Mary and Rick Roberts

Photo of the Week: Roller Coaster Emotions

If your character went on a roller coaster, what would their reaction be? Terrified, excited, anxious? Would your character sit in the middle, or on the end? Would they be comfortable going on the ride alone, with strangers filling the other seats? Or, are they more of a “pack” person, wanting to share the experience with friends? Would it matter to them?

Copyright © 2008 by Brittiany A. Koren

Look at the pool in the bottom right hand corner of this picture. Would your character be afraid to fall into the water? Or, are they an experienced swimmer? What kind of story ideas can you come up with by just looking at this picture? What types of noises do your hear? What kinds of smells? How does the hard metal of the ride feel around their bodies as they’re strapped inside for that one timeless minute?

Mary and Rick Roberts

Reader Review: The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes And How To Avoid Them by Judy Delton

Title: The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Author: Judy Delton

Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books

Format: Hard cover

Pages: 73 Pages

Reviewer: Brittiany

This is a thin, easy reference book to help writers. Like the title stipulates, this work explains twenty-nine different mistakes writers may make with the craft or their writing career. It also explains ways to elude these mistakes. Although this book was published in 1985, most of the tips can still be applied today. Some of the tips are related to: procrastination, punctuation, generalizations, wanting everyone to read your story, research, not giving up on the craft, and so much more!

WD’s E. Tip: It’s important to stay informed of the craft/industry. When taking a break from writing or revising your work, use resource books like this one to better understand your craft, especially if a critique partner or editor isn’t readily available. 🙂

Mary and Rick Roberts

Writer’s Wednesday: An Interview with NYT Best-selling Author, Julie Hyzy

We’re excited to have Julie Hyzy as our guest today! I’ve watched Julie grow as an author over the years, and it has been one of the neatest journeys to see. We are so happy for her success! Please help us welcome Julie to The Editing Essentials!

A relentless snoop since childhood, Julie Hyzy gets to play detective these days by writing amateur sleuth adventures. An Anthony, Barry, Lovey, and Derringer Award winning author, Julie is thrilled to be able to call herself a New York Times Bestseller as well. She writes two series for Berkley Prime Crime: the White House Chef Mysteries and the Manor House Mysteries. She also has several backlist and original titles available as e-books. http://www.juliehyzy.com/

WD: How old were you when you began writing?

JH: I wrote my first book at about age six or seven. Right about the time I realized I had the capability of recording the stories I made up in my head. Back then I even drew pictures, too.

WD: Did your family support your writing habit when you started?

JH: My parents were supportive of everything I did. They read (and gently critiqued) all my early novels (Mary King Mysteries) and when I hand printed my weekly eight page neighborhood newspaper, my dad would take it to work to make copies for me to distribute (sell) to indulgent neighbors.

WD: How many rejection letters did you receive before selling your first novel?

JH: Wow. I have no idea. A lot. I queried agents for the most part, and those rejections came in quickly and in bulk. Rejections became the norm, which in a way was good. After a while you get used to them. In fact, I trained myself to embrace rejection. Why? Because getting those “No thank you” notes in the mail (and yeah, this was via snail mail) was proof that I was following my dream. If I wasn’t submitting I couldn’t be amassing all these rejections, right? So they became a good thing.

WD: What was your reaction when you sold your first novel?

JH: Amazement. Disbelief. Joy.

WD: What person in your life–family, mentor, friend–pushed you to continue writing on days when you really didn’t want to?

JH: To be perfectly honest, I’ve never had that day. Even on my worst writing days when the words don’t come, I’ve known that this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I may slow down. I may not get any good words done for a couple of days, but I never stop wanting to do it.

WD: Your relationship with Michael A. Black has led to a collaboration of characters. Could you share how you two decided to put your characters together in Dead Ringer?

JH: Mike and I were critique partners for a very long time. We got to know one another’s styles so well that when we decided to write a short story together, it was easy. After that, just for fun, we decided to end our next respective books (my Deadly Interest, his A Final Judgment) with last chapters that dovetailed. My Alex St. James met up with his Ron Shade at a gas station. That was fun, too. Then we wondered, could we write an entire novel together? It became a challenge. And so we decided to try.

WD: Are there more collaborations planned for Ron and Alex, or for Michael Black and Julie Hyzy?

JH: At this point, Mike and I are super busy with other projects. But I’ve learned to never say never.

WD: What are your current writing habits? (How often do you write? What’s your schedule?)

JH: I try to write every day, Monday through Friday. Things don’t always work out as planned, but that’s my goal. I like to get at least 1,000 words in a day, but this year has been busy and that’s been tough. Right now I’m facing a deadline and if I don’t hit at least 2,000 words a day for the next three weeks, I’ll be sunk. I like to do my email and a little bit of promotional work in the morning and get started on whatever project I’m working on by 11:00. If I can write solidly until 3:00, that’s a fabulous day. Doesn’t always work out that way.

WD: What made you want to write the Manor House mysteries?

JH: I love mansions—the kind you tour on vacation—with rooms that number in the hundreds. Like Downton Abbey … The stories those rooms could tell! Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to live in such a house. I used to dream up floor plans and design rooms. Now that I’m all grown up I’m doing that for real—but now I also get to invite readers to join in the fun.

WD: Now that you’re a NYT Best-selling author, something many authors can only dream of becoming, what is your next challenge?

JH: My next challenge, honestly, is to always write a better book than the one before. That’s what I always hope to do.

WD: Which of your stories was the most difficult to research?

JH: I’d have to say that the White House Chef Mysteries are pretty difficult to research. Although there’s a lot of information available on the White House, there are details that are nearly impossible to find. While there have been some wonderful White House staffers, and former staffers who have answered my questions, it would really be best if they’d just let me in for a couple of days to wander at will. I promise not to make a mess. You think I have a chance?

WD: If there was any part of your career you’d like a re-do on, which would it be?

JH: I think I should have started submitting work sooner. I didn’t submit in earnest until 1999. I’d been writing on and off for all my life but had never made writing a priority. Maybe that’s fine. Maybe I wasn’t ready. But I think I could have been. I wouldn’t change any bit of the journey I’ve been on, but it would have been nice if I’d started sooner.

WD: You edited for a while before writing full-time. What did you learn about your own writing by editing someone else’s work?

JH: Actually, I edited while writing full time. Editing another person’s work is always an eye-opening experience. As an editor, I become an objective reader. In that role I believe I’m better able to catch problems, whether they’re word choices, consistency issues, plot holes, or character considerations. When we’re too close to our own work, it’s hard to see these things, but when I stepped back and caught them in others’ works, I was able to bring fresh eyes to my stuff. What a wonderful experience. Truly valuable.

WD: What is the best thing about being a writer, in your opinion?

JH: I have the best job in the world. I spend the day making up stories and bringing characters to life. I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing.

WD: What does your family think of your success?

JH: So far, they seem pretty pleased. My husband and kids were even more excited than I was when Fonduing Fathers hit the New York Times Bestseller list. They are incredibly supportive and always helping me, whether it’s setting up a launch party or passing out bookmarks.

WD: What do you have lined up for 2013? Goals? Books? Vacations?

JH: I’m currently working on WHChef #7 and as soon as that’s finished, I’ll start on Grace (Manor House Mysteries) #5. Both of these manuscripts are due this year, with WHChef #7 due in just about six weeks (insert panicked shriek). I’d like to add to my Alex St. James series by releasing a new Indie title for her, and I’d like to continue Riley Drake’s adventures with a sequel to Playing With Matches.

WD: You inspire writers and readers everywhere. What was the most important lesson you’ve learned as an author? What advice would you give to struggling/beginning authors?

JH: Me? Inspire writers and readers? Not sure about that. But I do have advice. First of all, don’t give up. There is so much rejection out there, whether it be from agents, editors, reviewers on Amazon and BN.com, or even friends and family. They say that writers need a thick skin. I don’t have that, and rejection always hurts, but I know that if I wasn’t putting my work out there—exposing it, making it vulnerable to others’ opinions—then I would be writing only for myself. That’s not my dream. My dream is to reach people with my words, whether I’m simply entertaining or – even better – making them think. If to be able to do that I have to risk myself, then so be it. Rarely does success come without rejection. Part of the deal.

The other advice I’d give is to read. Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read books by successful writers about how they’ve done it. Read books and blogs by experts in the business. There is so much knowledge out there at our fingertips. Learn, be hungry, be thirsty. Be a sponge.

Oh, and most importantly: Write every day.

Thank you, Julie, for being our guest today! If you have questions or comments for Julie, please feel free to post a comment to the blog. Thank you!

Mary and Rick Roberts

Photo of the Week: Adding Texture

Take a hard look at this deer. What is it thinking? What direction will it go next? Or, will it stay still and listen a little longer?

Think of your main character in this sense. How will they react to danger? Fight or flight?

Look at this deer now in a different way, how the shade from the trees keep it in the shadows. It’s not a straight line, but staggered. Look how the grass in some places is green and other places dead. What does the grass feel and taste like? Is it soft, brittle? What season is it? What sounds are around the deer? What is making it listen so hard? Is someone watching it? Or something? What does it smell? Is it in danger, or safe?

Remember, using the five senses is very important in making your story come to life.

Mary and Rick Roberts

Reader Review: Eric by Terry Pratchett

Title: Eric

Author: Terry Pratchett

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 197 pages

Publisher: HarperCollins

Reviewer: Susan

Terry Pratchett’s Eric is part of the Discworld series, which mixes sorcerers, demons, DEATH (that’s how the character—DEATH, complete with his hood and scythe–appears in the book), magic and a whole bunch of philosophical humor into a sharp, witty storyline I can’t get enough of.

Adolescent Eric, while trying to summon a demon, instead summons not so skilled/lucky/ambitious sorcerer Rincewind.  Rincewind is no demon, but Eric is not to be easily satisfied.  Rincewind “grants” him three wishes, and Eric chooses to live forever, be master of the universe, and have one of the wild women of history as a girlfriend. Rincewind tries, but everything doesn’t go smoothly.  First worshipped as gods, Eric and Rincewind find some people think the gods have a LOT to answer for…and they will be providing the answers…or the (human) sacrifices, hence DEATH’s hanging around.  Did I mention there’s a Wizard University with a librarian who is (now) happily an orangutan and ferocious Luggage with hundreds of legs that eats whatever is inconvenient or disliked in its path?

WD’s E. Tip: Pratchett’s writing is ironic and very, very funny.  If you enjoy British humor, this book, and this series, is for you! It’s a great way to learn how to write humor.

Mary and Rick Roberts

Introducing Susan Pawlicki, Editor at Written Dreams

As Written Dreams expands to be a great resource for authors, I look for the best people to help grow this business with me. I was so impressed with Susan’s editing skills, it seemed the perfect fit for her to be a part of our team. Introducing Susan Pawlicki, our talented non-fiction and fiction editor at Written Dreams!

WD: Tell us about your family. What do they think of your editing?

SP: I have two daughters at home, Emily, who is twenty, and Sarah, who is seventeen. Both are students at the local college; Emily is studying art education and Sarah is still in the decision making stage. (Historian? Lawyer? Psychologist? ) Both girls have become avid readers and writers, which is a true joy in my life. They are most happy about my editing for Written Dreams: I truly enjoy the process of editing and I’m a happier person when I have a project at hand.

WD: What are your hobbies? What do you like to do in your free time?

SP: I’m a voracious reader who enjoys everything from “Paradise Lost” to Calvin and Hobbes, so I always have a book or two going. My daughters are both great readers as well, so years ago we designated one table in the house to be the “Reading Table”—right now it has (let me check) twelve books on it ranging from a history of snowflakes to Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men—I’m teaching it in a couple weeks—to a volume on Mary Todd Lincoln and her maid/confidante, Elizabeth Keckly.

In the summer I’m an enthusiastic bike (the pedal kind) rider and outdoor runner; at the moment, though, I’m running on a treadmill to get ready for the Illinois Half-Marathon at the end of April. I like riding the bike because you can cover a fair amount of distance in a short period of time, and out here in rural Illinois it’s just beautiful in the spring, summer and autumn—there’s always something to be discovered on a ride. Running makes me feel fit and healthy, and it challenges both my self-discipline and my will. It makes me a stronger person.

WD: What compelled you to get into editing?

SP: I’ve always loved writing and about the time I began teaching writing at the local college, a friend who was starting a business asked me to look over some writing for him. The volume of writing grew to the point he felt uncomfortable asking me to do the work as a friendly gesture, so voila—I became an editor. And the rest is history! 🙂

WD: Who are some of your favorite authors to read?

SP: My favorite author is F. Scott Fitzgerald. He’s my favorite. What a vocabulary that man has! Emerson and Thoreau. I’m a big fan of Kazuo Ishiguro, too; reading Remains of the Day was a revelation to me; the writing is beautiful without calling attention to itself and rarely has a character been created so three-dimensionally. Hemingway. C.S. Lewis—The Screwtape Letters seems mandatory reading for consideration of good and evil. Terry Pratchett—how can one man be so profound and yet so funny? Robert Penn Warren may well be joining the list; I’m reading All The King’s Men to teach it for a homeschool high school literature class, and his writing thus far is extraordinary!

WD: Who, in your life, has had a large impact on your way of thinking?

SP: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are up there at the top of the list. Both have greatly influenced my religious and spiritual beliefs, as well as my philosophy of daily living. My daughters, who over the years have brought up or pointed out the obvious that my adult brain was overlooking, have also been a great influence.

WD: What compels you to continue reading a story?

SP: Real characters, an initial intriguing plot element. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie begins with a young girl trying to save her twin infants from dying of whooping cough—I was sucked into the story line immediately! Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled creates a dream-like atmosphere in which you’re unsure of what is real and what is not right from the first page.

WD: What advice would you share with beginning writers?

SP: Write, and then write some more. Don’t get pulled away from your writing by outside distractions, and don’t give up too soon. This business of writing takes a lot of hard word and discipline.

WD: What advice would you share with seasoned writers?

SP: See advice for beginning writers. I don’t think the process ever changes that much…Even when you’ve had a measure of success, writing is about putting part of yourself out in the world for others to see, and that in and of itself can be scary or discouraging.

WD: What is one goal you’d like to accomplish in 2013?

SP: I’m a goal-oriented person, so it’s hard to limit myself to one! I’d like to help multiple authors get published. I want to run a 2:45 half marathon. And I’m taking my own advice and writing a story a week—if you’re trying the project, too, feel free to drop me an email—we can commiserate! 🙂

Thanks, Susan, for being our guest today so others can learn more about you! If you’d like to contact Susan, you can email her at Susan@writtendreams.com. To see a list of our services go to: writtendreams.com

 

Mary and Rick Roberts

E. Tip of the Week: Take Advantage

Take advantage of another writer’s experience to help you grow as the writer you want to be.

One of my favorite books to read for writers is Spider, Spin Me A Web by Lawrence Block. Books like this are great tools for writers to use when they’re looking for inspiration, or how to use a new tool from their writing toolbox.

Early in the book Block talks about reading, and how important it is to read a lot when you’re a writer. You learn by reading other writer’s works. And you learn when you sit down at your desk and write every day.

To see a full list of our suggested reading materials for writers, visit our page here: http://writtendreams.com/Coaching.html

Mary and Rick Roberts

Writing Exercise: Would You Like To Be More Prolific?

Sure, I hear you saying, who wouldn’t?  But how do I end up with more writing than I’ve had in the past?

The answer is easy and obvious: Write more.

Ha! you say.  I’m writing as much as I possibly can now.  How can I ever find time to do more?

Time isn’t the issue.  What you’re working on is.

Consider this project for 2013.  It can comprise your “writing time,” or it can make up your “I want to be a better writer” time.  Or it can be both!

Here’s what you do:  Write one story every week of the year.  Yes, seriously, a story a week.  But wait, I say to myself, what about this last week—the last week of break? When your daughter was sick? And you started exercising seriously again?  And you tried to finish up all those around the house projects you swore you’d do before the new semester?  How could I ever have written a complete story last week?

Clearly, discipline will have to be involved.  But the rules are very flexible—in a busy week, perhaps you write a piece of flash fiction in an hour.  During a more relaxed week, perhaps a fifteen page story with an actual outline.  These stories aren’t about perfection; don’t worry too much about making every sentence polished and beautiful.  These stories are about learning your craft and giving yourself material with which to work in the future.

There are three big benefits to taking on this project:  first, making yourself write a story a week exercises your writing muscles; after a month, you’ll be seeing story possibilities every time you turn around.  Second, exercising the discipline to get something complete down on the page every week will help that old saying about success being 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration become crystal clear.  Finally, at the end of the year, you’ll have fifty two stories to work with—and how wonderful is that!

Mary and Rick Roberts

Reader Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Title: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Author: Ayana Mathis

Format: Hard cover

Page Count: 243 pages

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Reviewer: Susan

 

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie begins in 1925, with seventeen year old Hattie Shepherd’s struggle to save her infant twins, Philadelphia and Jubilee, who are slowly coughing themselves, Hattie fears, to death.  This dramatic opening serves as an introduction to Hattie’s ten other children, who, chapter by chapter, have their stories told, the first in 1948 and the last in 1980.  Through the children’s stories, we learn what has happened to Hattie and her husband, August.

Each chapter could serve as the springboard for another novel, but the book is not disjointed and the reader does not feel crucial information has been left unsaid.  There are no perfect people among Hattie’s Twelve Tribes, and Hattie herself certainly isn’t perfect.  Drug addiction, adultery, mental illness, poverty, economic success by legal and illegal means, religious fervor and hypocrisy—all are enjoyed or endured by the Shepherd family.

The book reads with compelling flow; it can be difficult to put down!

WD’s Editorial Tip: It’s okay to do something with a novel that’s outside the box. Using the different chapters to show what happens in the Shepherd family is a great example.

Mary and Rick Roberts

Writer’s Wednesday: Best-selling Author Russell Davis on the Writerly Math

I’m excited to have Russell Davis as our guest today. I first met Russ through a mutual friend, and got to know him outside of the publishing world. Since then, we’ve worked together on different projects throughout our careers. I’m always amazed at his eloquence with words. If you’re struggling with word count, this is the perfect article for you. I hope you enjoy!

Best-selling author Russell Davis has written and sold numerous novels and short stories in virtually every genre of fiction, under at least a half-dozen pseudonyms. His writing has encompassed media tie-in work in the Transformers universe to action adventure in The Executioner series to original novels and short fiction in anthology titles like Under Cover of Darkness, Law of the Gun, and In the Shadow of Evil. In addition to his work as a writer, he has worked as an editor and book packager, and created original anthology titles ranging from westerns like Lost Trails to fantasy like Courts of the Fey. He is a regular speaker at conferences and schools, where he teaches on writing, editing and the fundamentals of the publishing industry. A past president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Russell now writes full time, and teaches for Western State Colorado University’s MFA in Creative Writing. His next short fiction collection, The End of All Seasons, is due out soon. He maintains an irregular presence on his website http://morningstormbooks.com. Or you can reach him at: http://www.western.edu/academics/creativewriting.

                                Doing the Writerly Math

Writing is a hard job. Oh, it’s not digging ditches in the winter or paving highways with hot tar in the desert sun, but my guess is that there are a lot more people who do those jobs every day (or something like them) who wouldn’t sit in front of a computer trying to make up readable prose for hours on end. It can be just as taxing – mentally, if not physically – and there are certainly times when it’s pure drudgery. When I’m talking to my students at Western State Colorado University, I often find that they’re intimidated by word count. Not early on, when the word count requirements are lower, but when the challenge ratchets up in the second semester and they’re required to write a minimum of 25,000 words for their end of semester project. Many of them have never written even close to that number of words in a single piece of fiction and it can seem like a huge number of words.

Then I tell them that it’s a practice work, and that they should write something brand new for their thesis, which must be at least 55,000 words. Sometimes, the mental grinding of gears, gnashing of teeth, and rending of cloth is so loud in their minds, that even I can hear it. Here’s the funny part, at least to me. 55,000 words is a short book. It’s about the length of most adult series titles like The Trailsman or Don Pendelton’s Executioner series. Also about the length of a category romance. Most genre fiction titles published today run 80,000 to 90,000 words, and in epic fantasy, it’s not uncommon for a book to be several times that length.

For a newer writer, that can seem not just like a big number, but an insurmountable one. A Mount Everest of pages in a single story. They are certain that while others have done it, they themselves will succumb to the lack of oxygen at such heights (choked to death by an errant plot line) or die in the freezing cold (axed by a villainous, yet unexpected, character). This is why doing the writerly math is important, and something I teach to every incoming group (and repeat regularly, since writerly panic is pretty common, too).

Let’s do the math, shall we? If you can force yourself to write one page a day – that’s typed, double-spaced, in proper format – you’ve got an average of about 250 words. One page isn’t much. This blog post is longer than that, right? So, subtracting one day off for life happens, let us suppose you write your page a day six days a week. 250 words x 6 days = 1500 words. Let’s make another supposition for our writerly math. Let us assume that you do this 50 weeks a year, because you take two weeks per year off to dig ditches or pave highways or something more fun than writing. 50 weeks x 1500 words = 75,000 words. That, my friends, is longer than an adult series book or category romance, and nearly the 80,000 words of a typical genre title. Not too bad, and a page a day is hardly even exercising your muse.

Maybe your muse is in better shape than the above example. Maybe you can do two pages or 500 words in a day. Suddenly, you’re writing 150,000 words per year (that’s almost three of those series books). Maybe your muse is a real badass – you know, Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was Conan or Stallone as early Rambo – and you can come up with three pages a day or 750 words. Now, you’ve gotten to 225,000 words per year.

And maybe a part of you is saying, “Three pages?! I can do three pages in my sleep! My muse is a GOD!” And you can do five pages a day, 1000 words, and with nothing more than the will to put the words down day in and day out, you’re delivering 300,000 words per year.

Here’s the thing: you probably won’t do one or two or even five pages necessarily every day, six days a week. Life happens and it gets in the way sometimes. But what does happen, if you can think of writing this way, is that the novel you want to write is possible. It can be done, by you, and here’s something even better: the more you write, the more you practice your craft, the faster you’ll be able to put words on the page. Writing is a lot like exercise, and the more you work your writing muscles, the stronger you’ll become. (Even better, most writers find that the words get better, too, and they don’t have to revise quite as much!)

So, know your pace – what you can reasonably do in a given day, allowing for life happens at least somewhat – then do the writerly math. Suddenly, your novel isn’t Mount Everest, but a gentle hill in the park. Novels are written one word at a time. Think about that for a moment. One word at a time. Not a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, or a chapter. Novels are built of individual words, and your novel – whether it’s 55,000 words or a 300,000 word epic fantasy is no different in that regard. You’ll write it one word at a time, and you should do the math so that you can see the summit before you set out on the journey.

Even the most hesitant of aspiring writers can manage one word at a time, I imagine. After all, that’s how this blog post was written, and it’s just shy of a thousand words. I didn’t even do the math.

Thank you, Russell, for sharing your experiences, and being our guest today. If you have questions, or comments for him, he’ll be with us all day. Thank you!