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.