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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Article: I Am A Writer

I Am A Writer

by Allie Boniface


I am a writer. 

There, I’ve said it. Out loud. In person. To a stranger on the subway (well, maybe not). 

Those four words haven’t come easy for me, though I’ve been scribbling away at story ideas for most of my life. Until about a year ago, I never said them at all. Oh, “I enjoy writing” or “I have a novel I’m working on” might have slipped out in casual conversation. But I never defined myself as a “writer” until recently. 

No more!  

Here is what I’ve discovered: whether you write for publication, for escape, or for fun, whether you write every day or a few days every month, you are in fact a writer. Embrace that title. Cherish it. Defend it. Most important, make time for it. Three things you must do: 

1. Make a space for yourself. It doesn’t matter if that space is a corner of your living room, a rickety desk below a basement window, or the spare bedroom cluttered with leftover stuffed animals. Clear things away, arrange your computer/your notepad and pens/your books filled with writing prompts and inspiration, and make it your own. Set up something that inspires you: a picture, a letter from a loved one, a candle. This is the place you’ll go to create. This is the place that belongs to you when you write, even if it means packing it up when the rest of the family comes home or the in-laws sleep over. This space makes you a writer.

2. Make time for yourself. Decide how much time you can devote to writing each day/each week/each month. It might vary. It might not be as much as you’d like, at first. But everyone can find time. Get up 30 minutes earlier in the mornings. Ask your spouse or a friend to watch the kids for 20 minutes in the evening. Give up a television show and use that hour to write instead. Make some coffee and stay up when the rest of the house goes to bed. But find time in your day and commit to it. This time makes you a writer.

3. Make rules for the rest of them. Lay some ground rules for anyone who’s around when you’re writing. One writer used to tell her kids, right before she locked herself in her office, “Unless there’s blood or fire, don’t interrupt me.” Make your writing time sacred. Do not allow interruptions. Set up a plan where your kids will start dinner or do their homework while you write. Or agree to have lunch with your co-workers on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that lunch breaks on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are devoted to your writing. These rules make you a writer.
 
You do not need a million dollar advance, a byline, a publisher, or even a finished story to be a writer. If you have the heart, the desire, and the discipline to set down words and explore new worlds, then you are a writer. Period.

About the Author: Allie Boniface is a romance novelist and high school English teacher living with her husband in the northern New York City suburbs. She’s had a soft spot for love stories and happy endings since the time she could read, and she’s been caught scribbling story ideas on scrap paper (when she should have been paying attention to something else) too many times to count. When she’s not writing, shoveling snow, or grading papers, she’s traveling the United States and Europe in search of sunshine, back roads, and the perfect little pub. Visit Allie’s website to find out release dates and all the latest news, or hear what’s on her mind today at her blog.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Author Interview: Elaine Cantrell

AUTHOR INTERVIEW:
Elaine Cantrell

The Long and the Short of It would like to welcome Elaine Cantrell this week. Elaine has a new book out entitled The Welcome Inn which is published by Wings ePress. I asked her to tell me about the characters and the situation they find themselves in at The Welcome Inn.

 “My hero is Buck Abercrombie,” she said. “Buck's big, brawny, and drop dead gorgeous, but he hasn't had an easy time of it. His parents died when he was in his early twenties, and he had to raise his younger brother Travis. He feels guilty because Travis didn't turn out too well.  Besides that, his first marriage failed miserably. He's scared of women, and he'll never let one get close enough to hurt him again. He owns a construction company, and he bought The Welcome Inn and plans to renovate it.  

“Julianna Martin is my heroine,” she continues. “Julianna has auburn hair, green eyes, and enough curves to prove she's a woman. Her mother taught her to be a strong, self-sufficient woman, and she is. She doesn't need a man in her life, thank you very much. She happens to be the manager of The Welcome Inn, and she's super ticked off at Buck Abercrombie. She wanted to buy the Inn herself, but the bank wouldn't give her a loan. Now, Buck comes along and reaps the benefits of all her hard work. 

“Folks, there's bound to be sparks flying.” 

Elaine has a unique story about what inspired her to write her first book. Many of us have a favorite author who challenged us, or we have always written or told stories. And, like a lot of us, Elaine had always wanted to write, but never did anything about it. One day, though, her younger son came home and told her he had written one. That was first. Second, a friend of hers—an English teacher—made a life-changing suggestion. “She said that we should both write a book and critique each other’s work, and that’s what we did. The rest is history.” 

I asked her for advice for new writers. She told me, “Don’t take no for an answer. You’ll get a long of no’s, but don’t quit. The day will come when you’ll get a yes.” Another piece of advice she didn’t tell me directly, but I’m sure she’d agree. Make sure you save your drafts with file names that are descriptive. At midnight the night before the interview she was correcting a major mistake. “I have two versions of the same work in progress because one is spicier than the other,” she told me. “I was making corrections to the sweeter version when I realized that I had mixed them up. They're all jumbled together, and I was trying to straighten them out, not an easy task since I had corrected almost three fourths of the sweeter version.”

 That could have been almost as embarrassing as another incident she told me about. “I went to a reception and was having a wonderful time when I decided to get some refreshments,” she said. “I went into the dining room and picked up a cracker covered in some kind of topping. As I brought the cracker to my plate it broke in two, and half of it fell into the punch bowl. Only about a million people saw it.” 
One good thing about being a writer… episodes like that never go to waste! I predict it will show up in a novel one day. 

For one last piece of advice from this talented writer, I asked her if she ever suffered from writer’s block. “I think every author gets writer's block sooner or later,” she told me. “ I've found that if you keep on writing you can write through it. Sure, the stuff you do may have to be edited, but so what? Everything has to be edited anyway. The important thing is that you don't quit.” 

And that is her secret. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t accept “no” as the final answer. Something tells me we’ll be hearing from Elaine Cantrell for a long time to come. Make sure you check out her website.

 Thank you for being with us this week.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Short Story: In The Park

In The Park
by Erlynda Jacqui Chan


It is an unseasonably hot autumn afternoon. A thick layer of smog hangs over the city, filling my nostrils with the smell of burnt wood. The normally busy park is near empty, truly unfortunate for me.

I sit in the small cafe' at the corner, hidden and quiet with a clear view of the park across the road. On a more pleasant day, you will find me in the park lounging under the wooden canopy of angels and flowers. The spot offers me an unhindered glimpse of the world and its inhabitants. In an age where life moves faster than a speeding train, it's refreshing to see people stopping for a moment's rest.

There's a bench under the crimson flowered eucalyptus tree, where an elderly gentleman used to sit every evening. He always came with a brown bag which contained his dinner, either a sandwich or a plastic container covered with tin foil. He ate slowly, his mouth moving in a circular motion deliberately as if he were counting the number of chews before he swallowed. The blank stare on his wrinkled face usually embraced a contented smile as the park started to fill up. At times, he chuckled loudly at the children playing nearby, finding joy in the lives of another family. He ceased to appear last spring, I prayed he had moved on to a better place and I wrote a piece in his tribute. He was just one of my many muses.

You see, I am a writer, and have been for many years. I seek inspiration from those around me, in faces whose names I will never know. The park is my private bed of creativity, allowing me the privilege to silently observe the people who roam the open trails and discern the stories they tell.

Today, I hope to seek an end to a story that has slowly unfolded over the course of two years. I first saw them on a breezy autumn evening, two friends, a man and a woman. He was a tall, skinny lad with a jutting chin. She was easily a head shorter than him, dark hair and a face graced with an impish smile.

He ran head on into the wind, feet trampling on the golden leaves that littered the trail while she giggled, trying to catch up. Their infectious laughter rang loudly, as they teased and talked until the sky grew dark. There was such ease in their gestures, an affection so magnetic, I found myself speculating on the depth of their friendship. They came every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening. I took delight in watching their interplay wishing that there was such a friendship in my life.

The seasons passed, and in the winter of the following year, a new development began to unfold. Another character started coming with her, a handsome young man. They strolled hand in hand, giggling endlessly, a sure sign of two people in love.

Her good friend joined them from time to time. Not often and when he did, he maintained a distance between them, seemingly happy to give the young lovers some privacy yet the hesitant smile he gave her each time she looked at him led me to believe otherwise.

As the temperature continued to drop, a nervous energy came over him, he stayed further away, eyes darting back and forth, stealing glances at the happy couple. Soon he stopped coming altogether, I was saddened by his absence and what it might mean to their friendship.

Early the following spring I saw her sitting forlornly on the bench under the eucalyptus tree. Elbows on her knees, she cradled her head in her hands, her shoulders trembling. Her ever faithful friend stood just a few feet away, his features pained by the anguish of his friend. After a moment, he sat down beside her and placed a gentle arm around her. They stayed like that for a long while. I never saw the other man again.

They didn't appear again until late that summer. They went back to their old routine but something had changed. He no longer ran ahead like he used to, he slowed his pace to match hers. Their touches grew more intimate, their gazes upon each other lingered for seconds more. They spoke softer, like they were guarding some secrets between them. Could it be? Dare I hope that they finally saw within themselves what I had seen the first time I laid eyes on them?

Things came to a head a week ago. Against the rose tinted sky, they fought. It was not an angry exchange, rather one of confusion and frustration. Tears streamed from their faces as their hands motioned furiously, before they collapsed in each other's arms. They held on tight in a desperate embrace. Finally she broke free, leaving him to watch helplessly as she ran wildly toward her car, almost stumbling over. With a slam of the car door, she sped off.

I have been here everyday since, hoping to see them. Maybe today will be the day. I take a quick glance at my watch, it's already past six. If they were to come, they should be here by now.

They didn't disappoint me. I hold my breath as the familiar blue pickup rolled to a stop by the curb. Two figures climb out, a man and a woman, laughing, sharing a joke. I watch with delight, as he slides his arms around her, and places a kiss on her lips. Their faces beaming, they link their arms and walk off, following the trail that has lead them to this moment.

I smile, my spirit lifting. How can I not? In a chaotic world, filled with heartbreaks and missed chances, they have found one another. I pack my things and pay the bill. It is time I start work on their story.

About the author: Erlynda Jacqui Chan is an avid short story reader who after turning thirty, decided that it was now or never to fulfill her lifelong dream of writing. She resides in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and her short stories have been published in Gold Dust, Antithesis Common, 5th Story Review, The Green Muse and The Flash Flood.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Article: Details

Details

by Sarah Saint John



Details are the spice of a story. They add flavor—they show instead of tell. Details make the work come alive, enabling the reader to see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Well, share a fragrance, not smell. It sounds simple enough. So how does it work?

Let me show you the difference between telling and showing. Using my work in progress Sacrificial Lamb as an example, if I were telling the reader, I could’ve written:

It was afternoon. Hope rode in the carriage as it went down the road."
Instead, I wrote:

They were on their way to sell a man.

Hope sat ramrod straight, her chin thrust out in rebellion as she watched the countryside stream past their carriage window. It was a temperate day, somewhat humid, and green graced everything the eye could see, from tall cypress trees to lush grass swaying in the breeze. Birds sang in praise of the afternoon…innocent beauty to defy the obscenity of her father’s mission.

A tear of perspiration drifted down her temple. "I hate you, you know."
If I’ve done my job, you should see the landscape and hear the birds. Perhaps you even feel the humidity of the day. You become part of the story.

Like any good spice, details should be sprinkled into the mix. If a writer is writing contemporary fiction, another way to add flavor is to use bits and pieces of pop culture. It’s easy to add a brand name, or a city, or a place like "Someplace Else" the sandwich shop. Little details like these make the story ring true. Stephen King does this often and well. He has a Coca-Cola machine kill someone in The Tommyknockers. Reading this scene, we can see the red and white refrigerated unit lumbering up the street, spewing cans, beating the poor victim until he is nothing more than a battered corpse. SK sprinkles bits of popular songs throughout his works. As we’re reading, the songs play in our heads and we are there, inside his story. What’s happening to the hero or heroine is happening to us.

My novel Trust the Night, available from Samhain Publishing in 2008, uses the above mentioned sandwich shop to locate a scene. Someplace Else has been in business in Oklahoma City since the Seventies.

Surrounded by the pleasingly eclectic ambiance of the submarine sandwich shop Someplace Else, Detective George Loman waited for his food, and Northcutt. The young uniformed cop had called that morning saying he had information on the case—important info which needed to be discussed in private. George told him to meet him at his favorite sandwich shop. He figured if Northcutt's news was a bust, at least he'd get a good meal out of the deal. And, if not, he would buy Northcutt a sub as a reward for whatever tidbit he had to give.

George looked up as Northcutt struggled through the lunch time crowd, trying to get to their table.

"Loman," the waitress called.

"Get it, won't you?" George pointed at the counter. Northcutt made a detour and wove his way back carrying two plastic baskets filled with the best subs in town, chips, and giant snicker-doodle cookies.

Northcutt sat down and George pushed a Styrofoam cup in his direction. "I got you a Coke."

The young cop grinned. "Nice of you, considering I just paid for lunch."
Then, a bit later…

Northcutt fidgeted in his chair as George took another bite of his Cheese Special, relishing the tang of pickled banana peppers bursting on his tongue. For a moment he studied Chuck, watched him squirm. The kid had good instincts. Maybe he’d make a good homicide cop. He decided to give him a break.
I’m hoping the scene makes you hungry.

If writing historical fiction, it’s fun to add one or two historical figures as characters. In my novel Blood Atonement, the villain is Vlad Dracula…the actual Vlad the Impaler. My hero is Matthias Corvinus, an actual Hungarian king who held Vlad hostage in the fifteenth century. The story takes place in 1815, after Vlad has taken his revenge. Lord Byron and Polidori have a cameo.

Royal blue velvet guarded the windows, protecting the elite from the crude eyes of commoners. Candlelight glared from multifaceted chandeliers, a show of molten gold luminescence that threatened to melt the fine crystal cradling the wax. Liveried servants hurried to bring wine to thirsty gamblers as, cravats loosened and waistcoats unbuttoned, they wagered away their inheritances.

Baron Matthias Corvinus leaned back in his fine Louis XIV chair, oblivious to the studied elegance of his surroundings.

"’Zounds! He’s done it again." Polidori threw down his cards.

Matthias poured himself another glass of his deep red wine, using the action as cover as he watched to see how each of his companions would react to the creature's infantile show of temper. Sir Afton did his best to ignore it, thus saving himself the embarrassment of acknowledging any outward show of emotion.

Byron laughed out loud. "Do close your mouth, Polidori, you’ll capture a fly. Why act as if this were a novelty? Whenever we have the dubious honor of gaming with this man, we leave the table the worse for our wagers. Yet we continue to play. Tell me, Corvinus, are you amused at how green we are? Does verdigris suit me?"

"Naive, perhaps, but surely not verdigris. The pure stubbornness of human nature dictates you return to try for the brass. I count on it."

"Glad to oblige."
If I’ve done it right, you get the "feel" of the time period. Polidori and Byron make it seem real.

The final benefit? Adding details, adding zing to fiction is great fun—for both the reader and the writer. Whichever way you choose— by incorporating the five senses, using pop culture, historical culture or figures, or any combination of the same—it makes your work pop, which is a noble ambition for any writer. Do this and you’ll cook up a spicy gumbo indeed. I’ll look forward to reading your work.

About the Author: Sara Saint John crafts stories of good versus evil, horror and the healing power of love. Sara is a romantic at heart and believes in happy endings, even if they are approached from the dark side. Her first novel, Blood Atonement, from Samhain Publishing, Ltd., can be ordered online and at local bookstores using ISBN 1-59998-359-1. Trust the Night will be available in 2008.

Visit the author at her myspace page

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Author Interview: MG Braden

Author Interview:
MG Braden


The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome M.G. Braden for this week’s author interview. She told us she’d been writing since high school, but only made the move to writing seriously about three years ago. The birth of her third child last year stalled her a bit, but not significantly. She said, “Since [the birth of my child] I have written and sold four manuscripts, three of which are out already and one that is due out in December.”
We asked her about the stalling, or writers block, she had gone through. “I just felt like I didn’t know how to write and I honestly just couldn’t write a word,” she said. “It took me almost three months before I started writing again.” When asked how she managed to break out of the block she said, “I kept talking to other writers, kept promoting my already published books, and kept trying on ideas. Eventually I found an idea that really sparked my interest and I started writing.”

Since she has three young children, she depends on her husband a lot to help watch the kids while she writes. So, most of her writing is in the evenings or night. She can sometimes get a chance to write while the baby naps and the oldest is in school. That’s the only time her middle child gets some one-on-one time, though, so “the greatest bulk of writing gets done after 8 PM. I don’t mind, really, because I’m a night owl.”

Being animal people, we are always interested in knowing what our authors’ favorite animals are. MG’s is the lion. She told us, “I love lions. I could watch them for hours—their power, their grace, their beauty. Really, any big cats, but the lion best of all.”

She is a talented lady. She writes, multitasks (“which drives my husband nuts because he can’t at all and I’m always trying to get him to”), finds time to juggle her household, time with the kids, and read; she can also tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi. “Those Pepsi Challenge people hate me,” she told us." I always point to each and say which one it is and then I always, always choose Coke. I’m not a huge pop drinker but when I do, it’s Coke.”

She is currently working on something brand new. We asked her for a hint and she said, “All of my work, to date, and my book that is coming out in December, have been sweet contemporary romance. This newest work-in-progress has paranormal elements and is hot. The hardest part for me has been the fully- realized love scenes, since I have always firmly shut the door. But I think ,” she laughed, “well, I hope, anyway that they turned out well. I believe that this story can be awesome, and that I’m presenting a new variation on an old theme.”

We are looking forward to both the book coming out in December and to the new endeavor on MG’s part. Make sure you visit her website.

Thank you, MG, for taking the time to talk with us.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Short Story: TP-ing Casa de Clooney

TP-ing Casa de Clooney
by Charity Tahmaseb


Tess stood at the perimeter of Casa de Clooney, a roll of toilet paper in her hand. Technically, she was on the road, at the mansion’s boundary, leaning against her free-and-clear sedan. It was sleek, sophisticated. A grown-up car.
She still held the toilet paper.

The sight of a black and white police cruiser creeping up the road didn’t surprise Tess. Any moment, two burly security types would charge through the gate and drag her away, a trail of toilet paper flapping behind her.

The police car stopped a few feet from hers. An officer eased out. The mirrored sunglasses went on before he took another step.

“Miss? Do you need assistance?”

She’d rounded the corner from “miss” to “ma’am” a few years back, but this officer was close to her age. He wore a bland expression beneath the mirrored lenses. This was southern California after all. Maybe her flavor of crazy failed to make a blip on the Richter scale.

In those lenses, Tess caught the expression in her own eyes and the deep circles beneath them. She’d driven all night and arrived at George Clooney’s mansion the same moment the sun did.

“I’m sorry, Officer,” she said. The warmth on her cheeks was from sunlight, not her apparent foolishness. Jane would understand, even if this man didn’t. “It was a pilgrimage, of sorts.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to move along.”

Tess tossed the roll of toilet paper once and then squeezed it. “I wasn’t really--”

The officer nodded. “I know you weren’t, Miss.”

“Back in high school,” Tess began, the words surprising her, “after my sister bought her car, we went for a joyride.” Jane had worked for two solid years, bought the creaking Ford outright.

Equipped with a twenty-four pack of toilet paper, they’d hit the star quarterback’s house, the student council president’s, and then the Junior ROTC commander’s, because Tess had a thing for guys in uniform.

In the last days, the hardest days, they let Netflix bring the unattainable hotties to them--Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and of course, George Clooney.

“She died of breast cancer.” It was the first time she’d said it out loud. The worst that could happen was those words would bounce off the smooth lenses and hit her in the face. “When I made the last payment.” Tess touched the sedan. “Something--” Snapped? Unhinged? Crashed through her defenses?

The officer removed his sunglasses. “A few years back, my wife--” He didn’t need to finish. Tess saw the expression in his eyes--it was like looking at her own.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’ll leave now.”

Halfway to the cruiser, the officer turned. “I’m off shift in half an hour. Would you like to grab a cup of coffee? We could ... talk.”

She hadn’t talked since Jane. “I’d like that.”

He nodded toward the mansion. “I’m no George Clooney.”

And she wasn’t Julia Roberts. Tess smiled. “That’s a good thing.”

About the author: Charity Tahmaseb traded BDUs and combat boots for power suits and high heels, then traded those for the dissolute life of a technical writer. She splits her free time between her pee-wee football player and his sister, the aspiring mermaid. On most days she’s reminded that you can take the girl out of the Army, but you can’t always take the Army out of the girl. Visit the author at her blog.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Article: Dancing in the Hallways Or the Empty Nest Syndrome

Dancing in the Hallways Or the Empty Nest Syndrome -- What Type of Writer Are You?
by Kim Watters


Okay. I admit it. I’m one of those parents the teachers hate so much. Why? Because I’m the one dancing in the hallways on the first day of school. Yes! Arms pumping into the air here. I’m the one singing school’s back in session…school’s back forever… (Sung to the beat of that old Alice Cooper song with a little air guitar thrown in for full effect). Well, it may not be for ever, but close enough. No more TV, no more play dates, no more you promised we’d go there dirty looks…school’s back in session!

The BIG day is upon us. Back to school. My son’s lower lip begins to tremble as we pull into the school parking lot. The flurry of activity around us heightens the tension in the eerily silent vehicle. Buses, trucks and cars jockey into position to unload the unwilling occupants. Strung out teachers and administrators attempt to direct the sea of metal and the long faces on the returning students (and school hasn’t even officially begun yet) into some semblance of order. Then of course there’s me and several other happy parents, clogging the main artery in and out of school. And yes, we’re dancing.

You can see the giddiness, hear the laughter, and feel the excitement as we kiss our offspring goodbye before we wave them off in the direction of the classrooms. Okay, I admit, there are a few parents with long expressions, too. Obviously, they haven’t quite obtained the sense of freedom yet of packing little Billy or Susie off on their personal journey through life. But as a parent, and an author, you have to let them go.

So, you ask, what does this have to do with writing? Consider this. When you send that finished manuscript off to an agent, editor, or even your critique group, are you happy or sad? Do you feel the first blush of excitement as you hand over that envelope to the postal employee? Or is your head filled with doubts and you want to hold onto those pages forever, never letting them out of your sight? Are you dancing in the hallway? Or feeling that empty nest syndrome when the characters you’ve spend countless hours, days, or even years with have flown the proverbial coop?

For me, it’s a little of both. I’m happy to strike those six enormous characters at the end of every book. I’m also terrified of the emptiness surrounding me because all those voices in my head are suddenly quiet, like the silence in the short car ride home from school. Where do I go from there? How do I fill the void? While my child or my novel adjusts to life on its own, so must I. How? By taking pleasure in the few moments of freedom. Bask in the relaxing sensation of reading a book for the sheer enjoyment of it. Take a hike or cruise the mall and let the mind wander from the realities of every day life. Get caught up on all the little projects that piled up over the summer.

Or better yet, dance with me. Because sooner rather than later, you’ll hear another tiny voice knocking inside your brain begging to get out. And it sure as heck won’t be sporting a Spongebob back pack and a brand new pair of sneakers.


About the Author: At twelve years old, Kim Watters fell in love with romance after she borrowed a romance novel from her older sister. An avid reader, she was soon hooked on the happily ever after endings. For years, she dreamt of writing her own romance novel, but never seemed to have the time until she relocated from Chicago to Phoenix. The rest, they say, is history. She’s a multi-published author with releases from Avalon Books and The Wild Rose Press. She’s a member of RWA, PASIC, NINC, Valley of the Sun Romance Writers, Desert Rose RWA, and the ACFW.

Visit the author at her website, myspace or Bebo.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Author Interview: Jacqueline Diamond

Author Interview:
Jacqueline Diamond


The Long and the Short of It is very excited to have Jacqueline Diamond with us this week. Jacqueline is a former Associate Press reporter and television columnist. She also has eighty romance and mystery novels published. I asked her about her writing schedule.

“I aim to be at my desk by 8:15 a.m.,” she said. “ Do I always make it? Well, close! No excuses, since I rarely hit traffic on the staircase between my kitchen and my second-floor office.”

She does have a confession, however. Working at home, she also takes the opportunity to do some chores at the same time. “I usually run laundry in the morning, so when I take a break for coffee, I switch it to the dryer unless my husband (who also works at home, in the real estate field) beats me to it.”

Her day continues. “At around noon, after reading email and handling business-related matters, I break for lunch. On a busy day, I’ll put in two afternoon sessions of about an hour and a half each, and when there’s a deadline crunch, I’ll work another hour in the evening. Sometimes I add a few hours on Saturdays as well.”
Given her structure when it comes to writing, I was interested in how she goes about developing her novels. “I start with a situation, then build around it by asking questions,” she told me. “What kind of characters would get involved in this scenario? What are their dreams and goals? Their strengths and weaknesses? How do they react to the situation, and where does that lead them? As you can see, by this point I’m developing the plot!”

When a case of writer’s block comes up, she has a method for dealing with it. To her “writer’s block is a sign of either burnout, in which case I need a break or a nap, or confusion about where I’m going with the story. In that situation, I review my notes and try to figure out what’s missing or where I’ve gone off track.”

Jacqueline admitted to hating the way she looks in pictures. She told me, “I wear glasses, which are devilishly hard to photograph, but without them, I’m blind. Also, in our society, we’re surrounded by photos of beautiful women, often at the peak of their youth and attractiveness. We authors (with a few lovely exceptions like Jackie Collins) tend to be on the plain side. The good news is that my mother still thinks I’m beautiful!”

She made me laugh when she told me something she wished scientists would invent, because I could definitely identify with it! “I think automobile designers should come up with a car,” she said, “ that has potty seats and its own sewage system so women can drive comfortably for hours.”

And, a little known fact about her… it depends on where she is whether or not she likes thunderstorms. “When I’m visiting my mother in my home state of Tennessee,” Jacqueline said, “I enjoy sitting in her octagonal, glass-walled living room during a thunderstorm. The rain sheets down all around, the lightning puts on a fabulous display behind the trees and hills – who could ask for more?” It’s different when she’s at home, however. “In California… thunderstorms scare the heck out of me because they’re so rare. Also, the rumble reminds me of the infrasound right before an earthquake hits – scary!”

One sad note injected itself into our interview, however. Her favorite animal, her cat Blue Eyes, has been diagnosed with incurable cancer. Jacqueline and her family are trying to make his last days as comfortable as possible. Jacqueline, our prayers and best wishes go out for your family and Blue Eyes during this time.

Please visit Jacqueline at her website.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Short Story: The Road Home

The Road Home
by Judy Thomas


The old house wore a deserted look. Wind whistled through the ancient oaks, the Spanish moss waving like a ghostly presence. I walked toward the foreboding house and muttered, "If not for my promise to Mama, I wouldn't come within a hundred yards of this place." Being a psychologist, I should be able to deal with this, but it wasn’t easy. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that Grandfather was a sick old man. From what Mama had said, if I wanted to make peace with him, I better do it now.

I put one foot on the rickety step. Before I could move, a banging from around the corner of the house startled me. I veered right and, skirting the edge of the walk, walked to the doorway of the barn. My eyes adjusted to the darkness within and I made out the figure of a man bending over the rusty old jalopy, a large flashlight shining on his work area. I opened my mouth to ask him who he was, but I could say the words, my shoulder hit a pitchfork leaning against the door, sending it clattering to the wooden floor.

He whirled around, took a deep breath and said, "You scared the stew out of me! What are you doing sneaking around here? "

"I wasn't sneaking," I retorted, standing my ground although I was truly nervous when he stalked toward me. "I came to visit my grandfather.”

Wiping his hands on a grease-stained towel, he came further into the light. His dark brown hair tumbling onto his forehead, deep blue eyes and the mischievous grin that lit up his face brought back sudden memories. “Nell?”

"Stephen?"

"The one and only, Mistress Eleanor," he said, with a deep bow.

My lips twitched at his foolishness, but I would not be swept into flirting with him. Those days were long past. I tightened my mouth.

"Why are you here, in Grandfather's barn? The last I remember, he’d ordered you off his property with a shotgun."

"Well, Nellie," he drawled, using the nickname that I always hated. "That was ten years ago. Things have changed. What are you doing here? You haven't been back to see your granddaddy in a long time."

I felt my face harden into a frown that was all too common these days. "Not since I graduated high school."

I looked away from the eyes that searched my face, unwilling to acknowledge the affection I saw reflected there. Too much time had passed and I was not the impressionable teenager I had been.

Without a word, almost as if we could read each other’s minds, we left the darkness of the barn and headed toward the house. "Your granddaddy isn't in the best of health," he explained. "I've been helping out a little when I can."

"I can't imagine him letting you, as angry as he was with you that night."

"Ah, yes, that magical night," he said, turning toward me at the foot of the steps. "Do you ever think of that night, Nellie?"

I tore my gaze away from his and lied. "No. It was a long time ago. And don't call me Nellie."

"I came back for you, you know.” He put his hand on my cheek and leaned toward me.

His touch brought back memories I thought buried forever, buried where they couldn’t hurt any more but the pain that tore through me proved me wrong. I stepped back and his hand dropped to his side.

He took a deep breath, then continued. “Your grandfather told me you had left right after the graduation ceremony," he said.

"Three months... I left three months after the last time I saw you." I turned away and swiped away the tears that slipped down my cheek. I didn’t want him to see he still had the power to hurt me after all this time.

"Nell." He grasped my arms, turning me toward him. "I called and wrote every day, but your grandfather told me you didn't want to see me. And, when you didn't answer my letters, I began to believe him. Then, I came back for your graduation, but by the time I got here... you were gone."

I looked up at him, remembering the countless days and hours I had spent in my room, watching the winding road out the window, willing him to come and whisk me away. I shook my head, not because I doubted what he said, but because it didn’t change anything.

"I never forgave him for what he did that night," I admitted after a long silence. "I was angry at you for not coming, but I was angrier at him. Mama helped me realize, though, that he thought he was protecting me. And, I wanted to come and tell him I forgive him, before it’s too late."

One side of Stephen’s mouth lifted, in a wry smile. "I realized it as well. He didn't want a loser for his talented granddaughter. If I had a daughter, I would probably have responded the same way. I was hardly a prize back then."

My voice caught in my throat as I said, “So, what made him allow you back on the property?"

We settled ourselves gingerly on the loose bottom step, then Stephen picked up a rock. He tossed it from hand to hand, his gaze focused on it. "After you left, I was mad, hurt, confused. Not so much at your grandfather for running me off. I would probably have done the same thing, but at you, for not wanting to see me. I figured you must not have meant what you said. That it was just an idle dalliance for you."

At my quick intake of breath, he looked at me. I grasped his arm, willing him to believe me.

"Stephen, I never knew about any of the calls or any of the letters. All I knew is you were gone. For three months, I never heard a word. So, after graduation, Mama and I left and went to Atlanta. I couldn't stand to be around here any more."

"I finally figured it might have been something like that," Stephen said, his voice low, "but by then it was too late. Your grandfather had his stroke just before I came back to town and couldn't tell me where you were. So, I've just been coming and helping out here, hoping one day you would come home."

We sat silently for several long minutes. I looked into those blue eyes, thought of a younger pair just like them waiting back at the hotel with her grandmother, and knew I had indeed come home.

About the Author: Visit the author's website or blog.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Article: Confessions Of A Contest Junkie

Confessions Of A Contest Junkie: How To Survive—And Thrive—In The Literary Contest Circuit

by Charity Tahmaseb


The Literary Contest Circuit: Why Bother?

They cost money. Some are scams. Some offer publication. Some don’t. Some provide feedback, while others' feedback is better off in the trash bin.

So why bother? Do writing contests help an aspiring writer, or do they simply help drain his or her bank account?

There are as many reasons to enter a writing contest as there are contests and writers. As a veteran of more contests than I care to count, I hope to provide you with some tips for navigating, surviving, and yes, even thriving, in the literary contest circuit.

What to Consider When Choosing a Contest

Where are you in your career?

Managing expectations is crucial to surviving the contest circuit. A beginning writer may not fair well in a large contest, such as those sponsored by Writer’s Digest. Sure, there’s a chance of making the top one hundred, but without feedback, a writer is left to wonder: Was it something I wrote?

Those ten dollars might be better spent on a smaller contest sponsored by a local writers' group, a contest that provides feedback from published authors.

Are you a writer looking strictly for feedback at this point? If so, contests that offer multiple critiques give you more for your money. Do you want to get your work in front of editors and/or agents? Looking at the final round judges can help you target contests.

Here comes the judge

What is the judging pool for the contest? Are you guaranteed a read by a published author, or is the organization pulling in any warm body they can find? Some organizations conduct judges’ training to ensure even judging across entries, but many do not. In either case, feedback can range from excellent to confusing.

Whether a contest is worth entering may depend entirely on the final round judge. Many contests publish those names well in advance, giving you time to research each judge’s writing (in the case of an author judge) or preferred genres (in the case of an agent/editor judge).

Research into preliminary and final round judges could save you money, or tip the balance in favor of entering a contest. When all else fails, most contests provide a coordinator contact. Don’t be shy about it—it’s your money, and your writing, on the line.

Who said anything about keeping score?

Many contests use a score sheet, something they may provide to prospective entrants. If one is available, obtain a copy and use it to evaluate your story. It may make an excellent revision tool, but more importantly, it will give you hints for the slant of a particular contest.

Who are you again?

Who sponsors the contest is equally important, for both the value and prestige of a contest. A small writers’ organization may not have much to offer by way of status, but the feedback and prize money may be worth the cost, and chance, of entering. Likewise, making the finals of a prestigious contest is a credit you can use on your writer’s résumé for your entire career.

Beware those contests where the sponsorship, and the contest’s purpose, isn’t clear. Is it merely a money-making venue for the sponsors? Many legitimate organizations do use contests to raise funds for various activities (conferences, special speakers, prize money and awards for the entrants), but if you can’t tie a contest to a legitimate writing organization, literary magazine, or other group, consider saving your money for the next one.

Who am I again?

Take a hard look at what it is you plan to enter in relation to the contest requirements. Your cozy mystery won’t get very far in the private eye novel contest sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) and St. Martin's Press, no matter how well-written it may be.

Contests are all about chance. Research can take you only so far. Sometimes what you learn about a contest doesn’t pan out in the results, but most of the time, clear cut requirements are just that. A novel without a love interest won’t do very well in a contest sponsored by RWA (Romance Writers of America). Thinking: Maybe they won’t notice is the fastest route to disappointment. The judges will notice. If the contest includes feedback, they will point it out.

Shark-infested Waters: How to Recognize a Scam

A writer once declared to me: “I only enter free contests. The rest are scams.”

Unfortunately, some of the biggest contest scams lure their victims with free entry. While free is nice, it isn’t necessarily better. These scam contests appeal to writers’ vanity and dreams of being published. You’re a “semi-finalist,” or even a “winner,” but with the bait comes the hook: to see the piece published, you must pay, sometimes a lot.

Identifying the Sharks:
High entry fees in relation to the prizes. Paying twenty dollars for a chance at a fifty-dollar prize is not a good deal.

No fee, but the contest comes with after-the-fact offers (publication, a plaque, professionally recorded—all for a price)

Vague guidelines. Legitimate contests clearly state the rules, requirements for entering, deadlines, and what rights are involved.

Vague or questionable sponsorship.

Shark-proof submitting:
Do an Internet search on the contest name or even the contest name +scam.

Ask other writers if they’ve heard of a particular contest or have entered it.

Search for previous winner lists and/or resulting publications from the contest.

Legitimate contests are proud of their winners and let everyone know. It’s good advertising.

A final word of caution: Even contests run by well-known organizations can have less than writer-friendly fine print. Read that fine print, then read it again. Know what rights, if any, you give up by entering a contest. By entering some contests, you forfeit the copyright to your piece. The sponsoring organization can use, print, or sell it without your consent, never mind giving you credit or payment.

Hidden Benefits of Contests

Ah, the benefits of contests: Fame. Fortune. Your name in lights.

Well, maybe a nice chunk of change and the chance of appearing in a favorite literary magazine or catching that coveted editor’s eye. But even if you don’t come out on (or near) the top, you can still benefit from a writing contest.

Proper manuscript format

Nothing ties first-time submitters into knots more than manuscript formatting. Given the emphasis on doing it right, plus contradictory advice, it’s no wonder. Contests give you the opportunity to practice formatting your work professionally. Contests with feedback can give you insight on whether your formatting meets industry standards.

Some contests are more lenient than others. I once entered one that stated all incorrectly formatted manuscripts would be disqualified. I entered just to see if I could leap that hurdle.

Is it cold in here, or is it just me?

A cold read is a valuable commodity for a writer. Notice I didn’t say “objective” read. No one reads objectively; we all bring our biases to the page. However, not even your most trusted critique partner can give you a true “cold” read.

Most contests have “blind” entries. Only the title (and sometimes category, such as “cozy mystery” or “romantic suspense”) is present on the entry. Contests are a place where no one knows your name, and that can work to your benefit.

Judges come in cold to your story. No personalities involved. No prior knowledge. All they get is your prose. Will it stand up? How do other writers and publishing professionals view your writing?

While this reality check can be painful, it can also bring rewards. Afraid you’ve been getting nothing but pats on the back for your efforts? Here’s a chance to find out. Have an oddball story that no one seems to like? A contest can shed light on what’s wrong, or simply let you know you’ve taken a chance—and it paid off.

Hone Your Feedback Meter

Now that you have the judges’ rankings and comments, you may feel a bit rankled and ready to commit yourself to another profession. Win, lose, or draw, some good can come from the experience.

One very real lesson is: no matter how well-written a piece, someone will not like it, and you may score in contests accordingly. So one judge loved your first chapter while the other hated it, same contest, same entry? Instead of despairing, you may want to congratulate yourself. Chances are, you’ve developed a strong voice. Strong flavors attract and repel. The same can be said for strong writing.

A Recipe for Dealing with Contest Feedback

I know some writers who won’t peek at a returned contest packet for weeks. For me, the suspense would wreak more havoc than anything the judges might have to say. The following steps help me survive the post-contest critiques:

Find a quiet place. This is not the time you want the kids, dogs, spouse, etc. interrupting you.

Note any pertinent information in coordinator’s cover letter (if present).

Read through each critique.

Put it away (for now).

A low contest score plus critique feels like a rejection, a personal, detailed rejection. Work through any emotions before taking a second look at the feedback.

Read through the comments carefully the second time. If the contest provided more than one set of comments, compare similarities and note differences. Do you detect any overall themes about your work?

Not all judges are created equal. The downside to a cold read is not knowing particulars about the person who read your story. When a judge tells you to brush up on your “grammer” can you take him seriously? Does it negate the other comments on your manuscript? Or were they simply trying to judge and watch their toddler at the same time?

Here’s where you learn to judge the judges. It takes time, but receiving input from outside your critique group can help give you a clearer view of your writing.

The Downside to Contests

Even if you hit a winning streak, contests have a downside. They cost money. Some might nickel and dime you while others are the equivalent to dinner at a nice restaurant. The cost may be prohibitive for some writers.

The Perfect Partial Syndrome

Contests become addictive for some writers, especially after a few wins. There’s nothing like positive reinforcement in a business where rejections reign. Those writers work hard, polishing the first three chapters and synopsis to enter again and again, while the rest of the manuscript languishes on their hard drive. Or worse, the rest of the manuscript doesn’t exist.

Repeated rounds on the contest circuit in pursuit of an editor judge is one thing, but resting on your laurels and not writing new material is another. And more than one writer, having caught an editor’s attention, didn’t have the rest of the manuscript to send.

Does Size Matter?

The Little Fellas

The perception exists that small contests aren’t worth the time or money because they don’t cut much (or any) ice with agents and editors. Small contests can provide a testing ground for beginning writers, offering them feedback and a chance at placing. They can also offer a much-needed ego boost. In one of the first contests I won, it wasn’t the prize money or certificate that thrilled me, but words of encouragement and praise the contest coordinator scribbled on my copy of the winners’ list.

Small contests can also lead to publication in small but respected literary journals, and a chance at greater rewards. One of my short story wins was not only published, but nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Small steps (and contests) can help build a writing résumé.

The Biggies

So do you even bother with the big guys? The Writer’s Digest contests, the Glimmer Train ones, the RWA Golden Heart or one of St. Martin’s mystery novel contests?

The conventional advice holds true: if you don’t enter, you can’t win. Some other things to consider:

Are you ready? You may not win or even place, but is your work the best it can be? Putting forth your best effort bolsters your pride and helps your craft.

Managing expectations—again. These are true “send and forget” contests, easy on the ego. Didn’t make the final round? Guess what? Neither did hundreds (or thousands) of other writers.

Rite of passage: For certain genres, some contests hold a special place, such as RWA’s Golden Heart Award. Few writers make the finals, even fewer win, but everyone loves to compare scores, the good, the bad, and the confusing.
The Nitty-Gritty: Contest Etiquette

Many excellent stories miss the final round because writers failed to follow the formatting rules, or entered their manuscript in the wrong category. Save yourself—and the contest coordinator—the grief by following the requirements.

One method to ensure you don’t overlook something important is to take the printed requirements and highlight the essential information. If after reading the rules, you’re still confused, contact the contest coordinator for clarification.

Thank you, sir. May I have another?

So you spent the money, sent your entry, and received your not-as-hoped-for scores. Now, according to the contest coordinator, you can pen thank-you notes to the judges. Are they serious?

Yes, they are.

This is not the time to vent about how you’ve been judged. While some contests pay judges an honorarium, many draw from a pool of volunteers, other writers who take time from their own writing to judge. You can thank them for their time and effort if nothing else.

But sometimes, something a judge says really clicks. Or they loved your entry and wrote words of encouragement. While judges are often wary of revealing their names, a thank-you may open the door to a friendship, or even a mentorship with a published author. A thank-you note sent to a final round editor/agent judge may result in a request. If nothing else, it establishes you as a professional.

So, is vetting your writing on the contest circuit worth it? It can be, with research, targeting, and some soul searching. It can also prepare you for the time when readers and reviewers voice opinions about your writing: the good, the bad, and the confusing.

Visit the author at her blog.

Originally published at T-Zero Expandine

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Author Interview: Catherine Kean

Author Interview:
Catherine Kean

The Long and the Short of It welcomes Catherine Kean to our pages. Catherine has been writing nearly forever. She told me she started writing stories before she started elementary school and by the time she was 16 already had a novella and a full length manuscript finished. Not counting these (which she said are gathering dust bunnies in the back of her filing cabinet) she is working on her ninth novel.
“Reading,” she said, “was my favorite pastime and I feel it really nurtured my creativity, because it introduced me to fascinating characters, imaginary worlds, and new ideas.”

She shared with me this wonderful news: Her daughter has already shown a talent for writing as well. Catherine said, “I think she’s going to grow up to be an author!” Her daughter doesn’t share her mother’s dislike of storms, though. “Living in Florida,” Catherine told me, “I’ve experienced a lot of storms, some downright scary—especially those that accompany hurricanes. When my daughter was little, we’d snuggle together and wait until the lightning and thunder passed. Now, she just rolls her eyes at me and says, ‘Oh, Mom.’”

Catherine, also, shares her home with two cats: “A 15-year-old short-haired ginger tabby who is a sweetie despite his arthritis and who loves to curl up next to me and snooze; and a 12-year-old gray tabby who adores tomatoes, nectarines, roast beef, chicken, salmon . . . He’s quite gourmet in his tastes. He especially enjoys munching the little lizards that live on our patio. (Ick!)”

She admitted that she very nearly quit writing at one point in her career. “I’d finaled in lots of contests, had been writing and submitting to editors and agents for 10 years, and thought I’d never find a publisher for my work. Then, Medallion Press offered me a contract for my medieval romance Dance of Desire, released in mass market paperback in 2005.”

Dance of Desire went on to win two Reviewer’s Choice Awards, Best Medieval in the industry review magazine Affaire de Coeur’s 2006 Reader-Writers’ Poll and finaled in four contests for published romance writers.

I asked Catherine what advice she would give to a new writer just starting out. “Write every day, even if it’s only one or two paragraphs,” she advised. “This is important, not only for establishing writing discipline (i.e. sitting in the chair and increasing your story’s word count), but learning your craft. Take online writing classes. Attend every writing workshop and conference you possibly can, and learn, learn, learn. There are many different ways to approach writing a book, so the more ideas you absorb, the better you’ll be able to find out what works for you.”

She admits to occasionally getting writer’s block, but has her methods for dealing with it. One reason she doesn’t get “stuck” very often is she finds it helpful to outline her whole book before she gets too far along, and that helps pinpoint potential problems. “By outlining,” she assured me, “I don’t mean I know what’s going to happen in every scene, but at least I have a rough ‘skeleton’ of the major plot points from beginning to end. If, while writing the book, I get writer’s block, I try to move the story on to the next plot point. Or, I’ll write a scene a few chapters on to spark my muse, and then come back to the one that stumped me.”

Catherine says she never thought of being anything but a writer. “Every day,” she told me, “I count myself lucky that I’m living my dream and that I can share my stories with others.”

And, we would like to thank Catherine for sharing her stories with us. Don’t forget to visit her at her website.