Thursday, February 20, 2014

Big Book Giveaway

If you're in the southern Connecticut area this weekend, be sure to stop in at the Mohegan Sun Casino. I'll be there at the Big Book Getaway, sponsored by the Mark Twain House and Museum. This is the first year they've invited erotica authors and I'm thrilled to join fellow Sizzling Scribe Tara Nina in a panel discussion at noon on Saturday. We'll also be joined by Avril Ashton and Karen Stivali, two other Ellora's Cave authors.

Because of this appearance, Ellora's Cave has put not one but TWO of my books on sale for the next two weeks. Both are 25% off, which is a great deal! Click on the pics to purchase!

Hope to see you there...and get your copies today!

Play safe,

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Writing Outside Your Comfort Genre

Please welcome Karoline Barrett as our guest poster today!

     Thank you, Diana for letting me guest blog!

     I grew up reading romance and women’s fiction, so naturally, when I began writing short stories, they were romance and women’s fiction. I’d decided that was my comfort genre. When I wrote my debut novel, it was suspenseful women’s fiction with a romantic element. I was right at home writing it.

     One day, my agent told me that Harlequin was joining with Cosmopolitan Magazine to put out Cosmo Hot-Reads, was I interested in writing a novella for them? They had to be sexy, contemporary stories featuring fun, fearless women who know what they want from their lives, their careers, and their lovers. Did I want to take it on?

     Did she mean erotica? I  confess to reading Cosmo a couple of times a year, and I  tried reading Shades of Gray, (but couldn’t get past the horrible writing), so I’m not opposed to reading erotica, but write it?

     Why not? I thought. Sometimes it’s good to go where we haven’t before. It’s good for the brain, and  helps us grow as writers. I told her I would try. I prepared by reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Writing Erotic Romance. But even after I read that, I admit I had problems writing the descriptive sex scenes. I loved my characters, I loved the plot, but I danced around the actual sex scenes. It’s just not what I write. At least in such detail.

     After reading my first draft, my agent told me I had to be more descriptive with the sex scenes. I thought, “Oh Boy!” and  picked up an erotic romance at Barnes & Noble. I wish  I could remember the author’s name  because I loved the book, and  I loved that she replied to me when I emailed her and asked her how on earth she could write such descriptive, vivid sex scenes. How could I write a beautiful sex scene that was lusty, hot, and verrry descriptive (and without the words “pulsing manhood”)?  I remember her telling me  “Practice saying those words until they come naturally.” I did, and it helped.

     I actually had a lot of fun writing that novella. It’s called HAVING IT ALL, and while Harlequin didn’t bite, my agent has it out on submission again. It was a growing experience and while I don’t see myself writing erotica full time,  I’d like to see it in print, and I wouldn’t mind writing another one. Or two. It was good to step outside my comfort genre!
     If you’d like to know about me and my debut novel THE ART OF BEING REBEKKAH, please visit my website here.


Okay, knew this was coming...time to try writing something outside your regular genre!

This is throw some spaghetti time. Open a new document or, in your writing journal, turn to a fresh page. What genre have you NOT yet written in? Take a moment to jot down the particulars of the genre (murder mysteries have red herrings and plot twists, romances have a happily-ever-after ending, for example).

Then start writing! Dive right in and see where the genre takes you. Yes, I know you usually start by plotting or you write by giving your characters their heads and seeing where they go. Forget all that today and just write. Think genre...and go!

Thanks to Karoline for a great post that's gotten us moving in a fresh direction!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What authors need from editors

In education, teachers write objectives to guide their lessons. These have to be measurable so that the teacher will know if the kid reached it or not. When I first started in the profession 33 years ago, they were all written with the starting words: "Students will be able to..." Eventually most of us reduced that to SWBAT...

But a few years back I learned another way of writing objectives and it made a whole lot more sense to me. Called by the unfortunate name KUD (we educators like our abbreviations nearly as much as the military!), the three letters stand for Know, Understand and Do. What do you want the kids to know about the subject, understand about the concepts and do with the material?

I got to thinking today about editors and what I wanted from anyone I might hire to edit my work. The KUD came to mind and so, I give you the following:

What I want my editor to KNOW:
  • Proper grammar and modern punctuation rules
  • The conventions of story - and when they can be broken
What I want my editor to UNDERSTAND:
  • Dialect. Different geographical areas have different patterns of speech. So do different social classes.
  • My impatience. At the point where the editor is getting my manuscript, my destination is publication and I want to get there yesterday.
  • That egos are sensitive. Be strict but not mean.
What I want my editor to DO:
  • Check for consistency (physical traits as well as personality quirks)
  • Check the timeline for any mix-ups. I'm not talking historical accuracy, although that would be nice. I'm talking the timeline of the story. Make sure I didn't skip days or jump seasons.
  • Identify any plot holes. All plot holes, no matter the size. I want to know where they are.
  • Identify character and story arcs and note if the story veers from them.
  • I have very good grammar and typing skills. Occasionally, however, I do make errors. Don't yell at me. Just fix them.

This is a work-in-progress. Please help me and add more to the comments below. What do writers need their editors to Know, Understand and Do? And yes, editors, feel free to add what you'd like to see from authors!


Saturday, February 08, 2014

To the bitter end....

My husband and I just went to see The Monuments Men. A good flick, if a little slow in the beginning. But this isn't a critique of the picture, it's more of a commentary on the audience.

Now this one was well-behaved. Mostly older than us (which isn't always a plus. Some old folk need volume control for both their ears and their voices). They watched the movie and chuckled when they were supposed to, tensed when the action got general, they acted like well-mannered adults at a movie theater.

And then they left. En masse. The story part of the movie ended, there were a few shots of the real Monuments Men and pictures of the actors alongside their name to help the audience know who played what part. The screen faded to black and the cast list started rolling, white letters on a black background, and the exodus began. Immediately.

I strongly object to this. For two reasons, one practical, one artistic.

The practical: where do you think you're going? The aisle is too narrow to allow everyone to leave at the same time. A line forms and you're going to stand in that aisle until the passage clears. Alternately, you stand in front of your seat waiting for your turn to step into the aisle, which is worse because of reason two:

The artistic. The style of film making today puts all the credits at the end, after the story is complete. Everyone who worked on the film...the extras, the stunt men and women, the grips, the gaffers, even the composer of the music came in this section today. And I wanted to know who wrote the music because I collect soundtracks and can often identify the composer while watching the film (for the record, I was wrong this time...see below).

These people put just as much time and effort into the film as the actors did. Some of them put considerably MORE time in. And yet, people walk out of the movie theater without giving their names a second glance. Audiences don't care about these behind-the-scenes crews.

But I do. I stay every time. The ushers who clean up between showings are often come in and start their job while I'm still sitting there watching names scroll by. One of the ushers today made a snide comment asking if we were staying for the second showing. I ignored him and kept watching the screen as the songs rolled by. There's a song sung in the film and I didn't recognize the voice and wanted to see who it was.

NOTE: There are some films that put a little scene post-movie that they run after the credits. Audiences have learned to stay through the credits for the Marvel movies, for example. They know they'll get a little treat - a sneak peek into an upcoming movie if they stay. While I enjoy these, it's almost like a bribe to get audiences to acknowledge the people who put the movie together whose faces are not on the screen. I know audiences see it as a reward - I stayed, now give my my carrot.

The first movie I saw that put a short scene after the credits was The Mission. I'd taken my mother-in-law to see it and it takes her a while to get moving again after sitting for so long. She was fussing with her coat as the last of the credits rolled and missed it entirely. A very short piece that, for me, changed the meaning of the movie entirely. The cardinal looks into the camera and dares you to disagree with his decision. Very powerful.

And I was the only one to see it at that showing. Everyone else had left and my mother-in-law wasn't paying attention. I stood in total amazement at how such a short piece (less than a minute in length), could flip a film so fast, and then I stood in amazement that those who had left the theater were now discussing it with incomplete information. They hadn't stayed and had missed a wonderful addition.

I stay to the end, until the blue screen comes up and there is no more movie. Why? Part curiosity, part wanting to give those people their due, part stubbornness (okay, there's a lot of stubbornness, especially when ushers get snarky). It's something I feel strongly about (in case you couldn't tell!).

So if you ever come to the movies with me, don't bother to gather your things when the credits start to roll. Stay relaxed, seating in your comfy seat, because there is music playing and names to read. Give those people the honor of reading them.

(note from above concerning the soundtrack: John Williams uses similar orchestrations in all of his films. During one part of the movie I thought the sound very close to the Indiana Jones' theme so I pegged this as a John Williams' soundtrack. It wasn't. I had to nearly lay on my husband's lap in order to see around the woman who'd stood in front of me and blocked my view, but the soundtrack was written by Alexandre Desplat, one of my favorite composers. :) )

Play safe!

who now climbs down off her soapbox...

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Reflections on process

It’s about the building, they’ll tell me. Not about the climax. It’s the journey, not the destination.

And I get that. I really do.

But I get impatient.

Whether going on vacation, reading a story or writing one, I just want to get there.

Take family vacations. Forget the scenery in between home and wherever we’re going. I’d rather go to sleep and wake up there. The time between leaving home and arriving at our destination is time to be lived through, time to occupied, usually with  thoughts of where we’ll be in a few hours – or a few days. Only at our destination am I able to move into that fully-actualized state know as existing “in the moment.”

Or watch me read a novel. The closer I get to the end of the book, the faster I read, oftentimes skimming to found out how it all turns out. The author’s taking too long and I just can’t wait! It’s the rare book, indeed, that can slow me down. Good books I’ll finish and then promptly re-read the last few chapter to pick up the details I missed in my rush to the end.

The same holds true, however, when I write a novel. Since I’m a pantser (meaning I write by the seat of my pants and without a plot in mind), I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out in the end. Heck! That’s why I write the book in the first place – to find out! I know that it will turn out, I just don’t know how.

Like I said, I get impatient. I start with the best of intentions, adding detail and fully-fleshed out scenes. The closer I get to the end, however, the more shortcuts I take. Writing sessions get longer so I can get done faster. I have to know what happens!

As a result I often end up with a rather skimpy section of rising action just before the climax of the book. All the plot details are there, but the flesh of the scenes is not. This, then, is where the bulk of my re-writing happens once that first draft is done and my questions are answered.

In fact, when I finish that first draft, I often feel as if I’ve finished a race. I feel the same exhilaration of being done, the same exhaustion.

Of course, that’s when the real work begins. Editing is where craft kicks in. Rewriting sentences, changing verb tenses to make thoughts flow more smoothly, sometimes even changing a scene’s point of view, are all done after the story’s complete. This is where I add detail and make the character’s motivation clear (why on earth did the hero do THAT?)

Potters have it easy. They can buy clay for their sculptures. They don’t have to go grub in the dirt and find it for themselves. They go to the store, buy their clay, take it home and make beautiful art.

Writers, however, make their clay from scratch. Once that first draft is done, once the mess of creation is done, only then do they have the material needed. Only then can they play around with the words, twist them into new shapes, roll them into solid chapters, spin them into art.

Once I get to this stage, my natural impatience slows. I once again can live in the moment of my novel, crafting the story and character arcs, finding just the right word, giving it a final polish.

And I do take my time here. I use word counters and Wordle to look for my habit words. I read whole sections out loud to check for sentence flow. I do a continuity check and make sure my hero’s hair color didn’t suddenly change in the middle of the story (although I’m really not good at catching things like that). But my process slows and I live not only with the story, but in the story, finding its nuances and enjoying the magic of the world.

Then, when I’ve reached a point of saturation, when to look at it one more time will show me nothing new, then and only then, is the manuscript ready for an editor.

But that’s a different post for a different day.


In your journal, write a reflective piece about your process. No judgements here, simply making note of your own foibles and processes.

Enjoy and, if you're getting anything out of these workshops, please consider a donation.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

January in review

I have to make myself accountable to someone, I think, in order to reach my goals. To that end, in January, I read two books, saw two movies at theatres (and about a dozen at home), watched two out of the three new Sherlock episodes (no spoilers! The last one's on tomorrow night!) and wrote 11,769 words for either the blog or for my new Mystic Shade novel.

What two movies? The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and August, Osage County. I enjoyed both of them - and for much the same reason. Each one took its time in the storytelling. Neither one had a single car crash, although both had a fist fight - sort of. Kind of nice to slow things down and take a closer look every once in a while and both these movies did that quite nicely.

I did start two books: Emma by Jane Austen and a biography of Jane Austen. We're reading them both for our book club this month. I bought the wrong bio and read half of it before I discovered my mistake. It's all good. Actually, it's kind of fun reading two different takes on the same person. I haven't finished any of the three, so they'll actually count in February's list. For the record, though, the two biographies are: Jane Austen, a Life and Jane Austen, A Life Revealed.

So, a good start to the writing! I wrote today, too, on a different piece, but again, that'll count for February. So far, so good!

Play safe,