Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: Camping with Daddy by Amber Stone

cover art copyright Amber Stone
Today I'm reviewing Amber Stone's Camping with Daddy, a Dark Sensations production.

Let me start off by saying that Daddy as an erotic archetype is something I find fascinating and incredibly hot. I read Pat Califia's Doing It For Daddy in college and that's what hooked me. I've had many years of experience both reading and writing this subject, so I'm not new. I'm also well aware that there are several ways to explore Daddy (role-playing, non-incestuous, incest; heterosexual, homosexual) and that the way Daddy appeals to one person isn't necessarily the way Daddy appeals to another.

With all of that said, this book is just awful.

It's a short story, which I liked. I don't mind paying $0.99 for a short story of this length. The premise isn't bad: eighteen-year-old Amber goes camping with her stepfather as a way to bond because they've been butting heads at home since he married her mother the year before. I thought it had an interesting, potentially great setup, so I didn't bother with the sample.

I should have.

It's shallow. It explores none of the emotional depth or conflict or the moral questions presented by this situation. There's no consideration for Amber's mother--Steve's wife. There's no hesitation from Amber or Steve. (Steve asking twice if she's "sure" is not hesitation. It's a standard stalling tactic in erotica and romance.) I wouldn't mind that except that there was absolutely no established pattern of anything that would lead to the two of them falling into bed together. Amber "talked" briefly of being Daddy's Little Girl, but there was no connection made between those feelings and feelings she had for Steve except for saying that Steve would never replace her dad. Amber isn't promiscuous. Thunderstorms get her hot, she's horny, and Steve is there. That's it. That's the whole reason they have sex.

And that's all it is. Amber and Steve might as well be strangers for the sex they have. If you remove the trappings of their relationship, the sex and dialogue stand fine on their own. Well, fine enough, I guess, for empty mechanical description.

I don't mind straight-up written porn. I've written it myself. There are times that it's enjoyable. This was not enjoyable. It reads like it was written by a fifteen-year-old boy who hasn't had sex yet but has seen a few really bad porn movies. Steve's penis is at least eight or nine inches long but I think it's longer, based on the description that preceded the discussion of length. They have anal sex with little foreplay and only spit as lubricant. Amber is almost a virgin, mind; as in, she has only had PIV sex once, has never had anal sex and, from what I gather, has never even tried anal play on herself. If many years of writing m/m erotica have taught me anything, it's that buttsex is a little more complicated than "spit on pucker, insert penis."

There were technical issues with the work as well. In several instances, the incorrect word--while properly spelled--was used. "Wear" instead of "where," "peak" instead of "peek," "affect" instead of "effect," "bit" instead of "by," "me" instead of "my." One mistake in a piece this length would have been easy to overlook. The consistent misuse of words coupled with the weak writing and the telling-not-showing narrative made them impossible to overlook.

The funniest moment came when I thought Steve had two penises and they both had eyes. "His cock sprang free from their confines and stared proudly at me."

I am clearly not a member of this story's target audience. That's okay. The author has a firm grasp of spelling and punctuation, it's just that she could benefit from a beta reader or an editor with a keener eye. Like I mentioned before, the premise is quite promising. I really wanted to like this story. I am willing to suspend my disbelief when it comes to hot sex... but the sex has to be hot. This story did nothing for me.

No, that's not true. It did a few things for me. First, it made me spend a lot of time going, "WTF?" Second, it made me feel scared, nervous, anxious, and insecure about my own writing. Third, it made me swear that I will be more careful about my editing from now on.

So, I guess, in the end, it was a dollar well spent.

Monday Miscellany: Happy Halloween!

Rebel Alliance, X-wing, Empire: Halloween 2010

The scary started when I got up early this morning to get a jump on my work. The kid is teething (as in, she's cutting five teeth at once right now) so she's clingy and cranky and generally just needs a lot of attention, so I've been neglecting my reading and blogging. I edited the first scene of Better Together and scribbled some meta about the characters, then broke out the Kindle a read a couple of Daddy-themed erotic short stories I bought last week on a whim.

They were awful. Just awful. One was worse than the other, but if I had read the second one without reading the first one, I would still be just as upset. It's not the fact that I picked a couple of misses that bothers me, though I do feel so strongly about them that you will be seeing negative reviews on my blog for the first time ever, it's the fact that they're so bad that they make me worry about my own writing. They made me feel insecure, anxious, and worried. I don't like it when things I read have that effect on me. I felt pretty good about Cass and Cowboy. I felt like they were the best possible stories I could have written. Now I'm not so sure.

Anyway, look for reviews for Camping with Daddy and Father Figure this week. I'm also working on a review for The Iron Admiral: Deception, the sequel to The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy. That review will be radioactive. I love those books. I love that author. I'm so enthusiastic that I'm pretty sure I come off looking like a sock puppet or a relative or an employee or something. I can't help it. They're just. so. good. I also started reading a book called Space Junque that already shows promise.

My goal this week is to finish editing Better Together and send it off to my betas. I would also like to outline each of the six stories in the upcoming WIP, Duct Tape & Pancakes. I jotted down some notes last night for another six-story anthology tentatively titled Forgive Me, Father, but we'll see where that goes.

Happy Halloween, readers! May you all have a fun and freaky day!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blog Roundup: October 24 - 30, 2011

The weekly installment of Chuck Wendig's 25 Things series was reasons you won't finish that story. This is especially relevant with the start of NaNoWriMo being mere days away.

James Killick wrote about four lies the Internet tells you about writing. The man makes a good point. For all the posts and articles we read about how to market ourselves and our writing, it's good to take a moment and remember that we are artists and people and that we are trying to share our work with people.

Keystrokes & Word Counts had a guest post on being a NaNo rebel. I think that if you're going to participate in NaNo, you need to have a game plan. I also think that you can participate without "really" participating: you can write your 50,000 new words without following all of the rules.

Paperback Writer offered ten "gems o' wisdom" to ignore during NaNo. She makes some good points. I think some of those gems are, you know, gems for a reason. Particularly "write what you know." I'm a firm believer in writing what you know--or learning what you don't know.

Stella Deleuze posted part two of her discussion of dialogue attributes. If you have any questions at all about when and where to use punctuation or he said/she said, check it out.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

SitRep Saturday: Titles & New Projects

The new romance novelette has a title! I'm going to call it Better Together. Now, if only I could finish editing it. And find the right cover image for it.

This week, I also action-drafted a short story that, when finished, will be around 10,000 words. It's slightly different from the work I've put out so far, but I'm still very proud of it. The working title is Sir but, as usual, that is subject to change.

I even outlined a six-story anthology and started the outline and action draft of the first story for that one. It has a working title--Duct Tape & Pancakes--and each story also has a working title. It is always a good sign to me when the titles come easily.

Friday, October 28, 2011

All About Editing: Finding An Editor

So you've written your piece. You've self-edited it to within an inch of its fragile life. You're ready for an editor. That's great! But where do you find one of these magical, skilled people?

Decide if you need a beta reader or an editor.
A beta reader is less formal and probably doesn't have the same professional credentials as an editor. Here's a tip: you probably want both.

Check with your colleagues.
If you belong to a writers' group (and you probably should), see if any other members offer beta reading or critiquing services. Having someone who reads and writes in your genre look over your work can be immensely helpful. This isn't to say that having someone who doesn't read and write in your genre is a waste of time, but you're going to get different insights from each of these people. If you're on Twitter, ask the authors you communicate with who they recommend.

Check with your friends and family.
Having your loved ones read your work can be terrifying. I understand that. But they may surprise you. It never hurts to float the question their way. Treat them the same as you would any other beta reader, though. No special treatment just because they're loved ones. If you think feelings will be hurt because of this, there's no harm in steering clear. I know there are families out there with family members who would be hurt if they made suggestions the author didn't take. I'm fortunate; most of my friends were made in writing circles, so we all just trade beta reading and editing.

When all else fails, Google.
There are lots of professional editors out there. Check their work and references before you hire anyone.

Last week, we had a guest post from Nicole. You can visit her website here (and you can read her testimonials here). If you're in the market for an editor, Su is another option I'd like to recommend. You can visit her website here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

All About Editing: The How

This subject is nearer and dearer to my heart right now because I've finished the first draft of the new romance novelette and I started the editing process (with any luck and a lot of hard work, it will be a novella when I'm done). So I thought that I would share my editing process.

The first thing you should know is that I absolutely hate sending out a manuscript unless I think it's ready to be read by people who don't like me. That intense aversion to mistakes and bad writing led to the development of an editing process that is far more involved than the writing process (and my writing process is pretty involved).

Read the whole story.
Read the whole story, beginning to end, as a reader. You can make notes about what to edit, but just read it first. See it for the whole piece that it is because you're about to break it down into its most basic parts and it will be easy to forget the whole.

Read each section/chapter.
Each individual part should stand on its own. Not, you know, totally on its own, but each section should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should move the story along. It should add value to the story. It should be complete.

Read each paragraph.
Each paragraph should be consistent. It should be about something specific. It, like each section, should add value to the story and move it along. Each paragraph should be a shining example of your writing. It should be excerptable. (That is a word now.)

Read each line.
Like each section and each paragraph, each line should be valuable. It should also be different from the one before it and the one after it unless you're going for something specific that requires repetition and similarity. Sentences, lines, have rhythm and flow. I'm not musically inclined, but I know that variation in sentence sound and structure is much more pleasing to my inner ear than a bunch of the same thing over and over.

Read each word.
Each and every word in your manuscript should be the right word. Not almost the right word, not sort of the right word, not close enough. It should be the exact word you mean to convey your meaning. I strongly believe that every writer should spend some time writing poetry. Nothing teaches you to use the right word better than writing poetry.

Search for easily-misused words.
This is a technical detail. Search your manuscript for words that are easily misused. Your/you're, their/there/they're, through/threw and the like. Spellcheck won't catch this because you've correctly spelled the words. Chances are that you'll catch any of these mistakes when you read each word, but it's never a bad idea to be safe.

Search for overused words and phrases.
We all have pet words. We probably even have pet words that change, or words that we associate with a particular story. I had one story that was very lush, very padded, and I used the word "plush" repeatedly throughout it. My beta wanted to beat me with the word. So what I'm saying here is: search your story for overused words. Unusual words and phrases--words like exacerbate and loquacious, phrases like "come with" and "piss-poor"--will stand out to the reader, so using them even more than once in a short piece, twice in a longer piece (unless, again, it's a conscious choice vital to the story/formation of the story) is going to stand out.

Search for -ly words.
Really. Lovely. Squiggly. These words are filler words. They have their place, but the chances are that they've been overused, abused, and treated as a crutch. It's okay, it happens to everyone. Use them sparingly. Think of them as a potent spice, or an expensive one. The more you use them, the less precious they become.

Search for very.
Mark Twain said it best when he said to replace every instance of "very" with the word "damn." It has the same effect and your editor will take them out. If you're DIYing your writing (or you just don't want your editor to think you're overly fond of swearing), change every "very" to "damn" for fun, read your story, and then delete the damns.

Check your details.
The Internet is a great place. It has websites like Google and Wikipedia and communities like Little Details. It's full of people who are experts on something and they're willing to share their expertise. Use them. Check your own details, first. Make sure your protagonist doesn't suddenly change hair color halfway through the story. Or cars, or location, or whatever. Trust me, the reader notices these things. Then check the other details. For example, I had to change my hero's job in the Marines based on some information I found at Wikipedia. Also--and this is a tip from my days as a researcher--it's a good idea to have different sources of information, sources that don't call on each other for backup. I like three sources, personally.

Check your characterization.
You can tell your readers that your hero is a good guy, but if you're writing him being a dickface to waiters and kicking puppies, they're going to know that he isn't. Make sure that you're showing the character traits you want your characters to possess. If he's kind, show him doing something kind. If he's an ass, show him being an ass. And be consistent. Unless, of course, the point is that your character completely changes who he is throughout the story. Then you can do whatever you want, I guess. Just make sure that your character is behaving in the ways you would expect from someone who is like him. This is where observing people becomes a useful skill.

Check your plot.
Are there any holes? Sew those suckers up. You don't want the reader to be halfway through the story and saying, "This doesn't make any sense." Remember: the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. It has to. You can't rely on your readers to say, "Ah, well, that's just how it goes." That is not how it goes. How it goes is exactly how you write it and you need to be the God of your written world. You need to keep track of everything and make sure that everything has a purpose and a reason.

Check your subplot(s).
If you're writing anything longer than a short story, you probably have subplots. Do the same checking for them that you do for your main plot. Resolve them however you want, but a resolution is not abandoning them mid-story because they're inconvenient.

Read it out loud.
Reading your work out loud forces your brain to relay information to your mouth. Because it has to work harder, it notices things it missed when you were just reading silently. I don't know if that's true because I made it up, but reading your work out loud is just one more way you're guaranteed to find things you wouldn't have found otherwise.

Ignore it.
I know that every list of advice on writing tells you to ignore your work or leave it alone. This is good advice. You gain some distance and some perspective. You return to your work with a fresh eye and a fresh ear. Let it sit for as long as you need, then come back to it and repeat the editing process.

Read it again.
Read it to yourself and then out loud one more time. Make changes as needed, but this time, it doesn't need the machete it needed before. It just needs little tweaks. Sound good? Look good? Feel good? Great. Only two more steps left to go!

Send it to someone else.
No matter who you are, your writing can always benefit from someone else's perspective. That's why publishers employ editors and that's why good fanfic writers use betas. If you value your writing at all--and of course you do, you're reading this post--you will hand your work over to more than one someone else. These will be people you trust. These should also be people who are not butt-kissers. They should be just as hard on you and your writing as you are. (But not harder. No one should ever be harder on your own work than you are.)

Make changes accordingly.
Once you get your manuscript back from your editors and beta readers, you should have feedback to consider. The changes you make are entirely up to you. You're the writer. Your word is law as far as your writing goes. But, again, if you care at all, you will consider the feedback you get and you will make changes.

Read it one more time.
Okay, I lied, there's one final step. Read it again. All the way through. Resist the urge to make any more changes as you read and simply read it as a reader. It should be as perfect as you can make it now. This should be your best possible work. Congratulations!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not-So-Monday Miscellany: Tim Armstrong

Yesterday, I spent the whole day working to finish the first draft of the new romance novelette. I succeeded! It needs three to five thousand more words, though, so I still have quite a bit of work to do, but the second stage of the writing process is complete.

For this week's miscellany post, I thought I'd share some fangirl-worthy work from Tim Armstrong. Tim is the frontman for California-based punk band Rancid (they're amazing, you should check them out) (but if you're not into punk, he also co-wrote most of the songs on P!nk's Try This and he is involved with/has been involved with Operation Ivy, the Transplantssolo work, and a film) and I love him. The summer my husband was deployed, I saw Rancid four times. I have three Rancid-inspired tattoos with plans for a fourth. And I wore an Operation Ivy t-shirt to my wedding reception. Tim is a fantastically talented musician and artist. I'm a fan, is what I'm saying. 

Recently, he rolled out Tim Timebomb's ROCKNROLL THEATER. There's music. There's dancing. There's scantily-clad girls, a timeless story, and a terrifyingly-mustachioed Davey Havok. You can watch the trailer here. Unfortunately, it's not available in my country. There are ways around that (an IP masker, for example; or an online bootleg) so if it isn't available in your country and you want to see it, some Google searching should set you up. 

If none of that interests you, there's always this: 

Unfortunately, I have no idea who took this picture. I wish I did, I'd like to bake him/her some cupcakes.

The man belongs on a romance novel cover.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blog Roundup: October 17 - 23, 2011

I stumbled across this post at Chuck Wendig's blog that is an entertaining, colorful assortment of insults aimed at making me feel bad about my crappy self-published book. I laughed. It's got a lot of good points. He also had this guest post on his blog this week that is all about getting your book--you real dead-tree book, be it self-published or traditionally-published--into bookstores. And, as usual, he has a fantastic 25 things post.

Stella Deleuze posted about dialogue attributes. If you're uncertain about your dialogue skills, or if you just want a refresher, it's an excellent post.

Angel Zapata's publisher has gone under, so she's asking that readers not buy her book.

Isis Rushdan hosted J.L. Campbell, who wrote about what she has learned from blogging and publishing.

James Killick wrote about five ways to banish drama from your scenes. The tongue-in-cheek quality of it made me chuckle even as I mentally filed away the lessons he's sharing.

I thought this guest post at Keystrokes and Word Counts was interesting. I'm always fascinated by the way other writers work, so seeing that Melissa Dominic uses a sketchbook was pretty cool.

This post at Paperback Writer discusses and shows the results of a really fun-looking writing exercise. I think I'll be trying that the next time I'm suffering the dreaded writer's block.

Sirra posted another round of #writetips from her Twitter feed.

If you're not reading The Bookshelf Muse, you're doing yourself a disservice. This recent guest post about promotion, in particular, is quite helpful.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

SitRep Saturday: Vampires, Romance, and Secret Projects

The new working title for my vampire WIP is The Guest. I did some Googling and there shouldn't be much confusion between my novel about a bad vampire and the main notable work with that title. So that's settled. I have also decided not to worry about classifying it yet. I struggled with the fact that the story seemed to be demanding material that was not appropriate for a YA audience, but my most recent project--as well as some reading I've done--has convinced me that it's okay. I have to be true to the story first and foremost. Then I can worry about everything else.

My romance novelette is coming along nicely. I'm about 40% through the action draft. I had hoped to be more done by now, but life had other plans. I'm not worried. I know I'll have it finished and I'll start editing next week. It still doesn't have a title.

The third bit of work news is a piece I'm in the action-draft stage of now and it's amazing because I feel like I'm getting back to who I am as a writer. I feel like I'm really finding my voice with it. For a number of years, I was kind of lost; I let life sidetrack me, confuse me, and lose me. Not anymore. The piece I'm writing now, when it's finished, will be hot, funny, sweet, and make the reader vaguely uncomfortable. I am very excited.

Oh. I will also probably keep up the All About Editing posts next week. I have a few more ideas to write about.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

All About Editing: Beta Reading

A beta reader is a test reader or an unofficial editor. You, the writer and first reader, are the alpha reader. She, the second reader, is your beta. In fandom, a beta reader can do everything from a read-through and feedback on the overall story to in-depth editing. Beta reading is a good way to hone your editing skills in the same way that self-editing is a good way to hone your beta reading skills.

Familiarize yourself with the rules of writing.
If you're not already comfortable with the basics, get comfortable. A practical handbook and a good dictionary or a trustworthy website on grammar and writing are invaluable. For your first few betas, you may end up consulting these resources frequently.

Don't apologize and don't be offended.
Resist the temptation to apologize for the quality of your critique. Your critique is valid--regardless of your experience--because you are a reader and you have opinions. The writer will take or leave your comments as she sees fit, so don't be offended if you see the finished project and realize that "problems" you identified weren't fixed. Remember that the writer has the final say in her own work.

Pick your projects carefully.
Identify what you like to read and take on those projects. Identify aspects of your own writing that you need help with and take on projects that will let you learn. Beta reading is work, but it should be work that you can do without having to force yourself.

Read twice.
Read it once as a reader. Make notes if you have to, but wait for the second read-through to critique. Read it the second time with a critical eye and a red pen.

Be thorough.
However you decide to beta read, be thorough. Give all parts of the manuscript your attention. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, as when I first started using beta readers, I had a couple of them who started off each beta with many, many notes, but once they got to the last half, they just sort of... stopped making notes. Be consistent with your critique throughout the manuscript.

Be prompt.
If you have offered or agreed to beta read, turn the story around as quickly as possible. Chances are that the writer is counting on you. She may be working on some sort of deadline, she may be anxious, she may just want to finish the story and move on. Returning your notes quickly is appreciated just as much as the notes themselves.

Be honest.
This is the single most important tip for beta reading. Be honest in your critique. Be honest about what you liked and what you didn't like. Don't give false praise or flattery. You're doing a job and that job is not butt-kisser.

For more beta reading resources, check out the following links:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

All About Editing: Self-Editing

Self-editing is the final bit of work you should do on your manuscript before you send it off to your editor or your beta reader. Self-editing is also something you should be really, really good at--especially if you're going DIY the whole way. Compared to editing your own work, editing someone else's work is ridiculously easy, so if you're interested in editing for others, learning to self-edit well is one of the first steps you should take.

Identify your problem areas and focus on those.
I tend to abuse the em dash, the semi-colon, and the comma. Maybe you confuse your and you're, or you abuse the ellipsis. Whatever your weakness may be, focus on it. Scour your manuscript for instances of your weakness(es) and eliminate them. If you're anything like me, this will get frustrating and you will, eventually, learn to stop being so abusive of language.

Compare your manuscript to a traditionally published manuscript.
Especially if you are a "new" writer (read: a writer who has just set pen to paper/fingers to keyboard), compare your manuscript to one that has been traditionally published. If you write fiction, pick up a fiction novel. If you write non-fiction, pick up non-fiction. Really look at the published work. Do your quotations look the same? Do your paragraph styles look similar? Are your chapters roughly the same length?

Focus on the basics.
Spelling. Grammar. Use your word processor's spell check. If you use MS Word, give the sentences with the green squiggly a second glance, but keep in mind that MS Word is not programmed with the Grammar Bible. Speaking of the Grammar Bible, it's a good idea to learn the rules of grammar. You are not too old or too smart or too big to go back to third grade (or fifth grade, or whatever) and re-learn elementary English. Keep in mind that you can't effectively break the rules of grammar unless you actually know those rules.

Don't jump heads.
Nora Roberts is notorious for this. You're probably not Nora Roberts, so don't do it. Pick one point-of-view (POV) and stick with it. Many first-time novelists choose first-person narrative, and that's fine, but whichever POV you choose, make sure you don't slip into Author Narrative and tell the reader things your POV character can't possibly know. Don't mix things up until you're confident that you can do one style consistently and well.

Check your tense.
Examine your manuscript for consistent tense use. If you start off in present tense, don't suddenly start using past tense. It is entirely too easy to switch back and forth while you're writing, so be very careful.

Hardcopies are your friends.
The best way to edit your manuscript is the old-fashioned way: a printed copy and a pen that can double as a machete. If you can read your work out loud as you edit, that's even better. If you absolutely must edit on the computer, read backwards. Start at the end and work your way back, word by word, then sentence by sentence, then paragraph by paragraph.

For more self-editing resources, click the following links.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guest Post from Nicole: "Editing in English"

Language fascinates me. I'm interested in how we use it, how it shapes our thoughts, and how people who know more than one language think and work with words. For our first All About Editing post, freelance editor Nicole wrote some about language and some about editing, satisfying my curiosity and--I hope--piquing your interest in the professional editing process. 


How will she be able to edit my manuscript; she's not even English!

That's what I get a lot. Maybe not directly, but people do think that way. To many English-speaking natives it's impossible to understand that a person with German mother tongue is editing English manuscripts.

The answer is: I just read it, make comments as I go along and I make you work hard. To me, reading English is no different to reading German. There might be the odd term I don't understand, but that's what dictionaries were invented for.

I've been in the UK for five years and spoke English from day one. Of course I had learned it at school for many years, which is a big advantage, but being in the country is what makes your brain switch. I speak, write, dream and breathe English. On the other hand, I'll admit it wasn't easy in the beginning. I remember the first book I bought over here: the biography of Jamie Oliver – or better one of them and I had difficulties reading it. Although I read English before, I never read a book, only music magazines. Those problems didn't put me off; instead, they posed a challenge, which I happily accepted. I've loved reading all my life and since I moved over here I wanted to read in English, one of my favourite languages. I've not bought a German book since then and, in April 2009, I've even started to write in English. The transformation from a German speaker to an English author was hard and a steep learning curve, but certainly most useful. I've learned that when I write in English, I seem to think in English, then compare what I want to say with German the same time I'm typing. It happens in a matter of seconds, but still shows in my syntax.

Reading is different: as far as I know, there's no comparing or double checking. Which is why it doesn't have an effect on my editing. Since I'm specialising on synopses, character- and plot-development, my focus lies on anything but grammar. To be honest, I never knew about my editing talents, I didn't even know I could do it at all. It's when I started to critique others on a writers' site, that my talent surfaced; people told me I've helped them a lot and that I should pursue it as a career. After a few months of editing for free, I started out as a freelance editor and since then I've helped quite a few writers to transform their manuscripts into a state ready for submission. Same goes for synopses. I've yet to meet one that defeats me.

I'm well-known for my machete skills and I chop up every piece that is put in front of me, meticulously looking for inconsistencies and glitches. And to be able to do that, you don't need to be perfect at grammar, everyone who's got a good eye for details, common sense and logic – some of the most important assets an editor has to have – can pick up on them. My clients respect me for my picking apart their books, for my suggestions on how to fix problems, for helping them to see. They don't disrespect me for not being a native. Once they trust me with their novels it's clear that I'm more than capable of doing my job as good as a native with a degree hanging on the wall. The only difference is that I may charge less.

As for copy-editing: here's another challenge for me and I'm determined to learn the grammar, not only for my own sake, but for my clients' sake, for I would love to be able to offer all services in future, including proofing. I do a bit already; dialogue attributes for example. I've learned how to use them the hard way: by comparing my own writing to traditionally published books. As a result I'm teaching my clients how to use them correctly. They've become one of my pet hates: if used incorrectly, it will throw the reader out of the story. Talking of pet hates, I've got a few more.

Many writers start sentences with present continues form: Running down the stairs, she pulled on her jeans. I really would love to see that. What the sentence really says: She runs down the stairs while pulling on her jeans. Quite complicated – if not impossible – if you ask me. You would not believe how many times I have to highlight those and it drives me mad. Of course they have their place in writing: Walking through the park, she thought about what happened last night, would be a correct use of the form, but if every third sentence begins like that, it becomes a rather tiring read.


You can contact Nicole at her editing blog, Synopsisandbookfactory. While you're there, why not read what her clients have to say about working with her?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Miscellany

After my SitRep Saturday post, I ended up writing another thousand words or so on the vampire WIP and then inspiration really struck and I set the novel aside to action draft one short story and outline a novelette.

The short story is the first I had planned to write for another three-story erotica/romance anthology. I've had the basic outline and plot for it written for a while, I just hadn't gotten around to writing it.

And then, once I was finished with that, inspiration really took over. Between Saturday evening and yesterday, I ended up writing 6100 words of an action draft of a romance novelette. Hence the photo you see to the left (available here): I'm looking for another book cover. I mean, I still have work to do; I need to finish the action draft, then draft it, then go through the revision and editing process, but since book cover design is such a tricky thing, I thought it couldn't hurt to get started.

But wait, there's more to this post!

This week is All About Editing week here at From the Writer's Desk. I'll have a guest post from an editor going up tomorrow, then we'll discuss self-editing on Wednesday, then beta-reading on Thursday. Right now, the Friday schedule is still a little open and I may very well decide to discuss editing next week, too, but I'm very excited about this. Editing is such a huge part of the writing process. It's just as important as the idea and the actual writing itself. I want to share tools and resources. I want to direct you, my lovely readers, toward some wonderful editors.

And I want to do this now, before NaNoWriMo, because while writing a novel in a month is a really great thing, chances are that novel is going to need some editing. Sharing the information I have, giving a couple of editors the chance to shine a little, is going to get you thinking (I hope) about how you're going to edit (should you choose to participate in NaNo).

Having this specific series of posts to think about is also serving to kick my lazy butt back in gear. The husband will be home from training this week and that means my vacation is over. I've slacked so much that my blog hits have really taken a nose dive. How am I ever going to meet my goal of 600 hits now? Le sigh. This just means I'm going to have to work harder.

Blog Roundup: October 10 - 16, 2011

In honor of Halloween (I guess), Chuck Wendig posted 25 Things You Should Know About Writing Horror.

Stella Deleuze made a fun post about the behind-the-scenes of novel writing. It made me smile.

Amanda Hocking posted a rant (sort of) about the whole "million books sold" deal. She makes an excellent, simple point: write well. The sales come later, the writing comes first.

If you write erotica or romance or some combination of the two, Erotic Romance should be on your blogroll. The industry information is invaluable.

Into The Morning has a useful "mini rant" on blogs. I, for one, am always looking for little things to improve and tweak here and at my website, so I enjoy finding these posts.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably a writer. And you probably have people in your life who don't "get it." Direct them to this post at James Killick's blog. It's a good summary of the creative process, I think.

Keystrokes and Word Counts, in their new home, had three posts on preparing for NaNoWriMo. If you're going to participate, I strongly suggest preparing.

I recently discovered Sierra Godfrey's blog. This is another one I recommend you add to your blogroll for posts like why blogging works for writers and writerly afflictions. Any place that combines humor and information is my kind of place.

Sirra shared another round of writing tips.

Written Words is doing a series on "GRIP" (goal, reader, idea, plan). If you're a plotter, especially if you're a new plotter, it's worth checking out.

Your Cover Uncovered has a new cover review up.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

SitRep Saturday: WIPs & Real Life

That image is my new desktop. I found it here when I was searching for potential covers for the vampire WIP. That story, by the way, is definitely no longer called Strawberry Moon. Anyway, I really like this image. I like the texture and color of the rocks and the vegetation contrasted with the bright blue of the water in the background. This looks like a place I really want to visit.

On the subject of the vampire WIP, I'm proud to say that I've at least been productive there: I have completed the action draft of the entire novel and I've drafted half of the second chapter. (The first chapter was already done.) I managed to write nearly two thousand words between yesterday and this morning, so as long as I keep it up, I should be on track to finish the draft by the end of this month. I have goals. I just have to meet them.

The problem I'm having now, though, is that the novel is most definitely not young adult anymore. At least, not in the sense that it could be aimed at the 13 - 18 year-old crowd. It might be appropriate for the 17/18 crowd, but there are parts of it that have become much, much darker than I first expected. I had such a hard time action drafting the last several chapters because the darkness was getting to me. It wasn't what I first intended at all. I've come to the conclusion that I just have to write what the story needs, even if it makes me incredibly uncomfortable, and I can worry about marketing it once it's done.

I've been a lazy blogger and Twit the last couple of weeks. I just haven't felt like being online much. With my husband away at training, I have access to the car whenever I want it and I've been taking advantage of that. The kiddo and I have gone out and seen a little more of Germany (including a trip to the Frankfurt zoo). There's also the issue of Daddy Is Gone. She's old enough to understand that he's gone but not old enough to understand why and since she's a total Daddy's girl, she's been really needy and clingy.

Sometimes, I think we just have to step away from work. I'm fortunate enough to have the luxury of staying home with my daughter. It was nice to step back and recharge.

But now, I have plans for next week. I already have one guest post and I'll send off the Q&A for another. I'm planning two of my own posts, which I will get to researching and starting this weekend. I think it'll be really exciting and really useful. I can't wait.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Miscellany

That is maybe not the best picture of the mushroom sauce I made one night last week, but it's the only one I took. I'm not a food blogger, can you tell? Anyway, because it's Monday and because I'm really proud of that recipe, I wanted to share it. We had it over plain grilled chicken (very plain, seasoned only with a bit of Worcestershire sauce, some liquid smoke, salt, and pepper) and my husband went back for seconds to have it over mashed potatoes. It's really, really good. I plan to try it this week or next over egg noodles. Maybe next time, I'll even add some Swedish meatballs or something.

Versatile Mushroom Sauce

1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped bunch onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups beef broth (can sub chicken/vegetable if desired)
3 teaspoons parsley
2 teaspoons dill
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons half & half (milk, cream, or sour cream if desired)
cornstarch or flour (if desired, for thickening)

Saute the mushrooms and bunch onions in the olive oil until tender. Add broth, parsley, dill, salt, and pepper. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat and let it simmer, allowing it to reduce. Add half & half and cornstarch, then allow the sauce to thicken to desired consistency.

This sauce was literally thrown together with what I had on hand. I wanted something to make my grilled chicken more interesting and this did the trick.

In other news, I'm up to chapter seven of the action draft of the WIP and I'm about 35% of the way through The Iron Admiral: Deception. I love this book so much, it's not even funny. It's all the best parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe plus all the best parts of my favorite Harlequin novels. Allysha and Chaka are just so... That sound I just made that you couldn't hear was a happy sigh.

All in all, it was a pretty good Monday.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Blog Roundup: October 3 - 9, 2011

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and it's kind of a big deal. If you're considering participating, check out the official site and check out Chuck Wendig's blog post on the 25 Things You Should Know.

Greta van der Rol talked some about targeting your audience. I think that if you're planning to publish or share your writing in any way, you really do need to think about your audience.

Amelia James had a nice personal post on why she's happy being self-published. I have to agree with her assertions there. I love the freedom and the total control of my career self-publishing allows.

The A Chick Who Reads blog is so pretty. It's like a bright Tim Burton landscape. She writes pretty good reviews, too. If you're looking for a book review blog, this one is a good place to start.

Cover design was on my mind this week, so I think this post over at Do Some Damage is worth reading. Good cover design is important whether you're working with print books or ebooks or both, but each medium needs something a little bit different. A print book has to grab your attention in the store. An ebook has to look good as a thumbnail. But print book covers need to look good as thumbnails, too, because more people buy their books online.

Diana Cosby wrote a guest post for Isis Rushdan's blog about believing in yourself. Insecurity is a serious affliction for writers so it's a good idea to build up an arsenal against it.

Rik Davnall's post about his marketing strategy actually encouraged me to comment. (Fourteen years of fandom trained me to be terrified of commenting on anything online.) I think any writer pursuing self-publishing needs to come into it with reasonable expectations.

I enjoyed James Killick's "Three Little Words" post. The ideas are the easy part. It's the making the idea big enough to make a story, stringing the words together, and making the whole thing compelling that's tough. (Writing is hard. Why am I doing it again?)

Keystrokes and Word Counts moved.

Rob on Writing featured a post about his $0.99 novel. About the price, really. I was talking to my mother about pricing earlier this week and how I thought $0.99 for my current books was fair, but that I'd probably charge $2.99 for the novel (I'm also planning considerably more promotion and marketing for it). It will still be cheaper than most traditionally published books and it still falls within the "impulse buy" range. My mother remarked that she doesn't feel like she's losing anything if she spends up to $2.99 on a book, even if she doesn't read it. I think most people feel that way.

Sirra has done it again, this time with a post on show vs. tell. Even if you think you've got that particular aspect of writing down, a refresher is never a bad thing.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

SitRep Saturday: Cass Gets Her Kicks & Vampire WIP

So that is Cass's new cover. It took me several days of searching through stock photos to find a nice, sexy photo that wasn't of a stick-thin model. Cass is thirty-two, not nineteen, and she just came out of a messy divorce after years of infertility issues. She has a few extra pounds. I like the girl in this photo. She looks normal. The angle of her body is so pretty to me. Plus, she looks hot. And she's clothed. I spent a lot of time looking at book covers for women's erotica books, and I think I recreated the same feel. I feel like I did, anyway. I still love my original book cover, but I think this one is more eye-catching and more likely to sell copies of the book.

It has already worked at least once. Well, twice if you count the sample downloaded at Smashwords.

In other news, I'm only about 75% done with the fourth chapter action-draft of the vampire story. The good news is that I feel like the current rewrite is a much stronger, overall better story than the original draft. The bad news is that I'm about four and a quarter chapters behind where I wanted to be. I need to get cracking.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why Should I Follow You This Friday?

This has been on my mind for a while and I think it's significant enough to deserve its very own post, not just a bullet point in a general Twitter post.

Follow Friday is a weekly event on Twitter. Twits post tweets containing the #FF hashtag followed (or preceded) by the usernames of people they follow/who follow them as a way of getting everyone more followers.

Only in these modern times would a sentence like that make sense.

Anyway, most Follow Friday tweets look like this:
#FF @alannayes @beckybanks @calliemiller @darthvader @elissajanine @faustfatale @goodreads @hmarieadkins @indianajim @jayewells @kevinism
That's great, I guess, because it gets a lot of names in there... but it doesn't tell me anything about why I should follow those people.

I'm much more likely to follow someone mentioned in a Follow Friday tweet if I know why the Twit thinks I should follow him. So a better tweet would look like this:
#FF @alannayes because he knows what a smilodon is; @beckybanks because she compares cars to panthers; @calliemiller for liking Ratatouille.
My eyes skate right over tweets full of @usernames and I don't read them, but I do read that second tweet. Those are the #FF tweets I post. I may not recommend as many tweeps as the first kind of tweet, but, to me, it has more value.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interview: Kelsey McCarthy, Author/Designer/Illustrator

Today, I have for you an interview with Kelsey McCarthy, my personal favorite designer and illustrator and a fantastic writer to boot. (She's working on a seriously awesome fantasy story right now, I can't wait for it to be done.) If you're looking for a cover artist or a web designer or, really, have any graphic design needs at all, she is your woman. You'll see what I mean a little farther down the page.

How long have you been interested in writing and in art? Which came first?

I want to say the art came first, but I can remember telling stories at the same time right along with it.

Is it easier to write or paint?

Which is harder depends on how I'm feeling any particular day. Sometimes I can't get a painting right, so I write. Sometimes I'm bashing my head into a wall with a story, so I fuck off and doodle. It's a nice way to be productive and not burn out on any particular thing.

I know you're in the middle of an epic work-in-progress. How is that going? What are your plans for it?

I don't know if it's an "epic" work-in-progress, but it's certainly the biggest thing I've ever tackled. My current plans are applying the edits I have right now thanks to some lovely beta readers, then sending out the whole draft to them (as they've only read chunks thus far). Said huge draft should be thrown at people some time in December. I'd like to eventually go for publication with it, but if that fails, I'll self-publish. Despite the massive amounts of hatemail I'm sure to get, I just want to get the story out there and share it with people. Money isn't that big a deal if I can move some people.

How did you approach the research for it?

Researching stuff for it is still a constant thing. It started out with character ideas, then I went and read as many versions of the mythology as I could find and just let them grow together. I wanted to keep true to the mythology while still letting it be my own story. Luckily vikings have a pretty batshit insane mythology. Lots of room for moving things around. Right now is the fine-tuning: mind-sets, customs, battle tactics, etc. Also trying to weave in what needs to be there in order to make a smooth transition into the second story.

What is your favorite thing to write?

Favorite thing to write: Gritty dark fantasy, whether urban or high fantasy. I do dally with normal fiction, too, because if you can't write that, then you can't write good fantasy either.

What is your favorite writing tip?

Favorite writing tip: Allow yourself to write badly. The first draft is meant to be fugly and awful, then you go back for a second pass and you find the awesome parts that take you places.

What kind of commissions are your favorites to take?

I tend to like character-based commissions the most. I love painting people, though I'm making an effort to get into doing more backgrounds and landscapes, especially with some of my own work. Book covers and posters are my favorite formats right now.

Is there anyplace we can see examples of your work online?

Marginalia Studios is a design collective made up of a bunch of us from the same college. We were dreading the job market after graduation, so we decided to band together and make our own job opportunities. The project is still trying to get off the ground because we're rather scattered right now, but hopefully it'll gain speed once we start getting clients.

How can potential clients get in touch with you?

Unfortunately Marginalia's hosting has been a mess and our site isn't up to snuff yet. The best way to get in contact with me specifically for commissions and professional work is through my gmail: shadowsreflectsky at gmail dot com

Thank you! Everybody go buy Miss Leona's books!

No, thank you! And, dearest readers, if you need a graphic artist, I hope you get in touch with Kelsey. Check out her portfolio up there at for more examples of commissions she has done.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Humans Are Social Animals. Yes, Even Writers.

Writing may be a solitary activity, but you can't write in a vacuum anymore than nature likes one. Writers need social interaction. We need it for life experience so we can accurately craft our work, we need it for support, and we need it to give our work life and keep our work alive.

There are probably people sitting in coffee houses to write because they're douchebags who want people to see that they're writing; if you're one of those douchebags, please stop. Nobody is impressed. Being a writer is like being an archaeologist or a history major or a business analyst: most people, upon finding out that you're "a writer," are just going to discover how quickly their eyes can glaze over. Unless you're, like, Stephen King or something. Which you aren't, otherwise you wouldn't be reading a blog on writing.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, though, and I tend to assume that writers in coffee houses are there to get away from the distraction of their homes/offices, or that they write better in crowded public spaces, or--and this is where the subject of my post comes in--they like the social aspect that they get in the coffee house. (You can sub "bar" for "coffee house" if you have to.) Public spaces are a great place to spy on human interaction. You can eavesdrop ("If it weren't for my horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college.") and you can people-watch. I know that when I meet up with friends I haven't seen in a while, we head over to Starbucks; I imagine the case is the same for most people. While eavesdropping and people-watching, you can learn tips and tricks on characterization. You can catch snippets of conversation that could turn into story ideas. You can see how people dress, how they walk, how they treat the servers. People in coffee houses are usually casual and off their guard.

This goes for most public spaces. People behave differently in different public spaces, though. As a writer, I think one of the best things I can do for myself is to always be aware of others. I never know when some random passing stranger is going to have the look, the gait, the aura I'm going to need to inspire a new character.

Another aspect of community that is immensely useful is the writers' group. I strongly believe "new" writers (writers who have just picked up a pen or have set fingers to keyboard or writers who have never shared their recreational writing with anyone) should join these groups. Critique groups, writers' clubs, whatever you want to call them, they're good ideas. At the absolute least, they should find a few like-minded people and communicate regularly about writing. These groups are safe places to share your new piece or your WIP and to see others' work, safe places to give and receive critique. If you join a group, or make a group, where you know the people and respect (even like) them and trust their judgment, it's much easier to hear that something in your writing just isn't working. Writers' groups are also a good way to expose yourself firsthand to the differences in personal opinion. They're an excellent way to build that thick skin you absolutely must have. I think writer's groups are important for established writers, too. It never hurts to get safe fresh perspective on your writing.

Right now, I'm looking for a good young adult or paranormal group. I'm currently a member of the ERWA, a list I have found immeasurably helpful. Everyone on the list seems to be intelligent and articulate and willing to share their opinions and expertise. I'd love to find a group of writers who focus on vampires, werewolves, and the like for the 16 - early-twenties crowd, since that's what my current WIP is.

Just keep it small. I favor five to fifteen people. The ERWA is a bit larger than that, but it's not my main source of group support, so that's okay.

Readers are people. I know! Shocking, right? People like to talk. There's a reason Goodreads is such a popular site. All the promotion you do isn't going to do you any good if you can't interest people and connect in some way with community. And all of your promotion can very easily come undone if people read your work and tell their friends, "Don't read this. It's awful." As an author, the bulk of promotional duties fall to you--even if you're traditionally published by one of the Big Six, you're still going to have to do a lot of work on your own. That's where sites like Twitter and Facebook come in. If you're self-published or published through a small, independent house, you should join the site-specific forums, like the Kindle Direct Publishing forums. I also joined the MobileRead forum, which has a lot of authors but seems to have just as many readers.

You have to go where the readers are. Don't spam them, don't piss them off, but find them, find out what they want and what they have to say. Not necessarily because you want to write at them (you should always always write what the story demands and write what you like, then worry about the audience), but so you know. Information is always a good thing to have.

So now you know. Go forth! Be social! You might even make new friends and reach a new audience. At the very least, you'll probably learn something.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday Miscellany

The hubs, the kid, and I are finally getting out of the house on the weekends and seeing Germany. This weekend, we went to a Thanksgiving farmer's market in Ramstein-Misenbach. It was great. We're really fortunate to be stationed here and we haven't taken advantage of the travel opportunities available at all. The hubs is going away for training, so next week, the kid, a friend, her kid, and I are all going to Frankfurt to check out the zoo. I'm really excited. I keep checking the newspapers for things going on locally in the community. Germany is such a beautiful country.

Greta van der Rol's The Iron Admiral: Deception is out and you should get it. As soon as I finish, I'll do a review post, but already, I can tell you that Admiral Saahren is seriously hot (I absolutely love manly men, and he is definitely a manly man) and that the first eight chapters are so intense that I didn't breathe much while I read.

We recently tried plain old grilled hamburgers (prepare the ground beef with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and an egg) topped with sliced bleu cheese. Delicious! I also recently made this Smothered Chicken recipe, which was so good. This summer, the husband mentioned that he was getting bored with our regular menu, and I agreed. So I've been looking for new recipes. Mostly this means I watch the Barefoot Contessa while the kid naps or I search with the ingredients we have on hand. When I grocery shop now, I shop for the pantry, rarely for specific recipes.

A friend recently showed me a white eggplant Alfredo recipe that I really want to try, but I haven't been able to find any white eggplant.

Today, I'm hoping to finish the action draft of chapter two of the vampire WIP and to start on the draft. With the husband gone, there will be a lot less to clean up (I love you, honey!) so I'll be able to spend a lot more time writing.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Blog Roundup: September 26 - October 2, 2011

Chuck Wendig has done it again, this time with a post on the 25 things writers should know about theme. Are you following his blog yet? At least checking it regularly? You should be. Also, he made this post on self-doubt.  I particularly liked the line about the "rogue gallery of nemeses."

I think we all realize that I officially have a Thing for Greta van der Rol and her wonderful writing. Well. Now I have one more reason to love her. No, this post doesn't strictly fit in with my "writing help" theme, but it's worth reading because I believe it illustrates very well how one simple thing can turn us on to something and inspire us and then we can do something great. (The moment I fell in love with Star Wars, by the way, happened at the end of A New Hope, when Red Leader says "Lock S-foils in attack position," and the X-wings opened up. As for when I fell in love with science fiction, I couldn't possibly say. It has been part of my entertainment for as long as I can remember.)

I missed this post in my last roundup, but it's worth reading. Imran Siddiq asks, "Do I need an editor?" and the answer is a resounding "Yes!" I'm in the process of starting to research good editing tips right now because, coming the second or third week of October, we will have an All About Editing week here on the blog. I have one guest post from a brilliant editor lined up and I hope to work out details with a second editor for another guest post. I also plan to write a couple of posts on beta-reading and self-editing.

James Killick posted ten questions to ask your characters, something I found fascinating and useful. I think that a lot of new writers have difficulty with characterization. I don't exactly consider myself a new writer, but I do recognize that characterization is something I need to work on.

Keystrokes & Word Counts is such a great blog. This post on backing up your files, this post on reviews, and this post on playing nice are all worth reading.

The Lindsay's Ramblings blog has had a series of defining "-punk" posts lately. If you're curious about things like steampunk and splatterpunk and anything that ends in, well, punk, then I suggest checking her out.

Two blogs worth following: Pub Rants and Slush Pile Hell. Even if you self-publish, I believe you should be educated about the publishing industry and I think you should seek out whatever information you can from agents and editors. You know that whole "Knowledge is power, power corrupts; study hard, be evil" thing? I mean, just the "knowledge is power" part. Anyway, I'm still learning about the publishing industry, and reading blogs from agents and editors--even the humorous, ranty one like Slush Pile Hell--is incredibly useful.

Aimee Salter offered this #1 blogging tip. I completely agree. I allow anonymous comments. Sure, you get some spam and some nastiness, maybe, but in the end, it's worth it.

If you're interested in traditional publication, read this post at Sirra's blog on the dos and don'ts in query letter writing. Seriously, follow her blog. She may be stabby, but she's smart and genuinely wants to help.

Your Cover Uncovered reviewed another book cover!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

SitRep Saturday: Vampires!

So this week, I had to completely rewrite the outline of Strawberry Moon. That title... I'm still not so sure about it, but that's the working title I'm going to continue to use. Anyway, so I rewrote the outline with much better action, several strong subplots, and a much better story flow. I also wrote some meta, and now my characters have good, solid histories--especially Victoria, my old woman, and Vincent, my vampire. I feel much more confident about the story as a whole now. Confidence was something I was lacking in the first incarnation.

I am currently writing the first chapter out by hand. Because it's by hand, it's very, very slow going. I'm almost done with it, though, a fact for which I am grateful. Once I'm done and I get it typed up, I'm going to try to write the rest on the computer. Though, I must admit, I write much better when I write by hand. Because it's slower, I stop and think about everything. I've made some poor word choices and I have some awkward sentences, but I'm writing with the knowledge that I have several rounds of editing ahead of me.

This entry's photo comes from and you should be able to click on it to go to the site and download the photo for yourself. I'm back in the process of finding the right book cover photo. Since the novel takes place entirely in the fictional Maine town of Millay Harbor (a place based on Castine, Maine), my searches so far have been for photos of Maine and the North Atlantic coast. I'm not worried about cover design yet, but it certainly doesn't hurt to look at images of my novel's setting.