Sunday, June 27, 2010

Music In Writing

Some writers can't write if there's any noise going on in the background, let alone music. Others, like Sonya Clark, just can't get in the writing groove without listening to a good song or two. 

I'll admit, most times, I fit under the second category. But unlike some authors, who have playlists depending on mood, etc., I operate on a one-song-per-book basis. I like to find the song that seems to symbolize my characters and their budding relationship. Then I loop it while writing, or stop to listen to it as I'm trying to imagine what will happen next. 

But sometimes, listening to your favourite song can be distracting. I know sometimes I end up singing along instead of writing. If you have the same problem, I recommend finding a song without words. The flow of the music will be the same, and if the emotion in the piece is good, it will have the same effect. I know that not everyone is a fan of classical music. Some find it tedious and boring. My advice to you? Find a good contemporary musician. They do exist. Thanks to a post by L. K. Below, I think I might have found mine in Mitchell Carrington

What about you? Do you prefer to write with music or without? 


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Part 2: Vampires

Obviously, I have not read every single source about vampires. I cannot even claim to have read every single paranormal romance featuring these mythical creatures. However, having written a vampire romance myself, I can direct you towards some very useful books on the subject. Have I left something out? If so, feel free to email me and tell me about it at or comment below! Your input is valued.

Let us start with what a vampire is. We've all heard of them, mostly due to popular books, movies, and television series like Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, or the ever popular Dracula. But how would you describe a vampire?

The Dictionary of Mythology by J. A. Coleman (Arcturus Publishing Ltd., 2007) describes a vampire as:


a monster leaving the grave to suck blood from the living: the spirit of one excommunicated, a heretic, etc.

It is said that a vampire can be killed only by driving a stake through its heart or by shooting it with a silver bullet.

But that brief quotation doesn't really describe vampires. After all, while it may tell of certain ways to kill one, it speaks nothing of a vampire's supernatural abilities, or the fact that it roams the night and not the day. 

You could turn to classic literature for that answer. If you were to take a peek at Bram Stoker's Dracula, you would learn several fascinating things about vampires. They cannot cross running water, they can turn into bats or wolves, they can control your mind. Reading between the lines of your favourite poem such as Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Der Vampir by Heinrich August Ossenfelder can also help to discern what exactly a vampire is, and what it can do.

In my opinion, a vampire is whatever you want it to be. I prefer to take bits and pieces—such as its being harmed by sunlight or the ability to control other people—and work that into the story along with my own ideas. Myths have been skewed over time, after all. So long as you maintain an internal consistency, feel free to let your imagination take you wherever it will.

Some other good sources when looking for vampire lore are:

  • The Monster Hunter's Handbook by Ibrahim S. Amin
  • The Vampire Slayers' Field Guide to the Undead by Shane MacDougall
  • The Vampire, His Kith and Kin by Montague Summers (find the abridged version by clicking here
  • The Book of Vampires by Dudley Wright
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice (along with her other books in that series)
  • The Wikipedia page on Vampires
  • - A great site listing books, poems, etc. on vampires.
  • Everything You Need to Know About Vampires - A great site, another one listing lore and abilities. 

And, of course, the most enjoyable part of research—seeing what others in the genre have written about vampires! Below is a list of some of my favourite vampire writers and their books. Please note, if the entire series featured vampires, I listed the series name. However, if only one or two books in the series featured vampires as main characters, I listed the titles of those books instead. Have a good read!

Lara AdrianMidnight Breed series

Kresley ColeImmortals After Dark

"The Warlord Wants Forever" (in Playing Easy To Get, anthology)

A Hunger Like No Other

No Rest For the Wicked

Dark Needs At Night's Edge

Untouchable (in Deep Kiss of Winter, anthology)

MaryJanice DavidsonUndead series

Sherrilyn KenyonDark Hunter series 

Katie MacAlister, Dark Ones series

Teresa Medeiros,

The Vampire Who Loved Me

After Midnight 

Lynsay SandsArgeneau series 

Maggie ShayneWings in the Night series

Lynn Viehl.

Darkyn series,

Kyndred series. 


J. R. WardBlack Dagger Brotherhood series

Christine Warren

One Bite With A Stranger. (formerly Fantasy Fix)

You're So Vein.

What are your favourite vampire books?


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Introduction: Vampires, Witches, and Werewolves, Oh My!

This series comes a little late, and for that I apologize. Over the next few months, I'll take a journey with you as we examine the different possibilities for your main characters. If you feel I have left out any particular mythical creature, feel free to email me at or comment below. 

For those of you indecisive or lost when it comes to researching, hopefully this series will prove a beacon on your journey. However, if you're not so thrilled about this, never fear: I will be breaking up the research monotony with some of my regular posts. 

In the months to come, I will be exploring the following creatures for this series, in order:

1) Vampires

2) Witches

3) Shapeshifters

4) Fairies and Pixies

5) Ghouls

6) Ghosts and Poltergeists

7) Sirens

8) Mermaids

9) The Incubus and Succubus

10) Genies

11) Golems and Gargoyles

12) Giants

13) Angels and Demons

14) Gorgons

15) Banshees

16) Nymphs and Dryads

17) Elves

18) Dwarfs

19) Furies

20) Valkyries 

21) Leprechauns

22) Zombies

23) Gods and Demigods

Until next week,


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Proposals, Part 3: Making Your Proposal Package Presentable!

This is the last installment of my proposal series, putting it all together! Now there are two ways of doing this—through email or through hard copy. 

1) Hard Copy

Although many publishers these days accept email submissions (even if they aren't primarily ebook publishers), some still request paper submissions only. Firstly, you will want to follow their formatting guidelines, if they post any. If they do not, assume that they want industry standard, which is:

  • Double-spaced

  • 12-point font

  • Times New Roman or Courier New

  • 1-inch margins

  • A header with: the page number, your last name, and the title of your manuscript.

  • A cover page with: the title, your name and contact information (address, phone number, email address), approximate wordcount for the manuscript, and sometimes a short blurb like you would put in your cover letter.

Once you have printed out your manuscript (or more likely, the first three chapters), along with your cover letter and synopsis, all that needs to be done is to package it. Don't put it in a fancy box or tie it with ribbon—however much you might want to dress it up, it is better if it is plain. It should be able to stand out without the fancy wrapper, at this point. Don't staple it together, either. A paperclip works—or you could try my method. I slide my manuscript into a full-sized freezer bag. It's simple, it's easy—it's waterproof—and it gets the job done. 

2) Email

Personally, I prefer email. My main reason: because I live in Canada. Many of the publishers I send to are based in the U.S. and unfortunately, that can mean some pretty pricey postal charges. Fortunately, as I stated before, most publishers now also accept email submissions. 

Making your manuscript presentable through email is just as easy as through hard copy. If the publisher doesn't specify on a format, assume industry standard. And always, always, always make sure that your submission is free of misspelled words and grammar mistakes. That means for Canadian writers such as myself—make sure you have the word processor set to English (U.S.) and not English (Canadian)!

Another tip to watch out for is in naming your file. Some publishers give you instructions on how they would like the manuscript to be named. If they don't, a good rule of thumb is to have both the title and your name in the file name. For instance, using my example from the first part of this mini-series: ClaraHanoux_VampiresPreferBrunettes.doc or Hanoux_Vampires Prefer Brunettes.doc or some even use their initials:  CH_Vampires Prefer Brunettes.doc. It is important to have something in the name to identify who the submission belongs to.

Because this is the last part of this mini-series, if anyone has any lingering questions that I didn't cover, feel free to ask them below! If I can't answer them, I'll be sure to find someone who can.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Proposals, Part Two: The Brilliant Synopsis

The second part of your proposal package is the synopsis. This is the part of the proposal I always groan to write. After all, the readers—the people I am essentially trying to reach through my storytelling—they are never going to read it. In fact, even editors don't read it with the object of being entertained. When an editor reads a synopsis, it is with the object of seeing if the contained story has an engaging and thrilling plot. Therefore, when writing a synopsis, you should be sure to list anything important. 

However, beware of listing everything. Aside from the limited page count which most publishers insist on, reading it might become tedious. As the synopsis is a sample of your writing style as well as an outline of your plot, you most certainly do not want your editor to become bored while reading. Limit yourself to listing only major characters and events, turning points or any event which is necessary to explain the path to the climax. Details—like how the main character paused in her walk to admire the orange-yellow leaves on the trees—aren't necessary unless they move the plot forward somehow—for instance, if the only reason she met the hero was because she paused to look at those leaves. If it's not important, don't put it in the synopsis. Don't worry, someone will still read those brilliant scenes when they get to the actual novel. 

Lastly, when writing your synopsis, be sure to keep a rhythm, same as when you're writing a novel. No two sentences in a row should start with the same word, unless you're using them for effect. Break the paragraph if it gets to be too long. Also, when listing your main characters for the first time, put their NAMES in capital letters. That way, the editor knows that they are important. (Although some editors, like those at Ellora's Cave, state that this method is outdated. Read their tips for a successful synopsis!)

On Wednesday I'll be moving on to Making Your Proposal Package Presentable! 


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Proposals, Part 1: Dazzling Queries

Don't you wish sometimes that you knew all the secrets to the publishing business? Unfortunately, I can't promise to tell them all to you—I'm not an editor, after all—but I will share with you the few tidbits I have learned. 

If you search through the pages of any how-to book, it will tell you to keep your query (or cover letter) short. But how are you possibly supposed to dazzle an editor in a page or less? Here is my formula:

1) Start with a tantalizing synopsis, like you would find on the back of a book. That's how many authors catch my attention—if the back blurb makes the book sound like it's worth reading. You must do the same in order to catch the attention of the editor you're querying. 

2) In the second paragraph, list any publishing credits—or if you've never been published, list any relevant courses you've taken (for instance, if you have your Writing for Publication certificate, or even better, you B.A. in Creative Writing). Your blog—especially if you have a large amount of followers—is something you could mention, and give a link to. So long as you don't trash editors or the publishing company you're sending to, this will provide the editor with a flavour of your writing, or an opportunity to see your existing fan base.

3) End quickly, with a short sentence thanking the editor for their time, and if applicable, how you would rather be contacted (through email, etc.). Remember to address it to the editor, if possible (sometimes no matter how hard you search, the editor just isn't listed on the site, and that's ok too). End respectfully: Sincerely, Regards, Respectfully Yours. NOT something like Peace Out, Toodles, or Ciao!

Let me backtrack to the tantalizing synopsis again. This is the most important part of the query letter, but how are you supposed to let your brilliant story shine through in only a few sentences? My method is this: I try to boil the main conflict down to only a few sentences, two or three at most. Then, if possible, I try to add a hook, a question at the end. For instance, below I will paste the blurb for a short story I recently send out to a publisher:

When Jennifer meets Francesco on a dark summer's night, she is utterly repulsed by what he is—a vampire. She fends him off, struggling to put as much distance between them as she can. But Francesco isn't as willing to give her up. Can he change her mind and convince her to be his love slave?

And now, let me show you two queries for the same story. The first is if you were going to print it out and send it by paper. The second, if you were going to send it by email. The differences are subtle, but they are there.

Does anyone else out there have some secrets to a dazzling query that they would like to share? Comment below!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

L. K. BELOW - Revision Blues

Let's face it. That perfect story that you think you've written isn't so perfect after all. Someone, somewhere is likely to find some flaw in it, some way to make it better. Most likely, that will be your editor. But that's the end of my run of bad news—truth is, you want your editor to catch these things, because it will be one less thing for that harsh reviewer to tear apart afterward.

About this time, you're probably edging away from your computer screen, thinking I'm absolutely nuts. After all, why would you want someone to find a flaw in that prized manuscript you hold proudly in your hand? But if anyone's going to do it, you want it to be an editor. Editors, unlike critics and readers, are able to look past the flaws in your story. They are able to see past things that others won't, in order to judge whether or not the story would fit in well with their publishing program.

The good news is, if it does, they'll be banging on your door asking for your story. However, they will also ask you to revise it.

Ah, revisions. The polite way of telling you that everything you thought was spectacular and original and witty in your piece isn't what you thought. Unfortunately, revisions are a necessity if you plan on publishing that brilliant story of yours. They may not be palatable, however.

There are a couple ways you can deal with having to cut things out. In fact, they coincide with the five stages of grief:

1) Denial and Isolation.

During this stage of grief, I tend to look at my story and wince at all the comments made. How could I possibly cut and of these beauties? Sometimes, I closet the manuscript away for a day or two—or even as long as a month if there isn't a pressing deadline to the rewrite. And in fact, I often closet myself away as well. I do this by writing another brilliant piece, but the effect is the same.

How do you combat this stage? The easiest way is to remind yourself that you're making it better. Even if it feels heartbreaking to cut at every little word, once you've finished, you will have crafted a stronger piece. Of course, the easiest way for me to deal with it is to remember that it is a necessary evil in order to see my creation into publication. It does become easier, after that.

2) Anger.

When you see some sort of criticism written about your story, it is easy to become angered with the person who wrote it. All too easily, your thoughts can spiral downwards, until you tell yourself that they can't possibly know what they're talking about.

If you're looking to get published, you should probably eject all of those thoughts from your brain now. Assuming you did the legwork and sent your story to a reputable editor at a publishing company that deals in your genre, your editor knows what she (or he!) is talking about. Sure, you might get that one in a million who doesn't—but I think you're more likely to be struck by lightning seven times and win the jackpot for the 649. Editors work to publish stories that readers will read—so if an editor tells you to cut or change something, it most likely is a good idea. Of course, there is always that chance that they are wrong—and that someone else will snap up that story before you can blink—but it comes back to how much you want to see that story in print or e-print. How much do you want to see those dollars roll into your wallet?

3) Bargaining.

Now this stage might be a useful one, and I'm not going to tell you to stifle it right off the bat. Surprised? You shouldn't be. However much I want to see my work in print, I never let it interfere with what I think is right for the story. If you do, you might wind up like some authors—I'm sure all of you have read one or two of these—who sacrifice originality, consistency, and plot in order to gain wads of cash and popularity. There is an inherent sense in all writers about their work. Unless you've already become a bestselling author with a previous work and would like to sacrifice your artistic integrity, I recommend that you listen to your instincts. If it really feels wrong to change something, bring up the issue with your editor! Of course, I am not encouraging you to bring up every little thing, but if it feels monumental to the story, bring it up.

4) Depression.

Obviously, sometimes even when you bring up the issue, you may not get your way. That is the point in time when you will have to ask yourself: if so, do I really want to publish this piece here? That is up to you. Not I, nor anyone else, can make that decision for you. But if you are really feeling down about your writing, there are a few ways to keep your spirits up. Keep e-mails and other correspondence from those who have positive things to say about your writing, and re-read them. Surround yourself with friends who also write and go through the same thing. Or you could do what I do—write another story that (for now, at least) lets every ounce of your brilliance shine through.

5) Acceptance

This is the last stage, and the best one, considering that everything that was detrimental to seeing your story published has now dropped away. At this stage, you can take your pen (or your backspace button) to the page, and work to add the finishing touches to your brilliant work. Often, that pesky voice in your head crying over every changed word has faded. If it hasn't, and you are compromising in order to publish your story, there are ways to deal with that as well.

I like to hold a mourning party. If you have a blog, or even a Twitter account, a simple "RIP Sex Scene" will do. Plus, I always like to promise myself that in a year or two, when the rights revert to me again, I'll post it on the website the way it is meant to be. Then, I get to have it both ways.

Thank you, Clara, for having me, and I hope I've helped all of you overcome your revision blues.

L. K. Below

L. K. Below blogs at Her paranormal romance short story “His Familiar Touch” is set to be released in Cliffhanger Books Paramourtal anthology. Visit her at

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Choosing the Right Supernatural Abilities for Your Character

When preparing your paranormal romance story, choosing which mythical creature to focus on as your main character is the easy part. But what sort of abilities does your character have? A lot of these can be answered as you do your research, but for those of you still wondering where to start, here are a list of possible abilities.

1) Heightened senses - sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch. These enhancements are commonly seen in shapeshifters and vampires.

2)Heightened reflexes - Often where there are heightened senses, heightened reflexes or speed accompanies them.

3) Superhuman strength - Shapeshifters and especially vampires are often subject to a greater-than-human strength, such as in Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series.

4) Supernatural know-how - I'm sure you've read books where a main or minor character inexplicably knows when another supernatural creature is near, or if not, where to find one. This is different from a heightened sense of smell, as seen in many werewolf books. Instead of relying on their physical senses, this sixth sense sometimes works through an innate sort of radar or unconscious sense of telepathy. 

5) Accelerated healing - Like in Christine Warren's Others series, when a shapeshifter, etc., is hurt, shifting helps to heal them entirely, if their natural boosted metabolism doesn't do the job beforehand. Vampires, such as those in Lynsay Sands's Argeneau series, drink blood to close wounds. Or, if not an accelerated healing ability, paranormal creatures often have a superhuman durability to them, or a high pain threshold, able to take a battering which would render most humans unconscious with the first blow.

6) Shapeshifting - All sorts of werewolves, etc. go through this type of change, morphing into the animal they are associated with. Some change into a human-animal hybrid as well, as seen in Big, Bad Wolf by Christine Warren. Still more take on certain traits of animals (claws, heightened hearing or smell, the ability to breathe underwater, or even poison secretion) while still remaining in humanoid form. 

Aside from were-animals, some authors have also included shapeshifting witches, Christine Warren included. 

7) Immortality - While the main characters of books usually are not truly immortal (in the sense that they can be killed), many paranormal creatures, vampires especially, enjoy a certain longevity. In the case of Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series, this extends so far as to heal non life-threatening wounds, such as chopping off one's arm or leg. 

8) Telepathy - Whether used merely to communicate or also to take control of someone's mind, many writers work this into their writing. Vampires especially seem to be given this trait, such as in Lynsay Sands's Argeneau series or Christine Warren's Others series. 

9) Precognition - also known as clairvoyance. Whether the past or the future; worked in through dreams, visions, hunches, etc.; seers are a popular element in many books. One example is Nucking Futs Nix in Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series. 

10) Magic -  If all else fails, you can also turn to "magic" and make your character a witch or a warlock. If something needs to be done to forward the plot, fear not, there is a way! 

And, if your character happens to be a sorceress or wizard, you could also introduce the well-known concept of a familiar. Cheyenne McCray, in her Magic series, introduces familiars as regular animals which boost the witches' powers. However, familiars could also be former witches trapped in the bodies of animals (think Salem off of Sabrina the Teenage Witch), or even a shapeshifter, as employed by Kresley Cole in Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night or L. K. Below in her upcoming release of "His Familiar Touch" (yes, I have had the privilege of a sneak peek!).

Or you could try some of these other, less common traits:

  • Ability to manipulate/enter another's dreams - as seen in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dream Hunter series, and Lynn Viehl's book Private Demon.

  • Animation - the ability to bring inanimate objects to life or the ability to become an inanimate object.

  • Control over the elements - Including but not limited to: shadow, light, air/wind, cold/ice, heat/fire, water, earth, plants, weather, etc. When considering the dominance of demons/gods, one does not need to be limited to the elements. Think harvests, pestilence, pain, dreams, etc. 

  • Cross-dimensional travel - such as in Angela Knight's Mageverse series, which allows the witches/vampires to move freely between the Mageverse and Earth. 

  • Ecological empathy - or a connection to the environment, once which might make the character physically ill if it is harmed, such as Willow in MaryJanice Davidson's "The Magicka".

  • Empathy - the ability to feel or influence another's emotions. 

  • ESP/Astral projection 

  • Flight

  • Illusions 

  • Mediumship - The ability to communicate with ghosts/the dead.

  • Memory manipulation - As seen in Lynn Viehl's Darkyn series

  • Size-shifting - As seen in Pixie Lust by Lois Greiman.

  • Telekinesis - the ability to move objects without physically touching them

  • Teleportation

  • Time manipulation - the ability to stop, slow, accelerate, or freeze time.

  • Time travel - used by the were-hunters in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series.

For a more comprehensive list, including some powers used in genres outside of paranormal, look here.

Next week I'll be launching a (long) mini-series about mythical creatures!