#WriterWednesday- Interview with A.T. Hicks!

This week I introduce you to another great author, A.T. Hicks! She stopped by a few weeks ago to share how she cracked the mystery novel code. This weeks she’s back to tell us why she writes and offers a few tips to aspiring authors.

Welcome back, A.T.! 


What inspired you to write?

 I wasn’t really inspired to write so much as reminded that I could. One day, desperate, I was trying to figure out where my talent lay. What was I supposed to be doing? At that point in my life, I was a directionless college student without the goals and drive that those around me seemed to have. I prayed. The next day I wrote my very first poem. And within a year I wrote my first novel. Albeit a terrible one, but a novel nonetheless! My inspiration for books lies in the madness of everyday life, in the nuances of human behavior, and…in court TV!

What genre do you write? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?

At the moment, I’m focused on writing a series of not so cozy mysteries featuring amateur sleuth Peaches Donnelly. I love cozy mysteries and have read tons of them. However, I noticed none were written by black authors. I figured I’d change that. However, I wanted the plot of Peaches and the Gambler, my first cozy, to have plot elements that were far more risqué than your traditional cutsie-cutsie cozy. So, with that in mind, I got to work. So, I guess you could say I chose the genre and not the other way around.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

Unless I get really busy with my day job, I write nearly every day. I try to stick to around 1500 words a day. But as usual, this goes awry! Novels generally take me two to three months from start to finish.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

 I write all my novels in front of the television while talking to my husband! In addition, I’m not one of those writers who, if they stop, the writing muse disappears. Quite often, I’ll write a paragraph or two, in between cooking dinner.

MJ: Sounds like me this evening! I was cooking and writing at the same time!

Are you a pantser or plotter?

 I’m a panster with a bit of plotter thrown in for good measure. I usually have an idea and run with it. However, I spend a lot of time in my head plotting. Thus, the characters are already well-developed. I generally know exactly what’s going to happen in a book, save a few minor details.

Are your stories based on experiences based on someone you know, or are events in your own life reflected in the characters/stories you write? Can you share an example?

My stories are almost inevitably ideas I’ve gleaned from a combination of watching the news, reading police bulletins and watching court TV. The development of the character for Peaches Donnelly was shaped around one of my girlfriends whose life–I swear to God–is a bad comedy. Every time I spoke to her something funny was going on with her or one of her two daughters. She was too funny a character to pass up. She IS Peaches Donnelly! The car chase in my second novel, Peaches and the Baby Mama, actually happened in real life. It was a story I saw featured on an episode of Judge Alex. It was so unbelievable and ridiculous; I just had to use it!

MJ: Ha ha ha!!! Art imitating life!

Do you have any suggestions to help new authors become a better writer? If so, what are they?

 I know this is probably clichéd advice, but write all the time. Learn how to shut people out. Put down your phone! Also, watch plenty of TV. That’s where I get all of the characters for my books. Nothing comes out of a vacuum and certainly with the characters in my books, this couldn’t be more true.

Are you self-pubbed, indie pubbed, or traditionally pubbed?

I’m self-published. I’m sorry. I’m an Indie Writer. I believe that’s the politically correct term these days!

What are your current projects?

 I just completed Peaches and the Baby Mama. The next novel in the series is Peaches and the Cross Dresser.

Peaches and the Gambler Silhouette

 

Buy Now!

What does a strip club, a dead man and a Dove ice cream bar all have in common? Peaches Donnelly.

Peaches Donnelly has a major problem: she’s just been fired. Unaccustomed to filling her days with nothingness, she embroils herself in the murder of a childhood friend. However, standing between her and the solving of this heinous
crime are two pesky daughters, a selfish opera singer sister, the diet from hell and two sexy men she can’t resist.

Add to this bubbling pot a hasty decision to go undercover as a stripper and you have a story rife with drama, laughs and a little dash of danger.

Follow Peaches and the always funny cast of characters in this first installment of a rollicking series of cozy mysteries.

 


 

Peaches and the Baby Momma

Buy Now! 

 

Bodacious beauty and Baby Mama Extraordinaire Cecily Washington has it all: a Child Support Portfolio that would make any Gold Digger proud, a sprawling McMansion filled with expensive goodies, and a closet full of designer shoes that would bring a diva to tears.

When Peaches is invited to a party at the uber wealthy Cecily’s home, she jumps at the chance. However, poison is in the air when local daycare owner and president of Peaches PTA, Stacey Howard, storms in and confronts the Baby Mama about the torrid affair she is carrying on with her husband.

When the housekeeper finds Cecily dead the next morning, the victim of a vicious—and some think well deserved—knife in the back, Peaches sleuthing/nosy instincts kick into high gear. Stacey Howard is the prime
suspect. But the list of Cecily Haters is long and illustrious. Accepting a lucrative wager to solve the crime before local police, Peaches puts her amateur detecting skills to work to root out the well-to-do Baby Mama’s
murderer.

 

About the Author:

When A. T. Hicks isn’t penning outrageous fiction, she’s shooing a renegade tomcat out of her garden, trying to prevent her escape artist dog from slipping out under the fence once again and negotiating with her teenaged daughter to complete her chores.

Twitter     Blog/Website     Amazon     Email

Thanks for stopping by to share your books with us!

MJ

Related articles

MJ on Writing: Viewpoint Tips and Tricks

WritingOne of the first things I learned about writing was the correct way to write a scene. After years of reading I had become accustom to what is known as ‘head hopping’. For those who may not be aware of what that is, ‘head hopping’ is where two characters point of views are shared in the same scene. This is not to be confused with conversation. I am referring to the scene starting with the heroine’s POV and then in mid scene, it switches to the hero’s POV, and back again or to another character without a change in the scene or start of a new chapter. Sound confusing? Imagine how it feels to a reader!

That style of writing is no longer accepted in manuscripts today, unless of course your one of the old school authors who were allowed to do it years ago. Chances are they haven’t been forced to change. In fact, I know they haven’t. One of my favorite romance authors who have been around for years still does it in every new book. But for the new author, agents and publishers are looking for a more polished style of writing, starting with characters whose POV’s are the only one featured in a chapter. Even if you plan to self-publish, taking these extra steps to polish your writing will make your work stand apart from the rest!

So how do you make this happen? Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you stay in one viewpoint from the beginning to end or your scene! (I write in 1st Person POV, so I will write these examples in both 1st and 3rd POV when needed.)

Make sure your reader knows who is speaking.

The easiest way to have this done is by having them addressed by name by another character in the scene. Doing this in the first few lines of the chapter will let your reader know who’s speaking:

Example:

(1st Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” my brother asked.

“Things could be better.” I grimaced while holding my stomach.

Or

(3rd Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” John asked.

“Things could be better,” she said while holding her stomach.

As mentioned above, NO HEAD HOPPING!

Doing so destroys the tension your building by staying in one character head. You know the saying, ‘the right hand can’t know what the left is doing?’ When sticking in one POV, it’s the same way. If Phil has a secret that he is trying to hide from Bob, his actions and what he says should say that to the reader, but the reader can’t know that Bob already knows that Phil is guilty.

Example:

Correct:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie. He tried his best to ignore Bob when he asked another question, and continued to stare out the kitchen window.

Incorrect:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie.

Bob knew Phil was guilty, because he refused to look at him. It didn’t matter if he answered his question or not. He was going to tell grandma.

Phil knows he’s guilty, but tries his best to hide it. If we are only in his POV, he can’t know what Bob is thinking, only assume, or in this case ignore Bob all together. What he thinks Bob knows or doesn’t know is not important. You only want to share Bob’s thoughts if/when his POV is addressed in another chapter.

Describing your character from their POV.

Every now and then it’s necessary for a character to tell the reader what they look like, what they are wearing, or describe their expressions. You have to be careful their voice does not slip into the voice of another character that may be looking at them. Try some of these tricks:

  • Have your character stand in front of a mirror and talk about what they see, but don’t be technical (and it should be relevant to the scene!)
  • Use feelings and descriptions to guide your reader into visualizing what the character is trying to say about themselves.
  • Quote another character’s thoughts about their appearance.

Example: Here’s how my character, Ebony Campbell, describe herself in the opening chapter of A Heart Not Easily Broken: (1st Person)

I smirked (facial expression) before sipping my margarita. Yasmine’s light-skinned complexion, slender ballet dancer body, long legs, and B-cup breasts suited her personality. There were times I wished my body was more like hers, though. It would make shopping for clothes a lot easier. As it was, I had been blessed with the shapely figure my Nana called ‘bootylicious’. According to her, and her photo albums, I looked just like her when she was my age, with caramel-colored skin, perfectly proportioned hips, a butt that drew major attention, and D-cup breasts, making it hard for a man to look me straight in the eye. (Opinion of others)

And last but not least, select ONE character to focus on in a scene!

In other words, don’t split up your chapter into two different points of view. Extend the scene, or shorten it, with chapter breaks instead of scene breaks. Doing so will keep the reader from missing the POV switch at the break point, because sometimes inserting *** just doesn’t do it. Doing so generally means there is a change in the scene itself, not POV.

I hope this helps! For more tips on writing, check out my page with links to previous articles on writing. Until next time, Happy Writing!

MJ

The Best Moment Award!

It was a pleasant start to my morning to open my email and learn that my blog has received the  Best Moment Award, and more specifically, my page that offers Helpful Advice for Aspiring Authors. It is a great feeling to learn that my blog post sharing my journey to becoming an author has proved to be helpful to so many.

best-moment-award

So, as requested, per the award instructions, I have to give an acceptance speech:

My Speech:

First of all, let me thank Sharon C. Cooper for honoring me with this title. In January, I switched my blogging platform from Blogger to WordPress. It was  a big decision since over the past three years I’d acquired a large following of bloggers, writers, and readers who read my post for inspiration. I was an aspiring author when I started blogging, and enjoyed sharing the things I learned with other authors with goals of seeing their name on a book. The comments and feedback those posts  inspired me to keep writing more, keep researching, and to keep sharing. In doing so, I had unwittingly built a support system of hundreds of unknown, often times faceless, followers who cheered me on when my status changed to published author. I worried that changing blogging platforms would make it impossible for my blog followers to find me again, but to my surprise, they have! Though my blog no longer focuses solely on sharing information about writing, I still focus on the craft. To make it easy for aspiring authors who are looking for helpful advice, I created the M.J. on Writing- Helpful Advice for Aspiring Authors page which has direct links to all of my most viewed and helpful post on writing dating back to 2010. I still blog twice a month on such topics, as well as share weekly author interviews and guest post, allowing my blog followers the chance to meet and learn what makes other authors tick. I do this as a way to provide inspiration for those who feel they are alone when it comes to writing. Since January, I have picked up over 1000 followers….THANKS GUYS!!!

Now, that the hand waving and tears are out of the way, lol, it’s time to nominate other bloggers for the post that inspired me. (It’s supposed to be 15, but I’ll see how many I can remember!) So, here we go!

Carmen DeSousa- Why do you write? Does it matter if a major publisher discovers you, or just that someone reads your writing?

Christine Steendam- Overnight Success 

Synithia Williams- If Romance is Smut It’s All Smut

Stacey Deanne- Interracial Romance: The Most Popular Genre No One’s Heard About

Those are the only ones I can come up with off the top of my head…yep, I’ve been that busy writing that I haven’t read too much!!!

Congrats to all, and pass along to show appreciation of post you’ve enjoyed!

MJ

#WriterWednesday- Interview with Carol Brill!

Today I introduce you to fellow Women’s Fiction author, Carol Brill. I had the privilege of meeting Carol in the Women’s Fiction forum on Goodreads…so many talented authors to be found! Take a moment to get to know her and learn about how she finds her character inspiration!

Carol-001 - 188 x 250 72 ppi

Welcome, Carol!

What inspired you to write?

 I have loved stories ever since my parents read me Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Black Beauty at bedtime when I was five or six. (I know Grimm’s may not seem like the stuff sweet dreams are made of, but they mostly read the ones about princesses being rescued by the prince.) When I was 20-sometthing, I started dreaming about writing a book. It took me another 20 years to get started.

What genre do you write? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?

I write women’s fiction.  It’s what I most enjoy reading and I still have a sweet spot for happy-ever- after love stories.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

Like many writers, I have to fit my writing time in around a non-writing day job. Morning is my best writing time. On weekends and days off I try to write for at least four or five hours a day. I am an early riser—often at my computer in the dark hours before the sun is up. On workdays, you will often find me there at dawn, rereading and editing what I most recently wrote before getting ready for work.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I keep a box of 96 crayons—a gift from my husband— on my desk.  There’s a line in Peace by Piece where Maggie says, “I never had a box of 64 crayons. “After reading that line, Jim bought me my box of 96—complete with the built-in sharpener. That green and yellow box is a constant reminder of his support, and I often skim through the box reciting the color names when I need creative inspiration.

Are you a pantser or plotter?

I am a blend of both. Before starting a new piece, I spend a lot of time in my head, envisioning the beginning and end of the story. For longer pieces, I write character bibles. Once I start writing, the characters reveal the middle to me, sometimes scene by scene. Other times, huge chucks of the character’s motivation emerge and it takes many chapters for me and the writing to catch up.

Are your stories based on experiences based on someone you know, or are events in your own life reflected in the characters/stories you write? Can you share and example?

 Years ago, I heard a writer say in an interview—sorry, can’t remember who it was—that every character and scene must be part of me somehow, since it all comes out of my head.  I have had pieces of Maggie’s experiences, or felt her feelings, but not always for the same reasons she feels them. Real-life events definitely influence my stories. For instance, while taking a walk on vacation in Florida, I read the name, Campbell McKee, on a mailbox. Instantly, a wholly formed character popped into my head—a full-of-herself adolescent with flowing red hair. I trotted the two miles back to our cottage and my laptop to write about her, before she could vanish into thin air.

Do you have any suggestions to help new authors become a better writer? If so, what are they?

When I started writing creatively, I had no idea there were so many elements to writing craft. Put in the time to study craft—characterization, plotting, show don’t tell, creating a sense of time and place. Once you start to understand craft, grab a few books in your genre and read them like a writer, dissecting how the author uses craft to create emotion and drama. Also, the support of other writers has been so valuable to me. Find critique partners, join a writing group, and open yourself up to feedback. Perhaps the most important lesson is learning that writing is just the beginning, rewriting is where the story becomes what it is meant to be.

Are you self-pubbed, indie pubbed, or traditionally pubbed?

Peace by Piece is self-published.

What are your current projects?

My second novel, Cape Maybe (the red-headed adolescent, Campbell McKee, is a character) is on track for publication later in 2013. I blog at www.4broadminds.blogspot.com/ , write book reviews for New York Journal of Books at http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/reviewer/carol-brill , and have a children’s book and co-authored article on Leadership Style in progress. I am toying with the idea of linking four short stories or novella’s into a novel, but that project is in the early stage of cooking in my head.

Front Cover small

Six years after fleeing college and Thomas’s betrayal, Maggie has nearly given up on love. Enter Izzie, a motherless eight year old, and every maternal instinct kicks-in. There is not first love thrill with Izzie’s dad, but Maggie lets herself believe loving Izzie will be enough to finally lock Thomas out of her heart.

Dealing with unshakable first love, family, relationships, the difficulties of being a step-partent–all overshadowed by the curse of anorexia and bulimia–Peace by Piece is ultimately about hope and second chances.

BUY your copy today! 

 

About the Author

Bio – Carol Fragale Brill, earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Poets and Writers named her fiction the 2010 Maureen Egen Writer’s Exchange first runner-up, A novel excerpt turned short story was selected as a favorite for the Philadelphia Stories Anthology. She writes book reviews for New York Journal of Books. Her work has also been published in Wide Array, Philadelphia Stories, and The Press of Atlantic City. Find her blog at www.4broadminds.blogspot.com/

Connect with Carol:

Goodreads     Facebook     Blog/Website     Amazon     Email     My Book Reviews

Carol, thank you for sharing a little bit about yourself. I wish you much continued success with your writing!

MJ

M.J. on Writing: To Hire an Editor or Not to Hire an Editor…That is the Question!

No matter what stage your writing career is in, editing is a step you don’t want to skip! I dusted this blog off (originally posted on This Writer’s Life, 1/12) and decided to share it again. This type of information never gets old! I hope it helps!

MJ

#WritingTips- Use Your Microsoft Word Doc Tools to Make Writing Easier!

When my Muse wakes me up in the middle of the night, or I have an epiphany of a new scene to add more life to my manuscript, the first thing I do is search for any means of recording my thoughts. Paper and pen, notes on my iPhone, voice recordings if I’m driving, or sometimes I just grab my laptop, open up a blank word doc, and let my fingers fly over the keys. Then I file it away until I’m ready to work on it again.

I am a plotter with a hint of panster. I take my time when I write, letting my stories marinate as I decide what trials to put my characters through. I spend even more time discovering who they are. When my research is complete, my outlines written, and I’m ready to add dialogue, the last thing I want to do after spending hours bringing my story to life, is have to go back and reformat the entire manuscript before editing it.

Let’s face it, authors, the mere thought of the words edits, editing, or editor are daunting, especially if you are new to writing!

I remember those days! But, have no fear! Since then, I have learned when you put in the work, the editing process can run so smooth, it’s nearly as fun as watching your story come to life from the blank page!

Okay, okay, stop laughing!  Let’s keep it positive people! 🙂 I’m about to share a tip that will have you grinning from ear to ear! (If you had no idea about it, that is!)

Did you know there are tools built into Microsoft Word that can cut down the amount of editing you or your editor need to do if used while you write?

I learned this while working on my first manuscript, (A Heart Not Easily Broken), and my dear friend and fellow author enlightened me to these amazing settings. I can’t lie; I am NOT a tech savvy person. What I’ve learned to do with my laptop, be it building my webpage, (the one you’re visiting now), or surfing the web, all of this has been because of being pointed in the right direction by people who discovered these shortcuts and shared them with me, or by taking the time to keep hitting buttons and trying over and over again until I figured it out. In other words, HOURS of frustration mixed with patience, coffee, and chocolate!

Now it’s my turn to reciprocate!  If any of this is new to you, I hope you find this information useful, and that it makes writing easier!

***NOTE: The following directions and screen shots are based on Microsoft Word 2010. Similar functions can be found for 2007, though they will not be as detailed. For more advice, I suggest searching Google or YouTube for instructional videos on how to use your editing/proofing features.***

Unknown tricks to Word 2007 and 2010 to avoid unnecessary editing issues (AKA – Quick Access Tool Bar). Let’s face it, we all didn’t sit down to read the manual…

IMG_0438[1]

Screen shot of the steps below. Daunting, but well worth the work!

Use of this function will allow you to set up Word to point out common editing issues as you type, allowing you to rethink your sentence before you continue, or make it easier to find some of the editing issues that make your writing passive. To customize this feature, follow these steps:

  • Open up a blank Word Document
  • Select the REVIEW tab at the top of your screen; Right Click and select CUSTOMIZE
  • Select PROOFING. (Here you can choose what kind of typing issues you want Word to ignore or point out to you).
  • Look lower in the box marked: WHEN CORRECTING SPELLING AND GRAMMAR IN WORD
  • Select WRITING STYLE, then click on the drop box, choose GRAMMAR & STYLE, then click SETTINGS. (From here you can have Word point out EVERYTHING!!! From punctuation issues, misused words, fragment and run-on sentences, to the use of cliches phrases, and so much more. Using this feature to help point out issues you need to correct before submitting your manuscript to an editor will make the editor quickly fall in love with you!)
  • Be sure to select OK before exiting to save your settings.

***By the way, once these settings are saved, they stay that way  for every document you create, until you go in and reset them.***

I touched on this a few posts ago when sharing tips for writing query letters, but again, putting this simple step into practice BEFORE you write one word will make the rest of  your writing experience pleasant.

The Universal Settings for your Manuscript (or Prepping you MS for Query Letters and you Editor)

IMG_0440[1]

Your screen should look like this when selecting your font type and size.

Set your Font:

  • Open a blank document.
  • Select the HOME tab.
  • Choose TIMES NEW ROMAN Font with a 12 Point  size.
  • Save and exit

***Check these settings for each new document created! They do not always stay the same!***

IMG_0441[1]

This is the easiest fix!

To Set Page Borders/Margins:

  • Select the PAGE LAYOUT tab.
  • Choose MARGINS.
  • Set to NORMAL. (1 inch border on both sides and top and bottom)

***This usually the normal setting, but it never hurts to make sure it’s set correctly. Technology is funny, and can revert back to the original settings  without warning!***

IMG_0439[1]

Set your page to automatic indent and line and paragraph spacing.

  • From the HOME tab, select PARAGRAPH.
  • In the INDENTION box, choose HANGING.
  • In the SPACING box, choose DOUBLE, and change the  AFTER PT to ZERO (O)
  • Check the box below to avoid  spaces between paragraphs
  • Select OK to save changes.

***Again, check this feature with the start of any new document. The default settings are not the same as what you need when writing. Any new document created will not have your new settings.***

 Other Advice:

Here are a few more things you can do to make your writing cleaner:

  • Make sure you have clean chapter breaks. In other words, when Chapter 1 ends halfway down the page, Chapter 2 should start on a fresh page. The final page of Chapter 1 should not have the first part of Chapter 2 .
  • Italicize words meant to stand out for emphasis, do not highlight or underline.
  •  When inserting a scene break in a chapter, use ### or *** to show the break in time, or the start of a new scene and/or location. Which ever one you use, stay consistent throughout the MS, do not flip-flop.
  • If you have already written you MS and have not used these settings, there’s no need to type it over again! Simply go to page one, hold down the CTRL + A buttons; it will highlight the entire manuscript, from page 1 to 1000+. Follow the steps to set PAGE MARGINS and FONT while highlighted, and it will fix all of your work. Be sure to scroll through in order to separate your chapter headings on fresh pages, or else, some of them may find their way into the previous chapter. Don’t forget to save and back it all up when you’re done!

I know, I know, if you are technically challenged, the whole idea of learning how to properly format your work is daunting. But believe me; editors appreciate working with authors who take the time to learn how to use their writing programs. It cuts down on the amount of tedious stuff they need to do to get your work up to par, and allows them more time to focus on the real work, the mind-numbing technical side. And who knows, less work may end up saving you money!

Happy Writing!

MJ

 

Interview with Tom King!

Welcome author Tom King! He has a very interesting background he uses to find inspiration for the comic books and novels he writes. Sit down, grab a cup a coffee, and get to know him!

King_FINAL Cover

Welcome, Tom!

What inspired you to write?

I oddly spent my 20s in the CIA working counter-terrorism operations overseas. Like millions of others, I joined up to fight the fight after 9/11 hoping to do some good. When I had my son, I left that life. Having gone through that, I wanted to write about it—about what it was like to be scared and brave, to be in the dirt, trying to dig out; however, for all the obvious reasons, I didn’t want to write about my experience directly, so I wrote about it using super heroes as an allegory for a world of eternal violence struggling for peace. A Once Crowded Sky, a story about a bunch of superheroes who lose their powers, is what came out.

 What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

When I first left the CIA, I became a full time dad, first to my son, then to my son and daughter. As such, I worked during nap times and at night, usually between 12am and 3am. I always tried to write just a page a day, that way after six months you have a first draft and after a year you have a good draft. Now, I have the privilege to support myself full time as a writer—and I still like to work in the middle of night. Usually during the day I take care of marketing matters and all the little distractions.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?’

I put myself in an isolation chamber when I write: lights off, head phones on, music blaring—I want everything but the screen in front of me blocked out. Also, and it’s fairly silly, but when I start writing I try to pretend my keyboard is a piano and I’m just playing the notes to a lovely song. I don’t know why, but this helps.

Are you a pantser or plotter?

 I guess I’m a pantser, though I often live to regret it. My basic process is I come with the world, then the characters, then the general plot—where I want to start, where I want to end. After I have those three elements, I write a little bit, see if I can find a voice that works for the project. When I’ve found the voice, I go back to the plot and pick out maybe half a dozen beats I want to hit, then I write freely to those beats, fixing plot problems as I go. I kick myself every time for not thinking things totally through before writing, but I feel that if I did that, I’d never actually start writing, which would cause me to kick myself with even more force.

 Are your stories based on experiences based on someone you know, or are events in your own life reflected in the characters/stories you write? Can you share and example?

I believe powerfully in the role and grace of imagination, but for me, all great writing comes from personal experience, from putting part of yourself into your words. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing about, the emotions behind it, the great themes you are exploring, should always connect to your own failures and triumphs.

My first novel is about super heroes, which seems rather far from anything going on in our real world. That said, when I write abut my main character, Pen, struggling to decide if he should fight to save the world or if he should stay home and take care of his wife, I’m drawing on conversations I had during my time in the CIA, exact moments when I had to choose between my job and my family. The superhero situation is extreme and dramatic, but the moments put on paper are the small moments that affected me, that changed me, perhaps for the better, perhaps not.

Do you have any suggestions to help new authors become a better writer? If so, what are they?

Master your own grammar. It sounds annoying and stupid (mostly because grammar is annoying and stupid), but the better grip a writer has on all the rules of grammar, the easier it is to just sit down and write. Take two weeks, buy two or three grammar books, and just go through them until you understand the basic rules of when to use a comma, a semi-colon, a colon, etc.

Once you understand the rules, decide for yourself, what will be your grammar: in your writing when will you use a comma, a colon, a semi-colon? Grammar, annoyingly and stupidly and sometimes brilliantly, is subject to the author’s manipulation; but you have to decide how you are going to consistently manipulate it. Once you’ve decided how you will use grammar in your work, the words will come a little faster to the page.

MJ: Great advice! I’m sure there’s a few editors out there who’d love to shake your hand right now!!! 🙂

Are you self-pubbed, indie pubbed, or traditionally pubbed?

I am traditionally published through Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. I went through the whole traditional process of query letter, agent, publisher, editor. I’m honestly not sure what is the best way to get your stuff out there, but that’s the way I did it.

What are your current projects?

My new novel is a war novel about our current war. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and I can’t wait for people to see it. I’m also working on some comic book projects and a few short stories.

Find Tom King at these links!

 BUY your copy of A Once Crowded Sky! 

Twitter 

Facebook

Goodreads

Blog/Website

Amazon

 

What You Don’t Know About Queries CAN Hurt You!

Recycle Those Old Manuscripts, Don't Trash Them!So, you’ve written your story and want to share it with the world. But first, you have to query.

What is a query?

A query is a presentation of your manuscript shortened into brief paragraphs in the effort to draw an agent/publisher’s attention to your work. A well-written query letter can lead to a request for more information about your project: a full synopsis, a request for the first couple of chapters, or the entire manuscript. The goal is to receive a request for representation (agent) or publication (publisher). But like writing, in order to tell a good story, it takes research and planning  in order to make the process flow smoothly.

So, what steps should you take?

First of all, research the agent/publisher you want to submit your letter to. No two agents or publishers are alike.

  • Agents:  Visit the personal pages of agents on the company websites. Most will tell you if they are looking new clients.  Some welcome new, unpublished clients, while others prefer to work with already-published authors. Some have a wish list with the types of stories or genres they are looking for. Knowing this before you waste time sending them your work saves time on both of your parts. Submitting a query of a Sci-Fi story to an agent interested in only Romance novels is asking for rejection.
  • Publishers:  Whether you’re looking to self-pub through a vanity press, Indie Press, or Traditional Publisher, you MUST read the submission guidelines. No two are alike. For example, one publisher may want your manuscript  typed and submitted in 12 point Times New Roman font, while another may request 11 point Calibri. (Yep, I had that happen!). If I hadn’t read the submission guidelines and assumed they wanted the manuscript written in standard Times New Roman, my manuscript would be ignored for not following their guidelines before they read the first line!

Prepare various files ahead of time to save time. While researching agents/publishers, make note of what type of file they want you to send. (Note: this is the age of digital. Gone are the days of only mailing your manuscript or query letter. Most require emails, not snail mail. ‘Snail mail’ –traditional mailing- can add longer wait time to getting a response to your request).

Here are the various requests I ran across:

  • Query letter– that’s all they want. Keep it short and simple, to the point.  Open with a hook that leaves wanting to know more. Talk briefly about your writing experience (if applicable) and where samples of your work can be found. Leave with a respectful and professional closing. Be sure to include correct contact information for phone, email, mailing. (Note: if including social networking information, know that they WILL research you before contacting you. Having an unprofessional presence online can cause them to lose interest, regardless of how great your story is.)
  • Query and Sample Chapter (s) or Pages In addition to the standard query, some want to sample your writing voice. Here is where having a strong opening to your story comes in. The first three chapters are your make or break it points in your novel. If an agent or acquiring editor can’t get hooked then, then they push your work to the trash pile and send the dreaded ‘rejection form’ letter. Create separate files for the following page counts: 5 pages, 20 pages, 50 pages. (or 1st chapter to 1st-3rd chapters).
  • Query and Synopsis The dreaded synopsis letter can take more work to write than the 350 page novel it’s being written about. The point is to share the highlights of your story, from beginning to, yep, the actual end…not the lead up to the end. They want to know how the story ends to decide if what happens in the middle is worth the time to read. Synopsis request can be as brief as one page, to as lengthy as 4 pages. Prepare a one-page, three-page, and four-page to have on hand. No need to pull hair out after writing a one-page synopsis and run across a request for a four-page and have to start all over again.
  • Query, Synopsis, and Full Manuscript:  Not many will ask for a full manuscript from the get go, but some do.  Be sure to have your manuscript completed BEFORE submitting it. Agents/Publishers want to see a finished product, not one that is incomplete. If they like what they see, they will want to jump on it. If they have to start working with you by giving you a deadline to finish the project, it could be a turn off.  As a rule, most manuscript requests come in the form of the following:*12 point Times New Roman font  *1 inch margins (all around) *double spaced (entire document, without space between paragraphs)

***Be sure to have your manuscript edited and as clean as possible. DO NOT SEND ROUGH DRAFTS! Try to have your work as close to professionally edited as possible. Not doing so and having blatant misspellings and punctuation errors can result in rejection of your work! ***

Once you have these things in place, you are nearly ready to start querying! With so many agents and publishers out there, it’s hard to keep up with what information was sent to which publisher and when. I suggest creating a spreadsheet to make note of the dates and information sent. If you don’t have time to make your own, visit QueryTracker.com. Create a profile, make notes of sent responses and request, as well as look up information about the agents/publishers you’re interested in. There’s also an area that allows you to view comments from others about their experience with those agents/publishers and turnaround time for responses.

The query process is time-consuming and a real test of your will and patience. The pay off; seeing your work in the hands of readers.  This is the time to grow thick skin. Prepare to get rejection letters, either as form responses or the very rare letter with actual feedback.  Take it with a grain of salt and look for the good part. No, I am not saying being told NO, is a good feeling, but sometimes it’s comical. I got one that said, “No, not interested.”…that was it, no hello, no Ms. Kane, nothing.  I laughed my butt off because it appeared that particular person was having a bad day.  I could only imagine what it’s like to trudge through a ton of emails day after day in search of a line that catches your attention. Just because they said no didn’t mean it was about me or my work. Remember my above comment: Wish List. If looking for the next hot book about Vampires is what is on everyone’s list, your next love story that’s about the average Joe won’t get a second look, no matter how well it’s written.

Don’t be afraid to explore your publishing options. If you don’t have the time or patience to look into self-publishing, then look at Indie Publishing companies.  They still request the same type of information as the big publishers, but you have a better opportunity to have your writing voice heard. The beauty of going Indie is being able to tell your story the way you want to without being told what you can or can’t write.

I survived the query gambit,  kept my writing voice, and ignored the negative responses that told me ‘no’. And now I am an Amazon Bestselling Author. 🙂

Here are a few links to articles on writing query letters synopsis. Good luck!!

MJ

eHow.com- Query Letter Sample Search

eHow.com- How to write a Synopsis Search 

Query Tracker.net  

Interview with Nia Forrester!

One of the fun things about social networking is meeting  other authors who are taking various publishing paths to see their work put into readers hands. No matter what path you take, our experiences are different and can alter the voice of the writer. (If you’ve been through the query gambit  you know what I mean.)

Recently I was contacted by Nia via Facebook when she messaged me to say she’d picked up a copy of my book because of hearing great things about it. I in turn got a copy of one of  her novels. We later talked privately about our books, both   impressed with the others approach to writing. I was floored by  how much – in my opinion – out style of storytelling mirrors one another, despite the difference in our writing voices.

The book I read, Unsuitable Men, has me anxious to read more of her work. Her novels are on my TBR list! Be sure to grab a copy of her latest release, Secrets!

Secrets cover picShayla has a secret. She’s very different than the person she used to be three short years ago; that person she finally feels like she’s left behind and never wants to be again. And she’s been doing fine so far with her plan to reinvent herself. Trey Denison wasn’t going to put even a dent in those plans.

All she needed from him was an extremely short, extremely hot, purely sexual affair and she had no reason to believe he wouldn’t provide it. After all, that was his specialty. But after one crazy weekend, Trey decides that a ‘short affair’ with Shayla is the last thing he wants . . .

BUY you copy today! 

Welcome, Nia!

What inspired you to write?

Some of my earliest memories are of being read to, and seeing my parents read. My father was a voracious reader, and he read just about everything—the newspaper, of course, but also popular fiction, history books, biographies and the classics. My childhood memories are of a home filled with books. I started writing at the same time I started reading, stringing words together that were probably nonsensical at first.  And I’ve been a writer ever since. The only period I remember not writing was when I was in law school and just didn’t have the time. I remember those years as among the most miserable of my life—wanting to write and not being able to was excruciating. The only thing that probably kept me from going completely out of my mind was that I was journaling, even though not writing fiction. After that, I pledged that nothing would ever keep me from writing again. So while a love of the written word and of the process of reading first inspired me to write, I’d have to say that now I view it as so much a part of who I am that I almost don’t need “inspiration” to write, I just do it because I have to.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I write whenever I have a spare moment, or when a thought about my characters occurs to me. I don’t maintain a set schedule, but when I am actively working on a book, I cram as much as I can into the hours I have. I also have a day job, so that means I write well into the night and early morning hours if my characters are speaking to me. I also write in my head almost all the time, meaning I craft new details about the people in my books while I’m showering, cooking dinner, driving to work, or grocery shopping. And I carry a pocket-sized leather-bound notebook with me at all times so if I hear a word, phrase or snippet of conversation that I want to use in my writing, I can jot it down. Occasionally an idea comes to me out of nowhere for a story or a detail about a character and I use the notebook to record those as well. But if I had to give an average, I would say that in an active writing period (sitting in front of the computer, actually typing ), I probably write 6-8 hours per day.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Not sure how interesting or quirky it is, but while I’m writing, I can’t read anyone else’s work, or anything at all really. I think it may be similar to “getting into character” if I were an actor —I have to screen out every other voice except my own and that of the people in my book. If I watch television at all, it cannot be fiction; it has to be the news only. I don’t want anyone else’s stuff to creep into my writing. And that’s easy to do because writers’ brains are like the most sensitive of sponges—always gathering data for the next work. So I try to put myself in a kind of creative sensory-deprivation chamber, in the hopes that the only creative ideas I produce on the page will have come from within, not the latest popular song on the radio, or book I read, or drama I watched on TV.

Are you a pantser or plotter?

No question, I’m a pantser! I never outline a book or a character. They become real to me and all I want to hear is what they have to tell me about themselves, all of which I allow to unfold on the page, I can’t determine what they will do until I write it, I can only determine who they are. In Secret, for instance, I knew who Shayla was and what her past was, and what she looked like. I knew what her family background was, and I knew she was moving into a house with Trey Denison, a playboy with a painful past of his own. Specifically what would happen as a result, I honestly did not know until it unfolded on the page. I knew they would have a relationship but not much more than that. And that’s always how I write. Whenever I’ve tried to use outlines to predetermine what should happen, the dialogue, the situations, everything feels and sounds forced. So I stopped trying.

Are your stories based on experiences based on someone you know, or are events in your own life reflected in the characters/stories you write? Can you share and example?

Despite my trying to screen out the rest of the world as I’m writing, there’s no doubt that I get ideas from the world and experiences I’ve had before I write. For instance, ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ was inspired by one summer watching bad reality television when those “ . . .Wives” shows were all the rave—Basketball Wives, Football Wives, Mob Wives. I watched some of the women change their appearance, behavior and values as they became more immersed in this persona that was determined almost completely by who they were married (and some of them not married, but simply attached, to). And it made me wonder how that process of redefining yourself might unfold, and how gradual it probably is.

In some of the “. . . Wives” shows, I watched as some of the relationships with the men they had come to define themselves by unraveled and ended and how desperate the women seemed to be to hang on to those relationships even though they had become bitter and alienated. I tried to understand that desperation and finally reached the conclusion that they were desperate because they had become the Football Wife or the Basketball Wife and no longer knew who they were apart from that. Without that, they would have no identity. So in The Seduction of Dylan Acosta, I wanted to explore how that process happens and the world that these women live in, and how it can threaten the very relationship that they use to define them.

Do you have any suggestions to help new authors become a better writer? If so, what are they?

My only suggestion is to never stop writing. Don’t write to be published, just write. I only recently came to terms with the fact that while I’m newly published, but not a new author, and one thing I can say for sure, is that when I stopped writing fiction for 3 years and then started again, I was not as good at it as I had been. By stopping, I lost valuable developmental years and lessons. And my voice changed so much! Some of my old stuff that I haven’t published sounds so different, and some of it is much better (in my opinion) than anything I am writing now. But I am no longer that person, and so even editing that work and trying to do rewrites to publish it has so far been an abject failure. It sounds like two different people, because it is. So my advice would be: write uninterrupted.

Are you self-pubbed, indie pubbed, or traditionally pubbed?

With my fiction, I am self-pubbed. I also write policy and social commentary under another name.

What are your current projects?

My current projects are ‘The Art of Endings’, the spin-off (not sequel!) of ‘Secret’, and an as yet untitled spin-off  of ‘Commitment’ that features Chris Scaife, one of the secondary characters in both ‘Commitment’ and ‘Unsuitable Men’.

Connect with Nia via these links: 

Twitter     Facebook      Goodreads     Blog/Website      Author Page     Email