Sunday, October 30, 2011

What’s in your closet?

The Rockville 8 is proud to welcome Diane L. Kowalyshyn as guest blogger this week. Diane writes heart-hammering, tall-stake adventures—romantic suspense novels that run on high-voltage action, intrigue and intimacy. She is a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend, and Seton Hill WPF MFA graduate, who in perpetuity, survives in Toronto, Canada. There’s only one skeleton left in her closet. Visit her at

Writers write.

We punch keyboards. We mutter or shout to ourselves or inanimate objects. With head-down diligence, we work to decipher and expand our fictitious worlds as they unfold.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time you have skeletons in your closet.

You know what I’m talking about. They’re the manuscripts you’ve locked away. You haven’t touched them in days, weeks, months, maybe even years. They gather dust because you’ve lost interest—maybe you couldn’t find them a home. They hang, untouched, because you can’t get rid of them. They’re an integral part of you. They mark your journey on this uphill climb and define you as a writer. They’re the carrion you’ve left behind.

Here’s the challenge. Don’t hide these bone-racks. Harvest them.

Time is on your side. Inactivity and separation have returned your objectivity. I guarantee your story is nothing like you remember. It’s much, much worse. But here’s the thing. There is no better way to affirm your growth as a writer than to revise a previous work. Everything you’ve learned is put to the test. My nemesis is grammar and I’ve found Claire Kehrwald Cook’s Line by Line to be a solid reference. She’s compiled great information on everything from modifiers, to conjunctions, to punctuation—she’s even attached a handy glossary of usage.

Shake those bones to make sure they still hold together. Revision tones flabby, drooping flesh into muscle. And muscle supports and fortifies the skeletal system. I use my own method to make sure the plot is solid. It’s called the Writer’s GPS—a tool I devised based on Deb Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict. Another good reference is James Scott Bell’s Revision & Self Editing. He breaks fiction down into a simple formula: CONCEPT + CHARACTERS x CONFLICT = NOVEL , and provides a process to sustain this formula. He calls it the LOCK system—lead (character), objective, confrontation, and knockout. If style books make you want to run and hide, or if you only have room for one revision book in your arsenal, I would recommend Renne Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. It’s the bible of all revision books. Seriously. I love it because not only does it show, it tells.

Add new flesh to those bones. There’s a reason you let them molder. If you were tired with the story concept then, no doubt you will be now, but not if you inject new life into the existing framework. Weave a fresh sub-plot throughout the story to get the creative juices flowing again. It will be the vascular connection that feeds the muscles and keeps those bones in motion. It will make the old concept new again.

Persevere. You’ll want to throw in the towel every single day and your muse won’t play fairly. She’ll interrupt you with various other more appealing story ideas and try to lead you astray. Don’t let her. Jot down those new ideas in a separate folder and get back to revising.

Why bother? Because you’ll get a return on all you put in. With your unfinished business fully fleshed out, you’ll be sitting pretty, ready to set off in search of that elusive Shangri-La—publication.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reaction, Inaction, Action – Weight Loss and Empowerment

Last November, I approached a close relative about a pattern of behavior I’d noticed in them that had me concerned. I did it from love, but my timing sucked – and bringing up delicate matters is often dicey no matter what the motivation or the timing. This family member hadn’t asked for my two cents. And I approached the person as they were indulging in the (to my mind) bad habit in question. [I’m purposefully not outing my relative here, so please bear with the gender-neutral pronoun awkwardness!]
Well, dear readers, my relative turned the tables on me. Got up in my grill, called me fat, said my obesity was a far cry more serious health issue than their “perceived problem” and that I could come back to state my case once I had lost 100 pounds. As in the pages of the very best writing, the situation worsened for this protagonist when my relative said:
“100 pounds? Hell, lose 75. Then we’ll talk.”
I cried. I got mad. I gained more weight. I felt helpless and stuck. Gaining weight did nothing but hurt me, not my relative. But losing weight would mean they won. Right? Right?
I started a food journal in January and lost 12 lbs. Yay! Then I had a visit from the relative, stopped the food journal and over the next six or so months kept gaining and losing the same five pounds. In midsummer, I broke down and bought three pairs of pants in the next size up. I cried.
By the end of this summer, I knew I had come to a crossroads. I could take control by committing to a weight loss program or I could continue to punish myself. Act or react?
I chose to act. Since mid-September I’ve lost about a fifth of my intended goal. I feel fantastic, like I crawled from beneath a rock to frolic in the sun. I have a long way to go, but I’m moving in a healthy direction. My family member and I will come to rapprochement. Or not.
Either way, I've grown throughout this process, from having a better sense of when to keep my mouth shut to learning how to unhook my actions from someone else's expectations. I'm not losing weight because of my relative. I'm losing weight because it's the right thing for me to do right now.
How about you? Are you an actor or re-actor? Or somewhere in between?

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Do you know when your favorite author's next book is due out? Do you wait with bated breath? (or is it baited breath, which makes me picture a hook with a minnow stuck to it hanging form my uvula.) Maybe pre-order it? Are you one to read the reviews first, then decide to buy, or do you trust your author enough to just snap it up, willy nilly? And then, do you sit down right then and there and read the thing?

When I first graduated from college, I worked for a bookstore, and there was introduced to the likes of Jayne Ann Krentz, Katherine Sutcliffe and Julie Garwood. I would snatch those new books straight out of their boxes and spend the rest of the day waiting to get home to read them. The orange couch saw many a late night with me curled up on it, reading. Julie Garwood and I pulled more than one all-nighter because I was completely unable to stop reading.

And, oh Lord, when Harry Potter and I became acquainted. Well, thank the Good Lord for the internet, because I was ordering the UK editions from Waterstones. When Book 4 (HP & the Goblet of Fire), I picked it up from the small bookstore on 23rd Avenue in Portland, took it home that night, and read it nearly straight through. I was off on Sunday, skipped church, and read. I'd finished it by dinner. The day after its release. And the only way I could stave off the growling anticipation was to order, once again, the UK edition and read that through. And, sweet mother happiness, when that woman, that author, began taking more than a year, more than two between books, I would read through the whole series, US and UK editions, just to while away the time.

I have a friend who will buy her long awaited new book - maybe by Karen Marie Moning, maybe by Susan Elizabeth Peters - and then not read it until ... later. It was placed on a shelf (left in a bag in the car? Shoved in a drawer?) for sometimes weeks before she picked it up to read. So the anticipation could grow. And all I can think is, how on earth do you stand it??? Another friend made the decision not to buy the latest HP until the next was about to be released. Oh, for the love of Pete, do you know how many secrets from the damn Order of the Phoenix I had to keep to myself because she wanted to hold off the gratification? Now, was that nice of her to do that to me??? (Good thing my name's not Sheldon Cooper!)

I find trilogies and continuing series particularly difficult. Nora Roberts is a complete master of the trilogy, particularly. And each one offers a piece of the whole. In her Blood Brothers series, I mean, of course I knew the three couples would form out of the six characters, but still... how would they save the world together?

I am already counting down to October 25th - as long as UPS decides to actually leave the parcels at my door - as two of my go-to authors have new books coming out. Kristin Higgins latest, and Tamora Pierce's final book in Beka Cooper's trilogy. The next nine days will find me re-reading the other two books in that trilogy to further tighten my eagerness to read Beka's book. And I've heard tell that Kristin Higgins may actually be adding the hero's POV to this book. But don't quote me on that. Maybe that was for the next book and not this one. All I can say is, I am going to be very tired come Wednesday the 26th...

A woman sitting beside me at a Starbucks said in sympathy to me one afternoon as I closed my book, obviously having finished it, what will you do now? I smiled at her, and calmly pulled the next book in the series from the depths of my bag. I'd come prepared. Even if I didn't open the new book immediately, it was there, ready to soothe my nerves and lead me into the next adventure.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Art of the Prologue & Edgar Allan Poe

When it comes to Page One of your glorious work-in-progress, some agents, as well as some editors, often say skip the prologue. Their reasons are many—and they’re right. Regardless of genre, our prologues may be:

1) backstory that may or may not be interesting, but has nothing to do with what’s happening at the start of the novel.
2) sentence upon sentence that delays the incident which gets the ball rolling for our characters.
3) a passage that kicks off the story just right, but should really be labeled Chapter One.

So how does a writer know if her prologue really ought to be a prologue? Here’s my rule of thumb: If the passage passes my Edgar Allan Poe Test, it’s a prologue.

You can put your writing to the Edgar Allan Poe Test, too. If you haven’t read the works of Edgar Allan Poe, all I can say is whoa, Nelly! Run right out and get yourself a copy of his Selected Tales. Next, gobble up Poe’s classic short story, “The Purloined Letter.” Done? Good!

Now, let’s consider “The Purloined Letter.” Poe’s revolutionary detective, Auguste Dupin, must recover a letter a very nasty man has stolen. Smart guy that the nasty man is, he’s hidden the letter so well, the police aren’t able to find it. But Dupin does. He visits the man, hangs out awhile in the guy’s living room. He takes note of everything in the room, including the cheap, utilitarian letter rack full of notes, and cards, and envelopes. And wouldn’t you know it? That’s where the nasty man has hidden the purloined letter—right there in the letter rack—in plain sight.

To me, a good prologue is like the concept behind Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” It subtly reveals to the reader the answer to your mystery, the key to your love story, the tool needed for the quest, or in other words, the significant detail that will be important to the climax of your work. If this passage doesn’t do this, if it details backstory, or if it delays the inciting action or event, it needs to be outta there. If it kicks off your story but has no bearing on the climax of your story, it’s really Chapter One so label it accordingly.

Now, it’s your turn to give the Rockville 8 your take on prologues. Do you write them? Do you read them? What do you think a good prologue should do?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Idea Fairy

Dear readers, the Rockville 8 are honored to introduce debut author Jane Sevier. Jane's first book, the award-winning novel, Fortune's Fool is available now and she's here to tell us about The Idea Fairy.


“Where do you get your ideas?” It’s a perpetual question writers are asked, and they smile over it. The Idea Fairy brings them, of course.

If you really think about it, though, that’s not such an outlandish question. It relates to the nature of creativity and how the mind works, which fascinate me. If I ever go back to school, I’d like to study creativity scientifically.

But back to ideas. Sure, people have them all the time. Lots of them are crazy or boring or too hard to carry off. But every now and then, you get a good one. But how do you turn it into a story that people want to read and will connect to?

Take this blog, for example. When the lovely Rockville 8 invited me to join them today, I was thrilled. Then it occurred to me that I needed an idea to blog about that was more than just nattering on about my book, and the terror set in. Fortunately, I had an idea about where to get ideas.

Have you ever tried a logline generator? Loglines are those 25-word-or-less descriptions screenwriters use to pitch their movies. Novelists call them elevator pitches. Here’s mine for Fortune’s Fool: When her husband dies and leaves her penniless, a 1930s Memphis socialite becomes a fortuneteller, only to discover she has the true sight.

Let’s say you decide to write a novel, but you really and truly don’t think you have any ideas. Total. Idea. Block. Never fear! You simply Google “logline generator,” and come up with a site called—what else?—Random Logline Generator! I’ll give it a whirl. On my first try, I get, “A mechanical noodlemaker doesn't get along with the ex-husband of a thief.” I don’t know about y’all, but I find that one a little hard to work with.

I hit the “Generate Random Logline” button again and end up with, “An adolescent interior decorator, a drug addict, and a dyslexic outlaw cook dinner in a whorehouse.” The adolescent interior decorator and the dyslexic outlaw cook are promising, but I don’t want to write about drug addicts.

I’ll give it one more spin. “A car salesman and a team of yodeling criminals find a lost gorilla.” Now, that’s what I’m talking about. Who can resist a good car salesman story? And I can think of all kinds of scenarios with yodeling criminals and gorillas. What if the gorilla could also yodel?

The point is not that a logline generator will give you a story you actually want to tell, although it might. But it will make you think about possibilities, and that’s where good ideas come from. If I’m having a slow writing morning, I sometimes go to the Random Logline Generator! to get my brain cooking. The hard part is stopping after 2 or 3 or 70—the silly thing is highly entertaining.

So, where did the idea for Fortune’s Fool come from? I was in the Westlake Barnes and Noble in Austin, Texas, where three mystery writers were doing a reading. Louisiana author Deborah LeBlanc was a few paragraphs into a scene at a voodoo ceremony—alas, I can’t remember which book—when I thought, “What would it be like to discover that you have the true sight?” I dug out the little notebook I carry for writing down ideas and scribbled, “Woman who finds herself down and out and decides to become a psychic, only to discover that she has ‘the sight.’ Uses her grandmother’s tarot deck. Or the mojo sack that brought her parents together. Grandmother met grandfather playing piano in Mineral Wells.”

You see where I really got my logline. Except the piano playing in Mineral Wells, all of these elements ended up in the book. Members of my extended family will recognize the bit about the mojo sack. Perhaps because I am so Southern and know hundreds of my cousins of all degrees, most of whom are natural storytellers, lots of family lore figures in what I write.

Then, of course, I had to decide where to set Fortune’s Fool. I wanted to tell a Southern story and didn’t want to make it modern-day. Because it has always had a fascinating cultural history, I have lots of family there, and I like to eat ribs at the Rendezvous, I chose Memphis. I love the ’30s and ’40s with those wonderful movies and style. A little research told me that in the 1930s, Memphis was the murder capital of the United States, and, voilĂ . I had my setting.

So you see, Virginia, there really is an Idea Fairy. You just have to trust her to find you.

To find out more about Nell Marchand and the cast of characters who will populate the Psychic Socialite series, visit me at