Monday, July 27, 2015

A First-timer's #RWA15 Highlights

by J. Lea López

Broadway, baby!
Last week I attended the Romance Writers of America national conference for the first time. It was held in New York City, which was both amazing and slightly overwhelming for my introverted brain. But aside from the noise and the hustle and bustle of thousands of other people at nearly all times, there were dozens of workshops and speakers to inspire and inform attendees. Now, I will be completely honest with you: I was traveling back home today (yesterday when you read this) and I'm exhausted from the week, and my brain is a bit mushy from all the information swimming around in it. So instead of a critical analysis of the conference, or an in-depth discussion of some of the things I learned, this post will cover some of my highlights from the conference in small tidbits. In no particular order, here are my RWA conference highlights.
  • Kresley Cole's brilliant technique for avoiding the dreaded back story info dump. She uses brackets and symbols (such as [**] or something similar) to mark every time she talks about a character's back story while she's writing. You could use a different symbol for your hero and heroine to track both of them. Then you simply do a search for those brackets/symbols and use the navigation pane in Word to see how well you've spaced out that information throughout the story. I think this is an especially great technique for writers who like visual representations.
  • Sherry Thomas and subtext. I love subtext, which is all the stuff in a story that is implied under the surface, but never explicitly stated. Author Sherry Thomas gave a great presentation on subtext, and one of the great things she said was, "Subtext well done does not call attention to itself." I wasn't familiar with her as an author prior to the conference, and even though most of her romances are historical (which is not my favorite subgenre), the way she spoke about subtext during her presentation, and her humor and fun personality during that presentation and also another panel I attended have me wanting to rush out and pick up one of her books.
  • Jenny Crusie's presentation on turning points and character. This was one of the presentations that I wish every author could attend at some point. The presentation notes and handout are available on her blog (along with those from her Motif and Metaphor presentation that I was unable to attend) so anyone who is curious can at least look at those notes. The general concept of turning points was nothing new to me, but she expanded and explained it in a way I'd never encountered before. I found myself thinking about my WIP a lot during the lecture and how I had already incorporated the technique to some extent, and also how I might be able to further incorporate turning points. A major takeaway from this presentation was the symbiotic relationship of plot and character: characters change because things happen, and things happen because the characters change. While it may seem obvious, it's a complex relationship.
  • Your proofreader is not your copy editor. This presentation was given by Carina Press editor Angela James. I often see conflicting opinions and expectations about what the different levels of editing actually entail. She explained, in depth, the four levels of editing at Carina Press, as well as tips for hiring the right editor if you're looking for a freelancer. But in short, these are the different levels of editing: 
    • Developmental editing - Macro level; all about the story and little about the mechanics of writing
    • Line Editing - Little to do with the story itself and everything to do with the mechanics of writing
    • Copy Editing (or final line edits) - Very detail-oriented look at story, craft, and grammar usage, with some overlap of things covered in developmental and line editing
    • Proofreading - The final, micro-detailed pass; catches any missed errors as well as any that were introduced during previous editing steps
  • Championing the importance of an engaging, well-written story with characters readers love. Throughout many of the workshops I attended, whether they were about the craft of writing or trends in publishing, there was this constant positive message about writing your
    Keynote speaker Barbara Freethy
    story and utilizing techniques in the way that best fits your story. I didn't feel like anyone was encouraging writers to chase cash trends, and the craft sessions weren't about "rules" of writing.
  • Sarah Wendell! There were workshops about diversity in romance, and the topic also came up during a panel discussion about trends in romance publishing. Sarah Wendell, of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, was on that panel, and she differentiated the need and desire for more diversity in romances from any trend. Trends rise in popularity and then disappear. Diversity, she said, is not a trend, but rather a necessity to accurately reflect our society. I wanted to cheer. And then I had a bit of a fangirl moment when she cheered my question about the market for more beta heroes in romance. So basically we're best friends now. That's how that works, right?
And now, while I said this list was in no particular order, I did actually save the best for last. The biggest highlight of the entire experience was getting to meet (some for the first time) and talk shop with a small group of amazing author friends from across the globe. We chat online and compare notes on writing and business stuff, but getting to do that in person made it even more special. To my friends, authors Julie Farrell (from the UK), Jean Oram (from Canada), Lucy Marsden, Evelyn Adams, Cali MacKay, Mallory Crowe, and Lori Sjoberg: Thank you ladies for helping to make my first RWA conference a lot of fun! Can't wait to do it again sometime.

If you were at the conference, what were some of your highlights?

J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She also provides freelance copyediting focused on romance and erotica as The Mistress With the Red Pen. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Query Verb Power!

by Jemi Fraser

Verbs are awesome!

Oops. Are.

Not so awesome.

Obviously, we need to use 'to be' verbs in our stories. I imagine someone somewhere has written a story without using any 'to be' verbs, but I'm never going to attempt it. Contrived exercises like that drive me batty.

The being verbs can be passive. Boring. Not always, of course, but sometimes. And, in our writing, we need to avoid the boring. This is especially true in a query. Passive verbs and boring writing will both turn off agents - quickly. I've pulled out an old query to find out what verbs (in order) I used at the time...


If you're querying, or planning on it, check out your verbs in a list like this without the rest of the query. Do they convey action and/or the flow of your story? Do they match the style of writing in your story? Do they implore the agent to read on?

If not, maybe it's time to change it up.

Like many of my fellow FTWAers, I've learned a lot of my writing/querying tips from the awesome people over at Agent Query Connect. There's a forum for query help if you're so inclined.

Anyone willing to share the first 3 verbs of their query or story?

Jemi Fraser is (ACK!! Time to rewrite the bio!) an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Monday, July 13, 2015

To Kill a Watchman

by S. L. Duncan

As I write this, the summer heat has fallen upon Alabama and cocked it up good and proper. Ain’t nothing working right. Temperatures are topping out in the upper nineties and the heat index is in the triple digits. Every day, the weatherman promises a twenty percent of something that’ll never come. I suspect all weathermen were once weatherboys that liked to poke at frogs and lizards with sharp sticks.

It’s the humidity, you see. It makes people weird.

These days nothing is weirder or more talked about than the imminent release of an actual book written by the actual Harper Lee. Y’all may not know this, but Alabama is a bit protective of its favorite author. Might be because they share so much in common. Both are capable of giving the world beauty, controversy, and most assuredly, both are probably just a little bit crazy as hell.

Over the years, the acclaimed author has lived a reclusive life. She’s kept to herself, managing to avoid TMZ, communicating only through her legal representation, ever since her sister (and former lawyer) Alice died. From the outside looking in, Lee has completely disengaged from the world at large. And yet, those that know her and see her and visit with her say she’s still just good ol’ Nelle, living her life in Monroeville like most other residents do – quietly, and unconcerned what the outsiders think. Most Birmingham and Montgomery reporters that have journeyed south and gathered enough courage to visit her front door did so at the risk of threats of arrest for trespassing.

Of course, being threatened by Harper Lee is a bit of a rite of passage for reporters around these parts.

That’s a story you could tell for years.

But here we are, in the sitting, wet heat of Alabama, and most of us are in a bit of a state of shock. In fact, I’ve not taken a poll, but I suspect that before the news broke, more people in this state would be less surprised to see Jesus Christ himself in a Barnes and Noble, than they would a second book by Harper Lee. But in a matter of hours, that’s exactly what is going to happen: A second coming.

The early reviews point to a very different world for Scout and Atticus Finch, and those that were fans of To Kill a Mockingbird are a bit troubled. Scout has grown up and become a woman not content with the expectations set upon her by the world, and Atticus it seems has become a racist.

This damn heat, y’all.

I’ll be honest. I’m not sure how or if things will change after the release of Go Set a Watchman. All this happens as I’m trying desperately to cross the finish line on time for the last book in my three book deal, a deadline which also happens to be the publication date of my second book. I find it amazing that Harper Lee, excuse me, Pulitzer Prize-winning Harper Lee, may be experiencing a lot of the same anxiety that I am. Will this sequel meet expectations? Will people want to read it? Will it make the first book better or worse?

We’ll both find out soon enough. In the meantime, I’ve got to finish my third book. Nelle is probably just drafting some early notes for her third release. We can expect publication sometime in the summer of 2068.

Should be a hot one.

S.L. Duncan is the author of THE REVELATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, available now (ebook for $.99 through July!), and the upcoming SALVATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, (August 2015, Medallion Press), available now for preorder. You can find him on twitter @SLDuncanBooks and occasionally blogging at

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Celebratory Giveaway From FTWA!

It's summer, and while the dog days are not quite upon us yet, the initial relief of sunshine and warm breezes may have lost their allure as those exact things sometimes heap guilt upon writers when they hole up inside their cave to crank out words.

We want to celebrate an upcoming pub date for one of FTWA's own, S.L. Duncan, whose sophomore novel, THE SALVATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, releases next month. What's that? You haven't read the first one yet? No worries, we're giving away 10 Kindle copies, internationally.

And by the way, those e-readers can go outside, too. ;)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writer's Dreamland: the good, the bad and the ugly

by Cat Woods

A few weeks ago, I received a message in my inbox. It came from an editor I was courting about a chapter book series. I was on my phone at the time, and the message with the first few words popped up on my screen:

What are you, a deaf mute?

A second later, another email popped up from a different editor:

You have an inflated sense of self.

I can't begin to describe the feelings that washed over me. Terror, confusion, anger...I was literally sweating and couldn't force myself to open the email to read the scathing rejections I knew were coming my way.

You see, we writers bust our butts to do things right. We work hard to balance story, plot, character, description and dialogue. We want to woo our agents, editors and public with our wonderful words. What we don't want is a rejection so hurtful we never pick up our pens again.

I rolled over and snuggled closer to Dear Hubby, thankful my nightmare was nothing more than a dream.

Ah, I know what you're thinking. I just cheated you out of a good rejection story. I started my piece with a dream, which is a huge no-no 99.9% of the time. But this dream happened to be real and since it isn't the opening scene of a novel I'm trying to pitch, I thought we could dissect it together, as I'm a huge proponent of believing my dreams.

So, long story short, I am a pretentious deaf-mute. At least according to the monsters trolling my sleep. Or am I?

Instead of letting my dream ruffle my writing feathers, I took the rejections seriously. What about my writing could possibly make me seem like a deaf mute? The answer was actually quite simple. I am a sparse writer in regards to description. I tend to favor the less is more approach and let my readers fill in the details with their own imaginations. (Personally, I feel my dream rejection would have been more solid if it had called me a blind mute, but beggars can't be choosy, and dream editors apparently aren't perfect.)

That said, I had something solid to consider before actually sending my submission out to the editor I want to woo.

That's the good part of dreams. If we stop a second to consider what our subconscious is trying to tell us, we may just learn a thing or two.

The bad part of dreams: dreams are so tempting to use in our writing because we dream every time our heads hit the pillow. Dreams are an integral part of our night life. They help us sort through problems. They lend us support and can be a huge source of inspiration. It is an easy trap to start stories with dreams, solve our MC's problems with dreams or to finish off a plot line with the whole "it was nothing more than a bad dream" solution. Readers tend to hate these devices, and for good reason. They are over-used and seldom done in a way that doesn't feel trite. Often, readers feel cheated out of a good story.

The ugly: dreams can be dream killers. Inflated sense of self. What the heck does that mean? I try to be humble. I don't like to be snobby or snotty or pretentious. And while I know that good intentions don't always work out the way we want them to and that we mere mortals tend to be really bad judges of our own characters, I'm not quite sure how to interpret this dreamy tidbit.

Inflated sense of self.

That really hurts. It rubs raw my self confidence and makes me second guess what I'm doing and why. It makes me want to stuff the submission package I've been laboring over into a huge e-file and leave it there for the cyber monkeys to steal the next time they are being naughty.

Inflated sense of self.

This terrifies me. Does it mean that my writing sucks? Or that my subconscious is begging me to quit planning a series when I'm incapable of following through? I have no idea: I was too busy sweating and trembling and being too much of a baby to open the dreammail and find out.

All I really know is that dreams have an ugly side that has nothing to do with trying to run away from a murderer and not being able to move our legs. They have the uncanny ability to make us second guess ourselves and believe things that may or may not have any truth in them.

As writers, it's ironic that our waking dreams of hitting it big can clash so painfully with our night terrors. Finding the right balance is crucial to our success--and our sanity.

So, dear readers, what writerly dreams have haunted you? How much stock do you put in your dreams, and how do you let them affect your writing? How, if ever, have you used a dream in your writing? What are your pet peeves when reading about dreams in novels?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods loves to dream. In college, she kept a dream journal for her psych class and found that her subconscious is as quirky as her waking self. She also learned that her uncanny ability to change her dreams is called lucid dreaming. She'd been "changing the channel" on her nightmares since she was bit in the foot by a wolf in the second grade, and thought that doing so was normal. Alas, nothing about Cat is normal except her dream to write. For a peek into her whimsical life, you can find her at Word from the Woods or Cat 4 Kids.