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A Woman’s Work…

We all have these “ideas” about what it must have been like to be a lady living in a castle with a handsome lord. Or even what it would be like to be a knight defending a strategic fief for the king. Well not to bust any bubbles but…

The management of any home in the late middle ages and early renaissance was a feat as complex and time consuming as the management of some of today’s small governments. And for the most part it was the lady of the house whose duty it was to run the house. To find time to “sit and work embroidery” was a rare pleasure for most ladies. One almost never found by a common woman.
On an average day the lady of the house could have to oversee    ladyswork5 everything from the setting of menus, some needing to feed dozens, to the buying of foods, organizing hunts, the care of livestock and directing planting and harvesting. The collection of water the distilling of wines and ales and the heating of cooking fires would be just a few every day duties a lady would see too.

She would also be the one responsible for ensuring such things as weaving, spinning, dying and use of cloth happened productively. The making of things the house would need such as soap, candles and torches. ladyswork3Even with the establishment of guilds for each of these products many homes were self sufficient and didn’t “shop” for basic home items.
All chores, while usually done by others were overseen by the lady of the house and failure for the completion would fall on her shoulders. However, there was more a lady would be responsible for.

The very defense of a home would be the lady’s responsibility if the house fell under attack while the lord was away. Direction of soldiers, knights or just the house staff to defend the gates, the fields and the shires could be a responsibility a “lady” would have to meet.ladyswork4
Then, if there happened to be guests in the home the lady was the one responsible for all the entertainments. This could include hunts or just riding, meals, readings and stories, dance and music, possibly the access to … well to put it politely … sexual pleasures. ladyswork2The lady of the house would also be the one responsible for the bathing and dressing of any “higher” visiting lords, and yes bathing was an important task so much that several descriptive manuscripts existed detailing how a bath should be given. The lady of the house would know these things.

Often in most homes it would be the lady who would be responsible for “education”. In the early English Renaissance period education was making a huge come back. Henry the VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, never known as “queen mother” because she never was, was noted during her life for establishing a sort of “public” education system. ladyswork 1Prior many, including nobility could not even read and had to hire ministers from the church to do all their reading and writing. Any lady who could read would be expected to pass on that knowledge to any child born to the house.
I hope these facts do not completely strip the ability to romanticize history just a little bit. Pageantry and intrigue, scandalous affairs and bitter rivalries still existed. Knights and “romantic love” from afar were standards of the time as can be found in the writings.

I only tell you these facts so you have an easier time accepting what skills the sweet protagonist of ‘The Debt’ could actually posses. Women of 1490 were strong, smart, skilled people who had great responsibly; every bit the same as today’s women.


Food For Thought


Alright, I know people eating “gruel”, what a cliché right, but it worked for the story line so I just made it happen. In reality though meals of this time period could be very elaborate or very disgusting depending…

Around the 14th century (aka 1300’s for those who prefer to not do math) a slight shift in diets started to happen. Although what people ate then would most likely make most of us gag today meals and food were a very important and generally ceremonial event.food3

To start; you must remember that there was no refrigeration. Food “preservation” consisted of heavy salting and still rarely prevented rot. Foods therefore were highly “spiced” to hide the flavor of the rot.

For nobility meat was the main staple. Nobility ate so much meat it should be no wonder so many including our famed Henry VIII ended up suffering from gout.food4 Pastries and white breads were also consumed most by nobility and while the developing merchant class also ate meats they tended to supplement meals with some vegetables.

Common meats (and fish) for the time included what you might think; beef, deer, sheep, pork, and chicken as well as cod, salmon, and sardines. But nobility also consumed frequently peacocks, storks, dolphins, eels, and until banned by the church, horse.

Nobility tended to avoid vegetable as they were seen as “commoner’s” foods but when they were consumed they were very basic. Peas, beans, cabbage were the main vegetables although things like leeks (which are an onion if you didn’t know) and cucumbers were available they were not often eaten. Potatoes did not become available until the late 16th century although yams were eaten.food2

Now by contrast commoners ate mainly vegetables, salads were a dietary staple. They also consumed dark breads such as rye and wheat. Oatmeal and fish were part of the “everyday” diet as well. On slaughter days common people would have a supply of pork and bacon but they ate far less of it than their noble counterparts.  We could assume then that their diet was the better and their lives in general healthier because of it. Only there is a problem with this theory. food5That problem would be Alcoholism.

Everyone in this period drank. They drank all the time and not milk and water. They drank wines, meads, ales, beers and just about anything that could be distilled. There are some records indicating that there were more deaths caused by drinking, such as alcohol poisoning, liver disease, and accidental deaths than deaths during the outbreaks of plagues. Although no one could have ever seen drinking as a problem by today’s standards most of society would be considered legally drunk for the most part of every day.

There is more to know about the meals of this time period and I will be elaborating more on some of the other aspects in blogs to come but as it might be close to your meal time I think I will stop for now.

Hope this makes you think and READ ON!

The Home is a Castle


I am fairly certain that most everyone will, when hearing the word ‘castle’, recall a mental picture of something from a Disney movie. People imagine large stone structure with tall tower and high walls, maybe a mote and a drawbridge that sits on a hill overlooking a pretty little town and farms. When the sun shines the castle sparkles and gleams in the light. The floors are made of marble which reflects the beautiful painted ceilings and the windows are filled with stained glass.

Well, considering that Mr. Disney used Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria as his model (shown above), a castle designed by The “fairytale king” King Ludwig II it is little wonder such glamour is what people first think of when they think of living in a castle. But this was a castle built late in castle building history and was not a castle like what would be found in the early renaissance period in Great Britain.

Castle building began, in England, around 1060. When William of Normandy aka William the Conqueror aka William the Bastard Came to England with the intent of taking over, and he did. He did mostly due to his military tactics one of which was building fortified structures in strategic places.

The first castle were little more than earthen mounds strengthen with timbers. castle2Everyone and thing lived inside. The floors where mud and straw the openings had either no coverings or animal skins were used. If you can imagine, the tradition of carrying a “bride” over the threshold, came about because as more and more straw, or thresh, was placed on the floor to soak up both human and animal waste the entrance way became blocked with a high mound which was hard to climb in skirts. Yeah I know gross.castle3

Thankfully, as time passed these structures became more and more developed. Stone was used to fortify outer walls then inner walls. Single towers or buildings were expanded and then connected with “allures” the walkway between “battlements” which were the walls around the buildings. Arches and Arcades or columns were added both as structure enforcements and design enhancers. Bow windows and finial added grace and beauty as well as finished looks. Baileys and courtyards were gardened for the purpose of providing food but also as a way to make the living comfortable. castle4The common central fire pits were changed into the fireplaces we recognize now. Tapestries and furnishings became more elaborate and useful stone and wood were used more effectively and the import of materials gave builders more flexibility in design and appeal.

The castles of 1490 were well on the way to being some of the more elaborate. Castle Rising (below left) built in the 12 century being an perfect example of castle7what a “keep” could look like and Bamburgh Castlecastle8 (right) built in the 13th century is a fine statement for the security potential with its twin-tower gatehouse.

I must confess that when thinking over what type of home to make for our brooding hero in “The Debt” I focused on Warkworth Castle (below) for inspiration. I simply liked the “look” and the size was ideal. castle9

But castles still were not the best places to live. They were, due to the structural faults of building with stone in a very wet environment, damp and drafty. These problems were dealt with through the use of fur rugs and wall hangings as well as tapestries which hung and even a type of “paper” window shade which would be tacked into place to shut off the opening during the coldest parts of the year. Passages could be very narrow and steep which while good for defense, it hard to swing a sword in such confines, could be deadly if one tripped and fell. Lighting was a moot point as people were more “sun centric”, as in they woke and moved and worked while the sun was up and slept when it was dark. Torches and candles as well as fires in a hearth required the use of resources which might not have been available for practical nighttime lights. Such things as bathrooms do not exist in castles for many, many more centuries, although the builders of some added small chambers which sat partially open over a water flow and over the opening a wood box would be placed for those moments.


Castles were not just one building and walls. Most were complexes with stables, barracks, food storages, and even private churches. Other areas could include a designated place to relieve ones’ self sometimes referred to as “the jakes”. The baileys, which were the practical yards, were used for training and storage as well as a buffer between the walls and the main or great hall. The kitchens, cleverly enough, were very rarely attached to the house or any other building seeing as how they were the most likely to burn and why take down the entire castle if only the kitchen could be sacrificed. There were laundry areas and even “medical” areas. Sometimes a small graveyard for people existed and always an area for the disposal of rubbish and animal remains such as bones.

Castles are now the very romantic and beautiful structures we dream about. But in 1490 they were a practical home for many people castle6responsible for the protection and defense of both people and property. I hope you take the time to view, if only virtually, a castle or two and marvel and the great architectural feats they were and still are today.

As always READ ON !


Fathers and their…

So I’m jumping to one conflict which may cause the reader to pause and question. The conflict involving our hero not inheriting may seem like an improbable one. inheirate5Truth the law governing inheritance were fairly well set after the Norman invasion but, we all know that laws can be gone around and they are never simple.

Where inheritance is concerned from about 1000 CE to about 1200 CE the only rule/law that was in place was that of inheirate2Primogeniture, meaning the oldest (male) inherits. Any other child was left out completely. But reality shows this was more a façade than a fact. And it wasn’t only males who inherited.
Those who had land or wealth accumulated through their lives were not commonly so willing to give their hard earned gains to just any child be he first born or not. Father’s then, like now, wanted to insure their life’s work and reputation wasn’t going to be lost with death. So how did inheritance work exactly?

Primarily it worked with the first born son being groomed to inherent as the laws prescribed however, widows had first dibs on anything their husbands had accumulatedinheirate1 so before a son could take position they had to wait for their late father’s wife to pass and nothing stopped that woman from remarrying and having more children although the new husband became completion for the properties he did not become the owner. And nothing could stop a widow from simply going on a spending spree so to speak and leaving the son not only without and inheritance but with huge debt.
But assuming the mother was aged and wished to retire to a convent or to a residence of another female relation or even that she was sent to her maker before the father, it still may not have all gone to the eldest son. Father’s could in a legal moveinheirate4 known as maritagium “gift” some of his holdings to younger sons when they married. We know this as a “dowry” gift when it concerns a daughter. The difference being while a daughter had the legal right to demand this gift upon marriage a younger son needed his older brother’s consent. The father couldn’t, at least “legally”, just gift lands and monies to a younger son. Although no one could stop a land owner from using whatever means he felt necessary to insure his possessions went to the heir he felt most responsible. So while an older son would obtain any hereditary title he could find himself a lord without a castle.

It is this concept which I use in the story to set up the conflict which keeps the hero from just taking what he wants and while it works I bet you are still asking yourself well what about if there is no son only a daughter?inheirate8
So I will tell you. In the case where the only person left to inherit was a daughter the daughter inherited. Unlike common misconceptions would have people believe the inheritance didn’t go to an uncle or a devious male guardian who was going to use the poor girl for his own purposes. The eldest daughter, like the eldest son, got everything. Although later it would change for daughters and the inheritance would be divided a little more equally if there was more than one living female child.

Inheritance in the early renaissance was less a matter of law and more a matter of how to get around laws.inheirate6 While common law was the rule there was always the exception and widows, sons and daughters equally had the opportunity to become powerful land owners upon the death of the family patriarch.
To see how all this factual stuff plays into the plot read the books.

Till next time READ ON!!

Writing Tip #12 – Formatting

Formatting (for submission purposes as well as contests) The Synopsis and Sample Chapters

Now I am taking on this topic for two reason.  The first; well its simple and a good way for me to get back up in the saddle.  And Second; Formatting has changed some what in just the last few years and I feel the need to share what I have learned.

So lets begin.

Formatting for submission whether it be to an agent, editor or for a contest may not seem like a huge matter.  I mean really as long as it is legible how much could it matter.  Well like everything in the writing business it matters a great deal because it will show how seriously you take the “business”.

First I want to give a basic format that will be acceptable when there are no specific instructions given as to format requirements.  This should be what you use if you are submitting for a contest, to your writing or critique group, to an agency or editor who still likes to receive paper submission (although this is starting to become a rare occurrence)

Starting with the paper, use plain white 8.5 x 11 general purpose or copy paper.  Nothing else.  Do not think you will get away with slipping in more words by using larger paper, no professional wants colored paper, and they will not remember your name because they will never get past it being embossed on the stationary and it will be in the round file, or given today’s environmentally minded people the recycle bin.  So just keep it simple, and as it were cheap.

As a note I do sandwich my submission between two thicker pieces if paper mostly so it does not get bent or wrinkled in transit.

Now for what goes on the paper:

FIRST the FONT.  The only two (2) acceptable fonts that I am aware of anywhere in publishing are New Times Roman and Courier New.  The ONLY pitch allowed will be 12 Pitch.  Every line will be double spaced.  DOUBLE SPACED, do not use some 1.34 space or even 1.72 space thinking, again to get in more words all it will get you is tossed.

Use your header/footer tool and create a header.  In the left corner will go your name and the title of the novel, it is acceptable to use only your last name if you like but make sure that you keep it consistent (which the tool should insure) throughout the submission.  In the right corner you need the page number. JUST the number.  A numeral and not a Roman type and one every single page.  Yes I know your book is going to have the numbers at the bottom center, but this isn’t your book… yet so do it this way.

Now set your margins so that you have 1 inch margins all around.  You will have a rough right margin do not set the format to stretch to the right margin and do not exceed 1 inch right.

The basic reason for this is word count.  These standards allow for a fairly reliable word count of about 250 words per page and this helps determine total word count by chapter as well as for the novel.  Remember this is paper copies we are speaking about and even word count tools on computers will vary.  If an agent or editor or contest judge wants to have a rough idea of your word count they will use this formula.

The first page of your submission will be the one page that is not like the others.  At least for the sample chapters the synopsis will be consistent first to last page.  For your sample chapters the first page will start about 1/3rd the way down.  You will center your title and then your name under the title.  After your name everything will be Left Margin Flush, this usually includes the chapter numbers/names although I have never heard anyone complain if you do center your chapter head.

For your synopsis you will start at the top of the page not 1/3rd the way down and you will not have your title and name any place other than in the header.

Make sure that your page numbers from your sample chapters and synopsis are separate and it is also wise to add the word “synopsis” to the header although not necessary.

Every page that follows will start at the top of the page and go down to the bottom.  If a chapter ends mid page start the next chapter on a fresh page.  Do not place extra spaces between paragraphs and if you have a scene change or change in POV (point of view) place a return after the last sentence use either THREE “#” or THREE “*” centered then a return and continue writing.  It is again simple but simple always means fewer chances to make errors

Because your synopsis is not usually chapter by chapter but more plot point to plot point (I will get to the synopsis writing soon) you will be able to use all your page space which is valuable as most synopsis are only 3 to 5 pages long and have to give so much information.  Every bit of space counts.

If you have been asked for sample chapters, it is likely going to be specific like “the first 3 chapters” but some requests are for a specific page count such as “first 50 pages”.  Now if this happens and page “50” ends with a partial sentence or at an awkward place something that is not “finished” it is actually better to back up and cut the submission at a natural place, even if this means you only submit 47 pages.  What you want to create with your submission is both a scene of completion and a desire to read more.

Of course nothing is going to sell you better than your writing, but the entire point is to get your writing looked at and proper formatting is part of getting that accomplished.

So until next time,

Write ON!

Writing Tip #11 – THE QUERY: Fiction’s “Foot in the Door”

So in the last few posts I have mentioned some things that I said I would go into detail on later.  One of those things I mentioned is the “query letter”.  Today I want to give you some tips on this very important part of getting published.

I do want to make a distinction first.  The QUERY is for FICTION.  There is a set of expectations for the query and standards are a must when writing and submitting the query.  But again the QUERY is for fiction.  If you are planning to try and publish a NONFICTION you will be writing a PROPOSAL which is different (and honestly I do not know a whole lot about) I will explain the difference at the end of this post and also give you the name of a book you can get on the subject of proposals if you want.  So onto today’s topic.

THE QUERY: Fiction’s “foot in the door”

Assuming you have finished your manuscript. It’s been edited and rewrites are “done” and it’s formatted for submission (I will get around to the standard format requirements I promise) and you are about to burst with joy for your accomplishment, the query letter is your next step. (Assuming you are not going to spend money on attending conferences that is, which yes I recommend you do but I am bias on them).

A query letters ONLY purpose is to get your actual writing in front of someone who can eventually get you published.  But when something has such a narrow purpose it must be done perfectly.

First: Do your research. If you are going for an agent (recommended) then see which ones are in YOUR area. Just because their address is not in NY, NY doesn’t mean they cannot be effective for you. Being able to have face to face with an agent is an ADVANTAGE. Know what that agent acquires and who they currently represent before querying them. Same for the HOUSE you might query… know who in that publishing house will acquire your genre and if they are currently doing so and for what “book lines” and for the house find out for how long that “line” will be acquiring for.
Now the letter: Assuming you know who you are querying, your letter is your foot in the door. It is going to tell the agent/editor who you are, what you write, how professional you are, and if you could be worth the expense of a print run (what is your “voice”). You must take this into serious consideration because from the moment your letter lands on the desk of an agent or editor you are being judged.

If your letter arrives in a pink envelope and has little doodles all over it forget it its going in the round file and you likely will not even get a form letter rejection.  If it arrives on the desk of someone who only represents horror and you have written a Christian Family story it’s going in the round file.  If it arrives with marks from the mailroom showings it’s been passed over several desks… yeah round file.  Make sure you have properly addressed the letter, that it has enough postage affixed and that your return address is clearly printed out.  When the letter is opened make sure it has been professionally folded (usually the bottom folded up to the inside center and the top then folded back to the outside center so when it is pulled out it shows the address to the recipient). Try if you can to format your letter so that your “HOOK” is also showing in that first fold.

You MUST HOOK the agent. The best advice I can give you is explain your entire manuscript in 25 words or less. YEAH I said 25 words or less. This is your “pitch” this is what makes an agent go “Wow, tell me more”.  This is going to be why the agent/editor unfolds the letter to read more.  This is your one shot and it needs to be perfect so practice.  This is the same 25 words or less you would use if you happened to get stuck in an elevator with the agent/editor of your dreams at a conference but they would only be there for two floors.  Quick, Sharp, Catchy!

Example: Lord and Lady Cantor have the perfect marriage because they live on different continents. But it’s time to end the perfection.

Now tell me that won’t make you want to know more. After that it’s just a matter of being succinct.
Introduce your novel.

Example: Perfect Love is a 100k word historical novel set in both Britain and America. Etc. (do this in 1 paragraph no more than 60 to 100 words)

Introduce yourself. I am an unpublished writer who has a BA in history. Etc (do this is 40 words or less) then tell them why you selected to query them.

Example; I am querying you because of your relationship with X publishing house and your history of success with X author(s). My style is much like theirs. (Do this in 40 -50 words)

If querying a house state which line you are interested in writing for, you may not fit that line but you might be directed into the hands of someone handling a line you would fit. Sign and give a solid as in can be reached 24/7 contact info. That is the best advice I can give you, other then submit your query letter for critique. It won’t hurt.

As I have mentioned your query is going to give the agent/editor a general over all view of you and your ability.  It is very difficult to write a great query, to nail the hook, to give your qualifications and to make them know you understand that publishing is a business they take seriously.  Solid query letters tell the agent you are serious about writing as a profession.  Even if you manuscript has some weaknesses a query will alert an agent to your actual ability and give you a chance.

After that it will be either a form letter stating a polite but crushing NO THANK YOU or a request for a synopses and chapters. And you had best have both ready because if you get a request and it takes you a month to reply you will get a no thank you. If you do get a request make sure you send a pre-paid return envelope because you will not get your work back without it if you get a no thank you. But with it you will get it back AND it’s highly likely it will come back with notes and edits which might tell you a great deal about why you got a NO.

DO NOT; whatever you do DO NOT NOT NOT send a “form letter” query. I can absolutely promise you that you will burn every bridge in the publishing world if you do. Agents and editors talk to each other all the time and they share queries and proposals with each other. They even share them with other writers learning the do’s and don’ts. Also do not get fancy. Plain white standard paper with 1 inch margins and basic fonts or if the queries are requested by email… same thing only in text. Full words no texting shorts.

Now if you are writing nonfiction you will be submitting a proposal.  And while all the rules above apply as far as professionalism, and purpose a proposal has a little more room for artist conveyance.  In a proposal you will be submitting chapter outlines rather than saying what the book is about as a whole.  You should still keep each chapter outline to a minimum of words and try to keep your proposal to no more than two pages.

I recommend to those who are writing nonfiction, a book written a few years back I even recommend this to those writing fiction because it is just that good.

Your Novel Proposal From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J Cook.
The first part of this book is a little out of date as it was written before e-publishing and as happens in publishing houses change around their structure.  But if you skip to chapter 3 and go from there you will find a great deal of helpful information.  Some of course I have already written about, but a blog is not as detailed as a full chapter.

Now, get started on that query and next time we can talk about a synopes.

Till then WRITE ON!!

Writing Tip #10 – Contest, Conferences, Agents and Editors…. Submitting that script for consideration Part 3 of 3


Okay now that’s out of the way on to the topic of agents and editors.

The first question I often get about literary agents is “do I need one?” My answer is always, “It depends.” The truth is if you are intending to take a traditional path to publication then yes you do need an agent. Why? Well agents are usually the only people who will get your script before an acquiring editor or line committee (a small group of people who are working on a specific line of books for a large publishing house: aka Harlequin has romance lines with a theme of travel, intrigue, sports etc and each line has a group of people who look for authors to fit their line). Agents not only have the ability to get your work looked at, they know where to go for a “best fit”. An agent isn’t going to just “shop” your work (pitch it to everyone). In this industry work which is rejected by a great many publishers (like 4) will never see the light of day as a published book because these people all talk to each other and if a few get together and all see they have seen your work your name gets out as a “waste of time”.  Agents know this so they are careful and selective who they pitch you to. As well a publisher is going to give more consideration to what an agent brings them because they know that agent is very selective as well and that agent already has seen the potential. Finally agents know the business. They know if you are going to have a chance at film options or other screen options, if you have the ability to get in as a serial author (contracted for a specific number of books at a specific payment) they know how to get advances and how to get you to those promotional opportunities.
The next question is “where do I find an agent?” Well this isn’t has hard as you might think. I have already mentioned they are at writers conferences, but even if you never make it to a conference you can find literary agents everywhere these days. Once upon a time you could only find them in NY., NY.. Not so today. Do a internet or library search for ones in your state even in your local area. Most agents have offices in NY., but many do their work (take and read submissions) from offices in their home states. There is an agent listing book put out every year by Writer’s Digest get a copy and start looking there. Make sure you are looking for an agent who represents the genre you write. Agents have a good eye for talent but they tend to have that eye for specific genres and they tend to only stay up to date on that genre’s trends. With hundreds of genres and subgenres and sub sub genres it would be impossible for all agents to know and work in all of them. Some agents also advertise in writers’ periodicals. Just be careful again of those who ask for any money up front.

With that last statement I often get asked “How do I know the agent is legit?” The best thing I can recommend is do a background check. Ask the agent for names of people they have recently gained publishing contracts for and ask which houses they work with. No they will not be offended. Then check up on the names and houses they give you. Remember agents know that writing is a business and they will respect you for your diligence and professionalism.
So finally “How do I get started with an agent?” Well if you are not going to sit down with one at a conference you will have to do a little research. Each agent will be a little different in their requirements but for sure each one will require a “quarry letter” (I will tell you about those in the next blog). No agent is going to accept an “unsolicitated” manuscript.   If you did not get a request to submit at a conference then your submission will end up in the “slush pile” and then in the round file. So know how your chosen agent likes to receive quarries. Many today like email quarries but will still accept written one so which ever best suits you, as long as it suits them too.

If you land an agent and they wish to have you sign a contract, usually a promise that you will not actively look for a competing agency while they have your script, do not hesitate to get some legal counsel in contract law. Remember again this is a business and you do not want to sign a contract which will impede your ability to do business at a productive rate. You do not want to give an agent your consent to indefinitely hold your script. If the contract seems unclear to you get a lawyer to look at it the cost is deductable from your taxes as a work expense (I will eventually blog about taxes as well).
Quickly, Editors. Well they are a little different. They do show up at conferences, they do actively acquire but they are really someone you get with after you have a publishing contract. They are who will work with you to polish that script and to keep you on your deadlines. Usually they will not take a look at your work unless you have some kind of resume, you win a major writing contest or you have published before in a different genre. Do not count them out as a means to publish but look at them as a later resort.

Now get those scripts polished and ready you know what you need to do enter a contest, go to a conference quarry an agent. Get that script out there for consideration.

Hope this serves you well till next time,


….just had to warn you again.

Writing Tip #9 – Contest, Conferences, Agents and Editors…. Submitting that script for consideration Part 2 of 3

So last time I talked about contests and I mentioned that many of the best contests are connected with writer’s conferences. This time I want to talk about conferences and why you should really consider them as part of your profession.
Writer’s conferences vary greatly from place to place and from genre to genre so while I will be giving you some basics make sure you do some (actually a lot) of research on your own before you attend any conferences.

The first type of conference you may which to attend would be a genre specific conference. Now these are much rarer than other types because they are often held only once a year and they are not necessarily state constant, in other words they move the venues every year to different cities in different states. Often these conferences are the “national” conference for the genre. For me the one which applies is the Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference. The last one of these I attended was held in Dallas, Texas and the next year it was held in San Francisco, California so it’s easy to imagine the expense involved in just getting to the conferences. However, I do recommend trying to attend at least one of these national conferences at least once (preferably after you are published but not necessarily). The reason is the extent of professionalism you will be exposed to. The agents and editors who attend these conferences are the best in the business they are the ones who regularly find the “next” NY Times Best Seller and secure those six figure advances. They do not in any way “screw around” with one hit wonders. They know the publishing and writing business better than anyone could and what you learn from them can be the key to unlocking your career success as a writer. These conferences are also attended by the top selling published authors in the business and at least for the most part this is when those writers are most accessible. They come to these conferences ready to mingle, even with a unpublished nobody writer who may not even have any talent. They come ready to not only enlighten you to the paths you must take but to encourage you to keep at the craft even when you have received that 1000th rejection letter. They also come baring gifts of free novels and promotional which can help you decide on the kind of items you may want to use to promote yourself and your works.

Now, the second type of conference you can look into are the “general” or fiction/nonfiction conferences. These conferences are usually held annually and locally (or relatively locally) in most every major city in every state. Most are pretty cost effective and you get a lot of “bang for your buck”. I typically attend two each year in my area one put on by a city level writers origination (which is not really limited to just the city) the other by a state level organization. These conferences are usually organized by committee made of up the heads of the local individual writers groups. So in my case the local chapter of RWA helps in the selection of agents, editors and guest speakers who will be attending. The RWA chapter works with the Sci-Fi chapters and the Nonfiction chapters so that the conference is equally attended by representatives of each specific genre and they often only ask those agents and editors who are ACTIVELY acquiring NEW writers to attend. This gives you a chance to put your name and work out there and to become experienced in the act of submitting work for consideration.

So, how to go about attending conferences, what to do when you get there and how to save money.

The best advice I can give you is do research. Find a few conferences you might like to attend. Look at who will be attending as an agent/editor who will be attending s a guest speaker. If you see there will be an agent or editor you might like to work with (your “dream agent”) then do some research on that person specifically. Look into what he or she has recently done. Who did they just acquire, who did they sell and to what house and for how much. Most agents have their own web pages so this is not hard thing to do. If you find the agent has acquired and sold someone new go find that book and read it to see who much like your work the book might be. Agents are like writers they like certain kinds of “voice” and you can save time, money and disappointment by targeting who would most likely be interested in you.

You will also want to look into who will be guest speaking. Now agents and editors will all be giving seminars but conferences also have published authors attending and doing the same. If you look at these authors and what they write you can best choose if you want to sit in on those seminars.

Now once you have selected a conference to attend you will have to send in your conference fees and usually an attendance sheet marked with any considerations you may have such as limited diet or handicap needs. Many of these sheets will also ask you if you want to submit to a contest, pitch to an agent or participate in an “open read” (which I will explain some other time). If you have a completed manuscript which is polished and in proper format then I do recommend doing a pitch (which again I will explain later) even if you are rejected at the table you at least get the experience and that first time case of nerves is banished.  If you do not have a finished script then do not worry about it conferences are still a valuable tool. The seminars will take your hand and walk you through the process from that first word to first sell.

Once you have gotten to the conference though you really do need to make the most of it. Even if you will not be pitching or doing any type of open read yourself you need to set yourself up to gain as much information as your brain can possible take in and then some. The main thing to remember is you are not the only person there attending for the first time, you are not the only one there who really doesn’t understand writing as a business or even writing as a craft. Find some people and make new friends and contacts. Network. This will be the key to getting more out of the conference. Make a list of the seminars you want to attend and if there is more than one in a specific time frame and you must choose find someone who will be going to the one you will miss and ask them for their notes. Many conferences make recordings of each seminar and sell those recordings it’s an expense but sometimes worth it. MINGLE. I can stress this enough. There will be agents, editors, authors, publishing professionals and so many others just hanging out approach them, ask them question, talk about life, family, school and of course writing. I once made very good friends with the lead editor of Paladin Publishing by being there when he order crab cakes at the bar and only received one. We had a heavy discussion about false advertizing, customer service and “dressing” for dinner. He asked why I was there I said I am a writer (not knowing who he was) he said did I write well I said I thought so and he gave me his card and said submit to him he’s give a full read though. Sadly I never did as when I got home I did some research on Paladin and found it was embroiled in a court case and being sued, but again that is a responsibility a professional writer has and a choice I made. Again though and back to my point do not sit in the corner and say nothing. Put yourself out there remember you are not just selling your script you are selling YOU. The last thing you will want to do at a conference is find out if there is a local writer’s group who will take you as a member. You will want to first decide if you want a critique group or a writing group they are different and at a later date I will explain the difference. If you find a group that will suit and you can join then and there do so. There is nothing like a group of supportive people who can cry with you over a rejection, cheer with you over a success and encourage and teach you the craft. Get involved with one.
The last thing I want to tell you here is a few ideas on how to save some money. Conference fees and contest entrance fees are just something you have to choke up (unless you submit to a contest where the grand prize is the conference fees). But you can do things like contact the person who is answering question about the conference and see if there is a list of people who want to share a hotel room with someone so to divide the cost (which is usually discounted for the conference already) sharing a room is really the best way to save. So is carpooling. There may also be a list of people who want to attend but need transportation find out and carpool. Pack a few food items. Most conferences will provide a breakfast and a dinner but lunch will be on you. A cooler pack and then stored in the room’s refrigerator will save you a few dollars for sure and help with those late night hungries when you are still up processing all you learned that day. It is way cheaper than room service. And lastly as I said before make friends and find people who attended different seminars to get their notes and their feedback. If you are going to attend and pay all the money to get there, stay there and be there you might as well get as much from it as you can.

Like contests conferences are just one of the many ways to get your manuscript before an audience of people who very well could be looking for a writer with your story to tell. Keep them in mind as a tool but do not expect them to be the only tool you will need. Next time I will explain agents and editors and how there are not as scary as you might believe.

Till then I hope this helps and READ ON!!

Writing Tip #8 – Contests, Conferences, Agents and Editors… Submitting that script for consideration Part 1 of 3

So back to writing as a profession:

I was talking to someone who “hopes to someday be a published author” and when I asked if she had completed a story, she said she had finished a few short stories. And when I asked if she had submitted them anywhere she said “No, I don’t want anyone to steal them and I don’t know how to copyright them.”
Now I managed not to laugh, but I am sure my expression showed my dismay because she got a little bent out of shape. So let me explain to you as I explained to her…. No one is going to steal your work…. Not as an unpublished author, not even as a published author with only small sales. you really need to be someone like Stephen King or Bertrice Small; multi published and big earnings before someone will attempt to steal your material and by then you have the entire publishing house backing you so no need to worry then either.

Look, if your goal is publication you MUST submit your work. No publisher is going to call you up and say “hey I was wondering do you have a book I can buy from you?” It’s not going to happen.
But the idea of submitting is scary (and I don’t mean as in Fifty Shades of Grey). It means putting your work and in a way your inner self out there for ….REJECTION. And yes you will get rejected but that is for another day. Submitting work can also be an expense a new writer can barely afford.

So what are some ways to submit your manuscript which produce the best results?
Well you have some options. If you are a new writer still testing out your ability I recommend submitting to writing contests. I don’t mean ones you find in the back of Readers Digest. I mean the ones connected to specific writers’ groups and writers’ conferences. I mean going to the net and “googling” writing conferences and then finding the one which is specific to your genre and then entering the contest associated with that conference.

Here’s why; these contests over the one’s advertised in say Writer’s Digest (not that you can’t enter those as well and even find some conference contests advertised in those magazines)). The contests associated with conferences tend to have judges who are multi-published authors, agents seeking new clients, and acquiring editors so even if you do not win the contest you may catch someone’s eye who can then move you forward.

These contests also have, in my opinion, better prizes. Rather than cash or some publication in some low distribution magazine, contests offer prizes like, coverage of conference fees to attend and a sit down with an agent or editor, they also have prizes like a full read through by an agent or editor of your manuscript.

Entrance fees are usually moderate and submitting is generally streamlined so that you can submit multiple scripts or to multi contests without having to change format or submission requirements. You generally mail in all copies (most require 3) to one place and the contest coordinators then send them to the judges so you don’t have to. And best of all IF you send along a self addressed, stamped envelope these judges will send you back your submission with their notes about your writing right on the paper. Just think even if you do not place in the contest you still win the prize of a FREE professional critique.

Most major conferences’ contests also publish a small pamphlet and if you place in the contest you get your name advertised to everyone attending and you tend to get a certificate if you place which is good for when you are ready to submit to an agent or editor as part of your resume, but that is for another blog.

Now I do recommend submitting to a conference contest held in your area so if you do win and can attend you don’t have the expense of travel, but if you do not intend to attend then all fifty states have conferences year round and each genre has at least one national conference that will take place in a different state and city each year and they all have different fee ranges so you can find the best ones to suit your writing levels and your cheque book.

Always check the conferences history so you are not getting scammed. And always check the submission guidelines so you do not get an automatic rejection and lose your entrance fees. And finally check the prize lists so you know if winning will be worth entering (although I think you win just by entering).

This is, in truth just a small step forward but it’s a safe step for those of you still nervous about letting those precious and sometimes personal words out into the world. Contests are a good way to break out of your comfort zone and to find out if your skills have what it takes or if you still need to polish your writing.
As always I hope this helps and READ ON!!!!

Writing Tip #7 – What a Character!

Seemingly sometimes what a writer writes is not completely clear. What?!? Say it isn’t so. But it is… evidently. That is what I was told anyway when an excerpt from an earlier post was reposted and someone not familiar with the full text thought I was endorsing “mean people”.
Now I wasn’t; not that I couldn’t, endorse them in certain cases but it made me think about the characters writers “create”. And I put the word create in quotes because I have to ask do writers really “create” characters?

So… This blog is about Archetypes.

Archetypes are loosely defined as stereotypes.

(From The original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copies or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.


(In Jungian psychology) a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.
Some years ago I was at a writer’s conference and one of the new books being promoted was a book on character archetypes and how to write them. Now I knew this writer was not quite a friend but was more than an acquaintance and I still could not bring myself to purchase that book. And even now I still feel the same about the book, I couldn’t buy it (not that you shouldn’t) because the idea, the very premise that a writer would look to someone else to tell them how to develop a character made me sad. Really, how can you call yourself a writer and not at the very least KNOW your characters, know their deepest darkest secrets, their greatest joys, their fears and their hopes, how can you not know their GOALS?   And WHY, WHY, WHY would any writer want to be a “copy” of someone else?

Now certainly there is the necessity for both reader and writer to categorize characters, like the hero or the villain, but a good writer can really muddy those waters so it’s not so easy to say this character or that one is the “bad guy” or the “good guy”.
I mean let’s go back to one of my favorite examples; the movie “Titanic”.  Pretty quick we pick up on the Jack character as being the “hero” at least to Rose. But what about that guy, the one she is supposed to wed, the one who by every account is willing to spoil and indulge her. Who while is very typical of his era is still very proud that such a woman is going to be his wife. Who is willing to also take care of her mother. What about that guy? Do you even remember his name? I do but only because I love the actor who played him (Billy Zane). He was Caledon (Cal) Hockley and he was cast as the “villain” but really what were his faults? He was dominating, but that was the way of men, especially successful men, of his time. A little condescending, but again it was the era. And he did throw a bit of a fit, smashing the china and all but really the woman he had been supporting (along with her mother), the one he was intending to make his wife, was stepping out on him AND if our hero had been so inclined to show a bit of jealousy we might have thought it passionate not evil. In truth I have always felt a little sorry for Cal, I did hope that after he arrived safely back in America he did find a woman who loved him and married him and I am sad still knowing he would eventually kill himself … well isn’t that how all “villains” end? Dead.

But Cal Hockley is a perfect example of a character that is not a simple archetype. Now that he devolves as he sees things he wants slipping from him as his manhood is challenged by some street artist and the very people he believes should have had his back are cheering on the “imp” is more about development than archetype. The writers certainly could have let Cal gracefully step aside, they could have had him ungracefully step aside and demand Rose reimburse him for all the expenses. But that he, in his way, fights for her makes him far less the villain then most archetype villains are. And that is good writing.
So how do we write those characters? How do you make a hero not seem like someone Walt Disney would be proud of or for that matter make the villain a fav of old Walt?

I think the answer is to not use stereotypes. As a writer you have this vision of your characters in your mind. You know everything about them from which side of the bed they sleep on to which shoe they put on first. They are not like anyone else’s characters, although they might be like real characters in your life. So why would you cheapen them by not writing their uniqueness, by not giving them those quirks and nuances?
A hero doesn’t have to show up in shining armor, he can show up in scuffed cowboy boots with dirt on his clothes and a scar on his cheek. And a villain doesn’t have to be out to destroy, murder or completely ruin anyone, they can simply be caught up in their own circumstances and in trying to save themselves they harm others. That movie “Ghost” (with Swayze) comes to mind.

A hero can have some bad habits even some really bad habits as long as you leave him at least a toe’s distance from crossing that line. And a villain well there is hardly any limits to what you do with the antagonist’s character. He can be a total psycho or someone you might date or both.
Archetypes are a starting point. Archetypes are those characters the reader knows but never remembers. He or she is described as “that guy” or “this woman” by someone when who has read the story and is giving a synopsis to someone.

Characters though, characters are the people readers fantasy about, who they seek out in real life. And a really good character will be in a readers mind every time they pick up a book. They will name their children or their pets after characters. When they recommend the story it will be because of the characters.
So when you are getting ready to write your story, remember your story IS the character’s story. They are your surrogates your representatives. They are your readers guides through the story and how deep or shallow you “create” them will be the depth at which you involve the reader in their part of the tale.

Don’t cheat either your reader or yourself by only sticking with the archetype. Be daring, be creative, be bold.
And as always READ ON!!