Monday, December 28, 2015

More Ups Than Downs in 2015

Time to wrap things up... presents, projects, the end of another year. I'm reflecting on what I've accomplished, big and small.

Presents--Did you wrap or receive any books? It's a common time for reading. My reading habits this past year involved mostly library audio books and downloading e-books on my iPad. I also participated irregularly in a local book club group. Their choice of books has expanded my typical reading habits.

Projects--This year was devoted to working on the untitled sequel to Secrets of the King's Daughter. I finished the revised draft and just got feedback from my critique partners. Yep, there's a little more work to do, but I should have it ready for beta readers in a month or so. This big project was accomplished in many smaller chunks along the way and with the encouragement of my critique group. Some days went better than others. No surprise there.

Year's End--I've had to be patient, practically ignoring anything concerning publishing as I await the release of my debut book in March 2016. The delays will soon be a fading memory and I look forward to exciting things happening in the coming year.

How has your year been?

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Writer's Influence - No Greater Calling

Merry Christmas, friends! In the midst of this special time of year where Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world, I'm led toward sharing a deeper personal level of my thoughts. At the heart of my writing, I've always hoped to inspire others spiritually--to entertain and make readers feel strong emotion, certainly, but I also want to give hope, courage to choose the right, a desire to build God's kingdom on earth, and discover one's divine potential. It might not be easy to achieve, but why not try?

My oldest grandchildren are getting to the age where peer pressure plays into their choices, where innocence peels away to expose the harsh realities of worldliness. I want them to experience as many good influences as possible. In my convictions, anything we can do to steer a single soul of God's children to choose His ways is worth the effort. Not that I expect to change the world. But one person can make a difference to someone. We don't always recognize our influence or impact on other people, similar to George Bailey in the Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life.

I'm starting my writing career with scripture-based fiction (soon to be published) and LDS inspirational non-fiction (yet to be published). It's a niche market--not for everyone. Getting rich is obviously not my first priority. Writers have the blessing of reaching an audience with themes and memes for good or otherwise. If I can subtly send out vibes and show characters who make others want to do good and be good, what greater calling is there?

Not all writers need to have the same priorities, and you may or may not agree, but these are my feelings, and I intend to take ownership of them. Consider your own calling as a writer and how your reading choices influence you. Do they meet your current goals?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Signing Hype - Worth It?

I went to see Stephanie Black at the Sacramento CA Deseret Book store the other day. I was excited to get her latest book, Played For A Fool, but also to remind myself of things to do/not do for future reference. She had a smile on her face, a nice display, was interested in me, and had chocolate. All good things. Oh, and did you notice that she chooses great colors to wear?

Stephanie drove two hours to the closest DB store to her. Was it worth it? I don't know. Maybe it depends upon your criteria. (She didn't know ahead of time she would get my blog post out of it.) I'm sure authors have the most success when they're a local/people know them and word of their event was wide spread. Maybe it's something I will have to experience to know, but I plan to make mine fun and prepare however I can.

For now, I'd like to know what your feelings are about book signings. Please take a few seconds to help me out. Thank you!
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Monday, December 7, 2015

Mixing Business with Pleasure for My Writing Adventures

Many authors find writing pleasurable, but not so much marketing or other aspects of being a writer. This one tops my list for both work and fun. Enjoy.

The Mackleys, Konopnickis, and Lunds at Dinner
I recently went on my first cruise, enjoying it with an LDS group of 30. We went to see "Book of Mormon Lands" in the western Caribbean, with two shore excursions to the Maya ruins of Tulum and  Lamanai. In addition, I attended lectures aboard ship, given by author and motivational speaker Dr. John L. Lund, where evidence was presented about Mesoamerican sites as candidates for locations described in the Book of Mormon. If you know a little of my writing projects, you can see how perfect this was for me.

I not only listened to Lund for the entertainment and educational value, I hoped to glean some tidbits to insert into my sequel, Secrets of the King's Daughter: A Book of Mormon Romance. And I found a couple that I never would have considered on my own.

Things I gained on vacation for my scripture-based fiction:
1. A visual appreciation for the beauty and topography of my writing project's setting for my next two books.
2. Specific scriptural references which apply to my story, as presented by Dr. Lund.
3. Cool photos to share, educate, and use for promotional posts or contests.
4. I purchased some swag to give away. (Wish I could have found more!)
5. Increased education about the best candidate locations for Book of Mormon sites, including climate, minerals, river flow, use of "up" and "down" correlating to elevation (rather than compass directions), volcanoes, and religious evidences.
6. New friends who could become potential readers.

I'll leave you with a couple teaser photos.

Lund points to Mask Temple in Lamanai, Belize
Tulum, Mexico

Monday, November 30, 2015

Scripture-Based Fiction: Finding that Happy Middle Ground

Fun Research: Maya Ruins in Tulum, Mexico
Purists who love the precious word of God may frown upon anything they see as a distortion of the scriptures. Scenes that alter/enhance what they’ve already imagined may cause them concern. On the other end of the spectrum, some LDS readers may feel guilty if they spend more time enjoying fiction than studying the scriptures. Is it possible to reach a happy medium? When considering Church productions like the Book of Mormon film The Testaments, the majority would likely agree that scripture stories can be told with appropriate creative enhancement to leave an inspirational, powerful message and impact.
As a writer of scripture-based fiction, striving for that happy middle ground has been a difficult learning process. My journey began with a love for certain scripture stories and the inspiration to tell them from authors such as Chris Heimerdinger and H. B. Moore. At first I figured it easiest to stick to and wanted to stay as true to the scriptural events as possible. My critique group told me it was too boring. I couldn’t simply retell a scripture story with added characters and events, I needed characters with goals and motivations that drove them to fulfill those goals. There had to be obstacles to their goals and something at stake if they should fail. Hence, it was necessary to add creative developments within the historical framework.
Another challenge was finding that delicate balance of credibility using research. Incorporating too much research drifts the story toward non-fiction characteristics, too little shows a lack of authority and authenticity in the setting and details. The reader must be kept in the world and time frame that has been created.

Feedback alerted me that I must not over-use scriptural language either. Fiction has to flow and sound natural. It was tricky, but I loved seeing the story develop and improve. Submitting into two first chapter contests garnered two first place awards in the Historical Fiction category, telling me that my scripture-based writing was engaging.
My target audience knows that a daily dose of searching and pondering the scriptures should top their reading list. Choosing scripture-based fiction can additionally inspire readers, be a way to bring the scriptures to life—with vivid characters and description that solidifies the portrayed events in our minds, or provide wholesome entertainment. It is always a good idea to compare the scriptures so that one knows fact from fiction. For this reason, I included a scripture reference list at the end of my novel, Secrets of the King's Daughter: A Book of Mormon Romance. Look for it's release in early March 2016. I hope you will give this genre a try. Enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2015

An Author's Gratitude

I'm giving public thanks for a wonderful critique group (Becky, Janice, and Melissa) who motivates me to write and submit pages, points out my fix-it spots, and gives encouragement. I am a better writer and editor through learning from you and continual practice.

I'm grateful to those who spend countless hours devoted to writing conferences, especially the LDStorymakers. You have helped me improve my craft and given me lasting friendships.

I'm grateful for my publishing team. The choice to publish with a traditional publisher can be difficult. You have to sort out the pros and cons and the amount of involvement or control that you desire. Be sure to understand what the contract entails. Though I've had book release delays, the type of books for my current projects fit well with the LDS publishing niche I find myself in. I appreciate having a good editor.

I'm grateful for my marketing team. I recently learned some of what Covenant will do for me. They provide reader copies to selected reviewers and newspapers, set up my blog tour, advertise in certain bookstore catalogues, set up my requested book signings, and make social media posts on the company page. Woot!

I'm thankful to those of you who visit my blog and take an interest in my work. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2015

NaNo or Not, How to Keep Up Your Writing Motivation

November is national-novel-writing-month (NaNoWriMo). I've never actually taken the steps to register and track the goal toward 50,000 words in one month. It takes being at the right point or setting aside one's current project, because this is all new writing. It doesn't matter how good the content is; it's a first draft.

Many writers prepare ahead with detailed outlines and scene notes, meals in the freezer, or clearing their calendar. Some go on writing retreats or send the kids to grandma's to get a significant volume done the first or second weekend. Writing friends challenge one another to a sprint or compete to claim bragging rights on social media. Whatever floats their boat to get the job done is fair game.

As for me, I prefer a quiet space in which to write and not feel stressed by deadlines. I'm not sure I would do well in a retreat setting. Once hubby comes home from work, I shift to getting other things done or have to close the office door. The voices in my head don't speak loudly enough when they have to compete with other noises. Even music is too distracting because I tend to sing along in my mind, if not with my voice. Music holds a strong pull from my focus.

So how do we motivate ourselves if we aren't participating in nano? 1. We still need a specific goal. It might be to write a page or a blog post. It might be to revise one chapter. It must be doable and have a timeline attached. 2. We need someone to hold us accountable, someone to report to. This can be a spouse, friend, critique group, or announcement on social media. A few people find success in reporting to themselves through logging numbers or checking off boxes. 3. We need a reward system. Whatever gives us that boost: a special treat, reading time, etc. Sometimes personal satisfaction is enough, sometimes you have to smell the chocolate.

Whether you are pushing for 50 words or 50,000, learn what kind of environment works best for you, the hours of the days that you are most productive, and what kind of motivation/support you need. Most writers write because they love it, and writers support one another in their passion. Have a great week writing and remember, I'm rooting for you!

Monday, November 9, 2015

My Traditional vs. Self-Publishing Experience

Signing a Publishing Contract, October 2014
Welcome! You are in the write right place. I'm doing a little construction on my blog.

Here I am at the point of two months or less until my first book release and I still don't know the specifics. I almost typed that I still don't know what's going on, but that isn't completely true. I realize my book is in a lineup, and it's not quite crunch time for my publishing team to focus on me. It's a little frustrating, but I have no regrets about my publishing decision. Let's call it a learning process. There are pros and cons to everything.

Some of the delays have been self-imposed. I asked for a simple tweak on my cover, which is why I haven't revealed it yet. I had hoped to start building excitement for my book release by now.

I could have self-published Secrets of the King's Daughter a year ago. Yep, my publisher waited for the most opportune time, January 2016--when LDS bookstore catalogues feature Book of Mormon related items. With traditional publishing, I gave up my control over things like that. It's a good thing I'm not a big control freak, and this is not my sole source of income. With self-pubbing I would have had to take the time to learn to formatting or hire it out. That initially felt like a lot to take on, though I may end up learning to do that later for other projects. Consider your control and patience levels and financial needs when making your decision.

Leaving the challenging part to my publisher has allowed me time to work on the sequel. It ended up that by waiting a year, my next book will easily be ready without the stress of deadlines. The biggest factor in deciding to sign my contract was having exposure from a respected company in my niche market to represent me. Those who are more national market writers should check out how books are doing between different publishing directions for their own genre.

The hardest part for me currently is not knowing which marketing tactics to use that I've read or heard about. For example, I began making a list of which blog reviewers to contact, but found out they take care of that. So, I'm tweaking this blog layout and doing some critiquing while I'm in limbo. Soon enough, things will be heating up, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Bring it on.

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Writing Process or What a Manuscript Goes Through

A big milestone this week. I got my entire revised WIP off to my critique group for a final read. Whew! It's been a long road. They might find a few places that need a new coat of paint, but I don't expect any major rebuilding. Why? Maybe you'd like to know what my manuscript already went through, my writing process.

As scripture-based fiction, my outline for this sequel was taken from Alma's writings in the Book of Mormon. My main character is King Lamoni's daughter. I studied the chapters and knew what main points and events I wanted to include. Then I re-read the section for the current part of my story, filling in around it with what I imagined might happen or needed to happen for the plot. Sometimes the story had a mind of its own and sometimes it went as planned. When I sit down at the computer, I read over the last few paragraphs or more to kick start my memory and creativity. Once I pick my first idea or actual sentence, the words keep coming, at least in spurts. I re-read the end of the fresh part over and continue on.

When I have ten pages--usually within two or three days--I finish the scene and stop (unless I'm really on a roll). It gets a careful look at this point for any sentence tightening or other revisions that I can spot on my own. If I have time, I let the speak text feature read it back to me. There is something about hearing it aloud that points out trouble spots. Then it gets sent off to my online critique group.

Critique partners read through and mark with comments or insert fixes into the manuscript. There might be a little or a lot that they catch in any given submission, but what really matters is having other readers who don't already have your story in their head. Their markings let me know what was not clear to them, parts that were awkward, even things that they especially liked.

My group of four holds a weekly meeting to talk about the bigger issues. We have used Oovoo and Google Hangouts, both of which allow us to see one another and pull up the document on the same screen. Sometimes partners catch the same things and sometimes they don't. That is why I like having 3 other readers. I gives a variety of perspectives without having to spend too much time critiquing for a big group. Sometimes we brainstorm what might come next or anything a member is stuck on.
When the session ends, we e-mail our marked critiques out so that we can incorporate the edits we choose to make. I typically take one day to make the changes. If there are a lot of new ideas or things to fix, we might send the same chapter out the following week for a second look with the rewrites. They might get an important chapter three or four times before moving on.

In summary, each of my pages has already been seen by three writers at least once. Add to that my own read through from start to finish, which always causes a few tweaks, and we have a mostly-polished draft. Yes, they will find new spots to discuss, but the markings will be fewer and farther between this time. I will then look over their comments and make final revision choices before sending the manuscript to the fresh eyes of beta readers. This may take a few months. If readers like it and I am satisfied, then it gets submitted to my publisher for review by their test-readers. In other cases, a manuscript might be sent to an editing professional or agent.

Then there are those who will start with a finely detailed outline and write an entire rough draft in one month. NaNoWriMo participants, I salute you! Whether you write ten pages a week or
50,000 words in a month, almost every writer needs there manuscript to go through a revision process of some sort and the fresh eyes of other readers.

Yep, it's a long road.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Give Writing Collaborations a Try

Climbing the mountain to success
is easier with switchbacks. 
As I near the end of revisions on my second scripture-based fiction novel, my mind drifts to the next project. Actually, there are two. I've already begun the third (and final?) Book of Mormon fiction in the series and want a small break from it. A novella feels perfect. Plus, there are benefits to seeing which trail works best for climbing the mountain to success. 

When one of the critique partners in my group suggested the four of us each write a romance novella to combine into one book, I took immediate interest. Sometimes it's nice to have an idea fall into your lap. I'm ready for a change, ready to develop the romance genre further, and I enjoy the ladies in my group.

Unlike an anthology where each writer has a theme but the story is independent of one another, this would be a collaboration. The characters continue into the next novella and the time frame may overlap, but is sequential. Each writer must use consistent character traits and know how the stories intertwine. Therefore, either one person hatches the entire basic plan, as in this case, or they get together to plot it out. My group knows the major plot points throughout, but we have freedom to do whatever else we imagine. Sounds perfect!

There are some pros and cons to collaborations. Consider the following:
  • The team needs to be on the same page about what will happen in the story. Each member should be flexible, listen to other opinions, and not be afraid to kindly state their own. The member with the biggest head can ruin the plan.
  • Saying yes to a collaboration means you expect to complete the goals and do your part. Some groups find it necessary to draw up a contract stating specifics about productivity timelines, and so forth. The member who is a flake can ruin the plan.
  • Writers should have similar abilities in the craft so that all can be proud of the entire collaboration. The individual strengths and interests of each writer should still be celebrated and shine through. Members who support one another have more fun.
  • Start with some ground rules or expectations. How will this be published, marketed? Will there be any costs? Will sales be split evenly? What will you do if someone can't complete their responsibilities?
  • Collaborations often garner each writer greater exposure to new readers through their associated project. This alone can make the effort to be a team player worth it. Just be smart, flexible, and communicate.
I'm sure I haven't noticed every puzzle piece yet, but the timing feels good to me, and since I'm still waiting for my first published novel to release, I can afford the smaller investment into a novella. I'll let you know how it works out. In the meantime, if you have any collaboration tips, please share. Happy writing!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Unexpected Directions on the Writing Adventure Train

Switching Tracks - Commonplace?
You know how ideas snowball into something bigger? That's what has happened to my work in progress. Four months ago I typed a tentative THE END on the sequel to my Book of Mormon Romance, Secrets of the King's Daughter. As my critique group discussed a few loose ends, I wrote a prequel to better tie the two books together. After reading that, the snowball grew. A certain character took on a larger role, so I needed to add more scenes with him, fill new plot holes, and the prequel became the first chapter. Before I knew it, I'd passed the 100,000 word mark with not much to trim. I had some choices to make.

The good news is that, with the help of my critique partners, I realized that with a little tweaking, I already had a great place to end this sequel at 75,000 words, and the remaining scenes easily shifted into a third book. Looks like I'll have a series of three stand-alone scripture-based books. I feel better knowing I actually wrote the second book in less than a year instead of what felt like forever, and that I've already got a good start on the third.

The funny thing is that one of my partners pushed for my book to take this direction early on, but I wasn't mentally ready to hear about splitting the book in two. It felt like switching tracks near the end of a big project. It took the newly added scenes for my vision to align with hers. After some revisions, beta readers will tell me if it works for them as well.

Sometimes writers need a break from the genre or a set of characters. In fact, I plan to try my hand at a romance novella before going back to book 3. We don't always know what direction our writing will take us or when we'll choose an alternate path. It can get frustrating if you can't envision where the track leads. That's what makes it an adventure. Just make sure you have a plan, new or old. And perhaps a few good critique partners in your corner. Happy writing!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Reflections on Five Years of Blogging

Post #276. Five years ago I started this blog when another writer liked my edit of a book blurb, and asked if I had a blog. Until then, I didn't imagine I had much to share. She inspired me to consider doing what I had been hearing writers should do--have a blog to jump start your name recognition before publication. Maybe I could figure out something worthwhile to say and not feel overwhelmed if I kept it to a weekly post. There are differing opinions on the future of blogging, but for five years straight, I have stuck with it. That makes me happy.

My blog evolved over time. In the beginning, I searched other blogs as examples and for hot topics to throw my two cents toward. It's a sort of copy-cat phase, like when toddlers learn to talk. After the learning curve and slowly gaining a few followers, I needed to spend more time writing and less on using blogs like social media. Instead of blogs, I shifted to finding topics from author newsletters and googled my own questions. As my writing journey took a specific path, posts became more personal.

I'm not sure where it's going from here, but I'm considering doing a blog overhaul where I use this site more as a website with a page for my blog as well as other pages. You may be seeing some changes in the coming month--all for the better, I expect.

Here is what this blog has taught me:
1. It still feels risky to put my words and thoughts out there for public scrutiny.
2. There will be blogging ups and downs. Just when I wonder if I am reaching or helping others, someone leaves a comment, says thank you, or the stats show a jump in traffic. It takes time to get results.
3. It is a way to keep connected to the writing world, other writers, and keep myself visible.
4. Though stimulating to write, it has been a constant deadline scramble to get done. The majority of my posts were written a day or two before due. But, there is something satisfying about keeping up a weekly goal and routine for five years.
5. Blogging basics were learned: HTML code is less foreign, posts can be scheduled, etc. Always edit your post and view it in preview before publishing.

With more readers using tablets or phones, comments have drastically declined. If you have generally benefited from this blog, I'd love to hear about it or see a quick "Like". But I'm also happy with a little blip on the traffic source. Thanks for visiting.

Reflect on your own writing/reading goals this week.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Taking Calculated Risks in Marketing

An airshow demonstration pilot might appear to take radical risks when in reality, much training and precision is implemented. A solid foundation of scientific principles is at the core before calculated experimentation is tested. Authors take a risk every time they put their work before a critique group, an agent, or launch a book for public scrutiny. Getting noticed might take some out-of-the-box thinking. Start with common advice from trusted sources and branch out with your own experimentation from there.
In reading marketing tips, I've always skipped over one on the list that didn't seem to apply to me--until now. The TIP: Write an article on your book's topic of expertise for a magazine or newspaper. I don't consider myself any kind of expert and my LDS audience is considered a niche, so it seemed both pointless and out of my comfort zone. However, we never know when all the info we file away in our brains will make sense. I was thumbing through an independent bookstore catalogue and noticed that they sometimes include recipes or filler articles that go with a theme or advertised book. The aha moment came. My scripture-based fiction would be advertised alongside scriptural study aides and LDS fiction. I wrote a short article about that happy middle ground zone between study guides and pleasure reading, to go with my upcoming release of Secrets of the King's Daughter: A Book of Mormon Romance.

I revved up my bravery factor and tracked down the merchandiser to ask if I could submit a filler article for their catalogue. I learned that they tend to feature books from a different publisher, but if it was general enough, they would consider it. That chance was all I could ask for. Here's hoping. 

Or maybe a new aha moment will appear out the sky.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What Is My Manuscript Missing?

My work in progress is a sequel, a scripture-based novel that spans about fifteen years of time for one main character and her son as he gets old enough to serve in the army. Karlinah has goals and fears as she struggles with righteous living, love, and adventures that  follow Book of Mormon events. The characters are rich and the events are worth telling, but there has been something lacking to connect all the threads together. Such is the difficulty when writing from one historical or scriptural event to the next.

If you've spent a lot of time on your story and still believe in it but know it has problems, find out what it's missing. You need some kind of roadmap: the dedication to study plotting (or whatever the issue), a professional editor, or experienced feedback (not from a family member).

Critters Janice, Renae, Becky. Missing Melissa
Thank goodness for my critique group to spot problems and generate ideas. They are the ones who know my story almost as well as I do. We meet in a face-to-face online setting, so along with feedback on last week's submission, we ask questions or brainstorm about previous problems and what should come next. In mulling over their suggestions, I added a new first chapter from the villain's point of view. Now I am inserting small and infrequent scenes like this throughout the story to tighten those threads that lead to a bigger event near the end. It's always fun to write scenes with villains.

After my group critiques these scenes, I'll go over the whole thing once more before they get it all at once. They'll see if I've got it all together--pacing and flow, motivations and high stakes, no plot holes, etc. Once I tweak any last fixes they catch, it's on to beta readers. My goal is to be at/near that stage by the end of the year. It will be nice to have this one off to readers by the time its prequel, Secrets of the King's Daughter, comes out in January.

Have a great week reading or writing!

Monday, September 21, 2015

An Author's Delay of Game Nets Ideas

I'm playing the delay game. It's one notch higher than procrastination. This whole year has been one big delay in waiting for my book release. Secrets of the King's Daughter was originally scheduled to release in February 2015 and moved up briefly to November 2014. It's always a hard pill to swallow when you get rescheduled for a year or so later, but it hasn't been without its perks. 

My publisher believes timing the release of my fictional Book of Mormon-based romance with other B of M-related materials that come out in January 2016 (Gospel Doctrine scripture course of study) will 1) improve sales. I have no way of comparing that, but it sounds good. I've come to see that catalog advertising of my novel in conjunction with study guides and other authoritative-sounding works is 2) a compliment. It has given me time to 3) work on the sequel without stressful deadlines. It has given me time to 4) prepare for marketing. That's my perks list.

The problem with delaying is that we get used to it. Number 4 on the perks list is also on my list of downsides. It's hard to prepare for marketing when it's all new to me and I don't know my exact role. Some things, like sending out ARCs (advanced reader copies) will be taken care by the publisher. I have yet to see their form and information, so I'm not certain what else to prepare. I've put off getting a website together and ordering cards/bookmarks because I want my cover image to be part of that. We are currently finalizing the cover so you may be seeing it soon.

Meanwhile, other people's great ideas are on my radar--ones to use down the road. I haven't been to a conference of romance writers, so I only recently learned about these genre trading cards. Sweet romance writer Danyelle Ferguson graciously allowed me to share hers with you. She held a contest to see which quote from her book she would use, and she incorporated a scan code to download sample chapters. Smart and creative.
My writing journey for this past week included having my editor fix the mistakes I caught during my final read-through, seeing my cover!, writing a new scene for my critique group, and reading through the revisions for my sequel. Staying busy. I'm also finding some great websites for inspiration. If you have any ideas or sites you want to send me to, please leave a comment. Have a great week!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Choosing Book Excerpts to Share Publicly

Last week I proofread my edited copy for any last errors or changes. I found surprisingly more than I expected--like twenty things. Point one being that an author should give it one last thorough perusal before deeming it print-worthy. Point two is what I'd like to talk about in this post: choosing an excerpt.

As I read along, I came to a scene that made me smile. Readers are especially going to like this scene, I told myself. That's when it hit me that I should be looking for excerpts from the book that could be shared to get potential readers excited about my book. Some authors find ways to get their excerpt published in venues like magazines, while others use them on social media to entice, or at speaking engagements to give the audience a taste of one's work. However it plays out, it's always a good idea to have some excerpts in your back pocket. Check with your publisher before sharing these, in case it violates your contract.

I selected four short sections of my manuscript that I thought would be enjoyable to hear. What was it that made me think a particular section of paragraphs would make a good excerpt? Mostly I picked what I liked--a good starting point. The analysis came later. Two of the four sections were based on scripture passages that most of my readers would find familiar. Three of the four had tension, action, or strong conflict; the other was a tender moment. Additionally, two explored relationships between characters. Avoid paragraphs of backstory, setting/world building, and long explanations. I also avoided sections that would give away too much or spoil the climax. In summary, I used familiarity, conflict in plot or character relationships, and emotion. 

Each excerpt should leave the reader with at least a hint of a resolution. Leaving an audience hanging at the edge of a cliff might elicit a desire to read more, but can produce feelings of frustration. Listeners without the book in their hands want the reader to leave them with a satisfied feeling. That, too, promotes pondering a purchase. For example, Secrets of the King's Daughter is set in the Mesoamerican jungle. One of the characters is attacked by a boa constrictor. Rather than end the excerpt with the audience wondering if the character will die, the selection goes far enough that we know help arrives, but he is not fully released from the snake's hold.

Try your excerpts out on a few friends and get their reactions before finalizing your selections. Keep these in their own file for easy access. The author should practice reading these aloud beforehand, so she can be ready at any moment to "perform". Most of all, have fun with it! You are sharing parts of your wonderful book and giving your audience a chance to find out what they want to know--if this book is for them. Do them this service with enthusiasm and the right excerpt(s) for a chance to make both of you happy.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Proofreading, Speak Command, and the Final Product

Proofreading - How many Eyes are on your Copy?
With under four months to go before my book release, the time has come to proofread my final edited copy of Secrets of the King's Daughter. The one my publisher will send to press. Whoot! Getting closer.

Because my release date got put off for so long, I'm not sick of my story. Many authors have to proofread their entire book right after having done multiple edits/revisions, and they would rather shove it in a drawer somewhere and move on. At whatever point a thorough check occurs, it need one's full attention--eyes on the copy and either audio or your mind's ear listening. I've been given a week or two to do this.

Below you can see how to add the Microsoft Office Speak text-to-speech feature (TTS) to your Quick Access Toolbar. Mine uses the male voice to read text that I highlight back to me, and is quite handy for catching misspellings, omitted or unintended words, etc. The voice reads fairly well, not as flat as I expected. It may give you a different emphasis than how you would have read it, which can also be a clue for adding italicization. I've gotten used to it's short vowels instead of long ones for my odd Book of Mormon names.

A final proofread shouldn't have many tweaks. It is more a check for accuracy. I had a couple of accuracy issues. One was where I used dandelion leaves, but have since learned that dandelions are not native to the Americas. I took that out. Paying close attention allowed me to catch a formatting discrepancy where the first words of the chapter were not set in caps like the rest of the book. You never know what you will find. Ultimately, the final product is the responsibility of the author to make it as professional as possible. This is why self-publishers are encouraged to get more than their own set of eyes on their copy. Before you do, you might find it helpful to let the speak command be a second set of ears.

Office instructions:
Add Speak to the Quick Access Toolbar
You can add the Speak command to your Quick Access Toolbar by doing the following:
  1. Next to the Quick Access Toolbar, click Customize Quick Access Toolbar.
    Quick Access Toolbar Speak command
  2. Click More Commands.
  3. In the Choose commands from list, select All Commands.
  4. Scroll down to the Speak command, select it, and then click Add.
  5. Click OK.
  6. When you want to use the text-to-speech command, click the icon on the Quick Access Toolbar.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Filler Words - Just Very Much in My Way

Sorry, Oscar, but adding an adverb to your sign won't make me think your food is more Mexican than anyone else's. If this is one of those things that got lost in the translation--like ordering from the Chinese quick food menu, then I apologize. Oscar should have checked with a writer.

"Very" is a filler word. Ha! My mind wanted to type: It's just a filler word. I could have used: It's an unnecessary filler word. (Could that be considered redundant?) But I would never want to use: It's a very unnecessary filler word. That example over modifies/describes/gives more info about a verb, adjective, or another adverb by doubling up on it. After all, writers are supposed to show the emphasis, not tell it.

In both my rough-draft writing and submissions from others, I've seen an excess of "just" and "even", especially in dialogue. Somehow it sounds more natural in dialogue, probably because we are used to hearing poor speech. 

Read the following sentences and see which you like better:
  • He even saw the dog run away. VS He saw the dog run away.
  • You just can't forget about it. VS You can't forget about it.
Do you really feel an emotional emphasis for the first one over the last? Probably not. Filler words add length, taking up valuable real estate (word count), and hinder the pacing. When readers find more than one on a page, it gets annoying. You can find lists of adverbs-to-avoid online. Do a find and search for these in your manuscript during revisions. 
What filler words do you hate?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Writing a Prologue Readers Won't Skip

I'm working on revisions for the sequel to Secrets of the King's Daughter, so my critique group has seen chunks of my entire manuscript. The last time we met, I gave them my revised first chapter. Someone asked me, "Why do you mention (character I'll call Jay) here?"
I answered, "Remember he's the one who does (this important thing), and I need to mention him before that happens."
"Oh, yes. Well, then you need to have (another thing) happen later that resolves that character's role."
She was right. Suddenly, Jay took on a bigger role in this story than I first anticipated. This lead me to write a prologue.

Before you walk away, thinking, Ugh. I hate prologues, let me tell you this: That is because you have read too many that have done it for the wrong reasons. Done well, prologues enhance a book and pull the reader into the story.

First off, a prologue is an opening scene that comes before the first chapter. Think of it as an appetizer before the main course. It should not be invented because a writer's first chapter is not hooking enough. The first chapter needs to stand on its own merit. It should not be a bunch of world building, an info dump, or an overload of backstory. It should not be long.

Why do I need a prologue, or in other words, what are some good reasons to have one?
  1. In the first book, the reader assumes a false resolution for Jay. In the sequel, I needed to briefly recap some events and show the reader what really happened to that character.
  2. This is the only scene where we get Jay's point of view, thus it is different from the rest of the book.
  3. There is a gap in time between the prologue and the first chapter. And in this case, a gap between the end of the first book and the beginning of the second. A prologue can resolve an out of time sequence.
  4. The prologue serves as a transition between the two books.
  5. It introduces an adversary that doesn't get an intro later; he simply pops up. It's less jarring with the earlier intro.
A good prologue should not be considered a sin. I hope my critique group loves it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Author Newsletters That Deliver!

I had a pleasant surprise last week. One of my author newsletter subscriptions really delivered! I'll tell you about that in a second. I'm used to seeing fiction authors tell what they are working on and giving easy ways to buy their books in their newsletters, but not much else. While this may be interesting or helpful, it's rare to find lasting value from a fiction writer's newsletter. One freebie might have initially attracted me, but soon I hardly care. I don't want to do that to my readers. Until I figure out what I have of value to offer besides announcing my book release, I haven't wanted to push starting this, even though having that email list is highly coveted as one of the best marketing tools there is.

A newsletter from Jordan McCollum came to my inbox. I like her work and have gotten to know her at conferences, so I don't mind finding out what she is up to. What I didn't expect were all the freebies, news, and helps found there. Jordan lets subscribers read samples (deleted scenes, first chapters, shorts, etc.) of her fiction. She also authored writing craft helps and I was excited to download a worksheet to help me during my current revisions. She calls for reader participation through contests and being a recipe tester for foods featured in her books. Fun stuff!

Now for brainstorming what might be fun stuff in a newsletter of my own. I'd be thrilled to know if any of these interest you or you have new ideas for me. Keep in mind that the majority of my readers will be women of adult and young adult age, readers who belong to the LDS faith (Mormons), readers who would like to understand the scriptures or become inspired, and readers who like some history, adventure, and romance. 
  1. Photos of Book of Mormon lands (from an upcoming cruise)
  2. Mayan/American Indian recipes and traditions
  3. Book of Mormon fun facts and personal insights
  4. Tidbits about writing my book: inspiration, inventing names, creating characters, etc.
  5. Balancing fact and fiction when writing scriptural-based fiction
  6. Contests for readers to participate
Please leave your favorites by number in a comment. What would you like to know more about from me in a newsletter?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Making a Difference as a Reader or Writer

A critique group member and I recently read through a fairly polished 100-page submission and only two of our comments were about the same thing. Two comments out of 100 pages! That tells me how valuable to the writer it was to have more than one feedback viewpoint. A rough draft might see more overlapping. But the point is that each reader makes a difference. Eventually she'll need more readers, and each person's feedback will give the writer a chance to see how her story came across. Each reader picks up on different things and cares about or ignores different things in a manuscript or book. Each has their own opinions.
A few days ago I happily discovered a new writer friend. She offered to be a beta reader. That was huge to me. It's a big time commitment for someone to read through and comment on an unpublished manuscript. They don't always know what they are in for, unless they have already read something of the writer's or enjoy that genre. It will be nice to draw from willing readers rather than beg for them when the time comes. Her kind offer made a difference.
Writers make a difference by supporting other writers and exposing their polished stories. Share your craft knowledge and lend encouragement. I know a few good writers who don't want to risk the fact that opinions of their work will vary and some may be hurtful. Don't be a closet writer. No one else can write your story! It took you too much time to keep your project to yourself. Please make it the best you can, and then share it with us. Your best is good enough for the majority.
Readers make a difference by giving helpful comments, reviewing books, and supporting writers by buying books.
Who will you make a difference to this week?

Monday, August 3, 2015

First Chapter Revisions and My Writing Journey

I'm pleased--more like ecstatic--to have a big project out of the way and submitted to my publisher. After three years of collecting for my "Missionary Stories" compilation, I can forget about it for the next three months or so while it goes through the review process. Phew!

So what's next? (There's always something, isn't there?) It's revision time for my Book of Mormon fiction sequel. (Another milestone in my journey!) It took one year to write the draft and make some revisions suggested by my critique group. Now I'm going through it again on my own. There's a few things I've learned from various classes or blogs, that I want to make sure I have included.

So far, I've only focused on that all-important first chapter. I like my first line as both a hook and a nod to a traumatic past experience. I believe I've given a good opening image of Karlinah's world. Some books start with a bang, but I agree with those who let us see the normal world and the main character's life briefly before we see them in a life or death situation, so that readers care what is happening to them. At least for my genre. I want the reader to connect with my MC. I also like where I started--hopefully close enough to the inciting event, where Karlinah makes decisions and goes in a new direction. Later, I'll need some beta reader feedback on this and so much more.

I was reminded that along with showing this Book of Mormon world and the character who lives in it, I need to show something that is flawed. This sets up the story to show what needs to be fixed in this world or with the character, something the reader can expect to see remedied at the end. Still thinking about that. I did go ahead and insert some hints at a theme, or the MC's inner conflict.

This time through, I will set up a spread sheet for me to identify things in each scene or sequel. (For more on the difference to these and the following terms, see this link to the snowflake guy.) My data will include the point of view (POV) character, the scene's goal, the character's goal, the conflict, the disaster, the setting, the motivation and reaction. For sequels, I need to list the POV character's reaction, her dilemma, and decision. If I can't ID these within a scene or sequel, I could add them, shift where the chapter ends so that it's in the right place, or scrap the scene. This data will help me see if I have all the needed elements and variation in things like having the setting in the same place for too many scenes in a row.

Revisions are eye-opening. Some parts are bound to become frustrating, but mostly I love how it makes a story better. Here we go!


Monday, July 27, 2015

Social Media (or lack of) for Authors

I don't have a Twitter account. I haven't worried about it since anything new takes time to learn, and takes away time from my writing. I haven't tried Instagram or some of the other sites either. Is that a big deal? You tell me. I accidently opened a Pinterest account and oddly--since I have never posted a board--I have some followers, but they are also ones that are Facebook friends, so what's the point? Perhaps when I get my book's cover image...

Maybe now is a good time for Twitter, before my debut book releases, but I'd like your input. So far, it's only been Facebook for me. That has been manageable and mostly fun. I have an author page separate from my personal page. I know to keep marketing posts to a minimum on my personal page, not to vent, etc. I agree with those "rules" and know there are times to sneak in a little marketing, but I'm not yet certain of my target audience. I expect the biggest share of that audience will be LDS women. If I find teens taking a big piece of that audience pie, it will probably be beneficial to join Twitter.

Do you find Twitter more of a complication or a connection? What media do you use to connect with authors or fans? Should I go for it now or wait and see?

Monday, July 20, 2015

From Journals to Facebook Posts - Finding Ways to Preserve Memories

This week people of the LDS faith remember the early pioneers who sacrificed to get to Utah's Salt Lake City valley. Many great, emotional stories are retold from that era, some of which have been made into movies. Where did these stories come from? Journals. If not for journals, details would be lost and forgotten or embellished over years of telling, like the size of the fish that got away.
Product Details Product Details

How are you preserving stories and memories? Get over the idea that you have nothing to say or that nobody cares, and consider it a duty. It can be anything from keeping a daily journal, a weekly half hour of jotting down some memories, or simply adding captions to those Facebook photos you keep posting. Use the date and location features, give a brief accounting of what is going on, and let the appropriate audience know something from your personal living history. That file of photos can also be used to spur memories that can be written down later. Talk to a tape recorder, if you prefer. Set up a weekly email question and answer session with your grandkids or ask questions to a grandparent, where you talk about those good ol' days. Print a copy for your records.

I don't consider myself "old" yet, but I can tell you that there's a lot of things from my life that I've already forgotten. It's a good thing I wrote a life history of my first thirty years and a summary of the rest. Find something that works for you and do it before the memory swims away forever! Someone will be thankful you did.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Storytelling and Permission to Publish

Imagine family members sitting around on couches or on the floor--hanging out and telling stories. Add popcorn and lemonade and you practically have a party. Someone shouts, "Have I got a good one for you!" or "I can to top that!" Story-telling can go to the competition level where we try to one-up the last story told. One person after another wants to share. Good times, right?

Some of you know that I have been collecting personal stories for two inspirational non-fiction books--one about missionaries and one about bishops. I've made good progress in wrapping up the missionary stories book for submission, but the detail of gaining permission has been a pain. Even though people tell a story and say I can use it for publication, I need to show proof to my publisher. Legalities are important these days. That important step is today's lesson.

It's time to put all the permissions granted together in one place. I scoured through emails from the past two years, finding some easily through the search engine and losing others that I needed to contact all over again. This is so not-the-fun-part of the project. At least I kept a spread sheet with contact information, dates, and more. This is vital for anyone who compiles outside stories, photos, sources, etc. I wish I had also made copies of the permission as I went along, instead of putting it into one document at the end. But, phew! That part is now done! I even have my Church Intellectual Property permissions for using LDS scriptures and Conference talk quotes.

What's left? I've started filling out the editorial and marketing forms, which give the publishing team ideas for a title and cover, list my bio, and tell the media other things about me. I'm going to have my computer's audio speaker feature read the manuscript back to me one last time as I view each page for errors. It'll take a week, maybe two. Then...ta da! I send it off.

Each writing projects has some non-writing details attached to it. Make sure to prepare in advance for those that require permissions so that things can go as smoothly as possible. Here's hoping the way I did it is adequate and not another author learning curve.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Six Month Countdown - My Safe Zone Before Publishing Panic?

6 ...5 ...4 ...3 ...2 ...1 ...
The countdown has begun! Six months until Secrets of the King's Daughter, my Book of Mormon fiction debut book, releases. I'm straddling the safe zone between excitement and panic, where it starts to feel real but I'm not in stress mode.

Before I'm too gung-ho on the book release, I really want to finish up my inspirational non-fiction, LDS Missionary Stories, and not have it nagging me. A few months ago I predicted it would take me a month to finish, but my fiction sequel took precedence. Now the time is right and that feels good.

Still within that "safe" zone, I enjoyed the occasion to watch Julie and Julia--the movie where Julie blogs about cooking every recipe from Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking. Loved the possible parallels to my life. Julie gets a little publicity and suddenly there are 65 messages for her to do interviews or to publish. Then she is crushed by one message that essentially means Julia Child hates her. The story cuts to rejection for Julia Child, who states that Houghton-Mifflin hates her and eight years of her life has turned out to be "something to do". She later is accepted by another publisher and sees success. Ah, the publishing roller-coaster! 

It's fun to dream, isn't it? For a couple hours, I reveled in the roller-coaster thrill alongside Julie, hoping for my own personal success. Today I'm feeling grateful that I can once again chip away at this one big project before it's time to dive into my book release checklist. I'll keep you posted on both those things if you'd like to join me on the ride. Bon appetite, I mean, "Enjoy!"

Monday, June 29, 2015

Getting Book Reviews for Children's thru Middle Grade Books

The Rebel Princess by Janice SperryJuvenile readers do not generally post book reviews; there are the security issues of a child's online presence, for one thing. Authors of these genres rely heavily on word of mouth advertising and get their reviews from avid readers who review a lot of books. I wanted to support an author friend, who is a member of my critique group, by buying her book for my granddaughter. Buying books is definitely a way to support authors, but what else could I do? Even small efforts make a difference. If I were the reader, I would do a book review. Why not post what my granddaughter thought of the book? Can/should parents and grandparents give reviews by proxy for minors? I decided to give it a try.

I avoided leading questions and asked general ones (see below). Then I posted the review as myself in her behalf. Here's how it turned out for Janice Sperry's The Rebel Princess:
I bought this book for my granddaughter, skimmed through it and found it delightful, but didn't actually read the whole thing. This review is what my granddaughter (age 10) said about it:
What did you like or not like? Her: I liked that Charming turns into a mouse and when they are trapped by the tooth fairies. Me: It's clever and funny.
What did you think overall? Her: 5 stars. It was fun. It had the right amount of everything.
Would you recommend it to anyone? Her: Yeah. I already told my friend about it and I'm going to lend it to her.
Tell me more about it. Her: At first Raven hates Charming but she crushes on him in the end. Me: There's a character arc. Her: The author explains really well, enough that I wanted to eat the gingerbread house. Me: Good descriptions.
There you have it!

Do you think more children's reviews should be published from their viewpoint? Is there a better way to go about this?

Monday, June 22, 2015

How Much Teamwork Does a Solitary Writer Need?

Remember those group school projects you were forced into? Someone would write up the research, someone would do the oral report, and someone would make the poster. Each could emphasize their talent while learning to work in a group setting. Teamwork is an important part of sports, parenting, the workplace--even for the solitary writer.

Members of my extended family participated last week in the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay Race. A team of 12 took turns running sections of 200 miles along Utah's Wasatch mountains over two days. In the months/weeks prior it was interesting to see the emails flying back and forth. There were posts about who ran how far that day, ordering team shirts, a cry for volunteers, etc. Two of my sons ran as team members, my husband drove the Van 2 group around, and extended family took other important roles. As for me, I mostly let them plow forward on their own without complaining. Job description: background supporter. But hey, performers need an audience just like authors need readers.

What does teamwork mean for writers? If the bare minimum for a soccer team member is practicing and playing in the game, a writer's equivalent could be practicing the craft and putting his project together. The soccer player who wants to go beyond the minimum will incorporate what her coach says, watch and learn from advanced players, and find ways to improve. Writers can learn from critique partners, conference classes, books they read, etc.

While it's true that most writing is done in solitary moments, writers who want to share their work must eventually become a team player. Start by being responsible to a critique or accountability partner. Expand to a critique group, beta readers, an editor or hired professionals. A publication and marketing team will come into play. Later on, readers will become part of the team; fans need a form of connection. Even if you only want to write, you will end up on a team. Be the best team player you can be: Work hard. Learn from others. Ask for and give help. Don't allow 'the team' to be all-encompassing.

What makes a good team member to you?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Staying on the Motivational Track During the Writing Journey

Do you ever wake up excited that you get to write today? I do--more so when time is less of an enemy than usual. If a great idea comes, it spurs me on further. But what do you do when someone shoots down your idea, scene or story? (Yep, it happens to all of us.)

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that:
  • Not everyone likes the same things. Toughen up. Don't let negative minorities destroy you.
  • If I love my story, it is worth writing. If it makes you happy, make it happen.
  • Evaluate wisely. Listen to critiques from more than one source. Be wise enough to make changes if several tell you the same thing. Don't be above improvement or new ideas. You might like the changes better. If not, you're still the boss.
  • I like me. I like my story. Others will too. Just not everyone. That's okay.
  • Stick nearest those that are positive and supportive.
  • Time will pass whether we write today or not. Go for it!
What helps you stay on the positive writing track?
Now go make it a good writing week.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Book Spotlight, A Blog, and Finding Motivation

Mothering through the WhirlwindWaiting in an airport lobby, I recently read a thought-provoking mini-book by Tamara Passey called Mothering Through the Whirlwinds. I found it an appropriate prelude to the reason for my trip. I would spend ten days mothering three rambunctious little boys while their mother was on bed-rest in a hospital, avoiding her baby coming too early. I knew what I was in for--having six children of my own--but my body wasn't young anymore, and I was out of practice. I determined to give it my best shot. My motivation? I'm their grandmother and my daughter needed me.

Tamara writes that her book is less of a How-to manual and more of a How-I-Found-My-Way story. I found it very inspiring and recommend it to mothers everywhere. She relates some personal hardships in an I'm-just-like-you manner, sharing hope and the wisdom of her experiences.

Tamara and Renae at LDStorymakers Writers Conference 2015
That is what I strive to do with this blog. My 'writespot' shares tips and experiences that express my journey as I grow into a writer. This is my How-I-found-my-way writing journal. Writing is a hard goal, but we can do hard things when we have motivation and support. Just like a grandmother who is willing to care for her grandchildren or a tired mother who continues through the challenges. You can do hard things too!
I passed the book on to my daughter before returning home. She's going to have more whirlwinds to come with those wonderful boys and now a 4 1/2 pound daughter in the NICU. I'm not too worried about her; she'll have motivation and support. It makes me grateful for the support team of my husband, critique group, and many writer friends. A big motivation for me is loving my story and seeing my manuscript improve through critique comments and revisions. It's a long, hard road. But I can do hard things too!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Deep Editing - Powerful Emotional Hits

Can I say enough good about writer's conference classes? It's awesome when I get a concept and start implementing it. Love feeling the growth through actual practice. This week I recognized where a critique partner, who had taken Margie Lawson's Deep Editing Power class with me, had also powered up her pages using the techniques taught. (Note the alliteration. It's one of twenty rhetorical devices we were shown. Strong when not overused.) My partner had a particularly good paragraph at a key moment in the story, the midpoint.

Lawson's background as a psychotherapist gives her a unique approach to writing and editing. She taught four levels of powering up emotion, generalized below. For more information on this or other lecture packets, visit The following examples are my own. 
1. BASIC is a simple line with one Emotional Hit, as she calls it. Use these when the emotion is not so important, for smoothness, variety, and flow. Example: She strode down the hallway.
2. COMPLEX can be a sentence or passage that builds on the basic level and includes two to four emotional hits. A combination of visceral reactions, internal or external dialogue, dialogue cues/tags/beats, body language, or action. These deepen character. Example: She strode down the hallway, fists balled and arms swinging.
3. EMPOWERED fills three to five lines of text and has multiple emotional hits. It combines any of the ways listed in #2, though some my be amplified. It sounds good out loud. Example: She strode down the hallway, fists balled and arms swinging. No one should have that much power over another. No one had the right to treat her friend that way. No one was going to get away with it.
4. SUPER EMPOWERED is for rare, special moments, like turning points--use only one or two per book. The writer powers up three or more paragraphs in the amplified ways stated above, plus rhetorical devices or combos. Anaphora is the device used in the empowered passage above. Super empowered would lengthen the passage to include more ways and devices. 

Strengthen your writing during the editing stage with powerful emotional hits!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Page-Turning Heroes and Villains

"Not every plot is designed to be a page-turner." I appreciated hearing that statement from Jennifer A. Nielsen at the LDStorymakers conference, where I took her class about Crafting the Page-Turner. There are varying types of emotional rides for different kinds of books. We want the reader to want to read on, but not every scene has to be high on the excitement Richter scale. Phew! Glad to recognize that important detail. Every scene should be a fight scene (not a battle), in that someone struggles to get something they want.
Jennifer spoke about the necessary elements of a page-turner, plotting, heroes and villains, the writing part, and questions to ask about your story. All good stuff. Since I can only give you a tease about the class (it's her material for paying attendees, after all), today I'm sharing a few things about page-turning heroes and villains. These characters are more important than the plot.
A villain can be a non-person, like a shark, earthquake, or illness. This Antagonist should be more likely to win; it gives us that worry factor. The villain's motivation needs to be stronger than simply because he is crazy or evil for evil's sake. Give her a real motivation where she is more equipped to triumph than the hero.

The hero needs a clear and desperate goal. He wants something and how badly he wants it needs to show. Your hero needs to be smart and proactive. Give her unexpected qualities rather than stereotypical or common ones. Don't make them perfect.

Nielsen says to be cruel to the characters you love--mentally, physically, etc. Beat them up or force them to make tough choices so they can grow. Hmm. Do you think that means the villain should grow along with the hero? Who are some favorite heroes and villains you have enjoyed?