Thursday, April 26, 2012

Throwback Thursday!!

**Who said time travel doesn't exist?
Have a look at one of For the Love of Writing's very first blog posts. **

I'll bet most or all of you have heard that tired old advice more than you'd like. The one that goes: Just write! Don't think! But unfortunately, that is often easier said than done. Even I have spouted those two sentences a time or two. And yet, even I struggle to swallow my own advice sometimes.
That's why I'm writing about this and something else. Something we all still fear at times.

Another saying that we as writers have heard is: Write what you know.

It's easier that way, no? If you are a nurse, or have experience in the nursing field, then perhaps your characters or storylines reflect a bit of that in your books. If you are one of those who crave the affections of another, then your characters might act the same way. It's always simpler to write what you know.

If you write romance, you stick to romance. If you write horror, you stick to horror.

Yes, you may add a few elements of other genres in your writing but only a bit here and there.

Someone asked me the other day...what happens if you get stuck in a rut? What happens if you always ONLY stick to what you know and never explore writing about anything else?...... (Continue reading HERE)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting the Call: T.W. Fendley

More proof that there are plenty of ways to achieve success for writers. T.W. Findley has agreed to share her journey through the publishing world. Here’s  a case where meeting the right people at a writer’s conference can make your dreams come true.  Teresa’s  novel, Zero Time, is at the top of my to be read list.

This month is a perfect time for me to talk about getting "The Call" because in April 2010, I met Linda Houle, one of the publishers from L&L Dreamspell, at the Missouri Writers Guild (MWG) conference. That's where things started going right for me.

It was my first pitch session and I was plenty nervous. But instead of doing a five-minute pitch to just one agent, when I arrived that morning I learned I could pitch to all three of my top choices--two agents and a small press publisher. Fortunately, I'd done my homework. I knew why my book was a good fit for each of them and had practiced (and practiced!) my elevator pitch in front of the bathroom mirror. 

I was hopeful, but afraid to be too optimistic. I'd been there before. You see, I sent off my first query letter for ZERO TIME on Sept. 12, 2008, and immediately got a request for a partial. Elated, I submitted my chapters, now certain I would easily land an agent and a book deal. That didn't happen. I revised my query letter a few times over the next eighteen months and used QueryTracker to target and submit it to thirteen more agents. And to track the rejections.

Then came the MWG conference, and a chance to deliver my query in person. All requested a partial, ending the long dry spell. Then something unprecedented happened--within a month, one agent and the small press asked for a full manuscript!   

"The Call" came 26 days after I emailed the full manuscript to the small press. On May 31, 2010, Lisa Smith--the other "L" in L&L Dreamspell--sent me an email that said simply: "Teresa,  I am interested in offering you a contract for ZERO TIME. I'd like to see your marketing plan, and we will go from there! Thanks."

My first reaction? After I quit shrieking, I emailed my critique buddies. They'd been with me through two revisions of the book. Together we did a virtual happy dance. Later, my husband and I toasted margaritas at our local Mexican restaurant.

I went to work drafting a marketing plan after I read my publisher's book, The Naked Truth About Book Publishing, and checked out some online resources. On June 2, Lisa accepted my plan and offered a contract for both print and ebook formats.

In the meantime, I also emailed the agent who requested the full to let her know of the small press offer. Although she loved the premise, she decided to pass. I reviewed the contract and on June 7, 2010, mailed the signed copies. My debut historical fantasy novel, ZERO TIME, was published in October 2011-- three years after I sent my first query letter. With its connection to the end of the Maya Long Count calendar, I wanted the book out before December 2012. I'm grateful to L&L Dreamspell for making it happen.

After that experience, I've been reluctant to get back into the query game. For my next novel, I'm going to pitch first. That's why I was at the 2012 MWG conference last weekend, pitching my young adult contemporary fantasy, THE LABYRINTH OF TIME. And I got a request from a super agent for the full manuscript!  

If you're interested in ZERO TIME, it's available in paperback or ebook through Amazon and Barnes & Noble (or ask your local librarian to carry it). I'm excited to report it earned a Walter Williams Major Work Award in the 2012 President's Contest at the MWG conference! 

You can find me at: 
Authors website:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Step Outside

So the pesky writer’s block has struck again, huh? You look to your writerly friends to help and you hear the same things. And why do you hear the same things BECAUSE THEY ARE THE SAME THINGS YOU JUST TOLD THEM!! Ugh! Round and round the mayberry bush we go just to wind up in the same position you started. So you grin and tell them thanks for their support, then go home and stare at the same page you were stuck on. It sits there…mocking you. Yeah, it’s wagging its paper tongue at you or if you prefer (for you more digital folk) it’s making that noise the pigs make on Angry Birds when you don’t take them out.
Your next step is to opening your latest writing mag or head to your favorite blog *ahem* and see what they say about the BLOCK. What do they say? Yeah, same thing. Grrr. The only thing you can do now is press on and hope that it fades sooner rather than later. It better because those voices and those oinking pigs are getting mighty loud.
But are you really out of options?
I mean this is the digital age. You can reach out and touch anyone. So why not step out of your comfort zone a bit. Trust me; it’s not that scary out here. You already have writer friends and friends who love words in general. However what if you were to think about your writing and getting around that pesky block like an artist?
Okay, pick up your jaws. Yes, try talking to an artist or someone who is way out of your field, directors or architects, heck even a chef. We are all artists if you think about whether it be with words or paints and markers or a slab of beef. You see we all hit our blocks no matter what creative medium you partake of. Trying to look outside of what you normally do can open up new possibilities as how to attack that troublesome foe, the BLOCK.
I’ve been fortunate to have a creative family, my sister most of all. She is an artist so she loves to bring me into her world….and I love every minute of it. Seeing the difference in line thickness and paint styles brings me as much joy as finding a new word or seeing my characters come to life. It makes me look at my sciences and worlds differently. When I start writing I can see those lines when I describe my characters, I can see them better. It helps me picture them clearer and how they would look when they move. I begin to think about what body types would work for my more extraordinary people or what colors would make a new pop right off the page.
Even in my day job I work around food. Those aromas constantly tickling my nose I get a better sense of smell to include in my tales. Or I can get the rhythm of knives as they hit the wooden blocks. Mmm….it’s rather seductive when you let those senses open up and take them all in. you can look at this world differently, thus your created world of words better.
If you have a block, find your way around it. And your way around it may just be to traipse into someone else’s world….or at least that helps me sometimes. LOL Write on you lovely folks!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Getting the Call: Sophie Perinot

Please welcome Sophie Perinot to the blog this week. Her work of historical fiction, The Sister Queens, has just been released from Penguin. Set in the 13th France and England century, The Sister Queens weaves the captivating story of medieval sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, who both became queens — their lifelong friendship, their rivalry, and their reigns.
I got this for my kindle and, have to say, the romance and historic details are amazing. So much is packed into one book. You are treated to the culture of France and England with side trips to go crusading in the Holy Land. Awesome!

When “the Call” Comes As Dessert
 As an author of historical novels I write books filled with characters who communicate on pieces of parchment or lovely crisp vellum (depending on the time period).  So it is perhaps particularly appropriate that the exchange which culminated in my getting “the call” began with a note written by fountain pen on a lovely piece of laid stationary.
 I’d been querying, cautiously.  But with a decent rate-of-request (if you are a writer and don’t know what r-of-r is, get thee to AgentQuery Connect) it was time to go for broke and query the top of my A-list, including my dream agent[1], Jacques de Spoelberch.  I sent him a snail mail query – one page, no sample chapter; one chance to make an impression.  Then I waited.
When you have queries outstanding going to the mailbox (real or virtual) is agonizing.  The day I saw Jacques’s return address on one of my SASEs I swallowed hard.  Holding a sealed envelop from a top agent is a moment-of-no return—it is the last instant you can dream that “this will be the one.”  Unless there is a request for material inside the envelope.  And there was.  My dream agent wanted a full, on a short exclusive[2].  Heaven.
I tried not to think about that full—which means I thought about it pretty much all the time, even as other requests rolled in and had to be deferred until the exclusive expired (the agents I asked to remain in a holding pattern were extremely gracious).  Then, a few days before the end of the agreed-upon time period my phone range.  Caller ID flashed my agent’s name.  I picked up trying to sound as if agents called me all the time and doubtless failing (though Jacques, gentlemen that he is, never gave any indication that I sounded less than collected).  I will never forget the first thing he said, “So remind me, did I know how long this was when I asked for it?”  A sense of humor, you have to love that in an agent.  Turned out that despite the length (enormous) Jacques was very enthused about my book.  Clearly a risk taker—another fine quality in an author’s representative particularly if you are a newbie author because, by definition, we are a big risk.
Jacques wanted to hear about my ideas for other books and wanted some “future project” descriptions and other information by email.[3]  I wanted to hear his reactions to and ideas for the manuscript on his desk.  We were getting to know each other. [4]   He asked for a little more time to finish reading the novel.  I thought that only fair—especially since I’d (deviously) left the word count out of my query.
About a week later he called again.  How would I like to get together for lunch?  No offer, just an invitation.  I’d have to get on the train from DC to NYC on faith.  But I am a woman of faith, and I am also a person who likes to see the whites of someone’s eyes before she makes a deal.[5] So lunch was a perfect idea.
Lunch also turned out to be delightful.  The “fit” between us was obvious from the moment the water glasses were filled.  We talked animatedly all throughout our main course.  This wonderful man clearly loved my book more than my own mother did.  That’s an incredible feeling, especially given the amount of self-doubt the query process induces in the average writer.  He also had concrete ideas for what I might do to make the manuscript even better and they resonated with me.  Finally, we laid down our forks.  I wasn’t sure just what to expect next, but as the plates were cleared the magic moment came—no, not the dessert menu, an offer of representation.  Let me tell you, that’s the sweetest way to end a meal ever.  I didn’t need to think.  I said yes on the spot.[6]

[1] Any writer who tells you she doesn’t have a “dream agent” is either one-in-a-million or telling you a fib.  Agent crushes are as common to writers as regular crushes are to teenagers.
[2] Notice I said SHORT exclusive.  Many writers are totally anti-exclusive.  I don’t take that hard line but I would never offer an exclusive or agree to one with out an explicit time limit.  That time limit should be weeks not months.
[3] Make a note here – before you start querying it is a darn good idea to write down little 1-2 paragraph synopses for each of your future book ideas.  Ideally these should be in the same genre you will be querying.  If you do this you will thank me later because it is very common for an agent to discuss future work before signing a client.
[4] Talking to an agent is a two-way interview.  It’s hard to remember that when you are a newbie author and want an agent more than anything, but remember an offer from an agent is like a marriage proposal in one way – just because someone asks doesn’t mean you should say yes. That’s hard for beginner writers to remember but (say this 100 times to yourself) “the wrong agent is worse than no agent at all.”  You are going to be entering into a working relationship that (hopefully) will last for a long time.  Make sure you select an agent whose style of getting things done and whose personality meshes with yours.
[5] Honestly, if you live on the East Coast and have a chance to meet your agent either before or after signing DO IT. Consider your travel costs an investment in yourself as a professional.  Ditto editors.  While your book is on submission if your agent reports that editor X would love to meet you, make that happen.
[6] It is common form to ask for time to think about an offer of representation and to contact other agents who are in possession of requested material.  Generally that is a very polite thing to do.  If, however you are 110% certain that the agent offering is “the one,” then asking other agents to bump your material to the top of their reading pile and race through it to make a counter offer is, imo, the opposite of polite.

To learn more about Sophie Perinot or The Sister Queens go here:
Website (where people can read more about the book).
Twitter handle @Lit_gal 

Monday, April 16, 2012

TASTE Book Trailer and Excerpt Reveal

Coming from Crescent Moon Press on May 1, 2012, TASTE by Kate Evangelista. Check out this hot trailer.

Song Credits: "Hunger" © Noelle Pico.
Full Download available at

At Barinkoff Academy, there's only one rule: no students on campus after curfew. Phoenix McKay soon finds out why when she is left behind at sunset. A group calling themselves night students threaten to taste her flesh until she is saved by a mysterious, alluring boy. With his pale skin, dark eyes, and mesmerizing voice, Demitri is both irresistible and impenetrable. He warns her to stay away from his dangerous world of flesh eaters. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and playful Luka has other plans.

When Phoenix is caught between her physical and her emotional attraction, she becomes the keeper of a deadly secret that will rock the foundations of an ancient civilization living beneath Barinkoff Academy. Phoenix doesn’t realize until it is too late that the closer she gets to both Demitri and Luka the more she is plunging them all into a centuries old feud.

Taste Excerpt

I sat up and followed Calixta’s gaze upward. I rubbed my eyes. I didn’t know what I was seeing at first. A statue? ­My brain refused to snap together coherent thoughts.  I didn’t realize I’d fallen so close to one of the garden benches until I stared up at the boy that sat on one. He was strikingly beautiful. His tumble of blonde hair curled just above his sculpted cheekbones. He wore a silk shirt and a loosened cravat, like he’d become bored while dressing and decided to leave himself in disarray. His ivory skin and frozen position was what had me mistaking him for something carved from marble by Michelangelo. Then he sighed—a lonely, breathy proof of life. If I had to imagine what Lucifer looked like before he fell from heaven, the boy on the bench would certainly fulfill that image. My brain told me I had to look away, but I couldn’t.
“Luka,” Calixta said again, her voice unsure, almost nervous. It no longer contained the steel and bite she had threatened me with, which made me wonder who the boy was.
He leaned on his hands and crossed his legs, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the night sky. His movements spoke of elegance and control. I’d encountered many people with breeding before, but his took on the air of arrogance and self-assuredness of someone used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it.
I only realized I’d been holding my breath when my lungs protested. I exhaled. My heart sputtered and restarted with a vengeance. Luka tore his gaze away from the stars and settled it on me. I’d expected pitch-black irises, like the other Night Students, but blue ice stared back at me.
“Human,” he whispered.
He reached out, and with a finger, followed an invisible trail down my cheek. I stiffened. His touch, cooler than Demitri’s, caused warm sparks to blossom on my face. He lifted his finger to his lips and licked its tip. He might as well have licked me from the way my body shivered.
Luka’s curious gaze held mine. “Leave us,” he said, but not to me.
“But—” Calixta protested like a spoiled child.
He spoke in a language I hadn’t heard before, remaining calm yet firm. The words had a rolling cadence I couldn’t quite follow, like rumbling thunder in the distance. They contained a harsh sensuality. The consonants were hard and the vowels were long and lilting.
Footsteps retreated behind me.
Luka reached out again.
It took me a minute to realize he wanted to help me up. I hesitated. He smiled. I smiled back timidly and took his hand, completely dazzled. Even with my uniform soaked from melted snow, I didn’t feel cold—all my attention was on him and the way his callused hand felt on mine. Without moving much from his seated position, he helped me stand.
“What’s your name?” he asked. He had a voice like a familiar lullaby. It filled my heart to the brim with comfort.
I swallowed and tried to stop gawking. “Phoenix.”
“The bird that rose from the ashes.” Luka bent his head and kissed the back of my hand. “It’s a pleasure meeting you.”
My cheeks warmed. My head reeled, not knowing what to think. I couldn’t understand why I felt drawn to him. And the strange connection frightened me.
From behind, someone gripped my arms and yanked me away before I could sort out the feelings Luka inspired in me. I found myself behind a towering figure yet again. Recognizing the blue-black silk for hair tied at the nape, relief washed over me. Calixta hadn’t come back to finish me off.
Demitri’s large hand wrapped around my wrist. Unlike the night before, no calm existed in his demeanor. He trembled like a junky in need of a fix. The coiled power in his tense muscles vibrated into me.
“What are you doing here?” Demitri asked.
I didn’t know he’d spoken to me until I saw his expressionless profile. I sighed.
I flinched. The ruthless way he said my name punched all the air out of me. “You owe me answers,” I said with as much bravado as I could muster.
“I owe you nothing.” He glared. “In fact, you owe me your life.”
“I don’t think so.”
Ignoring my indignation, he faced Luka, who’d remained seated on the bench during my exchange with Demitri. “Why is she with you, Luka?”
“I wasn’t going to taste her, if that’s what you’re implying,” Luka said. “Although, she is simply delicious. I wouldn’t mind if you left us alone.”
There it was again. Taste. The word that kept coming up between these Night Students and I was connected to it in an increasingly uncomfortable way. To taste meant to sample, but what? My flesh? They had to be joking because the alternative wasn’t funny.
“The sins of the father …” Demitri left his sentence unfinished.
Luka’s smile shifted into a snarl. “Obey my command.” His chin lifted. “Kneel.”
Demitri’s stance went rigid. His grip tightened around my wrist.
Okay, weird just got weirder. Why would Luka want Demitri to kneel before him? I thought back to Eli and the others bowing to Demitri when he questioned them, but they didn’t kneel. Seriously? Were they all living on a different planet or something?
Kneel.” Luka’s detestable smirk made his features sinister rather than angelic. The real Lucifer: a fallen angel.
Without letting go of my wrist, Demitri knelt down on one knee and bowed his head, his free hand flat at the center of his chest. “Your command has been obeyed,” he said formally.
Luka nodded once.
Demitri stood up and pulled me toward the school without telling me where we were going. Not having the time to thank Luka for saving me from Calixta, I risked a glance back. Luka smiled at me. His smile spoke of whispers, secrets, and promises to be shared on a later date.

When Kate Evangelista was told she had a knack for writing stories, she did the next best thing: entered medical school. After realizing she wasn't going to be the next Doogie Howser, M.D., Kate wandered into the Literature department of her university and never looked back. Today, she is in possession of a piece of paper that says to the world she owns a Literature degree. To make matters worse, she took Master's courses in creative writing. In the end, she realized to be a writer, none of what she had mattered. What really mattered? Writing. Plain and simple, honest to God, sitting in front of her computer, writing. Today, she has four completed Young Adult novels.

Author Website:
Twitter: @KateEvangelista
Crescent Moon Press page for Taste:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Getting the Call: S. K. Keogh

A book cover recently knocked my socks off. So much so, that I bought the book for my kindle without reading a word of it first. Now half way through this action packed story of pirates and revenge, I’m so glad I did. I love a nautical adventure, especially if it has romance. I knew I had to ask S.K. Keogh to the blog even though we write in different genres. Her rousing story will inspire everyone. Thank you, Susan, for traveling here to share your story. 

When Michelle invited me to write an article on how I landed my first book deal and the journey I took to get there, it surprised me to realize that nearly nine years have gone by since I first sat down to write my historical adventure novel, The Prodigal. Of course, I've been a writer for much, much longer than that.

Like many writers, I began writing when I was just a kid, dabbling in such things as Young Adult and Westerns (yep, Westerns). My first publishing credit came about from research I had done while writing a Civil War novel. I submitted a short article to the national magazine America's Civil War, and was pleasantly surprised when they wrote back to say they liked the article so much that they wanted me to expand it so they could use it as a feature article. (I recently reprinted the article on my blog, in a four-part series: )

I had hoped that the article would help me find a publisher for my Civil War novel, but, alas, it did not (I recently started reworking that manuscript). Having no success with that manuscript, I actually drifted away from writing for three years, being heavily involved in other interests. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever be inspired enough to write again.

Then along came the Disney movie "Pirates of the Caribbean" in 2003. That movie piqued my interest in that era in general and pirates in particular, so I began reading whatever I could find on the subject, and it was during that time that I came up with the idea for The Prodigal. I wanted to write a plot-driven, quick-read adventure, something relatively short (less than 90,000 words by the time it was ready for publication). The small word count was strategic because I figured a publisher would be more apt to take on a debut author with a cheaper-to-produce word count than a debut author with some massive epic. 

So lots of research and five drafts later, I had the finished product, perhaps two or three years' worth of work. I can't remember for sure. Even when it was "finished", I still revisited the manuscript often to read it with fresh eyes and tweak it some more (I'm notorious for that). I marketed it a bit with agents, then small presses. One publishing house had it for a year but ultimately passed on it. I continued on during that time with writing what I hoped would be a sequel then a trilogy.

During a more recent search for an agent, I was contacted by an agent who had been an assistant at one of the agencies that had read a full of my manuscript. She was opening her own agency and wanted to take me on. Since I had no one else interested in me or the novel at the time I figured what the heck and signed with her. During our one-year relationship, she shopped it around to some of the bigger houses like Random House, etc. but had no luck selling it. 

A fellow writer, whom I met on a historical fiction website, (Jim "Alaric" Bond) contacted me directly and invited me to submit my work to his editor at Fireship Press. I did so and notified my agent of the contact, encouraging her to touch base with them. However, I never heard back from the editor, and my agent claimed he had not responded to her inquiries. A short time later, that gentleman unexpectedly passed away. So I figured that was that. However, Jim contacted me after having met the new president of Fireship Press and again encouraged me to submit, saying that the new president (Michael James) didn't find any record of my previous submission or any contact from my agent.

This was toward the end of my contract with my agent. After submitting The Prodigal to Michael James, I tried to contact my agent to let her know, but oddly enough she had vanished off the face of the earth after the birth of her first child. I tried contacting her by email (bounced back), telephone (straight to voice mail with no return call), and certified mail (that letter eventually came back, unclaimed). It was a big mystery. Meanwhile, Fireship had contacted me for sample chapters then a full. Since my contract with my agent had by then expired, I officially terminated our relationship. Shortly thereafter, Fireship offered me a one-book deal for The Prodigal

There are good things and bad things when a writer compares big publishers with small publishers. I will focus on the positive things. With a small, niche publisher like Fireship, my book received immediate attention toward getting it to the finished product. They had actually started editing it before I had even signed the contract (which I had reviewed by a literary lawyer before signing). I had the copy edits back within the first month (fortunately the edits were nothing major, mainly words choices, etc. and a tweaked ending) and the galleys in my hands the following month. By the third month we had a cover chosen and a jacket blurb written. Another positive thing is that I was allowed the majority of say in the cover and the blurb, both things that debut authors at large houses rarely if ever get a say in.

So all told, from contract signing to release, The Prodigal only took three months of production. Compare that to large houses which can take up to a year and a half to produce a book.

So there is my own personal success story. Like many things in life, in my case it was not only what I knew (how to write a good story) but who I knew (Jim Bond). So the moral of this writer's story is network, network, network! You never know who will offer to lend you a helping hand...and you never know who you might be able to help on their way toward publication as well.

If you are interested in The Prodigal, it is available in paperback or e-book through the usual purchasing channels: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Getting the Call: Terri Bruce

When you’re a writer, success can come in various forms. Here is a taste of another method of getting The Call. I asked friend and fellow writer, Terri Bruce, to inspire us with her recent adventure. Terri writes a blend of women’s fiction and fantasy, creating her own genre. For more about Terri and her novel, HEREAFTER, releasing this September, check out her website.  Thank you so much for sharing, Terri.

I wish I could say my “call” was a big dramatic moment, but alas, it wasn’t. Instead, it was a series of small, pivotal moments mostly lacking in drama that inched me closer to the final moment when I could say I was a signed author with an impending release date.

I was home alone because my husband was away, traveling for business. It was late—I had been watching t.v. and chatting online with my AQC friends—and I was wrapping up to go to bed. I was just about to close the laptop when I decided to check my email one last time—and there it was, an email from the acquisitions editor that I had just submitted my full manuscript to only a few days prior.

My heart sank.

The response was an email (not a call) and had come back so fast that it surely must be a rejection. I frowned and moved to close the email window. I’d read it in the morning. Then I chided myself for being such a dismal coward and opened the email, figuring I’d just rip the band-aid off now, rather than wait till later. I read the words and they hardly penetrated.

They wanted to publish my novel.

I blinked and read them again.

They wanted to publish my novel.

I don’t remember a lot after that—just like everyone else who experiences this moment, my brain sort of melted. I tried calling my husband, got his voicemail. I tried calling my sister, got her voicemail. I just sat on the couch, staring at the t.v. not sure what to do next.

My sister called me back almost immediately and we were on the phone when my husband called. I was trying to switch back and forth between two calls and trying to read them the email…on further investigation there were instructions: I’d be getting a formal offer/contract from the CEO by separate email, there was an author information sheet to read about the process of working with Eternal Press (mostly about how they’d really prefer authors to not eat the editor assigned to them).

The best moment, however, was the next day. My coworkers have been following my book publishing odyssey closely and offering much emotional and moral support. It was so hard not to start shouting the moment I walked through the front door. It was even harder not to spill the beans to my boss, with whom I share an office or another coworker who had been one of my beta readers (the first non-writer, non-family member I had ever let read my work).

Instead, I waited until staff meeting where I announced I wanted to share a letter I had received the night before. Without any further build up, I simply read the email. Before I had even finished, everyone erupted into applause and cheers. That’s the moment when it really hit me this was happening and I started crying. In the afternoon, my boss bought cupcakes for the office and let me ring the “good news bell” (okay, honestly that sounds like a four year old’s birthday party, but it was actually a really awesome celebration!).

This was all just the start of “the call”—at this point all I had was an email from the acquisitions editor but no actual contract yet. I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask and I wasn’t entirely sure I would accept the offer—this publisher has received mixed reviews from different online sources, and while I had done my own, first-hand research, including talking to dozens of their authors (who all had only good things to say), I still wanted to talk to the staff directly and get my own impression of their professionalism and personality before deciding anything. Then two other publishers indicated interest in the manuscript and there was a frantic week of back and forth emails and nail biting and contract review with a lawyer.

Once the lawyer gave me the go-ahead on the contract, I exchanged emails with the CEO as I asked questions and requested a revision to the contract. Since the offer was just for the first book in the series I had written, I was most concerned in knowing EP’s criteria for publishing the rest of the books. EP’s contract is pretty straightforward, plus with the contract they had sent some more documents explaining the publishing process, so I felt pretty knowledgeable about what to expect if/once I signed.

By this point I was pretty sure Eternal was my top choice of the three interested publishers—they had the best royalty rate, the best distribution (including accepting returns), the longest track record/most experience, a substantial built in market, and the most efficient/organized process (plus the speed with which they responded to queries, submissions, and emails showed that they stay on top of stuff). The final clincher was the professionalism, honesty, and transparency of Eternal’s CEO, which struck me immediately in my exchanges with her—I asked a lot of annoying, newbie questions and she was amazingly patient about everything. That was the final piece of the puzzle for me—the company’s authors spoke highly of them, mutual colleagues spoke well of the CEO, and the CEO herself was someone that I felt comfortable working with.

I accepted the offer, sent back the contract right after our last exchange, and let the other publishers know that I had accepted another offer. Then rolled up my sleeves and got to work on the hard part—prepping a manuscript for editing and preparing the information sheet for the cover artist. Anti-climatic indeed—since I signed there hasn’t really been a free moment to just bask and enjoy this moment. I guess I’m going to have to wait for the book release party this fall for that!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Making Scenery Come Alive

Scenery is perhaps the hardest thing to make interesting on the page. Your characters need to travel, see the world—be it as simple as a room in their house or an exotic place across the globe or maybe another dimension entirely. FTLOW blogger, Raven Clark, did a post on weather openings and how to make them work. I thought I’d follow that up with another, similar topic that authors often use for openings: Scenery.
Now, don’t get me wrong—scenic openings can work, and many famous writers often use them—but there’s a difference to someone who’s been published before and someone who’s just started out. Novice writers often think setting the scene is the very first thing that the reader needs to know before they even meet your hero. They need to know where your character is, yes, but not every excruciating detail about the world.
Ask yourself this: How do we care about the setting and the predicament, if we don’t know who we’re supposed to be rooting for? With openings written by novice writers, I’ve noticed, they seem to separate character and scenery so much when they begin, that when the story begins, the opening lacks tension or is slow.
So, when thinking about scenery and scenic openings, don’t just write about the warm summer day, write about how the summer weather makes the character feel. Set a mood with the character as the mouthpiece. What makes this day, or this moment, different then any other day?  Whatever makes this day different then any other, then, is a sense of things changing. This change is often a good source of conflict or tension.    
In total, there are about four techniques—similar to weather openings—you need to make a scenic opening, and scenery itself, come alive.
1)      Make the scenery active.
2)      Create tension within the prose.
3)      Make the scenery as much a part of the plot as possible.
4)      Use the senses to make the scene real for readers.  
What do I mean when I say you have make scenic openings and scenery active? I mean, does the scenery appear to be doing anything? Does it appear to have a personality, almost as if it were alive? To give an example, I’ll use a part of the prologue from the first novel, The Eye of the World, of Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series Wheel of Time.  

The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory,
groaned as if it would deny what had happened. Bars of sunlight cast
through rents in the walls made motes of dust glitter where they yet
hung in the air. Scorch-marks marred the walls, the floors, the
ceilings. Broad black smears crossed the blistered paints and gilt of
once-bright murals, soot overlaying crumbling friezes of men and
animals which seemed to have attempted to walk before the madness grew
quiet. The dead lay everywhere, men and women and children, struck
down in attempted flight by the lightnings that had flashed down every
corridor, or seized by the fires that had stalked them, or sunken into
stone of the palace, the stones that had flowed and sought, almost
alive, before stillness came again. In odd counterpoint, colourful
tapestries and paintings, masterworks all, hung undisturbed, except
where bulging walls had pushed them awry. Finely carved furnishings,
inlaid with ivory and gold, stood untouched except where rippling
floors had toppled them. The mind-twisting had struck at the core,
ignoring peripheral things.
Did you notice how Jordan gave the destroyed castle almost a personality? How “The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory, groaned as if it would deny what had happened…” Or how the fires “seized” and “stalked” the palace occupants, or how the stones of the palace itself “…had flowed and sought, almost alive, before stillness came again.” It’s a building, yet, using similes and metaphors, he is able to give the reader a clear picture of how the scenery ‘reacted’ to the disaster.
Now, this opening is told in omniscient point of view (an all-seeing POV. Almost like a god.) and we are not introduced to a character until the next paragraph. Today, that isn’t a good idea as it seems like you’re head-hopping—jumping between POVs. The opening above could only work for an established author nowadays, as opposed to when this novel was published, back in 1990. The rules have changed regarding pace and tension and openings, so if you try to do this type of slightly slower opening today, you’d have a hard time selling your novel. So it’s better to tell the story through a character’s reactions and have your hero describe the scenery in his/her voice rather then using omniscient POV.
On the second point, creating tension within the prose, is based on a few factors:
A)    Word choice: Do the words you choose evoke an image? Do they evoke a mood? Does it incorporate the senses? (I’ll explain about that later in this post).
B)    Situation: What is happening to your character? Where is he or she? What is he/she doing? What is her goal for the scene?
C)    Stakes: What happens if your character fails? What or who does the character lose if she loses? What about if she succeeds? The higher and riskier the stakes, the more tense and powerful the scene will be.

For an example of tension within the prose, I’ll use a scene from my WIP novel, The Last Wyvern. In this scene (in the 3rd chapter, so it’s not the opening of the novel), my heroine, Calias, has been captured by the main villain, King Sacriel, who is part of a race of bird-like creatures called the Queye. She must escape and is successful, with the help of the novel’s hero, Owen. In their attempt to escape, however, they must leave behind other prisoners of Calias’s order.

A rumble of thunder drowned out his next words as he gripped her wrist. He pulled her towards the door, and slowly eased it open, the cries of the Guild members like the shrill noise of gulls overhead, nearly drowned out by the thrashing waves and rain. Guilt forced its way into her chest, lodged like a stone within. We must make this sacrifice. It’s us he wants. Slipping through the shadows, Owen guided her to the lifeboats she’d seen earlier. As he set one up to be lowered, the possibility of being caught burned in her veins, the awareness of so many Queyen eyes watching the ship’s deck, patrolling it, setting her nerves dangling on a jagged edge. No time. She kept watch as the ship cut through the waves, her heartbeat louder than the storm.
“Climb in.” He hissed.
“Owen, I—” A clap of thunder overwhelmed her words. No time. Escape. She stumbled forward as he hoisted her up into his arms and set her in the lifeboat. “Owen!”
She glimpsed a smile as a flash of lightning cracked the sky. “Don’t worry, I’m coming too.”
“No—” She glanced down, feeling sick. Below, the black waves swelled, like quicksand, threatening to swallow her whole—looming closer and closer—as Owen began to lower the boat. One thought slammed into her, and she gripped the sides of the boat with white-knuckled hands. I can’t swim…
Glancing back up at Owen, the rain soaking through her clothing, blinding her, Calias cried out as guards swarmed upon Owen. Oh, no… Weaving out of the reach of gleaming swords, Owen pulled his own blade from its sheath and combat ensued. Battle cries and shouts of pain echoed through the night as Owen delivered blow after blow, a few lifeless bodies tumbling into the sea. A sword swing caught one of the ropes and Calias gripped the boat as it lurched to one side, hanging a few feet from the waves. Don’t cut the ropes…please don’t cut the ropes! She had a brief image of the boat capsizing, tossing her into the water and a sudden bout of panic threatened to choke her. Lower the boat. Don’t cut the ropes—this storm’s bad enough! As the boat jerked again, she watched—the breath frozen in her lungs—as one rope began to unravel.
Sacriel’s voice rose above the storm, a thunderous roar. “Find her, bring her aboard!” She could imagine the Queye king, his eyes blazing, one hand unconsciously rubbing his throat, as he marched across the deck, ordering his men. “I want that witch skinned alive!”
Owen spun, swinging to cut the second rope, and Calias felt her heart plummet to her stomach as the boat fell. Caught in the violent swell of the sea, its clutch determined to overturn the tiny lifeboat, Calias grabbed the oars and forced the boat through the water, determined to get away. And leave them? The weight of the Guild prisoners’ feeble cries for help echoed in her mind. She grit her teeth and forced herself to focus.
Looking up, watching the distance slowly grow, she saw Owen—his form briefly set aglow by a flash of lightning—as he dove off the ship and disappeared into the dark water. Sacriel’s guards set crossbows and fired, arrows hitting the water, just out of her reach and that strangling terror set in again. Scanning the waves, she couldn’t hear nor see Owen. Where is he? For a few moments, she stared at the water, imaging the pain of arrows stabbing into his back one by one, the dread threatening to make her sick.

The oars felt heavy in her hands, dragging like lead weights across the water, the water itself black as liquid night, viscous like honey. Where is he? Pools of crimson splashed across her vision, staining the ocean red. The white caps of waves became fins that cut through the storm like the curve of a sword. She blinked and they were gone. Muttering prayers under her breath, gripping the oars with sore hands, she stared as Sacriel’s boat drifted, the glow of lanterns growing smaller. She hunched her shoulders as the wind cut through her clothing, cold and ruthless as the sea. “I can’t do this alone…” Calias pried numb fingers from the oars, letting them fall limply to her sides. “I can’t.”

This is rough, and definitely needs improvement, but the tension is there. I’ve tried to use particular words or descriptions, like: “…the cries of the Guild members like the shrill noise of gulls overhead, nearly drowned out by the thrashing waves and rain” Or: “…the black waves swelled, like quicksand, threatening to swallow her whole…” Even using objects to describe the scene: “The oars felt heavy in her hands, dragging like lead weights across the water, the water itself black as liquid night, viscous like honey.”
So the word choice factor is done but the important thing is, I’ve let the character have to make necessary sacrifices in order to escape the villain and the fact she can’t swim only adds to the brutality of the storm and her situation—stakes are up and the situation is dire, which—if done well—should compel readers to continue.     
But how do you do that for your writing—especially if your novel isn’t all thrilling action? That’s OK, as long as you have what I like to call “subtle tension”.
Subtle tension in openings and in scenery itself is often used during the rising action moments—when the character thinks everything is fine for now, when both the reader and the character get a chance to breathe.

Subtle tension derives from the word choice, this time using mood and active scenery, rather then dire situations or high stakes (though they aren’t totally left out), to create the tension and bridge conflict to the next huge event. An example of subtle tension with scenery and openings, is the first chapter of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World:

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that
become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten
when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the
Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long passed, a wind rose
in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are
neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time.
But it was a beginning.

Borne below the ever cloud-capped peaks that gave the mountains their
name, the wind blew east, out across the Sand Hills, once the shore of
a great ocean, before the Breaking of the World. Down it flailed into
the Two Rivers, into the tangled forest called the Westwood, and beat
at two men walking with a cart and horse down the rock-strewn track
called the Quarry Road. For all the spring should have come a good
month since, the wind carried an icy chill as if it would rather bear

Not much happens in this paragraph, and this, again, suffers from the use of an omniscient POV, but as an example of subtle tension, it works. The subtle tension is there if you look for it. It’s in the description of the weather itself, how it “…flailed and beat at two men…” And, as if the wind had a mind of its own, “carried an icy chill as if it would rather bear snow.” The weather is made into a personality, one that carries foreboding, as if the wind and chilly weather is an extension of the main villain of this series, a metaphysical being called the Dark One.

Another point with scenery and scenic openings is to make the scenery as much a part of the plot as possible. I’m not talking about how much detail you put in the world but how the scene reflects the tension. It’s perhaps the hardest to do without the scene coming off contrived. With this point, you have to mix active tone and tension, while increasing conflict within the story with the scenery itself. I’ll try and use another rough example from The Last Wyvern:
Owen allowed the question to hang in the air for a few moments and the silence stretched between them—shattered by the snapping of twigs and underbrush, like breaking bones. An impossible darkness shrouded the wood, the tangled branches above them closing them in, eclipsing the sun. Her heartbeat sounded, loud as a war drum in her ears, and she put a hand on her mount’s neck seeking comfort, holding the stone aloft. Owen still hadn't answered her questions, his expression once again hard. Unyielding. He walked ahead, maneuvering his mount around a fallen tree. She followed him and froze. What is that?
Something dangled from the branches above them, like thick silver umbilical cords. Fear latched onto her heart like the claws of a bear trap and Calias glanced around, peering into the darkness, but saw nothing but the never-ending paths—broken by fallen trees, some spreading into forked labyrinths.
“Owen...?” Her throat clenched around her words and she struggled to breathe, drowning in panic. “Owen!”
Owen spun, holding the torch high, anxiety tensing every muscle. “What is it?” His voice was barely a whisper. Then, he paled. “Calias...”
She looked at the Crystal Iris as it pulsed in her hand, a seizing heartbeat of violet light. Oh, gods. We’re close...
The noises of the forest seemed louder, every step and inhale of breath like the crash of thunder, the hiss of a twister. The trees closed in on them—dark, frail assassins moving in for the kill, to cage them within bark and moss. We can’t back down now. It’s just your imagination playing tricks! Remember what Kydren said: Focus on the mission! She took a deep breath and the trees stilled, the branches no longer looking like reaching hands.
“Easy, easy.” Owen yanked at the reins as his horse began to panic, its neck shining with perspiration, the whites of its eyes showing.
Her stomach twisted as a distant rumbling reached her ears. Too soft and consistent to be thunder, she looked at the shining, sticky film that coated the trunks of trees, dripping from the branches and cold sweat dampened her brow. Her ears strained to hear the sound, trying to judge where it came from, the rumbling echoing around them, coming from every direction. The shadows swam before her, lost amid Choketree Wood, and Calias suddenly felt very small. Insignificant.

Another point to make scenery and scenic openings, come alive is to use the senses. The basic senses: Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch should paint a picture in the readers mind of what your scene looks like, what sort of mood the readers should feel. But there are four other senses that are often ignored: Temperature, kinetic sense (position of the body), pain, and the body’s sense of balance and gravity.

However you write your scenes and open your novels, the techniques above still apply regardless of genre, point of view, or setting. If you can make scenery engaging as an opening, try it but if not, it might be best to introduce the hero first and have him interact with the world, and create tension, compelling readers to continue.
- HC


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