Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guest Blog: Celeste O. Norfleet

May will bring a new release from author Celeste O. Norfleet, and we're happy to welcome her to the keyboard today talking about Cross My Heart, mothers and Mother's Day. Here she is:

Natalia Coles - A 21st Century Mom

I have been blessed to have had the influence of several incredible mothers in my life. Not only do I still have my mother with me, but my grandmother lived to see me married and happily settled. My aunts and older sisters are also major influences on me. Now, as a mother myself, I find that I have drawn on all my past experiences with these amazing women to raise my children. I have four astounding young people in my life, two already grown and out of the house and two impatiently waiting their turn to burst out into the world. So, the idea of Mother’s Day is pretty high up on my “cool beans” list.

When my editor asked me to write a book highlighting May and Mother’s Day, I was thrilled. In nearly eight years of writing, this is my first Mother’s Day novel. I also saw this as my chance to make a statement about moms and romance. After all, just because we’re moms, doesn’t mean we’re not still sensuous and super sexy women. So, in researching this phenomenal book, I centered my ideas on writing about the modern mother, the mother of the 21st century.
I recently introduced a secondary character in my summer 2009 book, Sultry Storm. This character was instantly popular and I think typifies a mother of the 21st century. I received numerous emails and letters asking me to write her story. So I did. The novel is called, Cross My Heart, and the character’s name is Natalia Coles. Natalia is a working mother with two young sons and a lot of responsibility. When I created Natalia, I searched a wide range of motherly characteristics to include in her make-up. I gave her the controlled intelligence of a Clair Huxtable, the laid back cool of Vivian Banks, the instinctive charm of June Cleaver and the quick wit and inner strength of Debra Barone. I wrote her to be bold and audacious, with enough kick-in-the-butt attitude to challenge and defend any injustice. She speaks the truth and says what was right. I also made her talented, sexy and hot, and gave her an unending supply of inner fortitude.

In other words, I made her a real mom. And just like real mothers everywhere, she does what she has to, to get the job done. Tired of waiting around for Mr. Right, Natalia decides to have in vitro fertilization procedures and start her own family. It’s not that she feels she doesn’t need a man in her life or is giving up on love. It’s that she’s forever moving forward with her life, knowing love will come in time. Natalia continues to show her spunk and independence, but she also shows her vulnerable side. When her sons’ biological father shows up, she quickly learns to set aside her pride and be the best mom and woman she can be. She’s multifaceted and definitely a new kind of mom. She’s every woman and every mother. Cross My Heart is a wonderful story filled with heartwarming charm and loads of super hot romance. Enjoy!

Tell us about your mother of the 21st century.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Release

Trouble Down the Road, the new book from author Bettye Griffin and follow-up to The People Next Door, hits bookstores today. Trouble Down the Road is filled with the passions and drama of Suzanne Betancourt, married to her former boss Bradley Betancourt, whose life is made complicated by Lisa, her next-door neighbor and Bradley's ex-wife, and Micheline Trent, who Suzanne suspects has set her sights on Bradley, not to mention the neighbors down the street whose son jumps into a quickie marriage with Suzanne's newly pregnant sister. Publisher's Weekly calls "a tart and torrid tempest." Read more about the book here, and check it out.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Business of Writing

Writers, like other people in business for themselves, often struggle with how to implement the best business practices to support their operations. Sometimes it's finances that preclude setting things up in a way that provides full protection. But often, it's that we just don't think about certain things until it's too late. After one of your vulnerabilities catches you short, there's often nothing left to do, other than tear out your hair and lament "how in the world did I let that happen?"

Recently, I've been a witness to two, not altogether uncommon situations, that illustrate my point. These should be cautionary tales for writers everywhere.

A multi-published author who'd acquired her rights back to her earlier books wanted to find new homes for them. She wanted to take advantage of one of the many new electronic opportunities available for these kinds of reprints. It turned out not to be as easy as she thought. Her books were published in the days of old before there were electronic galleys so she had no e-copy of the final book. And then, when she went to look for the copy of her final manuscript that she had done on her computer, she realized it had been written on an earlier computer she no longer owns and was stored in a format no longer compatible with available software. Ooops!

The other author, still working on her debut, met an editor at a conference and pitched her latest book. The editor was enthusiastic and asked to see the material. But the author returned home to discover that her computer had crashed, corrupting all the files in an unrecoverable way, and she had no other complete copies of her manuscript, either in print or stored electronically. [Sadly, I think this is more common than any of us would like to think about. The more we become dependent upon our computers and no other equipment for composing, copying, sending, and storing, the more likely this is a problem.]

As you might imagine, both authors are typing away madly right now trying to recreate their lost work. [I admire greatly their dedication and determination.]

But these and other similar problems might have been avoided had a couple of simple business practices been in place. I'm no "techie" and I admit it took me a number of years to wake up to this, but having an off-site backup of all your work isn't that expensive and is really a good idea. is great, but there are others as well. Even having a separate, plug-in hard drive for backup purposes can do the trick. One of the nice things about a back-up service is that it happens automatically every day (or whatever schedule you set) and you don't have to worry. Everything gets backed-up. If it's a manual system, then I would strongly recommend implementing a practice by which all completed work, at a minimum, is immediately backed-up.

When you purchase a new computer or transition to new software, I realize that a business practice which requires opening and re-saving all past works could be time-consuming, but aren't you going to have to do that with all works in progress? A business plan that calls for such protection for at least all published works would seem like a good idea. Those novels are your "products." They are what you as an author have to offer for sale, and I would think you'd want to make sure you always have them in a format that accessible.

If you have other ideas about similar technical practices to put in place, I hope you'll share.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Guest Blog: Bettye Griffin

It's always a fun change-of-pace to welcome guest bloggers to the keyboard, and today we welcome Bettye Griffin. Her new title, Trouble Down the Road, will be released from Kensington/Dafina on April 27th. Without further ado:

One of the most challenging aspects of writing for today’s audience is that readers don’t want “The End” to really mean, well, the end. Even with a story that ties up all loose ends (and in my opinion a good story should, unless another installment is going to follow in a month or two), the question is almost inevitable: When will the sequel be out?

I received many such requests following the publication of my debut work of women’s fiction, The People Next Door, in 2005. I resisted the idea at first—I wanted to move on to other storylines and characters—but then an idea began to form, and before I knew it I had an entire storyline to update readers on what those initial characters are doing now. That story is being published under the title Trouble Down the Road and will be available to consumers on April 27th.

Readers have been emailing me as they’ve learned that my new book features characters from The People Next Door as well as my sophomore women’s fiction effort, Nothing But Trouble. It’s really a compliment to a writer when readers ask for a sequel, for it shows that they’ve made a connection with the characters the writer created and want to know, and then what happened? But, just as Trouble Down The Road was written five years after the publication of The People Next Door, the action also takes place five years later. That’s the type of sequel that works best for me…one that allows both myself and the characters to grow. The long time lapse also means it’s not a requirement for readers to pick up copies of The People Next Door (although I wouldn’t mind it, of course). The actions of the past are touched on sufficiently to bring new readers up to speed about what they need to know about the characters’ pasts.

How do you like your sequels?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Story Elements and Story Design

Story Elements

A novel is a coherent whole. Everything that gets put in there needs to serve a purpose. I think of a successful novel as a well-functioning body. We need the bare bone structure of solid information, which are the facts we need to understand the book. And then, all the muscles and tissues connect to each other in some way to enable mobility. But how the body looks and feels is up to the author, because it relates to aesthetics. A body can be muscular or curvaceous; hair can be long, cropped, dyed, teased, absent. What I’m saying is, a successful novel has a self-containment that no matter how frivolous a single element seems when taken out of context, it still serves to create the whole.

An ugly novel often has too much unnecessary information or too little necessary information. For example, in a story about a war of warlocks, does it really matter if we knew the eye color of every character? What does matter is the set of rules for using magic in warfare. Eye color and rules are both information, but only the latter help us to understand what is happening in the book. The latter is necessary, whereas the former does not advance the story and should be used sparingly.

Also, the story does not need to show everything that happens. There is no use in showing the protagonist opening her eyes, turning off the alarm, jumping in and out of the shower, and eating cereal, if all we needed was the protagonist seeing Mr. X on her morning walk to get flowers. Know when to summarize or to skip deadweight scenes.

Story Design

Let’s say that the author has a perfect sense of the information and the scenes needed in the story. Now, how to assemble them?

Many of the submissions I read are stories told in a linear fashion, which is definitely one way to write a successful novel, since many stories are event-driven. But I want to make aware the option of modular design.

Last week I read a submission in which we find out in the beginning that the protagonist’s mother has just passed away, and most of the rest of the book relates the events of their life together. This setup has great potential. The mother’s eventual death is a crucial piece of information that the writer can use to incite emotion out of readers: knowing the mother will die makes us put more importance on what otherwise might be mundane events, and perhaps infuse them with meaning.

Story structure is a decision the author has to make at some point. The default to linear design could work extremely well, but it is always useful to be aware of different writing tools.

If you’d like to read a much more detailed (and more elegant) discussion on linear and modular designs, Madison Smartt Bell’s Narrative Design will rock your socks off.

~~Julia, MFA

Thursday, April 8, 2010

When to Say When: Querying New (& Old) Projects

There will be times during The Process when you feel like you've hit the wall with your manuscript. You've taken it out to your top 5 (or 50 or 500) agents, they've requested your partial, but then every single one turned you down. What exactly--besides whistling in the dark, of course--are you supposed to do now? Can you revisit these agents again?

Like so many topics, the answers to these questions will vary from agency to agency. I can only answer for us.

First, please don't query us with same project, even if you've revised and/or re-written the manuscript. If we're interested in seeing it again, we'll specifically tell you that when we respond to your partial or full manuscript (I think most agents would say the same thing). This can feel killer, especially if you've had several agents respond with similar comments and you feel like now you're equipped to make your manuscript even better, more polished, totally marketable, etc. However, it's a great argument for not sending your manuscript to every agent in the universe (or multiverses--that's just a side tidbit; I'm fascinated by this concept right now) at the same time. If you send your query and manuscript out in smaller batches and five agents respond with similar comments, you have the opportunity to take those comments back to your manuscript, revise (if you agree with the comments) to a stronger manuscript, and query a new batch of agents.

"Ok, fine, so I won't re-query with the same (or revised) project," you say, "but what about querying new manuscripts?" Querying a new/different manuscript after receiving a rejection on a full or partial is fine for us. Ideally, you'd probably wait a bit (at least a few weeks) before querying again. If we've provided comments with a rejection on your full or partial, consider those in relation to your new manuscript. Do you see any themes, constructions, etc. that might crop up as similar problems in the new manuscript?

When you do query a new project, a brief, polite mention that we previously considered a different manuscript of yours is a good note to include. I always appreciate an acknowledgment that we've had previous correspondence, plus it gives me an opportunity to check back through notes or records on your earlier manuscript if I want.

One note to consider: If we've requested, reviewed and rejected a couple of your manuscripts, you would probably be best served to query other agencies. It's best to end up with an agent who loves your work, your style and your themes, and if we've rejected multiple manuscripts, it's likely that our tastes just don't mesh with yours.

Also, while we're on the topic, here's a reminder to only query one project at a time. Sending us paragraph summaries for 15 unrelated books and asking us to pick which one we want to read is likely to result in an almost InstaReject. We wouldn't pitch your books like that to editors; please don't pitch them that way to us.