Book Review: Hooked

Word of mouth is the best kind of marketing there is. With so many books on fiction to choose from, it's tough to narrow the choices down. But I kept reading articles where Les Edgerton's book was highly recommended. And my library had it available for me.

The title says a lot: Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go. I'd never thought there would be enough to say about story beginnings to fill an entire book. Edgerton wonders in the introduction why there's only one book about the start of stories.

I've been chewing through this book for the past week. I'm not done yet, but here are some of the things I've learned.

Edgarton learned about the importance of the hook when he worked as an editor. Facing mountains of slush, he developed a list of red flags to look for in the stories. If a red flag came up, he set the story aside. This is the way virtually every agent and editor reads their slush pile. Though they are looking for a manuscript they can say 'yes' to, in order to get through the volllume of manuscripts, they must look for reasons to say 'no'.

The author, a writer and writer-in-residence at the University of Toledo, helps writers eliminate red flags from their stories. In fact, he writes an entire chapter on the biggest red flags to avoid, and fills another chapter with input from agents and editors, on what causes them to reject a manuscript.

Edgerton explains that there are ten parts to a story's beginning. Ten? Really? I never knew. Once he described each one in detail and their importance, I immediately thought through my own novel's first pages, examining them for each of these critical aspects.

Happily, this is a small volume, which is a blessing for the busy writer whose free time comes in small chunks. I've been reading a little each day, then applying it to my manuscript right away. I think this is one I'll need to buy.

For more on Les Edgerton:

He's got a blog, and it's a good one. Good enough to put in my Google Reader. Then there's his website.  You can even hire him as a book coach. Click here for an interview with Edgerton.

The Hook: Catching Your Reader On the First Page

How many times  have you started reading a book, and put it down? Or you've recommended a book with the caveat, "Once you get past the first (chapter, 50 pages, etc.), it gets better". As a writer, I cringe at the thought of a reader reacting like that to my story.

So it's time to sharpen the hook.

I've been reading a book about hooking your reader (come back tomorrow for the review), and I've been impressed with the importance of crafting a great opening scene that will suck readers into the story.

This fantastic beginning will serve you in three ways: it will pull an agent into your story, giving you a publishing professional who will work to find a home for it. It will convince an editor at a publishing house to take a chance on an unknown writer. And finally, it will cause readers to buy your book, and (hopefully) recommend it to their friends.

Of course, if the rest of your book doesn't live up to the beginning, you will be guilty of a bait-and-switch tactic.

I checked the sites of several agents, editors and writers to see what they had to say on the topic. Remember, I'm learning all this as I go. Writing this blog is just a way for me to be a little more intentional about it.

Editorial Anonymous explains why you don't need bait, if you've got a hook (for more post on hook from this blog, click here).

Cindy R. Wilson explains the four elements of a good hook.

Examples of great first lines from Poetic Serendipity.

Agent Kathleen Ortiz explains why a great query hook will help her overlook a not-so-great query, and cause her to request pages.

Suzanne Hartmann's do's and don'ts for a good hook, and her anatomy of a good hook.

Come back tomorrow for my review of a book entirely devoted to making the start of your story the best it can be.

Work on Your Rhino Skin: Join a Critique Group

Probably all writers would agree that the purpose of a critique group is to improve your writing. But not all groups are created equal. How do you figure out which kind of group you need? Read on to find out.

The Warm Fuzzy Group. This kind of group is great when you're just starting out, and the thought of reading your work out loud makes you break into a sweat. It's a group of writers who are there to encourage each other, to keep the motivation to write flowing.

It's here that you'll overcome your fear of reading your words to others. Where you begin to think of yourself as a writer.

Every writer can use a group like this. A safe place to share the words you've written. Where you're not worried about critical words. Where novices and professionals can commiserate in the hard work of writing. And most importantly, everyone loves what you write.

The In-Between Group. This is the next logical step. You enjoy the group that loves your words, but you know that your writing can get better. So you find some like-minded writers and get together to critique each other's work. In this group, not everyone will fall in love with your writing. They'll find typos and inconsistencies.

And you'll improve as a writer. Your skin will thicken. You'll learn to graciously listen to others' opinions, even if you strongly disagree. You'll realize that not everyone is enamored with your writing, which is an important milestone.

The Rhino Group. It may sound crazy, but when you're ready for this group, you'll be begging for it. You will welcome the pain of having your precious words called into question. Having to defend your characters, and explain your plot. Being asked to rewrite what you thought was working. Your family will question the sanity of subjecting yourself to this level of criticism, but you will embrace it.

For this is what will help you get published.

And that's probably your goal, right? Wouldn't you rather do the hard work now, rather than suffer through endless agent and editor rejections, wondering what you did wrong? Developing a tough skin that will prepare you for the world of publishing?

So, which group do you choose? I happen to be a member of all three right now, and it's working well. I get lots of encouragement from my warm fuzzy group, and great constructive feedback from my intermediate group. Then I bring my chapters to my rhino group, and get big-picture feedback. All three are important for me.

To find a group, ask at your library, or check to see if a national writing group has a local group in your area. You can also look for groups on sites like Meetup. Check out this post for a great online critique group.

Whichever group you join, make sure your expectations match up with the groups' purpose. For a list of  great insights, check out agent Chip MacGregor's post on How to Get the Most Out of a Critique Group.

Agent Friday: Noah Lukeman

Noah Lukeman, of Lukeman Literary Agency, is an agent in such demand, that he no longer accepts unsolicited queries. However, busy as he is, Lukeman maintains a blog where he answers questions from writers, and he has written several books for writers polishing their manuscripts. On top of all that, he writes a monthly newsletter.

If I were that busy, I wonder if I'd take the time to write a blog, or work hard at giving away my ideas. Lukeman states on his website that he wants to give back to writers. Any takers?

Some gems from Noah Lukeman:

Lukeman's free 80 page ebook on how to write a query letter.

Must reading: How to Land (and keep) a Literary Agent (free 20pp. excerpt of the ebook)

The link to free excerpts of Lukeman's other writing books. You can read reviews of his books here.

What to put in your bio, if you've got nothing to brag about.

Lukeman explains how many pages an agent really reads.

Must authors really finish a manuscript before submitting to an agent?

An excellent interview with Noah Lukeman.

Do you have a question for Lukeman? Post it in the comments on his blog.

Resources from The Writer Magazine

I've posted quite a few links to the excellent Writer's Digest magazine. However, I realized today, when reading C. Hope Clark's Twitter post, that I've neglected to mention another great publication for writers. The Writer Magazine.

Hope's tweet took me to a wonderful article, called 50 Simple Rules for Making it as a Writer. Of course, one click led to another, and before long, I had a long list of articles bookmarked. See if you feel the same way.

There's a free newsletter to sign up for, and if you'd like to preview the magazine, you can flip through some of the pages to get a feel for it. Some of the content is for subscribers only, but there's plenty of information available free.

The Writer Magazine lists contests you can enter, upcoming writer's conferences, a great database of local writer's groups, and a huge number of writing links, which I'll have to take time to explore. There is a writer's forum boasting nearly 20,000 members. The forum is free to use, you'll just need to complete a short registration.

What else will you find? A comprehensive list of articles to read, an active and informative staff blog, and a wonderful archive of past columns.

If you like what you see online, check out some actual copies at the library. And if you can't live without your own subscription, consider adding it to your birthday wish list.

Writing for Anthologies

It seems like a pre-published writer's merry-go-round. No one is interested in publishing your writing until you have more writing credits. But to get writing credits, you have to convince publishers to take a chance on an unknown. It's enough to make a writer dizzy.

There are several solutions to the writing credit dilemma. One is to query magazines, submitting article ideas that fit the magazine's scope. If you start with smaller, regional magazines, you can build a collection of writing credits (also called 'clips') that can give you the clout you need when approaching bigger markets.

However, the query process is slow, and you may be itching to get published more quickly. Enter the anthology. Quite a few publishing houses print anthologies on various topics each year. As a result, there is a demand for stories to fill these volumes.

The submissions are usually short, from one thousand to a few thousand words, and the pay is small (often between $25 and $100, and a sample copy of the book). So don't look at these as a big moneymaker. The real treasure lies in publication.

Read the fine print. Anthologies have a submission process similar to a writing contest. It's important to follow the manuscript guidelines to the letter, and submit before the deadline, if you want to have a chance of success.

Find extra pairs of eyes. It doesn't matter if your aunt is an English teacher, or your college-age daughter scored an 'A' in composition. Get several non-family members to read over your submission. This is a job for a critique group who won't just pat you on the back, but who will challenge you to make it better. You'll be up against dozens, if not hundreds, of other writers. Spell-check is not enough.

Embrace the online calendar. If you start submitting to more than one anthology edition, it can get confusing keeping track of deadlines and topics. Break each deadline down into bite-size chunks: story outline, first draft, send to critique group, etc. Place each task on a specific day in your online calendar, and be sure your calendar emails you to remind you of your deadlines.

Don't give up. If the story you wrote for Chicken Soup for the Soul is not accepted, don't despair. Save that story in your anthology file, and check the folder from time to time. You may discover that another anthology has a similar call for submissions six months later. Or you might be able to tweak the story for a magazine or other market.

Ready to try? Here are links to the two biggest anthology markets. Check back with them often, as they add new calls for submissions frequently.

Chicken Soup for the Soul

Cup of Comfort

For more markets, check out the post on Duotrope Digest, a free service that helps you locate markets, and keep track of your submissions.

And check out this great article from Writer's Digest on the value of writing for anthologies.

Free Resources from Bob Mayer

It amazes me that after writing over 40 books, an author remembers what it's like to be just starting out, and gives away some of their hard-earned knowledge. Bob Mayer is an author like that.

Besides graduating from West Point, and staying busy with a career in Special Forces, Mayer has embarked on a second career--writing bestselling novels, books on writing, and engaging in an active speaking schedule. Just reading his bio makes me tired.

Let's take a look at Bob Mayer's website. He's got a great blog, with some good information from his Warrior Writer seminar. There are links to his writing workshops and online classes, and you can subscribe to Mayer's newsletter.

But my favorite page is his Writing Tips page. There's a free chapter to download from his Novel Writer's Toolkit. You can click on videos of several of Mayer's talks, like How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis, and Pitching an Editor/Agent. And then there are more than a dozen downloadable articles focusing on writing mistakes and solutions.

If you want even more from Bob Mayer, head over to the Writer's Digest homepage and sign up for their free newsletter (very worthwhile on its own). The signup gives you a free copy of Mayer's 128-page ebook, 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes. The seventy solutions are divided among sections like writing habits, plot, scene & structure, editing & rewriting, selling your work, and the publishing business. The signup is on the lefthand side.

Looking for more author resources? Click on resources at the right.

Book Review: A Summer Secret

Since I write novels for young adults, I like to keep current with books written for kids. This book was sent to me by Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Author Kathleen Fuller began writing historical and contemporary novels for adults, before switching to Amish fiction. A Summer Secret is her first novel for children.

A Summer Secret is the first book in the Mysteries of Middlefield series. This novel follows Mary Beth Mullet, a 13-year-old Amish girl who endures the not-so-welcome attentions of her three brothers.

Mary Beth finds some peace by sneaking away to an old barn where she can journal and draw privately. But her solitude comes to an end when her twin brother follows her, and the twins discover a runaway sleeping in the barn.

Mary Beth struggles with whether to tell her parents about the runaway. She's promised the boy to keep  his secret, and besides, her parents have already forbidden her from going near the rickety barn. This young teen faces tough decisions. Should she tell her parents, and lose her sanctuary?

My review: Younger readers will enjoy this book, mainly ages 8-12. Older teens will find Mary Beth's problems a little too simplified. The book is a little repetitious in its descriptions and inner dialogue. Overall, it's a nice introduction for young people to the Amish culture.

Read the first chapter online.

Check out Kathleen Fuller's website.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Agent Friday: Kathleen Ortiz

Our focus today, is agent Kathleen Ortiz, with Lowenstein Associates. [Note: as of 5/6/2011, Ortiz has moved to Nancy Coffey Literary.] It's funny how you run across a person. Yesterday, I posted about WriteOnCon, the free online writing conference. It was through one of the founders' blogs that I discovered Kathleen Ortiz, who is scheduled to be one of the presenters at the conference.

I learned quite a bit about Kathleen in this interview, which led me to her blog. Take a look at the blog posts I thought would be helpful:

Ortiz shares why she's picky about queries.

Some of her reasons for rejection.

How to write a synopsis.

Ortiz explains how she got into the business of publishing.

If you remember the post about the Absolute Write group, you'll be happy to know that you can ask Kathleen questions at the site. Check out the Ask the Agent Summer Spree. You can read another interview with her here.

Kathleen runs contests and giveaways fairly regularly. Stay tuned to her blog so you won't miss the next one.

Attend a Writing Conference for Free

Back in March, I told you about the Muse Online Writing Conference, a free week-long conference in October (If you haven't yet registered, do so before August 15th). Yesterday, I discovered another free online conference. This one is for writers of children's literature, or as the website states "rated MC-18 for characters 18 and under". It's called WriteOnCon, and it runs from August 10-12.

Started by seven young adult and middle grade authors, WriteOnCon will have everything you'd expect from a top-notch conference. From the website:
Keynote addresses, agent panels, and lectures will be presented as blogs, vlogs, moderated chats, webinars, podcasts, and livestreaming—check our amazing list of presenters to see who’s signed on. There will also be a critique forum, where participants can post query letters and first pages, to receive helpful feedback and comments from their peers and industry professionals. And, as if that weren’t exciting enough, there will also be daily contests, giving random winners everything from books to personalized critiques from agents.

 Though you can't register until July 1st, you can browse the website, check out the impressive list of presenters, and follow the latest news on Twitter and Facebook.

You won't have to take a day off, or shell out any money. So, who's going?

Book Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Time to pick another dog-eared writing book off my shelf. I believe this is the first writing book I ever bought, after hearing so many writers rave about it.

And they were right.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King is a resource that will help every fiction writer make their manuscript far better than it was before. The authors use excerpts from actual books to show the concepts they explain, and each chapter ends with a helpful checklist of things to do, plus several exercises to help you practice.

For example, in the chapter on  Point of View, the checklist gives nine questions to ask yourself about your story. The exercise section has two passages where Brownes and King encourage the reader to spot the point of view problems they explained in the chapter (the answers are included in the back). Lastly, the authors set up a scenario and ask you to write the scene from first person, third person, and omniscient points of view.

With twelve well-crafted chapters like this, it's impossible for your manuscript not to improve, if you follow the authors' advice.

Both of the authors work full-time in editing, and their websites offer some great resources, whether or not you take advantage of their editorial services.

Renni Browne's company is called The Editorial Department. Her company hosts an excellent blog (right now, posting on Building an Author Platform), a series of writing articles to read, and a monthly ezine.

Dave King Editorial Services is another website to explore. He has a nice list of writing articles, and a place where you can ask him your questions. And if you are in need of a professional editor, and don't have the funds, you can apply for King's Starving Writer Program.

To read the rest of my book reviews, click here.

Library Links: The New York Public Library

We all know that libraries are undervalued. But did you ever consider that you might be missing out on what's available on your library's website? Turns out, similar to the dusty research section few of us frequent, there are huge amounts of undiscovered, free information just waiting for writers looking for inspiration.

And it's free.

The best part, is that you can browse a library website located 1,000 miles away, taking advantage of the information they offer. Occasionally, you'll find some access restricted to local library members (meaning you'd have to type in your library card number), but if you really need that information, some libraries don't mind giving library cards to non-locals. Or your local library might be able to obtain access for you. Just ask.

I'm beginning a series where I'll highlight a different library website every two weeks. For this first time, being a native New Yorker, I chose the New York Public Library. Back in January I had a wonderful time wandering the halls of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. You know, the building where they filmed Ghostbusters. The soaring painted ceilings, carved woodwork, and sheer size of the place were breathtaking.

So I figured their website had to be amazing.

It was. This blog post almost didn't get written. I got so absorbed in the wonderful collections at the NYPL, that time got away from me. Happily, I ended up with a few dozen historical images that will be instrumental in finishing my manuscript.

The home page of the NYPL is deceptive, with only a few links to click on. I'll give you the highlights to save you some time.

If you click Find Books, Dvds & More, you'll get to choose from Articles and Databasesebooks, digital Images & More, Collections, and Recommendations.

I spent a little time in Articles & Databases. I did a search for English and American Literature. One of the great sites that came up is a database called the Jane Austen Info Page. On it you can find links to all her novels, plus her minor works. Another intriguing site that I found is the Victorian Women Writers ProjectThis is a site where Victorian women authors' work is transcribed onto the internet.

You can also search journal articles, browse the special collections and archival materials, check on their ebooks, audio books and digital images, and fill out an interlibrary loan form if there's something you must see in person.

Not sure where to begin? Try clicking on Places to Start Your Research. 

The Digital Gallery alone has three-quarters of a million images, from illuminated maps to vintage posters. I could spend a few days in that collection alone. Historical research, anyone?

I didn't have much time left to explore Blogs, Videos and Publications. The library hosts its own blog, prints numerous publications, and has a surprising number of audio, video and digital projects. 

If you have a specific question, or need help with research, there are specialized librarians waiting to assist you. Go to Ask NYPL.

I'm sure I barely scratched the surface of what's available. But I'm glad I took some time to virtually browse on a rainy afternoon. What's waiting at your library?

The Ins and Outs of Internal Dialogue

There's what we do, and what we think about what we do. One is active and the other is passive. Someone can guess our intentions by our actions, but it's only if they were to read our mind, that they would really know our motivations, our insecurities, and our secrets.

I've been thinking a lot about internal dialogue, since my current novel has quite a bit of it. Granted, it's told in first person, but I've been wondering: How much is too much?

So I decided to see what other, more experienced writers had to say. Here is a sampling of what I found:

Author Gail Gaymer Martin shares eight significant reasons to use internal dialogue.

Author C. Patrick Schulze gives some do's and don'ts when using internal dialogue.

Novelist and writing teacher Marilynn Byerly explains how to format a character's inner thoughts.

At Writer's Digest: using inner dialogue to help reveal a character's backstory.

Sheri has a well thought out philosophy about internal dialogue.

And author Margot Finke gives a nice explanation, with some good examples.

Do you have your own ideas about how much to use internal dialogue? Or an article you've found that made a lot of sense? Leave a comment below.

Agent Friday: Betsy Lerner

Our blogging agent of the week is Betsy Lerner of the Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Agency, which happens to be the agency that represents Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. Lerner spent sixteen years working as an editor before moving into agenting, and from what I've read about her, she was legendary as an editor.

Thankfully, Betsy Lerner passes on a huge amount of information through her blog, and in her book The Forest for the Trees. In the book, Lerner shares the perspective of editors in the publication process, and gives tips on making your queries and submissions stronger.

She also offers advice on handling rejection, dealing with ediors, and what to do if you experience writer's block. The book was published ten years ago, but Lerner is working on revising the information for the current world of publishing, and the new version will be released in fall 2010.

Lerner's blog is a humorous peek into the life of a literary agent, with its associated victories and travails. Her irreverent blog sometimes reads like a memoir, but because of that, it's fascinating. A selection of blog posts I like:

The ups and downs of publishing.

What happens when an author really revises.

Lerner's own query letter for a new project.

The importance of a good title.


The website of the Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Agency.

Lerner's other book, Food and Loathing: A Life Measured Out in Calories.

The Power of Ten

Since today happens to be the tenth of June, let's celebrate by rounding up some excellent writing articles that each give ten pieces of advice. Nice bite-sized chunks.

Why do we like lists like these? Maybe because it seems more manageable than say, 37 things to remember. So here they are.

From Holt Uncensored, we have Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do).

Writer's Digest gives us an excellent list in 10 Disciplines for Fiction Writers.

Author and Editor Mary DeMuth spells out 10 Common Writing Mistakes she sees as she works with her writer-clients, and her wise take on What It Takes to Become a Master Writer.

On Wordpreneur, Steven Barnes, author of twenty novels, explains Writing 20 Novels (in 10 Easy Steps!).

Professor Old Silly gives us 10 Ways to Keep Your Prose Strong and Simple.

For those anticipating getting published in the future, new author Gina Holmes shares 10 Things You Can Do Now to Promote the Novel You Haven't Even Sold Yet.

And though it breaks my string of articles about the number ten, I think all the writing moms out there can appreciate the Routines for Writers post: Over 30 Ways to Keep Kids Busy So You Can Write.

Have you come across other writing posts with the power of ten? If so, feel free to post a link in the comments.

Writing Contests: How to Find Them

Recently, I listed 6 Ways to Win With Writing Contests. Today, I'll  show you where you can find some of the many contests there are to enter.

Writing contests are not created equal. There are mini-contests on individual blogs, regional and organization-sponsored contests, corporate and publishing contests, and contests in magazines and newspapers.

Look Local. When you're starting out, local contests are a great way to hone your skills, help you get used to the process of working under a deadline, and learn to follow guidelines. Because regional contests are not widely publicized, your chances are better, too.

Check your local newspapers and regional magazines. You can call the publication's office to find out what contests they run. Our newspaper hosts a Christmas writing contest every year.

Keep an eye out for contests hosted by businesses, including your local library. A nearby library recently ran a poetry contest, publishing the winners in booklets placed all over town. Ask your friends to let you know of writing contests they hear about.

Go with Groups. Would it surprise anyone that writer's organizations sponsor writing contests? Most of these groups do not require you to be a member in order to participate, however if there is an entry fee it might be slightly higher.

Local writer's groups will obviously give you a better chance than national groups, but don't let that stop you from submitting. Be aware that most national groups have regional chapters that host their own contests.

Check out a list of some of the national writer's associations in the United States. Here is a list of writing groups by state (although there are more regional groups than are listed here). I also found a list of associations in the UK.

No matter what genre you write, or what topics interest you, there is likely a writing group connected to it. Like the Cat Writer's Association, the Baseball Writer's Association, and the Garden Writers Association. Do an internet search for your topic or area to find more.

Corporate Contests. You may already know that Writer's Digest holds both monthly and yearly contests. But did you know that Amazon hosts a Breakthrough Novel contest?

Many companies dream up contests each year to promote their products. I remember one a few years ago from the cotton industry that solicited stories connected to cotton clothing.

Oodles Online. By far, the biggest source of contests is on the web. From small blog contests (several agents run these, like Rachelle Gardner's recent contest), to contests hosted by online or print magazines, and even publishing houses, you're sure to find something that's in line with what you write.

Where can you find these online contests? One way is to set up a Google Alert with your specific criteria. Google will email you whenever someone publishes a post with those words.

Sign up for C. Hope Clark's free newsletters, and check her blog once a week. She scours the web, so you don't have to.

Check out the database on Duotrope Digest, a list of online magazines soliciting fiction and poetry. Many of these publications run contests, which are tracked on Duotrope Digest.

Most important of all, make sure to dedicate a calendar to your contest deadlines. Follow all instructions to the letter to increase your chances of impressing judges, and get writing.

Book Review: Disaster Status

What happens when an ER nurse breaks her neck? She turns to fiction, of course. Candace Calvert's life took a sharp turn when she suffered severe injuries in an equestrian accident. During her recovery, she wrote a story about her experience, which was published in Chicken Soup for the Nurse's soul. And she hasn't stopped writing since.

Disaster Status is the second book in Calvert's Mercy Hospital series. Here's the summary from Calvert's website:

Charge nurse Erin Quinn escaped personal turmoil to work at the peaceful California coast. But when a hazardous material spill places Pacific Mercy Hospital on disaster status and stresses staff, she’s put to the test. And thrown into conflict with the fire department’s handsome incident commander who thinks her strategy is out of line.

Fire Captain Scott McKenna has felt the toxic effects of tragedy; he’s learned to go strictly by the book to advance his career, heal his family, and protect his wounded heart. When he’s forced to team with the passionately determined ER charge nurse, sparks fly. As they work to save lives, can they handle the attraction kindled between them . . . without getting burned? 

My review: Candace Calvert knows the ER, and it shows. You'll be pulled in by the current medical terminology and the split-second decisions that emergency room professionals have to make, even when they're stressed, tired, and dealing with community-wide emergencies. I enjoyed the setting in Northern California, and the descriptions of the coast.

Erin Quinn and Scott McKenna each have secrets to hide, and painful experiences in their pasts that they'd rather not share. However, their respective jobs force them to work together, despite having opposing philosophies about how to help the community best. The romance angle of the book wasn't as gripping as I'd like it to be, but overall, I enjoyed the book.

To read an excerpt of Disaster Status, go here.

Check out Calvert's blog, RX Hope, here.

To see all my book reviews, click here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale Publishers as part of their Tyndale Blog Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Writer's Voice: What Is It Really?

Reviewers sound so enlightened when they say it, "This writer has a unique voice." But for emerging writers, it can be frustrating. They wonder, "What is voice, and how can I get one?"

The best explanation I've found is in the wonderful book Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Ignore. In it, author and writing teacher Elizabeth Lyon explains what many editors and agents find difficult to describe, since the words "style" and "voice" are often used to describe an author's writing.

A quote from Lyons:
"Style is based on "wordsmithing", choosing and tweaking words to create the desired effect and to fit a character and genre. Voice is the author's natural use of language to create authentic and original characters and unique storytelling. More simply stated, style is the outcome of voice, more so than vice versa."

Lyons gives several examples where different styles of writing about the same object sound vastly different. Picture an old rusted car. Now imagine three writers describing the same car. One writer is an inner-city gang member, another is a wealthy Englishman, and a third writer is you.

Will the specific vocabulary vary in the three descriptions? Quite a bit. Each voice will have a distinction of its own. (This is one reason writers rarely need to worry about someone "stealing" their idea. Even if someone nabbed a copy of your novel outline, your voice is what makes your story completely unique.)

I've collected a few good articles that will shed more light on the voice issue:

Agent Nathan Bransford explains How to Craft a Great Voice. (For more on Bransford, click here.)

Agent Rachelle Gardner tells what voice isn't, and what it is in The Writer's Voice, and she shares the difference between Craft, Story and Voice. (for more on Gardner, click here.)

Musician Heather Goodman gives three exercises for writers to use in finding their voice in A Musician Looks at Writing.

And lastly, amazing 16-year-old writer Tessa shows she's wise beyond her years with her prescription in Have You Lost Your Writing Voice? Excellent advice.

Agent Friday: Upstart Crow Literary

Upstart Crow Literary is a group of four agents who work together and share a blog. Have I mentioned lately how much I like agents who blog? Once you regularly read an agent blog, that agent is no longer a "mystery" to you, and you can more easily decide if they might be a good fit for you and your writing. And the side benefit is that you learn more about publishing in the process.

What things might you learn from Upstart Crow Literary?

Why a writer, even a contracted writer, needs to develop a lot of patience.

Whether or not to pitch your project as a series.

Does posting personal information on Facebook hurt a writing career?

Will an MFA help you or hurt your chances of securing an agent?

Simple instructions for how to write a book.

And how to write a one-sentence summary. (If you're motivated, work on your one-sentence summary, and enter it in agent Rachelle Gardner's contest today or tomorrow. Mine will be there.)

If you'd like to know more about Upstart Crow Literary, check out their frequently asked questions. They also have a nice Writer's Toolbox page, with links to good resources.

Book Review: Plot & Structure

This week's book, Plot & Structure,  is getting quite dog-eared and marked up. Before I could write my review, I had to pry it from my daughter's hands (she's heading off to college, and majoring in creative writing). Needless to say, this book is not going with her. She'll have to get her own copy.

James Scott Bell is not only a prolific novelist (and former trial lawyer), but he has published three books on the craft of writing, all of which are in high demand. And for good reason.

Plot and Structure is a great book for those of us that like to learn visually. Full of diagrams, charts and illustrations, the reader can easily grasp the concepts Bell is explaining.

Figuring out how to take an idea and give it enough substance to carry a reader through 300 pages is not something we all learned in school. Bell explains how plot affects every aspect of a novel. He gives details on several different plotting systems, so you can find the one that works best for you.

Probably the most encouraging part of the entire book is Bell's introduction. He explains how he wasted ten years of his life because he had been told that writing could not be taught. Bell insists that writing can be taught, and that anyone who is motivated to learn can grow into a good writer. Fortunately, we have books by Bell to help us along.

James Scott Bell's website. Click on "Writer's Page" for links to writing articles by Bell. Click on the "News" page, where you can download an exerpt of Bell's latest book: The Art of War for Writers.

The Kill Zone: the blog where Bell posts on Sundays.

Write Your A** Off Day

If you're a fiction writer, you probably know about Nanowrimo, where you spend the month of November writing a novel. Chances are, you haven't tried it. Well, next Saturday, you can see if you have what it takes.

The New York Writer's Coalition has declared June 12, 2010, Write Your A** Off Day. It's quite simple. Write 3,000 words, which is about 10 pages, in one day.

Since you're only committing to one day of writing, instead of a month, it doesn't seem like such a huge task. And if you are successful, imagine how easy Nanowrimo will be, since you only have to write 1600 words a day.

If you live in the New York City area (which I don't anymore), you have the added bonus of a free breakfast and lunch, complete with workshops and an author talk by Nicholas Dawidoff. Find out more at the New York Writer's Coalition website.

If you, like me, can't jet to New York for the weekend, don't hesitate to take up the challenge and participate remotely. Find out more here and here. The registration to participate is free, and no matter where you live, if you writer your 3,000 words you can enter for a free private phone consultation with author Jennifer Belle.

So, is anyone going to join me?

How to Write a Memoir

It seems like everyone is doing it. Telling their story. Even David Archuleta has thrown his literary hat into the ring. And rumor has it that Lindsay Lohan is penning her story. If each of us has a story to tell, should each of us write a memoir?

There is a lot to think about when considering telling your life story, or even a portion of it. We all have significant things that happen to us--surviving an accident or deadly disease, adopting a child, recovering from addiction or dealing with a difficult childhood. Many of us also have had interesting lives--growing up during the Depression, living in an exotic country, having an unusual job or being married to a well-known person.

At some point in your life, you've probably heard these words: "You ought to write a book about what you've been through". The question is, should you really?

That doesn't mean you shouldn't write your story down. Just the act of recording and reading our own thoughts on personal experiences is valuable for working through the emotions involved and allowing the lessons to sink in. If appropriate, your written record can be shared with family members, or anyone who might benefit from the experiences you went through.

However, it is very difficult to convince publishers that your particular story might have a following among the masses. This doesn't mean you have no chance, just that you should be aware that it will take quite a bit of convincing.

Of course, if you're a celebrity, like Lohan, or have been highlighted in the news, you have a better chance. But don't give up completely.

Write your story, first for yourself. In the process, work through the emotions that telling your story evokes. Some have written their memoir too soon, when the emotions are too raw. They are too close to the pain (or whatever strong emotions it evokes), and dont have the perspective of looking back and realizing how they've been affected.

Share it, or parts of it with others. Whether through a blog, a newsletter, or even making a small number of copies for your family, you can "publish" your story and get feedback through others' reactions.

Join a critique group. No one's writing is fantastic with the first draft. Get together with other writers who can help you fine-tune your tale. They can help you explain more clearly, fill in holes you weren't aware of, and cheer for you as it comes together.

Below are some links to articles about memoir. I hope you find what you need to tell your story.

You may want to join the National Association of Memoir Writers, to find forums, articles, and other resources.

Memoir Do's and Dont's

Why it's difficult to find an agent for a memoir.

Frequently asked questions on Memoir.

Memoir writing for everyone.

Writing your memoir during retirement.


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