Thursday, January 26, 2012

Flash Fiction Online

A few months ago, I was asked to be a slush reader for Flash Fiction Online. Unfortunately, at the time, work and family commitments consumed all my time, and I didn't feel like I could give FFO the attention it deserved. While I'm not sure my time commitments have lessened, I decided to join FFO anyway.

So, I'm currently diving through my first pile of submissions. It's been an educational experience in a number of ways. In the coming weeks, I'm hoping to add a feature called "Lessons from the Slush Pile." Stay tuned.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I recently participated in Love Romances Cafe's Publisher Day for Musa Publishing. There was a question and answer section of the day. I've reproduced some of the questions and my answers below.

How long have you been writing? What inspired you to pick the pen up one day and create characters that capture the imagination?

I've been writing since at least 6th grade, and that's a long time ago. I stopped writing after high school and didn't start writing fiction again until about 12 years ago. I'd had a very vivid dream and woke my poor husband up to tell him about it. I knew I had to get the scene on paper before I forgot it forever. Once I did that, I needed to figure out what happened before and the conclusion.

What influenced you to get published? How long did it take for your first book to get published?

I wanted to get published to share the characters I loved so much with other people. My first published short story was in October, 2011. Musa will be publishing my first books in 2012.

What makes your characters so vulnerable yet strong? Can you describe them to us?

I try to show that my characters are as flawed as the rest of us. They have some real strengths as well as weaknesses and blind spots. In an upcoming story from Musa, Sea Serpent's Tale, one of my characters is a sea dragon. She destroys ships and the men who sail them because hundreds of years earlier a mage sailed into her waters and slaughtered her children. Needless to say, it would be easy to make her a monster. In this story, however, she spares the ship because it has a child on board. She befriends the child. To find out what happens next, you'll have to wait until Musa releases the story.

What do you do when characters stop talking to you when writing?

I've been lucky enough not to have this happen often. Usually, it means I've lost the story thread. I need to stop forcing words onto the page. I'll then try to visualize the scene and let the characters move about without my overt interference. So far, the technique’s worked, and I've been able to convince the characters to start talking to me again.

What about the heroines for these strong determined heroes? What makes them equal to the heroes and capture the heart of one of these alpha males?

I usually start with the heroine and try to ensure the hero is good enough to capture her heart. My heroines are experts in at least one area and very self-sufficient. The hero has to provide her with some trait or characteristic she needs, and vice versa.

When a new book comes out, have you ever been nervous over readers’ reactions to it? How much does reader reaction mean to you as an author? What do you hope readers get from your books?

I get nervous about readers’ reactions when I send the story out to my beta readers. The nervousness doesn’t seem to stop. Obviously, I want readers to like the stories and care about the characters as much as I do. Reader reaction is very important, which is why I ask people whose opinion I trust to read the story before I submit it for publication. I hope my readers enjoy the time they spend with the characters and that the story stays with them.

What is your writing process? Do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants or a combination of both? Do you use mood music, candles, no noise, when you write?

I’m still playing with the writing process. Until about 2 years ago, I was completely a “pantser” or discovery writer. I usually started with a character, idea or scene and go from there. The down side was that I spent a lot of time re-writing to find the story. Then I tried outlining “everything” and found that writing became a chore. I’d done all the discovering and writing the story didn’t bring me joy. Lately, I’ve been outlining the story high points and conflict and discovery writing the rest. It seems to be a good balance for me. I have a rough outline, which keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole, but I have enough room to go off the path if a better road to the conclusion presents itself.

I need noise in the background to write. Generally, I’ll have the music playing. Sometimes I will have the TV on. Experience has shown that if the TV is on, it needs to be set to something I’ve seen before otherwise the TV will win the ADD tug-of-war and no writing will get done.

What do you feel is the most important aspect for all new authors to remember when writing or creating their own stories? Any advice for aspiring authors?

Keep writing, and learn to effectively use critiques. Even if you only manage a page a day (about 250 words), you need to write. The story won’t get written if you don’t spend the BIS (Butt in Seat) time.

Critiques are your friend. Try not to get defensive when someone points out an issue they see with what you’ve written. Breathe deeply, and then look at the comments with a more dispassionate eye. If more than one reviewer/ beta reader points out an issue, they probably are onto something. It might be time to go back to the story to address the issue.

What is on tap for the rest of 2012? Do you have other WIP’s you want to get published? Can we get a taste of what is to come from you in the future?

Musa has contracted for six of my short stories which should come out in three anthologies in 2012.I mentioned Sea Serpent’s Tale earlier in this post.

Three stories – Kalypso’s Song, Best Dressed and Obsessed, and Laurel Branches – are Greek Myth retellings. I’m working on a fourth retelling – Pythia in Training – that I hope Musa will offer a contract on when it’s complete.
In Lightning Strikes, Falcon must find a stolen horse before her wrongfully accused best friend is put to death for the crime.
Flashes of Life is an urban fantasy. Vonna is a psychic whose talent defies classification until she’s assigned to a murder investigation.

I’m also looking to sell my high fantasy novel, The King’s Falcon. Falcon, the main character in Lightning Strikes, has given up her life as a princess and become a spy. As the trusted agent of Queen Sabryna of Fayette, Falcon never lets her investigations get personal. Yet, when she is ordered to Fayette for an assignment, she’s drawn into a conflict that requires her skill as a princess and spy to resolve. Mordent, a sorcerer and lord, uses the wealth of Falcon’s realm to rebuild his own war torn country. When their lives collide, neither will ever be the same as their clash draws Falcon inescapably closer to her abandoned throne.

I’m also working on an urban fantasy, The Nocebo Effect, in which Vonna, from Flashes of Life, tracks a serial killer.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Every Day Is An Interview Whether You Know It or Not: Convention Rules

We attend writers’ conferences for seminars, to market our writing, and to meet other writers, agents, publishers and editors. For ease of reference, I’ll refer to agents, publishers and editors collectively as “agents.” In October 2011, I attended the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego. It was a wonderful experience. At the convention (“con” for short), one of my friends overheard a group of women commenting, rather cattily, that “some people” were overdressed. The woman who made the comment stood behind my friend, and clearly referred to my friend’s business casual attire. The thing is the attendee was flat out wrong.

Every day of a convention is an interview. Successful writers know that writing is a business. This means acting like a professional. Every moment of every day is an opportunity for you to help or hurt your career. For the misguided writers out there who haven’t had this epiphany yet, here are my convention guidelines.

1. Appearances Matter.

You need to network. The agent you’ve been dying to pitch will be at the con. First impressions matter. It’s shallow, but it’s true. Even if you at a convention known for its costumed attendees, like Comic Con,, don’t opt for a costume unless you ar e attending solely as a fan. Sadly, professionals don’t dress like warrior princesses.

Agents look for new writers who are both talented and presentable. In the days where publishing houses spend less money on marketing, writers must sell their work. A writer doesn’t just submit his story, and sit back while publisher makes the novel a commercial success. Writers are often responsible for the bulk of their marketing. As a result, an agent needs to see that you can sell yourself, and your work. Poor grooming and sloppy clothes don’t instill confidence. Does that mean attend a con in a three piece suit? No, unless that is the expected apparel for that particular convention. It does mean dress at least business casual, not jeans and a slogan t-shirt. Presenting a professional appearance gets you a step closer to the invitation to pitch, and a contract.

2. Be Polite

You wouldn’t barge into a business meeting without permission. So, don’t interrupt ongoing conversations without permission. If you want to join a group, wait. Someone will invite you to participate, or inform you that the discussion is private. Conversely, when you notice someone hovering at the edge of your group, invite them in at the first reasonable opportunity to do so. You attend a con to network. You can’t do so if you only associate with your clique.

3. Be Nice.

This is relates to, but is slightly different than being polite. I’ve seen people very politely rip someone to shreds. Don’t do it. Ever. It costs nothing to be nice, but it pays in gold.

Brandon Sanderson credits his being asked to complete the Wheel of Time series, in part, to his favorable posts regarding the series and Robert Jordan. For a great post on the advantages of being nice see Colette Vernon’s blog post entitled “The Number One Rule of Cons”, and my post entitled “The Benefits of Holding Hands” below and at

4. Be Brave

Remember that you are at the convention to network. Meeting an agent at convention may make the difference between a polite “no, thank you,” and a contract. You must approach strangers at a convention. You must ask friends to introduce you to people you don’t know, but want to. At least one agent has said that she only signs people she’s met at a convention, and the agent doesn’t wear a nametag. She, like every other agent, wants to see you’ve done your research and that you’re passionate about your work. After all, if you’re not excited about and willing to sell your work, why should she be? Sitting in a corner watching the con go by will not result in publication.

Overcome your hero worship and fears. Talk to people. While you shouldn’t pitch an agent without an invitation, if you engage in a genuine conversation with one, at some point he should ask what you are working on. This is your opportunity to pitch. Don’t waste it.

5. Be Prepared

When the all important time comes to pitch your story, know what you are going to say. You wouldn’t make a presentation to your boss without preparing. Don’t pitch an agent without preparing. If you can’t explain your work, how can an agent sell it? The argument that your novel is too long or complicated to be encapsulated in an 8-12 word sentence is an excuse. You’ll find when you put the effort in, the statement isn’t accurate. To borrow from Stephen Horn, author of In Her Defense, the movie Titanic was about an unsinkable ship that sank. Eight words. The Firm is about a law firm that kills everyone who quits. Twelve words. Prepare your pitches in advance.

6. Go Where the Agents are.

The agents are in the convention bar. If you want to meet them, you need to be in the bar too. Brandon Sanderson, has said that even though he doesn’t drink alcohol, he went to the bar and drank Sprite while talking to agents. When he sold his first novel to Tor, he was in the position to call an agent he’d met and ask if the agent would represent him. Even with a book deal in hand, the agent might not have signed Brandon if the agent hadn’t met Brandon at a convention.

This rule bears a few words of warning and common sense – don’t drink to excess. Nurse a glass of your favorite alcoholic beverage, if you are so inclined, throughout the evening. Better yet, drink a soda. People remember the drunken idiot, and not in a good way.

7. Say “Thank You.”

Acknowledge when someone helps you. Colette Vernon didn’t have to introduce me to a publisher, but Colette did. Because of the introduction, I’ve sold six short stories. I’ve thanked Colette, and I’m more than willing to do what I can to help her in return. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, writing is a collaborative process. Many people have to come together before a story is published. When someone helps you in your journey to be a better writer, say “thank you.” If you don’t you might find that no one is around to help you next time.


A point I made earlier is worth repeating: Meeting an agent at a convention may make the difference between a polite “no, thank you” and a sale. Treat every convention like an extended job interview because that’s what it is. Act professionally. Doing so will ensure you make a positive first impression.

Writing is a tough industry to break into, and most people do so as a result of the connections they make. Don’t let carelessness or sloppiness stand in your way. Present yourself professionally, and then your work can close the deal.

Submission News

Keep your fingers crossed for me. I sent the manuscript for The King's Falcon and outlines for the next two book out to the agent who requested them today. Now I wait.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Benefits of Holding Hands

Originally published at

Robert Fulgham is known for saying that everything we need to learn, we learned in kindergarten. Writers being solitary creatures forget that everything we need for writing, we also learned in kindergarten. We all think of writing groups as ways to help each other, but we overlook other key ways writers can help each other. The writer sitting alone in his cabin and getting the next great American novel published is the exception, not the rule. Like any other business, writers need to network and market.

Writers help each other by passing on opportunities. I met another writer years ago through an online writer’s forum. We’ve both dropped off that site but stayed in touch via FaceBook and e-mail. Deb’s published and her novel’s done well. You can find it at:

When Deb was editing an anthology (Women Writing the Weird), ahe invited me to submit and accepted one of my short stories. Because she was still looking for stories, with her permission, I sent out inquiries to other writers I knew from the Superstars Writing Seminar.

A friend’s story was accepted. The anthology was published in October, 2011. You can find it at: It will be available through other venues in May, 2012.

But for my friendship with Deb, I wouldn’t have participated in the anthology.

Writers are resources. Most of us have had at least one other career. I know how lawyers talk and think since I am one. I’ve helped another writer edit his upcoming novel to make sure the lawyer character sounds like one. But, I don’t really know how doctors talk. I do, however – see the lawyer slipped in –, know a fellow writer who’s a doctor. If I was writing a medical thriller, I’d ask him to read the first draft and tell me what I had wrong.

Other writers help you stay motivated. They can hold you accountable. It’s like having an exercise or diet buddy. After all, who can understand the ups and downs of writing better? Writers need to network, commiserate and, well, get honest feedback about what they write from others who are wrestling with the same questions: is my female lead too weak; my male lead too much of a jerk; are they believable; does anyone care about them other than me? And I’m competitive enough that when we throw out challenges, I rise to the word count.

So, as Robert Fulgham said:

. . . Share everything. . .
When you go out in the world,
Watch out for traffic, hold hands,
And stick together. . . .