Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What It Takes to be Published and Some Links You Might Like

Congratulations, Patty! You won a copy of BURNING SKY. Lori will be in touch with how to get it. ;-)

Nearly every time I say I'm a writer and that I'm nearing the end of a complete rough draft of my first novel, someone says, "Oh, that means we'll get to read it next year, won't we?"

Er...no. But I also know that when we read books like eating popcorn, we don't have an appreciation of what it takes behind the scenes to get the story into our hands. I know I didn't, but I do now. Here's the best explanation of what it takes that I've ever read. The author is Joanna Bourne, a RITA-winning historical romance writer who knows how to write well and has the ability to teach and explain the craft behind the words. Check out her recent post at her blog post, What to do when you've done what you do. [BTW, if you like historical romance, be sure to check out Jo's Spymaster Series. I promise you'll like them.]

So in answer to my friends' questions on when they can read FRIENDLY FIRE, it will be a while. ;-)

Here's another great post for writers who are having trouble taking the oft-said advice to "Write everyday."  This is from SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy) at Red Room--There Are Only Two Things to do Every Day. Susan's excellent advice is for all writers, but especially for those who have gotten themselves tied into knots with unrealistic expectations. [Thanks, Cody, for that lovely link.]

And now for the last bit of wisdom I have to share today...In the last couple of years there has been a concerted effort by bloggers to steer away from the copyrighted images that flood the internet. This is from Lara Lancombe [whose debut book, DEADLY CONTACT comes out on November 1] who suggests:

After you run a search on Google images, click the wheel icon on the right of the page.  Then click 'Advanced Search.'  Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you will find 'usage rights' as the last option under 'Narrow your results by.'

Click on 'usage rights' and you can tell Google to only show you images that are 'free to use, share or modify, even commercially.'

And that's what I did to get the great image for today's blogpost. ;-) [Thanks, Lara!]

And two for the road... The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors and Handy Advice. Enjoy! ;-)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Author Interview: Lori Benton and BURNING SKY

(Be sure to comment to be included in a book give away of BURNING SKY. [U.S. residents only])

 Lori Benton is another of my Books and Writers Forum buddies where we have shared critiques and words of encouragement for the last couple of years. Lori blogs at Frontier Faith & Fiction where she shares not only her writing life, but also her faith. Lori’s attention to detail and research show up in her writing and shares her resources with anyone who may be interested in reading further into the historical setting of her work. BURNING SKY is a hefty historical full of lyrical language and intriguing characters and their realistic struggles. To see what everyone is saying about this book check out this list HERE. BURNING SKY is a RT Book Review Top Pick for August.

Click to link to Amazon

 “I remember the borders of our land, though I have been gone from them nearly half the moons of my life. But who there will remember me? What I have seen, what I have done, it has changed me.
I am the place where two rivers meet, silted with upheaval and loss.
Yet memory of our land is a clear stream. I shall know it as a mother knows the faces of her children. It may be I will find me there.“

Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence—her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.

When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.

Willa is a woman caught between two worlds. As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage--the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?

 ZM: Lori, I’ve already ordered my mother a copy of BURNING SKY and told tons of other people about you wonderful book. Mother’s review was short and succinct—“WOW!” She’s already put in an order for all your books as they are published. ; )

 The characters are my favorite part. Willa and Neil are so real and so clear. What is your method for getting your characters so rich, nuanced, and deep?

 Lori: Thank you, Zan Marie, for your wonderful support of Burning Sky.

 As for those characters, I don’t have a method—or not one I can break down into a list of steps. But with every novel I write I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters, their backstory, what their goals are and how they will be tested, how they will grow and change, before I begin writing. It’s as if I’m mentally circling them, observing, listening, questioning, and furiously jotting down what they reveal about themselves. It might come in waves, or trickles, scattered over weeks or months, but spending as much time at that as I can before I begin writing makes for less floundering around and trying to nail that stuff down later, when thousands of words have been expended and need to be heavily revised.

 Still, no matter how much planning I do there’s nothing better than putting characters into a scene, letting them confront a challenge or setback, seeing their personalities emerge. Once I start the first draft it’s still an organic process, part intentional construction as I apply what I learned during that mental circling, and maintaining the flexibility to explore surprises when they happen on the page. It doesn’t all get done in the first draft. I continue refining those characters through many passes over every scene, right up to the three main edits that take place once the book passes into my publisher’s hands.

 ZM: That’s a lot of work, but your characters show it with their depth. When did you first encounter Willa and Neil? What drew you to their story?

 Lori: I can’t recall exactly when I first met Willa Obenchain. I’d say it was sometime around 2008, because I was definitely writing her story by 2009. Stories rarely start for me in the same way twice. With Burning Sky, I had a couple of out-of-the-blue visions of Willa, and after asking the bazillion what if and why questions we writers do (that mental circling mentioned above), I knew I had a character with a story to tell.

Neil MacGregor came along years ago, as a hero in a contemporary story with many of the same challenges as the Neil in Burning Sky. For various reasons I never finished that story. When I finally knew it was the historical genre I wanted to pursue, I couldn’t forget the character of Neil MacGregor. Thankfully he made the time leap into the 18th century with surprising ease, and I like who he became there.

What drew me to their story? It’s easier to answer what drew me to them. The story came a bit later. I’m drawn to characters who are caught in the Middle Ground, whether that’s a place on the map historically, a frontier between peoples, or an emotional place between two cultures or races or life ways. I’m not usually drawn to story first (or plot). Usually it’s character, but they’re so intertwined it’s hard to separate the two. That first flash of inspiration contains the kernels of both.

 ZM: I love your Pinterest Board for BURNING SKY! How did you get interested in using Pinterest in this way?

 Lori: Among writers in the Inspirational genre (which I write) creating Pinterest boards for novels is a popular thing for an author to do. Once I discovered this, I realized there was a place for Pinterest in my life. Until then I didn’t get the appeal. Now I create boards for clothing of the time periods I write about too, which have come in handy when the cover designer needs a visual of an outfit I’ve described in the story. Pinterest novel boards are a fun way to engage readers in our story worlds.

 ZM: Lori, your personal story is wonderful. Please share a bit about your journey to publication.

 Lori: It was long. It was winding. It taught me patience. I began writing with the notion of being published in 1991. By 1999 I’d written several novels in different genres, all of which were ultimate rejected for publication. Then I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Months later, in remission, I tried to pick up the writing again and found I was suffering what’s known as chemo fog. Long story short, I wasn’t mentally up to snuff for about five years. I stopped trying to write altogether several times. I managed to write a children’s chapter book in that time (yet another genre!) but it too was rejected across the board.

In 2004 I began researching 18th century American history. I began another novel, thinking I’d give it one more try. I finished that book, but it took years, and a very long time to edit into shape.

I attended a writers conference at Mount Hermon, in California (not my first conference by far), and met my agent there for the first time. But my manuscript was too long for her to consider at that time. I went home and back to trimming. A few months later a group of this agents authors who blog together held a contest. From submitted first chapters they would choose six finalists who they would then pass along to their agent. She would pick the winner. I figure I had nothing to lose, and this way might finally get my writing in front of this agent. I was chosen as one of the six, and out of those the agent picked mine as the winner, which meant I was able to submit the whole (drastically tightened) novel to her. She offered to represent me.

 We’ve yet to find a home for that first novel, but about a year and a half later later she sold the next two I wrote, Burning Sky being the first.

 ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Lori: I wish I had more time for reading for enjoyment. These days it’s usually the ten to fifteen minutes before I fall asleep each night, except for audio books, and I’m far less picky about genre with those. I’ll take what’s available from my library, just so I’m reading something.

James Alexander Thom is one of my favorite historical authors. His books are long, and mostly set in the 18th century (The Red Heart, Panther in the Sky, Warrior Woman, Long Knife). I’ve loved Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter, who wrote the Brother Cadfael mysteries and many more. Susanna Kearsley is another favorite (The Winter Sea, The Shadowy Horses, The Firebird).
 I prefer to read historicals, though now and then I’ll read a contemporary novel if I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. This past year I’ve been zipping through YA Distopian series on audio (and liking most of them). Like I said, I’ll take what’s available in audio, or I might never have ventured into that genre.
 ZM: What is your next book about and when can we expect to get to read it?
 Lori: My next book, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, is set in western North Carolina (present day Tennessee), 1787-1788, during a time of upheaval in that region following the Revolutionary War. It’s available for pre-order at some online booksellers, but releases April 15, 2014.
Lori Benton was born and raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back to the 1600s. Her novels transport readers to the 18th century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history, creating a melting pot of characters drawn from both sides of a turbulent and shifting frontier, brought together in the bonds of God's transforming grace.
When she isn’t writing, reading, or researching 18th century history, Lori enjoys exploring the mountains with her husband – often scouring the brush for huckleberries, which overflow the freezer and find their way into her signature huckleberry lemon pound cake.
 Remember, if you comment and leave your email address during the next week, you’ll be in the drawing for a copy of Lori’s wonderful BURNING SKY! (Sorry, U.S. residents only.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Author Interview: Barbara Rogan and A DANGEROUS FICTION

Barbara Rogan is another great writer I’ve met at the Book and Writer’s Forum. She regularly facilitates the monthly exercises in the Writers Exercise folder. Her exercises always make me stretch as a writer which shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who know her Next Level Workshops and her work with the Writers Digest Online University. Her blog In Cold Ink is chock full of advice and information on writing. Barbara’s extensive experience as an editor and an agent shows and she is generous in sharing her expertise. All eight of her novels have gained great acclaim. Check them all out--HERE--and A DANGEROUS FICTION is getting well-deserved reviews. Literary agent Janet Reid enjoyed A DANGEROUS FICTION so much she's hosting a contest in its honor. Check it out HERE.

click to link to
A romp of a publishing mystery that introduces Jo Donovan, literary agent-cum-detective, that will delight fans of Janet Evanovich, Lisa Lutz, Alan Bradley, and ABC's Castle

Jo Donovan always manages to come out on top. From the backwoods of Appalachia, she forged a hard path to life among the literati in New York City. At thirty-five, she’s the widow of the renowned author Hugo Donovan and the owner of one of the best literary agencies in town. Jo is living the life she dreamed of but it’s all about to fall apart.

When a would-be client turns stalker, Jo is more angry than shaken until her clients come under attack. Meanwhile, a biography of Hugo Donovan is in the works and the author’s digging threatens to destroy the foundations of Jo’s carefully constructed life. As the web of suspicion grows wider and her stalker ups the ante, she’s persuaded by her client and friend—FBI profiler-turned-bestselling-thriller writer—to go to the police. There Jo finds herself face-to-face with an old flame: the handsome Tommy Cullen, now NYPD detective.

A Dangerous Fiction marks the welcome return of Barbara Rogan and the start of a terrific new series.

Zan Marie: If Goodreads had six stars, I’d give A DANGEROUS FICTION six and a half. It’s that good. It’s a compulsive read full of high tension and suspense—just what a reader wants. You can’t stop turning the pages.

 Like ROWING IN EDEN and CAFÉ NEVO, A DANGEROUS FICTION is an in depth tour of character. ROWING IN EDEN and CAFÉ NEVO are literary while A DANGEROUS FICTION is a mystery. Do you prefer one genre over the other or just write what the story you want to tell requires?

 Barbara: I’m hard on genres. I bend them and smush them together, or write with total disregard of them. “Genre” began as publishing shorthand intended for the convenience of booksellers and reviewers, and I don’t know that its usefulness extends much beyond that. My bestselling book to date was SUSPICION, which combined mystery with a ghost story with a modern gothic…Not exactly coloring within the lines, but you’ve got to have fun, or what’s the point of writing?

ZM: I totally agree. ;-)

Barbara: That said, I do enjoy the structural challenges of writing mystery, which takes nothing away from the range of things you can write about,  but imposes its own formal requirements. My last three books have been mysteries, and I plan to keep on going with at least two more books about Jo Donovan, the protagonist of A DANGEROUS FICTION.

 ZM: The title is so apt because Jo Donovan edits her memories like she edits books and becomes an unreliable narrator for herself as well as for readers. I kept being surprised every time a new nugget of her past popped up. How did this trait of Jo’s figure into your planning of the plot?

 Barbara: It was absolutely central to plot, part of the original concept. This book could only have been written from Jo’s POV. I needed to misdirect readers’ attention from the real clues scattered through the story. Filtering all the events through Jo’s perspective, blind spots and all, allowed me to do that.  And of course those blind spots are themselves a big part of the story.

 ZM: It works so well and partly because your characters are always so wonderful, but Jo Donovan is particularly fully realized and totally opposite of a “Mary Sue” character. How do you work to flesh out your characters?

Barbara: Thank you! Jo is indeed a complicated character. I like her—she has courage, humor, resilience and loyalty, all traits I particularly admire—but she is definitely flawed, more so than any other protagonist I’ve ever created. She’s tough, she can be arrogant, and she has a very selective memory. As I wrote I had to stifle the impulse to soften her. She needed those flaws for this story; they  play into what happens to her.

 The way I build character is scene by scene. You can’t do it all at once. It’s a process of layering in little bits of characterization throughout the story. Remember old science textbooks that used transparent plastic sheets for each separate system in the human body, so that when you lay one on top of the other, you get the whole complicated three-dimensional body? I do the same things with characterization.

 ZM: It’s been a banner year for you with five books rereleased in e-book form and now A DANGEROUS FICTION. What’s next?

Barbara: I’m working on the next Jo Donovan mystery now. I’m also teaching online fiction workshops through my teaching website, www.nextlevelworkshop.com. I also plan to write a non-fiction book for writers based on my course, REVISING FICTION. But there are only so many hours in the day, and that’s taken a bit of a backseat to the fiction.

 ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Barbara: There is no single favorite, not even a top ten; there are just too many writers I admire, and I’ve learned from all of them. In mysteries my favorites include Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosely, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Peter Dickinson, Dorothy Sayers…I could go on and on. I don’t have a favorite genre, either. I read a lot of mystery and literary fiction, but some of my favorite books of recent years have been fantasies and historical fiction. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re terrifically well-written. If the writing isn’t first-rate, I can’t enjoy the story.

 ZM: Finally, what question do you wish interviewers would ask, but they never do?

 Barbara: You stumped me there! I can’t think of a thing.

ZM: Thank you, Barbara, for a wonderful interview and a fabulous book!

Barbara Rogan is the author of eight novels and coauthor of two nonfiction books. Her fiction has been translated into six languages. She has taught fiction writing at Hofstra University and currently teaches for Writers Digest University and in her own online school, Next Level Workshops.  She lives on Long Island.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Beats are one of the little, nifty writing terms that aren't immediately understandable...at least they weren't to me. ;-)

But they are so important in dialogue sections that to remove them is to leave a section feeling rushed. Sometimes that is a necessary pace, but usually our dialogue needs to be expanded by those little bits of internal thoughts, body language, and stage direction that tells so much about the characters saying the words. Claire G. at the Books and Writers Forum has created the most amazing exercise for this month that looks at these little bits that make our dialogue flow so much better.

Here's her explanation:

Beats are the words that help form the rhythm of your conversations. They are the information you provide nestled between the dialogue of your scenes as actions, thoughts, and observations.

As you write your drafts, you may or may not be aware of the way your words flow around the dialogue, or of their importance. This exercise will draw your attention to them and make you consider the “micro” detail of what is happening around each conversation your characters hold. It’s an exercise in both editing and craft- one that some will do while they write, but others will not consider until they edit. Either approach is fine.

And here's a bit of my version of the exercise:
(first without the beats)

“Mack, Samantha didn’t tell me much, but she was upset about your class.”
 “Lost my temper.”
 “What did they do?”
 “You know that little hallway between the door and the chorus room? The one by my office?”
“I always wondered who thought a teacher could monitor the hall during class change and supervise the student already in the chorus room.”
“Exactly!” “Four idiots were chicken fighting when I came in after the bell.”
(Now with them)
“Mack, Samantha didn’t tell me much, but she was upset about your class.” A crisp wind scattered the leaves along the pavement and tugged at my jacket.
The lights over the parking lot gave me a good view of his face as his jaw tightened.
“Lost my temper.” His hands moved into parade rest as if he were on report.
But teens had a way of causing a lost temper. “What did they do?”
He glanced at me looking for judgment, but who was I to judge a teacher for finding their limit. I knew he’d commanded young Marines scarcely older than his students, but they had signed up for it.
 “You know that little hallway between the door and the chorus room? The one by my office?”
“I always wondered who thought a teacher could monitor the hall during class change and supervise the student already in the chorus room.”
“Exactly!” His face brightened. “Four idiots were chicken fighting when I came in after the bell.”
Which one tells you more about Mack?
Once I get all of FRIENDLY FIRE together, I'll spend some time going line by line and checking my beats out so that they doing their job.
Late breaking news!!!
I've finished my reread of FRIENDLY FIRE. Let's just say that the back third will keep readers turning the pages. So, now all I have to do is fix the front two thirds to get them into the story enough to get there. ; )