Category Archives: Writer’s toolbox

Links to helpful websites, books, and other resources

Winner of the Rose Lerner giveaway, take 2

Turns out Random.org magically selected Rose’s critique partner the first time around, so Susanna asked me to give it another whirl.

The real winner of A Lily Among Thorns isMarian Lanouette!

Marian, send me your address, and thanks for commenting!

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Winner of the Rose Lerner giveaway!

A Lily Among Thorns coverI loved Rose’s 10 tips on writing characters with accents, and I’m so thankful that she’s giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns. I read it a couple of months ago, and I think the winner will absolutely love it.

And that winner is…Susanna Fraser!

Congratulations! I’ve sent you an email asking for your address, so if you haven’t received it then please check your spam folder.

Everyone, this week there’s a copy of Joanna Bourne’s much-anticipated Black Hawk up for grabs, so leave a comment on my interview with Joanna Bourne to enter!

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Ten tips on writing characters with accents, by Rose Lerner

Rose LernerAnyone who’s read one of Rose Lerner’s novels (In for a Penny and A Lily Among Thorns) will know that her characters come from a wide range of backgrounds. Rose is a master at writing accents so a reader can hear her characters’ distinctive voices.

She’s very generously written this post on how she writes characters with different accents, and she’s giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to one lucky commenter!

Hi everyone! Kat already wrote a great post about how I used accents in In for a Penny and a really awesome post on writing accents generally…I’ll try not to repeat myself, or her!

British people pay a lot of attention to accents. People from different regions and different social classes have marked differences in speech, and everyone is very conscious of that fact. Of course this is true in the States as well, but I really don’t think the degree is comparable.

I can think of several British memoirs off the top of my head that extensively discuss accents, either by referencing others’ accents by specific type or talking about the memoirist’s own accent (poor Roger Moore practically had a complex about not sounding posh enough!), and anyone remember that Monty Python sketch where no one can understand the rural accents and slang at the airfield?

So if, like me, you tend to write romances that have major characters from a variety of places and social classes, paying attention to accents is important. Here are a few guidelines and tips for how I do it:

1. I never write an accent phonetically.

Writing a particular word phonetically because its pronunciation is so different or it’s unique to a particular accent, okay. Writing all a character’s dialogue that way, no. Apart from being sometimes confusing for the reader, I’m going to come right out and say that I think this is rude.

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Interview with Ashley March: “What I learned from my first book” – and GIVEAWAY!

Ashley March, photo by Kaela Green PhotographyI’m thrilled to have my friend Ashley March here today as the first post in my Hearts and Minds giveaway, where you can win books that appeal to both your heart and mind. Giveaway details are below, but first, some words of wisdom from the lovely Ms Ashley, author of historical romance set in the Victorian era.

1. What prompted you to think, “Y’know what? I’m gonna sit down and write a novel”?

To be honest? I’ve always been motivated by the fact that I couldn’t see myself sitting at a regular day job from 9-5 for the rest of my life.

I started writing my first manuscript when I was tired of driving an hour back and forth every day to my university. I finished the book, but it was terrible and I thought maybe I just wasn’t cut out for writing. Fortunately I found a day job right out of college that I loved, but even then the writing bug bit me again in early 2008. I had just finished reading a book that made me feel all warm and gooey inside—and a little giddy (I believe it was a Julia Quinn novel; her books always have that effect on me)—and I rushed to my computer and just started writing. I had no idea what I was writing; I was just putting words on the screen and having a heck of a lot of fun.

It was then, once I realized how much FUN I had writing, that I decided that this was it. No more screwing around. If I was going to write, then I would write for publication and take myself seriously. Even though I enjoyed my job, it wasn’t enough. I wanted something more.

2. How long was there between you starting your first book and holding a publishing contract in your hands?

Ah, there’s a lot of explanation to this answer. 🙂 From starting the very first manuscript and holding a publishing contract in my hands was approximately four years and one month—from February 2006 to March 2010.

However, I quit writing in May 2006 once I finished that first manuscript because it was so terrible. Then I started writing again in February 2008, finished the second manuscript (after editing) in June 2008, started the third manuscript in July 2008 (this one is my debut), found out I was pregnant in September 2008, proceeded to write sparingly off and on for the remainder of my pregnancy and after the baby was born in June 2009. Queried agents for the third manuscript in August 2009, finished the book in a major hurry and signed with my first agent in September 2009, received and accepted an offer for a 3-book deal from NAL Penguin in December 2009, and actually held the contract in my hands in March 2010.

Is your head spinning with dates yet? 🙂

3. Were there any habits you formed as an unpublished writer—like writing daily or working with critique partners—that helped you once you became published?

I would like to say that I developed a habit of writing daily, but I didn’t. Instead, I’m working on that now so I can stay published. 😉 However, I give my two critique partners Kat Brauer and Anna Randol 100% credit for helping me to get published.

Finding critique partners was one of the first steps I made in taking my writing seriously, and I still depend on them for honest and thorough critiques. They’re so wonderful, in fact, that if they ever stopped writing or critiquing I’d probably follow them around the world (Kat lives in Japan as an ESL teacher), begging and pleading until they began again.

4. Are there other habits you didn’t pick up that you wish you had?

Seducing the DuchessWriting daily. 😉 Seriously, I’d heard it a hundred times from successful authors that the most important thing in building a successful writing career is getting your butt in the chair daily and getting the words out. I’m just now figuring that out for myself.

During the past year I let promotion kind of take over my life because I was so concerned about my debut doing well (and it did, thank goodness!), but I wish I’d split my time and energy so that I was more productive in writing in addition to promoting my debut.

5. You’re a working mother, a published novelist, and a wife. Oh yeah, and you run a blog full of fantastic resources for writers. Oh yeah again, you agree to answer a bunch of questions for my blog. How on God’s green earth do you find balance? Forget balance—how do you find time to wee??

Lol. I love that you live in England and used “wee”. 🙂 (And thank you for the wonderful compliment on my blog—I’m so glad it’s helpful!) I’ve had several people ask this question recently, and the truth is that I don’t sleep very much.

I know—this is not a good thing. But right now my motivations for staying up till 12 or 1 every morning (if not later) are very important to me. I want to be able to have a successful writing career (both in terms of more books and more money), and I want to be able to stay home with my children.

I will say, however, that I had to learn my limits the hard way recently. At the beginning of July I became very sick—and the doctors still aren’t sure exactly why. My guess is that my body finally fell apart from all the stress. (Again, I know, not a good thing.)

Fortunately I’m feeling a little better now, although still not fully recovered, and I have to say that this illness forced me to look at everything I’d put on my plate and I was required to push some stuff off. I didn’t feel good about it, but I felt it was a necessity.

And in the coming year, I plan to let go of more and more things so that I can treat myself better and have more time and energy to focus on actual writing than all the other writing business stuff I’ve enthusiastically allowed myself to get sucked into. (And, um, hopefully this means I’ll more time to play on Twitter…)

6. What’s the most pleasant surprise you’ve had since being published?

Oh, wow. This is a tough one. The past year has been so great!  Can I list more than one? (Yup, I’m  a rule-breaker.)

Ashley’s List of Pleasant Surprises since Becoming Published on October 5, 2010
1.    People bought my book. Yay!
2.    People liked my book. Yay!
3.    People bought my book, liked my book, and actually emailed me, tweeted me, or put a note on Facebook to tell me. Double yay!
4.    The romance community (readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, industry professionals) is comprised of some of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever known. And even better—I now feel like I belong here.
5.    People listen to my ideas and sometimes like them. 🙂
6.    My publisher sent me a TON of bookmarks and has been extremely supportive of helping me follow through on my promotional ideas.
7.    More of a pleasant realization than a surprise—I’ve finally accepted the fact that I’m living my dream. And it’s amazing. 🙂

7. What’s been the most difficult lesson to learn?

You have to put in the work to see your goals achieved. I’m very good at making spreadsheets and creating goals. I have tons of ideas and it’s easy sometimes to get enthusiastic about every one of them.

But the most important thing, and the most difficult lesson for me that I had to learn in the past year, is that writing comes first, and the only way I can achieve my goals is by putting in the work to write. Period.

8. How did you celebrate the release of your debut novel, Seducing the Duchess? How do you plan to celebrate the release of Romancing the Countess?

Lol. This answer might give you a clue as to why I’m currently the coordinator of the Romance Biggest Winner competition…We celebrated the release of SEDUCING THE DUCHESS by going out to eat at my favorite Mexican restaurant here in Colorado. 😉

Romancing the Countess coverI haven’t really thought about how I plan to celebrate the release of ROMANCING THE COUNTESS. I can tell you what I’d like to do. I’d like to go on a vacation to the Caribbean. 🙂 But I’ll probably celebrate by writing more instead. And maybe taking another trip to Hacienda Colorado.

9. What’s the biggest compliment a reader could give you?

Hands down, emailing me to tell me what they thought of my book. They don’t even have to like it (although that’s a bonus!)—knowing that they took the time and that they cared enough to write to me makes my day and gives me all these warm fuzzy tinglings inside. I treasure those emails, and I keep every single one.

Hmm. I wrote that response and then I thought that maybe you meant what they could actually say…

Probably “I couldn’t put your book down.” That also gives me warm fuzzy tinglings. 🙂

10. Tell us about your novella—I’m itching to read it and can’t wait any longer!

🙂 Yes, ma’am! First, here’s the official copy:

“A brand-new Victorian romance novella from the author of Seducing the Duchess!

Follow acclaimed author Ashley March, praised by Booklist for her “elegant writing [and] sizzling sexual chemistry,” into the world of Victorian romance, where Lady Cecily Bishop—promised by her parents to a stranger—must fend off the seductive games and heady caresses of Baron Sedgwick….a task that becomes more difficult with each soul-searing kiss…”

ROMANCING LADY CECILY is the title of the novella (actually it should be called a short story, as it’s about 15,000 words), and it’s a stand-alone tie-in to my September 6th release, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS. Please note that it is a digital novella, and should be available on August 2nd at the typical places where e-books are sold.

This was my first experience in writing something shorter than a full-length novel, and I have to admit it took more plotting that I usually do because I had to know exactly what was going to happen—I didn’t have 300+ pages to figure that out. I’m excited about it and really looking forward to what readers think (so tell me!), but just a fair warning—it is a bit spicier than my usual writing. 😉

Bonus: Is there anything else you think those of us still working toward publication should know? You can tell us—published writers have a secret clubhouse and handshake, don’t they?

Absolutely! And the password to get in is “write”. 😉

Seriously. I know you’ve heard it before and maybe you have good intentions like I did. But good intentions don’t cut it. Write write write, and then write some more.

You’ll become faster as you write, and you’ll learn how to be a better writer as you write. (Make sure to get critique partners who are able and willing to give you helpful, honest feedback, too!)

Then, once you’re published, keep writing. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed from both successful authors who are traditionally published and successful authors who are now self-publishing, it’s that those who write well and produce frequently win. And that’s what I plan to do. (Now, off you go. Start writing! :))

Giveaway!

Ashley’s giving away a copy of one of her novels. The winner can choose from her debut, Seducing the Duchess, or her September release Romancing the Countess (if you choose Countess, she’ll mail it to you when she gets her copies).

And since this party is to celebrate my husband finishing (and passing!) his PhD in American literature, I’ll give the same winner one of the books my husband wrote about: Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (one of my all-time favorite books).

Leave a comment below, and I’ll choose the winner on Monday, August 8, when my next guest – Kaki Warner – will be joining me!

Don’t miss any of my Hearts and Minds interviews; make sure you subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter, or like me on Facebook.

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Becoming pitch perfect

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up to take part in Savvy Authors‘ Pitch Practice Week (seriously, if you’re not a savvy author already, go join now! So many fantastic resources and opportunities).

We were invited over to Pitch University, a site dedicated to helping authors learn how to pitch. The amazing Diane Holmes, founder of Pitch University, chose six of us to make examples out of – in the most pleasant way possible.

I learned loads from Diane, and hope this post showing the different steps we went through together will help you get over any fears you have. (And, if you make it to the end, I’ll show you my practice pitch video.)

I’ve never pitched anything before. The only pitches I’d ever seen were on The Apprentice and, let’s face it, pitches like this one are more likely to fill me with fear of crashing and burning. (Aside: isn’t it great how the guys in this video assume the wife should do the cleaning, and create a product so she’ll have time and energy left over to pleasure her husband? Lovely.)

These are the steps I went through with Diane.

1. Figure out the expectations you ‘re setting with your query or pitch.

For me, it was easier to start with my query because I had no idea what a successful pitch looked like (hint: Diane has loads of pitch videos on her site, so I’ll link to them later in this post).

Diane made a fantastic point that your query can be beautifully written, but if it doesn’t match the story then you’ve just hooked an agent or editor on something that doesn’t exist.

She read my query and made notes about what she expected the characters to be like and what she thought happened. You can read my query and her expectations here. Then you can read my responses where I realize that some of the expectations I set don’t fit my story.

I can’t tell you how useful this was, and I’ve never seen anyone else suggest it before. My advice to you: do this with someone who doesn’t know your story at all.

2. Correct the wrong expectations you’ve set and figure out where to focus your pitch/query.

Through working with Diane (you can read our back-and-forth conversation about my story) I was able to see which parts of the story I should emphasize more.

3. Write your pitch.

Diane gives some very helpful guidance on writing a pitch. You can also find her series on Pitching 101 on the right-hand side of that page. There’s too much advice for me to replicate it here, but go read it.

4. Watch yourself pitch.

This can be really awful. When I took a public speaking class in college, the professor videoed every one of our speeches and made us watch them. Excruciating. But also pretty useful for forcing you to see what kinds of strange mannerisms you have when you’re nervous, and hear the places where you need to put more oomph into your voice.

Here are some great pitch videos from other Savvy Authors.

You can record your own video directly onto YouTube – you don’t have to show it to anyone. Just get used to the sound of yourself pitching, and make note of where you should trim your sentences because they’re difficult to say out loud.

Okay, moment of truth. I’m sharing my pitch practice video with you. It’s way too long – I’ll never remember all those words when I’m pitching for real. So I still have work to do. But at least now I’m more confident I can deliver.

A few words of warning before you hit play: My mic sucks, and so does my voice. This is what I sound like with a stuffy nose and a sore throat (which is why you’ll see me grimace and swallow hard whenever I try to put more enthusiasm into my voice). The main thing going through my head was “Whatever you do, DON’T sneeze on the camera!” By the end, my throat was killing me.

So yeah, pity me.

BONUS! Helpful info from super-agent Sara Megibow!

Sara Megibow hosted an #askagent session on Twitter the other day, and I asked her what some of her favorite follow-up questions are if someone’s hooked her in a pitch – because you don’t want to nail your pitch and then fluff the rest of the meeting.

She said, “I like to ask, ‘have you queried this?’ ‘Do you have a website?’ ‘What’s your vision for your career?’ I also ask, ‘what other authors in your genre do you love?’ ‘Do you know any of them personally?’

Hope that’s helpful to all of you heading to RWA Nationals next week! I’ll see you there!

Have you ever pitched before? What kind of experience did you have? What follow-up questions did the agent or editor ask?

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Recharging a drained brain

Brain Drain game

© What What / flickr.com

I’ve spent the past six months in servitude to my work in progress. My daily word counts have been massively helped by writing marathons, like the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood‘s Winter Writing Festival and Savvy Authors’ May Bootcamp.

These helped me finish my first draft just a few days after my husband finished writing his PhD.

The last two months have been particularly difficult for us as we both spent every waking hour writing writing writing. My husband handed his PhD in a week ago, and I sent my draft off to readers on Saturday.

Then we both hit a wall. After going to the library every day (yes, even Saturdays) from opening to closing for months, my husband didn’t quite know what to do with himself this week.

After spending hours getting words on paper and crafting my story, I’ve been feeling brain dead.

But the process isn’t finished for either of us. My husband will have to defend his PhD in just over a month, and I’ll have to make (probably significant) changes to my story once my readers get back to me.

So how do you recharge yourself when you’ve given everything yet know you need to gear up for round two?

Here’s what I’ve been doing.

1. Make time for all the things you sacrifice when you’re in your writing cave.

For me, that’s things like watching The Apprentice (British version) and laughing at how the candidates’ arrogance is directly proportionate to their ineptitude. This week, I’ve also been cooking dinners with my husband instead of buying ready-meals. My husband spent Tuesday at Lords watching cricket. And we spent several hours at the beach in Norfolk, followed by sharing a cream tea in a pub on Saturday.

Bliss.

2. Don’t come to jarring halt.

I always have plenty of writing-related things to do – whether it’s critiques for my friends, writing blog posts or reviewing books. But this week I’ve focused on getting my pitch ready for RWA Nationals. I’m still doing something productive, but it’s a small, manageable project and helps me keep my head in my story.

I always find that motivation is difficult to kick-start once I’ve put a project aside for a while.

How do you refresh yourself after hitting a milestone in a big project?

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Romance Writers of New Zealand magazine

The Romance Writers of New Zealand very kindly printed one of my blog posts in the June issue of their members’ magazine Heart to Heart!

Even more kindly, they’ve said I could make the pdf available here so people can read it.

My entry is on what novelists should do when writing for the web, but having read through the magazine I’m incredibly flattered to be included alongside some of my favorite writers. Seriously, check out these amazingly helpful articles:

  • How Do You Mend a Broken Scene? by Roxanne St. Claire
  • Five Tips for Getting to Know Your Characters by Tawne Fenske
  • Writing the Best Body Language And Dialogue Cues by Margie Lawson

Here’s the Heart to Heart pdf. Hope you enjoy reading it this weekend, and many thanks to RWNZ!

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Don’t bulldoze your writing distractions – win one of mine!

Bulldozer

© the_edge/flickr.com

I’m not a natural motivator. I will never do an impersonation of an army drill instructor and yell at you to sit your butt in front of your computer or drop and give me twenty.

Why not? Because that’s not me. I’m not interested in having people yell at me, even if it’s online where I can flip them the bird without them knowing. I respond better to gentle, enthusiastic encouragement, and I found that the things (or *cough* husbands) that distract me from being productive also respond better to small changes than big ones.

This post, then, is to encourage you to figure out the little things that distract you from producing beautiful words and to find ways to manage those distractions.

And to encourage you to make those small changes, I’m giving away one of Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor novels to someone who leaves a comment. Hey – blatant bribery always works for me.

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4 tips to make the most of your research trip

View of buildings lit up from the top of Mostar's old bridge at night

View from the top of Mostar's old bridge

This is the last post in a series I’ve done on visiting the real-life locations your story is set in.

Last week I asked how well you thought you could write about a place you’ve never seen, and I gave nine reasons you should visit your setting if at all possible.

Today I’m giving you some tips I learned while on my own research trip in Bosnia. Some of these are things you can do without visiting a place – they just take a little more effort to search out.

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9 reasons to visit your real-life setting

Goods displayed outside a shop in Mostar

Shopping in Mostar

Earlier this week, I asked how well you can describe a place you’ve never been to. In the comments, most people believed writers can describe real-life locations pretty well as long as their research is good enough.

In general, I think that’s probably right. But it doesn’t all come down to research. It’s also a matter of imagination – especially having the creativity to know which questions you need to ask about a location – and confidence.

A week ago I was in Bosnia doing research for the novel I’m writing. Being able to visit my setting in person was a joy and a treat. I know I’m lucky to be able to travel, and it’s a luxury not everyone has. Nor is it something everyone enjoys.

But whether your story is set in a foreign country or the next town over from where you live, these are some of the reasons it makes sense to visit to visit the place you’re writing about.

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