Monday, March 26, 2012
Yet, however much the physical act of perusing bookshelves has changed, the process readers employ in deciding on which books they'll spend their hard earned money has intrinsically stayed the same. With the exception of Amazon's free reads program that is all the rage now, for the most part, books are still picked up, flipped through and examined before being purchased.
So what lures a reader in? What is it that entices them to pick up your book and scan it? In the world of publishing, there are varying answers, in varying order...a provocative cover, endorsements from other well-known authors, glowing reviews, marketing, social networking, price... But I would be my next royalty check, editors abound who would all agree it's the hook. That more than anything else, it's those first few beginning paragraphs/pages and intriguing back cover blurb that seal the deal.
Since "Beginnings" is our topic for the month of March, I thought it apropos to talk about how one crafts the beginning of a story. Of course, it all starts with an idea. Some inspiring thought, dream or experience that takes root in our fertile imagination and grows from there. But that's not the beginning I'm talking about. I mean, once the idea for a story has formed, and you're sitting with your hands poised over your keyboard, how do you get from staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page to those first all important words?
I have to chuckle, because the first thought that popped into my mind as I asked the question was the phrase, lather, rinse and repeat. I don't mean I suds it up before I sit down to write, but I will invariably write, read, delete and then repeat the process until the words in front of me not only sound right, but feel right. Most authors I know, write from their gut. Their stories, like mine, aren't formulaic. They have a life of their own, as do their characters, and when you live a character's life through your words, you have to feel the truth of it...viscerally. To sane people, that sounds more than a little crazy. But to writers (and artists of any kind) it makes perfect sense.
How many of us get to the end of our stories, type the coveted words The End, and then go back and reread the opening few paragraphs of Chapter One and tweak them? I know I do.
But what's the best way to write a good hook? Should you begin with dialogue, plunging your reader straight into the mix? What about prologues full of description and back story? Are you a fan of starting your hook in that way? I think there are as many right answers as there are different authors. It all has to do with style and voice. I myself have done it with dialogue, and I've also done it with full bodied description, pages before I got into any real dialogue...both equally successful and both putting the reader right into the story. So, what's your style? How do you hook your readers into wanting to hear your voice tell your story?
I'd love to know...
Saturday, March 24, 2012
What does it mean: 2012 . . . the numerical value? Everything vibrates to something. Does 2012 lead to the end of the world predicted by the Mayans?
Or ~ is there a hidden reason as to why the calendar stopped when it did? Not that I place preference on what mankind has to say about such matters. We are all flawed some way or another. It is the nature of “the beast”.
Like - why does it have to be an end? Why can’t it be a beginning? What do the numbers say, as they set the tone of the year.
2 the number of Cooperation. Whatever we do this year will be worked in the joint effort of others. The requisite is two. The problem posed with this number is knowing when to give and when not to. And this is not only of your time, but also of yourself. If you give too much, you will become dry, emptied to the point of nothingness, what I call the ‘Why bother?’ syndrome. Withdrawing is an eventuality.
But – if you give just right: a little bit here and little bit there, you are uplifted. Confidence flows.
Trust is required here, trusting in what you feel. Every venture starts out trust. So does every partnership, be they co-workers, friends, family, or romantic. Trust. It goes a long way.
0 comes after the 2, intensifying the quality, and the depth, of these relationships. Double Whammy, but remember - it all depends on which side the fence you’ve decided to rest your head: positive, or negative. Taken in context, working with others to achieve your goals is a good thing and has benefits you both can reap from.
Survive by knowing when to compromise (cooperate) and when not too. Give and take is amplified so things are going to be harder, but the rewards will be great. For those who believe (trust) in the future, eventually it materializes! It’s a given. Faith really does move mountains!
1 the number of Creativity. This is what happens when we work with others for the common good. The creative juices flow, a fountain of opportunities bubbling to the forefront. 1 correlates with Aries in that it is the first sign of the Zodiac. Any where Aries resides is a new beginning, a brand new start- one that must be undertaken with courage, faith in the dream enough to make it a reality.
The only problem is impatience which leads to missed steps, or should I say skipped steps, as that’s what it is, passing over the mundane because I want to get to the fun. Connect the dots means not missing a brick in our foundation. When presented in the whole, they create a new picture: Dimension. Depth. Feeling. Truth. This is who I am. I can do it!
It can be anything that’s important; anything that’s bothering you . . . you know? A nagging doubt? Curse it! This is Earth after all! Never limit. Murphy’s Law exists for a reason. They are tests. LOL! Patience, therefore, is an asset.
2 back to Cooperation/ Care Giving. Let’s see . . . we start out cooperating in order to release our creativity. Things will be intense but will work out if we so desire. An opportunity for dreams to come true via belief is here. Trusting them will make the juices flow.
Now we’re back to square one but with a difference. Before the vision wasn’t real. Now it is. The people we’ll be working with at this point will be the ones who will help us succeed. This is a good cooperation BUT it must still abide by the rule of knowing when to give and when not to; who to give to and who not to. Trust your first impression, what some call instinct. It’s more accurate than we realize.
Now let’s take the separates and make them one. They are the energies at work. 2+0=2+1=3+2=5. 5 the number of Freedom. If we learn to trust, we can set ourselves free! 5 has a kinship with Leo, the Teenager of the Zodiac. “You think I can’t,” the kid yells at his/her parents. “Well, watch me. I will!”
Leo is the King of Creativity. Walt Disney was a Leo and look what he did! Dreams come true to those who believe because they never give up. This year, a 5 year, means we have an opportunity to take some risks and win.
But it’s all based on your faith in your dream.
These dreams represent what’s important to you. They make up the fabric of your life.
The odds are set in our favor this year so why not go after that star and set yourself free? You’ll find the things that were holding you back melt to the wayside each step you take. A new beginning . . .
So . . . what do you want to set yourself free of this year? Where will your new beginnings take you?
Hmmmm. Maybe that Mayan calendar stopped because it was the end of one era and the beginning of another? The opportunity is there. A 5 is a year in which wishes can come true if we but chase them.
Do I believe the world is going to end this December?
And I don’t worry about it either.
I’m going to be chasing some stars.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing With A Twist!
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
[GB2]Raised (Present tense)
[GB3]Not needed – punctuate. When and then are nasty little buggers
[GB4]His own neck? – be clear.
[GB5]Comma – two ‘ands’ in one sentence
[GB6]End of sentence. Action scene. Sentences short – even one word.
[GB7]Really more show here! The blade snagged on tendon and cartilage. The point scraped vertebrae. Slashed arteries pumped blood from the grinning wound.
Calm down, Gary, deep breaths. Take your tablets….
(GB8)Falling like a sack of (?) as Taden pushed his writhing body away.
M[GB12] uttering his soldier’s prayer for the wasted young life, Taden climbed to his feet, bone weary and heartsick.
[GB3]‘Taden sprinted.’ Is the whole sentence. Show us some dead leaves flying.
[GB5]In his fury?
[GB6]Thinking about it – that’s a really hard manouever without stabbing yourself in the eye. I would go for a simple plunge into his back. Taden angling the point down to hook into ribs, use his body weight to pull the bloke down and them crash the dagger two-handed through his skull. Oh dear. I think I need a drink.
[GB7]A bit too many slow words for a quick scene
[GB9]Into the trees! This is a heart – you are not squeezing a lemon.
[GB10]That is so good
[GB12]Quiet now. Waiting for shouts. The soft flick of a twig… nothing. Taden breathed out and said a soldier’s….
[GB13]Tricky – dead people do not gaze
[GB14]No one leaves a knife
[GB15]No, he skirted branches, eased twigs in the leaf mould aside, until
[GB16]Collapsed between his bonds
* * * *
Hello from Gary. Wow! Give yourself a pat on the back. Sit down, take a breath and pour a big whiskey.
I hope (if ever you opt to be a beta reader for me) that I will never be able to satisfy you. I want you to get so nit-picky that even the nits are nit-free.
There are still a couple of areas that need show – I’ve made suggestions. Please take them in spirit – Taden doesn’t have chew peoples’ heart out with his bare teeth (I jest).
We are looking at style here – this is already good writing and a good story. Thus the critique becomes so much more subjective (and; therefore, more easily ignored).
I’ve done the first three pages. I can do more (please ask – no probs) but I think you’ll get the picture.
And keep action sentences short.
Taden leapt. Dagger. Heart. Blood splashes in his eyes. Hot. Sticky. The soldier sucks a breath through the gaping wound. Blood and muscle into his lungs. Death.
* * * *
The closest man was raising his fist again when Taden reached him. He threw an arm around the soldier’s neck and jerked, exposing the vulnerable throat. The smell of sweat and fear filled his nostrils as he drew his blade in a quick motion across the knotty windpipe. Hot blood spilled over the back of his hand. The soldier wheezed and slumped heavily in his arms.
The prisoner lifts his head and Taden is caught in the gaze of the most beautiful eyes he’s ever seen; amazing eyes that hold him confused and thrilling. From the moment Taden rescues Nathaniel from the Sutherlin soldiers’ torture, he feels responsible for the youth. The Sutherlins have invaded the beautiful Tahon Valley, and as Taden secrets Nathaniel from their reach, he finds himself drawn inexplicably to the young man. He protects Nathaniel not only from the Sutherlins but from his own mistrustful people, who don’t understand Nathaniel’s powers and believe him to be a witch. Will Taden convince Nathaniel to stay with him and live under his protection, or will the youth sail home and leave Taden in loneliness?
Thursday, March 15, 2012
"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. "
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
If a thing is to be, at some point, it must start, originate -- begin. As von Goethe says, beginning is bold, powerful and even - magic. Out of nothing, something comes to exist. Whether it's a baby, a courtship, a marriage, or a career - it started somewhere and was motivated by something. Someone sat down and said.... I could or I want or I need. We've all done that. We've all done it countless times over countless things that never came to be. Why did they never come to be?
They never came to be because we never crossed the magic bridge.
I could and I want and I need are all ways of saying the same thing - I wish. But wishing never made anything so. Between I wish and I will lies the magic bridge. Crossing it is a bold act, an affirmation of the power of your belief in yourself. You must believe in your ability to change a dream into a reality. Belief is the magic that bridges who you are to who you are becoming.
What makes the magic bridge such a scary place is that it takes a dream that won't die to propel you to take that first step out there, to that place you've never been. I'm a lawyer by trade and many fine starry-eyed young folks dream of becoming a lawyer. But practicing law was never my dream - it was mostly just a logical career progression. My first choice of career was medicine, and I was a candy striper once upon a time. The hospital kept increasing my hours because I related to the patients so well. But doctors have to be good at things like science and math - which were never in my skill set. Doctors especially have to be good at not relating so much to patients that they lose their independent judgment. No, neither medicine nor law was ever my dream.
My dream is to write romance novels and it has been since I was a starry-eyed young thing. I was a teenager when I wandered down the "w" shelf at my local library and found "The Flame And The Flower" by the late Kathleen Woodiwiss. I plowed through every book of hers the library had and then went searching for more. As time went by I fell in love with work by Rosemary Rogers, Johanna Lindsey, Catherine Coulter, Elizabeth Lowell, Julia Quinn and so many, many others. Not every time and not with every book, but more times than I could count - I'd put the book down at a crucial point and imagine how I thought the next scene should go. Little did I realize it at the time, but I was stretching my creative muscles and getting ready.
I always wanted to write books of my own where I'd get to do more than finish someone else's stories. In younger years I'd written a short story good enough for one of my teachers to have me come into every session of her music class during a particular day and read the full story. I had a study hall teacher who would often stop by my desk to see if I'd finished anything new and if I had, she wanted to read it. Long before I put on my newspaper reporter's cap - a role I also had all through Junior High, High School and College - I had a poem published in the newspaper. And once, in high school, I wrote a paragraph good enough to leave a roomful of loud teenagers in absolute, total silence. But the thought of trying to write a whole book of my very own - well, that scared the stuffing out of me.
And life got in the way too, mostly because it was easier to keep my dream perfect and intact - as all dreams are - rather than dirty it with the wear and tear of reality. I went to college and then on to law school. I graduated as a lawyer much more at home at a keyboard than in front of a jury - which was no surprise. I was surprised at what a demand there is for lawyers who can write a compelling memorandum, Order, or appellate brief. And my love of researching all those term papers my English Bachelor's took to earn translated naturally to legal research - so my career as a "scrivener" or legal writer was born.
But still I read and imagined and dreamed. And I was doing just that when the new millenium dawned. It was a new century, the dawn of a new era. If ever I was going to write a book, this was the time. I believe that Millenium New Year's resolution is the only one I ever kept in my life. And if I hadn't had the brave, bold impetus and pure power of beginning on the first day of the 21st century, I don't know if I'd ever have found my courage. But I took that first step and then my muse, who'd waited inside so impatiently, stepped up, took my hand and led me across the magic bridge.
The first book I ever wrote was Brotherly Love. I wrote it on the already ancient IBM ThinkPad that had done its duty by surviving my oldest son. I'd plug it in and set it on the fireplace mantle. I'd sit on the floor in front of it and when my fingers started tapping the keys, my muse took me to a ranch in Texas. I started the book without a plot or a plan. I didn't know any of "the rules" and I believe I managed to break most of them. None of that would matter today but Brotherly was written in the bad old days, when the only way to get a book published was to find an agent who could sell it for you. So I did all the searches for agents and likely queried almost every single one who represented romance back in the day. I got a number of requests for and reads of my full manuscript by agents, but each one passed.
I'd already started writing my Forever Series because once you cross that magic bridge, you can't back track. But it was tough to find the strength to keep on keeping on in the face of so much rejection, especially when it was almost always accompanied by "this is a good story, but..." I finally realized the insanity in the query process. It took two (2) final rejections to show me the problem with having anyone's set of eyes serve as screeners for the vast and varied population of the world's readers. One literary agent passed on Brotherly because the book had a message. It had a theme of sorts and the agent said that would confuse romance readers. That perturbed me because this person was saying that romance readers weren't particularly bright. This agent made her living selling romance books to publishers. Her statement really bothered me, both as a writer and as a lifelong romance reader. She suggested that I query literary agents. When I did, one read either part of or all of the MS and rejected it because "it had too much sex in it and that would make literary readers uncomfortable".
That was the straw that broke the back of a crazy writer who became the duck lady when she wrote a story about a girl who was "the oddest duck of them all" who got some help from Faeries to win her very own Prince... err... Laird Charming. (Pick up A Faerie Fated Forever and learn to love a duck like I did. Faerie is free everywhere.) Those faeries must've put some of their magic to work for me because I found a little site owned by a French company. It was called "Mobipocket." And I e-published my work on it. Anyone with a computer could download and read it - not that anyone much read books on their computers, mind you. But my work was out there and some folks did buy and read it.
And then a little old American company run by a Wizard named Bezos bought Mobipocket and started using the mobi engine to build a brand new product - an ereading device that would change the world, the Kindle. Today every writer who is brave enough to step out onto that magic bridge can do so knowing that her work will reach readers. She knows that it won't wither and die on a hard drive because she can put it out in the vast, virtual marketplace via Amazon's KDP platform, Smashwords, PubIt, Sony, the iBookstore and, if she writes romance, through great sites like my newest publishing home, All Romance eBooks and OmniLit.
My dream remains a work in progress because I'm not - yet- writing romance full-time. I still work as a scrivener at the law firm where I'm fortunate enough to work for a Senior Partner and with a couple of co-workers who are all very supportive. But I am still working on my dream, still traversing the magic bridge. And I've learned that a bright, shiny dream that only lives in your head never lives at all.
We all have dreams. Whatever your dream is, it can never come true until you believe in it enough to get it out of your head and into your reality. So believe in yourself enough to take that first step out onto the magic bridge. Once you're bold enough to take those first steps, you might find the power to complete your journey. That will take you to a new reality - your reality - the one you choose, in the place you belong.
SO, WHAT'S YOUR DREAM? HOW FAR HAVE YOU COME ON YOUR JOURNEY? TELL US HOW IT BEGAN OR WHAT YOUR PLANS ARE FOR TAKING THAT FIRST STEP....... We'll all cheer for you, I promise - even if one of the cheers sounds a lot like a quack from a certain over-the-top duck lady.
Mary Anne Graham
Quacking Alone Romances
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Duck walking on bridge
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Monday, March 12, 2012
So, speaking of beginnings, I thought I'd write about how I started writing. It wasn't a like-long dream; in fact, my goal had been to be a teacher. I graduated from college and began my teaching career, teaching mostly early grades, K-3.
But while my life was rolling along with my job description as "teacher", I was reading books. Lots of them. First biographies, then Shakespeare (was crazy about his works and took a number of Shakespeare-offered electives in college).
Reading romance books came next...and I was hooked. I started reading regencies and historical romances, and love Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer. Eventually, I started reading romances involving seasons (especially Christmas-themed books), then romances that had children in their stories. From there, I branched out to contemporaries and finally, paranormal.
As a voracious reader, I trekked back and forth to the library many times. Bought tons of books, too. And once all four of my kids were teenagers at the same time for a three-year period, I searched for a sanity release.
Not knowing anything, I bought a book titled, "The Romance Writers Pink Pages" and used it as a reference. I sat and wrote a book called, "Three Strikes to Love" (yes, baseball was involved).
Using my reference "bible", I sent queries to agents. Two asked to see the book, one asked for a partial. Two rejections came quickly; the last one actually had some advice...put dialogue in the book.
Yes, I'd written most of it as a narration so obviously I was clueless.
I went to some weekend seminars/workshops on writing and met someone from a local Romance Writers of America chapter. Intrigued, I joined. And, thus started my REAL journey to my writing career.
After years of learning the "ins and outs" of writing and the industry, I finally published my first book in 2007. It was a long journey, but an interesting one.
My books, contemporary/paranormal/erotic romances, all start with dialogue. My feeling is that dialogue immediately draws readers into the action, and that first sentence or two has to be a strong hook to catch their attention.
Beginnings for my other books (either Marianne Stephens or April Ash):
MS-(Paranormal) Second Sight Dating: "I want him, not the other one you just showed me."
AA-(Erotic) Sexy Games: "I hate this job."
AA-Erotic) Strip Poker for Two: "I'm upping the ante. Bring underwear."
MS-Contemporary) Anything You Can Do: "Shit. Another message from that Minetti woman."
MS-(Romantic Suspense/Time Travel) Street of Dreams (there's a prologue then this): "Take Murphy with you on this one. She's a nut about the decade."
Readers...do you like reading dialogue first? Writers...what do you consider when writing that first sentence? Share your ideas!
Photos: Flickr: massdistraction and throgers photostreams
Saturday, March 10, 2012
I have to say, it's the first day of spring, with a welcoming sun beaming down in place of dark, forbidding clouds, even though they're usually not all that forbidding here in subtropical Florida. March is a time when my family members traditionally trek to the famous Parkesdale Farms in Plant City, Florida, to partake of huge, calorific strawberry shortcakes and stock up on some new and different flowers for our yard that grows more like a jungle every year.
Along with spring comes my renewed enthusiasm for the fresh characters and new situations that will face them in my two new series for Ellora's Cave. The first is a contemporary western saga in the tradition, more or less, of the old nighttime soap opera, DALLAS, which I understand is starting a new generation this year on one of the cable channels. Each of the three books will feature one of the heirs to a Texas dynasty--the son and daughter of a JR-like patriarch and his bastard son who obviously wants a piece of the pie. Throw in a little BDSM play, some hot cowboys and a century-old feud. I'm excited about this series, and my beginnings this month will include putting together LOVERS' FEUD, the first of the three full-length books I hope will be coming out throughout this spring, summer and fall.
Meanwhile, since I've promised myself I'll make the books in this series longer than my usual offerings, I've already begun my year of releases by bringing out another short story as an Amazon exclusive. It's "Blood Gift", an erotic urban fantasy that's a real bargain you can read in an hour or so, for just $.99.
Watch my Facebook page for announcement of a couple of days this month where you can get "Blood Gift" free--and a month-long contest where my publicist is planning for me to give away a Sony Reader (Reader Edition). These events--beginnings of what I hope will be a productive promotional effort--should be happening this month.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Many people are like that... even when they're browsing to buy. Think about how many pages Amazon lets you see when you "look inside".
I thought I'd check out some books, randomly pulled from the shelf near my computer and see how they start.
"Please, Janie honey, I'm desperate here. I have nobody else," Molly said, following her cousin into the small private office, the one with the child-proof plastic cover over the doorknob. -- "This Must Be Love" by Kasey Michaels.
Are you hooked? I think it does a decent job -- WHY is she desperate? WHAT does she need from her cousin? WHY doesn't her cousin want to help? I'd read on.
Murder harbored no bigotry, no bias. It subscribed to no class system. In its gleeful, deadly, and terminally judicious way, murder turned a blind eye on race, creed, gender and social stratum. -- "Strangers In Death" by J. D. Robb
I don't think this is a bad start, but if it were the only book I'd read in this series, I may or may not read on. It has a bit of a "literary" feel, and I'll admit I don't do literary. I'm all about genre fiction: romance, mystery, fantasy. Still, this isn't the only book I've read in the series, so I'd keep reading because I know what the book's going to be like.
"Bronwyn, someone's going to see us."
"Just keep watch." Bronwyn Edana worked frantically at the keyhole. "I've almost got it." -- "Priceless" by Christina Dodd
Oh yeah ... I'd keep reading.
What about you? Are you a patient reader? Will you give a book time to grow into its own, read through a few chapters, let it grow? Or are you like me, impatient and needing a hook right away?
No Matter the Decade, Always Happy Every After
Saturday, March 3, 2012
There's always the questions of "why now?" and of course the response of "why not?", but also if you think about this from a different point of view, it makes perfect sense. The wheel of the year is turning towards spring, and easter. For pagans, we celebrate Oestara, which falls on the Spring Equinox. This is the time when seeds are sown and new beginnings are sought. It's a new year, with a new crop ready to be harvested. Any vegetables or harvest left over from the previous year is long gone and cellars are waiting to be filled anew.
The universe wants us all to have new beginnings. Like Linus and his blanket, if we drag around our old, worn out thoughts and ideas, the things that might have happened to us over the new year, they will become dirty and weigh us down. They might even show up in ways which bring concern or teasing from others. Obviously, we want to show as much compassion as possible to others, but it is also usually pretty easy to see when people are dragging the past along with them. So now, when it's spring and we're thinking about new beginnings and new years, is the perfect time to drop all of that. And sometimes, the universe drops it all for us!
There is a lot of trust and understanding which has to go into allowing the Universe to work through us. We have to be ready to accept the new beginnings and to move forward with them. Like the birth process itself, new beginnings might not be easy, but as we move into spring, with its bounty of new lambs, baby calves, chicks, and fresh flowers, it's easy to see the beauty in new starts and new life. And that's what spring brings to us. Beginnings.
Are you having a beginning this year? Has the Universe brought you a transition? Let me know! One lucky commenter will receive a three-card tarot reading relating to their transition or beginning. Good luck!
Thursday, March 1, 2012
two names, one author, thousands of stories