Monday, June 27, 2011

CONFERENCES – Are they worth the time – and the money?

 My guest, fellow writer, and Facebook friend Sandra Carey Cody offers some good insights and advice on conferences--worth reading! Her new book is Left at Oz , a Jenny Connors mystery.

I ask myself this from time to time, especially when I have a conference on my calendar. This summer I have two: Deadly Ink in New Jersey and Killer Nashville in Tennessee. Though I’m looking forward to both, my feelings about them are different.

I’ve been to Deadly Ink several times. I know I’ll see some familiar faces there and I look forward to that with a great deal of pleasure. Most of them I haven’t seen in person since the last Deadly Ink. I’ve kept in touch (sort of) via the internet, but it’s not the same. Wonderful as social media is, there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction and, if I hadn’t attended this conference, there’s a good chance I would never have met these people.

Why the different feeling about Killer Nashville? This will be my first time there. I won’t know anyone. Meeting new people is also a pleasure, but being a shy person, there’s a bit of anxiety tainting the pleasure - not nearly as much as when I was younger but it’s still there. I’ve learned that the best way to overcome the anxiety is tell myself that the stranger across the room might be even shyer than I am and I’ll actually be doing her a favor if I go over and introduce myself. Works every time.

Besides renewing old friendships and making new ones, there’s the fun of exchanging ideas. Talking nonstop about books and writing with someone whose eyes don’t glaze over after the first thirty seconds - that’s pure pleasure!

I still haven’t answered the question I started with: Are conferences worth the time? If I stayed home and ignored my “to do” list in the same way it’s ignored when I’m away from home, I could get a lot of writing done. (I probably wouldn’t, but I could.) So how do I justify the time? I remind myself that I’m learning something. Conferences offer workshops that deal with the nuts and bolts of constructing a story. By talking to other writers and learning how they develop their characters and craft their plots, I see new possibilities for my own stories. By listening to readers, I gain an understanding of what makes a story work. So my answer is: yes, conferences are definitely worth the time.

Are they worth the money? I can’t honestly say that attending a conference has made a difference in my bank account, but neither has the money I’ve spent on vacations. Like vacations, conferences are memory makers and, as such, they represent some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Again, my answer is a resounding yes.

I haven’t even touched on the real value of a conference: fellowship.  When I’m at a conference, I am first and foremost a writer.  Writing is not something I do in addition to my real life; for those few days I feel that writing is my life.  And that feeling is priceless – in terms of both time and money.

You can find Sandy at

Friday, June 24, 2011


Tim Hallinan's eloquent plea for the people of Japan.

As the photos above show, there's been a lot of progress in clearing away the wreckage of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.  The problem is, when the rubble is cleared, there's nothing left.

Pretty much everything that wasn't solid concrete that was in the water's path was knocked to bits. (So were some concrete structures.)  Much of what remains is so small it's being picked up by hand by people like 45-year-old Yukari Sato, pictured here.

Ms. Sato does this eight hours a day, seven days a week, and she's not just picking up trash.  She's looking for things she recognizes, bits and pieces of her neighbors' smashed lives that she might be able to return to them. 

Anything is better than nothing.

But none of these images reveals the actual wasteland, which is the wasteland of the heart.  More than a million people have lost loved ones, family members, friends, co-workers, teachers, students.  Each other.  They've lost livelihoods and neighborhoods, comfortable routines and the taken-for-granted but miraculous world of the everyday.

The situation in Japan is still a spirit-breaking tragedy, but this is the time following a disaster that people gradually stop offering support, as the images fade and are replaced by new spikes in the 24-hour news cycle.  The need remains urgent, though, and for readers, here's an easy way to make a contribution.

SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN is a Kindle e-book available on Amazon that contains twenty new and original stories by twenty highly esteemed mystery authors.  The book costs only $3.99, and every penny of that goes to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund Administered by Japan America Society of Southern California.

All the writers are donating one hundred percent of their royalties to the Fund. Amazon, bless its big corporate heart, is donating its thirty percent.  So you pay $3.99 and get a tremendous book, and the relief nonprofits working in Japan right now get $3.99.

The writers whose talent and generosity made this possible are Brett Battles,  Cara Black, Vicki Doudera, Dianne Emley, Dale Furutani, Stefan Hammond, Rosemary Harris, Naomi Hirahara, Wendy Hornsby, Ken Kuhlken,  Debbi Mack, Adrian McKinty, I.J. Parker, Gary Phillips, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Jeffrey Siger, Kelli Stanley, C.J. West, and Jeri Westerson.  I have a story in the collection, too.

And we have a great cover designed by another fine writer, Gar Anthony Haywood

If you don't have a Kindle you can download Kindle for PC or Kindle for the Mac free (just Google the names of the programs) and read the book on your computer.

Please buy SHAKEN and send a little help to those who need everything right now.  And if you like the writers, buy their books.  I've read something by all of them and everything by some of them, and there's not a dud in the bunch.

And a whopping thank-you to Ellis for giving us this space to tell you about SHAKEN.

I have my copy, and the stories are great. Remember, all the money for the books goes to help the people of Japan. Thanks to Tim, Amazon, and all the authors who contributed such good stories. Please help if you can.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Is Writing A Team Sport?

My guest today is fellow Sisters in Crime member and author Linda Lovely. Her debut novel, Dear Killer, has just come out. Good story, fun and interesting characters, wonderful setting! 
While many people consider writing to be a solitary pursuit, preferably performed in a secluded garret, I approach writing as a team effort.
Singles tennis is an individual sport. But when tennis players join a team and share a goal—say a league win—it can lift their individual games. Team members practice together, assess strategies, analyze strengths, point out weaknesses, share pointers, root when a point’s won, console when a game’s lost.
Critique partners and writing groups can serve as an author’s team with improved craft and publication as common objectives. To help one another reach these goals, we pinpoint what works in a partner’s plot and what doesn’t. Is a scene funny—or not? Does a heroine stray out of character? Do the dialogue and internal thoughts of our hero ring true, or is he talking/thinking like a woman? (One reason I LOVE having a male writer as part of my critique family.)

Do I make every change my colleagues suggest? No. Yet I consider them all. Even when I don’t take a suggested revision, I may revise to skirt around a word or sentence that made the reader stumble or a scene that slowed pace or seemed “over the top.”
My teammates catch errors I miss because I’m too close to my work. We also share craft techniques and swap info about agents, editors, publishers, contracts, marketing, social networking—all part of the need-to-know mix in today’s entrepreneurial author’s world.

Of course, group activity doesn’t lessen the need to park my fanny in front of a computer for long, solitary stretches. Yet this isolation is never complete. If I get stumped, I can email or pick up the phone. My critique family is generous with their time and respond to even the most trivial worries—like what kind of pens to buy for my first book signing.
I actively participate in the local chapters of Sisters in Crime (SinC) and the South Carolina Writers Workshop (SCWW), too. I’d belong to both organizations even if there were no local chapters. But I can’t say enough about the benefits of attending meetings, gabbing with fellow writers and seizing the opportunity to tap into a wealth of area resources.
Our Upstate SC Chapter of SinC meets in Greenville, SC, and our guest speakers include a wide range of “Law and Order” professionals. We’ve heard from medical examiners, a U.S. Marshall, district attorneys, police officers, arson investigators, crime reporters, FBI agents, private investigators...and the list goes on. These folks not only seem happy to answer our questions at our meetings, they often hand out business cards and invite us to call with any questions we think of after they leave.
Our local SCWW chapter doesn’t address crime—unless we’re talking punctuation felonies. But these meetings are gems as well. Each month, one of our members researches a writing topic and presents it to the group, complete with handouts and examples. During the past year, topics have included pacing, point-of-view, dialogue, the hero’s journey, and hooks as well as digital publishing alternatives. The format ensures everyone contributes and leads to lively meetings.
Most folks who write fiction can attest to the fact that the road to publication—whether it’s for book one, two or ten—is full of twists, turns and more than a few potholes. I find it’s quite comforting to have good company along for the ride.

Linda Lovely’s new book, Dear Killer, is a fast-paced summer read. It dishes up a main course of suspense, action and adventure with generous sides of romance and humor. The Sea Island setting gives the reader a tantalizing glance at the coastal area known as the Lowcountry, famed for its numerous islands, Gullah culture, plantations and resorts. The novel’s the first in a series of Marley Clark mysteries to be published by L&L Dreamspell.
A journalism major in college, Lovely has made her living as a writer, tackling everything from magazine features and ad copy to speeches and brochures. Her manuscripts have made the finals in 15 contests, including RWA’s prestigious Golden HeartÒ and Daphne du Maurier competitions and mystery contests such as Deadly Ink, Murder in the Grove and Malice Domestic.
For more information about the author and Dear Killer, you can visit her website at:
A note from Ellis. I'll be over at Terry's Place, giving away a Kindle copy of Haunting Refrain.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What Makes a Scene?

A Charleston Scene
A scene is one connected and sequential action. The scene should advance the plot and develop the characters. It must have consequences. What happens as a result of this scene? How would the story be affected if the scene were left out? If the story remains the same, the scene should probably be deleted.
Four questions need to be answered at the beginning of a scene:
1. When—the current time and, unless it’s the opening, how this scene relates in time to the preceding scene
2. Who—the reader needs to know whose POV this scene is in and who is affected by the event in the scene.
3. Where—the physical setting, so it isn't floating in space.
4. What—the problem/event that will change the status quo (This is definitely needed early in an opening scene, but it can be more subtle in later scenes)
Shem Creek Scene
Based on number 4, the affected character needs to be faced with a decision. This is what  makes the hook. How does the character react to the problem? Fight or flight? Does seven-year old Lucy run home to Mama or does she decide to do something about the bully next door? She can run now but a strong character usually decides to act. She may resolve to carry her father’s brass knuckles or take martial arts lessons as long as her decision is to act. 
Each scene should have a goal.  It may not be known to the character, but should be known to the writer. The scene must also have conflict and build toward some future event.
If there is a break in time or point of view, a new scene is required. If I said
With the phone tucked under her chin, Janet poured the casserole into the dish and continued talking. She shoved it into the oven, nodding as she listened to her friend.
 She opened the door to find Bill with his arms full of packages.
This is jarring and makes us wonder if we missed something.
But if the break is very short, a change in location or time may be handled with a transition, such as
With the phone tucked under her chin, Janet poured the casserole into the dish and continued talking. She shoved it into the oven, nodded, and hung up the phone.
A few minutes later, she opened the door to find Bill with his arms full of packages. Her stomach knotted. Another shopping binge. How would she pay for it all?
A scene at Boone Hall
This shows a brief time lapse, but we are still in Janet’s POV in mostly continuous action. It could be a new scene or continue the current one if the scene with Bill is related to the phone conversation or the earlier part of the scene in some way.

What are your thoughts on scenes and scene changes? Does some common practice bother you? How do you handle new scenes?
By the way, the pictures have nothing to do with the blog.--just scenes from my recent, lovely week of travels.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What is Romance?

I'm pleased to have Terry Odell as my guest today. After a confusing start (thanks to me), here she is.

Thanks to Ellis for inviting me to blog. I'm delighted to be here. Since I write romantic suspense, which falls under the larger umbrella of romance, I'm always looking for inspiration for reasons my hero and heroine will be attracted to one another. And romantic moments are more important than writing the love scenes, because they illustrate what kind of a person the character is.

What do you think of as a 'romantic' moment? Flowers and chocolate on Valentine's Day? A glittery something on your birthday? Flowers delivered every Friday?

For me, romantic means thoughtful. Doing something unexpected. Sure, a guy's going to be in deep yogurt if he forgets Valentine's Day, but it's the action that says "I'm thinking of you all on my own" that trips my heartbeat.

Is a Swiss Army knife a romantic present? Some would say no, but the circumstances, not the gift, define the romance. Years ago, I watched MacGyver. Hubby could take it or leave it, and it definitely wasn't a 'let's sit down and watch this together' sort of a show. I was vaguely aware that he'd come into the room, but didn't even turn my attention from the set. When Mac got out his trusty knife, I mumbled, "Why don't I have one of those?" So when I unwrapped my birthday present and found my very own "mini-MacGyver" (hubby wasn't sure I was ready for the real MacGyver version), I was thrilled. Not for the knife, but for the fact that he actually heard me, even when I wasn't staring right at him, and making a specific request.

Sometimes the gifts can be glittery – such as the time when hubby and one of our daughters were out for dinner. Afterward, as we walked through the strip mall toward our car, I decided to look in the jewelry store. Hubby was definitely against it, but daughter and I pointed out things we liked while hubby grumbled. The next week was Valentine's Day, and daughter and I each received one of the, "that's nice" pieces.

Other things that say romance to me:

Hubby saying, "You're working hard, how about if I take over washing the dishes and one baby feeding every day." Bonus points for it being the 2 AM feeding.

Hubby poking his head into my office where I'm busy typing away, and saying, "Dinner will be ready in 20 minutes."

Coming back from the Y and finding the bed made.

Hubby saying, "I'm making eggs, should I cook some for you?"
            Note: leaving the dirty frying pan on the stove 'in case you wanted to have eggs' is NOT thoughtful and romantic.

If we have to ask, it's not romantic. If those Friday flowers are because you (or your secretary) has a standing order at the florist, it's not romantic. If, however, you bring home flowers for no reason other than, "You looked sad when you had to throw out the last ones," then that IS romantic.

Terry Odell writes romantic suspense as well as contemporary short stories. Her latest release include her Blackthorne, Inc. covert ops novels, WHEN DANGER CALLS, WHERE DANGER HIDES, and DANGER IN DEER RIDGE. Find her at her website, or her blog, Terry's Place, And be sure to check out her Deals and Steals tab on her blog. Right now she's offering a 2 for 1 special.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lovely, Lazy Days

I've really messed up. I took Camille's article down and will be posting it JULY 12. This afternoon I'll get Terry Odell's posted--as originally scheduled. Those lazy days about did me in. Still getting back to normal. 

I've been on vacation! I couldn't get to the Internet to post while traveling, but Friday I'll post a few photos from my trip.
Meanwhile, a little BSP (blatant self-promotion)--here's the cover for Haunting Refrain. I'm thrilled to say it's now available on Kindle. The cover artist is Anne Cain. I love the artwork and think it represents the story beautifully.

Suspense, a little romance, a touch of paranormal . . . Photographer Kate McGuire hopes for a little fun in her life when she joins a parapsychology experiment--visions of murder aren’t part of the plan. Then her eccentric friend Venice, a complication all by herself, leaks the story ...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sharing Your Work with an Audience

My guest today is Sylvia Ramsey. Please go to This week Blogger won't let me post pictures, and Sylvia has some nice ones.
Thanks, Ellis

“Standing and delivering” is a powerful way to present your work. However, it is perfectly fine to read, and to develop a personal style. The most important reason for reading your excerpts from your book is that performing is an affirmation. You are the author, take the plunge and go public—you will be surprised at how rewarding it can be.  In addition, presenting your work to the public orally, it will help the sales of your book if you learn to present it correctly. 

There is nothing like a reading performance that kindles something between the writer and the audience.  It is a special moment when the author is able to bring their work alive for the audience in such a way that they see or think of the work differently.  You will want to read the selection you have chosen in such a way that the audience will get a true feel for the meaning of the piece. There are a few things to keep in mind when preparing for this kind of presentation.

Check for time limit.  You need to know how much time you have been given at this event.  Make sure edit your selection sufficiently to meet the time limit.   You will want to allow some of your time for a short introduction to get the audience ready to listen to the selection itself. 

Editing your work will not be easy because you feel that all of your writing is worthwhile, but you will have a stronger presentation if you limit yourself to the minimum time limit. Try to find the most important part and the section of the writing that might resonate with that particular audience. In addition, select a section that lends to being read aloud.  This means that there will many imagery words in that section.  It is also a good idea to select a section that you are comfortable reading aloud.

Know the selection. Knowing your material is the first step to preparing for the reading.  Once you have edited the content and are sure that you meet the time limits, read over the piece several times.

Manuscript Preparation. If you can, type your cutting from the selection in a large font and double space.  (I like to enlarge the font to at least a sixteen or eighteen point font so when I need to glance at the selection, I do not have to lower my head and lose eye contact with the audience. I number the pages so they are in order and will not get out of place.  I put my selection in a 3-ring binder that usually is black or grey.)  It is best to become so familiar with your selection that it is almost memorized so that when you can maintain the maximum amount of eye contact your audience, and you are able to find your place again when you look back at your manuscript.
(I also like to put my manuscript in sheet protectors because it makes turning the pages easier and it keeps the manuscript clean for more readings.)

Mark up your manuscript. Add notations—“slow down,” “pause,” “look up,” underline
keywords, etc.—to give yourself reminders about delivery. Having trouble with a word? Include a note about pronunciation. You can even include notations about time, indicating where you should be at each minute marker.
Energy Level:  Increase your energy level when speaking—this will boost your volume, make you appear to be more confident, and hold your audience’s interest for a longer period of time.  I can always gauge how much I have put into a reading by how tired I am after a performance.  Remember this is a performance, you want to bring your work alive!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lean and Mean--Backstory

photostock /

Backstory is the history behind the situation that’s current at the start of the main story. Backstory is used to lend the main story depth or the appearance of reality. A backstory may include the history of characters, objects, countries, or other elements of the main story. It can be revealed in flashback, dialogue, or exposition. The main thing is to scatter the information through the story as it’s needed. Don’t tell the whole story at once.

Avoid using backstory in the opening scene. Let the reader wonder for a little while. Drop hints to generate interest, but don’t stop the action to give explanations.
Backstories are usually revealed in small, appropriate bits as the story progresses; the background information should pertain to the story in some way. For example:
Gary hurried into the quick shop and grabbed a six pack of Coors. He turned toward the cash register and stopped. The blonde behind the counter, thin and fragile as his grandmother’s crystal, looked on the verge of collapse. Something about her tickled his memory. He looked closer and she glanced up from the till. Pale blue eyes stared at him, the left visible through a slit in swollen, discolored flesh.
Damn. Daisy Brown. He hadn’t seen her since high school. Even then, she bore the marks of a man’s fists. Her father’s, if he remembered. One day not long before graduation, she came limping in and a social worker and a cop had taken her from school. He never saw her again.
“Daisy?” he said.
The part in italics is backstory. Again, keep the word "had" to a minimum. It distances the reader from the story. Gary is remembering and thinking (telling) what happened in the past, but he isn’t showing us. This should be pertinent to the story and to what’s happening at the moment.