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.