Thursday, March 31, 2011

Story? Character? Writing style?

What keeps you reading?

“They say” we have to like and identify with characters. Do you agree? I’ve been told several times that my heroes come across unlikeable in my first couple of chapters. Evidently, my “readers” don’t believe in a character starting out bad--learning, growing and changing. Either they’re not exercising patience with my story or I’m not accomplishing my goal.

Writing style is a deal breaker for me. If I don’t enjoy an author’s style or voice, then I have a rough time hanging in there until the end of the book. If the story is good, I force myself, but I don't like forcing myself to finish a book.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot. Studying. Paying close attention to style, characterization, story telling skills. I’ve read several books by Laura Levine, a cozy mystery writer. I’ve read one book by Lee Child, and just finished a Mary Higgins Clark book. I stepped completely out of my comfort zone to read a fantasy—Shadow Blade by Seressia Glass. These are four very different bestselling authors with very different writing styles. I’ve learned a lot.

Laura Levine is hilarious. Her dialogue is fantastic. Of course it would be—she’s a sitcom writer. She knows comedy. I’ve read two of her books with three more waiting for me and hope to finish the series. Levine knows her character well. If you want to create a cozy mystery series, this is a fun one to study.

Lee Child knows how to yank a reader into his books. He has a real handle on pacing. I didn’t find this book—the first in his Jack Reacher series—very believable but from what I understand, thrillers don’t have to be. A lot of what I found unbelievable had to do with characterization. I’m curious to see if Reacher changes any during the series so I plan to read more.

I’ve been reading Mary Higgins Clark since her very first book. I prefer her earlier books. She always has a lot of characters that are hard to keep up with. Many of her readers say they have to jot down names with a word or two of identification to be able to keep things straight. Still, MHC is a master storyteller if you can forgive the odd way she uses introspection—and to the degree she uses it.

Seressia Glass made her fantasy extremely believable. I was yanked into the story immediately. She has a great writing style and good pacing. Her main character, Kira, was tough as nails yet sympathetic enough that the reader cares for her. Unfortunately for me, I think I got the second book in her series so I’ve missed reading Kira’s history. Because of this author’s story telling skills, when I see the name Seressia Glass on book stands, I won’t hesitate to reach for her.

Their writing styles vary. They aren’t all on equal footing when it comes to excellent writing but they do have one thing in common. They’re all excellent story tellers. What does that tell us? That story rules?

I find it interesting that two of these authors did some outrageous things in their books—things that jar most readers (writer-readers) to high heaven. Things that would get most of us rejected and booed by our critique partners. Those crazy things don’t seem to matter at all. Why?

Because … Story Rules!

What have I learned from all my reading these past few weeks?

That we should write the book we want to write—the way we want to write it. To succeed, we have to pay attention to story. To succeed, we have to pay attention to pacing. Characterization is important. We have to pay attention to characterization in the first 50 or 60 pages. That’s when the reader bonds with our main character.

If our writing style causes a reader to chunk our book across the room, then our story isn’t good enough to overcome our weaknesses and grab our readers by the throat.

Writing is an art. Story rules!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Study The Craft by Linda Yezak

I don't usually have guest bloggers but this lady is special. I met her February 2, 2007. I received an email with "Hi, I'm Fred's friend" in the subject and there we were. Fred is my favorite creative writing professor from Stephen F. Austin University. He always encouraged me and I vowed to pass it on. Together, Fred and I commented on Linda's first attempt at novel writing--probably canceling each other out. But inspite of our comments, Linda has written several novels, won and placed in contests, mentors others and even edits for a small press. You've probably seen her on the 'net because she's everywhere! Meet my friend, Linda Yezak.

Anyone who regularly reads Praise, Prayer, and Observations knows Jess Ferguson has a gift, a fruit of the Spirit, a God-given talent for exhortation, so you can imagine what it was like for that sweet woman to tell me my first attempt at writing reeked. She couldn’t do it. Although they probably should have, the words, “Don’t give up your day job,” never crossed her keyboard. Possibly because of our mutual love for a cranky critter who lives here in Nacogdoches, but more likely because it’s not in her to discourage dreamers.

When I started my first blog, 777 Peppermint Place, Jess read all my early posts and cheered me on like a proud sister. When the one of judges of a major writing competition hurt my delicate feelings, Jess jumped to my defense with all the snarling rage of a she-wolf. She has been a major encourager for several years now, so being invited to post on her blog is one of my biggest honors.

I remember sharing with her a comment I’d received from who-knows-who, telling me I should study the craft of writing. I wrote something akin to, “C’mon, who does that?!” Well, as she was quick to point out, everyone who takes writing seriously studies the craft. So I studied. Edgerton, Bell, Gaymer-Martin, Maass, Kress, Kempton, Rozelle, Le Guin, Gerke, Brohaugh. Even after becoming a two-time Genesis finalist, I’m still studying. For as long as I can see the flaws in my own work, I’ll be studying. And once the flaws are ironed out, I’ll study more in pursuit of perfection.

After the first few how-to books I read, I saw a massive difference in my writing. I became more alert to things I’d done wrong in the past and made a conscious effort not to make the same mistakes. I picked up techniques for writing action scenes, character descriptions, solid structural foundations–I can’t begin to list everything that improved after pouring through the how-tos. Study is one of the differences between writers who make it and those who don’t. Have I made it? No.

Give the Lady a Ride is only my first novel–well, my first novel worth reading. The fact it’s published is just a rung on the ladder. If I continue studying and writing and reading the works of others–and get that second book published–I may get to step up another rung. But I guess the definition of “making it” differs among writers, and I guess I’ll never “make it.” Success for me means that each book I put out is better than the last. When they pry my gnarled fingers off my keyboard and lay me down to meet my Savior, I hope I can say I made it.

Back cover copy:

Patricia Talbert is a high-class social coordinator from New York. Talon Carlson is a rugged bull rider from Texas. He thinks she’s too polished. She thinks he’s insane. Opposites aren’t quick to attract when the lady who enters the cowboy’s world is on a mission to sell the ranch. But a box of letters changes her mission–letters of unshakable faith and a love deeper than anything she’s ever experienced. Soon, she finds his integrity appealing. Her spunk draws him in. He has the faith she craves; she may be the love he longs for. But faith and love aren’t achieved in a single weekend. To buy time to explore the possibilities between them, she issues a challenge: “Teach me to ride bulls.” From here on, they’re in for the ride of their lives.

Author Bio:
Two-time ACFW Genesis finalist Linda Yezak resides in the state of Texas, where tall tales abound and exaggeration is an art form. Aside from being a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), she also belongs to Women Writing the West (WWW) and The Christian PEN. She lives in the heart of a forest with her husband, three cats, four ducks, and a pond full of fish.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Traveling Office?

You can't miss watching the video below. Guys, don't feel insulted. Sometimes gals just need to get away and have fun with other gals. :) But looking at these trailers, I can't help but wish I had one in my little back yard so I could move all my writing and how-to books out there. A clean paper-free house!

Sisters on the Fly looks like fun--except for changing the flat tires. Be sure to have your sound on so you can listen to their interviews and pay close attention to those great southern accents. To watch the video without the right side being cut off and to explore their website--go HERE. And if you'd like to order a Sisters On The Fly book by Irene Rawlings, click HERE. You'll learn how to restore your own vintage trailer.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Very Cool, Spirit-Filled Church

Little more than a year ago, we left a traditional Southern Baptist church for something completely different--Water's Edge Gathering, a church that doesn't claim to be perfect, doesn't follow tradition, stays out of politics and has a heart for God, people and the city. Hearing sermons from a creative young pastor has been an interesting, eye-opening experience.

I was raised Southern Baptist--and no, not the kind of Baptist that pickets funerals and screams hate messages.

I was raised to believe in the importance of tradition--that we dress up for church and always have a new Easter outfit, that altar calls are a must and visitors always fill out cards with name, address, phone number. As much as we've moved around, we know the difficulty in finding a good church that truly preaches and teaches from the Bible, and we dread having to start the process again when we move to Mississippi. We know from experience that if we fill out a visitor's card, we can expect no less than three visits from various members of the church we visited. Now, there's nothing wrong with tradition but often, we tend to make things like that sacred--along with the church building, the music, all our traditions. They aren't sacred. The only thing that's sacred is the Bible and the message.

Check out our church HERE. You can see a pic of our hot (loud) band and if you click HERE you can listen to Tony's latest sermon or just look over to the right and click on one of my favorites. If you want to hear more than one, go to podcasts. I promise, any sermon you choose during any given month is excellent. We've not heard one bad, questionable, iffy sermon. We visited Water's Edge Gathering out of curiosity, and knew immediately we were exactly where God wanted us.

Today we opened our church service with Dream On, an Aerosmith song. I'll bet we're the only church in the country that opened its service with an Aerosmith song. How cool is that?

I hope you had a blessed Sunday too!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Best Sellers

Here’s a very incomplete list of best selling authors from Wikepedia. "Best-selling" refers to the estimated number of copies sold of all fiction books written or co-written by an author. If you’d like to see the genres they write in, as well as other details, go HERE. I have favorite authors who aren't on this list-where oh where is Jacqueline Susann who wrote The Valley of the Dolls? I found this interesting bit of trivia regarding The Valley of the Dolls:

The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
"This tale of sex, violence, and drugs by Jacqueline Susann (1921-74), first published in 1966, is perhaps surprisingly the world’s bestselling novel. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, which has achieved sales approaching 28,000,000, is its closest rival."

The authors I’ve marked are those I’ve read but there are a number of authors here I've always wanted to read. How about you? Do you have a favorite here? Who? Why?

William Shakespeare
Agatha Christie
Barbara Cartland
Harold Robbins
Georges Simenon
Sidney Sheldon
Enid Blyto
Danielle Steel
Dr. Seuss
Gilbert Patten
J. K. Rowling
Leo Tolstoy
Jackie Collins
Horatio Alger, Jr.
R. L. Stine
Corín Tellado
Dean Koontz
Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin
Stephen King
Louis L'Amour
Erle Stanley Gardner
Jin Yong
Jirō Akagawa
Janet Dailey
Nora Roberts
Edgar Wallace
Robert Ludlum
Frédéric Dard
Stan and Jan Berenstain
John Grisham
Zane Grey
Irving Wallace
J. R. R. Tolkien
Karl May
Mickey Spillane
C. S. Lewis
Kyotaro Nishimura
Charles Dickens
Ann M. Martin
Ryōtarō Shiba
Arthur Hailey
Gérard de Villiers
Beatrix Potter
Michael Crichton
Richard Scarry
James Patterson
Clive Cussler
Alistair McLean
Astrid Lindgren
Jeffrey Archer
Debbie Macomber
Dan Brown
Eiji Yoshikawa
Catherine Cookson
Norman Bridwell
Paulo Coelho
Roald Dahl
Evan Hunter
Andrew Neiderman
Roger Hargreaves
Anne Rice
Robin Cook
Wilbur Smith
Erskine Caldwell
Eleanor Hibbert
Lewis Carroll
Denise Robins
Xueqin Cao
Ian Fleming
Hermann Hesse
Rex Stout
Anne Golon
Ken Follett
Frank G. Slaughter
Edgar Rice Burroughs
John Creasey
James Michener
Yasuo Uchida
Seiichi Morimura
Mary Higgins Clark
Stephenie Meyer

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Do you shrug? If you don’t know how, instructions to the right: just lift your shoulders quickly then let them fall back into place. If you want to add emphasis, lift your hands or arms in an I-don’t-know-I’m just as baffled-as-you-are manner.

I remember shrugging a lot when I was a kid. My mother would chastise me for it because it was an evasion to the question she asked. I didn’t want to answer her so I shrugged, buying time, mentally searching for a plausible explanation—better known as fib.

I don’t see a lot of shrugs today—not even from kids. Shrugs seem useless to me—in real life and in fiction. What do they offer? They make a hero seem sort of juvenile. Heroines shouldn’t shrug at all. Shrugging looks dumb.

I’m reading a book by a bestselling author and everyone shrugs. I mean everyone! In fact, there are a couple of shrugs on almost every page. The protagonist shrugs, his latest love shrugs—all the cops shrug. Even a bad guy shrugged a few times before he disappeared. All these shrugs are driving me crazy. Aren’t there any editors out there?

Granted, this is the first book in a long series of best sellers, BUT, this book, published in 1993 was nominated for and won several awards. Why? The writing isn’t spectacular—lots of holes as far as I can see. The story itself doesn’t seem plausible; no way could it really happen. Action-reaction or cause and effect seem to me all askew. After reading the first 50 pages, I felt as though I knew this author’s protagonist better than the author did. Some of his responses seemed so off the wall and out of character, I was embarrassed for both of them—the author and the protagonist.

I’m almost finished with the first book and intend to move on to the second. I’ll count the shrugs but I do hope he and his editor have cleaned up and tightened the writing. If not, then I plan to skip on to his latest book to see if the author (and editor) learned anything writing and editing all those best sellers. Now, if I’d been critiquing or editing this book—I’d have said it has great potential but tighten it up, cut all the shrugs. I’d say, cars have to do something other than “nose” into the parking lot, nose down the highway and nose across speed bumps. No ‘nosing” allowed. And I’d say do away with all those grunts. A detective doesn’t need to grunt in response to every question—doesn’t he know any words?

But I’ve learned a lot reading this book. For example—if I’m carrying important papers that are in danger of getting stolen, I won’t put them in my brief case because that’s too obvious. I’ll put them inside my garment bag—after all, who the heck steals a garment bag? Also, I’ll never again stay in the same motel for more than one night—I’ll stay in a different motel each night and sometimes skip over the state line regardless of how far away the state line is—that’ll really throw them off my trail.

This book—anonymous for now—is an interesting read in spite of all the holes and clichés and repetition and—oh, there’s so much more. At this point, I can’t tell you why this author has become a house-hold name. The protagonist is definitely different and may speak to that born to be wild side of both men and women. The story—no matter what a stretch it is—is intense. Aside from that, I’m totally in the dark…and shrugging.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I'm a little busy taking my MS Word for Writers class and trying to edit some works for three contest deadlines so thought I'd post some market info instead of trying to create an original blog post. I know many of you are searching for homes for your work so I hope you find these markets interesting and helpful. One of my favorite sources for markets is Cindi Myers so you might want to subscribe to her blog. Check her out HERE. Also note that Cindi has a new release, a historical romance called A Long, Sweet Ride.

Writers with a strong connection to Prince Edward Island are eligible to submit to a new anthology, The Island Fiction Reader, to feature work by PEI writers. Stories may be up to 5000 words, any genre, for teens or adults. Those chosen for inclusion in the anthology will receive $75 and author copies. Deadline for submissions is June 30, 2011. Find the details here.

eChook publishes short stories as apps for people to read on their phones. They’re open for submissions now of short stories, 750 -2000 words. Payment is $100 and 10 apps. Deadline to submit is March 31, 2011. They’re also looking for holiday stories — Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza — deadline October 31, 2011 and memoirs — deadline Decemer 1, 2011. You may submit as many stories as you like, but they must be previously unpublished. See all the details HERE.

Albedo One, an Irish magazine that features science fiction, fantasy and horror, is hosting the Sixth Annual Aeon Awards for short fiction. Writers from anywhere in the world may enter. First prize is 1000 pounds and publication in Albedo One. Second and third place also receive cash prizes and publication. Entry is 7 pounds, payable via Paypal. Dealines to enter are March 31, June 30, September 30 and November 30. At the end of each entry period, judges choose the top stories to go on to the final round. Final round stories compete for the grand prize. Entries should be no longer than 10,000 words and previously unpublished. See the rules HERE.
Heroes and Heartbreakers is a new website launched by Macmillan. The site is accepting submissions of romance short stories between 6000 and 15,000 words. They welcome all subgenres — contemporary, paranormal/urban fantasy, women’s fiction/chick lit, historical, and romantic suspense. Payment is a $1000 advance against 25 percent royalties for stories downloaded from the site. Find all the details HERE.

Crescent Moon Press publishes ebook and print editions of all sub-genres of paranormal and fantasy romance. The editors are open to submissions of urban fantasy, futuristic, steam-punk, science fiction, space opera, time travel — any kind of speculative romance, in both novel and novella lenths. Novels should be complete at 60,000 to 120,000 words, and novellas should be 20,000 to 40,000 words. Acquistions Editor Heather Howland is also accepting submissions of young adult books in these same genres, with strong characters and compelling romances, for a new line to launch this year. Find the submissions guidelines HERE. And check out the interview with Ms. Howland HERE.

Silver Moon Press publishes nonfiction study guides for elementary and middle school studetns. But they also publish historical fiction aimed at these same markets. They’re interested in Chapter Books targeted to grades 3 to 5, featuring mystery, adventure or suspense set in a significant historical period. No paranormal elements, please. Query with your resume, table of contents and first chapter of the work. Include information about your research sources. Check their catalog for sample titles. Query to: Submissions Editor, 381 Park Ave. South, Suite 1121, New York, 10016.


Don D’Auria, former executive editor with Dorchester Books, has joined Samhain Publishing and is looking to acquire horror manuscripts. Samhain publishes ebook and trade paper editions. They’ve been successful with romance and are now looking to launch a new horror line with D’Auria at the helm. He’s looking for all kinds of horror stories, between 12,000 and 100,000 words (minimum 50,000 words for print in addition to ebook; shorter works will be ebooks only). Unagented and previously unpublished authors are welcome to submit. Send the complete manuscript and a full synopsis. Get all the details HERE.

If you write mystery, or aspire to write mystery, check out Sisters In Crime’s new report “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age.” Among interesting tidbits in the report: the majority of mystery readers are women, and more than half are baby boomer age or older. Younger readers like darker, more suspenseful stories. E-book sales are growing. Book covers matter.


Enchanted Conversations, a Fairy Tale Magazine, will be accepting submissions soon for 2011. Each issue has a theme around a particular fairy tale. You can submit a short story, a poem or an article that addresses some aspect of the fairy tale spotlighted in that issue. Payment is 10 cents a word for stories and articles, $50 for poems, via Paypal. Stories and article may be up to 2000 words, but preferably no more than 1500 words.
Issue themes and deadlines are as follows:
Issue #2: May 11-14, Snow White (poetry only)
Issue #3: June 27-30, Cinderella
Issue #4: Sept. 27-30, Little Red Riding Hood
Check out all the guidelines HERE.

Writers often find themselves up against the closed door of publishers who only accept submissions from agented writers. Non-represented writers are left out in the cold. Angry Robot Books, which publishes fantasy, science fiction, horror and urban fantasy, will make an exception to their own agents-only rule in March of 2011. During that month only they’ll be accepting manuscript submissions from unagented writers. Find all the details HERE.