Writing By Numbers


georgeknows333x500-1As far as I know, there aren’t any packages with paper, pens, and numbers you fill in to write a masterpiece, so that’s not what this is about.

It’s the simple fact that I hate numbers. Now, as a former biologist, who specialized in the most math heavy specialty in biology, that may seem odd. However, by the time I was in grad school, computers were just entering the scenes and there were wonderful programs that could do the biostats in seconds. With a matrix of nine characters across (leaf measurements) and five hundred across (number of plants), it made life easy.

I still can’t balance my checkbook. I can’t remember my phone number. And I have a heck of a hard time keeping score when I judge dogs. I let someone else take care of the addition.

Why didn’t anyone tell me the truth about how intertwined numbers were to words? My learning curve is difficult.

Word count. Yes, no matter what you write, if you traditionally publish, with large or small press, it has to be within a certain word count. In some cases, you get paid by the word. In some cases, you need to cut-off by or after a certain amount of words. Word counts rule. In middle-grade books, they seem to prefer about 25k to 40k, with the average at 35k. Mine are about 50k. This is why I prefer to write for tweens: I have ADD, anything more than that 50K and I’m counting blades of grass. Stalks of dandelions. Clumps of dog hair. Most everyone else here is probably writing 80k-100k based on one quick pass on the Internet.  Right now, George Knows sequel, Tillie’s Tale, is looking to come in at 60k. I’ll be doing some cutting. (George is trembling. Never say cut in front of an intact male dog).

Rankings. When books come out, there are a lot of places that rank it, like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. There are rankings for the genre, the topic, the kind of paper the book is printed on. From what I’ve seen, rankings are in part generated by key words. If the book is a mystery about a dog written for children, then it will be in several different rankings. Children’s Books, Mystery, Animals, Dogs. Each word can be taken away, and as you get closer to the main category, Children’s Books, the numbers get bigger. It’s preferable that the numbers are small. George came out at number five under Children’s>Animals>Dogs I was thrilled to be next to Old Yeller, which was four. By the time it was just Children’s Books George was 33. And then he sort of disappeared into the cellar. Now he’s buried in the catacombs.

Lists. Where the important numbers come into play. The bestseller lists. Better to be a low number than a high number, but great to have made it to the list at all. Go NYT and USA Today!

Royalties. When I wrote magazine articles I was paid by the word. For some reason, my articles were cut quite a bit and my columns were very short.  Now I’m paid a percentage based on what vender the book was sold through. Numbers I couldn’t even guess at.

PR. The most troubling numbers of all. Worse than balancing a checkbook without knowing the budget. There are a lot of different types of PR, from getting your name recognized (an aside, I did this as part of my learning curve. It was expensive and it was stupid. My name is ALREADY well represented on search engines because of other aspects of my life. Not too many people will search for Tween Mystery Basset book, and if they did, they still won’t get George because of those mystical key words.)  There are blogs tours, for which PR firms charge by the number of blogs booked. There are street teams, where a small membership isn’t generally useful, but a larger membership can be worse.  And social media numbers.  Is it worthwhile for a fan page on Facebook to have 20k likes, when only 15 people actually bought the book? Should you actually pay to ‘boost’ posts to get more views? Do you want to Tweet to the universe, or just to a section?

Rewrites: George Knows came out as an ebook first and is coming out in paper at the end of May. I was told to go over the galley pages word by word before the editor would go to print. So I did. Each. Individual. Page. And Word. The words that I’d already rewritten at least a dozen times last year. The book has been out since December. Um. I had 25 pages of rewrites. I have no clue how two editors and I never noticed the errors, including a transgender Hodag dragon. Not good for a kid’s book.

I sort of wish there were Book By Number kits. Maybe I’d be able to figure this whole thing out.

Mindy Pic  Biography:

I’ve worked in a hazardous waste lab, where under the sign for the Right To Know Act, was added: ‘If you can figure it out’. I’ve been a metals tech, a bakery clerk, a professional gardener, taught human anatomy and ran two university greenhouses. Along the way I picked up my Master’s Degree in Biology, specializing in the population genetics of an endangered plant. I am also a top breeder, handler, and trainer of English springer spaniels under the prefix Muddy Paws. Every time I think I understand dogs, another one comes along and proves all my beliefs are totally wrong. Then I was gypped and ended up with a tubby, egotistical, magical basset as a muse. It’s a good thing my husband, the Tall Dude, has a real job, and makes great unpaid kennel help. I’m also a member of the SCBWI, since they seem happy to take my money. http://www.scbwi.org/members-public/mindy-mymudes


Find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mindy-…) and George at Basset Bones. (http://bassetbones.wordpress.com)


On Plot (Baseball Games and Beauty Pageants)

Mindy KlaskyMindy Klasky

Welcome back to my ramblings!  This week we’re going to talk about plot, specifically as it applies to romance novels.  As I mentioned last week, romance novels tend to have the same general plot:  people (usually two, often-but-not-always one male and one female)  meet, fall in love, face some great barrier to staying in love, conquer that barrier, and end up in love.  Therefore, the challenge in plotting a romance novel is to make that basic plan seem fresh.  That challenge is even greater when one is writing a series of romances–say, for example, a series of nine short, hot contemporary romance novels, like my Diamond Brides series.  I’ll use the first volume, Perfect Pitch, as an example.


Here’s the back-of-the-book-blurb for Perfect Pitch:

Reigning beauty queen Samantha Winger is launching her pet project, a music program for kids. All she has to do is follow the pageant’s rules—no smoking, drinking, or “cavorting” in public. That’s fine, until D.J. Thomas—God’s gift to baseball—throws her a wild pitch.  He slams her in an interview, and the video goes viral. Sam’s no shrinking violet. She parlays D.J.’s apology into a national T.V. appearance—and a very unexpected, very public kiss.

Soon, paparazzi catch the couple in a steamy make-out session, and Sam’s music program is on the block. The blazing hot relationship is threatened even more when D.J.’s son begs to trade in Little League for music class. Can Sam and D.J. sizzle past the sour notes and find their perfect pitch?

That’s pretty much the plot.  And look.  This is a romance.  There’s no such thing as a spoiler when it comes to a romance — Sam and D.J. end up together at the end of the book.

So, how do I make the plot of Perfect Pitch different, interesting, exciting?

First, I tie the key plot elements into the characters.  D.J. isn’t just a pitcher, and Sam isn’t just a beauty queen — those professions are the very reason they meet.  More than anything else, Sam wants to launch a music program for kids and more than anything else, D.J. wants his son to be a baseball star — those desires cause conflict when D.J.’s son wants music more than baseball.  

Second, I make the external plot (D.J. fights for his best season record ever; Samantha fights for her after-school music program) mirror the internal plot (D.J. and Sam fall in love, face conflict, overcome the conflict, stay in love).  At the moments when the external plot is rolling along — D.J. is pitching the best innings of his life; Sam is making the strongest business contacts of her career — the internal plot is going well (D.J. and Sam are meeting, flirting, and falling in love.)  When the external plot reaches its climax (will D.J. pitch the game of his life the night his father is watching?  Will Sam succeed with her music program before her reign ends), the internal plot also reaches its peak (the “Black Moment” of a romance novel — when all goes wrong and the relationship appears to be irrevocably destroyed.)   When the external plot resolves (okay, I won’t tell you exactly what happens), the internal plot resolves.

This pairing of internal and external gives a proper scaffolding to the story.  The novel works because all of the stresses — internal and external — are pulling in the same direction at the same time.  Tension is maintained, and readers turn pages.

Of course, the best plot in the world won’t help an author if she can’t sit down and get the words on the screen or page.  Next week, we’ll continue our discussion, focusing on the nuts and bolts of the writing life.  But for now, you can tell me which plots you’ve enjoyed, where the characters’ very nature drives the plot?  What about plots where the internal conflict and the external conflict proceed hand-in-glove?

You can buy Perfect Pitch here.

You can follow me on Twitter, or friend me on Facebook, or read my blog.

Formal Head Shot SquareMindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere in the world through stories. She never forgot that advice.  Mindy’s travels took her through multiple careers – from litigator to librarian to full-time writer. Mindy’s travels have also taken her through various literary genres for readers of all ages – from traditional fantasy to paranormal chick-lit to category romance, from middle-grade to young adult to adult.  In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her endless to-be-read shelf. Her husband and cats do their best to fill the left-over minutes.

Many thanks for stopping by!

Gail Z. Martin: Survival is Only The Beginning


Blaine McFadden endured six long years in the brutal Velant prison colony, exiled for murder. War devastated his homeland of Donderath, and destroyed the magic on which the Ascendant Kingdoms relied. Now, Blaine and a small group of fellow exiles have returned to a lawless wasteland, where unrestrained magic storms wreak havoc and monsters roam free.

Yet, amidst the chaos, rumors persist of a new magic that could restore the kingdoms. But the key lies within a dangerous, ancient ritual and a group of vanished survivors. Now, McFadden’s only hope is a small, desperate, quickly rallied army. Together they must make one last stand knowing that if they fail, the civilization of the Ascendant Kingdoms dies with them.

So reads the back cover blurb for my new novel, Reign of Ash (Orbit Books), the second book in my Blaine McFadden (Ascendant Kingdoms) series. Reign of FINAL

I’m enjoying writing a post-apocalyptic medieval epic fantasy, but it has its challenges. Namely, after the worst thing in the world happens, what next? A doomsday strike by the mages of the two warring kingdoms succeeded far beyond intentions, destroying not only the kings and the nobility (and thus the leadership of both kingdoms), but also destroying the bonds that enabled mortals to bend magic to their will. Magic reverts to a wild, uncontrollable state, and the kingdoms that relied on hundreds of small magics for convenience and everyday survival now find themselves on the brink of utter ruin.

We often think about apocalyptic novels as being modern or future-based, and the weapons of mass destruction being high tech. In Reign of Ash (and the first novel in the series, Ice Forged), the ‘M’ in WMD stands for ‘magical’, with equally devastating results.

Removing the ability to control magic in Blaine’s world is like taking down the power grid in our own—and the schematics to rebuild it. Storms of wild magic touch down intermittently, ripping open the fabric of reality. Monsters come through, and people disappear. Weather patterns change violently. Bandit gangs, highwaymen and warlords with private armies grab land and power.

Leaderless, with the infrastructure of the kingdom in ruins and its magic out of reach, Donderath struggles to survive. McFadden and his convict friends hold the key to bringing magic back under the control of mortals. But to do that, Blaine has to hold his own against self-styled warlords, outwit a vengeful immortal enemy, and figure out how to pull the shreds of magic back together—even if it kills him.

Find Reign of Ash in bookstores everywhere and online after April 1.


Gail Z. Martin is the author of Ice Forged in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga and Reign of Ash (Orbit Books, 2014), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen ) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn and The Dread) from Orbit Books. Gail’s new urban fantasy novel, Deadly Curiosities, debuts from Solaris Books in June, 2014. Iron and Blood, a Steampunk novel, will be published by Solaris in 2015. She is also the author of two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures. Find her at www.AscendantKingdoms.com, on Facebook as Winter Kingdoms, and on Twitter @GailZMartin.



Writing is a Magical Business


Alethea Kontis pic 11-13 Small Alethea Kontis

Confession: I wasn’t the best English student in the world. I was good at math. I majored in Chemistry. For this reason, I did not have my very first true creative writing class until Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp in 2003. I was 27.

Not that I had ever really stopped writing, of course…those of us so cursed by the Fates never lose the compulsion to tell a great tale. I still played around, sending weekly poems to my pen pals and journaling like crazy. I had a few novel ideas–including the one I write mostly while bored in Physics–and a bunch of short stories–including the one I wrote while bored in Inorganic Chem. I also had a screenplay and outline for a Movies for Dummies book that I wrote while…you guessed it…bored at my movie theatre job.

Thanks to my storytelling parents I was an avid reader by the age of five and, thanks to my Assistant Manager position at the Moves at Polo, I saw pretty much every single film that released between 1991 and 1998. I had a great mind for story, a fabulous ear for dialogue, and I knew every cliché in the book.

At least, I thought I did.

Who knew that describing your character in a mirror was a typical lazy-author cheat? Who knew that the majority of Chosen Ones have green eyes? Who knew that you shouldn’t have two main characters whose names rhyme…or start with the same letter…and that the first letter that pops into your mind is usually “A”, because we’re trained to think alphabetically?

From manuscript format to MacGuffins…my brains were on the verge of leaking out my ears as I tried to soak in every word of that class. I took a lot of notes that week. Some things I can still reference on the internet. But one cliché in particular stuck with me: “Just because they tell you to write what you know doesn’t mean you should make your main character a writer.”

This rule was mostly brought about as a result of Stephen King (Shining, Misery) and Ray Bradbury (Death is a Lonely Business, Graveyard for Lunatics), who wrote Author Main Characters and did them well. But those main characters were MEN. How about Female Author Main Character? One in particular changed my life in 1984, proving to a young, impressionable Alethea that she could have the writing and the adventure and the guy and everything else her heart desired.

That woman was Joan Wilder.

Shortly after returning from Boot Camp, a fellow camper (Eric James Stone) helped me set up a Blogger account, and I started keeping my journal online, for all the world to see. In part, it was (and still is) an ongoing letter to my Mom, telling her about my life and letting her know that I was okay (because of her three daughters I am the least likely to pick up the phone). I started to look for the magic in my own life, stories I could tell that would amuse her.

And then the stories started to find me. I got one book contract, and then another. I made friends with a bestselling romance author and an SF Grand Dame. Rainbows started falling out of the sky. My best friend got pregnant. My grandmother got dementia. I fell in love with a man from the other side of the ocean and flew halfway across the world to meet him. I kept adventuring and keeping logs of my travels, living vicariously for my coworkers who felt stuck in their small town.

Within the space of a few years, my world completely changed. And when I looked back, I realized that I had a story–a story about a frumpy, scared girl who chooses the brave path and realizes that her life is a thousand times more amazing than she ever imagined, full of magic and misery and everything in between.

AletheaCoverApril2014I called the story BEAUTY & DYNAMITE, but I might have just as easily called it BECOMING JOAN WILDER.

Call me a cliché if you will, but it’s my life. It can’t be written any other way. So many women want to “live the fairy tale,” but I’m here to tell you: it’s not all sunshine and puppy dogs. But sunshine and puppy dogs still exist. Some things are meant to be.

And some things are just meant to be great stories.  


Bio: New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a goddess, a force of nature, and a mess. She’s known for screwing up the alphabet, scolding vampire hunters, turning garden gnomes into mad scientists, and making sense out of fairy tales.Alethea is the co-author of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter Companion, and penned the AlphaOops series of picture books. Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines. She has done multiple collaborations with Eisner winning artist J.K. Lee, including The Wonderland Alphabet and Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome. Her YA fairy tale novel,Enchanted, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012, was nominated for both the Andre Norton Award and the Audie Award in 2013, and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea now lives in Northern Virginia with her Fairy Godfamily. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.You can find Princess Alethea online at: www.aletheakontis.com.

YouTube (featuring “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants”)

YouTube 2  More Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants

Books: Hero (second in the Woodcutter Sisters series) and Wild & Wishful, Dark & Dreaming (short story collection), both released on October 2013. Upcoming: Revised & Extended edition of Beauty & Dynamite (out of print essay collection) in April, and Book Three of Woodcutter Sisters in Fall 2014.

Brandy Schillace: On Character Building (One Donut Shop at a Time)


Brandy SchillaceI have a great affinity for donut shops…But not because I am especially fond of pastries.

It has more to do with the reality of such places. Here, the mundane becomes concrete and tangible: the florescent pink door handle, the flickering light of glass cases, the smell of coffee and powdered sugar (and crisping dough creations in the back-room oven). From the badly designed Styrofoam cups–with lids that never quite fit–to the faux wood shelves attempting to capture a sense of “rustique,” the donut shop is quintessential for one of my favorite fiction exercises… the character build.

Why? Why not create character in a chic Parisian cafe? Or a veranda in Venice? Or a yacht off the Caribbean coast? You could. But the goal is to create a real, live character–someone readers can identify with and believe in. Unless you spend a great deal of time traveling to or researching those three suggested locales, instead of real, you’ll likely get ideal. And frankly, ideal people aren’t very interesting.

Fundamentally, character-building, like world-building, requires research. The difference tends to lie in dynamism versus stasis. Usually, once we have a map of our landscape, it remains the solid surface upon which and through which change happens. One of my novels takes place in Newport News, Virginia. I can rearrange street names a bit for effect, but I can’t add a mountain range in middle of town (unless that happens to be part of the plot—Newport News and the Unexpected Everest). The setting does influence the characters, though, and characters do change. They talk, too, and if you haven’t a good foundation for your character, dialogue is endlessly difficult. So how do we begin?

Over the past few years, I’ve taught a number of college-level creative writing classes, and I’ve learned one powerful truth: no one likes a group assignment. Fiction writing is personal and my students, many of whom are very unsure on their authorial legs, are horrified at sharing. For those of us who write regularly (published or unpublished, fiction or non-fiction), we know that the golden rule of becoming a better writer is to have readers and reader-feedback. But assume for a moment that you don’t know that—or that you are, like my students, brand new to the experience. It can be utterly horrifying. So, I found several strategies very useful for getting a writer out of their own head, and these work equally well for a more seasoned writer stuck in the character-building no-man’s-land.

First, we asked a writer to give us the name of her lead character and a series of traits. This student, who I’ll call “Sue,” had fleshed him out a bit already: Male, fair complexion, a bit wishy-washy, looking for work. The plot revolved around the main character accepting a dodgy job offer, so this way of perceiving him made plenty of sense. But none of us could “see” the character yet, and Sue had trouble finding his voice. So we did an experiment—and I asked the unthinkable:

“Sue, I want you to sit quietly for the next ten minutes and let the class take over your character.”

high-stakes-frontcoverIf I had asked her to wrestle live octopi while wearing a meat-suit in shark-infested waters, the result would have been about the same. But this was a necessary intervention. For the next ten minutes, regardless of the plot, Sue’s classmates came up with additional traits. He was gluten intolerant and had other food allergies. He’d broken up with his girlfriend the week before. He had a green thumb for houseplants. His sweater was on backwards. Etc., etc. The scene was slightly frenzied; it was amazing to behold the creativity spawned by this trait list. Some of the suggestions were rather silly. Others ended up being important (and in fact, the character remained a sufferer of Celiac disease). It didn’t matter that Sue would throw away much of the suggested material as inappropriate or unnecessary to the story. Her hero had become real to the rest of us and so also to Sue; his hesitant step as he entered the tea shop, awkwardly turning down his interviewer’s offer of pastry because of allergies, sealed him in our minds. And of course, the scene developed at the same time. Sue had seen the character through the eyes of other people, and the gritty not-glamorous reality of a Midwestern bubble-tea shop suddenly infused the scene with new life. And of course, it helped that there was a bubble-tea shop not far from campus—and that research might involve a beverage and people watching.

I dub my classes “no-fear creative writing” because I do, in fact, ask them to perform feats of great boldness in the face of insecurity. Another exercise actually required students to trade main characters, putting them in entirely new scenes and time periods to practice the relationship between scene, setting, and character. I imagine I’ve been cursed a-plenty, but I’ve also witnessed great successes, particularly with dialogue. On March 21st, Stephen Leigh spoke extensively about dialogue (and its discontents). As he explains, “Your plot will force your characters to respond in some manner.  How they respond to the stimulus of the plot is characterization.” The same may be said of setting; our gluten-free, nervous job-seeker would look very different if plunged, suddenly, into Cold-War intrigue as a spy—but if we have developed that firm foundation, he will nonetheless respond and speak with the same voice.  

SO, if you are struggling with characterization, I have two strategies to suggest. First, go to the donut shop, the greasy spoon, the local pub. Go to the laundry mat, the barbecue, the chili cook off. Let the warmth and light of real places and people (with the grit and the soot, the dirt and the smudge, the cackle and the gossip) soak into your creative synapses. Let the dung of the ordinary fertilize your garden. Second, share these characters. Try out some of the exercises above. Let people intrude upon your vision and so expand it. You don’t need to keep it all, but you may learn from the experience and see with fresh eyes. In the end, you might be very surprised by what you end up with…you might find that the characters don’t look the way you expected or behave the way you want. They might argue with you, even. Good. That means you have done the hard part–you created something with vittles, innards, guts. In general, they will take over the rest (whether you want them to or not).

We will look more specifically at plot (what to do with the characters once you’ve got them) next time. For now, let’s talk about strategies—these or your own. I look forward to your comments!


Author, historian, and adventurer at the intersection, Brandy Schillace spends her time in the mist-shrouded alleyways between literature and medicine. Taking a cue from Edward Gorey and John Bellairs, she writes Gothic fiction with a medical twist. Her first series, The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles, will be out spring 2014 with Cooperative Trade. Dr. Schillace is research associate at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, managing editor of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, book reviewer for the Huffington Post, and chief editor for the Fiction Reboot and Daily Dose blog. She helps develop medical humanities curriculum for the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College and teaches for Case Western Reserve University’s SAGES program. Her non-fiction book, Death’s Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying can Tell us about Life and Living, will be released in 2015 with Elliott and Thompson.

Website: http://brandyschillace.com/
Blog’s “about” page: http://fictionreboot-dailydose.com/
Goodreads book page: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20927933-high-stakes

Getting Here


<Looks around!> Wow! <Fangirl squee!> <Thud!>

What am I doing here, on this blog, with people that I admire for their strong characters, their ability to give me a vacation from life, for making me think?

 Got me. I’m not famous. Not as a writer, anyhow. Now, if you are into dogs or plants, but this blog has nothing to do with any of that.

 So here I am, surrounded by those I admire. And stalk. I go to their signings, I follow their pages and blogs and tweets. I want to know more about them. How do they get their ideas? Where do they work? What famous person did they model their characters after?

 I want to be the one that finds out what happens in the next book before anyone else.

 Boy, that IS stalkerish.

 I could stalk, though, if I didn’t know about all these great authors. Where does anyone find out about these amazing books? Publishers aren’t doing a lot of promo anymore. The internet is swamped with blogs about everything from making a good cup of tea to how to tie a fly. Which sounds kind of kinky, but isn’t.  The library may carry the book, but where is it hidden? The brick and mortar stores are becoming coffee shops with a few books and a lot of games.

 The Internet is filled with more eBooks than the Library at Alexandria, and coming from a stalker fan, most wouldn’t worth the paper they weren’t printed on.

 So, how does anyone get known without being known in the first place? In the late 1990’s I became involved in a new scheme for marketing. They’d send me something interesting, and I’d try it and tell people about it. The company would have me write reviews for each encounter, and I’d get more points for better promotions. It was the beginning of formalized Word of Mouth advertising. I’ll tell you, I received some amazing things, as well as some that were awful. I was totally honest about each item, and ended up at the top of the Bzzagent hive.

 In the interim, social media took off, and I was drawn into ‘street teams’ for writers I’d learned about from well-known authors. Those authors would actually write back to us, sharing bits of their new works, or offer small prizes for bringing new readers into the fold. I wrote reviews, I talked to my friends, and I mentioned them on my social media sites.

 Suddenly, the authors were overnight sensations. The books may have been out for a while, but suddenly their names were out there. More street teams popped up, driven by street cults. I was suddenly a Grimlet, a Moxie, a Tart, and a Beast Claw. I did what I adore: share what I love with my friends, who are like-minded. Who knew that English Springer Spaniel breeders love Urban Fantasy?

 The teams hand out bookmarks, vote with intense fervor for favorite boyfriends, most kickass hero, and most bitable cheeks. No, I didn’t make that up, I just didn’t vote. The teams looked for blogs with the contests and told the other members to vote, and publicize.

 They wrote, they reviewed; they pushed their favorite writer’s into the spotlight.

 That’s step one.

 Second, blog tours. I hear you: how many times can you answer the same question, over and over and over again? How many books do you want people to read?

 The blog questions might be the same, but it doesn’t mean you have to answer them the same way. Your characters are pretty popular—let them talk for you.

 Prewrite blogs when you have the time. What did you do on vacation? What do you eat? More importantly, what do YOU READ? Keep them for when you’re under deadline and still have PR to do.

 One warning; be careful who you recommend. I don’t own a specific writing blog, but I do recommend books on my Facebook pages and people do read them. A lot of people read my page. I suggested someone’s book I hadn’t read because she asked. Boy, I wish I hadn’t. Two of my friends wrote to me saying they didn’t understand how I could have enjoyed her book, it was poorly written and the editing was awful. I had to come clean, say it wasn’t a friend, I did it as a favor and will never post again if I didn’t truly enjoy the book. I won’t review a book unless it’s five stars. I won’t finish a book unless it’s worth five stars. And now my secret is out, all sorts of friends of mine are going to know why I never wrote a review.

 Okay, so you don’t have time for blogging and setting up street teams. More WOM (word of mouth). Ask. Faith Hunter pushed me into doing something I was already doing for her. I forced her to start a street team, and when I didn’t like the scheduling of her blogs, I found someone on her team that knew how to do it. Thank goodness. She’s another Beast Claw, who coincidently happens to live nearby. She’s meticulous. I’m insane. A marriage made over paper. Let’s Talk Promotions started.

georgeknows333x500-1 I guess that’s why I’m here, surrounded by people that I truly admire. Well, that, and to mention ‘George Knows’ is coming out in paperback at the end of May from MuseItUp. My publisher is tiny, my name non-existent, and George is an egotistical basset hound familiar. Not exactly best-seller material.

 Yet he came out number 5 under children’s books dogs, and number 33 for all children’s books on Amazon. The people who bought him also bought Darynda Jones, Faith Hunter, and Ilona Andrews. Guess who helped pimp my book?

 I’m intrigued by where this is going. I want to know if George will do better or worse in paperback. I want to know how far I can get the word out. I want to know how many more coffee-dogwashes I can do signings at. After all, Tillie’s Tale is coming out next.

 I did mention I’m the crazy half of Let’s Talk?

Mindy Pic Biography
I’ve worked in a hazardous waste lab, where under the sign for the Right To Know law, was added: if you can figure it out. I’ve been a metals tech, a bakery clerk, a professional gardener, and taught human anatomy and ran two university greenhouses. Along the way I picked up my Master’s Degree in Biology, specializing in the population genetics of a phallic flowered endangered plant. I am also a top breeder, handler, trainer of English springer spaniels, with three generations in the equivalent of the National Club’s (ESSFTA) hall of fame. Every time I think I know dogs, another dog comes along and proves my beliefs are totally wrong. The Muddy Paws Pack lets me think I’m the alpha while walking right over me. If it wasn’t for my Tall Dude, I don’t know where I’d be. Someone needs to be kennel help.

 Now I’m a partner with Let’s Talk Promotions (http://www.ltpromos.com).  I’m also bullied by an egotistical magical basset who thinks my springers are dumb. He insists that since I sort of understand dogs, he’d make do and use my fingers to tell his stories. The first was George Knows, the second will be Tillie’s Tale, both are paranormal midgrade mysteries, likened to Nancy Drools. My first short story, Zombies, A Love Story, was published by Pill Hill as part of their anthology, Rotting Tales. The peer reviewed American Journal of Botany published my article Morphological and Genetic Variability In Plantago cordata, a Threatened Aquatic Plant, as well as contributing to other articles in other botanical references, textbooks and Dog Fancy.



On Character (Baseball Players and the Women Who Love Them)

Mindy KlaskyMindy Klasky

Hello folks!  (::waves madly to old friends and new::) 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on Magical Words.  A lot has been going on in my writing life, as culminated in yesterday’s launch of the Diamond Brides Series.  Now bear with me.  I know that, here at MW, we primarily focus on speculative fiction.  And I know that Diamond Brides is a series of nine short, hot contemporary romance novels.  There is not a single fantasy element in the series, and the books definitely aren’t science fiction.  But over the course of the next four weeks, I look forward to explaining how my romance novels dovetail with my speculative fiction work, how the craft lessons I learned in the SF&F genres carried over to romance, and how writing is writing, no matter what labels we apply.  (Yeah, that’s an ambitious goal, for four posts.  We’ll see how close we get, by the end of the month!)

Let’s start with a few (over-)generalizations about the romance genre.  Of the major genre categories (romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and western), romance is arguably the most dependent on tropes, as demonstrated by a simple overarching plot.  Every romance has people (usually two, often-but-not-always one male and one female) who meet, fall in love, face some great barrier to staying in love, conquer that barrier, and end up in love.  (In the romance trade, we call that ending an HEA — Happily Ever After — and if there isn’t an HEA (or, at the very least, a Happy For Now), then the book simply isn’t a romance.  Romance genre books do not end with the death of one or more of the lovers.  Romeo and Juliet is not a romance, in the genre sense of the word.)

Because of this reliance on a common overarching plot, other elements of writing become much more important in romance than they are in other genres.  Romances must have great characters.  They often have amazing settings, including settings in actual historical time periods, or in fantasy or SF worlds.  And, of course, they have great emotion, including (in some romances) descriptions of physical sex.


Today, we’ll focus on characters.  Specifically, I’ll use examples from Perfect Pitch, the first volume of my Diamond Brides Series, which launched yesterday (Opening Day of the Major League baseball season!)  My romance novel will live or die by the likability of the characters. (“Likability” is not the same thing as being perfect.  My characters have flaws, and they make mistakes.  But the reader has t root for them, every step of the way.)

My hero is a pitcher for the Raleigh Rockets.  My heroine is a beauty queen. 

Great.  Half my readers (maybe more) know nothing about baseball.  They may even hate the sport.  They may (like me) bear deep scars from being chosen last for every sports team in every phys ed class they ever took.  Another boatload of my readers could care less about beauty pageants; some people think they’re silly, some think they’re exploitative, some think they’re just plain stupid.  How do I build likability in the midst of those biases?

First, I make my characters human.  D.J. Thomas isn’t just a random pitcher.  He’s the son of a Hall of Fame pitcher, and he’s desperately struggling to live up to his father’s expectations.  He’s a single father of a young son, hoping to help his son succeed beyond his own wildest dreams.  He’s a man who is experiencing the best year of his professional life, but who understands that failure (in the form of physical trauma) is just around the corner. 

Now, my readers don’t have to know or care about baseball.  Instead, they have to sympathize with a son’s effort to win his father’s love.  They have to care about a father’s love for his child.  They have to comprehend the desire to excel, even on the outer edge of one’s ability.  Those issues are far closer to universal than “baseball player pitches the season of his life.”

Similarly, Samantha Winger isn’t a stereotypical beauty queen.  She’s a skilled musician who longs to bring the joy of music to children.  She’s a woman who moved multiple times while she was growing up, keeping her from ever putting down roots.  She’s a professional woman bound to honor certain rules in the workplace, even when those rules are unreasonably restrictive.

See what I’m doing there?  My readers don’t have to like tiaras and ballgowns.  Instead, they have to understand having and sharing a passion.  They have to “get” the feelings of always being new in the crowd, never being settled.  They have to know what it’s like to live with unfairness.

The likability is in the details.  It’s in the individual traits that make D.J. and Samantha into people instead of cardboard cutouts.  It flavors everything about how they meet, how they interact, how they resolve their conflicts.

But that’s sounding dangerously like “plot”.  And that’s what we’ll talk about next week :-)  For now, you can tell me which characters you think are especially well done — in romance, or any other genre!  Why do you think they work so well?  What makes them different from every other character in that genre?

You can buy Perfect Pitch here.

You can follow me on Twitter, or friend me on Facebook, or read my blog.

Formal Head Shot SquareMindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere in the world through stories. She never forgot that advice.  Mindy’s travels took her through multiple careers – from litigator to librarian to full-time writer. Mindy’s travels have also taken her through various literary genres for readers of all ages – from traditional fantasy to paranormal chick-lit to category romance, from middle-grade to young adult to adult.  In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her endless to-be-read shelf. Her husband and cats do their best to fill the left-over minutes.

Many thanks for stopping by!