Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Name Hopping

I really can’t imagine writing “regular” stories. Since my young reader days with Mio My Son, I’ve had my mind fixed on fantasy. I love suspending disbelief and offering alternate universes, prophetic dreams, and mythical creatures. You know; magic, supernatural stuff.

And, while I consider that my personal reality, I can’t help but ogle those writers who switch from one author persona to the next writing this genre and that one. Living like that in the real world would probably get them labeled as having multiple personality disorder. But in fiction we just call it using pseudonyms.

I confess that I’m toying with a name change of my own. Not so much for change of genre, but for differing content. I write under my real name and can’t help but feel occasional twinges of guilt at the thought of my kids reading those romantic scenes (even when they’re of age) or worse, their teachers or schoolmates’ parents snickering or shaking their heads at me during PTA meetings.

Comedian Eddie Murphy said some years ago that he began to make different kinds of movies once his kids were older. He wanted them to be able to enjoy his performances. So, he’s evolved from Raw to Shrek’s donkey, still acting, still funny, but changed. Yet, he managed this transition under his same name.

Can we do this as authors? Or does LA Banks really have to write vampires under that name and romance as Leslie Esdaile so that readers don’t get confused? For me, I’m liking the beginnings of my new WIP as a new persona. The writing is darker and will be sexier, too. Yet, the people on my job will have no clue that the woman in the next cubicle is churning out this stuff when she leaves the office every day. I find it freeing.

To my fellow authors: Have you tried this? You know, writing sweet romance as Suzy Strawberry and horror as Anthony Mayhem? Is it a tough switch or more like a seventh-inning stretch for the mind? Do you think it dilutes your audience or broadens your reach? And, as readers, do you care if your favorite author is a genre switcher who throws you a mystery today and a thriller tomorrow? Does it work for some writers but not for others?

My nosy little pseudonym wants to know.


Monday, November 29, 2010

For The Love Of Writing

I have to admit that though like most professional writers, I enjoy being paid for my efforts, the better part of me writes because I love writing...

Ever since grade school, I have been fascinated by the written word and the power within storytelling. I started out writing poetry and short stories. By college, this had evolved into novel length writing, to go with short material.

I love the creative juices that seems to bring me to life when delving into a writing project. I embrace the challenge of developing plots, characters, conflict, and resolutions in my tales. It is like connecting the dots so every word counts in the scheme of things and you watch your own creation come to fruition, whether in weeks, months, or even years. The end nearly always justify the means if one is serious about the craft of writing and a finished product to be proud of.

The love of writing, of course, extends beyond sitting at my desk typing words on a computer, per se. It is pouring my heart and soul into each and every project with the goal of sharing the fruits of my labor with readers who can wholly appreciate and wish for more.

I have often wondered if I would feel the same had I lived in another time without the safety net of remuneration for my writing efforts that life affords me in the 21st century. Without being able to put it to the test, I feel confident that in whatever time I happened to live, I would happily write for the pure joy it brings me in putting my vivid imagination to work and lending that inner voice to others for their reading pleasure.

How about you--do you write primarily for the love of writing? Or are you motivated more by making money as a writer?

Would you be content if no one wanted to pay you to write, but many wanted to enjoy your writings nonetheless?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Writing Heals

There are books out there for every kind of ailment, disorder and difficult experience you can imagine. Books can bring us together by reminding us that we are not alone in our problems. Recently I attended an event that brought home the point that writing heals the writer, often even more than it helps the readers.

It was last Friday. A woman was reading excerpts from her soon-to-be-published book entitled "A Widow Should Not Talk". In this book, the author, a British citizen, discusses the rituals that she was expected to endure after her Ghanaian husband died. The rituals vary from tribe to tribe and in many parts of Ghana none are practiced at all. Where there are rituals, some are helpful, some just annoying and many are downright cruel. This woman was lucky enough to have the support of one of her in-laws and so she was able to avoid having her head shaved and her loins bound (to prevent her dead husband from returning to have his way with her) among other things.

One ritual that she could not avoid was that of confinement. She was required to remain at home 24-7 from the time of she was told of her husband's death until 40 days AFTER the burial. Keep in mind that in Ghana, the burial could be anywhere from a few weeks to several months even a year after the person's death. Before the burial, she spent many days from sun up to 6pm greeting well-wishers. She had to hear the story of her husband's horrible accident recounted to each new visitor. At 6pm, she was finally able to retire to her room.

When she retired to her room each night, she wrote about her experiences. This helped her to analyse, to understand and to heal. Remarkably, this was never her intention. She began writing because she felt that her words could help others in a similar situation. This act of looking outwards and forwards was possibly the most therapeutic of all.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Where Words Get Their Power

I’ve finally finished Peter Elbow’s Writing With Power, and I have to admit to being fairly disappointed. Elbow is almost a mythic figure among academics who write about writing, but I found much of the book to be rather vague and, often, contradictory. I also found, almost to an example, that Elbow’s selections of good and bad writing seemed exactly the opposite to me. However, there were some things I liked quite a lot and one of those was Elbow’s discussion about where words get their power. It was something I’d not really thought of before but it made perfect sense to me.

First, in writing, words get their power from the readers, not the writers. Elbow didn’t really stress this point but I believe that’s what he was saying. The word “tiger,” for example, only has power if the reader invests that power in it. But where exactly does the power that the reader invests come from? Here’s where Elbow made me think.

Basically, for Elbow, a word only has power in as much as it is able to evoke an image, experience, or thought about the thing the word represents. If the word “tiger” makes you see a tiger, hear its growl, and fear its hunger, then the word has power. I found myself agreeing absolutely, and this is actually what I’ve been trying to say on my own blog in my posts about “lushness” without being quite able to capture it.

But Elbow goes further, and he took me with him. He suggested that, for children, pretty much all words come imbued with power because of how they learn them.The child acquires the word “dog” from being shown a dog and playing with it. For the child, the “word” dog comes to evoke an image and experience of that particular animal every time it is used. The word itself has something of “dogness” about it. It’s as if the symbol has siphoned off some of the power of the real object. As we get older and more sophisticated, though, the word dog becomes a common rather than a unique experience, and the symbols of “d o g” become less and less about a particular dog and more about a general concept. Eventually, the word stops evoking images and experiences when we hear it, and it loses its power.

Elbow uses the example of curse words and taboo words to illustrate his concept. The word “shit” has power because many people still hear that word and react emotionally to it. It still represents, at least a little bit and for some of us, the material that it names. In a similar way, the word “God” has power for those who are believers. For such folks, the word is treated as if it has some element of “godness” within itself.

I remember very clearly as a child how I decided one day to say a particular curse word. I’d heard others curse and wanted to do it too. It took an intense effort of will to make myself say that word. I actually had to fight with myself to get it out, and once I’d said it I felt absolutely awful. What incredible power that word had for me at that moment. And yet, today, I use the word far too frequently and barely even notice when I do. It’s lost its power, at least for me. That word was “damn.”

I’ve known this truth of Elbow’s for a long time but I never knew how to put it into language. I remember perhaps 30 years ago hearing a rap song that seemed to consist almost entirely of the “F” word. I was angry, not so much at the use of the word, which I’d heard plenty of times, but at its “overuse.” My comment at the time was that songs like this were destroying the power of the word,that once the word came to serve as little more than punctuation it would become useless to writers. I was mad because they were taking away one more word of power from us writers and were just wasting it, like pumping gasoline on the ground or burning money.

The worst offenders these days are in politics, where it seems every minor disagreement between Democrats and Republicans has to be magnified to the point of “Warfare,” and where every opponent is a Nazi, or a Socialist, or an Atheist, or a Jesus Freak, or something else along those lines . All of us who use language, and that means all of us, have a vested interest in maintaining the effectiveness of the words we use. I, for one, am getting tired of the idiots trying to steal the power of my words. I’m rising up against them. I’m saying, right here and right now, leave my words the **** alone.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I am thankful for thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving today. Not a holiday I imagined celebrating before arriving at the US shores. But since then I have embraced the holiday. Why? Besides the food and the drink, the party atmosphere (which of course I enjoy), I have a lot to be thankful for.

1. Family:
Every Thanksgiving my entire family gather at my oldest sister's house. My family does not only consist of my mother and her eight children and their kids and grandkids. There are cousins, and friends and yes, even acquaintances, and they are all family. It is a great time for me and my children. Being the seventh of eight kids, I have neices and nephews with children older than my kids. The gathering is noisy but happy and my kids are ecstatic. We play a noisy round of Taboo, Gestures, and Piggy (a weird noisy game with lots of table banging that I still don't understand). A year ago Piggy broke a table. It is also a time to reconnect with all my relatives.

2. Health
Inspite of everything, God has blessed me with relatively good health, and I am thankful for it. Even if I was sick, I would still be thankful for life. My mother is 80 years old, has every possible chronic ailment, but she is alive and is happy. That I'm thankful for. My two year old has multiple food allergies to anything I can possible feed her to help her gain weight and other feeding issues. Her doctors are worried because she is so underweight. Yet she is progressing like any normal two year old. For that I am thankful.

3. Occupation
I have two jobs that I really love. My day job for which I spent a whole lot of years preparing brings me joy and a sense of fulfillment. My second job, writing, which is my hobby and passion, has yielded two published novels with good reviews. And though Dorchester had originally stopped selling the paper backs, they are now making copies available. Even if I didn't sell one novel, I am still thankful to be a writer.

4. Yes the food
Even though the turkey hardly gets eaten, when my family gathers, the food is to die for. Dinner is done potluck style and finger licking good.

There are many more things that I am thankful for. Last night we drove four hours to my sister's house. We expected bumper to bumper traffic and endless tolls. Instead we got a straight shot with hardly any delays. Even sweeter, one of the toll bridges decided to suspend the toll to alleviate traffic congestion. Yes free tolls and clear traffic, what more can I ask for?

So we celebrate thanksgiving to give thanks to God for every blessing in life.
How do you celebrate thanksgiving? What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Darned Publishing Myths

One month ago I wrote about Those Darned Publishing Myths - the misconceptions with which most of us start out. Today we'll examine four more of what I call the publishing version of midwives' tales that can mislead writers in their quest for publishing success.

1. Publishers know best
Publishers may have better access to information about trends, but may not necessarily know more about your book and market than you do. They do not normally consult authors on marketing issues such as cover design, but that doesn't mean authors should refrain from speaking up and asserting themselves when they feel strongly about editorial and marketing decisions. Remember, you are the expert on your book, the person who's most passionately committed to it.
My experience: The editor and I discussed the changes she requested. Where I put forth a convincing case for leaving something as it was, she went along, and in other places she convinced me that the changes would make the book better. In some instances we arrived at compromises which satisfied us both.

2. I don’t need a literary agent
No matter how good a marketer you are, you need a literary agent to protect your interests when entering into a contract with a publisher. Many authors are so happy to sign a book contract that they don't realize until it's too late that, for example, they've signed away rights they should or could have kept. Agents know which clauses to look for in order to avoid pitfalls like having to submit future book proposals to the publisher of their original book without a specified time frame for acceptance or refusal, among other things.
My experience: Authors acting on their own tend to accept the publisher's first offer, whereas an agent can almost invariably negotiate a better deal for you. Mine did. I was also able to retain rights the publisher initially wanted included in the sale.

3. My book will sell itself
The chances of your book being 'discovered' in the bookstore and becoming a resounding success are slim to none. It's not the publisher's job to promote your book; it's yours. Research all the methods of marketing your book and work at it. Luckily, in these Internet times you can promote your book on a limited or nonexistent budget. Embrace the search engine: more and more readers turn to Google before going anywhere near their favourite bookstores. Blogs, websites, review exchanges, contests, interviews, social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, newsletters and cybertours are your friends.
My experience: The editor requested my marketing plan long before the book's publication date. I had already done the research and so I was ready. I'd started a writing blog one year ahead of the publication date in order to establish an Internet presence and to network with other writers, and had entered info about myself and the book in as many Internet directories as I could, among other things.

4. All my friends, family and acquaintances will buy the book.
Prepare to be shocked: total strangers are far more likely to buy your book than friends and family (who generally think they're entitled to free copies). And on the topic of free copies, yours should be given away freely for promotional purposes only. Friends and family (with the possible exception of parents) should buy theirs.
My experience: I gave away most of the author copies of my first book to family and friends then had to buy promo copies out of pocket. Now I know better.

I've been researching this industry for years and I continue to learn all the time. Knowledge is power in every sphere, and especially so in the world of publishing where so many potentially damaging assumptions abound.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Talismans and Totems

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I've always been deep into -- shall we say -- the esoteric? My high school nickname was “Phantom”, because I read everything I could find on witchcraft, vampires, werewolves, UFOs. The lot. Montague Summers was my mentor then, and Hans Holzer. I can attribute much of it to my maternal grandmother, a self-taught mystic, comic book and monster movie fan, but I think I would have found my way there even without her.

When I started BITE MARKS: A Vampire Testament in the eighties (then called BITE, until I discovered the late Richard Laymon’s fine and quirky novel of that title) I’d already found an old gilt jewelry box in a flea market. I decided to turn it into a fetish box, a talisman to get me to focus on finishing the book. Looking back, I think I was probably being driven by a mad love of Joseph Cornell’s box art I’d seen at MoMA, and fetish objects in the African collection at the Met.

I filled my box with the original set of index cards printed with the story sequence, a Tiffany pouch with six Gettones (coins used to make pay phone calls in Italy then, replaced by phonecards) for casting the I Ching, dried flowers, and my first fountain pen -- an old Wearever I’d found in my grandmother’s attic as a kid.

I’d never seen one and when I brought it down, she explained how it worked -- the lever that filled the bladder, the soft nib that gently splayed to change the width of the line as you pressed down...I filled it with ink from my mother’s art supplies, begged to keep it and spent the day writing and drawing with my prize.

I resolved not to open my fetish box until I sold the book, and decided that I'd use my grandmother’s old fountain pen to sign the contract when I did. When the time came to sign the two contracts for the first of the Vampire Testaments, I brought the box to my agents’ office. I told them the story, opened it for the first time since I’d tied it up, and signed both contracts. I’m sure my grandmother was beaming with pride that day from the other side.

I am not saying that magic got the books published. If it had, I would have wanted all this to happen much sooner, only a few years after the box was sealed, not twenty. What the box's magic did, if anything, was keep my vision of the story clear in my head, turn the characters into people so real I can get inside their heads anytime, walk them anywhere, in any age, and know exactly what they would say or do. To me, that is magic.

I made a world in my own image.

I sure as Hell am not God, and wouldn’t want to be -- as Jim Carrey learned in Bruce Almighty, Steve Carell in the sequel -- but writing can be a godlike feeling, and lets me see how a God who could create us would love us, whether we were good or evil, and want us to be the best we can be. Not just for what we are, but for what our nature says about our creator’s own identity.

As a child I spent hours in my room making up stories after reading Ray Bradbury, C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, fairy tales, horror stories or mythology. All the kids were into Batman on TV back then, including me. I’d act out my tales of their adventures with improvised action figures, back when G.I. Joe the only one we had. I made mine out of pipe cleaners, multicolored ones, combined with Play-Doh or masking tape to form heads and faces, using crepe paper for capes. I built a Batcave on my desk on a big rectangle of slate flooring I’d found somewhere.

My miniature Batman and Robin battled the Penguin and the Riddler, complete with explosions courtesy of stick-on caps sparked by a pin pushed through a pencil eraser. I shudder to think of what my parents never knew about how I achieved my special effects -- like the time I ignited a liquid pool of rapidly evaporating butane fuel only to discover how fast and far it combusted when lit. Fortunately it also burned away harmlessly before it could burn down the house. It was my last experiment with flammables.

Don’t try this at home, kids!

I lost myself in those little worlds in little stories then, developed the muscles I’m exercising more fully now, a sort of sorcerer’s apprenticeship. Now my stories are longer, more complex, deeper and more real to me than anything I did then. I am far from being Master of my Dark Art, but do feel more capable and enjoy it more than ever as a hard-won pleasure.

Looking back, I do see a kind of magic in it all, represented by my gold gilt fetish book box. The magic of a grandmother who loved the books and movies she enjoyed so much that she shared them with a grandson who used their lessons to survive a confusing life.

The magic of a mother who gave her son the freedom to explore those new worlds, and believed in him enough to supply the raw materials for him to shape his wild visions. The magic of a father who saw a better, bigger life for his family than he’d had, who gave his children the opportunity to really see the world, in a way few kids could then, and decide what it was for themselves.

I try to be open-minded, and don’t disbelieve in most esoteric issues. I even believe in a few things that deep down inside I know are probably crap. Still, I also know that there must be something larger than us, something we aren’t developed enough to even understand or define. My box was an appeal to that higher power, call it what you will. It kept me working during any time I could make or steal to write. The work grew as I did, and as it reached maturity, enough to enter the world on its own, I discovered that I’d grown up as well.

If I know anything else, it’s that it couldn’t have happened any faster. From my current vantage point, I can understand why, no matter how frustrated I’ve been in the past. All magic comes in its own time. Which reminds me, I have a third book to finish...gotta run.

I have to go look for a new box.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mind Mapping, a Tool for Brainstorming

Although I've created mind maps and found them useful for generating ideas, seeing relationships, and clarifying thoughts, I don't know much about them. Thus, this post: A way to introduce this useful concept to those of you who have never encountered it before and to research it for myself.

First, I'll put up a crude mind map I created using free online software (http://mapul.com/) to show what it is we're talking about:
This mind map shows my brainstorming for this post. This is about as simple as a mind map can get; for examples of more sophisticated and better designed mind maps, go here.

What is a mind map? A mind map is a diagram that organizes thoughts, ideas, tasks, and other kinds of text around a central concept that links them all. Above, for example, the central concept, placed in the center like a tree trunk, is "mindmapping." Questions branch off on limbs, which can themselves branch as many times as needed.

According to my research, organizing knowledge graphically dates back centuries. Today's mind mapping concept was invented in the second half of the 20th century, although various people are credited in different sources.

What purpose does it serve? If you went to an American high school, you probably were taught rules for outlining and are well acquainted with the frustrations of trying to follow them. Mind mapping has several advantages over traditional outlining. For example:
  • Mind maps are more flexible and more accommodating of the real world. There doesn't need to be a III.B.2. to balance a III.B.1., for example.
  • Creating a mind map draws on your intuition and subconscious, not solely the areas of your brain concerned with logic and hierarchy.
  • Colors, shapes, and line thicknesses can add additional information without taking up any extra space.
  • Concepts can be illustrated with images rather than words.
  • Complex relationships can be shown by connecting branches or twigs with a line. If relationships are complicated enough, that line can have a secondary node from which new branches can sprout. This is called a "concept map"; mind mapping is a simplified version of concept mapping.
Examples of things you can do with mind mapping:
  • Brainstorm Christmas gifts for your nieces and nephews.
  • Expand a short story idea (see below).
  • Take lecture notes (especially useful for classes in which the professor routine wanders off on tangents).
  • Break down a book project into its various components and subcomponents.
  • Put information in graphic form so you can memorize it more easily.
  • Choose a dinner party theme and plan an appropriate menu.
  • Reconstruct a memory whose details are foggy.
How does one make a mind map? One of the great things about mind maps is that although there are some general guidelines, such as putting the core idea in the middle and labeling each branch with only one word or concept, you can organize your mind map in whatever way seems most useful.

I'll walk through a simple example (without drawings, so that this post does not scroll on and on for yards). I recently came across an anthology looking for submissions; I'll use a mind map to brainstorm.

First, I'll write the name of the anthology, "Zombies Without Borders," in the center of my paper.

My first branch will be labeled "submission information." This branch will have branchlets with the desired word count, deadline for receipt, pay rate, submission email, and other details.

The anthologist desires stories set somewhere other than the United States, with culture and geography used to showcase the setting. So my next branch will be "possible locations." Each branchlet will bear the name of a city or country. I will get some chocolate for inspiration and fill these in by free association. Haiti and West Africa are two obvious branchlets—probably too obvious, but I'll make a branchlet for each anyway. I'll also add branchlets for Egypt (maybe I could do something with mummies?), Antarctica (what happens when zombies don't rot?), and the Guatemalan jungle (because I'm interested in synchretic religions). Note that in the process of choosing labels for the branches, I've also come up with a couple of possible story questions.

My next branch will be labeled "zombies." Its branchlets and twigs will categorize the types of zombies in literature and folklore and their respective traits. Alternatively, this branch could end in a circle that encloses the words, "See Wikipedia article printout on zombies; it's in the pile of unread mail."

Because the anthology submission stories are supposed to feature their settings, my next branch will be "possible plots specific to locations." Again, I'll use chocolate and free association to label the branchlets. One obvious branchlet is "zombies vs. local supernatural beings." Sub-branches could be "media-style zombies vs. Vodou zombies," "zombies vs. mummies," "zombies vs. Legba," and "zombies vs. the Abominable Snowman." Other possible branchlets might include "fighting zombies with local fruits or vegetables" (what would be the effect of throwing stinky durians at a zombie horde?); "fighting zombies with local poisonous creatures" (would the bite of a Komodo dragon make a zombie rot away in a few days? I'll go back and add an "Indonesian islands" branchlet to my "possible locations" branch); "effects of local climate on zombies"; and "what happens when zombies show up in place where the people have no knowledge of zombies?"

Note that these branchlets do not have names that are parallel to each other in construction. In mind mapping, intuitive logic is as important as formal logic.

I think that's enough of a start to give you a good idea of how one can devise multiple plots for a short story idea by mind mapping around a germ of an idea—in this case, three words. In case you're curious, in the process of creating this mind map, I came up with an intriguing idea for a zombie story that perhaps I'll write.

Should one draw by hand or use a computer? Personally, I like the freedom of drawing my mind maps with colored pens or pencils on paper. It's faster, so my map can keep up with my ideas.

If you want something that looks more orderly (perhaps for a presentation at your office) or if your handwriting is unreadable, you can construct mind maps on the computer in various ways.

First of all, Microsoft Word is equipped with everything you need to make a mind map. The Object Palette contains shapes, lines, arrows, and simple drawings and photos that you can arrange on the page and label. The Drawing Toolbar has an even more extensive set of options, including flowcharts.

If you need or prefer more sophisticated tools, you can find many programs for drawing mind maps on the Web. Many of these are free. Here are two Websites where you can find lists and brief descriptions of programs for mind mapping and concept mapping:

Have you experimented with mind maps? Do you have any useful tricks, or have you found unusual applications for them? I'd like to hear your experiences.

Thank you for stopping by today. I'll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on December 5. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

—Shauna Roberts

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Pitch Meeting with an Agent

Recently, a fellow author sent me this list of tips for pitching to an agent, and asked what I thought. If you've ever had a face to face meeting (one-on-one or group) with an agent, you know how challenging it can be. The list was written by literary agent, Irene Goodman. I found the list to be very helpful, not only from the standpoint of which actions to take, but also from the standpoint of maintaining a positive mental attitude before, during, and after the meeting. Be brief, don't ramble, focus on a one-liner to sum up your project, and if the flow of the meeting changes directions, be prepared. The agent might not be interested in your main project, but might ask you to tell them about other manuscripts you might have in the works, so be ready. Respect the agent's time, stay positive, especially when it comes down to taking constructive criticism, and as point #5 says, breathe:

1. Know Thy Genre (or Sub-Genre) - I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to with someone and asked them what they write, only to be faced with confusion. Knowing where your book would live in the bookstore is crucial to making sure the agent can evaluate it properly. Even if you’re writing something that has elements from several genres, it’s important to understand it can only be shelved in one place when in the bookstore, so you need to determine who your audience is and make that clear from the beginning of your pitch.

2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff - This isn’t the moment to go into every intricate plot point. Rather, think of your pitch in terms of cover copy. What’s your log line? A logline, or one sentence pitch, is a phrase borrowed from Hollywood, where as Mamet’s character Charlie Fox said in Speed the Plow, “You can't tell it to me in one sentence, they can't put it in TV Guide." This is the intrinsic hook that will make people want to pick up your book. A common mistake I see is for people to try to use that one sentence to sum up every aspect of their story and then get frustrated when it doesn’t. This isn’t meant to be a synopsis of your plot, rather it’s bait to make people want to read it. Likewise, the body of your pitch should be more like back cover copy than a synopsis, meant to give the high points of the story, not a blow by blow account. Overall, remember, you know this story inside and out, after all you wrote it, so don’t be afraid to just talk about it, rather than feeling you have to keep to a scripted pitch.

3. Seize the Pitch Session - This is your moment. You paid for it and it’s yours. So after you’ve pitched and the agent has decided whether they want you to send them something or not, if your appointment time isn’t up you should feel free to ask questions about the market, the industry or the specific agency. Think of it as a one on one agent panel. Bringing a short list of questions in with you in case you have time to ask them can be helpful. And in a group pitch remember, if you have that question, odds are someone else in the group was wondering the same thing.

4. Follow Through - If the agent gives you specific instructions on how he or she want to get your material be scrupulous in following them. This is hard to do if you’ve completely forgotten what they were. I recommend that people write down what the agent wants and how he or she wants it because it’s easy in the excitement of the request to think you’ll remember, and then forget a small detail of it when you get home and sit down to send it out.

5. Breathe - People often come into these meetings very nervous, and I want to assure you really don’t need to be. This one meeting will not make or break your career, promise. It’s an opportunity to not only pitch your book but also get honest feed back from an industry professional. Keep in mind that agents come into a pitch session wanting to hear something fabulous and we’re looking to fall in love. Hopefully it will be with your story, but whether it is or isn’t, how you pitch will never be as important as what you put on the page.

If you have any other tips that have worked for you, please share. Happy pitching!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NaNoWriMo Update

Back on November 1st, I blogged about my participation in National Novel Writing Month and promised to update Novel Spaces readers on my progress. I'm happy to report that I'm halfway through this crazy experience and haven't lost my mind...yet.

All kidding aside, I've found NaNoWriMo to be a great motivator. From comparing my word count to those of my online writing buddies, to meeting some very cool folks at local Write-Ins here in Austin. It's great knowing that, despite the differences in our writing levels (participants range from hobbyist to full-time published authors), we all have one common goal: to complete our novels by 11:59 p.m. on November 30th.

NaNoWriMo has been eye-opening, to say the least, and during the course of these first couple of weeks, I've discovered some very interesting things:

1. I have been selling myself way short when it comes to how much I can comfortably write during a single day. If I put my mind to it, I can write 4,000 to 5,000 words a day, everyday.

2. It's okay to write a really crappy first draft, because it can always be rewritten. In fact, I'm already thinking about what it will take to fix my NaNoWriMo book.

3. My internal editor has a really loud voice. Despite my acknowledgment of the acceptability of the crappy first draft, it is still hard for me to embrace it. I'm sure I would be even closer to my goal if I could stop going back and tweaking sentences here and there.

I'm confident that I will reach NaNoWriMo's 50,000 word count goal by the end of the month. Even though I've been sidetracked by several out of town trips, and unexpected work that was due on one of my contracted novels, as of last night, I was at 31,989 words. Reaching 50,000 words should be a piece of cake, right? Only time will tell.

Come back on December 1st when I'll report my final NaNoWriMo word count and share tips on how to write through the holiday season. If you're interested, you can follow my progress on my NaNoWriMo page.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Guest author Maria Zannini: What's in Your Library?

What's the oldest book you've ever read?

The other day I plopped down on my big cushy chair intent on doing some leisurely reading but the book in my hands wasn't doing it for me, so I scanned my library shelves, and found this book: Century Book Of Facts, copyright 1900.

The poor old book is showing its age, the binding is loose and the pages foxed. The text is so small, I had to resort to reading glasses several times.

I bought it at an antique auction, part of a box of contents. There were several pieces of English china, engraved brass doorknobs, a turned oak lamp base, and this book. All for the princely sum of five bucks.

The lamp base is hiding in the attic, the china regifted, and the doorknobs have been lost to history, but I kept the book. I thought it was neat.

Someone must have been reading it at least until 1932 because I found a church newsletter, called an 'organ' back then. It was used as a bookmarker under the section of Greek mythology.

The publisher, The King-Richard Company, had compiled all the facts any well-read gentleman or lady would need in 1900, all within 726 pages.

I quote: "This volume is designed to meet the popular demand for a book of reliable and authentic information touching our every day pursuits and requirements."

Take that Google!

We have information on government and currency. Not just for the US, but for other countries as well. After all a sophisticated socialite of 1900 should have some understanding of the world at large.

There is the Lord's Prayer in four different languages—none of them English. And they even cover different world myths about the origin of women. But I wonder…how come they excluded the origin of men?

The book touches on state and federal laws about the rights of women, divorce, and laws for innkeepers. Yes, innkeepers. There is a section on languages and religions, famous people, famous wars, and science facts, like the recently discovered (1895) X rays.

My favorite part is a section on hygiene which contains a Posological Table that lists the dosages for commonly prescribed medicines, old family favorites like arsenic, chloral hydrate, and extracts of ergot and digitalis. If you don't know what these drugs are, Google a couple and wait for your mouth to drop.

How did these people survive the early 20th century?

While much of the information is either inaccurate, useless or downright dangerous, it is fascinating. It's a window to the past at a world far more naïve and ordered than the one we live in today. I open this book every now and again to remind myself that the world was a lot bigger and wondrous to a generation long dead.

Do we have any old book collectors out there? What's the oldest book you've ever picked up?


Maria Zannini's latest release is a science fiction romance called True Believers.

Mix one cynical immortal and one true believer and throw them into the biggest alien-hunt the world has never known. Rachel Cruz is a Nephilim masquerading as an archeologist and she's stuck with an alien who believes she can lead him to his ancestral gods. Black Ops wants to find these gods too. They want them dead.

Contest time! Every time you leave a comment, tweet or mention "Maria Zannini" anywhere with a link to my blog, your name goes in the hat for a chance to win a Texas sized prize. Go here for more information.

STOP THE PRESSES! Round Two in Writing With The Stars has begun! Maria has made it to the second round of the Kensington Contest. If you would be so kind, vote for her novel, Mistress Of The Stone. (Maria is the one with the very cute dog.) Every vote, tweet and nudge is hugely appreciated. Thanks, everyone!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Holiday Fiction

It's that time of year when the turkey is carved, Jolly old St. Nick comes calling, the multicolored lights go up, the snow comes down (in some places), and the resolutions are made as a new year approaches and we start life all over again.

As a novelist, I love writing yearend holiday fiction, reflecting all that is wonderful about the season of gifts and giving, decorations, music, movie classics, and gathering around loved ones in the spirit of the holiday.

I have been fortunate enough to have two holiday novels come out in recent years, CHRISTMAS HEAT and CHRISTMAS DIAMONDS, and enjoyed delving into these imaginary worlds and putting in them a slice on the joy I have always had during November and December. My fans have demonstrated their appreciation through sales and kind reviews.

It is my way of giving back to those who have blessed me over the years during the holidays and allowing me the opportunity to spread good cheer and tidings through my writings. A year from now, I will be back at it again with a holiday novel, PRIVATE LUAU, that will transport readers to Honolulu for the holiday season. I cannot think of a better place to spend Christmas and break in the New Year than Hawaii, where only imaginary snow will fall.

I am also an avid reader of holiday fiction and soaking in perspectives of the season from other authors. Some of my favorite titles are A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens, THE CHRISTMAS BOX by Richard Paul Evans, and A CHRISTMAS VISITOR by Thomas Kinkade and Katherine Spencer,.

I also love to curl up on the couch with my wife at this time of year and watch some holiday fiction DVD classics from the silver screen, such as IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, SCROOGE, CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT, and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, to name a few.

Have you written any holiday fiction? If so, what inspires you to do so?

What are your favorite holiday novels or nonfiction by other authors?

What are your all time favorite holiday movies?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Libroid ... our future?

Like it or not, the future of books appears to be on the computer screen. Amazon U.S. said this year (2010) it was selling 143 e-books for every 100 hard copies. According to the International Digital Publishing Forum, e-book sales in the U.S. amounted to $88.7 million in the second quarter of 2010. In the same period five years earlier they were barely $3 million.

As if I was not already having difficulty keeping up with technological trends in reading, writing and publishing, I came across something new (well, new to me) called a Libroid. Basically it appears to be a multimedia EBook. According to the website, it includes still and moving images, noises, sound bites, audio recordings, sheet music, graphics, and maps. You can underline, take notes, and mark pages at will. If you are connected to the internet, you can add links and share your notes with others. In addition, there are notes in the left and right columns where you can find out about the text's finer details, for example, definitions of unfamiliar words or places.

Even more interesting is the creator's vision that authors will write "round books", books without end, because authors can add to their books even after publication. This, of course, flies in the face of traditional teachings about developing a book and planning a beginning, middle and an end. Personally, I cannot imagine many tasks more daunting than writing a book that was expected to continue indefinitely. How would we avoid inconsistencies, keep the characters interesting and the plot exciting 105 chapters into the story?

I believe that it currently only runs on Apple's iPad tablet computer, but has anyone actually used one of these things? I would love to hear a review.