Friday, November 30, 2007

An Enchanting Take on POV

Maven Jacqueline Barbour

I apologize for being a little late this morning. I normally write my posts a few days ahead of time, but my latest WIP has been chirping like crazy in my head, and I'm afraid I got so wrapped up in it, this post slipped my mind.

Lacey's post yesterday about Hugh Laurie and how he communicates the character of House on screen even though you never get inside his thoughts was a great setup for this topic, because I want to talk about a movie I saw last week. Specifically, the new Disney film, Enchanted.

First, I have to give this film a little plug (which it may not need, as it's apparently doing well at the box office). I loved this movie. It was sweet without being saccarine, pokes a little fun at the whole Disney milieu without becoming mean, and is very, very romantic. Before all the men who read us Mavens run away tearing out their hair, let me add that my husband, who is usually quite curmudgeonly when it comes to "chick flicks," also loved this movie. My kids all loved it, too, although my youngest (five years old) wrote in his school journal that he liked it even though "there was kissing."

So what, you may be wondering, does a movie have to do with point of view? Aren't movies more "third person omniscient" than "third person limited?" I suppose in some global sense, that's true. Since you're never really able to get inside a character's head and find out what he or she is thinking, and since when the characters are interacting, you're privy to both their facial expressions and gestures and all the other techniques actors use to communicate emotion and state of mind, movies are closer to third person omniscient in POV.

And yet, in Enchanted, I nearly always felt as I was watching that I was in one character's POV more than the other and, more, that the filmmakers had done that deliberately. Obviously, when only the hero or the heroine is in a scene, it's easier as a viewer to decide whose point of view to "identify" with in that scene. But when the hero and heroine are interacting with each other, how do you choose?

In the case of Enchanted, I found myself instinctively identifying the POV as belonging to whichever character was being more strongly affected by what was going on in the scene. I always found myself sharing the point of view of the character for whom whatever was happening would seem most inexplicable or emotionally wrenching.

So, what does all of that say to point of view in writing? After all, we can put the reader directly into the characters' thoughts and feelings and make it absolutely clear who the reader should sympathize with, so how can this observation about a movie help?

Well, here's what it did for me. It drove home to me again the importance of writing each scene from the perspective of the character for whom what's happening is most pivotal, meaningful, or life-changing. That's easier said than done, of course, because most scenes (especially between the hero and heroine in a romance) have an effect on everyone involved in them.

Of course, if you're writing in first person (and not doing shared first person like Audrey Niffenegger in The Time Traveler's Wife or third person/first person mix like Diana Gabaldon and Elizabeth Peters), this isn't an issue. You've only got one point of view to deal with. But even then, you have to choose which parts of a story are relevant and meaningful to that point of view character and only tell those.

YOUR TURN: What are some tricks you use for deciding which character's POV to use in a scene? If you write first person exclusively, do you find that freeing or limiting in terms of showing the "whole" story? And have you seen any good movies lately?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

10 Reasons to Love Hugh Laurie (Ok, maybe just 3)

Maven Lacey KayeIn the comments on Tuesday's post I promised to tell you about the super-awesome POV invidualizer tool I use to give each of my characters their own particular voice. Some of you expressed disappointment you would be made to wait until later in the week to find out exactly what my process is. Well, since it's Thursday and I'm the Thursday Maven, wait no more! My super-awesome semi-secret POV individualizer tool is...

My tv.

Wait! Wait! Come back! It IS a good tool!

On tv and in film, actors make characters, right? We know characters come from screenwriters. But screenwriters can't make characters without actors. Ergo, screenwriters need actors. (And vice versa)

As writers of books, though, we don't get actors to make our characters come alive. I propose that our characters be actors. Problem solved!

But wait--how do we do that? In my career as an industrial engineer, I've learned working backward is usually the easiest way to figure a process out. As someone who is both lazy and a huge proponent of standard work, I have come up with a theory for turning characters into actors--starting with looking at actors who create great characters.

Many of us use photos of actors or models to help our muse along and to keep details of facial features and height, etc, consistent. I think it's not a big leap to use actors to help us hear characters. When an actor is in character, he's not who he is in real life. But there are elements of his own style (or hers) that creep in to make us love that character's actor. (Consider this your author voice.)

You're following, right?

So what makes the difference between the actor and the character? Think about this: some actors can't play characters. They can only play themselves. We know which ones they are: actors who consistently behave the same way in every movie, regardless of their role. Ok, now that you know who they are, forget about them. You don't want to use one of them to help your muse. What you want is to think of someone who really, really makes the character for each role he or she plays. Come up with someone really talented and then -- write this down -- steal them.


What Would They Do?

See the difference between copying a character and copying an actor? We writers are all actors, in a way. We take plain words and make them into riveting, emotional stories. How do we do that? A lot of the time, it's through making really captivating characters and then hurting them really, really badly. But a character with no reaction isn't a fun character to watch hurt. Likewise, someone who makes you smile *must have something about them that makes you smile* while they're making you smile. It's all in the delivery, baby.

When I sit down to write a scene, I get into character first. I usually go back and read a few pages of their last scene (even if it's 30 pages earlier) before I start writing. This reminds me of their voice. Then, while I'm writing in their voice, I'm constantly acting out the scene as I picture that actor in my head behaving. Not looking, but behaving. That's because I am the character looking out. Knowing what the character looks like isn't helpful to me. Knowing how that character behaves and using it to communicate the world around him is the key to finding that specific character's voice.

In short, I am a really big fan of my characters interacting with their setting, and anyone who's ever had a crit from me can probably tell that. If you're locked in your character's head and they're not acting then you're either getting internal narrative or dialogue. Think about Hugh Laurie's character Greg House. Do we ever get internal narrative from him? No. But do we need it to feel like we truly know and connect with him? No. Why?

Cues & Things Hugh Laurie uses to communicate Greg House to me:

  • A glass whiteboard

  • A ball

  • A cane

  • His sneakers

  • His motorcycle

  • His printed tshirts

  • His PSP

  • Vicodin

  • Coffee

  • The individual relationships he has with each of his coworkers -- no two are the same; he never behaves the same way with any two people (because he has individual opinions of each of those people, even though he very rarely ever says so (positive or negative))

  • The way he stands

    It's impossible for me to imagine anyone but Hugh Laurie playing House because Hugh Laurie has taken what began as words on a page and made them into a real person. Have you ever gone to and listened to him interview? Hugh Laurie is NOTHING like House. Similarly, you'd almost never recognize Hugh Laurie's characters in Black Adder unless you knew to look. Many fans may not know he had any role in Sense and Sensibility--because you weren't watching Hugh Laurie; you were watching Mr. Palmer. He is a fabulous actor and yes, he is my muse.


    How do you do it?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

POV for Hump Day

Maven Darcy BurkePOV can be a tough thing to master (as is finding a relevant title for this post, apparently). I write in third person, mostly from the h/h POV. That said, I have a nasty habit of slipping into omniscient or near-omniscient from time to time (a friend who read my Golden Heart entry called me "Jane Austen-esque," which I took as a grand compliment!). I'm still working on that aspect.

Today I'd rather muse about male vs. female. Specifically, how one sex interprets thoughts/actions from the POV of the opposite sex. I wrote a scene in my hero's POV recently and got a Maven crit that has me thinking. How accurate is too accurate? My heroine kissed the hero (in the first scene) and displayed a shocking lack of inexperience (this is set in 1816 England). The hero is now at a social event in her presence and is thinking back on that event. He thinks to himself that she "kissed like a whore." I originally wrote it as courtesan, but realized the hero would have no experience with a courtesan. However, he does have experience with whores since his mistress of late is none other than the local madam. To him, the heroine kissing like a whore is not a negative. Au contraire, it's hawt. Men like that, right? Right? The Maven crit pointed out that most women would read this as a negative. She's probably right, but it still doesn't change that for a guy, it's a true and wholly unnegative (is that a word?) thought.

I'm still mulling how to tweak this because I think it's a valid crit, but I'm torn because it's exactly how my hero would think of the kiss. However, we can't get into the business of explaining our POV character's every little thought. We have to find the place that is true to the character without turning off or confusing the reader. I'm still searching for it.

Your turn: How do you walk the line between what your POV character says and does vs. how it's perceived/interpreted? How do you stay true to the character's voice in the face of potential misunderstanding? I hope those questions make sense to someone.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Voice and POV

Maven Carrie RyanOne of the things I've spent a lot of time thinking about recently is voice and POV. How do the two interact? Where does one end and the other begin?

Just over a year ago, I was working on a chick-lit YA called Dead Bodies and Debutantes. I was writing it first person POV (the protag's name was Jess) and I had her voice down. It was so easy to slide into Jess's world, to see things the way she did. She was acerbic, insightful, judgmental, and somewhat unhappy to be a deb. She was a ton of fun to write.

But then I started a new project for NaNo 2006 (long discarded) -- another YA chick lit written in first person POV. After about 10-15k words I realized that my new protag was sounding a lot like Jess. Too much like Jess. But I didn't know how to change that.

My answer was to start another book (The Forest of Hands and Teeth) with a character as far away from Jess as possible. I wrote in first person POV present tense, in a new world, with a somewhat detached narrator. My new character -- Mary -- was nothing like anything I'd ever written. And because she was so different, I was able to let go of Jess. Mary wasn't really meant to be permanent, she was more of a palette cleanser, a diversion and bit of fun.

Of course, now my problem is letting go of Mary. A few days ago I sat down to work on Book 2 and read JP what I'd written so far. "Great job," he said. "Although it sounds an awful lot like Mary." Naturally, the character I was writing was a boy and should have sounded NOTHING like Mary. Sigh.

My temporary solution is a new book, a new world, a shift from first person POV to third. Sloughing off all of the old in order to make room for the new. But I wonder if I'm the only person who has problems with this. Did I find my author voice in writing Forest of Hands and Teeth, or did I find Mary's voice? How do I pull myself apart from her? Is this just a particular problem with first person POV -- you climb so deep into one person's head that it's hard to see anything else?

I wish I had insightful answers to these questions, but I don't :) Just my musings as I turn from one project to the next and try to find a new mind to inhabit for a year. What do y'all think about the barrier between author voice and character voice?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Best Laid ... Turkey?

Maven Lacey KayeHappy Thanksgiving, my American friends!

For the rest of you, Happy Thursday. (Thursdays by themselves are pretty good, eh? 1 day closer to Friday! w00t)

So yesterday in the comments I hinted at a storyboard perk. Yes, besides it being fabulously fun and a great road map of your story, there's a great non-linear benefit: Storyboards aren't synopses.

Right? I mean, a synopsis has to make sense. It needs to flow. You can't skip B from A to C because the reader won't infer the path between. But with a storyboard, you can do whatever you want. You're the only audience. If you're not quite sure yet how the hero will accomplish tasks a, b, c, and d, who cares? You can figure it out when you get there.

Let me explain with an example. According to my storyboard, in Scene 3:

  • Roman doesn't want to be bought

  • Can't remember the baron

  • Buying drinks/being treated to drinks

  • Decides to approach Jonathan and ask for an investment opportunity

  • Walks to his club

  • Knows he's in a bind financially

  • Feeling vulnerable

  • Takes Biddle's bait re: wits game

At first glance, that's a lot of stuff going on for one scene. You would NOT want to try to go line by line like that in a synopsis, and if you did, you'd be locked into your solution pretty tightly. But with a storyboard, you get two perks. One is that if you don't make it to one of those points, chances are you can stick the note into another scene box downline. Two, you have complete freedom as to which elements come first, which come second, how they show up, how you maneuver your character into any of them, etc.

I realized this when I was trying to think of a setting & action for my scene. Sure, part of it has to take place at the club because that's where the betting book is. But there are other points to this scene. Like, how does Roman approach Jonathan? When? Does he summon Jonathan to his house (one idea I toyed with)? If he did, Jonathan would be pretty ticked off. On the other hand, Jonathan could be at the club. But I happen to know Jonathan doesn't go to White's. Hmm. Does Roman walk to Jonathan's house? Now that seems pretty likely.

Okay, so how does the scene start? With Roman walking to the club (or Jonathan's house)? At Roman's house? At the club with a simple mention that he walked there, not rode? Do we start with the wits wager or Roman's search for employment? Is Roman in a good mood when he's discouraged, or is he a jerk about having to lower himself to admit defeat?

My point is, as long as I incorporate the elements needed to move into the next square on my storyboard, I can do it however I want to. Plotters and Pantsters unite!

Like Celeste did yesterday, tell me about a scene you waffled on, why, and how it turned out differently than you'd first imagined. And have some turkey for me! I'll be taking a nap.

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Synopsis?

Maven Jacqueline BarbourNot me!

Call me crazy, but I actually like writing synopses. There's something cathartic about jotting down those broad outlines of the story. And I heart writing them a thousand times more than hooks, query letters and, worst of all, log lines, all of which will probably give me fits for the rest of my life.

Back in my school days and during my brief life as aspiring academic, I never outlined a paper until after I'd written the real thing. If a teacher required an outline be submitted before the paper, then I wrote the paper, wrote the outline, turned in the outline, then turned in the paper. Because until I wrote the paper, I could never predict what I was going to say until I actually said it. And I had to write the paper in absolutely linear fashion, from the first line to the last. Until I was ready to write the introduction, I couldn't write any of the rest of the paper.

And that's pretty much how I write fiction. I have an overarching idea for the story and often have bits and pieces of scenes and dialogue worked out in my head, but I have to approach everything in strictly linear fashion and I never know what comes next with any real certainty until I've written what comes before.

Then how can I write a synopsis for a one hundred thousand word book, you ask? Well, when I start a story, I do have a pretty solid vision of what I need to write a synopsis. I know my characters' internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts. I know what the main turning points in the plot are and more or less where they'll occur. And without all the details to get in the way (the actual book), it's pretty easy to write a summary of the major elements, because those are the only things I know about the story when I start.

So what's my problem with synopses? Following the darn thing once I get it written! I have no trouble writing the synopsis out of the gate. The trouble is that the story that flows out of me too often bears only the vaguest resemblance to the synopsis I wrote. Darn those details!

YOUR TURN: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Can you see the broad outline of the story before you write it, or do you literally fly the whole way by the seat of the pants (a la Maven Carrie, who just thinks what the worst thing that could happen next is and goes with it)? Either way, do you hate synopses? And what makes them so darned hard?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The best laid plotting boards...

Maven Carrie RyanI have always wanted to have a plotting board. Both of my critique partners make these amazing plotting boards (aka story boards) that I am in awe of. In fact, lots of fab authors do it (Diana Peterfreund, Maven Erica, Julie Leto). Sometimes they arrange the plotting board before writing, and sometimes after writing in order to help with edits. Sometimes the different color post-it notes stand for characters, sometimes for conflicts. There are any number of ways to construct a plotting board.

Since I never plot anything out ahead of time, I decided that I'd construct *my* plotting board to help with editing. So one weekend, I dragged JP all over town looking for a science project board because I wanted to do this right. Not finding anything I gave up on the project entirely. But then, in a bout of pure need to have a plotting board (and insane jealousy at everyone else's beautiful boards), I high-tailed it to the local drug store and purchased everything I thought I'd need: poster board, colored post-its (two different packages so I'd have the neon and the pastel colors just in case), different colored pens. Then, I spent quite a while dividing my piece of poster board appropriately. I even used math!! And a tape measure!!

Ready to go, I sat down with a hard copy of my novel and my brand new supplies. But wait... did I want to use the different colors for characters? And if so, what color should each character be? Should the male characters have more manly colors so I could differentiate them at a glance? Should I give all the gross colors to characters who didn't make it through the story? What about the dog - what color should he get? Or should I use the colors for plot points? But if I use colors for plot points, what are my plot points? And should romance plots be the pinkish colors? And if so, what would green stand for? And what color makes me think of religion? And now that I'm thinking about it, these post-it notes are too big for the chapter squares on the poster board so I can't really have more than one post-it note without either cutting them or covering up other post-it notes. And if I cut them, I might as well go out and buy the smaller ones...

Which is why my plot board looks like this and usually resides behind the hunt-board in my dining room:

I'm not kidding when I admit that all of those thoughts flew through my head when I sat down to create a plotting board. This is the reason I never outlined in law school even though EVERYONE outlines in law school. I always got caught up in whether different section headers should be bold or underlined or italicized or if I should use lower case letters or numbers or put extra spaces between paragraphs.

Really, anyone who read my blog when I was querying will be familiar with my insane inability to deal with these sorts of minute and often inconsequential details. In the end, plotting boards just don't work for me. I'd love to have a visual representation of my book, and I'm sure it would make things easier. But if I'd tried to follow through with this project, I'd still be at my dining room table trying to decide if the bright orange too closely resembled the other orange and what two characters I could assign to the colors so it wouldn't get confusing. Really, I'm not kidding.

Instead of creating the plotting board, I just forced myself to sit down and edit. Sometimes, you just have to figure out what works for you, even if that means you don't have a really cool project to show off to the world (*sob*).

What about y'all? Have you ever tried something that's supposed to help with writing, but for some reason just fell flat for you? Do you plot board? If so, how do you handle the details? What tricks do you have to make writing/editing easier?

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

Maven Darcy BurkeLast weekend, Mavens Erica and Lacey and I spent a fabulous two days plotting a book each. We storyboarded our turning points and each and every scene. It was so fabulous we decided to do it again this past weekend. Erica was coming south to Portland to stay with me anyway, and Lacey got an oil change and washed her car in anticipation of joining us Friday evening.

And then Life happened.

Raise your hand, writers, if Life has happened to you. In this case, Life came in the form of Illness. What started as a cough, turned into pinkeye and then ultimately became a mild case of pneumonia and an ear infection for my daughter. Mr. Burke came down with a nasty sinus infection, which he passed on to me, and my son picked up the pinkeye and the ear infection, but, thankfully, not the pneumonia. Meanwhile, Maven Erica was staying with us and I'm crossing every finger and toe that she doesn't come down with one or, heaven forbid, all of the above. So far, so good (*knocks on wood*).

Not only did this week of sickness kill our retreat plotting plans (curse you, Illness!!!!), it also pretty much killed all of my writing time as I scrambled to care for sick people and keep the house remotely ordered. Did I mention I was trying to do NaNoWriMo? I doubted I could write the whole 95,000 word draft, but I hoped to get the NaNo count. What I'll end up with is a kick-butt storyboard (which I already have - w00t!) and hopefully about 20,000 words.

Life happens to me. All. The. Time. I still manage to achieve goals, but some are harder than others, given whatever Life happens to deal me. My new goal is to have the first draft of this book done by the middle of January for The Return of Mavens Erica and Lacey for my RWA chapter's Debra Dixon retreat. I qualify that goal by saying I have no illusions. I'm sure Life will happen again and I will adjust accordingly. To me, the important thing is to keep setting goals and keep pushing forward.

Your turn: What do you do when Life happens? Any Life happens stories you want to share?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hi! My Name Is Jacqueline. And Jackie, and...

Maven Jacqueline BarbourAnd a few others I'd rather keep to myself.

I decided early in my writing career (such as it is!) that I wanted to use a pseudonym. I had a lot of reasons, which you can read all about here. The primary one remains protecting my family's privacy, a goal I admit to achieving with only mixed success up to now. I also feel, however, that an author's name is an important aspect of marketing and branding the identity of her books, and frankly, my real name is both rather vanilla and very difficult to pronounce!

The upshot of my decision to hide behind secret identities means I am now the proud owner of three pseudonyms:

  • Jacqueline Barbour, under which I'm writing "traditional" (whatever that means any more) historical romances set in the Victorian period.

  • Jackie Barbosa, under which I write erotic historical novellas (and I gotta give props to Maven Darcy for coming up with the surname Barbosa; I freely admit to never having seen a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, so I'd never have come up with it on my own and it's simply fantastic!).
  • Barbara Louise, newly-signed editor for Cobblestone Press.

I might need at least one more pen name, too, since I've picked up a first person contemporary piece I started over the summer and have fallen back in love with the story. Both my other pen names are historical "brands," so I'm not sure I'd want to use them for this book.

While I obviously think psuedonyms have advantages, there's also a downside. The first...and most important that I have a hard time remembering at any given time who I'm supposed to be. Which name do I sign at the bottom of email: Jacqueline, Jackie, or Barbara? Which name do I use when I answer the telephone? (This led to a particularly funny incident when I was at RWA National in Dallas over the summer, which I'll have to relate some other time.)

My tendency to forget who I am becomes particularly acute, however, whenever I'm asked to write a bio. (And it wasn't just the Mavens looking for bios this week. Cobblestone wanted one for my editorial self, too.) In a way, I suppose I do think of each of my identities as different people, with slightly different characteristics I want to highlight.

So, should you be inclined to learn more about me (or my selves, as the case may be), you can follow the links below:

As for a bio for the real me, well, I'm afraid that's yet to be written. To paraphrase Monty Python, I'm not quite done yet.

YOUR TURN: Do you have more than one identity (whether or not you have more than one name)? How do you feel about writing bios? And do you have any suggestions for my fourth pen name? I'm all ears!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bios are for Losers: Maven Lacey Hedges and Hides


Hello, faithful readership, new readership, and other soon-to-be-devoted followees! I'm Maven Lacey -- the Thursday Maven -- and I am ready to do my part to achieve Maven World Domination. To that end, I recently decided it was time I started behaving like an adult instead of an oversexed, stoned teenager. Starting with stopping my habit of saying things like oversexed, stoned teenager.

As you may or may not be able to tell, I haven't gotten very far on that point. I have, however, inched a few baby steps in the Writing Fabulous Pieces of Mind Control Software category... Er, I mean writing scenes for my book which certainly has NOTHING to do with mind control, domination or software.

Most of you are aware that I'm the Process Maven, the List Maven, She Who Demands a Status Report Maven, and all-around wonderful Task Master Maven. Basically, I'm the puppeteer and Maven Erica is the marionette.

KIDDING! Not even close. I blog humbly at the mercy of Maven Erica and my fellow Mavenettes. With that in mind, I shall run back into my cave before anything really exciting about me can make it onto the internet. After all, upstaging Mavens is a bad, bad thing.

RANDOM QUESTION: What is the absolute best way to spend a Friday evening? I have one coming up here pretty soon and I tend to waste it on...sleeping.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Yes, My Name is Darcy Elizabeth...Burke

Maven Darcy BurkeAnd no, my mom was/is not a big fan of Pride and Prejudice. My middle name, Elizabeth, was my great-grandmother's middle name, and Darcy was/is just a name she liked. It was that or suffer the humiliation of Lothar von Wolfgang Lange should I have been a boy. See, my parents had agreed that Dad would name the boys (hence my older brother is Richard Helwig Lange, III) and Mom would name the girls. Mom really wanted a girl and Dad threatened her with Lothar von Wolfgang. Thank goodness for the double X chromosome!

So, that's a little trivial tidbit about me. What else? I guess I'm extra-writerly because I have three cats, 2.6 according to Mr. Burke. He says that to get a laugh because one of our kitties has three legs. She lost a leg to cancer almost four years ago (she's doing great!) and is sometimes known as Hippity-Hop, though I prefer to call her Kira. In addition to Kira and her sister, Maura (they are 8), we share our home with Belle Kitty, a beautiful fourteen-year-old Maine Coon.

You might think that's a full house, but of course there are the Burkettes. Quinn, my daughter, is six and in first grade. Zane is 3 and in preschool. Lots of high-energy fun at Burke Manor! Oh, and of course, I must mention Mr. Burke, my husband of nearly sixteen years. Mr. Burke is an attorney specializing in general business litigation and construction law. I support Mr. Burke's firm by keeping his books.

Aside from writing, bookkeeping, mommying, and wifeing (is that a verb?), I like to cook, scrapbook, work in the garden, and, of course, read. I also enjoy wine tasting and since we live on the edge of Oregon's fabulous pinot noir country, it's super convenient. And, uh, expensive if you aren't careful.

Your turn: What do you wish you had more time to do? Do you like wine? If so, what do you like to drink? Ever had Oregon pinot noir? (Warning: it's addictive!)

Hi! I'm the New Maven

Maven Carrie RyanI couldn't be more excited to be the newest addition to the Maven family. Clearly, I've been trying to wheedle my way in here by being a guest maven time and again :) As the newest Maven, I thought I'd take the chance to introduce myself a bit.

I started writing seriously in 2000 after graduating from Williams College (home of the purple cows). After shelving two manuscripts, I decided to take time off so I could get the kind of hip urban life that would allow me to write chick-lit books (ha!). During that time, I went to law school, fell in love, and chick-lit books evolved so that they no longer had to be set in a big city (d'oh!). After graduating from Duke Law School and starting day jobs, my boyfriend, JP (a fantastic speculative fiction short story writer and trial lawyer) and I decided to start taking our writing seriously again.

That was just under two years ago. In September I signed with Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich and about a month ago I sold my post-apocalypse young adult book -- The Forest of Hands and Teeth -- to Delacorte in a two book deal! I'm still in squee mode, even after handing in my first round of edits yesterday!!

I'd love to say I have this amazing and interesting life outside of writing, but unfortunately I just don't have the time! I'm a full time lawyer with a big firm, working in their Trusts and Estates department (before that I litigated for two years). Now that fire season has started, I love nothing more than to curl up in front of the fire with JP and a glass of wine and play the "what if" game.

Oh, and because every writer has a cat, here's one of mine.

Your turn: Any questions for the new maven? Any of you want to share something about yourselves? What you love to do in your free time?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We Have a Winner!

Robynl, come on down! You're the winner of the autographed copy of Deanna Lee's Barenaked Jane. Please email us at mavens [at] to claim your prize.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Interview with Publisher and Writer Deanna Lee

Guest Maven Deanna LeeToday, it's the Mavens' pleasure to introduce Deanna Lee, multi-published author of numerous books, including The Penetration Diaries (is that a killer title or what?), Undressing Mercy, and Barenaked Jane, and co-founder/owner with fellow author Sable Grey of Cobblestone Press.

We invited Deanna to guest with us today because Cobblestone has become since its inception as much a community of writers as a publishing house. As writers themselves, Deanna and Sable bring a unique perspective to their role as publishers and the community their efforts have inspired is certainly an outgrowth of that perspective.

Before we turn to the subject of the writers' community that's grown up around Cobblestone Press, could you tell us why you decided to start an epublishing house in the first place and give us a bit of Cobblestone's history for those of our readers who aren't familiar with you?

Sable and I came to the idea of Cobblestone one night during a very long conversation about ePublishing. We had very firm thoughts on what an author-friendly publisher should be and we knew that could create that kind of environment. We started researching the market, publishing, and went to work immediately on a five year business plan. We founded in January of 2006 and opened with our first six books in June of 2006. We’ll be exploring print in the next year or so on a small scale, as we believe firmly in planning well and executing ideas with precision. Anything else would be a disservicee to the authors we are honored to publish.

Cobblestone's online forum and weekly release chats have fostered a strong community of writers at various stages in their careers. Was that intentional or a happy accident?

It was certainly what we wanted! I love other writers and it’s nice to have a place to go online where you can share writing news and find others to challenge you to improve. The weekly chat is our way of connecting with both authors and readers regularly. At Cobblestone we have a very transparent communication process because we believe it to be important. We utilize forums, Yahoo groups, and blogs in an effort to keep everyone on the same page and in the game. I think it works very well.

One of the things many writers struggle with is balancing their writing time between garnering advice and support (often through online communities) and actually writing. How do you manage this and what do you think is an appropriate balance to strike?

I don’t sleep. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you live on espresso shots and ambition. Okay, so seriously I think the friend of any writer is a schedule that you can follow. It does absolutely no good to set up a schedule you know you won’t follow or make a word count goal you know you can’t meet. Challenging yourself is good, but setting realistic goals will prevent you from becoming discouraged quickly.

What kinds of experiences did you have with RWA chapters and writing communities before Cobblestone?

I am a member of the RWA, but I joined after I was published. I’ve belonged to writing communities in the past (good and bad) and on the whole I recommend them to writers at every level. Writing is a very solitary craft and it’s easy to isolate yourself. Isolation isn’t healthy for the creative soul, no matter how much you might think so. We need intellectual stimulation and other writers can provide that in spades!

What advice do you have for writers seeking online or live communities to participate in? Are there certain things writers should or shouldn't do in a forum environment?

I do caution against overly social writing groups. You want a proactive WORKING group—not a place where people exchange recipes and complain about their spouses/jobs all the time. Granted, those places can be a great deal of fun but they aren’t productive and often they can draw you into drama that leaves you mentally and emotionally exhausted. A writing community should be a place where you recharge your batteries, not be a source of constant drainage.

While it hardly needs to be said, I also caution everyone against bad behavior in forums. The news of bad acts travel four times faster than the news of good deeds. Our writing world is rather small. If something negative gets posted about me on a forum that I don’t belong to, you can bet I’ll get 10 copies of the post in my email from various people within the hour of the posting. No forum or news group is truly private. So, please don’t put anything in writing you don’t want the world to know.

How do you feel about the practice of writers posting their works-in-progress to an online forum? Good idea/bad idea?

Critique groups can be an invaluable resource as long as the members trust each other and participate equally. I don’t recommend posting your work on a public forum because it can be viewed as a form of self-publication. If you are going to critique on a forum or group, make sure that it’s only available to members and don’t leave your work up there indefinitely. One of the best online sites for this is: , but I recommend you go there with body armor on. Those writers can and will be hard core when it comes to critique.

Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about Cobblestone Press?

Beyond how absolutely fabulous we are? Well, on November 10th, Karen Wiesner will be joining us for a day long Q&A session about her book “First Draft in 30 Days” –you only have to be a member of Main Street to participate.

In January we will be holding our second FREE online writing conference. More information on the Words in Motion event can be found here:

YOUR TURN: Deanna will be available today to answer any questions you might have, so please, feel free to comment and ask! Deanna will be giving away a signed copy of Barenaked Jane to one lucky commentator, so post away!

And thanks, again, Deanna, for being with us today!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Who You Talkin' To?

Maven Lacey KayeWe're talking about online communities over here in MavenLand this week, and you can't really talk about online communities without talking about publisher-sponsored contests and forums. Ok, well, maybe you can, but it's my day so we have to go along with what I want to talk about.

When I first got the idea to try writing a novel, I went directly to the homepage of the authors I read the most at the time. Up to this point, I had only used their websites to figure out the order their backlists were supposed to be read and to get sneak peeks at new titles. I would savor excerpts and cover art and wish away the months before I could have that new book in my hot little hands. ARC was a term I'd never heard before. I had never even considered the possibility I could get a book before it was due out. (I didn't know I could find a book early by looking around town, either, my point being that I basically knew jack about the publishing world, period.)

From my favorite authors I found the Avon Authors Forum. WOW. From a reader's perspective, this was a goldmine. I could not BELIEVE all my favorite authors (because at the time, I read Avon authors almost exclusively without even realizing it) were collected right there in ONE place. And many of them were online, chatting with readers! They hit the discussion boards at least as often as I did!

From there, I found three sources of information: 1) Jenna Peterson, who is always, always generous with her time and knowledge, 2) the Aspiring Romance Writers loop, run by a fellow discussion board member, and 3) Romantic Inks, which at the time was called Romantically Inclined (which, turns out, if not entered into your browser correctly is also a porn site).

At each of those points, I made connections with other human beings. Those connections built upon each other so quickly that the internet became addictive in record time. I mean, SHOCKINGLY fast and surprisingly hard to quit. I would have told you three years ago that I would never, ever be addicted to things like online message boards, blogs, and email. It never would have crossed my mind as a possibility. But the very first time I saw someone respond to my comment on a forum... *chills* It was crack.

(I see Blogger has added an option to have comments posted after yours emailed directly to you. That's like crack on crack.)

Anyway, I think FanLit and and the American Title contests all provide that first hit of crack for a lot of people. We start out as readers, or as readers dabbling with that first, second, or sixth book idea, and then we find out... people can read my stuff! I don't even have to be published! It's crack on speed!

Is crack speed? I have no idea.

So I know FanLit, in particular, did a great job of bringing all of the above together. They had a discussion forum, real, live multi-published authors commenting (on YOUR work!), blogging, and the like, and then they had a publishing venue for the masses. It was like the perfect trifecta of addictive, engaging crack, and it was perfect.

I just used perfect twice. Gah. That's how good it was.

I think the top really blew off when the people on the forums (using actual crack to stay up 36 hours in a row) realized there were other people on the forums who had blogs. Whoa. And those blogs were linked to other blogs. And the next thing you know, mom1974 is able to read through the archives of suzie59 and bam! instant connection. It's like you know that person. Only you don't. Because it's the illusion of the internet.

And now one of those imaginary people is at my house. Because we're all really real people, floating around Al Gore's internet, hoping to run into other real people -- preferably ones who will publish our books (and ones who will read them) -- making the internet that elusive mix of anonymous and not, creepy and absolutely perfect.

Just don't get me started on those SciFi people. Weirdos! :-)

Tell me: when you first got hooked on the internet, what was your biggest surprise? Was it that there's actually normal people on the internet? Was it that you could stand to look at yourself in the morning after spending all night chatting with a complete stranger through this backward, still-motion chat technology we call message boards? Was it that you can learn some stuff on the internet that's not only true, but actually useful? Have you ever met anyone online in real life through a venue that wasn't the National conference?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Community of One

Note to Robynl: You won the signed book from Stephanie Rowe's backlist for posting on her interview! Please contact us with your information, and congratulations!

Maven Darcy BurkeEver wonder what writers did twenty years ago? RWA had been founded, but the Internet was still just a twinkle in Al Gore's eye (or had it started up by then - I admit I'm not particularly savvy on Internet history). Did some writers simply go quietly insane with their bunny slippers and stained heart-shaped coffee cup? (And how on earth did they live without an online thesauraus, Wikipedia, or E! News?)

I think there's a general belief that writers are solitary people, loners, even. But today's online communities in the form of chat rooms, email loops, and blogs perhaps argue against that. Given the number of writers I "see" online, I'd say writers are seeking to connect in a way that writing for publication prohibits. It's like doing theatre vs. a movie. Actors might say that theatre is much more gratifying because of the live audience and the instant gratification (I always thought it was, but then I've never done a movie). Participating in online communities might just offer the same rush for the writer - instead of waiting for your book/article/story to be published, you can write a blog, post to a critique loop, or chat for immediate results.

For me, online communities are great because I can take them or leave them. Some weeks I'm feeling chatty and curious, while other weeks I want to stay in my cave. In that respect, I guess I am my own community (well, you must count the Burkettes!) and I kind of like that. To be a writer, you have to exercise extreme self-discipline and, let's face it, you better like your own company. I'm fortunate in that I have the Burkettes around and even Mr. Burke since he often works from home, but since none of them are writers (currently, though Mr. Burke has aspirations, I believe), it's not the same as a community of like-minded/focused people.

How would you describe yourself? Do you like to fly solo or do you prefer a support group? Or maybe you like a little bit of each, which, really, makes the online community thing just about perfect.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Confessions of a Forum Junkie

Maven Jacqueline BarbourOnline Communities for Writers: Can't write without 'em, can't write because I'm too busy participating in 'em.

That about sums up my feelings about all the places I've found online to procrastinate by talking craft, research, contests, or other aspects of writer life with other writers. But I'm probably getting ahead of myself. Allow me to explain.

When I first started writing seriously back in February of 2006 (and by "seriously", I mean I started thinking, "Hmmm, maybe I can write something that could actually be published"), I did my writing the way I always had in the past: all alone and for my eyes only. I didn't know anyone else who was an author, either aspiring or published. And I certainly didn't want any of my friends or family reading my story. It was too rough and I was too insecure to consider letting anyone who actually knew me have a look at it. Who knew what they'd say or, worse, think? Nope, no way was I sharing!

I plugged away at my keyboard and was soon 40,000 words into my story. I was very efficient, but I was also very lonely. And, in the end, while what I was writing wasn't bad, it wasn't very good, either.

Enter the Internet. Desperate for some interaction with somebody somewhere who knew something about writing a romance novel, I started searching for for writers' groups via the time-honored Google method.

I should admit that long before I start subscribing to various Yahoo! loops and other fora for writers, I had been a Usenet newsgroup junkie for years. I discovered newsgroups in 1997, shortly after my first son was born, and quickly became addicted to the various parenting groups. They were a great place for a new parent to whine, ask for advice (and sometimes give it), and simply connect with other people going through the same experience.

So, when I started looking for other writers to connect with, it just came naturally to look online. I started in Usenet, but didn't have any luck finding really topical group there, but when I went to Yahoo Groups, and there I stumbled almost instantly across a group called Aspiring Romance Writers.

Well, I'd be darned if that didn't sound just dandy. I requested membership immediately, and so began the path that led me to:

  • Meeting the Mavens

  • Discovering RWA (which I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't even know existed!), discovering contests (which I also didn't know existed)

  • Participating other writers' communities (including Avon FanLit, the one-year anniversary of which we pretty much celebrated a few weeks back with the call story of Tessa Dare, the grand prize winner).

From there, my community involvement expanded into the blogosphere (curse you, Smart Bitches/Trashy Novels, for the many hours I have spent snorting tea over cover snark when I should have been writing) and a number of other Yahoo groups. I hooked up with a couple of critique partners through the RCW Critique group and joined the Contest Alert group to keep abreast of breaking contest news. I joined The Beau Monde specialty chapter, which also has a Yahoo loop that is wealth of information, insight, and experience. When I gained RWA PRO status, I joined the PRO loop. And finally, when Cobblestone Press contracted Carnally Ever After, I became a member of their wonderful writers' community, which includes an online forum and weekly chats (both of which are open to readers as well as writers) and began reading many other blogs too numerous to name.

I firmly believe my involvement in all these communities has been a net benefit. I've learned so much about the craft and the business of writing from the people I've met.

But it does have its downside: It becomes difficult to keep up with all of them! Balancing the time I'm devoting to my writing career between visiting loops, blogs, and chats (I've been doing a lot of promotional chats for my book lately, too; in fact, tomorrow, I'll be at Novelspotters at 9pm eastern--come visit if you can!) can be tough. And when a scene is coming slowly or painfully or I just don't "feel" like writing, it can be awfully easy to start clicking the mouse to avoid the hard stuff.

YOUR TURN: How many online communities do you belong to? How much of your writing time do you devote to them? Have you discovered any particular benefits or pitfalls I didn't mention?

P.S. I'm very pleased to announce that Deanna Lee, co-founder and co-owner of Cobblestone Press, will be guesting with us on Friday. In addition to being a publisher and acquiring editor, Deanna is also the author of Undressing Mercy and Barenaked Jane, with more releases on the horizon. We're tickled pink to have her.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Maven Interview with Stephanie Rowe!

The winner of our Choose Your Own Adventure® title contest is Bill Clark with The Cotswold Curse: Being the True Story of the Late Mysterious Happenings in Rural Oxfordshire, Together With the Perilous Adventures of Miss Mary Goodweather and Her Pesky Virginhood! Bill, send along your address because we've got a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts with your name on 'em!
Guest Maven Stephanie Rowe

Today, we are excited to have Rita-nominated author Stephanie Rowe with us. Stephanie also writes young adult as Stephie Davis. We peppered her with questions and she graciously shared some great information and experience! Feel free to ask questions in the comments as Stephanie will be around a bit today. Stephanie’s newest release is Sex and the Immortal Bad Boy.

When did you decide to try for a career in writing?

I decided for a career in writing when I came to the conclusion that there was no job on this earth that I could deal with except writing. I’d spend several years soul searching, trying to find the job that I could do happily for the next forty years. I did all the career workshops etc, and finally realized that writing was the only thing that fit. I’d dabbled in writing before, but more to amuse myself and escape from the reality of the killer-day-job (hey, it *looks* like I’m working if I’m actually typing a book, right?), but I hadn’t really been considering it a career. Until then. At that point, I sat myself down at the computer and decided to write a book and see what I thought. It didn’t take long before I was completely hooked, and I knew that was what I needed to do for the rest of my life. And then 18 full manuscripts and 7 partials later, I was published.

How much like "real" life were your first book(s)?

I think they were very grounded in my real life, as are many first books by novelists, but that’s okay. It’s difficult enough to write, you might as well make it easy on yourself by writing about something you know well, right? Of course, none of the books of my heart came remotely close to selling, because, quite frankly, my life isn’t that interesting. It wasn’t until I really grasped the concept of *fiction* that my books actually had a story worth telling.

Do you have a "call" story you wouldn't mind sharing, as far as landing an agent, then landing your first contract?

I snagged my first agent after only about 130 rejections, but then, I’ve always been an overachiever... anyhoodles, I had queried my agent (among others) and was waiting on a response, when I finalled in the Golden Heart in 2003. I immediately emailed her (and all the other agents) and told her that I’d finalled in the GH, mentioned that we were both invited to the GH reception, so maybe I’d see her there, and giving her an update on the status of my projects. She offered me representation a week later. I know she read my book that fast because of the GH final, so, although finalling in the GH seems so remote, I really believe it’s worth the $50 to enter, because you just never know.

My first sale was a YA to Dorchester, and it’s entirely my agent’s fault. The YA market was just heating up and she told me that I’d have a great YA voice and asked me to write something she could slide over to Dorchester for the opening of this new line. I did, she slid, and the offer rolled in. I cried. How could I not? It was incredible. Then I sold my first adult book a few weeks later (it had just won the 2004 GH) to Harlequin after a lengthy process of the revise & resubmit game with the editor. Then Dorchester’s YA line folded and the Harlequin line I wrote for folded and all the lessons I’d learned as an unpub about how to persevere through bad news and frustrating times kept me going.

How much plotting do you do before beginning a book? How close is the finished product to what you originally envision?

This process is constantly evolving for me. I used to do an 80 page outline, and then abandon it halfway through. Then I did nothing but start to write. Then I started doing extensive character sketches, and then I did random brainstorming of plot, character and whatever else, and then after about 25 pages of single spaced notes, I would put together a synopsis to try to organize my thoughts. I have recently concluded that this approach is no longer sufficient, and for my next book, I am going to put together an extensive and detailed outline that I hope will help me create the story I want, and help alleviate my tendency to run into brick walls and start over several times per book (there’s nothing fun about starting completely over when you’re on page 300 and only two weeks away from your deadline)...

How much plotting do you do before beginning a connected series (for example, your recent Mona series and your upcoming paranormal series)?

Obviously, I do a lot more plotting before a connected series than I do for single book. The paranormal suspense trilogy I have coming out in 2008 required a tremendous amount of pre-work because I had to create an overarching plot to span all three books, as well as a standalone subplot for each book. It was a great learning experience for me, for sure!

How much planning do you do in advance to develop characters and character arcs? Do the characters "surprise" you along the way?

I really map out my characters well, and they do not tend to surprise me. I am not one of those authors who claims the characters control the story. I control the story and the characters and if it doesn’t work, it’s my fault. Don’t get me wrong, I completely think of them as real people, but they are real people who are not separate from me. They are real people who are a part of me; we are one and the same. Does that make sense?

Do you have critique partners and/or plotting buddies? What are suggestions/concerns to keep in mind regarding those?

I actually do not have any critique partners or plotting buddies. I am a one-person-show, for better or for worse. The only people who get to read my book before it hits the shelf are my agent and editor, and they don’t see it or hear any details until it’s finished. I like the independence of being on my own, and I like the challenge. It works for me, so I guess I’ll stick with it, though sometimes I do feel somewhat like a deviant child when everyone around me is talking about their fantastic critique partners...

Do you love or hate synopses? What's the best way to tackle them?

Synopses don’t bother me at all ever since I discovered Lisa Gardner’s workshop on synopsis writing. It can be found on her website or on the Rose City Romance Writers website. It is, quite truly, the very best synopsis aid I’ve found, and it makes it so easy to write them.

You write on a fairly fast-paced schedule. What do you do to keep yourself on track and how much time do you spend writing vs. non-writing, but necessary-for-the-writing-career tasks every day?

I have my daily schedule written out for every single day from when I start writing a book until I turn it in. I know exactly what page I need to get to each day, and I stick to it. I have all sorts of charts and spreadsheets to track my work and help me set goals that work for me. Writing comes first, and other writing related tasks like responding to email or updating my website don’t get addressed until my page quota is done for the day. If I’m struggling with a book, that could mean that I get very behind on those things, but that’s okay. Writing is my priority because if I don’t write books, there will be none of the other stuff to do... I write about six hours a day, seven days a week. At the end of the book, I may write more than that, but I try not to until I’m near the end or I’ll burn myself out. I write 12 new pages/day minimum, but I aim for 20. But if I hit 12, I’m good. If I go over, then it’s icing. Honestly, I almost always come in with at least 18, which is why my goal is 12. That way, every day, I can feel good about my production. It’s all psychological games, really. But if I go over 25, then I need to be careful not to burn myself out if I’m still early in the book.

Thanks so much for having me!! I’m so thrilled to be here!

And thanks for being here, Stephanie! Go ahead and post your questions/comments. One lucky random poster will receive a signed book from Stephanie's backlist!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween Choose Your Own Adventure® Prizes

Maven Lacey KayeWe did it! We put together a story that will blow your mind. Or maybe turn it into zombie mush. Either way, it's something to share with your friends, right?

I truly loved the end -- I was standing beside Tessa Dare for the ovation! The whole thing came together, if not perfectly, absolutely hilariously.

(No idea what's going on? Read the story).

The prizes aside, let's give a round of applause to each and every one of you who voted. And then, because that was plenty long enough to forget about prizes, let's give an extra woo-hoo for our random prize winners!

The following books will be distributed in a first-response, first-choice fashion. Email the Manuscript Mavens [mavens (at)] with your snail mail address to claim your prize (we will ship it to you).

The books are:

Karen Ranney: An Unlikely Governess
Judith Ivory: Angel In a Red Dress
Edith Layton: For the Love of a Pirate
Alexandra Benedict: Too Great a Temptation
Linda Needham: The Pleasure of Her Kiss
Samantha James: The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell
Stephanie Bond: Body Movers: 2 Bodies for the Price of 1
Daniella Brodsky: Diary of a Working Girl
Lynsay Sands: Bite Me If You Can
Lisa Kleypas: Sugar Daddy

The winners are:
Patricia W
B.E. Sanderson
Christine Koehler
Jennifer Linworth
Marnee Jo
Vicki M Taylor

And the Grand Prize winner is....drum roll, please!

Vicki Lane!

Vicki has won her choice of autographed Mavens Rock! give-away:

Names I Call My Sister Anthology
Body Movers: 2 for the price of 1 by Stephanie Bond
Stray by Rachel Vincent
Cross My Heart by Carly Phillips

Now it's time to vote for the story's title. The winner of the title vote will receive a box of Hawaiian macadamia nut chocolates and a special book from Maven Darcy. The title contestants are:

A Ghoul is Aghast
A Midwinter Night's Dream
A Nightshade in Winter
All my Zombies
As the Brain Turns
Brains Wanted
Brains: As You Like It
Brains: They're not Just for Breakfast Anymore
Deadly Nightshade
Desperate Zombies
Dying for Desire
Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun
Guess What's For Dinner?
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
He Broke Her Heart, So She Ate His Brain
King Zombie
Little Script of Horrors
Love By Death
Much Ado about Zombies
Nightshade Must Die
Novella of the Living Dead
One Brain to Give
Taming of the Zombies
The Accidental Cure
The Cold and the not-so-Beautiful
The Corpses of Our Lives
The Cotswold Curse: Being the True Story of the Late Mysterious Happenings in Rural Oxfordshire, Together With the Perilous Adventures of Miss Mary Goodweather and her Pesky Virginhood
The Good, the Bad, and the Zombies
The Last of the Zombies
The Tale of Two Zombies
The Undead and the Brainless
Too Stupid to Live
Two Gentlemen of Cotswold
Undead and Unpopular
While You Were Dying
While You Were Eating
Zombie for Zombie

Go forth and vote!

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens