My guest today is Margie Church, AKA Churchlady, author of romance/thriller novels with “SASS.” She tells me that stands for Suspense, Angst, Seductive Sizzle. Margie is a married mom of two children, and a Minnesota native. He writing career began early when she published in “McCall’s Magazine” in the sixth grade. Margie describes her professions as a mother and author whose guilty pleasures are great beer, real vanilla ice cream, and lobster. I couldn’t agree more with that list! Read More
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MA: Julie Achterhoff was born in Michigan, but brought up mostly in the big city of San Francisco and a small island in the Gulf of Mexico. Her imagination was sparked by experiencing these different ways of life. She grew up reading very adult horror, mystery, and thriller novels passed to her by her mother. When reading she would get as excited about the writing of the books as the reading. She ended up becoming a home birth midwife with five children of her own. Still, with every book she read there was that gnawing urge to write something of her own.
Julie – welcome BACK! This is your third visit to my blog, and while I’ve had a few authors guest with me twice, you are the first with a triple visit.
My readers can go back and read the original posts Julie did with me, first on January 1, 2010, and then again on September 10, 2010.
Please remind my readers what you did before beginning your writing journey.
JA: I was a midwife raising a family for about 17 years, but when the oldest got big and responsible enough to watch the younger ones I started taking a couple classes a week at the local college. Of course I picked writing and English classes. I didn’t even dare hope to actually write anything. It was this deep, dark secret I kept even from myself! I started getting addicted when teachers and other students told me what they liked about my writing. That gave me more confidence. I suddenly realized the authors of every book I’d ever read were just regular people like me who probably started out not knowing if they could write. So I allowed my deeply buried creativity out and gave it full rein.
MA: I know you didn’t start writing novels right away, but you actually began with plays, is that right?
JA: My first major effort after some short stories and essays was actually a three-act play called Angel in the House. I really got excited about seeing my work performed. I eventually hoped against hope that I could work in the movie industry. But the structure used in plays and screenplays was very stilting for me. I had to pay so much attention to form that I felt it took away from the writing. I enjoyed just writing away without a care like I could with the short stories I’d written. I just couldn’t imagine putting enough words down to make up a whole darned book. But I decided to give it a try. I figured if others could do it, so could I.
MA: So how many books are you up to at this point?
JA: I’ve now written four books. I still can’t believe it, but I swear it’s true. I just kept writing and writing, and somehow the word count kept climbing until finally it was the end and I had a whole book in my hands. The first was Quantum Earth. It’s about a team of metaphysical scientists racing to find out why we’re having more natural disasters of a higher degree leading up to the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012, and if our own human thoughts are actually creating this reality. Deadly Lucidity is a thriller about a woman trapped in her nightmares and dreams. Then she meets someone who tries to help her find a way out of her own mind. He seems to be another part of her imagination, but he is also so real. Native Vengeance is a novella about a woman who meets a friend on the internet and eventually goes to visit her during the town’s main event of the year. Of course, this annual “event” isn’t what it seems. The town has an old Indian curse on it because of something that happened a long time ago. The new friend needs her so she can escape the evil that occurs each year to punish the residents of the town.
Then there’s my latest book, Earthwalker- Earth can be Hell for a Vampire. I’ve always loved vampires the most of any of the beasts around. Maybe that’s why it took me this long to write my own kind of story about them. Plus, I hate doing anything that’s “in.” So I figured I’d have to write the book so different and far from the main crowd that it would hardly resemble any vampire story from the past. I think I achieved this. Earthwalker is a book about a vampire. And there is a passionate love story. But from there on out it is different in almost every way from any past works of its kind. I think I was successful in finding a fresh new way of presenting it. It’s all in the writing, though, anyway, isn’t it? I mean if you like my writing, you’ll definitely like this book. It barely gives the reader a moment to take a breath. I write tight and lean. There’s not a lot of flowery prose or descriptive overload in my stuff. I think you learn a lot about yourself and your style of writing with each new attempt. I would call Earthwalker my dissertation.
MA: Are you the kind of writer who starts with a hero and then builds the story, or do you start with a plot and develop the right man or woman to fill the need?
JA: Whenever I begin writing a book I already have a pretty good idea of who the protagonist is. I have the framework in my mind and then let them develop and grow on the page. I say “let” them because that’s how it seems to happen. They become alive to me. I think that’s how I’m able to write a whole book at all. The characters kind of take over and tell me what could possibly happen to them that would be thrilling and exciting, but also believable to the reader.
MA: Can you give us an idea of one of your heroes or heroines?
JA: In Earthwalker, for example, Willa is the so-called heroine. In the beginning of the story she is pretty weak. She’s recently gone through some tough life situations and is worn out emotionally. But she’s basically a strong young woman with emotional reserves that she calls on from the beginning. She’s good at dealing with emergency situations, it doesn’t take much for her to catch on when something outside her past experience happens, and she has the capacity to be courageous if need be. She is also willing to sacrifice herself for a greater good. As most of us do, though, she tends to think of herself first. She does sense this about herself and ends up putting herself last. With Willa, it’s like she moves ahead two steps then one step back and so on.
MA: Where do you draw from to create your “bad guys?” I’m always intrigued by antagonists in supernatural stories.
JA: I’ve had pretty intense nightmares since I was very young, so I’ve got plenty of nasty people in my head. I actually tone them down for my books so they’re not totally evil. That would be boring. You’re always going to enjoy a story more when you can somehow relate to the bad guy/gal. It’s like your dirty little secret. It brings the reader in so they feel closer to the characters.
MA: I take it you’ve not had any real-life encounters with vampires or other such creatures, or have you (grinning)?
JA: Not at all. I like making it all up from scratch. You will probably never see a non-fiction book come out of me. The further away from reality the better. My writing is my escape. It takes me far away from this world. And that’s the way I like it!
MA: Okay, so four works of fiction down…how many more to go? Where are you headed in the near future?
JA: Just recently I had a very long and real feeling dream that inspired me to write another book. It’s been months since I’ve written anything, so it’s great to know I haven’t dried up in the writing department. The next one’s about a reporter out to research the latest drug craze. And boy is it a doozy! What a crazy dream that one was.
MA: I can only imagine! I’ve had a few intense dream in my life, so I can relate. Will your allow any characters from past books to tag along in future stories?
JA: I have been asked by several readers if there will be a follow-up to Quantum Earth. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a time-bound novel in that it revolves around a particular time, the year 2012. But I guess it all depends on what actually does happen in 2012 to tell you the truth. Maybe these characters will have more to say and do at that point. Who knows?
MA: Let’s hope the Mayan “prophecy” turns out to be a whole lot of nothin’! After all, the Mayans simply stopped counting days, without actually saying what would happen beyond the calendar. So much about that calendar is super-hyped. Any parting thoughts?
JA: I would just like to encourage anyone who has a desire to write not to make excuses or let your inner critic stop you from doing something that could bring you a lot of joy. Don’t let anything stop you. And don’t do it for the money or fame. Chances are that won’t happen. You just have to love it. And then just do it. Get those words down on that page! You’ve got nothing to lose and so much to gain. If you do it this way it’s gonna show in your writing. Then you’ll have something to be proud of.
MA: Thanks again, Julie, for coming back. I want to encourage my readers to check out Julie’s blog (http://earthwalker.tk) and her books’ website (http://julieachterhoff.tk).
More Words to Lose
Have you ever really listened to people talking? We writers should do that all the time. It’s one of the reasons we love to people watch, not to eavesdrop but to learn about fascinating accents, jargon and colloquialisms that could add zing to the characters in our fiction.
In becoming aware of how people talk, on a daily basis I hear words and phrases that make me cringe. Call me a purest. Call me obsessive compulsive. I shake my head when I hear anyone say, “I told him, I said…” What is the purpose of being redundant? “I told him” and “I said” mean exactly the same thing.
“I told him, I said, be careful.”
“She told me, she said she didn’t like my cooking.”
I sigh when I hear a person saying “basically” before starting each new sentence they speak.
“Basically, what you need to know is where to start.”
“Basically, the mystery started with a nondescript clue.”
As you can see in the above two examples, the sentences do not need the word basically at all.
Dislikes such as these are at the top of my list to get hit with the delete button in my compositions.
Language takes on a different aura in dialogue if you have established that one of your characters actually speaks this way: “Basically, ma’am, I’m here to learn the truth and that’s all.” Still, it would be very off-putting to the reader if your character started all or lots of his dialogue with that dreaded word. Correctly portrayed, you would have set up the character’s speaking personality as, perhaps, slow and as being a methodical thinker and that one word used once or twice would then enhance his speech mannerisms.
However, my writing is not yet perfect either. I must continually be vigilant for sentence starters like: “She thought….” or “He said….”
She thought she wanted to go along.
He said he didn’t want to go.
When writing from the main character’s point of view, the reader will be in that character’s mind, seeing the story action from his or her point of view. The reader will be thinking the character’s thoughts. At least that’s what happens if our writing is good enough to draw the reader in. Starting sentences with phrases like “She thought” is, again, redundant. All a writer need do is state the character’s thought: She wanted to go along. Immediately, we feel or sense the character’s desire without being told it’s a thought.
Deleting unnecessary words and phrases helps greatly when word count matters and it really does, not to mention cleaning up a manuscript.
If in a case like “He said…,” instead of saying “He said he didn’t want to go along,” put what the character said in actual dialogue: “I want to go too,” he said. That’s unless you’re relating a past experience. Even then, you would simply say: He wanted to go along.
Any time you catch yourself telling what this or that character said, most of the time what the character said should be put in dialogue, instead of the writer “second-hand” telling the reader what was spoken.
I continue to be amazed at how people in my own circle of friends and family use these incorrect phrases. But then, they are not writers who need be astute at the verbiage they commit into stories. They are just being themselves, and that’s just fine with me. They give me a lot to think about and I am grateful that they can just be themselves with me and not worry that I am going to correct their every spoken word.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent
Being aware of what agents look for will help you prepare the type of manuscript they will read. Keep in mind, these same rules apply once you have an agent and the manuscript is being sent out to publishing house editors.
All agents hope to find that one manuscript that is unique above all the others. It’s been said that all stories have been told. What makes them different is each individual writer’s slant on the topic, providing they have written a solid story.
When an agent begins to read, after years of experience, they are keen to grammar flaws. This is one area that could cause an agent or editor to reject a manuscript without consideration of any of its other merits.
Too, how long is your manuscript? Paper books presently should be 60,000 to 80,000 words. Anything more than that, since it’s the requirement, the agent will believe the writer too verbose, lacking control over their adjectives and adverbs and overall sentence structure.
With the advent of hand-held readers, entire books are now converted to ebooks. There may or may not be word count restrictions. Still, your story must be good to merit the higher-end costs of ebooks as well.
If the agent or editor reads on, they do so with one motivation. They need to decide if this book, when published, will sell enough to make back their commission and any advance royalty paid to the writer. And still, the book must make a profit for the publishing house beyond that point.
The agent or editor will also be judging the writer’s overall presentation. Is it neat? Was the cover letter professional? Did it follow standard form? Did the writer seem to know what he or she talked about. What they look for is how you, the writer will perform after the book is published. Are you going to be difficult to work with? Are you going to go out of your way to make this book a success? Or do you believe that’s the publisher’s duty?
Professionals know immediately if they want to spend the time to read all the way through. They are also concerned if a reader will want to spend hours with the story and author. They scrutinize to see if the writer’s descriptions are fresh and different. What the agent looks for is individual voice. It was once enough to say “the trees had greened up after the last heavy rain;” another to say “the morning sun reflected in the raindrops on the new green leaves and made the trees sparkle.” Your voice shows in how you describe scenes and action. Your description must be different than anything else you’ve read.
An agent is keenly aware whether or not they will turn from the first page to the second. Agents read thousands of stories. They know by the end of the first page if the book will stack up against others in the same genre.
Have you written characters that an agent will appreciate? Your characters must stand out from all the rest. For character development, see my articles Faces and Quirks and Character Sketches. Everyone, from agent, to editor to publisher to avid reader must like your characters. Make them likeable or make them the kind of characters we love to hate, but make them memorable.
The overall plot must be about something the characters need to attain or obtain. They must want it desperately or the reader simply will not care enough to follow the character through whatever conflict arises.
Not only in nonfiction but in fiction as well, your facts must be right. In nonfiction it can be no other way. If you wish to make your fiction true to life, which helps the reader suspend reality and keep reading, get your facts straight too.
Dialogue moves the story. It must be written in such a manner that enhances the character’s personality. Dialogue exchanges between characters must propel the story. Ordinary conversation is never written into books. It is boring and says nothing really. Consider this:
“Good morning, John.”
“Good morning, Jim. What’s on the agenda today?”
“Guess we’re supposed to take the plane out for a test run today.”
They went to leave immediately.
“Morning, John,” Jim said, rushing in. He thumbed toward the sky. “Let’s get upstairs before the boss sees the plane still sitting on the tarmac.”
Ordinary conversation has no place in good writing. Dialogue and beats move the action. Oh yes, see my article titled Let the Dialogue Speak.
The above could easily be included in the instruction we’ve all heard: Show, Don’t Tell. Simply, what this means is that the reader must see the action happening. Dialogue promotes action. Any time the writer begins to tell what a person thinks, how they interact with others, that should raise a red flag in the writer’s mind. See the two examples above? The first version contains dead dialogue and stalls the action. The second example not only contains dialogue that moves the story, but shows us what these two people are doing. Shows, doesn’t tell.
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Most of the information in this article applies to both agents and editors. You must find an agent before you can approach a publishing house editor. The agent does that for you. In rare instances I’ve heard about someone submitting directly to an editor, but it usually turns out to be a small start up publishing house. If you wish to approach the big houses, get an agent.
To help you find an agent, try the site which does not charge a fee. In my experience they have been totally reputable:
The agents listed on this site tell you what types of manuscripts they will accept and in which genres. It’s very thorough.
These are the people who publish those real thick volumes about everything you need to know as a writer. The book is expensive. However, if you sign up for their online edition, you get new listings and updates as new information come in all year long.
You can double check the credibility of an agent or editor you wish to contact by finding them on Preditors and Editors at:
Preditors and Editors tell you who is legitimate and who is a scam. Yes, there are scam artists in the writing industry. You knew that, right?
I’m sure other sites have additional information but these are great places to begin your search.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
The hard facts about your public image as author publicity.
Author publicity has its own set of rules. Author promotion is another name that applies.
Something I noticed when I first began submitting stories for publication was that I got a lot of rejections. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with my writing when others had already read the pieces and said they were spectacular.
I’m compulsive and needed to know what was wrong. I dissected some of my rejected pieces, with the help of a friend, word for word, letter by letter, and you’ll never guess what we found.
I wasn’t as compulsive as I had first thought.
Letters missing or one little letter where it shouldn’t be, or misspelled words, or commas misplaced or just plain missing: Typos. Now I look at everything I send out or post on the Net.
Imperfect writing and typing gets rejected. That’s unless you happen upon a benevolent editor who likes your submission and who will correct your errors. My advice: Never count on that. It seldom happens. Too much good and perfect writing exists and they won’t bother with a piece of writing unless it’s near perfect.
Never let your guard down when rooting out those imperfections. Place it high on your list of writing rules.
If you think the quality of your work has nothing to do with author publicity, please think again. Anything that you put out into the public arena can be categorized as author promotion.
Would you promote yourself to be a second rate writer?
I can’t say that I don’t make typos anymore; I do, and I still miss a few. But what occurred to me was what anyone sends out in public, what they offer as a picture of themselves as a writer, is a picture of how well they have perfected their craft. What and how they write and present is their public persona, author publicity, whether positive or negative.
Exceptions may be when an electronic transmission of a body of writing gets garbled and drops a word or two. Or the publication’s production people make typos or other errors in your work.
Every writer needs to create a good image, and you’ll create one whether or not you believe that your submissions are considered author publicity.
No one wants to be known as a writer whose work is fraught with errors. No editor wants to read such gobble-de-gook. They regularly read the best of the best – and that is what a writer should aspire to be, or at least among the best. Many will not reach those heights—and not make an income from writing—if they submit prose that is impossible to get through in one easy read.
An editor doesn’t have the time to sit over a piece and decipher what the writer is trying to say because they can’t read it in the first place. Make them happy and they will ask for more of your work.
Then, if you think Web sites and blogs don’t matter? Suppose you send off a nearly perfect story and the editor loves it. You can bet they will check out your Web site and your blog (you’d better have one in today’s market) to see if you’re capable of rendering positive attention to yourself, and to the publicity of their publication.
Your website blog is your reputation.
So the editor goes to your blog and sees it is nothing but a rendering of yesterday’s headaches and a lot of bellyaching about everyone and everything and it generally serves no purpose but to make you look like a disgruntled complainer. Is that how you would handle your author promotion?
Your own words can undermine you. What could an editor expect you to do for them?
We’re writers. Stories, poetry, and information about craft are all we should be putting out into the public as we build author publicity.
Our private lives should be publicized at a minimum. Reserve something of yourself for that great publicity interview, if you get that far.
At this moment, do you know how an editor might perceive you if they happened upon your stories and postings? If you’re serious about a writing career, think about it.
In building your public persona, make every word count.
Follow the writing rules. Author publicity and author promotion are one and the same, and you will create it with every word you place in a public forum.
Most writing is seldom perfect; not a line of poetry, nor a short story, and certainly not book length prose either.
When you’ve submitted a manuscript that keeps getting rejected, quite a few reasons exist to explain why this happens. Perhaps you sent it to the wrong publisher. Maybe the editor was in a bad mood and your plot didn’t sit well with their emotions that day, wrong word count, wrong theme, and on and on.
The reasons manuscripts get rejected are too numerous to mention, and the writer cannot control much of it. Except for making sure what they send out is written the best that it can be.
If you’ve studied a lot about the mechanics of writing, you’ll find an error or two in whatever you read. You’ll be able to identify areas of the prose that could have been written better. Since you can’t change what’s already published, can’t change anyone’s work but your own, apply your educated eye to your own writing. Read through and edit your work each time you send it out. Make at least one correction or improvement. Make any changes you notice that could have been included but missed the first time around.
This may be an arduous practice to apply to book length manuscripts, so care must be taken before the final draft to assure you’ve got it right; before you print those many hundred pages or burn that DVD and send them off thinking they are perfect.
As you write more, you learn more and hone your skills. Each time you read through the prose you’ve already written, bring it up to your current level of expertise before sending it out again. That one change might be the correction that gets the story accepted.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
I am pleased to introduce today’s guest-blogger, P.I. Barrington. Ms. Barrington is an ex-entertainment industry professional (read: radio air talent to record label worker bee) who has recently returned to her original career choice of fiction writing. She lives in Southern California, and her first novel, Crucifying Angel, launched in early November. Read More