Monday, February 28, 2011

The First Chapter

Writers often start their books in the wrong place. Most often they start too early.

The secret to hooking a reader is to start your novel by introducing your characters and plunging them into an action scene, not boring backstory (which may very well be important to the story, but shouldn’t be what you lead with). Curiosity may kill cats, but it keeps readers wondering and reading.

Don’t believe me? Here are the opening paragraphs of three books I pulled from my shelves:

“The coachman shivered as he urged his horses faster through the darkest part of the forest. Feeble moonlight trickled through the night-blackened leaves overhead. It fell in small, silver pools here and there, barely large enough to illuminate the deeply rutted road that led to Lord Rodan’s estate.”

From CONJURED IN FLAMES by our own Jennifer Colgan. Aren’t you just dying to know what has the coachman spooked?

“Everything changed the night I saw the burning man fall from the sky.”

From FALLING UNDER by Gwen Hayes (I’ll be reviewing this YA novel in March here on Killer Chicks!) I know that my curiosity was instantly piqued – who or what is a “burning man” who falls from the sky?

“I WISHED THEY’D FRIED HIS MURDERIN’ ASS,” declared the first man bitterly, breaking the silence that had become explosive in its intensity.

From HAVE YOU SEEN HER by Karen Rose. Who deserves to die and why?

Note that none of these begin with an info dump (or a description of the weather…sorry, I’ve got a thing about weather openings). All of these books successfully answer the questions raised by their first paragraphs, but they do so in an organic way that serves the story.

Now that I’ve told you the mistake many writers make, it’s time for me to confess what I do. I start too late. Every. Single. Time. I write a book.

Maybe it’s because I learned to write screenplays before novels, but I tend to jump into the action from word one. I always end up having to write a scene (okay, usually multiple scenes) that happen before the scene I “think” should start the book. For example, the scene I originally started my novel THE FIRST VICTIM (Carina Press, June 2011) with is now in the third chapter.

I just wrote a brand new opening for my current work-in-progress that takes place two chapters before the scene I originally believed was the beginning of my book. (See a pattern here?)

IMHO by the end of the all-important first chapter (or at the most, the first three chapters) a writer should introduce the major characters, reveal what your characters want and what’s stopping them from achieving that, and reveal the time and location the story is taking place.

(I’ve posted the ROUGH draft of the (current) first few pages of my WIP on my blog. Let me know whether you think I addressed my own criteria!)

Now you tell me:

As a writer, do you tend to start your books too early, too late, or are you a freakin Goldilocks?

As a reader, do you like books that start with action or do you prefer receiving a weather report to ease you into reading a novel?

Have you ever been put off by a first chapter, but then surprised to find you liked the rest of the book? (I felt this way about A TIME TO KILL which I read before THE FIRM was released. I often wonder if I'd have felt differently if I'd read them in the opposite order since I would have had more faith in the author.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

On Not Remembering How I Got Home

Did you ever drive home from work and not remember the trip? Walk into a room and have no idea what you’re doing there? Carry on full conversations with yourself (and others) without anyone else around, which may or may not include actual muttering?

Man, I hope I’m not the only one.

I’m in the process of revising bits and pieces of a manuscript I haven’t worked on in quite awhile. The ideas are endless and my inner pen monkey won’t stop doing somersaults and flinging…ideas…while I’m trying to carry on with life. You know, work and stuff.

He’s eating my brain, this pen monkey, eating my brain and flicking bits of it back to me in the form of themes and metaphors and symmetry and conflict and dilemma and pacing and plotting and characterization and setting. Who has time for this large-scale thinking, this out-of-body existence?

I’m not even sure if I’m writing this post. I think it might actually be him, the pen monkey. Symmetry? Themes? Metaphors? Pleh. Definitely the pen monkey.

Of course I’ll keep putting one scatterbrained, half-here foot in front of the other until the thing is finished. I know that, but how long will it be before I look up again and realize a month, two, three have slipped by while my brain picks out the good, the bad, and the just plain WTF?

Glad I got to poke my head up for a moment and chat with you, Killer Friends. Any hijinks your own inner pen monkey’s been up to of late? How do you deal with the “Not Rememberings”?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Trending Now: Zombies

Is it just me, or is it about time for the media's fascination with zombies to come to an end?

I have to admit, for about five minutes when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out, I was intrigued. Then I got over it.

With a nod to my fellow KC bloggers, I like a good thriller as much as the next person. I'm fascinated by the macabre – I personally think there's nothing cooler than the discovery of bones, I long to take walks through cemeteries, and I think there's something inherently spine tingling about the term 'crime scene' – but you can keep the flesh eating walking dead. Thanks. Really.

Recently on my own blog I mentioned how my son was concerned that in the event of a zombie apocalypse I might not allow him to use a weapon to kill zombies. I assured him that in such an event, I would have no problem with him hefting an uzi if need be, even though our one hard and fast rule during his early childhood was 'absolutely no guns of any kind' [toy guns that is – just to clarify]. I suppose I should blame my husband for the kid's preoccupation with zombies. He did, after all, buy both books – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse [you know, just in case].

Maybe it's just me, but the whole zombie thing takes the macabre to a level that's just a bit beyond entertaining to me. Yeah, it's fun to be scared by the slow-moving, shuffling undead who stumble around with their arms outstretched moaning for brains…but the modern zombie moves a little faster and seems to have much sharper teeth. And he's apparently got an army of friends, not just a small mob.

Are you a zombie fan? Do you think they're deserving of being the latest craze, like vampires used to be, or would you, like me, rather see them go back to the grave where they belong and stay there?

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Does a Writer Have Control Over?

Last week on my personal blog I wrote about one’s “locus of control” (basically how much an individual believes he/he is control of the events that affect him/her) and I’ve been thinking a lot about that question in regard to one’s writing career.

I ask a lot of questions in this post (that I don’t pretend to know the answers to) and I hope you’ll share your thoughts.


Some writers believe that they are just instruments of a higher power and that the stories they come up with, and the words they string together, are being channeled through them.
Other writers believe that every carefully crafted phrase is a product of nothing more than their own vivid imaginations.

Which camp do you fall in?


Yes, you can (and should!) write a killer query or cover letter. And yes, you can study the markets and target the agents or editors (and stalk them via twitter, and their blog, and any other social networking site you can think of) but very few writers send out their query or manuscript to their one dream agent and get an offer of representation.

Is the process of finding an advocate for their work under a writer’s control?

Once your brilliant agent (because hey, they’ve got to be brilliant if they chose to rep you, right?) submits your manuscript, editors have to decide whether to take a chance on you…but maybe Ms. Editor just had a tooth pulled/barely survived a run-in with an evil ex/wrecked her car/broke her lucky coffee mug…or maybe she JUST bought a book like yours (and here you were thinking your idea was unique)or maybe she’s under strict orders to stay away from your subject matter (because you know the market is currently glutted with Killer Garden Gnomes).

If a book goes out on submission and no one wants it, is that under a writer’s control?


Once the stars have aligned, more things a writer doesn’t have much control over come into play…cover art, reviews, advertising dollars, store placement….the list goes on and on.


I bet you’re thinking I’m going to say “not much”. And you’d be right. AND wrong. Because here’s what I think:

Sure there’s a lot of things that aren’t under our control (and yes, they can feel unfair) but the most important parts of being a writer fall squarely in our dominion. We can write the best books we possibly can and tell the stories that hold our interest and speak to our inner-reader. We can study our craft and polish our prose. We can educate ourselves about the market and make a concentrated effort to position ourselves in the best possible place.

Perhaps most importantly, we can measure our success by the steps we take TOWARD our goal, not by an elusive end result that we may never achieve.

What do YOU think?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Does Your Playlist Tell Your Story?

I have discovered the wonder of playlists, my friends!! I don’t mean the technology (please, I’ve been an avid iTunes fan for ages, though I know it’s unpopular to say so). I mean using playlists to set the tone for writing.

It began with Beth Orton’s It’s Not the Spotlight and Jeff Black’s Hollow Of Your Hand. Those two songs fueled an entire novel. I am picking up that novel now for a second (third/fourth/nineteenth) round of edits and I’ve expanded the playlist considerably. Without telling you which of my novels I’m working on, let’s see if you can guess what my manuscript is about based on these titles:
  • Storm; Hanging By A Moment (Lifehouse)
  • The Weary Kind (Ryan Bingham)
  • The Moment Slipped Away (Christine Lavin)
  • Bed of Roses Soundtrack (instrumental)
  • White Flag (Dido)
  • Whiskey Lullaby (Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley)
  • The Lighthouse’s Tale (Nickel Creek)
  • I Will Follow You Into The Dark (Death Cab For Cutie)
  • The Back Of Your Hand (Dwight Yoakam)
  • River Waltz (Cowboy Junkies)
  • Blowin’ In The Wind (Bob Dylan)
  • Desperado (The Eagles)
  • Chariots Rise (Lizzie West)
  • Unchained Melody; Angel; Mary (Sarah McLachlan)
  • We’ll Meet Again (Johnny Cash)
  • Avenue of Hope (I am Kloot)
  • Kangaroo; Song to the Siren (This Mortal Coil)
  • Shark In The Water (V.V. Brown)
  • Hook Me Up Album (The Veronicas)
  • Bring Me Sunshine (Willie Nelson)
  • Us (Regina Spector)
  • Fairytale of New York (The Pogues)
  • Shattered (O.A.R.)
  • Awake My Soul; After The Storm (Mumford & Sons)
  • Halleluja (Jeff Buckley version)
  • Love Grows (Edison Lighthouse)
  • There Goes The Fear (Doves)
  • This Is The Life (Amy Macdonald)
So what do you think, friends? Does this playlist say Flying Monkeys in Paris or maybe Werewolves in Utah? Perhaps Flying Monkey Werewolves in New Jersey? Or does it just say I have pretty schizophrenic taste and you can’t hope to discern the crux of my novel?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What's a Nice Girl Doing in a Place like This?

The Killer Chicks are pleased to welcome guest blogger Liz Fichera!

Settings become characters in many of my short stories and novels. This post might explain why.

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, called Park Ridge. Unless you’re from Illinois, you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s a tiny dot in the grand scheme of things where people have funny accents. But like most places in the Midwestern United States, especially around big cities, I grew up in a world of brutal winters, spring tulips and lilacs, muggy summers, and alley cats as the closest thing to being “wild animals.” Never in a million years did I ever imagine that I’d move 2000 miles west of Chicago to the middle of the American Southwestern desert much less write books about it. But I did. Never say never, right?

Years ago, the first thing I remembered when I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, was seeing people walking around town in cowboy hats and cowboy boots—and not in an urban cowboy John Travolta sort of way. I’m talking real cowboys. Who worked on real ranches. And rode real horses. And liked rodeos. Everyone drove a dusty old pick-up truck with a gun-rack on the back. The second thing that stuck out for this city girl was the Indian reservations. Phoenix is surrounded by the rich cultures of the Pima and Gila Indian tribes. The reservations are vast stretches of beautiful open desert dotted with saguaros and tumbleweeds. Sometimes when I looked across them, I thought that’s what Mars must look like. At night, we’d hear coyotes howling in the distance from our opened windows. Seriously, the howling took some getting used to. And then after it rained, which wasn’t often, I’d smell the sweet, earthy fragrance from the mesquite. I wish that I could bottle it and share that with you. At night, I’d see so many stars that I wondered whether there was room for them all. Finally, there were gorgeous sunrises and sunsets as the proverbial icing on the cake. I’d never seen colors so brilliant—vibrant ribbons of reds, oranges, and purples that stretched across a larger-than-life sky. Skies like were simply nonexistent in Chicago.

Interestingly, during my first two years of exile in the Sonoran Desert, I always thought that I’d return to Chicago. Who lives in the desert?! I never planned on forever. But life got in the way, and here I still live. Now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. That’s probably why I love it as the setting for most of my novels and short stories.

The desert is as much a character in my novels as the human ones on two legs having adventures and causing chaos. The landscape is so raw, so in-your-face, and yet so unbelievably magnificent in its starkness. The desert is like the liver pâté of settings: You either love it or hate it.

It’s also very much a character in my historical novel CAPTIVE SPIRIT. In the story, it’s important for the reader see the jagged mountains that surround Phoenix, feel the intensity of the sky, and smell the cactus blossoms after a monsoon. It’s not a place for wimps. You don’t survive halfway in the desert; you must meet it with open arms or it will kill you.

CAPTIVE SPIRIT is set at the dawn of the sixteenth century. While Phoenix today is a bustling sprawling city, the surrounding desert is largely untouched. When you look in any direction at the edges of the city, there are still saguaros, tumbleweeds, and desert animals as far as the eye can see. I like knowing that when I look at the desert, it looks like what my characters must have seen more than 500 years ago.

While I return often to Chicago to visit family and friends when I’m craving a city-fix and massive quantities of deep-dish pizza, the desert owns my heart, hook, line, and sinker.

About Liz:

Liz is an author from the American Southwest by way of Chicago. She likes to write stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things, oftentimes against the backdrop of Native American legends. Her historical romance debut CAPTIVE SPIRIT was published by Carina Press in 2010. Carina Press will publish her next novel, a contemporary romance, in July of 2011. Come visit her blog or web site . Virtual chocolate served daily.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Nature of Work

Here’s something that’s been plaguing me for a while now and I’m desperate to get someone else’s opinion on it.

How do you define ‘work’?

I ask because being a writer/editor and working at home as well as having a public job and working in an office, I’m always trying to figure out how many hours a week I ‘work’. I tell everyone I work part time at this, part time at that – but all those hours add up to full time when you really think about it. Despite that, though, I’m still considered a part time worker…and yes, there are even people who assume I don’t work at all because my hours are flexible and I’m at home a lot.

So what really is ‘work’? Is work only something you’re compensated for? If so, then is there such a thing as ‘volunteer work’? Is work only what you do because you have to – the things that are necessary – so mowing the lawn is work, but polishing the silverware isn’t because it’s not really necessary? Food shopping is work, but ironing the bed sheets isn’t? [I don’t iron bed sheets, but some people do.]

Is work only something that benefits someone else besides yourself? So washing your own clothes isn’t work, or fixing your own lunch? Or is work something you do that you don’t enjoy? Once you start to like your job, it’s not really work anymore, right?

Once I develop a ‘working’ definition of ‘work’ I think I’ll be much more content because I’ll be able to figure out when it’s okay to say ‘I’m working’ [even if I’m staring at a blank computer screen]. I’ll also be able to say ‘Ye gads, I haven’t had a day off in three months!’ and no one will be able to say ‘But you were home all day yesterday, doesn’t that count?’

Not if I fixed my own lunch and ironed the bed sheets, it doesn’t.

Monday, February 14, 2011

V Day Love

For Valentine’s Day I thought about talking about great love stories, or books we love, or heroes we love, or villains we love to hate, but what I’d really like to talk about with you, our Killer Friends, is why we love to write (despite the fact our Muse may be a fickle paramour).

Here’s my Top 10 list. I hope you’ll share some of your reasons too!

10 Reasons (in no particular order) I love to write:

1) I could easily become addicted to the feeling of being in “flow”. I NEVER experience “runner’s high” but I’m thinking it’s got to be pretty similar to this feeling.

2) It’s incredibly energizing (when it’s going well)

3) I get to escape and explore

4) Figuring out things I’ve struggled with makes me feel like a freaking genius (I usually feel like an idiot in real life)

5) It’s cathartic

6) It’s the only place where I have absolute control (Perhaps I was a diety in another life and I miss that power?)

7) I’m never bored when I’m alone with my characters. (I’m often bored when I’m with real people.)

8) It’s fun! (again when it’s going well…when it’s not, the old Dorothy Parker saying applies, “I hate writing, but I love having written.”)

9) It keeps me entertained.

10) Okay, I’ll say it. Sometimes it feels good to get the chance to kill someone.

Okay, Killer Friends, why do YOU love to write? And a bonus question: What book do you love, love, love above all others?

In the name of spreading the love, we’ve got Liz Fichera guest posting on Thursday about, “WHAT’S A NICE GIRL DOING IN A PLACE LIKE THIS?” Don’t miss it!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ten Ways to Know You’ve Been Hijacked By Your WIP

1. Running out of fresh post-it notes drops you to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

2. When you holler at your kid/cat/dog/parakeet, you exchange their name for one of your character’s (and don’t notice).

3. Showering is optional, but coffee isn’t.

4. Eating regular meals is optional, but chocolate isn’t.

5. Sunshine? Fresh air? Real people? Nothing but distractions that pull you off-course.

6. Time is no longer measured by the ticking of a clock or the turning of a calendar page, but by whether or not you met your word count goals for the week.

7. You smell something stale. You promptly forget and go back to your wip. Later, after you’ve resolved that important plot point or character issue, you smell it again. When you finally look around, you notice the sweatshirt you’re wearing looks a lot like the one you had on three days ago. It is. Also, you might consider changing your socks.

8. Irritation becomes a natural response when someone (see #2 for a list of common offenders) attempts to interrupt while you’re in the midst of daydreaming research.

9. You run through lists of synonyms in your head while having a “conversation” with a coworker or family member.

10. Not even crippling neck, hand, and shoulder pain is enough to make you step away from the keyboard.

If you recognize any of these, you may already be experiencing WIP Hijack Syndrome, and if you have other symptoms you'd like to share with the rest of us, please join us in the comments. Knowledge is power, my friends.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Battling addiction

I must confess. I can’t stop.

I’ve tried, really, but no matter what I tell myself about how counterproductive it is, how obsessive, I still find myself checking my stats at Novel Rank several times a day.

I used to have a modicum of self control. I avoided networking sites like the plague and only rarely Googled myself. After all, Googling oneself sounds naughty and I didn’t like admitting that I did it now and then. I was brave. I was strong.

Then someone mentioned Novel Rank on one of the writers’ groups I belong to. I could have ignored just a mention of it. Back then I had willpower. But they insidiously included a link as well. I was doomed.

I visited the site and I got hooked. Before I knew it I was linking to all my novels and discovering the joy of knowing the exact moment when someone bought one of my books! Twenty-two minutes ago…an hour…three hours?? How can I live now without knowing how my current month sales are already stacking up to my previous month sales? How, I ask you??

I was first published in 2005 – and for five years I somehow managed to get by with not knowing what my sales numbers were until I received a royalty statement. It worked fine, so I thought. I was unencumbered. Now, that’s all changed. I wish I could say I could quit any time I want to, but I don’t think I can. It’s just too satisfying to see those numbers and watch that orange line spiking all over the graph.

Help me?

Or join me. Bwahaha! Do you obsessively check your sales on Novel Rank or anywhere else? Should we form a support group?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Random Idea Generator

First, let me explain that I’m a squiggle.

Many years ago, some of us sat around and took one of those silly personality tests, which basically asked what shape we most identified with: a square, a circle, a triangle, a rectangle, an oval or a squiggle.

I am a squiggle.

Which is probably why my process for coming up with ideas usually goes something like this:

I need a topic to blog about.

Luck. I should blog about people that are lucky and people who are not.

I’ll call it, DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK…y…..Punky Brewster. Whatever happened to her?

Wasn’t her brother on that show VOYAGERS with Jon Erik Hexum.

He wasn’t lucky. He accidentally shot himself in the head with a prop gun.

I remember Mom woke me up with that news. Why the hell did she do that?

She’s lucky. That’s why she likes bingo so much. She’s lucky and she wins all the time.

I hate bingo. Maybe I wouldn’t hate it so much if I was lucky. No, I’m pretty sure I’d still hate it….hmmmm….maybe I should write a book about how the national….no wait, INTERNATIONAL bingo tournament is fixed. Somebody weights the balls that correspond to the numbers on the cards they have.

I mean some of those old ladies can be pretty competitive, and they’ve got all those stupid traditions, like yelling bizarre phrases out when certain numbers are called, and ringing bells, and all that other idiotic stuff that drives me nuts.

Yeah, I’d definitely hate bingo even if I was lucky.

Still…you could probably make a pretty decent series out of it: Bodies at Bingo, Killer Canasta, Mahjong is Murder featuring an old lady…or wait, even better, a young woman pretending to be an old lady, so that she can live in one of those 55+ communities…yeah, that’s better…a young woman who’s an amateur sleuth.

((SIGH)) I bet writing something like that would require research. I really hate bingo.

Maybe instead of writing an entire book about it, I’ll just send Maggie on a date from hell…at a bingo hall. That would be perfect since she’d hate it too.

Note to self: Make a “bingo” note in Maggie’s idea file.

Now tell me, how do YOU come up with your ideas?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Self-publishing – from stigma to sensation

Okay, I admit, that title is a bit over the top. But it’s tough to come up with a catchy title for a blog post. Really.

Regardless of my trials and tribulations with titles, let’s talk about self-publishing. I know when I first started thinking about actually submitting my work to publishers one of the major DON’Ts I came across was ‘SELF PUBLISH’ – the list of reasons to avoid putting your own books out there all by yourself was huge.

No one will take your work seriously – came in head and shoulders above everything else. The realm of self-publishing was for people who just couldn’t hack it anywhere else.

Then, overnight it seems, everything changed. It’s only within the last few months that I’ve noticed an explosion of self-publishing and discovered tons of previously published and some never before published authors taking the leap to put their ‘out-of-print’ or sometimes brand new works out their on their own. offers a self-publishing platform, as does Smashwords and authors from all levels of the industry are taking advantage of the opportunity to earn a higher percentage of royalties and have complete control over their books.  

I tend to think it’s a revolution in publishing. Things are going to evolve in the industry at break-neck speed, and being someone who fancies myself not just a turtle, but a snail riding on the turtle’s back yelling “For Heaven’s Sake, slow down!” I don’t really know if I’m ready for the revolution or not.

Because I am somewhat of a glutton for punishment though, I decided to put on my non-skid Nikes and fasten my seat belt. Over the past couple of weeks I did my research, reformatted a novel of mine for which I’d received my rights back from the original publisher, bought a nice, shiny new piece of cover art and jumped in over at Smashwords to test the waters.

Considering this is only the beginning of my self-publishing experiment, I can’t say for sure if it’s a success, but I will say it was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be and so far I’m happy with the results.

What do you think of self-publishing in general? Is it the future of publishing? Or is it a trend that will fade away as quickly as it flared? Have you tried it? Would you? I’d love to hear your opinions and experiences and I’ll be back later to let you know how my experiments pan out.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Our Winner of The Paris Secret by Angela Henry

Congrats to: The Giveaway Diva!

Angela will be sending out your prize.

A very special thank you to Angela Henry for being a Killer Friend!

Here's hoping THE PARIS SECRET is a bestseller!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

When Writer's Block is a Cat

It’s funny how the desire to write is indirectly proportional to the amount of time a writer actually has to sit at the keyboard.

I remember years ago, being a new mom who had just made a deal with my husband for one hour [ONE HOUR!] a week to write while he kept my 18-month daughter busy. It was a hard decision to make – to sit holed up in the computer room [which was also her bedroom at the time] and try to concentrate on a story while I heard her little voice outside the door asking, “Mama? Maaamaa!”

I would have given anything for a whole day alone with my computer, or even with a spiral notebook, but diaper duty [hubby had a problem with poo] and maternal guilt meant I had to steal 45 minutes here and there [I never actually made it through the whole hour.]

Years later when my son was born and my husband got better at dealing with tantrums and messes and finding lost toys, I was even more desperate for time to write, but then with two kids under the age of four, I was exhausted 24/7. Writing was a distant dream.

Fast forward to now. My kids are teenagers. [Feel sorry for me.] They’re in school all day long and when they’re not in school they’re doing homework, playing videogames, talking on the phone to their friends and, unless it’s mealtime, ignoring me. It should be a writer-mom’s heaven. With whole days from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm alone with my laptop and a chicken salad sandwich, you’d think I’d be grinding out novels like nobody’s business.

Unfortunately, with all this time on my hands now, it’s a LOT harder to get work done. Why? Well…there are just too many distractions. There’s that annoying piece of lint on the carpet that requires I haul out the vacuum cleaner before I can concentrate. Then the mailman saunters around the cul-de-sac and I have to debate whether or not to jump up as soon as he puts the mail in the box, or wait for him to get to the neighbor’s house so I don’t appear too anxious to pick up my catalogs and junk mail. There’s the Internet…silently beckoning me – come surf, come surf! There are those four-day old bananas in the kitchen that I should be turning into muffins, and I could always get a head start on dinner by marinating some London Broil.

Then there are the cats. Usually before I’ve typed my first full sentence of the day, there’s a cat on my keyboard. There’s nothing cuter than kitten face staring up at you with big green eyes and that contented little purr. I’m a goner. It almost makes me wish for those days of writing furiously in 45 minutes intervals, knowing that any minute there would be a quiet knock on the door and my husband would say, “I really hate to bother you but…”
I suppose it was fear that chased away writer’s block. Being afraid of not having time to finish my next thought made me savor the moment and strive to get the words out in a rush while I could.

Now there’s no fear. There’s always tomorrow and whatever I don’t get done, I can blame on the cat.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

So you think you want to co-author a novel

We're pleased to welcome Lindsay N. Currie as our guest blogger today. We could introduce her, but she does a great job of that herself in her About Me section of her blog Tiptoe Kisses (which you really should check out). So here in her own words, is Lindsay N. Currie:

"I love young adult literature. I love reading it and even more, I love writing it. The teenage years somehow manage to walk the fence between dark and hopeful; the raw emotions and dizzying first romances take your breath away just as they did when you experienced them for yourself. Mother of three amazing kids, wife to an eternally patient hubby. . .life as a Chi-town scribbler is pretty good."

I’d like to thank the ladies of Killer Chicks for inviting me to do a guest blog on their fabulous site today. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to shed some light on the inner workings of co-authoring – a topic I’m especially fond of chatting about. Currently, I am co-authoring two very different types of YA books with two amazing writers. Given that these books are still being written, I will focus on the mechanics of writing partnerships and how a novel develops when there are two minds at work, instead of one.

So, what is co-authoring?

Recently, I’ve gotten a lot of questions like this, mostly surrounding the actual writing process. How do you decide who writes what? Is it difficult to keep the voice consistent throughout? Do you ever want to toss your laptop out the window and strangle your writing partner? The reality of co-authoring is that it isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of factors that play into whether or not a writing partnership will be successful or not. For me, choosing to co-author is about sharing a vision with another writer.

Why would I want to put my writing out there for someone else to rip up?

Believing fully that my writing partner’s creative talent will enhance whatever I do and vice versa is a big part of my answer to this. It’s not an easy process and involves giving up some control over a project. The key is partnering with the right person, a person who you trust with your ideas and whom you respect. Both writers must be able to check their egos at the door and not panic, fall apart or become defensive when they see a chunk of their writing tampered with. After all, co-authoring is about the end product and the joy of getting there together, not about individual word count or recognition.

Okay, makes sense. But, how does it actually work?

Ah, this is where things would probably vary depending on who you ask. There are a lot of co-authoring partnerships in which one writer pens a full book, using the other writer as a sounding board and editor. They would then switch roles for the next book. This is not how my partnerships work. We approach each project as a tag team, switching on and off to write scenes and chapters as it feels natural. Typically, my first step is to have a discussion with my co-author about the upcoming scene. What is the goal of it, what absolutely needs to be included and who is most comfortable writing it? Sometimes, it boils down to something as simple as who is available to write that day. With multiple children between us, sometimes sitting down to write for two hours is easier said than done! Other times, the scene very obviously lends itself to one of our individual talents. From this perspective, choosing whether or not to write with someone should not be based solely on personal taste, but also whether or not that person’s strengths compliment your weaknesses. Utilizing your writing partner’s strengths can only help your fledgling MS develop into a more complete version of itself.

Once the scene has been written, the red pen comes out. The term “redlining” is one that we use to describe the nifty “track changes” feature on MS Word. That feature allows one writer to edit the other’s work, delete and change without losing the original content. This is where the real beauty of co-authoring comes in. Being able to take a step back from what you just wrote and look at it from your co-author’s angle, see their proposed changes and how our combined voices make the scene more complete is truly amazing. As long as you respect each other’s writing and keep the common goal in mind, there’s no computer smashing or strangling necessary.

Last but not least, we polish the copy and send to respective beta testers. My co-authors and I use different beta testers for solo projects. These people are accustomed to our individual writing styles; therefore sending them a co-authored book is an excellent way to be certain that there are no shifts in voice or style.

Great! Cool idea, maybe I’ll go out and find a writing partner!

Choosing to write with a partner is a big decision and one that has the potential to completely change the way you write – even when you are writing solo. It has not only provided me camaraderie in a somewhat isolated process, but also has helped me develop a thicker skin. Here are some questions to ask before you jump into a co-authoring relationship, no matter how fantastic it sounds:

1. Does this writer have a similar vision for the book/series as I do? Will we clash over basic themes, concepts in the book and if so, will he/she respect my opinions?
2. Do our writing styles mesh well? Will there be any noticeable voice shifts or changes in style or are we capable of blending seamlessly?
3. Am I comfortable enough with this person to take risks with my own writing, put ideas out there that may or may not work without the fear of being embarrassed or dismissed?
4. Is my potential writing partner ready to relinquish the sole ownership/control of a WIP enough to move forward?

Thanks again for allowing me to be a part of your blog today ladies, its been my pleasure and I wish you all the best in your writing expeditions!

Lindsay is running a READ, WRITE, LOVE blog contest (with an awesome prize -- a novel, journals, AND candy -- oh my!) be sure to hop on over there and enter!