Friday, February 27, 2015

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 65

Received a lot of good feedback from my online critique group this week.  Not the kind of feedback that makes you want to throw the manuscript into the trash.  The kind that makes you sit back and think "Yeah, these suggestions will definitely make the chapter even better."  The kind that makes you want to immediately jump right back in and rewrite that scene instead of moving on and writing the next chapter like I probably should.

Thought of the week?  I wish Candy Crush had a replay button so I could figure out why seemingly simple moves sometimes result in outcomes vastly different from what I expected.  Sometimes I think the game cheats.  Doesn't stop me from playing it, though.

Enjoy the links and have a great weekend!


Writing the Tight Synopsis

How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

Getting Your Self-Published Book Into Bookstores And Libraries

The Dark Side of Digital

Going Pro—Earning Rhino Skin & Learning Which Opinions Matter

Volunteering: Marketing’s Best Kept Secret

Follow the Leader: Moving From Scene to Scene

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Character Name Woes

I’ve probably written about this topic before, but I’m too lazy to search through my previous posts. Doesn’t matter, though. I’ve suffered from this problem for years, and as far as I can tell, will continue to suffer from it for many more.

I’m terrible at choosing character names.

I mean really, really bad.

I know other writers suffer from this malady too, but I take it to another level. Consider the fanfic story I’ve worked on for the past six years (Okay, so I’m a slow writer.). Almost half the characters still have placeholder names. Names I’ve ripped from other stories with vaguely similar characters. Names of personal friends. Names from RPGs.  Silly names suggested by my kids. Sometimes I just call them XXX and YYY, which drives my crit partner nuts.

I’m four chapters into my paranormal YA and I haven’t even decided upon a name for my protagonist yet. I toyed with the idea of using “Karen” for a while, but most of my crit partners hated the name, including a CP whose name is Karen. Said it sounded too old for an 18 year old. They suggested I look up common baby names for 1997, which is a good idea, but after perusing the lists, I still haven’t found a name I’m comfortable with.

Strangely enough, I did come up with a name I loved for the protagonist of the MG fantasy I wrote during Nano a few years ago. Unfortunately that manuscript has since been moved to the back burner to let the plot simmer, so it will be a while before I get back to enjoying the benefits of having a permanent name for my MC.

Such is the life of a newbie writer.

So how do you guys pick your character names?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Writing Links -- Volume 64

What can I say?  It's cold out there.  Perfect writing weather, I suppose, except that all this cold makes me want to crawl into bed early at night, which cuts into my writing time.

Stay warm and enjoy the links.


Start Here: How to Self-Publish Your Book
One of the most comprehensive posts I've seen on the subject.  By Jane Friedman

Should Our Protagonist Be in the First Scene?

Before the Altar of Character

Don’t Show, Don’t Tell


Pondering the Prologue: Keep it or Kill it?

8 Tips to Outsmart Facebook, Dorothy Parker Style

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Backstory in the Opening Chapter? Sure, Why Not?

I’ve been sending the first couple of chapters of my YA paranormal to my critique partners and one of the most common complaints I’ve received is that they didn’t understand why the character did what they did. I can point to many reasons for this, including a lack of interior thoughts, but in many cases my CPs didn’t know enough about the character’s backstory to understand her motivations.

Everything I’ve read says backstory shouldn’t appear until the second chapter at the earliest. The first chapter should be about the MC being in motion, solving the immediate problem, all the while keeping the reader tightly focused on the character and what’s happening to him at that point in time. Backstory can come later, after the reader is hooked.

And that’s how I began my story. I didn’t explain why the character did what they did if it required knowing the character’s backstory. I ruthlessly avoided all mention of anything that happened before the scene began, assuming the reader would be happy to wait until the scene was over before they learned the reasons. But all it did was confuse my CPs.

For example, if I had the hero come across a bomb and make the decision to try defusing it instead of running away, but I hadn’t told the reader the hero has had past experience with this kind of thing, my readers began wondering if he was stupid. But telling the reader about the hero’s past is backstory. Arg! What to do?

So I spent last week reading through the opening chapters of a dozen or so novels and noticed the books I enjoyed reading most were the ones with backstory. Even in the action-packed, fast-paced, no-time-for-the-past, in-your-face openings. Not infodumps, mind you, but scattered around in snippets, disguised within dialogue, interior thoughts, or occasionally in the narrative itself.

My conclusion? When the experts tell us to avoid backstory in the first chapter, what they really mean is we should avoid the pace-killing, paragraphs-long infodumps the reader doesn’t need yet.

So how much backstory do you put in your opening chapter?


Friday, February 13, 2015

Writing Links -- volume 63

Not much new to report this week, although I received several critiques that really helped point to where I'm having problems AND gave me ideas for how to fix them.  Can't ask for anything more for that.

Now if I can only stay up late enough this weekend to apply them to my writing.  Cold winter nights make it waaaay too easy for me to climb into bed instead of writing.

Do You Need Professional Help to Self-Publish?

Business Musings: Sure, I Trust You

Podcasts for Indie Authors

Author Media: Do it Right

Story Lessons from South Park

How to Get a Custom Book Cover for $5 Using Fiverr

Tertiary Characters Have Their Own Issues

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand Review

Today I'm reviewing Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette.  It's an upper middle grade, lower young adult sci-fi adventure novel with a dash of fantasy.  There's also a Rafflecopter giveaway at the end, so be sure to check it out after the review.  But first, let's take a peek at the book blurb.


Check out the tour page for more information.

About the Book:
Billy Bobble Version 4"E = mc2 is no longer the most powerful force in the universe. Your wand is."
 Twelve-year-old Billy and his best friend Suzy Quinofski didn't mean to change the universe. Billy, a quantum physics prodigy, just wanted to find a way to help his hoarding, schizophrenic mother – and maybe impress a coven of older girls in high school. Suzy, his intellectual equal, wanted to help her friend and cling to her last remnant of childhood, a belief in magic. Together they made Billy a real, working, magic wand, and opened a door to the Quantum World where thoughts create reality, and all things – good and bad – are possible.

 Amazon | Goodreads 

         The Review    

Billy Bobble is a twelve year old genius who’s a freshman in high school. His best friend is Suzy, another twelve year old genius who attends the same school. Together, they invent a magic wand that breaks the relationship between space and time, allowing them to make anything happen, provided they can imagine it correctly. And that isn’t always easy when you’re busy navigating through the perils of high school bullies, a coven of witches, and army generals. As you might expect, disastrous things can, and do, happen throughout the story.

I found the story to be an inventive attempt to mix science and magic. Although the explanations had some weak spots, overall it was more than enough to feel right for this type of story. The first section of the book is told from Suzy’s point of view. Billy has disappeared after an explosion at their school and the police want to know why. But after Billy returns from the Quantum world, it becomes his story for the rest of the book.

What I liked most. The sense of humor was the biggest draw for me. Plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor can be found sprinkled throughout the book, much of it involving pop culture references. I also enjoyed the witty dialogue between Billy and Suzy, the humor and sarcasm often belying their age.

What I didn’t like. I thought some of the explanations of how the physics worked might have been too long and involved for most middle grade readers. Remember how mysterious and fun The Force was in Star Wars before Lucas started trying to explain it with midichlorians? Sometimes it’s better to resist the urge to explain than run the risk of ruining the magic (pun not intended) of the story.

I was also disappointed with Billy having no father and his mother being an out of touch schizophrenic. While this allowed Billy plenty of freedom to do what he wanted (which is why roughly 99.999% of MG and YA fantasy books seem to have one or more parents missing in action), I’m always hoping authors will work harder to find ways to write these kinds of stories with relatively normal parents. But that’s a small nit to pick, I suppose. Why change what works?

In summary, I enjoyed the book, although the level of humor often seemed more aimed at adults than at middle graders. Not that kids won’t enjoy the story, but don’t be surprised if some of the jokes and references go over their heads.  But that's okay, since I suspect some of the adults in the house will want to read this book too.

I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an  honest review.

     My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 About the Author: 

R.S. Mellette has written, directed, designed and acted in theatre, film, television, and publishing for over 30 years. His credits in various jobs include XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS, BLUE CRUSH, and his own JACKS OR BETTER, which won Dances With Films Best Screenplay award in 2000. He has been working with the festival ever since.
His novel, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand, released in December 2014 from Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. For novelists, Mellette blogs for From The Write Angle. For filmmakers, he writes for Dances With Films.
 Also find him on AmazonGoodreadsTwitter and Facebook.

1st Prize- *signed* copy of Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand
2nd Prize- Season two of Xena: Warrior Princess
Open to US only
Ends 2/25/15
a Rafflecopter giveaway
This event was organized by CBB Book Promotions.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dianne Salerni on What She's Learned During Her Writing Journey

I'm delighted to have Dianne Salermi as my guest today.  So without further ado, I'll hand the microphone over to her.


First of all, I want to thank Ken for giving me this opportunity to write a guest post in celebration of my January release of The Inquisitor’s Mark, the second book in my Eighth Day series. He asked me to talk about what I’ve learned during my journey as a writer.

Since 2009, I’ve written 5 books that are either published or under contract. I’ve written 2 manuscripts that have (so far) received only rejections.  There are 3 more that have not (yet) had the opportunity to go on submission. I count at least 3 that were abandoned halfway through – although there are plenty more that were aborted before I wrote more than a couple chapters.

What have I learned? Mostly, I’ve learned to understand myself as a writer. The better I know my own process, the easier it is to handle the stress, anxiety, and insecurities that come along with the job. (And the less time I’ll waste trying to adopt other people’s styles.)

Some of the things I’ve learned to accept:

1. First Drafts Come Better After Dark – For whatever reason, late night is the best time for me to write new words. That’s when the Muse shows up for work and the Internal Critic quits for the day. I’ve finally learned to stop fighting this preference. I do all my blogging, email, revisions, and promotions in the daytime and don’t even bother to open a blank page until evening.

2. I Hate Every Project in the Middle – There comes a point about 1/3 into every first draft when I’m convinced it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever written. It’s boring. It’s unmarketable. Once in awhile, I’m correct on this, but a lot of the time, it’s just temporary. During the time when I hate the manuscript, I put it aside and work on something else. If the story is meant to be, it will call me back.

3. I Panic at Every Revision Letter – Every time I open an editorial letter, I go into a full blown panic attack. My initial instinct is to assume I can’t possibly do whatever the editor wants me to do. But in the end, I’ve always managed to satisfy my editors, and I’ve never regretted a single change. Every book has turned out better for an editor’s input and guidance. So if I have to run around the house in agitation, cry, or breathe into a paper bag, I just get it out of my system and then get down to business.

4. Walking Away is a Good Thing – I tend to be very stubborn, and when I’m stuck, I want to keep chewing on the problem until I have it solved. But the answer will often come while I’m reading a book for pleasure – usually something totally unrelated to my project. It’s really hard to close the document and pick up a book, but I’m getting better at it.

5. If You Have to Kill a Darling, Write a New One – Sometimes you have to cut the things you love: A favorite scene, a witty line of dialogue (which is usually not as funny as you think it is) … Over the years, I’ve gotten better at deleting those darlings without regret. I just make up my mind to replace them with something I like even better.

6. I Learn from False Starts and Abandoned Projects – No writing is ever wasted. Whether I quit the project after a page, a chapter, or 50,000 words, I learned something in the writing. Often, I learned what doesn’t work, and that’s as valuable a lesson as learning what does work!

7. To Thy Own Process Be True – It’s great that some authors have a fool-proof outlining method, use Scrivener, or write 1000 words per day without fail. That’s just never going to be me, and I’m happier for realizing it.


Thanks, Dianne.  I still have trouble with number 5.  I rarely delete my darlings.  I just cut and paste them into a new document for later use.  At least that's what I tell myself.  

In the meantime, I suggest  all of you pop on over to Amazon and check out Dianne's books. Eighth Day is the kind of book I'd like to write one day. 

The Eighth Day                    The Inquisitors Mark

Kirkus says:
The Eighth Day -- “Ancient magic pairs nicely with modern intrigue. Complicated alliances and ruthless villains keep the pages turning.”
The Inquisitor’s Mark – “An exciting blend of Arthurian legend and organized crime.” 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Writing Links -- Volume 62

Whew!  I spent most of this week digging out from under the snow.  I also learned two things.

1. It's amazing how easily a small car like the Ford Focus can get stuck on unplowed roads. Arrgh!

2. Having snow and ice stuck inside your tire rims (thanks to being stuck on the unplowed road) can make your car shake really badly when you hit 50 mph.  Shudders...

Hey, at least I got some writing accomplished!

Enjoy the links and have a great weekend.

How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40% – and tighten your story without losing any of the good stuff!

Weaving A Magic System: A guest post by WOVEN authors David Powers King and Michael Jensen

The World According to You

Resonance: Taking the Familiar and Building Upon It With Your Own Twist

How To Win Sales And Influence Algorithms

3 Reasons to Bundle the Early Books in Your Series

Creating Dimensional Characters—The Blind Spot

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Insecure Writer and Critiques

Today is February's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month? 

Because of the comments I receive from my critique partners.

Don't get me wrong. I expect my CPs to find problems in the chapters I send them. To be honest, I expect them to find quite a lot. Places where I've left the reader scratching their heads because I didn't add enough interior thoughts. Sections where my choice of wording led them astray. Paragraphs with too much confusing dialogue. It’s all part of the learning process and I happily accept that.

Every once in a while, though, I'll receive a comment I just don't understand. It's like they're reading a totally different chapter than the one I sent. And that's when I become discouraged. I'll wonder why I can't see what they see. I'll wonder why they think the MC is thinking or doing things that aren't even close to what I intended. And I'll wonder if I have any clue as to what I'm doing, and whether I'll ever have what it takes to properly express the ideas bouncing around inside my head.

But then I'll spend some time thinking about the chapter and I'll eventually come up with a new way to write it. It doesn't mean my CPs will like it any better than the first version, but at least I'm learning. I hope.


Question: What comments do your critique partners make that bother you the most?