Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Joylene's interview at Writers and Authors

I'm being interviewed on Writers and Authors today. Please stop by and leave a comment. Jo Linsdell is a full-time freelance writer, and the creator and manager of the award winning site. She's also the founder and organizer of PROMO DAY. Her blog, a place dedicated to people in the writing industry, is a wonderful atmosphere for sharing and gathering information. Jo lives in Rome with her husband and son.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How Has Writing Changed You?

Because I have until Wednesday to finish packing Grandma's apartment and then washing all the walls, (lucky moi) I can't think of a suitable blog, except to leave you with a question, answerable in less than 50 words. How has writing changed YOU?

I'm looking forward to all your answers.

(FYI, the above blog is 50 words)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

7 Easy Steps to Writing a Novel

I lay awake last night thinking about doing a blog on how to write a book. Sounds more like a non-fiction book than a blog, eh? But really, there are some simple steps people can take to fulfill their dream of writing a book. And since I've written 6 books, (okay--#6 is half-finished) who better to encourage others to do that than moi?

To begin, here is my list of 7 easy steps to writing your first novel:

#1. My recommended reading list, books that I promise will motive you and answer some of those essential questions. Unfortunately, I can't remember the author in each case and because I've given the books away, I can't go look. But if you do a search for the title online, I'm sure you can locate any one of these books. They're all best sellers.

- Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein. (An absolutely great book to inspire and make a believer out of you)
- Characters and Viewpoint. (Essentially in helping you learn about POV and voice)
- Breathing Life.
- Self-editing
- Eats, Shoots and Leaves (a grammar book extraordinaire)
- Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas
- The Writer's Guide to Characters
- The Writer's Journey
- Between the Lines
- On Writing, by Stephen King. (I loved this little book; it's very inspiring. And funny)

- Bird by Bird
- Words Fail Me.

If you're really interested in writing, begin with the book on the top of the list. When you think you're ready, try some of the rest. The thing is, if you're serious, learning the mechanics of writing will set you free from whatever it is that's been stopping you so far.

#2. Study 3 Act movies. I wrote a blog on the Three Act Plays that should help you to understand what they are and how they work; unless, of course, you still remember your studies from back in school. Every story has a structure consist of the 3 Acts. Some even have 4. Number one introduces your main character and his goal, number two generally shows all the stuff that's stopping him from obtaining his goal, and number three reaches the final climax usually in break-neck speed. By keeping track of the clock on your VCR or DVD and noting the important turning points in the movie, I promise you'll learn the basic components in structuring your own story.

#3 Write. Begin your story. Write the 3 Acts. Each act has one/third of the total amount of chapters. The first chapter sets up the conflict. Each chapter after that moves the story forward. If you understand chapter structures, then you know that each chapter must have a goal, conflict and disaster. I know there's more to it than what I've got here, but it's not going to make sense for me to explain unless you write. By writing, you'll learn. And learn. And learn. And please, don't expect the first draft to be perfect. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY writes a perfect first draft. So, write. And whatever you do, DON'T show your first draft to anyone. Believe me, this is vital ADVICE. There's a reason it's called a first draft. It's rough. And the last thing you need is for some well-intentioned friend or family member to say something ... well, I refuse to go into that now, because you're not going to show it to anyone. Okay!

#4. Finish your three-act manuscript, then set it aside. Nobody ever listens to this part of my 7 easy steps, but honestly, you need to distance yourself. Wait at least 2 days before picking it. Longer if you can. I've been known to set it aside 2 weeks. It gets easier. Especially, after you realize that time did what it's suppose to do: gave you enough space to think objectively and treat the draft as it truly is: rough.

#5. Read those edit books again from the list above. Familiarize yourself with the techniques of editing. Cutting unnecessary words. Changing a lot of telling into showing. Tightening. Smoothing out those rough spots. Filling in those blank spots. Honestly, editing is the best part.

#6. When you've finished your second draft, go somewhere quiet and read it aloud. You're hear the rhythm of your prose and what doesn't sound smooth, or jolts you out of your reverie. Your ears are amazingly good at hearing what doesn't work. Fix the mistakes.

#7. Join a writer's group in town or online and submit your third draft. Meet like-minded people. Fellowship! Learn how to critique and I promise you'll learn more than you could ever imagine about writing. And I also promise, once you get the bug, you'll never be the same again.

Of course, there's a lot to writing a novel. But in the end, the secret is to write.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

No Kidding, No Thinking.

This morning I sat down at my desk with a blank mind. You may be wondering how's that possible? How can my mind be blank? It sounds like an infliction from a Science Fiction movie. Yet, that's exactly what I had first thing this morning: a blank mind. Of course, as soon as I realized that, I spoiled things by feeling my mind blank, then trying to describe the feeling in words. After all, I am a writer. It's a curse, but I have to express myself.

But let's think for a moment. Thinking is thoughts. Thoughts are words. Sometimes they come with special images and even their own exclamation marks. But what's to say that my best state of mind is when my mind is blank?

For the next few seconds, I'm going to go to that place again and see ....

The thoughts and imagines were replaced with a feeling. The feeling was of my mind empty.

I like it.

And strangely, I feel better now. Rejuvenated. Motivated. I think I'll have my Sunday breakfast, then do some edits on my manuscript Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries, then maybe I'll work on my new WIP, after that, I might just read Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, again. (I'm kidding; I'd need a week)

Oh, I'm reading from Kiss of the Assassin again tomorrow night 93.1 CFIS-FM at 6 PM PST. I'm reading ch. 14, and it's only available online. CFIS's receiver can't be picked up outside the Prince George bowl area, as yet.

Have a great and inspiring Sunday, everybody. Try to stop thinking for a few moments and let yourself just be.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Understanding The Traditional Publishing Route by Charles Jacobs

Massive changes has occurred in the world of traditional publishing. The most impressive and beneficial is the burgeoning of indie publishers, smaller, independent companies that prize quality and diversity in books and care deeply about the authors they work with.

At the other end of the spectrum is the sadness that has dominated what at one time was a dedicated and flourishing concentration of major publishers who too believed in quality and diversity. Unfortunately, that has changed dramatically. Most major publishers today are members of large conglomerates, and as typically happens when privately-owned companies are swallowed up by a conglomerate, quality gives way to greed, and the bottom line becomes the dominant force in decision-making.

That’s what’s happened to most of the names we once revered. Take for example, names like Doubleday, Knopf, Random House; they are no longer independent. They have been swallowed up by a conglomerate called Bertlesman. It’s not even an American company. Based in Germany, it is the largest publishing conglomerate in the world.

What does this trend mean to you as an author? With few exceptions, the major publishing houses care little about newcomers or even published authors who are not yet household names. Instead, they concentrate on publishing books by long-established authors and memoirs of Hollywood stars, leading politicians or disgruntled politicos and bureaucrats who have left the Beltway. Despite the occasional breakthrough by a first-time or novice author, you stand little chance of connecting with these publishers.

But that doesn’t mean that the only choices left to the majority of authors are Publishing on Demand (POD) or self-publishing, both of which we have just finished discussing in a series of weekly columns. Fortunately, the population of indie publishers has grown geometrically over the past decade, and they hold out the welcome mat to every writer who can provide a well-written, interesting manuscript.

The Process

Traditional publishing is quite different from either self-publishing or POD. The author becomes involved in a joint venture with a literary agent and a publisher. All three play a critical role in the process as it moves through contract negotiation and into editing, followed by production. A breakdown by any one of these three participants can doom the book to failure.

Let’s begin by looking at the way an author reaches out to a traditional publisher, whether major or indie. All of the majors require that submissions come through a literary agent. They will not accept a manuscript directly from an author. That’s not true for many of the indies. Although they prefer you work through an agent, many will accept a direct submission from you.

There is an accepted method of submitting, whether it is to an agent or to a publisher directly. Step one is to open the door with a query letter. If you are lucky enough to receive a favorable reply, that is followed by a book proposal in the case of nonfiction or by submission of the entire finished manuscript of a novel.

The Literary Agent

Many publishing experts claim that the process of convincing a literary agent to accept you is more difficult than finding a publisher. You have to understand that an agent’s income is directly related to the earnings of the book. He/she is compensated by a percentage (usually 15%) of the monies earned by the sale of the book. Therefore the agent must be extremely cautious when selecting a book to represent.

It is often a challenging task to find an agent, but it is well worth the effort. The agent’s services go far beyond just the placement of your manuscript with a publisher. He/she becomes your alter-ego in dealing with all aspects of the publishing process. Negotiating a contract with a publisher is a literary minefield. No author should attempt it by him/herself. An experienced agent or literary attorney (not just any general practice attorney) knows the pitfalls to be avoided and fights for the best advance and royalty payments.

More than that, the agent helps you to improve your book proposal and frequently even your manuscript before submission to a publisher. Agents develop close relationships with editors at the publishing houses of the genres they deal in. Agent lunches are legendary. They meet with editors regularly both to keep abreast of industry trends and to promote their clients’ books. As a results they understand the idiosyncrasies of the editors they deal with as well as their likes and their dislikes.

On the publisher’s side, editors rely on the judgment of the agent to prescreen books and recommend those that represent a value to their specific publishing house. That usually means a book recommended by an agent goes on the top of the pile to be considered by the editor, and that is a huge advantage.

The agent then shepherds the book through the production process, ensuring that you are given a quality product. Once the book is published and distributed, the agent becomes your “banker.” Royalty payments from the publisher come directly to the agent, who then distributes the money to you and maintains detailed financial records for you.

Finding an Agent

Directories of agents are published that will show you the genres the agent prefers and give detailed information on contacting him/her. There you can find lists of the books recently placed by the agent, contractual terms and additional information that can help a savvy writer shape a query letter and proposal that will capture the interest of the agent.

Carefully review the listings in the Guide to Literary Agents published by Writers Digest Books. It is updated annually, so make sure you check a current edition. Literary Agent Jeff Herman has also written several excellent directories as well as books on finding an agent. Writers Market, a book we’ve frequently mentioned in earlier columns, also contains a directory of agents, both those who charge fees and those who don’t. I recommend you stay far away from an agent that speaks of a fee for critiquing your book.

Make certain that any agent you select is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR). You can feel comfortable that you have picked a bonafide agent if they are members of this excellent organization. Select five or six agents that seem to fit the needs of your book. Turn next to their web sites and study them carefully to ensure they are a good fit for you. Look for clues to shaping a query letter that will attract their attention as it introduces you and your book

The Writer Within You, my latest
book, is the winner of gold and
bronze medals and chosen as a
by seven publishing organizations.
Buy it at www.retireandwrite.com
Also available at bookstores, by
phone at 800-BOOKLOG or on
where you will find more tips and
articles on writing & publishing.

Charles Jacobs

Charles Jacobs's writing has been honored with numerous awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, New Jersey Press Club, Working Press Association, the North American Travel Journalists Association, ForeWord Magazine, Axiom Books, USABook News, NY Festival of Books, Garden State Journalists Assoc, Indie Awards, Florida Publishers Association

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


This morning I was honoured with the KREATIV BLOGGER award by Carol J. Garvin, her blog is called Careann's musings. Though Carol and I both live in British Columbia, Carol's down in the Fraser Valley and I'm in the Central Interior, we've never met. Last year I scrolled through the Federation of BC Writers with the intent of gathering ideas for blog subjects. Needless to say, I liked Careann's Musings immediately. I ended up hanging around and read back several months, and I've been keeping up to date every since. There are just some people you connect with instantly, even if you're not sure why.
Now it's my turn to choose those bloggers I feel are recipients of the Kreativ Blogger Award, bloggers who I feel are creative and add something special to the world of blogging. Man, that's a tougher call to make than you would think. And like Carol, I'm going to take a few hours to think about it. Also, Noelle's coming over to help me make then eat a Strawberry/Nectarine/Banana Trifle for lunch. Grandma's going to help.

I'll be back...

I'm back, (and yes, the Strawberry/Nectarine/Banana Trifle is delicious) and thanks again Carol for nominating me. I'm now going to follow suit and choose bloggers I find particularly creative, without including the 7 things I like. I'm leaving those out because most of them are mushy/feelingly stuff that will make my family blush, then hide their heads in the sand.

I would like to nominate three bloggers:

Pat Bertram - Bertram's Blog. You have only to look at Pat's blog to realize she's an inspiration to the world of writers. Pat questions everything. Her wide-eyed enthusiasm and her deep desire to understand the world of the real and unreal has fascinated me from day one. I think she's covered every aspect of writing there is, only to stop by and see she's discussing yet another subject that would have never occurred to me. Pat loves writing. Her quest to become the best possible writer she can be is contagious. She loves books. She loves authors. She's brave, determined and the way she strings words together to form sentences is amazing. Here's to you, Pat Bertram for venturing into the sometimes scary, but always creative world of creative fiction.

Kathrine Neff Perry - Katt's Komments. Ever heard the saying that God secretly places angels on earth to make our lives better? I know it's supposed to be a secret, so let's keep it that way... but I'm pretty sure Katt Perry is one of those angels. I've chosen Katt for the Kreativ Blogger Award because of her innate ability to leave you feeling better off than you were before you read your blog. Her creativity, her love for life takes shape in her prose, those delicious little antidotes of everyday life that are food for the soul. Here's to you, Katt for making blogland a better because of you.

Dave Ebright - JaxPop. I nominated JaxPop because he's a wild and crazy guy who is creative, funny and head-over-heels in love with his wife. And his grandbabies. Dave is a creative genius. He's also smart enough to let his wife Deb take the excellent photos on his blog. Dave deserves the Kreativ Blogger Award because reading his blog always makes me laugh, and sometimes even cry. Here's to you, Mr. Ebright, aka JaxPop for being such a great blogger.

Here's to all three of you for brightening my life. You're all Kreativ Blogger Award winners for good reason.

Monday, September 14, 2009

93.1 CFIS-FM

Joylene's reading from her unpublished manuscript Kiss of the Assassin, at 6 pm PST precisely on 93.1 CFIS-FM.

Which is 10 minutes from now.

Polishing Off the Novel

Born in Montreal, author and dungeon master Meg Westley teaches communications at the University of Waterloo and the Stratford Chefs School. She has also held positions as public school board trustee, stage manager, director and dramaturge. Passionate about education, politics and theatre, Meg writes in a variety of genres: fantasy novels, plays for children, horror stories, academic articles and opinion pieces. Her first novel, the fantasy thriller Goddess Fire, will be released in November. Meg lives in Stratford, Ontario with her husband; they have two sons.

Everyone in the world has a novel inside them, just waiting for the right moment to emerge. I'm not sure why this is such a common notion. We don't think we have musical compositions or paintings or poems inside us, but we all feel pretty sure we have novels a-waiting.

Before I started writing seriously, my life partner and I had a running joke.

"What are you up to today?" one would ask.

The other would respond: "Oh you know, shopping, a couple of meetings, taking the cat to the vet. And I thought I'd just polish off the novel."

We don't joke quite that way anymore. Now that I have polished off a novel, we treat the idea more seriously.

I've heard there are more people writing novels today than ever before, and fewer, proportionally, being published. I suspect more people are writing partly because tossing off a novel doesn't seem all that difficult. I mean, we've all read lots of novels, right? We know how to put sentences together, and we have creative ideas and life experience, so it's just a matter of putting in the time, right?

Wrong - as anyone who's ever tried to write a novel knows all too well. I know lots of writers (and more and more of them are getting published, which is superb!) None of them find writing easy. All of them put tons of time into it, many while working full time and raising families.

For me the obstacle to getting out my inner novel out was that I had so story to tell. I reckoned I could write a pretty fluid sentence and I even had a decent ear for dialogue, but I couldn't think of a plot to save my life.

Or so I thought. In the end, the plot was easy. I play a fair bit of Dungeons and Dragons; I'd designed worlds and complicated plots for the game. Eventually I decided to turn one of my "dungeons" into a novel. Ten years later, I am delighted to announce that my novel Goddess Fire is now in print!

Ten years? For a fantasy novel?

Yes. I wrote the first draft in about a year and I was pretty damned chuffed with myself. The people in my local writing group liked it a lot. We met every week in the basement of our public library and gave each other feedback on our writing. Chapter by painful chapter I exposed Goddess Fire (then called Beneath the Vleth) to their critical eyes. They thought it rocked! I figured I was on my way to fame and fortune. I probably even started sending out synopses and query letters to agents and publishers. That was my first wake up call. No one was remotely interested in my fiery little fantasy.

A member of the group suggested I join a full novel critique group online. I leapt at the opportunity. The "owner " of the group rejected me peremptorily. I reeled in shock when she described my writing as clichéd. It was my second wake-up call. She suggested I try a less professional online group, which did not vet applicants, to polish my writing. After plunging into the depths of despair for a couple of weeks, I took her advice.

Online writing groups are a fascinating phenomena and an absolutely invaluable resource for any writer, no matter how experienced. It is terrifying to expose your work to a group of strangers. As a result, many people resist the idea of joining such a group. But it's their loss. Eventually every writer hopes to have millions of readers, many of whom will be brutally critical. If you receive the negative feedback early, you have the option of addressing the problem, which will likely improve not only the novel, but also your chances of getting it published. If you hide your work away, hoping to perfect it privately, you may never get it polished.

Of course not all critiques are illuminating or supportive. Some are slapdash, some are downright mean, some are completely off the mark (e.g. the romance writer who really wants your mystery to be a romance and gears all her advice towards this end.) You need a thick skin to be able to absorb and evaluate the comments you receive. You also need a thick skin to survive the innumerable rejections you'll get on your quest to get published, so why not develop it in a critique group?

At first I found many comments depressed the hell out of me. I wanted to throw the MS in the garbage. But I realized people were investing in my process and giving me very helpful advice. I learned to sift through the comments; if several people had similar reactions, I took their responses to heart and revised accordingly. If only one person objected to a certain element, I weighed their words and if they rang true, I acted upon them. If not, I ignored the advice. I also grew to trust certain critics' opinions more than others. I sought these people out and critiqued their work like mad, hoping they would return the favour. Almost invariably they did.

It took over a year to submit my MS, one chapter a week, to the Internet Writing Workshop www.internetwritingworkshop.org. Then it took another year for me to make the revisions people had suggested. I really learned to write during this time, as critics raised issues I'd never even thought of, like POV and use of adjectives and adverbs, etc. etc.

I sent out my novel again. It was rejected again. I joined another online group, a full novel critique group called Deadly Prose http://groups.yahoo.com/group/deadlyprose/.

This time critics read the entire novel, and again they had masses of suggestions, most of which I adopted. I cut 40,000 words, added subplots, new scenes, character motivation, etc.

The published novel bears little resemblance to the first draft, largely because of the tremendously helpful feedback I received from people I have never met. They are no longer strangers, though. Over the years I have made many friendships with people in the online writers community, people whose generosity, thoughtfulness and support I hold very dear. Joylene is one of them!

If you'd like to read the result of my labors, Goddess Fire can be ordered direct from the publisher www.comfortpublishing.com and is available for pre-order from Amazon. To find out more about the book, watch the trailer: https://megwestley.sslpowered.com/trailer.html or check out the material on my website.

Meg Westley
Meg came to writing in acircuitous manner. Like many, she always dreamed of being a writer and filled drawers with dreadful angst-ridden poetry during her (almost endless) university years, but she never thought she had the talent or determination to write a novel. While working on her PhD, she became an avid Dungeons and Dragons player and then a Dungeon Master. Meg adored the game and created a number of very complex campaigns for a small group of (mostly female) friends. When asked to describe the game, she'd say "It's like living a novel - you play a character in a story." And then she'd describe some of the plots and worlds she created and increasingly people would gape at her and say, "You've done all the plot and character work - just so three or four people can play a game? Why don't you write a novel?" So she did.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Please welcome my guest host for today, Pat Brown, author of LA Heat and Memory of Darkness

Every story has a history. Some spring full blown into existence, like Medusa from the head of Zeus in Roman mythology. Others 'grow in the telling', like Tolkien said about the Lord of The Rings, which took him something like twelve years to complete.
Memory of Darkness, released from AmberQuill Press earlier this month, took twenty-nine years to be born. For any women out there, that's a hell of a long gestation period. To continue the birthing analogy, Johnny Wager, the protagonist of the story, had his conception in the somewhat seedy bars of Hollywood. If it had been back in Prohibition, he would have been born in the gin joints, in between pails of lager and cigarette smoke. Oh, and free pizza.
Two of my favorite male TV characters back then were Jim Rockford of the Rockford Files and Al Monday of It Takes a Thief. Both featured good-looking rogues who skirted or broke the law outright, sometimes with good reason, sometimes just because they could. Rockford was an ex-con whose days in prison created a dark cloud over him. I'm not sure we ever learned the full story of those years, whether the sentence had been just or he'd been framed. Al Monday, played by the always sexy Robert Wagner, was a master thief. A cat burglar with such extraordinary talent he had been 'recruited' – read blackmailed – into working for some shady government organization.
In 1978 I moved to Los Angeles, carried by the dream of writing screenplays. With a handful of carefully typed out speculative TV scripts for such shows as Starsky and Hutch I caught a Greyhound bus. Now this was in the days before computers. I think I had an electronic Smith-Corona typewriter, with a correction tape to overwrite errors (if you caught them in time) and messy ribbons that had to be changed by hand. Don't let anyone talk to you about the good old days. I hand wrote everything in those days, only creating a final draft at the end. So those hard copies were not to be taken lightly. To replace them or change them was a pain.
I quit my job, sold everything I owned, and with about two thousand dollars at my disposal I bought a one-way ticket to Hollywood. The trip was without stopovers, the only time I left the bus was at various rest stops where we'd had maybe an hour to stretch our legs and grab a drink. I arrived in downtown Los Angeles at eleven o'clock at night. I hadn't made any plans for my arrival, all I knew from my reading was that I had to stay away from the 'strange' men who might talk to me when I got off the bus. They had nefarious plans for me and my innocent Canadian body. I managed to find an all women's hotel and soon after found an apartment in, wonder of wonders, Hollywood. Boy, did I get a fast lesson in reality versus, er, Hollywood. They never showed this on the TV screen. Not back then when all the streets were clean and the corner hookers looked like runway models. These days cop shows seem to compete to be grittier than the next.
But I was young, indestructible and eternally optimistic. Within a month of arriving I had an apartment, a favorite bar and a boyfriend. I met the boyfriend in the bar and that's where we spent most of our time. I was a heavy drinker back then. And a pack and a half a day smoker. But I was a WRITER and by God I was going to change the world.
I took a screenwriting course and we had to develop a concept, and a storyline. Johnny Wager was conceived then. An ex-con, wrongly convicted, abused in prison, bitter and with the world against him when he got out. He had a nemesis in a bad cop who would do anything to put his ass back in jail. He hung out in sleazy bars (gee I wonder where that came from) and got hassled by the cops all the time and he was pursued relentlessly when he was accused of a murder he didn't commit. And he was straight.
Speaking of being hassled by cops. I had a couple of run-ins with the LAPD in those days. Once while driving around with a black male friend we were pulled over. We had committed the cardinal sin of Driving-while-black, a recognizable misdemeanor in L.A. back then. Driving-while-black-with-a-white-female was a felony. My impression of the LAPD in those days was not a high one. My last major encounter with the boys in blue occurred one night in our favorite bar, The Frolic Room, on Hollywood and Vine, where I was friends with most of the bartenders and regular clientèle. A rough clientèle as I remember. A group of them had gone across the street to another bar and beaten the crap out of some people. They fled back across the street and hid in the back room. Within half an hour a swarm of heavily armed LAPD cops showed up. They had riot guns and full SWAT team regalia and bad ass attitudes and I fell in love. I think that was the day I became a cop groupie. Wager was born back then, but so was David Eric Laine of the L.A. stories. Maybe even hard ass Spider of Geography of Murder. They all had their genesis in those eight years.
My screenwriting days ended without an Oscar, or even an Emmy, and Johnny Wager went on the shelf and I went back to writing novels. In those days I wrote Science Fiction and for the next twenty years that's all I did. Eight unsold books later I grew tired of SF and tried my hand at mysteries. The first book I wrote was L.A. Heat, which got me my first agent and my first book sale in 2006. I followed that with three other L.A. books, and Geography of Murder. But Johnny Wager was always there, lingering, some might say, festering. Some characters are like that, they develop a life of their own and the only way to deal with them is to give them a voice.
Wager went back to the drawing board. Since I write m/m stories I knew he would now be out of the closet. He would be a rogue, sexy, larcenous and a rampant horndog. He would need to be accused of a horrendous crime. Murder, of course. I knew he had a checkered past, so he ended up with an ex-wife, a record for Grand Theft Auto, drug dealing, and burglary. The Armenian mob he tangled with came out of my research into Los Angeles gangs. Oh, and out of his marriage, a son. Now pretty much all my stories have cops in them, and this was no exception. It was only a small step to realize that Wager's son would be that cop. Since I'm not a cop, I think Wager reflects me and my experiences more than any of my other characters. I'll let you read the book to see what that might mean. :-) A few of my L.A adventures are paraphrased in there. I'll leave it up to you to figure out which ones.
Writing is fun. Writing characters like Johnny Wager is pure joy. I confess I fall in love with men like him. Hmmm, maybe that explains my single state. But if I can't have them for real, I can have them in my life for the time it takes to write their story.
So come along, follow the adventures of my favorite rogue in Memory of Darkness and relive my Hollywood years along with me.
And come along soon for the next L.A story, L.A. Boneyard.

Pat Brown

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mystery Author - PAT BROWN

Canadian Pat Brown was born in Western Canada and raised in Ontario. She spent 10 years in the US, then returned to Canada. She held jobs as diverse as aquarium store manager, housekeeper, hospital porter, horse groomer, barmaid, and network engineer. Pat was an extra in a Hollywood movie (The Blues Brothers) and a census taker for the US government. She sold clothing and tropical fish and built web pages for businesses and made hand painted crafts for Christmas. The block she’s been around a few time has seen her in some shady areas of town, and a few upscale ones. All this, and the people she’s met, is perfect fodder for the strange worlds she writes about. Pat is a writer first and foremost, whether it's the science fiction she used to write, or the mystery writing she pursues now. A lot of her writing deals with issues like prejudice and how some people confuse moral issues with their personal hatreds. But mainly, she just want to write a story, that when someone is done reading it, will say, "Hey, that was good, can we do it again?"

1. Pat, what drew you to writing fiction?

Because I love to read it. I love words and the images they can invoke and once I realize someone actually had to write all those words I was hooked. I've never found anything more powerful than the written word. Or more compelling. Good writing is magical. I strive to make magic out of my words. I love it when people tell me they couldn't stop thinking about my stories or my characters, or they clamor for more. It's an exciting, heady feeling.

2. You switched from S/F to Mystery, why?

I found I was no longer interested in S/F. I think it was just my taste changing. Or maybe the genre changed. All I know is I started picking up mysteries when I'd go to the library and after a while that's all I was reading. It was only logical that I try to write one. I'm always preaching to new writers that they need to read what they want to write or forget it.
I wasn't sure I'd be any good at plotting, but it turned out I wasn't bad. My books are more character oriented than plot, so that worked in my favor. I like to create vibrant characters and let them loose to see where they go.

3. Can you tell me a little about your new book, Memory of Darkness and your protagonist Johnny Wager? Love the name, btw.

Memory of Darkness was so much fun to write. It has a really long history, but I'll talk about that at my upcoming blog. The name Wager came to me, with the gambling overtones because I wanted a character who lived on the edge – think James Rockford or Captain Jack Sparrow. A scoundrel and a con artist, but charming as hell and good looking enough to get away with what he does. The title of the book came to me from a line in the book toward the end. Originally I think I had called it The Wages of Sin but I like this title better.

4. There is an assemblage of characters, where did they all come from?

An amalgam of people I've met. I knew a drag queen in London much like Hyacinth. I made her from New Orleans because it seemed to explain her character and gave her a neat accent. Now I guess she'd be a bit like Lafayette in True Blood, only she dresses up more, but she's bold like Lafayette. I'd love to see him in full drag. In fact, if they were to ever make a movie of Memory I'd want him to play Hyacinth.

5. You’ve got some fascinating gay characters in LA Heat and now in Memory of Darkness. How did your fondness for gay characters come about?

I knew and lived with so many in L.A. As a female who wanted to go out to bars alone, it was a pain in the ass to go to straight bars. One, they weren't that much fun, and two all the men see a single woman and think she has to be there to get laid and they treat you like shit. I was tired of it being assumed I was some kind of slut because I wanted to have fun. In a gay bar they know how to have fun and no one is going to hit on me. Win-win. Besides, I met so many gays with fascinating stories, funny and tragic and just so much more interesting in the end. I find straight men so intent of maintaining their macho posture they don't let their hair down – unless they get stupid drunk, then they get into fights.

6. You’re one of the most prolific writers I know. Every time I turn around, you’re spinning a new tale. How do you do it? Are these stories vying for space in your head? Do you have a suitcase somewhere filled with possible plotlines?
It's funny you call me prolific. I look at some writers I know, like Rick Reed and Josh Lanyon who seem to turn out a book every month or two and despair at ever coming close to them.

Ideas are always coming to me. I read obsessively and that can generate ideas. I also read non-fiction which can do the same. Right now I'm really excited, I signed up for our local police Citizen's Academy and I start later this month. I get to spend 4 months taking a weekly 3 hour class on how the cops do things. I also get a ride along. I've already got the plot ready for a story set in London, my home town (well, where I grew up), which will be the first story I've set in the place. I have a book coming out from AmberQuill in November called Lynx Woods that's partly set in Toronto, but I've never done London. And the neat thing is, I'm going to have a gay cop couple on their honeymoon. That's a trip and something that can happen in Canada – actually has happened. An RCMP couple got married a couple of years ago. As I understand a lot of fellow RCMP officers attended the wedding. It makes me very proud to be a Canadian when that kind of thing can happen and as far as I know no Canadian minister has come out publicly and said they should be put to death or anything (can't say the same about American religious extremists)

7. What comes first, the plot or the characters?

Characters all the time. Sometimes I'll get a whisper of an idea for a story line and that will trigger some characters, but generally I write around my characters. Writing to plot might make me force my characters to do things they shouldn't. I want my characters to dictate their actions.

8. What is the most challenging aspect of writing fiction?

The promotion. I can't afford to travel at all right now so all my promotion has to be online. I belong to a lot of online lists and participate in them a lot, not just to promote but to talk to other writers. But sometimes I have to wonder if I'm boring people with repetition. How many times can you put up the same blurb, the same excerpt? I don't know. All I can do is the best job I can and hope for good word of mouth to go around.

9. From conception to publication, how long before your first book was published? Was it easier getting the second published?

L.A. Heat took forever to get written and published. It took around 2 years to write, since I did a lot of rewriting on it, including rewriting the original story, which was in first person POV, to third person with both Chris and David's POV. Then I submitted the first 30 pages to the Toronto Library Writer in residence – twice, and the second time Lyn Hamilton, a mystery writer, liked it so much she suggested a writer friend of hers put her agent in touch with me. She did and Leona Trainer signed me. This was before Christmas, 2004. She sold the book right off to Alyson Books and we thought we were set. Then Alyson was sold and moved their offices from L.A to New York. The L.A staff didn't go, so I lost my editor.

We didn't hear from anyone at Alyson for months. Leona could barely get them to tell her they still wanted the book. All this was in the early 2005. Finally we heard from them and I got a new editor. I eventually got the galleys to proof and the book vanished again.

It was released June 2006. So it took well over a year from the time it was accepted to when it came out. But that was hardly typical. Most publishers don't go through changes quite that extreme.
10. What authors influenced you, Pat? Who are you reading today?

Jonathan Kellerman was a huge influence. He inspired David, in fact. Then Michael Connelly is at the top of my list. Jeffrey Deaver. Elmore Leonard. I'm reading Joseph Wambaugh right now and waiting impatiently for Hollywood Moon to come out. I'm reading Mystic River by Harlan Cobain. Will Beall is a new author I really like. I'm also reading Evidence Dismissed about the OJ case, mostly because it's got some incredible description of police procedures during a crime scene investigation. All those nitpicking little details that are hard to get anywhere else.

11. Any advice for struggling writers trying to find their niche?

Read, read, read. Explore different genres or sub genres until you find one you love. Study the books you like best and try to see how the writer did what ever it is you liked. Then you have to plant your butt in a chair and write. Write as much as you can. And finally, finish what you write. The world is full of half-finished manuscripts sitting in old folders on computers all over the world. You can't fix what you don't finish. That's the first lesson to learn.

If you can, find a good critique group. But you have to be careful there. There's nothing more demoralizing than getting into a bad one. I was in one years ago, long before I was published and there was one clown in the group who actually laughed at the other writers when they presented their work. No one shut him down so I stopped going. But a good group that's supportive but can offer constructive criticism is a gem to be cherished. The only thing you as a writer have to do then is let your ego go and listen.

12. Any advice for those old-times still searching for their publisher?

Keep polishing what you have. Write something new. Don't pin your hopes on one manuscript. I wrote at least 8 books, probably more, from the time I was 17 to when L.A. Heat came out the year I turned 50. Anybody can give up, only a few can stick it out until something happens. And I'd also say don't limit yourself to big publishers. Or hold out until you land an agent. Sub to small pubs (as long as they're legit – if they ask for money for ANYTHING, run away) But keep writing. I guarantee that if you keep writing, you will get better. Join critique groups too (see above). There are some good ones online, or find a local group. But make sure they're empowering and not belittling. There's nothing more demoralizing than being in a group who make themselves feel big by tearing others down.

13. If you had it to do all over again, any changes?
I'd start submitting sooner. I submitted one SF book a couple of times then stopped. I would be more persistent if I could do it over. Keep working on my ms, keep subbing it and keep writing. I did the writing part, I just didn't do anything else. I also wish I had subbed some of the early gay stories I wrote to magazines. Who knows, I might be a venerable gay author today if I had. LOL.

Thanks Pat. It was great talking to you. And I’m looking forward to your guest blog on Saturday, September 12th.
Thanks for interviewing me. It'll be fun on the 12th. I can tell all my secrets about the Hollywood years that spawned Memory of Darkness.


Sunday, September 6, 2009


Do you have a problem with POV? Particularly OMNI?

You aren't alone.
Before I get into that, first let's agree that POV is the viewpoint character or narrator of your story. Thursday I wrote about choosing POV:
1st person is the most intimate, Omni the least, and 3rd falls in the middle.

When new writers ask me, "Which one of my characters should tell my story?" my response is, "Whoever you think best serves as your narrator." In other words, I dunno. Just kidding. The viewpoint character generally is the character with the most to lose. If there’s any doubt, often it's a matter of deduction. Start with a character in one particular tense, and if that doesn't work, keep switching until your inner voice yells, "Oh yeah!"

But let's clear up one tiny thing first. Your viewpoint character doesn't have to be your hero. They can be the friend next door, as in Nick in The Great Gatsby. Or the side-kick in Sherlock Holmes. Or the killer as in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. You can have one narrator, two or ten.

Okay, so you settle on George because it's his story. He has the most to gain from the outcome and he has the most to lose if things go wrong. Now you need to decide in what tense George speaks to your reader.

Should it be first person present tense: I verb?

Or first person past tense: I verbed?
Or third person present tense: George or He verbs?
Or maybe third person past tense: George or He verbed?

The answer should showcase how intimate you want George's relationship or connection with your reader to be.

I'd stay clear of third person past tense perfect: George had verbed. Unless you're anxious for a challenge.

Here's an excerpt from my suspense thriller Dead Witness:
Valerie spun around. Raced back to the warehouse. Footsteps pounded on the asphalt behind her, rapidly gaining ground, closer. Closer.
She ducked around the building. Spotted a broken two by four lying next to her. Grabbed it. Listened, gauging his steps. Heard his panting. And swung!
Before he hit the ground--she was gone, racing toward the next building, dodging behind another, crossing the yard.
She reached the path leading up to the highway. Gained the crest of the hill. Her legs throbbed; her lungs blazed. She dared a backward glance, heard him yelling, and saw him reach the last corner.
Another pop and a bullet whistled past her head.
Dead Witness is told in 3rd person, multiple POVs. One of those is from Valerie McCormick. Here's how it would have looked had I switched to first person:
I spun around. Raced back to the warehouse. Footsteps pounded on the asphalt behind me, rapidly gaining ground, closer. Closer.
I ducked around the building. Spotted a broken two by four lying a short distance away. Grabbed it. Listened, gauged his steps. Heard his panting. And swung!
Before he hit the ground--I was gone, racing toward the next building, dodging behind another, ...
Here an example of Valerie's POV in 3rd person present tense:
Valerie spins around. Races back to the warehouse. Footsteps pound on the asphalt behind her, rapidly gaining ground, closer. Closer.
She ducks around the building. Spots a broken two by four lying next to her. Grabs it. Listens, gauges his steps. Hears his panting. And swings!
Before he hits the ground--she's gone, racing toward ....
To discover how George should narrate is to write a scene from his perspective in each tense, then choose the one you like best.

If Aunt Marcy thinks it stinks, stick to your guns. Remember: you can't please everybody. Oh, and don't assume you're wrong and I'm right. I, being anyone, regardless of their experience at writing fiction, reading it, or whether they're even published. Trust yourself; you'll go mad trying to please every reader.

Choosing POV needed be complicated. It's not the make or break-all. It's simple the viewpoint you choose. Your skills at spinning a gripping tale will mark your success or lack of it. Don't over think POV.
You know all those articles where it begins: Choosing POV is the most important...?

Either switch to another page or walk away from your computer.
Writing is fun stuff. If you're stressing out, something is seriously wrong with that picture. Writing is about experiencing passion head on, not worrying about writing from the perspective of the most interesting characters in your story, or what tense they should tell your story, or whether they should share the perspective with one or two or a dozen other viewpoints. Or whether all the setting and set pieces should be shown.

Many new writers write the story in OMNI, the all-knowing narrator, because Omni knows everything.

You love your characters, you want them all to have a viewpoint in your story. And how better to do that than by using Omni to head hop. Oh and you want to do this and show all the facets of the story they aren't aware of.

Write the story. When you're finished, if your POV and tense are wrong, they'll stick out like a sore thumb.

But know that you are not alone.

Most new novelists think they need to write in Omni's POV to include all the backstory.

And why wouldn't you feel this way? You've had the influence of television and movies on your life your entire life.
The camera shows you everything and anything. Who else but Omni can zoom in on one character, then out to include a dozen, then travel 5000 miles away? Or jump from George's POV to Amy's, then onto Tom's?

Sadly, the camera is not the same as POV in a novel. Yes, the camera can let me hear the character's thoughts, but seldom do voice-overs work. Except maybe in Dexter.

Ten times out of ten Omni doesn't work and you're left wondering why. "Omni is suppose to head-hop!" you cry.

Yes, but your job is not to give your reader whiplash, nor are you to divorce said-reader from your protagonist. Your job, if you choose Omni, is to entertain and make the transition from one POV character to the next as smoothly as possible. Even in one scene. Especially in one scene.

You succeed when you show the scene from one character's pov, then explain something that character wouldn't know, and then ease into the viewpoint of another character in the same scene. Lead your reader by the hand. No throwing us into the middle of action filled scene.

You've seen the television series ER? ER is filmed from the many perspectives of the doctors and staff. But notice how the camera does it? Two or more characters interact, then just as the camera is ready to move on to a different perspective, the lens zooms out, spans, then lands like a feather on a different characters in a different part of the emergency ward? It's all done easily, effortlessly and smoothly. No jarring.

If you are bound and determined to let Omni tell your story, and you've picked the tense you think works best, keep this rule of thumb in mind:

#1. Show a scene from inside the head of POV #1
#2. Just as you're ready to move on, have Omni explain something that relates to what POV#1 just experienced.
#3. Then have Omni settle his gaze on the next character connected to what POV #1 experienced.
In other words, don't head hop without a tour guide. Keep a tight focus on the topic.

Jane, surrounded by devastation, is a warrior living in 2248 Earth. She's protecting her section. She worries. She wonders. She thinks about life on the other side. Omni zooms out and shows what Jane doesn't know: the entire perimeter, the enemy, the foreshadows, etc.
Stewart, Jane's enemy, is also surrounded by devastation. Right now he's digging a trench and wondering if there will be enough food tonight to feed his family. He worries that the city's leaders aren't acting responsible. He looks back in the direction of HQ and fears the worst.
Omni narrates about Jane and Stewart having reason to worry. Leaders are meeting at this precise moment in the underground room at HQ. They're a greedy bunch who hate each other. Jason is about to bring the meeting to order. He feels....

Send me an excerpt from your current WIP using OMNI, and I'll read it over and reply. My email address is cluculzwriter at yahoo dot ca.

Before I go, a thought on why authors choose 3rd person limited instead of Omni. It's tough to write Omni and not give your reader whiplash. It's also far less intimate. Third person lets the reader connect with one protag at a time. It’s not as intimate a relationship as 1st, but it an exciting journey. And whatever else we do: we promise the reader a good time. That’s why we love revising, right!
Happy writing.

Friday, September 4, 2009


MARK DAVID GERSON has taught and coached writing as a creative and spiritual pursuit for more than 15 years in the U.S. and Canada. Author of two award-winning books, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and The MoonQuest, Mark David has also recorded The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers. Mark David is an editor, project consultant and script analyst and a popular speaker on topics related to creativity and spirituality. His screenplay adaptation of The MoonQuest is slated for feature-film production.

"Go to the emotional epicenter, where it hurts most, and write on. If you dare."

~ Bill Donovan, editor/publisher, Creative Screenwriting

"Only connect."
~ E.M. Forster

Dare to Feel, Dare to Connect
The call to write is a call to share our emotional depth with others. It's a call to be vulnerable. It's a call to connect.

Thing is, we don’t touch others at a deep level when we connect mind-to-mind, though that connection is a powerful and important one. We touch others at a deep level when we connect heart-to-heart.

Unless we write from our deepest heart, unless we tell the stories that move us, we will never move our readers.

I spent the first chunk of my writing career avoiding writing from what Bill Donovan calls the "emotional eipcenter." I observed and reported, intellectually and dispassionately. I told stories, but without heart.

In not revealing my feelings (at times, not even to myself), I failed to engage my readers in any but superficial ways. I failed them and I failed myself.

I didn't connect.

Do you want to write truth, the truth from which both powerful fiction and nonfiction arise? If you want to write truth, if you want to write words that will touch the deepest emotions and connections and truths of your reader, then you must write what your heart calls on you to write. You must go where you've never dared go before -- in your writing, certainly; in your life, perhaps.

You must, as I write in The Voice of the Muse's "Thirteen Rules for Writing," go for the jugular, for your jugular: "Go for the demon you would run from. Go for the feeling you would flee from. Go for that emotion you would deny. Once you put it on paper, you strip it of its power over you. Once you put it on paper, you free it to empower your work."

You free it, as well, to empower your readers. You empower them to feel their emotions, to be vulnerable and to share their stories.

"We tell our stories in order to live," Joan Didion writes in The White Album.

We tell our stories, too, to connect.

There is neither life nor connection outside the heart.

• Where are you refusing to be vulnerable in your writing?

• Where are you afraid to reveal your feelings, perhaps even to yourself?

• In what ways are you reluctant to connect, heart-to-heart, with your readers?

• Where, right now, can you go for the jugular -- your jugular -- and dare to write from your emotional epicenter?

Part of answering the call to write and birthing the book that's inside you involves tapping into that emotional epicenter. I'll be encouraging you to do that in both my upcoming workshops in Albuquerque. See this blog post for more details. (My calendar of upcoming book-signings, classes, workshops and other events is always posted on my page at booktour.com.

Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, winner of a 2009 IPPY Silver Medal as one of the top writings books of the year.

Photos by Mark David Gerson: Cholla cactus flower, Sandia foothills, Albuquerque, NM

For more information on Mark David and his work, visit his web site and blogs:



Thursday, September 3, 2009

Is Omni Your Man?

If the narrator of your story needs to stay outside the action, then Omni is the right POV. Michener chose Omni in his epic novels for that very reason. He wanted Hawaii, Alaska, and Texas to each stand alone as the all-important protagonist. Choosing 3rd or 1st person for any one of these works would have created an intimacy between reader and narrator that would have lessened the impact and importance of Hawaii, Alaska, or Texas as the leading character.

In less formal stories, Omni creates a problem for many writers because they believe it gives them license to head-hop. Many writers have shown me text that states Omni is a god-like character telling the events of a story that only he or she knows.

Therefore, why can’t they head-hop? 

There’s a difference between God telling you what John and Julie are thinking versus “John and Julie” telling you. The trick is to always remember Omni, a unique and distinct character, is telling the reader what Jack thought or did or felt. It’s not Jack showing them. That’s why Omni not only is able to tell you what Jack thinks of Steve driving drunk, but can also show you the police car waiting up the road, or the innocent bystander using the crosswalk ahead of them. Omni switches from one point of view character to the next in a smooth, gentle fashion that your reader will very quickly learn to trust.

While Omni is more formal and less intimate, on the grand scale of things, as in epics like Michener’s, Omni is your man. One suggestion though, when choosing Omni, make him a unique, formidable, and intriguing character. Give him a voice just as entertaining and endearing as any character. Or make him as non-descriptive as possible. And limit head hopping. Every time a writer jumps from one protagonist in a scene into the head of another, they risk disrupting the intimate (there’s that word again) relationship forming between reader and character.