Writing Wednesday: Building your Toolbox

Putting the other book on the shelf for a while to find a new heroine and plot means starting a new book in the meantime. And that means pulling out my trusty writer’s toolbox — and some wine and chocolate — and start  playing with my characters.

The toolbox is actually a bookshelf. I thought I’d share the books that I find indispensable as I write.

First up is The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit by Pam McCutcheon and Michael Waite. If you write on your own, this is a great book and deck of cards to get your creativity flowing. Each card has a descriptive word on it like greed, honesty or power. You deal cards for your hero and heroine, plot, antagonist, etc. For instance, if you draw honesty for your heroine, is it a benefit for her or a fatal flaw?

East Tarot Guide by Marcia Masino. Yes tarot. Yes really. I don’t particularly care if you believe in the cards. When you do a reading for a character, you force yourself to consider what the cards are saying. You may agree with them, or you may say, “No, that’s not it at all. The reason he’s that way is because…” Either way, you get something to work with.

The Complete Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami Cowden, Carol LaFever and Sue Viders. This is one of my favorites because it looks at the sixteen archetypes and how they play together. Want to see the character traits of two beta personalities? It’s here, Want to see what some of the basic issues would be between your alpha hero and equally alpha heroine? It’s here, and it’s a great starting point for building your characters. Yes, this is where I tend to start my plotting.

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Deb Dixon. Awesome. If you ever get to hear her speak on this or the hero’s journey, spend the money. It’s well worth it. In this book, Dixon uses movies you’re familiar with the explain why a character’s goal, motivation and conflict are key to writing believable characters. Once you read this, you’ll start dissecting everything you read that you love — or hate — and you’ll regularly find that the problem is because one of these things is missing. Don’t believe me? Go read Twilight and tell me what Bella’s GMC are. Good luck finding them.

These are my go-to books. If you’re looking for an all-around book on writing romance, check out Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies by Leslie Wainger. former Executive Editor at Harlequin.

I’m off to plot a book. Good luck building your toolbox…and your book.



Writing Wednesday: Drastic Measures

I tried. I really did. I took a great plot and tried to write the book. The problem? I hate the plot.

Not a little dislike. I hate the plot.

I hate it so much that over the past six weeks, I’ve stripped wallpaper, redecorated my daughter’s bedroom, sewed things, looked for work, looked for clients, planted a garden, weeded it twice, cleaned the carpets, taken a group of girls to the zoo, and today I’m about to go out and spray poison ivy. On a side note, it’s only taken me this long to realize that the stuff that will kill the poison ivy will also probably kill the weeds… The denial has to be pretty strong when you don’t want to obliterate weeds with a simple spray.

There’s a point where you have to face your demons. Today, in honor of Writing Wednesday, I am killing the book. I have to. It all started with a princess. Well, turns out, I really don’t want to write about her. While the idea was great — is great — on index cards, every time I sit down to write this story, a voice in my head (the hero) says, “No. Seriously?!!? We’ve talked about this. She’s not for me.”

Now, usually that’s what they both say on paper and we all watch in fascination as the story proves the couple wrong and they live happily ever after. But this time, I think he’s right. She’s not for him. Or she’s not for me. There aren’t very many things I’m not willing to write about, but it appears princesses are currently on the list.

I’ve tried re-plotting it twice now and I can’t break the cycle because I’m too close to the story. Usually I can walk away for a few days and strip wallpaper and have inspiration strike, but on this one, I’m pushing too hard. I know it, the characters know it, my critique partner must know it, so I’m accepting it.

The book is part of a trilogy, but lucky for me, they don’t have to be in a particular order. In fact, at one point I thought this book would be the last, not the middle in the series. So this week, I get to find out why Joe is in the coffee shop (actually, I already know that one), and figure out why he’d fall for the girl who walks through his door.

No, that’s not a spoiler. It’s part of the Heiress at the Door series. I suppose she could climb through his window…or maybe the princess will do that in book three. If she’s still a princess.

Welcome to the joys of writing. In college I painted my room to avoid a paper. As you can see, not much has changed. I’m headed out to obliterate the poison ivy and mull over my new idea. What do you do to avoid the unavoidable?



Writing Wednesday: Promotion

As some of you know, I had a small…um, large, run-in with a hammer ten days ago. Turns out, you need your hands to write. Since that’s been basically out of the picture, I turned to promotion planning and trying to figure out how to build readership. Most writers became writers to tell our stories, but every one of us wants people to read them. OK, we’d like it if you read them, but we really we want you to buy them.

With that in mind, I pulled up a chair at the virtual coffee table, poured a cup of coffee smuggler Slick Micky’s strongest brew(from Regan’s Tracking Shadows), grabbed a slice of my character, Jessica’s pound cake, and sat down with paranormal romance and urban fantasy author Regan Black to interview media specialist Terry Kate, and find out more about her company Paco Media and the cool things she’s doing for writers today.

Kimberly Hope: Thanks for sitting with us today, Terry. For those new to publishing, what is NetGalley and what are the pros/cons of using it?

Terry Kate: Netgalley is a service that offers authors and publishers a way to get in contact on a larger scale with reviewers, bloggers, librarians, and book sellers. The decisions on how the titles are treated, the format they go out in, whether they have Digital Rights Management, and other options are offered and then the account holder sets their terms. With a membership of 56,000 Netgalley is the place to be in order to build your brand and name recognition.

The downside is that you are giving away a lot of copies of your book. True they are electronic, but it still stings. Emotionally, the downside is that not all reviews are going to be positive. On a large scale that can be a knock, but it is also part of the game and you joined the team the minute you put that first book out to be purchased.

Regan Black: Can you tell us a bit about Paco Media Group, your mission and what you provide to authors?

Terry: PMG is a reflection of all the crazy, mad, and sometimes downright loony things that I have done. I wanted to learn to format for a pub that hired me, so now we can offer services in that area. I found out that writers needed help with this or that and I learned how along the way. HTML, SEO, branding, newsletters, social media, cover design, writing, editing, public speaking… there are more that have slipped my mind, but that starts the list. I get asked often why all of our services are not listed on the Paco Media Group site and the only answer I have is – What DON’T we do?

Every bit of it is to help authors. I get it. I am a reader first, so I want you off and working on the next book too. Every thing we do is important and beneficial, but most of all it’s time consuming and there is a learning curve. So we make it possible for creators to be creative.

Since we are so varied I usually open with a consultation so we can match services to your needs and budget. Custom PR and Marketing.

Kimberly: That sounds fantastic, but can authors who haven’t been noticed yet afford the services?

Terry: We have options for every budget, I do not want anyone to be discouraged. There are always ways to get noticed, some free, some paid, but they often require time. Your book may not have hit its stride yet, but balance that with the desire to write, spend family time, and just live. Then decide what is right for you and take away pressure from your day to day. Writing should be fun and that does not need to be sucked dry by the marketing and promo.

Regan: What is included in your NetGalley program?

Terry: The Basic Package with Netgalley is a two month posting of one title. Then the organization of a press pack. These materials will lead Netgalley members to you. Not only for reviews because we want to offer as wide spread promotion as possible. If the interested blogger can’t find a place in their schedule to review your book maybe instead they will offer an interview. They might be willing to take a press release from you and post that information for their readers.

This can be overwhelming. Dealing with so many blogs, so many requests. So we created a program I am calling the Library. PMG will help you organize materials from posts you have already written, materials that we have found online, and direct you to fast and effective means of advertising yourself and your book with out coming off as a used car salesman. We are your support and allow you to maximize every particle of exposure Netgalley offers.

Kimberly: Where can authors go to get more information or to sign up for the program?

Terry: Details are at Pacomediagroup.com and we have a special going on the cost of the promotion until Sunday so hurry to book your spot!

Kimberly: Terry, thanks for stopping by and giving us some ideas of how we can get into great promo tools like Netgalley!



Writing Wednesday: Location, Location, Location

I have a problem. I can’t write about places I haven’t visited. No, don’t bother to look at a map. Blakely, NC, the small beach town where The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé takes place, does not exist. It’s made up of small southern towns I’ve visited over the years, especially the Crystal Coast area in North Carolina.

When it comes to non-fiction articles, I can write about just about anything, whether I’ve been there or not. I can call people, visit websites and do research so I can write 1,000 words about whatever it is. But to carry a book, I need to have a place in mind. I have to have been there.

I know writers who can take that same level of detailed research that I do for an article and write a book that sounds like they’ve lived there all their lives. Not me. I need to see a place, wander around, breathe the air, talk to the locals. Only then can I write about it.

Even having grown up in the Bay Area, when I sat down to write The Billionaire Bachelor’s Revenge, due out early this summer, I had to visit the area. I had to see it through my characters’ eyes this time.

It’s important that I see it because to me location is a character in the book. Heiress wouldn’t have worked in New York. Would Luke Skywalker have saved the universe a long time ago if Tatooine looked like Hawaii? Doubt it. One of the reasons Casablanca is so good is because the location has it’s own personality that permeates the movie.

So, as you sit down to write, whether you need to see a place in person or you can get what you need through traditional research, make sure you give your setting its due.

And while you’re doing that, I think I’ll pack a bag. I feel a research trip coming on!



Writing Wednesday…or Not

Yes, I know. Today is the day you all come to see what nuggets of writing wisdom I’m going to share. We are renaming today Migraine Wednesday. I got up long enough to make sure the kids got out the door (OK, I lifted my head and listened to the door close). Tried again an hour later and managed to take a shower and eat breakfast before I gave up and crashed on the couch for the day.

Lucky for me, it’s a comfy couch.

It’s allergy season, well everywhere, and I am allergic to everything. I was tested a few years ago and the doctor said, “What do you think you’re allergic to?” Everything green and leafy. Well, 20 minutes and a specialist co-pay later I found out I was allergic to…pretty much everything green and leafy. When I moved to the east coast I learned that I’m allergic to either chickens or all the dust and wood shavings they live in. This would have been a good thing to remember three weeks ago before I became the proud owner of six chicks.

Ah well. There are shots for that. In the meantime, there’s a migraine. Personally, I think the migraine would be helped by going to the beach because everything’s better at the beach. Did I mention there wouldn’t be French horn practice at the beach?

Tune in next week when I’ll come up with some writing gems. And you definitely want to be here on Friday for the weekly Kids in the Kitchen segment where Scout Son makes pound cake. I’m sure I’ll have come up with something funny about that by then. It’s an awesome recipe; you should stop by to find out where you can get that if nothing else.

In the meantime, check out some of the other stops on the blog hop this week. And don’t forget to enter the contests here by sharing where you run away to!

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Writing Wednesday: Editing Matters

As any reader with a Kindle, Nook or iPad will tell you, publishing is at a crossroads. Readers are changing the way they get their books, and paper isn’t that important any more. Being attached to a publisher isn’t as important anymore. What remains important – in fact, may be even more important now – is editing. And all too often, it’s being overlooked by indie and traditional publishers alike. The problem is, readers won’t be repeat buyers if the quality of the book is garbage.

I have a friend who recently bought her favorite author’s book electronically. She was mildly irritated over the price, but she didn’t complain about the Might As Well Have Bought It Hardcover Price until… she started counting the typos. Now she’s vowed never to spend money on the author again.

Before you say something like that’s what happens when you buy an unknown, it was a big name author from a big name publisher.

Today, anyone can publish a book. The playing field has been leveled. Which means each of us needs to do everything we can to ensure the books we write are as clean as possible. Yes, even if you’re sending it to a publisher and you have an editor because it’s your name that appears on the cover. Readers don’t hold publishers responsible.

I have three people I hand my books over to for editing. Each one catches different things. One is great at punctuation, one catches plotting issues and one catches crazy things that I have to look up to understand what he’s talking about like past perfect contractions (which I’m horrible about).

The good news is every manuscript I write is cleaner than the previous one because I know what my big issues are so I’m more aware of them as I write. But that doesn’t mean I get to stop editing or proofreading. Spellcheck only catches things that are misspelled, so it’s not going to notice that the heroine’s cat from chapter one became a dog in chapter two.

Only proofreaders catch things like that, and as authors, we’re too close to the story. I once read that you have to wait eight weeks between editing rounds for your own work to be “new” to your eyes. In today’s market, writers don’t have that kind of time. But with more books available than ever before, we also can’t afford to alienate readers because we rushed a book out the door.

So whatever else you do, make sure you’re sending your book out the door as clean as possible.  Readers are always looking for a reason to read one book over another. Don’t send them away from an otherwise great story simply because your manuscript isn’t typo-free. If it’s work for the reader to make it through the typos, it’s not worth the effort. Or the money. While you may have gotten the sale today, you’ll lose the future sales on your next release because readers remember.


Writing Wednesday: Creating Characters

So last week I said that books tend to come to me with a scene. But that “scene” may only be a few lines of dialogue. There are people who have fully-formed characters that enter their world. I’m not that lucky. My characters kind of dare me to get to know them. “We gave you that little taste. You want more? Figure us out!”

It’s cruel, but it’s the way they play. Over the years I’ve had to find a lot of tools to help me figure out who they are. If I’m lucky that little bit of dialogue gives me a hit about their internal or external conflicts, their goals and motivations. I start trying to figure out who they are by looking at what I learned about them from that scene.

When The Billionaire Bachelor’s Revenge came to me, I got the first line of the book: Meg looked up at the man who hated her almost as much as her father did, and said the four words that would change her life forever. “I need your help.”

She’s standing out in the rain and has to beg the hero for help. A man she’d hoped to never see again. And he’s not budging, not happy about letting her in. So why does she turn to him? And why does he finally let her in the house? Then there’s that whole comment about him hating her almost as much as her father? There’s some baggage to unpack. Why does he hate her?

Why, why why?

It all comes down to why. That’s where the conflict is, and conflict is what makes readers turn the page. The fact is the story ends with happily ever after because that’s where the conflict ends. We’ve gotten our happy ending. How many pages would you keep reading after that if there wasn’t conflict? The beauty of Once Upon A Time is that Snow and Charming got their happily ever after, but it only lasted about five minutes. Then the Evil Queen showed up, cursed everyone, and now they’re all stuck in Maine with amnesia. Five minutes is about all we can handle of happy.

For romance novels, we need two conflicts, internal and external. We need them because our readers know how the story ends. The internal conflict is the emotional issue, and each character in your story has one. The external conflict is what moves the story along, what the characters are trying to get, be it a house, a business, a client. We might not know the conflicts of the waiter in the restaurant where your leading couple is eating dinner, but he has them.

In The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé, Matt’s internal conflict is tied to his mother leaving him as a child. He wants to be loved, wants a family, but he wants a woman who won’t leave Blakely. Because he fears being left again. So the last person he should fall in love with is the woman who admits she’s come back home to lick her wounds before she leaves town again to escape her father.

You’ll notice I threw in the because statement there. When we look at conflict whether it’s internal or external, we also need to look at the character’s backstory. We need their goal (I want), motivation (because) and conflict (but). I want a bowl of ice cream because it’s heaven on a spoon and reminds me of my favorite times with my dad, but if I eat it my butt will get larger than it already is. Hey, it’s an external conflict, and it was easy. Will she or won’t she eat the ice cream? Tune in tomorrow…

The because makes it interesting. What memories does ice cream bring? And the conflict: do I want the walk down memory lane or the fat thighs and butt? You have to have all three to have believable characters because everyone has goals. And we all have backstory. That’s where I start with my characters. My backstory includes ice cream. What about yours?


Writing Wednesday: Plotting or Pantsing

A book usually starts in my head with a scene. One minute I’ll be minding my own business, doing whatever it is the day job requires, or listening to the kids take over the known monkey universe on some game system, and the next minute, I’m seeing two people I’ve never met in some scene.

And presto, I’m going to write a book.

If only the rest of the book was as easy as that first scene.

I have a confession. I used to be a Pantser. They say you’re either a Plotter or a Seat of Your Pants writer. I’m a living breathing example of someone who made the switch. When I started writing, I was a seat of your pants writer. I sat down each day at the keys and I had no idea what was going to happen next. Which was great, unless I sat down and really had no idea what to type. Every day was an adventure, although it could be terrifying if the words weren’t flowing.

I joined Romance Writers of America and went to a conference, where by chance (I didn’t know anybody in RWA), I sat down for breakfast with a woman who turned out to be Cait London. Yeah, I know. Too cool. That’s conference.

We were talking and we got on to the subject of query letters. Those joyous letters that you have to send to pitch your book in order for an editor to buy your book.

“Why would you write a book before you knew if it was going to sell? I mean once you’re published, wouldn’t you like to know the editor liked your book before you spent months writing it?”

“Well, yes. But I have to write the book before I write the proposal. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

I think I missed the first workshop session as Ms. London kindly explained how she plotted out a book so she could write a proposal for her editor before she wrote a word. The way she explained it made complete sense, and it’s the method I still use today. I don’t know if she actually suggested index cards, but it’s what works for me.

That doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Snarky Daughter was working on her Novelist Girl Scout badge recently and interviewed Regan Black about how she plotted her books. I think I heard Regan burst out laughing before asking, “Can you define ‘plot’ please?”

Right. She recently told me about a scene in her current book where the heroine screams. So, she screams and Regan realizes she has to go to a meeting. Which was apparently good because she didn’t know why the heroine screamed. Came back from the meeting, sat down and found out why (and it’s really good!).

I used to write that way, but I can’t now. Well, I can, but not to the level she does. My index cards aren’t really detailed, just enough to know what I need to sit down and work on each day.

And that’s key because otherwise I’ll go strip wallpaper instead of writing. Actually, I need to do that today anyway, but not before I get one of my index cards worked out.

The nice thing about index cards? I can take one with me when I’m waiting for Snarky Daughter or Scout Son somewhere and work on the scene for the day.

Given the fact that I was once a Pantser, you’d think I’d be able to write the scenes out of order, but I don’t work that way. I can, but it’s harder because I have to make things line up. If a bit of dialog comes to me, I’ll add it at the end of the file to write towards, but overall, I write the timeline of the book as it happens.

I guess what I’m saying here is, it doesn’t matter how you get the words on the page. It only matters that you get them there. It’s easy to go to conferences and hear professional writers share their process and think, “that’s the way it has to be done. I’m a hack.”

But that’s not the way it has to be done. It’s one way it can be done.

Process and muse go hand in hand. We can give them different tools to play with, but at the end of the day, you have to do what works for you. Even if it involves colored pencils, a pack of index cards, a bottle of wine, and a deck of Tarot cards. Don’t fight the process.


Writing Wednesday: To Edit or Not to Edit

The Heiress at the Door contemporary romance series begins in North Carolina. But the second book takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area. People have asked why I switched coasts for the second book that’s due out in May.

The truth is, it wasn’t intentional. When I wrote The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé, it was intended to be the first of three books that take place in Blakely. Jessica’s brother and her best friend also get books. But when I finished Heiress, I was visiting back home in the Bay Area. I needed a break from Blakely, so I started The Billionaire Bachelor’s Revenge, another trilogy. I assumed I’d bounce back and forth between the two series.

But then I got nervous when I finished the book because both books start with a woman at the door. Both women are heiresses. Would readers be upset because the books have similarities?

It took my critique partner to point out that was a selling feature most publishers would love. Of course, that created a new problem because book three wasn’t starting with an heiress at the door. But it could. If I was willing to throw out what I had and start over.

As writers, we all face revisions some point. Lucky for me, I wasn’t really happy with the way the book was working, and I really liked the idea of the Heiress at the Door hook, so I was willing to face the music and start over.

The key is being willing to look at what you have and weigh the benefits of major rewrites. If an editor is suggesting the changes, it may be worth doing. As long as the suggestions don’t change the book to the point that the story is no longer your own. Or one that you’re willing to tell.

Edits don’t always mean massive changes. In my case, after reviewing the opening scene and looking at what wasn’t working for me in the original, I realized I can probably keep a lot of what I have. It’s a question of tweaking things here and adding a couple of sentences there. Yes, the first scene will have to be changed drastically since there is no door. But the heiress is there, so I can use what I have as a base to build on.

But typically when I edit for others, or I take edits on my own freelance articles and books, when you stop and really listen to what the reader is saying, the changes are minor. Adding emotion here, clarifying something else there. What seems at first glance like a mountain of “Oh My God, How Will I Ever…” becomes “Oh, if I bring out the emotion here and add a sentence here about…” and it works.

For one article, the client thought I would need to rewrite the whole thing. But when I listened to her concerns, it took a total of 30 words to change the feel of the article and give her what she had wanted. Thirty words I was happy to add because it made the story better, gave her what she needed and got me a paycheck.

Advice is lovely. Critique partners offer it, editors offer it, friends and family offer it. But at the end of the day, you have to take that advice and see if it melds with your opinion as the author, because at the end of the day, it’s your name on the cover. So consider suggestions from others. But don’t think you have to run with them. Only you know what your final straw is as far as changing your story for others. Just keep an open mind when you get the suggestions. Mull them over for a few days and see what comes of it.

And always save your original version before you make changes. That way, if you hate the direction the changes take your story, you haven’t lost a thing. And you’ve learned something along the way.



My Writer’s Toolbox

When it comes to creating a book, as you can see, there are a lot of tools I use. Which one I pick up depends entirely on my mood or the problem I’m facing with the book.

Early in the process, I use the Writer’s Brainstorming Kit. I use this mostly because my friend and critique partner, Regan Black, lives 5 hours away and I’ve heard she’d like to get some writing of her own done. If you’re a writer and you want something that can help you brainstorm, this is it. The book comes with a deck of cards with a word on each one, and simple suggestions for goal, motivation, plot, etc. for each word. It’s a great starting place if you just want to play with a character a little.

But just because the kit gives you the card, doesn’t mean it’s right. For the book I’m working on now, my princess’s goal card was innocence. I read all the possibilities #22, and thought, no, that’s not right, here’s her thing. So the cards don’t always tell the truth, but they can help you have a-ha moments.

Notecards and colored pencils. Alternate: Excel spreadsheet and different colored fonts. This time I wanted to be able to move stuff around a lot so I used notecards. Regan finds this process hysterical. As I create the plot and subplots, I start writing one scene per card. Each plot line is in a different color so that when the book is laid out, I can immediately see if I’m spending too much time on any one plot point and move the scenes around. It works for me.

Tarot cards. Yes, they’re there. I am more than willing to do readings on my characters. It’s really interesting what comes up as you read the Tarot Guide and learn the meaning of each card. The cards pose questions more than answers, but in answering the questions, I learn a lot about the character. This is a long process because I’m not skilled with the Tarot. I cannot do a reading on anyone else for the simple reason that we’d all forget the question before I looked up the meaning of the second card. But an author did a reading for one of my characters when I was up against a wall, and it was spot on. So, it’s a tool in the box to help me focus on my characters and a lot of their backstory.

Chocolate and red wine. Also pralines, and the drink stirs from Margaritaville. The stirs started as a pleasant reminder of getting to the beach and watching people in the restaurant for a couple of hours. Then they became hair sticks. The rest of that is self-explanatory.

So there it is. My writer’s toolkit. The things I go to when I don’t know where the book is going. I’m open to suggestions for additions.