Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Writers' Wednesday: Shirley McCann

Welcome to Writers’ Wednesday. This week, I’m happy to welcome mystery and romance author, Shirley McCann. Shirley is a founder of Sleuths' Ink, a mystery writers group, and a long time member of Ozarks Romance Authors. Welcome, Shirley. You've recently released your book, A COLLECTION OF MYSTERIES. Would you please tell us a little about it.

A COLLECTION OF MYSTERIES contains 13 of my previously published WOMAN’S WORLD mini-mysteries. I love writing these stories. The magazine has changed the guidelines over the years, so while most of them are solve-it-yourself, a few are standard mysteries. But they’re all short – under 1000 words.

Writing short stories 500-1,000 words is a challenge. Not a lot of authors can do so, but you’ve been successful at it. In addition to the short mysteries for WOMAN’S WORLD, you’ve also written for THE FORENSIC EXAMINER, ALFRED HITCHCOCK, and many online magazines. What draws you to the mystery genre?

I love the puzzle. When reading, I love trying to figure out who the “culprit” is before reaching the end of the story. When writing, I rarely know who did it until the end. And even sometimes that changes during the writing process.

Mysteries are so strong for you. Do you write in any other genre?

I also love romance. Who doesn’t? They’re feel good stories. I find it a nice balance. I’ve written a lot of confessions stories for various magazines. While they’re not necessarily romance stories, they are feel good stories.

I’m currently working on two romance novels. I do get sidetracked a lot because I love writing short stories. If I’m working on a longer project, I start itching to get back to a short story.

What’s your next project?

I’m always working on several short stories at a time. However, I’m also currently working on a mystery novel, a young adult mystery, as well as romances. I’m always working on something.

What one tip would you offer writers?

Don’t give up. I think everyone says that, but it’s true – you can’t sell if you don’t write and submit. Learn to accept rejection. It’s all part of the learning process. And don’t take it personally.

Very true. Excellent advice, Shirley. Thanks, again, for joining us today.

Visit Shirley at: http://www.cleverchronicles.blogspot.com/

Her books: A COLLECTION OF MYSTERIES:13 Previously Published WOMAN’S WORLD Mini Mysteries. Amazon, Nook, and Smashwords

THE NECKLACE:A Middle Grade Mystery. Amazon, Nook, Smashwords

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Backstory--Isn't the More the Merrier?

Backstory? Of course the reader has to know it. She just doesn't have to know it all--right now.

Just a soupcon here, a sprinkle there, and you'll have a perfectly seasoned plot. My problem has always been a heavy hand with the salt. Yep. Backstory remains a challenge for me.

That's why I was front and center Saturday for author and teacher Leigh Michaels' session "Things that Stump the Best of Us--Backstory--Pacing--Transitions." Leigh was one of the speakers at this year's conference sponsored by Ozarks Romance Authors (ORA).

Some of her recommendations: tell whatever background you can in dialogue. Natual sounding of course, in a voice consistent with the character's. Another way is to weave backstory in small bits rather than in one huge exposition.

At that point, I thought fondly of my first manuscript with its pages of the hero's angst-y introspection revealing his history and the reason his current situation was so crucial. Absolutely essential, I was convinced.

Which brings up the next point.

Leigh said that readers need not, and often don't want to, know every small detail of the character's former life. Unless the information is essential to the story, omit it.

And third: wait until as late as you can to reveal backstory, sometimes as late as the end.

These were only three of the many tips she touched on during the presentation, but they certainly caught my attention.

I still write backstory. Often I pound out a page or more that I'm certain is deathless prose but turns out to be--blah-blah-blah. Now I cut and paste onto a blank document so I can have it handy to add as needed. Like chocolate sauce drizzled around a slice of cheesecake. Again, figuring out when and how much.... (But I love chocolate, don't you?)

If you'd like more from Leigh Michaels, please check out her well-known book ON WRITING ROMANCE. Find her at www.leighmichaels.com.

Do you have particular problems with writing backstory? Have you discovered a technique that you've found helpful?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Writers' Wednesday--Asides

Did you write today? If the answer is, “Yes,” then congratulations. That’s exactly what you must do. If you don’t write, you can’t finish the book and you can’t sell it.

If the answer is “No,” then why not?

Some of us don’t because of demands--family, jobs, illness. Perhaps, this being summer, we don’t because of vacations.

I can manufacture a grocery list of reasons why I don’t/can’t/won’t produce new words on any given day. I like to think those are explanations, not excuses. But, really, sometimes I’m just lazy. Or I’m finishing a new, good book. I try never to read in the genre in which I’m writing at the time. That means no medievals until I finish my WIP. Regencies, however…. (The latest I devoured was Leigh Michaels’ JUST ONE SEASON IN LONDON. Terrific. I recommend it highly.)

But the fact is, if I’m serious about selling--and I am--then I’d better find some way to dump the excuses and maintain motivation.

I’ve recently come back from a fallow period in which nothing I wrote worked. I wrote, rewrote, revised. Finally I managed to pull myself together and get back to the hard work of committing new words daily. That experience made me realize the importance of maintaining a schedule and sticking to it, no matter what. Because if I don’t, my story will never see black of print

In their tips, several of our Writers’ Wednesday guests have emphasized the importance of writing every day. No matter the number of words, something must be produced, even if it later goes in revision. As best-selling author Nora Roberts says, “You can edit junk. You can’t edit a blank page.” (All right--I changed a word--but you get the idea. :-))

Write whether or not you feel like it. Write whether or not you think it’s any good right then. Writers can’t wait for inspiration, guest authors have said, or we’ll never get a word down.

Often I find myself writing late at night, thinking, “This is absolutely incoherent. A waste of time.” Then the next day when I check it, I usually find it wasn’t so bad at all.

Set a goal of a certain number of words a day. Several online groups have 100 word-daily challenges. Make the goal realistic, then make the goal. Challenge a writer friend to do the same.

Just yesterday, my weekly critique group challenged each other--and ourselves--to a specific number every day and for the week, because we're determined to finish our books within the next few weeks. At first the totals were intimidating, but I have no doubt we’ll reach them.

And you know what? I can finally see the end to that interminable story I’ve been working on. Edits, here I come.

Do you write every day? Why or why not? What motivates you to keep the words coming?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Writers' Wednesday Welcomes Alice Cummings

Joining us this week is Alice Cummings, who writes as Allison Merritt. Alice is a member of Ozarks Romance Authors (ORA), which she also serves as web mistress.

An award-winning writer, Alice just finaled in the 2011 WETA contest. In 2010, she placed second in the Missouri Literary Festival’s Short Fiction Award and received honorable mention in the WETA. That annual competition is sponsored by ORA.

Thank you for being here today. Your current manuscript, THE TREASURE HUNTER’S LADY, takes place in Australia. Would you please tell us a little about the work and what draws you to the location.

The TREASURE HUNTER’S LADY, set in Australia, is a Victorian adventure romance with fantasy and paranormal elements. The heroine is an English amateur archeologist who’s been ordered by her father to give up her hobby and get married. She’s adamant about making a great discovery and sets out to find a legendary stone called The Soul of the Rainbow Serpent. She runs into a handsome Texan treasure hunter who’s come to Australia because he needs to find the stone to cure a life-threatening disease.

In the beginning of their journey, the two rarely agree on anything, but through the dangers they face, they find themselves falling in love. Reaching the stone is difficult enough, but they also have to beat a madman who wants to sell the treasure for profit. In the end, their love is the only thing that can release the true power of the stone.

I’m fascinated with Australia, although I’ve never been there. While there are plenty of ways to have set this story in America, Australia such an unusual and exotic setting to place characters that the plot fell in place really fast. The first draft only took about a week and a half to finish, I was so excited about the project. It’s different from a lot of adventure novels in that I added some airships and steam-powered equipment, plus a mythical serpent goddess.

A week and a half for the first draft? I’m always in awe at those of you who can write so quickly. This sounds like an exciting book. An English heroine and an American hero on the trail of an exotic stone in Australia. I’d love to know the paranormal elements. What’s your next project?

Last year for National Novel Writing Month I wrote a follow-up novel to THE TREASURE HUNTER’S LADY called THE SKY PIRATE’S WIFE, which is about an airship captain bent on revenge after his enemy tries to kill him. He tricks his enemy’s stepdaughter into marriage and while he plans to use her dowry to enhance his business and leave her in England, he finds himself falling in love with her instead. It needs a good healthy dose of editing. I’m also planning a third installment about one of the minor characters from the second book, but I’m not sure if I’ll be writing it for NaNoWriMo this year, which starts in November or if I’ll start it sooner.

From the sound of it, you have a full schedule. Several people have said they use the NaNoWriMo to get rough drafts down. Good luck with the edits and with this year’s challenge.

What one tip would you offer writers?

Learn to use actions to offset your dialogue. Don’t rely on he said/she said or any of those other dialogue tag crutches. Your readers will get more involved in the story if you can make them feel like they’re really in the scenes right along with the characters.

Spot-on advice. Thanks again, Alice. It’s been great having you here.

Be sure to visit Alice at her sites.
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorallisonmerritt
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/writer_wannabe
Blog: http://havenovelwilledit.blogspot.com

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Writers Wednesday Welcomes Arline Chandler

Welcome to Writers Wednesday. Each week we’re joined by authors, both published and on the journey to publication. Today I’m happy to welcome Arline Chandler who's recognized for, among other things, her non-fiction books and articles on the Branson area and on RV-ing.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to be here today. Your newest book, THE HEART OF BRANSON: THE ENTERTAINING FAMILIES OF AMERICA’S LIVE MUSIC SHOW CAPITAL, is set in Branson, Mo. You’ve done quite a bit of writing about people, traditions and locations in the Ozarks--Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas in particular. Please tell us a little about this work and what draws you to the area.

THE HEART OF BRANSON is a history of the entertainment scene in this small Ozarks town—a town that almost every person in America recognizes as synonymous with family-oriented, high quality entertainment. My book was at least 25 years in the making as I interviewed performers and wrote their stories in various magazines. I discovered the underlying theme of families entertaining families.

In my research, I began with the story of Marvel Cave, which early on was named Marble Cave. The story of two men, William Lynch and Hugo Herschend, who shared a common dream of opening a tour cave, intrigued me. Neither man ever knew the other. Their families carried their dreams forward with the Herschends building Silver Dollar City atop the cave entrance.

Also in research, I discovered S. Fred Prince, who arrived shortly after Mr. Lynch purchased the cave property. A self-taught naturalist, Lynch hired Prince to survey the cave. He spent most of ten years living inside the cave, measuring and examining every room and crevice and documenting his findings in a hand-illustrated manuscript which was never published.

The story of the cave links to Harold Bell Wright and his novel, THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS, and later the development of the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead and Outdoor Drama.

In retrospect, I see God’s hand on this area of the Ozarks—and the different people who arrived at the appropriate time to lend of their talents in creating and building what we see in the entertainment scene today.

My book follows the Baldknobbers, the Presleys, and those who arrived during the Branson Boom in the 1990s. I included the new families in town: Jim and Annie Stafford, the Haygoods, SIX, the Hughes Brothers, the Bretts, and the Duttons—all continuing to contribute to the wholesome entertainment scene. I mention stars like Roy Clark, Andy Williams, Box Car Willie, Yakov, the Lennons, the Osmonds, and numerous others who have contributed—and continue to contribute to the magic of Branson.

There are many more names, perhaps not so well known when they came to Branson, but who have carved their niche in this entertainment town: Shoji Tabuchi, Todd Oliver, Kirby Van Burch, Clay Cooper, Jim Barber. Those who brought their families along and joined the community. The book ends with a chapter about the new Sight & Sound Theatre and the inspiration of one man and his family for its Biblically-based dramas.

I am drawn to history and to the stories of other people’s lives. Branson is overflowing with interesting stories of talent, courage, challenges, faith in God, and a love or our country.

Fantastic, Arline. I’ve read many of your articles and I know the feeling you instill in your work. What’s your next project?

I have ongoing projects such as a weekly blog at www.rvlife.com/1256-arline, as well as commitments to magazines such as RV LIFE AND WORKAMPER NEWS. On my personal blog, www.arlinechandler.blogspot.com, I maintain pages titled “All Things Branson,” “The Ozarks Traveler,” and “My Canine Friends.” Excerpts and reviews of my books, as well as ordering information, are also on my blog. My interest also lies in children’s fiction and nonfiction. I have two picture books and a young adult novel in progress.

You have such a variety of writing experience. What one tip would you offer other writers?

To become a writer, one has to write daily and read with a writer’s eye. I recommend honing the craft of writing with classes, conferences, and good books about the techniques of writing.

Great advice, Arline. Thanks, again, for being here. You can find Arline at the following places:
The Heart of Branson available at T. Charleston Bookstore, Branson, MO and amazon.com
She’ll also speak at:
Workamper Rendezvous
October 18-20, 2011
Heber Springs Community Center
Heber Springs, AR
For information: http://www.workamper.com/