Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas!

In this week of Christmas, I thought I'd give you a poem.



Christmas Promise

Lit by a star’s glory,
The promise of Christmas
Starts with a baby’s cry.
Its light is the beginning
And with Easter’s dawn,
Arisen and triumphant,
The promise is complete.

~~Zan Marie Steadham
From A Christmas Walk
Copyright 2010


Have a blessed, safe, and happy Christmas! 

I'll be taking next week off! See you in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Writer's Wish List

Like everyone else, I have a wish list. Actually there's two--a personal one and a writing one.

Source

My personal one might sound a bit grandiose, but then, what are wishes for but the amazing, far-reaching dreams.
  • World Peace--Yes, it's an old chestnut, but that doesn't make it any less true.
  • Understanding for All--It's a corollary to the first. In fact, it made be the method to achieve the first. For when we truly understand the reality of each other, we can find common ground and common steps for achieving peace.
  • Health and Well Being--Since I have some major chronic problems that get in the way of my writing, I'd love to solve them. Like I said in the intro, my wishes are a bit on the grandiose side and this one is no less hard to accomplish than the first two.
And now for the writing ones:
  • A finished semi-polished manuscript--I'm nearing this wish and can see the finish line. 
  • A query letter that shows my manuscript off to its best advantage--This is a bit of a wild wish. Queries are another type of writing that I'll have to learn from the ground up.
  • A series of synopses in varying lengths--Like the query, writing a synopsis is a new step for me, one that is necessary, but daunting. How would you like to tell you book-length story in one, two, three, or five-pages? Let's just say, I'm not looking forward to it. My first attempt showed me that I was trying to cobble two stories into one. What dangers lurk in the next attempt? 
  • An agent who gets my vision for MOTHER'S DAY, and sees the perfect market for it. I have to achieve the queries and synopses to get to this wish.
So, there you have it, my very own wish list. For some reason, I don't think Santa will be packing any of them on his sleigh.

What about you? Do you have a few wild and wonderful wishes? Care to share? ;-)

Next Week: A Merry Christmas Poem! 
  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December Tip Week--A Gift for Writers

Here you go! For the writer who has everything except the perfect adjective to describe someone's voice!

Once I saw this list, I realized I had been spinning my wheels trying to get the right word for my characters' voices. So, I'll unveil my character traits here:
  • Dean Talley--taut
  • Emmanuel Nunez--gravelly, gruff
  • Rosemary Talley--brittle, honeyed (yep, same voice!)
  • Samantha Smith--small, thin
I'm still thinking about about some of the others. 

Hey, it's fun to play with and, who knows, some of them might stick. Besides, it's only nine days till Christmas and this writer is ready to celebrate! 

Next Week: My Wish List! ;-)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December Mini Book Reviews: J. Bourne, D. Gabaldon, M. Gable, K. Lynne

Yes, this is the first week of December, so I thought you might still need some excellent gift suggestions.

ROGUE SPY Joanna Bourne: Historical Romance

As is fitting for a multiple RITA winner, Joanna Bourne adds another wonderful book to the Spymaster Series. Pax and Cami are two the most well drawn characters you'll every meet. Add the intrigue of spying during the French Revolution, Napoleonic Era and Regency England and you have a setting that showcases them in all their glory.


THE FIERY CROSS Diana Gabaldon: Historical Fiction

In Diana Gabaldon's fifth Outlander Series book, she continues to weave history with fiction with her amazing skill. Her spellbinding story of Jamie, Claire and their family will keep you reading late into the night.


A PARIS APARTMENT Michelle Gable: Literary Women's Fiction

A Paris Apartment is compulsive page-turner that blends fiction with history. I promise the history was new to me. This is a wonderful read and the Goodreads Women's Fiction Book Club selection for December.

 NOR GOLD Kerry Lynne: Historical Fiction

Kerry Lynne as served up another rousing tale in her Pirate Captain: Chronicles of a Legend with Nor Gold. Once again Nathan Blackthorne, Cate McKenzie, and their pirate ship sails into trouble and revenge...and good, old fashioned love. Enjoy! Check out my interview with Kerry Lynne on March 12, 2013.


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Also check out Normandie Fischer's Sailing Out of Darkness, the November selection for the Women's Fiction Book Club at Goodreads.

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December is a busy, busy month and I've got book suggestions and a few different types of posts on tap for you. Be sure and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the season In the Shade of the Cherry Tree. ;-)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November Mini Book Reviews: A. Mulligan, L. Rosenberg, Lorrie Thompson

Lovely November is here with it's rain, wind, cold. Winter is setting in and I need to read. Don't you? ;-)

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CHAPEL SPRINGS REVIVAL Ane Mulligan: Christian Women's Ficiton

Chapel Springs Revival is humorous, charming, and completely Southern fired. Believe me, you will laugh out loud at the antics of Clare and Patsy as they try to revive their Georgia mountain village. The Christian messages of this book are understated and rooted in the faith of the character, not preached to the reader. This is a solid story that will warm your heart.



THE MOONLIGHT PALACE Liz Rosenberg: Historical Fiction

The Moonlight Palace is an enchanting story set in Singapore in the early twentieth century and tells the fascinating coming or age of a remarkable girl.


 
EQUILIBRIUM Lorrie Thompson: Literary Women's Fiction

Sorrow and its effects are the central theme of Equilibrium. The story is an amazing look at how Laura and her children deal with unthinkable sorrow and find they equilibrium from within and in their relationships with each other and their friends. Equilibrium  was the Goodreads' Women's Fiction Book Club for October.

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Next Week: December Mini Book Reviews Part 1. (You know you need those last minute gift ideas. See you In the Shade! ;-)

Advent is nearly here and starts on November 30. Be sure to get ready and take A Christmas Walk. Ebooks are available at Amazon. It makes a great gift for those buddies who read ebooks, too. ;-)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November Author Interview: RITA Winner Joanna Bourne

I met Joanna Bourne at the Books and Writers Forum when I joined in 2008. Immediately, I was drawn to her as an author, teacher, and friend. Over the years she has written some of the best historical romances ever published and I’m thrilled to get to interview her. Her latest Rogue Spy came out on November 4 and I expect it will be in contention for a RITA just like her award-winning The Black Hawk and My Lord and Spymaster. Be sure to check out her blog (there will be a link here) that’s full of info on writing and various research topics she’s uncovered while working on her wonderful books.


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For years he’d lived a lie. It was time to tell the truth . . . even if it cost him the woman he loved.

Ten years ago he was a boy, given the name Thomas Paxton and sent by Revolutionary France to infiltrate the British Intelligence Service. Now his sense of honor brings him back to London, alone and unarmed, to confess. But instead of facing the gallows, he’s given one last impossible assignment to prove his loyalty.

Lovely, lying, former French spy Camille Leyland is dragged from her safe rural obscurity by threats and blackmail. Dusting off her spy skills, she sets out to track down a ruthless French fanatic and rescue the innocent victim he’s holding—only to find an old colleague already on the case. Pax.

Old friendship turns to new love, and as Pax and Camille’s dark secrets loom up from the past, Pax is left with a choice—go rogue from the Service or lose Camille forever…


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ZM: I’m so excited to get the chance to interview you for In the Shade of the Cherry Tree! Your historical romances are so much more than just romances. The historical accuracy speaks to my historian’s heart and your characters’ intelligence speaks to my mind. How did you come up with the idea of spies in the French Revolution and Napoleonic era as a setting?

Jo: In this era --  from a bit before the American Revolution to the Battlefield of Waterloo -- most of what we take for granted about how we run governments and how we think about personal freedom was decided.  This was a time of Big Ideas clashing. People were fighting over the right to vote. Freedom of religion. Equality under the law. Fair taxation.

Folks on both sides were passionate. People of Good Will disagreed. What better time and place to spy?

ZM: What draws you to the romance genre? Have you ever written any other genre?

 Jo: I’m Historical Romance all the way, though I wrote nonfiction for years before I started writing fiction.

 I want happy endings. I want heroes and heroines. I want brave, clever, principled characters who behave well under difficult circumstances. So I write Romance. Romance is, by definition, generally optimistic and with an upbeat ending.

 ZM: As I said earlier, your characters are full and three-dimensional. Do you have any certain techniques for discovering them?

 Jo: I think the answer to creating rich characters is to give yourself time.  Sit and think about them. Go for long walks and imagine them. When you’re falling asleep, dream about the scenes of the book.

 And then write the story. When you’re writing the characters will reveal themselves by their actions.

 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?

 Jo: I don’t actually read much Romance genre. I have no idea why this should be the case. Maybe I’m scared that I’ll find myself picking up ideas from other writers. Maybe when a story is similar to my own it comes to jostle in my head too much.

 So what do I read?  I read strong stylists in any field. They have lots to teach me if I can only be sharp enough to pick it up. Dunnett, Sayers, Peter S. Beagle, Bujold, Douglas Adams ...many others.

 But mostly what I read for fun is nonfiction. A good bit of that is the diaries and journals of people in my era of interest. I also read just off-the-wall stuff about the weird, unusual corners of reality.  I’m re-reading Plagues and People right now, with its somewhat off-beat version of history. And I recently finished Travels With Charley.   I’m a sucker for road books.

 ZM: Are you already working on the next book, or is it time for a break? What do you do after the final rush of publication is over?

 Jo: What do I do to celebrate the completion of a manuscript?

A nice meal at a good restaurant. Out for coffee with my betas and my friends and I buy everybody chocolates. And maybe I raise a glass of wine.

No time for a long break though.

As to the next work ...   I’m frantically plugging away on the next manuscript. This will be the Severine story.

I’m at the stage when it seems impossible to write and nothing is fitting together and I am totally certain I will never be able to get it right. This stage starts when I realize I have another manuscript due and I don’t know what it is.  It continues until I get the galleys of the book and know it is now  Too Late To Change Anything. 

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

 Jo: I want interviewers to ask -- Do you have a Writer’s Cat?

And I will say that I have a Writer’s Cat who contributes bushels of fur to my efforts and lies across my keyboard when I am particularly brilliant and filled with ideas.

Everyone should have a Writer’s Cat.

ZM: ;-) My toy poodles are filling that function at the moment. Thank you for a lovely conversation and for such wonderful reads!


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Joanna Bourne is the award-winning author of historical romances set in England and France during the Napoleonic Wars, including My Lord and Spymaster and The Spymaster's Lady. Joanna lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge with her family, a medium-sized mutt and a faux Himalayan cat. She writes Historical Romances set in England and France during the Napoleonic Wars. She's fascinated by that time and place - such passionate conviction and burning idealism ... and really sexy clothes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November Tip Week: Moving or Manipulating?

In a guest post at Amy Sue Nathan's Women's Fiction Writers, Traci Borum asks a great question: Do Books Move or Manipulate You?


Poor kitty! There's only one way to go. (Source)


I've been thinking about this since I first read it. It's easy to manipulate readers by setting up the emotions we want them to feel. But is it a good idea? I say NO! (How loudly do you want me to yell? ;-) Readers aren't idiots. They can tell when writers take short cuts to emotions and telegraph what they should feel. It makes your stories forgettable and feeble, in my opinion. I don't like being manipulated by writers and usual quit reading because of the manipulation. 

My stories center around deep social and family issues. I could easily fall into the manipulating side of writing, but I truly think the characters of my stories can carry the problems they face and share their trials and triumphs without it. 

Traci Borum suggests several ways to avoid manipulation :
  • Write the story with truth.
  • Stay honest in the moment by being in the moment yourself. 
  • Don't worry about the reader's reaction.
  • Be invested in the characters. Care about them and the readers will too.
  •  Listen to your gut. If it feels like you're trying too hard, dial it back.
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What about you? 
Have you read books that manipulated you? 
How did it make you feel? 
Do you have any more suggestions for writers?


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Next week: Author Interview! What? You were expecting the mini book review? Well, Thanksgiving made me do it. Really! ;-)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

November Snips Week: NaNo Edition

To NaNo or not to NaNo. That is the question...

Are you participating in the National Novel Writing Month? AKA NaNoWriMo. Though, many novelists shorten that to NaNo.


Trying to make this... (Source)



into this!












The rules are simple:
  • Come up with an idea
  • Aim to write a 50,000 word rough draft in November
  • Track your progress on the NaNoWriMo site
  • Earn badges
And then brag about it in December when you have to take a breather. There's a month dedicated to editing the new manuscript too. The idea is to take the solitary task of writing and create a way to share and challenge each other along.

So, if your writer buddy has all but disappeared from all the usual social media haunts this month, they might be madly scribbling down words or clicking their way through a rapid start on their latest book.

Now for the nitty gritty--Am I aiming for 50,000 new words this month? 

And the answer is: No. My hands would never forgive me. ;-) I did write 28,000 new words in 2010 by playing along with my NaNoing buddies at the Forum.

This year I have another goal in mind. I'm very near a goal that is very dear to every writer's heart--a complete manuscript. It's been said that most writers never finish a first draft. It maybe as high as 95%! I have finished two devotionals and I'd love to add a novel to the list. I'm nearly there and my November will be dedicated to completing MOTHER'S DAY.

Mother's Day Update: October was a very good month. I entered a contest, edited 70 pages, and wrote 2000 new words. To say I'm pleased would be an understatement. ;-) 

Next week is Tip Week. Drop in and share your opinion on whether books move or manipulate you. 

New Book Releases:
Kerry Lynne's second novel in The Pirate Captain Chronicles--NOR GOLD--is out.
Joanna Bourne's newest in the Spymasters Series--ROGUE SPY--comes out today. 
I interviewed Kerry on March 12, 2013 and will have an interview with Joanna on November 18. Be sure to check them both out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Author Interview: Kathryn Craft

I met Kathryn Craft on the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Yahoo loop prior to the WFWA’s founding in September 2013. Check out her website—Kathryn Craft. Her wit and craft were evident from the start and her debut book—THE ART OF FALLING—was a revelation of what a writer can do with heart, creativity, and the desire to allow her characters to live damaged lives. True to life situations and emotions rule Kathryn’s story. 

One Wrong Step Could Send Her Over the Edge
All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.


Kathryn Craft's lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.

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ZM: If I could give THE ART OF FALLING ten stars, it might be enough. This is a spectacular story of one woman's struggle with her body as told through her connection to dance. I have no experience with dance, but I understood every nuance of the story told about movement. Kathryn, how did your experience with dance become the heart of your book and become the metaphor for Penny’s life?

Kathryn: Hi Zan Marie! I can’t tell you how much it means to me to think that my story has given insight into the joy of movement to many non-dancers. Like Penny, I found my “voice” through the wordless medium of dance. I had come to it late, when I was sixteen, so I was old enough to see its challenges as more than training the body. Dance was tilling my soul, and teaching me a new way of moving through the world—a metaphor with enough depth to power a novel, don’t you think? The dance world setting offered me layers of conflict that any reader can relate to, even if unfamiliar with the art form. We all have bodies that have at one point or another disappointed or betrayed us. While the pressures on Penny that affect her career are external; her relationship to movement was elemental. So when she survived her horrific fall, I knew that if she could lean hard enough on her training to remobilize, the dance might be able to save her.


ZM: I’ve classified THE ART OF FALLING as women’s fiction. Would you agree? Do you think women’s fiction is limiting for writers? Do you think book club fiction is a better classification for your books or do these two categories crossover? Do you have a favorite genre to write? 

 
Kathryn: I think the term “women’s fiction” is useful to the publishing industry. By branding our writing as having female protagonists on an emotional journey, we writers can target our work to the right agents and editors. The designation informs everything from the type of cover to the back cover copy in order to beckon the “right” reader to our work—but in its own sneaky way. Most of my readers have no familiarity with the term “women’s fiction” or any use for it.


“Book club fiction” resonates with me because it’s the only way I have of describing the great big world of disparate books that I love (some of which have male protagonists): lush writing that explores important topics from a variety of viewpoints, in a way that allows us readers to fully examine and embrace the paradoxes life poses. Plus I adore book clubs so much I have led several of them. Exploring important ideas presented in literature is such a great way to get to know other people and yourself. Add wine and snacks, and I’m in heaven!


The only classification that fails to help me is calling THE ART OF FALLING a “dance novel.” Perceptions like this were the main stumbling block to getting it published, since “dance novels” have not historically sold well. Because I agree with you, Zan Marie—this is a woman’s emotional journey, set in the dance world to make use of its high expectations of the female body. The trick was finding an agent and publisher who saw it that way, too.


ZM: Tell us about your next book. Is there a publication date for it yet? 

 
Kathryn: My next novel is The Far End of Happy, due out in May of 2015. By mid-November I’ll be holding an Advance Reader Copy! If that sounds like the excitement of a debut novelist, it kind of is. While it took me eight years to write THE ART OF FALLING, this novel was seventeen years in the making.


In October 1997 my family got caught up in events that still seem shocking to me, when my husband engaged a massive police presence in a suicide standoff on our idyllic little farm. Our sons were just eight and ten. Already a dance critic, I knew I’d one day write about this tragic day. But what would be its final form—memoir? Fiction? I had several memoir essays published (you can read one here), and wanted to stay close to what I knew to be true—but as my storytelling craft matured I realized that fiction has a way of capturing emotional truths even as details are manipulated. I’d always known that day’s events didn’t happen just to me, and that additional points of view would be the best way to convey this. When the notion of telling the story of the downfall of a family within the tight twelve-hour frame of the standoff came to me, I decided to pitch it to Sourcebooks as my option novel, and they jumped right on it.


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?

 
Kathryn: I want important ideas, beautiful language, and deep perspective. A world I can enter into fully, which is a trick for someone who worked as a critic for nineteen years and has been a developmental editor for eight! I sample widely from best-selling literature and fear I have no one favorite author, but I wouldn’t need to even read the back cover copy before plunking down my money for a new book by Ann Patchett, Anna Quindlen, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Janet Fitch, Roland Merullo, Wally Lamb, Khaled Hosseini, and Margot Livesey. Among others!


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

 
Kathryn: What might readers be surprised to hear about your life as a published author?


Books change readers’ lives. We all know this. But I’m not sure readers realize the way they change an author’s life. That might start by purchasing and reading her book. Or by attending virtual or in-person events. Or by sponsoring events, whether a book club Skype visit or hosting a party and inviting friend they might think would like the book. Or by reaching out through email—like the man who picked it up at the library because of the cover and ended up wanting to shout from the rooftops about it because it was “so true,” or the 69-year-old ballroom dancer who gifted ten copies because he loved it so, or the discouraged dancers and artists and writers my story has bolstered. Readers can help build the author’s career by writing a brief review—believe me, I will never forget the woman who wrote, “If I could give The Art of Falling ten stars, it might be enough…” Or by inviting me on her blog—honestly, you just want to hug someone like that.
 

Authors go a lot of places and meet a lot of people. Sometimes names fade. But the soul of that reader that engages fully with your work, and tells you about it, leaves an imprint that is never, ever forgotten.

ZM: Thank you, Kathryn! 
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 Kathryn Craft is the author of THE ART OF FALLING, book club fiction debuted from Sourcebooks in January 2014. Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a career as a dance critic (Morning Call, Allentown, PA). Over the past decades she has served on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and is now involved with the Women's Fiction Writers Association; she hosts writing retreats for women, and speaks often about writing. She is a monthly guest at Writers in the Storm with her series "Turning Whine into Gold," and a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Representation: Katie Shea Boutillier, Donald Maass Literary Agency. Follow her on social media at Kathryn Craft Author (Facebook) and @kcraftwriter (Twitter).

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Next Week: Mini Book Review! Come find a good book. You know you want to. ;-)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Mini Book Reviews--K. Callihan, C. Holmberg, S. Meissner, L. Saville

{Note to followers: if you want an email when a new post goes up, go the the left column and subscribe for emails. Thanks.}

Just when you've run out of books...

I have a few for you to consider. There's something for every taste in this list. Enjoy!



THE PAPER MAGICIAN Charlie Holmberg: Older Middle Grades fantasy

 The Paper Magician is the story of a young magician apprentice and her journey through the heart as she learns the magic of folding. While I'd peg it as Upper Middle Grades, I think lovers of Harry Potter would enjoy it at any age.



EVERNIGHT Kristen Callihan: Historical Paranormal Steam Punk Romance

Kallihan's Darkest London series continues with her usual genre bending. The romance is on the side of steamy and the plot is a baroque as her readers have come to expect. Evernight takes two unlikely lovers and builds a tale of love, torment, sacrifice, and resilience.

A FALL OF MARIGOLDS Susan Meissner: Women's Fiction

If you haven't read any of Meissner's books, A Fall of Marigolds is a good place to start. Meissner is a master of stories with two setting--in this one we have a 9-11 widow and a nurse working at Ellis Island in 1911. A Fall of Marigolds is a beautiful story of two young women--Taryn and Clare--who must discover the freedom to love and be loved will never be found if we are stuck in between choices. This is a must read! I'd give it ten stars if I could.


HENRY AND RACHEL Laurel Saville: Literary Fiction

Henry and Rachel is an intensive character study told in eight POVs. The language is rich, detailed, and hypnotic. From the jungles of Jamaica to the cold apartments of New York, Henry and Rachel traces the story of Rachel and shines a light into a deeply repressed character.


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Next Week: Author Interview with Kathryn Craft!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October Tip: The Main Characters Readers Hate

{Note to followers: if you want an email to reach you every time I post  go the the left column and subscribe for emails. Thanks. (Thanks, Ane M., for reminding me of this.)}

Our main characters are important. (I can hear you, "How important are they?" ;-) Without them, our readers have no door into the story, no way to experience the plot and setting. There are many ways to craft these important people. (Yes, they are 'people'! If they aren't real, who would want to spend any time with them?)
Source


There are also a lot of ways to mess them up. Anne R. Allen has a great post on five ways writers mess up their Main Characters. If your MC falls into any of these categories, you need to rethink them.
  •  Mary Sue: The character who embodies the author's secret wish fulfillment. Readers find them too good to be true. And they're right.
  • The Special Victim: These characters are never at fault for their predicament and they're never the one who saves themselves. My take on this type of MC is to say 'ho hum.'
  • Perfect Pat: This character can do no wrong, reacts to everything with perfect gratitude, perfect skills, and is loved by everyone. Really? Again, this is a boring character.
  • Looky-Loo: When the protagonist is there to tell the story, never affecting the action, you have a Looky-Loo. The story would be better from a closer POV, in my opinion.
  • Literal Larry: This character is the one that tells every last event in their life until all the story is is one of unimportant, mundane action.
Now for the hard part? Just where in this list does our MC fall? I'll admit that my main character has been in danger of being Perfect Pat. I've had to dig into her dark side. Yes, my dear, sweet retired teacher has a dark side. She's a bit judgmental at times. She has a wicked temper that she doesn't manage to control all the time. And she's been known to blurt those little questions that we're never supposed to ask one another. Oops! And hurrah! Every time she falls into the less then perfect category, she grows another layer, another reason to cheer for her to climb back to her better self.

So, where does your MC fall? Are you looking at one of our feeble five? Or do you have a red-blooded person leading your story?

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Next Week: Mini Book Reviews with everything from women's and literary fiction to an upper middles grade tale. See you In the Shade! ;-)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October Poem, Update

{Note to followers: if you want an email to reach you every time I post  go the the left column and subscribe for emails. Thanks. (Thanks, Ane M., for reminding me of this.)}

Welcome to the heart of Fall. At least that's how October always strikes me. With the leaves turning and the bright, clear blue skies, October shows Fall's sunny side. November won't be as forgiving. ;-)

So, in honor of the seasons turning, I thought this poem would be appropriate. 

In a Clean Mirror


Misty visage, abstract face,
Who is that person floating in space?
What impressions can I receive,
If obscuring clouds are all I perceive?

Is it Winter’s white crown embracing an old face?
Wrinkles and hollows showing
Serene wisdom finally in place?
Or only Autumn’s gaze glaring back,
Watching leaves fall and wither,
All hopes and dreams crumbling, black?
Or Summer’s sun shining on happy times?
Promise rising and growing,
Sounding clear joy as wind among chimes?
Or Spring’s happy, angelic grin,
Playing hide and seek
With fireflies lit by the cool flame within?

I wipe away the steam and blotches of old toothpaste.
Trying to separate the images I see is a waste,
For all the images are true.
In a clean mirror, forever’s the view.

--Zan Marie Steadham
September 2008



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WIP Update:
Mother's Day, the new name for the first of my Cherry Hill stories is moving along at  rapid pace. I'm already 129 pages into my edit/reread/hole filling. And, wonder of wonders, the holes are filling in nicely. New ideas spring to mind often and I think the story is beginning to really gel. Changing the focus to the new/old themes has been rewarding. 

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Next Week:
I have a discussion on the character types readers hate in Main Characters. You'll want to read it, I promise. It sure opened my eyes. ;-)

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Thanks for the feedback last week! It's been invaluable. I now know how to use Facebook and Twitter as a comment ID option. Just comment and read the message. ;-)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bonus Tuesday: Snip, An Update, and Input Request

{Note to followers: if you want an email to reach you every time I post, there's two ways. (Thanks, Ane M., for reminding me of this.) Either follow again or go the the left column and subscribe for emails. Thanks.}
 
 It's been an earthquake month in my writing world. My WIP is six and a half years old. Wouldn't you think it's about time I really understood the story? ;-) It started with a working title of MOTHER'S DAY. The basic story was of a recently widowed, retired teacher who was still aching over the fact that she is childless. When she meets an abused foster child, she begins a journey that leads her to become a foster and adoptive parent. Slowly it evolved into a story about abuse in all its various guises and the working title changed to FRIENDLY FIRE.

This month I attempted writing a synopsis and ran into to a huge problem--I had too much story for one book. ;-) And so, with the help of some friends, I revamped and rejuvenated the original theme and MOTHER'S DAY is on again. Now my Cherry Hill series has grown to a potential list of five books centering on the Chandler and Talley families.

I thought I'd get your input on the one paragraph "back cover" version of MOTHER'S DAY:

 Newly widowed retired teacher, Laura Grace Chandler's long-buried ache of childlessness is becoming an open sore. But after meeting Samantha Smith, an abused foster child, she finds that abuse is rampant in her hometown. And she’s at ground zero.  Though Laura Grace isn’t a mother, she knows the look of a child whose parents are missing in action; she’s seen hundreds of children in this position during her thirty years of teaching. Samantha has all the signs. As she gets to know the girl, Laura Grace is drawn to be the mother this child needs.  But to dive into the breach and become this child’s shield, she must open herself to heartache—again.


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I'd love some more input from you, my loyal readers. Since I've been doing the new topic rotation at The Shade (June, July, August, and September) I've noticed that author interviews get the most page views. Mini book reviews and snips weeks come in second. The tips week is lagging behind. 

Comments on the actual blog have been lagging. Though, comments on Facebook and Twitter have been growing. I've been working on promotion through those two outlets and Google + as well. Though, now that I've found the answer to "How do you add share buttons to the bottom of each post?" I'm hoping traffic picks up.

So, what do you think? Is the new schedule working? Do you have any suggestions? Please give me some feedback either here In The Shade, on Facebook, on Twitter (#InTheShade), or at Google +. I can't wait to see what you think?

Speaking of blog posts, check out Rachelle Gardner's post on "13 Simple Tips for a Better Blog"

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Next week: Snips!
Peek-a-Boo!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September Author Interview--Lara Lacombe

Lara Lacombe is one of my Forum, blogging, and Facebook friends. Her romantic suspense stories are quick and enjoyable. Check out here blog HERE.

IT'S A RACE AGAINST TIME—AND A FATAL OUTBREAK—IN THIS THRILLER OF A DEBUT
In one passionate night, Special Agent James Reynolds and scientist Kelly Jarvis went from friends to lovers. Then Kelly walked away with only an apology. Now James is charged with solving a bioterrorist attack—and Dr. Jarvis works at the suspected lab.


Is Kelly an accomplice or a victim? Just what are her secrets that drove her from James's bed? Soon one thing becomes clear: the ghosts of her past have nothing on the terrorists targeting her and Washington, D.C. Another threat bathes the city in red alert, and now there are lives at stake, in addition to hearts….

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Torn between duty and desire, two strangers must risk all for love. 


Nuclear physicist Dr. Claire Fleming has one rule: never get close to anyone. But when her colleague is murdered and she's targeted next, she must place all her trust in FBI agent Thomas Kincannon. Soon Claire forgets her tenet as she fantasizes about Thomas's touch.
Thomas is wildly attracted to Claire. But his life and his job are too complicated for any romantic entanglements. Despite this, they share a mind-blowing kiss, and there's no turning back. When Thomas's niece is abducted, the stakes become dangerously higher as Claire insists he trade her for the child. Somehow, Thomas must find a way to rescue his family and protect the woman who let her protective walls down just for him.

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ZM: Your novels are delightful, tense romps! I find I can’t put them down. What draws you to romantic suspense?

Lara:  Thank you, Zan Marie!  I’m so happy to hear you enjoy them!

One of the things that drew me to romantic suspense is the inherent conflict in these stories.  Conflict is such an important element of a good story, and with romantic suspense, there’s generally one or two external conflicts driving the plot.  Plus, it’s really easy for characters to get into trouble, and that’s always fun as well.

ZM: Your heroines are all so brainy. How has your personal connection to science helped you develop your leading ladies?


Lara:
I think being a scientist has made it easier for me to get into my heroine’s heads.  I think most people don’t know what it’s like to be a practicing scientist, and it’s gratifying to hear that readers enjoy getting to know a character who has a somewhat unusual job.  Plus, as a professor, I always try to make sure that I get my details correct so that people can (hopefully) learn something new.

ZM: What was your path from drafting the first book to publication? Who is your agent? How did the contract with Harlequin come about?


Lara: Oh, man.  Do you want the short or the long version?

Basically, I started to write DEADLY CONTACT in 2011, and I attended the RWA National conference in 2012.  At that point, I had a full draft of fifty thousand words, and I was looking to pitch to Harlequin.  I met with an editor at the conference, and she told me that the word limit for the line I was hoping to sell to had just been expanded to 75K.  Cue my heart dropping.   Fortunately though, she asked me to send the manuscript to her and she’d take a look.  I did, and a few months later she emailed me with a list of issues to fix and an invitation to resubmit.  It took me a while, but I addressed all her points and sent the book back in.  I was gearing up for another wait, but she contacted me after a week and made an offer!

At this point, I started to panic.  I didn’t have an agent, and had just started seriously looking for one.  Amara Royce (another Forum friend!) mentioned that her agent, Jessica Alvarez with BookEnds, was acquiring, so earlier in the week I had sent her an email.  When I got the offer from Harlequin, I sent her a series of increasingly panicked messages.  Fortunately, she didn’t hold my crazy against me and she responded.  We chatted for a bit, and I really liked her.  I signed with her and she took over the legalese from there!

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?


Lara: My favorite author?  I’m not sure where to begin…

Seriously though, there are so many authors I admire.  Diana Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, Larry McMurtry, Joanna Bourne, Christopher Brookmyre, Geraldine Brooks, Charlaine Harris.  The list goes on and on.  Romance is my first love, but I’ll read in just about any genre.

The thing that draws me is story.  If the story is good, I’m hooked.  Writing is second—I love a well-crafted sentence, and I learn so much from reading good writing.  I try to take the lessons I absorb and apply them to my own work.  I’m not sure how successful I am, but the nice thing is I can always get better.

ZM: Tell us about what’s next for your books?


Lara: My third book, LETHAL LIES, will be released this December.  I’m also happy to report that I just signed another 2-book contract with Harlequin Romantic Suspense, which means additional books next year!  I’m really excited to share these stories, and I hope people enjoy reading them!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Zan Marie!


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What do you want to ask Lara about her books?

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 Lara Lacombe earned her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology and worked in several labs across the country before moving into the classroom. Her day job as a college science professor gives her time to pursue my other love--writing fast-paced romantic suspense.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September Mini Book Review--Ev Bishop, L.A. Heller, S. Monk Kidd, T. Walsh

Here's a healthy dose for reading with the rain sets in. Enjoy!



BIGGER THINGS Ev Bishop--Women's Fiction

Bishop deftly deconstructs all the faulty self-images women fall prey to, especially the ones associated with body image. All three of her focal characters have a secret and are fully rounded, understandable, and growing. This is a lovely read.




 THE NEVER NEVER SISTERS L. Alison Heller--Women's Fiction
 No two people grow up in the same family--even if it's the same one. The Never Never Sisters is a good exploration of this idea. Good read.


 THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES Sue Monk Kidd--Literary Woman's Fiction

Kidd conjures up a magical coming of age story that takes a deep look at the feminine divine. The collection of images of bees and women is intense and powerful. This is a must read.

THE MOON SISTERS Therese Walsh--Women's Fiction
This is a complex story that follows Olivia and Jazz Moon through the stages of grief. Neither sister has the complete picture. The Moon Sisters is a deeply felt read that will stick with you.

Which of these good reads catches your eyes the most?
 
Happy Reading! Next week I'll introduce you to Lara Lancomb, a romantic suspense author. ;-)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September Writing Tip Week: How To Start Your Novel

Source

We all know that the first 250 words of our novels can make or break getting an agent, publisher--but most of all--readers. So, how do we make sure our beginnings are pulling readers in? Thanks to the weekly Industry News from Women's Fiction Writers Association, I found a great blogpost on Anne R. Allen's blog. In it her guest, Janice Hardy, analyzed four failings of opening pages.
  1. Having too much backstory and information
  2. Crafting a one-dimensional scene
  3. Using a fake opening
  4. Having a lazy protagonist
Our next step is to analyze the way we usually open. I have to admit I'm most prone to including too much backstory and information. Cutting out the fat and saving it for later is a challenge. Thankfully, I've been a member of writing groups who have helped me see all the necessary bits that needed to be cut. My buddies at the Books and Writers Forum have been the victims readers of many of my failed attempts. 

So, I invite you to weigh in. What do you think about the first 250 words of FRIENDLY FIRE?

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A cloud of sweet baby powder tickled my nose as Jen’s daughter Kayleigh helped a toddler to the serving tables. I hugged my arms to keep from grabbing the child from the teen and burying my nose in his bright silky hair. So many little foster children and none of them would spend Mother’s Day with their moms tomorrow.
 

How many times had my best friend Rosemary told me I needed to get out and back into the swing of things? Her constant concern chafed like a new shirt.
 

The foster family respite party wasn’t what she had in mind. All these poor children. So, what had I been thinking to choose this party of all places? Yet, here I was, pushing cookies, home-baked of course, on grade-school kids at the church’s foster family party.
 

Though I wasn't a mother, I knew the look of children whose parents were MIA. The tall thin blond at the end of the table was a poster child for them all. Her shoulders hunched as the noise of little children at play ricocheted off the fellowship hall’s block walls. Of course she was a foster child, too. But, unlike the others, she wasn’t playing. She didn’t even have a plate of goodies. Her only movement came from her curls that were caught in the current from the air conditioning.

My Tom, God rest his soul, would have sat cross-legged on the floor playing games with the kiddies or giving piggy back rides like some of the men were. We’d poured out our love on other people’s children for over thirty years in our classrooms. Now all I could do for them was bake cookies for them.

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Here's another nifty link for you. Check out The Secret of How to Make Your Book Un-PutDown-able.

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Next Week: September Mini Book Reveiws!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Very Special Day

Since September has a fifth Tuesday, I thought I'd swap the topics and give you a very personal post today. Thirty-seven years ago on September 4, 1977, I married the perfect man. Yes, I know, perfection is in the eye of the beholder, but I promise you that John is the perfect man for me. He's loving, caring, sacrificing, loyal, and always supportive. I owe my entire writing life to him and his support. 

So, I thought I'd share a few pictures from our happy day. We met at what was then West Georgia College, now know as the University of West Georgia in a political science class titled Foreign Relations. Since we're from two different towns in this area, we were blessed to share this class. By the way, the first day of class was on my twentieth birthday. Now that's a gift that keeps on giving. ;-)

May you all find the happiness we've shared. 


I love you!
The entire wedding party on the steps of Kennedy Chapel
Oh, how young we were! And we'd do it all over again.

Yes, it's the perfect setting for a small wedding

Next Week: A Writing Tip ;-)


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Author Interview--Barbara Rogan: Writer, Agent, Editor, Teacher

I’ve read Barbara’s SAVING GRACE, CAFÉ NEVO, ROWING IN EDEN, and A DANGEROUS FICTION. I love all of them. Each is unique, compelling, and populated by wonderful characters. This across-the-board excellence is the mark of a great writer. Barbara Rogan is just that and a fabulous writing teacher, too. Besides regularly facilitating writing exercises at the Books and Writers Forum, she also teaches for Writers Digest’s online school and her own Next Level Workshops. For a full appreciation of her love of helping writers, you have to visit her blog—In Cold Ink—too.



I met Barbara Rogan at the CompuServe Books and Writers Forum when I became a member in late 2008. Her ability to teach, mentor, and write showed through immediately. She has worked in all areas of publishing as an editor, agent, and writer.  On August 13, 2013, I interviewed Barbara when A DANGEROUS FICTION was published and I thought it was time to catch up with her.
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ZM: You’ve worked in all aspects of publishing. What’s been your favorite part of the publishing business?


Barbara: That would undoubtedly be the people I got to work with when I was a literary agent. I was an agent during what in retrospect seems like the heyday of publishing, and I had the pleasure of working with some of the great publishers, like Roger Straus Jr. of FSG, Barney Rossett of Grove, and Bob Gottlieb of Knopf. I was 23 years old when I founded my agency, and to them, I must have looked like a kid who ought to be working in the mail room. But they treated me with the utmost respect and collegiality, considered my submissions seriously, and talked up the books on their current lists. I got to know some amazing writers as well: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nadine Gordimer, and Madeleine L’Engle in particular stand out.


ZM: You’re blog covers all sorts of craft and marketing tips. I particularly like your interviews with industry insiders. What’s been the best part of blogging for you?


Barbara: As a writer who has worked in the publishing industry, I’ve seen that world from both sides. There are so many misconceptions and myths circulating among writers that I felt compelled to try and put a different perspective out there, demystify the industry a bit. So that is satisfying, and so are the many friendships I’ve struck up through the blog.


ZM: New writers often make rookie mistakes. What are some you’ve noticed over the years? If you had to pick one bit of advice for rookies, what would it be?


Barbara: Almost everyone goes through a period of confusion about point of view early on, but that is a natural stage in learning to write fiction. Generally my advice would be for writers to keep working on their craft. Learning to write effectively is a lifelong endeavor that doesn’t stop once you’re published. The best way to break into print is to write a book that, regardless of current trends and issues in the publishing industry, is simply irresistible.


To get there, most writers have to endure rejections along the way, so that is my second piece of advice. Writers need to toughen up, because rejection, though painful, is part of the process and may even be beneficial, in a cod-liver oil sort of way.


ZM: I still say your characters are the best things about your books. Do you have specific exercises for discovering them, or do they just show up when you start a novel?


Barbara: They evolve during the process of writing. I do a lot of preparatory work before I start a novel, and that involves thinking about who the characters need to be for the story I’m trying to tell. But no matter how much I plan and think, the characters don’t come alive until I begin writing them into scenes. Eventually, after multiple scenes, they take on enough heft of their own that they can surprise you.


ZM: Tell us how the sequel to A DANGEROUS FICTION is coming.  (By the way, I can’t wait to read it. ;-)


Barbara: Thank you! It’s coming along splendidly. A lot of the characters from A DANGEROUS FICTION come back in the second book, including Jo’s German shepherd buddy, Mingus. And Jo is revealing secrets I never knew she had. In addition to contending with another murder, Jo is forced in the new book to delve deeper into her own past.

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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.






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Next Week: A very special day!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August Mini Book Review Week--Emily Giffin, Barbara O'Neal, Lind Yezak

I have only three new books for you this month, but because I'm slowly rereading Diana Gabaldon's WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD and devouring the details I missed in my first headlong read. That's a testimony to a great book, don't you think? ;-)
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WHERE WE BELONG Emily Giffin--Women's Fiction

Giffin has written a poignant tale of the unintended consequences that a couple of teens set in motion with their explorations of each other. Every choice Marian makes to deal with her pregnancy at 18 reverberates down through the years until her daughter hunts her out. There's love, pain, and healing in this story. And a measure of peace and hope.



THE ALL YOU CAN DREAM BUFFET Barbara O'Neal--Women's Fiction

What happens when four women food bloggers all reach a turning point in their lives at that same time? They reach out to each other and take the journey together. O'Neal weaves these different characters' stories into a rich tapestry of love and growth.


THE CAT LADY'S SECRET Linda Yezak--Humorous Christian Romance

What happens when a woman with a secret, an eccentric cat lover, a veterinarian, and a small town mix? A delightful tale of love and laughter. Yezak's tale is a fun read, perfect for the beach. 

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Have a great time reading and be sure to share a few suggestions for me to check out. 
Next week, you're in for an interview of a wonderful writer--Barbara Rogan. Don't miss it!