Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's All About Words

In response to request for the cartoon included, this is a reprint of my blog from last July. 
I've got all these words in my head that are just screaming to get out. Some are descriptive, emotional, sensual, horrifying, loving. I know you understand what I mean. For us, my dear writer, they are the heart and soul of our work.
There are the types of words we scrutinize: adjectives and adverbs. We search them out and agonize over having too many or too few. We edit, re-write and edit some more. We don’t stop there. We hunt out clich├ęs and overused phrases ripping them out of the pages. And all the while we struggle for originality and that magic that hooks the reader and draws them into our stories. We work until our manuscripts shine with a high polish.
The readers are the witness, the hero or heroine, or whomever they prefer to identify with. It’s the juxtaposition of our words that create the pacing, paints the pictures, strikes the chord, arouses emotions and, for us romance writers, brings the story to a happy ending.
Some words we are eager to hear: the call, published, multi-published, reprint, best seller, finalist, award winning. But I’m getting ahead of myself. More often the words are strung a bit differently: I think the concept of your novel has a lot of potential …, Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your manuscript …, Thank you very much for your manuscript which I have read with interest …, I think you have a wonderful voice … The ellipse is followed by the same word but. Different words but all with the same meaning, rejected, although I really prefer passed. It is just so much more humane. 
I have worked hard on my manuscript. I am well past my first draft. I have self reviewed and edited, my critique partner has reviewed and commented, at chapter meetings I have brought my five to ten pages for discussion. The version number on my document is in double digits. I know I have the words just right. I just need an editor/agent to love them as much as I do.

Sure I can. I can love them anyway you want them!
Special thanks to David Coverly for permission to reprint his cartoon.
Dave Coverly admits there is no overriding theme, no tidy little philosophy that precisely describes what Speed Bump, his syndicated comic, is about. "Basically," he says, "if life were a movie, these would be the outtakes." 
These "outtakes" now appear in over 400 newspapers and websites, including the Washington Post, Toronto Globe & Mail, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis Star, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cincinnati Enquirer, New Orleans Times-Picayune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Vancouver Sun, Baltimore Sun, and Arizona Republic as well as the published “Speed Bump” books.
In addition to his syndicated work, Coverly's cartoons have been published in The New Yorker, and his cartoons are now regularly featured in Parade Magazine, the most widely read magazine in the world with a circulation of 73 million.
Coverly works out of an attic studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is married to Chris, and they have two daughters, Alayna and Simone.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What's In a Name?

Or a title for that matter.
I had this wonderful idea for the story. I brainstormed with my friend Maggie and outlined, diagramed and researched. Finally, after a few months, I was ready, eager actually, to write. My heroine’s name came to me quickly. Rebeka, yes with a ‘k.’ It’s a name I’ve always liked. It’s strong, yet romantic. It just fit my character.
My hero was another story completely. I inserted one name after the other into the text. Sometimes I’d go several chapters before I’d know it wasn’t working and start the name search all over again. There was Jason, Andrew, Michael, and on and on and on. None of those seemed to fit, that is until I tried Arik. I did a global replace and reread the chapters. At last, a story about Rebeka and Arik.
My working title was Rebeka’s Story. I knew it wasn’t the finished title but I thought the title would evolve as I wrote. At the end of 105,000 words, it was still Rebeka’s Story.  I called Maggie. Again we did some brainstorming.  As we talked through the story, I realized I had a recurring phrase/idea, to hearth and home. So, almost satisfied, I titled my story, To Hearth and Home.
I wrote my synopsis and query. I was ready. I pitched it. In February, I got a wonderful call from Angela James. Carina Press wanted to publish my story. It was a wonderful exciting call. I had to sit and think hard afterwards to remember all she told me. One thing that was clear, there would possibly be a title change.
I had to admit I wasn’t surprised with a title change. It did sound like a cozy contemporary and not an adventurous historical time travel. My editor, Denise Nielsen, worked with me and asked for suggestions, words and concepts. The team was ready to work on a new title. 
Earlier this week, I saw a post on the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal (an online chapter of RWA) blog about book titles, Creating Compelling Titles. I was in the same boat as Anne Marsh, I didn’t know squat about titles. It’s a good read. I’ve included it below.
Oh, before you go, yesterday, Denise emailed me with the team’s result which hit all of Anne’s points.  Knight of Runes, it’s perfect!
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at the FFnP Blog
Guest blogger Anne Marsh

Titles were originally an afterthought for me—a handful of words that got slapped on my book right before I shipped it off. At best, the title was a convenient shorthand for picking out my current WIP from its fellow computer files. I wrote the Cat book. Next, I wrote the Goblin book. And the Amazon book. When, as an unpublished author, I decided to send a handful of manuscripts off on the RWA contest circuit, I simply had to give the blasted manuscripts better titles, so I sat down and considered the key elements in the book: my Cat book was sexy, with a big, shapeshifting hero. Plus, an erotic hunt figured prominently in the book. I came up with ”Caught by the Cat” and patted myself on the back. As titles went, it was marginally better than “The Cat Book” (which sounded like it should be coffee table fare filled with pictures of the African savannah). And, alliteration had to count for something—right? Since “everyone” knows that New York always changes your title, I figured the title didn’t really matter (besides, I had this fabulous midnight epiphany that I’d call the next books in the series “Claimed by the Cat” and “Charmed by Cat,” although, after that, I’d probably have to end the series as I’d already run out of words that began with the letter “C”).

I was wrong.

I didn’t know squat about titles.

“Caught by the Cat” sold to an editor juding the Orange Rose contest. Soon after I sold, however, my editor gently asked how I would feel about changing the title. She wanted to find something edgier, something that packed an erotic punch. That sounded great to me—right up until she asked me to brainstorm a list of possible new titles. Fortunately, I was able to brainstorm with both my agent and my editor—and we ended up going with one of my editor’s ideas.

Why do titles matter? First and foremost, a title makes the reader look. A good title conveys the flavor of a book in just a few words. My agent said that “The Hunt” jumped out at her and would make her pick the book up from the shelf (score!). It also shrieked “Alpha male!,” which was our goal. Strong. Forceful. Sexy. Just like my hero.

A successful title also connects the books in a series. Repeated words, elements, or themes work well. For example, we could have called a trio of shapeshifter books: The Hunt, The Game, and The Breakpoint. Instead, we decided to play with variations on a hunt: “The Hunt,” “The Pursuit,” “The Capture. Always think ahead: how would you pitch the next book in the series? How will you tie them together.

Things to consider when you’re coming up with a title for you book:
  • The title needs to be short and to the point—it has to fit on the cover of a book and the graphic designer creating your cover doesn’t need the challenge of a five-line, polysyllabic tongue twister.
  • The title should hint at the tone of your book. Is the book dark and sexy? Sweet? Hero-centric or focused on the heroine?
  • The title of the book should also serve as a hook for the series (unless you’re truly planning just one standalone book). You may also want to brainstorm a series name -- especially for FF&P-ers, this is a fabulous place to introduce your world-building.
  • Keep an open mind and get feedback from as many folks as possible. A truly successful title is marketable and hooks in as many readers as possible… so you want to get impressions from as many people as possible. What do they think of when you say your title? What kind of book would they guess the book is? What adjectives come to mind? If your beta readers are thinking “Oooh! Dark and sexy!” but you’re writing light paranormal—or vice versa—you need to rethink the title.
  • Search (Amazon is a great tool). Has anyone else used that title? It may not be a deal-breaker if someone else has used “your” title (the title I proposed for my forthcoming sexy contemporary, for example, was apparently used by an anthology a few years ago, but my editor wasn’t too concerned as the other book was an anthology).
There are lots of great titles out there, titles that make me go “Wow. Wish I’d thought of that!” The titles for Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalkers series, for example, let you know loud and clear that, when you crack those covers, you’re going to read about strong, forceful alphas. Jacob, Gideon, Elijah, Damien—these are forceful, honorable, no-nonsense Biblical names. Kathy Love, on the other hand, writes fabulously funny, sexy paranormal and her titles convey that message clearly– “Truth or Demon”, “What a Demon Wants”, “Fangs for the Memories.” Rebecca Zanetti’s two books—“Fated” and “Claimed”—use strong adjectives describing the relationship between the hero and the heroine in some very sexy terms. And, Karen Kelly’s books (“The Jaguar Prince,” “The Falcon Prince”) are tied together by the fact that her heroes are princes and shapeshifters.  
Each title reflects the different stories we’re going to find between the covers and draws us in, hinting and promising at what we’ll find. I’ve picked up more than one book based on the title alone because I love the kind of story line the title hints at (cough—Karen Kelly—cough). The next time you’re naming your book, think about what kind of story you’re promising your reader—and what message you want to convey. 
A professional technical writer, Anne discovered that getting laid off was actually A Very Good Thing. While looking for her next writing gig, she picked up her pen (well, okay, she used her writing as an excuse to buy a new Apple laptop) and started writing. She soon discovered that writing was uncomfortably similar to sit-ups: add a few more crunches each day, wake up sore, but, by God, you will fit into that bikini. Or finish the book (she’s still working on the bikini). Now she cranks out software manuals during the daylight hours– and writes about alpha shapeshifters the rest of the time.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My First Review!

Last month, Dana Grimaldi, eHarlequin Copy Editor, wrote an article on time travel. It perked my interest.  While I was pitching my story, I found editors and agents felt there was no market for time travel. I was a few years too late. Perhaps with Diana Gabaldon's release of a special 20th anniversary edition of Outlander and the release of another Lord John Grey book, The Scottish Prisoner, their attitude will change.

I’m drawn to this genre, specifically historical romance time travel, heavy sigh. I like reading about strong men and women facing challenges, working through conflicts, and who are forced to leverage their individual abilities from another time and place, and come out better than they started. I read the article.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  Dana explained why she liked to read time travel, characters could reunite with someone they’ve lost, fix mistakes, and glimpse life in either the past or the future. What she really liked was seeing the past through the eyes of a person with modern sensibilities, my kind of reader. That’s when I saw my name, Ruth A. Casie, in the same sentence with J.K. Rowling. Please read her article for yourself. And do leave a comment. I'll remind you at the end. 

Dana_Grimaldi | March 10th, 2011

by Dana Grimaldi
eHarlequin Copy Editor
I am not a competitive person. But when it comes to time travel, I’ll put all reservations aside.
Let me explain. Every Tuesday morning, I go to work looking forward to the Carina Press acquisitions meeting. I love discussing the manuscripts I’ve read with fellow team members, and I love hearing about the new books we’ll be publishing. One of my favorite parts of the meeting comes when Angela goes through the list of books we’re going to look at for the next week. If I hear that a manuscript we’re considering involves time travel, the competitive spirit awakens within me, and I’ll jump at the chance to read it.
So far, I’ve read two time travel manuscripts for Carina Press, and I’ve been thrilled to recommend that we acquire both of them. Reading these books only served to remind me of how much I love a good time travel story, which got me to thinking…what makes a time travel story good? The best time travel stories make the most of the genre’s unique strength: characters who travel in time can do things characters in your average story could never imagine. I’ve made a list of the top three things that are (for the most part) unique to time travel stories.
1. Characters can reunite with someone they’ve lost.
One of my favorite moments in time travel stories is when a character runs into an older/younger/alternate version of someone they’ve lost. One of the best examples of this occurs in the story Days of Future Past. For those of you not familiar with the comic book heroes known as the X-men, I’ll give you some background. At the beginning of the story, Kitty Pryde, the newest and youngest member of the X-men, finds herself struggling to find her place among the superhero team. She’s particularly frightened by the mutant Nightcrawler, whose demonic appearance once made him the target of a violent mob in his native Germany. When the future Kitty Pryde travels back in time to inhabit the body of her younger self, she finds herself surrounded by the loving adoptive family who, in her time, were almost all killed—including Nightcrawler, whom she’d grown to love and trust. The future Kitty’s reaction to seeing her friends is heartbreaking. Especially when she embraces Nightcrawler and calls him by his given name: Kurt. The ability of time travel to bring people into contact with those they’ve lost is a compelling storytelling device. I think the reason I find it so interesting is that in a way, it’s like time traveling gives characters the ability to defeat death.
2. Characters can fix a past mistake.
In the movie Timecop, police officer Max Walker is unable to prevent his wife and unborn child from being killed in a violent home invasion. The 20th century cop is no match for the group of thugs with futuristic weapons who surprise him in the night. Years later, he gets the chance to go back and make things right; he saves his family using his knowledge of the past as well as impressive kicking skills. We’ve all wondered what life would be like if we could go back and change something in the past, which is why it’s so satisfying to see characters get the chance to do so.
3. We get to see what life might be like in the future or what life was like in the past.
For years, writers have created compelling visions of what the future might be. Anyone who remembers what life was like before cell phones and the internet knows how fast technology is changing, and how much those changes affect our everyday lives. The chance to see what these changes might be is always interesting.  One of my favorite parts of Back to the Future part 2 is Marty’s experiences in the future Hill Valley. I’m still disappointed that hover boards haven’t been invented yet!
The flip side is equally interesting—looking back to see what life was like in the past and how people lived. One of the time travel manuscripts I read for Carina Press is a great example of this. In Ruth A. Casie’s time travel story, a woman travels back to 17th century England. I loved seeing what everyday life in an English manor house was like. The story shows how some aspects of our lives haven’t changed that much, while others seem very strange to a reader with “modern” sensibilities. The heroine found out just how different things were when she was attacked by a band of assassins: she was expected to cower in fear while the men took care of things. I don’t want to spoil the story, but I will say that this didn’t go over well with the feisty Rebecca, who holds a black belt.
While I was writing this post, I couldn’t help but remember a few of my favorite time travel stories. I love all three Back to the Future films, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and especially Primer. My favorite time travel books include The Singing Stone by O. R. Melling, A Handful of Time by Kit Pearson, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling, Once a Gambler by Carrie Hudson and a new favorite, Ruth A. Casie’s soon-to-be-retitled Carina Press book.


Awesome right? Do you read time travel stories? What appeals to you about them? Which ones are your favorites? 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Author! Author!

When Cathy Greenfeder asked me to participate in an author’s panel discussion at the middle school where she teaches, I said yes without hesitating. I’m a strong advocate of applied education. These students were in a creative writing program, listening to and meeting authors was an object lesson. I thought I to give these budding writers a debut author’s perspective, some of my first hand knowledge about writing, editing, the excitement of the first call, and ebook publishing. There was that and so much more.

I met twenty-five smart savvy students, most of whom participated in NaNoWriMo and, drum roll please, wrote 50,000 words.  These students accomplished something wonderful. They learned the elements of a story, understood genres and how the workings of the various troupes. Impressive! And they finished their story. What a great accomplishment. We spoke how we each agonized over edits and re-writes, the hundreds of words and pages that are tossed, and stressed a final story could well be the 15th draft.

I too listened to the biographies and presentations of each of these multi-published authors. I knew all of them but came away with a new appreciation. I know the students caught the recurring theme through all our presentations. We love to write. That said, we didn’t gloss over the hard parts. Lisa Dale spoke about the care and attention she gives to words. Isabo Kelly spoke about research, Nancy Herkness spoke about the pantzer, and Lisa Verge Higgins addressed plotting.

 They were attentive and curious. When we broke up into small groups, we had some great discussions about genre, research, why we write, how our families feel about our writing, and how we get ideas for characters and stories. What creative energy! When I got home, I emailed Cathy with a thank you and signed up for next year.