Tuesday, January 31, 2012

6-word stories

Getting the post out on time this week!

Six-word stories (or, sometimes we just need to think small)

Ernest Hemingway's shortest story consisted only of six words:

"For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn."

Not too long ago, Wired magazine challenged several science fiction writers to do the same...tell a complete story in only six words. I've only included three below as examples, but you can visit the website for dozens of examples. Notice that most of them are more than one sentence:

Automobile warranty expires. So does engine.
- Stan Lee

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
- Alan Moore

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
- Margaret Atwood

Sometimes these are fun to write on their own, other times this works as a new way to look at an old character or event. Remember, sometimes it isn't MORE words that you need, but fewer.

Your challenge? Write a six-word story, of course. Feeling adventurous? Post your best in the comments section.

If you find these workshops useful, please consider dropping a donation my way. It helps keep me writing!


Friday, January 27, 2012

Want to borrow a good book?

Did you know you don't have to buy Learning Curve? If you own a Kindle, you can borrow this short novella from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library!

Stop by and borrow your copy today!

Play safe,

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Oh, my glory, I forgot again. Someone said something to me today and I said I'd do it on Wednesday. She said, "This IS Wednesday." I slapped my head and thought of you-all sitting there at home wondering if I I'd lost my mind again. Drat.

I have to start associating the workshops with another event that also happens on Tuesdays. I know! NCIS is my current must-watch. New episodes air on Tuesday nights. NCIS=Writing workshop! Help me remember, guys. Send me tweets, emails or, if you're near me, Gibbs-slap me into remembering to post.

Of course, that actually leads into today's topic. The world of NCIS (heck, the world of most TV shows with plots) all have something in common: a world created by their writers and peopled with characters that have backstories of their own. And so, this week's workshop:

Backstory and world building…not just for fantasy any more

Knowing the world in which your story is set is vital to good storytelling. Don’t assume your reader knows what you do. While you want to be careful about bogging down your story with too much detail, knowing the world cold will help you give a thorough picture to the reader.


Choose a story you’ve had rumbling around in your head. In your writing journal, answer the following questions about your setting and society. 
Use the questions below on a story you've already started but are stuck in. Perhaps one will jog your imagination just enough you can get started again.
World Building Questions

In what country is your story set?
What is the monetary system there?
The political system? Who is in power?
Are there any laws germane to your story the reader will need to know/understand?

What languages are spoken there? Do your characters speak that language? (think street talk or dialect as well as invented languages)
What are the curse words of the language? Which ones would your character use? Under what circumstances?

How does the country's economics affect your characters?
What social classes exist? How do they interact?

How is affection expressed in this country? What is taboo? Any mating rituals?

How powerful is religion? What religion? What do your characters think of that religion?

Is there anything in this country's history that is important to your story? If so...why is it important to the characters?

Is there anything in particular about naming conventions (first born always named after the father, for example)?

What is the balance of power between the genders (men more powerful? Women? Equality for all?)? What about between races?

How technologically advanced 1) is the society, 2) are your characters?

Are there any particular foodstuffs that are germane to this group of people? What role does food play in their lives?

What is the climate of the country? Does it have any bearing on your character’s actions?

How educated is the society? Is education important to the people? The government? Your characters?

What about medicine? Is there insurance? What happens when people get sick?

Caveat: it's easy to fall into the World-Building Trap. You get so into creating the world, you don't actually write anything that takes place there. Be sure this doesn't happen to you!

One way around the trap is to answer only enough of the above questions to get yourself started. Fill in other questions as they pop up in your story.

That's it! Have fun with this...creating new worlds out of whole cloth is what writers do and it should be a fun process.

 Remember, all these workshops will eventually be collected and published together. If you are enjoying them and would like to make a donation, please use the yellow button below. Those who donate will get the collected volume at no cost.

Play safe!


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Learning Curve available again

Learning Curve is a short novella I wrote 'way back in 2004. It's been out of "print" for a few months and is once more available.

Here's the original blurb:

As a young girl, Sam fancied herself a writer. Excited, she showed her first story to a classmate, who labeled it "yucky" because Sam's female protagonists had been tied up when they were captured by the bad guys. Abashed, Sam spent the next decade caging her vivid fantasies of being tied up, and cultivating the good girl image that society expected.
Until she met Peter. Sam didn't understand why her body responded so violently to his kiss, only that when it did, her fantasies banged at the bars of their cage and threatened to break free.
The night they finally escaped, Sam's life changed forever.

There are no substantial changes between this edition and the older one, except for some now-fixed grammatical errors. And a new cover, of course!

Learning Curve was a fun story to write. Many readers don't know this, but the first part of the story where we find out that Sam's burgeoning writing career was abruptly halted by a sixth-grade classmate, is an event from my own experience. That actually happened to me and as a result of her demeaning remark, I didn't write another original story for nearly ten years -- not till I got to college. I thought them all the time, but kept any attempts at writing stories only in my head. Thankfully I had the guts to take a Creative Writing class in college and the professor not only enjoyed my writing, but encouraged me to play with language and plot and to continue writing after the class ended. Yay for teachers!

For the next three months Learning Curve will be available on the Kindle only. I'm giving their Select program a try-out, more out of curiosity than anything else. Seems counter-intuitive to me to have it only in one format and available in only one place. Will post here at the end of the 90 days and let you know how the lending option worked and whether or not this was a mistake. If you're not in the US, use the new Purchase Info tab at the top of the page for links to the "other Amazons".

There it is -- the new cover! Play safe, everyone --and enjoy those handcuffs!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

File Management

Practical advice in today's workshop! AND I got it posted on time :)

By this time in your writing career you undoubtedly have lots of pieces of started stories scattered about both in your hardcopy file drawers and on various flash drives or computers. Now is the time to clean up the mess!

Rule #1create a folder for your work in progress and keep all files related to that story inside.

Managing the various drafts of your stories is vital. I speak from experience. Not too long ago, I uploaded the first draft for self-publishing by mistake because I’d mislabeled it. Thankfully I found the error quickly and pulled the mss before anyone bought the wrong copy (I hope!).

In this digital age, keeping your files straight can be a challenge. If you’re like me, you don’t want to throw out previous drafts because, after a good night’s sleep, you might change your mind and want to put back a phrase (or an entire scene!) you cut out. I’m paranoid that way, myself.

My solution? For every story I’ve ever written I keep a separate Word document called “(story title) extras.” So I have a “Secret Submission extras” file, a “Cabin Fever extras” file and so on. That Word doc. holds every scrap of sentence I’ve cut from the larger work. There are times I’ve cut entire scenes (sometimes the characters are going off track, sometimes the plot is bogging down…lots of reasons for slashing scenes) and, by putting them into my “extras” file for that story, I can keep them if I need them later.

But keeping them serves another purpose as well. Sometimes what doesn’t work for one set of characters works beautifully for another. I might be three novels later and working on a scene and remember something I wrote for an earlier novel but cut out. I go to the “extras” file and voila! I have a nearly-fully written scene I can just insert into the new story.

And sometimes those cut scenes become short stories of their own. A scene I cut from Secret Submission, for example, became “Secret Signs”, a short story in Timeless Love.

So Rule #2 of file management? Don’t throw anything away! J

Rule #3 - “Keep your stories straight.”

This is harder than it sounds. Especially if you’ve sent a draft off to critique partners and they return them with the same name you sent it with. Training them to add their initials at the end of the file name (for example: Services Rendered MSedit) is best, but sometimes they forget. If that happens, download the file to an odd place (like your Desktop) and rename it before you do anything further.

Adding the words “Master copy” to the file title also helps me keep straight which version I’m working on and which one I’m referencing.

Rule #4 – Back up, back up, back up!

I have not one, but three computers that are “mine.” I have a Lenovo laptop with the wonderful red dot mouse for work (this is my favorite user-friendly keyboard!), I have a Gateway laptop that I bought when my work computer went on the fritz and I needed something to carry back and forth to the cabin, and I have my desktop powerhouse computer with Internet hookup.

Yes, the two laptops have wi-fi connections but I keep them turned off when I’m working on them. I get distracted easily. Squirrel!

To ferry files between and among the computers I have a dedicated flash drive. Several, actually, but only one is in use as a “ferry-er” at a time.

I keep only the CURRENT file of the work in progress on the flash drive. Deleting older files from it helps to keep down the clutter and manage the mess.

Do you have any other suggestions or rules for file management? Include them in the comments!


Saturday, January 14, 2012

I generally don't write about my personal life much. You all know I'm married (same man, 30 years and counting) and that I have two children. You know I spent a lot of my time writing my novels in the car waiting for them to finish with dance lessons, basketball and baseball practices, cross country runs and other Mommy-taxi duties all mothers perform.

What you also know is that children grow up. My daughter's twenty-one now and a December grad from college. Because she took several college courses in high school, she was able to graduate a semester early. As a theatre major, however, we've been a little worried about her ability to get a job in this economic downturn the US is in. We envisioned months of her home as she sent out resumes and went on interviews for jobs in tech theatre (Her dream job is stage managing. Specifically stage managing for Cirque du Soleil). After all, it's mid-season for most companies and most hiring is done in the spring and summer for next season.

But she's good at what she does. Very good. Her resume so impressed the people at a company in a large city just 50 miles from here that they thought of her when they needed a mid-season replacement for someone who was leaving. She interviewed earlier this week, they told her there were other interviews yet to be held and she'd know by next week.

And then they called this Thursday past and asked if she could start that night.

Thus the whirlwind was put in motion. In the past three days, she's started working a real job in a real theatre for real money. Part of her pay is a room, rent-free, in a house the company owns. It ain't pretty (furnished somewhere between early garage sale and theatre-set rejects) and I'm more than a little worried about the section of the city she's in, but my little girl is calling a show tonight as a professional production and stage manager. I'm so proud of her!

Of course, that means tonight her bedroom here at home is empty. We moved her today. My son is at work and my husband and I just keep wandering from one room to another. He finally settled in his recliner watching Family Guy and Seinfeld re-runs, I've been sitting at my computer watching NCIS episodes, avoiding the emptiness. She's not off at college -- she's begun her life. And while I'm thrilled and excited for her, I also miss her something awful.

Love to you all,
a maudlin Diana

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Writing like we speak—or—Authenticity in dialogue—or—Say what?

I'm thinking I should just post the writing workshops on Wednesdays rather than Tuesdays... I can't believe it's already the middle of the week and I missed it -- again!

Writing like we speak—or—Authenticity in dialogue—or—Say what?

Before you write tips:

1) observe/listen to other's conversations. In the mall, at work, with your great-aunt Mabel.  Note the word choices and sentence structure. Listen and learn. 

2) Observe/ listen to your own conversation. Do you have "habit words"? Certain linguistic phrases that are a part of your lexicon? Quotes from movies or books that creep in often?

3) become aware of geographical peculiarities. What words/phrases are spoken wherever you're setting a story? What are the linguistic "giveaways" that would clue a reader in to your story's location simply based on the dialogue?

While you write tips:

1) Give each character his/her own lexicon. What are words he/she uses that others don't? How can those words give us a clue to his/her personality?

2) Editors are moving away from the "he said", "she replied" format of dialogue. Try to make the dialogue independent of action descriptions.

3) Try not to edit as you go. Just write what the characters are saying. You'll clean it up after you get the scene down.

After you write tips:

1) read your dialogue out loud (heck, read your entire story out loud!). You'll hear where the words are awkward.

2) remember that we speak in fragments. Do your characters?

3) get some friends together and read the dialogue as if it were a script. Skip the directions and just read the spoken words. Does it sound like a real conversation?


Use the tips above and edit a story you’ve already written. J

Alternately, use these steps in writing a new story!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

New Year, new books!

On the reading front: I'm going to keep better track of the books I read this year. Didn't last year and I think I didn't read as much as a result. For some reason, when I keep a list, I actually read more. Go figure!

Started the year with Gangway Lord, The Here Come the Brides Book  by Jonathan Etter. Am only about 75 pages into it and am already pretty turned off. He sets himself up as a historian, but he's done so with attitude (I'M a historian and I ONLY record the truth, so you better listen to me because I know more than anyone else does!). No, he doesn't say that in so many words, but it sure comes across in his writing.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt though, and kept reading. Yesterday, though, I peeked ahead to see what else the book contained and discovered he has included chapters on each actor. Now, I'm an admitted Bobby Sherman fan and have been since the series first aired. But in a history book, I'd expect fair an equitable treatment of all the people involved -- no special treatment of Bobby just 'cause I had a crush on him.

That isn't the case, however. Special treatment abounds for a select few of the actors while the others get short shrift. In the section on the actors, Bobby Sherman (Jeremy Bolt) and David Soul (Joshua Bolt) get only 7 and 11-page chapters respectively. Joan Blondell (Lottie) and Henry Beckwith (Captain Clancey who has to share his chapter with the fans) get 9 pages each. Mark Lenard (Aaron Stemple) and Susan Tolsky (Biddie) each get a more respectable 13 pages apiece.

Etter's biases become blatant in his remaining two actor chapters. Bridget Hanley (Candy Pruitt) gets the star treatment at 29 pages and Robert Brown (Jason Bolt) gets a whopping 35 pages! Throughout the book, it's pretty obvious who the author likes and respects...and who he doesn't. I also find it suspect that the ONLY person still alive he does not interview at all -- is Bobby Sherman.

So yes, that probably shows MY bias somewhat, but if you're going to do a book that purports to be THE history book on the series, then you interview EVERYONE.

Okay, getting off my soapbox. For all I know, Mr. Sherman told him what he could do with his "history" book and refused to be a part of it. I will keep reading, but I will accept this book for what it is: one fan's drool over certain actors involved.

On the writing front: I'm approaching the climax in my newest (as yet untitled) novel. This one has been a lot of fun to write and actually is a mystery/erotic romance combination. With any luck, I'll keep you guessing about who done it 'till the very end!

One last note: Mystic Shades' title YOURS TO COMMAND is set to go off sale shortly. If you haven't yet gotten your copy of this erotic short story, you can still get it on the Kindle and the Nook for 99 cents. The price rises to $1.99 in another two days, so get it while it's still available at the introductory price!

Play safe, everyone!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Workshop -- The Power of Observation

Once again, I'm late posting. No good reason this time. Halfway through the day today someone said something about it being Wednesday and my first thought was, "Oh, no! I missed NCIS!" My second thought was, "Drat! I forgot to post a new workshop." Yeah, I suppose that says something sad about priorities...(sigh).

Here you go...have fun with this one. It's one I do at least once a year just for the heck of it. :)

The Power of Observation

Becoming a writer requires you to be student of humanity. You listen to the way people talk, you watch how they move and the gestures they make -- and then you capture that in words so others can see what you saw.

How well do you notice the world around you? What do you see that others don't? 


Pick a place to do your observation and fill out the sheet below. Malls work great. So do fast-food restaurants.

There's a worksheet I use for this activity, but you're going to have to create it yourself since I can't  attach a file to the blog. You can do this in your word processor, spreadsheet or on a sheet of lined paper --whatever works best for you.

Make a table three columns wide and ten spaces long. Leave LOTS of room to write. Take your worksheet with you or save it to your laptop and fill it in as you observe people in your place of choice. In the first column (label it "Observation"), just write a general comment about what you see. Use the second column ("Impression") to record an overall feeling about the event or scene. In the third column ("Details"), list the specifics of what you’re watching.

Feel free to use your writing journal instead of a separate worksheet. Choose someplace very populated. Aim for five to ten different observations in one location.


Take one of the observations you made and use it as the seed for a new story. Who do you suppose those people were? What were they like? How did the setting affect what they did or said? What kind of lexicon would be appropriate for them? Have fun and spin a detailed story using your brief encounter as the starting place.

Like these workshops? Feel free to leave a tip in the tip jar. Once all the workshops are posted (there are a lot of them), I'll gather them in a single file for sale. If you regularly leave a tip, however, you'll get a free copy! 

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Starts

Sometimes all you need is a new look at an old problem.

There are four of us in this too-big house. When my husband and I were house-hunting nearly 18 years ago, we wanted something large enough to spread out in, something where everyone could have his or her own space. We didn't want to go so large that we lost touch with each other, however. The Queen Anne Victorian we found was perfect, even if it was one town over from where we'd expected to spend out lives. Each child got a bedroom, my husband and I got one to share. The extra bedroom became our study and he lined it with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (the kind with cupboards underneath to hide stuff in). Only one bath upstairs and a powder room down. Perfect!

There was, however, a left-over room. At one time it had been a child's bedroom (I knew that by the wallpaper I scraped off when redoing it), the previous owners used it as a sun room since it's only 9'x6' and has both a western and a southern window. For years it was "mama's room" and I used it to house all my craft supplies, even putting my loom in there (which made very little room for anything else, so that didn't last long).

So that's the set up -- what's the problem?

My daughter just graduated from college and my son decided the major he'd chosen wasn't right for him and they both moved back home. With all their stuff. My daughter had had her own apartment, so she brought home more than my attic can hold. And my husband has recently begun painting (if you haven't been to his site yet, go take a look...he's good!) and his canvasses are taking over the study. And my son's room. And our bedroom.

The upstairs has become a firetrap. Too much stuff in too small a space. And that's not including the ethernet cable running across the hallway to hook my daughter's computer up or the cables that run through their rooms for the Xboxes, the TV's, the....you get the picture.

Two days ago I spoke to each member of the family and said, "Okay, guys. We need to pretend we're just moving into this house. No room has been assigned to anyone yet. Remember, when we moved in before, computers were still in their infancy and one of you was just over three and the other was only 18 months old. What would you suggest if we were to have bought this house yesterday and are moving in this weekend?"

My son immediately said, "Give me the little room."

At first I thought he was kidding. The kid's 6 foot 2 and he wants the smallest bedroom? But he was serious. He doesn't need a lot of room, and as long as he can keep his dresser in the larger room across the hall, he's ready to make his own "man cave."

And so, today is a new start for all of us. We've spent the entire day moving. First we made room in the study and then moved all my stuff from the small room into it. Then, because he has a double bed and that won't fit, he switched beds with his sister. She's thrilled to get the larger bed out of the deal. He moved his desk in as well and started setting up his electronics while my husband then started moving his art stuff and desk and computer into the newly-emptied back bedroom.

So where does that leave me? With the study! I now have my very own space in the house to use as an office/craft room/library. Right now there's stuff all over the place and it's a total mess, but it's mine! My very own place to write where I get lots of light (three outside walls; south, west and east) and often can't hear what's going on in the rest of the house.

New look at an old problem -- and everybody won. This is going to be a good year!

Play safe, everyone :)