writing groups aren’t, but it is these two who have gone the extra mile, hence their mention here.

Nerine Dorman and Renee Rocco, my editor and publisher, respectively, at Lyrical Press. Nerine keeps me on track whenever I derail. And she doesn’t let me get lazy with my writing. Renee has not only been supportive of Death Sword, she answers any questions this newly published author has.

Sonya Clark and Sara-Jayne Townsend, fellow Write Club bloggers, who allowed me to play in their sandbox and for also being supportive.  

And finally, thank you to my readers. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed  my angel-centric urban fantasy. And I hope you stay with me on this writing journey.

Note: As a bonus for reading this, I’d like to share a video I taped at the aforementioned signing. Warning, it’s me reading the first chapter of Death Sword. But hell, if you want a good laugh, have at it.  *grin*


Monday, December 12, 2011

Writing a sequel

When I reached the end of Mojo Queen I had some vague ideas about a sequel and kind of wanted to turn it into a series, but I wasn't sure how to do that. I still don't, but I'm writing this post anyway.

First, a disclaimer: I really don't know what I’m doing and you'd be better off taking advice from someone who does. Because honestly, the more I write, the more I am convinced I really, seriously don't have a clue what I'm doing. But Carrie Clevenger asked me on Twitter about my thoughts on this whole sequel business a while back, so here we go.

In your first book, you establish a world and even more importantly, you establish your main characters. Who are they, what are they about, what do they want, what are they willing to do to get it? Not only did you ask those questions but in the course of your plot you answered them. But that first book didn't tell you their whole story, otherwise you wouldn't be writing that sequel, now would you?

One of the things we do to explore what our characters are made of is something I call escalation. This is basically when you throw your character into the frying pan and have them struggle their way out. And then once they're out of the frying pan, you throw them into the fire. If you're writing a short story you do this once. If you're writing a full length novel, you and your characters might as well get used to being crispy. I think escalation works whether you're writing a stand-alone, the first in a series, or a sequel. What might change from book to book is the nature of the fire.

In Mojo Queen the nature of the fire Roxie was fighting was external. She was contracted to help in a case of demon possession. It wasn't a personal issue. It got personal as she and Blake developed an attraction for each other, but even with that budding relationship it was still just a case for Roxie.

In Red House, the second Mojo book, things are different. Roxie is still hired to work a case, a haunted house this time, but her perspective is different. Roxie has lost her home in a catastrophic flood and her entire life feels adrift and unmoored. Hurt badly by her inability to save her own home, she is determined to save her clients' home, even if she has to go deeper into hoodoo and magic than she ever has before. Because, ahem, this time it's personal.

This time it's more than just plot escalation that's necessary, it's character escalation. By changing the nature of the fire - from an outer conflict to a more inner conflict - the stakes have been raised considerably. Roxie's heart is on the line as she struggles to figure out where she and Blake stand with each other, her sense of self-worth is on the line as she struggles with her abilities with magic, her sense of stability is on the line as she faces having lost her home.  With Maple Hill, the haunted house of the title, acting as a stand-in for her own home and other things, everything has become personal for Roxie.

The most important thing about a sequel is getting deeper into your main character. This is their story, after all, and each book is part of their story arc. Part of their journey, if you will. The farther along they get in their journey, the more difficult things should get. The rewards should also be greater too - don't forget that part.

So -> Escalation. Raising the stakes. Getting deeper into your main character's heart and soul. That's really all I've got as far as sequels/series go. I know it's not much but if this is something you're tackling I hope it'll help at least a little. (Further disclaimer: I really had no idea what I was doing with Red House until about two-thirds of the way through. One day I was just, ah, so that's what this is about. I can't outline to save my life.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing Lesson #15: Professional Attitude

Seventeen years with the writing group means I'm accustomed to my work being eviscerated. As far as writing groups go, we pull no punches. When I workshopped DEATH SCENE, it got a fairly harsh review.

In most cases, however, I found I couldn't disagree with the criticism. I tried to address these problems in later drafts; my editor came out with very similar comments during the editing process.

Understanding that my writing is far from perfect, then, I tend to take on board criticism and suggestions during the editing process and most of the time I change the manuscript accordingly. Hence, during the editing rounds on both books, my editor sent me suggested changes, I made them, and sent the manuscript back to her. I didn't know it at the time, but this apparently is helping me build a reputation as a good writer to work with. It seems that not all writers take suggestions for change to their manuscript with as much cheerful acceptance as I. Some make a whole lot more fuss.

And this brings me onto the subject of this post: professional attitude. Now, if you're a mega best-selling author, and your publishing company is making gazillions from your books, you can probably afford to be a diva who throws tantrums all over the place and people will still fall over themselves to work with you. For the rest of us, however, it pays to have a professional attitude. Editors and publishers are much more likely to want to work with you if you prove yourself to be easy to work with, willing to take on board the changes they want to make and return edits and all the paperwork in a timely manner.

Being a professional writer is about attitude. If you were an employer and you hired someone who never did what they were asked to do, who never turned up to work on time, and who whined on and on about not being in the right mindset to do what was asked of them, chances are they wouldn't be your employee for very long.

Being a writer should be regarded in the same way. It's a career. OK, it's not one that pays the bills for many of us, but it's a career all the same, and if you want people to take you seriously, you should treat it as a serious business

Maintaining the attitude is in itself is a full time job. You never know when you might run into someone socially who might be a potential punter for your book. They're much more likely to buy it if they find you an agreeable person. This is why I carry my 'writer' business cards everywhere I go. Unlike the day job, which I can leave behind at five o'clock, I try to remember to wear my 'author face' whenever I'm out in public.

Being a writer is more than just creating the words. It's about being the kind of writer publishers want to work with. About being a a writer with the right attitude. These factors all become important when you build your brand.

And that's a topic for a future post...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Good Intentions

Come December and I, like many authors, think about my writing goals for the following year. The operating word here being “think.”

I suck at setting goals. Really. I start out with good intentions but don’t always follow through. NaNoWriMo is an exception. But that also shows me I can succeed at this goal-setting thing if I want to.

Here are a few objectives for 2012:

1. Keep my two main blogs updated with reviews, interviews, and posts.

2. Review more books.

3. Read at least 52 books next year.

4. Revise and submit the 3 manuscripts I’m currently working on.

5. Finish the 4 works-in-progress.

6. Get 2 book contracts. (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?) :-)

7. Write at least 1 screenplay (Script Frenzy) and polish the other.

8. Enter a writing contest.

9. Join 1 or 2 local writers’ groups (contingent on membership requirements).

Manageable, right? Certainly hope so. If nothing else, this list will keep me accountable. Now to print it out and hang it on my cork board.