Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Men vs. Women Writers--They are Not Always Seeking the Same Audience

If someone said: "Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men," how would you respond?

My response would be the same if I heard a woman say she preferred women writers to male ones. Read what you want. Some people like self-help books. Some like science fiction. Some like romance. Some people don’t read at all. My response to the latter would be hand-over-the-mouth screaming to myself: How can you not read? But, let’s face it, some people don’t read.

I can’t visualize a truck driver curled up reading a cozy, but I can see a woman reading a thriller. Women write thrillers. Men have written romance novels. But if someone, let’s say a man, says he won’t read a book – let’s say a thriller – written by a woman, then he has a problem living in the real world. If it’s a literary agent or publisher who says he or she won’t consider a thriller written by a woman then a lot more people have a problem. Many good writers won’t get published and subsequently enjoyed if that is the company policy. But it happens.

In the past twenty-five years women writers have gotten book deals writing cozies and chic-lit novels as well as standard detective novels and thrillers. The over-whelming majority of women writers I know write cozies. The reading public assumes that if you are female you will be writing that type of book just because of the vast number of those types of books on the shelves. Reviewers are going to think the same thing. They have seen years and years of top selling books, written by men, winning prizes. They will gravitate toward what is familiar and accepted when it comes time to reviewing books. Everybody wants to be around the popular kids in school or go see the hot new movie. But if our, meaning the females in the crowd, if our first response is to whine, then pardon me for saying this, but snap out of it, honey. Nobody owes you a review.

But there are things you can try.

Ladies, try sending a review of your book to women’s magazines and see if they will print it. Send them a copy of the book, too. You will have to write your own review. This is basically the Press Release you should already have in your press kit. Not every review in a publication is written by an impartial reviewer. Your review should be a short blurb about your book. It is roughly the synopsis you sent in your query letter minus the conclusion of the book. Include the log line-elevator pitch that you should have for every book you write. It will grab the reader.

I worked in a bookstore for a year and a half many moons ago (1979-1980). Our romance section was just as large as our mainline fiction section. We sold down to the wall in the romance section most months, not so for the fiction section. The mystery section was fairly small at the time. Obviously women were buying women’s books. I don’t remember hearing men whine about only females getting to write romance novels.

What women should try to do is get known in a smaller pond first. And remember, you drop a pebble in a pond and there is a ripple effect. You make enough splash and the folks in the big publishing yachts will take notice. Or even Hollywood.

Some men write Gothic romance novels under a pseudonym. A man’s name on the cover of a throbbing romance novel would probably be bad marketing. The same thing goes for a man’s name on a cozy novel, but occasionally it has been successfully done. Men can be held back just like women, but many of them consider the marketing aspect and use a female pen name.

I use my initials rather than my first name to obscure my sex. My books aren’t cozies nor are they dripping in blood. I thought initials made my pen name recognizable but it didn’t put me in a box. Agents and publishers actually thought a man wrote the Johnny Casino Casebooks. They read the book before they read my biography. That’s what I wanted.

Know the market where you want to sell the most books. If you are a niche mystery writer and write about knitting or cooking while solving a crime, try sending a copy of your book with a small review to a publication that features that hobby or skill. They might publish it. See if a local store will let you do a book signing. A knit shop might let you do an event if you are a local writer.

If you write a more traditional mystery and can’t get any traction, see if your local paper will run a small review or maybe they have a reporter who would like to interview you. Even if you are published by a large publishing house, you might have to do all the publicity yourself.

Let me introduce you to Anna Katharine Green. She started writing very intricate plots with clever details and sleuthing techniques. She wrote stories about a young debutante who solved crimes, a young man who analyzed a crime scene down to the lint in the victim’s pockets, and a spinster lady who helped out the local police in solving crimes. If this sounds a little too much like Nancy Drew or a young Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Marple, Anna Katharine Green was born in 1846. Her books predated these other great writers. She is considered the mother of the detective novel. Women weren't writing much more than poetry back then and there were very few male writers of fiction, much less mysteries. She had to discover new territories and did it unbelievably well. She did get reviews. In fact, the Pennsylvania Senate debated whether or not a woman could have actually have written her first book, The Leavenworth Case, her first success. 

She wrote it and 39 more stories!

 So write your book. Others did it and overcame some pretty big hurtles. Be creative in seeking out reviewers or venues for your work. And remember, nobody owes you a review, but you owe it to yourself to give it your best effort. And don’t whine. Men don’t.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

AN ALMOST PERFECT NOVEL

        
“As God is my witness, I’m never going to be hungry again.”

That’s not a Weight Watchers commercial: it’s a line midway through Margaret Mitchell’s magnificent historical novel, Gone with the Wind.

GWTW, as many abbreviate it, is one of my favorite novels, and I have plenty of company. According to a recent Harris poll, GWTW is second only to the Bible in popularity among Americans. And there are a lot of reasons for that: it’s a great story, an easily-digested history lesson, and, for writers, it’s like a master class in storytelling.

First off, consider the storyline and the clear, linear structure: it’s not just a story about a spoiled Southern Belle, or the devastation of war, or the hardships of Reconstruction after the Civil War, or a woman struggling to preserve her family’s legacy. It’s all that—and more.

GWTW carries a timeless theme. In Margaret Mitchell’s own words, "If the novel has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people able to come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don't. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those who go under...? I only know that the survivors used to call that quality 'gumption.' So I wrote about the people who had gumption and the people who didn't." 

And did she ever write about people with gumption! Not only that, she created a cast of complex, fascinating characters. When we first meet main character Scarlett O’Hara, we’re told right off the bat that she’s not beautiful, but “men seldom realized it when caught by her charm. . .” What a way to introduce a character! Scarlett is a study in contradictions: she’s vain, foolish and selfish, but she’s also smart, strong and brave.

Her counterpart, Rhett Butler, comes on the scene as a scalawag, a scoundrel and a cynic. However, as we get to know him, we learn he’s also an idealist, a romantic, and—who’d have guessed it?—a patriot.

GWTW is also a superb history lesson, and Ms. Mitchell delivers it in small, vivid bites, full of specific sensory detail. Writers are advised to “show, don’t tell,” and Ms. Mitchell demonstrates that repeatedly. Readers can almost feel the heat of the flames as Atlanta burns and the clench of starvation that Scarlett endures. The details feel authentic, and they probably are. Margaret Mitchell was born in 1900, and her family lived in Atlanta. Her parents and grandparents probably witnessed the Civil War firsthand and no doubt shared stories with young Margaret.

GWTW is also a spectacular model of what a love story can be. It doesn’t just have a romantic triangle; it has trapezoids and rectangles all over the place, and these are played out in a fascinating narrative.

GWTW is also the model for a modern ending. Not every complication is resolved and tied up with a tidy little bow. Ms. Mitchell left plenty of room for audience participation and interpretation. Did Rhett really not “give a damn?” Will Scarlett get him back? Theories abound.

The novel has a few flaws, of course. The language and style seem out of sync with today’s writing, and some of the dialogue is overblown and even clunky. When Sidney Howard wrote the screenplay, he shortened that famous line I quoted at the start; he removed two words, and Vivien Leigh vowed, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” Much more punch in that one.


But none of this detracts from the novel’s power to cast a spell. Almost 80 years later, people still care about the book and its characters, and the ambiguous ending sparks many a spirited discussion. What more could an author hope for?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Nine-Letter Word—Rewriting!




The Nine-Letter Word--Rewriting!


I thought I’d take my first opportunity to post on Writers in Residence to talk about rewriting—I know—boring, possibly even a turnoff. But it’s what I’m in the midst of right now, and how I feel about rewriting continues to evolve. I’ve even decided to call it a different name—Polishing—still nine letters but nicer sounding to my ear.

Some of the “things” I’ve heard other authors talk about, and do myself, under the rewriting banner are:

-         In-process rewriting of scenes, chapters, etc.,
-         Going back through and editing a completed first draft before or after editorial review
-         Final polishing before going to a reviewer or publisher.

Only recently have I realized how important rewriting is to my total writing experience and process—I'm no longer seeing rewriting as an activity separate from writing, but an essential ingredient. It is where all the bits and pieces actually come together. Where I tighten and refine my prose and story. Rewriting is now one of the good parts of writing. But it’s been a journey getting to this point.

Incorrect spelling, grammar, punctuation are one thing—but how could it be that my first written thoughts, ideas, characters, and story arc are not perfect? With my current project, I’m having to deal with a lot of missteps with character expositions and storytelling!

Sure, there have been many times when I kept looking for the perfect word—the one with just the right connotation—even if it feels like it’s taking forever. And if I can’t find the right word, or phrase? DELETE. Hard at first—easy now. And thinking back, what I’ve left out has always been for the better—sometimes that’s been pages, even a whole scene.

But DELETEing major sections, moving activities around, changing motivations—well, I’m doing it—hating at first—but feeling better about it now. Why? Because I’ve realized in the “polishing” adventure, I want my darn books to be the best they can possibly be. And that’s not a bad thing.

On a final philosophical note, polishing is one of the few times in life I can “take back” what I’ve said or done. Indeed, in the real-world, there have been soooo many times I’ve wished for that “do-over” capability!

Thoughts from Madeline (M.M. Gornell)...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Writing Resolutions for 2015

There is something about the new year for writers. It's like opening up a blank notebook (or a blank screen, if you prefer) and knowing that you can write your own life story for 2015. Creative types are naturally optimistic and, yes, a bit indomitable, and that spurs us on to think we can do even better in next twelve months, no matter how successfully we tackled the previous year. 

Here are the 2015 Writing Resolutions from the WinRs. We hope they encourage and inspire you to do the same. Share your own writing resolutions in the comments!



My #1 resolution is to complete my "famous artist's ex-wife novel!"

                                              Bonnie Schroeder


I remember a speaker at an AWG meeting saying that everything changes when you go from being a "talented amateur" to a professional. Now that I've been published, my writing resolution is to work, think, and act like a professional writer.

                                               Miko Johnston



Actually, I did make a New Years resolution--something I seldom do. It's to keep in mind (remind myself on a daily basis!) that life is short. Do it now, tomorrow is not guaranteed.


                                                M.M. Gornell



As 2015 opens its doors, I have several things I want to do. I want to publish some of the first books I wrote and I also want to work on a new project. This one is about a dead detective who gets a second chance. Second Chance is the title. The character won't leave me alone, so I guess I have to write more. Happy New Year, Everybody.


                                                     G.B. Pool



My writing resolution is actually just my own common-sense reinforcement of what has become a very good way to start each day. Write something every day. For me, first thing in the morning works best. It doesn't have to be a slog on your Great American Novel or an award-winning short story right out of the gate. Just write. 

After all, you can always go back and fix what you have written, but the only way to fix a blank page is to write something on it.

                                                   Kate Thornton


Mine would be to be more consistent in posting on my two personal blogs.

                                                  Jackie Houchin


Sometimes writers forget that writing is a business. I want to put on my left-brained cap more often when it comes to scheduling and keeping deadlines. It's too easy to get distracted by new ideas! 

                                                      Jacqueline Vick


I pulled out my Lottie files and started some notes for the next literary agent who will get the chance to read about Lottie, so I guess I have my New Year's resolution!

                                                     Rosemary Lord


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Catching Up with Rosemary Lord!



Late to the party, as usual – but I have just returned from visiting my family in England.
            During our earlier Blogs I was away much of the time, in Kentucky, where my husband Rick and I were going back and forth, taking care of my ailing mother-in-law – until she finally passed away.
            The thing that kept me sane during that time was the support of my WinR writer friends.
            They encouraged me to keep going with my first mystery novel. After years working as an actress and a journalist, I was now the author of two non-fiction history books:













Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now. I really wasn’t sure that I could ever complete a mystery novel: what did I know about this genre?  And so I tentatively started, “Lottie,”  about an English girl who works as an extra in silent movies in 1925 Hollywood. After her best friend is murdered Lottie vows to find the killer.  I lost myself in the world of Hollywood during Prohibition and fell in love with the characters that appeared on the pages.  In our WinR group we read each others pages and gave feed-back.  I felt way behind the other girls, as Gayle, Jackie and Miriam were already onto their next books, but I kept going.
            In between my seemingly endless trips to Kentucky - little by little, with their encouragement, I worked my way through 400 pages until I finally wrote “The End.” We celebrated at The Rose Tree Cottage with a proper English Tea.
            Now the next step was to get an agent and sell it. Harder than I had imagined, I researched, networked and submitted my novel and got positive responses, but no contract yet. As my mother-in-law had died, I had more time to work and so I began to write the second in the series, “Seven For a Secret…”

* * * * *

            Then, without warning, my darling husband Rick Cameron died of a massive heart attack. My world stopped. My WinR friends rallied round me once again.
            I did not have the heart to continue writing about Lottie. I could not even face submitting her to agents and publishers. I had a contract and a deadline to write the updated, revised versions of my Hollywood history books. I plowed through this as it was dates, facts, research and not as emotional as my fiction writing on my novel.
            A welcome distraction, I became consumed in saving a Hollywood historic building, The Woman’s Club of Hollywood, from being turned into condos.
            But still I could not bring myself to return to my novel “Lottie.” Meanwhile, our WinR group now had two wonderful additions, Kate Thornton and Madeline Gornell and we had decided to revive our Blog.
            I retreated back to England to spend healing time with my brothers and sister and their children. They reminded me how proud Rick was of my writing – and especially of my Lottie Topaz novel.

            My dear WinR friends have been very patient waiting for me to emerge from my dark cocoon. Without them I would not be writing this, the first step back. And today I pulled out my Lottie files and started some notes for the next literary agent who will get the chance to read about Lottie. So I guess I have my New Year’s resolution …….

Monday, December 22, 2014