Friday, February 9, 2018

Fiction Friday: What's in a Blurb?

Blurb Writer

As I mentioned in last week’s progress report, I hired the inimitable Kat Sheridan to write back cover copy for The Demon Always Wins. 

Although it’s possible to write your own cover copy, and many writers do, I find it difficult to get the proper distance from my work to do that well. Kat is great at what she does, and really reasonable. Even at minimum wage, I would have spent more trying to write the thing myself.
So, I went online and filled out her Standard Fiction Work Order. It asks for title, author, short description and then descriptions of the two main characters, along with any additional characters the author deems worthy of blurb space.

Kat came back with an excellent, pithy blurb that summarized the action in a way I hadn’t considered. The last line, which I'd really struggled with in my own attempts at blurbs and pitches, was brilliant Her email assured me she was willing to rework it until I was happy.
Now that I had an approach, though, I couldn’t resist tweaking it myself. With a little help from my friends from McDaniel College, I came up with the following:
Seven short weeks. That’s all the time the demon Belial has to stack up a victory for Satan and earn his promotion to Chief Executive Demon, the second most powerful position in Hell. If Belial can corrupt God’s champion within the agreed time-frame, Hell will score bragging rights—and another soul. The demon always wins, but this one is anybody’s game.
Seven short weeks. Widowed nurse Dara Strong is the ace up God's sleeve. Dara, the granddaughter of famous demon-fighters, has no problem recognizing Dr. Ben Lyle as a demon in doctor's disguise when he appears at her clinic. She kicks him out the door, but the most successful soul-stealer in the history of Hell is not about to give up so easily.
As the battle between the cosmically well-matched opponents escalates, conflict breeds passion and passion transforms into love. Caught between a victory-hungry Satan and an unforgiving God, Belial and Dara discover there may be only one way to ransom the soul of a fallen angel: sometimes you have to go through Hell to claim your heaven.
I love this blurb, but there’s always room for improvement. Feel free to offer suggestions!

Friday, February 2, 2018

January Progress Report

So I had one goal for January: Finish the book.
I am sad to report that I did not meet that goal. The book is currently 293 pages, around 75,000 words, but I still have seven scenes to go.
In case you’re wondering what happened, it’s the same thing that always happens to me. I think up all these cool bits and pieces as I go along, but when I get to the end, I can’t get them to fit together.
Hell’s encompassing goal in this book is to eliminate the influence of Rachel Blackmon, my protagonist’s mother and famous inspirational sculptor, from the face of the earth. Rachel left behind a body of work that included crosses and crucifixes in churches all over the world, along with four small statues representing Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which she created for her four children. She also left some leather-bound journals, where she detailed her thoughts and emotions on her work and her life. And I want all of that stuff to mean something.
I think I’ve got it pulled together now where it works. It will be up to my beta readers and my editor to tell me I’m wrong once I get those last seven scenes written.
Things I did manage to accomplish this month:
  1. Engaged a cover designer. I’ll be working with Trevor Griffiths of Spark Creative Partners.Trevor designed my website, which I love. I plan to use the same branding (font, graphics, tone) for my book covers, so Spark is the logical choice.
  2. Hired a blurb writer, Kat Sheridan. What she sent back was really good. Hoping to be ready to share by next week.
  3. Hired a copy editor, Arran McNichol. Arran was recommended by Sarah Andre (see my interview with Sarah here). The sample pages I submitted came back looking solid, so I engaged him.
Completed book or no completed book, it’s been a whirlwind.
Goals for February:
  1. Finish Book 2, The Demon’s in the Details, and send it out to my beta readers. Like, soon. It’s due to my editor on March 12, and I’d like to clean it up with some outside input before I dump it on Karen Harris.
  2. Get a proof copy of the cover. I have no idea how long this usually takes, but I’ve already settled on a font and cover graphic. It’s just a matter of fitting all the bits and pieces (Golden Heart badge (definitely), series title (maybe?)) onto the cover. Also excited to see what Trevor does with my spiffy new blurb.
  3. Send Book 1, The Demon Always Wins, off to Arran. She’s fast, so I may even have it back by the end of the month.
  4. Brainstorm the acts, turning points and scenes for Book 3, The Demon Wore Stilettos.
A lot of work for a very short month, but with the wind at my back, I just could manage it!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Fiction Friday: Interview with Shelly Chalmers

Today we're talking to Shelly Chalmers. I met Shelly through the Golden Network, the organization that allows Golden Heart® finalists to stay in touch and support each other. Shelly is the Communication Chair, which means she's the cheerleader who's always posting little motivational memes in our Facebook group and reminding us to keep pursuing our dreams.

She also does a great job of modeling that behavior. After becoming a finalist in 2014, she went on to publish her first book, Must Love Plague, last October.
View on Amazon

You can read a sample chapter here if you're interested.

Her second book, Must Love Famine (are you seeing a theme here?) comes out in March. How adorable is this cover?

Question 1: On Jenny Crusie’s Argh blog, she recently asked if anyone had ever bought a book just for the title. I responded that I bought Must Love Plague for the title alone. Where did you get the idea for this title (and this book!)?

Thank you, Jeanne, I’m glad it caught your eye. I’ve definitely bought books for their titles! The idea for the book, the series in fact, was the synthesis of a few different ideas. One was the idea of a town for paranormal creatures, a sanctuary where they were free to let their weirdness loose, safe from the “Normals” or people without magic. After an initial book about an island sanctuary, I decided instead to set my town in the sea of the prairies, isolated by miles of wheat crops and forest—coincidentally the kind of place I live. This allowed me to base the town of Beckwell on my local small town, although all the bad things I made up…and I’m fairly certain Loki doesn’t actually live there.

The girls and the four horsewomen of the apocalypse were another idea entirely. I liked the idea of four friends who were inseparable during high school, but went very different directions after graduation. I’ve also been intrigued by turning the conventional four horsemen upside down, and what better way than if they were women in this paranormal sanctuary, about to gain their abilities whether they want to or not?

For the title, I’ll say up front I hate coming up with titles, and I’m often frustrated by a title not accurately conveying the tone or humor that a book might have—paranormal romance seems notorious for this. So my title needed to say humor plus romance plus something to do with the four horsemen. This led to such “beauties” as Festering for Love and Love’s Headache (yes really – any guess why those didn’t survive?) Thank goodness plague was the troublesome one, because when I thought of “Must Love Dogs” and other similar titles, voila, it worked. Plus, I confess I love the double-take people give me when I tell them the title of my book. J 

Question 2: According to your website, you’re in search of an agent. What do you feel having an agent will add to your career?

I’ve been writing and submitting since I graduated high school, so when I started, traditional publishing was the only viable route. The industry has changed a lot since then, and while I appreciate the freedom indie publishing has offered me, it wasn’t the route I’d planned to take, and I’d still like to become a hybrid author (and not just because it sounds like I could be a werewolf.) I feel an agent is a way to help me achieve these goals, as they could help me navigate those contracts and make sure I’m not violating competition clauses between my self-published and traditional work. I look at an agent as a business partner with more experience in areas I lack, but who could also help me plan and further my career.

Question 3: You have a craft blog, Craft Room Chronicles, that includes some pretty amazing stuff—dollhouses with tiny furniture, polymer clay figures, family crests and miniature houses, papier-mâché vases, quilts. Although your materials vary, one common theme runs through most of your crafts--a sense of fantasy. Talk to us about the inter-relationship of your craft-work and your writing. 

Interesting question! And thank you for checking out my creative work. So the short answer is that both my crafting and writing are creative outlets, and I’d go crazy without them. Crafting is what I often do between writing projects; if my hands are busy, it partially occupies my brain, which allows me to think more clearly. The longer answer is that there didn’t used to be as much fantasy in my crafting, just like there didn’t used to be magic and the paranormal in my writing, but maybe magic is kind of like glitter: it gets everywhere before you know it.

I truly believe that the world needs more magic, by which I don’t mean witches and unicorns and the like (even though those are fun too), but the sense of wonder, hope, and possibility that’s at the heart of magic. The more magic and paranormal took up residence in my writing (I do tend to lean toward the urban fantasy end of paranormal romance), the more it seemed silly that it wasn’t in my crafting projects. And that there wasn’t story in my projects as other artists seemed to have. So, fantasy increased in my projects, with my latest being the miniature fantasy house / shop I’ve been planning in my head for years that I finally built in 2017. In my own way, if only in my house and for my children and those who know me, it means I get to add more magic to their world.

Shelly Chalmers writes stories that run the gamut from Regency shifters to space opera. 

All include a touch of magic, a sense of humor, and  a dab of geek. A member of RWA® since 2008, she was thrilled to final in the Golden Heart® Contest in 2014. She makes her home in Western Canada, where when not reading, writing, crafting, or hunting unusual treasures and teapots, she wrangles a husband, two daughters, and two nutball cats. Her first book, Must Love Plague, came out in October 2017, and Must Love Famine will be available in March of 2018.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Fiction Friday: Writing at the Speed of Snail

Back during World War I, a British man naned C. Northcote Parkinson did some research into work and bureaucracy. From the research, he created Parkinson's Law, which states "Work expands so as to fill the amount of time available to complete it."

I'm running into that exact same problem with my writing.

When I was still working, I wrote 10-20 hours a week. Now it's more like 20-25 (no, not 40, because other tasks also expand to fill the amount of time available for them). Even with twice as much time, I'm not getting as much more written as I'd hoped.

When I first retired, and people asked me how I liked it, I'd say, "My favorite part is not having to go 100 miles an hour all the time." And it was.

The problem is, that more leisurely pace doesn't accomplish the things I want to accomplish--namely, releasing three books this fall.

A writing friend who has read the first fifty pages of The Demon's in the Detail say it is much better written than the first book in the series. The characters are more well-developed and the relationship between them is more believable and compelling. Part of that's because I'm learning and growing as I write (yes--even in our sixties, the learning process continues!), but part of it is because I'm writing more thoughtfully and deliberately.

That improved quality is great, but I also don't want to die of old age before I get the books to market.

I need to figure out how to discipline myself to write like my writing time is as limited as it was back when I was working, but to do it for a lot more hours a day.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to do that?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Fiction Friday: Interview with Sandra Owens

Sandy Owens is legendary among the Golden Heart® crowd because she went from unpublished in 2013 to RWA® Honor Roll* less than five years later. As we started working together on this interview, I quickly realized why: the woman has an awe-inspiring capacity for turning out high quality work. 

Question 1: In your new series, Aces and Eights, a trio of brothers own a biker bar in Miami as a front for their FBI work. How did you get your information about the inner workings of the FBI?

The World Wide Web is an amazing thing. You can find just about anything if you search deep enough. There are a lot of sites with information about the FBI, even a few hosted by the FBI. Also, I’m very fortunate to have a friend whose husband is an FBI agent, and I was able to ask him questions through her. One of my biggest questions for Ace of Spades, book three in the series, was whether there was a policy against agents dating each other. There isn’t, which was good because my H/h in that book are both FBI agents.

Question 2: Traditional publishing has served you well. Montlake Publishing offered you a contract based on your 2013 Golden Heart® manuscript and less than five years later you are an RWA® Honor Roll member. Would you ever consider self-publishing/becoming a hybrid? Why or why not?

Funny you should ask that. I’m self-publishing four books this year. I’ve always wanted to dip my toes in that water, and I decided it was time to do it. Yikes! I’m nervous as all get out because I haven’t a clue what I’m doing, but I have lots of indie/hybrid author friends who are being very patient in answering all my questions. I’m finding that some aspects of doing this myself are fun and some not so fun. The new series (out this summer) are small town romances, far different from anything I’ve done before, and I had a blast writing the stories.

Question 3: Tell us about the Harley trip you took through the California Mountains. When? What did you see/hear/smell that you've never experienced before or since?

My motorcycle riding years were some of the best in my life, and I definitely miss having a bike. Some years ago, my husband and I lived in San Diego, which is an awesome place to ride. In a single day you can ride along the coast, then into the mountains, and then end up in the desert.

One fall we decided to spend a long weekend riding in the Southern California mountains. The weather was picture-perfect, just chilly enough to feel refreshing and the sky was pure blue. We always rode staggered, with my husband leading. So, we’re riding on these awesome curvy roads surrounded by trees dressed in their fall foliage—golds, reds, yellows, and oranges. Our cheeks were rosy from the crisp air, and we could smell the clean, tingly scent of the pine trees. It was the kind of fresh mountain air that made you just want to breathe deep.

At one point, we came around a curve and a canopy of brilliantly colored trees covered the road ahead. The next few minutes almost felt surreal, as if we’d stumbled into a secret, magical land. Because I was following my husband, I was able to see the leaves falling from the trees float around him. I’ll never forget that moment because I felt so alive and so blessed to be sharing something that special with the man I loved. I need to write this scene into a book someday.

Bestselling, award-winning author Sandra Owens lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Her family and friends often question her sanity but have ceased being surprised by what she might get up to next. She’s jumped out of a plane, flown in an aerobatic plane while the pilot performed death-defying stunts, gotten into laser gun fights in Air Combat, and ridden a Harley motorcycle for years. She regrets nothing.

Sandra is a Romance Writers of America Honor Roll member and a 2013 Golden Heart® Finalist for her contemporary romance Crazy for Her. In addition to her contemporary romantic suspense novels, she writes Regency stories.

*The RWA® Honor Roll recognizes current RWA® members who have a work of romance fiction, excluding multi-author anthologies and multi-author boxed sets, that has: appeared on any New York Times bestseller list; appeared on the Publishers Weekly Top Ten bestseller list or any other PW best-seller list based solely on format, genre, or region; appeared in the top 50 of the USA Today bestseller list; or sold at least 100,000 copies in a single language, including copies from digital, print and audio formats, as well as reissues of the identical work that do not appear in multi-author anthologies and multi-author boxed sets.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Fiction Friday: December Progress Report

My overarching goal, if you may remember, is to release a trilogy of paranormal romances in the fall of 2018.

At the end of last month, I was feeling optimistic. I knew that to reach that goal, I needed to finish an editor-ready draft of the second book, The Demon's in the Details, and be ready to start on the third book, a Faust story about a writer who sells her soul to the devil to make the New York Times bestseller list, in January.

I was feeling pretty good about meeting that goal.

Unfortunately, December proved to be one of those months that afflicts both men and mice--my plans went agley,.

November and December are tough months for writing. I've always figured that the person who thought it was a good idea set NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, in November was a man, who wasn't going to need to combine Christmas shopping and making a turkey feast with with all that writing.

Despite the start to the holidays, I came pretty close to meeting goal in November. Part of how I achieved that was by putting off buying Christmas gifts for my dozen or so grandkids, which left all that to be done in December. Along with putting up the tree, hosting Christmas Eve, visiting my daughter on Christmas Day and getting together for lunches all month with wonderful people I see all too seldom.

But to be honest, all that holiday-making wasn't the real problem.

The real problem was I got stuck. I hit a point in Book 2 where I needed to know why Satan was so determined to collect up my protagonist's sculpture (left to her by her artist mother). With some Skype-advising from Jilly, a couple of phone calls with my clever older sisters, and some quality time with the brilliant plotting group from my RWA Chapter, I was finally able to resolve the issue in a way that was not only satisfactory, but makes the whole book a lot stronger and more cohesive.

So, yay! but also, How the heck did it get to be the end of December already?

Needless to say, I'm not going to meet my December goal. I now expect to finish my editor-ready draft by the end of January. That means I'm running a month behind on starting The Demon Wore Stilettos, which was already going to be a fire-drill to finish in time to meet my June date with my editor.

All that said, I did make one solid bit of progress last month. I lined up my first guest blog post to promote The Demon Always Wins when it's released in September. I'll be guest blogging over at Nancy Lee Badger's blog, Happy Ever After Meets the Road Less Traveled on September 7th. Hoping it's the first of many!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fiction Friday: Dear Contest Judge

This week I received my scores back from an RWA chapter contest for Girl's Best Friend, the contemporary romance I've been putzing around with in my spare time.

I always send at least a generic thank you to my contest judges. I judge contests, too, and it's a lot of work, especially if you're going to do it well. But this particular contest was set up to allow the entrants to thank each judge individually, so here are my individual thank you notes.

Dear Judge #1,

Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise to judge my contest entry. The great score you gave me was gratifying and your comments made it clear you truly enjoyed my story. Writing is such a solitary occupation and a little encouragement really helps.

Thanks, too, for the suggestions you made about some of my phrasing. You were right on the money and I'll be tweaking my manuscript to reflect your suggestions.

Jeanne Oates Estridge

Dear Judge #2,

Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise to judge my contest entry.

Although my entry did not final in this contest, it won another contest awhile back, resulting in a request for a full manuscript from an editor at SMP Swerve. At the time, I didn't actually have a completed novel, so I didn't submit. Even after I completed a first draft, and then a second, I knew there was a pacing problem with my first chapter, so I continued to drag my feet about sending it out. The suggestions you made will finally let me fix the darn thing and move forward.

Jeanne Oates Estridge

Dear Judge #3,

Thank you for sharing your time and expertise to judge my contest entry.

Jeanne Oates Estridge

Why, you may ask, is my response to each judge so different? Because what I got back from each judge was so different.

The first judge made it clear, from comments sprinkled throughout the manuscript and on the score sheet, that she really liked the story.

The second judge was a lot more critical, but her criticisms were truly helpful. Even though she scored me lower than Judge #1, she was my favorite.

The third judge's score was substantially lower than the other two, and that's okay. What was less okay was that she didn't explain why. She made no comments in the manuscript and only one, in the final, "overall manuscript comments" box on the score sheet, stating that it lacked "the dynamic prose, great dialog, chemistry, and forward propulsion of a '5' entry."

That's not useful.

I don't mind being told that I suck. What I mind is not being told why.

I get that judging contests is time-consuming. Depending on the quality of the entries, it can even be grueling. But if you volunteer to judge a contest, you have an obligation to provide the entrants with actionable feedback.

That doesn't mean you'll always be right. I judged some YA entries this summer only to realize later that I truly don't understand that sub-genre well enough to do a good job. But for each entry I judge, I include comments, in the manuscript and on the scoresheets, telling them what works and what doesn't, in my opinion. And if it doesn't work, I do my best to explain why.

Am I being too demanding? What do you expect from contest judges?


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