Archive for the writing novels Category

Considering a Collaboration

Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, J.T. Ellison and Catherine Coulter, JA Konrath and each of his writer friends—everywhere you look, authors are teaming up.

The trend seems more prevalent than ever, and I suspect it’s because authors are operating more independently now and because they have to work so hard to reach new readers. Collaborating with another writer brings a whole new readership to each partner, at least for that story or series, and hopefully with spillover to other works.

I never thought I could work that closely with someone. I don’t even have a writing group because it feels too collaborative. Of course, I count on my beta readers (and editor) for feedback, but that’s after I’ve nailed down the main story.

But I was approached recently by a friend about doing a collaboration, and I surprised myself by being receptive to the idea. Now that I have an FBI agent with her own series, a collaboration that brings Agent Dallas together with another established protag seems like a productive idea.

The other author has a kickass male FBI character and large readership of men, so the project could bring male readers into my Jackson series or, more likely, the series I’ve started with Agent Dallas.

We’re already brainstorming a plot, and I’d love to tell you who the other author is. But I worry that it might not pan out. We each have our own series we’re committed to, and we each have family responsibilities that may take precedence over a secondary writing project. But I want to do this and I hope we can make it work.

Ever since I decided to self-publish my newest story (with Agent Dallas), I’ve been getting my head back into indie mode and the marketing creativity it requires. It’s work, but it’s also fun and challenging, and this collaboration seems like a good way to expand my comfort zone and my readership.

What do you think? Have you collaborated with another author? Do you read books that are collaborations? Am I crazy?

A Good News Week

I’ve had a terrific couple of weeks as upcoming writer, and I have to make note of the positive things because there can be many setbacks in between. Here’s my feel-good news.

  • A  store clerk recognized my name and said, “You’re the author…” Then she started talking about Detective Jackson like he was a real person and went on to quote lines from SECRETS TO DIE FOR. My heart about burst. Read more

Verb Variety

keyboard-smallMy editor is tired of my use of the words moved and stepped, so she sent a list of alternatives and I keep adding to it. I keep this list handy when I’m working on a novel, and my writing tip today is to share this lovely list with you.

strode, walked, lurched, ran, scurried, bustled, rushed, Read more

Great Story Starts

Is the focus of the novel revealed early? This question is at the top of contract evaluations I do for a publisher. Most of the time, I check No. Writers often move slowly in the beginning. They set up backstory and craft detailed irrelevant scenes. Two chapters later, I still don’t know what the premise is. The best stories jump right in and reveal what the character wants and/or what the character is up against to get what he wants.

Revealing the focus can be indirect. Read more

Tip: Book Club Discussion Questions

Writing book club discussion questions is something writers put off and sometimes never get around to. But readers like them, so you might as well get it done. I’ve recently written some, and it’s not as tough as it seems. Here are some guidelines to help you get started.

Ambiguity. If your novel leaves anything up in the air as to what really happened, this makes for a great question. Readers love to determine the how and why of ambiguous events. Read more

Quit the D**n Cursing

It has come to my attention lately that I curse too much. First my husband said to me, “Why do you curse so much?” Then a reader mentioned that my series character had become more foul mouthed in the second book. So I had to think about it. And I don’t have a good answer. Like almost everything in life, cursing is a habit. And so, like all the other bad habits in my life, I’m trying do without. Fortunately, it’s not an all or nothing proposition like smoking. I like to think that I can cut back on the cursing—reserve it for special occasions and not slip all the way into my current pattern. I’m not giving it up entirely, and I’m not looking for sainthood.

But what about my characters? Do they curse too much because I do? How much should characters curse? Of course that depends on the character. But now I’m reading back through the story and looking at every curse word and asking, “Is that necessary? Will another word choice be as effective?” I’m not the pandering type, but I also don’t want to alienate readers with unnecessary offensive language.

Of course, if my character discovers a bomb in his briefcase set to go off in 30 seconds, he’s still likely to say “Holy shit,” but maybe not “Oh f**k.” We’ll see. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Do your characters curse? Do you ever tone it down with sensitive readers in mind? Should we?

Let It Chill

Yesterday I finished the edit/second draft of my WIP (meeting my Sept. 1 deadline!) and today I feel a little lost. Writing that story has been my main focus for the last six months. It was the activity around which I structured my life. It’s not that I lack things to do; my list is longer than ever. In simple terms . . . I miss the creative process. I miss looking forward to where the story was going each day. I miss my characters.

I’m already thinking of things I need to add or fix. But I’m only making notes. I’m resisting the urge to go into the file. I have learned over the years that it’s important to let a novel sit and jell for a couple of weeks after the first major draft is completed. This is very difficult for me. I like to keep moving forward, and I’m anxious to find a publisher. But it’s critical to take a break and get some perspective on the story. When I come back to it, I’ll see flaws and gaps that I can’t see now. So for now, the manuscript is chillin’.

So today, I’m working through my list of things to do, brainstorming for my next novel, and cleaning. This is the “later” as referred to in my blog title.

Writers: Do you let your story chill? And for how long?

Staying Sane While Working at Home

My commute was up the stairs. My workday was self-directed, flexible, and light on responsibility. Most people would call it the ideal job. For me, working at home for a magazine was a long slow descent into depression, anxiety, and claustrophobia. The rest of the magazine staff was in New York, and a week at a time would pass without a call from my co-workers. E-mails simply served to exchange files. I was alone for eight or nine hours a day for more than a year and it drove me insane. I am a social creature. I generate energy from being around people. But that period in my life was years ago, before CrimeSpace, Facebook, Twitter, and list servs.

Now I’m working at home again as a novelist and freelance editor. So far, I’m loving it. But it is different this time. I’m connected to people through the Internet, and I’m able to set my own hours and take breaks when I want. But I worry about what it will be like for me six months or a year from now. I want this career phase to work out long term. So here’s my strategy for staying sane while working at home:

  1. Make time to reach out to people on the Internet periodically throughout the day.
  2. Have lunch with real-live person once a week.
  3. Conduct interviews in person even if they can be done by phone.
  4. Schedule regular social activities (such as weekly bowling with my brothers).
  5. Join a writers group and meet periodically (I haven’t done this yet, but it’s on my list).
  6. Open Pandora, click my funk station and dance for five minutes at least twice a day. Dancing is so joyful, it wards off depression.

I assume that most of the people I interact with throughout the day also work at home. So tell me, how do you keep from getting cabin fever?

Easy Effective Edits

I’ve been editing the first draft of my new novel, and I became aware of some changes I consistently make—for the better. I’ll share them here, in case you find them useful.

1. I get rid of the word “it” and replace it with the specific thing that I’m referring to, even if I just named that thing in the previous sentence. “Jackson reached for his Glock. The weapon felt heavy in his hand” is better than “Jackson reached for his Glock. It felt heavy in his hand.” In verbal communication, repetitive use of “it” may be acceptable, but in narrative writing such lack of clarity is ineffective and often confusing.

2. The same is true of overuse of pronouns. So I’ve also consistently replaced “she,” “he,” and “they” with the specific name of the character(s). Sometimes it feels too formal to use the character’s name three times in a paragraph, but if the character, say, a guy named Jack, is talking about the suspect, a guy named Vinnie, then referring to either of these guys as “he” can be confusing to the reader. This is a point that Stephen King makes in his great book On Writing.

3. The third most consistent edit I make is to tweak individual scenes so that they read like mini-stories, with mounting tension, a climax, and a conclusion. The exception to that structure are scenes at the end of chapters, which I often leave with a revelation, a hint of a revelation, or a great deal of uncertainty (aka, cliffhangers).

My Greatest Fan


I’d like to introduce you to Sergeant Isaac Hutchison, my greatest fan. He’s a military police officer stationed in El Paso, Texas. He just found out he’s going back to Iraq in January. He already spent a year and half of his young life there, but he serves his country willingly and proudly. And I am proud—beyond words—of him.

My proudest moment as an author came many years ago after a midnight phone call. I stumbled to the phone, half asleep and half panicked, thinking, “What’s wrong?” Isaac’s voice came on the phone and said, “Oh my God. You blew me away.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. “I just finished your novel, and I had to call you and tell you how much I loved it. I loved your characters. I want to be Eric.” He recently told me he read that particular novel four times. And it’s possible my story character shaped who he turned out to be—a thoughtful, passionate man who cares about so much of the world beyond himself.

Isaac was also my first fan. He started reading my novels almost 20 years ago when they were still in manuscript form. Anytime I printed a copy of a novel or first three chapters that wasn’t good enough to send out, the stack of paper would go into a recycling box for the kids to use as math scratch paper or for drawings. Isaac would grab a stack of paper from the box, take it to his room, and read chunks of my stories. They were often just bits and pieces, 10 pages of this section and 40 pages of something else. He would often ask me to tell him how it all turned out.

Years later, he was as excited as I was to finally see my novels in print. Today, he brags about me and my writing to anyone who will listen. Now he’s waiting anxiously for the next installment. Whenever I’m having anxiety about not being good enough, I can count on him for moral support. I’m lucky to have such a fan. And such a fine son.

Five-Time Readers Favorite Award Winner!

LATEST REVIEWS

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
~Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard
The author expertly intertwines multiple story lines, presents readers with fully realized characters that readers will feel they know, and keeps the action and suspense levels high. That’s a lot to expect from an author but L. J. Sellers delivers.” ~OverMyDeadBody
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