Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adventures in urban fantasy: the birth of Incarna

Today is the official day I started work on my next "heart" book, an urban fantasy entitled Incarna, which, depending on how good I am, may be complete and revised in time for the Angry Robot open submissions month in March. Yes, I know I'm being ambitious but hell, it doesn't hurt to try, does it?

So, where does Incarna come from? It's born from my love of the esoteric, which makes me ask all sorts of questions about life, the universe and the concept of Self. The question that sparked Incarna was: what if there were magicians (or in this case groups of sometimes opposing houses or factions of magicians) who could reincarnate throughout the centuries, each group or individual jealously guarding secrets from each other.

Today I officially got stuck into the first draft I outlined recently with my dear dark brother, Andrew, who helped me tweak motivations for the assorted characters. We spent a very late night and early morning plotting, after attending the funeral of a close friend of ours. I must admit I was inspired by the ritual, which was based on a rite from the Papyrus of Ani, part of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Incarna is redolent with Egyptian imagery. In fact, the concepts for the human soul are very much based on the ancient Egyptian ideas of the various components. Other themes include love, justice and making amends. My main character, Lizzie, returns to an incarnated form after spending time in the limbo state. Only, things go wrong. Instead of returning in the body of the comatose and braindead three-year-old girl that had been earmarked for take-over, she reincarnates in the body of a twenty-one-year-old barman and gothic metal musician.

Ashton Kennedy wasn't a nice guy. He cheated on his girlfriend, knocked up a powerful drug lord's sister, and abused vast quantities of illegal narcotic substances. The guy who ran him over with a big shiny SUV was doing the world a favour. His very male and rather tattooed body is the last place Elizabeth Rae Perry, with her Victorian sensibilities, expected to get stuck in. But Lizzie needs to make do. Not only must she figure out what went wrong with her intended reincarnation, but she must patch up the life of her host and deal with an angry ghost. Lizzie finds love in unexpected places while saving the world from a powerful House, hellbent on uncovering the secret she didn't know she was supposed to protect.

Watch this space for further updates!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Nichole's writing goals

I am NOT a fan of resolutions. They get broken way too often. Just the phrase "New Year's Resolution" seems to beg to be broken. Maybe that's because resolutions are often just too vague: "lose weight," "get fit," "get organized," "be a better person." Seriously? While each of those resolutions is admirable, anyone who sticks with just those statements is doomed to fail.

Goals, however, are much more practical. Maybe it's because resolutions seem more...lofty. Goals are more measurable.

Therefore, I don't make resolutions. I do, though, make goals. Usually very detailed ones and in every aspect of my life. Yes, I have been accused of planning a little too much.

Okay, let's be honest. Resolutions. Goals. It's all semantics. As Juliet would say, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But there's also a perception. If someone created a beautiful black rose with a white streak through it and called it a "skunk rose" would we expect it to smell sweet? Probably not.

In that spirit, then, here are my 2011 writing goals:

  • Write 10,000 words each week. I'm not saying a certain number of words each day, or even write at a certain time each day. I just want to get 10,000 words on screen (since I don't write on paper!) each and every week. That doesn't count editing. Just new words.
  • Finish Sleeping Bears. This is Cerri's second adventure and takes place almost a year after Ghost Mountain. I have a solid start, but I need to finish it.
  • Get a really good start on Day of the Dead. Yes, this would be Cerri's third adventure. Yes, I know I haven't finished book two. But I had a really great idea and I had to write THAT down.
  • Market better. That means using Twitter and Facebook more to my advantage. Keeping my website up-to-date. Heck, that even means being better at blogging. Wish me luck...
  • Keep track. No goals are worth thinking up if you can't measure them. I plan to create a spreadsheet to track my words written. That should help keep the other goals attainable.
There you have it. Five goals I've set for my writing career in 2011. Are they attainable? I think so. But, like anything else, it will take hard work and dedication to achieve them. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Words! Words! Words!

One of the problems of being both author and editor happens when said sad individual (me) tries to read for pleasure. I wouldn’t be in this sorry mess if it weren’t for the fact that I love reading. The blame can be dropped squarely in JRR Tolkien’s lap, as well as subsequent authors such as Ursula K Leguin, David Eddings, Ann McCaffrey, Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite and others, who filled my teenaged head with the wild notion that I, too, could one day write books or pursue a career in publishing.

Granted, nowadays, my time for reading has been curtailed severely. I sneak in ebooks while I work (one of the benefits of .PDF documents, which can conveniently be minimised) and read for exactly one hour each day on the train in the afternoons. These novels are, invariably, review books. My feedback is published with a review website, as well as South African newspapers.

Review books are, generally, within the genres I’ll read (fantasy, SF, horror and paranormal romance) but are not the books on my “to read” list. No, those books languish on my hard drive or on my bedside table, which by now resembles the leaning tower of printed material slowly trying to topple onto me while I sleep.

Reviewing books has some benefits. For instance, I have now discovered that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, read Laurel K Hamilton willingly. You’d have to hold a gun to my head. I would never have discovered this if I didn’t review books. Likewise, I’m now eternally a Giles Kristian fangrrrl and I’ve interviewed him for the newspapers. Now THAT rocks!


I also read submissions for one of my publishers, for whom I’m under contract as a content editor. These are either cold submissions, where I have to read a good few pages before I can decide whether a manuscript blows my hair back, or will be a submission from one of my existing authors, whose writing won’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with a ballpoint pen.

Somewhere, between these activities and my day-job as a sub-editor at a newspaper publisher, I still find the time to edit manuscripts and, oh, gosh, write a little on my own. (Add disclaimer: I do not have children. Also, I do not have a social life beyond a meal or drinks with friends here and there or Facebook.)

So… **takes deep breath** It is a rare thing indeed if I read something I want to.

People keep telling me, “Oh you must read so-and-so.”

I sort of look at them blankly and say, “That’s nice dear. I’d love to.” Of course the chances of me reading a book someone recommends are about as good as a snowball’s survival in Hell. I still have a friend’s copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, somewhere in the pile on my bedside table. I want to read it. I just don’t know when.

So, here are two of my pet gripes:

Publishers that have sub-par editing. It drives me absolutely dilly when I read published works riddled with homophone and apostrophe abuse, weak transitions, typographical errors, misplaced modifiers, plot holes… I see it. All the time. It makes me want to claw my way up the walls. Mostly, all I can do is point and laugh. Human error creeps in everywhere, it just depends how much of it is concentrated in one manuscript.

Authors who make the same mistakes over and over again: this dubious honour I also extend to newspaper sub-editors and writers who, despite years of being exposed to years of house style and proofing, insist on repeating the same mistakes. This suggests that the idiot with the red pen clutched in her hand (that’s me) is wasting her time trying to communicate the need for improvement so that my job (proofing and editing text) can be made easier and said offending wordsmith becomes better at doing their job. And also not run the risk of defenestration from a third-storey window.

Or maybe I’m just OCD. Maybe it’s my mother’s fault. She used to be an English teacher. Maybe I need to go on a long holiday on a remote farming hamlet where there is no electricity and they’ve conveniently hidden all form of written word. Just for a while until I stop frothing and get more than four or five hours’ sleep a night.

Or maybe I’m just crazy, because whenever someone has told me “Hey, your writing sucks badly here, here and here…” I’ve generally sucked up my pride and made damn sure I didn’t make the same mistake again.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, shaping words is my passion and if I’m your editor, I’m going to be absolutely vicious. I’m going to make you do horrible, nasty things to your darlings, but I’m doing it because I love your writing. I wouldn't be tearing it pieces if I didn't see ways to make it so much better.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas at Cerri's

Today I thought I might post what Christmas would be like at my protagonist's home. Cerridwen Baker is a family woman. A wife and mother of three, Christmas would be all about the kids. She'd have the tree up early and gifts would be wrapped underneath. Cookies would be baked. There would be an excitement in the air that nothing could squash.

Family is important to Cerri. She would make sure that her kids knew the traditions Cerri and her husband, Matt, celebrated as children. And advent calendar would hang near the front door for the children to count down to the big day.

Because of her love for family, I can just imagine Cerri loading the kids up in the car and heading toward Storybook Island to see the lights and visit with Santa. Cerri's biggest holiday wish would be to see her kids happy.

Christmas day would start with too little sleep and three kiddos running to the tree to see if Santa had come. Of course, there would be some type of breakfast food in the oven (Monkey bread? French toast casserole? Regular old bacon and eggs?) and coffee would be brewing. Cerri is the kind of of woman who would relish in the fact her kids were having a good time. Cerri would make sure her husband was well fed. She would be the axle in the wheel of activity around her.

And what, you might ask, would Cerri teach her kids about Santa? The same things she learned as a child...that Santa is an elf, a fairy, a brownie. He is as real as you and I and, of course, is also the embodiment of the spirit of the holidays. Do you agree?


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dabbling across genres

A good few months ago, I was chatting to a few romance authors about their craft, just asking how they feel about this whole electronic publishing gig. I had an overwhelming response of "hell, yeah, it works!"

Why? If you capture your readership, you make far more percentage-wise in royalties off ebooks than with print. Looking at my own monthly royalty statements, I'm afraid I have to agree, tho' my books don't move in vast quantities as my chosen genre is firmly dark/urban fantasy with a horror edge.

Ebooks don't have so many physical overheads, like printing or postage, so the profit margins are better. That's a no-brainer. Hell, and my inner eco-warrior loves saving trees and pandering to the "buy it, download it, and read it now" ethos.

But it's also clear that one of the genres that is doing the best in this field appears to be romance. Now, if I were to see some returns for my efforts, it's also a no-brainer that I should up my erotic content, no?

So I gave it a shot. I wrote my first contemporary erotic romance. And, guess what, I enjoyed writing it so much I'm planning more and am definitely looking at selling some paranormal romance. And, I've had a peek at my sales within the first week for my first contemporary erotic romance novel. Things are looking promising. And I am cautiously optimistic about my future as a career author.

But crossing genres not going to stop me from writing my "heart" books, as I've heard one author describe her works that don't garner astronomical sales figures. Hell, I'm still going to write them. I'm still going to fish for literary agents. I'm still going to submit to bigger and other publishers. It makes sense to have a broad footprint when I'm just a small fish competing in a big pond for thousands of other small fish.

It's not easy getting noticed nowadays, when just about every Tina, Dina and Harriet is getting published. And it freaks me the hell out when I see that some of the stuff hitting virtual shelves is so not ready for publication. Modern electronic publishing is somewhat of a sausage factory. For every professional who approaches this method with clarity and precision, there are half a dozen hacks who put out absolute garbage.

What hell it must be for readers to discover quality reads among the dross. And, how difficult is it for genuinely fantastic authors to be noticed above the howling mob...

So, what I'm hoping, is to snag the attention of readers who like my romance enough to go take a look at my "heart" books.

This is a highly competitive industry and it pays authors well to be creative in their approach and to be adaptable.

Even though I had a well-known hardcore SF/fantasy author warn me that "dabbling" in romance would eventually blur the boundaries between my "serious" writing and "romance" (which I gain the opinion that he looked down upon) I really couldn't care. If my favourite authors like Storm Constantine and Jacqueline Carey write bloody awesome narrative underpinned by highly charged erotic content, then why they hell can't I mix the two with my usual gritty signature?

So, expect more from me, some fang-bangers, hell, even some shifters, I don't care, but also know that I'll intersperse these with my usual "weird sh1t" as a friend of mine calls my writing. I'll carry on writing the kind of books I enjoy reading, but I'm going to be more conscious of what the market is asking for.

* * * *

Tainted Love was released on December 9 through Siren Bookstrand. I describe it as a reverse-Cinderella tale with a bit of spice. The story was sparked by my conversations with a number of friends who worked as dancers in clubs for a number of years. I also read a number of autobiographies by ex-dancers and dug a little into the history of the sex industry. It was my aim to present my story without prejudice, and I've had some encouraging responses from my readers.

The blurb:
Retrenched and persuaded to participate in amateur night at a strip club all in one day, Marianne discovers she’s actually a damn fine stripper, and baring all brings in far easier money than dying by degrees as a temp in a cubicle farm.

But things between her and her ex-boyfriend, Carl, have gone horribly sour, and there’s no denying that her fascination with Brett Gentle, the owner of Imperial House Gentleman’s Club, will bring more complications than she has bargained for.

Even as she gains confidence in tantalising men with her sex appeal on stage and on laps, Marianne’s life starts spinning out of control, tainting the love she has dared to taste.

See more here: http://www.bookstrand.com/tainted-love

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lacking the spirit....

For the sake of honesty, I admit that I've never been the kind of person who lives in the moment. I'm a planner and a goal setter. Don't get me wrong! I enjoy the holidays as well as the next gal and love knowing that I've got the perfect gift for someone or that I don't have to stress because I've gotten everything done that I had planned on (and sometimes even a little more).

But this year I'm just not feeling it.

It's not the weather. True, there isn't a lot of snow on the ground—an unusual occurrence for a December in the Black Hills—but that's okay with me. I'm not a big fan of snow anyway. Seriously, I hate snow. The few years I lived in the Virginia Beach area I had no problem with the mild weather.

It's not the baking. I have all the cookies done and boxed up. And a number of them have been eaten. YUM!

It's not the gifts. I'm just about finished with the shopping.

I really don't know what the deal is. The holiday spirit seems to be alluding me this year. I have the same problem with my writing. Getting into the writing groove is difficult as well.

So what should I do? I know January will be here before too long, so I'm not worried about the holidays. I will spend some serious quality time with my family and enjoy their presence (and their presents, truth be told!). But what about the writing? For those who struggle with something similar, how do you pull yourself out of the funk?


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Much ado about writing

A few years ago I went for career guidance at a well-known placement agency that focuses on the media industry. I was at odds at the time because I knew I wanted to move into fiction editing or take on a position as an editor for a publication, but I wasn't quite sure how that would happen. Back then I'd come to the conclusion that my current position, as a newspaper sub-editor working on commercial features, was a dead-end job. About the only bright spark in my day was laying out a weekly travel supplement and writing stories once in a while.

Going nowhere slowly? I couldn't be more wrong. Viv, the lady at the placement agency, was absolutely fantastic. At that time, I was very despondent. I was busy writing my first novel (Khepera Rising) but I felt like I was stagnating. Sure, I was occasionally picking up freelance fiction editing jobs but generally (and I'll be brutally honest) the paying freelance jobs are generally not half as much fun as working on something that has gone through a submissions process with a publisher.

Viv said to me, "The only way you're ever going to be noticed is if you write and get your name out there."

I took her advice. Sure, I carried on working on my fiction, but I also started stepping up my travel writing. The travel writing got me noticed by an editor for a lifestyle and entertainment supplement for a national newspaper. My stories started appearing there and I received invites to write reviews for lodges and hotels in foreign countries. During all this, my novels started being published and I picked up the content editing gig at Lyrical Press. Now I'm also reviewing novels and putting in author interviews in newspapers. And I'm blogging. A lot.

Yes, I still have my somewhat sh1tty day-job but it pays the bills. I put up with the dross because I'm doing what I'm passionate about: writing and working with text, be it fiction or editorial. I've had the chutzpah to add the activities I enjoy to a job that sucks otherwise. I've come a long way from the production assistant at a health and lifestyle magazine who had to call clients for advertising material.

Going above and beyond my official job description does mean I have to work a lot harder than most, but at the end of the day, when I see my name in print, it's helluva worth it. And the biggest thanks is when people say "Hey, we read your piece in the newspaper last weekend. It was really cool!"

Or, even better, "I read that article you linked on Facebook, and I went and bought your book, and I'm really enjoying it."

And hey, I'm starting up quite a collection of stamps in my passport. Who knows, I may be able to work my way all the way to the top of Africa soon.

I guess what I'm trying to say is you have to give it 110%. Work with the resources at hand and find ways in which you can modify what you're already doing into your dream job. Never give up, and never pass up the opportunity to put your name out.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And sometimes there are just days...

It's not often that I end up on my blog day with nothing to say, but today is one of them. Call it end-of-year fatigue or what-not, that's probably the closest thing I have in my vocab to express how I feel right now.

We've just returned from what I hope is my last plane flight for the year. If I look back over the past month or so, I've flown about... bah. Cape Town to OR Tambo Airport; OR Tambo Airport to Livingstone International, Zambia. Livingstone International to OR Tambo to Cape Town International... Cape Town International to Lanseria and back again. Twice in the past two weeks. It feels like a bloody litany.

The reasons for these trips include reviewing accommodation, attending a friend's funeral and being present at film screenings. To say I'm tuckered out is a plain understatement.

Oh, and I spent exactly twenty minutes in Zimbabwe to view the Victoria Falls. Call me crazy.

Somewhere between all that I've still had to cope with the end-of-year madness at the newspapers while keeping head above water with my editing obligations, which include taking care of edits for two of my own releases due over the next six months, oh, and be the beauteous wifey who cooks supper and keeps the house in some semblance of order.

I really just want to hide in my treehaus for a few weeks and pretend I'm not home.

How do I cope? I'm not quite sure, but when things threaten to overwhelm, I make sure I attack the situation one deadline at a time. That's the only advice I have. What is the most important fire that needs to be put out NOW.

Then I put out the fire. Oh, and try to get more than five hours' sleep a night.

On the plus side, I chatted with a lady at the SA HorrorFest this year and told her about my Khepera series, not expecting to hear from her. To my absolute delight, she's gone and bought book one. She'd told me she liked crime thrillers, and I told her my novel can fall under the "occult crime thriller label" (and no, I wasn't taking a long shot, okay?)

Well, this morning she messaged me on Facebook to tell me how much she was enjoying Khepera Rising. That kinda made my day a little better.

Now, go on and make an author happy. When you read their novel, mail them or post something nice on a site like Amazon or Goodreads.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be a patron of the arts

A well-known South African author whom I’m friends with has been incredibly encouraging of my initial faltering footsteps into the world of publishing. She imparted these words of wisdom: “You know, it doesn’t matter who you’re published with, it’s word-of-mouth promotion that will get people reading your novels.”

And, if one looks at the success of authors such as JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Stieg Larsson, it’s definitely been a case of readers raving to each other about a particular novel until such point that just about everyone either knows of the titles or are intending to borrow or buy copies.

Granted, not all authors are going to write novels that are universally popular, but sometimes, just sometimes, an author has the ability to tap into an “X-factor” as I call it, that offers almost universal appeal to a large cross-section of readers. It’s almost like a snowball that turns into an avalanche and, face it, most of us who’re starting out with the small presses dream of one day “making it big”.

Most of us, however, if we are diligent in our craft and, if we’re lucky, build a small, dedicated clique of readers who will rabidly follow our releases. That’s great, but there’s quite a bit we can do as passionate readers and author to help each other.

One of the most important methods is to review each other’s writing. And, I’m not talking only blogging about each other, but also posting reviews at sites such as Amazon or Goodreads, that attract a good deal of traffic. I know that if I am considering buying a book, I visit these two sites to see what others have written about the book I’m about to purchase. Every person will read a story and come away with some opinion and I find it fascinating to see who likes what.

So, write those reviews! Then, Tweet them and paste links on your other social networking sites such as Facebook or forums where you participate. Spread the word. If there’s an author you really like, the best thanks you can give them after enjoying their story is to let the world know.

Or, if you’re a passionate blogger, add to this by interviewing your favourite author. Nowadays there is so much information out there it’s sometimes difficult for an up-and-coming author to be heard above the thousands of others who are competing for the same piece of the pie.

And, lastly, a small word on piracy. There are numerous sites out there that offer pirated ebooks for sale or download. Don’t support them. Sure, an ebook may cost you around $9 but that money goes to support people who work very hard to ensure that they bring you only the best in the latest novels.

Just like I make a point of purchasing music directly from my favourite musicians, I like to support my favourite authors by purchasing legal copies of their works.

In the old days, artists, musicians and authors often had to have a rich patron supporting them, nobles who took pride in the fact that they had the likes of JS Bach or Handel “on their books” so to speak. Nowadays, you can do the same, and even brag about the fact that you’re supporting a particular creative. And, really, it is something worth bragging about, and you’re taking a small but positive step to encourage the arts and investing in our cultural heritage.

* * * *

South Africans can now purchase my Khepera series (books one and two) directly from one of our largest national retailers, Exclusive Books. See: http://www.exclus1ves.co.za/books/search/;jsessionid=B494300F895DECF94658936C0BA53381?q=khepera+&submit.x=10&submit.y=15

5 things I'm thankful for

The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving. ~H.U. Westermayer
This week is the American Thanksgiving, so I thought it would be appropriate to list some of the things I'm thankful for. These are in no particular order, nor is it an all-encompasing list.

  1. Family and friends. By family, I don't mean my husband and kids, though I'm very thankful for them. I learned a long time ago that family isn't made up of only your blood relations. I have a few "brothers from other mothers" and "sisters from other misters" and sometimes I think they understand me better than the people who share my DNA.
  2. My wonderful hubby. Okay, so that's a little like number 1, but a little different. This is a guy who makes it his mission in life to spoil me. Who wouldn't be thankful for that?
  3. My publisher. Second Wind Publishing has been awesome to work with and for that, I'm completely thankful!
  4. A house. I'll be totally honest, this one is probably lame. But I have a reason for it. Did you know that an estimated quarter of a million people are homeless at any given time? And that's an old number. With the economy the way it is, that number could be much higher. Today, however, I'm completely grateful for the warmth of my home. The six or so inches of snow blanketing my little corner of the world probably has something to do with why this is on my mind!
  5. My health. This one might be a little lame, too, but I'm serious. There are people who have much greater challenges than I face.
What about you? What are you thankful for?


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Skipping the bandwagon

Sci-fi fantasy blog io9 has decided zombies are the new vampires, as detailed in this post A History of Zombies in America. The post has some interesting ideas and the new television show The Walking Dead has certainly gotten a lot of buzz. However, I don't care. You can have your zombies if that's your cup of tea, but I remain firmly on Team Vampire. The zombie trend is one I am happy to let pass me by. I sat through the movie Zombieland and that was enough for me.

Why do I dislike zombies? I think it's two reasons. One is the overwhelming amount of gore found in zombie stories. It's just too much for me and I don't enjoy it. That level of gore is not remotely entertaining to me, but that's just a personal preference. It doesn't bother others and that's fine. I try not to judge people for their entertainment choices, unless it's reality shows. I think reality shows are stupid, which coincidently is my second reason for disliking zombies.

Most portrayals of zombies are of the brainless cannibal variety. One point in the io9 post is about zombies being something of a metaphor for mindless consumerism and I think that is an excellent point. If you want to see a zombie horde in action, go to Walmart on Black Friday, the opening bell ringing in the holiday shopping season. We were actually going to go this year because our microwave is dying and we thought we'd get one on sale. Come to find out, Walmart won't have any microwaves on sale. So now we have no reason to go to any shopping place on Black Friday and I can't tell you how relieved I am. I'm so relieved I could bake (and I never bake. My husband does the baking in our family.)

Basically there's just nothing interesting to me about zombies. There's no clash of wills, matching of wits, and certainly no seductive temptation. I know there are authors out there who are refashioning zombies into something new and different rather then the old brainless shambling lump, and I applaud their creativity. I hope this new zombie craze brings them fabulous books sales. And I hope they understand when I don't jump on the bandwagon, either as a reader or a writer. I will follow vampires back into the dark shadows from whence they came.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Query, query quite contrary...

When I wear my editor hat, I end up reading a number of queries each week when it’s time to go through submissions. And, trust me, just when I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to abysmal query letters, an author will come up with something fresh that will make my toes curl.

One of the things I hate seeing is when authors tell me what to think of their novel. An example: “Readers will love the fast-paced action of the story, and be thrilled by depth of vivid world-building…”

Really? And what if the manuscript doesn’t live up to my expectations after I’ve been told it’s set up to work in a certain way? Yes, by all means generate excitement by writing a short blurb at the start of your query but let the editor or agent you’re querying make up their own mind. Please.

Here’s an example of a hook that will make me want to go on to reading the synopsis, with apologies once again to Little Red Riding Hood:

The Great Forest is dark and dangerous, filled with creatures with sharp teeth. Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother lives in a clearing at its heart, and the young lady needs to take her granny her all-important medication. Little does Little Red Riding Hood know that her journey, this time, will be fraught with terror. A predator is watching her, and he is hungry.

That definitely puts another spin on an old classic, doesn’t it? See if you can sum your entire novel up in one paragraph. Think of the kind of copy you’d see on the back of a novel. The editor or agent reading your query reads dozens if not hundreds of queries each day. You need to convey the essence of your tale in as few words as possible.

Afterward, you tell the author/agent what you’re offering:

Little Red Riding Hood, a fantasy novella complete at 23 000 words, is available for your consideration.

Then, go on to offering publishing credits or, if you don’t have, relevant experience that would indicate that you know what you’re talking about. For instance, if you’ve written a novel about sword-fighting, relevant information would be that you’re a member of a fencing club or that you collect ancient weapons. Once again, keep it short. In general, agents and editors don’t care that you’ve been working as a plumber and are now writing books on fairies. The catch phrase is “keep it relevant and to the point”.

If you’ve had a few stories or novels published before, list them, but do realise that self-published works don’t count in your favour. I'm normally a bit leery of self-published authors because I worry that they may be difficult to work with when I make editorial suggestions. But that's just me.

And, lastly, when you query agents or publishers, do your homework. Don’t just send out queries blindly in the hope that someone will pick up on you. I usually first visit a site like www.publishersmarketplace.com, do a search to see which agents are accepting in a chosen genre. Then, I click through to the agent’s official website. I ask myself, does this agent represent books similar to mine? Do I think we’d gel? It's no good if they're very conservative and your book is about things that may upset them. If things look all right in that department, I do a background check. This includes checking their status by searching on sites such as www.absolutewrite.com/forums and Preditors and Editors: http://pred-ed.com/

If something smells fishy, it probably is. Remember that no agent is better than a bad agent.

Ditto for publishers. If anyone asks for money to publish your novel, avoid at all costs.

And lastly, the wheels of the publishing industry turn slowly. Be patient. Often agents and editors simply don’t have the time to tell you why they’ve rejected your novel. It could simply be because although the writing was sound, the story simply didn’t appeal to them. Why an agent or an editor doesn't like your manuscript could be that they simply didn't love it as much as you do. Keep trying. Don’t take rejection personally and, if you do get some feedback from an agent or an editor who tells you why they rejected your writing, take that advice to heart and see where you can apply it to future works. Good luck! And don’t give up! And keep on revising and resubmitting.

For some great examples of how not to query (and sometimes how to query), I suggest subscribing to http://queryshark.blogspot.com

Monday, November 8, 2010

Time is fleeting...

Madness takes it's toll....

Okay, so I have the Time Warp (from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) stuck in my head this morning. But those two lines are important to any writer—especially a mystery writer.

Think about it, people read fiction as an escape. They want to be entertained and amused. In order for the author to deliver, timelines need to be, well, adjusted.

As someone on one of my mystery lists recently said, the fastest way to kill your story is to ask for a search warrant. True...

But the reality of solving crime isn't the only time issue an author faces. When do you introduce characters? How soon do you explain the crime? How long will it take you to write the novel? What about all those things that are not in your control? You know, those things commonly referred to as life?

Of course, I have no control over life. Who does? But the timeline of my novel, I can control. I have a large white board on my office wall. On it, I have one huge timeline with important events listed. It is the way I keep my characters on track.

Do I list every little thing? No. And sometimes I find events that would work better and need to erase. Sometimes I have to move things to keep the action going. Thankfully, I have lots of dry erase markers and sticky notes!

Yes, time is fleeting. But by using the tools I have, maybe I can keep madness at bay.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Special recipe

I've hit a snag in my current work in progress. Not a major one, but rather a minor case of "what happens next?" I have a rough outline of the story but not all of the little detours are mapped out. The subplot is still a bit on the vague side, too. I have to figure out a way to get my characters from Point D to Point E in the main plot, preferably with a detour that involves the subplot. If I don't come up with something soon, I'll have to use my special story recipe.

What is my Special Story Recipe, you ask? It is a time-honored proven method of advancing the plot, action, and character development in any story. Here goes:

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Lather, rinse, repeat.

You may have also encountered this under another name, Blow Stuff Up.

Complications are an integral part of storytelling. Without complications, your story is going to be very short. If you're writing a short story, that's fine. With a novel-length work, you're going to need complications, twists, and turns. You're going to have to make your characters work for their resolution, and sometimes that means throwing bombs at them. In action oriented genres like urban fantasy that might mean a literal bomb, or a supernatural creature that causes as much chaos and mayhem as a bomb. In the romance genre, or a romantic subplot, that might mean finding a way to complicate the relationship. For instance, misunderstandings or romantic competition might make for a complication. So would Character A accidently revealing something they didn't want Character B to know. Something guaranteed to make Character B absolutely livid…

Um, okay. I have to go blow something up now, and throw my characters into a fire.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween

I wrote this quick bit of flash fiction last year after finding this gorgeous piece at Deviant Art.

Happy Halloween by Yaichino

The delivery boy heaved a deep sigh. He hated delivering to this house. Having to pick his way through a patch of pumpkins all snapping and biting and hungry for a taste of ankle. Then there’d be that long climb up the tree, with scratching bark and roving limbs and those fleshless squirrels with flat black eyes and scissory teeth that liked to jump out of the dark and take little nips from his skin. Not to mention all the birds and bats and cats and every other manner of familiar, cawing and mocking and tripping him into falling right off the tree and landing in the marshy ground flat on his back. He couldn’t afford to fall tonight. He had too big of a load with him. His pack was full to bursting with all manner of things: eye of newt, toe of frog, scale of dragon, tooth of wolf. Herbs and oils, incense and charcoal. Party streamers, everburning candles, and a special centerpiece: a tall black pointed hat made of rich velvet and trimmed with satin and lace, inside which waited a troupe of ghost orchid pixies set to provide part of the evening’s entertainment. Yes, the sisters were going all out for their New Year’s revels this year. Well, really, they did every year. And every year, the task of delivering their specialty items fell to him. He heaved the pack on his back and gave another sigh, looking wearily at the full silver moon above and the leering pumpkins below, eyes and mouths lit with the bright orange light of their hunger. Oh, he hated to walk through that patch and climb up that tree. But they tipped well, and they’d be sure to give him a bottle of their moonlight wine as a New Year’s gift.  That stuff always guaranteed a happy New Year. So he steeled himself for it, and stepped into the pumpkin patch.


Have a happy Halloween and a blessed Samhain!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Revising your manuscript

Possibly one of the most important and often neglected aspects of writing is revisions. It’s all fine and dandy to bash out a novel in less than six weeks then have the horrors of the manuscript burning a hole in your hard drive. So many authors (and I include myself here) have, at some point or another, submitted a manuscript for consideration to a publisher or literary agent without first revising it. And it shows, trust me.

Granted, when I first started out I was still blindingly convinced of my sheer and utter brilliance. Funny how these things change after being rejected countless times and one discovers literary agents and publishers aren’t falling over themselves to consider your submissions.

After each rejection I’d retreat to lick my wounds. The first thing I realised about why my short stories weren’t selling was that they were novels in disguise. Or so my crit partners were telling me. I listened to them. Solution: start writing novels. If I’d continued writing short stories in the hope of one day having enough cred to write a novel, I’d still be unpublished. And I admit freely that I cannot write a short story to save my life. (That’s not to say I don’t write them from time to time, for fun, but I tend to hide them on my fictionpress profile).

The first and most important lesson an author can learn is: don’t take advice from crit partners and other industry professionals personally. Once in a while you’re probably also going to meet a right twunt who’s going to say nasty things just for the sake of being a b1tch, but if you’ve worked hard to find some decent folks who care about you, you will have a better idea whether your writing stinks.

Your mom, cousin or the nice lady down the road will not give you an objective view of your novel unless they happen to be authors themselves. And, let’s be brutally honest here, folks, most ordinary peeps simply don’t possess the critical function to critique writing and tell you what’s really wrong with it. C’mon, they read (insert your least favourite cruddy best-selling author here).

Which is why writing groups can work for some. I’ve met my best crit partners, authors with whom I have a very close working relationship, who are at a similar stage that I am, through writing groups. I love and respect their writing. They love and respect mine. When they mention something about mine, I listen to their advice and I consider it. It’s a relationship based on trust. Most successful authors have their crit partners – like the ones who aren’t afraid to tell the likes of Stephen King when he’s being a daft bat.

The best thing you can do once you’ve finished your first draft is to send it to your crit partners. AND FORGET THE MANUSCRIPT EXISTS. Forget about it completely. It doesn't exist. Don’t daydream about which agent you’re going to query or which publishers you’re going to submit to. STEP AWAY FROM THE NOVEL and start your next project.

Yup, you heard me. Start your next first draft. Give your crit partner about a month or two to read your novel and get back to you. Then, if you’re one of those dreadful super-charged Energiser bunnies like me, you’ll almost be done with the first draft of your next work.

Now here’s the difficult part. ONLY start your revisions once you’ve finished the next WiP. Now you can send that to a crit partner while you get cracking on revising the novel that’s just returned.

You know what’s even more magic? You’d have taken two or so months’ break from your manuscript and, guess what? Your eyes will be fresh. Hell, it’s going to be like stepping into a new story. And the scary part is you’ll be more apt to see mistakes.

Oh, lordy, did you repeat “realise” twenty times in one paragraph? Or, goodness, Bill had a black tie on but it’s turned purple about halfway through dinner… Trust me you pick up stupid stuff you missed the first time. Stupid stuff that would make editors and agents groan and have a ::head desk:: moment, or laugh and point at assorted instances of homophone or apostrophe abuse. Or those darn pesky dangling modifiers.

There’s no standard rule of “Thou shalt revise your manuscript half a dozen times before you submit it anywhere” but you know what? Three or four revisions can’t hurt before you start submitting. If you’ve got the luxury of printing out an entire MS, go at it with a red pen while sitting on your veranda or in front of the fire with a cuppa.

And, perhaps the greatest rule of all: patience. Remember that the publishing industry is a waiting game. Be patient. The wheel, she turns slowly, mmmmkay? Don’t try to get everything done overnight. You’re only going to exhaust yourself and lose hope. Until you’ve got print deadlines to worry about, take your time and enjoy improving your craft. Learn from past mistakes and avoid them, finding ways to make each novel grow better than the last.

Because, trust me, your editor doesn’t want to correct the same kinds of mistakes you make in books three or four that occurred in book one.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's Nichole working on?

After months in preparation, Rubicon Ranch, a collaborative novel that will be written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing, is just days away!

Recently widowed writer/photographer Melanie Gray finds the body of an eight-year-old child in the desert. Was it an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill Riley Peterson? It could be anyone in this upscale housing development. Everyone is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda.

The girl’s parents, Jeff and Kourtney Peterson have an eight-year-old secret they will do anything to defend, perhaps even going so far as to kill their own child. If she is their own child.

Honor student Dylan McKenzie has a secret life that gives him a feeling of empowerment. Does he find murder even more empowering?

Psychologist Mary “Moody” Sinclair, has already killed one child. Is she adding to her resume?

Sleepwalker Cooper Dahlsing is afraid he might have killed the girl. But is she his first victim? Or his second?

The motto of private investigators Mark and JamieWestbrook is: “Make a quick buck, and don’t get caught.” Could murder their way of making a quick buck, or perhaps their way of not getting caught?

Self-appointed neighborhood guard, eighty-two year old Eloy Franklin keeps watch for anyone who dares to endanger his Rubicon Ranch. Was Riley a danger?

Sheriff Seth Bryan, a recent transplant, is overqualified for his job. Still, he finds compensations, his most recent being the mysterious Melanie Gray. Does she have something to hide? Or is she only protecting herself . . . from him?

So who dunnit? We don’t know and won’t know until the end. With so many great authors involved, anything can happen! To make the unveiling of the killer even more interesting, after all the evidence has been presented, you can tell us who you want the killer to be.

We will post one chapter every Monday, beginning October 25, 2010, at: Rubicon Ranch. We hope you’ll enjoy reading the novel while we are writing it. To make sure you don’t miss a single chapter, you can subscribe by email at the Rubicon Ranch site: http://rubiconranch.wordpress.com

Please join us on our adventure — it will be fun for all of us.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some useful links

I'm having one of those days where I feel like a complete fraud and have absolutely no business talking about writing, much less giving anything that could be construed as advice. So instead of a normal post I have some useful links, from people who actually know what they're talking about.

Allen Guthrie's Infamous Writing Tips - from the Absolute Write forums. Not only do I have this bookmarked, I printed out the initial post to keep in my Home School For Writers binder. The 32 tips are pretty straight-forward, mostly things that can easily revised once you get into the second draft of your first novel. After that you should be able to follow these tips in the first draft of everything else you write.

The SFWA's author information center has several articles on multiple topics.

The Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words - your editor will thank you.

Nathan Bransford's How To Write A Novel post. Not only is he an agent, he's written a novel. In fact, if you're a writer and you're not following his blog, you need to do so. Seriously. Follow him.

Another blog every writer should follow is Writer Beware. It keeps followers updated of scams designed to separate a hopeful and perhaps desperate writer from their money. It would be great if every writer was savvy enough not to fall for scams, but sadly it seems that not everyone is aware of this rule:

Yog's Law: money flows toward the writer. A writer should never pay to be published. As far as I'm concerned, it's just that simple.

So take a look at these links - these people know what they're talking about.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Writing press releases...

...without sounding like a complete tosser

Why press releases, you may ask. And why would you, an author, write one? I can think of a number of reasons. Press releases can announce a sale, a release or awards. You write a press release because you want to give a journalist or an editor incentive to follow up with a more in-depth article. Now wouldn’t it be nice if your local community paper, radio station or a magazine wanted to feature you? Hell, wouldn’t it be nice if they even knew you existed?

Here’s a scenario:
Author Marge Pennyroyal sold her novel, Little Red Robbing Hood, to Grimm Press and the book is due for release in a month’s time. She’s won a number of awards for her previous offerings and a well-known, best-selling author has written a puff for the upcoming work. Marge would like to generate some media interest in her writing, especially in her home town.

These are already brilliant bits of information to offer the media. Now, this is what Marge does with the information...

Local author releases follow-up to successful novel

Marge Pennyroyal is pleased to announce the release of her second paranormal romance novel, Little Red Robbing Hood (Grimm Press), on November 13.

Says best-selling author Stef May: “Little Red Robbing Hood had me laughing out loud all night. Marge has definitely got a winner here. Her characters are larger than life and her magical world is very well-realised.”

A winner of numerous literary awards, including the Golden Scroll award for “Best Debut Novel of the Year 2009” and a Ruby award from Paranormal Authors Unite (2010), Pennyroyal’s latest offers readers a continuation of her existing setting popularised in
Dawn of the Poppies (Grimm Press, 2009).

See the author’s website at
www.pennyroyaltea.com or email penny@royaltea.com for additional information.

Okay, that’s just a very short example. And no, those links aren’t real, and neither is Marge but, generally, press releases shouldn’t be more than about 150 to 500 words. They are short bursts of information that are quick to read.

What to avoid…
Whatever you do, don’t tell people what to think when you write your release. Avoid flowery writing. Don’t use superlatives like “the best” or “the most fabulous”. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve edited out words such as “unique” or “the most luxurious” from press releases I work on during my day job. If you’re going to try to slip in something good, rather have a respected industry professional say something nice about you to include in the piece. Or, if you’re going to try to personalise the piece, pretend you’re interviewing yourself while writing it. You need to report on the information. Don’t write in first person.

When all else fails, keep it simple…
Try to aim for objective writing when putting together your press release. What are you trying to say? Do yourself a favour and read some newspaper articles. Try to emulate the kind of objective style journalists are supposed to write. Your aim is to pass on information, not sound like a right twunt bragging about your achievements. You want to communicate clearly and succinctly. Take some time to think up a snappy headline that will communicate the gist of what the piece is about. Don’t go over 500 words. Most media types have the attention-span of a goldfish (speaking from personal experience, okay?) in an environment filled with numerous distractions. We simply don’t have time to read essays.

What next?
Find out who the book editors at your local newspapers and magazines are. Find out who their equivalent is at your radio stations. When you send out your release (and by gum I hope you proof-read it and get some of your writing buddies to cast their beady eyes over it), include low-res images of cover art and perhaps an author’s mug shot. But low-res, please. If an editor or journalist wants high-res visuals (of more than 500kb, they’ll contact you).

Oh, and be sure to include relevant contact information in your release, like phone numbers and email addresses. There’s nothing worse than needing a high-res image yesterday and the individual who sent you the release two weeks ago simply isn’t replying to her emails today, an hour before print deadline.

Get in the habit of writing a press release for every milestone you achieve, be it a book release, a book launch, an award or a new contract. Be diligent in sending these out to the right people and, you never know, you may just have given yourself the edge over many of your fellow authors.

* * * *

Apart from writing urban and dark fantasy, Nerine Dorman works as a sub-editor for a South African newspaper publisher and edits fiction when other people are sensibly watching TV or hanging out in shopping malls. Occasionally she pretends to be eccentric contemporary romance author Therése von Willegen. Yes. She’s a sucker for punishment. Follow her blog at http://nerinedorman.blogspot.com

Monday, October 18, 2010

Who knows what evil lurks....

I have a confession to make. I really enjoy writing the bad guys.

I do. There's something about them that is just plain fun to write.

Okay, so I don't get really graphic with the evil in my stories. I don't normally watch horror flicks, and don't often read uber-violent thrillers. My entertainment choices are more character driven than plot driven.

Maybe that's why I like being able to write about the bad guys. Someone once told me that every person is the hero of his or her own story. Very few people are pure good or pure evil.

The best heros in any story are the flawed ones. Take Harry Potter, for example. No matter what you think of the story, it's the obstacles Harry faces that make Harry a believable character. Who wouldn't feel for a kid with such a rotten family life? And Dumbledore? His knowledge and willingness to help those less fortunate make him just awesome.

Even Professor Snape is a great character. He hates Harry. He hates Harry's father. But he loves Harry's mother. And Snape does help Harry when necessary.

It's not just fictional characters who have these multi-demensions. Arguably one of the most evil men in history, Adolf Hitler didn't drink, didn't smoke, and was a vegetarian. Interesting.

As I write, I keep Harry and Hitler in my mind. Not only does my hero have to be flawed, but my anti-hero can't be all evil, either. It's as important to me who did it as why they did it. The reason someone committed the crime in my mysteries has to make sense....at least to the evil-doer.

Maybe that's why I enjoy writing about the bad guys. It gives me another perspective on the same story.


Saturday, October 16, 2010


There is so much work that goes into a manuscript. It can be a struggle to shape an idea into a coherent story. Fully developed characters take effort to craft. Research can be time-consuming and will sometimes send your plot on a whole new tangent. There's days when the words come so slowly you wonder why you bothered to open the document.

But there are also days when the words flow like a river, when everything comes together and your story winds up in a place you didn't even know it was headed, but it's so perfect it couldn't be better if you'd planned it. With all the hard, lonely work writing can be, it's important to enjoy those little triumphs. The big ones should be celebrated, too.

I'm not a very fast writer so in the three years since I've been writing seriously, there haven't been that many manuscripts to get as far as a finished first draft. That is still a new and exciting feeling, one worth celebrating. I've been working on this novella for about two months now. After I let my critique partner have time to read it and give myself a little break from it, I'll work on revising it and getting into shape to submit. There's a lot more work ahead, but for right now I'm going to enjoy the fact that I have a completed first draft sitting in my hard drive.

Not that my celebrations are particularly extravagant. "Loud music" pretty much covers it. Usually something that has to do with the story, music that either reflects the mood of the story or is referenced directly, or best of all, both. For this novella it was Led Zeppelin III. The album served as background music in one scene and I listened to the tracks from the second half several times while writing. It may not seem like much, but it's nice to kick back and bask in the glory of a completed manuscript to the tune of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp.

What do you do to celebrate reaching writing milestones?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spreading the word

The internet is a marvellous thing. If this resource had been available to me when I was younger, chances are good I’d have had a head start with my writing career. There is a plethora of informative sites available geared toward writers taking those first steps. There is so much information available, it’s sometimes quite bewildering, but if you take time to hone your filtering, you’ll definitely find more than enough knowledge to write, revise, find an agent for or publish your first novel.

But that’s not where it ends. Many authors don’t consider possibly one of the most important aspects of being successful: marketing. Here’s where being handy at writing your own press releases, blogging and social networking can really help you. You can’t expect your book to fly off vendors’ shelves if your readership doesn’t know the work exists. And the buck doesn’t stop with the internet. You have to become adept at finding promotional opportunities in your immediate environment.

Over the decade or so that I’ve been involved in the media industry, with emphasis on below-the-line marketing, I’ve picked up a few tips that I’m happy to share.

The first question you need to ask is: who is your target market?

Who will enjoy your book? Where will you find them? In my case, I need to aim at people who enjoy urban fantasy with a gritty, dark edge (think Goths with an interest in the supernatural, Twilight fangrrrls and folks who slurp up Charlaine Harris’s writing). Where do they lurk? Social networking sites like Facebook and interest-specific forums provide ample opportunities to share links, as does Twitter. Blogging platforms such as blogger.com or wordpress.com are just as useful. They’re even more magical if one combines them. Even better: they’re all free.

Add free press release sites to the mix, and you’ve got a helluva lot of outlets.

Written a novel about a young woman learning to become a belly-dancer? Then see about sending press releases to local belly-dancing studios in your area and beyond. Now here’s a really devious idea: design snappy flyers of your novel and leave them in coffee shops and internet cafés, or slip them into books similar to yours at your local library. Give just enough information to make people save the slip of paper and look you up online. Perhaps hold off the guerrilla tactics in your local bookstore, okay? Unless they’re already stocking your novel, that is.

Although many people complain about Facebook as a waste of time and energy when it comes to all the apps and stalking, take some time to consider the site. Used properly, it’s a powerful tool. Sure, you’ve added your best friends (as in real people you see once or twice a month); old school or college mates (you probably only bump into at clubs or shopping centres then bitch about how fat/bald they’ve become); family (now you don’t have to call them, hey?); industry-specific peers (other professionals you like or stalk); and friends of friends (random acts of friend-requesting that will probably because “I liked your profile pic and think you’re cute”).

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve actively begun marketing my novels is that people talk. I receive messages from people who buy my novel, enjoy it then mail me, purely because they first heard about it through the links I’ve shared. Sometimes they are moved enough to post a link to their status reports. This makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

As one of my friends, a South African author published through a large multinational publisher said to me, “It’s by word of mouth you’ll sell your novel, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re with a big or small press.”

It’s quite simple: the more “friends” you have, the more people will know about your work and will, perhaps boost your sales. People talk. Recently a friend of mine on Facebook bought a print copy of one of my novels upon seeing it was available locally after I shared a link. She read it and enjoyed it so much she lent it to a mutual friend who liked the story enough to tell me that much the next time we spoke. And I know of yet another mutual friend in that circle who’ll most likely borrow that soon-to-be dog-eared copy of Khepera Rising. Sure, I’m not generating additional sales but that’s three people who know of me and perhaps say good things to a wider circle. “Hey, I read this novel by this crazy Goth chick who lives up the road…”

Sure, I’m not making huge sales but I’m definitely creating a buzz. I don’t expect to churn out one best-seller after the other in the same vein as Ms. Meyer, but I want to make sure the right people know about my books and that I can gradually build loyal following of readers. And while I don’t have budget to pay a PR company, there’s much I can already do on my own.

Some people complain that nobody follows their blog. Well, maybe that’s because no one knows your bloody blog exists. Don’t just blab about your boring day at the office. Make your blog interesting by interviewing fellow authors, writing reviews and discussing some of the issues surrounding your craft in a way that will invite people to comment. Write about what inspires your tales. Share success stories. Blog it then flash the link via sites like Facebook or Twitter. This will not only alert potential blog followers that you blog exists but will also divert some traffic if people have their interest sufficiently piqued.

Another useful tip: get your friends to write reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads.com after they’ve read your novel. Granted, most people are just plum lazy but I’m blessed with friends who aren’t afraid to tell me what they liked or disliked, and I’m steadily building some lovely balanced reviews. These are far better than reviews that froth or gush. People like to read reviews about the product before they hand over their credit card details. Hell, if your friends don’t do it for you, band together with other authors you’re friends with and agree to write reviews for each other.

And if you tell me you don’t know any fellow authors, then you may as well just go and crawl under a rock and stay there. Networking in this day and age is vital. Piggy-backing on your peers is an excellent way of saying “Hey, howzit!” to potential readers.

Press releases are a great way to send out important news, like a sale or a new release. Where to send them, you ask? Mail them to your local newspapers. You never know, one of the editors might decide to use the information as a filler or, even better, send a journalist to do a story. Mail these to online press release sites. It may often feel like you’re farting in the wind but trust me, you may not see results immediately but they do help in building awareness. Ditto for arranging your own release event. Even if you’re meeting at a bohemian café, are serving cupcakes and reading a few pages to your best friends, do it. It helps you build confidence. And, once again, people talk.

Marketing is ninety percent bullsh1tting. If you present yourself as a professional, with a great product (and you’d better back up your claims by doing those revisions) then people will come to see you as a success. Once again it boils down to a simple axiom: people talk.

Say you’ve written a paranormal romance about wolf shifters, see about running give-aways of your novel online over Halloween or Valentine’s Day. Donating copies of your novel as prizes for charity events is excellent, as well. Not only will you get some coverage, but you’re also associating your brand (yes, your name) with a worthy cause. Copies of Khepera Rising will be donated at the upcoming SA Horrorfest as well as the Love Cats fund-raising event for the SPCA. The latter’s organisers have even gone so far as putting my name as a sponsor on the flyer. It may not seem like much, but this steady kind of publicity has made a difference. I’ve noticed in the past year that people are already referring to me not just as photographer Dr-Benway’s wife, but as Nerine Dorman, that crazy writer chick. I kinda dig that.

* * * *
Best-selling South African author Sarah Lotz has this to say about Khepera Rising, “Definitely not for the faint-hearted or easily shocked, Khepera Rising is part hardcore murder mystery, part revenge fantasy and dark Gothic horror, and effortlessly subverts preconceptions about religious intolerance, the dark arts and Cape Town’s underground Goth culture with devastating effects. With its deliciously morally ambiguous narrator, non-stop pace, high body-count and gore-splattered pages, it’s sure to outrage some, but lovers of noir, black humour and no-punches-pulled horror will be hooked from the first page. It’s an accomplished, scathing and daring debut from Nerine Dorman, who clearly has a brilliant career ahead of her.”
Khepera Rising (book one) and Khepera Redeemed (book two) are available electronically and in print, from Amazon.com, Kalahari.net or direct, from the Lyrical Press website (www.lyricalpress.com), as well as other vendors.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On Writing: Your Ideal Reader

First of all I have to apologize for missing last week. Our internet went down Friday night and we couldn't get a repairman until Monday morning. Not having internet access didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, that is until Sunday afternoon. By then I'd had enough of being unplugged from the world. But I did read two books last weekend, plus we watched a few episodes of Firefly so that was good.

In Stephen King's On Writing he talks about having what he calls your Ideal Reader. He's not talking about a critique partner here, though that's certainly something a writer needs. A critique partner can help you break down your story and find the problem areas, whether it's grammar or characterization or a million other things. Having a critique partner is invaluable and when you have the right one, you can help each other and learn a great deal from each other. It can enrich both your writing itself and your life as a writer.

An Ideal Reader is something different. King is talking about the person who will read your work strictly as a reader, for the journey and the pleasure of the story. He mentions watching his wife read his work, eager for her reactions. I've done exactly that with my husband and it always makes me feel like I'm going to twist myself in half. On the one hand I want to watch over his shoulder and see if he laughs at what is supposed to be funny, does he cringe at what's supposed to be cringe-worthy, does he cringe at a paragraph I thought was really good. But on the other hand I can hardly stand to see his reaction. Usually I'm so nervous I have to be in another room while he reads something I wrote. He's always sure to tell me what I need to know the most: I like it, I don't like it (that's only happened once), and the response I find most nerve-wracking - what happens next? That's always exciting to hear, because it means he wants to know what happens next, but it can also be stressful because sometimes I don't know what happens next and it may be awhile before there's more for him to read. This is why I've gotten to where I finish a story before letting him read it.

While your ideal reader doesn't have to be your significant other, it should definitely be a person who enjoys reading whatever genre you write in. I'm lucky in that my husband enjoys urban fantasy and isn't phased when a vampire turns up in a story. If he hated paranormal, though, I'd have to find a different ideal reader. After all, we write for an audience that will enjoy our books, so our ideal reader should, too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hunting down those gremlins

It’s very rare for me to read a book nowadays without wanting to reach for a red pen. In my day-job and my after-hours work, I wrestle with words. I write, edit and proofread everything from advertorial and press releases through to paranormal romance. This has obvious benefits for my own writing but I’d like to share some tips for writers wanting to clean up their writing before they start submitting to publishers and literary agents. These tips are by no means exhaustive but they’ll go a long way toward helping you self-edit your manuscripts and saving your poor, dear editor so she can concentrate on other aspects of your story. At any rate, these five gremlins are the ones I catch most often, so I’d like to share the love.

Filter words
He said, she thought, Paul heard…
These are filter words that clutter up text and steal some of the immediacy and impact a stronger sentence construction. Granted, there are times when this kind of construction is unavoidable, but when overused, it chokes the flow of a sentence. Here are a few examples.

Davy heard the sound of water falling and saw the rain falling outside the window.

This sentence would be much more effective if:
Rain drummed on the tin roof and splattered on the paving outside.

If you’ve already introduced Davy as a viewpoint character then you don’t need to keep mentioning his name and, by using more descriptive words as active verbs, you’re saying helluva lot more about the situation. Words are not acting as separators and you can create more mood.

I want to weep every time I see characters chuckle, smile or laugh words. These are physical actions and are not related to how we speak. I’m a big fan of “said”. Such a simple little word but it’s almost invisible. Laughing happens before or after we speak. Here are some examples.

“You ate my grandma!” Little Red Riding Hood said, stomping her foot.

Can be simplified thus:
“You ate my grandma!” Little Red Riding Hood stomped her foot.
You avoid overusing “said” by turning a dialogue tag into an action tag.

“You big bad wolf, I’m gonna get you,” Little Red Riding Hood smiled wickedly.
This one should read:
“You big bad wolf, I’m gonna get you.” Little Red Riding Hood smiled wickedly.

Little Red Riding Hood's smile is a separate action from the speaking and can also be appended before the dialogue, to have her smile before she speaks. A full-stop closes the dialogue, on the inside of the quotation marks. When I see punctuation on the outside, I weep.

While house styles may differ from publisher to publisher, my personal preference is for “said” as a dialogue tag, aiming for action tags when I don’t want to overdo a “he said, she said” kind of conversation. Also, by using action tags in large stretches of dialogue, you also give a better idea of how the characters are feeling or what they may be doing.

I have a suspicion that because many of us watch a lot of films and TV programmes, which by their very nature offer us an omniscient viewpoint, many beginner writers feel the need to tell their readers everything. Although a third-person omniscient viewpoint is not wrong, it takes a masterful storyteller of the calibre of Terry Pratchett or William Horwood to pull this sort of writing off successfully. Current trends in commercial fiction show a preference for a deep-third point of view, either in first- or third-person, with one viewpoint per scene.

My advice to writers: Resist the temptation of giving away all your secrets. What keeps readers turning pages is not knowing what will happen next, and by sticking with the limited and often unreliable narration of one or two characters, readers know only as much as the characters and you can gradually build up to a denouement that will have people staying up late at night to see what happens next.

THAT word
We all have pet words, like that, really, actually, practically, virtually… or insert any of your choice that you end up using too often. That, more often than not, is one of the words I end up cutting. Most times it’s used it’s not necessary and more often than not acts as a word that fills space without adding real meaning. As for the others, I try to limit them to dialogue because hey, let’s keep the way people speak natural. But I expunge them from the narrative unless I’m using them in the correct context.

Let’s look at practically:
Little Red Riding Hood practically gave up hope.
Should read:
Little Red Riding Hood almost gave up hope.

Correct use of practically:

Little Red Riding Hood was practically orientated, and manipulated a hair pin to unlock the cupboard door.

Look at your manuscript and see if you have other pet words. Some of mine include however, perhaps… Find them and kill them, and you may see an immediate improvement in your writing.

Attack of the killer He or She
Watch out for too many similar words at the start of consecutive sentences. For instance:
He walked to the bank. He took out his wallet and drew money. He turned around and left.
Granted, that’s an extreme example but I see it. Often.

Look out for repeats, especially of names of characters, he, she, her, his and the. Watch also for the opening words of paragraphs being the same. Be alert for other words repeating within the same paragraph and jump out. Sometimes repetition of words that jump out is unavoidable, but catching the ones that are, for instance too many characters whispering at each other on one page, or overusing the word kiss… As an author, it is vital that you make an effort to increase your vocabulary, to become a walking thesaurus, if you must.

In closing, when you do reach the point where you are working with an editor, take time to analyse which points he or she highlights. Which gremlins crop up again and again? Internalise those gremlins and, when you begin work on your next manuscript, try avoiding making those same mistakes again. It will make you a better writer, and help you push your boundaries, which in a very competitive market is important if you want to make a go of being successful.

* * * *

Nerine is a published author and content editor for Lyrical Press, inc.
Email her at nerine@lyricalpress.com

Monday, October 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Searching for the perfect crime....

Once again, I'm desperately working on my Cerri Baker novel. This one, a sequel, will take place during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. And the murder happens at a different Black Hills location.

And I've been selected by my publisher to participate in a collaborative novel—Rubicon Ranch.

And Halloween is almost here. And I have some projects due for my web designing day job. Oh, don't forget the book signing in Pierre, South Dakota, this weekend.

Given all that's going on, it must be time to sign up for NaNoWriMo!

I'm excited about "forcing" myself to sit at the computer and write. A lot. (1,667 words each day for 30 days.... yeah, that's a lot.) My biggest problem right now is narrowing down the ideas. Where should the crime take place? Should it be a murder? What time of year should the book take place in? The Black Hills have numerous beautiful—and secluded—places for mayhem to occur.

So I'm asking for suggestions... Where should Cerri's next adventure take her?


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When to take a step back

Ask any author whether they have novels they’ve shoved beneath their beds or buried in the deepest hole in their backyard, and you’ll have more than a few cringing visibly and telling you about that novel they never want to think about ever again.

Sure. I have a number. None of them were bad stories. In fact, some had some pretty memorable characters and some lovely descriptive passages. But they were flawed and, in most cases it was because the plot just didn’t happen. Kinda like a lead balloon, okay? My earliest pieces were thinly veiled fanfiction, but now we’re talking about the material I wrote during my teen years, which I’ve thankfully put far behind me. If I even get a vague urge in that direction, I write fanfiction. I do not try to dress something derivative in original trimmings.

As much as people love to pooh-pooh fanfiction, it has its place. It’s fun, and it gets any ideas of clones out of my system if I happen to fixate on an existing setting. Mind you, I don’t write this kind of stuff often, but sometimes I do feel the urge to play in Pern a while, or spin a yarn based on The Crow’s milieu… Hell, I even wrote a Highlander fanfic recently. It was fun and a bit of a holiday from my commercial fiction, which I needed to remind myself that I write primarily to offer entertainment, not only for my readers, but for myself. It clears my head and I move on. Writing is supposed to be fun, okay? Remember that. Tattoo it on your left hand. WRITING IS FUN.

But, it brings me back to my stories I abandon. Mind you, this is not a decision I take lightly. Usually by the time I shelve a piece, I’ve already invested hours of my life in a story—hours I won’t get back. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that sometimes it’s the best thing to pull the plug. It’s not as if I’ve thrown away the story or the characters. These lie fallow for me to return and dig out the gems among the dross and, at times, I do recycle characters or routines I like.

And realise this, none of the writing you shelve is wasted time. I have no idea who said it but there’s this statement that a good writer will need to churn out a million mediocre words before they write a great novel. Okay, I’m probably paraphrasing horribly but hell, it’s true. When I think back to all those abortive short stories and partial manuscripts I’ve hidden in boxes to eventually find their way into the trash, I don’t weep for those “lost” hours. No matter how dreadful the execution, these malformed creations were an important part of my development as a writer.

It took me a year to write my first novel and the initial manuscript was well over 100 000 words long. My crit partners and editor helped me pare this down to just over 96 000 words and, since then the logic behind constructing a novel seems to have taken hold. I get my ending first, work in approximately three climaxes then look for a suitable beginning. I work backward now, embroidering around the core of an idea. I'm not scared to throw away words.

Because I’ve written enough clunkers, I have a better idea of how to structure the novels that will sell. So, my advice to beginner authors: Don’t be afraid to put something aside if you’re starting to get feedback that the piece isn’t working. Establish why it’s not working then create something new you can invest your time in. I’ve seen good writers get bogged down because they fixate on a magnum opus they’ve reworked so many times they’ve gone word-blind, and all that joy has fled from the writing, resulting in ponderous prose that just doesn’t sing.

So, ja… go on, take the plunge. It’s a breath of fresh air that may just communicate through your new writing. And, given a few months, you can go back to that old manuscript and you may just have the key to unlocking that story.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Celebrating Banned Books Week

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." ~ George Santayana

That's one of my dad's favorite quotes. He had gone to college to become a history teacher before he took a "life-turn" to become a police officer.

As I was growing up, Dad and I had many conversations about history and personal responsibility. I don't remember Dad asking a lot of "what would you do if..." questions, but rather pointing out that Hitler's army was able to defeat a number of European countries because they knew where all the guns were thanks to the mandatory registration laws. Dad's philosophy was to work within the system to make changes for society.

What does that have to do with writing? Maybe nothing, but it does have something to do with reading. Especially this week—Banned Books Week.

I've often wondered what would make a book "dangerous." I'll admit that I've been rebellious enough to read a number of the books which have made the list. I've even encouraged my children and nieces to read such books. Heck, I've even encouraged other people's children to read banned books.

Don't get me wrong...I don't think every book is appropriate for every person. My nephew, for example, probably shouldn't be exposed to George Orwell's 1984 just yet. Then again, he's not even a year old and the theme of the novel would be lost on him. My nieces are older and might be able to grasp some of the concepts. (Though the rat scene is really creepy and still gives me the heebie-jeebies.) I'm sure they would understand Orwell's Animal Farm, though, and it would spark some interesting discussions between the girls and their parents.

Isn't that what books are supposed to do? Spark discussion? Engage imagination? Teach something? Whether a book is fiction or non-fiction, there is something to be learned in each and every book. Even Harry Potter taught us something—good will triumph over evil.

The freedom to read is similar to so many other freedoms we have. In America, we have the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble. Each of those freedoms can be lost if we don't exercise them. With those freedoms come some responsibilities.

So this week, take some time to exercise your freedom to read. Grab a banned book and read it. Share it with someone else. You just might learn something. Oh, and let me know what your favorite banned book is. A list of classics can be found at the American Library Association's web site.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Banned Books Week

Today is the start of Banned Books Week in the US. Every year the American Library Association holds this event to celebrate the freedom to read. You might think something like this wouldn't be necessary in the twenty-first century. After all, censorship, book banning, and book burning are all a thing of the past, right? Unfortunately, that's not true. Attempting to and succeeding at removing books from public schools and libraries is still happening with shocking frequency. It's all well and good for someone to decide they don't want to read a book because they find the content and/or themes objectionable, and to also make that decision for their children. But do you want others deciding what you and your family can have access to in a public library?

It's almost as if the universe wanted to bring extra attention to Banned Books Week this year. The book blogosphere fairly exploded last weekend with discussion of a man in Missouri whose children do not attend public school writing an opinion piece in his local paper advocating the removal of several books from local schools. One of those books is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This man included Speak - a book about a teenage girl dealing with rape - in a diatribe about books that he considered "soft pornography." This was the first time I'd ever heard of rape being considered pornography, which by definition is something "intended to cause sexual excitement." I never want to be alone in a room with a  man who thinks of rape like that. Ms. Anderson wrote a blog post about this and it's one of many you'll find. I write fiction that is meant purely for entertainment. I do not have the emotional strength it would take to immerse myself in the emotions needed to write a book like that, but I am deeply grateful there are authors out there that can do it. There's nothing to be gained from pretending horrible things like rape don't happen, and anything that might help a survivor in their recovery should be lauded. I have no idea why people think their children need protecting from books. If I were a parent, I would be far more concerned about protecting my kid from the man who finds rape titillating.

The ALA's website has some great info about what books have been challenged and why. The list of Banned and Challenged Classics is quite illustrious. The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Color Purple top that list. Catch-22, one of my old favorites, is also there. There's also a list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009. At the top: the Harry Potter series. I think that fact alone says more about the type of people who attempt to ban books than just about anything else that could be said. There's a PDF about the event that features information on the most banned/challenged books from May 2009-May 2010. The Stephenville, Texas school district has the distinction of banning not one but two paranormal Young Adult series that aren't even finished yet, which means they've banned books that haven't even been published yet. (That's the House of Night series and the Vampire Academy series.)

Take a look at these lists and see how many of them you've read. Even better, see what's on there you might like to read. I've got a copy of Kerouac's On The Road, number 31 on the classics list, that I never got around to reading. Banned Books Week might be the perfect time to take it off the shelf.