Sunday, March 30, 2014

What makes good prose?

Ana muses on effective prose
Novelist Jon Hassler said: "I want my books to be accessible, I want people to just step into them and not have any barrier between them and the story — which means the prose shouldn't even be noticeable. But it takes a lot of work to make it not noticeable, I find."
When I read this simple declaration, I stopped to ponder what he meant by “the prose shouldn’t even be noticeable.” Jon Hassler is revered in the Minnesota section of the writing world.  He had to mean that:

1.    grammar is correct and unobtrusive.
2.    words are chosen for their accessibility and plain descriptiveness.
3.    sentence structure is smooth and serves the story.

Prose that serves the story. That doesn’t jar the reader out of the story.
That is hard to write and a delight to read. 

The Writer’s Almanac says Hassler’s first big success was The Love Hunter (1981), about two friends who teach at a small Minnesota college, one of whom is dying of multiple sclerosis. When they go on a hunting trip together, the healthy man decides to kill the dying man, to end his pain and so that he can marry his wife, whom he is secretly in love with.

That’s a plot I wouldn’t want to be jarred out of. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ana introduces Angela Smith, today's Friday Friend

Thank you for having me on your blog today! My book, Fatal Snag, is the second in a standalone series I call my Slopeside Series. The first, Burn on the Western Slope, is available in ebook and print version. I recently submitted my third and hope for a contract soon.
I had such fun writing this series! I fell in love with the characters and had a hard time letting them go. Fatal Snag features Chayton Chambers, brother to Garret who is the hero in Burn on the Western Slope. Chayton is a dynamic character who tried to butt in on Garret’s story and I knew he deserved his own. It also features Naomi, another character in Burn who became friends with Chayton but left without saying goodbye. Things don’t start out well for them when she comes back to help her cousin plan her wedding. Chayton feels animosity toward her because he has abandonment issues he doesn’t admit to, and Naomi is an obsessive-compulsive fashion consultant who needs her roots to have stable ground.
My series is set in the fictional town of Tanyon, Montana. Why did I create a fictional town when truth is so much better? Well, many authors create fictional towns for different reasons. Sometimes an author has a certain place in mind that either doesn’t exist, or doesn’t exist in the way the author needs it to exist. And it is fiction, after all. Sometimes an author knows of a town they really like, but they might not want to use it for libel purposes. And sometimes, an author just wants to use her imagination. And that’s exactly what I did with Tanyon, Montana. I had this idea of a town in my mind, and Tanyon fit perfectly.
Burn on the Western Slope is set in the winter and Fatal Snag is set during the early autumn months. I love reading books where the setting is almost a character, and I had a blast making the setting just as much part of the story as the actual characters are!
This three-book series took me five years to write, mostly because I let my career as a criminal litigation paralegal get in the way and partly because I never knew when it was ready to end and never thought it was perfect enough. Although I still work fulltime in the same field and there are days that writing is the last thing I feel like doing, I honestly know now I will never let anything get in the way of my writing again.
As a writer, it’s hard to know when something is ready and even when a story is printed, a writer can always see ways it could have been made better. I never see perfection in my story but sometimes you just have to realize it’s time to hit The End on your manuscript, and mean it that time!
Thanks again for inviting me to talk about me and my books! I’ll leave with you a blurb and excerpt for my newest release, Fatal Snag.


Hollywood fashion consultant Naomi Fisher is happy to use her obsessive-compulsive planning to assist with her cousin's wedding, but her history with the sexy and sullen Chayton Chambers, the groom’s brother, terrifies her. When the groom is kidnapped at his own wedding, Chayton and Naomi rush to find an important relic to satisfy the ransom before her cousin becomes a widow before a bride. Naomi trades garters for guns as survival, and love becomes a deadly game impossible to resist.
Information about the book:
Title: Fatal Snag
Author: Angela Smith
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Release Date: 17 March 2014

Buy Links:
Crimson Romance:

Surprise flashed through his brain, but he narrowed his eyes before it had a chance to erupt on his face. He edged closer. In her heels, her nose usually touched his chin, but now the top of her head came under his chin. Her breath curled around his cheek, exerting an agitated pull on his hormones that left him shaky and hesitant. He camouflaged that hesitation with cockiness and confidence.
She inched her nose higher. He leaned down to look at her, his face a fingerbreadth from hers. “Maybe that’s your problem,” he grumbled. “Maybe you can’t get over the fact that I never tried to kiss you.”
He closed in on her, pinning her against the wall as he settled his hands on the wall near her head. She couldn’t move with him so near and he made a point to trap her.
He remained that way for several seconds, staring into blue eyes of defiance as they breathed in each other’s breath. His pulse hinged precariously close to plunging overboard and disrupting his steady poise, but for now he held on.
Then he kissed her. Hard. Briefly. Fervidly. Heat traversed from his toes, agitating his shaky thighs and roosting in his loins only to explode behind his eyes.
She deepened the kiss, a slight brush of her tongue against his. He held on another brief moment then dropped his hands and backed away before his point became futile. Swiping a hand across his mouth, he pinned her with a hard gaze. “Is that better?”
“I’m not here to ask your forgiveness.”

About the Author:

During her senior year in high school, Angela Smith was dubbed most likely to write a novel, and that has been her dream ever since her mother read Brer Rabbit to her and her sister so often that they were able to recite it back to each other before actually learning to read. She’s always enjoyed stories about the adventure of love, and getting involved in the legal field developed her love of suspense. A certified paralegal, work gives her perfect fodder for her romantic suspense stories. When not caring for her small farm or spending time with her husband of two decades, she enjoys crafting, reading, and dreaming of the places she’ll visit one day.

Angela Smith LOVES talking to readers. You can contact her in the following ways:

The Sand and Surf

Debra heads south...

A warm Gulf breeze caresses my cheek. I taste the salty spray of the water on my lips. The tropical sun pours down and tans my shoulders. Overhead, a bright blue sky arches overhead. Palm trees sway in the gentle breeze. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh....

No, I'm not delusional from having survived the worst winter in recent history. I have however, sailed away from it all aboard the fabulous Carnival Liberty and am currently in the Cayman Islands. We've been sailing since Saturday, and alas our trip is almost over. We have this final stop, one day at sea, and then we dock in Miami and head home...and back to the snow I'm sure.

But for now, here on Grand Cayman (if all has gone according to plan), we're taking in the sites. Our itinerary today includes a tour of Georgetown and Pedro St. James Castle, a visit to the town of Hell (I can't wait to send postcards!), and an hour's stop at the world-famous Seven Mile Beach.

(Picture courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines.)

We visited Grand Cayman on our honeymoon sixteen years ago, but did a snorkeling excursion back then. In addition to taking in the sights and relaxing on the sand, I plan on snapping more than likely hundreds of pictures. In Wild Wedding Weekend, Abby and Noah spend some time on Seven Mile Beach and in Hell, and I'd love to get some pictures for my web-site.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pacing your novel

Paula thinks about pacing

Pacing, according to the various definitions I’ve read, means keeping the story and the characters moving forward. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But how many times have you read books that have detailed descriptions of people or places or – even worse – huge chunks of backstory that bring the story to a standstill, or send it backwards? Have many times have you read conversations between the characters that are so inconsequential that they don’t add anything to the story?

I have struggled with my current ‘work in progress’. Instinct told me something wasn’t right although I couldn’t put my finger on it for a long time. It was only when I did the pre-publication final edits for ‘Irish Inheritance’ that I realised what was wrong with my WIP.

I hadn’t read through ‘Irish Inheritance’ since I submitted it last September, and so, when I came to do the edits, I was distanced from it. Reading through it again, even I could sense that it had that elusive ‘pacing’ and was a page turner. This has been confirmed by the many comments I’ve received, saying, ‘I couldn’t put it down’, which, of course, is wonderful music to a writer’s ears.

I realised my current story lacked that kind of pacing – the moving forward all the time, as well as the plot twists that makes a reader want to keep reading, I was delighted when one of my readers ‘complained’ I had kept her up late because she had to read ‘just a bit more’ until she got to the end of the book!

This made me start to analyse what ‘pacing’ actually means. My stories usually pace themselves. I don’t consciously pace them so maybe it’s some kind of instinct, and this was why, with my current story, my instinct was telling me something was wrong with it.

So what is pacing? Some people would say ‘action’, but that word gives the wrong impression. Readers will get worn out if too many different events rain down on the characters. I remember feeling like that when I read Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’. I had to stop reading at one point, simply because I was exhausted by too many events happening too quickly.

‘Action’ doesn’t have to be some big, dramatic twist in the plot, or even any actual ‘activity’. ‘Movement’ or ‘Development’ may be better words to use. Every scene, every conversation, should move the story forward. If a scene doesn’t contribute to the development of the plot or the characters in some way, delete it. Similarly with conversations, although this may be more subtle. Conversations between characters can obviously move the plot forward, but they can also reveal more about a character or the relationship between two characters. However, if conversations don't do this, delete them! My characters do tend to talk too much at times, and I’ve deleted or shortened more conversations than I can remember when I’ve been going through the first drafts of my own novels and cut out any irrelevant parts of those conversations.

Pacing also includes the rhythm of the novel. If all the scenes proceed at the same ‘speed’, the story can become too active or too monotonous, Therefore, changes of pace are necessary at times. After a dramatic or intensely emotional scene, the characters (and the readers too) need time to catch their breaths – but, of course, any ‘quieter’ scenes still need to contribute in some way to the story as a whole. Beware the 'filler' scenes that do nothing to advance the plot!

I’m sure we all have our own ideas about what contributes to the successful pacing of a novel. These are a few of mine, and I’ll be interested to know yours.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pet Peeves Are Subjective

Jennifer might be wrong...

Last week, I discussed my pet peeve with the word “over” vs. “more than.” Several people responded (thank you, I love responses!) with examples that disproved my point. Since we don’t live in “Jennifer World,” their reasons are just as valid as mine—I hate when that happens! J

In fact, the American Copy Editors Society just got rid of the distinction between “over” and “more than” last week! How annoying is that?

But here’s the thing. Pet peeves are subjective. What bothers me, doesn’t bother you necessarily. You might have a huge hang-up with starting sentences with the word “and.” And I might not be bothered by that at all. J

Most rules are offered as guidelines. Sure, you can’t mess with subject/verb agreement, but other rules are not as strict and may, in fact, change over time. It’s up to the writer to understand the basic rules, so that we can choose which ones to follow and which ones to strategically break. We are always going to run into people—editors, reviewers, writers, bloggers, etc.—with pet peeves. And we’re probably going to infringe on those pet peeves once in a while. That happens.

The key is moving on from it. And acknowledging when you’ve made an error. So, in light of the ACES’ new rule (or would that be one less rule?), I’m no longer going to judge people who use “over” rather than “more than.”

However, I still refuse to do it!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Can or May?

Last week Jen described her peeve about the word 'over.'  A peeve of mine is the correct usage of 'can' and 'may.'

When my father was transferred to Ethiopia, my older brothers and I stayed in the States. I attended an all-girls' college prep school.  Miss Moulding was my 10th grade English and Latin class teacher. Some girls made fun of her but she was the best teacher for this aspiring writer, who'd always gotten A's in English, but to whom Miss Moulding gave a 1st quarter C-. I'd never had a C- grade before.

Miss Moulding was no fool. She loved Chaucer. She made us diagram complex sentences. She corrected homework with a red ink fountain pen.

She taught me that 'can' means the ability to do, or not do, something.  Can I go to Betsy's house? means I am asking if I am able to get there. Do I have the capability to navigate? To walk? To ride a bike?

"May I go to Betsy's house?" is what I should say when I am asking for permission to go to Betsy's house.

 If I wrote 'can' where 'may' needed to go, Miss Moulding would cross out 'can' and write 'Can you?'

"Can I" is common usage, but it is incorrect.
Miss Moulding says.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Galleys and a New Idea

Debra's had a writerly week.

While I'm still waiting on the cover revision for Family Secrets, with bated breath and crossed fingers, the galleys arrived this week so I've been knee-deep in eagle-eyed checking. I'm nearly done and have found a few spots that need to be fixed, but not too many, so that's a good thing.

Then out of the blue, the 'solution' to a plotting dilemma came to me. I've always wanted to write a rock star romance. The hero would be a rock star with a secret and the heroine would be the reporter trying to figure it out. The problem was, I had no idea what the secret was going to be. So I just nudged the idea to the back of my brain and figured one day, something would come to me. Well, for whatever reason, today was the day. I was powering up the lap top getting ready to work on that galley, and the secret came to me. Just like that, out of the blue. I honestly don't know what prompted it, but it was definitely one of those light bulb moments. So I quickly jotted a few notes to save to my flash drive before tackling another hour or so of galley proofing.

It just goes to show, if you're patient enough, the ideas will come. Now I just have to find the time to write the story. And finish another I've started. Good thing summer vacation is just a couple of months away!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An interesting couple of days!

Paula reflects on a series of (almost) unrelated events.
Last month, I was invited by an indie publisher in Ireland to take part (as one of the hosts) in a St. Patrick’s Day Extravaganza on Facebook, as she knew I had recently had an Irish romance novel published. That was amazingly generous of her, as I’m not one of her authors, so many thanks to Kemberlee for inviting me!

Also, my own publisher (at my request) put ‘Irish Inheritance’ on sale at 99 cents (or 77 pence in the UK) on Amazon for the St Patrick’s Day weekend.

I spent most of Monday at the computer i.e. over 12 hours barring a couple of short breaks (I did have to eat at some point!)

I hasten to add that I wasn’t advertising my book non-stop, although I did post one cliff-hanger excerpt and, from time-to-time, posted the Amazon link about the special St. Patrick’s Day offer for my book.

The rest of the time I spent uploading photos, sometimes to illustrate the beautiful Irish scenery, especially in Connemara, sometimes with quiz questions attached (e.g. which American’s ancestral home was this?), and sometimes with a bit of information attached (e.g. about the Christopher Columbus memorial in Galway). All that actually took far more time than promoting my own book. 

I also responded to many of the other participants and visitors (over 200 in total) to the event, including spending an inordinate amount of time trying to guess where someone’s photo had been taken in Ireland!

Okay, I had a blast – and I thoroughly enjoyed the day.

The results? Well, quite a few downloads. Not enough to take me into the higher echelons of Amazon rankings, but hey, that’s just a dream, isn’t it? Certainly more than I’ve sold before in one weekend (although that’s not really saying much!)

More importantly, I’ve already heard from a couple of people who downloaded the book saying how much they are enjoying it, and how they find it intriguing. One person ‘complained’ she couldn’t put it down even though she had jobs to do!

Today I posted a thank you (on FB) to those who had bought it, and was delighted when about a dozen people shared this on their own FB pages (thank you, Jen!)

One of the messages I received was from a FB acquaintance who lives in the Lake District. Never one to miss a chance(!), I told her about ‘Fragrance of Violets’ (which is set in the Lake District), and I think she may buy it too.

Another contact I made as a result of the event was a friend of a friend, who lives in Dublin, and who has said she will ask around in Dublin and also in Galway (where she has some family/friends) about possible book signing opportunities. Actually the best book signing would be in the bookstore in Dalkey (near Dublin) as my hero and heroine go into that shop in the story! Whether any Irish book signing opportunity will arise is in the lap of the gods, of course (or maybe in the lap of the ‘little people’!) but I can hope.

So, all in all, Monday was a good day! Obviously, I couldn't spend each day doing this kind of networking/promotion of myself or one of my books, otherwise I wouldn’t have time to do any of my own writing, but once in a while it is real fun to do.

Today, as a footnote to all that, I had a phone call from a friend who has bought all the paperbacks of my novel, saying that her daughter wanted to buy all the paperbacks too. The daughter has read all my books on her Kindle, so I was quite surprised. But when I emailed the daughter to thank her, she said she wanted the signed copies on her book shelf –so she can show off to her friends that she has books signed by the author!

Oh, and another friend who has recently bought ‘Her Only Option’ sent me a message saying, “One night I am happily cruising the Nile and then BANG all hell breaks loose, and I don't know who the baddy(ies) is/ are. My poor old brain is suspecting nearly everyone!”

I think my main feeling today is, ‘At least some people are reading my books!’ It's a good feeling. J

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pet Peeves

Jennifer's biggest pet peeves…or some of them!

I read a great book* yesterday. It was one I found while browsing on Amazon by an author I’ve never heard of. The e-book was inexpensive, so I decided to try it. I began reading and loved it.

However, being an author, and in the middle of editing my own manuscript, I picked up on a few editing issues. They weren’t enough to make me stop reading the story, but they definitely irked me.

The biggest issue for me was the use of “passed” for “past.” “Passed” is a verb and means moved. “Past” is a noun and is the time period before the one in which you’re speaking. The author definitely meant the noun, but used the verb instead. It annoyed me.

And it made me think of what other word pet peeves I have. On any given day on Facebook, I run across several. I’d be mean to point them out or to comment publically about them, especially since I’m sure I make many myself (maybe even in this specific blog post). Social media is a quick thing, where you stop in, post and leave. Mistakes are a given. Books, however, are not supposed to be careless.

But I will confess to my biggest pet peeve of all—the use, or misuse, of the word “over.” As a preposition, it means extending directly upward (I saw flames over Berlin) or expressing trajectory across (she walked over the lawn). As an adverb, it means expressing passage or trajectory across an area (he leaned over and tapped me) or in or to the place mentioned (over here). It’s also a noun and refers to a cricket term.

It does not, has never, and as far as I’m concerned never will, mean “more than.” It’s not “he’s over six feet tall,” but “he’s more than six feet tall.” It isn’t “I have over 300 Facebook friends,” but “I have more than 300 Facebook friends.”

The word “over” definitely takes up less space than “more than,” but it is not a substitution for it. Ever.

Rant finished (also not “over”).

*Because I’ve made criticism of the book, I will not mention the title or author here. Sorry.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Rite of March

It's March, and I am reading a saga-thick stack of entries for our local writers group's 2014 publication. Poems about abused childhoods, pine trees, eagles, and wakes. Short fiction about spurred first loves and funerals. Creative non-fiction about winter vacations to Mexico, spring flowers, stacking hay bales in summer, and death.

Few are funny. I would love a 'saved by the bell' short story: Grandpa came to during the wake. A 'we all lived happily after grandma died' poem.

Funeral black doesn't make for a 'buy-me' cover. I'll vote for a pristine blue lake surrounded by swaying Norway pines. Make the grave insignificant, the headstone plain.

And hope that when it is my turn to transmute sorrow into creativity, my entry will be half as good as these.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Friend: Eleanor Tatum

Please welcome Eleanor Tatum, who is presenting her latest book, Swamp Home.

The Swamp welcomes home anyone who respects her dangers and loves her beauty.

After losing her husband, agriculturalist Garret Chase relocates to Lake Wheatley, North Carolina to heal her broken heart and escape her suffocating in-laws. The lake’s environmental issues with the hydrilla weed and farmland run-off is just the challenge Garret welcomes as a healing distraction to the emotional knot of widowhood. Can she make a difference? Can Lake Wheatley provide an appreciated distance from her in-laws’ strangling emotional hold?

AFT undercover agent Cain McIver searches for his brother’s murderer using the North Carolina Park Service at Lake Wheatley for his cover. Will revenge reduce its hold on Cain when his strongest witness needs him for her very survival?

Will their basic pursuit of justice, emotional healing, and a secure Home be satisfied in this beautiful but dangerous Swamp?

Swamp Home
Chapter One

Her survey of the shallow lake revealed clear iced tea waters and a smooth white sandy floor but bumping the bow of her bright orange kayak was a floating naked bottom; a human bottom.
Garret froze.
She had wedged her paddle in the body’s armpit.
She grasped at the rapid but random flashes of thought. Good grief! What now? Is he dead? Hustling her thoughts of escape, flight, and retreat into a reasonable reality, she remembered the shallowness of the lake. Walk to shore stupid. Get help! She lifted her left leg to jump overboard but the approaching snake changed her mind.
Garret scratched plan A.
Having no knowledge of reptiles other than to panic, she twisted her gaze from the snake, the body, and the paddle to search the shoreline for help. No one, she saw no one, just the swamp, lots of swamp.
A 180 degree turn of her head multiplied her fears as the large span of choppy waters of Lake Wheatley greeted her search, then she spotted a half dozen sails in the distance. The urge to scream churned into necessity. She checked on her company while taking a breath for a dose of air to feed her panicky screams. The body was still there, still stuck, and the curious snake gathered its slimy body in a greeting hug around her paddle, and the body’s arm and neck.
Garret formed plan B.