Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Notes from the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference

There I am, waiting for someone to buy my books at the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference Book Fair. Shelley Freydont took the photo for me. Thanks, Shelley. :^)

At the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference last weekend, the theme was “Empowering You Muse.” NJRW runs a terrific conference every year which offers inspiration, support, and plenty of nuts and bolts writing advice whether a writer is a novice or multi-published.

I took notes at most of the workshops I attended. However, in the interest of brevity, I am posting only the best of the best. Reading my notes will not make anyone a better writer. Writing makes better writers. Nevertheless, some may find a few useful nuggets of information here. One thing I cannot convey in this blog is the wonderful sense of camaraderie that is an integral part of the conference. Writing is a solitary endeavor—and just a little bit crazy, but rubbing elbows with other writers...well, it’s really nice to share your dreams.

On Friday, the conference provided a special retreat for published authors. Wine and chocolate-covered pretzels were served.

Eloisa James kicked off the retreat by giving an overall view of the publishing industry, which—as most people know—is going through major upheavals. Authors are expected to do far more in terms of promotion—particularly on Facebook. They are expected to engage their fans, but they must also post direct links to their books on Amazon. Getting Facebook fans to use the share button is important.

Comments on Amazon are imperative. Authors need at least fifty comments—good or bad—to make a difference.

After Eloisa’s talk, I sat in on a roundtable discussion titled BLOGS, TWITTER, AND FACEBOOK. The moderator was Suzanne Brockmann, who is a perennially enthusiastic author with plenty of great ideas of her own. She started her writing career before the internet became a factor in promotion. Her first book was the last book published by Kismet. She gave away many copies of her book to help establish her reputation as an author.

Much of the discussion concerned Facebook fan pages along with automatic connections an author can make to blogs, Twitter, and so forth.

There is now a conversion app that can change a Facebook friend page to a fan page. However, though the contacts are transferred, all other status messages and photos are lost. The “friend” page will also vanish. Therefore, all information should be backed up before starting the conversion process.

One author suggested offering a contest to get fans to switch from an author’s “friend” page to a “fan” page.

To get a blog to automatically show up on a Facebook page, the author needs her RSS feed (usually nameofblog/feed). Feedburner will do this for the author, as will Feedmyinbox. They dump the information for you.

Some authors consider Tweetdeck extremely useful. All of an author’s accounts can be set up at Tweetdeck. Hootsuite will time tweets automatically.

When it comes to giving away books in a contest, one author noted that it is far easier to give away her books on Kindle, rather than to mail paper editions.

Several authors suggested gathering their fans into a promotion team. Fans get a free book, bookmarks and other promotional items to hand out. The author puts these special fans’ pictures on her Facebook page.

Another author suggested including book club questions at the end of the book. Book clubs are a great promotional tool! Barnes & Nobles offers book clubs for their customers. Getting in touch with the store’s community relations person is the place to start.

A Facebook chat is a convenient way to get in touch with fans. Get other authors to join in but take other time zones into consideration so fans in Australia can chat, too.

On Saturday, I listened to WHEN ONE BOOK JUST ISN’T ENOUGH given by Lauren Willig. Ms. Willig said readers love a series. To them, it’s like going to a reunion. Editors also love a series because it’s much easier for them to sell.

There are several types of series:
Family Series
Friend Series
A Series Based on Geography, such as a small town.
A Thematic Series (with a fairytale line, or a spy link)
A Series With a Recurring Protagonist (this is tough to pull off in a romance)

A series can be open-ended or finite. In a finite series there’s usually an overall story arc. A finite series is easy to pitch to an editor. Even if an author settles upon a finite series, a spinoff series can be written at a later date. However, editors and readers are afraid of a longer series. (Too much to read!)

World building is at the heart of a series. An author can personalize it and create recurring events along with recurring themes. However, the world should remain small with common places in each book. Keep the framework specific. Consistency is important.

For a series, an author needs a detailed record of everything. For instance, what time does the store in the small town open and close?

Readers must love an author’s people. Still, every book must be able to be read as a stand-alone book. All the characters do need not to be in every book. There should be no random reunions. In each book, each character must be there for a reason.

Secondary characters can turn into protagonists in the next book. The character’s basic personality should not change—that would disillusion the reader.

An author needs to decide whether to write linked stand-alones or to make an arc over the series.

There can be a slight switch within subgenres as long as the world is already firm. For instance, a character who has ESP might fit into a small town story that is not a paranormal.

There must always be a resolution at the end of each book. However, if there is an overall arc, that must continue.

With a series, an author can get lots of reader email. Readers sometimes insist upon a book for their favorite character, but an author should not feel forced to write it. Sometimes a novella or short story will satisfy readers—or a bonus chapter.

CREATING RESONANCE: THE SUBTLE ELEMENTS OF FICTION given by Winnie Griggs and Laura Marie Altom was a long workshop, but it didn’t feel long. These two authors covered a lot of ground.

They reminded everyone that an author’s use of descriptive language is much the same as an artist’s box of crayons.

There are many types of descriptive language. In using an analogy a writer is teaching or convincing the reader. Analogies are stronger than similes.

Comparative language is ZEUGMA (new word for me).

Symbolism is a kind of shorthand. There are two types of symbolism in literature: universally understood (road signs, shooting stars, falling leaves) and author-created symbols. These must be used subtly.

An author should avoid clich├ęs and strive for fresh imagery. Setting and mood can add to that imagery. For instance, songbirds and sunshine portray a light-hearted image.

Imagery should be focused, but one image will do—avoid several at one time which would create an overload. Figurative language is powerful. An author can repeat the image but in a different way.

Foreshadowing involves either a broad stoke, providing a big picture, or a pinpoint and specific clue. Which one is used often depends on the genre. The best type of foreshadowing is a surprise.

The subtext of a story is inferred. It is what the character is really saying between the lines. When they try to hide something, the story gets interesting.

There are types of subtext:
When words are at odds with tone.
Body language.
The author’s word choice.
Snippets that have little weight alone, but can have a cumulative effect.

Subtext can deliver your agenda. It elevates an author’s work to art.

Sensory description involves the five senses. To make a richer scene, layer in the details and tailor those details to the story.

Backstory involves secrets. Hold back on those secrets. Wait until they can answer a story question. This builds reader involvement because they feel some satisfaction in guessing some of the revelations, but be subtle.

Hold back the big surprise until the last possible moment.

The epiphany is when the character reaches a revelation on his own. Set the moment up knowing who he is at the beginning and who he is at the end. His outlook will change.

An author needs to train herself to choose the right word. Choose concrete words over vague.

Transitions must condense time in a book. They bridge the gap and aid in the seamless unfolding of the story. The trick is to know what details to enclose. Mundane life events are uninteresting.

Changes in time, changes in place, POV changes, and changes in scene focus need to be handled with transitions.

There are two kinds, either simple or complex. The simple one uses individual words that cue the reader. These are short and direct. For instance, later that day or once they arrived at the beach.

A complex transition can be conveyed by mood. Sensory passages can signal the POV. A memory trigger for the character can be a transition. The memory can be that of another character, an object, or the environment (weather or seasons).

Transitions can layer in emotions but leave out the trivial things that are not important to the plot.

Atmosphere should be matched to the story. Weather can heighten a conflict. Let Mother Nature ruin your characters’ lives.

Music adds a three dimensional aspect. Just a touch is effective.

Interior design reflects the character. Give the character surroundings to match their personality.

Winnie and Laura gave a great presentation and handed out several of their books. In fact, I received so many free books at the conference that my To-Be-Read pile is now higher than ever!

If you write romance, plan on attending the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference next year.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Have a Lot of Words

I have an assortment of magnetic words on my refrigerator. Romantic words, corporate words, spiritual words, rock and roll words, and country words are all jumbled together in a big jar. I put the words together to create silly little poems out of them or clever phrases. Most people who visit our kitchen play with them. My daughters and hubby switch them around and laugh at the results--so I'm never entirely sure who wrote what.

Now and then, I take all the words down and put up a different batch. However, before I remove the poems and phrases, I write them in a notebook for posterity ascribing the name of the author, if I suspect the guilty party.

For instance, here's a good, short one for Halloween. I think hubby put the words together--that's why it's such a brief piece.

his song was full of moist blood

The next one sounds very artistic.

come dance on
your sensuous wet canvas
imagine a color
of love

Daughter #1 wrote the following:

liquid dew
surrounds the rose
secret petals blush
in a red bouquet

Here's one of suspicious origin:

champagne cloud note
I always sing sweetly
into the drunk microphone
breathing an alcohol miasma
like slow lyrics in metal blues

Here's another with a musical theme:

righteous raucous roadie rap
by punk artists
crank it loud
group scream between songs

Words are fun. More words are more fun. Get a few sets of magnetic words and watch the silliness begin. :^)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Romantic Encounters of the Wrong Kind

I have three daughters. Sometimes the discussions in our house are rather illuminating. Recently, I listened to my daughters detail situations where they were with a young man who had the wrong idea about their relationship.

This discussion was a bit scary for a mother to hear, though I was not surprised about the problem. When I started dating, my mother warned me, "Men want only one thing." She was speaking about sex, of course. In my mother's day, making a pass--or getting "fresh" was liable to be rewarded with a slap in the face. Nowadays, young women accuse men of "hitting" on them. Whatever term is used, it refers to an unwanted advance and it has been going on since the dawn of time.

There is a crazy statistic making the rounds about men thinking about sex every seven seconds. Snopes has debunked this and you can read about it here. Still, men do have all that testosterone flowing through their veins and it can ruin their judgment at times.

On several occasions, my daughters assumed they had a platonic and casual friendship with a young man. However, the young man had other ideas--and my daughters claimed that very often it was the setting that seemed to turn the young man's thoughts to sex. Granted there are times when a woman would welcome an advance, but that would be with Mr. Right--not Mr. Wrong.

Here is the list they made of situations which could turn too romantic:

  • Sitting on a roof together.
  • Sitting on a couch together.
  • Playing the guitar, listening to music, or simply hearing music in the background.
  • Riding in a cab or a car together.
  • Riding on the ferry together. (In fact, any vehicle other than a bus seemed to be conducive to turning a young man's thoughts to sex.)
  • Eating together.
  • Sitting in a park together.
  • Sitting next to each other at all.
  • Being near the woods and/or near a body of water together.
  • Sitting next to a fire together.
  • Crossing paths on the way to separate destinations.
  • If either party is staying in a hotel. (i.e. for work)
  • Drinking coffee together.
  • Holding onto the same subway pole.
  • That five minutes when you are at your parents' house but your parents aren't there.

As a romance writer, I looked at this list and thought that I could use some of these ideas for my characters, but as a mother it disturbed me. I worry about my daughters.