Free Resources from Author Susan May Warren

If you were the author of twenty-six novels, with more to come, and you kept busy teaching workshops and writing craft books for writers, along with editing, speaking, and raising a family, how much time would you have to give back to writers? It would be easy to leave that job to others.

But not Susan May Warren.

Besides all of the above, she also blogs and runs a free online magazine for writers, called My Book Therapy Voices.

Here are some amazing articles from the magazine, which publishes new editions regularly. Susan May Warren writes some of the articles, along with a few others.

Word Painting for Emotional Effect gave me some excellent ideas on how to create an additional level of emotion in a manuscript. It's a technique used in the polishing stage. Have you ever created a "metaphorical word pool"? It will make your writing sing.

5 practical ideas for Pursuing the Dream When Time is Scarce gave me some great ideas. Numbers 2 and 3, especially.

Have you been discouraged by Contest Feedback? What to do with what you learn, and how to keep from letting it affect your writing.

Is your setting adding to the mood of your story, or is it "just there"? Check out Settings With Emotional Impact.

And for those of you revising and editing, try What Your Aunt Irma Never Told You About Revisions.

Visit Warren's website for more information on her workshops and writing books.

Book Review: The Career Novelist

Every writer dreams of writing full-time. No annoying job to suck time from dreaming up characters. No boss to cut short the flow of words. No worries about paying the bills.

Yet, the reality for most published writers, is that they are forced to hang on to that day job far longer than they expected, and often must keep working indefinitely.

Is there anything writers can do to change this depressing news?

Donald Maas believes there is.

He wrote The Career Novelist for that express purpose, certain that knowledgeable writers will manage their careers more successfully.

Maas is a published fiction writer, and has worked as an editor at a publishing house. He has been a literary agent for over 30 years, and has written other books for writers, like Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, and most recently, The Fire in Fiction.

While there are hundreds of books teaching writers how to write, there are few that teach the business of writing. It has taken me years of reading agent and publisher blogs to cobble together a basic understanding of how this complex industry operates. Had I been aware of Maass' book, I could have saved myself a great deal of time and energy.

Time and energy that could have been spent writing.

Divided into twenty chapters, The Career Novelist explains it all: from pitching to agents (and the errors that might trip you up), to the variety of agents out there. I had no idea the vast differences between agents, and why one might be a better fit for me than another.

Maass includes three "strategy sessions", one on how to break into publishing, another on mid-career damage control, and even a session on managing success (may we all need that chapter someday!). Readers will learn about marketing, how publishing professionals think, and arcane publishing terms are explained. Though this is an older book, published in 1996, the information is still valid (except that most queries are sent electronically these days).

For writers who plan to have some longevity in the industry (and Maass notes that only about fifty percent go on to a second novel), you owe it to yourself to read this book through--at least once.

For more information straight from agents, check out the Agent Friday posts, where top agents clue writers in to the very latest in the business.

Do you have a favorite agent blog? Let us know in the comments.

Rubik's Cube Plotting in 9 Easy Steps

So, perhaps you've decided to participate in Nanowrimo. Or you've just been struck with a new story idea, and you'd like to see if it has what it takes to become a novel. Maybe you've got a story partly or completely written, and you wonder if you've left out something important.

I've got the perfect thing.

This plotting method has been discussed widely over at Verla Kay's Message Board. If you have not been there, you absolutely need to check it out. It is not clear who came up with it first.

Sometimes it's called the 9 Steps for Plotting Fiction, or the Plotting Matrix. Since this plotting method starts with nine squares, and since this year is the 30th birthday of the Rubik's Cube, I'll just call it Rubik's Cube Plotting.

To start this process, take a sheet of paper and draw nine boxes, like one side of a Rubik's Cube. Number the boxes starting at the top left (1,2,3). The second row will be 4,5,6 (left to right), and the bottom row will be 7,8,9. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for a link to a great printable sheet with all the info)

The following descriptions of the contents of each box comes from this page on Verla Kay's site.

1 Triggering event

First thing's first. What happens? Why have you bothered to write a book, and more importantly, why should a reader invest time flipping through its pages. Your triggering event is the answer to those
questions, so make it a good one. Also, don't make the reader wait very long for it. First page, first paragraph, first sentence. These are good spots for a triggering event.

2 Characterization

Generally, books succeed or fail on the strength of their characters more so than on the strength of their plots. The second box is where you explore what makes your protagonist tick. No, this isn't an excuse for drawn out exposition, history, or back story. If your triggering event is captivating, the reader will discover enough about the protagonist in Box Two simply by reading how he or she reacts to the event.

3 First major turning point

By now, your plot is picking up steam, and because of Box Two, the reader is invested in the ride. Time to throw a curve ball. This turning point can be either a positive event for your protagonist, or a negative one, but it should lay the groundwork for the negative turning point in the sixth square. There is a reason these boxes are touching one another; they interrelate. For example, Box Three may introduce the motivation of the antagonist, which then justifies the events in the sixth square.

4 Exposition

You've earned some time to fill the reader in on important data. Since this box touches the first square, here's where you shed some light on that triggering event. Since it also touches Box Seven, you get to foreshadow your protagonist's darkest hour. Box Four often reveals a relationship, character flaw, or personal history that contributes to the dark times in ahead.

5 Connect the dots

Here is where many plots fall apart. Box Five represents the trickiest part of fiction and since Box Five is the center of the book it must connect to all the squares around it. Kind of like the nucleus at the center of a bomb, Box Five should tick systematically upon elements introduced in Box Two and Four. And like the calm before the storm, the fifth square should give the false impression of resolution before heading like a freight train to Box Six. Most importantly, it needs to provide foreshadowing for the protagonist's revelation in Box Eight. That's a lot for a little box to do, but focus on efficient prose to get it right. Your plot depends upon it.

6 Negative turning point

Here's where that bomb explodes and all (word censored) breaks loose. Good thing you laid the groundwork in Box Three. Good thing, too, that Box Nine will deliver some just desserts.

7 Antagonist wins

The protagonist is defeated here, and the antagonist apparently wins. How the protagonist deals with the darkest hour of defeat depend upon the traits and/or story developed in Box Four, which leads to his or her revelation in the next square.

8 Revelation

Of course! The protagonist's revelation turns the tide. Here is where the protagonist connects the dots and overcomes the obstacles of Boxes Six and Seven via the device introduced in Box Five.

9 Protagonist wins

The negative turning point in Box Six is rectified while the character's resolve from Box Eight is brought into full bloom. Congratulations! Another great tale told greatly.

Amazing, isn't it? Your whole story in nine little boxes. A great visual of the entire plot, and how each part relates to the others. If, like me, you'd like to see this in a diagram, there's a great one here (note: this is a .pdf file), made by one of the members of Verla Kay's site. I highly recommend this download. It's only one sheet, but the writer includes arrows showing the relationship of one box to another, and incorporates the Hero's Journey and the three-act structure.

This method helped me discover some holes in my plot, and made me realize I needed to deepen some character motivation. Give it a look. I'd love to know what you think.

NanoWriMo is Coming

If you are part of the writing world, you'll soon be hearing a strange word. 


It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and itt takes place each November. Participants in this free event challenge themselves to write 50,000 words during the month of November. 

While it sounds like a lofty goal, many well-known writers begin their novels during Nanowrimo. Like Sara Gruen, whose New York Times bestseller Water for Elephants was begun as a Nanowimo project. And there are many more Nanowrimo success stories.

One of the motivating factors of Nanowrimo is setting up a profile on the site, where you update your word count as your manuscript grows. Like Facebook, you can "friend" other writers, see what they're working on, and chat about any topic from character creation to writer's block.

This post is purposely scheduled five weeks before Nanowrimo begins, so that you can think about the possiblity of participating. It gives you time to clear your schedule, and plan for what you'd like to be working on. 

Why should you consider participating in Nanowrimo?

* You have a whole month, where you've got an excuse to say “I have to go write.” 
* You have a great reason to say “no” to things you’d rather not do. 
* You’re forced to turn off your inner editor, in order to meet your word-count goals. This may be just the thing you need to move forward in your story, instead of re-editing the same first five pages. 
* You are part of an international group of writers who are all sweating over their keyboards at the same time. 
* If you finish 50K, you receive a handsome winner’s certificate. 
* Even if you don’t "finish" (and 80% of participants do not), you’ll still have more writing accomplished than you would have otherwise. 

Don’t write fiction? Don’t let that stop you. There’s a “Nano Rebel” group on the Nanowrimo forums just for those who write non-fiction, or poetry, or engage in song-writing. And don't stress that the rules say you must start on a new writing project. Many "rebels" (myself included) use the month to finish a work in progress, or revise a novel already written.

So, get your brain thinking about which project or story idea is worthy of this year's Nanowrimo. Is anyone with me?

Agent Friday: Holly Root

Holly Root, like most agents, is addicted to the thrill of discovery. In her work at the Waxman Literary Agency, her best days are those in which she unearths a query that draws her in. 

In Root's words: "I’m drawn to well-told commercial novels in a variety of genres. I’m much more likely to keep reading if I know from that perfectly-executed first page that this character (or author, in the case of nonfiction) is someone who interests me, someone whose story I’d like to get lost in for the next two hours. I know I’ve found a winner when I encounter writers whose skills on the page make me know beyond any doubt that I’m in excellent hands."

Holly Root blogs in tandem with her fellow agents at the Waxman Literary Agency blog. Here's a sampling of Root's posts that taught me some things.

In the vein of my Tuesday post on The Seven Deadly Sins for Writers, Root gives us The Seven Deadly (Publishing) Sins and its companion,  The Seven Publishing Virtues.

Do you stress over all the query advice you've heard? Worry that an agent will reject you for a single typo? Root sets your fears at rest (as far as she's concerned) in her post With a Mountain of Salt.

And on that note, you'd probably be interested in Root's list of Why I Say No.

Root advises, that once you've received ten "no's" from agents,  to ask yourself these ten questions before you continue querying.

If an author friend recommend their agent to you, Root has a few tips on how to write that in your query, without turning her off.

Don't miss the great list of writing books the Waxman Literary Agency recommends. There were several I had not heard of before.

And here's an interview full of agent advice from Holly Root herself.

Writer's Groups: Crimespace

I don't write crime novels, but I figure there are some of you who don't want to be left out in the cold when it comes to free resources. So, if  the police blotter in the paper is the first thing you turn to, and you figure out the whodunit on CSI halfway through the show, and you inhale crime novels, I've got the perfect spot for you.

Crimespace is an online network of readers and writers of crime fiction. Think of it as Facebook for crime addicts. On this free site, members can talk about their favorite books, share what they're writing, and discover authors they haven't heard of yet.

On Crimespace, there are forums for readers and writers on all kinds of topics of interest to crime fans. You'll find photos of recently released books, and dozens of video trailers to view. There's also a list of events, from conferences and workshops, to book signings and the latest news. Members may also post their blogs on the site for others to read. If you blog about crime, this is the place to advertise it.

My favorite page on the site is the resource page (go figure). It would have taken me days of searching to find even half of the links posted on this one page. What will you find there? Links to news, podcasts and ezines for crime writers. Lists of print magazines, conferences, and competitions. A collection of awards, organizations, and other discussion forums. And I didn't even touch on everything on the page.

Here are some of the links posted under "research"(because not everyone is born with a full knowledge of forensics):

Mystery Writers Resources
In Reference To Murder
Blood at the Source: Research Tips for Mystery Writers
DSM IV Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders
DNA Forensics
Handbook of Forensic Services-FBI
Computer Forensics
The Writer's Medical and Forensics Lab
Crime Scene Investigation
Crime and Clues
The Merck Manual Medical Library
Private Investigator Magazine

Also of interest to crime writers are these posts: Suspense Techniques and Links for Mystery Writers.

Book Review: Creating Character Emotions

Does your character's heart pound when she's nervous? Does your villain turn beet-red as his anger rises? Do their knees knock together in fear? If so, they've fallen into tired, cliched methods of showing emotion. Enter Ann Hood's book Creating Character Emotions: Writing compelling, fresh approaches that express your characters' true feelings.

Most writing books require reading them from cover to cover, in order to glean the points the author is trying to make. But in Creating Character Emotions, after Hood's introductory pages on writing emotion, the reader can pick and choose the sections that apply to the current manuscript.

The remainder of the book is divided into 36 sections, each devoted to a specific emotion. The emotions are easy to find in alphabetical order, or the reader can glance at the table of contents.

Within each section, Hood describes the intricacies of the emotion, then gives both good and bad examples of writers describing that emotion. The chapters end with practical exercises that enable the reader to apply what was learned to the emotion being studied.

With short chapters of three to four pages, a reader might choose to spend ten minutes per day on this book, and finish it in five weeks. Alternatively, the reader may flip to the emotion they are trying to describe on their current page.

Why are emotions so difficult to describe without resorting to cliches? As Hood says in her opening chapter, "It always strikes me as funny that in our daily lives we pass through a whole spectrum of emotions and show them in many ways, some obvious and some subtle, yet in our fiction we often have trouble moving our characters through emotions effectively. I think of this as the curse of writing like a writer. Sometimes we get a tone or a voice in our head and we decide that is how good writers sound."

For more information about the author, a well-known novelist, check out Ann Hood's website.
Interested in more book reviews? Click here.

The Seven Deadly Sins for Writers

This last weekend I attended a conference for the Rocky Mountain members of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. One of the speakers was Bruce Coville, author of an amazing 95 books, including the bestselling Unicorn Chronicles. In his keynote speech, he used the device of the "Seven Deadly Sins", and tweaked them to apply to writers. I thought I'd share his insights.

The Seven Deadly Sins for Writers, from Bruce Coville

1. Dullness. No matter who you're writing for, your work should "spark and sparkle", according to Coville. There's no excuse for being boring.

2. Repetition. Coville says there are two kinds of repetition. Repeating what's been done by others, and repeating ourselves. A great book is only like itself.

3. Cliche. The words are dead on the page. They don't say anything (except perhaps that the writer has no imagination).

4. Sloth. Sit down and do the work. Use what Ray Bradbury calls "ass-glue" to stay in your chair. Stretch yourself. Make yourself better.

5. Inattention. This comes from not thinking things through. Remember, no character moves in isolation.

6. Perfectionism. This will stop you in your tracks. It is the enemy of the good, of completion, of achievement. Coville suggests using the first draft to "vomit" on the page. It won't be much good, but you can't edit something, until it's on the page.

7. Clumsiness. This is lack of craft. Learn the ins and outs of the language. What works and what's clunky. Editors and agents will spot clumsiness a mile away.

In two weeks, I'll share the rest of Coville's talk: The Seven Heavenly Virtues for Writers.

The Lonely Cabin Myth: Writing in the Middle of Real Life

How many times have I heard it, or said it myself? "I wish I could retreat to a little cabin in the woods, and just write."

Have you said it, too?

The stuff of life: work, relationships, and schedules, conspire to steal time that we'd rather spend writing. We lament that our manuscript lies unfinished, that words are added to it at an incremental pace. If only we could write in solitude. Surely then, the words would fly from our fingertips, and we'd be as prolific as James Patterson.

But here's the thing. There have been a few times when I've had the wonderful opportunity to get away for a weekend just to write. No kids. No phone. No schedule. No interruptions.

And few words on the page.

There's nothing more frustrating than having the time to write, and feeling like you've wasted it. I learned two things on those "writing getaways". One is that I write more when I have to fight for my time to write. The other is that I need to be in touch with real life to inspire my writing.

Fight to write. When I'm in the middle of driving the kids to an activity, or running errands, or fixing dinner, I often wish I was writing instead. The mild frustration I experience actually makes me think about my story more, than if I were sitting in front of the computer screen.

While my schedule keeps me away from my chair, I end up brainstorming scenes, or ways to deepen my characters. Of course, this manuscript meditation requires me to jot a couple notes so I won't forget what I dreamed up. And these notes start my engines the next time I have the opportunity to write. No more staring at a blank page.

Having a busy schedule makes me appreciate the bits of time I carve out to write, and forces me to actually use those stolen moments. Moments like waiting in the orthodontist's office. During a child's sports practice. The minutes I'm waiting to pick them up, because they're "not done yet".

I'm learning to snatch these moments for writing whenever they appear, because no one is going to hand me an entire writing day. It's up to me to find them.

Real life, real writing. As much as sequestering yourself away sounds appealing, pretty soon your writing suffers. Being alone has advantages, but solitude rarely generates new and different ideas.

It's when we rub shoulders with people of all descriptions, attitudes, and accents that our character descriptions get more colorful. It's the daily news we hear that inspires side plots and twists. It's the situations we experience, the world of nature we pass through, the sounds that hit our ears that encourage ideas for our stories.

So, save the cabin retreats for the editing process. Embrace the crazy life that surrounds you. It's all fodder for stories.

Agent Friday: Scott Eagan

The majority of literary agents are located in the New York City area. But with the present age of instant communication, agents can work their magic from any location. Case in point: Scott Egan, of Greyhaus Literary Agency. This boutique agency is located in the Puget Sound region of Washington State.

Eagan has been an agent since 2003, and focuses his energies on romance writers and women's fiction. He's actively looking for new authors, so check out his submissions page for more information.

Scott Eagan blogs daily, and has an impressive list of blog posts on all kinds of writing and publishing topics that are worthwhile whether you write romance or not. Here are a few that caught my eye:

The State of Romance: Why are we settling for mediocrity?

When Your Plot Becomes Too Much

Are Your Characters Acting Normal?

Should I Write a Three-Book Series?

On editing: Worry About the Small Stuff

The Greyhaus site also has some great links that will especially appeal to romance writers. Check them out.

I'm leaving this morning for a local writer's conference. It's the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I'm excited to spend the weekend with writers and illustrators, particularly my dear friend Lois Rosio Sprague. Check out her website for some amazing pictures.

Writer's Groups:

Writing is a solitary profession. But even the most introverted writer needs encouragement. To battle the ever-present negative comments in their head. To share ideas when they're stuck. To commiserate over rejections. And to celebrate the successes.

Joining an in-person writer's group is wonderful, and nothing beats meeting face to face. But maybe you live in a remote place. Or you're an expat who can't find writers who speak your language. Perhaps you write at odd hours.

This is where an online group shines.

It doesn't matter the hour. Someone, somewhere in the world is awake, and ready to connect.

I've highlighted quite a few writers groups so far, but I haven't come close to exhausting them. I hope that one of them is just the right fit for you.

Today's group is Scribophile (Thanks to member Joshua Morris for cluing me in!). Scribophile is a warm and welcoming group of writers who aim to connect and critique each other's work.

Sign up is free, and even if you've never critiqued someones writing before, you'll learn quickly with Scribophile's templates. When you critique, you earn "Karma Points", which can be redeemed when you post your own work for review. The site guarantees at least three well-thought-out critiques for each of your submissions.

Beyond the critique aspect, you can join "circles" of writers with similar interests, or those that share your geographical area. There's also an active forum, where all the members discuss a variety of topics relating to writing and publication.

Check out the Scribophile Blog for posts on all aspects of writing (a recent post was entitled "9 Things To Do While Waiting For a Response To Your Query"). The folks at Scribophile also host regular contests for members.

Book Review: How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them

Have you ever heard of Sol Stein? Editor and publisher of some of the most respected writers of the 20th century. Playwright, poet, novelist, screenplay writer, TV writer, writing teacher. And writer of books on writing. A man whose life has been all about words is worth listening to.

Let's check out How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them. Are you curious about the writing mistakes that Stein has encountered in decades of editing and publishing? I'll give away his first one.

Writers forget why their readers are reading. As a reader, you pick up a book in order to have an emotional experience that probably will not happen in your everyday life. You don't pick up a book to read the author's cleverly hidden rant against the political machine. Or a treatise on the environment. You came for a story.

Stein urges writers to have an image of their audience in their mind, much like a playwright listening in the wings for coughs and rustles--signs of audience boredom. He says writers must remember that readers "enjoy in fiction what they deplore in life: anxiety, tension, suspense, and conflict."

Who is your reader? Does your manuscript contain enough of these four critical elements to keep them reading your book for ten days?

Besides this point, which Stein elaborates on with multiple exercises for the writer, he includes fourteen more chapters whether he details problems writers encounter, and solves them one by one.

But he's not done, yet. In the second section, Stein uses several chapters to give a great education on the world of publishing. Then, at the end of the book, are two appendices. One, on "The Little Things That Damage the Writer's Authority" and "Where Writers Get Help". Also included is a glossary of writing terms.

If you'd like to hear more from Sol Stein, check out his website, his interview on Absolute Write, and his WritePro website, where he has three different kinds of writing software, plus DVD lectures, including a free software demo.

Suspense Tips for Novelists

You may not read suspense novels. You might not write them. But each of us has had the experience of not being able to put a novel down. Why? Besides well-written characters, and great plotting, the author likely used some suspense techniques.

Don't spoon-feed your reader. Readers love to figure things out for themselves. It pulls them along in the story. Whether it's description of a setting or character, or the complex relationship between a sleazy banker and his ex-girlfriend, find ways to hint at the situation. Remember dot-to-dot pictures? Somehow they were more satisfying to color than a "regular" coloring book, because you participated in figuring out what the picture was.

Go for the bread-crumb trail. Instead of plopping a big chunk of backstory to clue your reader in to the past, leave little bits here and there. Readers will stay on the trail to pick up every crumb. In other words, don't have your protagonist discover her middle-school journal and think, "It all started with that mean girl in the sixth grade." and spend three pages detailing what's happened between then and now. Have that adult "mean girl" make a snide comment or two, referencing your character's ineptness in those years. Bring back snippets of her memories by using what's happening in the present.

Try some twists and turns. Don't let your novel proceed in a predictable straight line. It's refreshing to read a book where you really don't know how it's going to end. Ask yourself at key points in the manuscript. What's the worst thing that could happen right now? Or who is the most unexpected person to enter the scene at this moment?

Gail Gaymer Martin is writing an excellent blog series right now, on suspense techniques. Check them out for lots more information.

Part I-What is a Suspense Novel?

Part II-What is the Structure of a Suspense Novel?

Part III-Suspense: Characterization

Part IV-Suspense: Red Herrings

Part V-Suspense: The Opening Sentences

Part VI-Plotting a Suspense Novel

Part VII-Suspense: Setting and Atmosphere

Part VIII- Suspense and Point of View

Part IX- Suspense: Backstory

Martin will post the next blog on goals and motivation, as related to suspense.

It might surprise you that Martin is a romance writer. From her long list of published books, she's figured out how to keep a reader hooked. Try a few suspense techniques yourself.

Are there any you use that you'd like to share?

Back to School, Back to Writing

Whether you have children going back to school or not, September always feels like the beginning of the year. Piles of freshly sharpened pencils and stacks of spiral notebooks give the itch to start something new. So it's time to get things in order for a new writing year.

Envision your "classroom". Just like a brightly-decorated schoolroom, there's a sense of anticipation in a "new" space. It doesn't have to be the same place you've always used. A new or different environment might get you sitting down to write more than in the past.

You can spruce up your present writing corner by clearing clutter, or swiping a bright coat of paint. Or you might carve out a niche in an unexpected spot in your home. Put up a screen, or tack some curtains around it to let others know you're hard at work.

Experiment with how well you work outside your home. Does the busyness of the local coffee shop invigorate you or distract you? Is there a cozy corner of the library that speeds up your word count? Perhaps a spot with a beautiful view will inspire a manuscript you've been avoiding.

Spring for new supplies. Why should the kids have all the fun? Head over to the office supply store, and pick up some patterned file folders to replace your plain manila ones. Check out the vast selection of pens, notebooks, and sticky notes. Grab a new planner to fill in with contest deadlines, conference dates, and your own word count goals. Don't forget to keep your receipts for tax purposes.

Plan your days. Teachers have to fill out lesson plans, accounting for every moment they're responsible for their students. Each of us has the same amount of time given to us, and it's our responsibility to use it. Some of us may have full-time jobs, families, health issues, and more.

The biggest issue is making yourself write every day. Find out how author Kate Messner wrote nine books in three years with a full-time job, a husband, and kids. If you really want to feel like a slacker, check out novelist and writing teacher Les Edgarton's self-imposed schedule. He puts us all to shame.

Start today. It's Monday. It's September. There's no better time.

What are you doing to begin your writing year?

Agent Friday: Adriana Dominguez and Resources for Latin Writers

Adriana Dominguez is a new literary agent (since 2009) with  Full Circle Literary Agency. She has worked in publishing for over ten years, mainly in children's books. Dominguez has her finger on the pulse of books being published by native Spanish speakers. Her blog is a wealth of information on these authors, and various conferences.

Through Dominguez' blog, the Full Circle Literary site, and some internet searching, I've found a list of great websites for writers who want to keep up with the publishing industry's interest in Latin authors. Here is a summary of what I've discovered.

Criticas, the Library Journal's book reviews of Spanish-language authors.

La Bloga: Chicana, Chicano, Latina, Latino, & more. Literature, Writers, Children's Literature, News, Views & Reviews. 

The National Latino Writers Conference

The Latino Book and Family Festival, co-produced by Edward James Olmos.

Don Quijote, a community for Spanish and Latin American writers.

Las Culturas, a listing of famous Latino/Hispanic authors. There's another list on Zeroland.

Latino Stories has links to author websites, news and reviews.

Adriana Dominguez' blog

Full Circle Literary Blog

Free Resources from Author Verla Kay

Verla Kay writes children's picture books. In rhyme. She's sold eleven of them so far, and they're wonderful. But another amazing thing about Verla Kay is the popular community she's created for writers. How popular? Try a million visitors per month.

That's right.

Twice named on Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers, the "blueboards" are worth checking out. Verla Kay's forum is geared toward writers and illustrators of children's books, from picture books to magazine articles to poetry. Most evenings, there are live chats where you can talk with other writers and illustrators, and visit with agents and editors who sometimes stop by.

But Verla Kay doesn't stop there. She has a blog with information geared toward children's writers (check out her series on how to do school visits). Her links page is filled with helpful links on writing, and research (Kay's books are historical).

I'm amazed at all she shares on her Writers & Illustrators page. You'll find links to her advice on Getting Started as a writer, and a huge page of Writers' Tips. There is information for published writers in Beyond the Basics and Helpful Resources. Kay has also designed her own comprehensive Character Chart for writers to take advantage of. And to top it all off, she offers free transcripts of dozens of writing workshops on a huge array of topics.

And she doesn't forget about her readers. Verla Kay has a special web page just for kids who like to write.

Next time you're in the library, take a detour to the children's section, and page through a few of her books. I guarantee her rhymes will make you smile.

Book Review: The Book Thief

We interrupt the weekly parade of writing books for a novel. I may have been a little late reading The Book Thief (published in 2005), but I'm thrilled I didn't miss it altogether. Marcus Zusak is a gifted Australian writer, who taught me several things in his book.

Subject-wise, The Book Thief is along the lines of the famous Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, except it follows an orphaned German girl through World War II. The day Liesel Meminger's little brother is buried is the day she picks up her first book. The next several years become defined by words from different books: some stolen, some gifts, some handmade. And when her foster family hides a Jew, words become more important than ever as they work to keep the secret, and their lives.

So, what did Marcus Zusak teach me?

Don't be afraid of an unusual narrator. Zusak narrates his book from Death's perspective. That may give you pause, but when you read the book, you realize it's brilliant. With all the slaughter of the war, death has an intrinsic part of the story, and lends a unique perspective that would have been lost if told from Leisel's point of view. Have you thought through who is telling your story? What would happen if you tried something different?

The use of foreshadowing. Most of the time, writers want to surprise the reader by springing situations and events on them. In The Book Thief, Death, the omniscient narrator, often "gives away" something that is about to happen, or will happen later. In fact, one of Zusak's earliest chapters is the scene of the climax of the book. However, because the reader is already so connected to the characters, you keep reading to find out how it happens, and what the results are. This technique won't work in every book, but the lesson to me is this: make your characters so real and compelling, that the reader will finish it no matter what techniques you use.

Make use of the vast array of words language has to offer. The The Book Thief is all about words. And colors. And Zusak doesn't use ordinary ones. 

"The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned."

With all the words we have at our disposal, why do we use the same, tired combinations over and over? Read The Book Thief and discover some fresh, original ways of telling your story that will stick with readers for a long time to come.

Though this book is YA (young adult), it became a #1 New York Times Bestseller (and won the Printz Honor award). Don't miss this book just because of its YA designation.

For more about the author, including an excerpt from the book, check out Markus Zusak's website. And if you'd like to see more reviews, click here.

Camping Out in Your Storyworld

I went camping this past weekend. The weather was perfect. The view was breathtaking. The company was fascinating. And it got me thinking about my storyworld.

Creating a storyworld is an art. Whether it's a contemporary setting in your own town, or a mystical forest on another planet, getting the sense of it on paper, so your reader is there, is a tough job.

One exercise that helps me, is camping out in my storyworld. What that means is I will choose a day in which I experience everything just as if I lived in that setting.

If I'm watching the sun come up, I imagine what it would look like in the world of my story. Are the colors I see touching mountain peaks or a smog-filled cityscape? How will my main character view this particular sunrise? Is she resigned to another day, untouched by the beauty, or does the scene remind her of someone in her past?

If your story is a fantasy, you’ll wonder other things. How many suns are there? How often do they rise? What colors can you imagine for such an alien world?

Even if you’re pouring yourself a cup of coffee, think through what your characters will have to do to get a hot drink in your story. Whether it’s hitting the local coffee shop because their ratty apartment doesn’t have a coffee maker, or trying to start a fire on the Icelandic tundra, it will help you live the lives of your characters.

Don’t forget your villain. They live there, too. You might be surprised to discover that your “bad guy” tears up watching a mother and child on the playground. Or that someone taking the last spot in the elevator will bring your antagonist fits of rage. These storyworld experiences will have you asking “why”. They’ll help you get to know your characters more deeply.

Each of us is affected by the world we live in. How crowded or uncrowded it is. What kinds of transportation we use. The methods with which we choose to communicate. The ease (or lack thereof) of obtaining the necessities of life.

Why not try walking through today in your storyworld?  The experience might bring dimension to your descriptions, and depth to your characters.

It’s worth a try.

The photo above is one I shot while backpacking at 11,000 feet elevation a few summers ago.

Labor Stories: Your Journey to Publication

Get a group of mothers together, and talk often turns to labor stories. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And if someone doesn't have a story of their own, they know a good one that a friend experienced.

If you've ever attended a writer's conference, it's not all that different. In a roomful of writers, there are dozens of stories:

The Easy Labor: Publication went smoothly. Timely contract, easy revisions, great publicity (by the way, in labor and in publication, this is rare).

The Long and Difficult Labor: It took years to secure an agent. Publishing houses turned up their noses. The house that finally bought the manuscript went out of business. In the complex business of publishing, it's a given that something will become a speed bump in the process.

The Home Birth: The writer who wants full control. Who isn't afraid of doing all the work themselves, and investing their money up front.

Infertility Issues: Those who have tried and tried, often spending lots of money in the process, and publication has not happened yet.

Why do we tell these stories? 
  1. Because of a shared experience (or one we hope to share)
  2. To give others an idea of the road ahead (so they can choose it, or avoid it)
  3. To encourage others the way we were encouraged (somehow I did it--hang in there and you can, too)
If you are presently pre-published, just remember: you're in the middle of labor right now. There are many times where it seems too hard, and you're tempted to give up. But what you learn and apply in these years will determine if yours is a positive experience or a negative one. Yes, there are a lot of factors outside your control. However, you decide what you learn, who you learn from, and the attitude you have within you.

Here's to a great labor story.

Agent Friday: Anita Bartholomew

How would you like an agent who has been a professional book doctor? And an editorial consultant? And worked for Reader's Digest And has co-authored both memoir and historical fiction? Anita Bartholomew  of The Salkind Literary Agency is new to agenting, but not new to publishing. And she's actively looking for clients.

Of course, you know that I'm particularly fond of blogging agents, and Bartholomew does not disappoint. Her blog is called Editors and Authors, and though it's new, I believe her posts are ones to keep up with.

I really enjoyed her post about The Link Between Method Acting and Writing Believable Characters. It describes how Bartholomew co-wrote a doctor's memoir. The post reminds me of a book on the same topic, Getting Into Character.

In Don't Let Rejections Bring You Down, she shares excerpts of actual rejection letters for well-known books. It's nice to see that famous writers got rejected, too.

If you're self-publishing, have you considered whether an agent might be helpful? Check out Self-publishing: Opportunity or Oblivion?

Some other posts you might like:

Before You Decide to Break All the Rules, Learn Them

Rejection-Proofing Your Novel

How to Improve Your Manuscript: Dialogue is Not Conversation

Is the "Slush Pile" Really Filled With, Well, Slush?

Also, on the agency website, under books, is an excellent article entitled How to Write a Winning Book Proposal. Clicking on articles will give you a selection of topics like How to Write a Bestseller, and 50 Ways for Authors to Make More Money.

Free Resources from Author Mary DeMuth

As you may have guessed, I love authors who give back to writers working their way through the journey to publication. One of those writers is the warm and funny Mary DeMuth. She is published in fiction, and non-fiction (including memoir), a popular speaker, and is becoming known for her editing skills at The Writing Spa.

I became familiar with Mary through a writer's loop I joined several years ago. We were able to meet at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference in 2008. I told her then, that she ought to write a book on writing. You'll see why.

Mary DeMuth had an interesting road to publication (I think she"d say it's still interesting!). Would you be willing to write in obscurity for ten years before beginning the process of publication? Mary is even thankful that it took her so long.

She began her So You Want to Be Published? blog in 2007, and it became a frequent stop for writers at all stages. Sadly, Mary's commitments prevent her from continuing the blog, but the two-and-a-half years of archives will stay online for writers to continue learning.

On the blog, Mary and her two critique partners post articles, critiques, and links for writers. Dozens of guest posts from published writers give insights into their road to publication. There are many other popular columns, such as Advice From Pros, where authors and agents share what they've learned. One of my favorite columns is the "I'd be published, BUT . . . " series, where writers tell what's holding them back from publication.

Other great series' are the Nuts and Bolts posts (with great information for newer writers), Your Questions Answered articles, and a large number of excellent articles on The Writing Craft.

I can't tell you how much I've learned from this generous author, and how much her writing has encouraged me. Definitely worth checking out.

Book Review: The First Five Pages

You can go over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, changing and adding words and even the format to come up with something that ought to make an agent drop their glasses. But in reality, that agent may toss your submission before they've reached the end of page one. What to do? Get a copy of Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

This book is for the writer who has already written their manuscript (or at least a few chapters). The First Five Pages helps a writer revise, with inside information from agent and author, Noah Lukeman.

Lukeman begins with five preliminary problems that are easy to fix. Things like presentation, adjectives, and adverbs. Then he dives into the intricacies of dialogue--a comprehensive education for any writer.

The bulk of the book is reserved for what Lukeman calls "the big picture". Things like tone, pacing, and characterization. A glaring omission from this section is a chapter on plot. Why?

I'll let Lukeman tell you in his own words:

"Many writers spend the majority of their time devising their plot. What they don't seem to understand is that if their execution--if their prose--isn't up to par, the plot will never even be considered.

Agents and editors often ignore synopses and plot outlines; instead, we skip right to the actual manuscript. If the writing is good, then we'll go back and consider the synopsis. If not, the manuscript is discarded. A great writer can produce an amazing piece of writing with virtually no plot at all. To underline its relegated importance for the purpose of this book, you'll find we deliberately omitted the chapter on plot."

The chapters end with exercises that invite you to analyze your first pages. Here's one that I like:

"Remove every noun and verb from the first page of your manuscript and list them separately. How many are commonplace or cliche? Cross out each one and beside it write down a less expected replacement. Now go back to your first page and insert your replacements. Read it aloud. How does it read now?"

If you were to try just this exercise on your first page (and then maybe the rest of them), your manuscript will be stronger and more compelling to an agent who looks at it.

I've collected more information on Noah Lukeman, including a link to some free .pdf downloads of his book excerpts. Be sure to check it out.

How are your first five pages? Time to take a look at mine.


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