Here is the cover art for a new book coming soon from Liquid Silver Books under my alter-ego name, Vicky Burkholder. THE EMERALD KEY is an urban fantasy and is the first in a four part series (each is a stand alone – no clipped threads from me!). Check back often or check the Liquid Silver Books site for the publication date!
The year, 1993.
The place – a small, public library in south central Pennsylvania.
I was working as the cataloguer for a small public library in south central Pennsylvania. The library is housed in an 1880 mansion that was donated to the town for the purposes of establishing a free library. The office where I did my cataloguing was in what used to be the butler’s pantry – what we would today call the kitchen. The shelves were deep, to accommodate what was originally china and serving dishes. They were perfect for storage of the books that I worked on.
When I was hired, my boss jokingly told me that when I came in each morning, I needed to say hello to Mr. Stewart, the resident ghost – and former owner of the mansion. I chuckled, but waved vaguely in the direction of the shelves and what would be my workspace and said “Hello, Mr. Stewart. It’s nice to meet you.”
Then I got to work.
Being the superstitious sort, as I came in each morning, I greeted Mr. Stewart, chuckling to myself, but still… I did greet him.
Then one morning, I didn’t. It was a bad morning already with sick kids and deadlines to meet and all the stuff that goes with life. Things that can make a person cranky in the morning.
And my books fell off the shelves. Puzzled, I picked them up and set them back on the shelves and brought up my computer. I chalked it up to a heavy truck rumbling by outside – though usually that didn’t cause books to go flying. A few minutes later, they all fell off the shelves again. This time, there were no trucks rumbling by. I checked the shelves to make sure they weren’t wobbly – they weren’t. And that there was nothing slick on the shelves to make the books fall – there wasn’t. I replaced the books once more and got back to work.
Then they fell again.
By this time, I was beyond frustrated. My boss walked in the door and looked at me sitting on the floor trying to put all those books back in order and she chuckled.
“You didn’t say good morning to Mr. Stewart, did you?”
I stared at her from my spot on the floor. “I… um… no. I guess I didn’t.”
She helped me replace the books on the shelves and I turned to the room. “My apologies, Mr. Stewart. May you have a pleasant day.”
The books stayed put for the rest of the day. And I never forgot to greet Mr. Stewart after that.
What’s your Halloween story?
I am a writer. No big news there. But what many of you don’t know is that I’m also an editor. I’m the content editor for one of the larger online publishers. I’m not an acquiring editor (I don’t buy the manuscripts or offer contracts), but I do all the rest of the work. I go over the manuscripts I am sent line by line, word by word. I look for misspellings, inconsistencies, plot holes, grammar, etc. I go over each manuscript I do a minimum of four times, with the author. I research things I don’t know, or ask the author (in bubble comments) for clarifications. I’m the person who looks for your mistakes.
I’m not infallible. I make mistakes too. Which is why we have a second editor – a line editor – who goes over it another time to find anything we (the author and I) missed. Though I attempt to make your book the best book it can possibly be, I am human. Things slip through.
But there are times…
I recently was working on a manuscript that the author had previously self-published and it had now been bought up by my publisher. No surprise. It happens every day. I went over the book with a fine tooth comb and found some issues that needed to be addressed. I pointed them out to the author.
And got royally creamed by the author’s higher than mighty attitude. Her comments to me were belittling and, in one case, cruel – basically that I didn’t know what I was doing, etc. I will cede one of her points. I’m not fluent in the language she was using (some European dialect) and though I googled the term, I could not find it in any online dictionaries. So I questioned it. And was taken to task for my stupidity and given a link where to find it. She was correct and I admit to my error, but degrading me for an error does not endear you to me.
So to all the writers out there – I ask you this – please be nice to your editor. We work hard to make your books better. Yes, we have off days (everyone does!) and we make mistakes, but we do our best. We do this job because we love stories, not because we’re getting paid well (trust me, we’re not!). If your editor has made an error, discuss it with him or her nicely, don’t malign them. It is possible to point out your reasoning without being nasty. We could all use a little more nice in our world these days. Help an editor out. Be nice.
In reading over several manuscripts, I ask myself, how does this writer introduce information about the characters? How much belongs in the first chapter?
Handling background information is one of the trickiest parts of writing. The general rule is to include only what’s needed up front, then gradually provide additional details. The problem is, how do you know what’s needed?
You want to involve the reader immediately with the story and characters. Anything that slows down that process, unless the information is essential to the scene, should be pared. However, the reader needs to feel grounded. Where are we, in what time period, and roughly how old are the characters (just a hint — don’t have to be specific)? Gender’s important, too, especially if you’re writing in the first person.
Don’t drop information in an awkward lump. It can be subtle. We know it’s present day if a character uses a cell phone. If she’s an atypical eighty-year-old who text messages, provide other clues.
Warning: avoid the cliché of having the hero or heroine see him/herself in the mirror. If someone’s shooting at the heroine and she’s running for her life, she might reflect that, beneath the streetlights, her blonde hair is probably turning her into a target. Or, in a different situation, she might compare herself with someone. For instance, she considers her friend’s shiny dark hair much more striking than her light brown curls. Or have someone else comment on her coloring, height, etc.
Make sure details reveal character. To say the heroine’s wearing a business suit or a cocktail dress is often sufficient, but if she’s klutzy, she’ll have a stain on that outfit. If she’s wearing a business suit at a cocktail party, perhaps she’s a workaholic, or an absent-minded exec.
Furnishings, too, should be relevant. If she’s an impoverished heroine in a Regency romance, show the threadbare sofa and chipped porcelain bowls.
Drawing the reader into the story immediately is essential these days. Unlike in the 19th century, when novels could begin at a leisurely pace, we have to compete with TV, DVDs, videogames, and cell phones. In commercial fiction (literary fiction has its own rules), what are we trying to accomplish on Page One?
Make the tone fit the genre. If it’s scary, make it tense or eerie. If it’s funny, keep the tone light. Aim for sparkling prose and dialogue. Prune clichés and chitchat. In a romance, introduce a hero or heroine that the reader can care about. If we can’t tell the protagonists from the secondary characters right off the bat, you’re in trouble. Establish a clear point of view. Try to keep it to a single point of view per scene. Watch out for frequent shifts, also known as head hopping, especially on the first page.
What you want to do is make your beginning draw the reader in. Actually, you want to do this with the entire book, but it’s especially important in the beginning. If you don’t get them then, you’ve lost them completely. Most people don’t have time these days to wade through a hundred pages to get to the good stuff. Put the good stuff up front, and keep it there throughout the story. That will win you readers.
What genre do your books fall into or is it a genre blended? Erotic romance with a mix of suspense and paranormal.
What inspires you to write? Deadlines, and I’m only half joking.
Do you listen to music or set the mood somehow to get writing? I’ve created a writing playlist, music that won’t break my concentration, like the soundtracks Blade Runner and Chronicles of Narnia.
Do you come up with the plot or characters first? I kind of start with a situation and one or both of the main characters, and I just start writing. Somewhere around chapter three, I get stuck and stop to think about plot
Do you have a favorite book of yours? Hard to say a fave, but was very proud when Blame It on the Moon won the HOLT Medallion Award.
Who would you consider an influence on your writing? I’d have to say the ladies of the Virginia Romance Writers have been the biggest influence, with encouragement, advice, and a lot of talent between them.
Tell me something quirky about yourself. I’m a devoted Whovian. My first Doctor was Ten, so he remains my fave, and I’m counting down the days to the 50th Anniversary Special. (See, I’m not a geek at all.)
What do you aim to make people feel when they read your books? At turns frustrated, turned on, scared, sad, excited, and in love.
What’s next for you? I’ve just completed the manuscript for my next Ellora’s Cave title. Getting ready to revise!
Do you sing in the shower? No, but I hum in the bath.
A TWISTED MAGICK Blog Tour needs a fab prize at the end, don’t you think? How about a $20 Amazon gift cert! Comment on any of my blog posts during the tour, then refer to the contest page (http://sharalanel.com/2013/09/05/enter-to-win-amazon-gift-card/) on my Shara blog to get yourself entered to win! I’ll draw the winner on Nov. 1st.
Shara Lanel’s novels are always full of suspense and hot romance, whether set on the moon or in a Mexican jungle. She resides in Richmond, VA with a clingy dog, an action-oriented son, and a handsome hubby. Don’t put her in the kitchen, unless you want to burn it down, and her green-thumb is hit-or-miss, but she excels as a bibliophile, hoping she never has to pack up and move, since her hubby might see just how many volumes she really has.
Shylah, a small-town teacher, has put her arcane history behind her, until two students are murdered occult style. Her Wiccan religion is outed. She loses her job and deals daily with ridicule. The obvious thing would be to leave town, but she refuses—she’s innocent.
Gabriel is a PI from California dealing with his aunt’s cold shoulder. She wants him to fly to Virginia to solve his cousin’s murder, but he doesn’t have the money or the time until he breaks a big case he’s been working on. Now his cousin’s case is three months cold with one hot witchy suspect and no proof. As soon as he sees Shylah, he wants her, for a lot more than just questioning.
Gabe has the power to make Shylah’s insides melt and her judgment fade. She knows he can bring her down if he discovers the twisted magick of her past, but every time he touches her, she can’t say no. She needs to get him to see past prejudice and help her find the real killer. Together, they make magic in more ways than one.
A Romantica® paranormal erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave Twilight line.
EXCERPT from A TWISTED MAGICK:
“I’d like my fortune read, please.”
Shylah startled, both from the sound of a voice where there hadn’t been one for several minutes, and also at the familiarity. The deep, velvety voice flipped a switch in her body, from off to on. But what was Gabe doing here? How had he even found out about her new business? She slowly looked up, mentally squaring her shoulders. What new tact would he try today?
He gazed at her herbs and candles. “Got any pot in there?”
She sighed. “Why are you here? I thought we were done talking.”
“Like I said, I want my fortune told.”
“How did you even find me?”
He grinned as he pulled out the chair opposite her. “My hotel had the Richmond and Charlottesville papers, so I saw your ad.”
“My name’s not in my ad.”
“I have my ways.”
That worried her, since she didn’t want other Smith Creek residents finding out about her side business.
She looked up again and found him staring at her intensely. Disconcerted, she gestured for him to sit and slid her drawings off the table and into the bag underneath. “What sort of divination are you interested in?”
“What do you usually do?”
“Well, I have a crystal ball if you want the total ambience. I have the tarot or runes, which are the most popular, or I can scry into a mirror. Do you have a specific question in mind?”
He turned the chair around backward and sat down. Why did men do that? “Yes, it concerns the truth about guilt or innocence.”
Shylah grimaced. “I think we’ll use the cards, which will give you something tangible to look at.” She slipped the deck out of the silk bag again and handed the oversized cards to him. “Shuffle them slowly while concentrating on your question. But you can’t expect me to give you a reading admitting to my supposed guilt. That would be counterproductive on my part, don’t you think?”
“I didn’t say it was your guilt or innocence I was thinking about.”
“No?” She lit an incense cone in a tiny brass censer. “Pull the curtain closed a bit, okay?”
“Not all the way?”
“I like potential customers to know I’m in here, even if I’m giving a reading.” She took the cards from him, grazing his fingers and wondering at the tingle she felt. It was a schoolgirl tingle, the kind you get when you’re working with the boy you have a crush on. She hadn’t felt that tingle since high school.
The table was covered with a black shawl with Chinese calligraphy on it. She spread the cards out in the classic Celtic Cross formation, and the first thing she noticed was the death card in the future position. The death card usually meant extreme change, not literal death, but as Shylah peered at the cards and took in their vibrations, she realized that this card might mean literal death. Her face froze. Who? Was Gabe going to die? She looked up into his strong face, masculine jaw and cheekbones, kissable mouth, mahogany eyes. Once she got past her immediate attraction—again—she thought she saw an unnatural shadow across his face. She let her eyes un-focus so she could see it better.
It was a skull.
“What’s the matter? This card with the grim reaper isn’t good, is it?”
“Someone’s going to die.”
The past two weeks, I’ve been working on edits of two historical novels, one a fantasy, the other a straight historical, but both set in similar medieval worlds. Ones with lords and ladies, kings and queens. So I thought this week, I’d talk about capitalization, especially as it concerns terms of address. My reference work of choice for this – as for almost everything – is the Chicago Manual of Style. I highly recommend this work if you want to do any kind of fictional writing.
So as to not confuse you – or myself – I am going to talk specifically about English (be they American, British, Canadian, etc.) entities and not Asian or Middle Eastern. So… here you go.
When talking about a title or office such as government, military, religious or professional persons, the title is capitalized only when used with a name or are used as a name, but are lower case when used generically:
President Lincoln; the president: President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. The president presented a great speech.
General Grant; the general: General Grant became president. Lee met with the general to discuss terms.
Pope John II; the pope: We got to see Pope John II in person. We saw the pope in person.
Queen Elizabeth; the queen: I saw Queen Elizabeth at her coronation. We saw the queen in the parade.
Congressman Jackson; the congressman: We saw Congressman Jackson at the dinner. We saw the congressman at the dinner.
Bishop Donnelly; the bishop
Reverend Michaels; the reverend
Professor Meltzer; the professor
Dean Boyer; the dean
and so on – you get the idea right? If it’s part of the name, it gets capitalized. If it’s not, it doesn’t. Some people get confused when there’s no name associated with the title, but it’s used as a name. For instance, in the following dialogue:
“What are your orders, General?”
In this case, the name is implied and it is capitalized You are using the title as the name. The same thing goes for family names.
“Hi Mom!” vs. I need to talk to my mom. (the first is used as her name, the second is not.)
I love my aunt Mary. vs. I believe Aunt Mary is the eldest of the sisters.
One other area of confusion is the use of “my lord” or “my lady” or other honorifics. Most of these are capitalize, but not all.
the First Lady
the Queen Mother
His (Her, Your) Majesty or Royal Highness
His (Her, Your) Excellency
where the confusion come in is the use of lower case in “my lord” and “my lady”, “sir” (as in Yes, sir), and “ma’am” (Yes, ma’am).
Clear as mud, right?
Peeve for the day – learn the differences! Some of these are repeats, but I’ll repeat them until you get them right.
They’re – short for ‘they are’ as in “They are (they’re) going swimming.
There – a place: The pool is over there. (see the word ‘here’ in there meaning a place)
Their – belonging to them. We’re going swimming in their pool. (see the word ‘heir’ in there as in someone who’s going to get something)
It’s – short for it is: It’s their turn to clean the pool (It is their turn)
Its – a pronoun, cannot be substituted with ‘it is’: the dog wagged its tail.
Your – a possessive (belonging to you) – That is your dog not mine.
You’re – short for you are: You’re not going to like this (you are not going to like this)
we’re – short for we are: We’re going swimming (we are going swimming)
were – past tense of are: We were going to go swimming, but something came up.
then – a point in time: we’re going hiking, then we’re going swimming
than – a choice: I’d rather go swimming than hiking.
affect – a verb meaning ‘to influence’: The illness affected his body
effect – a noun meaning consequence or result: The illness has had an effect on his body.
few – used for number and countable nouns: There were ten fewer people at the party than we expected.
less – used for quantity, measure, degree and non-countable nouns: The guru gave us less advice than we expected.
farther – physical distance (see the word ‘far’ in there?) We hiked two miles farther into the mountain.
further – virtual distance (cannot be measured) – this argument can go no further.
each other – used when involving only two people: John and I hugged each other.
one another – used with three or more people: The baseball team consoled one another after losing the game.
who – refers to people: I appreciate the person who (not that) cleaned house for me.
that – refers to things: I like the puppy that licked me.
Last week I talked about Plot – this week, I’m giving you a list of questions to apply to your story concerning plot, characters, and more. If you can’t answer the questions, then perhaps you need to go back and look at your story. Something might be missing, or out of place, or there might be too much of something.
1. What is your story about?
2. Who are the main characters in your book? There should be one or two – three at the very most (hero, heroine, villain).
3. What do they want? What are their internal and external goals and are the goals important enough to carry the entire story?
4. Why does it matter if your characters do or don’t reach their goals? If it doesn’t matter, you don’t have a story.
5. When are the goals met? If too soon, you might have a short story, but not necessarily a novel.
6. How do they meet their goals? They should have to overcome obstacles that make it exceedingly difficult to reach their goals.
7. Do you have subplots? How do they relate to the main plot?
8. Is there enough of a story to fill an entire book?
9. What is the initiating event that sets off the rest of the action in the book?
10. Does the conflict escalate, with a major complication every few chapters, throughout the book? Is the conflict believable?
11. Do you use compelling hooks at the end of chapters to keep the reader interested?
12. Are there enough twists in the plot, especially towards the end, to keep the reader reading?
13. Do you have subplots? How do they relate to the main plot?
14. Are all conflicts, problems, loose ends solved at the end?
15. Do you have a compelling opening sentence? One that draws the reader in and makes him or her want to continue reading? If not, can you make it more compelling?
16. Where does the story start? Have you included too much backstory?
17. Do you have a catchy or unique title that is appropriate for the story?
18. What makes your story unique? What gives it an edge over other stories?
One of the first questions you should ask when you’ve finished your book is “What is my book about?” Try to boil it down to a sentence or two. This is the basis of your plot.
Plot is what your story is about. If you just string together a group of sentences that have no coherency, you don’t have a plot. You don’t have a story. You just have words. In order to have a plot – and, therefore, a story – you have to be writing about something, preferably something that is includes conflict. If you write romance – the basic plot is: boy gets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl back (usually with a bit more action thrown in for interest.) Or you can think of it this way: plot is two dogs with one bone.
It is important to have a plot that draws the reader in – and keeps him or her reading. Proposing hypothetical questions the reader may ask does this. Consider the following passage from my story, “Prime Time”:
Deena studied the newest crop of lunar tourists and transports milling around the huge domed reception area as her partner began his spiel for his audience. On the far side of the shuttles, she caught a quick glimpse of Security leading out a sorry-looking group in binding collars.
One of the prisoners broke from the line and dashed for the shuttle. He never had a chance. The guards triggered his collar and took him down before he got ten steps. Deena winced as they dragged the unconscious man to a cart and dumped him. She hoped for the prisoner’s sake he never woke up. He’d be much better off. The guard glared at her and she turned away. She was here to do a job and forget whatever she might see. She could do nothing for them. Nothing.
The questions that arise are: What is Deena doing there? Why can’t she help anyone? Why would it be better if the prisoner never woke up? Is Deena a prisoner? What is going on here? Each question leads to another – and thus, the beginning of a plot.
Plot can take two basic forms, or even a combination of the two. It will usually be either a three-act structure (beginning, middle, end), or, from Joseph Cambell’s writings, be a mythic journey. It can also be a combination of the mythic journey within the three act structure.
In the three act structure, you have the beginning (Act I) in which you introduce the character(s), set the tone, establish the setting, introduce the story problem and urge the reader to move on to the next section.
Act II is where you expand on these issues and set up the final moment of the story.
Act III is the final battle, the tying up of loose ends, and leave the reader satisfied.
The Mythic Journey, as explained by Christopher Vogler in his book (which I urge you to get), consists of:
Hero in his ordinary world
The call to adventure
Answering the call
Tasks and challenges
Allies and opponents
In addition to these structures, most plots can be boiled down to patterns:
The quest – Indiana Jones looking for the Ark of the Covenant
Revenge – Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride”
Love – choose any “chick flick”
Change – Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”
Adventure – Dorothy in “Wizard of Oz” or Luke in “Star Wars”
The Chase – “The Fugitive”
One Against – Batman in “The Dark Knight” or Erin Brockovich
One Apart – Rick in “Casablanca” or Han in “Star Wars”
Power – Lord of the Rings
Death Overhanging – death can take three forms: physical, emotional, or professional. For physical, “Titanic”; emotional – “Inception”; professional – “Pretty Woman”
Sometimes it helps to have something in the ending reflect back to the beginning of the story. You can do this with an object or with a situation that mirrors one in the beginning. For instance, if you had a story about a blackout, you could have the hero flicking the light switch at the beginning and – nothing. He goes through the apartment searching for candles. The story continues and on the last page, he flicks on the light switch and gets light – then turns it off and lights a candle.
Or you could have the very nervous heroine entering a particular building and at the end, she enters that same building, but this time, everything has changed, especially her.
When checking on the plot line, ask yourself what is the hero/heroine’s goal? If he or she doesn’t reach the goal, so what? Why should the reader care? What makes the goal so important that we need to read? If the goal or conflict is too simple, you’ll end up with the reader saying “they could have done that on page one”, and if they could have, that’s not a good novel. If the goals aren’t important, neither is the story. Having your character take a shower merely because she wants to isn’t a compelling action. It only becomes important if she happens to be staying at a place called “The Bates Hotel”. (If you don’t understand that reference, check out a little movie called “Psycho” by Alfred Hitchcock.)
Once you’ve set the stakes, raise them. And raise them again. And again. Keep the story growing.
In a full length novel, you will probably have several sub-plots as well as the main plot. A sub-plot is similar to a plot, but may involve secondary characters. Even with other characters, they should have something to do with the plot, a link that ties them to the main story line. Like a plot, they must be tied up at the end.
Next week – Part II of Plot
My Writing Partner
Writing is a solitary occupation—at least the first part of the book writing process is done alone. I do most of my writing sitting in my La-Z-Boy chair or if I want a change of scenery, I head out to a café.
When I write at home, I have an assistant. Here she is…meet Bella.
Bella’s job—as she sees it:
1. To make sure I don’t suffer from bottom spread. She nags me with loud barks when it’s time for me to do some exercise.
2. To take regular meal breaks. Again, her barking gets my attention, but she also comes to me chair and makes sure I haven’t missed the message that it’s food time.
3. To collect the mail. She likes to know that we can afford to pay for her food during the coming month and likes checks almost as much as I do.
4. To discourage door-to-door salesmen. No one should distract her partner when she’s in writing mode.
5. To suggest plotting breaks. She signals this by appearing with a tennis ball or her favorite toy.
6. To dispense cuddles when the writing isn’t going well. She edges her way onto my chair, nudging the laptop out of the way.
We have a pretty good partnership, Bella and I, and her excellent understanding of what makes a happy author brings fun to my writing process.
CONTEST: Do you have someone who helps you during the writing process or when you’re reading? Answer this question and complete the rafflecopter below to go into a draw to win an Amazon gift certificate.
Here’s the blurb:
He wears his scars on the outside. She keeps hers safe inside.
Charlotte Dixon ignores her stepmother’s edict and, in an act of disobedience, attends one of the social events of the year—a masquerade costume ball. Charlotte’s naughtiness escalates when she dances and smooches with a sexy mystery man. The night of anonymous passion that follows makes her yearn for a different life, but the next day she’s back to her dull routine of household management.
Advertising tycoon, Ash Marlborough is about to set a private investigator on the trail of his nameless princess when she waltzes right into his place of work. Charlotte is shocked to meet her masked man in the flesh, and even more perturbed when he asks her out on a date. Despite craving another night of sexy loving, she doesn’t have time for a man, not when she wants to reinvent herself and grasp a new, improved life with both hands. But Ash knows what he wants, and he’s determined to win the heart of his princess. Let the dance of seduction commence.
Warning: Contains a conniving stepmother, selfish stepsisters, a grandmother with fairy godmother tendencies and a sexy masked man who is willing to face them all for the love of a good woman.
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/305070
~ * ~
Shelley Munro is tall and curvaceous with blue eyes and a smile that turns masculine heads everywhere she goes. She’s a university tutor and an explorer/treasure hunter during her vacations. Skilled with weapons and combat, she is currently in talks with a producer about a television series based on her world adventures.
Shelley is also a writer blessed with a VERY vivid imagination and lives with her very own hero in New Zealand. She writes mainly erotic romance in the contemporary, paranormal and historical genres for publishers Carina Press, Ellora’s Cave and Samhain Publishing. You can learn more about Shelley and her books at http://www.shelleymunro.com.
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://www.amazon.com/Shelley-Munro/e/B001JOWGNK