Thursday, August 4, 2011

The pen is mightier than the sword.

One affirmation of Nelson Mandela’s many words of wisdom states: “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

As a writer, I see that as just another twist to Robert Bulwer-Lytton’s, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

How’s that for giving us writers a sense of power? And riding on the shoulders of that power is a big responsibility. Are we paying attention? Are we living up to our responsibilities?

An important part of writing is reading and that’s something I do a LOT. But when I finish a book and don’t feel as if I’ve come away enriched in some way, I’m disappointed. The author didn’t let his or her light shine, didn’t send me a message of some sort, and I feel almost bereft.

I’m not saying that every novel out there must be heavy with meaning. I think we all enjoy an “easy read” once in a while—on a long airline flight, when we’re on vacation, or just when we need an innocuous distraction from the perils of Life.

But the stories that last are the ones that tackle and conquer life’s issues, that light the protagonist’s way—and ours vicariously—through the detritus of a malevolent society. Jane Austen wrote about a culture that scorned women. Yet her female characters were strong and managed to survive or overcome the system. Jodi Picoult plunges the reader smack-dab into compelling controversy in her books. She puts us in the shoes of a mother who is pregnant with a critically infirm baby, or of two women who fall in love—with each other. Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” introduces the reader to amazing information about the symbols all over our capitol, plus the IONS (Institute of Noetic Science) organization.

Your stories are certainly “about something” or there is no story, really. As you build the conflict and strengthen your characters, don’t forget to let your light shine through it.

- Posted for Joan Baier by SAY

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Do You Know...?

A question brought up at a group awhile back prompted me to blog about a subject you don't hear discussed often.

How do you know when your work is ready to submit for publication?

This is a great question, because oftentimes we feel something is ready to send off...after all, we've revised and edited it numerous times...and yet, it might not be our best effort after all.

I feel I know my work is ready when I read it (for the fiftieth time already!) and I am caught within the story's spell. It no longer feels like I am reading my own work that I've struggled with in the attempt make every essential word perfect, every metaphor fresh and clever, every mention of dialog captivating. I am in time and place with the character. I feel as if I'm reading someone else's novel. An author I admire, even.

There are paragraphs where this is not the case--places where sentences don't seamlessly mesh, awkward and sharp as crevices between stacked rocks along a pier. A reader doesn't want to go on, can't go on, because there doesn't seem to be a smooth place to step.

I may spend hours on a few sentences, rearranging them, chiseling each phrase until it says exactly what I want in the most astute manner. But the payoff is big. The next time I read through, I'm no longer stopped by sentences that drop off into a thrashing sea. I've made a stone bridge. It's strong, it's durable, and it's traversable.

Perhaps you depend on the help of a writer's group, or have a trusted and keen-eyed reader. I have that as well. But in the end, only you can feel satisfied enough with your work. Only you can decide when it's time to take that gigantic step and submit your work.

Put away the piece you're writing for a few weeks. Pull it out with fresh eyes, pretend you're a reader. Do you become so focused on the story everything else falls away? Are you so engrossed that you suddenly realize it's three in the morning and you have to get up for work in a few hours? If so, you may be ready to take that leap.

How do you know when your work is ready? When you feel you can't go any further to improve upon what you have written.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interviewing Favorite Characters

Several months ago, authors from the Class of '85 series out of the Wild Rose Press, came together to promote their books on one menber's blog: with interviews of their favorite characters.

Here is the interview with Dru Horvath from Embraceable You. I hope you enjoy it.

Where are you from originally, Dru? I'm not really sure. Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic states probably. My family traveled around a lot. I was removed by Child Protective Services after my parents were arrested in Summerville New York for running a Gypsy scam.

What is Embraceable You about? It is the story of myself and Sheriff Rory McElroy who come together for a few hours at an awards banquet during the 25th reunion for the Class of ’85-and how those few hours forever changed our lives.

What did you think the first time you saw Rory? That he filled out a tux real well.

What was your second thought? Since Homeland Security had me on a pretty tight leash that night, I looked at the great big bed over in the corner of this plush hotel room, and figured it was too bad I wouldn’t be sticking around long enough for him and me to try it out.

Did you think it was love at first sight? No, but there was a lot of lust flying around.

What do you like most about Rory? He makes me laugh, plus that man can slow dance like no tomorrow. Yum.

How would you describe him? He looks like Daniel Craig with that bored ‘screw-you’ look on his face and the build of a boxer. Man, he is hard all over. Sorry, didn’t mean to be crude, but this man does not have a soft part on his body . . . except his heart. That’s all mush.

How would he describe you? Tinkerbell with a mouth and an attitude to match.

What made you choose photo-journalism as a profession? I received my first camera as a Christmas gift when I was maybe 15. Pretty soon I was taking pictures of everything in town. Framing and light came easy, like instinct. An important man in town, Henry Dunavan, paid for private classes at RIT—Rochester Institute of Technology—for me. The instructor helped me get into RIT’s photography program. Things took off after that.

What is your biggest fear? Ten months ago I would have said not living long enough to accomplish my goals. Today I will say it’s not being able to come home to Rory.

How do you relax? When I find out, I'll let you know.

Who is your favorite fictional character and why? Ouiser Boudreaux from Steel Magnolias. She is confident, self assured and loyal to her friends. Plus, she makes me laugh.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Do not allow fear to prevent you from doing what is right.

What books have had an impact on your life?

Mila 18 and Trinity, Leon Uris

Carnal Innocence and Divine Evil, Nora Roberts

A Problem From Hell: the world's response to genocide, Samantha Powers

The Parsifal Mosaic and The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum

A Man to Die For, Eileen Dreyer

The Night They Burned the Mountain and Deliver Us From Evil, Dr. Tom Dooley

Thanks for consenting to this interview, Dru. We appreciate it.

No prob.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Casinos and Writing Similarities

I must confess—I like to gamble. When my sister comes to visit, which she does frequently, we head out to a local casino, about thirty miles away. It got me to thinking how much writing and playing the slot machines are similar. (I suppose this is relevant to other games, but I still can’t master craps or video poker.)

The anticipation of driving up to the casino is akin to the anticipation of writing a book. You’re starting fresh, you have high hopes for doing well that afternoon, and you look forward to what’s coming. When you begin the process of either, it’s exciting and interesting.

Mostly though, what I find comparable is the suddenness of winning or losing at both. One book is swooned over by the editors and sells well. The next sale is rejected by the same publisher. Or you get great reviews, even awards, for one story. Hardly anyone likes the subsequent one. Your writing life can be turned around on a dime, good or bad, with a phone call or an email. The same goes for the games. You win, you win, then you lose. You can be down to your last dollar and Boom! you hit the jackpot. This has happened to me frequently. I think I’m done playing the slots then I get a huge payout, enough to keep going for hours. Another parallel came to mind when I put up my backlist and one original novella for sale online. Some days I had 50 sales on the Kindle, Nook, Sony or iPad. Then, I’ve had 225 purchases show up next day.

I can’t say I really like how precarious slot machines are or how tenuous success is in the publishing world. Sometimes I wonder why I do either. Sometimes I think there are a lot more important things in life to be devoting my time, money or energy to. Yet I’m guessing they’re both in my blood. Okay, truthfully, I can go months without setting a foot in the casino. But that’s not so with writing. For over twenty years, I have not stayed away from a manuscript for that length of time. I’m thinking only once did I not write for three full weeks and that was when I was on vacation in Italy. (And then I read on the beach, in trains, on airline flights, which improves my writer’s skill.)

Of course, it goes without saying I’d much rather be bitten by the writing bug than the gambling one. Though the adrenaline rush comes from both for me, I guess I’m just lucky (pun intended) I get it mostly from my writing career, even with its ups and downs.

By: Kathy Shay

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The New Age of Literature

I'm envious. Truly, teeth-gnashingly envious.

Kids these days have it made if they want to be a writer. They can take courses on-line. There are local venues dedicated to the craft, and they learn the important parts of a story in the first grade. I only learned that just last year. And I'm still trying to internalize it.

There are magazines where kids can submit their stories and drawings and see them published before their eighteenth birthday. Paying magazines. Yes, they can draw in an income writing while some of us simmer in our own jealous juices. And they can be a part of writing communities with the stroke of a keyboard, which, by the way, they've mastered while I punch out this essay using two fingers and a hunched-over back.

When I was growing up, I used a typewriter for my stories. Mistakes had to be whited out and typed over. Schools did not emphasize story telling. Instead, I was forced to write sentences using new vocabulary words in pen, and if I made an error I had to start all over. I chose to turn the sentences into a story, so desperate was I to write, but my grade depended on my spelling and usage of the vocabulary words and not my creative efforts.

I had no mentors. No authors to meet and greet at book festivals. I looked up to the characters in my books, not the hard-working person behind the story. We didn't have author visits.

I learned to write by the skin of my teeth, one mistake at a time. I sent stories off in the hopes of instant publication only to discover my work wasn't suitable, wasn't good enough. I studied how to write on my own, using books on the craft, attending writer's conferences, taking the occasional on-line class and coming to terms with the fact that although I was much older, teens far surpassed me in writing skills. They had started a mile ahead from my start line. I had to be quicker, faster, to catch up and finish alongside them.

It's a new age of literature. It seems everyone wants to be a writer, and our youth already has a handsome head start.

My teeth ache from envy-gnashing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Book I Could Not Put Down

I don't recall the last time I could not put down a book, a time when I looked forward to going to bed because I knew I'd be able to read more of this recently released jewel by Eileen Dreyer: "Never A Gentleman", part II of her Drake's Rakes series.

I like to learn new things as I read a captivating story. Check. Eileen is a fiend for research.
I like to laugh, chuckle, howl with glee. Triple check. Eileen is always good for a gut-buster.
I especially like a hero with warts. Check. I got so mad at this jerk some times, I considered throwing the book against the wall. Then I remembered who we're talking about here: the Queen of Happy Endings when you never EVER think it will happen.

If I had any criticism it is that the heroine, a six foot tall redhead who limped due to a congenital birth defect, forgave the hero too quickly. Personally, I would have kicked him [using my good foot for better delivery of excruciating pain] to the curb . . . then forgave him. Maybe.

I love history but one era I never took an interest in was the Regency Period, Wellington defeating Napoleon at Waterloo and all that stuff. Great stuff here. If it's all part of Eileen's very fertile imagination, it kept this girl glued to the pages.

Glued, not stuck.
Super Max Glu, not that crappy white paste from kindergarten.
If you get a chance, pick this one up.
It's a honey.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Window Star

Window Star
By S. Arthur Yates

Resplendent, they appear.
Strangers, unwelcome.

Polite, always polite.
Strangers, unwelcome.

Details few, words hollow.
Strangers, unwelcome.

Notification - complete.
Strangers, unwelcome.

The drape, arrives later.
Strangers, unwelcome.

Blue star to gold.


(A blue star is placed in the window when a loved one goes to war. If they are missing in action (MIA), the star is changed to silver. If they are killed in action (KIA), it is changed to gold.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kathy Shay's Blog Post

Being a writer is both a blessing and a curse. Some things a writer does are a little of both. Whenever I’m in a situation, invariably I think about how I can use it in my writing. I’m in a grocery store line and I see a really pretty woman or a cute guy and think—they could be in my book. I’ll have to remember her haircut. Or I’m watching TV and a police procedural will have an interesting twist, and I write it down to remember it for a suspense I’m plotting. Right now, being mother-of-the-bride-to-be is consuming a great deal of my time. I savored each step of getting the dress, finding flowers and the myriad of other details that lead up to a wedding. But I couldn’t help myself make mental notes about the feeling a bride’s mom has about her child taking such a big step, how the gown shimmered on my daughter, how fun and bridesmaids’ dresses are, each a different color.

This was no clearer to me than when I was in New York City about two weeks ago. My friend and I went down to see THE CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON starring Chris Noth (THE GOOD WIFE) and Kieffer Sutherland (24). While we were there, we also saw a musical, ate in wonderful restaurants and had a lot of girl-time. For the first play, we were waiting in a roped off area where the stars come out to sign autographs. Two bouncers stood inside the ropes looking big and beefy, and a NYC cop was trying to keep the women out of the streets so cars and busses could go by. He was very gracious saying, “All you beautiful women have to go up on the sidewalk.” My friend waited in anticipation for autographs. At one point she was making her way to the front of the crowd and said, “Come on, don’t you want to be up close?” I shook my head thinking, “No, I want to talk to the cop.” I wondered if he liked being on this duty or did it get old? What shift did he prefer? Did he have someone to go home to?

For most writers, everything’s material. Good or bad, we can always use it in a book!
Kathy Shay

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Voice is what keeps readers connected to your character. It establishes who they are without having to resort to "telling." For example, you can write: I'm terrified of spiders. Or you can write: Can't stand those wiggly-waggly eight-legged misfits creeping out of corners and dangling by a sticky thread in one's unsuspecting face.

Which person's story would you rather read?

One person in our group who has mastered voice is Lisa Scott. It may be because of her experience as a voice-over narrator. I've often noticed that actors and voice talent specialists have an edge over those who haven't read dialogue out loud for a hobby or a living. They wouldn't be successful at their job if they couldn't grasp the emotion behind the words. And that's what we do when we write using voice: we try to grasp the emotion.

Here are three ways to say the same thing using three different voices:

Ain't nobody seen Miss Polly, not since school let out that swelterin' June day. Guess Wendell was the last one to set eyes on her. Says she was sweatin' like a pig in front of a carvin' knife.

It happened on the hottest day in June. Me and Darlene stormed out of the school, giggling over something that no longer seems important. We had no idea goofy old Wendell would be the last one to set eyes on Polly McGraw. If we had even one bit of sense, we would've kept our eye on her, too. Because after she marched out of the classroom, she was never seen again.

Darlene and I joined the throng of students piling out the school's yawning door into Mother Nature's oven. My face was slick with sweat by the time we reached the waiting bus. Wendell was there, too, face red as a chili pepper. "Did you see Polly?" he asked. We shook our heads. "Just wondering." He shrugged. "She didn't look so good." At the time we hadn't thought it odd. But when she went missing, we began to wonder.

Each character has their own unique voice. We can picture what kind of person each one is, even though we have only read one paragraph of the story.

I challenge anyone who reads this to develop their character's unique voice. First, second, or close doesn't matter. If you don't have a strong voice, you'll lose the reader.

Try putting yourself in the shoes of a beloved character. Harry Potter. Jane Eyre. Claire Huxtable (my personal favorite!). Television or novel character, it doesn't matter. Now write a paragraph using their voice. How would they talk? Think? Act? The more you practice using different characters, the more natural it will become to write in their voice.

And it never hurts to take an acting class.

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Editor's Wish List

I have presented the information in the distant past to the LCRW membership on what every editor looks for in a submission. I tweaked it a bit for today's blog. Hope it helps you.

The High Concept

I spent a very long time trying to figure this one out, attending every editor/agent roundtable available, asking for examples. Nada. Until I heard agent Jessica Faust speak at the New England Romance Writers conference and a light bulb went off inside my brain: The high concept, in a very few sentences, sums up the crux of the story. Here are some 'ah ha' examples I have found at

Julia Knight's fantasy romance, Ilfayne's Bane, [Samhain Publishing, Ltd.]: “He destroyed a continent. Dethroned a god. Now she will destroy him.”

Monica Burns' historical erotic romance, Mirage, [also Samhain].: “An ancient prophecy. A sheikh's passion. One woman ignites the flame that fulfills them both.”

Irene Hannon's contemporary romantic suspense, Fatal Judgment, [Revell Books]: “Jake Taylor's assignment is straightforward. His relationship with Judge Liz Michaels isn't. They have a past. But if he fails, they may not have a future.”

As you can see; it doesn't give me any plot details, however it does tell me what I'll be getting myself into.

The Hook

I am not only an editor, I am first a reader. If the first few lines don't grab me; or the last line of a scene or chapter fails to capture my interest and imagination, the story probably won't work for me. For some authors 'hooking' is as natural as breathing; others struggle, however, that's where a good editor comes into the picture. Here are some hooks which made me sit up and take notice:

Nora Roberts' beginning hook for Montana Sky: “Being dead didn't make Jack Mercy less of a son of a bitch.”

Rick Riordan's beginning hook for The Lost Hero: “Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.”

Margo Hoornstra's end of scene hook for Glad Tidings: “What kind of woman buries her husband in the afternoon then sleeps with his best friend that night?”

Debra Webb's ending scene hook for Traceless: Note: hero Clint Austin has just been released from prison after serving time for murder. “There wouldn't be much in the way of financial assets waiting for him back home. But he would have full access to the one thing that he wanted nearly more than his next breath . . . .The people who had stolen his life.”

Memorable Characters

I read Leon Uris' Mila 18 when I was fourteen years old. Every couple years I go back to visit the entire cast of characters. The same goes for Kathleen Woodiweiss' Shanna and A Rose in Winter. These are the keeper books on my night stand. The secret to creating great characters is to give them a few warts. Then throw them into the deep end of the pool but make sure you put a few hidden traps beneath the surface of the water.


Brenda Leigh Johnson, a Georgia peach transplanted to LAPD in TNT's The Closer. She may be beautiful and built, but her subordinates choke on her thick southern drawl; she dresses out of Volunteers of America; and she's tenacious as Hong Kong flu.

Harry Potter, the wizard raised as a muggle with a weird looking scar on his forehead. JK Rowlings tossed him into the deep end of the pool known as Diagon Alley, later Hogwarts and the fun began.

Eve Dallas, [JD Robb's futuristic In Death series], the street smart homicide detective with the social skills of a rattlesnake confronts the prime murder suspect, a man with a one word name, more money than God, better looking than some lapsed Irish angel. Eventually he woos her with a rare steak and a sack of coffee beans.

It takes Parker Evans, [Sandra Brown's Envy], a wheelchair-bound hero twenty years to exact revenge on his college room-mate by deliberately seducing the roomie's unwitting wife. “Did I stutter?” still makes me laugh out loud. This story keeps the reader on the edge from start to finish.

Cash Boudreaux, [Sandra Brown's Slow Heat in Heaven] revels in the image of local bad boy, occasionally inciting violence, has good reason to want revenge against the richest family in town.

Just a smidge about secondary characters: they support the hero and heroine, often provide comic relief, occasionally serve as a red herring. Make each one different from each other as well as the hero or heroine. If they all sound the same why should I bother to read the book?

The Setting

Must be as vivid as any of the main characters and, in my opinion, becomes a character of its own. Examples: Innocence, Mississippi [Nora Roberts' Carnal Innocence] if chock full of murder, depravity and humor; Nohmensville aka No Man's Land [Captain Marvelous] actually should have been named no woman's land due to it's apathy, bigotry and ignorance; Lunacy, Alaska [Nora Roberts' Northern Lights] features its own set of 'lunatics'. And let's not forget Hogwarts. Do you see how the names, while unique, describe the flavor and aura of the settings?

Goals, Motivation & Conflict

Every thing I know about GMC was learned at the knee of one of my heroes Debra Dixon who wrote the book [literally] on this topic. In short, the hero and heroine must have a goal [ie what do they want/need to accomplish?]. It needs to be logical and realistic. Likewise, their motivation for accomplishing these goals must be logical, realistic, and understandable to the reader—as in 'yeah, if that happened to me as a kid, I'd shoot for that goal, too.

The really good stories put the hero's goals in direct opposition to what the heroine wants and that's called CONFLICT.

Now . . . conflict comes in two forms, internal and external. External is usually pretty easy: it's an external force [such as the approaching hurricane in Eileen Dreyer's Sinners and Saints which hampers the heroine's search for her missing sister. In Captain Marvelous the hero is trying to identify the killers of immigrant women and bring them to justice. He is thwarted at every step by complacency, bigotry and apathy from the towns people and a less than sterling police department. External conflict is supposed to be a bitch for the hero and heroine. Thwarting bad guys, disease, pestilence, and the apocalypse is no easy feat. But . . . as Sister John Thomas used to say, 'adversity builds character'.

Internal conflict is what gets authors every time. This is the demon inside the hero and heroine which prevents them from accomplishing their goals AND should be directly tied to their motivation and goals. In My Name is Nell, the heroine is a woman working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous while managing a home and raising her children without much help from a toxic mother and sister. She meets, then falls in love with a widower. Neither was looking for romance; it just happened. Now take a guess as to the circumstances which caused the deaths of the hero's wife and child. Go on, take a guess. That's conflict with a capital C.

In Debra Webb's Traceless, Clint Austin served time in prison for a murder he didn't commit. Emily Wallace, the star witness against Clint has not been able to move past what happened to her best friend, and vows to make him pay for his crimes all over again.

Words to the wise: Conflict cannot be resolved with a five minute conversation between all interested parties. It is something so strong, so powerful, the reader must believe these two people will never ever stay together.

Common problems that come across my desk:

Failure to follow submission guidelines: after you pick the publishing house you want to submit to, commit their rules to memory AND FOLLOW THEM TO THE LETTER. This includes submitting a mystery to a publisher who only releases romance [or vice versa].

Errors in spelling, punctuation, formatting: Use spell check; take a basic technical English writing course and practice on your computer program to learn how to set margins, line spacing, and indents. Fancy fonts do not impress me, nor do quotations at the beginning of each chapter.

Point of View: some editors only accept two POVs. I personally don't mind more than the usual two, but I don't want to dislocate a cervical vertebrae while reading a manuscript.

Telling instead of showing: this takes some practice but it can be mastered. Don't tell me the hero's pissed at the heroine, show me.

Frothy, repetitious prose. As I have occasionally informed the authors involved with the Class of '85 series for TWRP, “Hauling out the hedge clippers makes me cranky.” Tell me what you want to say in simple declarative sentences. Learn the purpose, and proper use of, commas and semi-colons.

Too much sexual attraction too early: there is a reason why we call it sexual tension. Giving it all up by page 10 is not tension; it's risky and dangerous behavior, not to mention unhealthy. There is a reason why we keep our zippers in a locked, upright position. It makes readers keep turning pages. Unless it's hot fudge, less is always better. Always.

good luck