Sunday, July 29, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday #14

Hi everybody. Welcome back! Today I'm starting a new scene with Neal and his best friend, Sandy. I'm continuing a scene that I included as one of my blog pages, entitled Sandy and Neal before the wedding. This refers to Sandy's wedding to Sophie. It takes places several years before Neal proposes to April.

In the scene, Sandy and Neal have traveled to Crescent City, California--Sandy's hometown. Sandy gets up early the morning of the ceremony and asks Neal to come with him to the beach so he can "settle his head." Neal brings his guitar, which he's planning to use at the ceremony (unbeknownst to Sandy). He's just started guitar lessons so he's not very good yet.

At this point, the two guys have been friends for 10 or 11 years. They're in a rock band together, with Sandy as the primary drummer/ percussionist and Neal serving as secondary drummer, which is the "day job" for both of them--hence Neal's response to Sandy's comment.

They spend a short while at the beach then go to Frank's Diner, the local gathering spot. Frank's known Sandy forever. Incidentally, the diner is where Neal met April. Frank directs the guys to a booth and says he'll have Donna bring some coffee.
The town was so ’50s, even the waitresses had throwback names. Something clicked in Neal’s head. He shifted his guitar into a comfortable position and tried to find a tune for the half-formed lyrics. “Donna, she works in the diner . . . Tell you ain’t nobody finer . . .”

Sandy snatched a menu from the table and said, “Don’t quit your day job.”

Neal laughed then said, “Ah, but that would keep me breathing down your neck to be the band’s main drummer, and I know you can’t handle that much longer.”
The scene is really just to help me with characterization so there's not much actual plot. Exploring what makes characters tick is my favorite thing about writing. I hope you enjoy the interactions.

For excerpts from works in progress by other writers, visit Six Sentence Sunday. It's a simple concept but it's tons of fun to see what other people are working on and the wide variety of styles.

Thanks so much for stopping by and I'll see you next week!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zombie nouns!

Despite my aversion to things zombie, this is one of the best grammar posts I've read in a long time. Leave it to the New York Times to present an article that tackles an often difficult language concept right to the ground.

image photo : Messy wordsNominalizations: nouns made from other parts of speech. For example, the word gruesome (speaking of zombies) added to the suffix -ization gives the new word gruesomization. Yeah, there's all kinds of uses for that, aren't there!

In my novel, I use bits of nominalization to express one of the differences between higher classes of society and lower. As Neal leaves behind his well-known Latino street gang world and tries to fit in with privileged Anglo (white) society, he struggles to understand the words some people use.

People speak English, and his English is certainly functional if not fluent, but he sometimes has no idea what's being said. When he first meets the rock band Sylvyr Star, one of them purposely uses pretty formal English to test Neal's grasp of the language. I need to make a bigger point out of how much that stings Neal.

Neal's early chapters contrast him with the band. For scenes in his POV, I work hard at simplying not just his dialogue, but the narrative that comes from his deep third POV. Gradually, Neal's use of English get closer to Sandy's more polished speech but keeps a rough edge to show that he accepts that his past will always be part of him.

Flexing the language as I have been, using it in very precise ways to tell Neal's story, reminds me how important it is to write coherently.

If I throw in pomposity and abstraction to Sandy's dialogue and narrative, it won't fit at all. I'd be knocking readers on the head with my intent and that's generally bad form. There are a couple scenes where grandiloquence is appropriate, but they're short so as not to make my readers run screaming.

image photo : Messy wordsChoose your style of language carefully and stay consistent. Not doing so is one of the things that makes writing choppy and stilted. Want to test your writing? In the NYT article, Helen Sword points us to The Writer's Diet. From their site: "The WritersDiet Test is a diagnostic tool that assesses whether your sentences are flabby or fit. Originally developed for academic writers, the test has also proven popular with students, technical writers, business analysts, journalists, and even fiction writers."

This blog post didn't fare so well :( But samples of my WIP did very well. I know I still have to watch for too many forms of "be". Give it a try! What's your biggest weakness and strength, according to the Writer's Diet gurus?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday #13

Because I don’t expect to have internet access to officially sign up for this week, and because I’m pretty close to the end of the scene, I’m just going to post the rest of it today. Since SSS is continuing for several more months, I’ll have to come up with other scenes. Neal’s had quite a run here so I might find something with his best friend, Sandy.

Bit of background for today’s excerpt: April’s a bit gunshy about marriage because her first husband divorced her. Neal’s a bit gunshy about being left alone because his previous girlfriend died in a fire and he blames himself. He never told her he loved her.

Onstage in front of several thousand people, he’s gotten the nerve to ask April (for the second time!) to marry him. She said there was a condition: after having gone with him on tour around the world a couple times and done a variety of wild and sometimes dangerous activities with him, she wants them to move out of the Los Angeles area to someplace with enough room so she can have space and quiet time. Neal knows she isn’t as high-octane as he is, but didn’t expect to be asked to move away from the rest of the band and the events with the charity he spends a lot of time on.
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Was this the same woman who’d come with him all around the world? Damn, he’d hesitated too long and now she looked like she might cry. He shifted his grip on the mic to cover the head and said, “I thought you were happy with your job at the restaurant in the city.”

“Mostly, but when I’m home, I need a break from the noise and rushing around.”

“So what about my drumming and guitar practice?”

“I’m not asking you to give anything up, just to remember that marriage is about compromise.”

“Hey, I haven’t forced you to come with me or anything. Why are you doing this to me now?”

Her eyes shifted toward the crowd but came back to him quickly. “I didn’t know you were going to propose onstage. I’m not going to say ‘yes’ without making sure you know what I need. Besides, you can’t think this came out of nowhere.”

“Well, no, but anyplace with that much room is gonna be in another county and it’s gonna kinda mess things up.”

“Neal, you play in one of the hottest bands in the world and you’re a co-founder of a high-profile national charity—people move mountains if you ask.”

“But the Foundation headquarters can’t move. Anyway, if all the people I have to meet with on a regular basis came to our house, there wouldn’t be any peace and quiet.”

April let go of his hand and took a step back. “So you can’t be inconvenienced?”

Ah, shit! “No no, I didn’t mean it that way. I just mean I won’t be home as often if we move further away. But if that’s what you need, you got it. Come on, you’re making this into something weird. It’s just me asking you to please marry me. Could I have a final answer? Because this stage is not a comfortable place.” Having been on one knee for the last fifteen minutes had nothing to do with it.

She ducked her head, twisted her curls around one hand, and shuffled her feet. Now she was shy? “All right. For real.”

“Good, because you have no idea how embarrassed I’d be to return this.” He slipped the ring onto her finger.

The crowd erupted into whistles, screams, and thunderous clapping. Neal’s heart pounded as he stood and pulled April into a tight embrace. He shut his eyes and everything narrowed to the warm, trembling body in his arms. She won’t leave me. No matter what else happens, I won’t be alone. I’ll always have her to come back to.

Sandy did a drum roll and cymbal crash. Jerk! Neal grinned. Holding her hand, he stuck the mic back on the stand. “Thanks everybody for letting me take a few minutes out of your evening. I hope you didn’t mind.”

They roared. Eric banged out a few chords on his Gibson on the way to his mic. “It’s a nice day for a white wedding . . .”

Neal laughed. “Yeah it is, dammit!”

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday #12

Hi everybody, and welcome back to my SSS series of excerpts. I'm using a long scene that started just as a character exploration exercise, with no plans to include it in the novel, but who knows. The backstory is that rock musician Neal has asked his girlfriend, onstage in front of several thousand people, to marry him. She agreed but added that there's a condition. Here, she explains.
- - - - - - - -
“What I mean is this. I’ve been wind surfing and skiing with you, I’ve been behind you on a Harley screaming down desert roads, I’ve been next to you in powerboats, hanging on for dear life. I’ve been to so many places on tour with you that my head swims better than the rest of me. But I can’t keep living at full throttle. I want us to move out of the city to someplace with enough land so I can have some horses, and some peace and quiet.”

“You want what?” popped out of his mouth before he remembered that the mic he held would pick up everything.
- - - - - - - -
To see the previous excerpts from this scene, just click on the Six Sentence Sunday label in today's post. To see other snippets from a variety of talented writers, hop by the SSS website. It's pretty cool idea. Starting every Tuesday, the sign-up link appears and you add your blog site. Then, make sure you have SIX sentences from one of your projects live on your blog by Sunday morning.

It's a fun and creative way to expose people to your writing, and see what other writers are up to!

I'm going to be out of town this week so I'll probably miss signing up for next Sunday's SSS post. I'll schedule it to go live that day, there just won't be a link on the SSS site like usual.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Kill someone who matters

My title today is from a post by Misty Massey at Magical Words. She discusses killing characters not for fun and profit, but as one important way to keep your plot moving toward its climax.

It's a thought-provoking idea. Be brave, Misty says, and have a death that makes things harder for the surviving characters, and also brings tears to readers' eyes.

Killing characters is something that, if you read the comments to Misty's post, most readers need to see a reason for. Not just draw you in only to yank the rug out from under you, either, but as a reason for other plot points.

In my own WIP, I kill people in one of the early chapters. Sure, one reason for it is to help build sympathy for Neal because he's personally involved with the people who die. Their loss haunts him and takes the shine off his brand new life. It also prompts him to take a public stand against violence, even though it means his own wounds have to be left open so others can see the result of too much hate.

Years ago, when I was more focused on other characters in this story, I decided the sister of a secondary character should die. Yeah it was really as pointless as it sounds! Then I decided that the sister of my other protagonist, Sandy, should die. I wanted it to happen so that it could be argued Neal was to blame, but again, realized that too would be pointless.

(those characters are pointless even if alive so I'm just not including them; have I killed them after all?)

Later in the story, someone else very important to Neal dies. I feel this death works because his reaction to it leads to another plot point and permanently changes another of his significant relationships. That matters, because the story is centered on internal conflicts.

I have the feeling, however, that Misty would point to other characters who, if dispatched, would shake up the plot and the readers. My plotting is not finished yet, so beware! Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of writers? muwahahaha....

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday #11

Welcome! The scene I'm using for SSS is not currently intended to be included in my WIP, but is something I'm having a lot of fun with. Six Sentence Sunday is a blast: sign up here, make sure your six sentences are posted by Sunday morning, and then tour the list of other SSSers and see how creative everybody is!

My snippet this week picks up from last week, when Neal's girlfriend April said she would marry him, on one condition.
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What was she trying to do to him in front of fifty thousand people? Still holding the ring, he dropped his hand but she reached out and held it in both of hers.

He swallowed, cleared his throat and said, “A condition like I have to walk over hot coals? Aren’t I doing that right now?”

Faint laughter from the crowd surprised him. He’d zoned out trying to figure what April was up to.
- - - - - - - -
To catch up with the scene, click on the Six Sentence Sunday tag in this post and you'll see how Neal got to this point.
I'm still looking for a crit partner/beta reader or two. My muse is running away with this story and she's not listening to me when I holler "whoa!" so maybe she'll listen to somebody else. If you can help me cut the unnecessary parts with a minimum of blood loss (mine, because I've poured so much of it into the story!) I promise, you will be blessed for seven lifetimes.
Thanks to everyone who stops by today. I do appreciate it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Guest post: Victorine -- Your indie-published book cover, Part Two

Last week we read the first half of Victorine Lieske 's guest post on Indie Book Covers: Three Seconds to Success or Failure. Vicki’s keen eye for detail and BIG success with her own indie published book put her in a prime position to offer the straight dope on creating your indie book cover. Today we have the second half of Vicki’s post:

Top six things to avoid when creating a book cover:

image photo : Watching sunrise on the beach1. Sunrises, Oceans and Clouds – Pretty scenery is just that, pretty. It promises calm and relaxation. That’s okay if your book is about meditation, but most books should avoid the calm book cover. It’s what my friend Lisa Kovanda, the Nebraska Writer’s Guild President, always says. “It’s the happy people in the happy village.” Who wants to read about happy people? No one. Books need conflict. Your book cover should imply that also. Don’t make it look too bright and happy. Promise the reader conflict.

2. Poor Font Choices – Watch out for fonts that are too ornate. The buyer should be able to read the title in thumbnail size. If they can't, change the font. You also want to avoid fonts that have been overused. Google “Fonts to avoid,” and start a list. Make sure Papyrus and Comic Sans are at the top of your list.

3. Snapshots – Unless you are a professional photographer, you should avoid using photos you've taken yourself. Try looking on royalty free websites like or

4. Homemade Artwork – Again, if you're not a professional artist I suggest you avoid using homemade artwork. It usually isn’t successful.

5. Rainbow Gradients – Most of the time rainbow gradients look garish and unappealing. They also have a bit of a “happy people in the happy village” look to them. They’re too bright and colorful. Avoid them.

image photo : Mask and skull6. Obscure Objects – I swear sometimes a book cover is designed with the sole purpose to confuse me. Don't put something on the cover if you can't tell right away what it is. You've got three seconds. Don't mumble. Make sure your book cover speaks clearly.

My best advice is to get more eyes on your potential book cover. Ask your critique group if the cover works for them. (If you don't have a critique group, you may have more problems than just your cover design.) If the cover isn't working, you may want to hire a professional. There are many cover designers out there. You can find all kinds of artists and price ranges. A quick Google search for “Indie Book Cover Design” will give you lots of choices. Make your first impression count.

My heartfelt thanks to Vicki for sharing her views on my blog. I absolutely love these sentences: You've got three seconds. Don't mumble. Make sure your book cover speaks clearly.  And thank you, readers, for coming by.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday #10

Rock musician Neal has finally managed to pop the question to his girlfriend April, onstage in front of several thousand people. He's kind of frozen there on one knee, not really sure of her answer.
April stood there looking toward the other band members, drawing it out, Neal supposed, just to make him crazy. Was this torture really necessary?

She leaned toward him and said, quietly but clear as a bell, “Yes.”

A electric shockwave flashed through him; not the high kind he got while playing, but the kind somebody would get if slapped by a live wire.

Maybe he should sit.

She added, “On one condition.”
If you want to read more excerpts from a wide range of stories, visit the Six Sentence Sunday website. I find it tons of fun and very intriguing to see what other writers are up to.

To find out the earlier parts of the scene with Neal, just click on the Six Sentence Sunday label in this post.

Folks, if you’re interested in Neal and would like to know how his full story began, consider becoming a crit partner/beta reader. Starting as member of a street gang, he has the chance to leave behind a brutal lifestyle when he meets a rich musician who offers to help him start over. The musician, Sandy, makes the offer partly out of guilt over the death of his cousin and partly because he sees a side of Neal that shows there’s more to him than meets the eye.

Follow along as underprivileged Latino teenager befriends overprivileged, white musicians, and a lot of lessons are learned on both sides. And help me spot the parts that need to be trashed, the parts that need tightening up, the parts that need to be moved up or down, all that good stuff. Email me through the link in my profile. Know that if you help me sort this thing out, you will be blessed for seven lifetimes :D

Thanks for stopping by today.

If you have any interest in self-publishing, let me direct you to yesterday's guest post by Victorine Lieske. It's the first half of a 2-part post on your book cover and why you need to get it right.