Saturday, May 05, 2007

Starting Over Again

"Gardens...should be like lovely, well-shaped girls: all curves, secret corners, unexpected deviations, seductive surprises and then still more curves."
~H.E. Bates

So I am tackling the MAJOR revision of a novel I tucked away a few years ago…and this weekend I am determined to write a new Chapter One.

In light of the fact that I hate writing story openings, I thought I’d get a few opinions before diving in.

What do you most like to see in a story’s opening? If you pick up a book in Border’s, what will keep you reading past the first sentence? Better yet, what will make you carry that book to the check-out line because you absolutely must find out what happens next?

What is the best story opening you’ve ever read?

I’m waiting on your help here…

May even go outside and do a little gardening to get the creative juices flowing…

Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday's Feast

Gosh, today’s Feast seems harder than usual. Or maybe it’s just been a really, really long week! OK, here we go…

Appetizer: Name something you would not want to own. An SUV: they make sightlines on the road unbearable, and they guzzle way too much gas.

Soup: Describe your hair (texture, color, length, etc.). Ooh, funny one, since I just got a new cut and color yesterday! Mmm…shoulder length, medium brown with blonder highlights than I would like, and straight. Most of the time.

Salad: Finish this sentence: I’ll never forget ___________. Oh, gosh, I’m the queen of remembering magical moments. In fact, I probably dwell in the past more than I should. That’s why I write, to recreate those incidents/days/people who changed me.

Main Course: Which famous person would you like to be for one day? Why? President of the United States (the office, not the guy who currently holds it). I’d like to know how exhilarating and terrifying the power of that role is.

Dessert: Write one sentence about yourself that includes one thing that is true and another thing that is not. OK, this will be easy for most of my regular readers to figure out: besides signing a publishing contract, 2 of my greatest accomplishments in the last 18 months were buying a new house and quitting smoking.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

More Dialogue Tips, and a Love Affair with Shakespeare

"It's not enough to speak, but to speak true."
~Wm. Shakespeare

Congratulations to Ceri, the winner of yesterday’s Writers’ Wednesday drawing for a $5 Amazon gift certificate! Ceri, email me at and let me know which email address to send it to.

Thanks to everyone for your great comments, by the way. A couple of good dialogue tips that I left out but others mentioned:

1. Avoid using adverbs in your taglines. Really, there’s no reason to write “he said softly” or “she called annoyingly.” Take the action and put it right into your dialogue (thanks for the tip, Fred Charles!)

2. Spend some time at the mall eavesdropping if you want to develop an ear for true dialogue. Good writers pay attention to the way people speak, with all their hems and haws and starts and restarts. Then they learn how to leave in just enough of those awkward moments to keep the dialogue realistic (thanks for the tip, bunnygirl!)

3. Infuse enough dialect to show a character’s nationality, but not so much that it overtakes the meaning of the words themselves. You want to show some flavor in word choice and pronunciation, but you don’t want to lose your reader either (thanks for the tip, Carolan Ivey!)


Yesterday in class (I’m doing Shakespeare‘s Othello with my seniors), two students confessed they’d “read ahead” to find out the ending of the play. Another asked if colleges offered Shakespeare courses for non-English majors (she’s going pre-med), and just when I thought I’d keel over from pure happiness, another looked up at me and said, wide-eyed, “You know, Shakespeare’s a good writer.”

I replied, “Yeah, he’s okay.” Wink. Smile.

She went on. “No, really. Like, how does he know how to keep adding suspense, and make it so you have to keep on reading? Every time you turn the page, something else happens, and you catch your breath ‘cause you can‘t believe it.” Sigh. “I could never be a writer.”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Writers' Wednesday: Working With Dialogue

"Words are the voice of the heart."

Welcome to Writers' Wednesday! Remember, everyone who leaves a comment on today's post is automatically entered into a drawing for a $5 Amazon Gift Certificate (if you comment on my post at The Wild Rose Press blog, also up today, you'll be entered twice...)! And today, we are talking about...


It’s a tricky thing, getting it right, getting it realistic, getting it paced and tagged in just the right way. And yet it can be one of the most powerful elements of writing. It can deliver character, conflict, backstory, emotion, all in the span of a few short exchanges and utterances.

So how do you get it right? Well, I’m not claiming expertise, by any means, but today I’m offering 5 tips that I try to keep in mind when writing dialogue in my own stories. It’s pretty much a compilation of what I’ve learned over the last decade or so of writing. Some of it may be more applicable to novice writers, but I hope you find some use for yourself, no matter where you are in the writing or publishing journey.

And by all means, leave me some of your best tips and advice as well!

1. Don’t over-tag. If you have 2 people talking in a scene, you can get away with a back and forth exchange that doesn’t require you to tag every comment:

“So what happened to you last night?” Jenna asked.

Paul shrugged. “Missed my flight.”


“Weather. Taxis were all tied up. Couldn‘t find one that would come out to the hotel.”

“Uh huh. So how did Marty manage to make it home on time?”

“Dunno. Why don’t you ask him?”

Did you have a hard time following who was speaking? Probably not. And yet I only added tags to the first two lines of dialogue. Of course, if you have more than 2 people talking, you’ll have to add tags more frequently. Still, don’t over-tag. Trust that your reader can follow you. A lot of novice writers think they have to spell out every line. Believe me, you don’t.

2. It isn’t necessary for characters to refer to each other by name as they’re speaking. Please take this one seriously. I see many novice writers in my writing groups who include something like this in a scene:

“Emily, please come downstairs. We have something we need to discuss.”

“Mom, I already told you I was doing my homework last night. I wasn’t online. I promise.”

“Then why did Mr. Rooney call me from school today to talk about an IM you sent to Darla Green, Emily?”

“I don’t know, Mom. He must have mixed me up with someone else.”

“Emily, we aren’t finished talking about this. Wait until your father gets home.”

Again, trust that your reader can follow who’s speaking, and to whom. It’s normally not necessary to repeat the name of the person to whom the line is spoken, unless for emphasis.

3. Use beats, or action tags, as often, or more often, than you use regular taglines. I have found this to be one of the most useful guidelines. You don’t need to accent every comment with a “he said/commented/uttered/shouted.” Instead, insert an action. Here’s a great scene from a Jennifer Crusie novel (Tell Me Lies) I’m currently reading:

“You really do feel okay?”

“I feel fine,” Maddie said. “Stop worrying.”

“Then can I spend the night at Mel’s?” Em bit off a corner of her toast. “If you’re not okay, though, I can stay with you. I don’t mind at all.”

“Oh.” Maddie swallowed. “Have I mentioned that you’re the perfect child?”

“Thank you. Can I stay with Mel?”

“Did you ask Aunt Treva?” Maddie bit into her toast carefully and chewed. Her head didn’t come off in pain. So far, so good.

Em shook her head. “No, Mel’s going to. Can I?”

“Call and find out.”

Em scraped her chair back.

“After breakfast.”

Notice how you can insert a great deal of action/character/setting by using action tags instead of dialogue taglines.

4. “Said” is still the best dialogue tag to use. Every once in a while, you can get creative and thumb through the thesaurus, tossing in a “ordered,” “barked,” “pleaded,” and so on. But don’t overdo it. For the most part, you want the reader’s focus to be on the words spoken, not the verb illustrating how they’re spoken.

5. Read your dialogue out loud. This was a great tip I received from a conference presenter early in my career. Written dialogue generally won’t mirror actual conversation. People aren’t too eloquent in real life; they have way too many “ums” and pauses and restarts as they speak. But you can still get a general feel for how authentic dialogue sounds if you read it aloud. Case in point:

“Sara, just watching you pull off that dress is enough to make me lose control,” Duke said as his roommate slipped from her drenched clothing.

Would an adult male, all riled up from a female getting naked close by, really talk that way? None that I know would.

“Jesus, you take that shirt off in front of me, and I’m not making any promises about what does or doesn’t happen next,” Duke said as his roommate slipped from her drenched clothing.

Better, but not great. I still don’t think he’d talk that much.

“Jesus,” Duke said as his roommate slipped from her drenched clothing, “are you trying to kill me?”

Bottom line: play around with your dialogue; try different tags and read it out loud. Have other people read it as well and give you their feedback. Dialogue can be challenging, but it can also be a writer’s best friend.

Good luck! Basic Author

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Thinking About Romance and Other Things

"You find me a woman who isn't interested in romance, and I will show you somebody who isn't alive."
~Nancy Berland

First off, a big thanks to Marianne, who nominated me for "The Best of the Best" Blog Entries, and to everyone who voted for "Why I Harbor Hope"...I ended up winning!


Just a reminder: today, May 1, kicks off Brenda Novak's 3rd Annual Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research. Stop by and check out all the wonderful items she has for you to bid on!


Finally, a quick look inside the May Romance Writers Report:

First Sales Column: Oh, good! Of the 12 authors listed here, only one claims that she was writing for a mere 18 months before selling her first manuscript. The other range from 5 to 12 years. Women after my own heart!

This one sounds like a winner already: The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren, by Wendy Toliver, published by Simon and Schuster is about "the adventures of a band geek who, on the eve of her 16th birthday, magically transforms into a beautiful Siren...she's irresistable--and deadly-to men everywhere." Ooh la la!

Market Update: NEW RECOGNIZED PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing! Hooray (that's my publisher for One Night in Boston, just in case I hadn't trumpeted it enough here...)!!

Feature Article: "Look Who's Writing Romance": Terrific article highlighting the growing number of professional/college-educated women who are entering the romance-writing world, including Shakespeare professors, developmental psychologists, and Air Force pilots (yes, really!).

Among other observations: that academics know how to do research and stick to a disciplined schedule, making them effective writers, and that the growing numbers of sub-genres in romance demands people with highly specialized areas of expertise, including forensics, high-tech biz, and history.

Maybe there's hope for romance to be taken seriously in the literary world after all. Do you think so?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Didn't Expect It Part 2

"A kind word is like a spring day."
~Russian Proverb

Most of you probably read my blog post last week about the conversation I had with a woman I work with who effectively dismissed my publication news.

I got over it; I know that people have a lot going on in their lives and can’t always be concerned with other people’s successes. Still, I just didn’t expect such a blasé reaction.

Fast forward to yesterday morning, when I ran into a couple in the grocery store that my husband grew up with/is related to. The 4 of us are good friends, though we don’t see each other all that much. They work and live in different circles than we do--she’s college educated but he isn’t; he works for the family business that my husband left 10+ years ago; most of their days revolve around their 2 kids and/or his hunting/fishing/NASCAR-watching hobbies and her up-and-coming business in the nursing field.

The first thing he said to me was, “So when’s your book coming out? I want a copy.”

The first thing she said to me was, “You have two being published, right? I’m so proud of you!”

It’s funny , the expectations you hold of people. Did I expect them to know about my books? Not really. Did I expect them to be excited for me? I can‘t say. And yet they stood there in the middle of the frozen food aisle and asked me all kinds of questions--including when they could hold the books in their hands--for a good five minutes.

Most of the time, I like the way life surprises me.

P.S. - Marianne has nominated me for the "The Best of the Best" Blog Entries (gee, thanks, M) - so if you're so inclined, go and vote!

Three Pieces of Good News

"Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week."
~Joseph Addison

#1: Yesterday I finished the first draft of One Night in Memphis! Actually, it probably shouldn't be called the true first draft, since this novel has been "done" and out to agents in the past, but since I decided to seriously revamp it, it's come out on the other side looking somewhat different than before. It still needs about 4000 more words, and I'm still a little bored in places, but I'm doing as the wise Stephen King recommends and letting it sit in a drawer for a few weeks.

#2: My editor from The Wild Rose Press emailed to tell me she's working on the first edits for Lost in Paradise! Funny that I signed that contract a good 2 months after the one with Samhain, and yet I'll probably get edits on this one first. Not that I really mind, and they're 2 very different-sized publishers, so I'm just soaking in the learning experience. Still, I remember when I first joined a writers' group and was terrified to share my work with anyone, just for a general opinion. How things change...

#3: It's supposed to be 75 and sunny today! Actually, it turned out to be pretty nice yesterday too. So I might actually take a little break from writing and spend most of my time outdoors.

What about you? Any good news to share on a Sunday??