Thursday, August 28, 2008

Killer openings

A trip to the library earlier today revealed a surprising fact to me. I am currently working on a book about the writing craft so I needed some good opening lines to include on my chapter about getting started on your masterpiece.

We all know the importance of a good opening hook that will pull readers in. I didn't want to use the easily recognizeable openers that you can find anywhere online. Like the one from Rebecca, one of my favorite books. Or Gone With the Wind. Or even To Kill a Mockingbird. I wanted killer openings from modern day writers to illustrate what readers are looking for.

What amazed me was the difficulty I had in finding them. I tried to play fair. I peeked inside espionage thrillers and medical mysteries, romances and cozy mysteries, and even books which the genre was hard to determine by looking at the cover. I must've looked through 50, and wrote down 4 good openings.

I realize captivating openings are subjective. Perhaps Rebecca wasn't your cup of tea. Maybe you never saw the big deal in Pride and Prejudice. But I think I can recognize an opening that draws the reader in, even if it isn't necessarily my type of book. Maybe I'm too tough of a critic. Maybe my taste doesn't reflect the majority of readers.

I did find a few gems and I found a few more, that while the opening wasn't electrifying, the storylines appealed to me and I checked them out.

So here's my question. How's your opening? If a cynical, over-worked writer were to pluck your book off a shelf somewhere in the world in search of an opening line to illustrate to a classroom of students about creating magical beginnings, would yours cut the mustard or go back on the shelf?

Take another peek at your book's opening. Does it draw the reader in? Does it promise a story worth the next three days it will take to read? Or is it just so-so? You only have one chance to make a first impression. That window will only open a crack before some cranky editor slams it shut.

Make your opening shine and make my job easier the next time I go to the library in search of killer openings.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

He's Baaaack!

I was lamenting just the other day about the mysterious disappearance of Peyton Manning. This young man, the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts for those of you who have been living under a rock for the last ten years or so, had suddenly disappeared from the airwaves sometime last February.

The last time I saw him was at the Super Bowl where his baby brother Eli was voted MVP of one of the more exciting, nail biting games in the last few decades.

But what had become of Peyton since then?

For the last five years or so he has endorsed everything from Sony media to macaroni and cheese to credit cards to water. About the only thing he hasn't endorsed is feminine hair removal systems, and I probably just missed that spot.

Then all of the sudden, he vanished without a trace.

Had he been sequestered by Tony Dungee to an island off the coast of Malta to focus on his throwing arm? Was he in a Turkish prison for some crime the NFL had kept under wraps? Had he been kidnapped by Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and all the other big name players who were being forced to go on food stamps because Peyton was getting all the endorsement dollars?

But no, dear reader, I am happy to report Peyton is alive and well and once again hawking products, at least for Sony and H.H.Gregg. I saw him on a commercial this morning as articulate and enthusiastic as the last time his adorable face graced my television screen.

I am so relieved as I'm sure are his mother and father.

I'm sure you're wondering why I've dedicated an entire post to Peyton Manning, who I love by the way. (He's the son I never had.)

If only we as writers could figure out how to market ourselves the way Peyton has. If our names were as familiar to the reading public as Peyton's cute little face is to the rest of the free world, we wouldn't have to worry about our books making the bestseller lists.

The question is HOW?

My first suggestion is to make your presence known online. It's cheap, readily available, and most readers have access to it. Secondly, get out there and do book signings and appearances, even when no one shows up but your mother and one of her friends from church. Even if no one comes to signings--and let's face it, they don't--you can usually get some media attention out of the deal.

No, you probably won't attract the throngs of adoring fans the way Peyton does. But do what you can. And if you get a chance today, drop Peyton a line and let him know how happy you are that he's once again gainfully employed.

Happy Marketing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I took my 5 and a half year old Lab, Angel, to the vet today and found out she might have cancer. More than likely she has an anal infection, but there is a 20% chance that it's more than that. All day I've been thinking of how rich my life has been since she came into it.

I found this online and don't know how much truth is in it. But I liked it and thought the animal lovers out there might enjoy it too.

Dog's Purpose, (from a 6-year-old)

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.' Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.'

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.

Pictured here is Angel's sister Molly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

* When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. * Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride. * Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy. * Take naps. * Stretch before rising. * Run, romp, and play daily. * Thrive on attention and let people touch you. * Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. * On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass. * On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree. * When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body. * Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. * Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Stop when you have had enough. * Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you're not. * If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. * When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Killer Bees

My friend told me I shouldn’t kill the yellow jackets that are keeping the hummingbirds away from my feeders because their numbers are down this year and we need the honey they make. I’m sorry but it’s out of my hands.

My logic is if they were making honey instead of raiding my hummingbird feeders, they wouldn’t have to die at the end of my fly swatter. Regardless of my vigilance and the bottles of apple vinegar and Mountain Dew I set out to keep them away from the hummingbird feeders, they prevailed throughout June and much of July.

Suddenly the yellow jackets were gone and hornets took their place. The yellow jackets allowed the hummingbirds to enjoy at least a little of the nectar, but the hornets were not so generous. Hornets are bigger and meaner and not interested in apple cider vinegar.

Now the hornets have been replaced by something that looks like yellow jackets with Roid Rage. These yellow and black striped bees are nearly as big as the hummingbirds with tempers to match their intimidating size. My fly swatter simply knocks the wind out of them and makes them angry. After I knock them to the ground I have to hunt them down and squash their guts out with my shoe. Fortunately for the survival of the species, I’m a terrible aim. At least they are slower then the hornets and easier targets than the yellow jackets, even for someone as clumsy as me. .

If someone knows the identity of these killer bees, I would love to know. The nights are getting colder, so they should be gone soon. I wonder what’s going to replace them. I hope the bees don’t get any bigger. If this were a Twilight Zone episode, they would fly into my house one night and carry me away to Bee Land where I was the one ducking fly swatters and living on hummingbird food.


I guess possible storylines can come from anywhere.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Susan May Warren's Finding Stefanie

Today I am excited to be a part of the blog tour for FINDING STEFANIE, the latest by award winning author Susan May Warren.

Susan has incorporated a fun contest into her blog tour so come along, follow the links, answer the questions, and be entered to win a $50 gift certificate. Wow!

First things first.

About the book: When she put her dreams on hold to help run the family ranch, she never imagined they would slip out of sight. Luckily for Stefanie, those dreams are about to come knocking at her door.

Lincoln Cash has gained fame and fortune on the big screen, but a crippling secret leaves him one last chance to make his mark on the movie industry. With dreams of hosting a new film festival, Lincoln intends to remodel a sprawling ranch in eastern Montana to make it the new Hollywood hot spot.

Unfortunately, a house fire threatens his plans. So does opposition from his new neighbor Stefanie Noble, who's not thrilled about his Tinseltown changes. What Lincoln and Stefanie don't know is that the fire won't be the last disaster to threaten Lincoln or his future. Someone is out for revenge... but who? And who is the real target?

Read an excerpt. Click here for purchasing information.

About Susan: Susan May Warren is the award-winning author of seventeen novels and novellas with Tyndale, Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing. Her first book, Happily Ever After won the American Fiction Christian Writers Book of the Year in 2003, and was a 2003 Christy Award finalist. In Sheep’s Clothing, a thriller set in Russia, was a 2006 Christy Award finalist and won the 2006 Inspirational Reader’s Choice award. A former missionary to Russia, Susan May Warren now writes Suspense/Romance and Chick Lit full time from her home in northern Minnesota.

NOW grab your magnifying glass and join me on a Fact-o-Find!

Answer these questions about the bloggers on the tour and be entered to win a $50 gift certificate to the movie theater of your choice (you know so you can see some of Cash's great movies *G*)! Email Amy your answers (

Ready, get set, giddy-up!

1. Which blogger is adopting a girl from China?

2. This word 'featherbunkle' is found on which blog?

3. Which blogger is supporting the 'Pickens Plan'?

4. Which blog is "The Cutest Blog on the Block"?

5. Which blogger is a S@HM and also a wife, daughter, sister, friend, nursery director, and woman that is just trying to keep it all together?

6. Which blogger is taking the Southern Reading Challenge?

7. Which blog asks 'How may we serve you'?

8. Which blogger refers to her son as 'super good big guy'?

9. Which blogger is a self-proclaimed 'Starbucks Addict'?

10. Which blogger is a big Trekkie?

Have fun on the tour and be sure to hop over to Susan's website for more information about all her books. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where do ideas come from?

People tell me all the time they have the perfect idea for my next book. I politely tell them that idea belongs to them. What I don’t say out loud is that I have so many ideas already, I couldn’t begin to write all the books rattling around in my head. I think most career writers are the same way. Oh, we may go through a dry spell for a short time, but those ideas will start pestering us if we slow down long enough to listen.

So where do these ideas come from? And if they aren’t coming, how can we encourage them?

The last time we talked about organizing our characters. Today let’s talk about plot lines and where to find them.

Ideas are everywhere. One night I couldn’t sleep because my dog wouldn’t stop barking. I started scribbling in a notebook about a woman who couldn’t sleep because her dog wouldn’t stop barking. I had no intention of starting a book that night. What I scribbled in that notebook became the first chapter of my book, A TENDER REED.

Another book idea came from walking my dog along a stretch of road. I wondered what would happen if a car veered off the road and hit me. Then I wondered what would happen if the person had meant to hit me and make it look like a hit and run.

Sometimes little snippets of storylines will come because a conversation I overheard or a newspaper headline. I am inundated with ideas after a trip to the library and reading the spines on the New Releases shelf. Talking with other writers is another great way to get the creative juices flowing, or just talking about the creative process.

Like my character sketches, I keep a file in my Documents for random thoughts and to record dreams that stick with me after I wake up. I’ve actually had a couple dreams that I think would make great stories. Even if they have no future or make little sense, I record them anyway and date them. They are good for a laugh later and leave me wondering what could’ve been on my mind before going to bed that night or what I might have eaten for dinner.

As far as storylines, you can find them anywhere. Get in the habit of asking yourself “What if?”. What if a car veered off the road and hit me? What if my dog stumbled across a freshly dug grave during her early morning wanderings? What if the leader of my PTO used to work for the CIA?

Many of your questions will lead nowhere. But it’s helpful to record them and see where your musings lead. Not to mention, fun. I always say if you aren’t having fun at this writing thing, you’re not doing something right. Either you’re writing for the wrong reasons, you’re in the wrong genre, thinking you’ll write what’s hot instead of what’s on your heart, or you simply need to take a step back and re-examine your calling.

Whatever you’re doing, relax and let yourself have fun. We should find joy in everything we do. That’s God’s desire for your life. Find abundant joy in your life today and happy writing.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Keeping everyone straight

A reader asked the other day if I keep files of characters and plotlines like many authors and how they are all organized. I posted a comment to answer her questions, but it didn't show up so I'll just answer in a blog post where more people will see it anyway.

Sounds like a plan.

Every time I tell one of my non-writer friends I'm starting another book, they sigh and shake their heads and say, "I don't know how you do it. How do you keep everyone straight and how do you keep all those ideas from running together?"

It's all about organization, something I'm not very good at. I have a NOTES file in MyDocuments where I put any little snippet that comes to me. Possible book titles, character sketches, song lyrics, anything that sparks my creativity. I even record particularly vivid and interesting dreams. I always date them. I have actually dreamed a few dreams that will make great starting points for books. The fun thing about recording them is reading over them months later. They are usually very funny and over-the-top. Makes me wonder what I ate the night before that made my mind cook up such a concoction.

Back to my organization of characters. When I create a character for a storyline I'm plotting, I answer a few questions for them.

Who is (fill in name here)? Let's use Brandon today. Here I describe his appearance, personality traits, education, job...I fill in as much as I can, but I will learn more about Brandon as the story goes along, so I don't get too bogged down at this point. I know writer's who need to know the name of his first girlfriend, what kind of car he drives and his parents' birthdays before they can even get started. They are probably more organized than me and save themselves a lot of work down the road. For me, I like to get to know a character in increments. It makes them seem more real and three-dimensional.

What does Brandon want concretely? Example: To get a promotion. It may be something very simple or Brandon can have huge aspirations that take a lot of explanation and study.

What does he want abstractly? To find out why he always sabotages his chances for promotions.

What keeps him from reaching his goals?

What does he learn?

As you learn more about your character, you will fill in more and more. I do this with each major character in the book. It helps to refer back to this while I'm writing if I feel myself getting off track. Some of the characters will take a lot of examination while others might just be looking for a good night's sleep.

Hope this answers your questions and I'll get more in depth next time.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Don't quit your day job!

I've been researching writing sites lately and am amazed at how easy the writers of how-to books make writing a full length book sound. I hate to burst your bubble, dear writer, but writing is hard. It's work like any other job. If it weren't, more people would be doing it instead of just talking and dreaming about it.

I read somewhere that less than 20% of self professed writers make a living at it. Less than 6% reach celebrity status like Lori Wick or Karen Kingsbury or Terri Blackstock. For the rest of us, we need another plan.

I tell anyone who asks that the first and most important component to building a successful writing career is a spouse with a regular paycheck and a medical plan.

As most of you know, my latest manuscript was put in the mail last week. I am confident and pleased with the outcome of the book and am sure you will see it on bookstore shelves someday. Unfortunately that someday can't come soon enough for me. The editors at the big New York City publishing houses are currently buying projects for the 2010 calendar year.

So the odds of you submitting your novel this year, seeing it in print in '09, and moving into that mansion you've had your eye in '10 are pretty slim.

But don't despair. We're old enough to accept that things worth having don't come easy. I don't mean to suggest writing the next great American novel is out of your reach. On the contrary, if I can actually string enough words together to constitute a book and find a traditional publisher, and then actually get readers to part with their hard earned dollars in this economy, than so can you.

Doesn't that make you feel better?

So get to writing. Just don't set your sights too high on that mansion. Peruse your classified first for fixer-uppers and shacks on the other side of the tracks. You might be one of those who reaches celebrity status. I hope you are. But until then, don't quit your day job, or do what I do and continue to rely on the kindness and obligations of your spouse's paycheck.

Happy Monday and happy writing.

Friday, August 01, 2008

My baby has been delivered

After close to an entire year of writing and rewriting, I finally sent Book 4 of my Jenn'a Creek series, LEGACY OF FAITH, to the publisher yesterday. I don't know why this book took so much time, but I am so pleased and satisfied with it. I hope readers will be too. I have read so many series books where each book gets less and less interesting. Sometimes by the third installment, I don't even care anymore.

I am very determined that readers won't feel this way about my series. I want them to find each one better than the last.

Of course I have learned a lot about writing--pacing, dialog, tension, etc, etc--in the last 6 years since the writing of Book 1, STREAMS OF MERCY, so I think it is natural for each book to improve. At least I hope so. I wonder about writers who publish 3 or 4 books a year. How do they keep them fresh? How do they avoid formula writing? They are definitely more talented and dedicated than me.

I hope to finish Book 5, the final book of the series, by the end of the year. Of course I thought that about this book and it took until July 31st. But I won't dwell on time wasted. The book is on its way across the country. I am thrilled with the way it turned out, so I guess nothing was really wasted. I learned a lot and enjoyed the process.

Now that the book is in the mail, I hope to get back to posting on my blog on a more regular basis. I would like to offer more advice and tips to new writers. If you ever have a question or would like to see a writing topic addressed, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Enjoy your weekend. See you Monday.