Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Holidays!

'Tis the marvelous season for gift giving, parties, joy, and wonder.

It's also the season, as we approach the end of the year, for rest and reflection. All of us in the publishing biz have been buffeted by what felt like gale-force winds of change this past year. But, hopefully, the holidays will give each of us a chance to catch our breath, process the changes in a moment of quiet reflection, and plan a course for next year that will steer us to our hearts' goals.

Be kind to yourself during the holidays and find that quiet moment to revisit and renew your hopes and plans for 2012.

Also, don't forget to visit a local independent bookstore, browse, and buy a book (preferably something that your Amazon algorithm would never pick out for you). And whatever you do, make sure you read at least one new book this holiday! (Or maybe one for each day of the holiday!)

Best wishes,

The Elaine P. English Literary Agency

Monday, November 28, 2011

Great Advice on Self-Publishing

Whether an author should self-publish, how to do it, how to succeed if you try -- these are all the questions buzzing around the publishing biz these days. Some authors seem to feel that traditional, "dead-tree" publishers are dinosaurs with absolutely no relevance.

[I have to admit I love the phrase "dead-tree" publishers. The environmental impact of this business has always been something that's troubled me. It's one of the main reasons we switched to all electronic submissions. But I have to admit when folks use the phrase these days, it sounds so negative on so many levels!]

Hardly a day goes by without at least one author asking me about self-publishing. As with most issues and since I am also an attorney (and this is the attorneys' favorite response), the answer I give is always "it depends." I do believe each situation is unique and ALL factors should be considered, not just that everyone else is doing it and some are even making money at it. So today when I saw a blog post on this subject from Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writers' Digest and a professor of media and writing at the University of Cincinnati that I thought made an enormous amount of sense, I wanted to share the link. She suggests that while authors may have great power, they still need to use it responsibly. Take a look at her piece and let me know what you think.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I am sure this topic has been discussed in previous blog posts, but it is so important it deserves being touched upon again. There may be nothing that can make or break a novel as much as the characters that are in it. Many times I've gotten excited about the premise of a story, and find myself completely disappointed by the people who that story revolves around. And in the opposite effect, I've read some stories where I am not exactly thrilled about where the plot is going but I am driven to continue by a need to know what happens to the people.

There are few other factors in a novel or manuscript that hold as much importance as the characters. Make them believable.If you want your read to get emotionally invested in a fictionalized character in a story, we have to be able to believe that they could be real and that their choices make sense for the kind of person they are painted as. Decide who you want them to be and how you want them to act and make sure they keep up some continuity, or if they act completely out of character make sure they have a reason. The believable factor also goes for dialogue--make sure what they say makes sense for them as well.

Develop them further than you even need to just to make sure you solidify who they are and what you want them to mean to you reader. Start with some basic things, like what is their favorite color and why? Add small things like that which maybe do not give a great deal of insight into the character but make them feel more like they could be a real person.

Give your reader someone to pull for, someone to hate, someone to wish that they could be or just be around. Make your reader wish for your character to be more than fiction, and you will have won them over.

Good luck!

Intern Emily

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Release: Love's Paradise by Celeste O. Norfleet

Love's Paradise

The agency is excited to announce another new release for November: Celeste O. Norfleet's newest romance, Love's Paradise:

In a dazzling new novel in the Mamma Lou series, matchmaker Louise Gates helps two adversaries turn their simmering anger into fiery passion.

For historian Sheri Summers, Crescent Island is an unspoiled treasure, and she hopes to keep it that way. If that means shutting down a new beachfront project that could destroy the historic site, so be it. Sheri can deal with developer Jordan Hamilton's anger. But what she doesn't count on is their combustible chemistry.…

Jordan has powerful allies, and asks Mamma Lou to help arrange a truce. Sheri is as sexy as she is stubborn, but every kiss and heated caress is just one more complication in their ongoing dispute. With no compromise in sight, it's not just a battle of wills that's at risk, but something far more precious.

Get your copy today!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Release: Tall, Dark and Cowboy by Joanne Kennedy

November is flush with new books by Elaine English authors! Hot off the shelf, Joanne Kennedy's latest sexy Western is sure to put some sizzle in your chilly Fall evenings:

Stunned by the discovery that her lux lifestyle was funded by crime, runaway trophy wife Lacey Bradford is desperate to escape from her ex's criminal cronies and start a new life, so she heads west to find an old love.

But rugged rancher Chase Caldwell has changed, hardened by bitterness and loss. The last thing he's looking for is romance with the first woman who broke his heart...

Purchase your copy today.

New Release: The Rancher's Courtship by Laurie Kingery

The agency is thrilled to announce that The Rancher's Courtship by Laurie Kingery is available on bookshelves today. Kingery's latest novel is the fourth installment in the popular Love Inspired Historicals series "Brides of Simpson Creek".

Though Caroline Wallace can't have a family, she can still have a purpose. Becoming Simpson Creek's new schoolmarm helps heal the heartache of losing Pete, her fiancé, to influenza.

Then Pete's brother arrives, trailing a herd of cattle and twin six-year-old girls.Jack Collier expected Pete and his bride to care for his daughters until he was settled in Montana. But bad weather and worse news strand Jack in Texas until spring. It's little wonder Caroline grows fond of Abby and Amelia. But could such a refined, warmhearted woman fall for a gruff rancher…before the time comes for him to leave again?

Make sure to pick up Laurie Kingery's seventeenth published novel!

So You Want To Write A Series

Now that it's November, my fourth book in the "Brides of Simpson Creek" series for Love Inspired Historicals, The Rancher's Courtship, has hit the shelves. It's made me stop and reflect about how I started the series, and what I've learned along the way, series and a few things I wish I'd known.

Series are vastly popular with genre readers, especially in romance. Even if you aren't writing a series, some readers may assume you are, and will ask if certain secondary characters will be featured in the next book. This may lead to writing a series when you hadn't even planned to. My series, the Brides of Simpson Creek, however, came along at a time when I was tired of having to "build a new world" each time I started a new manuscript, complete with a locale, secondary characters, and businesses, such as a particular saloon, or mercantile. (Yup, I write western romance.) I developed what seemed like a unique concept, the mail-order groom instead of bride. (If you wrote this concept first, ten years ago or so, please don't burst my bubble).

I designed a town, Simpson Creek, Texas, set it in the hill country near San Saba, and gave it a reason to need mail-order grooms—the lack of eligible bachelors following the War Between the States (also known as the Civil War if you're a Yankee). I gave the plot a plucky young miss discontent to remain an old maid, had her set up a group of like-minded ladies and place a newspaper ad—the 1860's version of online dating!

I started writing before computers so I still do a lot of planning on paper—no elaborate spreadsheets for me. On a piece of paper I wrote out the physical characteristics of each main character in one column, important facts in another, the names of secondary characters in another. The names of the first group of ladies in "The Spinsters Club" got their own column, and as the series developed, I had to keep track of what spinsters had found their matches—for not each spinster would get her own book. Each contracted book got its own page, and I still refer back to previous books, because I started writing the series in 2009 and it's all too easy to forget details after writing four of the stories. No fact is too small to write down—a throwaway character in the first book might have a pivotal role five books later.

I was well into the first book, which became MAIL ORDER COWBOY, before I got to visit the actual site of my fictional Simpson Creek—and discovered there really had been a community called Simpson Creek on the site. Spooky, huh? While there, I found a historic tree, the Marriage Oak, to use in my third story, THE SHERIFF'S SWEETHEART.

The ladies of my Spinsters' Club have married, had babies, (and in one case, went crazy and lost her life because of loving the wrong man), and the one thing I wish I'd started from the beginning was a comprehensive timeline so I could remember what book happened in what months of what year. It's been useful to visit http://www.timeanddate/com to see when the full moons were, and what date coincided with what day of the week—not because I think most readers care, but because in the heat of writing I may accidentally mention two full moons in one month. I keep a running narrative—also on paper—of several sentences telling what happens in each chapter, including the dates it took place.

Your mileage may vary if you write a series, but these are the hints that work for me. You may work with elaborate spreadsheets, but I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer and just need a little structure to help me keep from completely flying off into the mist and getting lost.

I hope you'll take the time to have a look at my trailer for THE RANCHER'S COURTSHIP on my website at because it's the coolest thing, I think, that I've ever done for promotion. My videographer, Barbara Hunt of Paperback Flyers, is a genius. She's found images and music that totally fit my story and melded them all into a pleasing minute and thirty seconds that makes you really want to read the book. At least I hope it does! If you're interested in having a trailer made, her prices are very reasonable.

THE RANCHER'S COURTSHIP is available in November wherever books are sold, at online sites such as,,, and Please visit my website at

Thanks, Elaine, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my books!

By Laurie Kingery

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Importance Of Being Critiqued

Before you send your manuscript to an agent, it is important that you allow others to read and critique your story. And by others, I don’t mean your mother, your spouse or anyone else who loves you and wants to see you succeed. The person or person who read your novel should be objective, familiar with the genre and the essentials of good writing. They should also not be afraid to hurt your feelings and rip your manuscript apart if necessary.

There are many online critique websites at your disposal. You have only to complete an internet search and a little due diligence to find one that works for you. If formalized critique websites are not your style, try using social media formats like Twitter or Facebook to find readers of your genre interested in critiquing your story.

Just as the best meals can be ruined by too many proverbial cooks in the kitchen, a well-written novel will suffer from too many critiques. If you let ten people read your story, you will have ten sets of critiques to wade through. Of course, if all ten readers point out the same flaw, obviously you should address it. But it is better to find one to two dedicated readers, whose judgment you trust to offer suggestions.

Your critique partners do not have to be writers but they do have to be readers, able to recognize grammatical, character development and plotting errors at the minimum. It is always surprising to discover what flaws other readers can find in your work-in-progress. But once found, your writing will only improve, as well as your chances of having an agent represent your manuscript.

Intern N

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tips for Query Submissions

Now that queries have reopened, it seems like a good time to discuss a few do’s and don’ts for query submissions. Keep these in mind as you consider sending in your query!

DO - Sell yourself and your work as best as you possibly can. You have about a page to really convince us that your manuscript is something we want to read, and if we aren’t captivated by the query chances are we won’t be by the manuscript either.

DON’T- Send your partial or full manuscript along with your query. If we want to read it- we’ll ask for it.

DO- Go over what genres we represent. Make sure you fit into that genre. If you think your query may be read to fit into a different genre, make sure you include something to convince us that you belong at this agency in particular.

DO- Proof read! If you cannot edit the one or two pages of your query for errors, it isn’t a good sign for the rest of your manuscript.

DO- Clearly explain what it is your manuscript is about. We want to know what it is you’re writing about, and the more clear your concept is the more confidence it appears you have in your ideas.

DON’T- Get discouraged if we don’t ask to see the partial. There are a variety of factors that go into evaluating queries, and just because it isn’t right for us doesn’t mean someone else down the road won’t like it.

Intern Emily

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Technical Glitch

We just discovered a technical glitch that was apparently deleting all emails coming into the queries account before we could read them. Don't know for sure when it started, but probably last week just as we were re-opening to submissions. So if you sent something to last week, please Re-Send.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

5 Questions...An aspiring writer should ask themselves before pursuing a career as a novelist.

1. Do you have the talent to be a professional novelist? I don’t mean, does your mother or spouse think you are a good writer but is your writing on par with novels, short stories and magazine articles that you’ve read. Or could it be, after you’ve studied the craft of novel writing, written a novel or two and understand how to write a properly plotted story with realistic dialogue and well-developed characters. Have you let anyone read what you have written? Have you received positive, encouraging feedback from an English professor, magazine editor, agent or anyone who should know good writing?

2. Do you have a passion for writing? Like most creative undertakings, writing is a passion project, usually a lifelong endeavor. Real writers have been writing since they could hold a pencil properly--poems, childish stories, journal entries, novels and the like. It is a part of them, a natural expression of who they are. And they write for themselves. They write for free. They write because they love the idea of putting pen to paper (okay, that’s rather archaic) or fingertip to keypad and creating a story from nothing. Passionate writers write because they don’t feel normal if they don’t.

3. Do you have the diligence required to study and learn the craft of writing? Writing is not easy. Oh, writing can be easy but committing to edit, write and re-write until your literary piece is polished like a crown jewel is not. There is a structure or structures to learn, the right one has to be selected for your genre and story. Creating the correct novel structure is almost a geometric calculation, but once you’ve got it…you’ve got it. Themes must be subtly laced through your story. And there is a knack required to create natural dialogue and develop interesting characters. It cannot always be taught but certain aspects can be learned. You must read books on writing, take classes or both and then practice, practice, practice. You must let others critique your writing and then you have to turn an objective eye to your own writing and revise, write and then revise some more.

4. Are you disciplined enough to write novels? Writing is lonely work. Do you work well independently? Can you create and meet self-imposed writing deadlines? Do you have a writing schedule that you adhere to; measured in a daily or weekly amount of hours, pages or words you must meet? Are you committed to writing a novel that will knock the proverbial socks off an agent and compel a publisher to buy your work?

5. Can you persevere? Can you continue to write when it matters to no one but you? Can you continue to write in the face of constant rejection? Sometimes spouses and family members will not take your writing serious. Agents will like but not ‘love’ your writing. Book publishers will not be able to ‘garner the support’ they’d hope to for your novel. You will lose faith in your own abilities and commitment. But ultimately the writing race is not to the swift…but time and chance…

If you have answered all five questions in the affirmative, writing may be the career for you.

Intern N

Friday, September 23, 2011

Open for Submissions

Get ready . . . get set . . . submit!

On October 1st, we will re-open to submissions. So get ready to send in your queries for new projects. Remember, we want email queries only. But take a minute first to check out the revised submission guidelines on our website,

We’re limiting the kinds of works we’re going to represent going forward, so don’t assume that everything you’ve written we’re interested in seeing. We’re going to concentrate on romance, women’s fiction, and cozy mysteries only. For romance, we’re open to all the various subgenres from historical to contemporary, sweet to erotic, romantic suspense, paranormal, steam punk, and urban fantasy, just to name a few. The only exceptions are: we handle very little inspirational romance and if you write time- travel, your burden will be a bit harder, because we’re real skeptics. Cozy mysteries are those entertaining, relatively low-violence, who- done-it stories, typically featuring an amateur sleuth.

Women’s fiction is a bit harder to define, but I know it when I see it. It’s fiction about women and intended primarily for women readers of all ages. It’s often about relationships – mothers and children, families, even generations. It shows women discovering and taking up their place in the world. It can be set in historical, contemporary or futurist times, but the focus, and generally, the point of view of the story, is that of a woman.

Taking time off from submissions has given me a clearer perspective and helped me to focus on what’s really important. It also gave the agency a chance to completely catch up on submissions (can you imagine!) and to overcome the burn-out which seems to be an occupational hazard in this business. So reinvigorated, here we go. Send us your pitch and together let’s find the next great bestseller!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Guest Blog - Perseverance by Hope Ramsay

Today, we're delighted to have Hope Ramsay as our guest. Sharing her story should bring both wisdom and encouragement to all authors. (We also thank her for the nice things she says about our agency!) Here's Hope . . .

This September, a dream came true for me with the publication of Home at Last Chance.

No, this book was not my first published work. And the book didn't win the Golden Heart in 2010, when it finaled in that contest. Nor was it the full manuscript that sold the Last Chance series.

But it was the book I believed in. Even when no one else did.

See, the original first chapter for this book was finished on April 4, 2001. I can pinpoint the date because that first draft still sits on my hard drive.

The first version of this book, originally entitled Rules of the Road was finished in 2004, and garnered me an agent, who worked diligently throughout 2005 and part of 2006 to sell this book. While she pitched editors I wrote another story featuring Tulane's older brother, Clay, that came to be known as Welcome to Last Chance.

Alas, Rules of the Road was rejected by just about every editor under the sun. The lack of enthusiasm for this book even carried over to the sequel. My agent explained, gently, that in 2006 editors weren't looking for romantic comedy, NASCAR set stories, or any kind of contemporary romance set in a small Southern town. Urban fantasy was in. If you didn't have a vampire you were not cool.

So, for three years, Rules of the Road, Welcome to Last Chance, and a third, earlier book entitled For Love or Money, languished on my hard drive while I wrote a couple of very long classic fantasies. Then, in 2009, in an act of utter desperation, I did two things: 1) I entered Rules of the Road in the Amazon Breakthrough Contest, and 2) I entered For Love or Money in the Golden Heart. To my utter astonishment Tulane's story made it into the final 100 entries of the Amazon contest. And then For Love or Money finaled in the Golden Heart.

Those contest results didn't directly lead to immediate success, but they convinced me to dust off those Rhodes Family manuscripts and seriously pitch them. So one day in April 2009 I sat down across a table from Elaine English and pitched Last Chance for the first time in years.

I was pretty sure that no agent would want this series, which had been so soundly rejected over the years. But Elaine surprised and reassured me. She asked to see them all.

And to my utter astonishment, she agreed to represent me. Then she turned her crew of readers lose on my manuscripts, and she and her readers gave me a road map for some serious edits that turned two of these books into part of the four book proposal that she shopped around in late 2009.

And then, in early 2010, nine years after I wrote the first draft of the first chapter of Tulane' s story, Forever Romance bought the book. And just a few weeks ago, I walked into Barnes and Noble and saw the book sitting right out front.

That was, without question, the most gratifying moment of my very short writing career.

Thank you Elaine. Thank you Forever Romance. This story of a good ol' boy in a pink car has always been near and dear to my heart. It took a long, long time to write and to sell. I had to rewrite it at least a dozen times. And yet, the first chapter, featuring Sarah and Tulane on an airplane, has changed almost not at all since it was first written down ten years ago.

This, I think, is a classic example of perseverance. If you have story that you believe in, never, never, never give up on it. One day you might sit down across a small table from someone and talk about that book, and suddenly, you'll find an ally who believes in it as much as you do.

And the rest will be history.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Release: Home at Last Chance by Hope Ramsay

The agency is excited to announce that Home at Last Chance, the sequel to the bestselling romance novel Welcome to Last Chance, is now available. Author Hope Ramsay brings the small southern town of Last Chance to life with her wonderful cast of characters once again:

Dear Reader,
You won't believe what's happened. My son Tulane has come back home! You remember Tulane? He'd set out to find fame and fortune in the big, wide world outside of Last Chance, and I'm mighty proud. But that's not the half of it-Tulane isn't only back, he's brought a young lady with him.
Now Sarah-she does PR for Tulane's stock-car team-she's from Boston, but she's just about the sweetest girl you could meet. I think she's meant to keep Tulane out of trouble after that story in the papers, but he doesn't want to talk about it. Anyhow, the Ladies Auxiliary can't wait to start matchmaking and introduce Sarah to our Reverend Ellis. But mark my words, Sarah is tired of being a good girl. And no one is better at breaking the rules and raising Cain than my son . . .
Listen to me going on and keeping customeres waiting. I best get back to work, but you come round again. The Cut 'n' Curl's got hot rollers, free coffee, and the best gossip in town.
See you real soon,
Ruby Rhodes
Be sure to pick up your copy today!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I see, you see, we all see...

Okay, that title wasn't particularly clever, as it doesn't include third person and it's not even the right words, but hey. I though using "scream" might imply something slightly different than the actual topic, which is:

Point of View!

Let’s talk about this. This is one of those things that, when you think about it, is generally pretty common sense. The problem is, I think people get so caught up in telling their stories and trying to get all the information out there, they don’t always think about it.

Some people have only a little trouble with this- a couple slips here and there, just something to keep an eye on. Some people have no trouble. Some people have lots of trouble.

The easiest place, in my experience, to have no trouble, is when you’re telling something from a first person POV. Because in first person, it’s pretty easy to tell what belongs and what doesn’t. Even when you’re not thinking about it, when you’re writing you generally know you can’t switch to someone else’s thoughts if your narrator doesn’t know them, unless your narrator is psychic. I think even if you weren’t paying terribly close attention, you wouldn’t make a mistake like:

“I was sitting at a booth and watching the bar door when my dad strolled in. He saw me and grinned.

‘Hey, Elsie!’

‘Hey dad!” I gestured for him to sit down.

Behind Elsie, Frank watched jealously, sipping his coke and thinking of the best way to get her alone.”

First person is probably (certainly?) the easiest way to get close to your main character. It gives them a very distinct voice that builds their character, instead of just basing it on their actions. But of course, it can be very limiting, because you know your narrator so much better than anyone else (unless you play around with how you use the first person. See: Sherlock Holmes, for example (but really, see them. The real, Conan Doyle stories, I mean. They’re amazing). Watson is the first person narrator, but the stories are, of course, actually about Holmes).

Third person is where it gets tricky, because there are so many ways to do it, and people try to combine them. Pick one.

Some people opt for omniscient third person, where the narrator sees and knows everything about everyone. This is easy because it lets you tell anything you want about what anyone is doing. It’s difficult because it distances you from your characters a bit more, so you’ll have to work on revealing their inner thoughts and desires without doing too much telling. And if your narrator is really going to be omniscient, you can’t get too close to one person for too long, because that’s more…

Close third person. Close third person is a favorite, and probably where I see the most mistakes. In close third person, you pick one character- your main character, almost always- and the third person narrator doesn't leave their side. Or their head, since you can usually see what they’re thinking, as well. The narrator is not an actor in the story any more than the omniscient narrator is, but they only know what the character they are close to knows. Thus, the narrator (and the reader) can’t know what other people are thinking or doing unless the main character knows, too.

An example: The Harry Potter series, with a couple of exceptions (generally one chapter in the beginning of the book that shows what Voldemort’s up to) is told in close third person, close to Harry. We don’t know anything until Harry does (well, we might figure stuff out faster than he does, but only based on the information he knows). The story does not, all of a sudden, follow Hermione for a day or an hour, even if what happened to her was important. We have to wait until she tells Harry about this. This is a drawback of close third-person (it would be really convenient if the narrator could just show/tell us what Hermione did), but it’s necessary. By not leaving the one character’s side (and mind), we know them intimately fairly quickly. It’s similar to first-person in this way; it’s an excellent way to really develop your main character. Of course, it’s also more of an effort to develop the characters you’re not close to. But (clearly) every POV is a give and take.

I've seen more problems with this than one might expect. A close third person narration will suddenly switch to a different character, which is horribly disorienting.

Don’t get me wrong: you’re allowed to switch viewpoints. Quite a lot of books do it. But it has to be at regular, set intervals- chapters, for instance. This is Jeff’s chapter, now Christine’s. It has to be obvious. The POV can’t switch in the middle of, say, a phone call. If the character on the phone is not the character we’re close to, we do not know what the person on the other end of the line is saying. We just don’t. Maybe they’ll tell us in a minute; but until then, we don’t know. A couple of other interns have written about changing POV, however (one about a year ago, and one in March), so I won’t go into too much detail about that. I do recommend those posts if you need help on that though.

To sum up, don’t stray. Switch, coherently, if you’d like, but don’t stray. Pick a point of view and be true to it, even when you’d like to let us know a bit of information that’s going to be hard to work in. It can be frustrating, but it’s worth it for a polished, coherent, smooth read.

This is more a call to double check your work than anything. I know that most writers know the differences between POVs. But like I said, sometimes it’s one sentence of slip-up, or just a switch that’s a bit disorienting. Make sure you know exactly where you’re going with your narrator’s voice, and make sure everything fits.

Hope this can help, live long and prosper and all that,


Monday, August 1, 2011

New Release: Just One Touch by Celeste O. Norfleet

Happy Monday! If this summer isn't hot enough for you already, our authors are ready to help you turn up the heat. Today's release is another steamy romance from the prolific Celeste O. Norfleet:

Her bottom line:

Journalist Tatiana Coles is famous for doing anything for a story--including putting herself in harm's way. Now, on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, she faces her greatest challenge: getting an exclusive on reclusive media mogul Spencer Cage. Putting his words to her paper will fast-track her career. But it also means facing the man she loved and lost.

Their work stays on the page...

Spencer plays by nobody's rules but his own. Three years ago, he and Tatiana were inseparable. Which made her betrayal all the more unforgivable. Now the self-made entrepreneur intends to have his sweet revenge: a summer the traitorous news correspondent will never forget.

...not in the bed

All it takes is one kiss to reignite desire. But how can he avoid putting his own heart on the line? Because now Spencer and Tatiana are playing for the highest stakes of all--a second chance at love...

Be sure to pick up or download your copy today!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Release: "Talbot's Ace" by Diane Whiteside in Improper Gentlemen

Good news, Diane Whiteside fans: Improper Gentlemen, a collection of three historical romance short stories, is now available! The anthology includesTalbot's Ace, a new, steamy, old-west story by Diane Whiteside.

He rules Colorado's most glittering, anything-goes gambling palace. And Just Talbot never does something for nothing. But if daring Boston aristocrat Charlotte Morland needs his protection from a dangerous enemy, he'll have no choice but to make her business his pleasure...

Pick up or download a copy today!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Finding Themselves

I want to talk about characters today. Another intern wrote a post on characters a few months ago, and I agree with everything she said, but I want to talk a little bit more specifically about developing characters. For me, the characters are the most important part of the story (of course, different people have different opinions, but this is mine). A plot can be mediocre (I’d rather it not be, of course, but it can be forgiven) if the characters are excellent. When I write, I almost always start a story because I have a new character I want to write about, and then the plot develops around them (plotting is generally my least favorite part of writing). This is largely why dialogue is something I harp on so much, because the way someone talks is so integral to who they are.

For example, in my recent blog post on dialogue, I wrote up a couple of short example conversations between the characters David, Jane and Jared. These conversations were completely random and on-the-spot, and the names were just the first that popped into my head. But since then, I’ve found myself thinking about them more than I expected to. Just based on those conversations, I already know that the three of them are deep into something, probably trying to scam someone (for some reason what I’m picturing is something about an inheritance, but I also don’t think the three are siblings). It’s also clear that David and Jane are doing something behind Jared’s back. Part of me keeps wondering what the story is, because I’ve inadvertently created characters that interest me.

You should know your characters intimately, in and out of the situations of the story. You should know all sorts of random details that may never actually come into play in your actual story, because the more you know (even random, apparently pointless things) the better you will be able to predict what your character would do in a certain situation. As the other intern mentioned, you should know what you characters were like as children, what they think about before going to sleep, etc.

A good number of you probably already do stuff like this, but for those of you who have trouble breaking away from the plot, here’s my advice. I like to do character development exercises—my favorites are the ones that are lists of questions. You can find any number of these online. They ask things like “What does your character wish for when they blow out their birthday candles?” “What are three bad habits your character has?” and “What is your character’s worst fear?” (I had no idea one of my characters was deathly afraid of fire until I came across that question. Once I realized it (and realized that, being who he was, he would never admit it to anyone), my storyline opened up considerably). Sometimes you have to modify the questions to make them fit your character (if you have a character that’s an orphan living in the woods in a fantasy world (like me), clearly she never blew out birthday candles. But if she could wish for something, what would it be?). But that’s okay, that’s just more information to work with. Also, sometimes the questions just make you go “of course!” even if you already know your character really well. For instance, the bad habits question: “he smokes- it’s the twenties!” It was so obvious, but it’s not necessarily something I would have thought about enough to include, and it can make all the difference. It’s the little details that make a scene. And a character.

My favorite question is “What is your character’s worst nightmare?” Whenever I answer this question, I answer it literally. I write out the actual nightmare, from the first-person point of view of that character (even if the manuscript itself isn’t from that character’s point of view—it’s helpful to get into each character’s head a bit). Of course, everyone has their own methods, but I’ve had quite a lot of fun with that question, and learned quite a bit about my own characters at the same time.

Sometimes helping a character find themselves is more important than you realize. Maybe a minor character isn’t so minor after all (I would recommend doing these types of exercises for lots of characters, not just the main ones). Maybe a piece of your main character’s past is going to change the whole story. When it comes down to it, I think the main message is don’t be so glued to your plot that you suffocate your characters. If you let them be themselves, chances are your story will improve.

All for now!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011


So today I read an article (well, a mini-article) in the Washington Post Express that bothered me a lot, and it tied into a post I wrote on here before, so I thought I'd share.

It wasn't the article itself that bothered me--it was about a man in Qatar that is trying to breed Spix's macaws (the world's rarest species of parrot, I believe) in order to release some back into the wild, because there are no known specimens still living in the wild (and only 76 in captivity, according to the Express)(have you guys seen the recent cartoon movie Rio? The "Blue Macaw" is modeled after the Spix's macaw). This, in itself, is fantastic. As a parrot lover, I'm gung-ho for saving and reintroducing species.

The article had a picture underneath it. It was the back view of a macaw with its wings spread. Now, I'm sure there are only a few Express readers who would have noticed this, but working in a pet store (a privately owned pet store where the employees actually know what they're talking about, thank you) and knowing a fair amount about parrots in particular, I noticed something.

The bird pictured is not a Spix's Macaw. It is a Blue and Gold macaw.

Since I'd just recently written up a whole post about authors doing their research, and how they can't expect the readers to not know more than them, this bothered me even more than it normally would.

I talked to my co-worker from the pet store, and she said she had read the original, long-version article in the Washington Post proper (in fact, our boss had brought it in for the employees to read), and it had a correct picture. Which, to me, makes this even worse. Now it's not even an issue of not knowing, it's just being lazy. What this says to me is that the Express just didn't want to go through the trouble of getting the rights to an actual picture, so took a photo stock picture of a somewhat nondescript macaw (like I said, it's the back view; I only noticed because it's the wrong color blue for a Spix's, and last time I checked Spix's don't have yellow legs) and assumed it would suffice. It's an article about parrots, it's a picture of a parrot; close enough. (I have to make a disclaimer here and say that, not being a Post or an Express employee, I don't actually know what happened and clearly can't make any official statements about it.) But my personal opinion is that they should get their facts straight. To me, a picture of the wrong bird is misleading and not close enough, especially when the article is so specific to one species. I expect more from a reputable source like the Post.

You can't assume your readers don't know more than you.

I like the Washington Post, and the Express. But issues like this lower my opinion of them.

SO the point of all this was to say "See?" and underline my point about doing your research. It is definitely worth the effort, even if only a few people are going to notice. The person that notices might just be someone that's going to write a blog post about it.

Your neighborhood nit-picker,

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dialogue: Let's be real. Part II

I don't mean to harp, but I have more to say about dialogue, and a few of you seemed to like my post on the subject before, so by George I'm gonna say it.

Remember when I said that readers are smart? Readers can figure it out? It's true, I promise. I read way too many things where the author is trying desperately to make absolutely sure the reader knows what's going on. While I'm sure the reader appreciates the thought, it's often not necessary. Specifically, I mean overuse of dialogue tags and names.

Dialogue tags: some authors want to have a "he said," "she said" after every single thing a character says. Obviously, these tags are necessary sometimes (even lots of times). But if you've started a conversation with your characters, and the words are between quotation marks, we know they've said it. I promise.
"I want to get lunch," Jane said.
"Okay. Where do you want to eat?" David asked.
"Anywhere," she responded.
"How about that new Italian place?" he suggested.
"Sounds good," she agreed.
After we've established that Jane and David are talking (which may have happened before this snippet of conversation--hey, we have no idea what they were doing before I started typing) we really don't need that many tags. The last three lines could easily lose their tags entirely, and the conversation loses nothing.

An instance where frequent dialogue tags are helpful is when there are more than two people talking. Obviously, then we need to know how the conversation is progressing. But even then, you can be creative. Instead of an actual dialogue tag, just move the focus to the character who's speaking.
"I've made some changes," David began, "and I think it should work. But--"
"Can you get it to him tomorrow?" Jared interrupted.
"Then do it."
Jane paced the room, her hands twitching slightly. "But what if he won't sign?"
Thrusting the papers away from him, David sighed and pressed his hands against his eyes. "Then we start from the beginning."
Jared groaned. "Not again!"
There are seven separate instances of people speaking in that conversation, but I only used two actual dialogue tags. And I think it's pretty obvious who's talking throughout.

Names: this one's pretty obvious, I think. But I still see people get hung up on it. Direct conversation by content and context, not by telling us exactly whom the character is addressing. What I mean is, above, David didn't have to say "then we start from the beginning, Jane" for us to know he was answering her. Generally, people only use each other's names when they're trying to get their attention or for emphasis. So if David is really fed up with Jane and Jared's harping by now, and thinks the answer should be obvious, he could say "then we start from the beginning, Jane." But he doesn't need to. I've seen more conversations than I expected to that go something like this:
"What should we do about Jared, Jane?"
"I don't know, David, what do you think?"
"It's up to you, Jane."
Tiring is really the only way to describe it.

I'm not saying you should be Hemingway or anything, here. Dialogue tags and names are good (as it turns out). But like any writing tool, just be careful about how and how often you use them. Yes, we need to know who's talking to whom. But not in every sentence.

Hope this helps and good luck!