Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How I Build and Track my Characters

            I was recently chatting with fellow writers on Twitter and the topic of character development came up.  I mentioned that I had put together my own worksheet to keep track of and flesh out key characters.  It has helped me and I happily share it with you.  Remember that this is an organic document and you should add things as you discover them.  You may not need a full blown sheet for all characters but should use this or something similar to keep track of those pesky details such as: What color did I say his eyes were 30 pages ago? Do yourself a favor and fill one out for the antagonist. Readers won’t buy a two-dimensional bad guy.

 Character Development Worksheet
Who is ____________?

Physical description: Height, weight, build, eye color, hair color, length and texture, other distinguishing features (glasses/contacts, etc)

Family history/tree: Include birthplace, relationship with and between parents, key events of childhood/adolescence if relevant. Does ethnicity affect character? Where in the world are they from? How does this impact?


Living Situation: Where, with, pets, key elements of home, are they in a relationship? What does their love life look like?

Hobbies, Food favorites or dislikes: Include allergies if relevant to plot or personality.

How others see him/her:

How she/he sees herself/himself:

What she/he isn’t saying (maybe even to herself/himself):

What does he/she say they want?

What does he/she really want? Often different from the question above.  Psychologically, emotionally.  If it is a “bucket list” ask them why that thing is so important that they have to do it before they die.
Songs you will find on his/her Ipod: Can expand to include fav TV or movies that say something about characters persona

Other items important to this character plot: Phobias (is there a reason-think Robert Langdon in the DaVinci Code),  Languages spoken


Friday, March 25, 2011

Follow Friday Fun Blog Hopping

Follow Friday Fun

1) (Required) You must follow my blog and Some Sharp Words

2) (Required) You must follow the guest poster featured in the blog hop post.

3) You must add you name to the link bar.

4) You must copy these rules, the hop link and the featured question with your answer on your own blog. This blog serves as a place for new followers to say hi.

5) Follow, follow, follow. This is about networking, people, making connections with people in your community. So talk to us. We don't bite!

6) If someone stops by, says hi and follows you, the polite thing to do is follow back.

7) Comment here and introduce yourself and you just might find a new follower or two.

As this is the first week of Sharp's new Follow Friday, I am supposed to answer the question below and next week it will be someone else.

This week's question is: What inspired you to start writing?

I have wanted to write since grade school.  I lived in different worlds inside my head But I was convinced that, although I read everything in sight, I was a Math/Science Geek and we all know they can't write :-)
Then about two years ago, Micaela got into my head and would not shut up.  She demands to be heard.  Now they are lining up to be heard.

This is the blog hop for the writing community. Every Friday writers who blog come together and hop! Leave your name and URL of the FF post and we'll come visit you too.

  (Submissions close in 5d 13h 36m)
URL:(URL of your blog post)
Email:(Not visible)
Trouble linking up?
Try here

Thursday, March 24, 2011

April Fool's and the Amadán

            One of the theories on the origins of April Fool’s Day is related to the old calendar.  In the Middle Ages, even though the calendar was changed to mark the New Year as January 1, many still celebrated the more ancient practice of marking the New Year at approximately the Vernal Equinox.  In France and other locations it was a week-long celebration ending on April 1.  It is thought that these celebrants were referred to as April Fool’s by the more modern and self righteous new calendar adherents.
            One of my personal theories is that it was a resurrection of the Feast of Fools, celebrated on December 28 until the sixteenth century.  Many are familiar with the Feast of Fools from the scene in the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  It was a festival that turned the hierarchy upside especially the clergy.  It was by all accounts celebrated with ridiculous ceremonies and mock consecrations and general buffoonery.  It in turn was a replacement for the Roman Saturnalia.  The growth of April Fool’s seems to have begun after the Catholic and Protestant Churches succeeded in eliminating the antics of the Feast of Fools.  As you may begin to see, the word fool had different implications in those days than it does now. Think court jester or The Fool of the Tarot.  Neither form of the fool is foolish, but is viewed as a vagabond or a trickster. Sound familiar???

            Near to my heart is “the fool” in Ireland.  If you are familiar with Gaelic you are not surprised that there are two words for fool.  The Irish word for a female fool is an óinseach.  Interestingly enough there is no popular folklore around this.

            The Amadán is the male fool.  In Irish myth there are two forms.  The Amadán na bruidhne, is considered malevolent, the fool of the fairy mounds and palaces.  This fool is thought to be responsible for the fairy stroke and more active in June.  He causes sudden and mysterious death.  The Amadán Mór is viewed as benevolent. He is part of Irish folklore, including the Eachtra an Amadáin Mhóir, which is considered part of the Fenian Cycle.   Visit this link for a translation of the story. http://www.answers.com/topic/eachtra-an-amad-in-mh-ir  It is often compared to Perceval of the Arthurian cycle.  . In the Eachtra. the Amadan, the son of a murdered king, flees to the forest with his mother.  There he grows large and hairy during the night.  At one point he loses his shins and after a quest and some trials.  When he meets achampion who challenges him for his wife, our hero declares he will defend her with only his fists.  The champion calls him a Big Fool. He wins the battle and has his legs restored by the magic of the Druid. 

            So when someone asks me how I can merge Druids, vampires and shapeshifters in my novel, Dark Dealings I think of stories like this and quote Una Rourke, my main character’s grandmother and Druid priestess, “We who have touched the Otherworld know differently.”  All things are possible.

            There are other practices around the Amadán.  Feel free to share them here.  Has anyone heard of blessing the entries with salt, ash and holy water to keep the Amadán out?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Writing Conferences: Now more than ever!

As anyone who has read my blog, or the many others out there by wiser heads than mine, knows the publishing world is changing at Warp speed.  My advice to you is that writers’ conferences are the place to be.

I have always enjoyed spending time with colleagues in the industry.  Where else can you attend workshops by agents, editors, bestselling authors, marketing specialist and then later that evening share a meal and a beverage or two with the very same people. This past weekend was the second annual conference by the Liberty States Fiction Writers, a group of which I am a proud member.  We are a young group of multi-genre writers but have attracted writer and awesome blogger Sarah Wendell and NYT bestsellers like Jonathan Maberry and Mary Janice Davidson and MANY others too numerous. For those I missed and other details, check out our website at http://www.libertystatesfictionwriters.com/

Now more than ever it is fascinating to hear the thoughts of others on where they believe the market is going.  This weekend included workshops on e-pubing and branding alongside the craft workshops on character, plot, pitching.

The attendees seemed to fall into various groups.  Those who had not recognized the changes, those who recognized that changes were occurring but not do see the implications for their business (not sure they see that they are a business), those that see the changes and know they need to respond but not sure where to start, and those that see the change and have begun talking about options and possibilities.

It was a microcosm of the industry.  I sat with an agent Saturday night over a few, and she hit the nail on the head when she said that she was optimistic for the future for herself and the market, it was the present that concerned her.  I think we are trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing and how to navigate the storm.

Which group do you fall into? Are you ready?  Are you getting ready?  If you want to get ready, I recommend that you find a good conference that is within your budget and go.  Whether you are intending to trad publish or Indie publish, talk to everyone, go to workshops, hang out at the bar afterwards.  You will get more than you expect and meet wonderful people who will encourage you and support you in what can be a lonely calling.

Share your writing conference experiences with others.  What conferences do you recommend?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

E-Book Pricing and the Black Hat

For any business, pricing their product is both an art and a science.  Yes writers, we are producing a novel, therefore it is a product.  For traditional authors this is not a hat firmly planted on their heads.  For the trad-author the discussion about price generally revolves around contract language and if their percentage will be based off MSRP, discount, or net sales.  The MSRP is set by the publisher as part of their strategy to position a book within their catalog and the market as a whole.

            For Indie-authors, pricing is personal. Among the many hats that the Indie-author must wear, I think of pricing as the Black Hat.  It is Black for some writers because, consciously or unconsciously, they view this as the Bad Guy. A philistine’s discussion of filthy lucre and demeaning to the art.
  As a writer and a business person, I see the Black Hat as my goal.  I want my writing to be profitable---in the black.  So profitable that I can quit my current full-time job and make writing and selling my books my only job.  Some will say the odds are against debut authors today, but if you don’t have a goal you never achieve anything.

            So the question is: how to set the price of an e-book. There are many authors experimenting with the effect of price on sales (supply/demand) and list rankings, including Joe Konrath and his List Experiment.  It would be interesting to turn a herd of MBA students loose on any available data and see what they come up with.  While $0.99 pricing can boost sales in the short run (introductory pricing, special event/fundraising), I wonder if it may hurt in the long run.  I don’t have any data (hello Harvard Business School are you listening?) just a concern that readers may take a “you get what you pay for” response to prices. 

            Let’s assume I have followed the first rule of writing: Write a high quality book that people will want to read.  Does a discerning reader think less of my book and unwilling to even sample it if I price it at $0.99 as opposed to $2.99 or even higher?  What are the authors I consider peers pricing at?  I care where they price at because they are my rivals for the reader’s dollars.  As an example consider the change in pricing strategy taken by some colleges a few yrs ago.  Over a decade ago officials at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania decided that the tuition was too low to attract a large applicant pool. So, they raised tuition over 18% in one year.  They also raised financial aid 20%.  Applications jumped the following year.  Apparently, being cheap as compared to the colleges Ursinus felt were rivals left parents with the perception that Ursinus was a lower quality school.  The higher price with discounts strategy is also found in US healthcare billed to insurance companies, new car pricing and hardcover mass market books.  When I go into a Barnes & Noble I can buy a recent release hardcover for 30% of list PLUS an additional 10% off as a Member.  I am sure B&N forecasts revenues based on a percentage of books being sold at discounted pricing and the resulting volume not full price.  I suspect the big 6 also take this into account in their forecasts.

            Publishing and bookselling is undergoing powerful changes, but we are not the first industry to do this.  Let’s slap on our Black Hats and profit from what we can learn from others.

Greetings from the Grove

A short wish on the glorious morning!

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Soda Bread A Very Not Irish Food

Like so many foods, Irish Soda Bread was not invented by the Irish, but it was quickly adopted.  My personal opinion is that it was a bread easily baked in the hearth.  It did not require yeast, a delicate and expensive ingredient.  Why the spring/St. Patrick’s Day association?  Again, pure speculation. Unless, of course, it is my ancestors whispering from the Otherworld.  Imbolc, the Druid festival that marks the beginning of Spring on the old calendar, was centered around the hearthfire and butter, milk and other special foods.  In fact, the name Imbolc is often linked to the translation ‘ewe’s milk’.

Traditional buttermilk is formed from the liquid that is left after the cream for the butter is separated.  In older times (older than me), the milk was left to stand for separation. During that time, the milk would sour by creating lactic acid.  It is the reaction between the lactic acid and the baking soda that is key to a great soda bread.

Many people like to include caraway seeds in their soda bread.  I am not sure that these seeds were readily available in Ireland.   In ancient times, there is evidence that the predecessors of the modern Irish may have traded as far away as what we now think of as the Middle East.  But at the time that Irish Soda Bread was popularized (the 18th century), it is more likely that caraway was brought back by Irish soldiers serving in the British Army (before Independence) in India.  I am a purist, I don’t put caraway in my soda bread and it is peanut butter and grape jelly (only) on white bread. There are things I will experiment with but these are not in the group.

So without further adieu, here is the soda bread recipe, that I make, that celebrates Imbolc and Spring and is mighty tasty!  For International followers, there are conversion tables.  If you hit a wall, let me know and I will help where I can

Ingredients:  (makes 1 loaf)

4 c white flour
½ c granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ c buttermilk
1 c raisins
½ c currants

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Rub butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is like corn meal (grainy texture).  Add raisins and currants and mix until coated.

In a small bowl, beat the egg with the buttermilk then add the baking soda.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Stir the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients, forming a soft dough.  Knead the dough lightly, using more flour, if needed.  Form dough into a ball, then flatten into an eight inch round.  Scour the top with an “X”

Bake the scone in a buttered 8” cake pan in a 375 degree oven for 50 minutes, or until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped and a cake tester comes out clean.

Remove from the cake pan and cool on a rack.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

St. Patrick and the Druids

As this is the Storytellers Grove and I am the chief bard, I have reposted here one of the better sites I have found about Saint Patrick. I found it one of the more informative on his mission, myth and relations with the Druids.

St Patrickl

St. Patrick (AD 385-462) was captured and enslaved in Ireland as a youth, escaped, and finally returned as an adult to spread Christianity as a Catholic missionary. He was not Irish by birth, but was believed by some accounts to be either the son of a Roman Officer, or a British Celt. In his confession, one of the few documents known to be written by Patrick, he describes his father as"Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniæ"  

In legend, Patrick is given credit for driving the snakes out of Ireland. In reality, the 'snakes' may well refer to the Druids, who were discredited and finally driven underground with the coming of Christianity. Patrick is credited with establishing Christianity in Ireland, and in the following centuries it either ousted or assimilated the old, pagan beliefs. Pagan festivals and holidays were adapted into Christian holy days, and many of the local god and goddess stories converted into tales of Irish saints. The most famous example is the Celtic goddess Brigit, or Bride, who is now known in the Christian Church as St. Brigit, Ireland's premier female saint.
St. Patrick's birth name was Gaewyn and the estimated date of his birth was 390 A.D. in Roman Britain. At age 16 the man who would later be known as the patron saint of Ireland was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold into slavery. He escaped slavery six years later and fled to the European mainland where he received his religious training at Catholic monastaries. He took the name Patrick upon joining the priesthood and eventually attained the rank of Bishop. It was then that Patrick set out to do missionary work in Ireland. In around 432 A.D., he arrived in Ireland and began to compete with the priests of the pagan faith for followers.
St. Patrick's struggle with the pagan order of the time began during the Celtic springtime fire festival known as Beltane. The ritual commenced with the ceremonial lighting of the High King's fire, from which all the other fires in the land would be lit. According to legend, St. Patrick lit an Easter fire on a nearby hill. The High King sent nine chariots to vanquish Patrick and put out his fire. Circling counter to the sun's path, the chariots attacked, but were unable to prevail against the holy fire.
Still, Patrick's work was cut out for him. In his struggle to discredit the Druid elders and gain the confidence and later the souls of the Irish population, he was (in his own words) forced to "curse their fertile lands, so that they became dreary bogs; to curse their rivers, so that they produced no fish; to curse their very kettles, so that with no amount of fire and patience could they ever be made to boil; and as a last resort, to curse the Druids themselves, so that the earth opened and swallowed them up."
St. Patrick began teaching Catholicism and the Holy Trinity to the Pagans by using a three leaf clover (a plant used in many of their rituals) to represent the father, the son and the holy spirit.
His efforts were successful in converting the Gaelic population to Catholicism and making Ireland a fortress for the Catholic faith.
For more interesting information visit: http://mysite.verizon.net/cbladey/pat/patrick.html#Main

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sample Sunday WIP Dark Dealings

What is Dark Dealings about?

Micaela O’Brien, a 28 year old , successful Wall Street Banker has run from her heritage and gifts since she was a teenager.   When a childhood friend is lost she must open the door to the past she has hidden.  But she hasn’t been able to hide from everyone with deadly consequences. In this new world, she will find that some of the bloodsuckers on Wall Street prefer O+ and not everyone is what they appear to be.  To protect what she loves she must embrace her power and accept the help of creatures that aren’t supposed to exist.


CH 1


            Her hopes for a nice, normal weekend away from the office died on a dark bend of Massachusetts Route 7.  Micaela flicked on the high beams wary of the deer that often darted into the unlit road.  She downshifted the Porsche Cayman around a sharp curve. The crisp October air that flowed through the open window smelled of an early snow in the Berkshires.  As much fun as it might be to floor it, she wasn’t in any great hurry to get to her grandmother’s farm.   A mile later, a shadow at the edge of the road made her slow down even more.  On the shoulder, a man dressed in bloody shreds of clothes sat hunched over his knees and stared into her eyes.  His mouth formed words she couldn’t hear.  Reece.    
            Micaela pulled over and grabbed a halogen flashlight from the glove box. She jumped from the car and dashed back to the place she’d seen her friend to find no one there. A dark stain gleamed in the ray of her flashlight.  She touched her fingers to it then lifted them to her nose.  Motor oil.  Micaela paced up and down the stretch of road scanning the brush and road for clues.
            “Reece, where are you?  If this is some sick Halloween joke, come out now!” She shouted into the darkness.  No sign of him or anyone on the road or in the woods beside the two lane highway, no footprints and, thankfully, no blood.
            Reece wasn’t the type to pull this kind of stunt.  His brother Adam, maybe.  But Adam would have already stumbled into the road doubled over in laughter.  She walked slowly back to her car, ears straining for any noise she might have missed.  Back behind the wheel of the Porsche, Micaela stared into the night sky.  Until five minutes ago, she’d looked forward to time away, even if it meant being in Bridewell for Samhain.
            She looked around one more time. No sign of Reece.  Her stomach was a basketball sized knot. If this wasn’t a trick… Damn.  She slammed her hand against the steering wheel. It was just a delusion, she thought, spawned by exhaustion. She must have been micro-sleeping behind the wheel.  Too many late nights hunched over the prospectus of a recent deal.  The alternative was unacceptable. It meant the visions had returned.  Why now, why had his spirit, ghost…No, she refused the idea that he had passed over.  Then again, Samhain was the time of the year when people and spirits moved between this world and the Otherworld.  Shit.
            She should call Reece from her cell phone, but she’d never programmed any of the Bridewell numbers into her contacts.  Dread gnawed at Micaela’s mind for the remains of the drive to Bridewell. 
            An hour later, she turned off Cerwiden Street and onto the narrow country lane that led to the Rourke-O’Brien Farm.  Flashing red lights slashed through the darkness between the gnarled apple trees of the Rourke orchard. She swerved left as she rounded the last turn to avoid the police cruiser stationed near the foot of the drive. The wooden gate, meant to keep sheep in, was pushed open.   A patrolman in an orange vest flagged her down.  Her dread turned to fear. 
            “Miss, you’ll have to park on the road.” The strobe from the light bar illuminated his name tag. 
            “Sean, Sean Murphy…it’s me…Micaela O’Brien.  Is my grandmother alright?”
            “Jeez, Micaela, I didn’t recognize you.  Nice car.  Is it new? I haven’t seen you since …”
            “Sean!  Is she alright?”   He had always been easily distracted, especially by high powered toys.
            “Una’s okay.  I think.   Some kind of accident in the hills behind the farm.”
            “Is Reece at the house?”  Please say yes, she whispered to herself.
            Sean shrugged, “Don’t know.”  He waved her through the gate.
            Gravel sprayed behind the car as it sped up the driveway.   Micaela left the car in the first open space amid the Jeeps and vans. EMTs sipped from Styrofoam coffee cups beside an ambulance. 
             In three steps, her four-inch heels were kicked off and she finished her sprint in stocking clad feet stabbed by the brittle late season grass. A jack o’lantern leered from the wood porch while a scarecrow twisted in the wind. She slammed open the screen door and crossed the dark parlor toward the light of the kitchen.  The aroma of coffee and baking soda bread filled the kitchen, familiar scents, so different from the sight that greeted her.  The crisp linens, flowers and canned fruits and vegetables that usually adorned the counters and shelves were crammed into a cupboard.   A kettle screeched on the stove.  Dirty dishes overflowed the sink.  On the oversized black farm stove, bangers sizzled while the oil danced in the cast iron skillet. 
            Una Rourke leaned over a massive blue pottery bowl beating the daylights out of the potatoes.   Her grandmother was fine, but things must be bad; Una always turned worry into action usually involving food.  Micaela wrapped her arms around Una from behind and planted a kiss on her cheek. 
            “Ah, Micaela, you’re here. Good.  Would you get the large platter from the pantry.  Then slice the soda bread and set it out.  The butter is in the fridge.”   Una brushed a lock of her still black curls from her face.
            “What happened?  Sean said there was an accident?”    Micaela opened the wood and glass-paned cabinet door and pulled out the pewter bread platter.  The knot in her stomach tightened.
            “A group of the boys were up on the mountain.  Reece got separated from them just after dusk.  There are teams of searchers looking for him now.”  Una spooned the ivory mounds of potato onto a large ceramic platter. “Can you turn down the flame on the bangers, dear.” 
            “Reece?  He’s hunted these hills since middle school.  He doesn’t get lost.”  He knew this part of the Berkshires better than anyone. If he was missing, Grandma had cause to worry.  Micaela’s heart sank.  

©Bridewell Grove Productions All Rights Reserved.                             

Friday, March 4, 2011

Reality, Forests and Vampire Facelifts

As the publishing and bookselling market evolves, it is human nature to speak and think in absolutes.  The sky is falling!  We can all become blockbuster authors.  Examples are given for both.  Recently the success of Amanda Hocking has received enormous attention.  I do not know her personally.  But she is reported to be the 26 year old phenom of the indie writer world.  But what has impressed me the most is her rational, measured and mature response to this. I have talked about the work outside the manuscript that is involved in going indie.  I cannot speak with Amanda’s authority as a writer, but I have been a business person, both corporate and self-employed, for more years than I will admit. I have written and reviewed business  plans and I know this.  My manuscript is my product and my business. I must decide what is the best approach for me (each author must make their own decision) in the now and the long run.  I need a business plan.

Writing is on the one hand creative and ephemeral, but it also requires discipline and knowledge of craft to produce a product that someone (many someones) will want to read.  I talk about putting on our writer hat or putting on our editor hat.  If I choose the indie route I must also put on several other hats: publishing, packaging, marketing, publicity. 

I am still undecided on the trad vs. Indie route. 

Whatever route I choose or you choose, read Amanda’s own words and go in with eyes wide open.

http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/  Some Things That Need To Be Said

On a subject dear to my heart, please sign the petition to save the forests of Ireland:

And just for fun, check out his idea before you get your headshot, esp the paranormal writers, like me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thursday Reads: Darkness Dawns

Happy Thursday!

                Sorry for the absence, like many this time of year I have been out of sorts.  But while I was, I read a terrific book.:  Darkness Dawns by Dianne Duvall.

Once, Sarah Bingham’s biggest challenge was making her
students pay attention in class. Now, after rescuing a
wounded stranger, she’s landed in the middle of a battle
between corrupt vampires and powerful immortals who also
need blood to survive. Roland Warbrook is the most
compelling man Sarah has ever laid hands on. But his
desire for her is mingled with a hunger he can
barely control . . .

In his nine centuries of immortal existence, no woman
has tempted Roland as much as Sarah. But asking her to
love him is impossible -- when it mean forfeiting the world
she’s always known, and the life he would do anything
to protect.

Darkness Dawns is the first in her Immortal Guardians paranormal romance series that will introduce readers to more such warriors and take readers along on their journey as they endeavor to discover the truth behind their existence, encounter powerful new beings and face increasingly complex challenges spawned by an escalating number of formidable foes. 

I give it a 5-fangs rating.  It is well written and paced with just the right mix of action and hot romance and sex.  Sarah is well written as the heroine who because of her integrity finds herself in a very different world from her University teaching position.  My one tiny issue was Sarah’s gift, I hadn’t seen that coming.  Maybe I missed that scene.  Dianne’s world-building is intriguing in her injection of environmental issue.  But you’ll have to see for yourself.

Check Dianne and Darkness Dawns on her website www.dianneduvall.com .