Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Third Person POV--Part 2

Before we move on in this topic, I’d like to respond to some comments/questions from yesterday.

Stuart made an interesting point about introducing words in his science fiction that nobody on earth would understand without an explanation: “It can be frustrating to get the right amount of context around the word to convey the meaning without people complaining that you haven't explained it in detail . . . That is probably why you see a lot of sci-fi and fantasy written in removed to pseudo-omniscient third person. The author has more leeway to define terms without breaking character.”
Then Jennifer’s question, arising from Stuart’s comments: “. . . use of jargon or any kind of specialized terms or knowledge in close POV. Obviously, the character isn't going to think or say the definitions, so I'd love some ideas on how to get meanings across while remaining true to the character.”
Stuart is right—if you’re writing about another world, in which many things will need to be explained, it’s much harder to write in close third person and explain things effectively. If you explain everything, you can easily find yourself constantly jumping from the character’s POV into the author’s narrative voice. Or, if you try to explain through other means such as dialogue, it’s likely to sound contrived, because the characters wouldn’t feel the need to discuss the meaning of things they already know.
If you do want to stick with close third person POV, and you need to explain numerous things, there is a way to do it effectively by inserting narrative sentences into the character’s POV. These sentences can flow naturally, particularly if you’ve delved deeply enough into the POV to give the reader the full view of what the character’s thinking. Sounds almost counter-intuitive that the deeper the POV, the more natural the insertion will appear, but I do think it’s true. Here’s an example of how I tried to do this during a crime scene investigation in Eyes of Elisha. The tech and detective have just approached the body (found in a canyon), with the tech speaking his observations—some obvious, some not—so the detective (POV character) can write everything in his notes.
“She must have been here at least twenty-four hours.” Hal peered at the stage of fly larvae on her face, then leaned back. “Obviously a jogger. Shorts and running shoes.”
Not a good sign. Joggers rarely carried identification. “Look at the right shoe.” Reiger pointed. “She’s got one of those little fabric cases on it. Maybe we’ll find something there.”
They continued their survey of the body and surrounding area, being careful not to touch the corpse itself. Legally, a coroner’s investigator had to be present.
“I gave the coroner’s office an hour’s lead.” Reiger bent for a closer look at a broken twig. “I don’t know who they’re sending.”
“Mm.” Hal wrinkled his nose as a breeze tousled a strand of the victim’s blond hair. “Probably find lividity stains on her backside. Must have been killed up there and then sent rolling. I doubt she’s been moved since, other than by animals.” His voice was grim.
Lividity—the flow of blood to the lowest point in a body, due to gravity—caused brownish-red stains on the skin. It was a clear indication of the body’s resting position soon after death.
“Man,” he muttered, “there’s not gonna be much to autopsy here.”
Certainly no chance for a liver temperature probe, Reiger thought. Sometimes it took a while for creatures to smell remains, but they hadn’t seemed to waste any time here. Most of the tissue between her neck and groin had been eaten. That meant no proper weight for either the body or major organs.
Dear Lord, Reiger prayed, help this poor woman’s family.
Knowing that I would have quite a few scenes of detective work and crime lab investigation in which things would need to be explained, I tried to introduce these characters from the very beginning with a fully developed POV that shows all the smells, sights, textures, etc. they encounter in their work. Then, with this foundation, the explanatory sentences were inserted where they’d flow best, and where they’d most appear as the character’s actual thoughts. Sometimes the inserted sentence is followed with dialogue that picks up on the explanation, to better give the sentence the feeling of remaining in the character’s POV:
They continued their survey of the body and surrounding area, being careful not to touch the corpse itself. Legally, a coroner’s investigator had to be present.
“I gave the coroner’s office an hour’s lead.”
It wouldn’t work for Reiger to tell Hal that they can’t touch the body until the coroner’s investigator shows up, because Hal already knows that. But to insert that piece of knowledge for the reader, followed by Reiger’s telling Hal that they have an hour’s lead until the investigator gets there, makes the inserted sentence feel like Reiger’s thoughts as they’re observing the body without touching it.
The explanation of lividity works here, I think, because it’s inserted in the middle of Hal’s observations, again as part of Reiger’s thoughts about what Hal is saying. When Hal is done speaking, Reiger goes on to think about the liver temperature probe, picking up on his previous thought about lividity.
Lynetta’s question: “I’m writing in close third person. My protag is a young woman who often says the opposite of what she's thinking. She thinks sarcastic and proud thoughts but speaks in a more formal tone with exaggerated politeness and humility, as she was taught. The story, I think, is much better if I can sprinkle in some thoughts as she's thinking them (in the present tense). I've seen this done sometimes,where the author puts the thoughts into italics. However, I've also read editors frown on italics. Do they make an exception in the case of present internal thoughts?”
This is a very good question and one that authors commonly face. As you can see from the above excerpt, most of Reiger’s thoughts have been kept in normal type. This keeps his thoughts in third person. When you move to italics, you’re writing the actual thoughts, and must move to first person. For example, look again at the first sentence in the penultimate paragraph:
Certainly no chance for a liver temperature probe, Reiger thought.
As opposed to making this an actual, italicized thought:
I sure won’t have much chance for a liver temperature probe.
Editors frown on the latter technique for good reason. Too many actual thoughts slow down the action. And they’re far more jarring, because (1) they change type face, and (2) they switch POV from third person to first. Too many italicized thoughts is kind of like seeing those annoyingly jarring camera shots that are so popular on TV nowadays. The reader’s jerked back and forth. I do include one italicized thought in the above excerpt, but I do this rarely and only to give a greater effect to the thought. If a lot of the character’s thoughts were like this, the italics would lose their effect.
Bonnie’s question: “Is it acceptable to show multiple points of view if it's done during dialogue, as in stating their emotions for the particular things they are saying?”
If you’re meaning head-hopping, no. Stick with one POV per scene. The writing will be harder to do, particularly when you want to show the emotions of all the characters, but when you take the time to do this right, the scene will be much stronger. Hopping into someone’s head to express an emotion ends up in “telling” writing. But when you have to stick in Mary’s head and still display John’s emotions, you have to show us. You’ll be forced to use voice inflection, body language, facial expression. These things flesh out a scene far more than a sentence that tells the reader how a character feels.
More thoughts/questions? Tomorrow, more on the subject of close third person POV vs. removed third person POV.
A final note. Please visit the Charis Connection blog today to read the post about an editor's viewpoint regarding Christian publishers and their decisions about what is published.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Third Person POV

I had a problem with posting today. This post showed up yesterday on the blog, thanks to this program I'm trying out called Blogjet. You're supposed to be able to write in Blogjet, then post a "draft." Well, this ain't the first time the "draft" ended up posting for real--all by itself. And I was very careful to click the right thing, so I know it's not my error. I had to delete the post and repost it for this morning. Unfortunately, as a result four comments already posted were also deleted. One was a question. Lynetta, if you'd like to re-post your question, I'll try to answer it.

If anyone has any words of wisdom for me regarding this Blogjet business, I'm all ears.

As I said yesterday, the comments regarding my post last week on “big words” got me thinking. Many of you said an unknown word here or there wouldn’t bother you, or may even cause you to run delightedly to the dictionary. Others said (my paraphrasing), “You dictionary types need to get a life. I don’t want to be pulled out of the story by an unknown word.”

As much as I wish I could use all the unusual words I wanted, I don’t—because I see both sides of the argument. I’ve tried to stick to a few per book, and sometimes even have to fight for those. In light of this topic, I’ve been thinking about what my editors tend to flag in my track changes edits—and why. And I realize that the flagging of unusual words is the result of the editor’s concern over the same thing—that the reader will be “pulled out of the story.”

It’s easy to see why a reader may be pulled out of a scene if the story is written in first person, and some high-falutin’ word is used that the character wouldn’t know or would never think to say. But the lines become blurred in the more commonly-used third person POV. When might a “pulling out” be more likely to happen?

It depends upon the type of third person POV.

There are three types, or levels, of third person POV. Using my non-erudite, not-rocket-science terminologies, I’d label them: (1) Close, (2) Removed, and (3) Omniscient.

Close third person is as near to first person POV as you can get. The reader is placed completely within the character’s head, seeing and perceiving the world as the character would. Words, phrases, terminologies, odd ways of speech, etc., all reflect the character’s personality and the way he/she would describe the situation. Close third person is all the rage these days, and what we’ve grown accustomed to reading. It’s become the norm for good reason, because it has a lot to offer. (A) It’s very intimate, and therefore highly characterizing (if used effectively). (B) Because of its intimacy, it adapts itself to that ubiquitous “show, don’t tell” rule. Readers “see” what a character is thinking, for example, as opposed to being “told” what he’s thinking. (C) At the same time the reader is afforded this intimacy with the character, the third person aspect allows the author to show various viewpoints within the story, unlike first person POV, in which we have the intimacy at the expense of other viewpoints.

Removed third person steps outside the character a bit, inserting some psychic distance between the action and the reader. The reader can still feel somewhat in the character’s head, but not as completely. This POV is less warm, less emotionally intense, but can be very effective in the hands of a skilled writer. For in this POV, the author’s narrative voice is often louder than the voice of the character. In this POV, we’ll find more “telling” than in close third person. But here, the telling—again, if it’s done well—will seem appropriate, and even compelling. Far fewer contemporary novelists write in removed third person. But one author who comes immediately to my mind does it extremely well.

Omniscient third person pulls the narrative voice way back, inserting the greatest amount of psychic distance between the reader and the action. This is the old classics modus operandi, a la Dickens and Chekhov and the like. Readers don’t feel that they’re in the characters’ heads at all. It feels more like hovering in the corner of a room, watching the action. As a result, the author’s narrative voice has full control, all the time. In the classics age, this POV also resulted in a very formal, stiff-sounding use of words.

So, you see how this fits in with the unusual words issue? In close third person, the author has to pay attention to what words the character would use. In removed and omniscient, the author is more free to use his/her choice of words. Therefore, “bigger” or more unusual words can be used more often in the removed and omniscient voices without making the reader feel pulled out of the story.

More tomorrow. We’ll spend some time thinking about all this, and how it affects us as readers and writers. Your thoughts so far?

Read Part 2

Monday, November 28, 2005

Post Thanksgiving Post

Happy post-turkey Monday.

Our family went to Coeur d’Alene for the holiday. Flew up Wednesday night and came back Sunday night. Speaking of turkey, I got a kick out of a gaggle of them (is that what a group of turkeys is called?) that came sauntering across our property on Friday. Nine fat toms. We saw nary a turkey on Thanksgiving, but as soon as that auspicious day was done, out they came, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Strutting around like they owned the place. You could practically hear 'em thinking, “Whew, made it through another year!”

And we think turkeys are dumb.

The Friday night after Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year in Coeur d’Alene. First there’s an evening parade. Yes, a parade in the cold. These are hardy Idaho souls. The parade is much like the town’s Fourth of July parade down the main drag, except everything’s decked out with Christmas lights. Then after the parade, everyone goes across the street to the wide, green lawns of the resort to see the fireworks. Yup, again just like Fourth of July. First some carolers sing Christmas carols (no “happy holidays” in THIS town). Then the owner of the resort (who foots the humongous bill for the firework display) leads the vast crowd in a countdown for the fireworks to start. The crowd chants from 10 down to 1, then boom, the jazzy Christmas music blares out of huge speakers, and the fireworks begin. They go on for about 10 minutes or so. So way cool! I absolutely love the combination of the music, the festive feeling, and the fireworks. Immediately after the fireworks, the resort lights blitz on for the season. This is no small amount of lights. We’re talking one and a half million lights. All the trees around the resort are wrapped, with a huge wreath hanging from the building. But most of the lights are in display scenes, starting at the beach and strung on barges across the top of the lake, down to the floating green of the golf course. The resort runs their cruise boats every evening for viewing of the displays. Anyway, when all these lights come on at once, it’s a pretty cool sight.

Well, we certainly had a good conversation about last Wednesday’s post on “big words.” Thanks for everyone’s comments. Very interesting to see the different viewpoints. Nick Harrison, thanks for your comments, and for sending the post to your compadres at Harvest House for their feedback. The post and comments have gotten me thinking about the various kinds of third person POV (from very close to removed). There is a connection between the two topics. We’ll talk about that tomorrow.

By the way, I just got my mitts on another six ARCs for Web of Lies. This for sure is the last of ’em. If you’d like to receive one and would be willing to post reviews/talk up the book to folks you know, please e-mail me. Don't wait long. When they're gone, they're gone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bring On the Big Ones

I have this continuing problem when I write. (Well, actually, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I have quite a few.) This one has to do with using “big” words. I love them. As far as I'm concerned, bring on a chimera, the lares and penates, the halcyon days and effluvium and macedoine. Show your characters to be bathetic or benefic, uxorial or oneiric, full of duende, or homunculus.

So readers need a dictionary with the book. So what?

However, editors don’t seem to share this viewpoint. If an editor thinks most readers won’t know what the word means, or (heaven forbid!) doesn’t know the word herself—aayyo, bring on the red pen!

Over the novels I’ve written, I’ve gone back and forth on this issue. First, in my naive beginnings, I used all the “big” words I wanted because, well, the authors I read used ’em. Result—the editorial red pens came out. So I caved. Next book—I tried not to use big words. Book after that—I tried a second time. More editorial pens. So next book—I went a little lighter on the words again. Back and forth, back and forth.

Why am I thinking about this issue now? Because the last book I completed, Violet Dawn, has some interesting words in it. They didn’t get flagged during the editorial rewrite stage, ’cause that focuses more on the big stuff. But next up (in about 10 days), I face the track changes stage. This is where the Big E (editor, if you must ask) flags words and phrases—you know, the sentence to sentence stuff. I’m afraid some of these words are gonna get flagged.

Guess what. This time I’m goin’ down fightin’.

Well, sheesh, “big” is a relative term anyway. Does it mean a certain number of syllables? If so, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious would certainly be considered a big word. But everybody knows that word. (Don’t you? Suddenly, I’m wondering about you young ’uns.) Or does “big” mean not number of syllables, but whether most people would know the meaning? Take nidus, for instance. Only two syllables. But how many readers would know what it means? (A breeding place; a place where ideas originate—usually negative connotation).

Perhaps we should use the term “unusual.” Meaning not everyone who reads the word is gonna know it.

I don’t want to use unusual words for the sake of unusual words. I want to use them because they happen to be the perfect word for the circumstance. Or perhaps I’ve used all the synonyms and don’t want to repeat. Still, I compromise on some of my effeteness. I try to use only a few unusual words per book. Figure maybe that’ll keep me under the Big E’s red pen radar.

Editors aren’t the only ones who give me grief over this issue. My own family can be pretty doggone hard on me as well. There was one phrase in Color the Sidewalk for Me (back in the day when I wasn’t killing people off with every book) that made it past the Big E, but sure set my mother off when she read the manuscript. Upon returning to her home town just as dark is falling, the main character is gazing upon it from a distant hill: "The buildings and machinery of the lumber mill built by my great-grandfather jutted into the sky above the riverbank, boldly silent against a scrim of nascent stars."

"What on earth is a 'scrim of nascent stars'?" mom demanded.

"Oh, you know. When the stars are just coming out, and they're not fully formed yet, 'cause the sky's still half-dark and half-light."

"Well, why didn't you say so?"

"Um. I did."

"No, you didn't; you said 'scrim.' What'd you say 'scrim' for?"

"Because," I was sinking lower and lower in my chair at this point, "I sort of wanted to sound lyrical and, uh, poetical, and, well, you know."

"Well, what you sounded is misunderstandable. Nix it!"

Naturally, being the independent soul that I am (don't EVER tell me what I HAVE to do), I left the phrase in. While that phrase will go down in our family annals as testament to my viscid vocabulariousness, it does, indeed, appear in the novel.

The funny thing is, now I can’t even remember what “unusual” words I incorporated in Violet Dawn. I just have these memories of using a few words and thinking, “Drat, this word is perfect. Hope I get to keep it.”

I figure if the word can pretty much be understood in the context, what’s the big deal? So a reader’s eye snags on a word? This never bothers me when I’m reading. Quite the contrary. I’ll think, oh, cool, new word, and I’ll run for the dictionary.

What say you?

Happy Thanksgiving, all. I will be taking the long weekend off, and will post again Monday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rhinestone Cowboy

Drumroll please.

Drdrdrdrdrdrdrddr . . .

Here’s the photo of the Christian fiction Rhinestone Cowboy I promised you a few weeks ago. Steve Bly like you’ve never seen the man.

Is the guy smashing, or what? (Gals, don’t fall too hard. He’s married.)

Story behind the photo: Glorieta Writers Conference, 2005. I walk into the huge room where all the faculty is set up at tables to meet with conferees. I’m sporting the sunglasses. They're completely encased in light blue rhinestones, front and sides. On one side hangs a little rhinestone-encrusted heart. I head over to my table against the wall, one I’m sharing with Allison Bottke of God Allows U-Turns fame. Allison is a babe after my own heart, into glitter and glitz. She takes one look at the sunglasses and goes nuts. Grabs ’em off me, puts ’em on. Searches for a mirror to check herself out.

“Girl, where did you get these? I just got to get a pair!”

I fill her in on the details. $60 at Marie’s Boutique at the Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho. (Right across the water from our house.) I promise Allison next time we’re in Cd’A, I’ll try to buy her a pair.

She reluctantly hands them back to me.

At a nearby table is Steve Bly, wearing his ever-present cowboy hat. He’s watching Allison and me. At the moment his wife, Janet, is not around. Which is probably why he does what he does, because any good wife (and Janet certainly is one) would have made him think twice. I ask him if he’d like to try on the sunglasses.

“Oh, no.” He holds up a hand.

What happens in his head after that is still a mystery to me. I turn away, minding my own business—and the next thing I know, Steve Bly is taking the glasses out of my fingers. Putting them on. Straightening his back and looking around to see what chicks might be checking him out. Whoa. A few notice. Cameras magically appear. Steve is posing like Mr. Splash.

Jim Bell wants in on the act. (Lawyers always do.) My other pairs of glitter glasses are in my room, so he grabs Angie Hunt’s bright green, flowered reading glasses and puts ’em on. Both men are now posing. More cameras click.

These writers conferences are so mundane.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Some Books By My Desk

On this Thanksgiving Monday, BGs, I’d thought I tell y’all some highly uplifting pieces of info that are a mere arm’s reach away as I write. I got a bunch of books to my left, you see. A big ol’ heavy dictionary, and a good honkin’ synonym finder are the closest. Every writer’s gotta have that. I also have other fiction-writing books by such folks as Stein, Maas, Bell, Vogler, Campbell, Browne & King. You probably recognize these guys. AND—I have three handy-dandy books on murder and mayhem.

In fact, that’s the title of one. Murder and Mayhem, by D.P. Lyle, MD. The good doc answers all kinds of questions that crazy writers like me might ask. Just a few examples: What are the symtpoms of concussion? How long will a black eye persis? What happens when someone is struck by lightning? What is artificial blood? How dangerous is it to transport heroin in a swallowed condom? What is the Gulf War syndrome? What noises are made by victims of stabbing to the neck? How did David kill Goliath? What substance can be added to a fire-eater’s “fuel” to cause a sudden and dramatic death? How long does it take for an unburied body to skeletonize? How long does the foam around a drowning victim’s mouth persist? Will oleandor poison a cat? Do blind people have “visual” dreams? Do bodies move during cremation? Can a coroner determine between a freshwater and saltwater drowning?

Yup, I’ll bet just the kinds the things you’d want to know.

Doc Lyle also has a handy-dandy Web site, full of archives of like-minded questions. You can also submit a question. Doesn’t matter how preposterous it is, the doc will take them all in stride.

Next on my shelf is Katherine Ramsland’s The Criminal Mind: A Writer’s Guide to Forensic Pathology. This interesting book tells you why criminals act the way they do, and all the different psychoses/neuroses they can suffer from. Chapters include interesting tidbits on such issues as: Theories of criminality (and why the various theories matter). The psychology of a courtroom. Lie detection. Hypnosis with eyewitnesses. Insanity defenses. Criminal responsibility. Violence management. Treatment for sex offenders. Juvenile crime. Victim profiling. Duty to warn/protect—a fictional case involving ethics. Someone left a question on this blog last week about how to create believable bad guys who aren’t all the same and mere stereotypes. Reading this book as background can help give writers an understanding of how to create a murderer or other kind of criminal.

Next up on my shelf is Cause of Death: A Writer’s Guide to Death, Murder and Forensic Medicine, by Keith D. Wilson, M.D. This is a Writer’s Digest book in the “Howdunit Series.” This book was written in 1992, so some of the stuff can be out of date (such as the photos and explanations of hospital emergency room equipment). But much of the information remains relevant. Topics include: Rigor mortis and lividity, toxicology, all kinds of stuff on burial and funeral homes and coroners, deciding manner and mechanism of death, various forms of capital punishment in different states and how the subject dies. Part III focuses on causes of death: all forms of accidents, sudden death, and chronic illness. Final chapter looks at ethical questions such as cryonics, right to die, euthanisia, and death by voodoo. (Yes, I typed that last one right.)

These books make for light and entertaining bedtime reading, putting a suspense author in the perfect mood for sweet dreams.

Anyone out there have a book to add to my fun collection?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Reader Letters

Guess what—I made my daily page count yesterday. Whoohaw!

When times get tough in writing, one thing I do is read some of my recent fan letters. I tell you, these wonderful people who take the time to write and encourage me are gifts from God. They have no idea how their words can uplift my soul. I know I’m not alone in this. My author pals who write regularly receive letters too, and like me, they feel greatly encouraged. They could all quote wonderful letters they’ve received. Here are a few from the tops of my files:

On Dead of Night:

“I so appreciate your books. Not only am I surprised at ‘who done it’, but the books are so intelligently written . . . I especially appreciate how Annie’s character has grown from not believing to becoming a believer and how her faith has seen her through some horrible times. When Annie was in prayer in the latest book, and not actually feeling better after her prayer, I could understand that feeling.”

I read Dead of Night at a time in my life that I neeed to realize the importance of prayer in my personal life . . . [This reader follows with the story of current struggles she is facing.] After reading your book, I felt an overwhelming urge to pray, just as Annie did. After spending an entire morning talking to God, I felt a wonderful peace wash over me. God’s grace is sufficient. He will get us through this . . .”

“I read Dead of Night and was strongly impressed with your message about prayer. I had been praying for months (years, in some instances) about some significant life issues and had come to the point of discouragement because nothing seeming to be happening. Then I read your book—a great story, by the way—and was encouraged to ‘Pray Until Something Happens.’ I’m going to put that saying where I can see it every day, to remind me to stick with it.”

“ . . . The best part of the book was the way you depicted the realistic spiritual struggles we go through with your PUSH sermon. I was especially impacted by the verse you quoted from Acts: ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?’ I prayed that God would work through me in a way that the demons would learn my name. I realize, as Annie did, that such ‘name recognition’ carries with it a much greater intensity for the battle . . .”

Note: These readers are referring to the “Pray Until Something Happens (PUSH) sermon that is quoted in Dead of Night. This sermon was preached by my amazingly gifted pastor, Paul Sheppard, at the multi-cultural Abundant Life Christian Fellowship church in Mountainview, California. Pastor Paul preached this two-part sermon while I was writing Dead of Night. When I heard the sermon, I knew it was perfect for the book, and felt the preaching of it was God’s timing for my story. You can read about Paul Sheppard and his ministry at: The PUSH sermon (highly, highly recommended!) can be ordered at:

“My name is _____, and I was assigned to review Dead of Night for ______[a secular Web site]. I really enjoyed reading this book. It was definitely a surprise. My view on inspirational suspense has changed.”

On other books:

“I stayed up late last night finishing Stain of Guilt. Have you ever considered a career designing rollercoasters?”

[A reader’s heart-poured-out story about trials he’s been facing.] . . . “But I never gave up on God. And I’ve made it through. One escape I love is reading. If I can truly get into a book and give the characters faces and voices in my imagination, I have a real winner on my hands. I am always able to do this with all of your books. It NEVER fails. I especially love your Hidden Faces series . . .”

“Okay, I need you to promise you won’t tell the cops. And if you do, I’ll deny it. I just finished reading Brink of Death—while DRIVING HOME. I couldn’t WAIT to see what happened. I thought, ‘This is a long, straight deserted stretch of road. Do you suppose I could . . .’ I am ashamed of myself. I could have killed a raccoon. Next time I’ll take a cab.”

[Written to Zondervan, which forwarded it to me.] “I felt Brink of Death was just exceptional. It MUST be, as I read it ALL last night, finishing this morning. I had not read anything from this author before, but I shall be looking for her from now on.”

“I just wanted to thank you so much for your inspiring books. I am facing brain surgery for an aneurysm and your books have helped me reinforce my strength in God. He is my rock, and I lean on Him and praise Him every day.”

“. . . I just finished Dread Champion at 4 a.m. I LOVED this book, and Eyes of Elisha . . .” [Reader follows with the story of her own writing struggles—how she’d laid down the pen years ago and was afraid to take it up again because she feared disappointing God. After some e-mails back and forth between us, this author began writing again.]

“I’m nearing the end of Eyes of Elisha and need to tell you what a great book it is. You did a superb job in every aspect. I just wouldn’t know where to start. I’m very picky about what I read, and pickier about what I enjoy reading (the problem with being a writer), but you make me stop reading like a writer and start reading like a fan.” [Wow, loved this letter, as I really respect this author’s fiction.]

And so they go. Great encouragement when I am down. Occasionally I’ll get negative letters, but they’re so rare—probably 100 or more to 1. I attribute this to people’s kindness. In general, Christians tend to take the time to write and encourage, not batter someone over the head if they didn’t like the book. For that, I’m grateful. The writing life is hard enough without being told how I’ve disappointed someone.

Have a great weekend, BGs.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Algorithms and Author Gender

Hey, thanks, y’all, for the kind comments from yesterday. I continue to muddle along, and don’t you worry, I’ll get into the flow of things yet.

For today, check this out, in light of our recent conversations about my tendency to make up verbs and such. Remember how a few years ago Donald Foster pegged Joe Klein as “Anonymous,” the author of the book about Bill and Hillary Clinton, Primary Colors?

Which was made into a movie, starring John Travolta. Who also starred in Saturday Night Fever. Which featured the BeeGee’s “Stayin’ Alive.” Which is this blog’s theme song, thanks to y’all BGs.

Hah! “Six Steps from Kevin Bacon” proven again.

But I digress.

Anyway, this Foster guy proved Klein, who lied like a dog sayin’ he didn’t write the book, really did write it. Foster ended up writing his own book about this investigation and others he’s done, called Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous. Foster’s proven theory is that no two authors write alike. We each leave our “literary fingerprints” on our work. Foster paid particular attention to Klein’s overuse of adverbs, hyphens, and capitalization, among other things. After studying this writer’s idiosyncrasies, Foster insisted it was Klein, even when Klein continued in his denials. (For awhile, anyway, until the jig was up.)

Makes you realize there really is something to this author voice thing, huh.

Well, the above I knew about. This I did not. I’ve just been introduced to The Gender Genie. GG uses algorithms to determine which gender is speaking. You can copy a portion of your work (500 words minimum is best), submit it at the Web site—and presto! It’ll tell you if the speaker’s a guy or gal. What a cool little device for when you’re writing in the POV of a character of the opposite persuasion.

What’s most interesting is the typical things we might look for to show gender in a passage aren’t what GG looks for. If your eyes don’t cross (as mine do), you can scan through the abstract that explains how GG works.

I challenge you to try GG out. See if your male character really sounds male, and your females sound female. And remember, it’ll have nothing to do with the topic of conversation. It’s how the conversation is worded.

Fascinating stuff. Now if I could only find an algorithm that would write Coral Moon for me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

New Story Blues

Thanks so much for the comments from yesterday. You all are truly a blessing.

Well, it’s Wednesday, and I am now officially 4 work days behind in my page count. I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday. A very frightening epiphany. Methinks I shall remain in such sorry state for the rest of my life when it comes to starting a new book. It’s the weirdest thing, the way my brain works in writing. I really would like to have the entire plot figured out when I start a new book. You see, I don’t like being spontaneous. I like things planned out. To the hilt. No surprises. (I save them for my poor characters).

I really am a very boring person.

So you think my brain would work that way in building a new story. Able to plan. Able to leap tall story structures with a single bound. But no—I get the premise, the basic twists . . . and no more. I am doomed to start the book—and rely on spontaneity. It’s like pulling teeth. (No, no, please, don’t get me started on the dentist thing.) I stare at the blank page—and start to sweat. No, it’s worse than that. I’m so scared of staring at the blank page, I can’t even get myself to open the file.

Man. I’m hopeless. I think somebody Up There got me mixed up with an author.

Because my brain is fried, and it’s going on 10 p.m. (as I write this Tuesday night), I have little more to offer you today than the first page or so of Coral Moon. Draft version, of course. If it makes it into the manuscript at all, which my last prologue . . . did not. Well, actually, it did make it. It just got . . . moved.

Sort of.


Kill and live. Let live—and die.

The words burned. Through his retinas, into his brain, back, back, to the innermost center of neurons and synapses. There they bubbled and frothed like hot acid, eating away at his soul.

Only a crazy person would follow this command.

He slapped both hands to his ears, cradled his head. Pushed in, squeezing, until the pressure battled the pain inside. His eyes screwed shut, mind pleading for the horrific message to be gone when they reopened. He hung there, cut off from the outer world, attention snagging on the life sounds of his body. The whoosh of breath, the beat of his heart.

The words boiled.

Soon the pressure grew too great to bear. He pulled his hands away, let them fall to his sides. The kitchen spun. He edged to a chair and dropped into it. Bent forward and pulled in air until the dizziness passed. Clutching hope, he turned his gaze once again to the table. The note was still there.

How did they get in here?

His shoulders slumped. What a stupid question. As if they lacked stealth, as if mere walls and locked entrances could keep them out. He’d been down the hall in his bedroom watching TV, the door wide open, yet had heard nothing. Hadn’t even sensed their presence as he pushed off the bed and walked with blithe ignorance to the kitchen for some water.

A chill blew over his feet.

His eyes bugged, then slowly scanned the room. Over white refrigerator and oak cabinets, wiped down counters and empty sink. To the threshold of the kitchen, leading into the hallway. There his gaze lingered as the chill worked his way up to his ankles. It had to be coming from the front of the house. His skin oozed sweat, sticky fear spinning down over him like the web of a monstrous spider. Trembling, he pulled himself out of the chair. For a moment he clung to the smooth table edge, ensuring his balance. Then slowly, heart beating in his throat, he forced himself across the floor, around the corner, through the hall and toward the front door.

It hung open a few inches.

His breath caught. They were taunting him . . .


Do I like this? I don’t know. I guess. Maybe, kinda. Was fun slipping the spider thing in there. Heh-heh.

In my next life, I am seriously going for that sitting-on-the-couch,-watchin’-Oprah,-eatin’-bonbons-gig.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Confirm the Work of Our Hands

As many of you know, I’m in the habit of praying the Psalms. This is something I began doing when I became so sick with Lyme three years ago, and I still go through ten psalms each morning (although 119 takes a day in itself). At this rate, I’ve gone through the Psalms many, many times. I turn the Psalms into personal prayers using the BPV—Brandilyn’s Prayer Version. There are Psalms of praise and those of petition—all relevant today. A few days ago I read Psalm 90, which ends with this verse (BPV): God, confirm for me the work of my hands. Yes, confirm the work of my hands. I thought I was praying about my writing as my work. God had other ideas.

Since then, I’ve received three “confirming” letters. Two came in yesterday. These e-mails were not about my writing. They had to do with my praying for others and my words of encouragement at the ACFW Conference.

These letters didn’t have to be sent. I had no expectations of receiving them. This is why they are such true and wonderful gifts. These people took time to tell me that something I did or said has helped them. God nudged them—and they listened. Through their obedience, God was able to send me a wonderful message: I confirm the work of your hands.

Each of these letters made me all teary-eyed. First, because it’s so incredible to see what God is doing in the lives of others. At such reminders of His mercy and gentle love, I feel overwhelmed. Second, because I felt so humbled and touched by these folks’ gestures toward me. That they would take time out of their day to write me letters—two of them very long—and pour our their hearts. They thought they were saying “Thank you.” Well, yes, they were. But I was the one who felt like I’d been given a gift.

Some necessary backstory (there’s that “B” word again!) for those who weren’t at the ACFW conference. After the Sunday morning worship service, Kim Sawyer gave her testimony of healing. After that I’d been asked if I would pray a healing prayer in closing. Little did I know what I was getting into when I agreed to do this.

Our God is a very efficient God. He uses our experiences—and the mercy He has shown us—to help us reach out to others. After my own healing 2 1/2 years ago, God saw fit to allow me to participate in the gifts of healing and word of knowledge. Those of you who’ve read my Never-Ending Saga on this blog will remember that I’ve mentioned this. Other than telling a few stories along these lines in blog posts, I really haven’t talked about this publicly, and I’ve certainly never prayed publicly in this way. Good grief, I never know what God’s going to do. Sometimes He gives me special words for people, sometimes not. If they come, I know the prayers are straight from Him. If they don’t, I pray as best I know for the person in a general way.

If I had known God expected me to pray in front of everybody at the ACFW conference through hearing His words of knowledge, I’d have wanted to hide in my hotel room.

But that’s just what happened. After Kim’s incredible testimony, I stepped up to the mic, expecting to pray a general prayer—and something happened. God just took over. I can’t even tell you how long the prayers went. I can’t tell you what I prayed for. I simply don’t remember. Well, that’s not true. I remember one comical thing. Just the night before I’d prayed with someone about her hand. Then on Sunday morning, God gave me a word about someone’s hand being healed. I have this vague memory of saying, “It’s not so-and-so’s hand, it’s someone else’s.” Later, I thought, how funny. It must have sounded to people like I was telling that person her hand would not be healed, but someone else’s would. But no—God was simply saying, “This is a second person, someone you don’t know about.”

God is so merciful. He absolutely took control of my mind and helped me just listen to Him. There was no room for Satan to get in there with the thought—Hey, girl, what are you doing? Don’t you know you sound like an idiot? Or even worse, a charlatan? One little thought like that coming through, and I’d have clammed up. I’m too weak, too frail as God’s servant. But He had plans for that service. And by gum, He was gonna carry them out.

Two days after the conference, I heard about the person (someone I didn’t know) whose hand was healed. As the days went by, I heard of other answers to prayer. Some immediate, some the beginning of a journey toward healing.

Fast forward to these e-mails I recently received after I’d prayed Psalm 90:17–-Confirm for me the work of my hands. God, again in His mercy, prompted some dear folks to write me. Not because He had to. Just to give me a gift—a special answer to that Psalm prayer.

Even as I write this post, I’ve been tempted numerous times to nix it and write another topic. I’m still shy and wary of talking about this kind of thing in public. But God really spoke to me through these people’s letters. I’m thinking perhaps some of you will benefit from what He impressed upon me.

1. When we take the time to write someone and tell that person what he/she has done to help us, we are giving a tremendous gift. If someone has helped you—take the time to tell that person so. God can use you to encourage this person, who may be in special need of it that very day.

2. I urge you to pray Psalm 90:17 for yourselves. Pray it often, and see what God does to encourage you in your walk. He may answer in ways you’d never have guessed.

God, confirm for us the work of our hands. Yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Feedback on Feedback

Howdy on a Monday, BGs. Thanks for the comments/answers to my questions from Friday. Here’s my take on a few of your comments:

C.J. said: (3) What are you reading now? The Novelist by Angela Hunt (Westbow) to review for Infuze magazine.

I just read Angela Hunt’s recent book, Unspoken. You never know what Angie’s going to do in a book, and this was no exception. This is a wonderful story about God’s creation, told through featuring a talking gorilla. (As in Koko, the real signing gorilla.) I fully expect The Novelist to be another great read. Also, Infuze is an interesting online publication, fusing art and faith. The recent issue has an interview with Kathy Mackel, wonderful Christian suspense writer. If you haven’t read any of Kathy’s books, you’re missing something. You will need to sign up to receive Infuze to read its articles, but it’s free, and the issues won’t clutter your inbox.

C.J. and others said: (4) What would you like to see more of in Christian suspense? I love it when a suspense author doesn't neglect character development.

I’m glad to hear the feedback about character. I have to agree. The most ingenious plot in the world won’t do much for me if I don’t care about the characters. It’s really hard in suspense to keep up high tension, yet take time to characterize. Very hard indeed. You’ve got to weave so much of the characterization into the events without stopping the action. This is something I always try to achieve, but it’s a difficult balance. Perhaps in some books I achieve it better than in others.

Tracy said: (4) What would you like to see more of in Christian suspense? More quantity--I run out of great books to read, because I read so fast.

Aw, sheesh, Tracy, nothing like cracking the whip. But hey, gotta love readers like you! I suggest to all of you to become a regular browser at From the fiction page, you can browse by genre. If you go to the suspense & intrigue genre for instance, you’ll pull up over 650 books. Tracy, maybe you won’t run out of books after all. The defaul listing of books is by current bestseller on (often mirroring which books are newer on the market). But you can choose to have the books list in different order, such as by publication date. This way, you can see the very latest—and some that aren’t quite yet released.

Stuart said: (1) What is your work in progress? My current WiP is a wild & crazy space opera titled SPF: 0 - Zeon Star. It follows the adventures of the misfit crew of the S.P.F.S Superfluous; a giant slug, a bubble, and a stickman, as they seek to retrieve the Zeon Star from the insidious Lord Scarab.

I know this is our Stuart. Even so, I’m not quite sure whether he’s pulling my leg. Either way, ya gotta love the guy.

Lynetta asked: Do you have a favorite book on the craft of plotting? So far I've only read James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure and Jack Bickam's Scene and Structure.

I always recommend Robert McKee’s Story: Principles of Screenwriting. Don’t let the screenwriting thing scare you away. Story is story, and much of the structure is the same. This is a fabulous book, one you’ll read and re-read. McKee also gives marathon weekend seminars, teaching from the book, but you can get much of the info from the book itself.

Also my book Getting Into Character has a chapter on plotting: Secret #2–-Action Objectives. I think I’ve covered much of this chapter on this blog. You might check the archives.

Becky said: Thanks for making the free stuff available, Brandilyn.

You’re welcome. And yes, bookmarks and bookplates are going in the mail to folks who’s already contacted my assistant. Just check out the page on my Web site and ask for what you will.

Domino said: Covering industry questions sounds good to me.

Okay. Not sure I can answer everything, but if somebody’s got a question, feel free to post it.

Bonnie said: I'd like to know how you go about crafting verbs the way you do. It's amazing how many different action verbs you can get into just one chapter, without repeating.

Well, Bonnie, it ain’t hard when you (1) misuse transitive and intransitive verbs, and (2) turn nouns into verbs. I mean, think of the possibilities from #2 alone. I checked out the beginning of Coral Moon. In the prologue I’ve used “tanged” and “puddling.” Great verbs, don’t you think? All they have to do is get by my editor. Buy hey, I have an out, remember? I just tell her—Editor, that’s my Voice. Ya wouldn’t wanna mess with the ol’ Voice, now would ya? Heh-heh.

Drat, she’ll probably flag them, and I’ll have to fight for ’em. That’s OK. Verb fights are worth it.

I’ll bet y’all out there can come up with a few great “verbouns.” Go ahead, try ’em on me. If I like one well enough, I’ll use it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Feedback is a Good Thing

Major thanks to all of you who commented about the first line for Coral Moon. You folks are terrific! I never would have thought about the “Live and Let Die” song—yet so many of you did. That left me in a quandary. Song issue aside, I liked the rhythm and repitition in the sentence. And it’s punchy, yet a little mysterious, which is just what I wanted. But how to change it to avoid that “oops, now a song’s runnin’ through my head” problem?

This is why collective minds work so well. I was looking over all the comments, wondering what to do, and then another came in—Becky, with her idea of using punctuation to remove the sentence a bit from sounding like the song. Becky suggested using a comma. Then it hit me. No, a comma’s not strong enough. But a dash would work great.

Kill and live. Let live—and die.

I think the dash actually makes the second sentence stronger. Does this remove those lyrics from your heads enough? (Problem is, this is like telling you not to think of little red monkeys. Suddenly, that’s all you’ll think about.)

By the way, I had a good laugh at some of y’all’s use of lyrics in your comments.

On another note: the “Free Stuff” page is now up on my Web site. Remember, this is in response to some of your suggestions. Go to the home page and click on “Free Stuff” at the bottom right, under the small Web of Lies cover. I’m still open to ideas from you as to stuff I could offer on this page. Just remember it has to be practical and affordable, in case I get a rush of requests.

In other news: I have a new agent. Press releases have gone out, so I’m free to tell you now. I’ve signed with Don Pape at Alive Communications. Don was formerly Publisher at Waterbrook (division of Random House), and before that put in many years of experience in selling/marketing books. He joined Alive Communications last spring. Don is a man who’s big on networking and relationships, and is popping with energy and ideas pertaining to the marketing of my work. I’m excited about this new partnership.

Finally, we have not had a BG check in since . . . well, I don’t know when. I know from feedback that this blog is read by readers as well as folks in the industry—editors, agents, and writers. I’d love to hear some news from those of you willing to comment. Choose some of these questions and answer succinctly. (1) What is your work in progress? (2) How long have you been writing fiction? (3) What are you reading now? (4) What would you like to see more of in Christian suspense? (5) What topic would you like to see covered here (that ain’t been already)?

Here’s to stayin’ alive this weekend, BGs.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Agents & Pages, Or Lack Thereof

Happy Friday!

Oh, drat. It’s only Thursday.

Frankly, it makes no difference to me what day it is. Because as of this morning I am officially behind on my page count for Coral Moon. Only a few pages, mind you, but behind nonetheless. which means I will be working this weekend. Sigh. The numbers look so good on my Year-at-a-glance calendar. I look at ’em and see how they magically add up at the end of each week . . . month . . . to the end of the book. Makes it look so easy to write a novel.

My mother asked me this morning how I’m doing with the new book. I told her I’m “supposedly writing.” Emphasis on the former word. One of these days I’m gonna learn to plot with ease.

Yesterday I promised Lynette I’d answer her question on agents: “I got an email from one apologizing for taking so long to get back to me and that I probably already had representation, but if I didn't, was I still interested. I emailed her back saying I was still interested and she requested the manuscript, author bio and synopsis. I'm assuming this is good. So from this point, how long should it take to hear it yay or nay? Just curious. Is there a specific timeline? Like, the longer it takes, the better? Or...not?”

Doggone it all, here’s the problem with trying to answer this question: agents have not gotten their acts together. There is no “How We’ll Behave” blueprint they’ve agreed to follow. One might get back to you in a week. Another may take two months. A third might get back to you when you haven’t even sent in anything. (That’s a surefire way to make an author’s head spin. Oh, no, what did I do, send in that tell-all letter to my best friend?)

However, since this agent contacted you, I’d say it’s fair for you to expect a quicker turn-around. If you don’t hear from her in a month (and I think that’s more than enough time, given her come hither letter), e-mail her and ask what’s up.

Now, as to the title for Kanner Lake #3. You all are wonderfully creative, and I love to see your ideas. I have to give the most credit to Katie Hart, who came in on the money when she suggested Crimson Dusk. Not that the book will necessarily be titled this. But Katie picked up on the rhythm and meaning of the first two titles, and repeated them accordingly. And y’all know how big I am on rhythm. Violet Dawn and Coral Moon. First word is a color, two syllable. (Okay, violet is technically three, but the o is a soft syllable.) Second word is some part of the day, one syllable. Therefore, Crimson Dusk fits the bill. I actually have been thinking about Scarlet Eve. Same idea, really, but it trips off the tongue a little easier.

Oh, it’s so much fun to discuss a title for a future book. Way funner than plotting the one whose blank pages are staring me in the face. Actually, I do have two whole pages, whahoo. Want to hear the first line?

Kill and live. Let live and die.

Whadya think? Go ahead, have at it. The last time I posted my first line (for Violet Dawn), man, did I hear from y'all. Nothing like a little chance to edit to get your blood pounding.

See you tomorrow, on the real Friday.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Call (World's Worst Dental Patient--Part 4)

First, I need to thank y’all for leaving ideas for titles for the third Kanner Lake book. I look at all your comments, and you never know which ideas I’ll use. I already incorporated some ideas from the other day, when I asked the question about marketing: “What would you like to see from me?” Jackie and Camy mentioned bookmarks. ValMarie mentioned bookplates. Those comments got me thinking. Hm, one thing I don’t have on my Web site is a “Free Stuff” page. So as of now, I’m officially in the midst of making one happen.

Yesterday (when I should have been plotting, but, oh, well), I created the layouts of bookplates for each of my suspense novels. Each plate will be like a label—that is, peel-off back and stick—and will have a portion of the book’s cover running across the top and my “Seatbelt Suspense” logo on the bottom. Plenty of room in the middle for an autograph. I already have bookmarks for the Hidden Faces series—full color front and back on nice, heavy card stock. Extra gloss on top to fight against fingerprints. These will be the first two things I offer on the “Free Stuff” page. Basically, folks can e-mail my assistant and ask for plates or bookmarks for themselves or friends/family, and she’ll send them along at no cost. I’m hoping in time I’ll be able to add to the list of free items. When this page is up on my site, I’ll let y’all know. If you have other ideas for free stuff (that I can afford), do let me know.

Lynette—I promise to get to your agent question tomorrow.

For today, I told you I’d relate the woes of my call to the dentist, and the oh-so-chipper receptionist who answered. When I told her I needed to schedule my funeral, her response was, “Huh?”

“You know, a funeral. With a casket and such? Do bring lots of flowers. You see, I need two crowns and a big filling, just check my file.”

“Oh, well then, it’s not a funeral!” (Smile, smile in her voice, like she’s talking to a confused child.) “It’s the birth of a new tooth!”

I aimed a Garfield, Why me? look across the office. “Well, sooo glad you see it that way.” Easy for you, Miss I Just Work Here. “Can we just schedule the thing? And don’t forget I’m going for the drug-her-from-here-to-Sunday option.”

“The sedation? O-kaa-ey!”

Brother. Now it sounded like she was planning a jaunt to Disneyland.

“Actually,” she spouted, “you’ll need three appointments.”

I nearly choked. “Three?”

“Uh-huh. First a ten-minute visit just so you can talk to the doctor about the sedation process.”

Sedation process? Just load me up with pills; what’s to talk about?

“Second is the actual procedure.”

“You mean the two hours of Nazi drilling.”

A little chuckle. “The drilling, yes, to prepare the teeth.”

“You know, it’s bad form to be your scariest in the second act. What’s left for the crisis/climax?”

“Um . . . sorry?”

Okay, so she didn’t know who she was talking to. I figured I’d better drop the fictionese. “So, the third visit is?”

“It will be two weeks later. We put the permanent crowns on then.”

“No drilling?”

“No, huh-uh. Nothing hurts in this procedure.”

Note between the lines—“this procedure.”

Thus begins the calendar negotiations. You’d have thought we were trying to schedule a summit of world leaders. My frequent traveler hubby has to drive me to appointment #2, see. Plus pick me up. This is because I will be drugged out of my mind. My dentist has yet to see me loaded with Valium. I can’t take the stuff. I will not rise from his chair for two days. Then I will crawl out. But I am not telling him this. Oh, no. I’d rather die than face that drill sober.

So my favorite receptionist and I run into problems. There are only certain days Mark can take me. And we have to fit the doc’s availability. Then, by the time doc can do the Nazi drill appointment, it’s too late to schedule #3 two weeks later, because I’m already gone to Coeur d’Alene for Christmas. We’re only off by one lousy work day. I try to wheedle Miss Ever So Happy into giving the lab one less day to make the crowns. Kid won’t budge. She might be chipper, but she downright solemn when it comes to playing by the rules. I tell her I have to get this done before Christmas. I can’t bear to procrastinate. The longer I have to wait for this procedure, the longer I will have the night sweats. Better to go under the roto rooter and get the thing done. Miss ESH puts me on hold to talk to doc. She comes back on the line, her voice a little less chipper. I’m thinking her little tete-a-tete with the boss has set her straight on exactly who she’s dealing with. She’s lost a little of her cheer gumption, if you know what I mean.

Miss Once So Happy says she can pull the Drill Death appointment forward one day, giving us two weeks for appointment #3. I am grateful and devastated at the same time. This event is actually going to happen.

“Well, gee, thanks,” I manage. “Do tell the doc hi for me.”

“Oh, I certainly will. He’ll be sooo happy to see you.”

My, my, what is this I detect? A hint of sarcasm? Huh-uh, that’s my turf. “He sure will be. He’s always thrilled to see me, I can tell you. Don’t know what he would do without me to brighten his days.”

“Yes. Ha-ha-ha.” The laugh comes out a little sick-sounding. Poor gal’s sorry excuse for sarcasm proved no match for mine.

I hung up the phone thinking Miss Once So Happy is no doubt planning on being violently ill on the days I grace the office.

Death By Drilling is Friday, Dec. 2. I have less than a month to live and blog. Better make the most of my posts.

Read Part 5

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More on Book Covers

Thanks for all the feedback yesterday. It’s so interesting to see the different perspectives. As for the Violet Dawn cover, I have to agree that the text for the title is big. Why? I think the artist needed to make it that big to “anchor” the snake. As for the different fonts, I agree it’s not that usual to mix sans serif and serif type. The font for my name has that faint “chiller” effect in that not all the letters are exactly even. I suppose the juxtaposition of the two kinds of fonts is meant to be another jarring sort of thing. Like the snake.

Oh. Speaking of the reptile. It’s now gray, not so dark. (Click link above to see new version.) Stands out a lot more. The first snake was just put there because of its cool shape. But we had to make the snake a Black Mamba. (No need, by the way, to write me and tell me black mambas are not found in northern Idaho. This one . . . happens to be. Oh, and black mambas aren’t really black.) You’ll see a brush stroke on the tail that looks a little removed from the rest of the snake. That will be taken off. As for the snake’s head—no one commented how it goes off the cover. This was to keep it from looking too scary, so says the artist. I have to laugh at that, because it’s been the trend lately to cut off people’s faces on covers. Supposed to lend a bit of mystery to the character. Now I see it even applies to snakes, for the opposite reason. Here are some examples of cut off faces from new fiction: Creston Mapes’ Dark Star. Kristen Heitzmann’s Secrets. James Patterson’s Mary Mary.

In the comments from yesterday these books were mentioned. Tom Morrisey’s Deep Blue. This is a great cover that you need to see in person. It’s another Zondervan cover. Tom sent various art selections to me and a few other Z authors for us to choose which one we liked best. I chose this one, hands down. The really cool thing is the embossing of the bubbles. When you move the book in the light, the bubbles sparkle like they’re moving. Eric Wilson’s Expiration Date. Very interesting cover, as was his first book’s cover, Dark to Mortal Eyes. Melanie Wells’ When the Day of Evil Comes really does have a creepy-looking man in the water.

I think covers are mostly for those readers who aren’t familiar with the author. I mean, if you really like an author and are waiting for his/her next book, you’re gonna buy it regardless of the cover. But if you don’t know the author, you need something to compel you to pick the book up.

On a completely different note—I scheduled my funeral today. In other words, I called the dentist. And don’t you know the gal who answered the phone was just oh, so chipper! Sounded like she oughtta be working in a candy store instead of the Devil’s Drill. More on our most luuuvly conversation tomorrow.

Monday, November 07, 2005

ARC Winners & Book Covers

Happy Monday, all. First, thanks much for the ideas over the weekend. Know that I take note of all of them and appreciate your creativity.

We have rather an eclectic post today. First . . . drum roll, please. Winners of the Web of Lies ARCs are: Amber Raley, Anna Bowling, Becky Miller, Beth Bowen, Cindy Quiroga, Jill Nutter, Judith Long, Laurie Motz, Lillie Neal, Lori Archer, Lyneette Eason, Nancy Farrier, Pamela James, Sharon Encinas, Sonya Aydell, Stacey Dale, Tina Helmuth, and Tracy Bolton Jones.

I recognize a few BGs in there. That’s great! And—I have about 12 ARCs left. (Zondervan sent extra copies.) So I’m going to run the contest again, for a week or so. If you’d like to enter, click here to go to the previous post that will tell you what to do. I will also be opening up the contest to ACFW this time, but don’t let that deter you. Less people (even from a large group) enter these contests than you’d think.

Second—Lynette wanted to know if we could discuss a question about agents. Sure, Lynette, go ahead and post it. I think we’ve discussed agents before. If your question covers new ground, I’ll post an answer. Otherwise, I’ll just give you the link to the right archive date.

Third-wanna see the Violet Dawn cover? I think it’s absolutely stunning. Click here for a hidden link on my Web site to view it. I’d like your feedback on it. And I’d like to generate some discussion about covers in general.

Thoughts behind this concept: After the Hidden Faces series, the marketing folks at Zondervan thought that maybe the covers had been a little too scary and had actually frightened some people off. (Can you imagine that. Those wimps!) Actually, some of you may be among that group. At any rate, we thought for the Kanner Lake series we’d tone down the covers to show the idea of beauty (natural loveliness of Kanner Lake area) infused with a touch of evil. This goes along, too, with my titles, which aren’t so hard-hitting as in the Hidden Faces series. After Violet Dawn will come Coral Moon, then, I don’t know, Some Color Something. (Ideas always welcome.) Note in the Violet Dawn cover these interesting things: (1) how the branches weave through my name, (2) the disturbed circle of water underneath the snake, (3) the vague lights of the town awakening across the water, (4) the way cool posturing of the snake around the title letters. (And yes, the snake is there for a very specific reason.)

My daughter saw this cover and wasn’t so impressed. “Not scary enough,” she said. So I told her we were trying to tone it down on purpose. This is a cover that would make me pick up the book, even if I didn’t recognize the author’s name. What do y’all think? And along the same lines, what are some great covers you’ve seen lately? Why do you like them?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Follow-up Questions and Stuff

Happy Friday, BGs. And it is happy. Today I’ll be e-mailing off my rewrite of Violet Dawn. Yippee-yay! By this time I am thoroughly sick of the book. This is normal. Also by this time I no longer think it’s any good. Also normal. I’ve been over the thing so many times now that the chapter hooks fail to move me and the story’s lost all its punch.

I shall now need the editors’ wows to start building me back up and tell me I’ve done a good job. Let’s hope that happens. So far it ain’t failed to yet. Then give me a few more months beyond that, and I’ll actually feel good about the book again.

Last book I finished was, of course, Web of Lies (releases January). By the time I was done with that book—same thing. I e-mailed it off, thinking, “Well, that’s one boring read.” Then my husband read it and went absolutely nutso over it. Like he hasn’t done with any of my other books. And the editor really thought it rocked. So now, a few months before it’s ready to come out, I like the thing again. In fact, I think the plot downright zings, and it’s gonna give Dead of Night a run for its money.

Same book, completely different outlooks on it. Only difference is the passage of time. See why we authors can’t listen to those fickle voices in our heads while we're writing? They just aren’t reliable.

Speaking of Web of Lies, today is the drawing for the winners of those 25 ARCs (advanced reading copies). I’ll post the winners’ names on Monday. Those ARCS will be going in the mail soon. Only two things the winners will have to pledge. (1) No giving away the story twists. (2) No giving away the book dedication. Which is going to come as a complete surprise to some folks.

Some questions from yesterday. Bonnie wanted to know what “red herrings” mean. Bonnie, they’re false clues. Woven into the story to fool the reader into thinking X is guilty when he’s not, or Y happened, when it didn’t, etc. We suspense and mystery writers are basically a deceitful, conniving lot.

Regarding my tendency to misuse transitive and intransitive verbs ,and turn nouns into verbs, Becky asked, “Do you think that ever becomes a distraction to the story? Or does it seem like the only 'right' way of saying what you're thinking?” Yes, I think anything like this can be overused. That’s why my good ol’ eds will let me get away with some of it—enough not to quash my voice—but not all of it. But bottom line, I always strive for the tightest, punchiest sentence. Whatever I have to do to get that—I’m there.

Before I sign off for the week, it’s my turn to pose a marketing question. What would y’all like to see happen for you as the months approach toward a new book release of mine? What would you like to receive as a BG, and what would you do in response to receiving it? Be as creative as you like. (Except for you, Stuart. Your creativity is downright scary. Just regular ol’ thinking from you is about all I can handle.) Whether your ideas are affordable is another issue, but money aside for the moment, I’d like to see what you come up with.

Signing off for the weekend. When we gather again on Monday, I doggone better have a good idea about the next book I’m writing.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Editorial Letter for Violet Dawn--Part II

Thanks to those of you who commented yesterday. It was particularly fun seeing some new names. Chris Well (author of Forgiving Solomon Long), a special greeting to you.

I got a kick out of y’all’s comments on the transitive/intransitive verb thing. Was happy to see you were as confused as I. What the heck’s an intransitive verb, anyway? Thanks to Cara for answering that question so completely in her
comments yesterday. Somebody asked how my misuse of these verbs affects my writer’s voice. According to my long-time editor (who knows me all too well), I’ll write a sentence such as: Adrenaline trembled her nerves. That’s making an intransitive verb a transitive one—that is, giving it a direct object when it shouldn’t have one. The right way would be to say: Adrenaline shook her nerves, or: She trembled with adrenaline. Sheesh, see how boring those sentences are? Adrenaline trembled her nerves rocks. I’m stickin’ with it.

I also have this habit of turning nouns into verbs. Again, I think it gives a zing effect. Like the sentence: Fresh fear cleated up her spine. Well, I know what cleats are, and the thought of cleated shoes going up someone’s spine just trembles my nerves. So I verbed the noun. Good ol’ Word clouted my “cleated” with one of those rude wavy red underline thingies. Word has no imagination.

Anyhoo, back to dealing with the macro edit letter for Violet Dawn. How do you start rewriting a book when you gotta deal with 15 pages of edits?

First, for a day I simply thought about the major points. I agreed with all the issues the editors had raised. And I thought many of their suggestions for changes were good. But I don’t have to just 100% do what they suggest. Sometimes I can come up with an even better way to fix an issue. Sometimes I’ll take their idea, but add my own spin to it.

After thinking a day and listing what I thought I would do to handle the major changes, I had a phone conversation with the freelance editor. Told her my thoughts and my ideas for using her suggestions. We talked them all through and agreed on the issues. At that point, I was ready to roll.

What to tackle first?

Lemme tell ya, I’m a card carrying, off the charts “J” on the Myers Briggs. Which means I just luuuv to check off lists. So I started with the easy stuff. Best to get that out of the way, so when I begin the rewrite on page 1, I don’t have to remember that I need to fix some particular sentence on page 102. As I mentioned yesterday, I first went through the individual sentence issues (copy edit stuff) and changed those. This did not take long.

Zowie, five whole pages to check off!

Then I turned to the minor issues, seeing which ones I could change easily. Some were pretty self-contained fixes. As I got through them, I’d check off the paragraph. Just made my “J” heart sing, I’ll tell ya.

Finally I had it narrowed down to the big stuff. I had five major points. (1) Bring in other characters earlier (which meant writing some new scenes for the beginning, (2) change the bad guy’s persona somewhat, (3) change a few details at the crime scene (can’t go into more detail than that), (4) pump up the twists, and (5) work in a few more red herrings (no more detail on this either).

These five points were on a list before me, and branded into my brain, as I started at page 1 with the rewrite.

Well. Five points on a list is one thing. Making the changes is something else. Thing is, in my books everything means something. The way a sentence, or even a phrase, is worded can make a huge difference. So when I change something at the beginning of a novel, it’s like changing the color of that thread. The thread then has to be worked into the entire tapestry of the story. I can’t drop it. I can’t forget, half way through, that I’ve tweaked its color at the beginning. And sometimes it’s hard, because I’ll be thinking I wrote this or that, but oops—no, those sentences were taken out. I now gotta work in whatever was essential in that passage somewhere else. The rewrite becomes a huge puzzle, and everything has to fit just so. This is why it takes me a week or more, and the days are long. I’m really entrenched in the work at that point.

Now, the draft is all done. Which means check marks everywhere on my letter. Hey, the girl’s dancin’. Now I’m reading through the book one more time, catching minute points. I like to do this read-through with as few interruptions as possible, but life does get in the way. Sometimes, if I can manage it energy-wise, the read through is a great time to pull an all-nighter.

By Friday I’ll be e-mailing the thing off to the editors. From there, it’s easier sailing. We’ll later go into the track change edit (individual sentence stuff), then to the copy edit (detailed stuff—and this is done by a different editor), and finally to proofing the galleys. Then, voila! A book!

This Saturday, don’t think I’ll be out playing. Violet Dawn may be rewritten and e-mailed off, but I really gotta come up with the plot for the next one in the series. Anybody got any ideas? :)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Editorial Review on Violet Dawn--Part I

Happy Wednesday, BGs.

Beginning today over on the Charis Connection blog is a three-part post from me. (Link to Charis is over on your left.) Some of you will recognize it as an excerpt from our NES (Never-Ending Saga) months ago. It details my woes in plotting Web of Lies (coming out in January).

And now for my current woes—rewriting Violet Dawn after receiving my “macro” editorial letter. That is, the big picture edit. For you new BGs, Violet Dawn is the first book in my new Kanner Lake suspense series, set in Northern Idaho. The book will release next August.

By the way, I made a mistake yesterday. The review letter isn’t 22 pages; it’s 15. Single-spaced. That’s long enough. No doubt my memory stretched the thing out.

So what does it say? I can’t go into details with every point because I don’t want to give away the story. But I’ll cover as much as I can.

First I want to stick my neck out with an opinion. Every novelist ought to be getting an editorial letter as detailed as this one. That’s because all novels, no matter how talented you think the author may be, need a good, hard edit. Problem is, they all don’t get one. When I hear an author say, “Oh, I hardly had to change a thing in my novel,” I worry. I don’t think, “The novel must be perfect.” I think, “How much experience does that editor have, anyway?” Not all editors are created equal.

Either I’m right about this, or I’m just a lousy writer who needs a lot of fixing. Either way, I’m doggone thankful for my hard-nosed editors.

The Violet Dawn review letter was written by two editors. The first is a freelance gal, with a great reputation in our industry, who will continue working on the book through future edits. This is the first time this freelance editor and I have worked together. (She will continue with me for the whole Kanner Lake series.) The second is the Zondervan acquiring editor, who added her notes and agreements to the first editor’s in a different color font.

Nothing like being double edited. No wonder the letter is long.

First 1 ½ pages: “What’s Working.” Nice to see editors take some time with this up front, so a poor author won’t feel too beat down. Some things that the editors say are good in Violet Dawn: Rich emotional complexity. Empathetic, well-rounded protagonist and secondary characters. Energetic pacing. Terrific action. Good sensory awareness of setting and events. Thematic threads are subtle but taut.

Hey. Sounds like a perfect novel, right?

Now for the big picture concerns. 5 ½ pages. Yikes. Each of these points takes up a lot of paragraphs as the editors discuss specifics and suggest changes.

1. Need to identify which of the plot questions is the best and primary driving force through the story, then make sure the plot serves the purpose of keeping these questions alive and immediate. I plead the Fifth against going into detail here. Suffice it to say, I had to really think through this issue, with the help of the editors, and change some things accordingly.

2. Greater surprise in the twists. Thank goodness here for the fresh eyes of the editors. This is why I don’t want my editors to know the story ahead of time. That way they can check to see whether the twist is too jolting or not surprising enough. With my full knowledge of all the surprises, it’s very hard for me to judge this.

3. A more complex who-dun-it puzzle. Again, I can’t go into details.

4. More characters sooner. This was an interesting one to me. I’d had my protagonist, Paige, take up the entire first act for specific reasons. The editors suggested writing some new scenes for secondary characters so I could bounce from Paige to them, introducing each of them earlier. Much better idea. This resulted in my writing three new scenes.

5. More rabbit trails. This ties in with amping up the twists.

6. Tighten writing. This concern takes about a page, including specific examples of various sentences. Nothing surprising here and easy to fix. I’m always tightening the writing up to the last. My goal is to make every line zing.

Lesser Concerns: 3 pages. Most of these had to do with various characters. Pumping up/tightening their characterization. Each of the concerns was discussed in a paragraph or more.

Here’s one I got a kick out of: “Misused Verbs.” New editor informs me I “use transitive and intransitive verbs interchangeably.” Really? I had no idea. Then the Z editor pipes in and tells new editor that this is one of the trademark signatures of my voice, so she lets me get away with it whenever she can. To which the new editor replies, “Oh, okay, didn’t know that. I sure don’t want to squelch your voice.”

How fascinating. I didn’t even know I was breaking a grammar rule, much less than my Z editor was actually letting me get away with something. Interesting thing, those writers’ voices.

Finally, 5 pages of “Details”—individual sentences in which the editor questions the use of a word or phrase. These are easy to fix, and I did them first, before the rewriting changed all the page numbers and they’d be harder to find. This is actually more of a copyedit thing (one of the more specific edits down the road for Violet Dawn), but as long as the macro editors spotted these sentences, they might as well note them.

Tomorrow, more specifics on how I handled the major and minor points.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Post Glorieta

And we’re back!

Welcome to the new BGs (bloggees, or blog readers) who are joining us after hearing about this blog at the Glorieta conference. Hope you’ll make yourselves at home. We talk about fiction here . . . and we have a lot of fun.

BGs, a little housekeeping. I discovered this morning that my blog has been being spammed in the comments section. I went through old posts and found numerous spamming comments, and had to go all the way back to February’s posts to get rid of them all. As a result, I’ve turned on the spammer protection for this blog. Now when you post a comment, you’ll first be asked to type a series of letters and numbers that appear on your screen. It’ll only take you a couple of seconds to do this, so don’t be alarmed. But it’ll save me a lot of time in policing this site.

So—a report post-Glorieta. This was a big conference: 450 attendees in total, including 100 faculty. Most faculty were normals (those nonfiction types), but there were a few fictioneers besides me—including Angela Hunt, James Scott Bell, Lynn Coleman, Steve and Janet Bly, Tracie and Jen Peterson, and Gayle Roper. I taught a couple of courses from Getting Into Character, sold a bunch of books (should have taken more), and generally had a great time. This is a very packed conference schedule-wise, with breakfast at 7 a.m. (can you believe it!). It started Wednesday evening and went through Sunday lunch. There were even some Sunday afternoon workshops for those late-stayers.

Four items of note from my travels:

1. When Southwest Airlines says 50 pounds a bag limit, they mean 50 pounds a bag limit. Either that, or I ended up with Miss Play-by-the Rules behind the counter. I was toting my own books, see, so I could charge less for them (I sell them at my cost to give conferees a break). And my two suitcases were loaded. One came in at exactly 50 pounds. The other was at 56. So I took out six books and stuffed them in an already full carry-on. Got the suitcase down to 51 pounds. I shot Miss Play-by-the-Rules a hey-come-on-what’s-a-pound-over look. No dice. She gave her head a severe shake and informed me I’d better get it down another pound, or I’d be forking over $25. The carry-on got another book stuffed in it. Sheesh.

2. Glorieta is at 7500 feet. This bothered me not in the least, probably because I run 5 miles a day. Or maybe because I blow a lot of hot air, who knows. At any rate, a few people got rather dizzy. So do be prepared for the heady altitude if you go next year.

3. Take comfortable shoes to Glorieta. There’s a bit of hoofing it, especially from the classes to the dining room. If you wanna eat, you gotta walk. Well, except for the numerous cheaters who drove back and forth. I was not technically a cheater, since I didn’t do the driving. But my thumb worked very well.

4. You have never seen
Steve Bly until you’ve seen him in his ever-present cowboy hat and a pair of blue, rhinestone-studded sunglasses. The glasses belong to me. But they look mighty hot on Steve. A few folks took pictures. I’m waiting to receive one so I can post it. Trust me, this is a photo worth waiting for.

Okay, BGs, last week a couple of you asked that I tell you a little more about the 22-page editorial review letter for my novel Violet Dawn (releasing August 2006). What exactly goes into such a letter? What sort of rewriting has to be done as a result of receiving feedback from the editor? We’ll talk about that tomorrow.