Archive for the writing Category

What Makes a Character Great?

I’ve been thinking about characters lately, mostly about how to make them more compelling. So I asked: Who are my favorite fictional police detectives? I came up with Lucas Davenport (John Sanford’s Prey series) and April Woo (Leslie Glass). I thought I might find commonalities that attract me as a reader. Instead, I discovered that they are very different.

Davenport seems to have no family, no parents or siblings that he is connected to in any way. April Woo has parents who are very present in her life. Davenport has a lot of money and doesn’t need to work. Woo has money problems (mostly because of her parents). Davenport knows how to play the political game to get what he wants out of the department. Woo is incapable of playing politics and lacks social skills in general.

So why do I like both these characters? Perhaps because they are both independent and unconcerned with what others think of them. They are also very good at their jobs. But I’m not satisfied yet, and I’m still thinking about this. So who are your favorite characters and why do you like them so much?

Outrageous Agent Contest

In honor of all the hardworking agents in this business, I’m holding a contest today for the most outrageous story about a writer’s experience with an agent. The winner gets a copy of my novel (or if you already have my novel, I’ll host you on my blog—whoopee!) Being a good host, I’ll go first.

In August 2003, I attended a writers’ conference and pitched two novels to an agent I’ll call “Susie Strange.” (You can name your agent, if you’d like. I have good reason not to.) She loved both pitches and asked to see full manuscripts for both novels, which I happened to have with me. So off she went to New York with about 170,000 words of mine. I waited the customary two months, then sent an e-mail. No response. I eventually sent another e-mail and made a phone call with absolutely no acknowledgment that I even existed. But this is not the bizarre part.

I went on with my life and wrote yet another novel called The Sex Club. As I neared the end of process, I started sending out query letters (with 3 chapters) to agents—knowing how long it takes them to respond. I sent one (on a whim) to Susie Strange. You know the opening: “We met once at a conference …” The date on that Word document is October 21, 2004.

A year later, I signed with a different agent, spent another year working with her on the story, then she failed to sell it. Then I spent another year or so bringing it to print through a niche publisher, followed by months of promoting it.

Then on February 7, 2008, I received a call from someone in Susie Strange’s agency. I didn’t recognize the caller’s name, but I knew the agency. The caller said she had read the first three chapters of The Sex Club and wanted to see the entire manuscript. I was confused at first. “What do you mean you want to see the manuscript? It’s a published book.” Then it hit me. She was responding to the query I had sent THREE YEARS AND THREE MONTHS ago!

The poor woman was new to the agency and had inherited an old slush pile, but she handled the situation gracefully. She asked if I was working on anything else and agreed to read the first 50 pages of Secrets to Die For. She got back to me within three weeks and said she loved it. Now she’s waiting for me to send the entire manuscript. As much as I want to be represented (as all writers do!), the idea of working with her makes a little nervous. After all, she is a protégée of Susie Strange.

First, I mean no disrespect to other agents. In fact, I have a very positive agent story to tell someday.
Second, the poll: Should I send her the manuscript? Should I send it to other agents as well?
Third, the contest: Can you top that outrageous agent story?

Never Give Up (if you know its good)

Last weekend I finished the first draft of my new Detective Jackson novel (yes, I write and edit on weekends too), and so this week, I’m going back through to rewrite and clean up (find all the places where characters have morphed and street names have changed). This is such a strange process. One moment I’m excited and happy and thinking “This is the one. This is the novel that will be a breakthrough and get people’s attention.” Then two pages later, I’m disgusted by a line of dialogue, doubtful about the whole plot, and scared that this manuscript will suffer the same fate as all the others.

What is that fate? Here’s the short version of my “Almost” story.

My first “almost” was about ten years ago. I had a great story and found a great agent (president of Writers’ House) who sent my manuscript out to five editors at major publishers. One day he called and said, “Michelle Whatshername at HarperCollins loves your manuscript, and I’ll have an offer for you next week.” I danced around the house for days, but the offer never came and my agent gave up. I was so crushed, I stopped writing novels for a few years. (I wrote screenplays, instead. A whole ‘nother story.)

My second “almost” was two years ago. I finished another story that I was excited about, found an agent who said, “This story has great commercial potential,” then she sent it out to five editors at major publishing houses. Those editors said things like: “I read this story in one sitting!” “The writing is excellent.” “This is an outstanding piece of fiction.” But nobody bought it because the victims are underage. That story is THE SEX CLUB, which I brought to the market through a niche publisher. (An effort similar to using a toothbrush to dig a hole for swimming pool.) But readers love the story and want more.

So now I have another Detective Jackson novel, soon to be finished. I don’t want to go the same niche-publisher route (my toothbrush is worn out and my fingers are numb), and I have two agents who read the first 50 pages and are excited to see the rest. But this process—agent, wait, submission, wait, “no thanks”—scares me big time. Will it be a case of “Third time is the charm” or “Three strikes and your out”? I’m not sure I can take another “Almost.” But I am sure that I’m not giving up yet.

PS: Read tomorrow’s post to find out how I stay happy through the crushing disappointments.

Listmaking vs. Goofing Off

As I drank a second cup of coffee and made a specific list of things to do today, my husband said, “Why don’t you take a day off? You know, just goof off for the whole day.” I rolled my eyes (while he laughed hysterically), then went back to my listmaking—which I may have taken to a new level.

First, there’s the life-quest master list, with all the big ideas like: Make the NY Times bestseller list, lose 7 pounds, be nicer to the husband. Nothing comes off the list until it’s accomplished. “Quit smoking” was on the list for 10 years (scratched it off 15 years ago!), and “Lose 7 pounds” has been there since college. (Maybe a nasty bout of food poisoning will eventually take care of that.)

Then there’s the ongoing writing/promoting/career list with things like: “Create a master list of character descriptions” and “Create and post a book discussion guide” (still haven’t done that). Then there’s the daily list of every little thing for that day, such as: blog, bike ride, work on novel, update website, water flowers before they die, have sex. Often there’s a fourth list of things to do while I’m out and about: bank, haircut, post office, Fred Myer. That list may include a list of things to buy at FM, or I may have a fifth little post-it note on my wallet that says: decaf, mints, meaties.

I also have lists for: books to read, blogging ideas, nonfiction article ideas, novel ideas, places to visit, websites to check out, editors, publishers, agents, and more.

So now you’re thinking, “That is truly anal.” And you are truly right.

But I get things done.

So back to my original thought: Have I ever goofed off for a whole day when I wasn’t on vacation in some place other than my home? Actually, no, I haven’t. Can I do it?

No, not a whole day.

But I recognize the need to occasionally have fun. (On vacation, I go all out and don’t even answer my phone. Scroll to the bottom of the page and see the photos for proof. ) But maybe I can sneak in a little fun now and then between vacations. But the only way it’s gonna happen is if I put it on the “must-do-today list.” Maybe I’ll give that try . . . when I get through list number 2.

PS: Did anyone notice that I didn’t use cleaning as an example on my lists? (See blog title.)
Is anyone else a compulsive listmaker? Are there support groups for the addiction?

Being Faithful

As I drank my coffee and checked my list of things to do this morning, I vacillated about how to structure my day. A six-hour freelance editing project was sitting in my “in progress” file, waiting to be started. I was raised with the “work first, play latter” mantra, so my left brain kept telling me to do the freelance work and get it over, then work on my novel. But my novel beckoned me too. Secrets to Die For is so close to being a finished rough draft that it’s like being near the end of an exciting book and not wanting to put it down.

Then I remembered the August blogging challenge and opened my blog. And there were my words, “Write First, Clean Later.” Of course, I get paid to freelance edit, so it’s not exactly in the same category as cleaning, but still, “Write First.” And so I decided to be faithful to myself, my mantra, and my novel. Writing this blog is the only thing I doing before getting to work on my novel. But it’s writing, so it counts.

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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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