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

Friday, May 30, 2014

Author Interview: Jessie Humphries

Today, we have Jessie Humphries in the HOUSE! Jessie is the author of the YA contemporary thriller, Killing Ruby Rose, as well as a wife, mom, and part-time attorney. Here is more about Jessie...

About the Author: Jessie Humphries was born and raised in Las Vegas, NV. She received a BA from San Diego State University, where she cultivated her love of the beach, then lived in France, where she cultivated her weakness for shoes, and finally earned a law degree from UNLV, where she cultivated her interest in justice. After practicing law for several years she began writing, and, appropriately, her debut novel Killing Ruby Rose is a thriller about vigilante justice set in sunny southern California with a shoe-obsessed protagonist. Jessie currently writes and practices law in Las Vegas, where she lives with her husband and children.


In sunny southern California, Ruby Rose is known for her killer looks and her killer SAT scores. But ever since her dad, an LAPD SWAT sergeant, died six months ago, she’s also got a few killer secrets.

To cope with her father’s death, Ruby has been trying to stay focused on school (the top spot in her class is on the line) and spending time with friends (her Jimmy Choos and Mahnolo Blahniks are nothing if not loyal), but after months of therapy and more than a few months of pathetic parenting by her mom, District Attorney Jane Rose, Ruby decides to pick up where her dad left off and starts going after the bad guys herself.

But when Ruby ends up killing a murderer in defense of another, she discovers that she’s gone from being the huntress to the hunted. There’s a sick mastermind at play, and he has Ruby in his sights. Ruby must discover who’s using her to implement twisted justice before she ends up changing Valentino red for prison orange.

With a gun named Smith, a talent for martial arts, and a boyfriend with eyes to die for, Ruby is ready to face the worst. And if a girl’s forced to kill, won’t the guilt sit more easily in a pair of Prada peep-toe pumps?


Author Interview with Jessie Humphries

Your YA novel, Killing Ruby Rose, was recently released. What are some of the thoughts and emotions you’ve experienced since its debut?

Since I love bullet points, I’ve got a few for this question ;) 

Some of the things that I experienced leading up to my debut are:
• Nausea
• Ligament pain
• Shortness of breath
• Dizziness
• Insomnia
• Increased appetite
• Decreased appetite
• Irregular libido
• Excessive loud-mouthia
Among other treatable side effects. My treatment consists of scalding hot baths, pick-me-up Coke Zero beverages, and intermittent counseling sessions with friends. 

What inspired you to write Killing Ruby Rose?

I have a secret. Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but this book (about a 17 year old serial killer) is actually a tell-all memoir about myself!

Just kidding. I was inspired by two particular stories:

• DEXTER by Jeff Lindsey (which is a book turned into a hit Showtime TV series, about a sociopathic killer who only kills bad dudes); and
• HEIST SOCIETY by Ally Carter (which is a book about a young girl who is a thief but only steals things for the right reasons). 

I sort of melded these stories together, and voila…Ruby Rose. 

I love that your main character, Ruby Rose, is a spunky teenager in her “peep-toe Penelopes” who isn’t afraid to face the bad guys. In what ways are you the same or different from her?

I think authors are prone to put a little of themselves into their main characters. I think this can be powerful (because we can add a lot of our own personality and voice) but I also think this is dangerous (for too many reasons to count, the least of which is because we don’t always have good judgment when we are analyzing ourselves).

That said I tried really hard to create a distinct identity for Ruby Rose. Of course, much of my own voice and sassiness came in quite strongly throughout, but Ruby’s got issues. She sees the world through her very dark Ruby Rose-colored glasses. When she looks at a group of her peers, she doesn’t see possible friends, she sees potential informants. She’s highly trained, very smart, and isn’t afraid of much. 

Whereas for me, the only fight I’ve been in was in junior high and my best move was hair pulling. Gah! I’m actually a big sissy. I don’t like scary movies, roller coasters, touching fish, or stalking really scary bad dudes. 

You’re a busy mom, how do you balance all the pieces of your life and still find time for writing?

I find the only time of day that I can focus on writing is at the break of dawn. I swear that my kids can hear creative thoughts forming in my head and will then awake to crush them. So I go to Starbucks around 5:30 or 6:00 am.

What are you currently working on?

I’m back and forth between the second book in the series called RESISTING RUBY ROSE (which releases October 28th (which releases October 28th, preorder HERE) and a new book that I call my “French book” because it's set in France. It’s a little bit like ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and FANGIRL. I hope to finish it this year. 

What bit of advice can you give to aspiring authors?

Shoot for the stars. Who is to say that you can’t be the next Veronica Roth or John Green? Do all the hard work (because there’s a lot) and then believe in yourself. 

Now for a few fun, off-the-cuff questions that have absolutely nothing to do with writing! :)

If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be?

Jessie Humphries…B-Word. Book Writer, Blog Stalker, Bar Member (State of Nevada), Baby Maker, and Beach Lover. 

Finish the sentence: Tomorrow I absolutely refuse to...

Do laundry, make dinner, vacuum, iron, or anything else a “good housewife” is supposed to do. 

What one thing (modern convenience) could you not live without?

My car, which takes me to the beach when I need to go.

Name 2 things you consider yourself to be very good at.

1.Beating my husband at golf
2.Dancing like a white girl

Name 2 things you consider yourself to be very bad at.

1.Housewife duties (all of them)
2.Remembering peoples names (gosh, I hate when I do this…makes for a lot of socially awkward conversations)

If you could have been told one thing that you weren’t told when you were a teenager, what would you like to have heard?

“Stay away from Nick, Corey, Seth, and Dominic (last names are omitted for legal reasons). They are going to break your heart.”

Thanks so much, Jessie! It was a pleasure having you on Unicorn Bell. Jessie has graciously offered a copy of Killing Ruby Rose AND an awesome Ruby Rose tee shirt! Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below! 

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Author Interview: Stephanie Faris

We are so excited to have Stephanie Faris, author of 30 Days of No Gossip, with us today. Be sure to read all the way through her interview and sign up for the Rafflecopter giveaway at the bottom. Stephanie has generously offered a free autographed paperback copy of 30 Days of No Gossip and some cool bookmarks! You don't want to miss it!

Thanks Stephanie for being willing to go into the "hot seat!"

Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing. When she isn’t crafting fiction, Stephanie is indulging her gadget geek side by writing for online technology sites. She lives in Nashville with her husband.

You can follow Stephanie on her blog HERE, or check out her website HERE.


Can a middle school gossip queen change her ways, or will she lose her BFF for good? Find out in this M!X original novel.
Maddie Evans prides herself on being the gossip queen of Troy Middle School. She is the first person her classmates go to when they need the latest news on the ins-and-outs of TMS—and Maddie never disappoints.

Her best friend since birth, Vi, isn’t crazy about Maddie’s penchant for passing on rumors, but it’s never been an issue in their friendship. Until the day Maddie lets slip who Vi is crushing on—in front of her crush.

Vi is furious, and she confronts Maddie with an ultimatum: no gossip for 30 days, or twelve years of sisterhood goes down the drain. Maddie agrees, but only a week into the challenge, she gets one of the juiciest pieces of gossip EVER—something that could affect the future of the school. Will she be able to keep her mouth shut and tame her ways? Or will she be left standing alone with no one to hear her stories?

Interested in reading the book? You can find it HERE.


Interview with Stephanie Faris:

 When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

For me, I think it was a gradual process. I wanted to be a writer from the first time I picked
up a book, but I think I realized, even at a young age, that writing wasn’t something you
did because you wanted to. Like singing or acting or dancing, it was a talent you either
possessed or didn’t.

It was only once I got to college that I began to feel confident about my writing. I wrote
news stories for the campus TV station every day. I didn’t have an English teacher
standing over me, asking me to diagram sentences or avoid split infinitives. There was a
different structure to a news story. That confidence stayed with me as I left college, which
soon led me to the decision to write my first novel.

What inspired you to write 30 Days of No Gossip?

I think in many ways I have a bit of a gossip problem myself. I always saw it as a way to connect with other people. I’m usually not sure where my ideas come from, but I remember trying to go without gossiping for even five minutes and it was easy, as long as I didn’t speak to anyone! I wondered what would happen if someone actually had to go 30 days without gossiping and 30 Days of No Gossip was born.

Describe your writing process. Pantser or plotter?

I don’t outline at all. I get an idea and start typing away. About 40 pages in or so, though, I
realize I have no idea where I’m going next! Usually at that point I’ll start a synopsis, but
even then, I don’t plot all the way to the end unless my editor is waiting for a synopsis. I
don’t like to get too far ahead. I guess I like to be surprised.

Have many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I laughed when I read this question. I started writing in the mid­90s and lost count around
book number 20. My favorite book is always the one I’m currently working on, but I still
have a special place in my heart for the book series that landed my agent. It was called
Ghost Patrol and it was about tween ghost hunters. We came close to getting it published
a couple of times, but by the time we’d shopped it around for years, the idea had already
been done to death by other authors.

What are you currently working on?

While waiting for my next round of revisions, I’m working on a young adult series that’s a
little darker. I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day, but I have so many ideas
pending in other genres, I figured I’d try something different during the long wait!

What advice can you give to aspiring authors?

One of the most important things an aspiring author can do is find a writer’s group. The
camaraderie and support is priceless. Much of what I know about writing today came from
attending conferences and workshops when I was younger. Both Romance Writers of
America and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators offer this sort of support.

Now for some fun questions that have less to do with writing and more to do with getting to know you….

List five adjectives to describe yourself.

Tenacious, energetic, dedicated, sensitive, cooperative

What is your favorite quote?

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”—Wayne Gretzky

If you had the opportunity to live one year of your life again, which year would you choose and why?

I think I’ll stay in 2014! This is the first year I’ve been able to be a full­time writer, so I’m
doing what I love all day. I can’t think of a year in my life that’s more perfect than this.

What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Getting up in front of a group to speak is probably the scariest thing I can imagine. Every
time I have to do it, I want to hide somewhere. I think bungee jumping and skydiving
would probably be less terrifying than public speaking!

If you had your own talk show, who would be your first three guests?

Olivia Newton­John, because I idolized her so much as a child. Stephen King, because
I’ve read his books since I was a small child. Can I do another writer? If so, it would be
Judy Blume, because she’s touched so many generations with her writing.

Thank you so much, Stephanie! And now for the Rafflecopter giveaway!

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Author Interview: Elizabeth Seckman

Today, we have author Elizabeth Seckman with us! Elizabeth is a romance writer and the author of the Coulter Men Series. Be sure to read all the way through the interview because we have an awesome giveaway at the end. (Elizabeth has kindly offered the winner their choice of the three book eBook of the Coulter Men Series set or an autographed copy of the book of their choice!) You don't want to miss it! Here's a little more about Elizabeth...

Author Bio:

Elizabeth is a wife, a mom, and a writer. She has four wonderful boys, one dusty house, and three published books to her credit. Feel free to check them out and buy them HERE! Erm, the books, not the kids or the house...though all things in life are negotiable ;)

You can find her here - Blog // Facebook // Twitter

Mini Blurbs:

Past Due: When Jenna comes nose to well-formed chest with her past, this single mom realizes her happily ever may only come after a painful journey down memory lane. Once love is lost, can it ever be found again?

Healing Summer: The middle child and bad boy of the Coulter line, Craig, swore off women to the live hermit life in Montana. His plan was working until quarter flips at cross roads brought the sweet, suffering, ditched-at-the-altar Mollie to his town and his heart.

Fate Intended: The final Coulter brother, Trip, trades a boring job for a place on a black ops team. He swaps a bitchy girlfriend for a sweet cleaning lady...who may be a Russian mafia princess on the lamb for murder. No matter. Whoever or whatever she is, Jane has Trip's heart in her cross hairs.


Now, on to the interview...

First of all, Elizabeth, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. We are so excited to have you on Unicorn Bell!

Thanks for having me over!!

What books or authors have most influenced your writing?

I wouldn't be writing if it weren't for Dixie Browning. She's a fabulous lady and
prolific author who took the time to offer me a critique and pointers when I was still
head hopping and writing in passive voice. And she gave me the very best advice
ever: READ. Then read some more. Then just tell the story.

What is your writing process like? Pantser or Plotter? (Additional Translation: As a mother of four boys, when do you find the time to write?)

Odd combo of both. I start with an outline...which is open to change. By the time I
get to the last chapter of the first draft, I have several pages of things that will have
to be tweaked in the beginning to make the new ending work.

*I have four boys, but they are all teens+ (one is twenty). Writing with them around
means I accidentally approve a lot of pizza orders and car loans. (Seems they know
I answer yes to almost any question while I am in the zone!)

How do you receive inspiration for your novels?

Honestly, it's simply a “what if” that grows. For my next novel, a historical, I had
to wonder­ what if there was a character who had the heart of Melanie Wilkes and
spunk of Scarlet O'Hara? From that, Bella's Point was born.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on the final chapters of Tanner Coulter's story. Tanner was a teen in
Past Due. His story starts as the now twenty­something party animal gets booted
from college only to return home to find a pretty little over­achiever living next
door. The what if of this story­ is what if Tanner meets a girl who is too smart to fall
for his crap?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Never give up. Read good books. Read bad books. Read books on craft.

Oh, and blog. Interacting with and learning from fellow writers is a sanity saver.

Now, for some fun questions, completely unrelated to writing, but a great way to get to
know you…

What’s your motto in life?

Be someone you'd want your kids to be.

 What is something you cannot live without?

The obvious answer is oxygen, but I'll go a step farther and add my faith and my

If you were a professional wrestler, what would your ring name be and why?

MomDre the Giant. Why? My son thought it was hilarious.

 Most hated chore on the household chore list?

I hate to put away laundry. I don't mind washing, drying, and folding, but trying to
stuff it in drawers is annoying.

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

Oh my goodness...I'd sit on the couch and watch TV interruption free! If they can't
see me, they can't ask me what's to eat.

Thank you, Elizabeth! It was so fun to have you on UB! 

All of you readers out there, don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below!

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Conference Recap--Voice!

LDStorymakers 2014 Writer's Conference Recap

First I need to apologize for not only being late with my post today, but for the fact that I can't find my notebook. We have lots of yellow spiral notebooks around my house, but none of them are the one I took to Utah. My guess is one of the kids grabbed it and thought it was there's. So today you are going to get  what I "remember". 

Lisa Mangum's class description--Editors, agents, and publishers all clamor for it: a strong story with a strong voice. But what is that, exactly? How do you get it? And if you already have it, how do you make it stronger? This class will focus on ways to strength your writing voice (and your character’s voice) so that your story can sing loud and clear. 

This class was probably the most fun. I still need to work on my own voice, but I feel like I understand it better.  You don't have to watch all of these two videos. I'm not certain if the second version is the one Lisa used, but it's the same idea. Watch enough (at least a minute and half) to hear the difference in Voice.
Which one do you believe?

The other thought that stuck with me was this:
Voice is WHAT you have to say, and STYLE is how you say it.

Those two songs used the same words but they sounded different. One of them was much easier to believe. You could FEEL that the singer meant those words.

When you write a story there must be something that you want to say. Something you or your characters really believe in. If you believe it, then it will come out in the way you write. That is voice.

Perhaps this is the problem with my writing. I've always thought that I just wanted to tell a good story. There isn't a purpose/theme/lesson that I'm trying to get across. Maybe if I find something I really believe in and then give that to my characters, my voice will become one that readers will connect to and believe as well.

What do you think about voice? What books have you read that ooze voice?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Conference Recap--The Art of Subtlety

LDStorymakers 2014 Writer's Conference Recap

The intensive classes sold out quickly at this conference, but I managed to get J. Scott Savage's class on the art of subtlety. It was an amazing two hours because he showed and example and then had us write. I'll try and do that today--Show you an example of good or bad subtlety and then give you an exercise. All of the examples and exercises come from Savage's presentation. Feel free to share in the comments!

Thesis Statement (A DON'T)--This is where you tell what's going on and then show/tell it again. It's important to remember that we are not trying to prove something to our reader. In fact, we don't want them to see us at all. Trust your reader--80% of what a reader "gets" is not on the page.

Crystal was exhausted. Her head ached. Her legs felt as if someone had been beating her calves with a baseball bat. And her feet pounded like a pair of sweat-stinky tell-tale hearts.

An easy fix would be to drop the first sentence. "Crystal was exhausted" is a thesis statement that tells what the reader can figure out from the following lines.

How can you make this better?
Trouble was coming. Kids had been getting together in small groups and whispering. Most of their food was gone. And he could swear he’d seen some of the older boys and girls carrying weapons.

Thought Verbs (Another DON'T)--"From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use." -Chuck Palahniuk

Bart wondered if anyone liked him.
Rich knew he’d never make the baseball team.
Tim remembered what it had been like when his mom was alive.

Pick one of them and make it better.

So--my personal crutch. This is the lazy way out and points to telling.

Julie was so pretty all the boys followed her around the school.

How can you SHOW us that Julie is pretty without saying it.

Taking Shortcuts (Another lazy way)--This is straight up telling. Although it looks like an "economy" of words, showing will bring your readers deeper into the story.

Tyler was kind of a nerd.

Tyler picked wrapped the Doctor Who scarf around his neck, wondering if it was too much. It didn’t really go with his Star Trek shirt. But he knew the other guys in his chess club would be as jealous as a weaponless Jedi in a light saber convention.

How can you make it better? Pick one:
Dave was taller than anyone in his grade.
Tristi was a total snob.
Mike smelled bad.

Foreshadowing--The trick here is not to be heavy handed. You don't want to call attention to the foreshadowing tidbit, if the reader notices at all they shouldn't know what's being foreshadowed.

In "The Hunger Games" there is one short section as follows...
At least Katniss knew Primrose wouldn’t get picked for the Hunger Games. After all, she only had one ticket. It would be impossible for her to get picked.
It is then followed by a page of going on about how you get more tickets in the reaping and how many Katniss has. She believes that her chances of getting picked are much greater than her sister's. Because she believes she might get picked the reader starts to fear that as well. That is what makes it so powerful when Prim's name is drawn.

How could you foreshadow this?
Mike’s dad is a thief, and Mike hates crime. But he will soon be forced into a life of crime himself.

This leads easily to the tactic of Misdirection. What can your character believe that might not be true? Avoid the Obvious at all costs. If you go with the first thing that comes to mind it's probably a cliche. 

Here are a few more things I wrote down...
  • Enter the scene late and leave early.
  • Avoid unearned emotion--MC's best friend gets shot in the first chapter. We don't care yet.
  • "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.” ~Anton Chekhov

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Conference Recap--Structural Self-Editing

LDStorymakers 2014 Writer's Conference Recap

Jordan McCollum writes "mysteries to fall in love with, romance to keep you in suspense." She taught a speed class on self-editing. And I do mean speedy! It was hard to keep up she was moving so fast. This will be a summary of my notes from her class. Hopefully they will make sense. You can view the presentation slides on her blog HERE. The "tools" at the end of each section are to help you stay focused on the point just covered during that round of revisions.

Opening quotes from Jordan (paraphrased)--
"Editing is the process of refining scenes to guide your work to the highest level."

"Give yourself permission to re-envision."

She labels her files and her starting point for editing is Draft 1.5.

Top 10 Problems She Sees in Manuscripts:
  • Theme is missing
  • Ending doesn't match the beginning
  • Events misplace or don't belong at all
  • Plot or scenes are repetitive
  • Plot overwrought
  • Character is dragged around by the plot
  • Plot holes
  • Pacing is off
  • Subplot takes over
  • Secondary characters hijack the story
The first thing you need to do is Anchor the Character ARC in your story by making sure the proper milestones are in place throughout the story--
Beginning-show internal situation, demonstrate why it must change.
Middle-the changes take place one by one.
Ending-because of the changes of the journey, he's now strong enough to win.

Tool #1
Throughout the course of the story, my character learns/becomes __________________________ in order to ultimately prevail. 

Don't worry too much about this while writing the story, but once it's written there must be some theme to your work. Why? Lot's of reasons, but one we will talk about later in the week is because it helps with voice. 
Your character ARC to theme connection--the lesson or belief proven by the events of the story. It's the "power of because". Gives us the "so what?" application. 

Theme--Love is strength
Because love is strength, love is worth fighting for. 

Tool #2
My character learns/becomes (lesson). Because (lesson), (so what?)

Macro Structure
1st Quarter set-up
  • hook
  • introduce characters
  • set up story question
  • show world
  • establish stakes and set up...
  • 1st Plot point (20-25% mark)--Major confrontation with antagonistic force that shifts the story/stakes/character into a new gear. 
2nd Quarter response
  • respond to the first quarter but NOT in a proactive way
  • shock/denial
  • retreat?
  • 1st Pinch Point (37.5%)--Antagonist action reader sees directly or "on stage".
  • Mid-point (50%)--Another shift (new information, false defeat/victory, altering the reader's perspective.
3rd Quarter attack
  • Your protagonist is no longer reacting, but trying to think it out and make proactive choices to read a win
  • 2nd Pinch Point (62.5%)--another new direction
  • 2nd Plot Point (75-80%)--last major revelation, final turning point

4th Quarter resolution
  • final confrontation
  • answer story question
  • character is strong enough to win
Tool #3
  • List the milestones in your characters growth. Are they placed correctly? 
  • Fix the sagging middles to keep the character on their course and the story moving forward
  • Create a map for the story--this allows you to see the "shape" of your story and will help with pacing

Tool #4
Combine the story map you created for each plot/subplot of the story. They should NOT line up. The peaks and valleys should all be offset to keep the pacing interesting for your reader. (It's best to look at her slides here.)

Medium Structure (Scenes) Each scene needs it's own structure that includes: Goal, Conflict, Disaster

Sequel structure (the transitions between scenes)--
  • Character's emotional response to the scene
  • rational thought
  • decision
  • Action that moves them toward their goal
These two things will ensure that each scene has a purpose, moves the story forward, advances goals and gives framework for all revisions. 

Tool #5 was a spreadsheet that we moved through VERY fast. There is a picture of it on the presentation on her blog. My take away was to put whatever you need in that spreadsheet. She has all the basics-Chapter, scene, POV, goal, conflict, disaster, setting and purpose as well as a place to keep track of the milestones.

Finally she talked about MRU's.


Motivation Reaction Units.

This is simply watching to make sure that actions come before the reaction.

Tool #6
Maintain the MRU. Rearrange sentences when needed because: 
We react to things after they happen.
If you stack too many things happening at once, how does the reader know which response goes where? Don't stack them up. 

I know this is a lot of stuff without a lot of background information. You guys are smart though and I'm assuming you can figure it out. If not, please ask questions in the comments. 

Note: I still don't know how you determine the percentages for where the plot points are supposed to go. That is the percentage of story line not necessarily pages. Do you have any idea?

Jordan's Books:

I, SPY, 2013 Whitney Award Finalist
CIA operative Talia Reynolds's new boss is her ex-boyfriend. And that's the just beginning of her problems.
SPY FOR A SPY, 2013 Whitney Award Finalist

Here are her helpful Links

Books I referenced

Blog posts

Other resources

Seven-point story structure by Dan Wells on YouTube—each video is about 10 minutes

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Conference Recap--Plots to Die For

LDStorymakers 2014 Writer's Conference Recap

Rachelle J. Christensen taught a great class on plotting that was slanted toward Suspense novels, but could be used for any genre. I've always been a "discovery writer" or a "pantser". And there's nothing wrong with that. However, this class helped me understand a few things about plotting that I can use after "discovering" my story to help in the editing stages. This will be a summary of my notes from her class.

Perhaps one of the most important things Rachelle said was this, "Now we are competing with movies."

I'm the kind of writer (and reader) who likes to be firmly in the setting and know a little about the characters before all the conflict gets started. That way I can answer the "Why do I care?" question. However, if we want people to sit and read instead of watching the latest blockbuster movie, we need to do something to grab their attention and emotions right off the bat. While still helping them know "Why do I care?"

Sometimes this feels almost impossible doesn't it. Rachelle suggested sitting and free writing for the first 50 pages. Then you can look at all that story and figure out where it really begins. She suggested that you jump right in and then do a brief intro of the characters.

"Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." ~Elmore Leonard

Rachelle then ran through the 7 Plot Point System and suggested we all go watch Dan Wells YouTube videos on Story Stucture. Once again, Rachelle and Dan both mention you need this even if you are a Discover Writer. Here it is briefly:

  • Hook
  • Plot turn 1--Introduce conflict, world changes (inciting incident)
  • Pinch 1--apply pressure (something goes wrong/make it worse)
  • Midpoint--Exact center of your story, maybe not center of the book. The protagonist moves from reacting to acting
  • Pinch 2--cycles of try/fail until you've added more pressure until almost hopeless (example: In The Incredibles, Syndrome has captured them and the robot is smashing the city.)
  • Plot turn 2--They get the final piece of information or thing needed to move toward the end and the...
  • Resolution
And finally, the elements of Suspense which can be used in every genre as well.
  • Setting--Don't just grab a location out of a hat. There must be a reason they are from Oregon, or wherever. Every element is important. Whatever you mention in that setting must be important. If you mention an expensive oriental vase, someone needs to steal it or get hit over the head with it.
  • Characters--The must be involved, active. Also, a good description is like the setting for your character. (I would add they need to be well rounded characters with strengths and flaws)
  • High Stakes--Obviously, but also be mindful that your minor characters don't hijack your story because they are more interesting or their stakes are higher.
  • Question--Make sure the story raises questions that your reader wants answered while keeping a good balance. If you ask too many that take too long to answer the reader will get frustrated and perhaps stop reading. 
  • Foreshadowing--"You know the thunder is coming, but when?" (I also took a class by J. Scott Savage on the Art of Subtlety, so stayed tuned for more on this. And no, while technically foreshadowing, there was nothing subtle about that last sentence.) 
  • Problems--There need to be hard choices, grey areas. Create lose-lose situations (Pinch point 2)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Conference Recap--Compelling Villains

LDStorymakers 2014 Writer's Conference Recap

Stephanie Black taught a great class on the importance of creating compelling villains. This is one of the areas I struggle with so this class was great for me. This will be a summary of my notes from her class.

First, a look at some of the best villains in movie/TV history. 

What is it about these men that made them such great villains? Think about it. I mean really think about why you loved these villains. Because you did, didn't you? You probably still do. There was something compelling about each of these characters that drew us in, hooked our interest.

Darth Vader appeared completely evil at first glance, and then we saw his hesitation. We learned a little about his past. We wondered with Luke if there was anything good left in him. In the end his redemption was crucial to the climax and resolution of the story.

Voldemort was truly chill worthy as a villain. And yet, he started out as an orphan who had to find his own place in his world. He honestly thought his world would be better if only pure blooded wizards were in charge. Ironic since he was a half-blood.

Moriarty. What can you say about Sherlock's arch-nemesis? He was intelligent. A perfect match to Sherlock. He kept things interesting simply because you never knew what he would do next.

Loki wins the "best villain ever" award from my children. Why? Because he was funny. He made silly mistakes but could also be brilliant and manipulative. At times you like him way more than Thor. You just can't help it.

The point is that your villain/antagonist is JUST as important as your hero/protagonist. We've been told that our heroes need to have imperfections in order to feel real and believable. Our villains can't be all bad. They need little things that are good about them.

Example--What do you think of when you think of Hitler?

Did you know that he sang in the church choir as a boy. He wanted to be a priest when he grew up and he was devastated when his brother died.

Look at your antagonists and figure out these things:

  • What is their goal? (They have a goal, sometimes it's a good goal and they just go about getting it the wrong way.)
  • What do they think of themselves? OR How do they see themselves?
  • What is their background that made them who they are?
  • Are they strong enough to give your protagonist a good fight? (They need to be evenly matched, and don't let them fizzle out at the end. The protagonist needs to defeat them, not a bolt of lightning.)
  • They need to have believable flaws and weakness that lead to credible mistakes. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

A trend in thrillers and mysteries that I wish would die (plus a compliment)

Well that didn't work out to plan. See the point here is for someone to send me something to critique, and if there was an interesting thing to point out, I focus on that, especially if I had to crit a chapter, since chapters plus my crit would probably run too long.

However, I just finished reading a short story someone sent me to critique and... well... there wasn't much wrong. I had one suggestion to improve the big reveal (it's a locked-room mystery), but then, even as it is now, the reveal has a surprising (although it makes perfect sense) twist that makes the reveal worth-while, even if it could have been a bit more of a surprise.

Would you like to read the chapter? Sure you do. Here's the link.

Ooh. I actually do have an interesting point to raise coming from this crit. Plot twists and how they work. (Sorry if this is rambly. I had a 13 hour day thanks to a wedding where I have to arrange flowers. But I'll try to remain lucid enough to get the point across.)

Right. So everyone loves plot twists. They make readers scream, squee, cry, laugh with glee.... They take readers from one emotional extreme to another, making the reading experience feel like a roller coaster the reader wants to take again.

The thing is, plot twists have been exploited so many times that they do lose some of their effect. Especially the "It's a twist because you didn't get to see the main character doing something incredibly important to the plot. Get it?"

No... No I don't.

Mmm... I'm probably saying this because exhaustion lowers my inhibitions, but hey, it's my opinion, so here it is:

Those aren't plot twists. They're cop-outs.

And they kept being used again and again. Oh sure, they do take the reader's from extreme to extreme. But instead of: "OMG. OMG! OMG!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ah AWESOME!!!!!" or even better: "OMG. OMG! OMG!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OH SHIT!!!!!"

These "twists" are more of an: "OMG!!!................... Oh."

Horrid, horrid use of exclamations, I know. Guess they're all escaping while my inner editor sleeps. Point is, taking readers to high stakes and massive tension and then dropping them on their asses is just lame. Really.

Sadly a lot of your run-of-the-mill bestselling thriller writers employ this tactic. I think people get dazed and dazzled by the adrenaline high followed by the crash after. Maybe it's like eating candy. After a sugar crash you crave more sugar, don't you?

Plot twists done correctly elevate stories to other realms entirely. It's like 80% dark chocolate compared to a cheapy milk chocolate (I.E. fake twists).

Sadder still than the fact that these fake twists get abused is the fact that with a tiny bit more effort, a much more effective twist could be achieved.

All it takes is leaving breadcrumbs of information, leading readers right where they think they're headed, except you as the writer would be leading them somewhere else entirely.

Simply put, people are used to all sorts of information creeping into a story. So if  you put all the building blocks to your big twist out for them to see, in a way that makes them seem unrelated or unimportant, the reader will only see the whole picture when you reveal the twist, which basically acts as a way to put all the pieces together. And if that twist has mind-blowing effects on the characters/story/stakes... even better.

And truly brilliant writers can do this without hiding anything from the reader. A plot twist should be a moment of clarity when the reader sees everything they missed before, and is shocked because 1) s/he missed the clues and 2) at the MASSIVE repercussions those clues actually have.

So yes, PJ, if you're reading this: I called you a brilliant writer.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

No info dumping on my reading

So the big thing that stood out from today's critique for me was the use of back-story in the opening scene of the manuscript.

As the author said:

"In it you'll see an area where I've explained the protagonist's background. Some people don't like it there, others say they wouldn't have liked the protagonist if it wasn't there. I'd love to know which way you feel."

I think it's a concern that's prevalent with authors of dubious or otherwise unlikable characters. So they dump a ton of sympathetic back-story right from the start, because really they just want the readers to like the characters as much as they do. 

Thing is though.... an info dump probably won't make people like your character. In fact, odds are that if the info dump takes place in the middle of something interesting (say a murder/theft/hit, since we're in dubious character mode) the reader will just skip until they get back to the interesting stuff. 

Or... well... they could stop reading if the info dump is done so clumsily that it stands out like an eye-sore. As they usually do. Best case, that's all they do. Worst case, they break the suspension of disbelief you've just established. So where would it leave your story then? 

Nope. Back-story dumps just aren't worth it. 

So what if the readers don't like the protagonists? you might ask.

Well... here's a bit of a shocking thing to know: Protagonists don't have to be all that likable. They only have to be interesting to be liked. Which means that if you start with the character doing something interesting (maybe adding a few sympathetic hints here and there) and keeping info dumps out of the opening, you're set for long enough to start bringing out the sympathetic aspects to the character. 

But I repeat, info dumps won't let you do this. 

Trust yourself, writer. If you know you have an awesome character, trust that you can keep the interest going long enough to make the character liked. I've done it for entire books without explaining the character's motivations, so I can tell you it's possible. 

And you know the best part about not info dumping all over my dubious character? He might not be likable, but he sure as hell is memorable. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tale of Two Queries

First up is Ms. A. Nonymous. Now you might remember her from the last query she sent in. Have to say, it's nice to have a fan. ;-)

This time, she sent me two queries for the same story, an old version and a newer version, asking me which query I preferred. Here they are for your reading pleasure. And please do feel free to chime in on your favorite.

Original Query

After the tragic death of her husband, Giselle Roberts is certain she will be single forever. Barely staying afloat caring for the needs of her five small children, romance is the furthest thing from her mind. But a chance meeting of a handsome stranger, leaves her wondering if she’s ready to open her heart again.

Declan Worthington is charismatic, wealthy, and British, hence the sexy accent that drives Giselle to the brink of blissful surrender. He’s also great with her kids, who quickly grow to adore him. All except for Giselle’s oldest son Cohen who thinks another man in the house is one too many.

As Declan weaves his way into her heart and life, Giselle begins to dream about a new future, one that involves romance and passion. Never once does it cross her mind to not trust the man who has brought happiness back to her family.

Upon the discovery of Declan’s shadowy past, Giselle’s perfect image of him crumbles, along with her chance for second love. Will fate find a way to bring Declan back into her life and soften Giselle’s heart?

New Query

Giselle Roberts never dreamed she’d be a single mother raising four children on her own, but fate had other plans.

Romance is the furthest thing from this young mother’s mind as she sits at a restaurant bar in the romantic Queen City a year after her husband’s death. But a chance meeting of a handsome stranger who knows more about her than he lets on, leaves her wondering if she’s ready to open her heart again.

Declan Worthington is as charismatic as he is wealthy. Add to that his intriguing British accent, strong physique, and keen interest in Giselle and her children, and he appears to be the perfect package. He’s also great with her kids, who quickly grow to adore him. All except for Giselle’s oldest son Cohen who thinks another man in the house is one too many.

As Declan weaves his way into her heart and life, Giselle begins to dream about a new future, one that involves romance and passion. She realizes she’s been given a second chance. A second chance to love. A second chance to live.

Never once does it cross her mind to not trust the man who has brought happiness back to her family.

It takes a worn newspaper clipping to find out the truth about Declan’s shadowy past. Giselle’s perfect image of him crumbles, along with her chance for second love. When fate finds a way to bring Declan back into her life, it will take a lost child, a mother’s hope, and a message of forgiveness for Giselle to decide in the end if love is worth it.

My opinion? Well. Honestly, both are really good, so either could do as the query of choice. However, personal tastes dictate that the first half of the new query was just a bit wordy. See... the agent wants to get to the meat of the matter within seconds, and after we meet the MC(s), the conflict and stakes is the thing the romance query is about. But... as I said... it's just me. Anyway, I proposed a third version combining the two, and then I still had a few suggestions to make:

After the tragic death of her husband, Giselle Roberts is certain she will be single forever. Barely staying afloat caring for the needs of her five four small children, romance is the furthest thing from her mind. But a chance meeting of a handsome stranger, leaves her wondering if she’s ready to open her heart again.

Declan Worthington is charismatic, wealthy, and British, hence the with a sexy accent that drives Giselle to the brink of blissful surrender. He’s also great with her kids, who quickly grow to adore him. [All except for Giselle’s oldest son Cohen who thinks another man in the house is one too many.]<---- Not important for query purposes.

As Declan weaves his way into her heart and life, Giselle begins to dream about a new future, one that involves romance and passion. She realizes she’s been given a second chance. A second chance to love. A second chance to live.

Never once does it cross her mind to not trust the man who has brought happiness back to her family him.

[It takes a worn newspaper clipping to find out]<---- Beware the passive construction. Rather go with: When Giselle discovers the truth about Declan’s shadowy past. Giselle’s perfect image of him , his perfect image crumbles, along with her chance for second love. [When fate finds a way to bring Declan back into her life] <--- Really?! Or did he make the choice to return? Beware making it seem as if the characters are lost in a sea of fate and circumstance, unable to make choices of their own. It creates the impression of weak story-telling. , it will take a [lost child] <--- lost how? , [a mother’s hope, and a message of forgiveness for Giselle to decide in the end if love is worth it.]<---- I like how the sentence ends, but instead of a laundry list, I think the query is strengthened by more detail. So that the reader gets why Giselle would want to give him another chance. 

Okay. So I had a lot of suggestions. But cleaned up, my idea of this query as awesome looks a bit more like this: 

After the tragic death of her husband, Giselle Roberts is certain she will be single forever. Barely staying afloat caring for the needs of her four small children, romance is the furthest thing from her mind. But a chance meeting of a handsome stranger, leaves her wondering if she’s ready to open her heart again.

Declan Worthington is charismatic, wealthy, and British, with a sexy accent that drives Giselle to the brink of blissful surrender. He’s also great with her kids, who quickly grow to adore him. As Declan weaves his way into her heart and life, Giselle begins to dream about a new future, one that involves romance and passion. She realizes she’s been given a second chance. A second chance to love. A second chance to live.

Never once does it cross her mind to not trust him.

When Giselle discovers the truth about Declan’s shadowy past, his perfect image crumbles, along with her chance for second love. Yet when one of her sons vanishes, Declan is the one who steps up to help her find him. During the search, Giselle learns how deep the goodness in Declan goes, and she’ll have to decide if that’s worth giving him another chance.

As usual, I know it's far from perfect, so please feel free to share further (hopefully helpful) comments. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Triple Whammy Crit Returns

Hey all! Misha here.

Once again, I'm critiquing queries, first chapters and/or synopses this week. As before, this will work on a first come, first serve basis.

You're welcome to only send one or two of the three, or you can send all three and specify if you don't want something posted. I prefer the latter, because I find it's easier to spot a problem if I can see a bigger picture. If you send all three, I'll crit all three and post (or post about) whichever I deem useful or interesting in some way (unless you specify differently, of course).

Interested? Please mail me at unicornbellsubmissions(at)gmail(dot)com and put "Misha" in the subject line so I know it's meant for me. Just one thing: I don't do erotica. I realize that it's a legit genre and don't throw any aspersions on it, but it's simply not something I read. Everything else is fine.

*Rubs hands* Can't wait to see if anything's sent in...

Friday, May 2, 2014

Boinking and the Moonlighting Curse

With every good romance novel, there are absolutes. First, you must have MCs who are likeable, bondable. Humor in the right place helps also. A bit of slapstick applied with a light touch.

Second, there must be conflict. Tension. Not the Game of Thrones kind with death and destruction in every Freakin’ Sentence. Nope. All good books need is a different kind of conflict.

Segue now to the TV program, Moonlighting:
Maddie Hayes is a high-maintenance, classy lady who happens to own a failing detective agency. By coincidence, David Addison is also facing bankruptcy at the agency he owns. 
Together they can make a go at it. But personality-wise, they are as different as an elegant gazelle and Bugs Bunny. David isn’t just from the wrong side of town; he’s from a whole other planet.
Watch the video to get an idea of how cool they are.

I had point. *patting pockets*. Ah yes, here it is:

Conflict isn’t about swords and dragons. Well, yeah sometimes but not today. It’s about arguing over a broken nail, spilling a cup of coffee on important documents, the dog barking and not knowing why. It’s a phone call in the middle of night and a click at the end. A facial expression, furrowed brow, a tense cheek. All of the above.

And yes, the sexual aspect. As in when are they going to get together? Which leads me to:

The Curse. Whether it’s right or wrong, the above TV program is famous for the Moonlighting Curse. There are several reasons why the show was so popular. Great writing, actors with chemistry, script, and, oh yes, sexual tension. 

But after they finally did the horizontal mambo, everything changed. The writing went downhill. Scripts changed. A skiing injury. An actress taking time off to have twins. All were a part of why the show was cancelled. 

But one of the big reasons was the lack of that ‘when-are-they-gonna-do-it’ thing. For many people, there was nothing of interest afterwards.

Summary. If you have a single-title book and the resolution is in sight, the ending should give the readers what they want. But if you are writing a series, after the romance is consummated, you must find conflict that has the same heat level to replace it.

Or they might wander off when a squirrel or shiny object crosses their path.

Watch a few episodes of Moonlighting for examples of snappy dialogue and tension. Their personality clashes are epic.