The Power of Coffee!

Upcoming Meeting Dates

Part instruction, brainstorming, motivation, & critique, our supportive group meets the second and fourth Saturday of the month and is user-friendly, inspirational, and empowering. Every woman deserves a room of her own.

"As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move...similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle."~Honore de Balzac

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fall Literary Salon

A FALL LITERARY SALON is planned for October 6, 2012 in Coto de Caza! Featured speaker will be Caitlin Rother, New York Times bestselling author of eight true crime books and novels. Caitlin has appeared on radio and television in connection with her work and is currently working on book #9. Many of you know of the Newport Beach case where a couple selling their yacht Well Deserved met with a tragic fate while demonstrating their boat to potential buyers. That story is told in Caitlin Rother's book Dead Reckoning. Other books you might be familiar with are My Life, Deleted and Where Hope Begins/ Deadly Devotion. In addition, Caitlin is known for her controversial book, Lost Girls, as well as  Poisoned Love, Body Parts, and Twisted Triangle. She will be speaking of her writer's journey that led to the writing of her books as well as offering advice for other women pursing their artistic dreams.

Also featured will be the award-winning poet Allison Benis White, author of Portrait With Crayon and the upcoming Small Porcelain Head. The Boston Review says: "It’s rare to find a book of poetry that makes a reader remember why one reads poetry, but Allison Benis White has written one. In these prose poems, she uses paintings and sketches by Edgar Degas to frame the speaker’s abandonment by her mother. Indeed drawing, painting and sketching are the perfect metaphors for this speaker’s obsession…In essence, Benis White is exploring what humans are when they exist, and what they are when they disappear."

More details will be forthcoming. Seating is limited. Includes champagne reception, lunch, book signing, and networking with women who love the creative process. Join aspiring writers, published authors, editors, readers, and poets for a wonderful afternoon.

This particular Saturday definitely belongs to YOU! 
Join us for a true Artist's Day.

Reserve your seat now ($70). By Mail or Online. 949-285-3831
Personal checks to Windflower Press
Sponsored by Windflower Press, Box 7089, Laguna Niguel, CA 92607
Jann Harmon, MaryAnn Easley, Elaine Pike

Friday, April 13, 2012

Query Letters

Your query letter to an editor or agent is important. 

Yes, they read them

A query should be a single page cover letter that introduces you and your manuscript.

Let me say this again: a query letter is ONE page and it introduces you and your book. It is simple and to the point and is three paragraphs long. The goal of the query letter is to get the editor or agent to ask for sample chapters or the full manuscript.

Paragraph One is The Hook: A hook is a concise, one-sentence tagline for your manuscript that will hook your reader's interest. It is similar to what you would say in an elevator if you have about a minute to give a VIP a pitch about your great American novel. .Check the loglines of popular books and that'll give you an idea how you should write your hook.

Here's an example:

Bridges of Madison County
When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson's farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever. 

Here's another example: 

The Kite Runner
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present. 

Here's one more example:

Into Thin Air
On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world, and barely made it back alive from the deadliest season in the history of Everest. 

Paragraph Two is the Mini-Synopsis: Try to distill your 350 page novel into one paragraph. That's what you do in this part of the letter. This will be the longest paragraph and the most difficult to write.  Summing up your entire book in an intriguing single paragraph will be a grueling task, but you must take the time and effort to do it. Condense whatever synopsis you've been working on into 150 words. Give a little more information about your main characters, their conflicts, and how their lives change. Read book jackets of popular bools for ideas on how to write the mini-synopsis.

Paragraph Three is the Writer’s Bio: This should be short and sweet and pertain to you as the writer or expert on the topic you are writing about and should not relate to your family life, high school reunion, or recreational activities. The less you say here, the more you can put in the mini-synopsis. Include writing awards or publishing credits if they are significant and appropriate.

Your Closing: Thank the agent or editor for her time and consideration. If it’s nonfiction, say that you’ve included an outline, table of contents, and sample chapters for review. If it’s fiction, say that the that the full manuscript is available upon request.

Remember that this is a business letter so don't get cute or fancy or chatty. Hook 'em, reel 'em in, and make a fast exit.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hooking the Reader

We know that the first line of any work-in-progress should catch the reader's attention. We mustn't, however, lead the reader in a wrong direction. The hook must fit the story. A romance story needs one kind of opening; a science fiction plot calls for another.

The opening often introduces character(s) and/or setting. Something significant can lie in the first lne of the story. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." (Tolstoy's Anna Karenina). The entire mood of the story can be set by the opening lines. A character's voice can be established in the very beginning. How can we possibly forget the opening lines of Nabokov's Lolita? "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." And check out Poe's Tell-Tale Heart. Brilliant.

The opening is determined by the genre and establishes the narrator's voice. Right away, we either trust or distrust the POV narrator.

By analyzing the way authors open their stories, we can collect our favorite hooks and learn what works and what doesn't.

According to Writer's Digest, there are seven ways to start:
1) A statement of external principle. This opening is characteristic of European classics le Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

2) A statement of simple fact. This is a hook without gimmicks. "I had a farm in Africa" (Dinesen's Out of AFrica) is a good example.

3) A statement of paired facts. "In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together." MCuller's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter)

4) A statement of simple fact laced with significance. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind is a tantalizing example – "Scarlett I'Hara was not beautiful ..."

5) A statement to introduce voice. See Nabokov's Lolita above.

6) A statement to establish mood. This is where the author sets an ominous tone for what follows. Vampire stories, horror and science fiction often use this hook. This is also used in tranquil period pieces.

7) A statement that serves as a frame. "Once upon a time" is the frame and the end will be "And they lived happily ever after."

See the February, 2011 issue of Writer's Digest for the complete article under how to write better. Collect good hooks. Analyze what works best for your favorite genre. In the competitive publishing world, a good hook that captures the reader's attention is a must.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Backstory in the Novel

At 94,000 words, my SFD is finished. Being the first draft, that means it's filled with dreadful backstory and is a dumping ground for anecdotes, boring research, narration, character description, information and ... well, you get it ... help!

Time to set the manscript aside for a few months (six months advises Stephen King) and then I can start whacking away and think strategically about how characters can be revealed through action and dialogue.

I need to tell the reader only what he or she needs to know for what's happening at that moment in the story. Backstory should be sprinkled in, a little here and there, and I need to cut, cut, cut. The sobering realization hit me as I was reading a chapter aloud one day that I, too, a writing teacher and published author, simply can't write a first draft without dumping in all that boring backstory.

It's the old "telling vs showing" thing we talk about all the time. I know better than to start the story by telling the reader a lot of stuff he or she doesn't need to know. If the reader's senses are engaged––and my first readers definitely showed signs of yawning boredom––it doesn't matter how eloquent the writing. Backstory prohibits the reader from actively being engaged in the story and all that background information may or may not be needed. I must begin at that MOMENT OF CHANGE right in the middle of the action and I have to do it in such a way that the reader cares about the character and is a participant rather than a distant observer. I can do this by utilizing universal emotions and making sure that the reader is invested in the characters. I have to forge that emotional connection as soon as possible, too.

Backstory is essential since characters have histories and their motivations and reactions stem from past events in their lives. Background information must be interspersed throughout the action with details that evoke the images and feelings I want the reader to have. I want my reader to react emotionally to the characters and that means I have to hook them and keep that reader aligned with the protagonist throughout.

Merriam Webster defines backstory as: a story that tells what led up to the main story or plot. Backstory is all the details that occurred prior to your story, which have an impact on your characters and the plot. Backstory helps your reader understand why your character acts or reacts the way they do now.

Rules Regarding Backstory:

1. Never start your story with backstory. While a prologue is a way to get some backstory in, it usually isn't necessary. Start your story at THE MOMENT OF CHANGE, that moment when your main character’s life is changed by some event or circumstance that sends him or her on a journey.

2. Never dump Wikipedia type stuff into the story and never dump a whole lot in one huge boring heap.

3. Never include backstory in dialogue between characters when both characters are already familiar with the backstory and would have no reason to discuss it.

4. Flashback is one way to add some backstory but be careful Transition in and ot of flashback gracefully and don't spend too long a time in the flashback scene.writinh flashback is difficult because readers must always be oriented as to where and when in regards to the story.

5. Backstory can also be included when a character has internal thoughts about the past or relates a memory to another character.

6. The best way to add backstory is to sprinkle it in appropriately and only as needed. Some authors do it brilliantly. Elizabeth George, for instance.

Monday, December 19, 2011

85,000 Words & Revising

Okay, I guess it's time to finally update everyone on the SFD* manuscript I roughed out in October as an experiment to see if it's even feasible to write 50,000 words in one month. If so, I planned to wholeheartedly endorse the increasingly popular NaNoWriMo marathon to my writing and journaling students as well as my writer friends. As you know from previous posts, I did it! And then some.

The best part of all this is it got me out of the writing funk and back into the writing groove.

I have been working on this manuscript ever since. I reached over 85,000 words during November, probably closer to 85,650 words, and during my daily revision process, cutting, switching paragraphs and sentences, deleting, adding, etc., the word count fluctuates but remains at about 85,000.

Word count, of course, is not important. What's important is that I am having a blast working on this project, one that took off once I found my POV narrator.

Here are a few more things I've learned about the writing process during the past three months:

It's important to be so in tune with your POV narrator that he or she takes over and just tells the story. This often doesn't happen so the way to force it to happen is to analyze the story idea from the viewpoint of different characters in the plot. The one you first thought might tell the story might not be the best one to choose. You need to know your narrator well. YOU are the author, not the narrator. Remember that.

It's important to continue to write daily, to live and breathe the story, so that you don't lose continuity. I found that my story holds together better this time because I took it in one huge plunge rather than spreading it out over years. I could more easily remember what happened earlier in the story and had a bead on what would happen later.

It's important to continue to read good books to stay inspired by the best that's out there. You aren't competing with these authors. You're being inspired to improve the level of your game. Just when you think you've got a perfect scene, you read a far better one in a novel and yearn to improve your own.

It's important to revise, revise, revise. As you do, you may discover the real story you are writing. To write, we must risk and make mistakes and that's why it's called the SFD*. Over and over, we must start again. Writing is RE-writing. As a sentence is retyped, it is often rephrased for the better or simply deleted. One word leads to the next, and every word must count and gleam. Writing is an art form and we must think like artists. Every sentence leads to the next. Nouns must be concrete; verbs must be active and appropriate; adverbs and adjectives must be scarce.

*SFD=Shitty First Draft

Monday, October 31, 2011

50,000 Words & Counting!

Yes,it can be done!

I decided to try the NaNoWriMo challenge a month early to see if it's even feasible to get 50,000 words written in 30 days. I wanted to do so before I urged my writing students to sign up. I am happy to report that it is not only possible but highly recommended for any writer needing to get that rough draft in the can.

As of this minute, I have 52,057 words on my desktop in one long document or sixteen solid chapters or 200 pages. I'm not finished with the manuscript, but getting close to the resolution. I predict I will have 20 chapters when finished.

The experience has been:
1) Grueling
2) Enlghtening
3) Challenging
4) Addictive
5) Motivating

To celebrate my success, I booked a manicure, pedicure, and massage. No, the masseuse could not get that huge knot out of my shoulder from being at the computer too many hours. There are some other side effects of taking on this challenge you should know about before you plunge in.

You won't eat right. Your dog won't get enough exercise and neither will you. Your laundry won't get done. Your car won't get washed. Your house won't get vacummed or dusted. Your emails will pile up. And forget any social life.

There's a positive side to all this:

You'll have an excuse to not eat right and to having a messy house. Your dog will love you anyway. And for an obsessive-compulsive me, you will get that rough draft over and done with so you can get to he fun part of writing which is sculpting all those words into something resembling art.

Tips for NaNoWriMo:

1) Get the POV narrator right. Once you've figured that out, the POV narrator will tell the story. Simply stay out of his/her way.

2) When you take a bathroom break and come back to the computer, get started again by rereading the last five pages and plunge ahead.

3) Take your laptop to so when you wake up in the middle of the night, you can put down those words in your head.

4) Stay out of the way and let your characters tell the story.

5) If you get stuck, play the "What if" game and throw in another obstacle or complcation.

And now, you'll have to excuse me because I've got more writing to do on this future best seller. My POV narrator is talking to me and even though she's an unreliable narrator and I have no clue where she's taking me on ths remarkable journey, I'm hooked and eager to get to Chapter Seventeen.

Good luck to you during the official NaNoWriMo month!

Monday, October 24, 2011


November is National Novel Writing Month and anyone needing to get a kick in the pants and that first rough draft of a novel, or 50,000 words, finished in 30 days might want to enter this popular marathon for writers. Founded by Chris Baty who claims you don't need plot or research, NaNoWriMo has risen in popularity each year. All you need is to turn the computer on and start writing. In his book No Plot? No Problem!, a guidebook and companion for "those looking to undertake the madcap National Novel Writing Month in November" as well as anyone else willing to hurl caution to the winds, he offers inspiring advice, lighthearted anecdotes, great tips, and recounts his own writer's journey.

Before I recommended this writing marathon to our SMCC group or students of all ages in my writing classes, I figured I'd give it a try and and climb into the writer's worst crucible with no plot, no characters, no map to structure my story, only a blank screen.

I started a month early, fortunately a month with 31 days, just in case I needed an extra 24 hours.

As of Day 24, I'm happy to report I have accumulated 42,668 words and am still going strong. My goal of 50,000 by Day 30 is in sight. There's light at the end of the tunnel and it just might not be that proverbial train. I'll keep you posted.

Of course, I have no clue how this adventure will end, how the story will be resolved, how I'll tie up all the loose ends and answer all the questions since the draft is filled with loony characters who are running away with my story and an unreliable POV narrator I can't trust and is set back in time before high tech changed everything including making a phone call.

But that's part of the fun.

Joyce thinks so, too. She's tried NaNowriMo and is considering doing it again!

The whole idea is to get that first rough draft in the can, the "shitty" first draft as Anne Lamott, Ernest Hemingway, and I, myself, have called it, and move on to the real art of writing, the revision process where we sculpt something of value.

So, whole-heartedly, I endorse Baty's pep talks in No Plot? No Problem! as well as NaNoWriMo. Go ahead and throw yourself into this month of literary abandon. Just be sure to stock up on fast snacks, microwave dinners, and be prepared not to vacuum, socialize, or respond to every text and email. Take your laptop with you everywhere – to work, the coffee shop, restaurant, on the train, plane, or in your car. Abandon your significant other and sleep with your laptop, so when you awaken at three a.m. you can get down what those characters are saying in your head in the middle of the night.

If you want to dig up some rough, raw material and get started on your next project and feel like you're making some real progress, NaNoWriMo will help you do the heavy lifting.