Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Twice-Baked Fiction

Let’s backtrack a little. I had a challenging Thanksgiving—baking. Most of the morning was spent trying to pull together/scrape together some chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. As I was pulling and scraping, it dawned on me that my cooking skills resemble my writing skills. I tend to jump right in with the grain of an idea when, really, I need to outline. In bake-talk (or in the kitchen) that means I need to organize my ingredients before I start. And I need to read the recipe several times. In writing talk, that could mean I should read the publisher’s guidelines before I start, read a copy of the magazine—or I should have a theme solidly in my head. I should know where I’m headed.

Thanksgiving morning I did read the recipe. I did line up all my ingredients. Everything I needed was within reach. Ever notice how you can read something over and over again but one phrase just doesn’t quite sink in? That’s akin to proofing our manuscripts. No matter how often we read a chapter, there are always a few typos, or something screwy we didn’t catch.

Nine times out of ten, in baking, I tend to dump everything together—then and only then does that phrase mix dry and wet ingredients separately jump out at me. Oh well. What can it hurt?
Everything was moving right along. Ingredients were mixed, dropped in muffin papers and placed in the oven. And then husband entered, and opened the microwave to reheat his coffee.

“What’s this melted butter in here?”

“Oh, crap!” Yeah, you heard/read me. That’s exactly what I said. Then I yanked open the oven door and pulled out the 24 muffins. Odd, how fast they cooked.

Now I’m the mom who taught her daughter there’s always, always a way to fix things. There are solutions. There is NOTHING that can’t be undone, rearranged, fixed, mended.

I scraped those muffin papers clean.
Added the butter. Remixed.

The muffins were no longer orange. Because the chocolate chips had melted, mixing them made them chocolate muffins—no more recognizable chocolate chips. I spooned them into clean cupcake papers and shoved them back into the oven.

“Yum,” said hubby, ever the optimist. “Twice-baked muffins.” Yeah, they were actually good.

So, do you have any twice-baked fiction? How often have we been a little light on setting, or added entirely too many adverbs? Left out the butter? How often have we had to scrape our stories out of their present state, added another layer of emotion?

I feel more comfortable at a computer than I do in the kitchen, but creating a dessert or an entire Thanksgiving Dinner isn’t at all unlike creating a novel or a short story or a poem. Each need certain ingredients for success.

Remember, there’s always a fix. Twice baked. The trash is not an option.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hurdles Keep Coming

Thanksgiving has come and gone and now we have Christmas breathing down our necks. Before we know it we’ll be slap dab in the middle of 2011. Sometimes I wish time would stand still and just let me catch my breath.

Before we left town to visit family, I received an email from my former agent telling me the “executed reversion came through” on The Groom Wore Blue Suede Shoes, and that she will mail it to me. I guess it’s a letter telling me Harlequin released the rights back to me. That’s one hurdle crossed. I’ve been online getting advice and suggestions from other writers about what to do and how to do it. Keep the title? Keep the pen name? Redo both? Should I self pub in book form or go Kindle with an ebook? But I’ve found another hurdle that will require a huge leap. I can’t find my copy of the book on any computer. I have the galleys—all kinds of hard copies. Remember, we’re going back to 1996. I think that computer has long been discarded. I cringe at the very thought of retyping this book so I’m investigating Dragon NaturallySpeaking, speech recognition software. Anyone work with it? I know several authors who do. It’s supposed to be new and improved these days.

Would you start typing today or would you opt for reading your book into the program?
Thoughts? Suggestions?
I hope you all had a blessed Thanksgiving. Let me hear from you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turn Out the Lights - The Party's Over

The conference is over and I can’t think of one thing to blog about. I feel completely drained, sucked-dry from the entire experience. On top of that, for some reason I inherited two bank bags of conference funds. Okay, guys, I know I’m a control freak but this is ridiculous! If only our treasurer knew that I couldn’t count my way out of a paper bag if my life depended on it. Seriously. I counted the money over and over and over again before I finally got the same total more than once. Then when I got to the bank, the teller counted and came up with a different total. How on earth could that have happened? When she told me how much I was off, (thankfully in their favor) I realized I’d donated to our scholarship fund and hadn’t counted it. No, I didn’t major in math and if we’d had an exit exam in my day, believe me, I’d still be taking it, trying to graduate. Needless to say, I don’t believe in exit exams but that’s another story. Don’t get me started.

The conference was a success. Our largest yet. We had less than 60 people pre-register. Total head count was 86 I think. Six people who said they were coming, didn’t show. I’m glad. We didn’t have seats for them. We ran out of goody bags too. Five attendees didn’t get one.

Children's book editor Harold Underdown did an excellent job of staying on track with his critiques and was accessible to everyone who wanted to talk with him. We’d gotten word through the proverbial writers’ grapevine that he was a real bear with his critiques but he came across to me as a gentle man with a kind heart. He gave 100% to our conference and our members. I liked him a lot.

Gary Goldstein, senior editor at Kensington, is a real comedian as many of you know. He sat on a stool at the microphone, told stories about publishing, and made people laugh. I wish I wrote westerns. Wouldn’t mind him being my editor just because of his personality.

Chere’ Coen gave an interesting talk on NF writing and ideas for NF books. I’ve had a lot of online dealings with Chere’ but this is the first time we’ve met. She’s a cute lady with a lot of energy. I always enjoy hearing how writers fall into their book deals and how they get the ideas for books that actually come to be. BTW, all you Louisiana authors out there, if you don't know Chere', go to her Louisiana Book News and get your name on her list. You should be contacting her every time you have book news and that includes books going on Kindle. You know who you are. :) All you need to do is send her press releases of happenings in your life.

Our panel—Pam Thibodeaux, Curt Iles, Lesa Boutin and Wendy Lanier talked about small press, POD, Write for Hire and self-publishing. They did a great job. I’m not sure the audience really appreciated just how much experience and know-how these four had to offer. Pam is a White Rose Press author and has recently signed with Five Star. Curt is the most successful self-pubbed author I've ever known. He has an agent shopping his novels. My friend Lesa owns Boot In The Door Publications and has two YA books in print, and Wendy writes for magazines and has a number of books published as a writer for hire. There's not one question they couldn't answer.

One of the highlights of the conference for me was encouraging some of our members to meet with Gary Goldstein to pitch their books. It was good experience for them to sit across from a real editor and answer his questions. I’ve done it a lot and I’m always scared to death, feel like a fool, forget my pitch and … did I say feel like a fool? Every editor is different. While one may encourage dialogue by asking a lot of questions about conflict, characters and plotline, the next editor may sit and stare and never open her mouth. Ouch! That's when it's tough. Gary was one who asked questions—the kind I like. One of our writers got a request for the completed manuscript. Thank the Lord his book is complete and can be sent right away.

Looking at our evaluation forms, I’m dismayed by what people like and dislike, compliments & criticisms: Too many door prizes, not enough door prizes, love the humorous moderator; please less comedy and long-windedness, good food, yucky food, great bookstore, not enough books in the bookstore; Right down to our praying over the food in Jesus' name. Do evaluation sheets help at all? Well, only if we listen to them, I guess.

I know one thing for certain: putting on a conference is hard work, and there’s a lot more to it than one person delegating. Someone has to be on top of things and keep a running tally of what’s being accomplished and what’s left to do. This conference was a challenge for a number of reasons, yet it was one of our best and most successful. We all came together a couple of weeks ago, checklists in hand and got the fine-tuning done. It's over. We were a success. We're still friends. Now it’s time to think about next year.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is It Worth It?

This has been a ferocious week. Last minute conference details and then . . . Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law kicked in and brought me computer trouble. A quick trip to Matt-my-computer-repair-man, trying hard to keep the panic out of my voice and off my face, a day and a half and 160 bucks later, I’m good to go.

But wait. Not quite.

I have to reinstall all my programs, track down hundreds of passwords, locate my wireless code and what's that activation code all about?

My brain is mush.

Tomorrow we finish stuffing bags, put loving last touches on the conference room, take the speakers out to eat, try to be friendly, interested and interesting, stare at the ceiling all night bug-eyed, and Saturday is the big day. We’ll go with the flow and hopefully, any forgotten detail will go unnoticed. Afterwards, we’ll sigh, tell each other a job well-done, note things we’ll change for next year, go home, go to bed, stare bug-eyed at the ceiling replaying everything … and we’ll be worn out, worn down and good for nothing all next week.


A full report—and pictures—on Monday.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Louisiana Saturday Night with Brandon Hebert

It has been awhile since I've introduced a Louisiana author to you. Meet Brandon Hebert. Brandon came to my attention via the Acadiana Book Festival in Lafayette. He sat on a mystery panel with authors June Shaw, D.B. Grady and Barbara Colley. Brandon is the author of My Own Worst Enemy published by Five Star Mystery Series. I hope you'll read his answers to my questions. I particularly like his philosophy that "writing is more of an intuition, a natural knack for the pace of a good story." And yes, I agree. Brandon will be signing his book at our Bayou Writers' Conference Nov. 13th so if you're there, you'll definitely meet him.

1. So, Brandon, have you been writing since you could hold a pen--like all other writers?

I've written since I was a kid, like many others who have come before me. Started out writing adventure stories about secret agents, astronauts, fighter pilots, all things I wanted to be at some point or another. Life eventually got into the way and I ended up in none of those glamorous occupations (although I was in Naval Intelligence for four-plus years, but there were no martinis and I never wore a tuxedo in the line of duty).

Still, I always had a glimmer of hope that I might one day try my hand at writing professionally. I didn’t have any formal training and I don’t know that you can, actually. I mean, I’d be willing to bet Elmore Leonard or James Ellroy never read “How To Write The Blockbuster Novel.” Their work is based on life experience. That said, writing is more of an intuition, a natural knack for the pace of a good story.

2. Tell us about your path to publication.

Long and arduous. Writing is the easy part, the enjoyable part. Getting agents and editors to notice is the rub. I had no credentials to start (as no one does). So, I started writing short stories in crime fiction magazines. There are a handful of them out there, but they die out fast and it’s hard to keep up with the current crop (although I believe the fantastic Plots With Guns is making a comeback). The pulp/mystery/thriller magazine market is not what it was in the 50’s and 60’s. Still, you have to query an agent with something in your back pocket, right?

I could wallpaper my entire house with the rejection letters I’ve amassed over the years. And it’s all so subjective. If you catch the wrong agent on the wrong day (maybe the subway was crowded, maybe their Starbucks was cold, who knows?), your lone shot to grab them may be down the drain. If you’re lucky, you get a personalized note as to why yours is not the next Great American Novel or “doesn’t fit our list.”

Keep plugging away, because eventually every dog has his or her day.

…And then your agent has to deal with acquisition editors. Oh, and you must have an agent.

3. What are some of your writing credits? And we want to know all about your book.

Like I said earlier, I had next to no credentials before my fits book. Fortunately, some kind souls saw fit to publish some short fiction of mine. At least I had something to put in a query letter. Outside of that, the work had to stand on its own. Fortunately, it did.

Making personal connections are important and if I would have won the lottery, I probably would have still traveled around to writer’s conferences all over the country trying to glad-hand as many agents and editors as I could. Alas, I didn’t win the lottery and had to settle for querying.

The title of my novel is My Own Worst Enemy. It's a classic boy-meets-girl-who-helps-him-leave-his-life-of-crime tale.

The hero, Jack Murray, is at a crossroads in his life – he’s decided he wants to leave his old life behind. When he meets federal agent Miranda Mendoza, he’s not sure if anything will come of the relationship. He’s just looking for moments in his life to point to and remember fondly. The only problem, the stakes become high when Miranda risks her reputation and career while his life and newfound freedom are on the line.

At the exact moment he’s going to start over, he gets tempted. Against her better judgment, Miranda finds herself strangely attracted to Jack. The suspense comes from outside forces – both friendly and unfriendly – that don’t want Jack to leave his life. The romance comes from two people risking everything for someone they’d like to spend time with outside of their chosen life paths.

4. Share your writing process: did you plot meticulously or just sit down and begin writing?

I devote two-plus hours a day to writing. I’m not easily distracted and like some white noise going on in the background. Now, if football is on, I may glance at the TV in my home office. Writing is solitary enough, no need to pile on. What I do enjoy is turning on the iTunes and putting some mood music on. I call it “singing to your muse.” Life has a soundtrack and so do characters’ lives. I like obscure 70’s R&B music, none of which I’ll name here for fear of embarrassment.

I write in the evenings, usually 7:30/8 – 10 pm (unfortunately, I still have a day job). I write longhand on legal pads. When I have a dozen or so pages written, I’ll sit down and type it out and, usually, change some things as I go. I never outline anything and don’t know how the story will end when I begin it. The characters take over and tell me where to go. I have an idea of what is supposed to happen but that can – and often does - change. For instance, if a particular character is not working, it’s easy to kill them off.

After I’m done, I’ve been known to read the finished product in character…which has gotten me many a sideways glance over the years.

5. What is your typical day? Do you have a real job?

Is there a typical day? I get real work out of the way as quickly as possible. All I’ll say about my real job is that is has absolutely nothing to do with my night job, which is writing.

Write in the evenings, as mentioned before. Between that, life takes over. I don’t have any children but do have a couple of dogs that think they are children and demand to be treated as such, with the appropriate amount of attention.

Built into that writing time is time spent on social networking sites, returning emails, etc. This is very important and always time well spent. My marketing budget is limited (read: nonexistent), so using resources available to me to promote my book and future endeavors in extremely important. After all, without readers where would writers be?

6. What’s your favorite marketing tip?

Personalize. I was very late to the social networking party. While I won’t say I paid dearly for it in earnings, there has been a bump in sales since I showed up. The idea that a reader has a connection to you is powerful. You can do the conventional bookstore signings (and I recommend them unabashedly) but there are other venues that are even more interactive. For instance, libraries and their associated book clubs have invited me on several occasions for speaking engagements. There’s a reading from the book and a nice Q&A where people get to know you and vice versa. I see the promotional stuff for my appearances in the library lobbies and it says “An Evening With…”. I want to turn around and look for Frank Sinatra in a smoky lounge in Las Vegas. It’s just more intimate.

7. Share a piece of writing advice you’ve been given that you think has really helped you.

If it sounds like writing, rewrite it – Elmore Leonard. Words to live by.

8. Many writers describe themselves as “character” or “plot” writers. Which are you? What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?

Definitely a “character” writer. I don’t usually know what the plot will end up being before I write. As mentioned earlier, I have an idea and I know it will be crime fiction. But, if it ends up being a military thriller with guys stationed on a submarine, who knows? Seriously, the characters are the key. Good books, and hopefully mine qualifies, are about relationships. Relationships with real emotions, real pitfalls and all the foibles of the human experience. For me in particular, crime is just the backdrop.

9. What kind of research, if any, went into writing the book? Is the title yours or did it come from your publisher?

Research is an important part of the process and I did mine. Mostly for geography, anyway. I’ve been fortunate to visit Miami and its South Florida environs (where the novel takes place) on several occasions and I took copious notes. When I got a compliment from my agent on my Miami geography (who used to live there), I figured I did something right. And reviews have called the book a “fast-paced South Florida crime caper,” so that was some extra validation. You get a lot of stares when you’re sitting at an outdoor cafĂ© and taking notes on what’s on the menu or your surroundings (but details like that are important). Additionally, I do all kinds of research on the internet for this and that. Typing a word or phrase into a search engine can lead to all sorts of different places. I’m sure my search habits have landed me on a government watch list somewhere.

My Own Worst Enemy was my title choice as submitted and was never changed, although I know that happens - even to the best of them. I was just lucky, I guess. It’s supposed to allude to Jack Murray’s predilection for sabotaging his own good fortune at a critical juncture in his life. Some things are just too good to pass up.

10. If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer, what advice would offer and what changes would you make?
Good question. I would tell myself to start writing seriously earlier in my life. Everything in this business moves at a glacial pace. The return times on submittals to agents and editors are so long because they are inundated with submissions. You need to be patient. I think more than any other endeavor in the arts, writing takes a certain maturity, discipline and degree of life experiences to fully blossom. That said, if you have the maturity, discipline and degree of life experience at an early age, start putting pen to paper because, eventually, you’ll get old playing the waiting game.

I wouldn’t change anything because I wholeheartedly believe I’ve taken the correct path. I’ve done my research to avoid the agent and vanity press scams that are out there. It’s a lot of work, a lot of waiting, and a lot of wanting, but I don’t regret the way I’ve done things.

11. What has surprised you the most about being an author? What has disappointed you?

The most surprising thing has been the amount of support I’ve received from complete strangers. To come to an event on, say, a Tuesday night and listen to a novice author who may or may not know more than you about the writing and publishing process has been nothing short of astounding to me. I’m forever in readers’ debt because of it.

What has disappointed me? The easy answer would be: the money. But, I knew that going in. I had no delusions of grandeur. Disappoint may be too strong a word but what discourages me the most is the completely subjective nature of the business. Like I said earlier, you almost have to catch the right person on the right day in the right mood. And then you might have a chance at not ending up in the slush pile. Then again, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It’s maddening at times.

12. What do you like to do when you’re not writing – just for fun?

What, writing’s not fun? Seriously, I love to fish. Just spending time on the water with loved ones is special to me. I’m an avid golfer and like to play as long as I can sink putts. I’m a football junkie and that’s where much of my time goes in the fall, especially on college football Saturdays. I squirrel myself away and eat gummi bears while watching all day. My mid-section is being to show for it.

13. Wrap it up. Let us know where we can find you.

Jess, I’m truly honored that you’ve spent time with me today. For those interested, the title of my novel is My Own Worst Enemy. It can be found in your local bookstore (ask them to order you a copy if not in stock!) or any number of online outlets, most notably amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. Additionally, a Kindle edition is available at amazon.com for those who prefer the burgeoning electronic book format.

You can visit me at www.brandonhebert.com. You can get reviews, read about any upcoming appearances I might be making, and use the email feature at the Contact page to get in touch. Please do, I love to get fan mail and make it a point to personally return every one I receive. Any beginning writers out there that have questions, I’m always available to answer. Who knows, we might learn something together.

I’m always looking for new friends on Facebook. Search for me or follow the Facebook icon on my website that links to my profile. Hope to hear from everybody soon!

Thank you, Brandon! We look forward to seeing you in Lake Charles, Louisiana on November 13th at the BWG Conference--A Bridge To Publication. ~jess

A Few Thoughts and More Treasures

A lot of writing going on with my NaNo project but as you see in the right hand corner, only a little more than 6,000 words. Still, that's pretty good for me. I stayed up way too late last night.

Still browsing through boxes in the garage. I'm keeping much more than I'm throwing away. Amazing, the treasures I'm finding. A long letter from Redbook--a rejection, yes--but a rejection defining the why of it. I'm amazed that the Redbook editor traded three long, detailed letters with me. Looking back, I can see how close I was and can't help but feel I've squandered so many opportunities.

The first five pages of a novel (and short synopsis) of an idea for a romantic suspense. And I still like it. :) A completed romantic short story. I don't remember it but the characters have their own novel so maybe this short story was the beginning.

All these findings make me want to race to the BWG meeting on Saturday and tell everyone to find encouragement in every critique, in every rejection they receive; it's there if they look for it. Unfortunately, sometimes we don't recognize the good stuff until 20, 30, 40 years later.

I haven't found what I'm searching for: a huge folder of poems written when I fancied myself a poet. Where can it be? Garage boxes? Office boxes? One of the three file cabinets? Arggg, too much paper!

Good News! Saturday I have another Louisiana Saturday Night for you. An interview with a Louisiana novelist of crime fiction. And it's a good one. See you then.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


NaNoWriMo is amazing. When I imagine writers all over the world pounding keys, working toward the same goal—a completed manuscript—I get chills. We’re more united than the Republicans or the Democrats, that’s for sure. Well, I guess that’s not saying much, is it?

Aren't you glad we're not using the old Underwoods or Royals? I am!

I’m excited about my NaNo novel but I realized almost immediately that it’s garbage. It would take years to make a real novel out of it. The thing is I like it. I like what it’s saying, what it's trying to say, but especially what it could be if I invested years to fixing it. Yes, years. That’s no exaggeration. I love the few nice things in it. The very few sentences that sing—quite by accident, I might add. And I like that those sentences that sing happened by accident. Is that weird? That I didn't purposely construct them makes me think wow! there's a little bit of talent embedded down deep that rears it's creative head. Harness it!

As I pound these HP keys, I’m asking myself if I should be doing something more productive. Probably. Cleaning house, sorting laundry, organizing genealogy, revising one of my other completed novels, even completing one of the other NaNo attempts. There are lots of things I could/should be doing, but none of them give me this kind of pleasure. Racing toward a finish line—whether I make it or not. It doesn't even have to be November for us to get this kind of rush, does it? Any time we have an idea, plot it, write that first chapter, we feel excited, don't we?

I read a really wonderful, wonderful essay this morning, and I want you to read it too. Go HERE.
What you would do if you didn't write? How many novels or short stories do you write a month or a year? Do you have to force yourself to sit down and do it?

Just wondering why I need November.