Monday, April 30, 2012

Writing is Like a Hysterectomy, Guest Post by Lisa Lickel

AuthorCulture is happy to present this guest post from soon-to-be contributor, Lisa Lickel, multi-pubbed author, editor, and blogger. Enjoy a different voice for a change!



Because I once made the profound observation to a group of young people, "our lives are like a story so make yours one people want to read," a recent medical procedure had me sitting around, thinking.

Writers live in story.

Why was this medical procedure a necessity? Writers must write. My medical symptoms changed the story of my life, necessitating an adjustment. In order to undergo surgery, I followed a progressive line of discovery, much as I would to set up a story. I prepared the best I could, am working on following rules, and hoping for successful results.

Preparation.

What makes a good story—one that needs to be told? In other words, how bad can it be, and what is your character willing to do to overcome the problem? 

When I was 45, I started having pain in my mid-region joints. My family has a history of arthritis, so I assumed. I’m not much of a complainer. I once underwent the entire replacement of all my dental fillings with no anesthesia. When I got to the point where standing long enough to wash dishes brought tears, I visited my family doctor who was less than sympathetic. He pointed out that my bones were dense. Small favors. He also thought maybe I should explore that specialty I’d managed to avoid for the past five years while other family events took precedence.

Like realizing that an original story line might need adjusting, I sucked it up and underwent the ickiness of learning that the doctor was a good guesser. I adjusted because I wanted to overcome the problem, even though I was content in my first version.

Research.

And decisions. Now that I knew my storyline and desired outcome, I needed to figure out how to make that happen. I talked to a couple of people, I researched types of surgery and possible problems, talked with the doctor who had specific goals for me, and we decided on a particular procedure. The laparoscopy equipment wasn’t available, so we had to make another decision. Stay here, or go elsewhere. I had already established a tie with this surgeon (she has a Kindle and uses it), so I stayed. 

Just like working with an editor or publisher, writers need to be willing to listen carefully to expert advice and have some faith. 

I asked the anesthesiologist if I could try something different to avoid a pitfall I’d experienced earlier. The medical people agreed to my unusual request of trying major surgery without general anesthesia. Be willing to explore out of the ordinary technique.

On being aware of procedure.

I truly wanted to hear everything in the operating room during the surgery. I did. I could have handled it fine. They let me have spinal anesthesia, but refused to allow me to be aware during the surgery. The first thing I said when I regained my senses was, "Darn, I fell asleep! Did I snore?" 

Our subconscious has an amazing way of letting our deepest and funniest and most tender moments out. Don’t be afraid to daydream and write streams of conscience. Some of my best ideas have come from places I would have controlled away.

Working by committee has its ups and downs.

I didn’t get my first-hand experience in the operating room. I did find some pretty cool videos on the net and I did make a list of questions to ask at the follow up appointments. I had several nurses aiding in my recovery. The first nurse kept poking me for my own good. We had to learn when feeling was coming back. Then she shooed me out—with more relief than I thought totally necessary. 

When writers work with critique groups and pre-readers and editors, that poking teaches. A writer can’t possibly follow every bit of advice, but we can pay attention to the poking. All of the research isn’t going to fit into the story, so writers need to carefully weed out what is the most important and entertaining bits to move the reader past the main conflict and into the next set of bumps.

No sex for how long?

In other words, Creativity helps. With a finite amount of themes, or plots, how can a writer come up with something fresh? Mix it up. Let your characters act out of their comfort zone and solve a problem inside the letter of the law. Then again, Anticipation keeps your readers turning pages. The pacing of discovery keeps the reader coming back. I knew I only wanted to stay one night, if necessary, in the hospital. They don’t let you sleep anyway, so why bother? I had to meet requirements, which I exceeded. 

Pacing means getting past the boring parts quickly. Hint at and make conflict and possible conflict and continued conflict exciting. I didn’t let up on the fact that I was going home the next day as soon as I could, despite the fact that my low heart rate and breathing constantly set off alarms.

Healing, or "They never mentioned the part about the hair growing back. Under the tape."

As I said, I’m not a complainer. I only used a couple of painkillers while still feeling the affects of the spinal, and that was for a headache. As I began to move around more, pain surfaced, and I needed to decide how much and at what point I needed help. I also got very good advice and scolding.  

Editing is the absolute necessary evil that determines outcome. It’s often uncomfortable and painful. Any manuscript needs tweaking, but you, the writer, determine how much to listen to others, to the person who’s paying you, and finally, to yourself.

Results

The first call I got the day after I was home was from the nurse telling me there was no cancer. Good. This was like the day I learned my manuscript had been accepted by the publisher. 

As I began to be more mobile, I realized my initial symptoms were relieved. I had to rely on people around me to do the work I was used to. I had to learn when to bite my tongue and when to step in. I received notice from my publisher to expect substantive edits soon. We started with the back cover copy. This is how most readers determine whether or not to open the book, after checking out the cover and title. How much do I trust this new publisher? Doesn’t matter. I have to have faith that the procedure will be successful in the end. I’m not going to agree with everything. I don’t have to. Standing without pain was my goal. Getting my story into print was my goal. Mission accomplished.

The next story can only get better.
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin writer who lives with her husband in a hundred and sixty-year-old house built by a Great Lakes ship captain. Surrounded by books and dragons, she writes inspiring fiction. Her published novels so far include genre romance and cozy mystery, women’s fiction and paranormal. She has penned dozens of feature newspaper stories, short stories, magazine articles, and radio theater. She is the editor in chief of Creative Wisconsin magazine. Lisa also is an avid book reviewer, interviewer, a freelance editor, an editor at Port Yonder Press, a writing mentor, a hostess at Clash of the Titles.com, contributor to Novel PASTimes, and enjoys blogging at theBarnDoor.net and ReflectionsinHindsight.wordpress.com. She loves to encourage new authors. Find her at LisaLickel.com.

The Map Quilt is A Sweet Romantic Cozy Mystery Novel by Lisa Lickel

Death in rural Wisconsin is only the beginning to new chaos in Robertsville. What do a stolen piece of revolutionary agricultural equipment, a long-buried skeleton in the yard, and an old quilt with secrets have in common? Hart and Judy Wingate, who met in The Gold Standard, are back to solve the mystery of The Map Quilt. Hart’s new battery design could forever change the farm implement industry. But after the death of Hart’s most confrontational colleague in a fire that destroys Hart’s workshop, the battery is missing.

Throw in a guest speaker invited to Judy’s elementary classroom who insists she owns the land under Hart’s chief competitor’s corporate headquarters, and a police chief who’s making eyes at Hart’s widowed mother, it’s no wonder Hart is under a ton of pressure to make sure his adventurous pregnant wife stays safe while trying to preserve his company and his reputation.


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Friday, April 27, 2012

Patrick Rothfuss Demonstrates Humor Writing

...also known as "Guinea Pigs Are Fish."


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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Respect for Romance Writers?

Wow! Did you hear? Tough guy Larry Brooks has a new-found respect for Romance Writers. He calls us "killer smart."

In his April 3rd article on StoryFix, Larry explains that he was a guest speaker for a roomful of romance writers from the RWA and came away from it with a promise to refer to the genre with a capital R. He says, "Romance deserves more respect than it gets outside of the club.  The novels are legitimately difficult to write.  They demand mastery of the most challenging of all the Six Core Competencies (characterization).  They have expectations and 'rules' that are unique to the genre, and it’s a crowded market."

Perhaps, because romance is perceived as "formula" writing, it loses respect from the "big guys." I mean, everyone knows when they pick up a Romance, they're going to get a story of two people eventually uniting and living happily ever after. Basic structure: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. That's it.

What folks don't consider is that Romance authors have to develop story lines in which to fit this pattern. Once that is realized, brows go up, light bulbs shine, the aha! moment hits: yes, we as Romance authors face the same dilemmas other authors do. We have to have goals and conflict, gripping hooks, enchanting characters--you name it, we need it just as much as authors of any other genre.

Let's forget the idea that Romance and its various subgenres have the lion's share of readership, or that it is the biggest money-making genre on the market, or that it grows annually. The fact that Romance authors have been able to take the same basic format and turn it into a new story time after time after time is worthy of respect.

Who woulda thunk that respect would come from former professional baseball player and current best-selling author and mentor, Larry Brooks.

Wow! Thanks, Larry!




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Monday, April 23, 2012

Resource Roundup ~ How to Create a Professional Looking Book Cover

With so many authors going indie, today I'd like this Resource Roundup to focus on sites that will help you create a great book cover.

Before jumping into creating your own cover, there are four areas to consider:
         
  • You need to know and understand good placement of the key elements of a cover. 
  •      
  • You need to think about fonts, their styles, and how different fonts can meld together to create a cohesive design. 
  •      
  • You need to think about the images you will use, how they will impact the psychology of your reader for good or for bad, and whether, at a glance, a reader will be able to give a good guess as to what genre the book is in. 
  •      
  • And finally you need a program that can put all those elements together for you in a professional way. 

1. Understanding of Key Elements

Here is a 5 part series all about book covers:
http://www.tracyruckman.blogspot.com/2012/03/designing-book-covers-part-1.html

http://www.tracyruckman.blogspot.com/2012/03/designing-book-covers-part-2.html

http://www.tracyruckman.blogspot.com/2012/03/designing-book-covers-part-3.html

http://www.tracyruckman.blogspot.com/2012/03/designing-book-covers-part-4.html

http://tracyruckman.blogspot.com/2012/03/designing-book-covers-part-5.html

Here's one more article I found helpful: http://www.macgraphics.net/blog/2010/01/29/key-elements-of-professional-book-cover-design-for-self-published-authors/

2. Fonts

Once you've read the above articles and maybe Googled to read a few more on your own, it's time to start thinking about fonts. The sites below have thousands of fonts to choose from. Be sure to check the licencing options. "Free for Personal Use" does not mean you can use that font on your book cover.

http://www.dafont.com/

http://www.1001freefonts.com/

http://betterfonts.com/

http://www.abstractfonts.com/

3. Images

The next area to consider are the images that will go on your book cover. Remember to take into consideration your genre and  the mood you want to convey when choosing your images. The sites below offer the ability to download a comp image so you can play with the design before you actually fork out any money. I've only listed a few here. A quick Google search will reveal many more sites that offer royalty free images.

http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons - There are many images here free for your use. Again, be sure to check the licencing options. Not all the images on the Flickr site are licensed for commercial use.

http://www.fotolia.com

http://www.istock.com

http://www.dreamstime.com

http://www.bigstock.com

4. A Compilation Program (Software)

My personal preference for a program to put all the above elements together is Photoshop. However it is fairly, okay terribly, expensive. However, you can download the program and try it out for 30 days for free. I can almost guarantee that once you try it you won't want to go back to any other program you've tried.

Here is a link to the free trial page: http://www.adobe.com/cfusion/tdrc/index.cfm?product=design_standard

Gimp is another fairly powerful program, and it is free: http://www.gimp.org/

Here is a link to an article that lists several more. Many of these I've never tried, so proceed with caution: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2371593,00.asp

Did you create a cover that turned out fairly well? Feel free to share it, and anything you learned through the process, in our comments below.
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Friday, April 20, 2012

Fabulously Fun Friday: Are You Really a Writer?


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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review of The Problem Isn’t Piracy, The Problem Is Obscurity by Cory Doctorow


Science fiction writer and entrepreneurial whiz kid Cory Doctorow has long been at the forefront of the wide swathe the digital era has been cutting through the literary world. In this (free, natch) pdf, Jon Bard of The Children’s Book Insider has compiled seven prefaces from Doctorow’s novels and two articles, explaining Doctorow’s revolutionary approach to copyright and e-books.

In them, Doctorow offers razor-sharp insights on his reasons for using a Creative Commons copyright on all his books. This liberal copyright allows readers to reproduce his work ad infinitum with only a few restrictions. Chief among his reasons for doing so is the spot-on point that copyright laws were created to protect writers and publishers from other publishers—not from their customers.

His second major point—that the best way to sell print books is to give away the e-versions—is important reading as well, although it’s lost a bit of its steam in the midst of the digital revolution. So many authors are now going completely digital with their writing that the applicability of giving away e-books will be of more interest to traditionally published authors, whose print books still account for the majority of their sales. Still, no matter which side of the digital fence you find yourself currently sitting on, Doctorow’s insights are worthwhile and, I would even go so far as to say, essential for any author facing down this brave new publishing frontier in which we find ourselves.
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Fabulously Fun Friday ~ Knoword - A Definition Game

So today I thought a little game might be in order. Some of my favorite word games have to do with definitions. This is a fun little game where you can challenge yourself to see how many definitions in a row you can get correct.

http://www.knoword.org/index.php

Have fun! And don't get addicted! :)
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Enhance Literary Richness Writing Religions

We live in an era where many consider the pursuit of Science the only legitimate road to ultimate truth, and that bias bleeds over to our fiction. Pity. Whether you like Science Fiction or Fantasy, there is a whole universe of fascinating fiction just waiting to be explored if we would be expand our horizons.

Despite the Secular Humanist reputation of Science Fiction, the genre is replete with religious riches. Dune wouldn't be as rich without its many varied religions. In Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny used the religion of the Hindu pantheon as a way of describing fantastic future science as practically mystical powers. In Deadman Switch, Timothy Zahn imagined a future where an order of Christians called The Watchers are nearly extinct but possess such remarkable power that they are highly valued, if not entirely trusted. This provides grist for some really delicious possibilities.
Gilead Raca Benedar's faith is not always a help to him. It is not clear if Watcher skills are merely based upon close attention to body language, a form of psi, or even come from divine grace. One gets the impression the Watchers do not know either. And while Watching gives him some advantages in the commercial world, it tells him only part of other people's emotions and motives. It does nothing to solve the ethical dilemmas he plummets into. At the end, despite his successful efforts, he is left unsure of the extent of Calandra's innocence.
On the fantasy side of the house, the character arc of the villain of Brandon Sanderson's Elantris finds his place and actions in the finale changed because of a spiritual epiphany which challenges everything he believed in. In Saladin Ahmed's recent novel debut, The Throne of the Crescent Throne, Arabian religion forms the foundation for the entire work. The earthy Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is the last real ghul hunter and his faith is portrayed as simple pragmatism, the way real things get done. His apprentice Raseed bas Raseed is a ardent dervish known as much for his ascetic devotion as for his unique twin-bladed sword and his incomparable fighting ability, yet his inner demons threaten him as vigorously as the undead ghuls. The religious culture of her rural tribe is all the shape-changing Zamia has left after the extermination of her family, and she clings to it even as her eyes are opened to life in the big, dusty, exotic city of Dhamsawaat.

The Heavenly Chapters decreed that ghul-makers were damned to the Lake of Flame. The Chapters spoke of an ancient, corrupted age when wicked men commanded whole legions of the things from miles away. But those times were past. In all his years of ghul hunting, Adoulla had never seen a man make more than two of the monsters at a time— and this always from a few hundred yards away at most. “Troubling,” he said again.

He instructed Raseed to cut a small scrap from the boy’s scarlet- stained shirt. Other than the name of its maker, the blood of a ghul’s victim was the best component for a tracking spell. The creatures them- selves would likely prove easy enough to find. But he would need to head closer to the scene of the slaying, and get away from the city’s teeming, confusing life-energies, to cast an effective tracking spell.

Adoulla only prayed that he would be able to find the creatures before they fed again. As the silent prayer echoed in his mind, he felt a weary determination rising in his heart. There was more bloody work to be done. O God, why must it be me every time?
Including religious traditions and mysteries in your fiction gives your characters room to explore all kinds of interesting questions, and that, after all, is half the fun.
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Monday, April 9, 2012

5 Ways to Pace Your Story

Pacing is like a dam. It allows the writer to control just how fast or how slow his plot flows through the riverbed of his story. Understanding how to operate that dam is one of the most important tasks an author has to learn. Without this skill, we end up writing stories that variously lack momentum, feel uneven, become anticlimactic, and seem melodramatic. Following are five tips for taking this important plot skill beyond instinct to conscious action:


1. Length controls momentum. Short scenes and chapters, terse sentences, and snappy dialogue all contribute to a feeling of intensity and speed, just as long scenes and chapters, leisurely sentences, and extended dialogue ground the story with a sense of place and time. This is probably the easiest way to control your pacing, simply because it’s so obvious. As your story nears the tense scenes, make it a point to condense everything. Limit the length of your scenes to 500-800 words, cut your scenes short at important moments, and switch back and forth between POVs.


2. Vary pacing. As important as the high-tension race-‘em-chase-‘em scenes are, it’s even more important to vary your pacing with slow, introspective scenes. Without the slow scenes (what Jessica Page Morrell calls “sequels”), you’ll give neither your characters nor your readers a chance to catch their breaths. Even the most exciting of scenes loses its intensity if it’s never balanced with moments of deliberate quiet.


3. Pay attention to details to build momentum. In film, directors often put scenes into slow motion to indicate that something tremendously dramatic is happening or about to happen. One of the best ways writers can mimic this technique is to slow their own writing way down by piling on the details. Let’s say one of your characters is shot. This is an important moment in the story, and you want the readers to feel its impact. You can do this by taking your time and describing every detail: the look on the gunman’s face as he fires, the recoil of the pistol, the flash of the barrel, the horror that chokes the victim, and finally the collision of the bullet.


4. Control your tell vs. show ratio. Although “showing” your audience the details, the blow-by-blow account of your characters’ actions, is key to engaging them and making them feel the tension, sometimes the best way to hurtle them through a scene is to condense certain actions into “telling.” Perhaps you want to use that same scene in which your character is shot, but you don’t want to linger on it. You want to do a quick flyby, shock your readers, and plunge them into the action after the gunshot. Instead of taking the time to show the details, you can thrust the gunshot upon the reader simply by telling him it happened.


5. Manipulate sentence structure. The mark of a professional writer is his ability to control the ebb and flow of his sentence structure. The most subtle way to influence your pacing is through your structuring of sentences. The length of words, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs all contribute to how the pacing is conveyed to the reader. Again, long=slow, short=fast. When it’s time to write the intense scenes, cut back on the beautiful, long-winded passages and give it to your reader straight. Short sentences and snappy nouns and verbs convey urgency, whereas long, measured sentences offer moments of introspection and build-up.


Pacing varies from story to story. Some stories demand an almost continual breakneck speed; others rarely emerge past a leisurely walk. But all stories depend upon pacing to accurately convey the writer’s message.
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Friday, April 6, 2012

Fabulously Fun Friday!

Born to Write

Please don't stop. This is one addiction I can appreciate!

'nuff said.


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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Genre Talk: Women's Fiction Format

My agent sent me the most distressing letter after reading my manuscript. Somewhere around page 150, he said, it finally started reading like the Women's Fiction novel I'd declared it to be. Up to that point, though, the genre was totally muddled, and he didn't have a clue how he'd pitch it to the publishers considering the state it was in.

Oy vey.

The good news is, he loved it, and so did all his editorial assistants, so he didn't reject the manuscript.

My women's fiction novel leaned too far into the "romance" realm and had a touch of "cozy mystery" thrown in to really confuse the reader. I had to make corrections to the format to whip it back to WF. When I say "format," I don't mean "structure." The structure for a book is about, among other things, the progression of the plot. What I mean is the placing of other POV characters in the novel, and the role these characters play in the main character's story.

For example, pick up any political intrigue or international thriller, and you're likely to find several short chapters or scenes right up front, and each chapter or scene features a different person. Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, David Baldacci, and others have their books formatted this way. Sometimes the main character appears in the first chapter, but usually not. Whether or not the MC interacts with these others early depends on their purpose in the book--sometimes, the MC's goal is to capture one of the opening characters and their meeting doesn't come until considerably later in the story.

Ordinarily, in romance novels, the opening scene is in the heroine's POV, and having her meet the hero within the first few pages is almost mandatory. Her thoughts frequently center around him, and his around her. Romance novels have at most two POVs, hers and his, with his being subordinate, but still getting equal time and depth.

Women's fiction is primarily about a woman's growth while dealing with the issue affecting her. The genre centers around relationships, though not necessarily romantic relationships. When it has a strong romantic thread through it, as mine does, that thread is treated differently. The opening chapters in romantic WF tend to be only in the heroine's POV, and her thoughts don't turn to the hero as often. He doesn't get equal POV time, but his thoughts often do center around her. According to an article by Lisa Craig in Writing World.com,
A man (or a hero) might be waiting for the heroine of these novels at the end of her journey, but he does not usually get equal time or equal depth to his internal journey during the course of a book. In "straight" romance fiction, the author renders the hero in every detail-an expectation of readers. This is not necessarily the case in women's fiction.

When I revised The Cat Lady's Secret, I moved the hero's POV scenes later in the book, even though I introduced him early. The novel is about the extremes the Cat Lady took to hide from the villian in her past and how she couldn't go forward without settling her problem with him. The issue is forgiveness--she had to forgive him in order to move on with the hero--and the primary relationship involved is the romantic one. With the correct format, the book reads like the women's fiction novel it was intended to be.

What does your format say about your book? Is it muddled? Are you sending mixed signals?






















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