Authors Are Fangirls Too!

This past weekend, I attended the RT (Romantic Times) Booklovers Convention in Dallas, Texas, where hundreds of authors, publishing industry professionals, and readers converged. It was a hodge-podge of writer workshops, industry panels, reader events, and entertaining socials.

I could report a lot of takeaways from my experience, but what hit me most was that authors are fangirls too! What do I mean?

No matter who I was with, whether a writer still seeking a contract or a multipublished bestseller, we all had someone who made our hearts flutter or our knees shake in their presence. It was that oh my gosh, did you see who’s here?! shriek. There were quite a few big name authors like Kathy Reichs, Charlaine Harris, Kiera Cass, Francine Rivers, Eloisa James, and more.

But we also had those niche authors we’d followed and read with delight. When we’d savored their books, we never imagined we’d meet them, much less chat or get an autograph or, as one multipubbed author mentioned, sit on a panel with them.

And I don’t think this ever goes away. Even if by marvelous fortune, I became a well-known, bestselling author, I am fairly certain I’d keel right over if Judy Blume or J.K. Rowling walked into the room. Be still my bookish heart!

What’s especially lovely is meeting someone whose books you adore, and finding out the author is authentic and delightful in person. For instance, I met Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French KissLola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After, and we had a great little conversation. (I feel even better now about recommending her novel to so many teens!)

Stephanie Perkins and Me
Stephanie Perkins and Julie Glover

I’m eager to return to RT Booklovers Convention again, not only to meet authors I love, but the readers we writers love too!

What author would you love to meet? Who have you met already?

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How to Write a Tantalizing Book Blurb

Today, I’m thrilled to be guest-blogging at the fabulous blog by Jami Gold, paranormal romance author. Here’s a snippet of Jami’s introduction, along with where to find my tips for writing a tantalizing blurb, or book description, for your story.

I’ve spoken before about how no matter how we publish, we have to come up with a great book description—either for use as the query or the back-cover blurb. If we go the traditional route, we might have an agent, editor, or copywriter from the publisher help us improve our blurb before we’re in stores. But if we self-publish, we’re on our own. . . . 

Most blog posts about queries and blurbs focus on those first two steps with advice about what to include or how to structure our book’s description. But it’s that last step that can often take our blurb from good to great.

So today we have Julie Glover, who’s an expert at that last step. She’s here to share tips on how to make a blurb or query stand out. (And yes, she’s the one who stepped in to help me with my blurbs at that Step 3 phase—and was agenius!) Please welcome Julie Glover! *smile*

Read More.

Have You Experienced Post-Novel Depression?

In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about postpartum depression — as well we should, since it affects quite a few moms. Even those without full-blown depression can experience a form of “baby blues.” Just when you think you should be infused with unending stores of joy — finally having given birth to the child you anticipated for so long — you’re feeling blah times two, or ten.

I’m starting to wonder if the same thing can happen with writing a book.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished The Book — that is, the book I’d been working on in some way or other for three years. But now, it’s done. Drafted, rewritten, critiqued, edited, polished. As good as I can make it. I did a little happy dance and then opened up a new project, jumping with excitement about tackling a new novel.

And then the blahs hit.

Instead of working, I really wanted to watch TV and take naps and chat on Facebook and clean my closet. Which, admittedly, needs cleaning.

But still… What happened to my enthusiasm? Wasn’t this what I’d been excited about since forever? I’d been thrilled to finish the book, and now, suddenly, I felt mehMeh about writing. Meh about editing. Meh about blogging too.

Sad woman looking out windowPerhaps this is something like a post-novel depression. Not a true, full-blown depression. (Don’t send me “happy pills” or a psychiatrist. I promise, I’m fine.) More like Finished Book Blues. Just a sense of letdown, because I’d been aiming at this Big Massive Goal for so long, and once I crossed the finish line . . . well, what now?

Yes, I should be writing. I should be editing. And I still should be cleaning out my closet.

But I haven’t yet.

Maybe you’ve been through a similar circumstance.

WebMD suggests 10 natural treatments to fight depression, and I think they might apply with Finished Book Blues as well. Here are each of the 10 — with my own take on what that means for writers.

1. Get in a routine. Sit down at a regular time each day and write something, anything. Don’t get up until the timer has sounded or the word count has been met.

2. Set goals. Old goal has been met? Set new ones — with a deadline. That sense of urgency with the almost-finished book doesn’t exist with the new project, so you have to create that motivation.

3. Exercise. Yep, your brain works better when the blood flows well throughout your body. And you’ll get a burst of energy from a good workout.

4. Eat healthy. Too many carbs and sugar come with a after-eating malaise, so make better food choices that feed your brain cells as well as your body.

5. Get enough sleep. Getting enough, but not lying around all day, is the trick here. It’s about balance — figuring out how much sleep you need to function well. (Which, by the way, is typically more than you’re getting. Most people are sleep-deprived.)

6. Take on responsibilities. Get involved in a writers’ group, offer to beta read or critique for someone, join a writing accountability group. Don’t wallow; get busy.

7. Challenge negative thoughts. Maybe you’re thinking that you wrote one great book, but you’re not sure you have another one in you. Or perhaps you fear that this next project will be as grueling, or more grueling, than the last. Answer all that self-doubt with affirmations about your writing ability and zeal. You. Can. Do. This. (Again.)

8. Check with your doctor before using supplements. Don’t grab the 5-hour energy bottle, or whatever, just yet. Artificial boosts aren’t likely to suddenly morph you into J.K. Rowling or John Green. If you are sinking into true depression, though, see a doctor.

9. Do something new. Do some writing exercises. Write a short story. Try writing a scene in a different genre. Take a current scene and rewrite from the viewpoint of an alternate character. Read a writing craft book. Take an online writing course or attend a conference. Re-awaken your excitement for storytelling.

10. Try to have fun. Writing and editing are work, but this is also a truly fun job. Writers get to create characters, weave worlds, and saturate ourselves in beautiful language. We get to craft a story that enables a shared experience with readers. We get to make things up, play pretend, lie on the page. What fun!

I’d probably add one more to their list: Drink plenty of water. According to PsychCentral, “even mild dehydration can influence mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly.” Sometimes I get a mid-afternoon dip in energy and realize I haven’t been drinking enough, so I grab the bottled water and swig a bunch of ounces. And I feel better.

Have you ever experienced “post-novel depression,” or Finished Book Blues? What’s your advice for snapping out of it?

Sources: 10 Natural Depression Treatments – WebMDDehydration Influences Mood, Cognition – PsychCentral

What It Takes to Write a (Good) Book

When you tell someone you’re writing a book, the next question is often some variation of “So when is it coming out?”

We writers sometimes get in our cozy little circles and laugh hysterically at how quickly many people think you can go from first draft to on the bookstore shelves. But really, how does one know these things? I sure didn’t when I got started. I had no idea what it takes to write a book–much less a good book.

And that’s probably a good thing. Because it’s a bit like parenting. How many would have really embarked on such a chaotic disruption to our lives if we’d known all there was to know about having children beforehand? But once you jump in, you pull up your sleeves, get dirty (all the up to your elbows), and discover both the tough challenges and the genuine joy of the process.

And now that I just put the final polish on a novel I started three years — yes, three years — ago, I thought I’d break down a bit of what it really takes to write a (good) book.

Write Something1. Commit to writing it. There are a lot of people walking around saying, “I have a great idea for a book” or “Someday I’m going to write a book.” All well and good, but if there’s one constant across genres and approaches, it’s that writers write.

For years, I wanted to write fiction. But I didn’t. It wasn’t until I committed to writing an hour a day, five days a week, that I began to experience the reality that I actually could draft a novel and saw the story unfolding before me. Some writers plunge into writing full-time and others have little time to devote at first, but regardless you have to commit through action to writing one word after another on a page.

2. Learn about the craft. Yes, yes, you took high school and even college English — and you were good at it. Or you crafted beautiful stories in a journal hidden under your mattress. Maybe you posted fan-fiction on a website and shared stories with friends. That is the spark that ignites your desire. But sparks aren’t fires. If you want to write a good book, you’d better fan those flames. That means figuring out what you’re doing and how to do it well. I recall my realization that, while I’d read a lot and knew I could write, I didn’t know enough yet to write a great book and needed to learn a lot more.

I understand writing is not rocket science or brain surgery, but it does require skill. And the best writers have very well-developed skills. They get those skills through reading, but also by learning about the craft of writing through classes, books, conferences, articles, conversations with fellow writers, workshops, mentors, beta readers, critique partners, writing organizations, etc.

3. Finish the book. For as many finished books as there are in the world, I’m convinced there are at least triple that number in unfinished manuscripts. Now undoubtedly, some of our stories should remain untended, buried, locked away perhaps. But if you want to write a good book, you have to actually write a whole book. Ten beautiful chapters that leave off in the middle do not constitute success.

Finished first drafts matter a lot, because while the book still isn’t complete, you’ve made a huge step toward the endgame. The most important step, some might contend. When I finished that first manuscript, I wanted to climb my roof and shout “The End!” to the universe. Because yeah, it’s a huge deal to write an entire book, beginning to end, first page to last, prologue to denouement. So however you can motivate yourself, keep plugging through and finish the dang book.

4. Edit, edit, edit — and edit some more. See, this is where it all goes haywire in our heads. Sure, some authors have only three drafts, two drafts, or even publish their first draft. But for the rest of us non-superheroes, there will be a lot of editing. This is even more true for novices.

Those early on in this journey should expect to write and rewrite and revise and polish the manuscript several times over. If you’re in the middle of this journey, you’re probably still churning out more drafts than you wish you could. Little by little, we do hone our process, and the number of drafts needed to reach our best decreases. But the amount of editing great authors do is still likely more than the average reader realizes. Even if they don’t do that much editing before turning in a manuscript, the publishing house editor or hired editor (for indies) will request changes.

5. Get content editing, line edits, and proofreading. Speaking of which, when the author’s finished with the book, it’s time for some kind of editing — by someone else. This can be content or developmental editing, line or copy editing, or proofreading. And these suggested changes can come from paid professionals or from beta readers and critique partners.

When writing the story, you’re wading through the thick forest of your plot, characters, and prose. Of course you know the saying: “I can’t see the forest for the trees.” Yep, after a while, you know your story so well — even things the characters think and feel that you never actually put on the page — that you can’t see it in the same way a potential reader would. So you must get other eyeballs to review your work and see if it makes sense — plot-wise, character-wise, grammar-wise, etc. If you want that great book, you simply cannot skip this crucial step.

6. Begin the long path to publication. Here’s where the road diverges for traditional and self-published authors, but it’s still a long road. Traditional authors must query or submit their manuscripts, wait for revision requests, communicate with editors and cover art departments, and do some other things I don’t yet know about because I haven’t done it. But I do know that it’s not atypical for a year or more to pass from manuscript submission to book release.

Self-published authors make their own deadlines and release dates, but they have to create or (better yet, in my opinion) hire out the cover art and format the book. If they want their book sold in several places (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.), they have to format to each accordingly. As you might expect, this takes time. Some people are quicker than others, but more often, it can be months from manuscript completion to release date.

So this is why my book will not be available on bookshelves next week. I’d like my novel to be out there as soon as possible, but since I want to give readers the best story experience I can, I’m willing to take my time.

What do you believe it takes to write a good book? What part of the process has surprised you?

5 Questions to Ask before Querying

WRITERS IN THE STORM
WRITERS IN THE STORM

Today, I’m over at the fabulous Writers in the Storm blog with Are You Ready to Query?

I’ve come to enjoy pitching my story to agents. Not because I’ve landed a seven-book, multi-million-dollar deal, but because I relish the opportunity to talk about my book and learn how to better present my story. The feedback I’ve received has helped me hone the answer to “Am I ready to query?” Here are five questions you should ask before sending out a query. Read More.

ROW80 Update

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I edited both, and I’m waiting on a critique partner’s comments on one. Realistically, these releases will happen after the first of the year.

2. Read 12 books. Read The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, which puts me at 10 books. And I’m really trying to read Mansfield Park, one of the few Jane Austen novels I haven’t read, but I am dragging through it. I’ve even thought about skipping the book and watching whatever BBC series there is on the story. Is that lame?

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I completed Immersion, and I’m still plugging through edits on Sharing Hunter. Make really good progress! Oh, and I entered the Golden Heart contest, which opened up on December 2.

Now how’s your week been? What have you been up to?

Contests, Critiques, and Queries: Not for the Fainthearted

If you want to be a real writer, you have to get better — better than you started out, better than thought you were, better than you are. You have to be okay with putting your work out there and seeking feedback from good critiquers. This past week, I’ve been on that road.

Wizard of Oz

Way back in December, my local RWA chapter had a Christmas party, and one of the activities was to write down a goal for 2014 which we would review at the next Christmas party (this December). I wrote down: “Enter three contests.”

And I did enter those three contests, finaled in two, and placed first in one. (Which, I won’t lie, felt awesome.) But I’ve decided to enter two more contests as well, and I’ve been getting those submissions ready. Entering contests provides an opportunity to get your work in front of other writers, hear their feedback, and possibly get an industry professional’s take. I was reluctant at first, but now I’m sold on the benefit of contest entries.

When choosing which ones to enter, look for appropriate genre categories, what exactly gets judged (chapters? synopsis? query?), what the requirements are, and who are the final judges. I chose one of my contests solely based on an editor judge from my dream publisher; the potential of getting a request from them is worth the entry for me.

I’ve also been getting critiques from critique partners in my midst. I am so blessed to have fabulous writer friends willing to do everything from brainstorm plot or characterization issues, to read a passage I’m struggling with, to go over whole chapters and provide detailed feedback. I also love getting to read work from others and give my perspective. I believe my commentary has improved as my understanding of craft has deepened.

One of the most common questions I see in the writing community is “How do I find a good critique partner?” And honestly, I still don’t know how to answer. I sort of stumbled upon my marvelous luck. My beta readers/critique partners came from an in-depth writing class, a conference, online interaction, a local writing chapter, and a long-term friendship. I guess the threads through all of those are finding ways to link to other writers and being willing to share your work, try out those connections, see if you fit.

Critiques are a must-have for any serious writer, and your critique partners should be your most honest critics and your best cheerleaders. This past week, I’ve been getting the criticism and the cheerleading, both of which I need.

Speaking of critiques, I am taking an online query class through Lawson Writing Academy this month: Submissions That Sell with RITA Winner Laura Drake. Queries are a different animal. Many writers hate the idea of having to summarize their hundreds-of-pages novel in a few paragraphs or — how can it be done?! — a single logline. But this is the business of selling the novel you spent so much time writing. Whether you query a traditional agent or publisher or write marketing blurbs for a self-published novel, you’d better know what your book is about and be able to state it in the attention span of a gnat.

I’ve queried before and actually enjoy writing up these letters, along with loglines and synopses. It’s a good challenge. However, I admit to feeling a little wounded by the critique of my query I posted on the online class forum. (Just right there — in the left chamber of my heart, a half-inch by half-inch space, a little bit of an ouch.) Yeah, my query could be better.

But this is no time to be fainthearted. If my query can be improved, I need to know. I need to present the product I’ve spent hours and hours and hours putting together in the best light possible. I want people to read this baby! So there will be blood, sweat, and tears expended on query writing. Which I consider well-worth my effort.

So that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this past week: contests, critiques, and queries. Oh, and writing. And editing. And . . . well, here’s my progress report for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

ROW80

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel.

Snoopy doing happy dance

That is my update. I’m now letting the novel sit until midweek, then tackling another edit.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I can now start on this goal this week!

3. Read 12 books. Read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and almost finished with Promise of Magic by Melinda VanLone — which will make 11 books for the round.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Just waiting to finish #1.

So what feedback do you receive and recommend? What do you think of contests, critiques, and/or queries? And how was your week?

The Beauty of Online Learning

One of the awesome features of the Internet (this fancy-schmancy invention in my lifetime) is the opportunity to learn so very much. Information and education are literally right in your face and at your fingertips, if you can just click around a bit and find it. From online encyclopedias to blogs to TEDtalks to online courses, the flow of information is a veritable ocean of discovery.

And I remember when I wanted to know something so very much that I called the public library, spoke to the information desk, and gave the librarian my phone number. She’d look up the information among her vast resources and eventually return my phone call. It could take a half day or more for me to hear the answer I sought. So yeah, I’m still in a bit of wonder at the beauty of online learning.

When it comes to writing, I’ve been thrilled with the online courses I’ve taken on using Scrivener writing software, Internet security for writers, and writing short stories. But this weekend took the cake. The three-tiered, plastered with frosted roses cake.

I attended WANACon.

WANA Con on my laptop
My cat came too!

How is this even possible? I ask myself. But it worked. Worked great, in fact. WANACon was a two-day online conference (Friday and Saturday) with presentations that covered craft, social media for authors, publishing know-how, and more. The online classroom allowed PowerPoint type presentations with the presenter on audio or webcam. During the presentation, attendees could interact through a chat window and ask questions to be answered as the presenter went or saved for Q&A at the end. All sessions were also recorded, so anything I missed, I can still listen to that class, see the slides, and download any handouts.

In between sessions, you could also text with others in the “WANACon Lobby” — through an open chat window. This was also where attendees hung out to find out when the next session was open for entrance to the online classroom.

Before and after the conference, there was an online gathering, like a conference cocktail party, where you could turn on your microphones and audio chat with your author friends.

And yes, there were even agent pitches! I moderated agent pitches on Friday and had the pleasure of entering the classroom and webcam chatting with the agent for a few minutes.

I still return to How is all this possible? Or rather HOW COOL IS THIS!!!

One of the best ideas for any professional is to attend conferences in your field. If you want to make it to the top and remain on top in your industry, you need to stay sharp, keep learning, make connections. And with WANACon, you don’t have to go to the conference because the conference comes to you. You can attend in your pajamas. Even your pink bunny pajamas if you want.

Ralph in pink bunny pajamas, from A Christmas Story movie
I’m ready for WANACon!

For me, this won’t replace in-person conferences. I will be attending the Romance Writers of America Conference in San Antonio this summer. However, I am convinced that online learning is a fabulous thing and an online writer’s conference is a great value for the money you spend.

If you have a chance, check out online conferences — whether you’re a writer or in some other profession. You might be surprised how much you can get from the experience.

ROW80 Update

And now I hope to surprise myself with oodles of progress this past week. Following is my update for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life — with my goals for the round:

1. Read 12 books. I finished book #8, Spirit and Dust (YA fiction) by Rosemary Clement-Moore; read book #9, Cress by Marisa Meyer; and started book #10, The Up Side of Down by Megan McArdle (nonfiction)I expect to check this goal off at the end of the round.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. I wrote three full chapters on one short story and dabbled some in two other stories. I may abandon one of those latter stories, at least for the time being. Honestly, it’s a little too like another story I wrote. But . . . consider this goal back on track.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. I dropped the ball. Intended to check in with everyone on Friday and got happily sucked into the online conference. My apologies, y’all! I’m rooting for everyone, though. My bad.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Oddly enough, I returned to my former WIP instead, Sharing Hunter, and edited a chapter there. I think it’s calling me back. Maybe I need to flip-flop working on these. Hmm . . .  Any thoughts, anyone? Not exactly on track, but still progress on a track.

What do you think of online learning? Do you have a personal experience with an online class or conference? And how was your week?

What an Edited Page Looks Like

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, when I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

red pen
Fear the Red Pen

Do you remember submitting a paper to your English teacher and having it returned with her editing marks? Some teachers were gracious and made suggestions rather than commands to fix the problems, perhaps even including happy faces or exclamation points in those sections where your writing was particularly good. Other teachers were less merciful and told it like it was–marking up your pages with ink until they were covered like a tattoo-sleeved arm. The result was that you learned to Fear the Red Pen.

It can thus be difficult to make the transition to marking up your own writing like the hard-lined instructor with the red pen poised like a hatchet and ready to prune your pretty writing. But you must.

You can no longer fear the red pen. In fact, you must embrace it…and add some highlighters and/or other colored pens to the mix. When your nasty teacher corrected you, she seemed cruel. But you must be cruel to yourself…cruel to be kind. (Yes, of course, “in the right measure.”)

So for all of the beautiful talk of inspirational muses and writing flowing from our fingertips like fairy dust and weaving of the story plot like a crocheted blanket to warm us, it is time to discover what the editing process can look like. Without further ado, here’s a no-holds-barred, buck-stops-here, fix-it-til-it-works look at an edited page.

img002

THAT is what writing looks like. What we often don’t see when we open the crisp spine and thumb through our favorite books–or download the ebook and scroll the pages across our screen–is that the author toiled to get those words in that order to convey the meaning she wanted.

I didn’t realize going into writing that I would actually welcome ink all over a page I’d written. The result of such toil is writing that flows effortlessly across that page and bids the reader to continue.

“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.”~Michelangelo

This is true of any writing–whether fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, advertising, your master’s thesis, your research paper, or the essay you’re writing for your high school English course. If you want to avoid the red pen of others, embrace it yourself. Force yourself to take the writing to a higher level.

What else have I done to take my writing to a higher level? Here’s my week’s check-in.

ROW Update

Editing/Writing

  • Complete full rewrite of SHARING HUNTER. Rewrote one chapter. I’m kicking this into gear this week. Hello, FAST DRAFT, starting Monday. If you want to join in, let me know. I’d be happy to give and receive encouragement!
  • Edit first short story. Deep edited last chapter. Letting it sit for a week, then I’ll polish it up.
  • Write second short story. First draft finished last week.
  • Write blog posts for Sundays (including ROW80 updates) and Wednesdays. Posted Music Covers and ROW80 on Sunday and The Language of 19th Century Spirit Mediums on Wednesday (with guest K.B. Owen) and Stepping Up and Stepping Out: The Mark of a Man on Friday.
  • Complete weekly lessons for Writing Body Language course. This week was lips/mouth, touch, and dialogue cues. Completed, with thanks to my fabulous class editing partner, Rachel Funk Heller.

Reading

  1. Hush Now, Don’t You Cry by Rhys Bowen (historical mystery)
  2. The Yard by Alex Grecian (historical mystery)
  3. Your Spiritual Personality by Marita Littauer (nonfiction)
  4. The Ruth Valley Missing by Amber West (mystery)
  5. The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen (historical mystery)
  6. Frosted by Wendy Sparrow (paranormal romance)
  7. Savage Cinderella by P.J. Sharon (YA contemporary)
  8. Blood Ties by Lori G. Armstrong (mystery)
  9. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (literary fiction)
  10. Tighter by Adele Griffin (YA contemporary)
  11. The Emerald Tablet by P.J. Hoover
  12. Shrilugh by Myndi Shafer – started

Non-writing goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Participated in the first yoga class on Monday. I couldn’t make Wednesday’s class, and Zumba was on hiatus. So half-done.
  • Take a true Sabbath–no working and time with God and family one day a week. Done.

Comment on whatever you want. Editing. ROW80. The annoying English teacher you had in 9th grade who red-inked everything you ever wrote. Your pick.

I’m Not Tolstoy or a Bronte: Finding Your Voice

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday, where I’ve pulled out the Fry Daddy and am ready to toss in a basket of thoughts to start sizzling. I was thinking recently how I have always told myself stories and loved reading, but it never really occurred to me to write a book when I was young.

By high school, I was mostly reading classic literature with deep themes and rich prose and page counts that made other young people dizzy. When I thought about writing a novel in my teens or 20s, it was in the context of having read Thomas Hardy, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence, Leo Tolstoy, all those Bronte sisters, and many more. I couldn’t imagine having that in me.

I don’t have that in me.

When I finally started to write seriously, I realized that my voice is not that of Tolstoy or a Bronte. My life experiences have formed me into a person who appreciates their narrative style but couldn’t pull that off in a million years. It would sound terribly stilted and weighty and blah.

Instead, I am a 44-year-old suburban wife and mother of two who has struggled with relationships, faith, cooking, and my mile-long to-do list. As a result, I’m a straight-talking, sarcastic, Texan-accented gal whose daily goal in life is to make sure that my children still have clean underwear in their drawer and that I prayed for something other than patience or sanity in the last 24 hours.

So my writing voice is, well, like that.

All too often, newbie writers seem to try to force themselves into the voice they have desired and admired. However, there is only one Tolstoy. He got that writing voice, and you can’t have it. Likewise, there is only one YOU. You have your writing voice–and while it might share similiarites with others’–it is not the same as anyone else’s voice. Your writing is exactly what it should be–the culmination of your God-given talents, your personality, your background experiences, your wit and wisdom, your unique perspective, etc.

For myself, I feel like this post should have been titled Writer Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Voice. Because it’s been an interesting  journey of getting to the point where I genuinely appreciate my own voice. I like that I write the way I do. I like that it isn’t earth-shattering in its profundity. I like that it is more humorous than highbrow. I like that my books will appeal more to young adults and those looking for a little escape than a graduate-level discussion.

My favorite blogs give me a snippet of the voice of the author. I would disappointed if after having read a funny blogger’s posts for months on end, I opened their book to read “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Tawna Fenske is perhaps my favorite example. Though I wasn’t a romance fan before, she won me over to reading her romantic comedies because of her strong, funny voice on the blog. While I doubt English Lit classes will be studying her prose in depth, her fiction is fresh and captivating. I like her voice.

So how do you know what your “voice” is? I suggest turning off that internal editor writers talk about and jotting a quick essay on whatever topic you want. You could even write a long email to your sister. The way you communicate in writing to friends and family is likely the way you communicate in writing to potential readers. That’s your voice.

So what do you think? How did you grow into your writing voice? Have you read authors based on their unique voice? Do you ever wish your writing voice was different?

I Know Whodunnit

Maybe my dream is finally coming true, and I’m turning into Nancy Drew!

I’m here on Deep-Fried Friday once again, talking about story.

One of the drawbacks of reading a lot of mysteries is that you start being able to guess the killer. With surprising accuracy at times.

I was recently watching a season one episode of Bones (catching up with Netflix) and halfway through I said to myself, “That guy did it.” The next twenty minutes were filled with FBI Special Agent Booth and Forensic Anthropologist Brennen searching down other leads until they finally came around to my way of thinking and arrested the right guy. It was the third episode in a row where I had guessed the killer before the main characters figured it out.

I’d fault the writers of Bones, except that it happens with books and other shows too. I no longer fall for the red herrings like I used to. I can pull out relevant facts and ignore the irrelevant ones. I make relationship connections early on the story that inform me on motive and opportunity. I notice details.

Does this happen to you too?

Presumably, one of the worst things an author can do is write a predictable story. Twists and turns are considered a good thing. Rabbit trails are good fodder for the tale. Unexpected discoveries and surprise endings should keep us turning the pages.

However, the author simply cannot account for the reader’s part in all of this. What if your reader has consumed 200 romance novels and is now reading yours? Do you think she’ll foretell how the two will get together? No matter how well you’ve written your story, she might.

And if there is no way she possibly could predict, you might be hiding information from your reader that would help them connect to the story better. I don’t like being completely in the dark, like the author is being all cagey about releasing information just in case I might get ahead of him. Just tell me already. If I figure it out, I figure it out.

Suspecting how it will turn out, however, doesn’t stop me from reading. I watched the rest of the Bones episode not because I had no idea who the killer was. I knew whodunnit. I wanted to watch the characters interact and put the puzzle together. I enjoyed seeing them solve the mystery.

Indeed, every fairy tale and romance novel has a happily ever after (HEA), and heroes consistently defeat villains. What the reader wants to know is how the characters will get there. Did you doubt that:

  • The Rebels would defeat the Empire and the good side of the Force would prevail?
  • Frodo would get the ring all the way to Mordor?
  • Sleeping Beauty would awaken with a kiss from her prince?
  • Hercule Poirot would use his little grey cells to uncover the culprit?
  • Batman would thwart the evil plans of Catwoman, the Joker, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, or whichever villain-of-the-week was around?
  • Bella and Edward would find a way to be together forever?

Of course not. So is a predictable ending always a bad thing? No.

In fact, while I remember sitting in the theater watching The Empire Strikes Back and being wowed by Darth Vader’s revelation, my kids already knew about all of that. I knew the overall ending, but they knew the whole story and still wanted to watch every minute of the Star Wars trilogy.

It’s okay for a reader or viewer here and there to know whodunnit. But in that case, you have to give them another reason to read or watch.

Why do I continue? Because I care about the characters. This is why superhero movies continue to be made and remade and we continue to watch them. Why the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back plot never gets old. Why we read or watch police procedural dramas, knowing that they will solve the case. We want to know how these particular characters resolve the conflict.

Perhaps we’re less interested in whodunnit than howdunnit.

I have to admit that seeing Psycho without knowing the ending will make you gasp (see Tiffany A. White and Catie Rhodes for reviews of that creepy film). The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of my favorite mysteries because Agatha Christie stunned me with the conclusion. And the last episode of Newhart was the most brilliant surprise ending for a TV series ever.

However, not knowing what will happen isn’t necessary to keep me turning pages or tuned in. Give me relatable characters that I can follow as they uncover the twists and turns of their lives, even if they end up where I suspected they would.

What about you? Do you enjoy surprise endings? Are you disappointed if you figure out the conclusion? Do you care more about whodunnit or howdunnit?