Saturday, December 17, 2011

Poetry Corner ~ Calling all POETS!!

Another week of SLAMMIN POETRY!! WHOO WHOO!! 

As all of you know, I love the way we can express ourselves through writing and I find poetry is a wonderful way to express happiness, fear, longing, desire, anger, frustration, and so many more emotions!

My submission this week is another really old poem that I wrote. To this day, I still remember who it was directed at and why....

I'm Glad

Did the salt I rub in your open wound hurt?
Did you feel the sharp blade of my cruel tongue?
Good, I'm glad you've at least suffered some.

Did you hurt from a memory that hovers in your conscience?
Did you bleed because I no longer care and you know it?
Good, I'm glad I can affect you.

Did you hate my words and the meeting they held?
Did you dislike my honesty with you?
Good, I'm glad I can teach you something.

Did you rage inside and want to erase me?
Did you scream in frustration?
Good, I'm glad you've felt that way for once.

Did you hate me at that moment and want to see me suffer?
Did you feel shame at your irresponsibility?
Good, I'm glad we're even!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Character Development and Staying in Character

Hi everyone,

Ever find it difficult to stay in character when you're writing? I do...between all the thoughts that constantly run through my mind every day, life pressures, work / life balance, family pressures and all those voices trying to vie for my attention it's no wonder why I can find it hard to hold onto the persona of the character you are trying to write!

I've asked numerous published authors during interviews how they differentiate, develop and stay in character and I thought I would make a compilation of all the answers I've received in one place so it's easily accessible. Here are some of the responses received (these are in no particular order): 

Andy Holloman "I try to keep my head clear of all preconceptions that I have and, because I use a lot of dialogue, I “practice” my characters by reading the dialogue out loud to see things from their perspective." 

Allen Schatz: "I mostly let the writing take me where it wants to go. I had general ideas of what I wanted to do with the main characters, in outline form. As the plots evolved, so did the characters. The first book was a crap shoot mostly. I had no idea where I was headed. Having more structure is what changed the most in the second and third." 

Carolyn Arnold: "I write as if I were watching a movie unfold which provides me with body language in addition to an inside mental knowledge of how they’re feeling.  There have been times when I close my eyes and breathe in deeply to immerse myself completely into a certain scene." 

Claude Bouchard: "Since I create my characters, I guess we could say I am them to some degree. As I’m writing a scene, I can visualize it, I can hear the dialogue. I know these people so I know what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. Perhaps it’s because I worked in the field of human resources for many years and dealt with all types of characters. I got to know them and that kind of knowledge stayed with me so now, when I write, I become whatever character I choose to be and do my stuff." 

David Anderson: "I need quiet, and I need no interruptions. When I am writing, I am drawn into the world I have created and the real world disappears. It’s as if I am in a tunnel, being drawn further along. Until I get tired, that is, and I have to stop!" 

Derek Blass: "I develop characters through action, by how they react in situations.  The interesting thing is that oftentimes, the characters dictate the action.  In essence then, they are dictating their own development.  That has not changed at all from my first to second book."  

Donna Dawson: "I create each character through roughly 60 questions I answer about them.  That sheet of paper is posted nearby and I refer to it often when I am writing.  It keeps me from losing facts and personality traits about the character.  For example:  One of the questions is: What is one of this character’s pet peeves?" 

John W. Mefford: "When I initially create a character, I try to write from that POV as soon as possible, and include some dialogue. After I sleep and run off to do a million other things, I can go back and read through a few key paragraphs to put me back in the mindset of that character. Many times I read the dialogue out loud. I probably change my facial expression and utter a grunt here or there as I bang out the storyline. After a character makes the first cut, I describe him/her in more detail, which helps me further shape and distinguish each person. All of that is saved in my support document – my little black book. It has all my secrets, the scoop on all the characters, and every twist and turn I’ve ever considered."

Douglas Dorow: "I just try to put myself in the shoes of the character I'm writing. The Ninth District is basically told from two POV's; Jack's and The Governors. I try to picture the scene and circumstances at the point I'm telling the story and tell it from their perspective. If I'm not feeling it for one, I'll move to a scene from the other's perspective. I've sat down before, ready to write a Jack scene and found I was in The Governor's head and had to write one of his scenes. I guess I was more in touch with my dark side at that time." 

S.L. Pierce: "I have to have absolute quiet, first of all.  Then I just sit and think about what is supposed to happen in the scene.  Then I go through, like a movie in my head, how my character responds and what they would say."  

Maren Kaye: "Music plays an important part in my writing. I love to choose music that speaks to the era and personality of my characters." 

R.J. Grand: "I create characters around the plot. They are differentiated by the positions I need them to take to show the plot developing and unfolding. I have studied behavior intently to get inside people’s minds. Feeling emotionally what they have experienced, seeing what they are viewing and drawing upon their mindset, absorbs me into the character’s mind. For example, when writing the scene where a loved one dies and what the viewing character experiences, you would have seen tears in my eyes, if you were watching me write. The process has stayed the same from writing the first book to the next." 

Russell Blake: "I work 12 hour days when I'm writing, so I remain immersed in the story. I write first drafts fast, so I'll do a first draft in a couple to three weeks, during which time all I do is write. It's easy to stay in character when you're that focused on just the story a short burst. Or at least it is for me."
If you would like to read more from any of the above noted authors, you can find their entire interview by clicking on the name links.

In addition to all the great advice given here, I still thoroughly recommend that anyone who is serious about writing strong characters like Kramer from Seinfeld or Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs, that they get a copy of 45 Master Characters - Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters, written by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.

Have a great day!!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Balance: Part Two — Finding Balance Within Your Writing

Ok. So you carve out some time for yourself, grab some inspiration out of thin air, have a blinding bolt of supercharged energy flow right through you and your keyboard, and blaze along at a furious pace, racking up word count the way a race car eats up track.
Suddenly, four chapters later, you realize all of those words have to do with the backstory of the waitress serving the main characters... a minor character who will fade back into the scenery, and whose presence is not integral to the plot. And you blew five thousand words on her irrelevant childhood.

It's clear that you've lost your Balance.
Now, this is not a disaster by any stretch, however much you may lament what could be perceived as wasted opportunity. If it's first draft, copy what you wrote and save it. Chances are, what you wrote may be needed somewhere else in the story; like a costume, it may fit another character! Waste not, want not, I always say. It's been my experience that if you wrote it at all, some part of your muse wants it to be there. You just need to find a place for it.

But what to do when going back through your novel for a second and third draft pass? You need your scenes to balance.
I like to keep a checklist. Besides grammar and structure, a good series of things to look for as you revise would be:

Does the scene:

Move the plot along? Reveal or change something about your characters? Change the mood?

Change anything at all?
This may seem obvious, but every scene is about change. Something has to change for your characters (or for your reader), for it to be a complete scene. If your hero walks into a diner, orders lunch and learns nothing about himself, the mystery, or anything else, if nothing is revealed to the reader that changes any of the same things, then the scene is not over. A scene is never over until something changes.

Does it speak in the 'voice' of your novel?
Remember that, although different scenes from different points of view can have different voices or styles, they should be consistent with each other. Villain with villain, setting with setting, etc.

Does it carry too much detail? Too little? That waitress detail, if she's a 'throwaway character', may be a bit much.

And finally, how does your scene play with other scenes? If you take a big step back, and look at all of your scenes all at once, do you see a pattern? Unless you are deliberately writing chaotically, you will likely see a pattern... a cadence. Villain, crime, heroine. Or crime, colour, hero. Do an experiment. Take a look, from fuzzy eyes, far away, and see if you can pick out the patterns that naturally occur in your writing.

I think that balance is a second-and-beyond draft exercise, but it's important to consider, at least, even while you are writing that whirlwind first draft.

Happy writing!
Kate Burns

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Author Interview ~ Derek Blass

Mystery Writers Unite is THRILLED to be interviewing Derek Blass, author of ENEMY IN BLUE (see below). 

Derek is an author and attorney living in Denver, Colorado. He graduated from Duke University and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and majored in English and Economics at Duke. 

Since graduation, Derek has served as the co-Chair of Mayor Hickenlooper's Denver Latino Commission, and was recently selected to serve as a co-Chair of the Denver Chapter of the Colorado Latino Forum. He was named as a Colorado Super Lawyer "Rising Star" in 2010 and 2011, and was awarded the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association's 2010 award for the most Outstanding Young Hispanic Lawyer. 

Derek is married to his lovely wife Meranda, and has two uncontrollably terrible dogs (and one good one that isn't really his). 

--- Interview 

First, thanks for agreeing to let Mystery Writers Unite interview you, it is a pleasure…now for the fun stuff :-) 

MWU: If your wife Meranda was approached on the street, what would she say your writing quirk(s) are? 

Derek Blass: Hah!  Great question.  Gotta have music playing while writing.  And, music drive the tenor of my writing.  For instance, if I need to get into a real action scene, I'll probably listen to Tool, Metallica or something else charged.  If I have a dark, moody scene, I'll turn to Radiohead.  Just examples, but I can't write without the appropriate music! 

MWU: Aside from your wife, who would you say has been the biggest supporter of your writing? 

Derek Blass: My parents have been great supporters.  My dad read the book and if it got past his critique, I knew I at least had something.  They also probably have twenty or so copies of the book, God bless their souls.  Have to mention some amazing fans and Tweeps though: Jodi Canary, Rebecca Scarberry, Maureen Zomervale.  The list would go on, but that'd be a yawner for your readers!  Just feel so grateful to have good friends supporting how they can. 

MWU: If you were one of the characters in ENEMY IN BLUE, what type of character would you be and why (can’t be the young lawyer Mr. Marquez…lol)? 

Derek Blass: It's gonna scare people, but probably Tyler.  He's the ruthless assassin in the book, but he's also got a side to him, a side that wants acceptance and if  he doesn't get that, to kick the crap out of some people.  Weird combo, huh? 

MWU: Who is your favorite character, aside from Cruz Marquez, in ENEMY IN BLUE and why? 

Derek Blass: I liked writing Tyler's scenes the most.  He allowed me to be introspective, and to add some social commentary that I felt was important.  Some of my other characters, like Shaver for instance, weren't really of the ilk to philosophize.  I will say, however, that it has surprised me how much people like Shaver as a character.  By far, he is the one people talk about the most! 

MWU: If you had less than a minute to tell a perspective reader what they could expect from ENEMY IN BLUE (you are at a trade show and someone has stopped by your booth) what would you tell them? Go…. 

Derek Blass: Non-stop action.  Thrills.  Entertainment that weaves in several topics that are germane to our contemporary society, like police brutality and racism.  Not in a way you feel clubbed over your head.  In a way that first, you enjoy a great story, and second, you reflect. 

MWU: If you were approached to make ENEMY IN BLUE into a movie, who do you think should play the role of Cruz Marquez? 

Derek Blass: Benjamin Bratt.  

MWU: How do you develop and differentiate your characters and how do you “stay in character” when your writing? Has this process changed from your first book to your second book? 

Derek Blass: I develop characters through action, by how they react in situations.  The interesting thing is that oftentimes, the characters dictate the action.  In essence then, they are dictating their own development.  That has not changed at all from my first to second book.  

MWU: Who do you see as your “ideal” reader? 

Derek Blass: Anyone who is inquisitive, has a passion for great entertainment, and who wants to read something about a topic that matters.  I didn't write a book about Jack and Jane falling in love and cruising away into the sunset.  This is an intense, thrilling story that weaves in a difficult subject. 

MWU: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? 

Derek Blass: The first draft of anything is shit.  I didn't exactly receive that directly from Mr. Hemingway himself, but I consider it received through the professor's voice who told me it :) 

MWU: What are you working on now and when do you expect to release the next book? 

Derek Blass: I'm working on my second book, which addresses the topic of border wars between the US and Mexico, immigration, and drug cartels.  Yes, some of the characters are the same—but it is not a direct sequel to Enemy in Blue.  What readers can expect is more of the same package: entertainment + important topics.  Hoping to have it released next summer! 

MWU: Is there anything you would like to say to new writers, new readers or current fans of your work? 

Derek Blass: It's an honor to be able to write and actually have someone read it, let alone enjoy it.  I'm committed polishing my craft further, and to making sure that I write about things that matter.  My books will continue to take on issues we struggle with on a daily basis, and will do so in a way that entertain and hopefully prompt consideration and conversation. 

The synopsis for ENEMY IN BLUE: 

The streets aren’t safe when the enemy wears a gold badge and blue uniform. The videotaped murder of an illegal immigrant by an allegedly racist cop draws Cruz Marquez, a young lawyer, into an action-packed journey to preserve the evidence. His success depends on surviving the Chief of Police’s sinister plotting, assassination attempts by a deranged hit man, and the raw force of Sergeant Shaver – his enemy in blue.

 Sufficiently teased? Buy Enemy in Blue Now!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Balance: Part One — Finding Balance for Your Writing

Right about now, I'll bet a lot of you are thinking about balance. The Christmas Season is upon us, and although I know there are some of you men out there panicking, I can only speak true in this post about the woman's perspective. Some of us right now are downright bonkers.
It is this time of year that I start thinking about next year's Christmas shopping. Not in the way you're thinking, either. A dialogue starts. "Next year," I mutter to myself, "it's going to be different. Next year I'll start in August."

Of course, that never happens. Year after year, I lurch myself and my badly wounded credit card toward the 25th, knowing that it will never change for me, only I for it. Somehow we always make it through.
After Christmas, with hospital-grade amounts of Turkey and wine sedative effects, I always sit and plan my useless plans for the next year. It is at Christmas that my most valiant attempts at work-life balance are tested severely.

So, how on earth do we balance our lives with our writing? Home life, work life, sleep, precious all, take precedence only too often.How do we carve out some meaningful time?

Schedule it. Make one chunk of one day of one week yours for just writing. Turn off the phone, and send kids to a friends or out with Mom or Dad. Which leads me to...

Ask for help. And don't expect people to guess that you need it, because they won't. Standing there with a Martha Stewart frozen grin on your face while kicking the garbage bags behind a convenient closet door won't give them a clue, either. In your native tongue, ask.

Set realistic goals. Sure, it would be great to push that story out the door in time for the Big Kindle Rush post-Christmas. But is racing to finish going to compromise your story? If so, then you may want to work on it a bit longer. I guess a subset of this would be...

Be honest with yourself. This one is hard. I do this all the time. Sure, I'll take that one hour between the last load of laundry and making the cookies and starting Sunday dinner to yank some literary brilliance out of my hind end... Yeah, right. That one hour is usually spent hiding in the bathroom reading a two month old Reader's Digest while fending off cookie inquiries by small children. (And I don't care what you say, nobody's boss is more demanding than a kid wanting to stir batter.) However, this brings me to...

Push yourself. A little, anyway. Stretching yourself hurts at first (two posts a week? Becky, really???), but once you get going, you'll be surprised at what you can actually accomplish. Hmm... I think I have an hour free... wonder what I can do with it...?

Tell me about your balancing acts. How do you do it, fabulous authors?

Stay tuned: In Thursday's post, Balance: Part Two — Finding the Balance Within Your Writing.

Happy Writing!
Kate Burns

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Query Letter

Hi everyone,

To the aspiring authors out there hoping to get a publishing house to pick up your novel, I thought I would change things up a bit and publish a post geared toward you.

The first thing I want you all to realize is that Agents take queries very seriously; they read them and more importantly they will respond to the ones that spark their interest so make sure that you present yourself professionally!

So, what is a query letter? It is a SINGLE page letter that introduces you and your book. That's it and nothing more. Do not make the mistake of thinking this letter is your resume or the opportunity to ramble about your life as an aspiring writer. 

A query letter consists of three concise paragraphs:

Paragraph One—The Hook: A hook is a concise, one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and reel them in. The best way to understand how to write a hook is to read the loglines of the titles sold by agents.

Paragraph Two—Mini Synopsis: This is where you get to distill your entire novel into one paragraph. It’s your opportunity to expand on your hook. Give a little bit more information about your main characters, their problems and conflicts, and the way in which adversity changes their lives. Read the back flaps of your favorite novels and try to copy how the conflict of the book is described in a single, juicy paragraph. You can do this. You really can. You just have to sit down, brainstorm, write it and revise / reshape it until it shines.

Paragraph Three—Writer’s Bio: This should be the easiest part of your query. After all, it’s about you, the writer.  If you do choose to construct a writer’s bio (and you should), keep it short and related to writing. Agents don’t care what your day job is unless it directly relates to your book. Got a main character who’s a teacher, and that’s your day job? Be sure to say that. Otherwise, scrap it. Education is helpful because it sounds good, but it’s only really important if you’re offering a nonfiction book about A.D.D. children and you hold a PhD in pediatric behavioral science. If you’ve published a few stories in your local newspaper, or a short story in a few literary magazines, or won any writing awards or contests, now’s the time to list the details. Don’t go hog wild, but don’t be too modest either.

Congratulations! You’ve finished your query letter. As a formal closing, be sure to do two things: thank the agent for their time and consideration and alert the agent that the full manuscript is available upon request (gents will want to read the whole novel before they offer representation to you and your book).

Here are some other quick tips:

The Do’s

~ address your query to a specific agent
~ state the title of your book
~ mention the word count and genre of your book
~ mention exactly why you’re approaching the agent  
~ adopt the "proper" tone for your query letter
~ format your snail mail query using standard business letter alignment/spacing
~ list your phone number, mailing address, and email address (snail mail query)
~ include a self-addressed stamped envelope (snail mail query)
~ have a pair of "fresh eyes" proofread for typos and grammar mistakes
~ write your letter in the first person

The Do NOT’s

~ say: "I am querying you because I found your name in a writing guide/ database
~ sing the praises of your book or compare it with other best selling books
~ send gifts or other bribes with your query
~ print your query on perfumed or colored paper
~ shrink your font down to 9 point so it all fits on one page (12 point is standard;  11 if you’re desperate)
~ Fedex or mail your query in a signature-required fashion in order to make your query stand out
~ apologize in your query for being a newbie writer with zero publishing credits and experience
~ include sample chapters of your novel with your query UNLESS an agent's submission guidelines specifically SAY to include sample pages with your snail mail query
~ forget to list your email address or contact phone number on your query
~ forget to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE)
~ start in the present tense and end in the past tense
~ include cover art
~ include copyright information
~ use fake flattery (e.g. I greatly admire your agency…)
~ mention the 12 (or any) previous manuscripts that you’ve written that didn’t get published

Some common phrases that new authors should NOT use in a query letter:

“This is the first book I’ve ever written!”
“I’ve been writing since I was five.”
“This would make a great movie.”
“This book will appeal to readers of all genres.”
“My friends/parents/teachers like my writing.”
“Oprah will love this book.”

REMEMBER: You never get a second chance to make a good first impression! If your letter looks bad, smells, is printed on cheap paper or photocopied it will be thrown in the garbage. Also, e-queries that are poorly formatted (all caps, colored and silly fonts, goofy pictures in the signature line) or that lose their formatting once they are sent will not make it to the top of an agents reading pile either.

Best of luck and happy writing!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

What Can YOU Write in 6 Sentences?

Hi everyone,

My six sentences this week for your reading

I thought of you today and discovered I still miss you. How did you become such a part of me? Sometimes thoughts of you bring comfort and at other times pain. I'm reminded of your restless spirit and your piercing brown eyes that never seemed to really smile. How I longed to take away that pain and support you until you were whole again. I now realize I was wasting my time because your demons live to deeply within your soul.

What can you portray in 6 sentences? Love, Loss, Anger, Fear, Joy....Give it a try!