Friday, September 30, 2011

Write What You Know

Hi. Kathy Cottrell here, a couple days early and representing the Last Roses of Summer in our garden. I'd like to talk about using what you know in your writing.
Having attended a number of writers conferences over the years, I've had the privilege to sit in on any number of workshops, the Craft Tract being a personal favorite. One which stood out the loudest came when Nora Roberts told the audience, 'write what you know.' Coming from one of my writing heroes, the advice made sense―except I wondered how I, as a nurse [then] could ever turn a doctor into a hero. If you don't know where someone had their hands last--not an appealing thought as far as I was concerned.
Then came the day when I heard Tess Gerritsen speak at a New Jersey Romance Writers conference. She spoke about how her roots in writing dated back to her medical residency days in the ICU and observing what the nurses―whom she spoke of with great respect and affection―were reading: category romances. Wow. A physician who spoke of nurses with respect. I had to read one of her books. Let me tell you, after devouring “The Apprentice”, I was hooked. Tess Gerritsen writes what she knows!
As a teenager, living in a rural area with little to do and no way to get anywhere, I read anything I could get my hands on. I discovered a book by Frank G. Slaughter in my parents' library, a Civil War story about a female spy and a male battle surgeon. Very bloody, lots of guts, gore and suffering. Right up the alley of a fourteen year old with an over-active imagination and way too much time on her hands. Thoroughly hooked, I proceeded to sign out every one of his books from the school library as well as the library in a neighboring town. It wasn't until I later that I learned Mister Slaughter was actually a medical doctor.
This author had the ability to put me in the moment of a battlefield hospital scene, suffering right along with the physician and his patients. One of Dr. Slaughter's contemporary novels, “Daybreak” featured the trials and tribulations of a physician working in the mental health system prior to the advent of effective anti-psychotic medications when pre-frontal lobotomies and electroshock therapy were considered last ditch efforts to treat intractable psychiatric problems. Very chilling stuff for this young woman who was about to head off for three years of nursing school in―you guessed it―a state psychiatric facility. By the end of my schooling, I'd passed more Thorazine and Mellaril than any thousand nursing students―and no fresh lobotomies, thank you very much.
As a young wife with a graduate student husband and two small kids, money was tight. I lucked out when I discovered a second-hand book store which stocked copies of Robert K. Tannenbaum's legal thrillers featuring Assistant District Attorneys Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi. With each book I learned about the steps in the legal process, evidence that can degrade over time or be lost by dumb luck or stupid accident, “eye witnesses” who don't see everything, and a how-to manual for criminals who want to beat the system. It came as no surprise when I learned this man spent many years in the Manhattan DA's office, prosecuting the worst of the worst. Writing with a sharp wit and biting sarcasm, after more than thirty years, Mr. Tannenbaum's books continue to hold my interest. Another instance of writing what one knows.
Lastly, I'd like to blow the horn for one of my nursing as well as writer heroes: Eileen Dreyer. After many years in category romance [writing as Kathleen Korbel], Eileen―an experienced ER nurse―was called up to the big leagues with a series of medical thrillers set in and around St. Louis, Missouri. Invariably her heroines are nurses with advanced training [such as Eileen herself] in forensic evidence collection, death examinations, and critical incident management. Using gut-busting humor, Eileen makes the everyday come to life and answers the question, “What if?”
In closing, I challenge any author to look at their everyday life and incorporate something they find there into his/her writing. Okay, so maybe you don't have an exciting job which includes passing bed pans or inserting suppositories, but do you have a volunteer job you really love, something that gives back ten times more than what you put in? I have a friend who volunteers at a soup kitchen, another takes calls on a domestic violence crisis line, a third takes an AA meeting into the county jail every week.
Do you have an Aunt Helen [like me] who retired from the Navy Nurse Corps at the rank of Lieutenant Commander after serving in World War II and Korea? [It was very rare in those days for a female to rise to that rank.] Do you have religious connections you might tap for a secondary character? I know an author who pumped her priest uncle for the scoop on how to get around the priest-penitent privilege and the sanctity of the confessional―and yes, under certain circumstances, it can be done.
Could where you live or go for a vacation be turned into a setting so vivid readers want to move there? One of the Class of '85 stories was set in the Adirondack Mountains. Believe me, the author nailed it.
What turns you on? How do you fill all those empty hours in your life? Do you attend festivals or state fairs? How about protest marches? Out of the Dark, a September 2010 anthology from the Last Rose line featured a protest march that turned into a riot. The author was a veteran of protests from back in the 80's and 90's; it was clear she knew what she was talking about. The description spoke to me as an editor as well as a woman.
As an editor and a reader, I have developed a second sense for what rings true and what comes from someone who took the easy way out when it came to doing his or her homework―and not all were unpublished. Do not depend on legal whodunits on the big screen or mystery illness of the week on TV for accuracy. If you want to know which shows portray accurate situations, ask someone who's already in The Biz. I myself DO NOT EVER EVER watch any of the “CSI” shows, “House”, “ER”, “Law and Order, SVU”. The shows earning the highest ratings do not always consider the truth because they would lose viewers.
In closing, I suggest that to put realism and depth in your WIP, add what you know.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Top Ten Peeves We Would Rather Not See, Part Two

Hello and Welcome Back!

Here is the second part of our combined post, Top Ten Peeves We Would Rather Not See, by Sweetheart Rose Editor Vicky Reed and Crimson Rose Editor Laura Kelly.  
6.    Writers who think every line of dialogue must be answered, and every inner thought conveyed to the reader, in case they ‘don’t understand’ what you are trying to say.
If a reader doesn’t understand why your character says or does something, it’s because you haven’t fleshed out that character well enough.  Telling the reader why Indiana Jones hates snakes isn’t enough.  You need to show it.  Through dialogue and action. 

Dialogue is action, by the way, and only dialogue that moves the story forward needs to be included.  Excessive dialogue slows the story down, and only bores the reader. 

What really bogs down a story is when every time the hero or heroine speaks, we get a mental assessment of what they said by the other party, before the other party speaks. 

Don’t have them think their responses and feelings, have them act upon them, preferably with a conflict-enhancing line of dialogue.  (Not bickering, as stated in last week’s post).

7.      Don’t tell us what the characters are about to do, then show them doing it. 

Susie had a plan, first she’d sneak out the back door, then go to the store and buy a wig and some make-up, and then she’d sneak back to Joe’s place and find the missing key, but she’d make sure Dave saw her, so he would follow her, and then Joe would know what Dave was up to and could arrest him.  And on the way, she’d call the SWAT team, just in case there was trouble. 

Just show her sneaking out the back door, shopping at the store, making her phone call to the SWAT team and then showing up at Joe’s apartment.  Make us wonder what’s going to happen, next.

Another thing we see a lot of is writers who think laying out their character’s plan in this way, ahead of time, then having that plan go awry when the character tries to put it into action, equals conflict.  As in “Oh, no, Susie was going to go to the store and buy the wig, but they didn’t have any for sale.  She’d have to go with plan B.” 

If plan A never happens, that’s even more pointless than telling us Plan A, then showing us plan A.  It just frustrates the reader.

8.    Writers who don’t know how to end the scene with a hook. 

A good hook can be a snappy line of dialogue that leaves the reader wondering what will happen next, and pulls them into the next scene, or chapter.  A lot of writers seem to have trouble getting their characters out of the room, or scene. Or ending the day.  Never end the scene with your character going to bed alone. It might give the reader the idea to put the book down and do the same.

9.    Point of view violations. 

When you are in a character’s point of view, you can only see, hear, taste, smell and feel what that character sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels.  And you can only describe what they are experiencing using vocabulary your character would use.  What self-respecting alpha male describes anything as “horrid?”

Beware of using your own extensive writer’s vocabulary instead of limiting dialogue and internal narrative to words your characters would use.  What construction worker hero would describe the heroine’s hair as ‘golden tresses?’ Her golden tresses flowed over his arm as…  This is you, the author speaking, and using omniscient POV, to boot, which only distances your reader from the story.  If your hero wouldn’t notice the color of the wallpaper or delicate brocade of the furniture, then let that be described in the heroine’s POV.   

10.  Overuse of qualifiers. 

Make every word count.  Do a word search and take out every even, just, actually, really, usually, generally, especially, that doesn’t have to be there.  He just wanted to see her one more time.  She didn’t really even know his name.  That wasn’t exactly what she’d meant to say.  She wasn’t generally a fast talker.  He wasn’t especially fond of turtles.

Last, but not least, put your manuscript on a low-that diet, and take out any ‘that’ that does not add to the story.  Otherwise, you’re just padding your word count.

Here’s hoping you’ve found at least one way to improve your manuscript after reading these two posts, or, better yet, found out you’re a better writer than you thought!

Wishing you all the best in your writing endeavors,

Vicky Reed
Laura Kelly

Monday, September 19, 2011

Top Ten Peeves We Would Rather Not See - Part I

By editors Laura Kelly and Vicky Reed

This is a two part blog post, presented by Vicky Reed, Sweetheart Rose Editor, and Laura Kelly, Crimson Rose Editor. Vicky kicks things off with our first five pet peeves, and Laura will continue next week with the last five pet peeves and a bonus tip.  Are any of these in your manuscript?  You might be surprised.

1. The story is filled with happy coincidences that magically solve problems for the hero and heroine.

A good example of this is the romantic suspense where the hero and heroine are trapped. The hero dropped his gun into the elevator shaft to save the heroine from tumbling to her doom, the building is on fire, and a killer is on the loose. It looks like the end for our dauntless duo—but suddenly, a SWAT team arrives.

Anton Chekhov, the great Russian playwright, once said that if you have a gun above the mantelpiece in Act One, you’d better shoot it before the curtain falls. In other words, if you lock your hero in a building with a crazed killer, and set the basement on fire, tell your reader who the hero is, what he does, and why SWAT is keeping track of him—before they break in.

Write down the major plot points. Does everything flow logically from point A to point B? If not, then re-think your story line. 

2.  Writers who manipulate the plot to suit their ideas of what a nice scene would be, and it doesn’t logically follow the plot.

Usually this involves some clich├ęd love scene.  Maybe after being rescued your hero and heroine are caught in a torrential downpour and find shelter in a ramshackle tenement. It’s cold, they’re both soaked, wind is whistling through the bug-sized cracks but--despite the blue tinge to their anatomy--they stop to have sex.

Like like that Seinfield episode where George yells, “I have shrinkage,” events have to contain logic. Unless you’ve laid the groundwork to establish your hero is a superhuman sex machine, sub-zero temperatures are the opposite of a turn on.  So are sand, insects, reptiles, or rodents in the vicinity, and scenes where they haven’t bathed in days, but the minute they are alone and supposedly ‘safe,’ they have sex.

3.    Characters not acting in character.

In Linda Seger’s book, Creating Unforgettable Characters, she explains that every character is the result of how they grew up, their background and their core personalities. We are the sum of our parts. A person’s qualities in turn imply other qualities. A former policeman can be expected to know something about guns and the law. A heroine presented as a savvy businesswoman can’t go around making one bad decision after another.  Every action is filtered through experience and background. Once you create a person, you must remain true to who and what you have created.

4.  Characters who stomp, stalk, clench fists and glare at each other, exhibit no self-control and are victims of their emotions, including passion.

A character who stomps around with her fists clenched, glaring at the hero until the touch of his hand makes her hot for him is two-dimensional. A well-drawn heroine has emotions that are true to her background and core personality. Nobody has only one or two emotional reactions, and as we grow, we learn to exert control over our actions. It’s all a part of growing up.

5.  Writers who think bickering equals conflict.

Every word should push your story forward. Bickering is verbal quicksand. Once the snappy comebacks stop, is there anything preventing your hero and heroine from falling into each other’s arms except word count? Tell me why your hero and heroine can’t be joined, and then—put that gun on the mantelpiece.

That’s enough for today…come back next week for five more of our personal pet peeves…

Thanks and happy writing/revising!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cover Art From A Marketing Perspective

Every author envisions the perfect book cover with characters on the cover that the artist seemed to pluck right from your head. Mood, setting, tone—it’s going to be perfect. But wait, the cover hits your inbox and it’s nothing what you expected. Take a breath and relax.

TWRP has wonderful cover artists. With the limited information you provide on a cover request sheet, we hope you have a cover you can be proud of. What you might not know is that before it was ever sent to you, your cover has already been through an approval process. So what does marketing look for in a cover?

Every publishing company has a brand. If you look at the evolution of TWRP covers, you’ll see a progression from plain colored backgrounds with text for shorter works and side banners on every book to show the Rose Line the book is from such as Cactus Rose or Crimson Rose. To what we now have—beautiful custom cover art for every title. But now that there isn’t a banner on the side, we still want to showcase our brand of romantic fiction on our book covers. Our covers have that indefinable quality that represents the romance of a Wild Rose Press book.

But marketing also considers other qualities. Is the font easy to read? Can a reader clearly see both the title and your name? If the book is going into print, does the cover showcase well in large full sized image as well as thumb sized for digital etailers? And is the cover clean and concise enough to be recognized scaled down for some etailers? A cluttered cover, a cover that is too dark or too light won’t stand out on a website with thousands of other covers.

To go a little off topic. By the time you’re ready for a cover your book has been contracted and is probably somewhere in the editing stage and it’s a bit late for changes. So here is some advice. When you finish your story and you’re ready to submit, think about the title. A long title is going to clutter the cover. A common phrase will have dozens to hundreds of books with the same title. To give an example, I plugged Homecoming into the search bar and had 191 possibilities show. A title that begins with The, A, or An are going to be lost in the etailer catalog.

So when you get your cover, know that we don’t just consider the beautiful couple on a beach at sunset. But we also want a cover that reflects our publishing house and will be recognizable as your book. Your legible name and title and the overall cover are the best first impression you’ll have for your book.

Lisa Dawn

Marketing Director

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Is It a Romance?

You may be surprised to learn that one of the most common reasons I reject manuscripts isn’t poor writing, a lackluster plot, or lack of character development…it’s that the novel simply isn’t a romance. With the growing popularity of “chick lit” and women’s fiction, the line between romance novels and other fiction marketed to women has become blurrier. However, The Wild Rose Press is still a ROMANCE publisher, which means all our books must have a romantic relationship at their core. So, how do you know whether you’re writing romance or more general women’s fiction? I’ve put together a list of some questions to ask yourself and use to evaluate your manuscript. If you’re at the beginning stage of a writing project, you can use this checklist to determine whether the story you want to tell is really a romance and, if so, how you can make sure the focus stays on the romantic relationship. If you have a completed manuscript, this list will help you decide which publishers are best for your work—and may spare you a few rejections in the process.

1. When do the hero and heroine meet?

In a romance novel, I like to see the hero and heroine meet in the first chapter if at all possible, unless there’s a really good reason to put off their meeting. In women’s fiction, where the focus is more on the heroine, the author may take a few chapters to develop the main female character before introducing a love interest. In romance, the female character still develops and changes—but she does so within the context of the romantic relationship. If your hero doesn’t appear till Chapter 3 or 4, there’s a good chance you’ve got a women’s fiction novel rather than a romance.

2. What point of view are you writing in?

Romance is generally written in third person, alternating between the hero and heroine’s viewpoints. Chick lit is more often written in the first person, which makes sense, since this places the focus more clearly on the heroine. I have accepted romances written in the first person, either exclusively from the heroine’s point of view or alternating between the hero and heroine. However, the vast majority of successful romances are still written in third person. In addition, while some genres of women’s fiction might include a wide variety of characters’ viewpoints, romance usually limits the POV to the hero and heroine. While a romantic suspense might include a few sections from a villain’s POV, unless there’s a compelling reason to use a third POV, it’s usually a safe bet to stick with your hero and heroine’s viewpoints.

3. Is the romance the main source of conflict?

Yes, I want to see a well-rounded heroine who experiences character growth in all aspects of her life. However, if you find that the character’s job, or female friendships, or relationships with parents or children (just as a few examples) are taking up more page space than the romance, you probably have women’s fiction on your hands.

4. Is there a Happily-Ever-After ending?

In a romance novel, readers expect and are gratified to see the hero and heroine come together for good by the novel’s end. In women’s fiction, there’s a broader range of possible conclusions to your story.

I hope you find these tips helpful, and remember, rather you’re writing inside or outside the romance genre, it’s always a good idea to consider the specific expectations of your market throughout the writing process. That way, by the time you finish writing and revising, you’ll have a good idea of where to submit your manuscript.

-Stephanie Parent, Editor, Champagne Line

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What makes a good cover?

Words of wisdom from two of our amazing, talented cover artists:

It's hard to explain from a cover artist stand point what makes a good cover because designing is sort of an organic process for an artist. What I'm going to try to explain is what you should think about when requesting a cover.  As far as composition, most of the time, less is better. Trying to request a complicated cover with too many elements will make for a messy cover, kind of like trying to put to many flavors in a cake. Also, white space is your friend; don't feel like every inch of the cover needs to be covered with something, it can be a very successful cover with lots of white space.

What I would suggest when making a cover wish list is concentrate on one or two items that are central to your story line like the setting and a good description of your characters.

For example:   A contemporary suspense set in a dark alley of New York, blond heroine, dark haired hero looking pensive.  Well you get the idea.

Also, watch being too picky if the characters on the cover don't look exactly like your characters. As long as they allow the tone of your book to come through and it's attractive from a marketing standpoint, I wouldn't sweat it!  I've had authors nit-pick covers into ugliness because they want it to look exactly like their vision, but sometimes that's just not possible, so they passed up an opportunity for an amazing cover.

Artists have to work from stock art, so they likely can't get your characters exactly. Here's an example, a long haired blond man. Likely, that's just not something the artist is going to be able to find for you in stock art, but if they can have an attractive couple kissing, for example, and it makes the cover pop, I wouldn't worry if the guy doesn't have long blond hair.

So that's my short advice on making a cover great, let the artist eye for design and overall composition for marketing purposes make you cover pop. If you give them room to work that way, I guarantee your cover will rock! - From Cover Art Designer Rae Monet of Rae Monet, Inc. Design

I love to create covers! I love to please! But there are times when those two things concepts simply collide.

Case in point, the historical lines. The author has a grand idea of what she/he envisions for the cover.
I have spent hours in search of an auburn beauty with green-eyes, wearing a blue period gown with a sapphire pendant in her hand as part of the story.

Oh dear heavens, I can only photoshop so much, so let's get creative here, because 'I WILL NEVER FIND THAT EXACT PHOTO'. What really needs to happen is some fantastic photographers loading the stockphoto sites with vintage, historically dressed romantic figures, and not some cheesy costume party picture. Don't get me wrong, if I were a writer and had a vision, I would love to see the cover come to life, looking like the pages from my book.

What a joy when I get close and the author writes back, FABULOUS, I LOVE IT!!!! And that is where the collision erupts into a masterpiece and life if good, until the next cover! -   Tina Lynn Stout, TWRP cover artist