Thursday, June 30, 2011

And The Conference Continues...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Celebrating Romance In New York City!

Look closely for Jennifer Echols and Victoria Dahl (our luncheon keynote speaker).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Meet Tori Karacis, a Living Myth


The Romance Magicians blog has been honored with a rare look into the world of the Latter Day-Olympians. Normally the Goddities website (a scandal sheet of the modern day doings of Greek gods) is closed to mere mortals, such as ourselves.  However, since some of their secrets are going to be made public on June 28 in Lucienne Diver's new release Bad Blood, the Goddities web-mistress, Yiayia, has graciously agreed to share her interview with her granddaughter Tori, the heroine of Bad Blood. I want to thank Yiayia (and Lucienne Diver who brokered the deal) for sharing this interview.

***

Today I’m talking with my granddaughter, who has recently been linked to certain strange events in L.A.  She’s asked me to keep her name out of this and, as you know, I am ever discreet.  (But if you read the Hollywood rags, I’m sure you can glean a thing or two.)  Without further ado, I’m pleased to introduce my highly successful, very beautiful granddaughter, who is absolutely the first person you’ll want to call for all your private investigation needs. 

Anipsi, thank you for talking with us today.  (Anipsi means niece for those of you playing along at home.  See, already I am protecting her identity.)

You blackmailed me into it.

Nonetheless, you agreed, and I thank you.

Don’t mention it.  I mean that really and truly.

So, it is my understanding that you didn’t believe the family stories about how our line descended from the god Pan beer-goggling one of the gorgons.

Well, can you blame me?

Would you please tell me how all of that changed?

In retrospect, your beard should have been a dead giveaway.  And cousin Tina’s really aggressive underbite.  Anyway, you know all this, but for your readers, it all changed the day I actually witnessed someone being torn apart by a thing that looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  And lest you think I was just on a bad trip or had wandered onto a film set—hey, this is L.A.—the police found piscine D&A in her wounds.  I’m saying…something was definitely fishy. 

And you are on the case, consulting with the police?

Some would call it consulting.  Others might say “brought in for questioning.”

Psshaw, as if that hot cop you’ve been mooning over would let anything happen to you.  I bet he just wanted to get you alone in an interrogation room.

Yiayia!

Okay, okay, I move on.  Is there any truth to the rumors that you and a certain Greek god turned Hollywood hottie have been burning up the sheets.

Yiayia! 

What?  I was married.  I know all about the sex.  And your grandfather wasn’t the only wild oat I had to sow.

That’s it, I’m out.  I am not talking about my love life.

Such as it is. 

Well, there you have it folks, it’s a story as classic as the ages…murder, mayhem, sex and scandal in La La Land.  Tune in next week when we’ve got an actual demi-god here to talk about the rumored rise of the the old gods.  What will it mean for you?

Read more about Yiayia and Tori Karacis in:
Bad Blood, first novel of the Latter-Day Olympians
Available digitally June 28, 2011, print in 2012

Friday, June 24, 2011

Homonyms for adults

During the school year, I tutor one afternoon a week with a program called Start the Adventure in Reading (STAIR) that targets at-risk second graders. It's totally selfish. We must teach children to love reading so that one day, they will buy our books.

As is always the case with trying to give back, I learn a lot more than I teach. One lesson I never thought much about is homonyms. You remember--words that sound alike, but have different meanings and spellings. With my STAIR student, I read stories and search for words like sea and see; tale and tail; blue and blew; to, too and two.

In the past couple of months, I've noticed quite a few misrepresented nouns and verbs in published works-a few of them in paperbacks and blog posts, but most between hard covers. I know even high-end hardback books can't be perfect, and that a few mistakes among 100,000 words doesn't destroy a good story. But I thought I'd share what I've seen because. . .well, because there's no excuse for it. And I'm a curmudgeon.

Shears/Sheers
Shears hanging in the window of a hair salon would make a creative statement. But the picture window in the elderly widow's home probably has translucent fabric panels called sheers.

Teaming/Teeming
People who join a team may be the teaming type, but I suspect that the mention of a "teaming crowd" was not supposed to evoke the image of people joining together in cooperative groups. I suspect the author meant to use the word "teeming," or numerous, as in the sonnet by Emma Lazarus engraved on a plaque inside the base of the Statue of Liberty.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Flare/Flair
Someone with a flair for style may be bright, but wouldn't light the sky the way a flare does.

Sight/Site
When a character sets her sights on visiting a "grave sight," she could have meant a specter or ghost, or even a place where she might view something somber. But given the context, the author probably meant "a grave site," a particular location within a cemetery.

Phased/Fazed
One hero was notably unphased by a bomb. I think the author meant "unfazed," or heroically undaunted, rather than unsynchronized.

Stake/Steak
Not officially found in a published work. Actually, an item my DH jotted on the grocery list. If he were a paranormal fan, I'd ask, but sense he's knot, I new he mint a slab of meet.

All through school, English classes address common homonyms, but no handy "i before e" rule applies. Spell checkers rarely help.

The other day, I typed "sales" when my character was on a sailboat. I caught my mistake, but what if I hadn't? Would an alert editor (assuming the story sells) have flagged the error for me? Not necessarily. We have to be responsible and vigilant. We have to learn the words.

The only way I know to do that is to read lists of homonyms to raise awareness. Here's a link to Alan Cooper's exhaustive online list: http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym.html

He welcomes additions!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Romance in Real Life

Yesterday was my anniversary. Eight years ago, my husband and I braved one lost bridesmaid, one un-hemmed flower girl dress, one pair of torn ring-bearer's rented pants, and more dead and wilted roses than I really want to remember. And it was the best wedding ever.

Seriously, you think yours was better, but I'm promising you it wasn't. Or at the very least, we had many more cookies and cakes* and WAY better music and dance moves.

In his toast, our best man wished us the "quiet miracle of an extraordinary life together." It was a pitch-perfect toast, because it gets to the heart of what makes romance so compelling for many of us. It's more than just the big moments that draw us to romance (not that we can ignore those). But the extraordinary emotional punch of the repeated quiet miracles we experience in our relationships everyday are what we replicate for our readers when we write--even if we do it through dukes and assassins and vampires. The article that appeared recently about romance novels being dangerous, about the readers of romance novels participating in a kind of dangerous escapism got it exactly wrong. We read and write these types of books because we see in them something that we hope and-- if we are truly lucky--something that we know is true. We are drawn to them because we want to experience again and again that one true thing.**

Now my husband has never been one for the grand gesture. He did not woo me with flowers and jewels*** or rent a hot-air balloon to propose. But since we started dating, two mostly broke undergrads at Kent State, he's made me cards. Someday, he's going to realize he could probably make a heck of a lot of money if he sold them to Hallmark, but for now they're all mine. They're never big, gushy professions of love, but they're always funny. And they always, in their subtlety, let me know just exactly how he feels. And they give me a bigger emotional punch than any hot love scene in a romance ever has, because they always convey to me his unwavering support--and for me, that's probably more romantic than the biggest diamond ring (not that I'd turn down one of those, either).

So without further ado, I'd like to share his most recent creation with you. Because nothing's better than romance in real life.

Five Signs You Married a Professional Writer****
5. Every other conversation begins with "can you think of a word that means...confused yet with a strong desire for spaghetti."
4. Your house used to have hard-wood floors, now you have wall-to-wall paperback novels. Although, some of those have "hard wood" in them (if you know what I'm sayin')
3. Your wife can claim one of those new eReaders as a business expense on your taxes.
2. Your bed is never cold--thanks to a Macbook.
And the #1 sign is...
1. When making dinner plans, you must consult her agent first.


Because nothing is more romantic than having a partner who is even more excited by your successes than you are and who can believe even when you don't. And isn't that what we really write about--the dream of finding someone who sees us for exactly who we are and loves us anyway?

See? I'm one lucky, lucky girl. Now excuse me while I get back to the book I just bought. It has the hottest cover....

---------------------------

*I'm talking enough baked-goods to put a diabetic into a sight-induced blood sugar surge. And I have the pictures to prove it.
**Also for the pictures of hot, cut men on the cover.
***Okay, there were a couple of times he sent me flowers, but that was mostly when he did something stupid he had to apologize for.
****A production of Dunick Cards (When the Hallmark store is too damn far to walk to)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Girly-man! Hear Me Now and Believe Me Later! (Revisited from 9/12/07)

Yes, I loved Hans and Franz on Saturday Night Live. So funny, especially when The Arnold came on the show. Anyway, what I want to talk about is the growth of our characters.

As most of us know, each major player in our book must grow in some way before we can type THE END. We can show their growth several ways. Yes. You’re right. Another list from Carla. I’ve been a good girl for a while and it’s that time again.

1) By learning to love. That one is used more often for the male characters than for females. The character could be nursing a broken heart caused by a minor character or the other major player in the story. Maybe her childhood was horrible or someone in his life had a tragic accident and he refused to try to love again.

One of my favorite books, SARA’S CHILD by Linda Howard, has a hero whose wife and children died in a car accident. He struggles not to love his dead wife’s best friend. When they marry and she becomes pregnant, he refuses to acknowledge the child. I cried and cried the first time I read that book. Of course, it has the HEA. That’s why it’s a keeper.

2) By learning to trust. Another great one for romance. Often this is used with number one. The character’s betrayed by a mother, father, best friend, or past love. Money stolen, left for dead, or that broken heart.

I’m sure if I thought about it hard enough I could think of several books, but what comes to mind is Mel Gibson’s PAYBACK. Hard to believe, but it has a romance. Mel’s character, Porter, is betrayed by his wife and best friend, left for dead. I won’t say more, but I can promise you won’t be disappointed. I found on the internet a new re-cut verison is out. I’m not sure about that one. Just in case, get the original verison and check it out. Mel plays an anti-hero, so watch out, the story is violent.

3) By redemption. A character has realized the errors of his ways. Authors often use amnesia for this growth as they’re afraid the reader can’t believe a bad person can make a 180 degree change. I believe they can. Ask me about it sometime. Historicals like amnesia victims too. I see redemption used in paranormals a lot.

Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter books use redemption beautifully for her "Mad, Bad, and Immortal" heroes. Who doesn't love a man who has fences to mend and is willing to do it.

4) By plain ol’ learning. This is where the character seeks vengeance against another character. But maybe love (see number one) or the truth is revealed and changes the character’s direction, helping him grow.

I know I’ve read several books like this since Johanna Lindsey’s PRISONER OF MY DESIRE, but none come to mind. So Johanna’s heroine forces the hero to have sex with her (yep, forced a man) and later he takes revenge by forcing the same on her. Of course he makes her want it first. Oddly, in this one, what’s good for the goose, isn’t good for the gander.

Okay, now for the questions, what other character growth have you seen in books or movies? What are some of your favorite books or movies that represent the ones above?


In closing, as Hans said, "Sorry, Mr. Girly-Man, but here's a treat for your girlfriend!"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

First Page Lightning: Adding Power with Rhetorical Devices By Margie Lawson

You all know the three-second-rule. Right?


When you meet someone new, that’s how long it takes to form an impression. That all important first impression. That hard to reverse first impression. That colors-your-perception-forever first impression.

Three seconds.

Look. Blink. Smile.

Your three seconds are up.

Writers have a similar challenge to make a positive first impression on agents, editors, and readers. They have a first sentence challenge, a first paragraph challenge, a first page challenge . . .

The first few pages of most novels are the most rewritten. Writers scrutinize those pages. They revise, rethink, rework, rewrite, reject-and-start-over.

Having analyzed the first several chapters (and beyond) of over a thousand novels, I know what components add power to openings. Many writers overlook one of those options--the power of rhetorical devices.

My research reveals that some New York Times bestsellers almost always use the more obscure rhetorical devices in their first few pages. Harlan Coben almost always uses ANAPHORA in the first few pages of his books. In some books, he uses anaphora in his opening paragraph and several more times in the first chapter.

Lisa Gardner and Stephen White often use anaphora and epistrophe in their opening chapters too.

In my Deep Editing course, I teach writers how to use thirty rhetorical devices. I’ll introduce three of these devices in this blog.

We’ll dive into ANAPHORA first.

ANAPHORA – Using the same word or phrase to START three (or more) consecutive phrases or sentences.

From Harlan Coben’s NO SECOND CHANCE, opening paragraph:

     I know that I lost a lot of blood.
     I know that a second bullet skimmed the top of my head...
     I know that my heart stopped.

Two more examples from the first chapter of NO SECOND CHANCE:

     I remembered waking up that morning . . .
     I remembered looking in on Tara.
     I remembered turning the knob . . .

     I longed for the numb.
     I longed for the comatose state of the hospital.
     I longed for that IV bag . . .

Here’s an example of using anaphora to start phrases. It’s from Harlen Coben’s THE WOODS, Chapter 1:

     I have never seen my father cry before—not when his own father died,
     not when my mother ran off and left us, not even when he first heard
     about my sister, Camille.

Look what Harlan Coben accomplished in that line. He slipped in backstory. But with anaphora, it’s fast and smooth and intriguing.

Here are two examples of ANAPHORA, from Allison Brennan, FEAR NO EVIL,
Chapter 1. It’s two paragraphs.

     Fourteen years ago she wanted the exact same thing as Lucy--to
     get out from under her parents’ thumb. But that was before she'd
     decided to become a cop. Before she realized how truly dangerous
     the city could be. Before she realized that justice wasn't always swift,
     that the system didn't always work.

     That some murders would never be solved.

Stephen White used anaphora eight times in BLINDED. The example below is from Page 1:

     It may sound goofy, but I also believed that on good days I could
     smell the spark before I smelled the fire and I could taste the poison
     before it reached my lips. On good days I could stand firm between
     tenderness and evil. On good days I could make a difference.

OKAY! What makes ANAPHORA powerful?

The rhythm . . .
The auditory echo . . .
The repetition of the message . . .

Anaphora speaks to the reader’s subconscious.

Using anaphora makes the read imperative.

Let’s look at another rhetorical device. EPISTROPHE. This one is even more obscure than anaphora. I’ve found thirty times more examples of anaphora, than epistrophe. Yet, it’s equally powerful.

And it’s as fun to write as anaphora. I used epistrophe to draw you into this blog. It’s in my second paragraph, and in my sixth paragraph.

EPISTROPHE – It’s the opposite of anaphora. Using the same word or phrase to END three (or more) consecutive phrases or sentences.

     When you meet someone new, that’s how long it takes to form
     an impression. That all important first impression. That hard to
     reverse first impression. That colors-your-perception-forever first
     impression.

They have a first sentence challenge, a first paragraph challenge, a first page challenge . . .

Here are more examples of EPISTROPHE from bestselling authors:

From Michael Connelly, the opening lines from THE BRASS VERDICT:

          Everybody lies.

          Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.

          A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows
     this. The judge knows this. Even the jury knows this. They come into
     the building knowing they will be lied to. They take their seats in the
     box and agree to be lied to.

          The trick if you are sitting at the defense table is to be patient.
     To wait. Not just for any lie. But for the one you can grab on to
     and forge like hot iron into a sharpened blade. You then use that
     blade to rip the case open and spill its guts on the floor.

          That’s my job, to forge the blade. To sharpen it. To use it
     without mercy or conscience. To be the truth in a place where
     everybody lies.

Here are the first four paragraphs of HIDE by Lisa Gardner.

          My father explained it to me the first time when I was seven years
     old. The world is a system. School is a system. Neighborhoods are a
     system. Towns, governments, any large group of people. For that
     matter, the human body is a system, enabled by smaller, biological
     subsystems.

          Criminal justice, definitely a system. The Catholic Church—
     don’t get him started. Then there’s organized sports, the United
     Nations, and of course, the Miss America Pageant.

          “You don’t have to like the system,” he lectured me. “You
     don’t have to believe in it or agree with it. But you must understand
     it. If you can understand the system, you will survive.”

          The family is a system.

LISA GARDNER used the word SYSTEM eight times. Plus—one use of SUBSYSTEM.

She nails the reader again and again and again with that regimented word, system. And she brings it home with her last sentence—a spotlighted, stand alone sentence.

          The family is a system.

There’s a page break after that line—then the story kicks in with a vengeance.

I’ll share one more rhetorical device – SYMPLOCE.

SYMPLOCE uses a combination of anaphora and epistrophe – in the same sentences.

The SYMPLOCE example below is from Christa Allan. Christa attended a full day master class on Deep Editing Power in 2007. This is the prologue for her debut novel, a 2010 release, WALKING ON BROKEN GLASS.

Prologue from WALKING ON BROKEN GLASS, by Christa Allan:

          If I had known children break on the inside and the cracks don’t
     surface until years later, I would have been more careful with my words.

          If I had known some parents don’t live to watch grandchildren
     grow, I would have taken more pictures and been more careful with my
     words.

          If I had known couples can be fragile and want what they are
     unprepared to give or unwilling to take, I would have been more
     careful with my words.

          If I had known teaching lasts a lifetime, and students don’t
     speak of their tragic lives, I would have been more careful with
     my words.

          If I had known my muscles and organs and bones and skin
     are not lifetime guarantees that when broken, snagged, unstitched
     or unseemly, can not be returned for replacement, I would have
     been kinder to the shell that prevents my soul from leaking out.

          If I had known I would live over half my life and have to look
     at photographs to remember my mother adjusting my birthday
     party hat so that my father could take the picture that sliced the
     moment out of time- if I had known, if I had known- I would have
     been more careful with my life.

With anaphora, epistrophe, and symploce—once you’ve established the repetition three consecutive times, you can play with it. You don’t have to stop at three. You can have a sentence or two following the last repetition, that don’t carry the repetition. The last sentence could pick up the repetition and end with a rhetorical punch.

Notice how Christa Allan adhered to the tenets of anaphora in the first four paragraphs. The openings and endings are the same, and those four paragraphs are about the same length.

In the fifth paragraph she gives the reader a surprise. She repeats the opening, but then she amplified the middle section and gave the piece a new grab-your-heart ending.

In the last paragraph, she amplified and added power with cadence. Then she surprised the reader in a new way. When the reader sees the lead-in of the anchor phrase, they think it’s going to be the same as in paragraphs one through four. It’s not until the last word, that they get hit with the psychological punch.

That’s Power Backloading.

This blog focused on using rhetorical devices to add power to first pages. They can be used to add power anywhere. Writers could use this stylistic power at the opening of any scene, at turning points, before a page break, at the end of a chapter.

Anaphora, epistrophe, and symploce are three of the thirty rhetorical devices I cover in my one of my writing craft courses, Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!

If you have an example of anaphora, epistrophe, or symploce in your work, please post it.

If you’d like to write one, please post it!

Post a comment (you don’t have to include a rhetorical device) and you may win:

     1. A Lecture Packet
     2. An Online Course from Lawson Writer’s Academy

I’ll post the names of the winners on the blog tonight -- at 9PM Mountain Time

FYI:

Visit my cyber Open House for Lawson Writer's Academy, July 14, 15, and 16.

You’ll have a dozen more chances to win a Lecture Packet or an online class!

Margie Lawson—psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter – developed psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques used by everyone, from new writers to multi-award winning authors. She teaches writers how to add psychological power to create page turners.

Margie taught psychology and communication courses at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Her resume includes adjunct professor, clinical trainer, facilitator of trauma response sessions, and director of a hospital-based counseling center.

In the last six years Margie presented over sixty full day Master Classes across the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Writers who have studied her material credit her innovative editing approaches with taking their writing several levels higher—to publication, awards, and bestseller lists.

To learn about Margie’s 3-day Immersion Master Classes in Colorado, online courses offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy, full day Master Class presentations, on-line course schedule, Lecture Packets, and newsletter, visit: www.MargieLawson.com.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Going From Major Stab Wound To Minor Bruising by Christy Reece

Christy wrote this post 2/10/07. If only she had known she would get the call that year. Encouraging, isn't it? 

Recently, I've noticed that rejections have started hurting less and that worried me a little. What did that mean? Was my writing career meaning less to me? Did I not want to be a published author as much as I had before? Had I come to the end of hope? I even stopped wanting to eat chocolate after each one. Oh no!

Was it time to end the dream?

It didn't take me long to answer back with a resounding NO! Yes, I still love to write and my career still means the world to me. Yes, I still want to be a published, actually a multi-published author. And there is still plenty of hope. Oh, and I still love chocolate.

So why does it hurt less? Why did what used to feel like a stab to my heart now only result in minor bruising? One word...Growth. I've grown up these past few years and my skin...while not rhinoceros thick...is no longer as fragile as it once was. I've been writing long enough and experienced enough rejection, that I'm no longer shocked when it happens.

My first rejections came as a shock...did yours? I just assumed everyone would immediately see what a literary genius I am. Uh, nope...as far as I know, no one has.

Now, when I submit, I don't necessarily expect rejection, but I'm no longer floored when it happens. Personal taste, the market, my writing style, the storyline and a whole host of other things can bring a rejection. That took me a while to understand, but realizing that, it's become much easier.

Will my next rejection hurt? Of course it will. I'm still human. However, I'll go through my little grieving process, which may or may not include chocolate. Then I'll carry on. Why? Because it's what I do...it's what I am.

How about you? Are rejections, whether you're published or not, easier than they used to be?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How do you harness your energy?


I recently completed a ten week citizens police academy with the Fairfax County Police Department, something I highly recommend if you have one in your area. During the presentation by the K-9 unit, someone asked how the dogs know when they’re supposed to be working and when it’s okay to play.

According to the officer, when he puts on the dog’s harness he knows it’s work time.
That got me wondering if I need something similar to put me in writing mode. When I worked outside the house, I wore clothes that were different from my weekends or evening attire. My husband dons a uniform every day. My kids strap on a backpack.

I had a—thankfully short—commute that gave me time to switch gears and get away from the physical and mental distractions of home.

I love working from home, but now I have nothing that signals the shift from “play”—laundry, dishes, email, working out—to writing. Not that I want to wear a harness while I write or be forced to leave the house every morning, but I’d like to find something that I can use no matter where I am that reminds my brain to switch gears and get to writing.

Do you use something to signal that your writing time has started? I’d love to hear what works for you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Romantic Couples

This is why we write romance...

Friday, June 10, 2011

I'll take all the glimmers I can get. How about you?

A glimmer of good news, in case you didn't see it.

Eric over at Pimp My Novel posted a market update yesterday. He included Romance in the five categories he noticed "particular growth in over the past few months."

Here's what he said:

Romance. A perennial favorite, romance is probably doing well for the same reasons as the aforementioned thrillers—it's generally inexpensive and great for beach or poolside reading. Romance readers also tend to buy repeatedly and generally buy more books per purchase than other readers, so the effect may be amplified by those kinds of consumer habits.

Not that I'm going to break out the Champagne, but it's nice to see something positive.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Imperfect Teenage Dream

Break out the flannel and grunge rock! Let's rewind to the 90's for an example of the imperfect teenage dream.

One of my favorite flawed fictional teenage love interests was Angela Chase's major crush Jordan Catalano in My So Called Life. The guy definitely had his hang-ups and was no where near perfect.

He was one of the "cool kids" who played dumb (academically) to compensate for his illiteracy. He was bored with the same ole' same old, but did it anyway because it was expected. He denied his attraction to Angela, even to himself. When he did finally admit it, he hid it from his "cool" friends because she was "weird". And he often let his hormones rule the day. After all, he was a teenage boy.

But... The writers still managed to redeem him in a realistic way for a teenager. He finally went public with their relationship by simply holding her hand in the hallway. When he messed up in a BIG way (uh, hooking up with the best friend is definitely not my idea of prince charming), he worked hard (for him) for forgiveness. He tried to pen a love letter. And, though he bailed the first time (he was so not the "meet the parents" kind of guy), he met her mom and confessed his mistake.

Despite his issues, I wanted to see them together and happy (though the show was pulled on a cliffhanger).

So who's some of your favorite love interests? And how did the writer make the character flawed, yet redeemable?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Villainy is one of the most difficult characteristics to define in a person, especially in a romance novel. The temptation is to take the simple route and make the villain as evil as the hero and/or heroine is good. It’s easy, well-defined and can leave the reader in no doubt as to the villain’s purpose and intentions.

Me, I like my villains a bit more subtle. In some of my very favorite romance novels the bad guy (or girl) has kept me in doubt right up to the last page. Now this sort of character is difficult to write and can lap over into caricature OR turn out to be just plain confusing.

In life I’ve met some fairly obvious villains (had the husband of a student threaten to shoot me because I helped her get into a battered women’s shelter) and I’ve met some of the less noticeable villains. These types can come off as concerned, sweet, innocent and as deadly as a stomped on rattlesnake. Venomous? Check. Vindictive? Oh, yes! Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths and they were “only trying to help?” You bet your sweet bippy! I went to an all girls college with some girls who would have made Machiavelli run for cover.

Like the sweet young thing with luxurious blond hair who told Mr. Handsome Military Cadet how much she admired his fiancée for the way she handled an abortion at the age of fifteen. She only mentioned it to help him see “what a wonderfully courageous girl he was marrying.” The fact he was a devout Catholic never entered her mind. See? Insidious. And Miss “I was just trying to help” with the luxurious blond hair ended up being said cadet’s next girlfriend after he dumped his shattered fiancée.

On the surface this character seems truly concerned or at the worst, socially inept. She isn’t a knife wielding serial killer, but she is just as destructive in her own way. Now that’s the sort of villain that gives me the heebie jeebies! Give me a villain you have no idea how the heroine can fight back against without appearing as evil and mean as her opponent. A villain who uses his or her words, and innuendo and half-rumor to destroy another character can be devastating. And he or she can be a real challenge to write. I have even read some authors who create villains like this only to redeem them and make them the hero or heroine of the next book in the series. Now that requires SKILL ! Make me slowly, but surely despise someone and then try to show me why they became such a horrible creature and how love can redeem them – it’s a tall order and requires skills I don’t have. Yet.

What about you? Do you prefer your villains up front where you can see what they’re up to? Or does the idea of someone who straddles the line until the last page appeal? Do those people whose every word and deed comes from a personal agenda make your skin crawl? What sort of villain is the scariest to you and what sort of villain is the hardest for you to write?

By the way, Mr. Handsome Cadet eventually saw the error of his ways, but by that time his former fiancée had moved on. She ended up married to another cadet, a devout Yankee Catholic from New York with the sense to know no person should be judged or defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done, but by the person they’ve become. And Miss “I was only trying to help?” A few weeks after she started dating Mr. Handsome Cadet she woke up duct taped to her bed with her luxurious blond head shaved. Not that I know anything about such an openly villainous act. To quote Eliza Doolittle “I’m a good girl, I am.” Most of the time.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Sir Isaac Newton's Guide to Agent/Editor Stalking

RWA Nationals is just around the corner. Many of us will be attending angsting over our pitches, studiously attending workshops and meeting many other writers. In the spirit of this, I have asked fellow writer Walt Mussell to share his article here. I found this an amusing and very appropriate look at how to conduct yourself in the presence of the beleaguered Agents and Editors that you will meet. Enjoy! M.V. Freeman



Sir Isaac Newton’s guide to agent/editor stalking


When it comes to writing conferences, I’m still a newbie—I attended one conference in each of the last three years. All were great, as I networked, attended workshops, and learned about writing.

However, I also went for the potential of meeting agents/editors. At my second conference, I obtained two appointments, which, combined, accounted for 15 minutes of my weekend. I prepped, polished, paced, and then performed. Admittedly, I was nervous. Not about my pitch. Not about my clothes. Not about having my work critiqued (destroyed).

I feared breaching agent/editor conference etiquette.

I’ve heard the recommendations. You meet the agents/editors at scheduled appointments, and then you leave them alone unless they approach you. Yet, there are overzealous writers who wait outside elevators, approach agents and editors while they’re eating, and, the scariest one, chase them into a bathroom. I’m smart enough, hopefully, not to do any of these things. However, there were agents/editors I wanted to meet at the conference, if only for a minute. And the potential for my emotions to override my common sense shook my nerves.

So, I looked for ways to take a measured attitude. Being a numbers geek, I sought advice from one of history’s greatest writers, Sir Isaac Newton.

Yes, I know. Newton is known as the discoverer of gravity and for his laws of motion, but he also was a prolific writer. Extremely shy, he once published under a pen name. He soon received letters from colleagues telling him his distinctive voice still resonated in his work. (Actually, the letters said, “Ike, we know it’s you. No one else on the planet can do the math.”)

So what did I, a newbie writer, learn from Newton? One of Newton’s laws of motion is often paraphrased as “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.” Using this law, I created Newton’s guidelines for meeting (stalking) agents and editors.

(1) Agents/editors in motion should be allowed to stay in motion.
(2) Agents/editors at rest should be allowed to rest.
(3) Even though agents/editors may be the irresistible force, do not become the immovable object.

That’s it. I’ve followed these tenets at my last two conferences—but this doesn’t mean I wasn’t proactive. While getting coffee at one conference, I noticed that the woman next to me was the person I was meeting in 30 minutes. I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed her comments in a panel discussion she’d participated in the previous day. She thanked me, but left frustrated as there was no cream at the table. I tracked down a member of the hotel staff, procured a small pitcher of half-and-half, and asked one of the volunteers at the agent/editor appointment area to take it in to her. While I’d like to think my brilliant pitch and potential were the reasons she requested a partial, I’m still giving some credit to the cream.

I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a publisher. And some might say I don’t have a clue about what I’m doing. Until I do, though, I will send out my query letters, follow my guidelines, and be proactive. And, as I return to my writing desk, I will focus on Newton’s second law of thermodynamics, the one that says chaos is always increasing.


Walt Mussell is an aspiring writer, specializing in inspirational historicals with Asian settings and humorous nonfiction. He hopes the above qualifies in one of those two categories. Visit him on the Web at "Daddy Needs Decaf" (Parenting: Tues) www.waltmussell.blogspot.com.





Walt Mussell
"Daddy Needs Decaf" (Parenting: Tues) www.waltmussell.blogspot.com