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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Worldwide Web of Distraction

I’m sitting at my computer to write this article and a jingle alerts me that I have email. Ignoring the sound and the urge to visit Entourage (Outlook for Mac), I still manage to see who the mail is coming from as it floats in and out at the corner of my computer screen. Then my yahoo smiling face pops up from the dock below to inform me someone is IMing.( In my world, Instant Message has taken the place of the phone). I answer and chat for a few minutes. I admit, sometimes when the situation is serious, it could be a couple of hours. Most of the time, though, my friends are happy to sit in their virtual cubicles next to me as we attempt to write without so much as a peep.

But now that I’ve caved and responded to one of these miracles of communication technology, I have to read that email as well as any others that have come in the last fifteen minutes, or at least since the last time I checked. I’m great at multi-tasking, so keep in mind that I can instant message, read email and write, all at the same time. And while I’m at it, I might as well see who has stopped by my blog, how long they stayed and what they read (same for the website), then check to see how many profile views I’ve had at Shoutlife. Last and most desperate, I check to see how many people have subscribed to my newsletter today.

Right about now, I’m reminded of the movie Waterboy with Adam Sandler. His mother would have this to say, “Internet, IM, email. . .it’s the DEBIL,” with her infamous b replacing the v.

In my opinion, this has evolved from a symptom of writer’s block (procrastination) to a full-fledged disease of its own. An addiction, if you will.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not knocking the internet. I see it as an extremely valuable tool. I credit the internet with networking, with my first writing contract, and other writing-related opportunities, none of which would have happened without the internet. But like anything good, it can be used for evil.

If any of the above dysfunctions ring true for you, please seek help. Or follow the next few tips regarding internet-related distractions.

1) Resolve to do internet-related business such as email at certain times of the day, not during writing time. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then
2) Unplug the internet. If you can’t do it because you research while you write, then
3) Turn off email and IM. TURN IT OFF. If you can’t do it because you have to run a concept or a grammar question by one of your writing buddies then
4) Those are all excuses. Take your computer to a NO WI-FI zone. There are still a few restaurants and cafes that don’t have wi-fi.
5) Last and most important, if all else fails, invest in a word processing device such as an Alpha Smart Neo.

The first step, of course, is admitting that you have a problem. You’ve heard this before. I believe that I’ve taken a big step in my own writing life by writing this article. It forced me to realize what I was doing with my writing time. Focus is the key. If you want to be productive, then create a writing environment free from distractions, especially the internet kind


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Text Readers

(Or, Breaking Up is Hard to Do)

I have one tool in my writing toolbox that I can’t live without. I know this for a certainty because it’s not working today.

While I’m trying to fix my tool problem (i.e. get someone to help me), I decided this would be the perfect topic for KMIS.

My wonderful tool is a text reader with a voice named Paul, and it does exactly that. It reads my text to me. Well, okay, Paul reads my text to me.

As many of our readers know, I’m a freelance content reviewer for Barbour's cozy mystery line as well as for RS Writing Services. I read a LOT of manuscripts. Aside from law enforcement errors, most of the things that I find wrong in books could be easily discovered by the author if they listened to their manuscript aloud while they follow along with a hard copy.

For me, this is essential. I never submit my final manuscript without doing this step. I find missed words—small ones that are easy to overlook, like an and it and the. I can hear where my words aren’t flowing right. Identify dialogue that just doesn’t ring true to character. I can even catch bloopers like repetitious information.

And you know what? The most amazing and disturbing thing about this is that I often find mistakes after my book has been gone over by my two end-of-the-book critique partners. And they are both gifted editors.

I add that fact to assure everyone reading this article that errors happen. We all make mistakes and overlook things. (A little bit like our spiritual lives). But that’s why checking and rechecking is important.

So, when I’ve completed a book, one of the last things I do before I send it off to the publisher is set aside two or three hours and listen to the whole thing nonstop.

There are many different text readers. Most of our computers come with one built in, but it’s not great. I bought one for a reasonable price from a company called Natural Reader. And I ordered a “real speech” voice named Paul to go with it, so my listening experience is pleasant.

I can’t say enough good things about using a text reader. It’s well worth the cost for anybody who does a lot of writing. And you can also check your e-mails and correspondence. To anyone who wants the things they send out to be as professional as possible, a text reader is invaluable.

By the way, Paul and I have been together for almost two years. I find it disturbing that he’s not speaking to me today. I’m not sure if he’s just tired or if he wants to break up. If that’s the case, I might have to go into a slight decline and spend an hour listening to Neil Sedaka singing, Breaking Up is Hard to Do.

No worries, though. I’ll recover quickly. Paul can always be replaced. By Michael.

And if you find any errors in this article, it’s Paul’s fault.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Interview with Elizabeth Ludwig and Janelle Mowery

1. What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

Janelle: The call. Wow. What a memory. I was sitting in our office chatting with my mother-in-law when it came. I heard, “This is Susan Downs” and my heart lurched. When she said she wanted to contract our manuscript, well, I don’t think my heart’s ever been the same since. I’ll be surprised if I managed to complete any of my sentences. Once we’d hung up, I told my mother-in-law the news and begged her forgiveness for planning to ignore her until I finished all my phone calls. She left. Then came the tough decision—do I call my husband first or my co-author? I called Lisa. Since she’d worked just as hard as I had, she deserved to know as soon as possible. My ear will also never be the same after she squealed in a pitch only dogs should be able to hear. (I think I might have just called myself a dog.) I gave her the details and we squealed together, then hung up so we could call everyone we knew. What a wonderful day. Unforgettable.

Elizabeth: It’s kind of funny, but my call didn’t come from my editor, it came from my co-author, Janelle. She knew I was at work, so she contacted me at the office to tell me she’d just gotten off the phone with Susan Downs. For several seconds, I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right. Once the realization sunk in, I really did squeal—so loudly, in fact, that my coworkers came running. I was crying, laughing, jumping up and down…I didn’t even have to say it. They all knew by my reaction I’d sold my book.

2. Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for your stories and about the story itself.

Elizabeth: It really all started with a conversation I was having with my brother-in-law. We were discussing Jacob and Esau and their difficult, often turbulent relationship. Later that evening, I couldn’t get their story out of my head. I called Janelle, and we started brainstorming possibilities for turning this into a mystery. While it isn’t exactly like the biblical account, it is loosely based on scripture.

3. What is it like working together as a writing team?

Janelle: I thoroughly enjoy working with Lisa. We’ve critiqued each other for years so we know each others’ writing style well. We’ve also become close friends. I believe a good friendship and knowing the other’s writing style are both a must when co-authoring. Brainstorming together is incredible. Tons of fun and laughter are a wonderful side benefit while working out the details of the story.

Elizabeth: Janelle and I have been critique partners for a long time. On top of that, we’ve become close friends over the years. I think both are requirements to anyone considering co-authoring. You have to know the person you are writing with pretty well in order to overcome the obstacles you encounter along the way, and you have to be able to converse honestly with one another if you want to make it past chapter one. If you can’t squabble with the person you’re considering co-authoring with, don’t even attempt it. Your friendship will never survive. Luckily, Janelle is more like a sister to me than a critique partner, so I can pretty much tell her anything.

4. What are the biggest challenges? Rewards? Difficulties? (working together)

Janelle: Blending our different preparations styles was a bit of a challenge at first. I need to have a detailed timeline showing everything from where the story starts to each step along the way to the ending, not to mention a timeline of the back story. The more details the better. There were times I could almost feel the club Lisa wanted to swing at my head. Once we’d finished editing the book, we had several laughs about that very thing. But I think we both learned from each other in the process. The timeline we put together kept us on track yet allowed us our own creativity. We ended up with a story we’re happy with and an even closer friendship.

Elizabeth: Working with Janelle has really spoiled me! I LOVED having somebody to brainstorm with 100 percent of the time. Any time I got stuck, I dialed her number and vice versa. Because she knew the story as intimately as I did, there was never any question about whether or not something would work or if a character would behave a certain way.
We are also very careful when making changes to run the edits past one another first. This really stretches the time involved in editing, but it’s a choice I think we both are happy with. Of course, as we neared the end of line edits, content edits, and galleys, that became almost impossible because of time constraints. When you trust your co-author, however, that really isn’t a problem. I knew if something needed to be changed, I could trust her to do it, and vice versa.

3. I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?

Janelle: I certainly could identify with Casey’s doubts of the Lord. Life’s difficulties have a tendency to make us wonder about the Lord’s love, but He always proves we have no reason to doubt. The character that had a surprising input on my life, though, was a secondary character—Monah, the librarian. She’d been through difficulties of her own but came out stronger in her faith. Bold enough to share the gospel and lead someone to Christ while working in the library. She became such a strong secondary character that she will have the lead role in our second book, Died in the Wool.

Elizabeth: I really enjoyed creating Luke Kerrigan, the hero of the story. All the way through, he was solid in his faith, his love for the Lord, everything. He’s the kind of friend we all wish we had, and the kind of friend I hope to be.

4. What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

Janelle: That, yes, you have know the craft and have good writing, but God is in ultimate control. Everything happens in His perfect timing. If you take the time to look back at the steps He took you through in the process, you’ll be amazed and blessed.

Elizabeth: “Don’t be so focused on the goal that you miss the journey.” (Paraphrased)

I heard these words at a conference I attended. Suddenly, I realized that was exactly what I’d been doing. My goal was publication. Only that. Not the knowledge to be gained along the way, or the friendships forged in adversity. I missed the fleeting opportunities God had prepared to comfort me, and for me to give comfort. Like a darkened landscape exposed by a shaft of lightening, my life suddenly became visible, and I became determined to ENJOY the writing journey God had set me on.

5 Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing? (either individually or as a writing team)

Janelle: I have a few historicals I’d like to see in print, and I’ve just plotted a suspense that I hope I can do justice because the spiritual theme is important to me, one I struggle with.

Elizabeth: Janelle and I have already contracted a second cozy mystery together called Died in the Wool. I’m also waiting to hear back on a cozy I wrote on my own called The Trouble With Mary. My current wip, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with mysteries. It’s a contemporary romance I’m considering pitching to Heartsong that I’ve tentatively titled Missing Abby. It’s kind of fun to be writing something a little different than what I’ve been doing over the past two years. Keeps it all fresh.

6. Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published, especially from someone who has just broken in?

Janelle: Good, strong writing is vital, but networking plays a huge role. If at all possible, try to make it to some conferences. It’s the best way to get in front of editors, agents, and other writers to promote your work. Also, get involved in a good critique group. It’s amazing what you can learn from each other.

Elizabeth: I have to agree with Janelle, here. Networking is vital. You never know which contact might lead to a contract! I’d like to add the importance of contests, though, too. I read a really great article this morning about choosing contests specifically for the editors and agents who might be involved in the judging. This requires a little research on the part of the writer, but the rewards are tremendous, especially if that editor likes your work. If not, you always have the comments the judges made to learn from. I entered several contests before I sold my first manuscript, and the feedback was always invaluable.

7. Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

Janelle: James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure is great, as is Browne & King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Brandilyn Collins’ Getting into Character. A new favorite is Susan May Warren’s My Book Therapy found at www.mybooktherapy.com

Elizabeth: The Graveyard Shift is an excellent resource for people writing anything involving police procedure. Lee Lofland is a retired detective and he knows all of the ins-and-outs of examining a crime scene, questioning witnesses, etc. I also recommend Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon. He gives some great insight into creating characters that last beyond the final page.

Author's Website: Elizabethludwig.com

Monday, May 12, 2008

Congratulations to Cara!

Cara Putman, one of our Keep Me In Suspense contributors, just had a baby. She delivered a healthy, beautiful baby girl after only 4-5 hours of labor. Rebecca Paige weighed in at 7 pounds--big for Cara! And Rebecca has HAIR!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Interview with Colleen Coble

Congratulations to Jenny in Australia (AusJenny)! She won a copy of A Bride So Fair by Carol Cox. If you'd like to be entered in the contest to win Colleen Coble's Anathema, please post a comment below.

Beth: Tell us about your writing journey.

Colleen: I can still remember the first story I ever wrote. It was in first grade and was about twin colts. Even back then I liked to write about animals! My teacher praised my writing, and the seed was planted. Someday I would be a writer.

The seed lay dormant through the early years of marriage and raising a family. “Someday” I was going to write. I devoured books by the armloads from the library, and it bothered me to read the hopelessness in them that assumed there was no God. Through those years, I told God if he’d give me a story, I’d love to write from the viewpoint that he exists and cares about his children. But nothing came. Someday, I told myself.

August 25, 1990 changed everything. The phone rang late that night with the news that my younger brother, Randy Rhoads, had been killed by lightning in a freak farm accident. In the coming months, as I emerged from the storm of grief, I realized that if I was ever going to follow the dream I believed God had put in my heart, I needed to get started. I was approaching my fortieth birthday, and time was marching on. I told God I was ready, but still nothing came.

As part of the grieving process, my husband and I made a trip out to Wyoming to see where Randy had lived during a two-year stint. We hadn’t made it to see him while he was there, and he loved Wyoming. As I stood on the parade ground at Fort Laramie, the first idea took root and sprouted. The fire of grief and adversity had finally cracked open the seed that had lain dormant in my heart all those years.

It still wasn’t easy. Getting published is hard and takes work and commitment. But I never gave up on the long road to the first sale because God wouldn’t let me. Every time I was tempted to let the computer go dark, God whispered in my heart that I could do it. That he had given me everything I needed to go on, that I must go on. Seven years later (seven is God’s number so that was perfect!) I finally made the first sale. But God taught me about faith and perseverance through those seven years. Looking back, I’m glad it wasn’t easier. It makes me appreciate so much more the joy and privilege I have to share my novels with my readers and to hopefully make them a little thirsty for the One who holds out a cup of living water.

I started out with prairie romance but I always wanted to kill people. LOL I loved mystery and suspense. Eventually I found a great agent who helped me hone that first mystery proposal for Thomas Nelson and I’ve been there every since.

Beth: When do you feel like it all began to come together for you as a writer—was there a particular moment?

Colleen: Oh yes! My agent kept talking about layers and adding in more substance. She kicked that Rock Harbor proposal back to me I thought it was a tennis ball. Then one day something just “clicked” about all those layers that are needed for a book to have resonance. It take experience and practice to get it.

Beth: Who has influenced you most as a writer and why?

Colleen: I’d have to say my editor Ami McConnell has most shaped me as a writer. She has such insight into story and character and I grow with every book I write under her tutelage.

Beth: Tell us about the writing process for you? Does it begin with a character, setting, or plot?

Colleen: I’m weird. It usually begins with setting. LOL People are different in different places. I often start by thinking about where it would be fun to set a book, a place that has a certain resonance for me. Then I research news stories and current events that are going on in that area. That’s the USUAL, as I said. Sometimes it starts with character or plot. The Rock Harbor series started with the character of Bree Nicholls. Abomination started with plot. So it can be different depending on where the idea comes from.

Beth: Tell us about your latest book.

Colleen: Anathema has just shipped to stores. It’s an Amish romantic suspense set in Parke Co, Indiana, covered bridge capital of the world. A young Amish woman who sneaks out on a tryst comes back to find her family dead of strychnine poisoning. Though she flees the community by marrying her English boyfriend, she comes back ten years later to find out if the daughter she thought was dead could really be alive. And faces down a killer in the process.

Beth: What inspired you to write this particulate story?

Colleen: I was talking with my agent after the Amish school setting. Karen said, “What would happen if an Amish person was faced with something that horrific and couldn’t forgive?” The idea was born out of her question.

Beth: What is the message you hope to get across in this story?

Colleen: I hope my readers take away the realization that forgiveness is always best. An bitter heart hurts mostly the owner of it.

Beth: What do you think is the hardest part of writing suspense?

Colleen: Sometimes keeping all the plots lines straight can be a challenge. Also making sure every new story is fresh and exciting.

Beth: What are problem areas you see in aspiring writers who want to write suspense? Advise?

Colleen: I read first chapters a lot, and many writers don’t start with an exciting premise. It needs to be something fresh and different that hasn’t been done before. And it needs to have those layers I was talking about: interesting personal issues, an interesting profession, a setting that adds to the “feel” of the book. All those things are necessary.

Beth: You mentioned to me that when you first acquired an agent, she shopped a historical you’d written but it was never picked up. Then you came up with the Rock Harbor suspense series. Obviously, the suspense genre has been a success for you. Can you share some pointers for those of us who are still searching for the right niche? (Colleen, this was just something I remembered from a brief conversation we shared at an ACFW conference. If I’m remembering incorrectly, we can just delete the agent part. )☺

Colleen: Even when you look back on my prairie romance novels, I had an antagonist, a bad guy. My heart has always run to suspense, murder and mayhem. I think every writer knows what they really LOVE. Not just oh I like to read that, but what do you pick up FIRST? What section of the bookstore do you gravitate to? What elements do you find yourself daydreaming about when you’re plotting? And when you figure out the genre you like, what makes yours stand out? This can take a lot of thought but it’s worth it!

Beth: What are your future writing plans?

Colleen: I want to keep coming up with fresh, interesting ideas. I love writing for Thomas Nelson too and have a Dream Team there. My next book I’ll be starting is a psychological suspense set in the Charleston area. I came up with the idea after the Taylor University student switch (I live near Ft Wayne so I was riveted to the news stories) and it’s a twist off of a mistaken identity/amnesia plot.

Beth: What is the best advise you ever received?

Colleen: Never give up. Never give up. Never give up!

Thanks so much for the interview Colleen.

You can visit Colleen's Website at: www.colleencoble.com

Blessings to you!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Manage Profanity


Little blond Barbie dolls. Cute.

Dwayne moved through the house with the silence of a roach. Must be nice to have a playroom and a big room of your own. He bent over the large dollhouse, where a blond plastic bimbo sat askew in her chair having a burger and fries with a redheaded plastic bimbo.

Moonlight cast soft shadows on the toy cabinets and dress-up bin and pink bean bag chairs in the playroom. Typical. Delicious.

Dwayne picked up the blond doll and caressed its molded smile with the tip of his hunting knife. The stiff yellow hair fell across the edge of the blade.


He snatched the locks in his thumb and fingers, slightly less dexterous because of the rubber gloves. He put his left hand over the doll’s face, held the knife to the scalp, and pulled the hair across the blade. The strands came away in his hand reluctantly, like pulling a wing off a bird.

He rotated the defiled doll before his eyes and felt the excitement rise in his neck. Pretty little thing.

Dwayne dropped the doll to the carpet and stepped into Camille’s room. The kindergartner lay sideways on her PowerPuff Girls sheets, blond hair arrayed over the pillow like a yellow skirt.
Pretty little thing.


Lorraine gazed at the martini just down the bar from where she sat. She shut her eyes, almost tasting it. Her own glass rattled when she lifted it to her lips, the ice betraying the tremors in her hand. Water. All it did was chill her. But at least it kept the gravel out of her voice.

“You really used to be a model?” the guy asked.

Lorraine forced herself to look at him. He was bulbous and sweaty, with meaty fingers like a stack of Michelin tires. The thought of him touching her…

“Yeah,” she said, “really. Magazines and catalogues and sh—” She censored herself. Maybe this guy was one of those pervs who didn’t mind adultery but couldn’t stand foul language.

His eyes widened and wandered somewhere south of her eyes. “That’s really something, huh?”

“Yeah. So you sure you don’t need the Percocet anymore?” He’d said it was his wife’s pain-killer but there was no need to remind him that he was betraying her. It might blow the whole thing. Lorraine stamped down a shudder. She needed a smoke.

His eyes came back north. “Huh? Oh, right. No, no, she doesn’t— I mean, it’ll be fine.”

Lorraine stood up and pressed herself against his shoulder. “I don’t know about you, honey, but I’m ready to get somewhere private with you.”

He almost fell getting off the bar stool. “Yeah, sure. Definitely.” He dropped a twenty on the bar and headed to the door, gripping her hand on his arm as if he thought she might run away otherwise.

She was going to run away, all right, but not just yet. She watched his jowls bounce as he walked and again thought of that face on hers.

“Just…let’s go grab the Percocet first, okay?”

“What? I can’t go home with—”

She yanked her hand away and stopped. “You’re going to get it first, you hear me. Or you don’t get,” she said, pulling the hem of her shirt wide open for him to have a look, “what you want.”

His eyes bugged. “Right. Right. Okay. Come on.”

She smoothed her shirt and preceded him to the door. Perv.

Profanity Without All the Bad Language

Were those characters foul? Were they profane? Did you feel their depravity in the seat of your being? If I did my job right, you were horrified by Dwayne and disgusted by Lorraine.

I created that effect because of all the foul language I used, obviously. I mean, have you ever heard so many profanities in the space of a single page?


But surely these are the kind of people who would use profanity. Foulness pervaded their character. Even if you didn’t actually see or hear them using four-letter words, you felt a deep corruption oozing through their skin.

Here’s the point: it is quite possible to create the feeling of profanity without the use of profanity.

In fact, doing so is superior to using profanity in your fiction. It’s the better way, in my opinion.
In his novel Rising Sun Michael Crichton creates a foul-mouthed detective character. He drops the F-bomb as commonly as the words “the” or “and.” He is truly the most disgusting, pathetic character I’ve ever seen on the pages of a novel.

This reaction may not have been what Crichton was aiming for. He probably wanted this character to seem intimidating and street-wise but I just thought he was a sad and empty wretch consumed by self-loathing.

In other words, the free and frequent use of profanity in a book does not necessarily create the hard-edged character you may be trying for. You may find the profanity working against you.

Conversely, the absence of profanity in a book does not mean you cannot create hard-edged or profane characters. As I hope I've demonstrated above.

Show vs. Tell

If you’ve been reading this column very long you know how I feel about show vs. tell. If you’ve read any of my novels you know how I feel about show vs. tell. Anybody can write, “She was angry because of how he’d treated her on the plane.” It takes a lot more skill from the writer to communicate that she was angry and that the cause of her anger was how he’d treated her on the plane—and to do so without saying so outright.

Telling is cheating, in my opinion. It’s lazy storytelling. It reveals a low view of the reader’s intelligence and a lack of trust in the author’s own ability to convey information on paper. It stops the story cold and removes all mystery. It is, in short, A Bad Idea.

Showing, on the other hand, is the land where the masters dwell.

When it comes to communicating that a character is lost or profane, the frequent use of profanity in the manuscript is telling. It’s lazy. Anyone can do it. Yep, that’s a foul-mouthed person.

It takes more creativity and skill—not to mention more words—to communicate that the character is lost or profane but to do so without the use of profanity itself. In other words, it’s showing.

I know you want to be a superior novelist. I know you want to take the path of higher craftsmanship. That means showing and not telling in every aspect of your fiction.
Which is more effective: Crichton’s detective or Dwayne and Lorraine? Which method most perfectly conveys the dissoluteness of the character? Which method more insidiously reveals the person’s degraded inner state? Which method better shows profanity?

Telling conveys head knowledge. Showing conveys heart knowledge. When you show something to your reader she feels it at the center of her being.

That’s what you want to accomplish when you have a character who is foul. You want your reader to feel it in her toes.

The next time you bring a debauched character onstage in your fiction, I challenge you to consider how you can reveal the character’s foulness through scene and action instead of the direct use of profanity.

Take look at the solutions in my last blog article. Maybe use one or more of them. But always, always concentrate your efforts on how you can show your character being profane instead of just letting the epithets flow.

Or Dwayne will get you.

Jeff Gerke