All the news that fits, we print

As part of the Amazon Connect program for authors, Amazon has set up author’s weblog pages.

Here’s my Amazon Author Weblog!

I think that’s neat. I keep getting reviews from people I don’t know and who haven’t (so far as I know) been on this LiveJournal. It’s so cool to see the book moving through word-of-mouth (it certainly hasn’t had any promotion or publicity, seeing as how Mama got sick right after its publication and I was busy with that–I did have a Dallas/Fort Worth book tour, sponsored by my ownself). The latest review is from a fellow who said it hooked him from page one. Take that, editors! Take that, agents! Take that, unbelievers! **GRIN**

He must be a Harry Potter reader who likes the details of spells–get me more of those readers. He says, though, that he thought I wrapped things up too neatly in the last paragraph, while he’d have liked to see more of a wrap-up. I agree that I did have to end somewhat in the middle of things, but that’s because it was time to break for the sequel. A book can only be so long! The sequel is still here on my desk; I didn’t want to place it with the same company, but wanted it to go to New York. But on the other hand, you’d have to have read the first book to really enjoy it . . . it wouldn’t work to publish the sequel first and then use _Dulcinea_ as a prequel. At least I don’t think it would. _Dulcinea_ *almost* won that first Warner contest. (Somebody said in an earlier comment that he/she was going to go out and read the contest winner and get back to me with a review, but nobody ever did that. Are you still out there? Did you ever get a round tuit?) She has found a small dedicated audience. That’s so neat.

Anyroad, it’s cool to have an Amazon-page presence. I’m not going to be one of those people who never talks about anything but promotes her/his stuff instead. I’m going to post content that gives some clue as to how I write so they’ll know whether they’d like the books. Make sense?

Of course, this is still the place for all the news that fits (“all the news that fits, we print”–bahstad-ized slogan of NYT)

CRAFT: Making Characters Real, Hooks, and Elizabethan talk

Are you having trouble making a character “real”?

Don’t fill out one of those interminable “character sheets.” You’ll just be tempted to use all that info in some kind of dump later.

But you might think about this. Which sense does the character rely upon most or acquire most info about the world through?

I am primarily visual and secondarily auditory. But my mother is auditory, and she will actually say things to preface things she wants to say: “Listen to what I am saying to you. Do you hear me? I am telling you. . . .I tell you what.” Some people are attuned to smell and taste (wine tasters, people who name scents for perfumers, et al.)

Which sense would prevail for a musician? An artist? Twist: Which sense would give the most reliable information in this particular situation? If we’re holed up in the trunk of a car and listening to hear whether the kidnappers are asleep or taking some kind of distracting break, we have to use hearing and sometimes smell to determine what’s going on (a smell of tobacco may mean they’re taking a cigarette break, or a smell of food could mean they drove through a fast-food place and are distracted.)

I do pretty well with first-line hooks. Or at least I used to hear that I did.

A hook is something that raises a story question. The stronger the question, the more the reader is compelled to read on to learn the answer.

“After seven years of bickering and fussing, the Fort Lauderdamndale city fathers, on a hot Tuesday in late August, killed off a lifestyle and turned me into a vagrant.”–John D. MacDonald, THE SCARLET RUSE

The “hook,” as you might look at it from the underside of the lake’s surfave, is more like the bait. What can you cast onto the page in the first few sentences that will make the reader decide plowing on is worth the effort? Some of the readers are pulled into your narrative through voice, others by being charmed by the characters or being interested in the subject/setting or situation (if you wrote a CIA novel and they love spy stuff, for example, or you’ve set your book in a winery and they are oenophiles.) But it’s best to raise that story question. And once it’s answered, you’d better have a new one pop up.

After learning about “hooks”, some writers seem to go after the readers with a meathook or a shark gaff in the first sentence, when a gently cast dry fly floating on the surface would do better. A lure for the curious reader who wants to see what happens to poor old Glumboy when he walks into that gay bar without realizing what it is.

I tend to avoid books that start with huge chunks of bait on monster hooks, in part because I prefer a quieter read that doesn’t have graphic violence, but also in part because most of the time they have started at such a peak of excitement that they have nowhere to go but down. I prefer subtlety to flash.

O’course, look at my publication record so far and take this with a saltlick.

I like an opening that gets me interested in a character.

Even for a horror/grossout novel or a mystery that’s rather dark, you can still make the focus stay on the character. THE RAIDER BRIDE by Kim Cates begins: “The hunger was inside him again–dark and wild.” If you like that kind of psychological thriller, she’s got you at hello.

Many critique groups have gotten the idea that a “hook” is some sort of exciting gimmick that grabs the reader in the first paragraph. Her car’s about to go off a cliff, or he’s limping through a dark alley with blood gushing out of the ragged hole in his leg, or the social services crew is banging on the door about to take their children away–and all in the first sentence. That’s fine if it works, if the story demands it, but I’ve seen too many hooks that were pasted on the front with duct tape, as though the author had her book written and then said “Oh, right, we’ve got to keep from being rejected in those first ten pages. Aaack!

You’ve seen it–the over-the-top opener that doesn’t deliver. The next scenes dissolve into narrative or dialogue that doesn’t follow through to fulfill the original promise. It doesn’t do much good to open with a big bang if the book can’t maintain and later raise that level of tension. You have to increase tension as you near the climax and ending of the novel.

These books often start with “Entrails. Billy Bob picked them up and ran around the room with them so he wouldn’t miss WHEEL OF MONEY. . . .” and then peter quickly out. (But they get published! Aarggggggh.)

You do need to attract the reader’s attention.

I go for the question hook more than the action hook. Does this opening leave the reader asking a question? One that she wants to find the answer to? Something about the character, either in her present or something in the past that’s coming back to haunt her? Something that’ll matter right away or very soon? Works better than crazy-action “Lethal Weapon” scenes for those quieter books.

Lines that make me want to read on and find out why or what the character is thinking or doing are good hooks. I’ve got to keep reading to discover the answers to my questions.

Some hooks are setting-based. It’s a good introduction and a way to enter the world of the novel. There’s usually some kind of question posed when the character is introduced, such as, “What’s she doing here?”

John D. MacDonald does this. He often uses people you will never see again, such as the bronzed young thing with the hip-roll walk and the ogling businessmen, to clue readers in to the atmosphere. Of course, readers already know what to expect from his series detectives, so that makes the setting more important to introduce. He gets you on that beach. It’s kind of a movie focus-in technique.

Have you ever opened a novel with a line of dialogue? (That can work well, or it can be dangerous.) You’ve got to worry a little about attributions. But it can be really intriguing, depending on what was said.

A narrative opening that describes the setting will “hook” a historical reader because she loves a certain time period–better than an outrageous opening. But will that bore other readers? It depends. Are they in the audience for a Regency? You may not need to worry about grabbing people who read CIA novels, because they’ll never pick up your dark vampire paranormal.

You could use a camera-eye POV opening; I think that works well for some books. Then you focus down. Example off top of head . . . “The Pacific was wild tonight, crashing into the shore with waves that splattered on the rocks. Not a car passed on Highway One. (ETC.) I walked down the beach and visored my hand to see what the dot on the horizon might be.”

You can also open with direct address, as I do in LR. Then you have to segue into a first-person narrative with an action scene. That’s very chicklitty.

All books should start with some kind of question, which is really all a hook is. It’s a question that starts the reader to wondering and (one hopes) worrying. They’ll read on to find out the answer.
* * *
Right now, I’m tightening and editing the part of _Camille’s Travels_ in which they hide out at a Renaissance Faire. I found an old tearsheet that gave some Elizabethan equivalents to modern phrases, meant to be used by workers at Fairs. Hee!

Elizabethan *** Modern
Bait *** Torment
Bandy *** Exchange, as in exchange words
Dainties *** Delicacies
Dam *** Mother
Haply *** By chance
Sack *** Sherry
Sops *** Bread soaked in wine
Woodcock *** Easily caught bird, therefore stupid
Near-legged *** Knocked-kneed
Windgalls *** Leg boils/lumps
An you like it *** If you please; if it please you
At any hand *** In any case
Merry passion *** Fit of passion
Mother Wit* *** Native intelligence
Neat and fine *** Elegant

(Or mother-tongue wit.)

It also has the grammatical rules for thee and thou. The classic phrase that’s taught to show the proper usage is “I tell thee, thou art the ill-bred son of a mongrel b*tch.”

A person uses “you” to address someone higher in station, and “thou” to address someone lower in station. You also thee-and-thou intimates, such as lovers, as well as God (because you’re supposed to be on intimate terms with Him). Think of “vous” and “tu” in French. Domestic animals such as cats and dogs are “tu,” but horses (steeds) are supposedly “you,” because they’re noble beasts.

When using thee and thou, you use “dost” and “hast” for “do” and “have.” I tell thee, once thou hast studied the rules and practiced a little, it seems quite natural.

Harking back to my Latin I days, thee is in the objective case, as in the direct object — I tell thee. Whereas thou is the nominative, as in a subject or predicate nominative.


*IMPORTANT* Please pray, chant, or send positive energies!

This is important. No, really.

Even if you’re one of my Followers who only Follows this journal because I rub you the wrong way and I make you angry . . . let’s put that aside for a moment. I have two distant family members in crisis who need some positive energy and thoughts.

But first, since it’s all about ME ME MEMEME, let’s talk about THIS. (GRIN)

I got a couple of e-mail rejections from two agencies last week; one of them said they weren’t taking on any more clients and were being very selective (they have a reputation for that, so it’s a wonder they looked at my partial), and the other said we weren’t a good fit because of style/prose issues (I agree that if she feels this way about it, we’re not a good fit.) Okay, so that was a bit daunting. But. But! And again, BUT!

Today I got an e-mail request for the first fifty pages of LR. This agent was new to me when I heard about her on the Chick Lit list. I researched her and found she was open to new clients. But she only took snailmail queries. So that’s what I did. Last week sometime. Sent the first page of the book along, as some websites have suggested, just to give her an idea of my prose style. I didn’t want to waste time talking to someone who didn’t like it, or thought that I am capable of majorly changing my voice (as opposed to the “voice of the novel,” which is always different depending on which novel it is. All my main characters and all my novels’ hearts have different voices. But that’s a Craft of Prose post.) Okay, so I went on with the other twelve packages I was sending off.

Today I got e-mail from this agent asking for those first fifty pages!! Yay!!

That was fun to type, so I re-typed it. I duly fixed up a Word document with only those pages and sent it along.

She ALREADY replied, saying she got the attachment and it looks fine. And I didn’t even ask her to! She also says it’s flattering that I have heard good things about her agency and that she is on my “most wanted” list. *GRIN*

I wasn’t lying, either. I have heard that she might be a powerful force in the industry. Or that she has connections. Either way, although she’s not Donald Maass (yet), it would be great to connect with somebody who gets my work.

So . . . if we can lay aside our differences for a moment . . . I’d REALLY appreciate all positive thoughts, prayers, chants, etc. A mention in your litany of requests sometime today as we all rely on the Universe and its Power to take us safely through spacetime.

And I’ve found out from personal experience as a sulky teenager that if you pray for something BAD to happen to someone else, it doesn’t . . . it usually zings you back for good measure in some minor way, too. So I’m not too worried about that part. ((GRIN))

Remember how I said I’d been futzing around with an agent search site and picked out a number of agents to send to? No? Well, I intended to mention that. It’s a nice little website. Yay on whoever did it. You might go over there and find some new agencies that aren’t already tired of hearing from you, the way I did (grin).

Okay, now for the serious requests.

My mother’s cousin’s wife has a bunch of health issues, but her lung infection and COPD are the ones that have been bringing her down for a month. She finally almost suffocated and they put her in the hospital on Tuesday. Well, nothing they gave her was working, and on Thursday the doctor said she wasn’t any better and he was going to try another tactic. He started having the nurses give her an inhaler treatment every four hours. That’s Ventolin or DuoNeb, that kind of stuff, plus a steroid. Well, that started making her heart pound. Last night she told my mom on the phone that her heart was pounding where she couldn’t stand it, and that the last time they gave her a treatment she TOLD them that. Now, I am paranoid and always read those inserts, and when my mom first started on that stuff, I read the prescribing directions and they said never to overdose or overlap doses, as the molecules of thus-and-so could collect on the surface of the heart muscle and cause arrythmia and worse! So Mama has always been careful, and she has had some heart-pounding episodes (she blames this and diabetes for her left bundle branch block, too.) ANYway . . . so of course about three hours later we got a call from the lady’s husband (Mama’s cousin James), saying Jean, his wife to whom we had just talked, had just had a heart attack and been rushed to the ICU. !!! He came back from having some soup at the hospital cafeteria and was told he couldn’t see her, that she was being rushed to ICU with a heart attack. She already has an artificial heart valve. At any rate, we talked to him at midnight and he’d gotten to see her, she was settled in, and they said that this morning they’d find out what/if so, how extensive/ damage had occurred. (sigh)

So please put in a good word for Jean Doss.

And for *my* cousin Steve’s wife, Kristi Cary. She started her chemo for breast cancer two weeks ago and has already had to have a blood transfusion. Her hair fell out last week and it really affected her a lot more than she imagined. And she’s on that drug that helps your red blood cells, but still can’t feel too good. She had the gastric bypass two years ago (!!) and now she doesn’t have the resources of twenty pounds she can afford to lose from not eating. Hers was an aggressive treatment plan. She needs some prayers, as well.

You see why I know it’s so stooopid to pray that this lady wants to represent my book, or at LEAST look at the entire thing. But anyway, I thought I might as well sneak that one in along with these important ones.

When I get out there for my 15 mins of fame, I promise never to look as hangdog as James Frey did on his scold-appearance on Oprah, where he was soundly spanked. (Schadenfreude alert . . . sorry, I’ll try to get over that.) Seriously, though . . . what would I have done in that situation? I bet I would have still tried to charm ’em all. I have that Irish blarney sometimes, and my dad’s charm, and I probably would have tried to charm ’em even as I looked contrite. He just looked like a stoner who’d been caught with a wad of pot in his pocket in a Ziploc bag and was sitting in the principal’s office. Shame on me for saying so. But anyhow, I wish he had put up some semblance of an explanation, other than, “I guess both . . . lying and making it up, and sorta forgetting the real way it went.” (GRIN) My mother and my aunt were feeling so sorry for him–probably the “mom” reflex kicking in. Surely he’ll make tons more money on the sales that result from the hoo-ha. And publishing will be struck with fear and will start doing some fact-checking and be VERY cautious about memoirs for about . . . oh, three months or so.

Then it’ll go back to normal and they’ll just keep their fingers crossed. Behind their backs! Well, what else CAN they do?

TOOLS: Word documents are giving away your secrets and deletions

Do you e-mail Word document files sometimes to your critique partners, bosses, and editors or agents? If you do, I’m sure you remember to remove all hidden text before you mail. Or do you?

(What’s hidden text, you ask? Well, ages ago when I worked at E-Systems and got on a project using Macs for documentation and desktop tasks, my boss John and I started using “hidden text” to hide our alternative word choices and notes to ourselves in documents that we exchanged. I’d send him my drafts for approval and additions, while he would send me his stuff so I could check the phrasing and “spiff it up” because I was “the one who can write” in the group–and I also checked content, since I was the one who was down in the trenches using the documents, not just the boss watching from above. We would turn on the display of hidden text to read all the comments we had made in a document–this was waaay before “track changes,” around 1987 or so!–and the two of us eventually would put snarky comments and thoughts and requirements that we were supposed to fulfill with the document . . . all in hidden text. Which was fine, because at that time the Mac version of Word came with “don’t show hidden text” as a default, so the two of us had our secrets. But we got into a fix doing that eventually, because one of the Air Force fellows got hold of one of John’s versions or my versions of a test procedure and saw all the comments, and it was kind of difficult explaining all our “thoughts.” Word to the wise.)

I still use hidden text sometimes to keep interesting alternative phrasings or lines that I have decided I probably don’t need, but would like to hang on to. You don’t have to worry about printing that stuff, because unless you click to print hidden text and have hidden text turned on to show all the time on the screen, it’ll be hidden, just as it says.

I *usually* remember to search-and-replace all hidden text before I consider a draft final. If I don’t, it can be confusing for those who get my attached documents, because so many users of Word have no idea what hidden text is, and they have “show all” turned on as an option. This means that your text formatted as “Hidden” will show up as dot-underlined text. That confuses the heck out of people. They think you meant to write, “She picked up lifted her purse backpack out of the pool hot tub spa.” They get all upset. (When in actuality your final version was, “She lifted her backpack out of the hot tub.” The other words were in Hidden Text.)

Hidden text can be a great way to keep track of modifications that you may want to change back later or of alternative phrasings, but you have to remember to yank it before sending the file around, just in case. Even when I have told people to turn off the display in order to see my final word choices, they often don’t know what I’m talking about.

Also, if you have hidden anything you don’t want them to see . . . aarghh!

You can search in the search-and-replace dialog box for “formatting”/”font”/”hidden” and yank the hidden text. Or you can use a utility to do it: a free Microsoft tool removes hidden data from Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The Remove Hidden Data add-in tool ( will delete hidden text and comments from individual files or a batch of files at once. I have not personally used this tool, so enter at your own risk.

This issue came to mind this morning after I received a link to an article about various things that Word stores in a document file. I knew about this, but didn’t really think about someone else caring to exploit it.

Word documents have fields in their headers containing meta-info regarding the name of the original author who created a document, who has edited it, document titles, keywords, print and save dates, and names of people who have reviewed and saved a document, as well as the name of the person the software is registered to and sometimes the name of the network server or hard drive on which the document is saved. “Track changes” version control and “comments” (saved by various users), among other features, are possible because of this.

Radio/web personality Kim Kommando (yeah, I know, corny appellation) recommends that you turn off “Fast Save.” Makes sense, because all the deleted text and so forth goes down to the “bottom” of the document, before the operating system’s EOF mark but after the mark that says “this is the end of the document.” To turn it off: Tools/Options. Click the Save tab. Clear the “Allow fast saves” check box and click OK. Now you’ll find that saves take longer. So you don’t want to do this until you have a final draft that others may see (IMHO). I save a document after every few modifications or additions, which doesn’t take as long with Fast Save (and now that hard drives are so much faster than they used to be!) I learned to do that using early versions of Word on that Mac. (We used to have the occasional power failure during document editing, too. If you had saved recently, you weren’t as screwed.)

I still use Word 97, where you don’t get this choice, but if you have Word 2002 or 2003, you have privacy tools. In Word 2003, according to Kim, go to Tools/Options and click the Security tab. Under Privacy options, select “Remove personal information from file properties on save” and click OK. In Word 2000, under Tools/Options, click the User Information tab and clear the information in Name, Initials and Mailing Address. Of course, if you do that, you’re defeating a Word feature. But you may want to do it. (You could do that in 97, I suppose.)

You can also turn off “Track Changes.” It’s under the Tools menu. HOWEVER, I think this is a useful option. I typically re-save my documents after major revisions or edits under another file name (“CAMILLE v 3a.doc”), but that means I have a lot of big files in my “previous versions” folders. I think it’s worth it, because occasionally Word documents will become corrupt, and your intellectual property goes “phfft.” You then have to search backup CDs and hope you did one recently. If you have those saved files, and you back them up to CD often, you’re safer. So I don’t really use “Track Changes,” I suppose.

(When Track Changes is enabled, TRK appears in the status bar at the bottom of the screen window. When Track Changes is disabled, TRK is dimmed. Thanks to Kim for this tidbit. She also adds that Track Changes must be disabled before ever writing the document. Otherwise, any changes made will not be removed.)

What you COULD do, if you were worried, is open the document, select all, copy, and then paste it into a new blank document. That’d get rid of a lot of stuff, including your headers, footers, and font/margins choices (unless you use Styles, which defeated me ages ago–I now just format by hand, because I have a fairly simple template.) You then have to re-do headers/footers and a few other things, but you got rid of all the deleted text and such when you did that copy.

I don’t know whether you have any concerns, but if you want to increase your privacy and still be able to send around Word attachments, you might think about some of these issues.

Now that I have been asked a few times (by agents and editors) to submit Word documents as e-mail attachments, I can see where this might be important.

I have also heard that some agents now are requesting that you send partials and fulls as Adobe Acrobat .PDF files. Those files are tougher to change/edit (you need a tool to do so), so it gives authors some security and peace of mind, says author and agent Lois Winston. You can make a .PDF file with Acrobat. I don’t think you can make one with the free Acroread reader. We have Acrobat because I used to have a “real job” and had to send documents around for review while keeping dolts from editing the files. (grin) It costs money, though. That might be worth it, if an agent asks you to send .PDF files. (You can’t create a .PDF file by saving in a different format in MS-WORD on the PC, although I hear that you *CAN* on the Mac version of Word. The Mac is really cool, but I don’t let myself be tempted these days. *grin*)

(Another “useful” entry so soon? Weird.)

**Thanks, Universe! I knew you’d be a big help**

The supernatural is THERE. And it’s LISTENING.

After doing a three-card Tarot spread online (a friend sent me the link) for my “real” question (which was about whether I’ll sell a particular book), I whimsically said, “I need a reading for a scene in the Camille book. I made up a passable, but I need the real one.”

It obliged. In fact, it gave a PERFECT reading for that story. It echoes the story events that I wanted to hint at.

The Universe is trying to scare me. It worked. (Not really scare me, but make me even MORE confident that Somebody Up There Likes Us.)

I’m using the reading in the scene. Wow!
Continue reading “**Thanks, Universe! I knew you’d be a big help**”