Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Sense of Belonging + A Cookbook

I belong to many writers' groups, some small and some large.  Not only do they help me learn the business, they also support me in this bloodsport also known as publishing.  Really—if I had to do this biz alone, I'd feel like a freak.

This weekend, I'm heading to the mountains with four other writer-friends (I'll call them NaMoFiBer) for our biannual writing retreat. I have a goal of 12,000 words (approx. 50 pages).  A girl can hope.

I'm also a member of several other organizations for writers, primarily learning from them online.

The Society of Children's Bookwriters and Illustrators (SCBWI) focuses on the publication of children's literature1.  I'm a member because I write Young Adult2 and want to write Middle Grade3. (Waves to Capital Eyes Critique Group.)

Romance Writers of America (RWA) is an international organization for writers of romantic fiction.  Since my novels always feature a romantic subplot, I belong to RWA as well as several of its local chapters: YARWA (Young Adult RWA) and HCRW (Heart of Carolina Romance Writers).

Finally, there are my much-beloved cyber-sisters in the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood.  We found each other through RWA's Golden Heart Contest in 2009. Ruby Sisters live across all corners of the globe (USA, Brazil, and Australia, to name three.)  We've bonded so tightly that it's hard for me to remember sometimes that I've never met most of them in person.

And here is where I interject the cookbook.  The Rubies have jointly contributed to a group blog since Sept 2009, and now we have a group cookbook.

The cookbook is free. You can download it as an e-book from the typical places for downloading free books; check our website for details.

All of the recipes are featured (or suggested) in our novels.  In addition to the recipes, you'll find our book covers as well as excerpts from our books.  And, yes, there are a recipe and an excerpt from Whisper Falls.  So download and enjoy!  


1 In the publishing biz, children's literature covers all ages from birth to 18 years old. SCBWI promotes the careers of writers and illustrators of picture books, early readers, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult. They include fiction and non-fiction.  

2 Young Adult, as an age group, is a bit hard to define. But generally, YA literature is targeted for 13- to 18-year-old readers. Because YA fiction has earned a reputation for high quality, there is large crossover appeal with adults.

3 Middle Grade, as an age group, typically includes readers between the ages of 8 and 12.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The First Appearance

A mother/daughter book club has invited me to visit their next meeting.

My first reaction was yes! 

Then logic took over.  Whisper Falls doesn't release for another year.  The book club knows that--right?

Yes, they knew. And, yes, they want me anyway.

I'm so excited.  I love to talk about writing and the publishing process.  Commercial fiction is a tough business. Breaking-in can be crazy-difficult. Aspiring authors write for years, pouring their hearts-and-souls into their stories.  Yet there is no guarantee that they will sell.  In fact, less than one percent of manuscripts will ever be bought and published!

It gets worse. For the magic few who get one of those elusive publishing contracts, the money is usually mediocre. Only a handful of authors will earn enough to quit their day jobs.

We must be psycho. Really. It takes years of practice to write that first marketable book. A tiny percentage of us succeed in selling.  The lucky ones make very little money. And our success is entirely dependent on the good opinions of people we'll never meet.

Why do we do this again?  

I know why. The book club reminds me.  It's all about the readers.  Meeting them fuels my enthusiasm. I can't wait to infect others with my love for the characters in my stories.  I can't wait to hear what these teens like (and don't like) to read. And I'm aware that the next JK Rowling could be sitting in that room. What I say to the girls in the book club might inspire one of them to write the next Little Women or The King of Attolia.
Even though the meeting is in November, I'm getting prepared. My publisher has given me permission to read an excerpt from Whisper Falls.  There is swag to collect.  It's time to learn how to be better at my new job.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Writing the Jacket Copy

For most book buyers, there is a specific process we follow when deciding whether to buy a book.

  • First, we look at the book cover--both the title and art
  • If the cover interests us enough, we flip over to the back and read the jacket copy.  (For hardcovers, you find the jacket copy on the inside cover.) 

I helped to write the jacket copy for Whisper Falls.  I expected it to be hard, and I was right. There is so much to achieve in approximately one hundred words.

Obviously, we want to intrigue the reader enough that they want to read the story. We have to touch on the book's setting, identify the main characters, and hint at the struggle they are facing. But we can't reveal any plot twists.

I had a really hard time with that last part.  It took three tries for me to hint without revealing.  (Thanks to my cousin Llewellyn for helping with Try III. That version did the trick.)

Lastly, I read it out loud to ensure it flowed smoothly and then sent it off to Spencer Hill for their approval.

Here is the final version of the jacket copy for Whisper Falls.

While training for a mountain bike race, high-school senior Mark Lewis spots a mysterious girl dressed in odd clothing, standing behind a waterfall in the woods near his North Carolina home. When she comments on the strange machine that he rides, he suspects something isn't right. When Susanna claims to be an indentured servant from 1796, he wonders if she's crazy. Yet he feels compelled to find out more.

[The first paragraph gives the setting(s), background on the two main characters, and enough detail to identify the genre/subgenre of the book.]

Mark enters a 'long-distance' relationship with Susanna through the shimmering--and temperamental--barrier of Whisper Falls. Curious about her world, Mark combs through history to learn about the brutal life she's trapped in. But knowledge can be dangerous. Soon he must choose between the risk of changing history or dooming the girl he can't stop thinking about to a lifetime of misery.

[The second provides insight into the struggle in the story that the protagonist will be battling.  I hint at the problem without revealing any major plot points.]

I hadn't seen the cover art when I drafted the jacket copy, but I love how much they "match".

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Getting the History Right

It takes a lot of effort to get the history right in historical fiction.

The author has to think about everything that a person experiences.  Food, clothing, housing, technology, and transportation are visible parts of life that change over time.  But there are plenty of aspects that are not so visible--such as political, moral, and religious beliefs. Sleeping, hygiene, and health behaviors. Attitudes toward marriage, children, work, humor and recreation, social class, education, ethnic groups, and women.

The research for Whisper Falls began six years ago when I visited Tryon Palace in New Bern.  (I love that place.  I've been back two times since, each time focusing on a different aspect of colonial life.)  The docents were extremely knowledgeable and happy to share what they knew.

When I asked about servants, one of the docents/reenactors told me that little is known about the servant class.  Most servants didn't know how to write, and the ones who did would've had a hard time affording ink and paper.  Bottom line: a writer can interpret what it might have been like and it would be hard to dispute.

Cool.  The pressure was reduced somewhat. But, still, servants worked for wealthy people--so I had to learn about both.  My research efforts included:

I also read historical fiction that targeted the same period, although this is a tricky thing to count on.  There is no guarantee that the history is correct.

All these efforts may seem like overkill--but I don't mind.  I love the research.  It's just pure fun for me.