Sunday, March 28, 2010

How Much Literature Should You Build In?

So now you've done that research. You've put in the time and found some notes about that mythical creature you plan on using for that story of yours. But how much of those notes do you use?

The truth is, I don't have an answer for you. It all depends on you, and on your story. However, what I can offer is a way of filing through those notes to decide what is necessary.

I'm going to choose vampires as an example. I'm sure you've all heard of Dracula, the vampire that started it all. Now you have to decide for yourself how closely you'd like your vampire to resemble Bram Stoker's vampire. Let's face it, they probably won't be identical, not in a romance novel. Dracula, after all, was from horror novel. However, you could take certain things—such as the vampire's ability to shift into a bat or a wolf, or a vampire's inability to pass over running water—and build them in as the basis for your species. After you've done your research, this is the time you sit down and iron out all those kinks. Under usual circumstances, this shouldn't take you very long, because I'm sure if you're planning a novel about vampires, you already have some sort of an idea of how you want your vampire protagonist to think and act. As long as you have that idea in your head, you should be able to add traits to your list or reject them as you go along.

But what about the mythological figures themselves? After all, a myth had to come from somewhere, didn't it? Different authors have different ways of handling this. For instance, in Lynsay Sands' Argeneau series, she lists a deceased vampire's drunken ramble as the cause for the vampire myth. Or, like Maggie Shayne in Prince of Twilight, you could use the mythological figure itself, even as only a peripheral character in your romance.

Then again, there are those who build in famous poems like Der Vampir by Heinrich August Ossenfelder, either as the basis of the story, or recited at the beginning of the book to help get readers in the mood to read your book.

The key is to slip it into the story in a way that isn't detrimental for those who aren't well acquainted with the mythology. When you learn to do that, not only will your readers not be jolted out of the story itself, but those who pick up on the mythology will feel smart and gratified. A great way to do this is to feed it in in small doses. Think of it like a mystery—you don't give away the identity of the killer until the very end, but you do give enough clues throughout for your readers to make guesses of their own. If you sneak in these same clues and hints with the mythology as you go along, whether or not you have that big revealing scene at the end, just the fact that it's there will add another layer to your writing. Your story will be that much more compelling.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: On The Steps by Jeffrey Harris

Earlier this week, I was contacted by author Jeffrey Harris and asked to review his book. I won't lie to you—at first, I wondered how it qualified as paranormal. There are no vampires, no werewolves or witches—not even a wiccan! However, as I read through it, I realized that it had something much more relatable.

A ghost. The touch of a loved one passed away. As Harris told me, it is a "hidden" theme.

It begins with a scene from the past, as Michael Albright asks the love of his life Kristen to marry him. However, as the story jumps to the present, we realize that Kristen has recently passed away from cancer. Michael and his son Hunter are led down an unstable path as they try to cope, one which is covertly guided by the deceased Kristen. They both eventually meet heartbroken Brittany Chambers. This is a book as much about recovery as it is about love, and Michael undergoes a huge transformation as he learns to live without his beloved wife.

As far as heat ratings go, this one would qualify as a "sweet" read. I would as soon lend it to my grandmother as I would to a good friend. The theme within is universal, and more than that, the paranormal theme is subtle.

I'm sure you've all had that moment where you tell somebody that what you're reading or writing qualifies as paranormal romance, and they give you a disdainful look or comment. I know I have. They automatically assume the book is an R-rated version of Twilight, and not worth reading.

This book may help to diminish those sorts of thoughts. It's a stepping stone, if you will, between normal, bland romance, and the spicy exotic stuff we like to read. With a few more books like this one, those lingering critics who turn up their noses at our genre will become a thing of the past.

But hey, don't take my word for it. If you're wondering what the book is like, take a glance at the first chapter for free, located on Jeffrey Harris's site.

And keep your eye out next week: Gina Gordon will be guest blogging!


Sunday, March 21, 2010

How to Do Fantastic Research—But Not Get Caught Up In It

I'm guilty of the above. I often spend days doing research for a book or even a short story. That often means I am spending more time researching than I am writing. Problem? Yes, it surely is. But there are a couple ways to get around it.

Some things, point of fact, need more research than others. Novels set in a historical time—even if only for a flashback or two—need that research in order to be authentic. But it's easy to be caught up in every little thing that crosses your eyes. Checking, and double-checking your facts, etc.

If you're researching for an era in the past, the best way to start is by making yourself a list. Once you ahve all possible questions you need answered, it will be simple. You won't be sidetracked by looking up food dishes if your main character is a vampire who doesn't eat. You'll know exactly what you need to find out, and once you discover the answers to those questions, you can go about constructing that scene.

Also if your scene is a flashback—especially a flashback in a dream—keep in mind that people don't remember every little detail about the scenery, etc. They recall how things made them feel. After two hundred years, the likelihood of your character having a perfect memory of this particular scene is slim. So slim, in fact, that you have a better chance of becoming pregnant if a person sneezes on you. Therefore, you can pare down sensory details to the bare minimum—what is needed to bring this scene alive and nothing else.

Of course, you may need to do research for things other than just historical scenes. If you're dabbling in paranormal romance, that is a sure sign that you have some sort of mythological creature mixed in, if not more than one. That, if nothing else, needs a bit of research. You have to decide how closely you would like your version of this creature to emulate how history and mythology paints it. And to do that, you have to be well-read. But before you lose yourself in the sea of books you're sure to find on the subject, one way to help is to choose five or six useful sources and gather what information you can through them. Even being well read in your genre can help you to get an idea for the semantics of a certain mythological creature. That, of course, is the most pleasurable way of doing research. If you're a little more practical and want some solid fact, you can make another list, this one consisting of all the things you don't know about your mythological creature and the things you need to find out.

Then again, maybe you're setting your book in a city you've never been to. I try to avoid that as much as possible, which is why my stories are generally limited to three cities—Toronto, Montreal, or Ottawa—so I can follow a very good rule of thumb: stick with what you know. Until you've been to New York City, I don't recommend that you set your novel there. Although you might feel that you are limiting yourself, remember that if a bona fide New Yorker was to pick up your novel and see your bluff, you might turn away readership from that city. Don't bluff unless you're very good at it. Instead, if you insist that that is the only place your story will fit, at least book a trip and take a walk around the city once. If that is impossible, you can always take a peek at Google Maps for a street by street view.

In the end, the best way to cut down on research time is to stick with what you already know. Work within your area of expertise, and build up that expertise as you go along.

If you're not sure where to start? If you're not ready to hit the history books, why not start at the website of one of your favourite authors. Often they'll have a tidbit or two on their website, sharing some research that they have done, such as author Cindy Carroll.

Of course, you can always check back here. In the coming month, I plan to launch a blog mini-series cataloguing paranormal creatures, for those who need a little extra nudge in the right direction.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

How to Choose the Perfect Publisher

I know people who find this aspect of writing to be the most challenging—after all, a writer should have to write, right? Publishers should come to us! But, they don't, I'm sorry to say. In fact, once you choose that perfect publisher, you have to essentially sell it to them. Even a brilliant story won't get out of the slush pile if you don't write a brilliant query to go along with it. However, that is a topic for another day. In order to get to that slush pile, you would have already chosen that publisher as the one you absolutely want to publish your book.

Of course, that might not necessarily be true. I know some people who aren't as picky—they send to any and every publisher willing to look at it. That strategy has its advantages and its disadvantages. On one hand, your work is seen by more publishers. They may not like it—they may even think you're a negligent author for not reading their guidelines and submitting something completely different from what they want to see—but the point is that they read it, right?

Personally, I don't like to do that. To me, it feels a little like whoring myself around. The highest bidder gets what I'm offering. But that's not to say that the technique doesn't work. I'm sure at least one of those publishers will take a peek.

For those of you who feel like I do, and want your baby to go to the most loving home you can find, I'll continue writing the way I narrow down the publisher. It all comes down to 5 things:

1) I read the guidelines. This, I think, is the most important one. It lets you know if the publisher publishes in your genre, what they're looking for in a story, and the proper way to send it in. If you get all your ducks in order, you're much more likely to get that manuscript into print.

2) I read through what they've published before. No, I don't read all of it—that would be ridiculous. After all, unless this is a publisher I currently read a lot of, there would be a lot of stories to go through. In fact, one effective way to do it (for those of you groaning about reading through everything) is to stick to the blurb that you would see on the book's webpage or on the back of the book. Generally, it gives you a flavour as to what the book will be about, and therefore, it gives you a taste of what this publisher publishes. The more you read, the better informed you will be.

3) I ususally skim through the list of author names. I am fairly wide-read in my genre, and therefore if I can pick out one or two authors I know, the publisher passes inspection. In general, if you read what you write (and it is always helpful to do so), finding a name you know on the list will in itself let you know if the publisher publishes stories in the same vein (no pun intended) as yours.

4) I browse through the website. Publishers work hard on their websites, because it is the window into their trade. It is, essentially, the way to attract writers to submit to them. There is usually a distinct tone to a website, and through browsing it thoroughly, you can become acquainted with the sort of feeling they want to embody in their books.

5) Lastly, I take a look at the editors' blogs. While these may or may not pertain to writing, what it does let you know is the editors' personalities. I always find it much easier to submit something once I feel that I know the person on the other end, if only through a webpage.

Yes, I realize what I've suggested details a lot of work. But that's what writing is—work. If you want to make money, you have to put in the time. Otherwise, you might as well let that prized manuscript of yours rot in a drawer. Since you probably don't want to do that, I advise you to learn as much as you can about your chosen publisher before you submit. It will help you out in the long run.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Importance of Goals

Writing takes diligence. The writer who fools himself (or herself) into thinking it doesn't is the writer who always dreams of being a writer—but they never quite get there. Being a writer isn't about getting published (although the extra pocket money is nice, of course). You are a writer if you write—which means all those dreamers out there who have been sitting on that book idea, hoping it will someday be a bestseller, you had betterget up off the couch and park yourself at the computer desk.

The best way to do this, and one that author L. K. Below uses in her outrageous Book-a-month resolution, is to set goals for yourself. Personally, I can't do a book a month—I doubt many can. However, a smarter goal which you know you can meet might be appropriate. Maybe to finish a chapter a week, or a short story a week. When you set yourself goals like that, you push yourself to write. And the more you write, the more that will be available to be published. It's a very lucrative circle.

So then why are you still sitting there, reading this blog? Get writing!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Think Small, Go Big!

I've seen countless authors who have a wonderful book, but don't get published. Why is that? Assuming their characters are vibrant, their story original, and their sentence structure is flawless, just why is that book not being picked up?

The fact of the matter is that books are expensive to produce. Any given publisher could take a chance on a shiny new hopeful, but will they? Sadly, unless your book is absolutely spectacular, the answer is probably no.

However, don't let that deter you, folks, because I have the secret. The surefire way to see that book in print is to build yourself a credit sheet. While most publishers won't take a chance on that one book from that previously unpublished brimming hopeful, what they will take a chance on is a short story.

Take another peek at those publishers you were eyeing for your book. Do any of them have anthology calls coming up? Or, if you're peering into the realm of ebook publishing, many if not all ebook publishers publish short stories. Create a mini-series, build around your existing book by giving side characters short romances, or even write a few stand-alone tales to send to many different epublishers. Not only will these tales be more likely to be snapped up, but you'll be building that credit sheet I talked about. And if the publisher you've had your eye on all along takes that short story (or two, or three) of yours, you'll be that much more likely to have your novel accepted as well.

Or you different strategy: start at the sure thing. Give smaller stories to lesser-known publishers, and work your way up to the "big guns," so to speak. By the time you've got that story in eprint by the publisher you've really had your eye on, you'll already have a fanbase in place to buy that book you've been holding onto!

So with that strategy in place (or maybe one of your own), I wish you all the best of luck with your writing, as I push to gain the best of luck in mine, as well!


Sunday, March 7, 2010

What Is Paranormal Romance?

I was asked that question the other day when I told somebody that I write paranormal romance. At first, I had to stare at them. I thought it was pretty common terminology, these days. And then I had to take a second to think; how do you define paranormal romance?

Finally, I settled on:

The plot of a paranormal romance story surrounds the interactions of two individuals as they fall in love. One or both of these individuals can be superhuman, or there must be some sort of supernatural element bringing them together. Stories involving vampires, werewolves, and witches are not uncommon.

No, that does not mean Twilight. Unless, of course, you are writing young adult paranormal romance, but I shudder to think that anyone would write something like Twilight.

Although vampires sometimes enter the realms of my imagination, I strive to be original. I hate racism, which is why my characters might occasionally have BLUE skin, instead of "white" or "black". But when did this become about me? I thought this post was supposed to be about the craft of writing, as seen through my eyes. Pish posh, who wants to hear about my daily routine? Let's be realistic - nobody. But writing, that's a whole 'nother story.

So moving back to the topic at hand, what is paranormal romance? It can involve gods or mythology, as seen in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series. It can involve mythical creatures, as seen in Christine Warren's Other series or Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series. It can draw upon classic myths as the basis for the laws of the world, as in Lynn Viehl's Darkyn series or Mary Janice Davidson's Undead series; or it can stem entirely from the author's own interpretation of how such beings are created, such as in Lynsay Sands' Argeneau series. Basically, a paranormal romance combines the idea of the supernatural with the wonders of the modern world. There are some paranormal romances which do take place in the past, but these are far and few between these days. The hot topic is sexy mythological creatures in a modern setting.

Paranormal romance, I might add, is not to be confused with fantasy romance. Fantasy romance is a growing offshoot of paranormal romance, but it is not the same. While you might see elves or dragons in a paranormal romance, more often their home resides in the make-believe realms associated with fantasy romance. They are not often mixed with the modern world, although there are exceptions—the previously mentioned Kresley Cole, for one, successfully incorporated elves into her Immortals After Dark series, though they have yet (to my knowledge) to have a starring role.

Now that I've explained the paranormal part of this equation, let us not forget the romance part which goes along with it. Any narrow-minded men would have rolled their eyes and navigated away from this page long before this part, so let me share with you the secret to the formula of making a great paranormal romance novel. It all comes down to two words:


That's right, the love scenes are pivotal. Let's not fool ourselves, girls. When I pick up a paranormal romance novel, I want to be assured to be sucked into the pages to find: a) a world containing sexy mythological creatures, b) a happy ending, and c) a hot, irresistible relationship that blossoms between the hero and the heroine. Sex, for me, is a must. If an author has that chemistry with her characters and then skims over the love scene? That's when I put the book down.

But of course, every sex scene must have a purpose in the story, a means of furthering the relationship or showing something important about the couple in the spotlight. If not, the story becomes forced, hollow, and all-around bad writing. It becomes the "pornography" which paranormal romance (or romance/erotica of any subgenre) is not. Stacia Kane explains this amazingly well in her How to Be a Sex-Writing-Strumpet blog entries.

When in doubt, the best option is always to have a good critique partner look it over for you. I know mine prove to be invaluable.