Category Archives: Writing

Happy Book Birthday to A.L. Player!

Class of 98-tour banner

I am beyond excited to announce that my wonderful critique partner’s first book, Class of 98, is now available!  If you’re a fan of a romantic comedy with a lot of heart, this is a must-have.

I’ve seen this story develop from the very beginning.  And while I’ve read it several times, I’ve loved it with each and every read-through.  The characters are funny and relatable, the story unique with a fresh spin on time travel, and who doesn’t love a good Titanic reference?  Seriously, if you grew up in the 90s, you’ll find a lot to reminisce about as you read this story about two adults who get sucked back to their senior year of high school.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis for Class of 98:

Jackie Dunn and Matt Stewart barely knew each other in high school, back when she was a blue-haired alterna-kid and he was a preppy jock. High school rules dictated they’d never hang out, or sit at the same lunch table, or God forbid, date.

But when a weird storm transports them from their ten-year reunion back to senior year, they have to work together to figure out a way to get back to 2008.

Stuck in high school, Jackie and Matt agree to tough it out. They agree to do everything exactly as they remember, even though that means staying with the boyfriend Jackie knows will betray her, or playing nice with the girl that will someday be Matt’s ex-wife. Soon, they come to rely on one other, even become friends.

Jackie’s just starting to get used to curfews and term papers again, when Matt hits her with the biggest surprise of all: he’s fallen in love with her. He’ll change the past however he has to if it means a future with Jackie. But Jackie’s terrified they’ll not only alter their lives, but the lives of everyone around them.

During the week of December 10-20, there will be an awesome blog tour for Class of 98.  Be sure to stop by on December 10, when I’ll be posting as part of the tour.  It will involve some 90s nostalgia, and perhaps a little bit of high school reminiscing.

Writing has a lot of ups and downs, and finding a network of fellow writers who understand you and support you is so important.  I count myself lucky not only to have Amber as a critique partner, but that our writing partnership turned into a wonderful friendship.  So here’s a toast to the publication of her first book, with the hopes of many more to come!

o-CHEERS-LEONARDO-DICAPRIO-570

You can purchase Class of 98 on Amazon.com, and find out more about it on Goodreads.

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A Word On Writers

Okay, so maybe more than one word.

First, I should probably apologize for the long absence to my regular readers.  I’ve been stuck in the 1920s the last several months writing my second novel, the first draft of which is finally complete!  And as soon as I emptied that story out of my head and onto the page, a new one began taking shape.  Yes, I do have a very active imagination.  That’s why I’m a writer–I’ve got to have an outlet for it somewhere!

Which leads me to the topic of today’s post.  Writers.  We’re an imaginative breed.  We invent characters and worlds for them to live in, and then we let them run amuck in our minds and something magical happens.  A story takes shape.  A plot develops.  And the characters we invented take on a life of their own and won’t leave us alone until we write their words down on paper.

But that’s where the magic ends and the real work begins.  This is when the heel-digging, not-gonna-budge stubbornness needs to kick in.  Because writing is tough.  Some days the words come out faster than you can type, and you’re like

But most days you truly consider whether or not plucking out your nose hairs one by one would not be a more enjoyable exercise.  And when those hard days pile up it becomes more and more enticing to say “So much for that.”  (Or, you know, toss your laptop out the window.  One of those.)

That’s where the aforementioned stubbornness comes in.  Well, that and a whole lot of wailing and flailing.  But then we always find a way back to our computers, back to the story.  Until it’s finished.

It’s a major commitment, becoming a writer.  And it’s not a commitment that non-writers always understand.  That’s why we have other writers to turn to.  They know about the wailing and the flailing.  They’ve been there.  And they’re ready to help you through the rough days, and you’ll be there to help them when they need it too.

Since starting this whole writing business, I have been amazed at how supportive the writing community is.  And I am proud to be a part of it.

With that in mind, I am introducing a new series on my blog, where I will interview authors and give them the opportunity to talk about their work.  This will be an ongoing series, and I look forward to sharing other writers’ stories with you.

(P.S.- that was 415 words to be exact)

(P.S.S.-the episode of “New Girl” from which these gifs of Nick Miller were taken is hilarious)

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Listen to your broccoli (and other writing advice)

During my hiatus I did a lot of reading on writing.  And a lot of thinking about writing, about just what a commitment it is and if I am completely crazy for wanting to continue.  But then the voices in my head grew louder (which might prove the whole “completely crazy” theory).  The fictional characters of my imagination begged me to tell their stories.  And I finally caved and gave in to them.  Because I know that by writing about them, I will also learn more about myself.

Here are a few pearls of wisdom I’ve gleaned from my reading and thinking about writing.  Some came from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, some from Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel (both of which I highly recommend to writers).  There’s also Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King which I found extremely helpful as well.

1. There’s no room for perfectionism when you are writing.  You have no idea how hard it is for me to write those words.  A perfectionist by nature, this concept is completely foreign to me and one I really have to struggle with.  But I’ve learned that perfectionism gets in the way of the creative process.  If you stop to analyze every single sentence, the self-doubt creature that lurks in the shadows of every writer’s mind will pounce and you will soon start babbling to your best friend or spouse that you are a horrible writer and you should give up the charade now before you embarrass yourself.  You have to allow yourself to make mistakes, to push forward, get the words on the page.  Flow with the characters and the plot, and hold the perfectionism off until the editing phase.

2. Let your characters be your guide.  It is their story after all, let them tell it.  You might have your plot all mapped out, and know exactly what you want the climax to be, and then suddenly one of your characters does something crazy you didn’t expect.  Go with it.  Don’t keep them tethered to the outline you created.  Let your characters guide you, and they may take you down some unexpected paths that enrich your story in ways you never knew were possible.

3. Listen to your broccoli.  Advice straight from the great Anne Lamott.  It’s so easy to be distracted by all the other stuff going on in your head.  Shopping lists, work tasks, what to scrounge up for dinner, weekend chore plans (wait–not everyone plans out their weekend chores?).  All that stuff drowns out the subconscious.  Your intuition.  Your broccoli (or however you want to see it–I think of mine as a spectacle-clad elephant with a typewriter in its lap, clumsily pressing the keys with its enormous feet).  If you can tune in to your broccoli, that  little intuitive decision-making voice inside your head, you can throw out the conventional rules that you’ve been taught since you were a kid and all sorts of fantastic things start to happen.  Characters start speaking to you, acting out scenes, and your fingers fly across the keyboard as you try to get it all down before the other stuff pushes back in and you are once again composing grocery lists rather than your novel.  It’s a way to put a bit of yourself, that elusive “voice,” into your story.

4. Let your characters break some rules.  So you listen to your intuition and it decides that your character should have a complete meltdown at work.   He runs from desk to desk, throwing papers into the air and breaking pencils left and right, all the while spouting off the annoying habits of each co-worker that he just can’t stand for one more second.  “Wait, wait!” your rational brain yells.  “What are you doing?  He can’t do that.  Nobody would behave that way in this economy.  He could get fired!”  Well, let’s say he does.  And he gets fired in front of everyone in the office.  And rather than tucking his tail between his legs like a scolded puppy and leaving, he yells at the boss and has to be escorted off the property by police.  Makes for a much more exciting scene than a guy having a crummy day at work who mumbles to himself about how much he hates his co-workers while sitting in his tiny cubicle, doesn’t it?  And it opens up a lot more plot possibilities.  What’s going to happen to your character now that he’s lost his job?  What’s his next move?  Listen to your broccoli.  It’ll tell you.

5. Complicate things.  Good, page-turning fiction is all about conflict.  Donald Maass’s book discusses this in detail.  You should take a look at every scene in your story, and see if there is some way to up the stakes.  Let’s go back to the guy who lost his job.  Give him a family he’s got to support.  He goes home and tells his wife what happened.  But rather than being understanding, she can’t believe he put his temper before his family, packs up the kids and leaves him.  Now your character has to figure out how to get his life on track.  Not just because he wants his family back, but also because he has an aging father to care for.  And now that he’s lost his job he can’t afford for his father to live in a separate apartment.  So your character has to move his dad in with him, and they’ve never gotten along.  I think you get the point here.  Put your character in a situation, and see how many roadblocks you can put in his path.  You know, complicate things.

And finally…

6. Write for writing’s sake.  Sure, writers want to get published, see our names in print, have a front-and-center cardboard display of our bestseller at Barnes & Noble.  But that should not be the main motivation that drives you to sit in front of the computer and string words into sentences.  You have to do it because you love it.  Because your imagination won’t leave you alone and keeps creating new characters you can’t wait to write about.  And while the process can be frustrating, and there’s a pretty decent chance that your work will never be found on shelves of major booksellers, there is so much that can be gained by being a writer.  You become more observant of the world around you.  All these observations get filtered through your lens as you construct ways to describe what you see, and you go home and sit at the computer and write it all down.  And as you do that, you begin to see yourself reflected on the page.  Because you can’t help but put a little piece of yourself in everything you write.  And by doing so, you learn more about who you are, neuroses and all.

______________________

I could go on (and on, and on and on) with other writing advice I’ve absorbed.  And maybe I will in future posts.  But right now, these 6 nuggets of wisdom are constantly on my mind when I sit down to write.  And they work (for me at least).  What about you other writers out there?  What’s some great writing tips you’ve picked up over the years?

I can’t end this post without giving a shout out to my fabulous critique partner Amber, who recommended the wonderful books where I gathered most of this advice.  Thanks, Amber!

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Judging a book by its cover

Who  hasn’t been enticed to pick up a book due to its attractive cover?  When I peruse the book store for historical fiction I’m certainly more likely to read the jacket flap of a book with intriguing cover art that gives me some idea of the time period in which the story takes place.  Same goes with the library–sometimes I’ll just wander the aisles until I see a title written in “old-fashioned” cursive, and pull it out–9 times out of 10 it’s historical fiction.

But sometimes book cover art isn’t quite so obvious.  Which brings me to a funny blog post I had to share.  Sunny Chanel, a blogger on the Babble website, got her six-year old to give her own interpretation of what she believed some works of classic literature were about, based on their covers.  The results were, in my opinion at least, pretty entertaining.  Here’s her take on The Great Gatsby:

I think it’s a book about a haunted theme park and it stars a magical magic guy and he’s good and evil and he’s trying to get rid of the ghosts. And I think at the end, since it’s haunted by a ghost, he tried to make the park go on fire and it did.

Not a bad guess by just looking at the cover and the title, right?

You can read more 6-year-old takes on classic literature by visiting the blog post here.  Wuthering Heights, Animal Farm, The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird, and more….all judged by their cover by a 6-year-old.  Enjoy.

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Writing Advice from Fitzgerald

As writers, we have a lot of advice thrown our way.  Some of it’s helpful, some not so much–writing fiction is, after all, a very subjective business.

What if you had the opportunity to have one of the great American authors read your writing and offer feedback?  That’s what Radcliffe sophomore Frances Turnbull hoped for when she sent F. Scott Fitzgerald (who was a friend of the family) her latest literary effort.  What she received in return was some rather blunt but very honest advice, which I think all aspiring novelists can learn from.

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

I would love to know what Ms. Turnbull’s reaction was to this letter.  At least, if nothing else, he gave her a little bit of hope in the postscript.
Great advice from one of the greats.  Mr. Fitzgerald, you inspire me yet again.

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The Wonderful World of Writing

I’ve been neglectful of my blog lately, as most of my spare time has been consumed with some major rewrites of The Education of Eve before I start my next round of sending it off to agents for consideration.  While this blog focuses on history, from time to time I’ll post on this other interest of mine.

It’s a lot of work, writing.  My husband often asks me why I couldn’t have chosen a more relaxing hobby.  Sometimes I wonder the same thing.  But I don’t think I had much choice in the matter, to be honest.  I’ve been coming up with stories in my head for as long as I can remember.  Barbie, Ken, & co. lived a dramatic As The World Turns sort of life at my house.  And outside my dolls became pioneers (thanks to my love for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books), braving the wilderness that was our backyard.  I eventually became too old to play with dolls, but the stories didn’t stop.  My imagination kept turning them out, and I started filling notebooks with ideas.  I loved creating characters and then putting them in dramatic situations, plotting how they would react.  It’s something I just couldn’t turn off.

So here I am, years later, novel ideas still swirling around in my head, just waiting to be brought to life on paper (well, word processing document, but that doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it).  Which brings me back to the rewrites.  Right now I’m dealing with the not-so creative side of the writing process: trying to get published.  It’s not an easy task, and turns writers into salespeople as we pitch our work via query letters, which most agents receive hundreds of each week.  This “sales pitch” can go a few ways–it can lead to instant rejection (one must develop a thick skin pretty quick in this business), or perhaps if the concept catches the agent’s fancy it might lead to a “partial” or a “full” request of your manuscript.  That doesn’t give you any guarantees, but it at least gets your foot, er, manuscript, in the door.

I’ve learned a lot about the world of publishing since I began this process of taking my hobby to the next level.  Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming and I wonder if it’s worth it.  But then I think about that little girl playing outside, populating a fictional world with colorful characters and stories, and how much fun she had.  And I think that maybe, just maybe, if I can someday get my words in print, that perhaps I can bring some entertainment and enjoyment to others with these stories I carry around in my head.

What about you other aspiring authors out there?  When were you first bitten by the “writing bug?”

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Interview with author Amber Leah Brock

I recently had the opportunity to interview Amber Leah Brock, who just signed with literary agent Clare Wallace of the Darley Anderson Agency. Her book Blessed Among Women is work of historical fiction based on the life of King Henri II, who ruled France from 1547-1559, and his relationship with his wife, Catherine de’ Medici, and his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.

Q: A lot of historical fiction focuses on Henry VIII and the Tudor era these days. What made you look to France for inspiration?

Amber Leah Brock: France sort of came to me, in a way. I read a lot of non-fiction about European royalty, and I had just finished a book called Notorious Royal Marriages. I guess the story of Henri and Diane stuck with me, because I had a sort of silly dream one night that I was involved with a much younger man (my husband loves that part of the story). The next morning I was struck by the fact that throughout the dream people were obsessed with the difference in our ages, and wondered what a young guy like him saw in a thirtysomething woman. I realized I had wondered the same thing about Henri and Diane, and that was the genesis of the story.

Q: How did you go about crafting this idea in your novel?

ALB: I was fascinated by the question “why her?”, and I built the novel around that. Though the real Diane was by all accounts vibrant and strikingly beautiful, I decided to dull her light a little bit to make the question even more poignant. So my Diane is the very definition of ordinary. She’s pretty but not beautiful, sweet but not memorable–except for Henri. I wanted to build that mystery around her. Why would a young prince, who could have any woman he wanted, be so obsessed with this particular woman?

Q: In what ways does your story differ from the actual history of Henri, Catherine de Medici, and Diane de Poitiers? 

ALB: There are several big differences. One is my portrayal of Diane, as mentioned above. Another is the addition of her husband, Richard de Belloy. Her real husband passed away years before her affair started with Henri, so I created Richard pretty much out of whole cloth. In the novel he basically sells Diane to Henri in hopes of gaining favor at court. Another huge change was the scope–Henri and Diane were involved for several decades, but my novel only covers the course of a year (with flashbacks to key moments of the past). Perhaps the most significant change is that in the novel Henri is 20 and Diane is 30 when they begin their affair. In real life he was 15 and she was 35. That was a little too much “ick factor” for my modern mind, so I moved their ages to something I was more comfortable with.

Q: Who was your favorite character to write about? Did you have a least favorite?

ALB: I’m so glad you asked that! I totally had a couple of favorite characters. My absolute favorite is Charles, Henri’s younger brother. I loved how serious he was, trying to boss his wayward older brother around and get him in line. I loved writing Henri’s scenes with him, too–Henri is so careless and immature, which gets on Charles’s nerves, but ultimately there’s this unbreakable brotherly bond between them.

I really didn’t like writing about Henri’s wife Catherine de’ Medici. People always think that sounds weird because, hey, she’s my character, right? But I just don’t like her, I didn’t like writing about her. She kind of bored me, but I must have done justice by her, because several of my beta readers said she’s their favorite. Go figure.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges in writing historical fiction?

ALB: When writing about historical figures my biggest challenge was with the notion of artistic license. These are real people, and I don’t want to do anything to disrespect the lives they lived and the things they did. If I have the good fortune to get published, I plan to include a historical note outlining what in my novel is not historically accurate. The main reason that’s so important to me is because one time I read an article on a fairly respectable website talking about how much the author had learned about what “really happened” with Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn based on The Other Boleyn Girl. Eeek! As a history nut, I want my readers to understand that they shouldn’t consult a novel to find out what “really happened”.

Q: Congratulations on signing with agent Clare Wallace! What’s the next step for your novel?

ALB: Right now I’m in edits; nothing too drastic, just adding a few scenes and enriching a few key moments. I hope to have the next draft to her by the end of July, then probably one more edit before she starts shopping to UK publishers in September.

Q: Are you working on any new projects right now?

ALB: I’m halfway through a contemporary time-travel about a woman who travels back to her senior year of high school, sort of a play on “if I knew then what I know now”. It’s very light-hearted, a refreshing change of pace after Blessed Among Women. I also have an outline for two other historical projects, one set at a boarding school in the 1950s and another at the court of Felipe IV of Spain. I like to jump around!

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

ALB: Research and work. There is no substitute for either one of those. Read everything you can not only about the craft of writing (and the myriad joys of editing), but also research agents, reach out to other writers to learn from their experience, and read as much already-published fiction as you can.

Another thing that I’ve learned from this process and being in touch with other writers is that rejections make us all cranky. No one likes it. But it can make some writers think of agents as either untouchable gods or sadistic devils. They’re neither of those things. They’re businesspeople who have a job to do. It’s hard not to take it personally when you get a form reject with your name misspelled, but it doesn’t mean the agent is an imbecile who will starve in the streets while you’re raking in big advances. Neither does it mean that you are a talentless hack doomed to eternal failure. Remember both of those things and treat the agent with the same courtesy you’d offer someone interviewing you for a job. Play by the rules. If they turn you down…on to the next. (But feel free to have some Ben and Jerry’s to soothe the pain a little bit–rejection hurts!)

Thank you, Amber, for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you’ll have time to come back for another interview once Blessed Among Women is on the bookshelves!

It was my pleasure! I appreciate the opportunity.

To learn more about Amber, please visit allmyfriendsarepretend.blogspot.com or follow her on twitter at @AmberLBrock.

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