Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Sister in Crime… Murder She Writes- Author Sylvia Dickey Smith

Before I forget, Joan, I want to let your readers know about a new internet radio talk show called Murder, She Writes. I will be hosting the program every Monday evening from 5:00 to 5:30 p.m. Central time. The program is open to everyone.

The website address is at Blog Talk Radio:
Murder She Writes

Thanks Syl for reminding us.

I was so excited about your blogtalkradio program that I went ahead and posted the time and date. Good Luck, you will be marvelous.

Murder, She Writes focuses on women crime writers. Each week I will host a different, best-selling mystery/suspense/thriller author. We will be discussing her books, her life and her writing, and what makes her keep going in this competitive genre. I invite your readers to make our program a mainstay of your listening week. Our first guest, on May 4th, is Glynn Marsh Alam talking about her fabulous book Moon Water Madness, available at bookstores and online. I am reading it now and have fallen in love with her characters.

1) Are you anxious? Apprehensive maybe?

Are you kidding? Of course I’m anxious and more than a little apprehensive. I’m nervous as all get out! I have the gift of gab, inherited from my father. I can talk to practically anyone about practically anything—but on the air is another whole medium. I’m sure I’ll stutter and stammer for a while. But hopefully folks will be patient with me until I get my wings. My training and experience as a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist should give me an edge and help me keep the conversation going—at least for a while! Also, I am open to receive requests to be a guest on the program from any published woman crime writer.

2) About your experience in Persist and Publish writers group? What advice do you give the aspiring author?

Persist & Publish! What a neat critique group, and that includes our hostess. I don’t know if I would have ever gotten my first book finished without them. They virtually held my hand and taught me how to write! I owe them so much. My advice to the aspiring author is to find such a group. Don’t settle for feedback that flatters. Keep looking until you find a group who tells you the difficult stuff. When that ‘stuff’ stings, don’t get defensive. Don’t defend, don’t explain, just receive. Then go home and consider their advice. If only one person dislikes something you write you can take it or leave it, but if more than one person says the same thing, REALLY pay attention. And by all means, find a strong supportive group that will help hold your feet to the proverbial fire. A good group is not there to make you feel good, but there to show tough love and let you know what works, and what doesn’t. Learn to trust them, but don’t throw away your own writing voice in the process.

3) What tips or pointers can you give us on revision of your work?

Well, for one thing, revise, revise and then revise again. One of the best tools I have is my own voice when I read my text out loud. When I do, the awkward parts really show up because I trip over them. If I find that I read it differently, changing a word here and there, words different than those on the page, then I know I need to revise that sentence. A great tool is Read Please, at This is simple to use, text to speech software that will read your text back to you. They have a free version of the program that you can download without obligation and use as long as you wish, or there is another one you can purchase. I use the free one and find it works just fine, doing all I want it to do.

I think one of the biggest mistakes a new writer can do is to not revise their manuscript well enough and frequently enough. Write your first draft, revise, present to your critique group, revise again, submit to another critique group or writing partner, revise again, and again. Then you might be ready to do the copyediting for punctuation and grammatical errors. Don’t settle until it is perfect.

4) Writing a sequel?

Planning to! Spending two or three months launching book three, DEAD WRECKONING, while doing a lot of thinking about book four. I am also running a cookbook contest, accepting recipes from Sidra Smart fans, which will be compiled in a cookbook later this year. The deadline for submission is July 3o, 2009. The first, second and third place winners will receive a free copy of the book. Recipes can be emailed to me at I hope to launch the cookbook along with the fourth in the series near the same time.

5) Do you have anyone read your manuscript before submission, now?

Absolutely! Lots of people. I am in three critique groups who read and give me
feedback. Plus, I paid to have this last book edited by a professional editor, and will
use her again for any and all I write. Mistakes in books drive me crazy, and I know
my editor/publisher can’t find them all. So this is what I do to make my work as
seamless as possible. Besides, commas and their proper usage drive me crazy! If a
sentence looks like it doesn’t have enough commas, I put some in. If it looks like it
has too many, I take out a few!

6) What advice and tips would you like to share with the aspiring author on marketing books?

Be prepared to market like crazy. If you are not willing to go the extra miles (and
expense) to do what it takes to make your book a success, hang it up—give it up—
don’t even bother. Go do something else. I love the whole marketing aspect of
writing. I find it great fun. I love talking to people, period. I especially love talking to
people who want to talk about my books!

New authors, always be on the lookout for new, creative ways to get your book out
there. I just came from events in east Texas where I dressed as a pirate (one is on the
cover of my third book), opened a treasure chest and threw out gold-wrapped
Snickers candy bars to the audience while brandishing a sword. I gave out door
prizes that I bought and wrapped in advance.

There are so many fun ways to market. And if it isn’t fun, turn it into fun!
Challenge yourself, watch and listen to ideas from others, brainstorm your own and
put them into action. Play with it.

Rule number one—have no shame! Put yourself out there (as long as it’s legal and
moral!) Ask for what you want—and you just might get it!

7) Does it get any easier writing a story after the first one?

It took me longer to write the third than it did the second. And if I am not careful, I
will still tell myself the whole thing is a fluke—that I really can’t write, can’t really
finish a book, can’t really get a book published! Often we are our own worst enemy. But I keep plugging away. Why? Because I can do no other!

8) Writing a mystery novel, do you outline? Would you recommend outlining?

No, I don’t outline. When I sit down to try my poor brain takes a vacation! I’ve had to accept the fact that my story wants to unfold for me just as it does for my reader. The disadvantage is I probably do a lot more rewrites than do those who outline. Then again, I’ve heard where some authors spend a year developing a 50 page outline. I don’t have that discipline. My advice is to do what works for you.

9) Do you prepare before you begin writing a novel?

I try to come up with at least an inspirational idea. In my first book, Dance On His
Grave, that story was inspired by true events. Book two, Deadly Sins Deadly Secrets,
was inspired by a true Civil War heroine I learned of while researching the first book.

10) Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere! Our world is so full of stories we will never reach the end of the
resource. For instance, I got the idea for Dead Wreckoning from a tale my brother
told me over the phone one day. His father in law recounted how he had gone into
the swamp behind his house hunting squirrel and saw a resurrected brass-bowed
pirate schooner sticking up out of the water. Wa-la!

11) What inspired you to write? Does Sidra Smart remind you of yourself?

Yes, Sidra Smart reminds me of myself. For many years I felt like I had at least one
book inside me. When I sat to write, Sidra Smart came to life. Of course a lot of my
experiences and life lessons reflect hers. However, the characters in the books are
fictional composites of many people I have met, and some I’ve just heard about.

12) Have you thought of writing a literary novel or short story?

Actually I am now revising a literary—no, probably more mainstream historical novel set during WWII called A War of Her Own.

I have a non-fiction short story published in True Tales of Transformation: The Story That Must Be Told, by Loving Healing Press. My story in the anthology is Divorcing God.

Then , I have a short story published in the mystery anthology, A Death In Texas, published by L & L Dreamspell. My short story, Growing Up Dead, introduces Warren Chadwick, Sidra’s brother who willed her The Third Eye detective agency. The story occurs before his death and gives Sidra Smart fans a glimpse of her brother.

13) Am I still learning?

Oh my gosh yes! Every day. That is the exciting thing about this world of writing! Always something new to learn, to do, to try, to retry!

Thanks for letting me visit your blog. I invite any and all who might have a question or comment to ask it.

Thank you Syl for taking the time to comment and answer any question's the aspiring authors may have. I look forward to listening to you on Blog Talk Radio it really sounds exciting.

Five Scribes: How-To Author Brandilyn Collins

Five Scribes: How-To Author Brandilyn Collins

Forensics & Faith: Interview with Margie Lawson

Forensics & Faith: Interview with Margie Lawson

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Margot Finke Interview

Update: Margot Finke PRESS RELEASE: Books from Guardian Angel Publishing now available ON your iPhone! Read about it here: Margot Finke's Blog

“We are excited with our newest venture,” said GAP President and Publisher Lynda Burch. “Licensing our picture books with iKids Play™ will allow for worldwide English distribution by Apple iTunes Applications of our books on the newest technology to hit the market.”

It is my pleasure to introduce Margot Finke, a wonderful author of children's books.

Every 10th person to comment or ask a question WINS a free link to Margot reading one of her books + the illustrations.

My first question was to ask Margot to tell us about herself, and when she started writing? Here is Margot's Bio.

Margot Finke is an Aussie who writes mid grade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years, she has lived in Oregon with her husband and family.

Gardening, travel, and reading fill in the cracks between her writing. Her husband is supportive, though not interested in children's books. Their three children are now grown and doing very well. 4 grandchildren are the delight of Margot's life.

Early on, several writers in an online group mentored her. Margot now like to return the favor by offering free writing advice and help on her Website, her Blog, and in her "Musings" column. Her Manuscript Critique Service specializes in personal guidance - a shrewd professional critique can help writers avoid the pitfalls that cause rejections. "I am always thrilled when a client of mine has one of their books accepted."

Margot didn't begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot said, "I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my Heroes!"

    "Margot's latest rhyming book is "Rattlesnake Jam" - a fun frolic with Gran and Pa, plus Gran's determination to cook rattlesnake jam, instead of Pa's favorite, rattlesnake pie:

    "Coming soon - "Ruthie and the Hippo's Fat Behind" - Ruthie's parents move her far from the school and friends she knows. Ruthie doesn't understand why this happened, and becomes a horrible problem child. Then, something wonderful changes everything. Both Books: Autographed (paper) copies from my website, or Amazon, B&N, Borders, etc + Fictionwise for downloads.

    "7 Book Animal Series - Aussie and US :
    (Autographed CDs my website - Downloads: Readers Eden and Fictionwise)

    "Website - Writing Help, Manuscript Critiques etc:

    "Blog - Writing News, Trailers, Books:

    "Musings" column - Lots of writing tips and advice:

2) Have you ever thought of writing anything else but children's books?

If I could live to be 150 years old, I would definitely write for other genres. As it is, time is against me. My late start at serious writing demands I spend my time in the children's field of writing. And with the variety of ages to write for, it is quite enough for this late-start-Lizzy to cope with. I know many do cross the genre lines successfully, often using a pen name to differentiate between their books for children and those for adults.

I listened to you read your book "Mama Grizzly Bear" - A rhyming tale: introducing kids to Mama and her cubs, and I loved it, it's an informative delightful tale.

Thank you. Mamma Grizzly is a favorite of mine. The whole series (7 books in all) is available on individual CDs, or as E-Book Downloads. I am very proud of the quality, layout, and illustrations in each of these books. Yet, the poor quality of some e-books still taints all of them. People forget that there are many paper book out there that would have been a lot better if the editor had blue penciled more paragraphs - famous names included!

Children today are computer savvy, and love reading fun and informational books on a screen. I find it is the adults who are reluctant to try this new and increasingly popular book medium. In time, Book Readers will drop down to a more reasonable price, and offer color viewing. Then
e-Books will really take off. There IS room for both paper and electronic books - a time and a place for both.

E-Books are environmentally GREEN, and in today's bad economy, far cheaper than buying hard cover books. "Buy Green e-Books and Save Trees!" is a great global warming slogan.

3) Your books are about animals, do you do a lot of research?

Yes, I did research the ones I was unfamiliar with. Each book in the series offers simple facts about a number of animals from the US and Australia. I devised the books as fun reads: a sneaky way for children to learn about wild and wonderful critters. Parents, teachers, and older readers, can go to my Books page and view illustrations and sample verses: -
Titles Are: Kangaroo Clues - *Don't Eat Platypus Stew - *Never Say Boo to a Frilly - Mama Grizzly Bear - Prairie Dog's Play Day - Humdinger Hummers -Squirrels Can't Help Being Nuts. NOTE: Titles with stars (*) have 3 shorter stories.

They can also hop over to the two pages listed below, for extra information about all these animals + links to sites that offer more in-depth details.

Wild US Critters:

Down-under Fun:

4) Are children's books easier to market?

My marketing experience is with children's books, so I can only offer an opinion on promoting these. I suspect the same applies to any genre. Let me say first, that writing the darned thing is the easy part. Promoting your published book takes huge amounts time, effort, and planning. Unless you are Mick Jagger or Queen Elizabeth, the publisher leaves 97% of this in your nervous and unprepared hands. You have to learn how to write press releases and tee up newspaper and radio interviews for yourself. School visits, book signings and library visits, are a high priority. Designing business cards, postcards, bookmarks, and maybe even craft or writing projects for schools, all take chunks of your time. "Promote or Perish" is your daily mantra. Will you ever have time to write again? Some writers thrive in the hothouse scrimmages of book promotion. Others wilt, longing for the solitude of their computer, and a chance to follow the seductive scent of a new story idea. Bottom line - publishers want books that sell. So, if you want a happy publisher, who will accept your next masterpiece, PROMOTE and SELL!

5) Is it easier to find a find an agent or a publisher?
Aha. . . this is a classic catch 22 situation. Today, many publishers prefer writers who have an agent. Agents, on the other hand, like to represent writers who have already published a book. This often applies to the larger publishers and agencies. Luckily for writers, many editors who were downsized during past publishing house buy outs, have opened literary agencies of their own. They know the business, and they have excellent contacts. This is a good thing.

Look for an agent who has just opened for business: they are hungry for clients, and therefore more likely to take a good look at your manuscript. With publishers, begin by researching the smaller houses. They are newer, less set in their ways, and more likely to give a newcomer a chance. For both publishers and agents, make sure they are legitimate, and looking for books that feel like yours. Their online Submission Guidelines are where you will find exactly what they want from you. Finding the right agent or publisher often boils down to good research.

Beware of Agent and Publishing Scams: Check this link, for advice on how to make sure the publisher or agent you choose is legitimate:

6) Tell us about your blog and your website, do you think it is essential for the aspiring author to create a blog or website early in their writing career?

Once you have a signed contract for your book, you do need a Blog or a Website. I have both. Making the general public aware of you as a children's author, + the titles of your books, is called "Branding." Someone says Jo Rowlings, and we instantly think of Harry Potter.

My Blog is a kind of "Stop Press" way of putting out instant news about my books and the writing services I offer. It is also a way of posting opinions, book trailers and covers + the writing and book news I want to share - fast! My Website is where I keep a permanent display of my books, covers, and the details about other services I offer. Always link the two together.

If you set it up just right, your Blog news will be posted all over the web. Learn how to Ping after every new post, add the right widgets and links, and connect to Feedburner, etc. A Blog that is not hooked up simply sits there - dead news! I know, it does sound scary at first, but it really is quite simple. I use Research the Blog you choose, and start hooking it up to various Blog Readers. Take your time. As you learn more - do more!

7) Share any thoughts you may have on creative writing?

Writing for children is not something you can rattle off over a weekend, and expect to get published, ASAP. It is a craft that must be learned. The idea is to paint word pictures that stick in a child's head. A few evocative and fresh adjectives, mixed in with active and powerful verbs, works wonderfully. Focus on what is important to the plot, and prune back those long and waffling sentences. This advice applies to all ages of children's books, but especially so for picture books. Keep your writing as tight as your Granny's new girdle!

If it's been a long time since you sat in Ms Learnit's English class, take a writing lesson or two. These days, you can do this online, in your jammies, if you choose. Join a good online children's writing list, and make notes of all the great advice and information that flows there. Go to writing conferences. You can network there with other writers, pick their brains, and listen to guest editors and their words of writing wisdom. Write! Write! Write! Join a critique group for guidance, support, and helpful writing feedback.

Only those who refuse to quit will become published. So, don't allow rejection letters to stop you writing. Many of today's famous authors received loads of rejections before that first acceptance.

Perseverance is as important as talent and hard work. Keep researching those publishers and sending out your manuscripts.

Remember, mates, editors do NOT make house calls!

Thank you Joan, for asking me these gritty questions. Working with you has been a huge pleasure.

Margot Finke.

Thank you too, for taking the time to answer all the questions, and the wonderful advice you have shared.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Short Story Arc—JB’s Quest

Now most of you know reading this blog that I am an aspiring author, the information I provide is my own interpretation of what I have learned in my creative journey in writing fiction. The information highway (the internet) is filled vastly with articles, books, blogs, webpages on the topic of writing. Clearly then, you understand what you read, is written from one like yourself, a student of the craft, and may not be totally factual or actual, but my own perception.

My journey is to understand the Story Arc, after searching the web I see it is basically used for television sitcoms, and games. The Story Arc, a Three-Act Structure, meaning in effect.

Act 1 # Inciting Incident
Act 2 # Crisis
Act 3 # Resolution

In any good story there has to be something that happens. (Conflict) The character has to be put into a situation, where a decision has to be made to change or not to change. After searching the web and reading a lot of material, I coming to the understanding that in literary short story the character does not necessarily have to change. And reflecting back on last weeks Sweet Hearts of the Rodeo reading “Awaiting Orders” by Tobias Wolff, clearly there was no change in Sergeant Morse.(That’s a BIGGEY, considering all books on the craft say there has to be a change—a resolution.)

Lecture by Stephen J. Cannell WHAT IS THE THREE ACT STRUCTURE?

Often, when I ask a writer this question I am told that it is a beginning, middle and an end. This is not the answer. A lunch line has a beginning, middle and an end. The Three-Act structure is critical to good dramatic writing, and each act has specific story moves. Every great movie, book or play that has stood the test of time has a solid Three-Act structure. (Elizabethan Dramas were five act plays, but still had a strictly prescribed structure.) The only place where this is not the case is in a one-act play, where "slice of life" writing is the rule.

From Wikipedia

Dramatic structure and purpose
The purpose of a story arc is to move a character or a situation from one state to another — in other words, to effect a change. When we look at to effect a change, it takes us to the Greek word Peripeteia. Peripeteia means a reversal of circumstances, or turning point.

Returning to Awaiting Orders:

So in essence, for Sergeant Morse, the resolution, the change came for him in the Greek word Peripeteia a reversal of circumstances. In the diner when, “Morse recognized two men from his company at a table across the room. He watched them until they glanced his way, then he nodded and they nodded back. Money in the bank—confirmed sighting of Sergeant Morse with woman and child. Family. He hated thinking so bitter and cheap a thought, and resented whatever led him to think it. Still, how else could they be seen, the three of them, in a pancake house at this hour? And it wasn’t just their resemblance to a family. No, there was the atmosphere of family here, in the very silence of the table: Julianne with her eyes closed, the boy working away on his picture, Morse himself looking on like any husband and father.” An instance cover, a shield, by their recognizing him as well, changing his circumstances of worrying about his homosexual tendencies being detected.

When we look at the inciting incident is the situation the main character is in, in the beginning of the story. Some refer to this as the hook, an inciting incident doesn’t have to be huge, like a murder or a bank robbery, but it is the question that sets up the story, and creates an event that throws the characters everyday life out of balance and triggers them into taking action. In the beginning we also include exposition that provides the background information needed to properly understand the story, such as the protagonist, the antagonist, the basic conflict, and the setting.

When we talk of Crisis: this is the middle of the story, where the rising action and various obstacles that frustrate and complicate the protagonist reaching their goal.
Last but not least the resolution: the climax, the turning point, which marks the change good or bad for the protagonist.

Hopefully this will be of some benefit to those like me that are aspiring. Hopefully, others will add their thoughts on the subject, perhaps offering a clearer understanding than mine. Perhaps, maybe a lengthier discussion on the subject will arise.
Happy Writing!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Back Story

As an aspiring author, I would like to share with those of you studying the craft of writing thoughts and musing on the subject, hopefully the information I provide below will not confuse, but provide a little understanding of Back Story.

This past week in Sweet Heart of the Rodeo, the group studied the use of primary and secondary information.

Primary information advances the narrative, and secondary information provides context, metaphor, idea, etc. Source of the information came from: The Portable MFA in Creative Writing: The New York Writer's Workshop Fiction by Tim Tomlinson.

Essentially this is backstory, detailed information that provides the reader the past events in a characters life and understanding of why the inciting incident occurs and why it is important.

Tobias Wolff utilizes these two sources effectively in his story “Awaiting Orders.” Link New Yorker Published July 25, 2005

Janet Burroway says in her book, “Writing Fiction 5th Edition” page 182.

Flashback is effectively used in fiction to reveal at the right time. It does not so much take us from, as contribute to, the central action of the story, so as readers we suspend the forward motion of the narrative in our minds as our understanding of it deepens. David Madden, in A Primer of the Novel fro Readers and Writers, says that such shifts are most effective if the very fact of their occurrence contributes to the revelation of character and theme.

Creating character’s that are memorable, and providing the reader with the essential details of past events can give a clearer understanding, as to why the character act as they do in the present.

One might ask what the difference is. The terms are probably interchangeable; the only difference being is the way Tim Tomlinson points out in his book, how Tobias Wolff uses the effects in “Awaiting Orders.” Now, I don’t have permission to present his findings, so I’ll have to explain using my own words and thoughts, what he means, and using the story from the New Yorker.

Advancing the narrative: Causes something else to happen. The call awakens in Sergeant Morse facts about his life, his love affair before his tour to Iraq with a Cuban waiter, and with a Lieutenant after his tour when he returned home. Here Wolff transitions into backstory providing the reader information and facts about the Sergeant’s past. The theme of the story and what it is about.

In Wolff’s story when the sister calls and asks for her brother Billy Hart, and Morse tells her that he’s shipped out to Iraq. And she says, “Well. Sweet Jesus. That’s some news.” Then Morse says near the end the end of the conversation, “Feel free to call back. Maybe I can help.” It unsettled the Sergeant and he thinks back about Billy and his own life.

Secondary information doesn’t cause something else to happen, but it is essential to the motivation of the immediate character. In essence then the secondary information is about Billy Hart a minor character but relevant to the story. “Hart was from the mountains near Asheville and liked to play the hick for the cover it gave him. He was always running a hustle, Hart, engaged elsewhere when there was work to be done but on hand to fleece the new guys at poker or sell rides to town in his Mustang convertible. He was said to be dealing but hadn’t got caught at it. Thought everyone else was dumb—you could see him thinking it, that little smile. He would trip himself up someday, but he’d do fine for now. Plenty of easy pickings over there for the likes of Billy Hart.”

Details of your protagonist life is sometimes necessary in understanding what triggers the present situation, but how much needs to be provided to the reader is where aspiring authors goes wrong, and can trigger a rejection.

Sergeant Joe Friday created by Jack Webb greatest line in the television series was, “Just the facts ma’am.”

Providing only the details that give a clear understanding of why the character is in the situation they are in, is all that seems to be needed.

Here are a couple of good articles that explains Back Story and Flashbacks better that I can.

Nancy Kress-- 3 Tips for Writing Successful Flashbacks

Les Edgerton -- Opening Scenes An Overview

Happy Writing!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April Upcoming Events and Marketing Tips

March was an exciting month, following the Blog Tour of noted author J.A. Konrath promoting his book “Afraid.”

Starting off the month of April, featuring another talented novelist John Wayne Cargile, promoting his book “The Cry of the Cuckoos,” it’s a marvelous beginning for this aspiring author.

In the next coming week, weeks, days perhaps, cross your fingers, I hope to feature two other novelists.

One is Sylvia Dickey Smith a wonderful writer and fellow Persist and Publish Group (Writers Village University) member. If you are an aspiring author (like me) you can visit the P & P Group Website and see pictures of Sylvia (way back when,) when she along with other members attended the SAN DIEGO WRITER'S CONFERENCE unfortunately I didn’t get to attend, but the ladies that did, came back with a lot valuable insight for those of us that didn’t. They had a ball.

You can read an excerpt of her latest novel Dead Wreckoning at her website. All I can say is follow the Sidra Smart Series; it is about a middle-aged woman filled with determination and strength, as she starts life a new, becoming a detective and proving herself.

Our next guest will be the noted author Margot Finke, talking about her children’s books series Margot Finke’s Books For Kids.

Links filled with tips and advice that Michael Hyatt Publisher shared on FaceBook.

Michael Hyatt According to Seth Godin, we have our marketing strategy exactly backwards. “First, Ten”:
Seth Godin “First, ten”

Michael Hyatt “10 Things to Expect from a Literary Agent” by @RachelleGardner. Simple, clear, and dead-on

Rachelle Gardner “10 Things to Expect from an Agent”

Happy Writing!


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