"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Golden Memoirs of a Romance Judge - Part One

by Sherry Roseberry

I recently had the opportunity again to judge five books for the Romance Writers of America in the 2012 Rita contest. This time turned out different than when I’ve judged before as four out of the five entries were in separate categories. Odd! When I was done, I came away with two problems.

1. This is for kids?

Even though I gave the Young Adult 50 out of 50 for excellent writing, in depth characterization, and intricate plot, I would not let any of my grandchildren, who might be interested, read it. Unlike others, where there was no question what I was reading, I kept forgetting this was a YA until reminded that some of the main characters went to high school. Also, I was very disappointed with the language, namely taking the Lord’s name in vain, and the sexual content; topping the list with an attempt at seduction of an older man.

Isn’t this leaning a bit much on the adult side for tweens and young teens, a large age group who devours YAs? In my steadfast opinion, it is! This is also the same impressionable age group and a good portion of the fan base who is gaga over the singer, Justin Bieber. Don’t we, as authors, have an obligation to make sure our books are appropriate for our fan base?

2. Don’t rush it, please!

I’ve judged for many years in many different types of contests. What I’ve gleaned from my “vast experience and sizeable knowledge” –(I know that’s a bit strong. Okay ... a lot strong, but who’s writing this?) –is that many pre-published and published alike rush the awareness. Even though I gave them extremely high scores, that was the main problem I found on two of the entries I judged, particularly with one of them.

When he/she first meets her/him, and they are instantly at a 9 out of 10 on attraction, there’s not much to build on and many pages to fill until you type those two immortal words: The End. A book can and has become tedious with just the emotional elements to carry the story, especially if the plot needs an extra punch. At least it does for me. I find I need more substance to a story than how hot Jane and Sally thinks Dick’s body is.

Disclaimer: This, of course does not include erotica. (Although, you’d think that was what I was judging with one entry.) I assume they have their own set of rules. If they have any at all.

To show an example on how to build on awareness, I cannot think of a better example than a 1934 movie staring Claudette Colbert and Clark Cable, It Happened One Night. The story is about an out-of-work newspaper man who rides a bus and shares a cabin with a tycoon’s spoiled, runaway daughter. At first meeting they irritate each other, and, for awhile, it doesn’t improve much from there, particularity in the socialite’s point of view. In fact, even though circumstances throw them together, she doesn’t learn his name until a third of the movie is over. Now that’s building!

The funny thing about IHON is that on the last day on the set Ms. Colbert said, “I just finished the worst picture in the world!” Why is that so funny? It Happened One Night was the first movie to win the Oscar grand slam: actor, actress, director, screen play, and of course best picture. But the ironic part is, the “worst picture in the world” ended up becoming the blueprint for the modern romantic comedy, and therefore a pattern for those of us who write romance.

To Be Continued

Look for “Memoirs” Part Two coming soon to your favorite local computer.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Another Reason to Write a Prologue

by Bill Corbett

There seems to be a lot of chatter these days about whether we should include a prologue in our novels. Here are some thoughts on why we might ought to consider a prologue. It has to do with marketing. I’ve been listening to some marketing seminars lately. All the marketing gurus say marketing is as much our responsibility as it is the publisher’s, and we must use the Internet via our blogs and social networks to do our marketing. It seems that in this era of entitlement thinking, people expect some kind of freebie, so in order to build our audience list, or platform, if you will, it was suggested that maybe an excerpt from the book might be something we could give away. A prologue might be a good freebie for this purpose. It might serve as the hook needed to get them interested in buying the novel. A compelling scene from the novel’s interior might work well also.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Art of the Critique Group

by Karen Finnigan

I love those blogs that consist of a list. If I could create one, it would sound neat and tidy and imply there are answers to all our publishing dilemmas, like these:

Ten secrets to getting published.
Eight traits agents want in a client.
Six tips for writing a successful pitch.
Top three ways publishing will be different a year from now.
The number one reason a book idea stands out.

I would not try to create a list listing the secrets of successful critique groups. I don’t think they’re so easy to pigeonhole. Not that any of the above are easy either, but critique groups provide such unique challenges. For starters, each individual writer brings different talents and expectations to a group.

Some members write by the seat of their pants.
Others outline every scene in detail.
Some rewrite umpteen times.
Others can turn out a quality first draft.

Some of us want to be critiqued with brutal honesty. Give it to us straight, we say. Lay it on thick. We can take it. It’ll toughen us up for the real world of publishing.

Others prefer we go gently on their creative efforts, want lots of positive feedback for what they do well, praise being the sandwich bread into which are spread a few mild suggestions.

Some have outgoing personalities that relish the give and take of off-the-cuff talking.
They thrive on the show and tell of sharing every time and might enjoy a leadership role.

Others are shy, preferring structure, where an agenda guarantees they’ll get a turn to talk or read. They might beg off easily or wait in the wings to be asked if they brought anything.

Some hate agendas and don’t see the need.

Some watch the clock and see time as a pie to be divided fairly.
Others measure time by creative moments.

Some prefer critiquing the storyline like a beta reader.
Others can discuss the nuances of characterization and motivation.
Still others like to get down in the weeds and correct grammar.

Some come for treasured friendships that go back decades.
Others come once and never return, though we never know why.

Some see traditional publishing as their holy grail.
Others are thinking about e-publication or self-publishing.
Still others are content to write for the joy of it and leave their writing in a bureau drawer for their literary heirs.

A few are too tired, sick, weary, busy, distracted to write.
And maybe, every meeting, someone is secretly thinking about quitting it all.
A different someone each time.

But I do think we have this in common--a need for mutual support of our writing dreams, camaraderie, and once a month lunch out. It’s a list, I guess, but barely.

So, it’s not surprising that frustrations will occasionally surface. But for all the dissymmetry, it’s still preferable to not having a critique group at all. Through the din of personalities and differing styles, goals, and pen colors, there is headway made. There are glimmers of inspiration, commiseration over rejection letters, writing news brought from conferences, names of agents taking submissions, and contest deadlines. A few guidelines are helpful maybe, like toss your lunch wrappers, share your email addresses, and take turns talking. But nothing heavy, mainly because I’ve decided managing these groups is too akin to tacking jello to a laptop. In short, I think keeping a group going is more art, less business.

I see each meeting as a little incubation room, where we are free to learn our craft with each other as validators, but without the spotlight of the entire world watching as we clean up our mistakes. We celebrate successes together too, of course, because that’s an art form too and definitely worth incubating.

Maybe some of you saw the recent interview with actress/comedienne Amy Poehler. Either the Sunday paper or online news, I forget. But I definitely remember something she said: to paraphrase, she was glad she had been pretty much left alone in her 20s to practice her craft with no spotlight on her. Some of what she did was good, some was bad, but all of it gave her experience and maturity to handle the success she now has.

May we each someday (soon) share her creative experience with success. May we each look back when we are published or republished and think the same of our humble and imperfect critique group. That it was worth it. That it gave to us more than it took from us. That it readied us, step by step, along the journey to our dreams. That, when we get ready to write our list of thanks for the inspiration, our writing group is right up there.

Maybe even number one.