Friday, April 29, 2011

How to Edit with Efficiency

So much to do, so little time... and all I want to do is submerge myself into my story. If you're like me, you could hide from the world and live inside your novel. Craft, create, edit, and then move onto the next.

The problem is lack of time. Sharing our writing time with family, work, reading, networking, and maybe clean our house and do laundry on occasion, takes time... and lots of it.

We get so close to our work we can't see our own mistakes, and we rush. We may make that commitment to edit slowly and read aloud, but far to often we send our novels into the world too soon.

The great idea to separate, and set our work aside for a month, is fabulous... but then what? How do we edit after that much needed separation, as efficiently as possible, with minimal mistakes, and an openness to see if the "story" and all the details work?

I know! And am in this process with a fabulous young lady, Christine Hollingsworth. Christine is a college student who had been majoring in literature, but shifted from a career as an editor to that of a pilot. She's incredibly talented. While Christine and I are working together, this is an editing process that anyone can do by themselves.

Find 4 colored pens and follow these steps:
  1. Read the entire novel for "story" only. Use your Blue pen to write comments on your feelings of your story, positive and negative, in the margin.
  2. Read your story a second time with your green, red, and purple pens in hand, and mark punctuation, spelling, and write editor thoughts
  3. Start at chapter one, and input all corrections... carefully think how to address the negative feelings of the reader, and how to fix your editor comments.
  4. Then read that chapter slowly, and aloud, to see if everything works.
  5. Go to chapter two, and continue with steps three and four.
Editor comments: These are for overall content and the connected feeling of your writing, continuity, repetition, etc. If you notice you said the same thing a different way on different pages, underline the sentence and number it with the same as the duplicate sentence.

Flexibility: Of course you can't help to mark the spelling and punctuation that pops out on the first read. Keep your red and green pens handy. But don't focus on looking for that stuff. The first read through is for "story" only.  Color of pens? Go wild.

Christine is currently doing steps 1-2, for me. I'm doing steps 3-5. This process is the most efficient way I've found to work on my novel since I began writing. I will use this process with every future novel I write. And I can do it myself... and will. But then I'm giving it to Christine, again. She's awesome! And go through steps 3-5 a second time.

Do you have a process that works? We would love for you to share it with us.

Happy Writing!
~ Karlene

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guilt Free Spring Writing

I love spring time, the sweet scent of flowers in bloom, their color splashed across the fields, the blue sky, the bright yellow sun, the guilt. Wait, the what? Yep, you heard me right, the guilt. We writers may deny it but come spring time we all feel it. The weather is perfect, the trees are budding, and the flowers are practically begging to be picked, but we feel guilty if we don't stay inside and write.

Well cast that guilt aside fellow writers. You've been cooped up inside all fall and winter and may or may not have been writing for months. Either way, don't let guilt lock you away from all that beauty and sunshine. Experiencing life is part of what makes our writing worth reading. Without taking time to get our hands in the dirt, plant something, till something, or just go for a walk on a nice day, our writing will be lacking. If your word count ends up being zero for a day or two don't sweat it as long as you got out and experienced something that will enrich your writing.

Writing is all about engaging the reader and what better way to do that then by using the senses. During spring time our senses are hightened, take advantage of that. Get out and smell the flowers, feel the breeze or sunshine, see the sights, taste the berries, and hear the birds. If the guilt is too much then take a notebook, jot down what your senses pick up, make a writing excercise out of it. You might surprise yourself and end up writing something spectacular.


Monday, April 25, 2011

You've Got What It Takes to Succeed: Week 2 with Tarot's Fool

FoolLast week we met The Fool from Tarot and found out he's a lot like us when we start off on our magnficent quest to write a book. Filled with excitement and possibility, he's practically giddy with imagining what he may accomplish. But as the little dog nipping at his heels warns him, he needs to watch his step, and learn from all his upcoming encounters in order to find his true path. There will be 21 incredible, enlightening, scary, joyful encounters along The Fool's journey to success, and each Monday we'll travel with him to find out what he learns.

This week the journey begins! So okay, hold on, here we go. First stop: The Magician. The Magician is #1 in Tarot, an indivisible number, the power of self-fulfillment. Wow.

When the Fool encounters this remarkable personage with the symbol of infinity floating over his head like a halo, the Magician says, "What do you have in that pack on your staff?"  And the Fool willingly hands it over. Raising his wand to heaven, and pointing his finger at the earth, the Magician does his abracadabra thing and voilà! The pack falls open on his table to reveal all the possibilities for the Fool's future. There's a Sword, a Wand, a Cup, and a Pentacle.  All tools with powers to get the Fool to his destination. Here is everything the Fool needs to achieve anything he wants, become anything he wants. What shall he choose?

The Sword represents Air: pure mind, thinking, speaking; anything to do with words or thoughts. With the sword, he can cut through any nonsense, or cut to the quick.
The Wand is Fire: passion, ambition, creative endeavors. The wands offer energy, dedication, focus, and the ability to work hard.
The Cup is Water: emotions: love, hate, elation, depression, bliss (you get the idea). What can't we do or be with these at our dispoasal?
The Pentacle is Earth:  the body and the physical, represents health and money. If we're going to indulge in air, fire, and water, we'd better be grounded, and pentacles do that for us, plus let us experience the fruits of our labors in a healthy way.

"Were those really all in my pack?" the Fool asks. "Or did you create them with your wand?"

The Magician smiles but will not answer. He says instead, "We can create things by willpower and desire.  These are the tools to do that."

"But what tool do I use first, and how do I use it to achieve my goal?" the Fool asks. (Oops, that was really me asking how to finish my book as brilliantly as I've envisioned it, at the end of last week's post, remember?  And the Magician answered: "That is the wrong question, Sojourner.")  So REVISION: The Fool asks, "How shall I proceed?"

And at this question, the Magician waves his wand, and Presto! He reveals NEW IDEAS.  Tarot says that The Fool had these ideas all along, he just didn't know it.  But now that they've been revealed to him, he can pick those tools up and get a move on.
The question now is, what will he do with these ideas?  Seems like he should know. I've (I mean He's) thought about this book (I mean goal) for a while. But now that his hands are filled with these incredible, powerful tools, he's afraid to wield them to make his idea a reality. That puppy nipping at his heels has taught him a thing or two about being careful. He needs a little bit of guidance on how to use those tools well. For that, he'll have to journey forth until he happens upon the next powerful and amazing personage on his path: The High Priestess.  Now that is one mysterious lady.

Next week The Fool will sit at her feet and learn some secrets, or more likely, he'll learn how to learn his own deepest secrets.  Hmmmm.

My interpretation of The Fool's Journey as it applies to the writing life is my own, but the journey itself is long-established information from a variety of sources.  Those I've relied on most heavily are: TAROT BASICS by Burger & Fiebig, AECLECTIC TAROT by Thirteen, and EVERYDAY TAROT by Fairfield.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Power of Diversity

Last night I attended a chapter meeting for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association, PNWA. As I left the meeting, I noticed a list of names with people looking for a critique group. Four pieces of information were required: Name. Email address. Location. Genre.

"Genre" sparked my interest.

Writers often group together in their genre. Perhaps fearful of what they don't know, and thinking that those other genre's can't possibly know their rules. How could another genre be any help?

There is power in diversity. Diversity, one of the most interesting courses I took during my MBA, is nothing more than bringing together groups of people from different backgrounds, ethnicity, and experiences.

When you bring a group five people together of like genres, like minds, like personalities, like beliefs, etc., you have five brains thinking the exact same thing. But when you bring a group of five people together with different backgrounds, experiences, personalities, and genres, you have increased the power of one brain five times!

Diversity increases creativity, inspiration, possibility, productivity, and success.

My current critique group... you know them well... Heather and Linda, and I, write different genres. Young adult, Mystery and Historical fiction, and Aviation Thriller and General Fiction.

We recently had the opportunity to workshop our novels together. Powerful? Yes.

Linda and Heather looked at my work through a different lens, and saw things that I couldn't. I was too close. Granted there are different techniques and rules used to create pace, momentum, etc., with different genres. But that doesn't impact the structure, story, character development, inciting incidents, and so on.

Benefits of a diverse critique group:
  • Viewpoints from outside our genre box. 
  • Lack of competition between authors.
  • We can borrow lines from each other. 
  • Reading different genres enhances creativity and inspiration.
  • Focus 
Focus: The greatest benefit for those in a diverse critique group is that when you listen to others work, your mind is only on their work, not on your own. If I were listening to someone in my genre writing about an airplane crash, how could my mind not drift to my novel?

Why do you need a critique group? Click Here to read what Heather has to say about the Purpose of a Critique Group. 

How diverse if your group? Please tell us the strengths and weakness of your group, we'd love to hear.

Enjoy the journey, and make today incredible.

~ Karlene

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Query Letter Critiqued

Thank you everyone for all the great feedback on my query letter. Here is the revised version:

Dear   ,

My young adult historical fantasy To Ride A Púca is complete at approximately 89,000 words. Those who enjoyed The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell and Mistwood by Leah Cypess will enjoy this as well.

During the twelfth century invasion of Ireland, Emily, one of the last of the druids, must master her power to keep her kind from being annihilated.

Her parents lied to her. They told her a druid's power was only to heal people and that hers was defective. They also said her family was the last of their kind. An accident introduces Emily to Bren and an entire clan of other druids. She learns there are two kinds of druids, those that heal, and those that can use their power to fight. Turns out her power isn't so useless after all. But Emily doesn't have much time to master it before the invaders from across the ocean arrive. A betrayal brings them to her front door and Emily's mother is given a week to heal the son of the warlord or they'll return to slaughter her entire clan. In the end she will have to choose between fighting to keep her country or keeping those she loves alive. 

I regularly attend conferences, workshops, and retreats to improve my craft and network. My online presence is strong and active. I am mentored by (Cut out to protect the names of the innocent. ;)

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Heather McCorkle

Need help on your own query letter? Well great news, we’ll be paying it back soon! We’re going to be offering up a query letter critique to one of you! Keep an eye out for the call for query letters. If all goes well we’ll make it a reoccurring theme so we can pay it forward and help you!

Monday, April 18, 2011

A New Novel, A New Beginning

In Tarot, The Fool card, number 0 of the major arcana, represents a time of newness. With all his worldly possessions in a small pack on his staff, The Fool sets off on a quest, filled with visions and daydreams that make him feel excited and like anything is possible. And it is. He has all he needs to do or be anything he wants; he only has to unpack and put those possessions to use.

The card carries a warning, though.  It's shown by that little dog nipping at The Fool's heels, trying to warn him to watch his step and notice the cliff right in front of him. This doesn't mean he shouldn't be on this trek, not at all! It just means he needs to be present in the moment, and he needs to pay attention to what's around him. Above all, he needs to respect the journey he's about to take.

This is what it's like for a writer when s/he's ready for a new beginning, a new book. As writers, we have to reach a place of fresh beginnings in our minds and hearts to start this journey. There's a fabulous sense of freedom and a surge of energy that come with that. It's a wide open chance we're giving ourselves to write an incredible story. What a great feeling. There is a certain delightful naiveté to this state of being, which is where the name, The Fool, comes from in Tarot. But I think we can consider ourselves Sojourners once we've committed to write that book, especially if it's not our first.  We know about that little dog's warning. To succeed, we must enter the journey not only with an open heart, but a willingness to pay close attention to what we come across along the way, and perhaps change direction as we learn from it.

The Fool's journey will be long and exciting, possibly arduous. He will meet fascinating, wonderful,  disturbing, and dangerous people and situations on the path that he must travel. There will be challenges, joys, and unexpected discoveries, both pleasant and not so pleasant. Will the sojourner take advantage of all that's on offer as he goes on his quest, learning from every danger, thriving from every gift, or will he ignore the dangers, underutilize the gifts, and be an actual fool (step off that cliff)?

The Fool's journey in Tarot is a beautifully wrought metaphor for a seeker's life, or a writer's quest.  It is laid out through twenty-two cards called major arcana, each of which represents a major step along the way.  I'm thinking it would be fun to follow The Fool's path, and learn from his encounters. I'll be posting each Monday on his steps for a while, reporting on the wisdoms he acquires as he goes.

Next week, we'll see what The Fool finds when he opens that pack, because according to Tarot, that is the next step.  The pack contains tools, and they are revealed to The Fool on The Magician's table. Whew, I'm so glad he's going to make it to see The Magician. He didn't step off that cliff.

I'm about at this stage in my new novel. I've got those tools in my hands and am plying them as best I can. I wouldn't mind some advice from The Magician about now.  Okay, I'll just reveal that I already did ask him which tools to use first, and how to reach my goal of finishing my book as I've envisioned it. And he said, "Sojourner, that's the wrong question." But he wouldn't tell me what he meant yet.  I'll get it out of him before next week, promise!

My interpretation of The Fool's Journey as it applies to the writing life is my own, but the journey itself is long-established information from a variety of sources.  Those I've relied on most heavily are: TAROT BASICS by Burger & Fiebig, AECLECTIC TAROT by Thirteen, and EVERYDAY TAROT by Fairfield.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Staying True...

One thing I know ...

If five people critique your work, you will receive five different opinions. And some in complete contrast to the others. With this being said, how do you know when to take advice and when to pass it by?

When rejected, if you're lucky, an agent will respond with comments. Should you rewrite your novel and apply each comment? How do you know which advice to accept and which to ignore? If you adapt every suggestion that an agent or someone in your critique groups makes, do you lose your voice? Have you ever had someone recommend to change something that was actually exactly how you had it in an earlier revision but someone else told you fix?  

How do you know which advice to take and which to ignore?

Answer: Stay true to the goal of your novel. To the theme.

Listen to all suggestions, but don't react. Respond after analyzing your work. Analyzing their comments. Hear "what" they mean, not how they're saying it. Determine if what they say works. Take what feels right. You will know. Do not just change something just because someone said to... it might not be the right thing to do. If you don't feel it, understand it, and believe it... don't do it.

Recommendation: Ask yourself a couple questions and put the suggestion through the recommendation wringer before you do anything:
  • "What" do they really mean by their suggestion?
  • "Why" did they make that particular recommendation?
  • Does it resonate with the theme of my novel?
  • Envision the change as if it were a movie. Play the movie both ways. Which is more powerful?
  • Is the suggestion something technical that you'd never heard before? Research.
I listened to a variety of comments on strength, weakness, relationship and character development in my novel Flight For Control.  Everyone suggested something different. But when I really listened to "what" they meant, and figured out "why" they made those comments. I realized that they were saying all the same thing, but they didn't know what the problem was. They were guessing because it didn't work for them. I used the steps above and yes, there was one central problem that manifested throughout my novel. I had my "ah ha" moment and went back to work on my novel. Easy fix!

Then the agent I really wanted to work with, my perfect match, sent me a rejection with detailed comments of what she liked, but also the one thing that didn't work for her. That same thing that I was in the process of working on. I immediately responded by thanking her, and told her that I agreed with her and was in the process of fixing that exact thing. I was already two-thirds through the novel with the fix. Would she be willing to read it a second time? YES!

Trust your instincts. You are the author and the creator of your work. If someone gives you a suggestion, run it through the recommendation wringer.

With all this being said, remember the "F" word when it comes to working with "your" agent. Be Flexible! If they love your work enough to represent you, then trust the relationship that they will give you guidance on preparing you for publication.

Happy writing! And remmember, today is your day to shine.

~ Karlene 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Query Letter Critiquing

Many of us don't think about critiquing and editing our query letters as much as we do our novels, but we should. Not editing your query letter is like getting ready for work in the pre-dawn without the bathroom light on. Not that I've done that, much. You only get one chance to make a first impression and how much time you take on it will show. To help you with how to critique query letters I am posting my own and opening it up to constructive feedback. My critique sisters will be commenting and you are welcome to as well. I shall take the feedback, rewrite the query letter, and post the revision next Wednesday to show you the evolution process. Here is the rough version:

Dear    ,

Personal greeting as to why I chose to query this particular agent, I'm confident (don't say please, don't apologize, they want you to be confident) you'll enjoy my young adult historical fantasy To Ride A Púca. It is complete at approximately 89,000 words. Those who enjoyed The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell and Mistwood by Leah Cypess will enjoy this as well. (Some agents like this at the beginning and some like it at the end. You can never tell which so I say choose where you like to put it!)

During the twelfth century invasion of Ireland, Emily, one of the last of the druids, must master her power to keep her kind from being annihilated. (Every manuscript needs a one-sentence pitch or logline. This is a good place for it in your query).

Her parents lied to her. They told her a druid's power was only to heal people and that hers was defective. They also said her family was the last of their kind. An accident introduces Emily to Bren and an entire clan of other druids. From Bren she learns there are two kinds of druids, those that heal, and those that can use their power to fight. Turns out her power isn't so useless after all. But Emily doesn't have much time to master it before the invaders from across the ocean arrive. A betrayal brings them to her front door in search of a healer for their wounded. Emily's mother is given a week to heal the son of the warlord or they'll return to slaughter her entire clan. The lines of enemies and friends blurs and in the end she will have to choose between her country and keeping those she loves alive. (This feels a bit long but I'm not sure what to keep and what to cut). 

I regularly attend conferences, workshops, and retreats to improve my craft and network. I am part of a critique group that exchanges material regularly. My online presence is strong and active. I am mentored by (Cut out to protect the names of the innocent. ;) If you have awards, publishing credits or the like, this is where to put them in. I do not as of yet.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Heather McCorkle

Feel free to copy and paste into the comments with your editing suggestions, or just list your suggestions. I'll try to put up a copy of my Critique Sisters edits for you to see.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Lovely Blogs

Last week the lovely Maria, at  Wub2Write  shared a wonderful award with the Critique Sisters.  It's called the One Lovely Blog Award, and its rules for recipients are:

post the award on your blog and link to the blogger who gifted you with it,

pass the award on to fifteen blogs you have newly discovered, and

contact your recipients to let them know they've received the award.

Done, done, and will be done asap!

Receiving the award was, well, lovely, and selecting new recipients to pass it to was a truly enjoyable exercise. I scanned through the blogs I've noticed over time, and those of the people who comment on them as well as on this one (I read all the comments all the time), to find names I've come to recognize and look forward to seeing. Some of them, I've known about for quite a while, I admit. Some of them really are new to me. All of them caused me to think, perfect! This person writes a Lovely Blog and deserves an Award!

I thought fifteen was a lot, but when I got busy looking, I realized there are so many more that deserve such an award!! So I hope each of the wonderful bloggers I found will enjoy their process, too, and will identify many more blogs we can all enjoy and learn from.

Without further ado . . . here are the newest recipients of the One Lovely Blog Award:

Thank you, Maria! If you haven't checked out Maria's blog, be sure to go to it and read the one about her going undercover as a Lunch Lady at a middle school to get the inside scoop. That's dedication.

Happy Blogging, everyone.

~ Linda

Friday, April 8, 2011

First Person Verses Third Person

I’ve just finished reading entries to an essay contest—Why I want to Fly. I’ve read each entry multiple times, but one stuck out for one reason. The author wrote her essay in third person. It’s beautifully written. But… did it work for this contest?

I just realized how powerful first person writing can be.

Below are samples from two different essays. While both are beautifully written, the first entry did not resonate with me like the others. Could this be due to the author referring to herself in third person?

The skies are blue on this crisp, autumn day. Children are laughing and skipping. The birds are chirping high up in the old oak tree. The leaves are slowly changing color, from vibrant green to rich reds, golden yellows, and dark browns. One by one they fall from their high perch and land softly on the ground, but the ground is the last place. Stephanie Marie would ever think to be on a day like today. Instead of being outside jumping in the great piles of leaves as all the other
kids her age are doing, she would rather be in a small box with 5 inoperable windows, two locked doors, no air conditioning and a wall full of gauges and levers. Most would not understand why anyone would want to do this, let alone a child, but Stephanie knows the power of this grand machine.

As comparison to one of the first person entries:

Why do I want to fly? I want to fly because it makes me light up like a beam. It gives me time to relax and appreciate life. I want to fly because like many things it is a challenge and I love to be challenged. It is hard work but at the same time fun, which cannot be said of many things. I want to fly because it is a dream that was born in me the first time I took a flight. I want to see this dream fulfilled. I want to be like a bird, twist and twirl all I want. Glide and take off, spin and roll, yaw and turn. I love the power on take off and the feeling I get each time the plane leaves the surface of the earth. I want to fly because the earth looks more beautiful and serene from above.

Personally, I feel more passion with the first person. It's immediate and personal. But I would love to hear your thoughts. How do you feel between the two?

Confused by POV? Please take the time to read Heather’s Odyssey and her Demystifying Point of View post.  Clear Here to Demystify.

Judging essay contests from around the world, from ten-year-olds to adults, some with more opportunity to education than others, has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a very long time. If you would like to read the complete essay from above, and the $100 winner, please click: Here Each Wednesday I will post another essay. They're so much fun and filled with passion. Writers in the making.

Enjoy the journey!

~ Karlene

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Featured Debut Author~Emma Newman

For our first author feature we're bringing you a fantastic story of self-made success. My good friend Emma Newman podcasted her YA novel 20 Years Later (yes podcasting is self-publishing) and it grabbed the attention of a traditional publisher. This is happening more and more lately and it's bringing new life and purpose to self-publishing.

Emma's work will soon be available through that traditional publisher and I couldn't be happier because people, you are going to LOVE her writing! Her novel 20 Years Later will be available July 5th but you don't have to wait that long. Her anthology, From Dark Places released April 5th! Emma originally self-published 11 short stories as an e-book, before securing a contract with eMergent Publishing for a new edition in e-book and paperback formats. 

Before we meet Emma here is a bit about From Dark Places: 

E.J. Newman’s debut anthology is a dark and twisting journey across the urban landscape, mining the rich seam of human frailties with insight and humour. The stories traverse the magical and the mundane, where supernatural beings are indistinguishable from their mortal counterparts in their complexity and complicity.

Now that you have a good case of the chills please welcome Emma Newman to the Critique Sisters Corner! I love dystopian so you had a built in fan in me the moment I read about your work. What inspired you to write an anthology?  
Emma: Hello! Funnily enough, I didn't set out to write an anthology, it happened accidentally as I fell back in love with short stories after over 15 years of avoiding them. When I was 17 I wrote a short story that got me into Oxford University to study Experimental Psychology. Whilst that was wonderful, it also triggered a ten year long writing block. Even when I started to write again ten years later, I avoided short stories for a long time until there was a competition online that a friend triple-dared me into entering. It was the first short story I had written in over 15 years, and would you believe it, I won! That's why my website looks so pretty - the prize was a website design! 
Anyway, once I caught the bug again, I wanted to write more, and found that I like to write short stories inspired by prompts. I hit upon the idea of my Short Story Club as a way to beat procrastination and get lots of prompts to choose from. It's free to join and members receive a short story written by me in their inbox every month, inspired by a winning prompt submitted to the blog. The winning commenter has the opportunity to read the story prior to its release to the club. There are almost 300 members now.
Anyway, between that and writing stories for the Friday Flash community, I had enough to make an e-anthology and experiment with self-publishing. How I came to get a book deal, well, that's another story! 

Those of us who bought From Dark Places in its first incarnation know all the secrets and twists but is there anything different we might see in this new version from the publisher? Or if not, could you tell us something we may not know from your website for those who haven't read it.  
Emma: Well, the first edition only had 11 stories. The new edition has 25, and one was written especially for the anthology. It hasn't been read by anyone other than my editor. Oh, and my husband, but he gets to read everything first! All of the stories have been lovingly edited by Jodi at eMergent Publishing, and I am feeling so much more proud of it as a result! 

I'm so excited that there are more stories! Which character in your anthology was the most fun, interesting, or challenging to write and why? 
Emma: The most fun character was definitely the wife in "The Letter" written as a parting shot as she is leaving her husband. The first line of the letter: "The dog is in the oven. Don’t open it, it’s too late. I’m sorry." just popped into my head and the rest of the letter just flowed out. She is so angry and vicious, it was great fun to just hear what she had to say. As for the most interesting character, I think that is Harry from "Everything in its Place" who has crippling OCD. That was my editor's favourite story, and I really enjoyed thinking about how his disorder informed all of his actions.  

That is some first line! We know that 20 Years Later will be releasing this July but what do you have planned after that? A sequel perhaps?
Emma: 20 Years Later is the first of a trilogy. The second book is 20 Years Later: Legacy and is currently with my beta readers. Book 3 (20 Years Later: Revelation) is still being written, I have about 30,000 or so words left to write for the first draft. 

After that, I'll be off to the Split Worlds, which is a quirky urban fantasy setting that I have already started to explore, but had to pause to finish the 20 Years Later trilogy. If you want a sneaky peek, you can read the stories I've already written here. I plan to write 53 flash stories in total, and then three novels set in that world.  And I am already building a collection of short stories for From Dark Places: volume 2! 

Any closing thoughts to leave us with?
Emma: Only to say that I hope you enjoy the stories, and thank you for having me! Oh, and if people buy the book, in either print or e-editions, they get access to a super secret area on my website where they can find out how each story came to be written. Signed copies of the print edition are available to buy at my website, by the way.

I'm off to get myself one of those signed copies! Join me here peeps! To follow Emma on Twitter click here. Congratulations Emma. I can think of few more deserving than you. And thank you for joining us to share your inspiring story!

Monday, April 4, 2011


Voice. There's nothing like it it for selling your novel. Voice is the most important, most frequently requested element that agents, editors and publishers seek. "I just want a terrific story, beautifully written," I've heard agents announce at conferences. "But more than anything, a unique and compelling voice."

Let's be honest. As outrageously demanding as this sounds, as if the bar is set so high almost no one can reach it, it's not unrealistic. All three elements are increasingly important in today's market, whether it's the traditional market or the emerging one. So let's do it. After hyperventilating a little (or a lot), we can get down to business. Let's start by focusing on that unique and compelling voice. Because if we have a great story to tell, the voice will sell it or sink it. (And if the story is good, but not great, the voice can still put it in the running.)

What voice comes down to, for me, is authenticity and heart. Here are four examples from great writers with outstanding voices, in different genres:

From Still Life, Louise Penny's debut Inspector Gamache mystery novel: the opening paragraph:

Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round. Miss Neal's was not a natural death, unless you're of the belief everything happens as it's supposed to. If so, for her seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines. She'd fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.

From Tell Me a Riddle, a literary short story by the incomparable Tillie Olsen: the opening paragraph:

For forty-seven years they had been married. How deep back the stubborn, gnarled roots of the quarrel reached, no one could say—but only now, when tending to the needs of others no longer shackled them together, the roots swelled up visible, split the earth between them, and the tearing shook even to the children, long since grown.

From Tomato Red, a crime novel whose author, Daniel Woodrell, has been dubbed the master of Ozark Noir: from page two:

     "Can't be none of this be new to you."
     The gal with her mouth full of shoe-peg corn (her teeth, from previous description) and the bright idea in the first place drives over and lets me off at the curb, and there's another burglar passed out in the backseat who won't be of any help. She doses a kiss out to me, a dry peck on the lips, and claims she'll keep her eyes peeled and I should give her the high sign once I've burgled my way inside.

From Fair and Tender Ladies, a novel in the mainstream fiction category, by Lee Smith: from page two, written in a ten-year-old's Appalachian voice:

Mr. Castle said NO I forbid it, he has no prospects, and said he wuld send my momma to her mothers sister in Memphis Tennessee where my momma never had been or even heard tell of, to learn her some sense and how to act like a lady at last.  Instead my momma packed up her own mommas silver brush and comb, which was all she took, and lit out in the dead of nigt for Sugar Fork with my daddy John Arthur Rowe. He is a redheaded man he had been over ther in Rich Valley with his brother trading mules. My momma and him rode double astride on daddys horse Lightning. She was glad to leave, she said, and never looked back nor cared for a thing but my daddy.

I'm working on a historical novel now, about the Shawnee Indians in the Ohio River Valley, beginning in the 1780s. The voice I use is critically important to the novel's believability, and challenging because the protagonist is a Shawnee woman who's story starts when she is a girl of nine, and goes until she is a very old woman indeed.  I've done a ton of research and, in that process, the voice of the adult woman came to me, but the child's voice has a special challenge. It must show that she is older than her years because of what she's already lived through, older in many ways than today's typical nine-year olds because of the century and culture she lives in, but still filled with the energy and idealism of a child. It's difficult to find exactly the right tone and rhythm to convey all that. But I think I've found a way to do it, by combining the formality of language of that time with the childhood energy conveyed in the Appalachian child's voice from Fair and Tender Ladies, (even though the language itself is very different).  It's exciting to get into my young character's head, to become her.

When we find great authors we'd like to emulate, one of the best gifts their writing offers us is tone, rhythm, language. In other words, voice. It's incumbent upon us to put our hand out and accept the gift. Not try to sound exactly like them. But recognize them as mentors. Take what's on offer, combine it with our own unique take on our story and its characters, and let our writing voice blossom with their mentoring but our own voice. For me, it feels good to have resources to turn to for the feel and taste of what I want when I've been away from the writing for a while, or feel a lack, somehow, in the tone of a passage or a scene. When I capture that voice, the writing flies. Have you found the unique and compelling voice of your novel?  Did it 'come with the package,' or did you draw on external as well as internal sources to form it?

~ Linda