Novel Rocket

Thursday, February 11, 2016

I Declare Today Critique Partners Day!

The other day, my hubs was working on his “honey do” list and put together something—I have no idea what it was. The point is he set down a little bag of screws and suddenly couldn’t find it. But the bag was right beside him in plain sight. I had to point it out to him. His laugh was forced, being frustrated with himself for not seeing it.

As writers, don’t we do the same thing—not see what is in front of our eyes? That’s the reason I love my critique partners (CPs) and my editor. They see the “screws” in my prose. Those weasel words I miss, or when I forget to include the senses. They rush to my rescue and help me see the problems to fix.

Sometimes, when a writer is new at this gig, they … okay let me rephrase that.
Artwork by Ken Raney
When I was a new writer, I was so sure I’d never be able to write another sentence as beautiful as the one my CPs told me to delete. I knew they’d realize the error of their suggestion and tell me to put it back. So I created a file for those stellar sentences and paragraphs.

I kept it for a long time. Then one day, I realized my writerly muscles had developed. I had “guns” and I finally deleted the whole file. Somewhere along the way, my CPs had gained some knowledge and knew what they were talking about. Oops. My tongue got stuck in my cheek on that one. I trust my CPs and do 99.9% of every suggestion they make.

When I published and got an editor, I was filled with more gratitude for my CPs. After they got through with me, my editor didn’t have as much to change as she might have.

If you have good critique partners, treat them well. Love them and return the favor of tough critiques. We’ve been together for ten plus years and trust each other completely. I wish every author had CPs like mine. They know my voice and make suggestions that fit, not change it. I try to do the same for them. That’s a rare commodity and I value them highly.

I think I’ll declare this the official Critique Partners Day. So jump in and share. Tell me about your CPs.

While a floppy straw hat is her favorite, novelist Ane Mulligan has worn many including pro-family lobbyist, drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane writes her Southern-fried fiction in Sugar Hill, GA, where she resides with her artist husband, chef so, and a dog of Biblical proportion.. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction website, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pregnant and Waiting

by Normandie Fischer
Pregnancy is blessed, but there comes a time when a pregnant woman longs for the actual birth.

The last weeks of pregnancy compress the body and the soul. The mother’s womb has nurtured and cocooned her infant for almost nine months. She feels fat. Her contractions remain unfruitful, and there's often fear—for her baby and for herself. Some women—many women—fear failure and worry that all the work and all the waiting and all the preparation will be for naught. Because what if she fails?

Maybe we wrote it first on a manual typewriter, and it's still not a book!

We feel that way about our stories sometimes, don’t we?

Writers commiserate with one another. We talk about how long the process takes: the imagining, the writing, the polishing, and all that rewriting. The gestation period spans months or years, sometimes even decades. Our book baby’s pregnancy appears interminable. 

Our manuscript sits there, waiting, and fear settles on us. What if all our effort ends in something execrable, something even we as parents hate? What if our precious creation reads like nothing more than dribble, words without meaning, without substance? What if, after all, we’ve wasted all that energy, all those years? What if we fail?

All we want is for everyone to love our words.

On the other hand, what if we've convinced ourselves our work is the most beautiful compilation of words ever created? And what if—and we’ve all heard the horror stories—this masterpiece that came from our very being never finds a publisher?  Or what if our self-published work never finds readers? What if we fail?

To my delight, my daughter wants me at her side during her birthing experiences. As a second child and already larger than Little E, Finn seemed destined to arrive early, which prompted the doctor to suggest I hightail it north before Winter Storm Jonah paralyzed the city. I prepared to leave just as the airports began to shut down, which initiated Plan B. I caught one of the last trains to make it to NYC as the storm speared its way into Virginia, DC, and Pennsylvania, heading north. The next day, New York shut down under a blanket of white. Finn stayed tucked inside, and my daughter waited.

Sometimes our plans for the fast track to publishing fail, and we’re stuck with slower options. And sometimes we find the agent, hear the excitement, anticipate the delivery . . . and all we have is a waiting game.
Birthing seems to take as long as forever and be as far away as space.

The wait for Baby Finn expanded to a week. Then eight days. Nine. On the tenth, the pains strengthened, and we went to the hospital. When the command to push toward birth finally came, the effort seemed to avail little. Finn barely budged.

Sometimes we’ve progressed to the birthing room, yet our work seems stuck. Stuck in editing. Stuck in design. Stuck in a spiral that calls for patience and calm.

During my daughter’s first pregnancy, the doctor forced the labor and then the delivery, and the results weren’t pretty. She changed doctors for this next child, and the Haitian-born obstetrician filled us with confidence because of her calm and her skill. And although Finn took his time, he finally emerged, whole, happy, blessed, and his mother faced none of the complications from the rushed delivery of her daughter.

Rushing to publication is never a good idea. The process of birth takes time. Time for edits and rewrites to make our work the best it can be. Time to create a beautiful cover—which will be the initial point of contact with readers. Time for our work to mature until we’re no longer book-pregnant, but finally a book parent.

And then, of course, the focus shifts.
And we search for readers. Oh, please, let there be readers!

Normandie studied sculpture in Italy before receiving her BA, summa cum laude with special honors in English. Known for her women’s fiction—Becalmed (2013), Sailing out of Darkness (2013), and Heavy Weather(2015)—she ventured into the realm of romantic suspense with the release of Two from Isaac’s House. In early 2016, a novella, From Fire into Fire, will continue the Isaac House saga. Normandie and her husband spent a number of years on board their 50-foot ketch, Sea Venture, sailing in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. They now live in coastal North Carolina, where she takes care of her aging mother.
Normandie's Website

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Are E-Books Making Us Sloppy Readers?

reprinted with permission:

By Tess Gerritsen

When I was young, one of the great pleasures of reading mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie was the challenge of spotting clues and finding the villain before the fictional detective did. It required careful reading, and taking the time to ponder the evidence. I fear readers today don’t have the same patience.
I say this because of comments I’m hearing about my new novel PLAYING WITH FIRE, which has a startling “Sixth Sense” revelation at the end that completely flips the reader’s assumptions upside down. “You pulled a rabbit out of a hat!” “You didn’t play fair!” are some of the reactions.  When I point out the numerous clues that are evident throughout the story, clues that should have told them all they needed to know to solve the mystery, their response is: “Oh, I missed that,” or “I didn’t realize that was important.” They had read the story so quickly that they’d simply skimmed right past the half dozen glaring clues without pausing to consider their significance.
 A far cry from the days when readers would carefully ponder the evidence the way Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes did.
 I don’t think this was true 16 years ago, when I first started writing the Rizzoli and Isles series. Crime readers are a pretty clever bunch, and it used to be a challenge to surprise them.  I’d have to carefully disguise every clue.  Now I find that more and more readers are missing those clues and even need me to point out where they occur in the story. I don’t think readers are stupider; I think they’re just not reading as attentively as they once did, and the reason may be that many are reading stories in digital format. As a result, they’re doing more skimming and less pondering.
 And they skip right past vital information.
 PLAYING WITH FIRE is about Julia, a violinist who buys an old handwritten music manuscript in a Rome antique store. It’s a complex piece that accelerates into some high, piercing notes. Whenever she plays it, her 3-year-old daughter Lily seems to turn violent and even stabs Julia. No one else witnesses these attacks, and Julia’s husband doubts they even happened. The search to explain Lily’s behavior leads to a series of doctors and medical tests.  But soon it’s Julia’s sanity that’s in doubt.
 Although the answer to the mystery may be shocking to some, the evidence is actually there all along, in the form of some pretty obvious clues.  Which are….
(more comments below, after the spoiler)
— Julia has headaches.  Several times throughout the story, she complains of them.
— A pediatric neurologist discusses the possibility that Lily suffers from Complex Partial Seizures, where the patient appears to be awake, may perform bizarre behaviors, and is completely unaware this is happening. The patient has no memory of this and experiences only a puzzling gap in time.  The doctor also explains that these seizures can be set off by certain high frequency sounds or by flashing lights.
— The doctor also reveals that many patients with CPS are misdiagnosed as having psychiatric problems.
— Julia loses track of a few hours and fails to pick up Lily at daycare.  All she knows is that hours have passed and she can’t account for them.
— Her husband complains that lately Julia doesn’t seem to be listening to him and she doesn’t answer his questions.
— Julia later suffers another gap in time after she sees a camera’s flashing “low battery” light.

As I was writing the story, I worried that the clues were TOO obvious.  Wouldn’t readers find it too easy to figure out that the problem wasn’t Lily at all, but JULIA, who turns out to be a whoppingly unreliable narrator?

But no. They didn’t see that answer coming at all. They missed the clues, so they think the answer came out of left field.  All the signs were there, yet they missed the diagnosis.  So they blame the writer.

(Interesting side note — I just heard from a reader who was recently diagnosed with CPS. He recognized what was going on in the story because he’d experienced something very similar.)
 ******************END SPOILERS   *********************

So now we mystery writers face a dilemma.  As the percentage of our digital readers climbs, readers who click past pages so quickly they often miss vital details, how do we adjust our stories?  Do we label our clues with bright red flags?  Do we insert traffic signs warning them “slow down, twists ahead”?  Must we consider the shorter attention spans of an audience that seems to revel in reading faster, ever faster?

I don’t know.  I just know that I miss the days when we took our time to read — and understand — books.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Not All the Voices in a Writer's Head Are Characters

post by Michelle Griep

Writers are psychotic little mammals. All wired up and worried about contracts and sales numbers and does-this-book-make-my-butt-look-big? But there's one kingpin issue of them all that every writer must deal with . . .


We've all been there. Don't tell me you haven't got an internal mother inside your head pointing her finger at you. There's a plethora of things an author feels guilty about, like all the money you wasted getting a doctorate in osteopathic medicine and here you are writing Amish Zombie Romances, or even something as simple as the realization that your family is destined to eat frozen pizza for dinner yet again. Okay, so maybe you don't feel guilty about those things, but there are common anxiety causing situations that most writers face.

Top 5 Guilt Inducing Scenarios

1. An overwhelming amount of regret for a sub-par word count.
Sometimes when you sit down to write, words clog into tangly globs. You feel bad because you know you're capable of more, but for whatever cosmic reason, the ol' creative juices just aren't flowing.

2. Shame weighs heavy on your shoulders when you think of the poor slobs out there in Nine-to-Five land.
Others eek out a living by the sweat of their brow, clocking 8-10 hours of back-breaking labor while you park your royal heinie on a cushioned office chair whenever you feel like it.

3. Lack of a regular paycheck makes you feel a load of disgrace.

If you got paid by the word, this wouldn't be a problem. But it is. This kind of work doesn't bring immediate financial benefits, so there's not a whole lot to show for it up front . . . which creates tension.

4. You landed a contract and your critique partner didn't.
I hate it when this happens. There are so many fantastic writers out there who deserve to be published, so why did an editor scoop up my story and not theirs?

5. You should hate what you're doing like every self-respecting employee on the face of the earth.
But you don't. You love creating worlds and characters and super cool car chases that end in fiery explosions. But everyone else complains 24/7 about their drudgery at work, and though you try, you can't quite work up a single "drudgery" emotion to relate to them.

And that, my friends, is only the tip of the guilt iceberg. So, what's a writer to do with all this angst?

  • Look at your writing as a long-term investment, not a get-rich-quick money making scheme.
  • Incorporate a paradigm shift: writing involves a LOT of thinking, so just because your fingers aren't flying over the keyboard, that doesn't mean you're not working.
  • Keep in mind that creativity takes time. Michelangelo didn't paint the Sistine Chapel in a weekend.
  • Make a to-do list and cross items off as you finish them so that you can see what you're accomplishing.
And always remember: the act of pursuing a dream tends to make a lot of people cranky because they didn't have the guts or stamina to pursue theirs. Don't let them steal your joy.

Like what you read? There’s more. WRITER OFF THE LEASH: GROWING IN THE WRITING CRAFT is a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn’t know how to take their writing to the next level.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures and find out about upcoming new releases at her blog, Writer Off the Leash, or stop by her website. You can also find her at the usual haunts of FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Living Lightly


by Marcia Lee Laycock

I’ve been falling behind with my current WIP lately. I don’t like the feeling. I get a knot in my stomach and my shoulders tense. I keep telling myself to relax but the “have to” blocks all my creative juices.

I can sometimes get this way in my spiritual life too. I’d like to be a disciplined person – one who adheres strictly to a devotional time, memorizes verses on a regular basis and remembers to pray for each and every prayer request I hear about.

Sadly, that’s not me. As in my writing life, I tend to be more of a “take it as it comes,” kind of person. Oh I do write every day, and I do pray every day, but those times are not necessarily scheduled and regular. I’ve tried to adhere to a strict schedule, but it puts a knot in my stomach and makes my shoulders tense. The “have to” dries up my spirit.

I used to fret over that, especially as a brand new pastor’s wife. Others around me seemed to have a more disciplined life. I set my own bar rather high and almost broke my neck trying to reach it. Then one day I found myself in a potato patch.

A friend had planted too many potatoes and asked if I would come and dig some up. I did not garden (another failing, I thought), so I was pleased to say yes. It was a lovely fall day, crisp air, bright sunshine – perfect for a family outing in the country. We had a hoot digging those potatoes. My friend was overjoyed. “I’m so glad you could do this for me,” she said.

On the way home I had an epiphany. Because I didn’t garden, my friend had the blessing of generosity and joy of watching my family have fun. I don’t have to be a gardener. I don’t have to be just like that other pastor’s wife. I don’t even have to write 5,000 words a day. God allows me to be just who I am.

Yes, I may get behind in my WIP from time to time and I may miss my morning devotions now and then, but when I am there, doing it, the words flow and my spirit is light. I feel the joy of doing what I know God intends. I feel the release of being the person He created me to be.

And somehow I’ve managed to write three novels, four devotional books and hundreds of articles, many of which God has used to change lives. So when I get a little tense about falling behind I think of that day in the potato patch and I tell myself to breathe.

Then I read one of my favourite scriptures: “Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message). 

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was short listed in The Word Awards. Marcia also has three devotional books in print and has contributed to several anthologies, including the Hot Apple Cider books. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. 
Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded on Smashwords or on Amazon. It is also now available in Journal format on Amazon. 


Marcia's most recent release is A Traveler’s Advisory, Stories of God’s Grace Along the Way.

Visit Marcia’s Website  to learn more about her writing/speaking ministy.
Sign up to receive her devotional column, The Spur