"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Friday, December 17, 2010

Building Your Platform

I wrote this blog for Get It Together Productions blogspot, where it first appeared on November 26 2010.

We writers continually face the challenge to not only to keep our writing fresh for today's readers but to also be knowledgeable about new technology and marketing trends. We are expected to be able to describe our book and its concept in one line and to state our a platform right up front. The platform has, in fact, become increasingly important to agents and editors before they will consider a contract. They want a ready-made audience and a way to create a buzz for your book. In this tough market, it isn't sufficient anymore to assume the publisher will handle the marketing so you can sit back and write your next book. They want you involved.

So what is a platform for a writer? According to Merriam Webster, a platform is simply "a plan, a design." It is: (1) "a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands," (2) a "device or structure incorporating or providing a platform," and (3) a "place or opportunity for public discussion."

We spend months, sometimes years, plotting our books. When the book is finished, it's time to take a good hard look at ourselves. What have you got going for you--other than having written a marvelous book--with which to get readers' attention? If you look through Writer's Digest Magazine, you'll see some of the "Breaking In" writers state their platforms as social networking; i.e., a blog and an audience on Twitter and Facebook. This might also include doing guest blogs and having a website. Some writers write articles for magazines, ensuring a byline. Other writers speak at conferences and talk to writers' and readers' groups, or they teach writing classes. It's always smart to join a writer's organization that reflects your genre. This will open more doors with which to reach readers. If you have special expertise pertaining to your book it will give you more credibility. For example, you're a doctor and you've written a medical thriller.

What if you feel you don't have any particular expertise with which to build your platform? No title behind your name. No Masters or PhD. Does it doom you and your book? No, just dig deeper. Be creative. Perhaps you did an incredible amount of research for your book. Perhaps you spent a year talking to locals and exploring the Australian outback where your book is set. Is there a way you can "brand" yourself? To identify yourself in some unique way?

A platform boils down to any means you have to get your name and your book out there. Start building your platform early on, even before your book is finished. A solid platform will help you get published and maybe even become a "name brand" writer. But, first and foremost, write the best darned book you can! Everything else aside, your book will stand on its own legs. It will be the foundation for your platform.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Defense of Prologues

There seems to be quite a buzz lately about prologues. Many agents and editors have apparently developed an aversion to them. Some agents have said on their blogs that if they get a submission that contains a prologue they will automatically reject it because they see it as laziness on the author's part, the "easy" way out to present backstory. Others have said they will not read the prologue but go straight to chapter one and see if it makes sense without the prologue. (And, no, it probably won't make sense because the author wrote chapter one knowing that certain things were explained in the prologue. Why explain them again in chapter one?) One agent says that to have a prologue means the reader has to start the book twice because there are two beginnings.

As a writer, I disagree with all of the above. I'll explain in more detail. But first, out of curiosity, I decided to see how many authors took the easy way out by using a prologue. I looked through thirty-six books I have laying around my office. They were in a variety of genres. I found it was divided right down the middle: half had prologues, half did not. Some of the authors who used prologues and made their readers start the book twice were Mary Higgins Clark, Karen Marie Moning, Tami Hoag, Barbara Delinsky, Carla Neggers, Wendi Corsi Staub, Dorothy Garlock, and P. J. Parrish. I felt much better about my own prologues after seeing that I was in good company with these bestselling authors!

Now, let me explain from a writer's perspective why we use and like prologues. (By the way, I got feedback from other writers as well to ensure that I wasn't completely wrong in this belief.) I can sum it up in three reasons: prologues are effective, easy, and they show (don't tell). How many times have we had the latter pounded into our thick skulls?

Okay, so why are prologues effective? A prologue is indeed backstory, but it portrays an event from the past that will directly affect your character's life in the present. It can be hundreds of years ago, or minutes ago, but it should lead to a turning point in a character's life, something that will change your character's life forever. The turning point is the reason the rest of the book exists.

From a writer's perspective, it is much more effective (and easy) to put this event into an action scene, often in a prologue, that immediately engages the reader and allows him to "see" the backstory and be thrust right into the crux of things rather than to be "told" about it in the first two or three chapters through boring introspection, narrative, and contrived dialogue. By showing this all-important event with action, the reader is immediately engaged and inherently understands the emotions, the motivation, the conflict, the stakes–everything–without being told. Even movies use the efficiency of prologues.

As for starting a book twice, I've never heard a reader complain that they had to start a story twice because of a pesky, gosh-dern prologue. If anything, it whets their appetite and they burrow down deeper into their chair and dive right into chapter one because they are now invested in the protagonist on every level. They understand inherently what is driving the story and the characters.

Sometimes prologues are not necessary because they are nothing more than a character's history. And sometimes they really are too long. I won't argue either of those points. But, as a writer, I believe prologues can be a good and simple tool with which to hit the ground running. Call it lazy if you will, but if prologues didn't work so well, writers wouldn't use them. Many times they just make good sense for choosing the best, the easiest, and the most effective way to engage your reader and "show" your story.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Author Interview: Carol Buchanan

This month my author spotlight is on Carol Buchanan. Descended from Montana pioneers and homesteaders, Carol is a nonfiction writer and student of Montana history who turned to historical fiction in God’s Thunderbolt, The Vigilantes of Montana, which won the 2009 Spur for Best First Novel.
Her second historical novel, the sequel to God’s Thunderbolt, is Gold Under Ice, now out from Missouri Breaks Press.

Her short story, “Comes a Stranger,” was published in New Works Review, summer 2008. “Fear of Horses” won the 2008 short fiction contest sponsored by Women Writing the West. She is also the author of Wordsworth's Gardens, which was a finalist in the 2002 Washington State Book Awards.

Carol lives in northwestern Montana in the Flathead Valley with her husband, Richard, who owns and operates ByteSavvy Computing Services. She is currently at work on the third book about the vigilante period, titled Reni’s Ears.

Q:Tell us a little about God's Thunderbolt and Gold Under Ice.

I write historical fiction set in the West, primarily Montana. They celebrate courageous people making tough choices to survive and build a life.

God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana is set during the winter of 1863-1864, in the gold fields of Alder Gulch when ruffians ruled and murder was tolerated. Dan Stark, an attorney from New York City, comes to get enough gold to pay off the massive debt left by his father’s gambling and suicide. But he quickly realizes that so many people are robbed and murdered occur on the roads that he wouldn’t survive to take his gold home. When a friend is murdered, Dan joins other friends in tracking down the murderers, and accepts the dangerous assignment to prosecute them. During the trial evidence reveals a criminal conspiracy behind the crimes. Dan joins with other men to form a Vigilance Committee. As the Vigilante prosecutor, he is faced with the horrible dilemma of hanging both a friend and the husband of the woman he loves.

Gold Under Ice is the sequel to God’s Thunderbolt. It takes place from April to September 1864. Dan returns to New York with his gold, but finds that he does not have enough to repay the debt. A quasi-legal gold exchange called the Gold Room has sprung up in the financial district, and Dan sees trading gold options and futures as his only way to get enough gold to pay the debt. But trading gold is considered next to treasonous because it pits gold against greenbacks, the new federal currency with which the Lincoln administration funds the Union Army. When the value of gold rises, some traders sing “Dixie,” and when the value of greenback goes up, Union sympathizers sing “John Brown’s Body.” When Dan and another gold trader are mugged, and the friend killed, Dan tracks a criminal conspiracy into the core of his own family. He wonders if he will ever be able to return to Montana.

Q:You state on your blog that you never change history to suit the needs of the story. Can you give us any advice on doing research to make it easier?

If research is easy, I’m sure I’ve missed something. I love research almost as much as writing. I have a PhD in English, with history minors all the way. In graduate school I was fortunate enough to have an excellent class in methods of research, so I know how to dig. I follow two principles: Wherever possible go to the primary sources, and don’t be satisfied with what other people have written about a topic. For God’s Thunderbolt, I traveled to the Montana Historical Society in Helena and dove into the archives, with the gracious help of the historians there.

For Gold Under Ice, I used the Internet, specifically, Google Book Search, to unearth among other books, Henry Clews’s autobiography, Twenty-Eight Years on Wall Street. Mr. Clews was a gold trader who owned a gold trading house on Wall Street, and I used his business as a location in the book. I found many treasures and first-hand accounts that way, all in the public domain, which I downloaded to my hard drive. Without Google Book Search, I would never have been able to travel to the great libraries like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and Gold Under Ice could not have been written.

So to summarize, good solid research is not easy, but it’s as thrilling as finding clues in a murder mystery. (Not that I’ve ever done that, of course.)

Q:You self-published God's Thunderbolt but Gold Under Ice is published by Missouri Breaks Press. What are some of the pros and cons of each?

Missouri Breaks Press is the imprint founded last spring by Craig Lancaster, the author of the wonderful 600 Hours of Edward. (His second novel, the equally wonderful The Summer Son will be out this winter from Amazon Encore. I read it in a later draft.)

Craig did a lovely job on the cover and the interior design of Gold Under Ice. I can’t say enough in praise of the selfless work he did to put the book together. We have a co-op arrangement by which I retain all rights to the book.

However, I’ve noticed that some who have published with small presses have experienced a number of problems. Small presses are subject to the owners’ health and personal lives. One author, whose publisher quit business, did not have the money to buy back the rights to his book or the unsold copies.

Self-publishing gives an author more control.

I’ve been very happy with both methods. I used BookSurge (now CreateSpace) for God’s Thunderbolt, and I also used CreateSpace as the printer for Gold Under Ice.

Q:What challenges did each of these books present?

Writing always challenges me to get it right, whether it’s melding fiction with history while remaining true to the history, or revising each sentence and image so they convey what I have in mind. Even then, people tell me they got something from the writing that I didn’t know was in there. Writing is such an interaction between writer and reader! I love it.

After publication, the marketing and promotion are challenging. How to rise above the noise of the millions of people clamoring for attention? It’s a long, slow haul, but worth it. I’m very happy for the Internet, but it’s like skiing down a mountain in a snowfall. Visibility is poor and the terrain keeps changing.

Q:In your blog, you talk about "the writer's responsibility." Can you elaborate?

People’s lives can be changed by what we write. A woman told me her husband’s life had been changed by reading God’s Thunderbolt. We are responsible to our readers to do the best work we’re capable of and to write stories that give people hope instead of depressing them, and to consider the wider implications of our writing. Yet we each have our own path to follow. I admire Jane Kirkpatrick’s work, but I’m not called to write the kind of Christian historical fiction she writes. In my blog I wrote about a novel that would be a good thriller, but it could also give terrorists an idea for disrupting the U.S. economy. I’ll never write it. The money isn’t the real goal, or shouldn’t be, I think.

Q:What, to you, is the hardest part of the writing life?

Oh, my. Everything. This is not an easy job by any means. From the initial idea to the last word, God’s Thunderbolt was difficult, and Gold Under Ice was even more difficult because it depends so much on math to get the gold trading scenes right. I was a nonfiction writer and wrote articles and books in the fields of aerospace, computer user’s guides, gardening, horticulture, and equine journalism before I came back to Montana and changed to writing fiction. Historical fiction is much more difficult, but it’s also more joyful. It’s using the right side of my brain, the part that synthesizes unlike things into a new whole. (The left side is the logical, analytical side that I used throughout my nonfiction career.) Using the right side of my brain is such a joy, I feel I’m in my right mind at last.

Q:Do you have something new in the works?

You bet! I’m in the planning stages for both the third and fourth novels in the Vigilante series, which I think will end after the fourth one. I didn’t imagine when I started that I’d write so much about them, but as I’ve done the research, one thing has led to another….

And I love writing about that era because it’s so relevant to now. With budget cutbacks, a judge in Ohio recommended last spring that citizens arm themselves and learn how to use their weapons because the county could not pay for adequate law enforcement to protect the public. In Los Angeles, cutbacks in the police force are so great that murders go unsolved and uninvestigated for lack of manpower.

And in the financial markets, gold is through the roof.

For more about Carol and her books:
Twitter: http://twitter.com/CarolBMTbooks
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CarolBuchanan

Monday, October 4, 2010

So Many Story Ideas, So Little Time

I had the honor and privilege of being interviewed by Amanda Sabourova on her blogspot, "So Many Story Ideas, So Little Time." I hope you all will go there and read the interview. She had some interesting and tough questions for me to answer! But take a look at her own great blogs. She describes herself as a "mild-mannered scientist with a penchant for long-distance running and early-morning writing." If you dabble at all in science fiction or fantasy, you'll love her last two blogs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Author Interview - Patti Sherlock

My author interview this month is with fellow Idaho author and Western Writers of America member, Patti Sherlock. Patti is the award-winning author of three novels for young people and three adult nonfiction books. Her many awards include the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, Main Student Book Award, Rhode Island Young Reader's Choice, Lone Star Commended Young Adult Book, and was among Pennsylvania's Top Forty Best Books.

Patti's latest release with St. Martin's Press (April 2010) is a memoir entitled A Dog for All Seasons. It chronicles the years on Patti's sheep farm with her steadfast and brilliant companion, Border collie Duncan. Patti says on her website, "I've been fortunate that during most of my adult life I've lived in the country, where I shared life with a variety of animals." Patti still lives on a small farm, but no longer raises sheep, goats, chickens, and children. Her menagerie is pared down to three dogs and two cats.

A Dog for All Seasons is a memoir. What particular challenges did you encounter? What inspired you to write this particular story?

I rewrote A Dog for All Seasons more times than any book I've worked on. At one point, I complained to my St. Martin's editor that fiction ought to be harder because you make it up, but I hadn't struggled with novels as I did with A Dog for All Seasons. She said, in her opinion, memoir is the hardest genre to get right.

I got the idea to do a book about my Border collie, Duncan, when I was working in Las Vegas on a technical editing contract. I walked Duncan at 5 or so in the morning, and people stopped to meet him and ask about him. When I'd mention that he used to be my helper on a sheep farm, people got excited about meeting an actual working dog. At home in Idaho, herding dogs are everywhere; it had never occurred to me a working dog would be so interesting to nonrural people.

You've been promoting your book with a unique book tour. Can you tell us a little about it?

This summer, I took my tent and two of my dogs (one was too elderly to go) and hit the road, visiting independent book stores. The shakedown cruise in Utah didn't go too well, (I think the I-15 corridor sees too many writers) and I almost abandoned the idea. But I went on to Western Idaho, Colorado, and parts of Montana. I ran out of summer before getting to Oregon, and hope to do that leg if the weather holds.

Resort towns were particularly hospitable, and a couple of book stores even scheduled spontaneous events. Independent stores are struggling, as you know, from competition with the Internet and chain stores, but many of them retain the cordiality and customer service they've been known for.

In addition to making contacts, I got to fall in love with the beautiful Rockies all over again.

What or whom influenced you to become a writer?

I fall into the stereotype of the person who took refuge in writing as a young child because of lonely or difficult circumstances. My animals, and my neighbors' animals, meant a lot to me in childhood, and I wrote stories about and to them. I suppose it's natural that all but one of my books have been about animals.

What, to you, is the hardest part of the writing life?

I'm tempted to say rejection. I'd like to reach a point in my career when editors warmly accept whatever I send. Lots of luck, right?

Having an idea, getting consumed by it, researching it, and then putting down the story is exciting and satisfying. When you send it out and an editor says, “We don't find this sort of book does well for us,” or “Rewrite the boy character, and make him into a girl,” the disappointment is huge. What carries you through months or even years of work is the conviction that you've come up with a grand idea. If it takes a while to find an editor who agrees, that's tough.

But financial uncertainty ranks up there, too. It's worked out that I've always had enough of what I needed since I've been supporting myself with writing, but despite that, I manage to fret and worry.

What advice can you give to other writers?

Whenever I hear big-name, A-list writers speak, I'm impressed that most have this in common. Perseverance. For all of us who love writing, I think perseverance comes in as more important than talent.

Do you have something new in the works?

The agent who sold A Dog for All Seasons doesn't want to represent youth books, so I'm trying to find a agent who does. It's time-consuming. I'll be glad to get this behind me and go back to writing. I have another dog story in mind.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us about the writing life, or about A Dog for All Seasons?

We writers tend to gripe about rejections, the market, distributors, Kindles and Nooks, and the decline in reading. But as a group, I think we're the happiest folks around. I can't think of a job that offers its practitioners such diverse experience. When you factor in that you just might say something that resonates with someone else, or (could it be?) even shed light on an issue, well, what could be better than that?

If you'd like to read more about Patti and her work please check out her blogspot, Waggin' Trails--On the Road, and her website.

Title: A Dog for All Seasons: A Memoir
Author: Patti Sherlock
Hardcover Edition: $24.99 (Amazon $16.49)
Kindle Edition: $11.99
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0312577926

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kindle Release

For all of you Kindle owners out there, I would like to let you know that my novel, The Last Rodeo, is now available in the Kindle Store for $4.99. I am a new owner of the Kindle--my husband bought it for me for our wedding anniversary a few weeks ago.

I'd love to hear from others about how they feel about the Kindle. I'll admit, I was a reluctant to be a traitor to printed books, but two of my daughters have one, and they love its convenience. I'm not sure it will ever replace that special feeling one gets when curling up with a book, but it's really nice to be able to pump up the font to a size that is easier on the eyes. (Okay, so I never had this problem a few years ago, but, alas, age is catching up to me.) I will also shamelessly admit that the first book I ordered was my own! What better way to get your feet wet?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Author Interview - Irene Bennett Brown

I'm adding something new to my blog, folks: author interviews! I thought it would be a fun change to pose a few questions to some of the writers out there about their books and about themselves.

I'm starting this first interview with friend and fellow Women Writing the West member, Irene Bennett Brown. Known for her historical novels for children and adults, Where Gable Slept is Irene's first contemporary mystery. She has published several young adult novels, including Before The Lark, winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award and nominee for the Mark Twain Award. Her first adult historical, The Plainswoman, was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award. She is also a recipient of the Oregon Library Association's Evelyn Sibley Lampman Award for significant contribution to literature.

Where Gable Slept features Celia Landrey, walking-tour guide and innkeeper in her small historic town. She must deal with a mysterious female newcomer--a woman bent on destroying their most famous structure, the house where actor Clark Gable lived as a young man. Donning an additional role as sleuth, Celia struggles through a complicated and sometimes humorous maze of secrets and lies, murder and romance, to save Gable House, her town, and her life.

You've written many historical novels set in the West. Can you tell us why you decided to switch genres?

As I got older eyestrain was a problem doing intensive research for my historical novels, so it was time for a change. Truth is, I've always enjoyed the challenge of switching genres. Early in my career my published novels were for children and young adults; most of those books were historical but three were contemporary. Those three were written at the request of my editor at Atheneum. My first adult novel The Plainswoman, was back to historical. My four-book historical series, The Women Of Paragon Springs, about a group of women who build their own town on the raw Kansas plains as a means to survive, was an immense amount of work. Researching, meeting deadlines, the whole of it. I looked forward to taking it easier, hence the change to writing a cozy mystery--which I would set in the present, in my own backyard!

How was your experience writing your first cozy mystery? What about writing cozies do you particularly like?

The fact that most cozies are lighthearted and fun really appealed to me. I've never enjoyed gore or horror so the thriller was definitely not for me. I was the kid who crawled under her seat at the theatre, eyes squeezed tightly shut, hands over her ears, at a matinee showing of the movie Dracula--while my older brother and sister ate it up. Before writing Where Gable Slept, I read a kazillion cozies. Some I didn't care for, many I enjoyed to the point that I knew I had to give writing the traditional mystery, or cozy, a whirl. Writing my first mystery was the most fun I'd had in a long time.

How much is true about the house, town, and Clark Gable in Where Gable Slept?

My main character is a walking-tour guide to her historic town, and the "facts" she gives her tourists about Clark Gable are true. Against the wishes of his father, a young Clark Gable worked his way west from his home in Ohio by taking acting jobs where he could find them. Here in Oregon he landed in the town of Silverton, stayed in a boarding house there, and worked in the timber industry in the Silverton Hills. He lived in several places in Oregon, including Ashland, where he was in theatre, and Portland, where he took acting classes. It's also said that he lived a couple miles north of the small town of Jefferson where I live, in a house still standing and occupied. To give myself necessary freedom in writing Where Gable Slept, I created the fictional town of Pass Creek, and the Queen Anne Victorian mansion where Clark Gable resided for a time. My characters call the mansion "Gable House" and it is an all important draw for the small town's tourist trade. A mysterious newcomer intends to see the house demolished, keeping the reasons to herself and turning the town on its ear. My main character has no choice but to investigate,if she's to save Gable House and her town.The plot focuses more on the mystery than on Clark Gable specifically. The setting truly is my own backyard, with embellishments. Not made up are the eleven next-door dachshunds that drive my main character crazy as she goes about her business. Those little doggies are straight from my life!

What advice would you give to a writer who would like to switch genres or write in more than one genre?

If you've got the yen, go for it. If you're not already thoroughly familiar with that particular genre, read extensively the type book you want to write, until knowing how it's done is second nature. Attend conferences where professionals in the genre are speaking--learn from them. There are on-line tips and articles about how to write the cozy mystery, but the most important thing you can do is read. Can't say it enough.

What, or whom, influenced you to become a writer?

As far back as I can remember, reading a good book made me want to write one. If I was born too late to be Caddie Woodlawn running from Indians in the Wisconsin woods, I could write such books and live adventure that way. Wonderful school teachers encouraged my writing skills. At our high school, my husband was the "class brain" but when it came to writing, I put him in the shade! Great encouragement, that.

What are you working on now?

Where Gable Slept is the first in my proposed Celia Landrey Mystery series. The second, tentatively titled Where Danger Danced is in the works and I'm quite excited about the book. I'm sketching plans for others as I go.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the writing life or about Where Gable Slept?

News stories about release of my first mystery are showing up in newspapers locally and it tickled me pink to hear from an elderly man whose mother delivered milk to Clark Gable when he lived in Silverton, Oregon in the 1920s. Who knew then, that the handsome young logger/actor would later star in one of the most popular movies of all time? Which of course is Gone With The Wind. The gentleman whose mother delivered the milk is coming to chat further with me at an upcoming signing. When you're a writer, you never know where the fun is coming from next.

Irene and her husband, Bob, live in Jefferson, Oregon. For more information about Irene and her many books, please check out her website.

Title: "Where Gable Slept"
Author: Irene Bennett Brown
Price: $14.95
Publisher: Riveredge Books
ISBN: 9780980155877

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blue Sage Agent Workshop

My local writer's group, Blue Sage Writers, is hosting California agent Kelly Mortimer of the Mortimer Literary Agency on Saturday, August 28, 2010:
10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
AmeriTel Inn
Eagle Rock Conference Room
645 Lindsay Blvd.
Idaho Falls, Idaho

Kelly will conduct agent/author, ten-minute appointments after the workshops for those who sign up to pitch their novel to her. Kelly represents clients in both the secular and inspirational market for fiction and non-fiction works. Space is limited, so contact immediately if interested.

For more information go to our Blue Sage Writers blog.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Never Waste a Vacation

I'm often asked how I get ideas for stories. One way I come up with ideas is while traveling. Most people going on their summer vacations will think of nothing but how much fun and sun they can pack into a week or two before they have to return to life's daily grind. As a writer, every place I go tends to spark story ideas along with fictional characters. Some ideas have enough substance to develop into something strong enough for an entire book.

Every place becomes a potential book setting. Sometimes I go to a place with specific research for a specific book as my top priority. But regular vacations are never wasted either. Even if I don't have a book setting in mind for a particular vacation spot, I still seek out museums, bookstores, and tourist information centers where I can collect local history and tidbits that I might be able to use in some capacity in the future. And, if I never use it, the extra knowledge certainly won't do any harm.

Road trips are especially conducive to research. I like to travel across the states and see how the terrain changes as well as the people. I like to feel firsthand the heat, cold, the smells and sounds, the traffic or the emptiness, the gentleness or ferocity of the wind–or the total lack of a breeze in a stifling, muggy place. I enjoy taking pictures, sampling the local fare, observing the people and their customs and culture, listening to the way they talk, their accents, their unique way of interacting.

Writers have a natural curiosity about people and the human condition in general. If we didn't have this curiosity, I daresay we wouldn't be writers. I'm lucky to have a spouse whose degree is in history, so he fully enjoys searching out the history spots with me and going to museums where I can rummage through the remnants of lives long past and the stories they left behind just waiting to be told.

So don't waste a perfectly good opportunity. If you don't have a story or a setting before you set off on vacation this summer, keep your eyes and ears open and you might just conjure something fantastic by the time you get home.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Writers Conferences

Tis the season for writer's conferences. I think one of the best things any writer can do for their career, and especially beginning writers, is to attend a conference (or two or three). The information gleaned from the workshops can be invaluable, not just on the how-to of writing and submitting your work, but on the industry itself and the protocol for contacting agents and editors. You will most certainly walk away from a good conference feeling enthusiastic and inspired. I would also recommend you get another writer to go with you. It's always much more enjoyable to have a buddy.

A good site to find a conference in your area, and to target one specifically for your type of writing, is Shaw Guides. http://writing.shawguides.com/

The following are conferences I have either attended or can recommend from friends who have attended.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
Pikes Peak Writers Conference
Romance Writers of America (also offers numerous chapter conferences nationwide)
Western Writers of America
Pacific Northwest Writers Conference
Willamette Writers Conference
Heart of the West Writers Conference
Jackson Hole Writers Conference
Women Writing the West

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The LAURA Short Stories Online

Women Writing the West (WWW) started a short story contest for its members in 2008, creating the LAURA award named in honor of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The winners for 2008 and 2009 are now in a WWW journal online. My short story, "The Ranch," received an Honorable Mention in 2008 and can be found on page 23. The link is: http://womenwritingthewest.org/laura.html
Click on "Read the Winning Stories."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Get to Know Publishing Law

Many authors believe that all they have to do is sit back and let their agent iron out the details of their contract with the editor. And, yes, that is the agent's job, but you, as a writer, should have some knowledge about a book contract so you can talk intelligently to your agent. Many new authors are under the misconception that their agents can work miracles with a publishing house and get them anything they want. In reality, the negotiations depend on many factors. The more you know, the more you will understand your agent's job and the limitations she might face in negotiating certain aspects of a contract. You will also know if you have an agent who "isn't" negotiating at all for you but accepting a boiler plate contract.

A very good book I think every author should have is Kirsch's Handbook of Publishing Law (1994) by Jonathan Kirsch. He also has another one called Kirsch's Guide to the Book Contract (1998). There might be newer additions, but I have "Publishing Law" and it is invaluable for the author who wants to understand contracts and contract negotiations.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

And the Winner is--

My Mother's Day book and candy giveaway is officially closed. And the winner is Angie Lofthouse! Congratulations, Angie!

I would like to thank all of you who entered and became a follower on my blog. I enjoyed reading about your mothers and what makes them so special. I wish you all (and your mothers) a Happy Mother's Day on the 9th. Again, thanks for entering the drawing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Not Too Late - Mother's Day Drawing

It's not too late to enter my Mother's Day Book and Candy Drawing. Check out my April 14 post for the details. The drawing will be May 2nd.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mother's Day Book and Candy Giveaway

Mothers are often overlooked, underrated, and underestimated, but my mother is my hero. She has gone about her life quietly, never boasting or bragging. She has always done her job as a wife and mother without asking for, or expecting, any special praise or credit. When you ask her if there is anything she'd like to have for her birthday, or Christmas, or Mother's Day, she'll say, "I can't think of anything. I have everything I need." She is the rock of our family, although she probably isn't even aware of it. When my dad was alive, he always credited much of his success to her because she stood by him, supported him in everything he did, and never complained when times got hard. (Gosh, how I wish I could be more like her!) He also said that he believed women were stronger than men. He had a great deal of respect for her too. If you were to judge a person's success in life by their friends, then my mother has been wildly successful even though she still lives a very simple life.

Well, I could go on and on about my wonderful mother. What I really set out to say is that in honor of Mother's Day, I am giving away an autographed copy of my latest novel, The Last Rodeo, and a box of chocolates. If you'd like a chance at the drawing, which I'll hold on May 2nd, here's how to enter:

1. Make a comment on this blog post that you are entering your name for the drawing.
2. Make sure you have a blog or facebook email where you can be reached.
3. Be a follower (not a requirement but I'd love to have you).

This will be a drawing, not a contest, but I'd love to hear why your mother is your hero. You may post this giveaway on your blog.

Thanks for participating!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Blue Sage Blog Post

My fellow Blue Sage Writers have another great post, this time by Maxine Metcalf titled, "Tapping Into Our Emotions." It's wonderful. You won't want to miss it.

Click on the link: Blue Sage Writers

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Granddad's Shires

Occasionally when I'm not working on something of my own fictional creation, I spend time putting together the stories and history of my family. I recently came across a photo from the 1940s of a Shire mare and her colt, belonging to my grandfather. I have always been in awe of these great horses when we go to the State fair each year. I look forward to a walk through the horse barn just so I can stare at their massive size and envision my grandfather handling them on his farm.

It's hard to imagine being able to control something so huge, but they have a reputation for being incredibly gentle for their size. An average saddle horse is around 15 hands. Compare that to a Shire that can be upwards of 18 hands. In case you're wondering what a "hand" is in horse measurement, it's 4 inches. This measurement is taken at the horse's withers.

The Great Horse of England, believed to be the precursor to the Shire, was originally a war horse in medieval times. It had to carry up to 400 pounds for rider and armor, which didn't necessarily include the weight of the rider's clothes, nor the horse's gear such as saddle and bridle.

When the war horse slipped into the realm of history, the Shire continued on as a draft horse. It became an American national treasure in the 1800s and even into the 1900s. Shires were my grandfather's draft horse of choice. He took a great deal of pride in his horses. His animals were fed and watered in the morning before he ate his own breakfast.

Like many men of his generation, he never became proficient with automobiles and tractors. He tried to keep pace with the times, though. He bought a car and built a garage for it and took driving lessons from his sons, but the first time he tried to park in the new garage, he drove right through it and out the back end, hollering, "Whoa, you son of a bitch, whoa!"

My imagination makes me laugh every time I picture that moment, but what I wouldn't give for a video of it just the same.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blue Sage Post

Hey folks, I wanted to tell you about a great blog post by one of my fellow Blue Sage Fiction Writers, Sue Anne Hodge. It's titled "The Anxious Writer," (aren't we all), and I think you'll enjoy it. The link is http://www.bluesagewriters.blogspot.com

Friday, March 19, 2010

Women's History Month

Did you know that March is Women's History Month? This year is the 30th year for the National Women's History Project, which focuses on "Writing Women Back Into History." You can find out more about this project at http://www.nwhp.org

This is an ongoing effort to get women's stories and their accomplishments in the history books. What a worthy project! Check it out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

To Compare or Not to Compare?

There are a lot of do's and don'ts when it comes to writing query letters. Sometimes you'll see the suggestion that you should compare your book to another one that is out there, or your writing to a popular writer. I know they suggest this for marketing purposes, but I've never done it. For one thing, what if the agent or editor to which you are querying doesn't like the book or the writer you are comparing your work to? What they really want to know is the audience you are writing for, so you might say, "I believe my book will appeal to readers who enjoy Mary Higgins Clark," etc.

In The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Bill Pronzini is quoted as saying: "Always do your own work. Never try to imitate favorite or bestselling authors. Never follow current trends; what is a hot topic today may well be ice cold by the time a novel is written and submitted for publication. Imitators are seldom successful. An individual's unique style and vision are what editors are looking for."

So don't try to write the next Harry Potter series. You couldn't possibly improve on it anyway. Don't tell the agent that your friends call you "the new Louis L'Amour," unless you want to brighten their day with a lot of laughter. Just write the story that is in your heart and write it in your own unique voice. Will they like your story? There is no way of knowing. But I do know one thing: you can't put your soul into another writer's vision.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Deep Winter

I don't profess to be a poet, but I dug out this old poem, which seems appropriate about now.

Deep Winter

Long shadows stretch across the snow,
A gentle breeze begins to blow,
The creek has long since ceased to flow.
It is deep winter.

The horses paw for grass now dry,
In snow that rises ankle high,
Moonshine lightens up the sky.
It is deep winter.

Jack Frost clings to puppy hair,
In early morning, nostrils flare,
The willow stands so calm and bare.
It is deep winter.

The sunshine blinds me in the morn,
The path I walk is old and worn,
My heart delights at a new day born.
It is deep winter.

--by Linda Sandifer
Use with permission only

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Email Queries: The Fast Food of the Publishing Industry

Okay, I'll admit it, I'm from the old school. I come from the days when you printed your query letters and sample material, put it all neatly into a brown manila envelope, enclosed a SASE, and deposited it into the mailbox with a pat and a prayer to send it on its way across the country. Then you waited, and waited, and waited for the day when the SASE came back with either a "no, we're not interested," or a "yes, please send the complete manuscript." Then you boxed up your masterpiece (again with return postage clipped to the cover letter) and sent it off to wait, and wait, and wait. Sometimes for months. But, the longer you had to wait, more was the hope that maybe the agent or editor on the other end was giving it thoughtful consideration. (Yes, in those days, you could actually send to editors without an agent.)

I will also admit that I find email queries a little nerve-wracking. How can you be absolutely certain that when they are opened on the other end that the line spacing will be right and the font won't come out in both Times Roman and Courier New? Worse, what if it falls into cyberspace? How will you ever know since many agents requesting email queries also state that they respond only if they are interested? This business is hard enough, but to be cast off without the courtesy of a response? That is truly a low blow to a writer.

Emails queries are, however, devilishly easy and they cost nothing. Plus, the rejections (if you get a response) come in fast and furious so you can go through a lot more agents in a lot less time! The upside of not getting a response (yes, I suppose there is one) is that you can convince yourself that your query didn't reach the agent at all, that it vanished into cyberspace. This delusionary tactic will allow you to bypass the heartbreak that goes along with a rejection letter.

So, I guess the process of sending queries has gotten easier. But sometimes after I've hit the "send" button, I get this really empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. It's sort of like eating fast food on the run; it just isn't quite as satisfying as a good home-cooked meal.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Right Place to Start Your Book

Note: This post first appeared on the Blue Sage Writers blog on January 14, 2010.

A good hook is essential to any book, but a terrific first line, first paragraph, or even first page won't save a story that begins in the wrong place. Neither is anything more disappointing to a reader who bought a book based on that terrific hook, only to find the story fading away after a few pages or chapters. (I won't get into the burning question as to why such a book was published in the first place. That's fodder for another blog.)

A book will sometimes cover the entire life of your main character from birth to death. That doesn't mean you should start it when the character emerges from the womb. More often than not, a story will be only a brief span of time in a character's life–a few days, weeks, or months. Hopefully, you have chosen that time frame because something is about to happen that will change your character's life forever. It will be a turning point. Don't wait until page 100 to start this moment of change. Starting a story too soon, or too late, will result in weighty narrative and flashbacks that will slow your story to a crawl. You'll get lost, confused, discouraged and might even give up on the book entirely. Chances are, if it isn't working for you, as the writer, then you haven't found that moment of change and the best way to present it.

The scene that you open your book with should set the stage for what is to follow, foreshadowing the direction the story will take. This beginning should make a promise to the reader that will be fulfilled at the end. In today's fast-paced world, the reader will want to immediately see the conflict that will be the crux of the story, and one that will be resolved. This opening scene should be one that encapsulates the theme, even if you only demur to it. The tone might even hint at an array of outcomes that will entice the reader on.

It is also important before you write one word, that you know where your character has been, where he is going, and how he will get there. You need to know your ending before you can craft a truly effective beginning.

Even though you might have a great hook that won "The Best Hook" in some nationwide writer's contest, if you can't keep the momentum going, you haven't started your story in the right place.

Here is a wonderful beginning from Carlos Ruiz Zafón's new book, The Angel's Game. See if this draws you into the story and then ask yourself if he has foreshadowed, promised, offered conflict and motivation, hinted at a theme as well as the sense that the character, who we meet in the next paragraph, is about to face the moment that will change his life forever.

"A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he coverts the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Guest Interview

A guest interview I did with western romance writer, Paty Jager, was posted on her blog today. If you would like to read it, go to http://www.patyjager.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 7, 2010

For the New Year and the Long Haul

As we start a new year, we all have resolutions. A very common resolution is to ditch the candy, pies, cakes, and cookies that surreptitiously attached themselves to our waists, bellies, hips, and thighs during the Christmas season. As writers, or anyone who spends a lot of time at the computer, it's important to take good care of our backs, eyes, and muscles. If you're in your twenties or thirties, you might not be experiencing problems, but by the time you spend thirty years at a computer, trust me, you will.

This year you might want to take a ten-minute break at least once an hour to give your body and eyes a break. Stretch, walk around, look out the window at something far away in the distance. Don't let a minor annoyance, like a sore back, or that tingle in your fingers, go unattended. It could become severe, even incapacitating. I know how easy it is to get caught up in a story or a book deadline and before you know it the entire day has passed and you haven't moved from your computer (except to grab a cola and a few cookies to tide you over until dinner). But this year, resolve to take better care of yourself for the long haul so you will still be able to write those wonderful stories when you're eighty.