Monday, September 26, 2011


Current Listen:  "Maybe" courtesy of Sick Puppies 
Hidden message in lyrics? .... maybe its time for a change ... maybe I'm a dreamer

First, how about those upgrades to FaceBook! Everyone happy with being submitted to a "12-step program" to find your flippin' messages? And don't you love the banner of duplicate entries running down the side? In case you couldn't read it in the center of the page, you get a second chance to review it on the side. Don't get me started. Why is it that when something is functioning properly, someone comes along and thinks they have to change it? "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" plastered the airways on FaceBook. Hint, if you haven't already figured it out, hover over the name of your "friend" until a pull down box appears. Uncheck everything you don't want to know about. Posts regarding the gruesome details of Grandma's corns being removed or little Timmy's graphic birth pictures can be prevented from popping up on your page.

Wish the same could be true with writing. A pull down menu when you're through editing that would automatically "find and rewrite" those annoying tickers that keep an agent/editor from moving past the first 20-30 pages they've requested, or at least give you some clue as to why you received the polite, "thank you, but..." email. Received one the other day and actually allowed one tear to drop. She was one of my favs off my "A List" that I saved until I felt really confident DESIGNER GENES didn't need further polishing. Argh!

But why didn't she fall in love with my story like I did? What "wow factor" did my first 30 pages miss? As always, when I ponder the deeper meaning of things and pose my question to the universe, an answer shows up...usually via email. Yes, I do believe Heaven has gone "digital."

I subscribe to social media guru Kristen Lamb's blog, and today's timely message dealt with the diagnostics of those pesky first pages of a manuscript. Awesome information. Also, I encourage any of you needing to "sell" yourself, promote your book, or any other business where "you" have to be marketed (and no, I don't mean the oldest profession, although maybe there is something of value even there in Kristen's guide to social networking...ha!) pick up a copy of  BOTH her books:

"We Are Not Alone - The Writers Guide to Social Media" and "Are You There Blog? It's Me, Writer" (both on sale for only $4.99)

While I can't do justice to Kristen's blog, but not wanting you to give me a half-hearted promise you'll leave my awesome space and not check hers, I've reposted the highlights. However, this is the last in her series of blogs about DEADLY SINS OF WRITING, which any author, published or aspiring to be, should investigate further at 

Keep in mind, before she became a full time writer/social media genius, Kristen spent a lot of time as an editor. I've taken a couple of classes she's provided and own her books, although I'm still a major klutz at Twitter. I basically flutter in, "peep" and fly off. I'm afraid of heights, so tweeting on the branch makes me nervous and I hit all the wrong keys, sending messages to unsuspecting victims (hi "Kai"), and literally crash. So to get the full "bluff and dazzle," check out her website. Not to mention a nice picture of Dr. House (love the series "House").

So here's the basics, stripped a bit. Like I said, you really need to check her site to understand the depth of this information.

1.  INFO DUMP:  The beginning of the novel starts the reader off with lengthy history or world-building. The author pores on and on about details of a city or civilization or some alien history all to “set up” the story. In my experience, this is often the hallmark of a writer who is weak when it comes to characters and even plotting. How can I tell? He begins with his strength…lots of intricate details about a painstakingly crafted world. Although not set in stone, generally, if the author dumps a huge chunk of information at the start of the book, then he is likely to use this tactic throughout.

This type of beginning tells me that author is not yet strong enough to blend information into the narrative in a way that it doesn’t disrupt the story. The narrative then becomes like riding in a car with someone who relies on hitting the brakes to modulate speed. The story likely will just get flowing…and then the writer will stop to give an information dump. Also, readers read fiction for stories. They read Wikipedia for information. Information does not a plot make. Facts and details are to support the story that will be driven by characters with human wants and needs.

Sci-fi/fantasy writers [that would be "yours truly"] are some of the worst offenders. It is easy to fall in love with our world-building and forget we need a plot with players. Keep the priorities straight. In twenty years people won’t remember gizmos, they will remember people.

2.  BOOK STARTS RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ACTION  [I have actually been told to do this in other classes, so I was surprised to see this on Kristen's list]:  A lot of new writers are being told to start right in the action, and this tip is wrong…well, it needs to be clarified. We need some kind of conflict in the beginning to make us (the reader) choose to side with/like the protagonist. This conflict doesn’t necessarily have to do with the main story problem (directly).

For instance, in the Hunger Games we are introduced to Katniss and we get a glimpse of the hell that is her life and the burden she has of feeding her family. We feel for her because she lives in a post-apocalyptic nightmare where life is lived on the brink of starvation. Nothing terribly earth-shattering happens, but we care about this girl. So, when Katniss is chosen to participate in The Hunger Games–a brutal gladiator game held by the privileged Capitol–we want her to win, because that means a life of food, shelter and relative safety.

Suzanne Collins didn’t start out with Katniss in the arena fighting the Hunger Games. That is too far in and is too jarring. We need time with Katniss in her Normal World for The Hunger Games to mean anything or this action would devolve quickly into melodrama. Even though in the beginning, she isn’t per se pitted directly with the Capitol, she is pitted against starvation and depravity…which leads us nicely into the main cause of that starvation and depravity (the Capitol) and the solution to this life (win the Hunger Games).

Yet, many new writers take this notion of “start right in the action” and they dump the reader straight into the arena. The beginning of the novel starts us off with the protagonist (we think) hanging over a shark tank and surrounded by ninjas. There are world-shattering stakes and we are only on page 2.

This shows me that the writer could be weak in a number of areas. First, she may not be clear what the overall story problem is, so she is beginning with a “gimmick” to hook the reader in that she is unsure the overall story problem will. Secondly, this alerts me that the writer is weak in her understanding of scene and sequel novel structure.

Scenes are structured: Goal; conflict; disaster  ... when a writer totally skips some fairly vital parts and thrusts us straight into disaster, I already know the author will likely rely on melodrama from this point on. Why? Because that was how she began her book.

3.  BOOK BEGINS WITH INTERNALIZATION [uh-oh...] Fiction is driven by conflict. Period. Writing might be therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. When a writer begins with a character thinking and internalizing that is another huge warning flag of a number of problems.

Do you need internalization in a novel? Yes! But it has its place. Most internalization will be part of what is known as the sequel. Sequels transpire as a direct reaction to a scene. When a writer begins the novel with the sequel, that is a huge warning that, again, the writer is weak when it comes to structure. There is a definite purpose for reflection, but kicking off the action is not one of them.

Also, beginning with the protagonist “thinking” is very self-indulgent. Why do we as readers care about this person’s feelings or thoughts about anything? We don’t know this character. The only people who listen attentively to the thoughts, feelings, and disappointments of total strangers are shrinks, and they are being paid well to do so.

Now, give us (your readers) time to know your character and become interested in her, and then we will care. But, starting right out of the gate with a character waxing rhapsodic is like having some stranger in the checkout line start telling you about her nasty divorce. It’s just weird. ... When the protagonist begins with all this thinking and more thinking…and more thinking, it is probably a bad sign for the future.

4.  BOOK BEGINS WITH A FLASHBACK [learned this one fast] Yeah…flashbacks are a whole other blog, but lets’ just say that most of the time they are not necessary. We do not need to know why a certain character did this or that or why a bad guy went bad. Again, that’s for therapy. 

Did we really need to know why Hannibal Lecter started eating people for Silence of the Lambs to be an AWESOME book AND movie? Now I know that there was a later explication of this….but it was an entirely different story (and one that really didn’t do well, I might mention). We didn’t stop the hunt for Wild Bill to go on and on about how Hannibal’s family was slaughtered in the war and the bad guys ate his sister…and it worked! 

Flashbacks often alert me that the writer needs time to grow. She hasn’t yet developed the skill to blend background details with the current conflict in a way that supports the story.

Flashbacks, used too often, give the reader the feel of being trapped with a sixteen-year-old learning to drive a stick-shift. Just get going forward, then the car (story) dies and rolls backward.... Also, sometimes, not knowing why adds to the tension. The Force [Star Trek]was more interesting before it was explained.

There are three really great books I highly recommend if you want to work on your beginnings (and even learn to fix the problems that bad beginnings foreshadow). Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, Hooked by Les Edgerton, and Scene and Sequel by Jack Bickham.

Many authors are being rejected by the first 20 pages, and because most agents are overworked, they don’t have time to explain to each and every rejected author what they saw. [too bad] Thus, too many writers are reworking and reworking their beginning and not really seeing that their weak beginning is a symptom of larger issues. ... It is the pounding headache and dizziness that spells out “heart condition.” We can take all the aspirin we want for the headache, but it won’t fix what is really wrong.

After reading Kristen's blog, I find some things I'm still guilty of, but more pleased that I've corrected most of these flaws in my writing. Still waiting for the right fit between "story and agent," but not giving up. Can't. My characters make those scary "oooh" sounds and keep me awake all night every time I entertain the idea.

So as a writer, what are your weaknesses? As a reader, do these so-called "flaws" distract? Make you not buy a book or put it down?  Personally, as a reader, I like flashbacks. The Notebook...Dear John... What books have you read that the author defied the rules?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WACKY WEDNESDAY...Cheerleader tryouts - a disastrous life lesson


Saturday, September 10, 2011

PAY IT FORWARD...A "life sentence"

Lots of blogs will be posted in remembrance of the events ten years ago, when two beautiful buildings literally dropped from the sky, taking thousands of innocent souls to a fiery death. The Pentagon, where a hole blew through the fortress, ending coffee breaks, meetings, chats at the water cooler, and the occasional salute in the hall...permanently. And while those images are the ones posted year after year, the heroes who knew their fate when they discovered the bomb they flew in was headed on a third path of destruction, are the ones rarely mentioned, although far from forgotten. The brave passengers on board United Flight 93.

Imagine discovering you were about to be a participant in a murder. The taking of innocent lives, knowing yours would be destroyed as well. Cell phone in hand, you get one call. One last call before you cross the threshold to immortality. Who do you call? What do you say? Is there someone you need to beg forgiveness from? A harsh word said right before you left? Is there someone needing the forgiveness you've selfishly denied them out of stubborn pride? A child you unnecessarily rebuked in a rushed moment out of frustration? "I love you" hardly seems enough. At this moment, you write your own epitaph...the etching of your gravemarker. "Here lies _________________. A man or woman of ______________ whose last brave words or acts were _________________."

Life is too short to live with regret. Ask the survivors of those whose lives were unjustly interrupted and forever altered on September 11, 2001. We can't always be cheerful, loving, and supportive. Sometimes a fuse "blows" and our circuit needs to be reset. But one thing we can be, is "kind of heart." Greet each person you meet during the day with kindness, even if inside you're momentarily fighting demons. If you are curt with someone, even a stranger, they, in turn, may reflect "you" on someone else. Let that reflection be favorable...not negative. You are a pebble in a pond, the ripples endless. Each of us is serving a "life sentence." No one knows for how long, or when our "number" will be called, but during the duration of our mortality, we are responsible for the "pay it forward." Make sure your etched epitaph left behind, is one you can be proud of. You never know who'll "read it."

I have a couple of writing colleagues whose wonderful stories have recently been published. Here's a "pay it forward" to acknowledge their well deserved glory for a job well done. Also, I hope the links work for their book trailers, because they're awesome.

"Two Brothers" by Christina Wolfer;  
Book trailer:
When Jacob takes eighteen year old Amanda up on her offer to share his bed, but rejects her from his life, she makes a choice with her shattered heart. A choice she'll regret. She runs a way and marries his younger brother. Ten years later she returns to her hometown ready for a fresh start at life and hopefully, love. But you can't start something new, if the past keeps getting in the way.

"A Muse Gone Rogue" by Kacey Mark

When a demonic attack leaves one child without a mother, Marie Durrant throws out her predictable lifestyle to become the little girl's nanny. It's a big enough step for the virtual shut in, but even more difficult when Marie becomes inexplicably attracted to the mysterious widowed father, who happens to be the most powerful muse west of Mt. Olympus. 

Quenton Blake is an extra hunky, extra irritated immortal, cursed to seek out those desperate for inspiration and feed on their souls. There wasn't anything wrong with saving Marie's soul for dessert, but his sweet tooth has a way of overriding his good judgment.

Thanks for stopping by. Remember my writing friends...the best way to support each other, is to buy books! What goes around...comes around.  

Joelene / Harley Brooks

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Traversing Through Colorado

Tonight's listen:  "Right Here With You" courtesy of David Cook

This week I've been riding my "iron horse" through one of my favorite places on Earth -- Durango, Colorado. Yesterday, hubby and I drove our favorite loop to Silverton then over to Ouray. Pine scented air whipped my face, but the bright sun peaking between cottony puffs floating in a cornflower blue sky, tempered the chill over Molas Pass, leaving me with a red beacon for a nose. Dropping into Silverton, we spied the Durango Silverton narrow gauge train rounding the bend, the smoke trail suspended on the cool air, marking the trek from the canyon into town.

 Walking wood plank sidewalks downtown, you're transported to another time when life was richer, harder, and exciting. When visions of striking it rich on the next big vein of ore running through the red mountains, brought dreamers who either saw their daydreams come to fruition or lost it all, some sacrificing their lives in the process.

Regardless of how many times we've rounded the sharp switchback turns of Colorado's Million Dollar Highway over Red Mountain Pass, my breath always catches at the wonder and beauty of the striped red mountains. Peaks of rock washed in streaks of orange, gold, purple, and red, as if God handed a child a paintbrush and a box of water colors and said "paint my mountains." Even the stream beds and waterfalls flow yellow from all the ore in the ground. When shafts of sunlight spread over the cascading water, it transforms to glistening liquid gold.

On the trip back, my muse came alive as I pondered the days when the mining industry sustained the economy of this corner of the world. When men and the women who loved them, gave up everything to follow the dream. A wilder past where rules were made at sunrise and broken by sundown. Preachers who dared to cast lessons of hellfire and brimstone, generally found their congregation taking comfort in the arms of "ladies of the night" or from the neck of a bottle, rather than in "the word of God." Faith and prayer were only used at the end of a pick, chipping away at the mountain walls, or words uttered clumsily or silently when the last shovel of dirt was thrown over a miner who'd cashed in on life and personally conversed with his Maker. Respect would be cast aside on the final amen and a brawl ensue for ownership of the "dearly departed's" claim. Mail order brides arrived with the rations for those holding onto their last thread of decency and desperately needing female companionship for the long winter months ahead...and someone who could cook, sew, mend, and split wood. If she was a hair prettier than the purchaser, all the better.

I smiled as we rounded the haunting silhouettes of wooden mine shafts where a boomtown once stood, because, of course, my hero already started telling the story long before I crested the summit.

Wyatt Miller has spent seven months mining the red mountains with his partner Martin Smith, and is now on his way back to Silverton to surprise his wife by arriving a week earlier than expected. However, his return will be bittersweet. While his arms will be full once again with the young bride he left behind, Martin's wife's will be empty. His boots, tattered hat, and wedding ring will be all that returns to Silverton. Wyatt hopes the bag of gold holding Martin's share of the claim before their vein ran dry, will be enough to soften her pending grief. Wyatt slips into town the back way to keep his arrival secret. One night loving the girl he's pined and dreamed in anguish over the past few months is all he wants. Tomorrow, he'll deal with sadness. Tonight, only joy, and well, lustful satisfaction is what he needs. However, Wyatt isn't the only one full of surprises. Maggie Miller has one of her own.

Check out Muses and Bruises above for my flash fiction short and see whose surprise is best. Oh, and did I mention the gypsy? 'Night all. Tomorrow -- Wolf Creek Pass...