Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Ah, you shy people. With no submissions, the moderator must punish you with one of her own.

Oh, well, if I must.

There is still time to submit a dialogue excerpt, something for critting or for bragging. But until then, here is a piece from Of Oak and Dragons.

Leah and her sentient rapier are at odds about a man who the rapier knows as Dragon, a killer. Leah isn't so sure.

I acknowledged the screaming rapier as I ran down the stairs.
“I guess this is stupid, but, lookit, he just doesn’t seem the destroyer type, Okay?”
“Gahh, you CANNOT be infatuated with him. This is just NOT possible!”
“Not infatuated, just interested, and checking out the enemy, all that stuff. This is a…reconnaissance mission...yeah, that’s it, I’m looking for information,” I said.
Sullen, the blade was quiet.
I checked the lane for cars. Still empty. “Besides, I want to meet this dealer.”
“You have to take me,” it said.
My eyes snapped to the rapier on the mantel.
“See, you cannot leave me for any significant time," it said. "We are bonded and separation results in a painful experience for both of us if you leave me behind.”
When I speculated on carrying a four-foot sword, the rapier snarled, PAY ATTENTION! I DISAPPEAR UNTIL YOU NEED ME!
The rapier cursed vehemently.
“Hey, hey, none of that buddy. Don’t be projecting that in my head.” I picked up the rapier and held it to the light. “Okay. So disappear already.”
A growling, Bite Me broke into my mind.
A car door slammed.
I held nothing, only an empty hand in the air. Hastily I dropped my arm and turned to the door aware of my racing heart.
Be careful, came a trailing thought, I will appear if you need me.
 And the rapier was gone.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Be a Writer

All the time.

How did you spend your summer and fall? I lived on a roller coaster ride of contractors, ‘how-to’ research about siding a house, the best kind of counter tops, and cleaning up 92-year-old dust.

All that time, I never stopped writing. Maybe that sounds implausible, seeing as how I had a paint scrapper in one hand and a bucket of soapy water in the other. But I planned my manuscripts, kept a notebook in my back pocket ready for any flashes of genius that occurred for my current Work In Progress.

The premise is the Afterlife and all the religious connotations and handed-down stories. I listened and collected snippets of legends and myths for the storyline.

  • A TV documentary that dealt with the Viking deities and their views of death. scribble, scribble
  • A relative said that when her dad’s heart stopped, a Presence formed over his body like so much mist. scribble, scribble
  • A casual conversation that started with, ‘I wonder what happens after death?’ that started a whole round table of talk. scribble, scribble

And so on.

My point? Listen to different speech traits, note hand gestures, how people walk and interact to apply them to your wip.  And be ready to absorb folk stories, quirks, and the bits of information that come your way.

You never know what will explode a mere tale into a firecracker of a book.

How do you keep your edge? How do you keep writing when a notepad or keyboard is nowhere close?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away…

Oh, yes I do love my Star Wars. But I digress.

When I started this writing career, I loathed dialogue. Creating it, speaking, and visualizing the stuff. Hated it. I slammed through it to get back to the good stuff; action, drama, and narrative. But somewhere along the way, I grew to enjoy if not love it.

Why did I change?

Beats me.

But methinks it had something to do with the story. I learned from my characters. They introduced themselves to me in dialogue and the interaction became golden.

The revelation occurred after a reader told me she hated narrative. She’d skip the scenery and absorb the conversations instead. I do the same when deciding whether to buy a new book, I jump past the first page and look for dialogue. Agents read dialogue to judge whether a manuscript is worthy of their attention.

But how to do it right?

This week, submit your dialogue excerpts to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com

Good dialogue has several components.
  • Action
  • Introduction
  • Plot
  • Character traits.
With skill, a writer can move the story forward using these elements. But too often dialogue is the writer’s downfall. Too much information, explaining, and unnatural voice bogs a reader down.

Pitfalls include:

Backstory leads to unnatural.

A glut of info confuses the reader. Make it mysterious. Give the conversation some color without slopping on the whole paint pot.

Attributes that explain.
“Should I run all the way?” she inquired.
“If you want to make it on time,” he smiled.

Let your characters speak for themselves. Don’t explain.

Fred hated flies in the house.
“Don’t you know I hate flies in the house,” he said.

People pause, slur, use bad grammar and short sentences. Not many yap in long complicated monologues. Let them disagree, interrupt, and argue.

Use dialect carefully. A drib there, now and then helps define the character traits.

Break it up.
Long conversation is as tiresome as too much description. Break the speechifying into sections. Let the characters interact physically while the conversation develops. Watch TV and films. See how the script lets them move, pick up a dish, look at a newspaper.

Lastly, always read aloud as you edit. Even better, draft a spouse or passing kid. Bribe them with cookies if you must.

Do you have dialogue that needs critted? Or simply proud of and want to show the world. Send to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com.

Friday, October 26, 2012

And now, for your writing pleasure...

I offer three prompts, taken straight from Writer's Digest Magazine:

1. Turn to the obituaries and choose someone to write about. Imagine a scene from that person's life (to see mine, go here.)

2. An estranged mother and son, who have not seen one another in 20 years, meet unexpectedly at the post office in December, packages in hand. What do they say to one another?

3. Through a freak illness, you lose one of your senses. Which one is it, what happens to you, and how do you deal with it?

I'll look forward to seeing what you come up with :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Legacy of the Eye - page 2

A while back, Patricia offered up the first page of LEGACY OF THE EYE. If you click on the pic you can read it and my critique if you like. Here is Patchi's second page which she has so generously donated...My comments will be in purple and I hope you'll add yours. 

 page 2 - 

Catrine’s eyes were still adjusting to the brightness, but they took in the novelty of her surroundings. It was the first time either student had left the school (wow! That's almost like being in jail and letting us know that makes all sorts of questions pop into our heads - which is a good thing because questions keep us reading.) since their enrollment at the age of two. They were both eighteen now, but Catrine did not feel as ready to conquer the galaxy as David was. Like how she compares them.

Their dark gray tunics and slacks sparkled in the afternoon light. The uniform designated (not sure if I like the word designated. Labeled would preferable but that's just me...) them as students from the Governance department, but no one prevented them from exiting the Academy grounds even though they were unsupervised. David had managed to convince their instructors there was no need for a chaperone because he thought the lack of one would increase their chances of successfully defending the proposal. (<<this is awkwardly put and a little confusing to me. Can you convey the meaning in less words?) Catrine had not argued with him, but she had made sure she had clear instructions on how to get to the government building. The last thing they needed was to get lost on the way.

"Wow! I've never seen so many flowers in one place," David said as he stepped through the archway and out of the Academy grounds.

Catrine followed him towards the flowers. The bright colors on the other side of the entranceway were stunning. (don't tell me they're stunning. Tell me why they're stunning. Or show me why. Either works for me here. ) She inhaled deeply. The floral tones drifting from the garden gave the air a sweeter scent. That's better.

"Now we know why everyone talks so much about the Center Gardens," she said. "The directions say to go around it."

"We have time, let's walk through the park."

"We don't want to be late..."

"Then don't waste time arguing." David grabbed her hand and led her down the footpath closest to them.

I like this. It isn't high action but it builds character. I'm beginning to get to know Catrine and David and their world and I'm curious. Curious turns pages. This is pretty good beginning.

What do you guys think?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Oh dear...

I'm afraid no one sent me a first page. Which means I have to post something useful.

Well, how about this: I'll tell you how I plotted and finished my last novel. Keep in mind that actually finishing a book, is quite a feat. Lots of people try and fail. I tried a number of times before succeeding. But...I have to say it ended up being easier and quicker doing it the way I did it this last time, the new way, which involved plotting before pantsting.

For me this meant figuring out what would happen in each and every chapter. Not necessarily every little thing (because I haven't quite given up pantsting altogether), but the major event that moves the story along.

Of course plot gets you nowhere without characters, and this massive questionnaire I got from K.M. Weiland proved to be invaluable.

For example, in addition to the usual questions about my character's physical attributes, this questionnaire asked things like this (my answers are in italics):

Current address and phone number: at the start of the story she doesn’t remember.
Strongest/weakest character traits: her impulsivity which gets her into trouble but also makes her brave.

Talents: A sense of direction – and it is this which keeps confirming the way to go. It takes her a little while to recognize it but her internal compass is telling her the right way to go, however much she doubts. 

These are just a few of the many questions that helped make my main character more complex, and more real. The interesting thing was that simply by answering those questions I came up up with more questions as well as scenes, backstory, reasons, goals, etc. These in turn helped flesh out the chapters, which made it easier to write. I won't tell you how many revisions later it is but I will say this method allowed me to finish in a little over a year. 

I like my new method so much I'm employing it with my next work.

What's your method? What works for you, helps you finish?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


To save them.

The Enclosure stood alone as if the other buildings were afraid of catching its disease. Hell, I was afraid of catching its disease. Waving grass went on forever, broken only by the long road connecting the Enclosure to the rest of the world. And the two of us. Crouching so our borrowed white uniforms wouldn’t be seen. Watching and waiting.
“Rebbsie. (I think there should be a comma here instead of a period: “Rebbsie, look.”) Look.” Tass pointed, indicating a box truck puttering down the road. The food shipment. Monitoring the Department’s records had paid off. Boarding the truck far enough away  from the building would keep the eye level cameras that bordered the road from seeing us. It was our way in.  Our first step in saving the last living members of our species, the Controllers. Their name for us. We preferred Trols. I don’t think you need what I crossed out here and removing it makes this move along a little faster, which I think is what you want.
My body reacted instantly, knowing the plan before I did. Ground flew under my feet as I ran. My legs stretched, the muscles pulling taut. It felt wonderful after squatting in the grass for so long. Strands of my dark hair flew in my face and I shook my head, trying to clear my field of vision. The pouch that hung from my neck thumped against my chest. Without looking, I knew Tass was behind me just as, without me telling her, she knew what I was preparing to do. I think it reads better without but you be the judge.
We were going to hitch a ride.
The truck sped toward us. I could see the driver’s face. He was a few years younger than me, bobbing his head to the music blaring from his speakers, his eyes hooded. He hadn’t noticed us yet, but he could (could or would? Just curious…) at any moment. After all, we were running right at him, our path forming a forty-five degree angle with the back of the vehicle. If he spotted us, hiding was out of the question; neither one of us had was a senses Trol with the ability to control what he saw, and the nearest shelter was the Enclosure. So, he needed to feel it was okay for us to be there. Though, for all he knew, it was. Still. He had to relate us to something normal. Easy. When you can manipulate thoughts. I wonder if instead of saying what Rebbsie and Tass can’t do, say what they CAN do, like this: “If he spotted us, hiding was out of the question; neither one of us had the ability to control what he saw. But we could control how he felt, make him see us as normal, like we were supposed to be there. Easy. When you can manipulate thoughts.”
I motioned for Tass to get behind me. The rhythm of her footsteps changed as she slowed, falling back.  I waited until their beat again lined up with mine before shooting a wave at him, the pulse of it gathering at the base of my skull, the pressure lifting at my right temple. [Check out that jogger. Man, she’s hot. Maybe I should take up jogging. Bet it’s a nice view from the back.] Not exactly my style, but the thought had to match the mind “thinking” it. In this case, his. Yes, I agree that you didn’t need the last line here. And I think you can remove the brackets, too. I get that she’s projecting what she wants him to feel/think. And yes! This is so much better than the first draft – which was pretty darn good to begin with.

Nice work, Brooke.
Does anyone else have any thoughts? Care to submit a page from your work in progress? It doesn't have to be a first page. I'll take a page from anywhere. Do it!

Monday, October 22, 2012


Last time I asked for your first pages and this was one I didn't have time to crit but promised to post next. However, I'm going to do things a tiny bit different this time. Instead of me showing you my comments first, I want to see what you guys have to say first and then I’ll post my crit tomorrow. I’m willing to accept two more first page or single page submissions this week if anyone is interested. 

This is the first page of Brooke Busse’s Upper YA/NA light sci-fi, THINKING OF YOU.

To save them.

The Enclosure stood alone as if the other buildings were afraid of catching its disease. Hell, I was afraid of catching its disease. Waving grass went on forever, broken only by the long road connecting the Enclosure to the rest of the world. And the two of us. Crouching so our borrowed white uniforms wouldn’t be seen. Watching and waiting.
“Rebbsie. Look.” Tass pointed, indicating a box truck puttering down the road. The food shipment. Monitoring the Department’s records had paid off. Boarding the truck far enough away  from the building would keep the eye level cameras that bordered the road from seeing us. It was our way in.  Our first step in saving the last living members of our species, the Controllers. Their name for us. We preferred Trols.
My body reacted instantly, knowing the plan before I did. Ground flew under my feet as I ran. My legs stretched, the muscles pulling taut. It felt wonderful after squatting in the grass for so long. Strands of my dark hair flew in my face and I shook my head, trying to clear my field of vision. The pouch that hung from my neck thumped against my chest. Without looking, I knew Tass was behind me just as, without me telling her, she knew what I was preparing to do.
We were going to hitch a ride.
The truck sped toward us. I could see the driver’s face. He was a few years younger than me, bobbing his head to the music blaring from his speakers, his eyes hooded. He hadn’t noticed us yet, but he could at any moment. After all, we were running right at him, our path forming a forty-five degree angle with the back of the vehicle. If he spotted us, hiding was out of the question; neither one of us was a senses Trol with the ability to control what he saw, and the nearest shelter was the Enclosure. So, he needed to feel it was okay for us to be there. Though, for all he knew, it was. Still. He had to relate us to something normal. Easy. When you can manipulate thoughts.
I motioned for Tass to get behind me. The rhythm of her footsteps changed as she slowed, falling back.  I waited until their beat again lined up with mine before shooting a wave at him, the pulse of it gathering at the base of my skull, the pressure lifting at my right temple. [Check out that jogger. Man, she’s hot. Maybe I should take up jogging. Bet it’s a nice view from the back.] Not exactly my style, but the thought had to match the mind “thinking” it. In this case, his.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Blog Tour Exchange

I'd like to introduce a new resource for writers, the Blog Tour Exchange. The Blog Tour Exchange is a free matching site for authors who wish to conduct blog tours to promote their books. By becoming a member, you agree to promote other authors' books on your blog and they do the same for you. 

You don't need to have a publishing contract to Become A Host.  By being a host now, you'll build connections with other authors and a platform for marketing when you do have a book ready. If you've been a host for at least three months at any time before you have a book to promote, you can be matched without having to sign up again. If you complete your three months before your book comes out you can use your precious time for marketing when your tour is live.

To celebrate the grand opening, we're having a giveaway! Sign up to Become A Host before 11/1 and be entered in a drawing to win a free full-service blog tour and other great prizes. Even if you can't sign up to be a host right now, you can still enter the giveaway. Enter here.

Learn more at How It Works.

I hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Back Story Submission #2

Title: Shadows in Secret
Genre: Historical Fiction
General area of the book the passage is from: First chapter
Why you feel this information is important: Because it explains who Molly is.

I really feel I need more backstory, but I'm too afraid of backstory, so this passage is short!


Molly had not lost her steadfast faithfulness to Alura, for which Alura was eternally grateful. She had always been more of a friend to Alura than a ladies maid. After the castle had been overrun and Sasha Leah’s troops had murdered the royal family, Alura was the only one to escape. The servants and field workers had been rounded up and herded off to the slave market. This is when Molly had proved her true friendship. At times, she proved more courageous than Alura. Older than Alura by five years, but still a friend she counted on for everything from advice on royal manners to private matters behind closed doors. At twenty years old, Alura still didn’t know much about being a wife.

Alura tried to remain unshakable, but at times she had crumbled under the burden of suffering. Some degree of protection had surrounded them as long as they marched close by the guard named Terious, but he had not always been there when the vicious soldiers beat upon them. Now, standing in line, Alura heard the whispers and rumors from the other captives. Those left at the end of the day were to be sold to the floating brothel resting in the harbor. How would she protect Mary and Natalie from the horrors awaiting them?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cake Writing Series #5

Tomorrow I'll have another back story submission. For now, here is the wrap up of the Cake Writing series.

Originally Posted July 7, 2010.

After we've hidden the crumbs under a nice thick layer of icing and smoothed it out, we are ready to make it look pretty. Some cakes only require a simple border, others need more elaborate decorations. This cake left my hands looking like this. The mom was buying all kinds of cute firefighter things to decorate it with. I put a simple shell border to "frame" the cake and give her a place to spotlight the items she purchased.
Those little star flowers? They are covering up crumbs that stubbornly refused to stay hidden.

Now, a wedding cake needs a little more decorating and set up than this cake. For instance, when you stack a wedding cake, each tier requires support. Remember those tools? I cover cake boards cut to fit under the tier, and cut dowel rods. Each new level of cake requires it's own support system so that it doesn't sink into the layer below it. Some of these cakes are HEAVY! Here is an excellent website to show you how to do this. And go HERE if you want to stack and use separator plates.

Final set up is also important. What do you put around your cake? You could just set your cake on the table and call it good, but what if you add some nice little touches? (Cover art fits in here somewhere. Since we don't have a lot of control over that, I'm skipping right over it for today.)

Before we present our novel to an agent, and hopefully the rest of the world, we need to make sure everything is as smooth and perfect as possible. Critique groups can help each step of the way. Each tier needs support. Make sure every action, reaction, back story, and conversation has a purpose. Everything should work together to make a strong and beautiful work of art.

Set up of a cake is the scariest time. You are finished and you've laid it all out for others to see. You do this on your own (maybe a friend helps). The bride isn't there to oooh and aaah over it. At least none of my brides have ever been hanging around. Terror strikes as you wonder if it is good enough. Will they like it? At some point you have to say, "I did my best and that's enough."

I think this is how it's going to feel when I send out those first query letters. I'll do it alone. No one will be standing around to cheer and say positive things about the book. Email checking will become a new addiction. I'll wonder if it's good enough. Tears will probably become common as the rejections roll in, but at some point I hope I toughen up and realize that win or lose, I did my best. (Update: It took two years, but I've reached this point, yay me! I know I've done my best and its time to move on until I have a team to help me with the final polish.)

And now, because I need to work on my summary so I'll be ready to query, here is a summary of this series.

Making beautiful wedding cakes or writing the next best seller is simple if you take the time to follow the steps and use the right tools.

Words, sentences, pens, computers, themes, plots, conflict, complex and compelling characters in rich settings that tantalize all the reader's senses are the tools and ingredients we work with. The combination we play with make our novel uniquely ours. We take the time to "bake" our ideas until they solidify into something we can work with. Trimming, shaping, cutting until we reach the desired size and shape.

Critique groups can help us survive and progress through the revising and editing stages. Together we pin down crumbs, smooth the icing, and decorate our stories. All the while making sure everything is supported and strong so it will stand.

Finally, we set it all up and send it out into the world. If we are lucky, the bride/agent comes to give us a hug and tells us how amazing she thinks the cake is. Or you get paid big bucks for all your hours of work. Personally, I want both.

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Cake Writing Series #4

Originally Posted June 30, 2010

Filling, Stacking and Icing
Now that we have a cooled and trimmed cake, it is time to make our yummy filling, stack the layers, and ice/frost the cake. (I don't know why I say ice the cake instead of frost the cake. Just humor me.) Here is the Mousse recipe again. I found this a year ago on Cheeky Kitchen. It was part of a beautifully decadent chocolate cake in honor of Stephanie Nielsen (whom I adore and respect beyond words!) 
Mascarpone Mousse
1 c. whipping cream
¼ c. sugar
1 c. 60% Bittersweet cacao chips
8 oz. mascarpone

In a large bowl, whip whipping cream until fluffly. Add sugar & mascarpone and whip until smooth.

In a small bowl, melt chocolate chips in microwave, stirring every thirty seconds until smooth. Chocolate should not be warm to the touch, if it is, allow it to cool just slightly before spooning the melted chocolate into the whipping cream mixture & beating until light and fluffy.

Spoon carefully atop one layer of cake. Spread evenly, then top with the second layer of cake. Refrigerate until ready to frost.

You will see that my example cake is rather larger than the 10inch round I'm having you make. Making this cake, I remembered why I don't normally "layer" my sheet cakes. I don't have the fridge space to firm up the cake and it was a bear to stack. It cracked and started to fall apart. Luckily, frosting works like glue and I "glued" it back together. After frosting it, you can't even tell that it was in three huge pieces.

Now is when I'm supposed to give you the writing side of the analogy, but my brain has quit on me. I remember thinking something along the lines of the filling being the yummy surprise in the middle of the cake. It's one of the things I look forward to. Writing the middle of the book is sometimes the hardest to do. The challenge is to make it wonderfully surprising enough that the reader never knows how hard it was to work through during the writing stage. Eh, that was one crummy sentence, but I'm actually craving cake so the writing part of this analogy might be lacking today.

Oh! I guess I should give you a buttercream icing recipe too. It is super easy. Put 1 cup REAL butter (please no margarine--it isn't pretty!) and 1 cup white Crisco (or equivalent vegetable shortening) into your mixing bowl. Also add 1/4 cup water and 2 teaspoons of flavoring (my favorites are: vanilla, almond, mint). Mix until well blended and then add (slowly! or your kitchen will be covered in powdered sugar) 1--2lb bag of confectioners sugar.

This gives you a thick consistency icing (good for making roses. Add a little water (about 2 tablespoons) to make it thin enough to spread over your cake.

As you can see, I like to use my giant bag and large tip #1D. This allows me to pipe the icing all over in an even amount without ripping up the cake underneath. Now it is just a simple matter of smoothing it out.

This smoothing is called the revision process. You've been doing that (remember the trimming stage?), but now things are pretty much in place. These final revisions are more editing. Cutting and adding is done (except for the occasional surprise--hey, you know it happens!). Now you are smoothing away the awkward sentences, the passive voice, and so on. Each swipe makes the words flow better.

Even after a little smoothing, it isn't perfect. It is time to send the wip to your Beta readers. Have them read over it, looking for any cracks or lines. They can help you find those tiny spots that need smoothing.
When it comes to smoothing a real cake, here is what I've learned works for me. HOT WATER. Oh yeah. I run my metal spatula under my faucet, and then smooth it over the cake. The heat melts the icing just a bit and whala! Smooth...and shiny (until it dries again.) I'm still working on this, but it is smooth enough that when I decorate, no one will notice any wonky spots.

Sometimes listening to critiques feels like we are sitting under hot water. It isn't comfortable. We sweat, we writhe, we want to run away and hide our head under our pillows. However, we have to remember that critique, when given constructively, is simply smoothing out hard work.

It's hard work to write a novel. You put in hours and hours of thought and writing. You do it for your sanity, and you do it because we all harbor that secret hope that one day our baby will go out into the world. I for one want to make sure when it does, it's trimmed, filled, and smoothed out to the best of my (and my critique partners) abilities. That way the decorating stage won't be so painful.

Tune in Saturday for the wrap up of this series.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cake Writing Series #3

Originally posted June 28, 2010

Baking, Cooling, and Trimming
Baking Preparation:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare your pans. Preparing the pan is very important if you want to be able to remove the cake in one piece after baking. I use crisco and flour. I use my fingers. Some people do this a little differently (I've seen someone use a napkin so they don't get icky), but I need to feel that I've evenly coated my pan with the shortening. TIP: You don't want it thick or clumpy. Smooth it with your fingers until you get a thin even layer all around the pan. It should look shiny not white. Pay special attention to the corners. Once it is "greased", dump 2-3 tablespoons of flour into the pan. Shake it around until there are no shiny spots left. Tap the pan on the counter and shake the left over loose flour into the trash.

Writing Preparation:
Where do you write? I need somewhere clean with some "scope for imagination" as Anne Shirley would say. Remember this picture? I hated writing here. It was never clean and it was always loud. (Update: This room no longer exists in my house thank goodness!)

When I bought my laptop, my kitchen table became my favorite writing spot. I can sit here with the sunlight streaming through a wall of windows. Birds and squirrels flutter and scurry around the bird feeder. Sometimes my children run back and forth as well. There is a trail behind the bushes that you can see in the background and people walk by all day long. I love sitting here, and I write more when I feel happy. (you can see my trusty notebook and pen, as well as a print out of an early version of Sendek with commenter's notes in it.)

Time to Bake:
Now that we've mixed our ingredients we pour it into our pan. (I forgot to take a picture of this, sorry!) Divide your batter between the two 10-inch round cake pans. Place them in your preheated oven and let them bake for 30-35 minutes. Check to see if they are done before pulling them out because each oven is a little different. Here's how I check:
1. nice even browning
2. when you wiggle the pan the cake does not jiggle
3. when you press lightly near the center with two fingertips, it springs back and doesn't leave a dent
4. the sides are beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan

Time to Write!
Sit down and write. We all have different times of the day, different goals for each writing session, and different lengths of time we can devote to writing. The key is to do it. Whatever your plan is, DO IT. Consistently. Sounds easy enough. (BTW, I loved Elana's post last week on this.)

Cooling the Cake:
(Because the pictured cake is a sheet cake, I use a heating core to help it bake evenly. I just add some batter inside for a neat trick later. You should use a core for any cake over 10 inches) When the cake is done, let it sit in the pan for 10 minutes before trying to remove it. After 10 minutes, run a butter knife along the outside to loosen it from the pan. I also do a little motion that I can only describe as a "hug" or "squeeze". With the knife between the side of the pan and the cake, I gently push the cake towards itself. You're not smashing it away from the edge, but the light hug loosens the bottom edge of the cake.

Next, I invert the cake (sometimes I use the back of my cookie sheet. Smaller cakes I just hold in my hand), then flip it again onto a cake board. Now it should be sitting the same way it sat in the pan. Right side up. I put the cake board on the cooling rack and let the cake cool completely.You can see where I trimmed the cake from inside the core to fill the "hole". (So many plot hole analogies here that I will skip for now.)

Cooling the novel:
After you finish that first draft, you have to put it away for a while. Let it cool off. Give yourself time to rest from the creative rush, regroup, and prepare yourself for the next step.

Trimming the Cake:

It is much easier to stack, ice (frost), and decorate a flat even cake. Take a large serrated knife and trim the rounded part off the top. Sometimes you have to cut a lot of cake off to get it even. What you cut might be nice pieces that you can snack on later, some are tiny crumbs you sweep into the trash. Perfectly good cake that is just excess for this project.

The Revision Process:
It can be painful. Just remember that cutting words and scenes is simply a step in perfecting your novel. These excess words may be perfectly good stuff, but if it doesn't fit in the novel or move it forward, it has to go. Sometimes you can save them and use them somewhere else.

The first time I cut a cake I was terrified there would be nothing left. The first scene I cut completely from my novel made me want to cry. I liked the scene. It was a good look at my characters everyday life--before I decided to kill off her whole family. With the parents dead at an earlier time in her life, the scene now didn't have a place, so it had to go. But I did put it in a file in case another character's story can use the scene.

Next installment is making the filling, crumb coating and icing (frosting) the cake.

Cake Writing Series #2

See Part 1  for the beginning of this series.

Originally Posted June 25, 2010
Let's continue baking our wedding cake and writing a novel. (That is as far as I got before life interrupted. While I was dealing with life, my hubby hijacked my blog and wrote the following.)

Today we are going to talk about the importance of purchasing brownies and ice cream for those that are the closest to you in life. The baking of brownies is just like writing a novel-you mix specific ingredients until you come up with the perfect end result, you can use the same ingredients, but how you combine the ingredients determines the final outcome. The same is for writing. You use common elements of drama, romance, intensity, etc. but how you combine those elements determines the outcome. Also like brownies, the better the novel, the more you want to consume. Sometimes you find an author who does not give you what you truly want and it leaves you wishing they had--is it the author being unkind or are they trying to help you along the literary journey--I suppose the final outcome answers that question.
And that is a great synopsis for what I planned to write. And no, I did not give in and go buy brownies. I was a bad wife and made him eat giant California strawberries instead...

When making a wedding cake, the ingredients are key. Each cake recipe starts with the same basic ingredients: eggs, liquid, flour, leavening agents, and flavoring. The specifics are what make each cake unique. Wow, hubby really knows his baking. You could argue that there are no new cake recipes. :) Just like there are no new plots, themes, character personalities, etc.

However, the amounts of each ingredient, the little "extras", the combination of flavors can make or break a great cake. The quirkiness of your characters, the detail of your settings, the unexpected twists that your plot takes will make or break your novel.

Let's start with the cake. I like to use real, sweet cream butter (I prefer salted), whole fat milk (no skimping here!), real flavoring as opposed to imitation and so on. My cakes are something I call "hybrids". They are not strictly from scratch, but they are far from a cake box cake. ???? I know what you're thinking, but stick with me for a bit. Cakes need flour and other dry ingredients, and a cake mix provides all those dry ingredients in a nice ready to go package.

So here is the list of ingredients for one of my favorite standards.
White Almond Cake
1--10 inch round double layer cake 

1 package plain white cake mix
1 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons or 1 stick real butter, melted
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons almond flavoring

1. Mix all the ingredients until well blended, then turn up the mixer and beat for 2 minutes. I don't think it matters what order you dump them into the bowl, but I do things in this order: eggs, milk, butter, almond flavor (mix real well) then add cake mix. Sometimes you need to stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides. This moves any dry cake mix down into the mix. Then I turn my mixer to medium high for 2 minutes.  

with Mascarpone Mousse Filling

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup 60% Bittersweet cacao chips
8 ounce mascarpone cheese

Instructions will come with Part 3--Baking.

Now, how about that novel? Our main ingredients are Characters, Setting, Plot, and Conflict. All stories contain these elements, but each story has a unique combination of them. Some stories are character driven, others focus on the setting, (more on setting HERE) for some the conflict is the all important factor. We all know how important plotting is and making sure we have filled any "holes".

I'm still looking for the method of mixing these elements that suits me best. Sometimes my characters come first and I have to learn what is going to happen to them. Other times I have this event in my mind, a conflict that must be resolved, and I have to find a character who is up to the task of handling it.

Sometimes I outline my plot, but my current wip just flowed out the way it wanted to. I see advantages to both methods, so like my hybrid cakes, I'm not strictly a pantser or a plotter. I plot when I need to and I sit and just write whatever comes when I need to.

It's working for me. I'm happy and having a great time. Will it get me published? That is yet to be seen.

I think I have wandered from the goal I set with this post, but I'm making cake again today and have not written for several weeks. Summer is my mandatory--Take a break--time from writing.

The next section will talk about the baking, cooling, and trimming of cake and novel--coming later this afternoon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cake Writing Series #1

I get an epic fail in planning this week. Well, I did hope for more submissions, but since there aren't any more, and I'm house hunting, I'm going to feed you cake. :)

Originally posted June 23, 2010 on my blog

As I baked and decorated for three days straight, my mind wandered. It often does that, but this time I wrote down a few notes from those wanderings. Do you realize that you can relate anything to the writing process.

Wait a minute! Did you say anything?
Yes, anything.
I'll get you, and it'll look like a bloody accident.

Bonus points if you know where that quote comes from.

Ok, back to the post. By the end of this series you'll be able to bake and decorate your own wedding cake and write about it too. LOL! I think I need a little more sleep, cause I'm crackin' myself up. When I read this tomorrow I'll realize I rambled on without making any sense at all.

*sigh* When you bake a cake you need certain tools of the trade. When you write a novel you need tools of the trade. Today I'm going to compare a few of them. This is in no way a complete list of tools, and they are sort of out of order, but it will still work. So, let's get started by gathering our tools: (All pictures are from Google images )

1a. Pans of all shapes and sizes. This gives you the freedom to bake exactly what you want to make. Square, round, heart, star, cupcakes, flowers, SpongeBob SquarePants, whatever. There are lots of pans to choose from. Mixing and matching allows you to get creative and come up with new designs.

1b. Pens, pencils, notebooks, desktop computers, laptops, Scrivener or yWriter, MS Word, or whatever word processing program you use. The choice is entirely personal. I mostly write on my laptop in word. This is just habit more than anything, but I like yWriter (free) and plan to use it when I start the next novel. It just isn't worth cutting and pasting each scene into it for the current wip. If I ever upgrade to a Mac, I'll buy Scrivener. It sparkles. I'm very visual and it's visually appealing.

I also keep a variety of pens and notebooks stashed everywhere. Sometimes I use them to get past writer's block. Mostly they are there so I can write down thoughts, ideas, sentences, dialogue, whatever pops into my mind when I'm cooking, cleaning, or generally trying to pretend I'm not an obsessed writer type personality. Plus, I like the way the words flow onto the paper when I write with a good pen. I don't think I could write an entire novel this way though, because I would dread sitting down to type it all up at the end.

2a. Mixers and ovens--needed to mix the ingredients until smooth and the oven "solidifies" if you will, all that has been mixed. See where this is going? :)

2b. Our brains and imaginations. Without our imaginations, we would be just like everyone else. So what if it makes us a bit odd, a bit eccentric at times. I'm glad my brain lets me play in other worlds, make amazing friends, and survive adventures I'd never get to participate in for real life.
3a. Recipes. We all need to know where to start. I usually tweak all my recipes to meet the needs and likes of my particular family.

3b. Rules of grammar and story structure. Although we would like to throw some of these rules out the window, they guide us on the way to publication. Readers expect certain things in a story. Such as a beginning with setup, a middle with conflict, and an ending with resolution. They hope for strong characters that they can like and a plot that surprises them in spots and eventually answers all their questions.

4a. Spatulas, bags, tips. You put icing in the bag and it funnels down through the tip. That tip will effect the shape of the icing as it comes out.

4b. Words, sentences, punctuation. As writers we live in a world of words. The crafting comes as we funnel them into sentences with meaning. Punctuation is the tip that shapes the feel of the sentences.

5a. Tasters. When people taste your cake, they will tell you if they like it or not. Depending on their comments, you may tweak the recipe, or scrap it and start all over.

5b. As writers we NEED critique partners. Our stories and characters are so alive in our own minds that we fill in the blanks as we read the words on the page. How will we know if our love for our characters made it to the page if no one reads it? Critique partners (alpha or beta) can tell us where the recipe is working, where we need to tweak it.

And finally...

6a. Eaters. Why make a cake if no one is going to eat it? When I make a cake for someone, I ask them what flavors they like. Then I make the cake with them in mind.

6b. Readers. Our audience. You can not write a book without thinking about who will read it. A young adult novel is different than one for adults. Science fiction attracts a different group of people than historical fiction (yes there are some of us who devour everything, but you know what I mean). This audience must always be in the back of your mind.

Now that we know some of the tools we need, we can start baking a cake...tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Back Story Submission--Legacy of the Eye

Here's our first back story submission. My comments are in purple

Title: The Legacy of the Eye
Genre: Science Fiction
General area of the book the passage is from: Chapter 2, page 18.
Why you feel this information is important: Illustrates David and Catrine's relationship before it falls apart.

"I've been giving graduation quite a bit of thought lately," David said. "It's disconcerting not to be able to plan ahead, as I don't know how my parents will react to my choices. I don't even know if they are still alive…"

"Your parents wouldn't have sent you to the Academy if they were interested in directing your future. And they know what your interests are, even if you haven't communicated them yourself. I'm sure you will be interested in visiting their home, wherever it may be. (this sentence slows things down for me. I think it's something you can show us later.) I think your problem is you have too many unknowns in your calculations for the first time in your life, and that's bothering you." I love the wording here. It really sets me in your world and gives Catrine this analytical vibe.

David smiled. Cat was always able to understand him and he knew she did not mean to reproach him  (I didn't feel a reproach) for not writing to his parents these past years. Students at the Academy were encouraged to write to their relatives and communicate their interests and experiences. He knew Cat wrote often because she had mentioned it at various occasions. David, however, had not written to his parents in years. His last letter had been more like a note:

I made it into the Governance program. They said I was too young, but I told them age was not a requirement if I qualified. I did not have to argue too much. The instructors will probably tell you more.

David had discovered at the time that (this is really wordy. Try David knew the...)instructors always sent parents a student report reports about the students at the end of every quarter. Thus, he had decided there was no need for the duplicate effort. After they became friends, Cat had not argued with him when he explained his rationale for not writing to his parents.

Their friendship had started soon after Cat joined the Governance department, a couple of years after David had, when one of the instructors had paired them up for an assignment. David had been unhappy about the pairing at first. Not because she was a novice in the class--he had enjoyed working with the new students the year before--but because she was so quiet. However, he had found out soon enough that Cat would venture her opinions more freely when the two of them were working by themselves. Her critical thinking had amazed him. They had become friends at that point and had been inseparable ever since. Is there any way to condense this so that it's half the length? You can hint at his discomfort with her silence by sharing the moment he was first exposed to her "opinions".

David's concern, as they sat together in the Center Gardens, was that they might each have to follow a different path after graduation. They had great ideas to improve the Academy. The Tutor Program was only a first step and they had often talked about staying on Demia. The more he had learned about the other planets, the more he had thought the rest of the galaxy could benefit from all the things they learned at the Academy. But now David could not stop wondering from which planet they had come. He feared all the planning he and Cat had been doing together this past year was a waste of time. This paragraph is really confusing to me, but I'm going to assume some of it is mentioned before and therefore not as confusing as I think.

It feels like you have two lines of back story going here. 1) David getting into the program and not writing his parents, and 2)meeting Cat.

My questions for you would be--
  • Is there a way to put the bit about getting in and letters somewhere else? Then just tighten it a bit.
  • And, can you think of a way to SHOW us this relationship. Maybe they are sitting in the same place they've sat for the last X# of years? Have him think of how the smell of (fill in the blank with something in the room, or her soap, or something) will always remind him of how well they work together. Or show us how they've worked out some problem.
When you thin out the ideas to just one tidbit of back story at a time, the reader will have the time to process it.

I enjoyed all of the back story and feel it should be in here some where. It helps ground me in the world the author is creating as well as the relationship between the two characters.

Ask yourself--if I lived in this world it would all be normal, so how would it look to me? How would I react to it? Put yourself behind your MC's eyes and then LIVE. The way the character reacts to the world shows us the world as well as build that character. 

Remember, mine is just one opinion. What do YOU think of this submission?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Too Much Back Story In Your Novel?

I love back story. I love to read and write it, but these days extensive back story is the kiss of death. Especially in the first chapters.

Today we're going to talk about back story, how it's important, and ways to use it to our advantage.

What is back story?
Everything that happened to your character before the book starts.

Why is it important?
Every author needs to know the character's back story in order to understand what motivates his/her desires and actions. Once we understand these things, we can write reactions that will feel natural and believable to the reader.

The hard pill to swallow is that the reader doesn't care what happened to your hero when he was five. Or that boys asked your female MC out on dares but never showed up for the actual date. None of that matters unless it has a direct impact on the plot and conflict in the current story.

Now, both things mentioned above are complete scenes in my head. I know how Landry felt as the events unfolded around him. What he looked like, how he wanted to cry but didn't, etc. I know how Talia dressed for the date that never happened and how she hid in the forest and cried so her mom wouldn't know. If I wanted, I could write out the scenes in vivid details, but it would completely stop my forward motion in the story and the reader would be thinking, "What the heck?"

How can we use information like that to our advantage?
Those details about my MC's lives give depth and affect how Landry and Talia react to things in the current story. If used correctly, back story can make your characters more human, likeable, believable, and many other things that readers are looking for. It can provide an emotional connection point.

I'm going to share how I used the above back story bits in my novel without going into an info dump.

Ladies first. At one point Talia is shocked to be asked out by a complete stranger. She's quite the recluse in the beginning of the book. Here's her reaction.
"I would love to take you to dinner, Miss Zaryn. Show you around Joharadin."
Talia's mouth dropped open for the second time that day. She looked him over, wondering if she could bear to give dating another shot. He looked to be about her height, brown eyed and plain in every way except his build. His muscles barely fit in his uniform, giving him a stiff pained look around the shoulders. Her mind drifted to her school days. Ardro Gunik, tall, built, and popular. He asked her out once too. On a dare. The memory still prickled.

"I'm sorry, I can't." She grabbed the pass, and bolted for the security gate.
What does this passage tell you about Talia?

Notice it's short--about 110 words total.

In another spot, Landry asks Talia a very personal question. She replies simply.
"Guys usually…" The muscle in her jaw clenched. "Well, they kept their distance. I guess I'm not the dating type."

Those two hints into Talia's past are at least 100 pages apart. No chance of it feeling like an info dump! However, they give a glimpse, and then a reminder as to why it's hard for Talia to trust people and let them into her life.

On to my hero. Landry seems a bit unfeeling at times to those around him, but as is true for most people, he simply keeps his emotions locked deep inside. There's a moment when Talia thinks him the most callous person she's ever met, but their telepathic connection reveals the truth.
When did you stop caring about other people's deaths?
The image of a small boy standing on the steps of the palace came to her mind. He watched soldiers carry a man up the stairs on a stretcher. They stopped in front of him and the man reached out a hand as blood bubbled from his mouth. Talia descended to a familiar pain, the sense of complete loss. The scene disappeared as Landry shielded his mind from her once more.

This bit is only 80 words long. I included it because Talia needed to see a softer side of Landry. She needed to connect to who he is emotionally before she could let her walls down and learn to trust him.

Now, when I posted this on my blog last month someone asked a very important question.

What about flashbacks?
These are tricky too. If done right they can be the perfect way to get in a bit of back story. However, I think flashbacks are over used as an info dump tool. And more often than not, they are WAY too long. 

Perhaps this is the real key to back story in any form--brevity. A line, a paragraph at most here and there is really enough. Even flashbacks can be slipped in so that the reader almost misses that they went back in time.

I don't use any flashbacks in The Magic Wakes, at least not that I can remember, but here is one from Fade Into Me:
(127 words)

"It's so beautiful." I let go of the cord and stepped carefully to the side for a better view.
Carter took over the heat and we lifted higher. "I knew you would enjoy this."
I gasped and gripped the rim tighter. One moment he stood in the basket wearing his jeans and t-shirt, then everything spun until he stood at the top of a staircase. His hand was held out to me, his clothes suggestive of a renaissance fair complete with a silver circlet around his head. He was the only solid thing in a swirl of moving color.
"What is it Ryanne?" He let go of the cord and pulled me back to the middle of the basket and reality once more. "Are you all right?"
I think it works because Ry doesn't even realize it IS a flashback. The reader knows, but she doesn't.

When all is said and done, back story IS important, but too much is self indulgent on the author's part. It's not about us. It's only partially about our characters. It's all about the reader.

Call for submissions!
Send in your passages of back story up to 500 words to unicornbellsubmissions @ gmail.com and we'll try to help you decide how to make it the most effect without slowing your story momentum. Please add the following to your email--
General area of the book the passage is from:
Why you feel this information is important:

Submission Passage:

I'll post them Tuesday through Wednesday so we can all comment the rest of the week.

Story bits are from my debut novel coming out February 2013.
You can learn more about Talia's story on my author website--charitybradford.com or on Goodreads.