Monday, February 27, 2006

How much research is enough?

The topic of research comes up often. Again and again, writers are advised to make sure the information in their books is accurate. Readers have no qualms about pointing out errors in both copy and in the story.

Some genres, such as historical romance, would need much extra research. Rene, from A Little Cheese With That Whine, says she finds it hard to find some material and wonders how strict readers and other writers are about historical accuracy.

Personally, I get lost in research. It’s another way to avoid writing. I’m just about finished the research and outline for Picture Perfect, and I must say that I had a lot of fun because I could do a lot of research. But, not unlike deciding when the book is finally finished and it’s time to mail it out, writers must decide at some point when they have researched enough. I’m there. Time to start writing. I know I still have bits and pieces of research left, information specific to certain scenes (like what a 1955 Buick looks like, what year bra burning was in fashion, etc., etc.). My question to you is, do you do ALL of your research in advance so you can write straight through? Or, do you do a little or all of your research as you go? Or, do you write the first draft and fill in the bits that need research during your first revision?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Author Interview and Book Review: Brenda Coulter, A Family Forever


I had the pleasure of trying out a new genre recently, Inspirational Fiction, which are love stories celebrating traditional Christian values. The book is A Family Forever, by Brenda Coulter.

What initially attracted me to this book was the unique approach it had to love. Instead of two people ferociously attracted to each other having to overcome one obstacle after another to end up with each other, it’s two people who come together without attraction or love and learn how to appreciate and care for each other.

Coulter has an eloquent way with words that provides the reader with insight to the main character by the end of page one. Her descriptive prose was a delight and made the read fresh. And, don’t let the word ‘inspirational’ fool you. While the book does adhere to Christian values, it is still full of conflict and tension and, just when you think you can predict what’s going to happen, WHAM, a new twist is introduced. These twists work well with the story and do not seem contrived.

The characters develop well throughout the story and Coulter balances the perception of a character alongside his/her actual character very well. She includes delicious morsels of personal tidbits that leave you liking the characters more and more.

A Family Forever was a delightful read and I give the book top marks. I recommend you put it in your TBR pile, if it’s not there already.

Author Interview - Brenda Coulter

To my delight, Brenda took some time out to give me some insights about writing A Family Forever.

Tell me a little bit about A Family Forever and what inspired you to write it.

I liked what you said, Nienke, about this story approaching love from a different angle. The marriage-of-convenience story has of course been done before, but those novels are always about "accidental" love; the couples usually fight it but can't help falling for each other. I wanted to explore what might happen if the hero and heroine admitted they weren't interested in each other and then tried to make themselves fall in love.

Why do you think readers like 'inspirational' romance stories?

Two reasons. First, it's "guilt-free" entertainment. A Christian woman can read these stories without being made uncomfortable because her values are being undermined. And second, each inspirational romance novel delivers not just a falling-in-love story, but a tale of some spiritual victory. Christian women find these books not just fun and romantic, but spiritually uplifting.

What do you like best about being a novelist?

I love the solitude. And I love working at my own pace, on whatever I want to work on.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?


It's all hard. Fortunately, it's the fun kind of hard. I enjoy the challenges, whether I'm plotting, writing, editing...even revising a story.

What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?

So many of the aspiring authors I see are leaning heavily on other writers, waiting for someone to show them the secret path to publication. There isn't one, and "talent" isn't sufficient to get you published. Neither is "wanting it bad." If you're not driven and determined and disciplined, I honestly don't think you have much of a chance. And you have to find those qualities inside yourself; hanging out with other writers may inspire you, but that's only the beginning. You have to do all the rest, and it's going to be hard.

For more information on Brenda and her books:

A FAMILY FOREVER
by Brenda Coulter
From Steeple Hill Love Inspired
Look for it in stores after February 28
or order it right now from Amazon.com
Read most of the first chapter at BrendaCoulter.com

Visit Brenda's blog, No rules. Just write.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Let's get motivated!


What motivates us?

WritersServices.com says only four per cent of writers expect to make a fortune but 26 per cent do hope for some income. For many writing is an ambition and 13 per cent want to make a contribution to our knowledge or understanding.

For the majority of writers, writing is an enjoyable compulsion, but 11 per cent dream of recognition. Most of us are willing to share our writing (which is what you would expect from compulsive communicators). Just a couple want to keep their writing to themselves. WritersServices.com's survey says our optimism is impressive. Most people expect to find a publisher.

Today, I share with you several links to help get you motivated to write. Not all articles are specifically about writing, but they are all specifically about motivation. Enjoy.

Victory Crayne's Motivational Newsletters
Fiction Factor: Motivation
Steve Pavlina: Do it Now!
Terescia Harvey: Turn Off Your Obsession With Perfection
10 Commandments of Motivation
Holly Lisle: Writers' Block: Are We Having Fun Yet?
Holly Lisle: Writers' Block: Losing (and Regaining) Writer's Hunger

And, a few inspirational quotes to really put you in the mood:

"Everyone has a talent. What is rare is the courage to nurture it in solitude and to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads."
Erica Jong

"Dreaming and hoping won't produce a piece of work; only writing, rewriting and rewriting (if necessary)--a devoted translation of thoughts and dreams into words on paper--will result in a story."
Roberta Gellis

"There is no perfect time to write. There's only now."
Barbara Kingsolver

"If the writer has a masterpiece within, he had better save it on paper. Otherwise, none of us will ever miss it."
Steve Martini

"When I start a book, I always think it's patently absurd that I can write one. No one, certainly not me, can write a book 500 pages long. But I know I can write 15 pages, and if I write 15 pages every day, eventually I will have 500 of them."
John Saul

"The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn't write."
Unknown

Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing."
Oscar Wilde

"Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young."
W. Somerset Maugham

"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
E.L. Doctorow

Have a great week, y'all!
Nienke

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Not Jennifer by any other name

I was telling DH about my WIP and mentioned the name of my main character, Jennifer. He almost gagged because of a past incident (which I won’t get into), which resulted in him being repulsed by the name.

“Change it,” he said.

I laughed, not even realizing the connection until that moment. For a moment I entertained the thought of changing the name. But, it struck me that I couldn’t. Although I haven’t started the actual writing of the book, I’ve done a lot of work on my outline and character development and, well, Jennifer IS Jennifer. She is not Jennifer by any other name.

DH said, “Well, use the name until you finish the book, then change it.”
I don’t think he gets it. Now I have the added challenge of developing my character to the point where my DH, as a reader, will be able to see my Jennifer for who she is without thinking about any other Jennifers. It made me realize, again, of the importance of character development.

Developing Good Characters
My favorite type of book to read is character-based as opposed to plot-based (although I can enjoy a good plot-driven story now and again, after all, my favorite movie genre is action, which is often done sans deep characters).

When it comes to writing, however, I find it very difficult to develop characters. I’ve done the questionnaires and role-playing, but I still found it difficult to show the uniqueness of my character on the page. I mean, your characters can only flip their hair and say pet words so often, you know?

Every writer has his/her own method of creating characters. Some (pantsers) fly by the seat of their pants and let the characters develop as the story evolves. Others say the character reveals herself without effort. On the other end of the spectrum, there are writers (plotters) who go to all ends of the earth and the internet, fill out all the forms they can find, and even interview their characters to get to know them inside and out. What is the right way? Each writer must determine that for themselves.

Know More Than You Reveal
The one common piece of advice I come across in most articles about developing characters is that the writer must know more about the character than she reveals. She must be aware of the characters motivation and desires.

PaperBack Writer says every character she imagines takes form by answering three basic questions: Who are you? What do you want? What's the worst thing that I can do to you?

Holly Lisle, in her article How to Create a Character, says don't start your character off with a name or a physical description. Instead, she says, start developing your character by giving him a problem, a dramatic need, or a compulsion. Lisle recently released an ebook called Create a Character Clinic which helps the reader do just this. It’s a step-by-step guide that offers examples and questions to help make the process simple, yet the character becomes complex.

What I found most helpful in Create a Character Clinic, is it taught me how to show my character’s unique characteristics and personality without resorting to crutches, clichĂ©s, or commonly used descriptives. And, the personality and characteristics are true to the deepest desires and motivation of the character.

Character Development Links
For those of you who would like to find out more about developing characters, here are some links:
That should keep you busy for a while!
Nienke

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Author Interview: Michelle Rowen

Michelle RowenMICHELLE ROWEN


Michelle Rowen is author of Bitten & Smitten, a Warner Books publication released in January 2006, and Angel With Attitude, to be released in July 2006. If you haven't already, check out Michelle's blog. She is also a guest blogger at Warner Women.




First of all Michelle, I’d like to congratulate you not only on the sale of your first book, Bitten & Smitten (and subsequent books, Angel With Attitude and Fanged & Fabulous), but also on the tremendous success of Bitten & Smitten.

Tremendous success? What have you heard? Who have you been talking to? I mean... Thank You.

Please tell me how you went from unpublished writer to novelist:

I've always wanted to be a writer. Since I was about 12 years old or so it's been my major dream. It just seemed so glamourous (that has since been disproven). But I never finished anything I wrote. Nothing. I'd just get bored with it and start something else. The first long piece of fiction I finished was my Nanowrimo 2003 novel. And that was less than three years ago!

So, I always knew I WANTED to be a writer, but I wasn't putting in the necessary time or effort. Well, I finally made it a priority in my life. I wrote the novel I wanted to write. I felt it was good (or, at least, it didn't suck enough for me to hide it away forever). So I researched every aspect of publishing I could. Like, I could teach classes on the subject now. Seriously. I probably spent two hours a day for more than six months reading everything on the internet about other authors, publishing houses, how to get an agent, etc.

So I had a manuscript. I knew I needed an agent if I wanted the big publishers to look at it. So I made my list developed from my internet research. I honestly didn't really consider failure as a possible outcome. I just assumed, by what I'd read, that it would take a while...and I'd made my peace with that. I wrote a KICK-ASS query letter (if ah do say so mahself). The letter and my synopsis probably took me the better part of a week to put together. And then I started attacking my agent list. Surprisingly enough, the second agent I queried asked to see the full manuscript, and he offered me representation. Shortly after, I got a two-book contract with Warner Books.

What was “The Call” like for you?

My agent called me at the day job to tell me that we had an offer on the table. This happened only 24 hours after he'd sent out the manuscripts. I was seriously stunned. And I felt a little sick to my stomach. Not because it was a bad thing, but because I felt like I had whiplash. After all my research, I'd expected to have a little time to get adjusted to the whole process. But they say that when major things happen in life, they happen fast. I don't know who says that. But you know what I mean. Anyhoo, we gave the other houses a week to counter-offer, and Warner did, and that's the publisher I went with. Very exciting stuff.

Since selling your first book, Warner has expressed interest in more of your work. Can you tell us how that came about and how you feel?

How do I feel? Incredibly relieved and grateful. When they bought BITTEN & SMITTEN I had already started work on ANGEL WITH ATTITUDE. That was something I was planning on finishing anyhow, whether or not it was contracted. But once that was finished, I immediately started thinking about securing my next contract. When B&S received such good feedback from both Warner and top reviewers like Publishers Weekly, I thought I may as well pitch the sequel and potential series of the same characters. Luckily my editor and I seem to be on the same wavelength and this was something she was very open to. I had to write a proposal (a synopsis and 2 chapters) which went through one revision before it was accepted. The process is somewhat stressful, but rather straightforward. But since I tend to mentally live in the future, I'm already thinking about my NEXT proposal.

Please tell me how you developed Sarah Dearly (main character in Bitten & Smitten) and if and when we get to see more of her:

BITTEN & SMITTEN was developed as my project for the Writer's Digest Novel Writing Course I took over two years ago. Each assignment had to do with a very particular element of writing a novel: 1) Idea, 2) Characters, 3) Setting, and so forth. I knew I wanted to do an "everygal" kind of character. Somebody easy to identify with. But the Sarah on paper -- a shrinking violet who came out of her shell after becoming a vampire -- dissolved as soon as I started writing chapter one. She ended up being way more sarcastic and gutsy than I thought she'd be. She really took on a life of her own and became very "real."

When I first thought of the idea, I'd always imagined it to be a longer story than just one book, and I'm so excited that I have the chance to continue to follow Sarah's story in the sequel FANGED & FABULOUS, and whatever may come after that! It's really a dream come true. Now I just have to wake up and write the book! ;-)

They say humour is very difficult to write successfully. How do you do it?

That's a tough question, because I don't try to write funny. It's not a matter of saying, okay a joke has to go on this page, and two on the next. When I get into the zone, and I'm really in my character's head, it just happens. I'm incredibly sarcastic in real life (sometimes to a fault). I amuse myself with my own humor, so I guess a lot of the humor in my books comes from my own viewpoint on the world.

You are very active in the writing community (Toronto Chapter of RWA, Michelle Rowen Blog, Warner Women Blog, etc.). How does this help you as a writer?

It helps to keep me connected to other people. Being a writer is a very isolating job. When I was working on my first manuscript, it really didn't even occur to me to join a writer's group. I'm easily intimidated, and being around hundreds of women with exactly the same goal as me - to get published - wasn't something my ego needed at the time. I actually didn't join RWA until after I was contracted...mostly because until my book was bought, I didn't even consider myself to be a romance author. I'm still not entirely convinced. ;-) And blogs are great because I've always been one to keep a journal... but the fact that it's public gives it just a little extra something. It's not for everyone, but it works for me, and I've developed some regular readers whom I appreciate big time.

    Please take us through a typical writing day in the life of Michelle Rowen.

    Typical writing day if it's a day job work day: Brainstorm notes on my lunch hour. Write for an hour before going to sleep (I love my laptop).

    Typical writing day weekend: I write all afternoon, with regular Diet Coke breaks. Dinner break. Then sometimes I'll write for a couple hours in the evening.

    No music, no sound. I don't like to be interrupted. I can get very cranky if that happens. More so than normal, anyhow. I also keep a parallel journal with each book so I can "talk out" the scene I'm about to write.

    I really don't have a typical writing day. If I can get an hour or two in then I'm happy. If not, then I don't sweat it. When I'm in what I call the "zone", I can write almost 2000 words an hour, so it definitely adds up quickly. The most I ever wrote in one day was nearly 8K, and I was feeling a little twitchy after that.

    What is the one most important skill/habit/discipline a successful writer must have?

    Perseverance. And not just in the pursuit of getting published. A novel is a long, long thing. There are a whole lot of pages in a full-length novel. And they don't all get written in one day. When you get to that middle part where you're saying to yourself: "Okay this sucks. What was I thinking? How about this other idea that looks so much better..." Just keep with it. Once you get to THE END, then the fun really begins.

    What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?

    Write what you love to read. Tell the best story you can. Don't worry about selling anything, or what your pen name is going to be until you've got something to sell (okay, I didn't take my advice on this one, but it really is a big waste of time). Network with other writers. Go to conferences, conventions. Don't be shy. Learn as much as you can about the craft, about the business, about marketing -- all this information is readily available on the internet through author websites, Writer's Digest online, agent websites, etc. Educate yourself about the business, because writing really is a business. BELIEVE in yourself and BELIEVE in your story. And don't forget to have fun.




    Michelle Rowen lives just outside Toronto with an evil cat and a poster of Hugh Jackman. For more info about Michelle and her books, visit http://www.michellerowen.com/.

    Happy Valentine's Day to yourself

    Happy Valentine's Day!

    I hope you and your significant other enjoy the traditions of this day of love and romance. However, this is also a perfect opportunity to show some love to yourself. Lately, I've become a proponent of self-courtship. We are so busy taking care of clients, children, and spouses, that we end up putting ourselves on the bottom of the list. So, I propose we all do something for ourselves today in honour of Valentine.

    I'll go first. If I could give myself anything, I'd probably choose this (sorry dh):

    But we all know this is unlikely to happen. I've left it much too late.

    So, instead, I will treat myself to a manicure and pedicure and then go get my hair done (the works) at the best local hair salon. Then, I'll go shopping and buy myself a new pair of leather gloves. On the way home I will pick up some fresh spring flowers.

    Then, hubby is taking me out for dinner (if he doesn't see my original gift to myself first!).

    What would (will) you do/get for yourself in honor of St. Valentine?

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    A Family Forever arrives...


    Got my review copy of A Family Forever in the mail on Friday. I'm really looking forward to reading it after reading chapter one on Brenda Coulter's website.

    My favorite stories are character driven, and I love it when the characters have compounding factors such as religion that factor into their decisions. I've read too many romance novels where the heroine and hero are soooo attracted to one another, but there never seems to be a real reason why other than their looks. This story seems to come at love and romance from a completely different angle and I can't wait to delve into it.

    The story description:
    "Devastated by the accidental death of her fiancé just three weeks before their wedding, violinist Shelby Franklin has just learned she carries his child. She can't give up the baby, but the only way she can keep it is by accepting a shocking proposal of marriage from a man who doesn't seem to like her very much.

    "Bike shop owner and semi-pro cyclist Tucker Sharpe owes Shelby more than she will ever understand. Determined to protect her and his brother's child, he presses Shelby to marry him. He insists that if they make an honest effort, God will bless their marriage and teach them to care for each other. But can it really be that simple? Can two people will themselves to fall in love?"


    Look for my review in a few days. In the meantime, check out Brenda's blog called No Rules. Just Right. And, if we're really lucky, maybe Brenda will tell us a little about the book and about writing.

    Best, Nienke

    PS - BTW, if you feel like picking up a coffee on your way home, you may want to reconsider--especially if you're a police officer. Click here for more.
    Also, a warning for Valentine's Day texters... click here.

    Friday, February 10, 2006

    Thanks Michele!

    I’d like to say thank you to Michele Agnew for making me her site of the day on Wednesday. It generated a lot of traffic and I went to visit all the people that stopped by and found some great blogs and websites.

    For those of you that have not visited Michele’s website, I highly recommend you do so. It is highly unique and a lot of fun. She posts games on a daily basis that provide people the opportunity to meet other people out in the blog world.

    I also want to thank all the visitors for their kind comments. All in all it was a lot of fun.

    And now on to other news.

    What is the oddest book title you’ve ever come across? Bookseller.com is holding a poll on oddest title. The site has a list of six odd titles to choose from. Check it out here.

    British insurance companies seem to have a lot of claims involving animals and food. Forex, British motorists made claims last year for everything from a frozen squirrel crashing through a car windshield to a cow jumping on a quad bike. Read more here.

    For those of you looking to waste a little time today, why don’t you go and Dodge The Dot?

    Have a great weekend everyone!
    Nienke

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006

    Miracles, word clouds and new Earth discovered

    Did you know that, mathematically, people can expect a miracle to happen to them at a rate of about one per month? Find out more here.

    Another cool site: Snapshirts.com
    Here, you can customize a word cloud based on your blog and have it made into a t-shirt. Ever cool. Here is what my word cloud looks like based on this blog:


    Finally, an Earth-like planet has been found in the Milky Way. How cool is that? Can you imagine the possibilities? This brings all kinds of ideas for stories...
    Click here to read the article.





    Thursday, February 02, 2006

    Good things ahead

    I finally feel like I’m getting caught up with my deadlines at work. It’s tough writing and editing all day and then coming home with the intention to write. Doesn’t happen much. So, tonight I am going to work on my day job work and get a jump ahead so I can spend some time on my WIP this weekend. I’m so excited about my new project.

    I’m also excited about an author interview coming up. Michelle Rowan, author of Bitten & Smitten has agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Do yourself a favor and pick up this gem, it’s funny and adventurous and unique. Bitten & Smitten is Michelle’s first published book, and it’s been extremely successful (read this review).

    Well, time to get to work. Have a great weekend folks!

    Nienke