From the Writer’s TBR Pile: Wired for Story by Lisa Cron


January 16, 2020  •  2 Comments

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence came out in 2012 and I bought it shortly thereafter. I read it/listened to the audiobook over Christmas 2019.

Yes, there is a gap between 2012 and 2019.

Hands up all you people who buy writing books without actually reading them! I’m a card-carrying member of your tribe! Maybe putting the books under my pillow at night will migrate the info to my brain? While I’m waiting for that to work, the bookshelf gathers vintage dust bunnies.

Ahem. This year, I will work through that overflowing shelf the non-magical way. I will read/watch one item approximately every week or so and discard the duds. To establish some accountability, I’ll review the ones worth hearing about.

Cron’s book was a great place to start.

I’ve been to enough writing workshops and conferences that I’ve heard a lot of advice before, but this was well worth my time. As the title suggests, Cron brings in principles of neuroscience to support the writing advice she offers, such as the brain’s tendency to filter out unnecessary information, its need to find causal connections, and its preference for specific image over abstract concept. These sections are presented in easily understood terms.

Beyond the brain science, the book contains good, no-nonsense craft instruction. It is not genre-specific, but refers to examples from literary fiction to potboilers. It also covers a gamut of topics in concise, carefully illustrated examples that ensure the reader can follow the lesson. At the end of each chapter is a summary of key concepts useful for editing.

Subjects include (among others): hooks, focus, emotion, character goals, conflict, payoffs, pacing, and backstory. The sections on reveals and backstory should be required reading. These pages alone could salvage many, many wall-bangers.

In my opinion, this book fills the need of the intermediate novelist—those who’ve got dialogue, setting, and plotting essentials under their belt already. This assumes comfort with those beginner basics and builds on that foundation to keep the reader constantly engaged.

I sincerely recommend this book.

While the audio version was competently narrated, I’m glad to have the hard copy for reference, particularly the checklists. Check out www.wiredforstory.com—Cron offers coaching, workshops, and resources. She also has a second book, Story Genius.

 


2019 – what was that about?


December 31, 2019  •  2 Comments

Some authors are posting dazzling lists of publications, and I heartily salute their accomplishments. I thought I would have a bumper crop of books, too, when this year started. Somehow, though, things changed along the way and the year didn’t end the way I thought. 2019 was a dumpster fire for a lot of people and, while I count myself lucky, I didn’t entirely escape the smoke. 2020 will be better.

What did I actually get in front of readers this year?
  • In January, did a re-release of an older book that rounded out my 2018 goals.
  • Released two books in box sets, hit the USA Today bestseller list for both, and then put them in the vault for later.
  • Published an essay in an academic work.
  • Wrote a short story that’s now a lead magnet.
  • Got my extended print distribution onto Ingram Spark.
  • By the end of this week, I’ll have finished a draft of a new, full length, first-in series.

I also investigated a lot of marketing courses, played with various ad platforms, and listened to many podcasts. That’s all hard to quantify as achievement, but it will serve me well in future.

Where did that get me?

I think it’s safe to say all authors want enthusiastic fans and financial freedom. It’s not an impossible dream, but it’s not an easy road. It requires groundwork such as intelligent branding, scheduling, and development of infrastructure like engaged newsletter lists, reader funnels, and social media. There are a thousand choices to consider, and dozens of platforms to learn. It’s all behind-the-scenes stuff readers don’t consciously notice and most authors despise unless they have an aptitude for business. However, it’s like gas for a car. It stinks, but you don’t go anywhere without it.

2019 was my trip to the gas station. I’m not done putting everything together, but I’m well on the way. Part of the process has been discovering what mix of marketing makes sense to me, given my time, money, and introvert tendencies. I’ll probably blog more. I’ll review craft resources. I’m also very interested in sharing some of the ingredients that go into world building, especially with the fantasy stuff. I think it’s going to be fun.

And 2020? I haven’t scheduled it all yet, but I’ll have a nice list of the year’s releases by next New Year’s Eve. I’ve put in the work to be ready.


Holiday Indulgence


December 30, 2019  •  No Comments

Holidays are all about indulgence, and much of that involves food. In the spirit of pre-New Year’s resolution abandon, here is a recipe for Eggnog Ice Cream.

Cold, light and creamy, this is ideal after a rich meal. I use a fancy ice cream maker I got with Airmile points (Ariete Espressione Gran Gelato), but I think any churn-type maker would do the trick. This recipe makes a generous batch, so depending on your equipment it might require splitting into two churning sessions. I set the machine for about 40 minutes.

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of eggnog
  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • 1 10-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp of nutmeg

I don’t put rum in this because that acts like an antifreeze, which cancels the whole frozen dessert factor.

All you need to do is mix thoroughly (no cooking) and pour into the churn until it’s about two-thirds full. Leaving room allows for a fluffier result. Once the ice cream is done (I look for a solid but not frozen-to-a-brick consistency) transfer to a container and put it in the freezer.  Pro-tip:  if you’re aiming for a dainty presentation, try using a very small scoop to dish it out. I actually use a melon baller so I can arrange it just so.


JingleVamp: Special Order Hero


December 26, 2019  •  No Comments

In answer to the age-old question, authors DO have their sources for characters.  I get mine through mail order.

I’ve owned the Dark Hero, Vampire Edition 3.2, for a few years now. He came in a box, all minty fresh with that new hero gleam in his eye. Of course there were limitations.  Dark wash only. Do not leave in direct sunlight. I had to get a separate unit, the Djinn Slave 4.0, for household use. However, I have to say I have been a fully satisfied customer.

Of course, all equipment subjected to heavy use eventually needs replacement—and believe me, the 3.2 saw a lot of action since he came out of the carton.  He’s held up well, but his cape is getting a bit threadbare and the poor dear gets stuck in the brood cycle more often than is good for him. I’ve had to call the manufacturer’s help desk to unlock the “furrowed brow” setting three times now. So, when I was browsing through the catalogue to see if their new line of minotaur was available yet, my attention was caught by a coupon offer for the JingleVamp Special Edition.

I confess, the notion of a vampire with a “ho, ho, ho” plug-in was vaguely disturbing. I wasn’t sure about the reindeer antlers, either, but I figured what the heck. It would make a change from the usual sort of holiday decoration. So, I placed an order.

The thing I didn’t realize was that, unlike the full-priced Dark Heroes, JingleVamp came unassembled and that the instructions were in the non-language universal to children’s toys and cheap furniture. Soon my living room floor was covered in an explosion of sardonic laughs, sultry glances, and sparkly white fangs as I unpacked and sorted and tried to make sense of the diagrams. Fortunately, there was more information enclosed in a separate envelope:

Hello, and welcome to your new JingleVamp!  Here are a few pointers to make sure you fully enjoy your new purchase:

  1. Note JingleVamp must be rebooted when changing “naughty” and “nice” settings.
  2. When recharging, do not plug JingleVamp into the same circuit as your Christmas tree. Spontaneous carolling may result, overriding your Dark Hero’s patented Sinister Velvet® laugh cycle.
  3. Exercise caution when using JingleVamp near pine boughs, holly sprigs, pine trees, or other pointy wooden objects.
  4. JingleVamp may consume eggnog while set to “party animal.” Caution: Glassware recommended. Paper cartons will leak if bitten.
  5. Do not engage JingleVamp in reindeer games without permission of local wildlife authorities.
  6. Your JingleVamp will not pull a sleigh, no matter how nicely you ask.
  7. Note that Dark Hero units cannot be set to “shopping” mode prior to noon, December 24. “Wrap” mode defaults to intermittent setting. “Write cards” mode is automatically disabled. Contact manufacturer for override instructions.
  8. Shopping list plug-in sold separately. Unit is supplied with only “black negligee” and “toaster” options.
  9. If you wish to disassemble unit, use stake provided.

Thank you for purchasing the JingleVamp Special Edition! We hope you enjoy your new Dark Hero’s version of Christmas Cheer.

 Merry Fangmas to All!


Corsair’s Cove tries the click bait so you don’t have to!

Sharon Ashwood
December 1, 2019  •  No Comments

This is cross-posted from the Corsair’s Cove blog:

Our companion short stories are like chats with a friend, in a cafe or at a kitchen table, with a delicious beverage. Naturally, news of a popular new winter treat caught our attention!

A recipe for a chocolate and red wine combo has been making the rounds of Facebook.  The original came from Shape Magazine’s article How to Make Red Wine Hot Chocolate. Although doubtful, I like the magazine and was curious enough to give the recipe a spin. Twice.

Try number one followed the recipe using a good cabernet sauvignon on the plummy side, figuring that would be a good compliment to the chocolate. I used semi-sweet dark chocolate wafers that were supposed to be better quality than regular chocolate chips. The wafers melted but then the wax and other un-chocolately elements clumped when the wine was added to leave floaty residue in the drink. Maybe heating the wine first would have helped the texture, but that wasn’t the only drawback. The flavour was sweet and sour, but not in the best way. Sort of like heartburn with cake. Adding cinnamon helped. Adding marshmallows did not.

Try number two was better. I used a good instant unsweetened spiced dark chocolate that dissolved and stayed that way. This gave a much better mouth feel and, since I could limit the sugar, the wine didn’t crash the party like an awkward uncle. I’m still not a fan of the flavour combo, but this version had more potential. If I was very cold from, say, shoveling the walks after a foot of snow, I might even appreciate it.

I didn’t persevere to a third attempt. Super high quality grated European drinking chocolate might be worth a try to give a heavier body to the drink, but it might also be a waste of expensive ingredients. Rum, brandy or liqueur are classic adds to hot chocolate for a reason. In my humble opinion, grab the Bailey’s for winter night tipples and leave the reds for the dinner course.

 


Georgian Cosmetics: Beautiful Corruption

Emma Jane Holloway
October 25, 2019  •  No Comments

I’m fascinated by cosmetics from past ages and cultures. Since the Georgian Age is one of my particular interests, I’m naturally intrigued by their makeup. The sensibility is so distinct, it’s impossible to mistake for anything else. It’s not that I want to replicate the look. To me, it seems an uncomfortable mix of Goth and Barbie.

Rather, the attraction lies in the conflict between beauty and corruption. In the eighteenth century, painting one’s face was an artifice that only the wealthy could indulge in. The major exception was the demimonde, who catered to the appetites of the monied class. Needless to say, most of their careers burned bright and brief, until drink, pox and hard living had their way.

The white and pink face was meant to capture the unspoiled looks of youth. Sadly, the cosmetics of the day were poisonous. The more a person painted, the more their natural good looks would be damaged. Some of the ingredients in common use were lead, mercury, and arsenic. Eventually, that stuff could kill you.

Here’s a thankfully toxin-free version of “the look” from a respected source:


Around the Coaching Inn

Emma Jane Holloway
October 18, 2019  •  No Comments

Almost every historical novel has a scene set around the local coaching inn. Because people came and went there, it was a natural place to meet an exciting stranger. Like a train station or a harbor, it’s filled with the possibility of far-away places.

Similarly, important characters drive signature vehicles, whether they’re rakes or rectors. No Jane Austen dowager is complete without her smart carriage.

It’s important to get vehicles right when creating a historical novel, so I was very happy to find this video about old coaches:


 

 


Inspiration Board


October 15, 2019  •  No Comments

I made an inspiration board for Scorpion Dawn:

 

 


Autumn Love


October 12, 2019  •  No Comments

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

There are lovely aspects to every season, but autumn is by far my favorite. The cooler weather sharpens my mind and ambition and brings back so many good things.


Dressing for Downton Abbey


October 11, 2019  •  No Comments

Recently, I had a delightful discussion about the fashions of the early twentieth century. The seamstress of the day often had to work with lighter-than-air fabrics and then embellish the garment with stitchery and bead work. I remember family photos from this era where one could see the pleats, tucks, smocking, and drawn thread work. That must have taken hours even with the aid of machinery.  The aesthetic was all about simple lines and lush textures.

Here’s an interesting video I found on 1914 fashion showing all the layers of a lady’s outfit from the time.