Saturday, June 29, 2013

Reading...a lot!

June was a very busy month for me, unfortunately however, not in my writing life. I rarely had more than a half an hour to myself, not enough time to get any creation done. As a result, I edited a few pieces, dabbled a little here and there...and read. Easier to spend time waiting in line reading a book than writing one.

I picked up the second in Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris' Adept series (Lodge of the Lynx) at a library booksale (don't ya just love getting an entire armload of books for under five dollars?!). I already had volume one and several other unconnected Adept books, so I picked it up. But it's been such a while since I read the first, I re-read that one, then finished the second fairly quickly. I read Dagger Magic early in the week and finished it at the cabin this Wednesday past (sidenote: interesting that Amazon calls this #4 in the series. The actual novel only calls it "A Novel of the Adept" with no indication of a timeline).

Katherine Kurtz is one of my all-time favorite authors. Her Deryni series is partly what got me into writing my own stories. She's got a great attention to detail and certainly can do ceremony!

In cleaning out the English department office at school, I came across My Time in Heaven by Richard Sigmund. I mistook it for Dr. Eben Alexander's story. Sigmund's story was a quick read and an interesting view of what he saw when he died. I liked his comment in the preface: "Everyone who has an experience like this is going to see it differently." Sigmund is a Christian pastor and many of the symbols and images he saw were couched in that tradition -- because it's what he'd understand. He's very clear that what he tells is what he saw -- not what you or I would see because our approaches/philosophies would be different. We would have symbols we could understand. A cool read, even if they weren't my symbols.

Next up came Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale. Wow. Just wow. Very few fiction books surprise me any more, but this one sure did. I read it in a day only because I couldn't put it down. I was glued. No spoilers but I'll tell you its a Regency romance unlike any other. Really, really good and I recommend it highly.

And then I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It's a young adult novel and didn't take but an afternoon but it made me cry. Twice! I am very grateful a teaching colleague gave it to me to read. It's a great companion piece with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (one of my top five favorite books of all time).

By then my transition was done and I was back in writing mode. Wrote 3500+ words on my Christmas story and finished off a chapter. And all this from Wednesday night to Friday afternoon! Gotta love being alone at the cabin. :)

Play safe!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Billionaires, Vampires And Reader Expectations

I'm pleased to welcome Cynthia Sax as the workshop's first guest blogger. She has a great set of ideas below, so read on...the activity is below the blurb. :)


This is the most common advice given to new writers. Why is reading important? Because readers have expectations for characters, for settings, for story premises, for genres.

Reader expectations define genres. In a romance, readers expect either a happy ever after or a happy for now. In a mystery, readers expect a mystery. In a horror, readers expect to be scared. If you deviate from these expectations, your story will no longer belong in the genre.

Reader expectations for characters, what I will be focusing upon today, are more flexible. Writers can and often should deviate from the reader expectations. Not every billionaire hero should be a clone of Christian Grey from Fifty Shades Of Grey. His story has already been told.

Before deviating from reader expectations, I like to know what they are. I do this by reading best selling books. I also ask readers.

Reader expectations vary by genre so it is important that the books and the readers are in my targeted genre.

When I tell young adult readers my hero is a vampire, they describe Edward from Twilight. This vampire sparkles in the sun. He dresses like a teenager. He’s awkward. He drinks blood but he doesn’t kill people. He often doesn’t even drink human blood.

When I tell paranormal erotic romance readers my hero is a vampire, they describe a black-trench-coat-wearing, pale-skinned, dark-haired, blood-drinking vampire. This vampire is smooth, sophisticated, alluring, controlled, and strictly nocturnal. He’s a killer.

These are two very different vampires.

If I were writing a very short story (2,000 words or less), my paranormal erotic romance vampire hero would be exactly the vampire readers expect. If I deviate from the reader expectations, the readers will ask questions. Why is he wearing pink? Why doesn’t he drink blood? How can he walk in the sun? Answering reader questions requires additional words.

Our readers are very intelligent. Any deviations from expectations including scars or broken items grab a reader’s attention. Why are there notches on the hero’s gun? How did he get that nasty scar? They’ll turn pages, reading to uncover the reason for the deviations.

In a longer story, if my hero is exactly what readers expect, readers will become bored. The hero will be ‘just like every other vampire.’ However, if I deviate completely from all of the reader expectations, readers might feel cheated. They’ll tell me he isn’t ‘a real vampire.’

One of the techniques I use to create interesting characters is layering expectations. My paranormal erotic romance hero might be a vampire AND a police officer. I’d then list the expectations for both ‘types’ and compare them.

If there are no similarities in the two lists, I know convincing readers that one hero can be both will be very challenging and require additional words, possibly overshadowing the story I wish to tell. In this case, there are many similarities. Both vampires and police officers take action. They’re physical. They can work at night. They prowl the streets.

Next, I looked at the differences. Vampires are loyal to their coven. Police officers are loyal to their department. Ohhh… conflict. Our hero has split loyalties. Can we use this conflict in our story? Maybe he works a case where the killer they’re looking for is a vampire. 

I also use reader expectations to show emotional changes. At the beginning of the story, our vampire hero dresses all in black. He meets a pink-loving heroine. When he falls in love, he adds a pink stickpin to his otherwise all-black outfit. Readers will notice.

This is why I love reader expectations. Any deviation from reader expectations is highlighted. It raises questions and creates excitement. Reader expectations is a powerful tool that I use to build all of my characters.


Title: He Watches Me

She desires to be seen. He wants to watch.

Anna Sampson has a naughty secret. Every night, she slips into her neighbor’s yard and swims naked in his pool. She fantasizes that the dynamic young billionaire watches her nightly nude aquatics, his brilliant green eyes gleaming with lust.

She discovers this isn’t pure fantasy. Gabriel Blaine has been watching her via his security cameras, and now that he has returned to L.A., he doesn’t plan to stop. That’s all he wants—to watch. Anna knows she shouldn’t allow him and she certainly shouldn’t want more, but she craves Blaine’s attention, needing his gaze fixed on her body.

Part One of The Seen Trilogy

Author Website:
Twitter: @CynthiaSax


Take a look at your current work-in-progress. What are the expectations you've built up for your reader? What personality traits, visual cues, pieces of foreshadowing have you layered in? Use your journal and write a reflective piece answering those questions (yes, answers can be in note form and don't need to be in complete sentences!) :)

Play safe!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sell through

This post is part of a series I've been doing on the Business of Writing. Today we're talking about that all-elusive sell-through.

Sell through is publishing jargon that came into being when authors started getting advances. The publishing house would upfront the author a royalty payment of an agreed-upon amount (big name authors got big name advances, most authors got a couple of thousand as an advance). There would be no more money for the author, however, until the royalties reached the same amount as the advance. The "sell through" point.

In other words, if an author received an advance of $5000 on her book, she wouldn't see another penny until she'd sold enough copies that her part of the price totaled five thousand dollars. The book would have "sold through" (or past) her advance and her publisher would be happy. She would be too, because now she'd start receiving royalties again.

In self-publishing, though, sell through is probably more accurately called a profit/loss statement.

It is how you determine if a book has actually made you money...or not. It's another data point you can use to make decisions about promotional efforts, cover art...a whole host of business decisions! Remember, as a writer you are running a business. Whether or not you are self-pubbed, knowing your data is the best way to keep your career moving forward.

This is a spreadsheet for Tied to Home. As you can see, the book is a slow starter, but I've already earned a profit. Between the cover art and an ad I bought, I spent $80; the book has earned me a total of $152.56. This gives me a profit of $119.84. 

(And yes, these are actual numbers. I truly believe we do newbie authors a disservice by hiding what we make on a book. Most books I publish have a stronger start, but some don't even do this well. Be honest about what you do or don't make. How else will others learn?)

What these numbers for this book tell me is that I can afford to do more paid ads. The one I ran appeared in January (although I bought it in November - that's a fault with this spreadsheet that needs fixing. I want a better way of knowing when the ad ran to see if it made an impact on sales. A comment in the January box will probably be sufficient).

This spreadsheet also makes me feel good. Okay, so the book isn't taking off and selling a ton of books every month. But it is selling and I've made money.

It also tells me I might want to look at some externals. Although I've made a profit, the book isn't selling as well as I think it should. Knowing this, last week I changed the blurb in all listings to working that linked it to the rest of the books in the series. I also updated the title on Amazon to reflect that it is part of a series so that, if someone searches for "The Sweet Spot series" it will come up. Tied to Home is one of several stories written by the members of the Sizzling Scribes. All the books are set in Port Clef, Connecticut and explore love and romance--and sex, of course! Making sure all the books in the series point to all the other books in the series should boost sales for all of us.

(Working with a group of authors for promotional purposes is the topic of an upcoming post. :) )

The bottom of the page is cut off, but I have a separate page for each of my books. It helps me to keep track of what ads I've bought and where they are; for my older books I can tell if there's a pattern to the sales (again, another blog post for another day: looking for patterns).

Data is your friend. The spreadsheet above is one data point. You can use your sales records to see what platform it's selling best on as another. Each piece of information helps you inform your decisions, helps you run your writing business.


Set yourself up a profit/loss statement for each book. If it is a newly-published book, setting this up and keeping track will be easy.

If the book has been out a while, use your sales records and your account information to help you re-create the records. And if you haven't set those up...what are you waiting for? {g}

Play safe! If you find this useful, please pay what you can for the ideas.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Superman our Savior?

I went to see the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, under a little duress yesterday. Don't get me wrong. I love superhero movies, they really appeal to the fantasy lover in me and some manage to transcend the usual, let's-blow-up-everything-in-sight philosophy (see my review of Ironman here).

But really, how many re-boots of a story do we need? The Hulk got a TV series and two movies, Batman got a TV series and two re-starts. Spiderman's on his second recent restart (after a TV series as well). Then here comes Superman, having to prove he's superior with several TV series and THREE movie reboots!

To be fair, the second restart wasn't very good. There were plot holes wide enough to drive a train through and incredible leaps of logic. So I can understand the movie producers wanting to just forget that one and move on.

But the key words here are "move on." Don't tell me the same story all over again. Give me an episode. Not the same old story we've seen before.

WARNING: the rest of the post contains spoilers, so stop reading here if you don't want them.

So I went, expecting little that was new and much that was familiar: Jor-El sending his son to Earth as his planet imploded; the spacecraft and little boy being found by Midwestern parents who will raise him, his eventual move to Metropolis and the development of his alter-ego Clark Kent who gets a job at the Daily Planet.

All that was there, as expected. What was unexpected was the incredible backstory they filmed on Krypton. I suppose the producers wanted to get their money's worth out of Russell Crowe, an actor I don't really care much for. But, I have to admit, he was a powerful Jor-El. I found myself looking forward to each of his appearances as Superman's guiding force, once Clark accepts that he is not human.

The structure of the movie begins in a usual manner: on Krypton, filling us in on exposition. But once Krypton implodes, the movie's timeline shifts to an adult Clark Kent who moves from job to job, helping people and leaving as soon as people begin to suspect he's different. He's a man in hiding.

From there, the story alternates between present time and flashbacks to his childhood in Kansas. At first I was concerned. I tend to lose the main storyline if there are too many interruptions. But Zack Snyder, the director, handled them well and the story flowed seamlessly to get in all the story points. In fact, on retrospect, I think I preferred this structure to the straight, chronological storytelling that's usually used. Made this reboot something new.

But what I really wanted to talk about in my review were the incredible number of Christ references in the film. I noted the first one and thought, "Ah! An allusion. Nice touch." Then there was another...and another...and by the time he said his age (33) it was pretty obvious this remake wasn't just "truth, justice, and the American way." There is another, not-so-subtle subtext going on, from the way Superman hangs in the air, the dust haloing his body when he meets the US Army for the first time, to the wrestling with who he is (the "running away" section equals the 40 days in the desert Jesus took early in his career. And it is no accident that Superman comes out of the desert to meet with the Army - and the men who become his followers).

A good movie stays with you a while, and Superman did that last night, the Christ images weaving in and out of my consciousness as I toyed with this post in my head. Then, this morning I awoke my computer to check the headlines (my usual routine) and came across this story on CNN. I am not the only one to be hit over the head with the Christ references.

Now, to be fair, the article states that studios providing movie guidelines to churches is a regular practice. I know from experience the studios often put together study guides for schools, too. I have no problem with that. I just find it interesting that this movie has such an obvious parallel when I didn't see it in any of the other movie or TV incarnations that dealt with the man in the cape.

Not that it wasn't there. Heck, most superhero movies have savoir themes. Ironman does. So does the Odyssey if you really want to go there. Heroes are saviors. That's what they do. That's what we want them to do. People are in a jam and they need someone to help them out. Enter the hero.

But while Ironman had Biblical allusions, Jon Favreau (the director) didn't hit the audience over the head with them. They were subtle and you had to watch a few times to catch them. In Man of Steel, Snyder uses such a heavy hand that the allusions threatened to pull me out of the movie. And that's the objection I have. Let me find them, don't tell them to me outright. There's no art in that. And I like art in my movies (as well as a couple of well-done explosions).

All that said, it was a good movie and Henry Cavill is a good Superman (and, as one of the characters admits, "He's hot." I agree!). Amy Adams as Lois Lane is fun and I believe her every moment, even if she is in on his secret identity from the start (a story change I'm not sure I like). Kevin Costner has several wonderful moments as a dad trying to raise a special child and Diane Lane as Superman's mom has just the right balance of love and practicality. And yes, even Russell Crowe gave a good performance. :)

There is a great deal more to be said of this film, but I've only seen it once. I will watch this movie again and then I'll come back to discuss some of the other aspects of the film (the change in Superman's costume, a missed opportunity, the Colonel's sacrifice...among other things).

Yes,  in spite of the heavy-handed allusions, there were some levels to this film that are worth exploring deeper. Till then,

Play safe!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Workshop change-up

When I first started providing these workshops back on October 4, 2011, I never thought I'd still be going strong a year and eight months later. My initial plan was to post a pre-written set of workshops that had been honed over years of teaching them in real time as well as giving them in Second Life with an eye toward collecting them into a single volume that I'd offer for sale.

Then the publishing world imploded - or exploded, depending on where you're sitting - and I just kept offering new ideas, different ways of looking at the world and providing the occasional prompt (or two, or three) to help both beginning writers and those with more experience. Maybe someday I'll figure out how to put these in a book, but that's no longer my focus.

Over the past year and a half (plus some), my focus has become more on the reflective writer, on the whys and wherefores (a redundant phrase if ever there was one!) rather than on the how to's. Although I've done workshops on grammar, you really can learn that better from a site dedicated to the structure of language. There have been workshops on the business side of writing, the editing process, lots of workshops on characters and plot and theme. You can find the entire list of them here.

You might not comment, but I know you're attending to these workshops because my website hits double every Tuesday. I like to imagine you eagerly coming to the workshop, reading through it and then taking time to do the activity and finding out something new about your own writing. If'n you wanted to drop me a line (email or in the comments), and let me know what's worked for you, I'd love it. My ego is small, but it does need a sop now and again. :)

So what's the change-up the title of this post refers to? I think it's time to get some other writers in here to share their expertise, don't you? Guest lecturers, as it were. No one wants to listen to the same person over and over and over.

The first guest blogger will be Cynthia Sax. She'll be here Tuesday, June 25th to talk about "Billionaires, Vampires, and Reader Expectations." She has some great tips!

Next on the schedule is Shelly Munro on the naming of characters. Shelly is a long-time Ellora's Cave author who writes very hot love scenes! Her post is coming July 16th and I'm looking forward to learning a lot from her.

More guests will be coming on board in the next few weeks. If you are a writer and would like to see a particular topic covered or if you have a topic you'd like to write about, email me at and put BLOG PROPOSAL in the subject line. Include a brief outline of your post and we'll go from there!

I know I missed last week's workshop entirely and this week's is really an announcement, so I hope you're spending this time writing on your current work in progress! How many words per week are you getting done? See if you can up that by 10% this week. Write fast, write hard, write lots! I'll post my word count at the end of the week - see if you can beat me!

Play safe everyone, and welcome aboard Cynthia and Shelley!


Sunday, June 09, 2013

over at the Scribes

My turn at the Scribes this week. Head on over and be sure to read the post very, very carefully! :)

If you haven't seen my guest spot at Susana's Morning Room, be sure to stop over there as well. It's not too late!


Thursday, June 06, 2013


Apologies for missing this week's workshop, but I have something to make up for it: I'm a guest over at Susana's Morning Room. Read my post and leave a comment to enter her giveaway.

See you there!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Oh, my glory, it's Tuesday!

My apologies, everyone. The weekend totally got away from me and I have no workshop for today. By this point, you've probably already figured that out.

You have two options: wait until next week to write anything (bad option...don't do this one), or you can visit the Workshop page and revisit an old workshop to hone a skill you want to improve (good this!).

Have fun and I'll see you next week with something new. Honest!