Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Naming Names

One of the hardest things about starting a new story for me is naming my characters. I have a small selection of names I love, and unfortunately, I’ve used them all – so now I’m at the point where figuring out what to name my characters is major operation.
Naming my kids was easier.
I will confess, I tend to squander unusual names on secondary characters, often thinking they won’t ever have to be in the spotlight as the stars of their own books, so it’s okay. Those characters, unfortunately, tend to be the more memorable ones who really NEED their own books. Case in point, my devious witch from UNCROSS MY HEART, Hester Oaks.
I picked the name Hester precisely because it seemed so incongruous. Ms. Oaks is a gorgeous, red-headed witch with a lingering torch for the hero, Julian Devlin.  She’s sophisticated in a paranormal way and sparks more than a little bit of jealousy in the heroine.
Of course, ever since I created Hester, she’s been pestering me for a book of her own, and I admit, I never would have chosen the name Hester for a heroine.
In my current WIP, my hero has a partner named Ruben, “Ruby” for short.  The name Ruben always conjures up images of the manager guy from The Partridge Family, not a tall, dark and daringly handsome secret agent type. Nevertheless, Ruby is taking over my story, and he’s asking to be the star of his own show one day.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain about names. An unusual one will stick in readers’ minds and hopefully intrigue them enough to want to read more in a future book, but I can’t help but always feel like I’m saddling some poor character with a little bit of baggage when I give them an odd name. Granted, not every hero can be Jack or Max [two of my personal favorites] and not every heroine can be called Kate [every time I start a new story, the heroine is invariable Kate before I crack open my name books and start brainstorming] and this was even before Prince William got engaged.
What are your favorite character names? Have you used any unusual ones that you’re glad you did, or that you wish you hadn’t?
Here are some of my more memorable choices:
Calliope [heroine, The Matchmakers]
Khanu [hero, The Concubine’s Tale]
Tige [hero, Ken’ja by Bernadette Gardner]
Kash [hero, Hunter’s Mate by Bernadetter Gardner]
Rihana [heroine, Slither by Bernadette Gardner]

Monday, March 28, 2011

Indirect Victims

After reading the piece FREEDOM IS TOO GOOD FOR HINCKLEY by Patti Davis in TIME magazine, I’ve been thinking a lot about victims.

Among other points Ms. Davis makes, is her assertion that there were other victims affected by the assassination attempt on her father, President Ronald Reagan, other than the four men who were shot (Reagan, White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy, and District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delahanty) namely their loved ones.

For the sake of this post, I’m going to call these poor people the “collateral damage victims” (CDVs) those who have suffered even though they’re not the person a crime was committed against. I’d like to explore the role they play in fiction, because let’s face it, many times a primary victim (the kind whose name would end up on a police report) shows up as a dead body and is never seen again.

A CDV can serve many purposes in a novel.

They can flesh out the primary victim. If an investigator asks three people about the victim, he/she may get three very different impressions. Dear Old Dad may say that his son could do no wrong, Little Brother Who Has Never Been Quite Good Enough might reveal that his sibling had a gambling problem, and a secretary might let slip that her boss was terrified of heights. (Hey, if the guy supposedly died while rock climbing, that info might be important!)

A CDV can be a complication. A grieving cop who found his sister’s body after she overdosed may not give a drug dealer the benefit of the doubt when he professes his innocence in the hit-and-run death of a neighborhood kid, which might let the real killer go free.

A CDV often sets an investigation in motion. “You have to prove that my lover was the victim in all this!” or “I’m hiring you to find out who killed my beloved nephew.”

Let’s not forget that a CDV can be the protagonist (a parent avenging a child’s death, someone searching for their kidnapped lover, someone caught up as an observer, etc).

Here are some of my favorite CDVs (as you’ll see they’re a pretty diverse group).
Make sure to tell me yours!

Hermione Grainger in J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER series (her friend is ALWAYS in trouble)

Jimmy Marcus in Dennis Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER (his daughter has been murdered)

Scout in Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (her father is fighting for a man’s life)

Television series seem to excel at CDV as protagonist/investigator. Off the top of my head I can think of at least three that are on the air right now.

Detective Kate Beckett of CASTLE (she became a cop because her mother was murdered)

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS (he became a NCIS agent after his wife and daughter were killed)

Thomas Jane of THE MENTALIST (became a police consultant after his wife and daughter were murdered) For the record, Thomas Jane is my favorite kind of CDV a “regular” person (the man runs away every time things turn violent) obsessed with justice.

Do you think Collateral Damage Victims are important? Who are some of your favorites??

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Goodbye And Some Magic Mushrooms

I think this whole writing gig is a lot like the first time you take mushrooms. Or at least what I imagine taking mushrooms is like. (Note: this analogy is not from personal experience; I have never done shrooms, nor will I ever do shrooms. I’m not THAT committed to my analogies.)

The first time you experience the Magic Mushroom, I imagine it’s pretty groovy. Riding the roller coaster in Neverland with your long-dead Aunt Paula in the seat next to you as she chatters on about all the friends she’s made in the afterlife. Tiptoeing through daisies the size of oak trees. Sitting at the feet of Mark Twain as he reads from HUCKLEBERRY FINN (the original, not the new whitewashed version).

Neverland is awesome and you want to go to there. Again and again. You can’t get enough. Aunt Paula, she makes for a pretty decent dead relative and Mark Twain? Wicked smart.

But maybe the next time you swallow a few of your favorite fungi it takes a little longer to see Aunt Paula. Maybe this time she only pops in to remind you that yellow really isn’t your color and that you should be eating more veggies (besides, you know, shrooms).

Pretty soon you’re up to eating a baggy-sized share of your favorite fungi and Aunt Paula is not only riding the roller coaster without you, she’s flipping you off every time she comes into view. You’re standing on the sidelines, wishing you could get back in that car, feel that thrill again, when you overhear Twain start whitewashing his own damn story. The groove is gone. You’ve eaten too many shrooms and now you’ve burned out Neverland. Or worse? You don't even make it there anymore.

What to do?

Well, if you’re a shroom connoisseur, you have to let a few days pass by (fungi-free) before your tolerance levels go back to normal.

And if you’re a writer, you gotta take breaks. Stop spreading yourself too thin, stop spending too much time in one sitting reading your own words, and stop beating yourself up for not being able to do it all.

I thought I could do it all – work full-time, teach on the side, write for hours each evening and all weekend, blog on two different sites. And for awhile, I did.

But, man, when Aunt Paula starts flipping you off from the roller coaster and Twain’s reading monkey-babble from one of the greatest works of American Literature, I guess that means it’s time to lay off the shrooms for awhile. Or quit blogging. Whichever makes better sense.

It’s time to find the thrill of Neverland again and leave the burnout behind. It’s been a pleasure being a part of Killer Chicks and I wish JB and Jennifer all the luck in the world as they continue on.

Thanks for a great ride, Killer Friends! See you in the comments!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Writing for Two Publishers

We're excited to have romantic suspense author Jill Sorenson as our guest blogger today!

Hello Killer Chicks! Thanks so much for having me.

I didn’t have a plan when I first started writing. I had no idea which publisher to target. I’d completed three novels before I understood the difference between category romance (short books published by Harlequin) and single-title romance (full-length novels). The rejections were piling up. I finally attended a writing conference, where I met an agent. My focus shifted from writing in the dark to learning more about the publishing business. I decided to try to follow the footsteps of my favorite author, Sandra Brown. She began her career in category romance and moved on to single-title romantic suspense.

So I wrote a short contemporary romance about a sexy hotel heiress and a hot young architect. It got rejected.

The agent I was exchanging emails with liked one of my earlier submissions, a single-title romantic suspense (ST/RS) with a surfer hero. Although she didn’t offer to represent me, she thought I had promise. At her urging, I wrote another ST/RS, Dangerous to Touch. She signed me after reading it and we got a nibble from Harlequin very quickly. They wanted to publish my story under the Silhouette Romantic Suspense line. I cut 30k words from the original version and never looked back.

Harlequin asked for another book, which I wrote and delivered. It got rejected.

That same week, my entire town was evacuated because of the San Diego Fires. When I came home I had a new publishing offer. An editor at Bantam Dell loved my surfer hero! Suddenly I had a two-book contract for single-titles. I added 30k to the manuscript Harlequin rejected and submitted it to my new editor, who thought it was great. Crash Into Me and Set the Dark on Fire were published in 2009. Both appeared as “Red-Hot Reads” in Cosmopolitan Magazine.

You think I’m done getting rejected, right? Wrong.

The next book I submitted to Bantam Dell bombed. They say that your first rejection is the worst, but that hasn’t been true for me. Each one gets harder. After almost a year of struggling with that project, I set it aside and started something new. The Edge of Night was born. It didn’t get rejected. Yay!

I went back to the Epic Fail manuscript with a fresh outlook. My editor was right; the subplots didn’t work and the whole thing felt disjointed. But the main romance was still strong, so I cut every scene that wasn’t in the hero or heroine’s POV. What I ended up with wasn’t a failure at all. My Harlequin editor loved the story. RT Magazine called Stranded With Her Ex “one of the best books of the year.”

Okay, so there you have it. The reason I write for two publishers: rejection. I’ve made it work for me.

If you’re wondering about the differences between writing for category and writing for single-title, there aren’t as many as you might think. My Bantam Dell books are longer, of course (90-100k vs. 50-60k). I can use the f-word as much as I want in ST. I have more space for subplots and fully-realized secondary characters. The storylines are a little edgier, and the sex scenes are a bit more graphic.

I write gritty, sexy romantic suspense for both publishers. My characters tend to be flawed and realistic, not larger-than-life superheroes or perfect fantasy figures. Some say that Harlequin is more traditional, but I have a great editor with modern sensibilities there. I get quality feedback at both houses, with thorough comments and painstaking copyedits. I also do a lot of my own advertising and promotion, which is typical for new authors at any publisher.

Please let me know if you have questions! I’m an open book. 

Leave a comment if you’d like to be entered to win a copy of Stranded With Her Ex.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The curse of the fluffy subplot

On several occasions recently, I’ve heard both agents and editors admonish authors to ‘cut the fluff’ from their stories. Writers are told to make their scenes tight, pertinent and lightning paced.

I couldn’t agree more. Life is short, and to be honest, the older I get, the faster I want to approach the meat of a story. [Not necessarily the man-meat mind you, I’m not advocating first chapter sex...unless of course the story really calls for it]. I’m talking about the stuff that makes the story really interesting. In romance, in my opinion, the interesting stuff is mostly what happens between the hero and heroine.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love secondary characters and I enjoy populating my worlds with interesting people who mostly all qualify for their own books at some point, but in any given story, I want to stick mostly with the main characters. The plot should revolve around them and the subplot, unless it’s really fascinating, should be kept to a minimum.

Because let’s face it, who has time for a fluffy subplot?

I ask this question because I just put down a well-reviewed novel by a USA Today bestselling author. I stopped reading at page 50 when the heroine’s father is contemplating his favorite soft drink. I just couldn’t read any further. Sorry.

Now, I have no idea if the heroine’s father becomes extraordinarily important to the plot after page 50, or if his choice of soft drink is somehow pivotal to the denouement of the book, but even if it is, I still have to pass. I’ve heard it said too many times to ‘cut the fluff’ and to ‘make each scene count’ to believe that even a single sentence about a secondary character’s soft drink preference is anything more than filler – especially if it comes at a point where the hero and heroine have exchanged less than three sentences.

At a time when everything is fast and people have shorter attention spans thanks to video games and sound bytes and microwave ovens, I’ve often been a proponent of slowing down and smelling the roses, but there can definitely be too much dallying in a book made long by the inclusion of a dragging subplot.

Let’s cut to the chase, move the plot along and save the soft drinks for after the book is done.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kick-Ass Heroines - Guest post and Giveaway from Misty Evans

Our Kick-Ass Heroines are Our Strength by Misty Evans

March is Women's History month. Everybody thinks about Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Rosa Parks, and other prominent women in history. I think about those incredible gals, too, but as a writer, I also think about female characters who've changed how women think and act. Fictional characters who seem real and always inspire me.

A few characters who've stories I've read over and over: Jane Eyre, Scout Finch (from To Kill A Mockingbird), Alice (of Wonderland fame), and Dorothy (Wizard of Oz). These fictional women have even made it to the big screen and TV and inspired millions of us along the way.

When considering what to write for my guest post here at Killer Chicks, I picked out a few kick-ass women in film who I think fit the parameters of Women in History as well as Killer Chicks in their own right. Below are my top three finalists, each of whom inspired me when I was writing the women in my Super Agent Series.

1. Sarah Connor - Terminator series

The Terminator series encompasses books, films, TV and graphic novels and features battles between Skynet's artificial intelligence machine network and John Connor's resistance forces attempting to save the human race. The Terminator and the plot are fascinating stuff, but to me, Sarah Connor's character is my favorite element of the story. She's an amazing individual in the kick-ass woman category, but she's also an amazing character in terms of transformation and growth. She goes from this normal working girl to a finely-honed warrior heroine who nearly loses her humanity in an effort to protect her son, John.

In the second film, she momentarily morphs into the very thing she's fighting - a Terminator - but her love for John saves her before she goes over the line.

Sarah was the inspiration for my female spy Julia in Operation Sheba. The desire to stop a killer makes her leave her comfort zone and fight, and that, in turn, almost pushes her over the line into doing something she would regret later. In the end, though, she's able to stop the killer without breaking her moral code.

2. Ridley - Alien series

Alien is a 1979 science fiction film that spawned other media offshoots like Terminator, winning numerous awards for best science fiction film, best direction, best visual effects etc. Again, it's an excellent example of all those award-winning elements. It's also one of the best examples of women characters in film. Like Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley is not a helpless victim, but a woman on a mission. She's not afraid to take on Mama Alien even against terrible odds, and we see her humanity along with her guts.

Ridley was the inspiration for my female psychologist Bridget in Proof of Life. Bridget wants to protect her younger sister at all costs from their older, sadistic brother. She's a woman on a mission, and even though her brother is the leader of a terrorist organization, Bridget refuses to be intimidated or bullied by him.

3. Buffy - The Vampire Slayer series

The Buffy series also spun off into novels, graphic novels and video games but what it really did was give a whole new generation of girls an ego boost in the badass, kick-butt arena. Battling vampires is one thing. Battling (and surviving) high school is another. Buffy's all about friendship, too, which can be as important in my opinion then the lone wolf characters of Sarah and Ripley. Our friendships support us and give us strength in the worst of times whether we're staking vamps or falling in love with the wrong guy.

Zara in I'd Rather Be In Paris has some Buffy in her. While she's 100% girl, she goes head to head with every terrorist, mafia hitman, etc., I threw at her. No retreat. No surrender. She is one badass super agent even in the midst of certain death, but she also knows when she needs her friends and coworkers for support.

Now it's your turn. Authors, when you're writing a strong heroine, who gives you inspiration? Readers, who inspires you when you need a boost? I'll give away a copy of one of my Super Agent books (winner's choice) to one kick-ass commenter!

Best-selling author Misty Evans writes the award-winning Super Agent and Witches Anonymous series. She likes her coffee black, her conspiracy theories juicy and her wicked characters dressed in couture. When her muse lets her on the internet to play, she's on Facebook and Twitter. Read more about her stories and her latest Name the Witch contest at

Monday, March 21, 2011

Writers and Visualization

I’m doing a relay half-marathon in May (which means I only have to cover 6.5 miles instead of 13.1 woo hoo!) so last week I read a book about athletes using visualization to achieve their goals. The advice was stuff like, “imagine yourself running smoothly” and “visualize what it will be like to cross the finish line”.

Since I happen to think that long distance events and writing books are both tests of endurance, I started to think about applying the same visualization principles to writing.

While I spend a lot of time visualizing the progression of the novels I write, I don’t spend much time visualizing my writing success (maybe that’s one of my mistakes). I don’t imagine successful writing sessions, typing THE END, holding my published book in my hands, or talking to a book club.

What about you? Do you employ visualization techniques when it comes to your writing? If you do, what part of the process do you focus on the most? What tricks do you use to get you through the endurance test that is writing a book?

It’s a busy week here at Killer Chicks. Tomorrow we’ve got the marvelous Misty Evans here talking about Kick-Ass Heroines and Thursday romantic suspense author Jill Sorenson tells us how she came to write for multiple publishing houses. (And hey, one of these ladies will be offering a prize, so be sure to read their posts!)

On a personal note, I wanted to let you know that writing partners Patricia Burgess Leaver and Lindsay Nicole Currie have launched Hidden Truths.

Oh, and rumor has it that former Killer Chick Jennifer Hillier will be talking about her visit to prison this week.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Poser Syndrome With A Side Helping Of Ennui

When someone would say to me, “you’re smart” I would give them ten reasons why I’m not. When someone would say, “you don’t look as old as you are”, I would tell them, “well, thank you, but I feel a whole lot older.” And when someone would say, “your writing is beautiful”, I would tell them I have a long way to go before I’m even good.

Over time I’ve come to realize that a simple “thank you”, followed by the physical squeezing together of my lips, will keep me from throwing a compliment back in a giver’s face.

But sometimes the words slip out anyway, reminding me of what’s inside – the occasional lack of confidence, the disbelief in myself, the fear that I am a giant poser.

I think this is seriously exacerbated by social media. I am not a published author. I don’t know if I ever will be. And yet I blog about writing, about what inspires me, about finishing this draft or that.

I am not an authority on this stuff, this writing stuff. Yeah, I have an opinion, but so what? Everyone else does, too.

Sometimes I catch myself thinking, when I’m published, THEN I can speak with authority on this topic or that. I’ll have credibility and confidence and I’ll believe. Finally, I’ll believe.

It ain’t gonna happen. As the kids say, it’s not how I roll. My own opinion has never much mattered to me, so getting a book contract isn’t going to make a difference in that regard. Wherever I go, there I am…. 

Friends, this isn’t a rant. It’s a release. Next Friday (3/25) is my last post at Killer Chicks. Instead of struggling with this blogging gig, I’ve decided to spend my time where my heart is – in the stories I’m creating, in becoming a better novelist. I’ll still post over at my personal blog from time to time, but I’ve come to the conclusion that life’s too short, my energy’s too depleted, and in the nine months I’ve been blogging, I’ve said more than I ever thought I would.

I’ll say a proper goodbye next week and there will be no ennui involved – PROMISE!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Obsess with me

My newest hobby is worrying about the evolution of the publishing industry.
It’s all I think about.

With the self-publishing explosion, I can’t help but wonder exactly what’s going to happen to small presses, traditional NY publishers, brick and mortar book stores, mid-list authors, advances, royalties – all those things writers normally obsess about.

My opinions on the subject change hourly, but at the moment here are my predictions.

Small presses/aka e-publishers – I think the competition is going to get rough, not for authors to find space in the stables of e-presses, but for e-presses to lure authors into their stables. When so many authors now can create cover art for themselves, hire freelance editors, learn formatting in an afternoon, and have their books available at numerous e-book retailers overnight, e-publishers might begin to find it difficult to convince authors to hand over 60% or more of their earnings.

Traditional NY publishers – I think they may find their slush piles shrinking [which might not be a bad thing for them] as the pool of submitting authors diminishes. People who are tired of waiting six months to a year for a reply from a NY pub will be going the self-publishing route more quickly. Does this mean it will become easier to snag a NY contract as the competition lets up? Nope. I predict it will be harder – because the NY pubs will be competing with the gajillions of free books out there. They have to produce stuff that’s beyond phenomenal to entice readers to pay premium prices.

Brick and mortar book stores – well, we can already see what’s happening to them with the liquidation of hundreds of Borders stores. Barnes & Noble sells the Nook from their stores, which makes me question what a book store will even look like in the future. It might be just a place to pick up your e-reader and maybe connect to free Wifi so you can download books that are advertised in the store while sipping a latte at the cafe.

Mid-list authors – the average working author already has a rocky road ahead, but now the question is, should mid-list authors continue to work for smaller advances or jump ship and get into self-publishing where their profits could soar or tank depending on the quality of their work and the strength of their promotions with no publisher to back them up?

Advances – up or down? I think down for a while, especially while the economy is still struggling.

Royalties – up or down? I say up for the e-published author, the self-published author and maybe even for the loyal e-press authors, but I predict we all have to be content with quantity of sales over quantity of royalties – meaning our books will sell for less per copy but hopefully to a much wider audience.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Do you agree or disagree with my predictions?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Crit Partners - The Good, The Bad, and the Awesome

I’ve worked solo, belonged to critique groups, attended workshops, and worked with critique partners. Some were good. Some were bad. And some are just downright awesome.

Over the years I’ve tried a number of critique groups and I’ve come to the conclusion they just don’t work for me. Just as too many cooks ruin the soup, too many critiques ruin a story. Plus, there’s some unwritten law of the universe that every single critique group (and/or workshop) must have at least one member who is a complete and total know-it-all jerk. This person either mistakenly believes that the point of a critique is to tear apart a manuscript, or, that their opinion is the “right” way of doing things. Bad feedback from someone like this can derail a writer’s motivation and damage their creative process.

Also, a lot of critique groups tend to do most of their work using the mathematical formula: for every negative remark you make, you should make two positive remarks. But here’s the thing: this leads to dishonest feedback if you think a manuscript has more wrong with it than right. What are you supposed to do? Lie? Say, “Your overall pace didn’t work for me, but hey, your characterization of character A, and the setting in the graveyard scene were great.” When really what you’re thinking is that the pace sucked, but at least the character and the setting didn’t make you want to gouge your eyeballs out.

For those reasons and the fact I find it hard to keep track of more than three or four stories (including my own) I’ve decided critique partners are the best choice for me.

I can tell you from experience that it can be a challenge to find a good critique partner. The first time you exchange work is like a first date. (We all know how some of them can turn out!) I’ve been through my share of not-so-great critique partners (which isn’t to say the fault was with them, but rather with “us”) but for the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to have two AWESOME partners.

Interestingly, I can share the same piece with both women and they rarely point out the same issues with my work (if they do, I KNOW I’ve got to fix it ASAP). They each have different strengths, which is why I learn so much from them. (Oh, and neither writes the same genre as I do, which I know some people consider to be a detriment, but I think it’s a huge advantage.)

Here’s why I think my relationship works with each:

1) We’re a GOOD FIT in terms of personalities. I like being able to laugh with my crit partners. Just last week when I voiced my frustration with the publishing field, one of these fantastic ladies said, “I know there’s an issue with the real world right now….” It’s had me chuckling ever since.

2) We’re reliable. We don’t leave each other waiting for feedback for weeks or months at a time.

3) We’re invested in helping each other improve, rather than trying to tear each other down.

4) We know what we want from each other. (It’s important to discuss this up front. Tell potential critters what you’re looking for: overall impression, help with typos/grammar, plot, characterization, structure.)

5) We don’t take offense if the other person doesn’t take our advice. (Well, okay, there’s one story I really, really, REALLY want one of my crit partners to finish (the synopsis and sample chapters ROCKED) and I’m kinda miffed I haven’t gotten to read the whole book yet, but for the most part I don’t mind that they ignore my advice.) After all, feedback is just an opinion.

6) We’re honest and encouraging. (If I say I like something, it’s not because I’m trying to jack up my ratio of positive comments. It means I actually like it.)

What about you? Do you prefer to work alone or do you rely on the feedback of others? Have you had rough experiences receiving critiques? Is there someone you can always rely on to give you outstanding feedback? What traits do you think a critique partner should possess?

And….do you believe in the two positive remarks for every negative equation?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fresh Perspective

I moved offices at work the other day. My new space is bigger, has fuzzy brown walls (seriously – it's like being inside a teddy bear and I love it), and I can no longer hear the sugar-crazed kids in the pediatric office next door. It’s lovely. And it's given me a fresh perspective.

Course this new office thing shares something in common with novel writing, but you knew that. When I reach the end stages of a manuscript I go through it once more – on my iMac, on my iPhone, and on paper. Ok, so I go through it three times. Why? Because I see things differently through each medium.

On my iPhone I’m reading sentences comprised of five or six words, which forces my brain to see everything differently. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught mistakes I’ve missed in all the other reads or noticed opportunities for expansion just by reading in this smaller format.

Since I write on my Mac (for the most part), I try increasing or decreasing the font in that final read-through. This forces the sentences to wrap differently, which keeps me from skimming.

And paper. Dear, sweet, wonderful paper. Printing my manuscript is the very last thing I do, so there’s a giddiness at this stage, but it’s also become a sacred ritual. I know when I sit down with my giant stack of words I’m looking at a manuscript the way a reader will someday (unless they’re, you know, into e-readers). There is a moment of awestruck wonder as I uncap my red pen, get settled in my favorite chair, and start marking up that final draft. And, again, my brain is forced to see things in a different way, namely the way a reader would. It's sort of magical.

And finally...I’ve now read my manuscript in lots of different formats, through lots of different mediums, but only with one set of eyes. Until I hand it over for a second opinion, I won’t have the freshest perspective of all.

Do you review your manuscript through different mediums before calling it “finished”? What surprising "finds" have you made?

Have a great weekend, friends!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review of Falling Under by Gwen Hayes

Most teenagers fall in love, but how often do they literally fall…for love.

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

So begins the teen gothic fantasy FALLING UNDER which tells the story of Theia Alderson and how her life, and the lives of her closest friends in Serendipity Falls, California change when Haden Black enrolls in their high school.

Theia is the quintessential good girl aiming to please her father (at the time the story begins, her biggest rebellion has been to read e-books on her phone! – the horror!!). Then bad boy Haden Black (who is not of this world) starts roaming the hallways of her high school. Despite the fact he warns her to stay away, she finds herself drawn to him.

Haden not only appears during her waking hours, but they interact in her dreams which have a macabre trippiness to them that kept this reader guessing.

Who or what is Haden Black? What does he want with her? How do they meet in this world and in her dreamscape? Would they be better off apart as Haden suggests, or is the incredible attraction she feels for him enough to defeat that which would keep them apart?

Personally I found the jumps from first person to third person point of view to be disconcerting and there were a lot of threads that weren’t tied up (which is why a sequel is on its way!) but overall, I think a heroine with distinct growth contending with a devilish love interest, along with a cast of well-drawn secondary characters, is sure to have readers Falling Under the spell of Gwen Hayes.

In her dreams he’s irresistible—seductive, charming, and undoubtedly dangerous. But when he appears to her when she’s awake—and captivates her just the same—she’s not sure which way is up and which is down.

Theia Alderson has always led a sheltered life, not allowed the same freedoms as the rest of the teenagers in the small California town of Serendipity Falls. But when a devastatingly handsome boy appears in the halls of her school, she feels every urge she’s ever denied burning through her at the slightest glance from Haden Black. Theia knows she’s seen Haden before—not around town, but in her dreams.

Theia doesn’t understand how she dreamed of Haden before they ever met, but every night has them joined in a haunting world of eerie fantasy. And as the Haden of both the night and the day beckons her forward one moment and pushes her away the next, the only thing Theia knows for sure is that the incredible pull she feels towards him is stronger than her fear. And as she slowly discovers what Haden truly is, Theia’s not sure if she wants to resist him, even if the cost is her soul.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The bugaboo

“A Bugaboo is a legendary scary creature, see bogeyman

As if zombies weren’t trouble enough, you say, now she’s prattling about bogeymen?

Well, yes and no. Zombies I can handle. They’re visible, blunt and not too smart. Yes, they swarm, but with a flame thrower and a good pair of running shoes, I can deal.

The bogeyman on the other hand...that’s a different story, because the bogeyman/bugaboo I’m talking about is one that afflicts writers specifically. It’s called self-confidence and it’s sneaky, clever and fire proof.

I bring up self-confidence because recently an old friend of mine dipped her toe into the writing pool. While she’s working on her first novella and short story, we’ve been e-mailing back and forth about the writing life. Naturally we came to the question of how a writer knows someone else will like their book.

I told her this was the bugaboo of writer’s everywhere. We don’t know if anyone will like our books. It’s a leap of faith to put something out there, to an agent, an editor, a critique group, or even your best friend. What if they hate it and they’re afraid to tell you? Or worse, what if they hate it and they’re not afraid to tell you? [Note: I struggled with the order of those two questions. I’m not really sure which is worse. You decide.]

Fear of rejection, fear of bad reviews, fear of devastating embarrassment – these things make zombies look like little fluffy kittens. The what ifs can be paralyzing – and trust me, they were for me for a long time. “What if no one likes this?” kept me from submitting my work for years.

Then one day, I got over it. Not the worry that my work might not be as good as I think it is when I finally type THE END, but the fear of rejection, bad reviews and the staggering apathy of readers everywhere. I decided rejection is an opportunity to submit somewhere else free from the nagging worry that you might get two offers on the same book [yes, I worried about that.] Bad reviews can kill your sales, but they can also generate controversy that will boost them. Everyone loves a good train wreck, so if someone writes a particularly scathing review, odds are someone somewhere will buy the book just to see if that person knows what they’re talking about. Apathy is a bit tougher to justify. Some books just don’t sell. No one hates them, but no one particularly loves them either, so they sit, virtually untouched, uncommented upon, and you’re left to wonder if you smell bad or if it’s your cover art or blurb that stinks. The next book will do better, just because the odds favor it.

I told my friend that she’d be battling self-confidence no matter how successful she becomes and it was par for the course. I hope I didn’t scare her too much, but at least she knows she’s in good company.

How do you combat the bugaboo? Have you conquered it? Or would you rather deal with zombies?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Q&A with YA Author Gwen Hayes

Falling Under (NAL, March 1, 2011) by Gwen Hayes is the story of Theia Alderson, a California teenager who’s drawn into a shadowy dream world by the gorgeous new guy in school.

I recently had the opportunity to ask the author some burning questions about herself and about Falling Under and here’s what Gwen had to say.

I read somewhere that your inspiration for Falling Under was a song. Does music often inspire you or was this one of those bolt from the blue moments?

Actually, while music does inspire me, there was no certain song that got me juiced up for this book. It was the first line that kept playing over and over in my head…Everything changed the night the burning man fell from the sky. It wouldn’t go away and I had no idea what it meant. So finally, I just typed it out…and thus a book was born.

That said…I sometimes keep “Neverending White Lights” on repeat.

You’re not a plotter, so says your website bio – have you ever written yourself into a spot you weren’t sure how to get out of?

Only every day. J Sometimes, I  have to write out of order, which is really confusing, but if I’m stuck in one spot, sometimes writing the chapter that comes after it helps me get unstuck. Really, I would caution everyone not to take writing advice from me. I’m a hot mess until somehow everything magically works out. I’ll never write a “craft of writing” book.

How do you balance writing and “real life”?

This is something I struggle with a lot. I also go to college, work part time, have a family…it gets overwhelming. I’ve found that if I write 1000 words a day, I still have writing momentum and have time for the other things I need to pack in before bedtime. Since this quarter started, I’ve been sticking to 500 words in the morning and 500 at night.

Some writers like a quiet space to work, others need to be surrounded by action – are you a social butterfly or a loner when it comes to writing?

I like a quiet spot on the couch and Twitter in the background…so both I guess. My family is great about respecting me when I’m writing, and we all like it pretty quiet in the house anyway. My living room is super relaxing, and the television is on a different floor. At the same time, I rely on Twitter a lot. It’s my water cooler—I do some work, socialize for a few minutes, get back to work etc.

I understand you’re working on the sequel to Falling Under – can you tell us a little bit about that story?

Getting back up after you’ve fallen under is a lot harder than the fall itself. 
(Was that cryptic enough?)
There were some loose threads left in the first book that get yanked out, unraveling even more danger for Theia and Haden.  And Varnie gets more screen time. People seem to really like Varnie. I know I do.

So who would you pick to play your main characters in a movie?

This one is really hard for me! See the thing is—I can’t get all swoony over teenage boys anymore or people will call the cops, so I don’t really know who the young actors are that swoonworthy. In my head, the characters are usually not celebrities. Maybe the commentors can help me out. Who would YOU guys pick to play the main characters in a movie? (Although, I wrote Falling Under before Glee came out, I think that Jenna Ushkowitz, who plays Tina, would be perfect for Amelia. Maybe the whole cast could do a musical of Falling Under?)

What advice would you give your high school self if you had the chance?

Dear Gwen,
1.      You are not fat. I promise.
2.      Don’t put away all those stories. Keep writing and don’t wait until you are 37 to start again.
3.      I know it’s the 80s, but fluorescent yellow shaker knit sweaters are not flattering on anyone.
Love, Gwen

Thanks for inviting me to your blog!

Thanks for chatting with us, Gwen!

More about Falling Under:

In FALLING UNDER, painfully shy seventeen-year-old Theia begins experiencing dark, hauntingly real dreams of the most gorgeous boy she has ever seen.  When he shows up for real at her high school, she thinks she’s going insane.  And when he touches her, she is sure she has lost her mind.  Why would Haden, this devastatingly attractive boy, even look at her?

Theia isn’t the only one interested in Haden.  Every girl in the school is after him.  Yet somehow its Theia he gravitates to.  Even though he knows it’s wrong, it’s Theia he wants to be near, Theia whose presence he craves more than his next breath.

Theia knows the pull between them is stronger than mere chemistry; it’s otherworldly.  She fears how strongly she is drawn to him and yet she doesn’t really want to escape.  She has always felt Haden is much more than just a normal teenage boy, but when she learns where Haden is truly from and what he has come to Serendipity Falls to do, Theia realizes she might lose more than just her heart—she may lose her soul.

Gwen Hayes bio:
Gwen Hayes lives in the Pacific Northwest with her real life hero and a pack of wild beasts (two of whom she gave birth to). She is a reader, writer, and lover of pop culture (which, other than yogurt, is the only culture she gets). Visit her on the web at

Monday, March 7, 2011

Beware Beta Readers!

Writing is a solitary activity, but there comes a time when most of us need feedback on our work.

I say “most” because I do know some writers who never have anyone look at their work before they send it out into the world. I’m not sure whether they’re that self-assured about their skill, or if they’re just too fearful to let anyone point out where their babies might need a little work.
Many authors belong to writing groups or have critique partners, but some people rely solely on Beta Readers (non-writers) to give them feedback.

Personally I think this is a bad idea. Why? Because whether your first reader is your mom, your sister, your best friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, or your significant other, they are reading your manuscript in the hopes of making you happy.

They probably know how much your project means to you. Chances are they’re well aware of how much time and effort you’ve sunk into your opus. And, assuming you’ve asked someone who has a meaningful relationship with you to be a reader, they don’t want to hurt, offend or risk alienating you by telling you that your work is anything less than perfect.

No doubt they’ll be effusive with their praise about your efforts. They’ll tell you everything they like about your story. This is good for the writer’s ego. Having someone else think that your book is readable and worthwhile is a healing balm for a writer’s fragile soul.


You knew that was coming, didn’t you? BUT a beta reader won’t point out the areas that need work. They can’t help you strengthen a story, identify problems, or point out your tics (like using the word “sidle” in every single piece you write – something I’m guilty of).

Most beta readers don’t have an understanding of plot, characterization, or description. They read books for enjoyment. They know what they like. They may not even have the tools to describe what they don’t like.

A beta reader can’t help you become a better writer, and really isn’t that the point of asking for feedback?

This isn’t say to beta readers don’t have their place. I have one. Her name is Laura and I call her my personal cheerleader. She reads most everything I write and she consistently tells me how great it is. She’s not a critical reader (I have awesome critique partners for that – more about them next Monday!) but as long as I keep her contribution in context, there’s nothing wrong with having someone tell me everything that’s right about my book. It’s helpful, especially on those days when I’m convinced that everything I’ve ever written is total crap.

It’s perfectly fine to have beta readers, as long as you can keep their limited contribution in context.

So let me ask you Killer Friends: Do you have beta readers? (who are they?) Critique partners? Or do you go it alone?

We’ve got a busy week on Killer Chicks, so make sure to check in every day.

Tomorrow Jennifer has an interview with Young Adult author Gwen Hayes about her debut FALLING UNDER and on Thursday I’ll be reviewing the book!

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Writer's Recipe


3 -  (infinity) months of stubborn determination
1 terrible first draft (must be reeking of plot holes, flat characters, and stilted dialogue)

Let simmer and stew for 3-6 weeks.


3 gallons coffee
19 lbs chocolate
1-2 red/purple/blue/green pens
1 notebook, preferably pretty
3 cups confidence
Dash of hauteur (to taste)

  1. Brew coffee to desired strength. (Seeing around corners and inside the minds of those nearby may indicate coffee is too strong.)
  2. Unwrap chocolate, place at the ready. 
  3. Pull out Terrible First Draft (TFD).
  4. Uncap red/purple/blue/green pen.
  5. Open notebook (preferably pretty).
  6. Read first chapter.
  7. Sip coffee, eat chocolate.
  8. Try not to choke when you discover you’ve opened your novel with a weather report inside a dream sequence.
  9. Sip coffee, eat chocolate.
  10. Jot notes in (preferably pretty) notebook.
  11. Close notebook.
  12. Season your rewrite session with a dollop of daydreaming, a large helping of imagination, and a liberal splash of self-belief.
  13. Gradually allow yourself to remember why you love your story.
  14. At the last minute (the one before you lunge for the trunk), fold in 3 more cups confidence, a sprinkling of cheekiness, and 1 pint of Never Give Up (do not substitute for generic).
  15. Remember: you can do this because you are a writer. Writers write, but you know what they do better? They rewrite.
  16. Get back to work.
Repeat until desired result is achieved. When complete, TFD should have evolved into BFM (beautifully finished manuscript).

Place on Shelf for all to enjoy.

Did I miss any ingredients or steps in the process, friends? 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Read Across America

Today is the 14th annual observance of Read Across America – a movement begun by the National Education Association to promote reading for children and adults alike.

Read Across America coincides with the birthday of author Theodore Suess Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Suess. I can’t think of a better choice. Though it was ages and ages ago, I can still remember loving The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who!

When I was a child, we had a small bookshelf in the living room that my parents had filled with a complete set of child-friendly books. I think they got them as a deal from an encyclopedia salesman, and the collection included a full set of encyclopedias, a set of children’s stories with rainbow colored spines, a set of classics like Shakespeare and War and Peace and a number of Dr. Suess books. I remember going to the bookshelf a lot and spending hours paging through all the books except the classics. I didn’t appreciate those until I got to high school and found it convenient to have some of the books my English teacher recommended already on my shelf at home.

I remember the smell of those books and the feel of the cool, crisp pages. I think this overstuffed book shelf was the reason I became a lifelong reader and maybe even why I became a writer. Those books were an adventure for me, right in my own living room. There was always something new to discover, a fact to be learned, a mystery to be solved, an old friend to visit with.

Those books are gone now – the encyclopedias became obsolete, the children’s books were given away and many of the classics just fell apart over time, but I’ll always remember them and how they gave me a lifelong love of reading. When I became a parent I put a book shelf in each of my children’s rooms and took every opportunity to fill them up. I was able to pass my love of reading along to my daughter whose shelf is currently crammed full of her favorite books. My son’s shelf is overflowing too...mostly with video games, but at least I can boast a 50% success rate.

What made you become a reader? Have you passed the love of reading along to someone else?