Friday, March 23, 2018

Fiction Friday: Getting to Know You


In mid-February I started work on the third book in my Touched by a Demon trilogy, The Demon Wore Stilettos. I’ve been looking forward to this one, because the she-demon Lilith, who has been a minor character in the previous two books, finally gets to take center stage.
I’ve had this book in the back of my mind for a while, so I knew the general premise: Megan Kincaid, a recent MFA graduate, sells her soul to Satan in exchange for making the New York Times bestseller list.
I also knew I wanted to make this a second-chance-at-love story, so I wanted Megan to have an old love she would team with to escape Satan’s clutches.
And that was all I knew.
The first question I needed to answer about this character was: what made her so ambitious she would sell her soul for success? So I googled, “What makes people ambitious?”
Reading through the various things that came back (Quora is awesome for providing lists of possibilities for questions like this), I created this list:
  1. Lack of paternal love/approval
  2. Impoverished childhood
  3. Sibling rivalry
  4. Immigrant background
  5. Needs to prove something to someone
  6. Needs money for something specific
  7. Frustrated by lack of opportunity
  8. Because they’re brave enough to challenge themselves to achieve beyond their background
  9. Desire to prove themselves worthy; for example, an adopted child
  10. Desire to prove others wrong
I let all this roll around in the back of my head for a couple of days before choosing No. 9. Megan, I decided, was adopted. Since all my demon books have an inspirational element, she was adopted by an older couple, a minister and his wife. Reverend Paul Kincaid and his wife Edna were wonderful people, but the church community constantly reminded Megan how fortunate she was and how she needed to repay the Reverend and his wife by being successful. Megan is determined to do just that.
But this didn’t feel like enough to justify selling your soul to the devil–especially if you were brought up Lutheran. I decided to give Megan a younger sister, Kendra, whose reaction to the good people in the congregation was the opposite of Megan’s. Kendra, instead, went the way of their drug-addicted mother. At seventeen, she gave birth to a son with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Just as Megan was preparing to graduate from Columbia with her MFA, (and a carload of student debt), little sister got caught dealing drugs. Rev. Paul and Sister Edna had already spent everything they had and mortgaged their house, dealing with Kendra’s past issues.
Then Lilith showed up, offering to publish Megan’s MFA project and make it a bestseller. The chance for Megan to bail out her sister and pay for a good treatment program, while also achieving her dreams and showing the community the Kincaids were right to take a chance on her, was too much to resist. She signed.

Because she was smart, though, she had her boyfriend, a third-year law student, review the contract. He suggested she ask for not just one, but seven bestsellers. He also made an amendment to one of the exit clauses.

The boilerplate contract stated that if the signer performs an act  of complete altruism, they're off the hook. This is a fake out, though, because any act that gets the signer out of the contract, by definition, is not completely altruistic. James amended that clause to say that the fact that the act frees the signer from the contract cannot be taken into consideration in determining its altruism. 

As the book opens, Megan has already turned in her seventh and final manuscript to her editor. In two weeks it will be released and will almost certainly hit the NYT bestseller list. On that day, Satan will collect her soul. 
Okay, gentle readers–what are your thoughts?. If it doesn’t work for some reason, I’d rather know now!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fiction Friday: Interview with Stacy McKitrick

Stacy was the treasurer of my local RWA chapter, Central Ohio Fiction Writers, for the past two years before handing the account books over to me. We carpool for the seventy-
Ghostly Interlude, FINAL, updated 4x6odd miles to our monthly chapter meeting, so I’ve gotten to know her a bit. She is, without question, one of the most joyful writers I’ve ever known. Her characters live and breathe for her–and she adores every breath they take, even when they’re not behaving well.
Question 1: A love of the Twilight series led you to write your first novel. What was it about those books that fired your imagination, and how is that reflected in your work?
Yes, I absolutely loved Twilight, and it introduced me to paranormal romance. As a fan of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, I never even thought vampires could be good. But what really fired my imagination was wondering what Edward was thinking the whole time! I wanted his POV soooooo badly. So I think that’s what got me to writing my first book. And it’s why I always have at least two POVs (the heroine AND hero). I don’t want to frustrate MY readers.
Question 2: You’ve had traditionally published books, with Kensington, and you’ve self-published. Contrast your experiences with each type of publication.
I don’t know if I would have self-pubbed without the experience of being traditionally published first. Lyrical Press and Kensington taught me so much and I believe they made me a better writer. After publishing with them, I knew what needed to be done to be published (although it still took my husband’s offer of help to format to take that self-pub leap). So if I had to do it all over again, I would still go the traditional route first. Because to me it was the same as going to college and earning that degree.
Question 3: You served in the Armed Forces when you were young. Does any of that experience show up in your books?
I joined the Army when I was 17 (although I didn’t start serving until I was 18). Why did I join? Because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I couldn’t see going to college (felt it would have been a waste of money then) and I certainly didn’t want to stay at home. People think I’m brave; I thought I was a coward. Haha! As for the experience showing up in my books? I don’t know. All my life experiences are probably in there. I served during peace time (76-81), and it was a job like any other (except they made me exercise!). Pretty boring. Well… except for meeting my husband and living in Alaska. Those were pretty great.
Stacy (2)
Stacy McKitrick fell in love with paranormal romance, decided to write her own, and found her passion in life. She used to work in accounting, now she spends her time with vampires and ghosts, and is the author of the Bitten by Love and the Ghostly Encounter series. Born in California, she currently resides in Ohio with her husband. You can learn more about Stacy at her website

Friday, March 9, 2018

February Progress Report

February’s goals:
  1. Finish Book 2, The Demon’s in the Details, and send it out to my beta readers.
Status: Book completed. Due to some changing priorities around when my editor wanted to see the manuscript, I was only able to get it in front of one beta reader, who is reading it now.
2. Get a proof copy of the cover.
Status: Completed–and I love it. I’ll be sharing it here at when we get a little closer to the release date, September 1.
3. Send Book 1, The Demon Always Wins, to my copy editor.
Status: Sent and returned with 2500 recommended changes.
Yes, you read that right–two thousand five hundred edits. They fall into several broad categories:
  • Missing commas
  • Improper capitalization (in both directions)
  • Improper hyphenating of words (and failure to hyphenate)
  • Use of pronouns vs. proper names (e.g. “She” vs. “Dara”). One of the techniques for deepening point-of-view is to stick with the third person pronoun as much as possible, but if you have two people of the same gender in a scene, this can create reader confusion. So I”m going through and deciding, in each of the cases Arran marked, whether I need to call out the character by name. Mostly, I’ve decided I do.
  • Using an em-dash (—) instead of four period for dialogue (internal or external) that dies away before the character completes their sentence. There are only a handful of these, but I like the idea of having a style rule to follow.
  • Inserting the word “that” into a sentence. Example: Kelsey filled her cup so quickly she slopped coffee on the counter. This is an area where my copy editor and I disagree. I think “that” is a dead word that is unnecessary most of the time, so I rejected most of those edits.
4. Brainstorm the acts, turning points and scenes for Book 3, The Demon Wore Stilettos.
Sunset at the Salt Marsh
Status: In mid-February, I was invited to join a writer’s retreat down on Kiawah Island for a week. It was in the upper 70’s/low 80’s and sunny every day in that part of South Carolina, while it rained non-stop in Ohio while I was gone. That makes the trip a win regardless of what I got done.
The other writers at the retreat were terrific about helping me brainstorm, so I made some solid progress. I’m still a little iffy on everything after the first act, but I do have a solid understanding of my characters and their motivations. So, as usual, I’m behind but satisfied with my progress.
Goals for March:
  1. Get The Demon’s in the Details through developmental edit.
  2. Get a draft of the cover for The Demon’s in the Details.
  3. Complete the scene list for The Demon Wore Stilettos.
  4. Complete 15,000 words on The Demon Wore Stilettos.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Fiction Friday: Interview with Ana Morgan

Stormy Hawkins (Prairie Hearts Series Book 1)
Stormy Hawkins

Today we’re talking to Ana Morgan, author of the historical western romance, Stormy Hawkins. 
Ana and I bonded over our mutual love of Anne of Green Gables and the commonality that we both relocated to Minnesota from points south. I’ve long since moved back to my home state of Ohio, but Ana adapted to rural life and stayed. She says she’s rewarded every time she looks out her log cabin window and sees only squirrels and trees—and when  her daughter comes home from Brooklyn with friends, clamoring for a home-grown meal.
Q1: Your debut novel, Stormy Hawkins, the first of your Prairie Hearts series, is set in the Dakota Territory, in 1887.  What is it about that time and place that interests you?
I live on an organic farm in west central Minnesota, so eastern South Dakota is “in the neighborhood.” When we moved here, I was a city girl. I had to learn to milk cows, gather eggs, grow a garden, can produce—all sorts of homesteading skills that the locals took for granted. When I set out to write Stormy Hawkins, I embraced the advice that it’s smart to write about what you know.
Q2: You published your first novel with Soul Mate Publishing. What made you choose to go traditional, and what can you tell us about your experiences with this publisher?
After several rejections, I was gearing up to self-publish. Then Stormy Hawkins finaled in two contests. Two editors requested fulls. I submitted to both. Soul Mate Publishing offered a contract first.
My experience has been wonderful. My editor was smart, thorough, and responsive. The cover artist “nailed” my cover. Every deadline set by the publisher has been honored to the day. I’ve been invited to write two more books in the series. I’m writing book two now.
Q3: I read on your website that you relocated from a southern California city to rural Minnesota. I also relocated to Minnesota, but to the Twin Cities, from Cincinnati, years ago. That was a big adjustment. Tell us about your experience. What was the biggest culture shock?
I think the rural-ness was the biggest shock. We settled three hours northwest of the Twin Cities in January, 1972. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to buy essentials like tampons and bananas.
Things were not as bad as I anticipated. The one grocery store in town was open seven days a week.
The hardware store had blank ‘counter checks’ that you signed and wrote your bank account number in the memo line. The residents of another nearby town spoke primarily Finnish. A farmer’s wife showed us how to hand milk the Jersey cow we bought at the sale barn. Though I cringed when I saw pickups parked next to fish houses on the frozen lakes, I quickly embraced the local mantra: Always be ready to help, but don’t interfere until help is needed.
When she was small, Ana Morgan’s dream was to know something about everything. She has studiously waitressed, driven a school bus, run craft service on indie film sets, wandered through European castles, wired a house, married a Marine, canned vegetables, and studied the stars. She knows how to change a flat tire but prefers gallant, handsome strangers who strip off their jackets and spin the lug nuts for her.
Ana embarked on her writing career by crafting succinct cooking directions for her Secret Garden soup mixes—and graduated to lyrical essays about living on a small organic farm for her CSA’s weekly newsletter. Eventually she realized she wanted to write what she loved to read—sensual romance novels.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Fiction Friday (on Sunday): Taking the Chill Off

Last week, my sister posted this video of Diana Gabaldon on Facebook and tagged me:

The video really surprised me, because my own cold start process is day-and-night different from Diana’s.
When I’m trying to pick back up after being away from a work-in-progress for a while, I figure out what scene needs to happen next and work on that.
So, while Diana is examining the way light falls on crystal, I’m thinking:
  • Which characters are in this scene?
  • Which characters have a stake in this scene? That is, they don’t just happen to be there, they have a goal to accomplish.
  • What are their scene goals? The scene needs to have both a protagonist and and antagonist with mutually exclusive, or at least competing, goals,
  • Next, I work on the beats of the scene. What will each character do to attempt to achieve their goal? What will the other character do or say to block them and advance their own goal? I try to identify at least three beats (attempts to meet goal).
  • At this point, I’m ready to try actually writing. With this skeleton outline of the scene up on my secondary screen, I start letting the characters talk to each other on my primary screen.
  • If my head is actually in the game, the scene generally takes a left turn as I write it. The characters don’t do or say what I have laid out for them. They have their own ideas. That’s how I know I’ve tapped into my creative side.
My first drafts are generally 90% dialogue. To be honest, my finished product is probably still 75% dialogue or body language. I go back in and add setting when my critique partners complain that they don’t know where they are.
So what happens when my patented technique doesn’t work? I go back and reread the manuscript from the beginning, tweaking. This isn’t my first choice because, as the manuscript grows, it becomes time-consuming.
What do you do?

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!


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