June Rodriguez
JUNE: I have written my list and I am checking it twice. This time of the year most of us are busy with all the holiday preparations and celebrations. With less then two weeks before Christmas my living room floor is dotted with packing boxes waiting to be filled with all the gifts I still haven’t finished up. So it is no surprise that my writing has taken a back seat to these frenzied activities. With a tighter budget this year I have resorted to making most of my gifts and even though this feeds my creative side it is not the creative side I really want to work on. Throw in a dash of family guilt for not fulfilling some time honored function and the holidays can turn into more of a bummer than a happy holiday.

If I can’t actually work on my writing I can still think about it. I will make my own list for after the holidays.

1. Do not start on chapter one again. When you lose count of how many times you have done chapter one you should not look at it again until you have finished the whole book.

2. Do you really know who your characters are? If you haven’t communicated with them in a while maybe this would be a good time to write them a letter or interview them for your local paper. The least you could do is friend them on Facebook.

3. Do you know how your story ends? No! Yes. Maybe. Well, how about writing backwards. Start at the end and work your way forward. Then you will have a goal to work for when you go back to the beginning (not chapter one).

4. Write one hundred words a day! How hard can that be? I can talk to a friend or lecture my children about something and have no problem exceeding that one hundred word mark, over and over again. So why can’t I do it on paper?

5. Seriously put my butt in my chair. Putting my butt in a chair has never been a problem. I do it all the time when I eat or when I am at work. I even put my butt in my writing chair all the time. But, very little of that time leads to actual writing time. I can call it research or networking or any other name (spider solitaire) but it still isn’t writing.

This may seem like a short list but it is a start. You could call it my New Years list but I would like to put it into effect as soon as possible.
DORI: Ah, if only we could put "write a New York Times bestseller" on our Christmas list and have our dreams come true. Sadly, even if Santa did exist this would be a feat beyond his abilities, unless we would be content with a lot of dialogue consisting of "Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas."

The holidays are a hectic time of year, as June has noted, which has also made it difficult for our Friday critique sessions. Christmas choir concerts, out-of-town visits with family and other holiday activities have made it difficult for us to meet. Not meeting makes it easier to avoid writing. Good news is that the New Year is right around the corner ready with plenty of time, free of holiday distractions, to write. In the meantime, finding some time to write just a few hundred words here and there will not only keep our novels moving forward, but can be used as a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the season.

SARAH: HA!! If asking Santa for an NYT Best Seller title were a sure-thing, I'd give that man a WHOLE LOT MORE than mere cookies for Christmas!! *wink wink*

I've come up with my own slogan to help keep me driven next year! "Writing 'THE END' in 2010!"

I've been getting organized and have carved out a list of goals I want to attain for the coming year. I've posted said list on the wall above my desk to jog my memory when I'm tempted to sneak in a game of Bejeweled! Staying positive and focused are going to be key. We have the "tools" to accomplish our goals, now we just have to roll up our sleeves and get dirty! My rookie year was full of highs and lows. I think a lot of my struggle stemmed from not having a game plan ironed out from the beginning. This next year, I'm locked and loaded for bear! So, rack 'em if you got 'em, ladies, we're going hunting!!
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June Rodriguez
JUNE: I noticed this week that I need to flesh out my characters a little more. When I work on other aspects of my writing such as the action or the dialogue my characters don’t receive as much attention. I recently bought a book from a workshop at my RWA group. The author was our presenter. I hope to gain new insights to the complicated process of building my characters by reading “Growing Great Characters from the Ground Up” by Martha Engber.

SARAH: I enjoyed listening to Martha's talk as well. She presented tons of insight on "Show vs. Tell", too. I wished she would have spent some time telling us about her views on building characters. I hope you'll share the juicy tidbits with us, June. There is another book I'd liked to get called, THE WIP NOTEBOOK by Jeannie Ruesch. It looks fantastic and I've heard nothing but great reviews from peers. Ms. Ruesch's WIP Notebook provides worksheets and tables for diving into your characters and plotlines. Sounds like a great Wish List item for the ole Hubby Man!

DORI: There are two different types of books, plot driven and character driven. In the suspense/thriller books are more frequently plot driven. Think Da Vinci Code and other similar books. When the book is plot driven you don't have to delve too deep into character, but when you have a character driven book it is imperative that you know your character inside and out, and that your readers learn to know your character from an intimate perspective. I think that most women readers enjoy a character driven book, which can go hand in hand with a plot driven book. They don't have to be mutually exclusive.

JUNE: To become better writers it has been suggested to read, read, read lots of books in the genre you wish to write in. I have also heard that a good way to dissect a story is to watch movies. With the holiday season upon us a lot of us will be watching movies during our free time. This year I will take that advice when I find myself sitting in a movie theater or watching that Christmas gift.

SARAH: I've become addicted to books on CD. I've been borrowing them from the lending library. I don't think I would have picked these books up at a store, simply because they aren't my preferred genre. Yet, I've been enjoying reading the different styles and voices. Most have been mystery novels with heavy crime and suspense. My only complaint is that the authors use the "F" word a lot and they haven't been all male authors either!! Sheesh! Talk about eye-opening.

I've also been doing a lot of reading in the YA and Romantic Suspense genres. It's been fun seeing how the authors create their worlds and characters. Plus, I'm seeing a pattern in how they format their paragraphs. Who knew research could be this fun!

DORI: Wish there were more time in the day to read. I definitely learn a lot by reading as many different types of books in my genre as possible. Interesting how now I can read both for pleasure and learning. I pay attention to how a writer writes, what works, what doesn't work. Invaluable research.

JUNE: Do you read your writing out loud? I don’t do it very often myself but I do like to listen to your writing out loud. I can sometimes hear when there is a problem with flow or word usage that way.

SARAH: I try to read my stuff out loud, but still find I miss things. I think my mind adds the words in. I know we've talked about this before, but it's one the many reasons why critique groups such as ours are essential! Nobody wants to present a less than polished MS to an agent or an editor. Worse yet would be having a reader spot the mistake within your novel. YIKES! Sure that's what an editor and copy-editor are for, but we're all human after all. Any precaution taken toward finding the rough spots, missing words or slip-ups in context is definitely worth the effort.

DORI: I don't read my stuff aloud, but need to try to do that. Know it would help, but my writing space is in the middle of the open space in the house and not conducive to reading aloud. Excuses, excuses, I know.
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June Rodriguez
JUNE: This past Friday we meant to meet as usual at the same time and the same place. Even though this past Friday was the day after Thanksgiving we had things all planed out. We forgot to take into consideration the holidays are a terrible time to count on plans. So some of us got sick and others had family obligations come up. So we are going to wing it with some of our own cyber talk.

We thought we would do our own little interview session so our visitors can get to know us a little better.

Q: What genre do you write?

JUNE: I am currently working on a historical western romance. As for other stories I am working on I tend to write contemporary romance.

DORI: Generally I write in the thriller/suspense genre, although my short stories have ventured into mainstream literary and romantic suspense. I generally follow the write-what-you-know rule and therefore generally write legal fiction since I'm an attorney. Most of my legal work is criminal felony defense right now, so I expect it will find itself into my current writing. Definitely provides a lot of "research." If you want to know current gang slang, I'm your go-to person.

JACKIE: I am working on a multi-layered piece of paranormal adventure. I also write poetry and have a few short-stories (most of my short writes are wicked spooky stuff).

SARAH: I'm knee-deep into my first MS, a historical romantic-suspense set in the Regency Era.

Q: When do you do most of your writing? Are you a pantser or a plotter?

JUNE: I am not a very organized writer. The time I get to write has changed a lot lately. I recently started a new job and work nights. Most of my writing time is still in the evening after I get home. I am mostly a pantser but I have been working more on completing an outline. Even with the outline I will tend to go with the flow as I write.

DORI: I'm definitely a pantser. I don't have the time or the patience to outline, although I certainly need to know where I want the story to go before I write it. I'm not one to just let my characters write the story for me, although I wouldn't mind if they would step up to the plate and do the work for me. My writing time is whenever I can fit it in, which generally means nights and weekends.

JACKIE: In the beginning I was a pantser all the way. I would sit down and write the story as it played out in my head like a movie. Problem with that is, sometimes the script writer goes on strike. From this I have learned that it’s a good idea to play with an outline once in a while. So I would call my self a "combo" writer.

SARAH: Sheesh! I grab writing time whenever I can. I always have a notebook with me. This helps me stay productive when I can't be in front of a computer. I'm a plotter. I like to know where I'm going. However, I would like to try pantsing it one day. We'll have to see!

Q: How has being in the Friday night group helped in your writing?

JUNE: I have learned so much from each of our members. Each one of has shown an area that they are inspired about when it comes to the critique sessions. We each have a different voice and different style of writing. This gives each of us an opportunity to expand our own writing vision.

DORI: Ditto June's comment. Every session is a learning opportunity. As the group members have grown, so have I. One of the biggest benefits is the camaraderie and the cheerleaders I have for my writing career. Know they would do anything to help me be successful. Having weekly meetings helps me focus on producing work to bring forward. More so than I would if left to my own initiative.

JACKIE: Our Friday night group has been a community for me. I have stayed focused on my writing. We have all been more serious about our work. And I think too, that we have grown more comfortable with ourselves as writers. Every Friday night we critique each others work, and June is right, we have all learned so much, I know I sure have; and we validate each other as writers. We believe in each other-so much actually, that we are FAR less lenient about writing gaffs. We call each other out-but it is because we KNOW what each of us is capable of and we want for us to reach our goals.

SARAH: I came into the group as a total greenhorn. Thanks to all of you gals, my writing has grown leaps and bounds. I still have my problems areas, but who doesn't! (Quick, Dori, did I forget any words?! LOL) Where I'm weak, one of you ladies is strong and vice a versa. Plus, meeting up every week keeps me inspired. It's refreshing to hang out with people who are passionate about the same things you are.
June Rodriguez
JUNE: Show Don’t Tell has been one of my biggest bug-a-boos ever since I started writing. I learned a lot more about this affliction recently from a presentation I attended. I learned that, yes, you can tell in your writing but you have to know when and where and in what type of writing it is acceptable. I also was shown that you need to do both and that there is a way to check your own writing to see if you are doing too much of either one. What is your POV? That is the first determining factor in Telling vs. Showing. Then you need to determine how close you want your reader to be to your story. This will determine the tone of your writing and the Show vs. Tell Ratio. This way of looking at my writing struck a cord with me. I have already started thinking about this ratio as I write.

SARAH: I've started paying attention to the style and ratio of the authors I read. It was interesting to see that the majority of the books I enjoy are heavy on the telling and only speckled with showing. I wonder if the show: tell ratio is genre specific. Are certain genres more prone to telling vs. showing?

DORI: As a reader, I much prefer showing than telling. In a thriller it is particularly important to draw the reader into the story and keep them transfixed.

JUNE: The current brouhaha over the big publisher Harlequin's new publication service has sent the writing industry and the big national writing groups into a tizzy. The rapid response has made a lot of writers in all genres nervous. I am also keeping a close eye on how things will go forward with the RWA national group. Even if Harlequin backs down right now there are things in place already that will probably take a couple of years to undo.

SARAH: This new development puts a kink in my game plan. Harlequin Historical is a line I planned on targeting once my MS was polished. RWA is a cornerstone in romance writing. Millions of aspiring writers look to RWA for guidance. When something like this happens, it shakes the foundation. Authors and newbie’s are being forced to take sides. Should an author accept a contract from HQ, they wouldn't be allowed to participate on the same level as other authors with a preferred publisher. For instance, what about the RITA contest? Entering a MS into the Golden Heart or the RITA contest is a rite of passage. HQ is a huge proponent in romance writing and to have them disqualified as a publisher in RWA's eyes . . . it's just sad. Getting a contract with HQ is like finding the Holy Grail, for goodness sakes!! What next?!

DORI: This is an exciting time to be entering the publishing world. I think it is a sign of the changing times. We should look at the changes as new opportunities, which is especially welcome as the publishing industry seemed to have shrinking opportunities for new fiction writers.

JUNE: Running into that moment in your writing where you lose steam and can’t seem to continue that forward momentum. I have been having trouble with this while doing the NaNo. Some one on the site suggested jumping to the end and write backwards?

SARAH: I've actually considered doing this. I've had to do some major reworking of my plot and characters. Luckily, the ending is the only thing that hasn't changed. LOL If I write those three scenes, I'll be able to get a better idea of how I need to tailor my plotline, so I stay on track. This should be interesting because I'm very much a linear writer.

DORI: While long fiction is definitely its own beast, I found that with my last short story I knew the final lines and then wrote the story backward from there. It made for the right build up to those lines. After all, what we want is for the reader to have a satisfactory sense of resolution at the end of the book.

JUNE: Through it all we just want to write a good story. It sits there in our heads fighting to get out. So we do our best to learn the rules.

SARAH: I know this is something I worry a lot about. From the three contests I've entered, I've had pretty consistent feedback about my plotline. In the beginning, I'd set up the story the way I'd always fantasized in my head, but after having certain elements of my plot flagged repeatedly, I had to do some tweaking. Sure, it stings like a smack on the hinny to have to ditch some really great scenes, but I want to present a strong and well written story. It's been a really good learning experience, because if 12 judges all clicked onto the same thing, a reader will too.

DORI: Found our conversation about story interesting. The question we bantered was kind of why do we spend so much effort learning the craft when there are blockbuster breakouts authors who don't seem to adhere to the writing rules. As we determined, bottom line is you have to write a good story. If you write a story that has characters and plot that draw the readers in, the reader will overlook the fact that the prose isn't perfect. On the other hand, take a book with beautiful prose but without the compelling characters and plot and it will go no where. Of course, what we as writers strive for and readers salivate for is a well written book that tells a captivating story in an expertly crafted fashion. I know that's what each of us Friday Night Writes participants want. Why would we want to settle for anything less?

JUNE: How big is your to be read pile and how much time do you find to read any of it? I still have books from the last conference I attended sitting in the back of my shelves waiting for me while I pile more on in the front.

SARAH: At last count, my TBR pile is 20 books deep!! I work my way through them slowly. Free reading (or research reading as I've taken to calling it) happens right before bed or while I'm waiting at my son's speech therapy. I don't get more than a chapter or two done a day. Before I started writing, I could easily read 15 books or more a month. LOL Funny how things change! I've started listening to books on CD. With all the driving I do in a week scooting kids here and there, I can easily finish an entire book. I borrow them from the library. The romance selection is slim pickin's, so I'm having to select books I probably wouldn't have before!

DORI: My "to be read pile" lines my bookshelves, but my immediate need to get to pile sits on my desk. Let me count, the stacks contain 56 books sitting at the ready. I would love to have the time to read a book a day, but not possible. Right now priority goes to expanding my reading to other authors in my genre. I've yet to fully explore and start to read the books of authors I'm in the process of, or contemplating, interviewing for my website. Right now I'm reading the new Kelli Stanley Book "City of Dragons" to be released February 2010. Just started reading it today and really enjoying it. Looking forward to doing her interview.

Have a happy holiday!
June Rodriguez
JUNE: I have been writing on my NaNoWriMo challenge this past week and found myself in the middle of a plot problem. So I pulled out one of my favorite writing books to look for help. “Goal, Motivation & Conflict” by Debra Dixon http://www.debradixon.com/gmc.html is a great back to basics book to help with most of the plotting problems I have been stumbling over. Her info on character GMC including the antagonist GMC helped me see the holes in my story and flesh out a major character. I have a sagging middle problem also.

DORI: I got a lot out of attending Ms. Dixon's workshop with you and Jackie, way back when. She definitely helps make the fundamentals understandable. Sometimes it is helpful when we're stuck to go back to those tools to refresh our recollection in order to move forward.

SARAH: Sagging middle? Maybe we should do some sit-ups!! LOL I agree with you ladies. I didn't take the class with you, but I have learned a fair deal reading the info you have passed along. I'm looking forward to learning more about her principles. Kudos, June, for sticking to your NaNo commitment! I think that's wonderful.

JUNE: The rules for writing can be vague. I wonder why we are told that we can’t break them but I see those rules broken all the time by the big sellers. The rules seem to be an arbitrary thing. So the real rule is “Don’t write like a best seller until you are one.” Is that an oxymoron?

DORI: Rules? What rules? Kidding aside, I think you are right that first you have to "know" the rules before you can break them, and second a debut novelist will have a harder time getting away with "breaking" the rules than a best seller. All writers have to know the rules of the writing game. It's not a game you win purely with luck. You have to play by the rules to win. But like other games, sometimes you win by knowing which rules to "bend" to your purpose. But, bending the rules is different than having a flagrant disregard to disdain of the rules and therefore ignoring them. Bottom line is that if you veer away from the traditional rules of writing you should do so purposely and with the conviction that it is the right thing to do to tell your story. Ultimately, it is all about telling a good story. That's what the reader cares about, and it is the reader who creates the demand for sales.

SARAH: Martha Engber is the author June and I went to go see this weekend at our RWA meeting. She gave a very informative and interesting talk on rules of writing. Her big bug-a-boo is the rule of "Show, Don't Tell." She advocated using both showing and telling in a story. We dissected a couple of stories from some very famous authors and picked out each ones' style. It seems the big cats are more partial to telling!! LOL Imagine that?! Listening to Martha was refreshing. When you're a new writer, rules are shoved down your throat like broccoli or spinach! Her suggestion is to be aware of what your ratio of Show:Tell is within your MS. It's all about balance. I'm planning on taking her "Rewrite" class in March through the Yosemite Romance Writers. It's a four week class geared toward making edits to your MS. I can't wait!

DORI: I love broccoli and spinach so shove away! What I would be more curious to know was whether the more telling than showing was a progression that started after they became best sellers. Or is it my hypothesis that if you tell a good story you can get away with more telling than showing? Either way, personally when I see something presented both as showing and then as telling, the showing is always preferable to me the reader. However, I do think that there are times when a simple telling is appropriate. It's figuring out when it is the right time to do so that is problematic.

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June Rodriguez
JUNE: We talked about how character changes can make a big difference in your character. These changes will hopefully make your character more believable.

DORI: Yes, it's amazing sometimes how little changes make a big difference. It's important that character's and their actions are believable. When they aren't it jolts the reader from the reading experience. Makes them stop and say "Huh? I don't think so," which isn't a good thing. Sarah was able to go back and tweak a character and her efforts paid off.

SARAH: Aw, thanks, Dori! I have to admit, it was a lot of fun tweaking Gideon. Going back and reworking his character really helped me get a grasp on how to make his part blend in with the heroine's plight. The first time I wrote him, I was a little restrained. I didn't know how he fit. Then, on the rewrite it all clicked. His scene is much more vivid because I listened to you gals and gave him a face lift, so to speak. LOL

JUNE: I have to admit that even though I liked the character before, your changes really gave him a more colorful personality and a stronger reason for being in your story.

JACKIE: In Ironic Dance the whole story is basically about character change. People begin as one thing and grow into another. In fact I would say that is the core of tension that opposing characters play off of. It is a reminder to me to keep my focus on character development. My characters actions must connect to their changes!
JUNE: Having a critique group can help with both the big changes and the little. Even after reading over our material several times we always seem to find the little words that are missing.

DORI: Don't think everyone catches everything, which is why more eyes are better. We tend to fill in missing words, or read words the way they were meant to be spelled, when they aren't. For instance, in rereading my short story that just took honorable mention in the WD's 78th Annual Writing Competition, I noticed that I had written "galley" when I meant to write "gallery." How many times did I read and reread and others read and still no one caught the mistake.

SARAH: I'm right there with you, Dori! My entry to the Golden Gateway had 3 words missing. LOL You can bet I'll never forget which ones! I couldn't believe I missed them. Sheesh! That's why I'm very thankful to have you gals. LOL How many words did I forget in last week's critique?? Umm, maybe I should stick a post-it note on the wall above my desk with, "a" and "the". For reasons, those words can be elusive!

JUNE: When I find a word I stumble over I pull out one of my best writing tools. An inexpensive electronic Franklin Dictionary. I have been using it for about seven years and have not had to replace the batteries. It really is faster then flipping through the pages of a paper dictionary and it has all the same information. I would like to get a newer model with the thesaurus included.

DORI: After watching you use it Friday night I'm tempted to get one for myself. How handy and useful. I tend to use the internet, but your device seemed quicker and easier. One with a thesaurus sounds like a good investment.

SARAH: I was very impressed with the electronic dictionary. LOL I hate flipping through my ancient tome of a dictionary. Plus, if it comes with a thesaurus, I might go with Dori and pick one up. LOL Jackie probably has that "app" for her Iphone!

JUNE: I use the spell check on the computer all the time when I am writing but when I go over critique work I could be anywhere. At the kitchen table or waiting at the Doctors office. It is about the size of the IPhone.

JUNE: We touched on contests before. This time we talked about how much of what a judge says about your entry do you take to heart? Judges can go from one end of the scale to the other on the same submission. The judge's own personal tastes can also come into play when reading your work. If you hear the same suggestion from two or three judges is that enough to make major changes in your story? Or do you wait for more contest results and even more judges telling you the same thing? Most of the time you only send in a part of your novel into a contest, not the whole manuscript so is it better to just keep going and finish or stop and rewrite?

DORI: First, getting feedback from contests is something I'm not really used to. The ones that I enter generally you get nothing. Feedback would be useful, particularly coming from an editor or agent, but like June said keep in mind that we all have different tastes. With that said, if within your genre you have nine judge's opinions and they all say the same thing, you would be wise to listen to the advise. If possible though it would be better to plow through and finish the story then go back and fix the problems. If the "fix" means writing a completely different story then it's a tougher call. Problem with spending a lot of time fixing the first part of an unfinished manuscript is that in the end you may find that none of it is going to work and you've wasted a lot of time in fixing broken parts that are better suited to be tossed aside.

SARAH: Getting the feedback can often feel like being stabbed with a blunt knife! Man, some judges can really give you the old one, two, three! After entering three contests, I re-examined all of the comments. I wasn't too thrilled to see that at least one judge from every contest (even the one I finaled in) said that my plot was trite or too complex. Go figure! So, I did a little brainstorming and now have some ideas for how to revamp my plot. BUT, instead of going back and starting over, I've noted the desired changes and plan to keep my forward momentum. I plan on saving the rewrites for times when I get a little blocked on the front half of the story. The next contest I enter will be one that judges the whole book with all the necessary changes. I want feedback on the whole dish, not just the "tasty teaser." LOL I think it will be very interesting to see what scenes or characters make the cutting room floor once I start editing the completed MS.

DORI: I think you made a good decision on how to move forward.

JUNE: I agree. Too many times I have gotten started on a story and stopped a third of the way in to work on something else. So far I have not finished anything. With our group I want to change that. Sarah I want to see you finish yours. I want all of us to write THE END on our novels.
June Rodriguez
This week we shared the table with a few freaky friends. Halloween is tomorrow night and the eerie sounds and dead stares of ghoulish creatures provided by a family member helped set the mood.

JUNE: We talked about Dori’s latest contest entries. Writers Digest has the prestige of winning or even placing to draw writers to enter but the massive amount of entries can make you hesitate. The fees are another draw back to a struggling writer. Where as smaller contests with smaller fees are just as rewarding and can be added to your list of accomplishments. But with any contest your ultimate goal is to complete the story and put it before the readers for their enjoyment.

DORI: Paying out money for contests is definitely a concern for me. Makes you think about which contests are worth entering and for what purpose. When I decided to write a short story I wanted to have a purpose for writing it, so I targeted Writer's Digest's big annual contest. It got me to write the story, which I then had to enter into another contest as well. It was lucrative for me as I got a national award and an honorable mention in the WD contest and money in the bank. However, neither of these led to publication and ultimately I want my stories put before readers as June says. I wrote the story to be read not just to win awards. The awards were great for validating that "yes, I can write," which should not be undervalued. However, how many contests does one need to win? Perhaps the focus needs to be on publication where you can submit for consideration without paying a fee, and might even get paid in exchange or at least get published. With that said, I am looking at submitting a short short story that I just wrote to the upcoming WD contest, but at the same time looking at another contest without the $15 fee attached. One is maybe more prestigious, but is it worth the cost? At this stage of the game I will try my hand with a different type of story with WD, but then the focus needs to move from contests to publication. At least for me.

SARAH: Entering RWA contests can be costly! Some are as expensive as $35 for a non-member. I tend to stick with the contests that are in the $20-25 range and offer feedback. As long as I get constructive comments, I think the contest is worth entering again. I entered the 2009 Golden Gateway and was completely blown away at the caliber of feedback. I definitely recommend any unpubbed romance writer to enter the Golden Gateway. It's the most bang for the buck: $25 entry fee and entails a judging of the first 50pages and synopsis!! The contest is geared toward prepping an author to the RWA Golden Heart.

DORI: I just finished up another online writer's course with Writer University (http://www.writeruniv.com/) titled Kills, Chills, and Thrills taught by author C.J. Lyons. Like all the courses I've taken with Writer U it was very informative. One of the take aways from this class was the importance of VET--visceral, evocative, telling details. Doesn't take a lot of details, just the right details. Details that show don't tell. Details that express mood, emotion, etc. So for instance with June's piece changing "opened the window" to "eased up the window sash." The second conveyed that she was trying to quietly open the window without being heard and provided more visual details.

JUNE: Taking an online class can be very helpful. Especially if you know you have a problem in a certain area. The information you shared with us allowed me to see new ways of adding better details.

SARAH: I took an online class this summer on writing Query Letters. I found the information very helpful and challenging. I was forced to examine my storyline and characters from all angles. From the class, I walked away with a great query letter, a log line, and a better understanding of my MS. LOL It's just a lot of work!! Totally worth it, but very time consuming.

JUNE: I am getting better at critiquing the work of the other members but find I still do not do so well on my own work. I made quite a few beginner mistakes tonight. Possessives, hyphenated words, and tracking caused problems. The story line is solid and authenticating details were a plus.

DORI: I'm the same way. Eventually, I would hope I get better at self-editing. I find the technical things easier; the tracking less so and the hardest is tweaking the language to make it read better. Good news was that you have the right story line and just needed some tweaking to fix the minor errors and to add the authenticating VET details to raise the emotional level of the chapter, which is a rather high drama situation.

SARAH: I think we all have our own little triggers. LOL We all know I like facial expressions, conjunctions, and have problems knowing when to break off paragraphs so characters aren't tangled up! What I have found helpful is my story board. I have a section dedicated to all my triggers. When I 'm prepping my pages for you gals, I'm looking over my little line-up. Ha! Just like Old Saint Nick- I'm checking my list twice, too!

JUNE: Our local library recently hosted a book sale. We all managed to stop by. Each of us looked for different types of books. I have a tendency to go for books that can either be used for research on a particular topic or something that will spark an idea for a future story. I made several excellent finds and at a dollar a book not only did I save money but I did my small part in supporting my local library.

SARAH: Oh! Now, why didn't you tell me to do that, too! LOL I was too busy elbowing my way up to the romance paperback table. DOH! The next sale is in April, you better bring your 'A' game, June! I was looking for books that would branch out my reading. Kind of like checking out the competition. There was quite a varied selection, too. The prices were great- for us- not so great for the poor author who won't make a dime from the re-sale.

DORI: At a buck a piece you made good investments. Cheap resource material was not even on my radar at the book sale. I only went for various authors in my genre for research. However, I did pick up one book, by Michael Connelly titled "Crime Beat" which is about his decade of covering cops and killers. I thought it would provide good research material. One advantage I have is that I write what I know and can draw on my work as an attorney to provide authentication for my writing. I'm not writing historicals like June and Sarah, which require a lot of research.
June Rodriguez
JUNE: This past week the Friday Night Write Blog had a minor (it didn’t seem that way at the time) tech problem. An ad blacked us out and streamed across all of our pages. As a non-tech savvy blogger first I panicked and envisioned having to start all over again. When the fog cleared I went to the source of the template I downloaded to hopefully find the answers. I emailed the team behind the Hive and was rewarded with a fast response and an even faster fix. I’m still not quite sure what the problem was but I consider this another lesson learned in the new world of cyber blogging. These guys were great.

JUNE: Wow Jackie. I am amazed at what you can get on a phone these days. You are able to gain access to your writing and computer programs from your phone.

JACKIE: Yes, it’s very cool. My Docs to Go app has essentially turned my Iphone into a mini sized laptop.

SARAH: Yay! Now, we'll get to see more of your WIP! Sounds like a great purchase. Amazing how technology can help and hinder. LOL My mom is way less productive now that she is addicted to Facebook.
I saw a cute little notebook in at Costco for $350. It's like a "mini me" lap top. You can bet I was elbowing hubby in going, "Hint, hint."

DORI: Technology continues to change the entire writing and publishing world. It's amazing what options are now open to us.

JUNE: We have talked about POV before but I still have trouble picking out the specific areas that need to be cleared up. I can tell that something is wrong but not specifically that the problem is with POV.

JACKIE: Well, you did a great job Friday night. You may not have known that a problem was specifically POV, but when discussing it, it was very clear. POV is definitely a boogaboo that is always creeping around a story. We want so badly to express every characters sense of what is happening, it’s all too easy to mingle them together.

DORI: I think I notice POV issues, or the dreaded inadvertent "head hopping," because I generally write in multiple POVs. When you're critiquing a piece and you stumble over something, asking yourself "huh" and it's not the verbiage itself that's awkward, then look at whether there is a character doing or thinking something. If so, which character is it? Whose "head" would you have to be in to know that information, see that transpiring, etc? If it's a different character's lens than the line before, you know it's the POV that's at issue.

SARAH: I'm glad Dori has such a good grasp of POV. A simple sentence phrased a little off can shift the POV of a scene. I get completely frazzled sometimes trying to keep it all straight. It just goes to show how valuable CP's can be. Here's to hoping we're not head hoppin' in the future!

JUNE: I noticed tonight that we are getting better at breaking up our descriptive sections. Mixing up the longer with the shorter sentences.

SARAH: There is a balance to everything in writing. It's like cooking with pepper. A little can go along way and then on the flip side- sometimes a lot is just what the recipe ordered. Now, finding the balance is where the true skill comes into play. I know I'm still making your eyes water with my over-peppered sentences, but I'm getting there.

The advice you gals doled out about branching out my reading has really helped me see sentence variation strategies. I can't stay hopelessly devoted to a couple authors and be content to re-read. LOL No sad Sandys! This newbie has gotta break out of my shell and experiment with different genres and sub-genres. It's like studying, but better.

DORI: One of my favorite things to do is read. These days I read both for pleasure as well as to study craft. There is so much to be learned from seeing how others write.

DORI: Dialog is tricky. Not only do you want to make sure that the dialog is meaningful (moves the story forward), but that each character has a distinctive voice. On top of these issues is dealing with dialog tags, versus using a beat. When necessary to distinguish between who's talking a simple dialog tag of "said Joe" is best. Another option is to use a beat to signify who is speaking. For example. Martin tossed his drink on Sherry's silk evening dress. "Now, what do you think of your precious dress?" There is no need to use a dialog tag, because it is clear who is doing the speaking here. Another use of beats is to break up long pockets of dialog. However, the beats you use should propel the story forward by showing us emotion or other action pertinent to the story and not simple stage directions for the sake of having something break up the dialog.

JUNE: I did notice some stage direction or empty direction. I’m starting to pick up on when they are unnecessary or not clear.

SARAH: Guilty as charged. I know this is another area I need to brush up on. Inserting action into a scene is fine, but I have to be attentive to what I use. There has to be a flow.

DORI: . . . and a purpose, other than simply to break up dialog or having someone doing something simply for the sake of having something happening.

JUNE: We know about the need to let ourselves vent or talk to someone when things begin to stress us out. I think the same thing applies to our characters. At what point in your novel or story do your characters need to vent. And what about the characters that can’t or won’t talk to someone about what they are thinking or feeling. Do they become the antagonist of your story?

DORI: Interesting question June. These characters are no different than real folks, or at least that's what we want our readers to think. That means that some characters will haul off and put their fist through their bedroom wall to vent, while others hold it in. Could be the antagonist, but could just as well be any other character in our story. Our job as writers is to tap into emotions in a way that resonates with readers, who can either say "hey that's me," or "that's my hot-headed brother-in-law," sorta thing.

JUNE: When writing our novels should we think about the possibility of writing toward a series or stick with a stand alone? We talked about the pros and cons and the differences each has in the different genres.

DORI: In my genre series, mystery/thriller/suspense, series are popular. I have read some series I like, but overall find I like to write and read stand alones. Personally, I think I would become bored with writing about the same characters for too long, unless the series had a story arc that was mapped out ahead of time. For instance, the Harry Potter series was ultimately all about vanguishing Voldemort, and we knew that wasn't going to happen until the last year of Hogwart's. In the meantime, each story had its own satisfactory resolution. Over the series we got to watch the characters grow and mature to the point that they could take on Voldemort. However, this story would've lost momentum at some point too. You can't go on forever with a series and keep readers hooked to the same degree they were early on. Hard to say if it's just the readers getting tired of the same old thing, or if it is also the author who's getting tired of the same old thing. I find my best writing is when I'm psyched about the story and the characters. That excitement comes across on the written page. However, that kind of excitement can't be maintained forever.

JUNE: In writing romance the secret number seems to be “three”. Very seldom do first books become part of a series. Once you are established as a published author a series becomes a better opportunity and possibility. But even books in a series need to be able to stand alone. I see a story line of “3” in my future.

SARAH: Would you guys help me with a little plotting problem? I can't decide how to clean up a problem I had with one of my chapters.

JUNE: Oh yea! Let's have a go at it. I really like to play WHAT IF. Having other writers help with ideas or how to work through problems in a story line is exciting. Each of us will have a different direction to suggest. Next time we brainstorm we should bring chocolate.

SARAH: Discussing and dissecting my plot points with you gals was really beneficial and fun. I enjoyed getting a fresh perspective. I walked away from our little pow-wow with a much better understanding of where my story is heading. Thanks!

DORI: We can get so wrapped up in our plot and characters that it is hard to see things as clearly as an outsider. That's a good thing about a critique group. Better us than an agent, editor, or worse yet your readers who then throw the book against the wall in frustration because you have a character in two places at once and you're not writing a fantasy novel.
June Rodriguez
DORI: I received the judge's scoring and a few comments from my Sisters in Crime Dead Bird short story contest. I won the Baby Bird.

JUNE: Congrats on your win. Tell us more about how the entries were judged. How many entrants were there? How many judges?

DORI: It was a small contest, only thirteen entrants. There were three judges who scored in ten different areas: hook, theme, setting, characters, dialogue, plot, format, mechanics, POV, and title. Found it interesting that two judges could score you high and the other very low. Makes you wonder if they're reading the same story. In other categories the judge's scoring was very similar, so these were the scores I took to heart. Helped me to see my strengths (mechanics, POV, characters, setting and theme) and weaknesses (title, hook, and dialogue). The comments were interesting. For instance one judge said that the plot had no twists or turns, and that my main character could have at least been killed, but he wasn't. I found this particularly fascinating, since in the story I wrote he DID die! What I learned was that judging, like reading, is highly subjective. What I will remember from the comments was one judge who said "I'm not a fan of 'ghost stories,' but this one is well told. Yes!

JACKIE: I am thrilled for you Dori, great job! With regard to the one judge who scratched your paper, she must have been reading it while getting her hair done in la la land, LOL. Well, I was gone while you finished writing that, but I am still sad by the killing, but I guess sometimes a character has to die for your craft. It was a great story even at the stage I read it.

SUNNY: What you have to keep in mind is judging is subjective. You have no idea the caliber of the judges or if they even read in the mystery genre. While awards and trophies are terrific, the important thing is to write a good story and stand by it. There are markets for everything you write.

SARAH: Great job, Dori! We all know how hard you worked on your submission. Feedback from judges can be a double-edged sword. The beauty of the situation is YOU are in control. You're the captain of your own career. Take what comments and advice work for you and circular file the rest. I know you'll find a home for Ephemeral Proposal and I don't have to be an English major to know that! LOL

SARAH: This must have been the week for news. I found out I placed THIRD in the Historical category of the Golden Gateway contest. Thank you all for helping me "tune up" my writing!

JUNE: The long wait is over. I’m glad to hear all your hard work paid off. You deserved to win. Did you get any more feed back from the rewrite?

SARAH: I haven't received the final round judge's comment, but rest assured you gals will be the first to know what she says!

DORI: Even though I know you wanted to take first in your category, third is pretty amazing when you take into account that there were a lot of other writers vying for limited places. You should feel reassured that you're doing things right. Now to get that book done . . .

SARAH: I'm working on it! LOL I've already got my eye on another contest to enter. I think the early spring 2010 deadline is definitely feasible to have the MS polished and ready to go. I know I'll have lots of support and encouragement from you lovely ladies to make sure I stick to my goals.

SUNNY: Astrologically speaking, Sarah's Neptune is eager to reward her. But, she did it on her own steam. Planets DO NOT write books!
JUNE: Last week we talked about using the right words and the power that they add to your writing. This week I did have a problem with using too many descriptive words in a single sentence. There is a fine line between doing too much or too little. Having a critique partner or group to work with helps to spot these small problems.

DORI: Tough indeed. You want to use power words rather than generic words, particularly in short stories.

SUNNY: I was glad you two pointed me in the right direction with my attempt at a Woman's World story. I don't do romance and, although I think my plot had merit, I focused too much on the dog and not enough on the man. At least I didn't kill anyone!
SARAH: Writing short stories is a challenge. I can understand the urge to over-compensate, June. There is a big difference between writing toward a goal of 80,000+ words versus only 800 words. Despite all my struggles, I have to keep telling myself, this only my first attempt at a short story. I'm learning to write a full length novel AND short stories. I must be crazy! So, I can't expect perfection, but on the flip-side, I have to remember I can't write to please everyone else either. It's like walking a tight rope, lean too far one way and you're gonna eat shitake mushrooms!

JACKIE: Well, lady, you are obviously doing something right! Congratulations, Sarah, you earned it. And you're right-every story belongs to the teller.

SUNNY: The important thing with short stories is to keep in mind the publication and their guidelines. Those are the people you need to please. With a book, you write from your heart. For a short story, you write from your brain. This is strategically sound.
Would I normally write a story about a seeing eye dog trainer? No. Yet, I'm attempting to write one for Woman's World. This is a test to myself and my own personal growth. I'm relying on my critique group and trust that they know the genre better than I do. I'm going to write the best romance story I can. That, to me, is a win in itself.
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June Rodriguez
DORI: Now that I'm finishing up the final edits of my latest short story, I'm contemplating where to submit it to. When I wrote it initially I was looking at the next Writer's Digest short, short story, but not sure it's a good fit. I went back and read the winning entries for the last two short, short story contests and don't think my story is what they would be looking for. The last two entries were based on real life stories and more literary in nature. This short story falls squarely in the crime fiction genre. It would be a better fit with Writer's Digest current Pop Fiction short story contest, which has a 4,000 word limit. Given mine is under 1,500 I'm also not sure how well it would fair. My concern is the cost of entering contests. I'm also looking at the Genre Wars short story contest (1,000 to 2,000 word limit) that has no entry fee.

At my Sisters in Crime meeting they announced the winners of this year's Dead Bird short story contest. While I didn't get the top prize, I was awarded the Baby Bird for the best first time entrant story. I had the opportunity to read my short story (that you all so wonderfully helped me with) and was pleased that the story resonated with the audience. Was a great experience.

All right so now the first two short stories I have written have won some sort of award or recognition. Now to see what I can do with my third. Also, need to find a place to publish both of my first stories as publication wasn't part of either contest.

JUNE: Congrats on the contest win. That’s two for two. The only reliable way to tell what each contest wants is to read the entry guidelines carefully. A single short story can be entered in more than one contest unless the rules state otherwise. Be extra careful when reading what type of rights the contest wishes to retain as this will impact your ability to summit your piece elsewhere. Beware of putting all or part of your story online as this may tag your piece as being published.
I’m sure with all of us looking for new avenues we will find a place for your latest story.

SARAH: Cyberland is a huge world. There have got to be untapped resources of where to submit a wonderful story such as yours, Dori. I know several romance authors list contests on their websites. This can't be a genre specific practice. I wonder if thriller or mystery writers do the same. Another avenue is writer's group magazines. RWA's magazine, the RWR, always lists contests in the back of each edition. It may be too late for Halloween this year, so pay attention to what short stories come out this year and their respective presses. Next spring, start watching that press for submission calls.

SUNNY: When I teach Guerrilla Writing in my Write To Win workshop, I also tell people to read the publication or winning entries to get a feel for what the judges or editors want to publish. Google their profile and see where their bias point to. Angle your material in that direction.

I also advise something that is completely unethical. Submit simultaneously, even if guidelines state that they must be the only ones looking at your piece. Seriously--if an online magazine wants your story for free and Ellery Queen is offering to publish you for big bucks, are you going to take the high road? The online magazine might get in a snit, but they won't impact your career.

SUNNY: I found this wonderful music to listen in the background as I write. Her name is Hayley Westenra and the CD is "Celtic Treasure." It takes me to another realm.

JUNE: Sometimes I listen to music as I write. My taste may seem a little extreme. I like rock and roll. I have fallen in love with online radio. I am able to go in and design my own stations to play only the songs I want. My latest favorite is http://www.slacker.com/ You have to sign in but you can choose a group or singer and the site will design a station around that piece with similar music.

JACKIE: I love listening to Celtic music while I write. It stirs the passions. I think all the melodic changes that occur work magic on the brain.

SARAH: I listen to a wide variety of music while I write. Some days, I just enjoy the silence! LOL My favorite is Pandora.com, because it's easy and F-R-E-E, baby! Lorena McKenna, Conway Twitty, Dean Martin, Glasgow Peggy, and The Irish Rovers make up my stations. I love the variety. There is music for every mood. Whether I have music or not, I'm always happy just to be writing. My fantasy world is WAY more intriguing than my reality of dishes and laundry! LOL

DORI: I like to play my favorite CDs while I write. Which ones depend on my mood and what I'm writing at the time.

DORI: I just started taking an on-line writing class, through Writer University that started with having us take the Myers-Briggs personality test. I was surprised that most of the other writers in the group were generally introverts, rather than extroverts like me. Are writers as a group generally introverts? How does that relate to having to do self-promotion?

Why don't you all take the test and see what it says about you. To take the test go to http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm.

JUNE: I think I have been both and introvert and an extrovert at different times in my life. Can you be both at the same time? I think writers have to be a little of both these days. Especially when you have to be able to do both sides of the job, be a writer and a marketer.

SARAH: I don't think I've ever been introverted. I'm loud and always laughing. I think our group should take that test and see where we all fit. What fun!

SUNNY: I took the test. I'm an "Artistic Composer." Apparently, I can tolerate people for only so long. I live in the here-and-now, am more interested in individual accomplishment and am misunderstood except by my cats. I join the ranks of Dylan, Cher and Jackie O. Yeah, I'll take that label.

DORI: How fascinating, that sounds just like you. I am the Idealist Champion fighting to make the world a better place. I join the ranks of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. How cool is that. Through speaking or writing, Champions use their convictions to motivate others to participate in advocacy or they hope to reveal a hidden truth about the human experience. Champions are greatly concerned with ethics and justice and have a strong desire to speak about current issues and events. Wow, that's me to a T.

JUNE: I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the rest of our tests. Dori’s and Sunny’s results sound like they were spot on.

JUNE: I am gearing up to do the NaNoWriMo writing challenge again this year. http://www.nanowrimo.org/ Last year I was a newbie to this experience so I am hoping I will do a better showing this year.

SUNNY: I don't need that kind of pressure. I have a publisher and fans nudging for the next Christy Bristol novel.

SARAH: You'll do fine, June. I have faith in you, lady! I don't know that NaNoWriMo is pressure. We all love writing, so we make time for it. I look at the exercise as a way to motivate individuals to make writing a priority. It's like a month of experimentation to see what works best for fitting in some write time. I know a lot of authors who shoot for two hours a day.

My newbie advice in a nutshell: You can do it, June! You can do it all month long! LOL

DORI: Doing NaNoWritMo is about putting lots of words on the page. You could work on a novel, but you may want to come up with a dozen short story ideas before you start and work on those. That way, whether you make the 50,000 words or not, you are likely to have some completed work out of the process that you can then edit and market.

SUNNY: In critiquing Sarah's story this week, there were very few weaknesses. She gave us good exposition, but in the wrong place in the manuscript. She interrupted the tension of an action scene in progress to supply information. While I believe in continuing the flow of words as they come, the real craft is in knowing when to cut and paste them where they fit and are appropriate.

JACKIE: Using fewer words to express the same information. I am finding that so much power is crafted into lines by letting the least amount of words possible lift the important word or phrase.

JUNE: Tracking seams to be my bone of contention. I don’t like being stopped in my reading by info repeated or missing. If I can watch the scene as I read without the speed bumps I can move on in the story.

SARAH: Yes, in this week's edits, I did get carried away with internal thought. Once you gals broke it all down for me, I could see where I stopped the flow of the scene. By cleaning out some of those extra lines, I have a much crisper scene. LOL Let's see what I'm going to be learning next week.

DORI: Story, story, story is the name of the game. Any narrative or extra words that get in the way of keeping the reader rooted in your story is bad, bad, bad. Even good writing is bad if it interferes with the reader's reading experience. That's what editing is for, to pare back and make sure the story flows. When you're in the middle of action, as Sunny pointed out, you have to maintain the tension and fast pace of the scene or risk losing the momentum you are trying to achieve. Know your scene will be topnotch once you do the edits.
June Rodriguez
JUNE: We always start our sessions with a little social time and sometimes a little challenge. We have gotten to know each other pretty well and Sunny’s idea of being able to suggest a writing genre for each other was a fun idea.

SUNNY: We're all writing what we love, but I'd like to know what you think the others in the group SHOULD be writing.

JUNE: Most of us have some Scottish background but I could see Jackie writing a fantasy with Scottish fairies. Sarah could write contemporary, humorous chick-lit. I think Dori is on the right track with her legal stories.

SUNNY: I think Dori should write the crisis going on in her life and having to go back to the courtroom to support her family. That's an Oprah book. Jackie has this great carnival background; I'd love to see something in the vein of “Water for Elephants." Sarah, when are you going to do a contemporary chic-lit about a lactose intolerant woman who works at a mozzarella factory and deals with Portuguese in-laws? June "Night Shift." Ex-WAVE returns as a civilian to a military installation.

DORI: Sunny needs to write something with cats; Jackie horror ala Stephen Kingesque; Sarah definitely has a calling to write chick lit with a snarky humorous twist and June needs to write the "Night Shift" while tapping into her wild side.

SARAH: Sheesh! You gals think I'm funny and everyone else looks at me like, "Huh?" I guess I have found some friends who "get me." Or ya'll are just as weird as me!! LOL Hmmm. . . . Let's see, I think Jackie should write something about fairies or folklore. Dori- definitely legal thrillers or maybe a mystery ala John Grisham. Sunny? Totally, a series based on hot sexy Cougars on the prowl! Meow! For June, I am in full support of the Ex-WAVE series. Who doesn't like Fleet Week?! LOL

JACKIE: You know, June, you have unleashed fairies in my imagination. I think I like your vision. I will enjoy exploring this. The possibilities are so rife... beautiful wings tinged with iridescent blood designs. LOL. Seriously I COULD indeed have fun with this, thanks!

JUNE: What is backstory dump and how do we deal with it in the context of a novel or a short story?

SUNNY: I took a random sample of books on my shelf and noticed that backstory comes at around page 50. Not a hard and fast rule, but the reader is far enough into the story at that point. Putting backstory in too early is called "Frontloading."

DORI: Even though you may be far enough into the story for backstory to be appropriate, you still need to be careful with how you integrate backstory. Backstory is best provided in snippets, if possible. Large backstory dumps stop the flow of the story. In particular, you have to be careful of where you place backstory. Putting backstory in the middle of action, for instance, can break the tension the author worked hard to achieve and knock the reader out of the scene. The other thing to consider is how much of the character's backstory is important for the story. You don't want to provide any more or less than what's needed for the story's plot.

SARAH: It's hard to know when enough is enough. I know I had that issue with the chapter you gals read last week. I knew the secondary character is essential to the book because my next WIP is his story. BUT I went too far into detail and as a result made his "past" too intriguing. Sure, he is a player in my current 'game', it's just he's more like an outfielder. LOL I guess it's like dating, always leave them wanting more- aka NO getting past first base!
SUNNY: I love creative words. Heck, I've even been known to create my own when none will do. But, swamping a reader with so many "colorful" words actually jades them. I prefer to take the reader along and then slam them with a phrase that makes them sit up and think, "Wow! This writer knows what she's doing!" You don't have to be brilliant every time, just when the time is right. Keeps the reader on their toes.

DORI: Word choice in large part also depends on the narrator's own voice. For instance, in my newest short story (that you all so wonderfully helped critique last night) the narrator is a highly educated intellectual type, so his word choice is more bombastic than a less educated, more streetwise sort of protagonist. Even so, it is important not to use too many such words (such as bombastic) that the average reader won't recognize.

SUNNY: Ohhh, I like the word "bombastic!"

SARAH: That story was definitely envy-worthy, Dori! You did such a great job of making the character so vivid, so flesh and blood, I could care less that I didn't even know his name. The word choices for the dialogue and internal thoughts made the character. No contractions, sophisticated words, and even syntax were spot on, lady! Way to practice whatcha preach!

I have to watch my sayings as I'm writing a historical. I save the modern day stuff for you gals. LOL

SUNNY: I teach short story writing and I've isolated what I believe are four elements that elevate a short story to a prize-winner. Here they are:

Authenticating details. Use them like chocolate chips in a cookie. Let readers be pleasantly surprised when they hit one.

Best line. It's the line you worked hardest at, or the words that came in a moment of genius. Caution: too many “best lines” wear readers out.

Universal message. A story can, and should, be more than a story. I find my “message” usually comes at the halfway point in the story. It may also be the best line.

Tell-Me-Something-I-Don't-Know. A story stays in a reader's head when they can put the story down and tell someone, “Did you know such-and-such (insert fact or trivia)?” It explains why we enjoy “CSI” so much.

JUNE: Your best word choice or phrase could be your title. I think your title should always come from somewhere in your work.

DORI: June thanks for coming up with a better title for my latest short story. She lifted the new title directly from the pages of my story. It was absolutely the perfect title for this story, but I didn't see it until she pointed it out last night.

My first foray into short story writing was an eye-opening experience. Some time during my process of writing the story Sunny gave me her four elements. I took her advice to heart and made sure that my story effectively addressed all four. I submitted that short story to a national writing contest and took first place and put $1,000 in the bank as a result. Of course, I still had to write a good story.

SARAH: Another story to envy. Good grief! Makes a struggling newbie wanna hurl a pretzel at her! LOL But, I have to agree. Sunny's Four Elements are a great tool for a writer thinking about taking that step into short stories. The only thing I would add to the four tips is to know your market. If its mystery or romances, a writer better have done thier homework to know what the best way to apply the tips will be. So, Cliff's Notes version is: Here's a recipe, make it your own.

JACKIE: Dori's win inspired me to enter a contest as well where I won second place. It felt like I won the moon. Even though, at the time, I was not aware of Sunny's Four Elements; upon reflection I see that they were in my short story as well. As it was a narrative about an historical event from my perspective as a child, the proper use of authenticating details, great lines, and seven-year-old trivia all worked together to build the universal message that resounded with readers.

Which brings me to another universal message. That five writer women around a table at 10:00 p.m. Fridays magically pull wonderful and enticing possibilities from each other!
June Rodriguez
DORI: I have more examples of magazines that pay for short fiction stories. I'm still looking at contests, but realize that you have to think about the cost associated with entry. Some are no fee some $10 to $15, but with a very limited income even these small fees add up and in the end there's little likelihood of money or publication. I presented to the group information about a current contest called The Genre Wars being sponsored by the Literary Lab blogspot folks (for more information go to http://www.literarylab.blogspot.com/). Winners get a small dollar gift card to their favorite book store and get published in their first annual Genre Wars anthology. Profits from the anthology will support a yet to be named reading/writing non-profit. For those of us looking for publishing credits this is a great opportunity as there is no cost to enter. They are looking for shorts between 1 to 2,000 words. I just finished a 1,500 word crime genre short story that fits the bill. Can't wait to hear from you guys next week on what I can do to make it a stronger submission.

SARAH: I'm sure it will be great, Dori. You have a wonderful voice and I think your ideas are fresh and inventive.

SUNNY: There are limited options for fiction stories, but what about writing articles for magazines? We each have things going on in our lives that we could riff off of and do non-fiction pieces. List articles are short and easy to write.

JUNE: Like saving money in these tough times, recipes, sewing or even personal experiences. Ideas are popping up as we talk. I have a crafty bent but never thought about turning those ideas into saleable material.

SUNNY: There's a copy of Writers' Market in the library. I was sort of surprised at the magazines NOT listed, like Woman's World and For Women First. But, it was interesting to note that many magazines were more than 50% written by freelancers. And, airline magazines were the high-paying markets. Something like $300 to $700 an article!

SARAH: I wonder if they have 2500 entries a week like Women's World. LOL For that kind of cash, articles better be as polished as a politician's Mercedes.

DORI: Based on Sunny's research I realized that my author interviews could be marketed to regional markets based on where the author lives or sets their books. In addition, airline magazines that fly to those regions would be another potential place to market the interviews. This would be a win-win for both me (getting paid for the work I now do for free) and for the author (they would get a lot more exposure from the interview). I'm in the process of finishing up interviews for Phillip Margolin and William Dietrich who both live in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington, respectively) and so I'm going to focus trying to market them to the same magazines and see what happens. Can't hurt, as I'm doing the work anyway. Look forward to reporting back the results.

SARAH: That is an interesting idea, Dori. You might think of the tourism magazines that one would find in a hotel, too. I wonder if your concept would work in romance. LOL I've got over 40 interviews collecting cyber-dust.

DORI: Absolutely, dust them off baby!

JUNE: We had trouble finding any info on Woman’s World as they do not have a web site. And as you said the magazine was not in Writer’s Market. I found that going to the magazine distributor’s site http://www.magsdirect.com/ was a good source of info on the demographics of the magazine's readership and a break down of the magazine’s article content. You can even write a review of one of their magazines to be entered to win a gift card.

SUNNY: When I was sick and had LOTS of time to think, I made a list of topics I thought I could intelligently write about. I even jotted down notes until I ran out of ideas for a topic, and then started another. I have about 200 ideas ready to be explored (or exploited).


JUNE: We talked before about getting the word out about the blog. The main idea was to send out the information on all our list serves. I am only on two sites and wondered:
How many list groups are you on? List serves, good or bad. Do we spend too much time on them? How useful are they?

SUNNY: I'm on about 35 list serves. I have a few tricks: I only attend to the lists on Sunday; I take them as they come, from latest post to first. I also have a folder with possible items to post slanted to the site. I take my time and update thoroughly before moving on.

DORI: I'm still trying to figure out the whole social networking thing. It is a good use of time, but time is a commodity I'm definitely short of. One of these days I'll get as organized as Sunny and Sarah, but it’s not going to happen tomorrow. I fully understand their value but haven't sat down long enough to put together a roadmap and game plan to be able to efficiently make them work for me.

SARAH: I have 17 loops that I follow and some other sites that are just for networking. I try to be active on all my loops, but with my busy life I don't always get that luxury. Weekends are just as crazy as the weekdays, so my "free time" is usually spent writing. I'll admit it's pretty daunting to sign on and see I have 885 emails waiting to be waded through with only naptime to do it all! BUT the upside of being on the loops is that I have a great group of cyber-friends that I can chat with anytime about writing and have any questions answered. I lurk more often than not and chime in on important things, but on the whole I've been able to learn A LOT about writing and industry by staying on the loops. So, I guess it's a Catch 22. LOL A necessary evil, if you will. Faint of heart need not apply.

JUNE: Before starting into the critique part of our meetings we usually do an overview of the individual piece. I find I am still having trouble doing this part of the critique. Do you have any suggestions on what I need to concentrate on? What are the most important things to look for?

SARAH: I think if you look at an overview as 'foreplay' you'll do fine. LOL I like to think giving an overview is a 'tasty teaser' of what is to come. Give just the highlights and save the hard core info for the page by page.

SUNNY: I jot down notes of what I see as problem areas as I read. It forewarns the author of what I intend to concentrate on in detail later in my critique. This week it was Sarah's use of conjunctions at the beginning of sentences and over-use of idioms. June, I notice your expertise is plotting. Dori often addresses POV.

DORI: One of the great things about the group is that we do seem to have different strengths. Using our strengths as we review we start to see certain patterns that are then listed in our overview. Those patterns can be both positive and negative. For instance, with Sarah this week I pointed out that first, the scene was an OH so much better rewrite of an earlier scene (which was really important feedback for Sarah). It was a chance to tell her that she heard our previous criticisms and was able to incorporate it into a rewrite that resulted in a much more interesting and engaging scene. In addition, I pointed out that she had some particularly wonderful phrases and sentences, then as Sunny noted followed-up in our page by page analysis to point out what they were. The negative was that she needed to pay attention to when she needed to use new paragraphs when the "doing character" changes. In other words; when the person who is doing something, saying something or thinking something changes, the paragraph must change. Changing the paragraph helps the story flow for the reader, otherwise the reader can be confused, and not understand who is doing what. This becomes even more confusing when as in this scene you have more than one "he" or "him" involved. Again, after pointing this out in the overview, I followed up and showed her in our page by page analysis where the new paragraphs should be located. Hopefully, in the process it helped Sarah see how to address this issue in the future.

SARAH: Lucky me to have my dirty laundry aired in cyber-space. Thanks, ladies. LOL. Whose turn is it next week? I like overviews as they give me a feel for what the general consensus of my chapter was. Going page by page helps reiterate what the overview touched on and makes me feel 'linked' into my problem areas. I always take notes when the overview is given to assist me later when I do edits.

DORI: I should point out to folks that Sarah was the example this week because she was the only one that brought work to the table, not because the rest of us write perfect prose! I'm glad to say that next week we have a flash fiction piece by Jackie, my short story I just completed along with more work from Sarah of course. I look forward to being the object of next week's discussion. Means I'm producing work!

JUNE: So my goal for this week is to take what you have told me and apply it to Sarah and Jackie’s work for this week. No sweat. I have my red pen ready.