Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday's Writing Tip: Don't Look Back

Don't look back: Something may be gaining on you." Satchel Paige U.S. baseball player, 1906-1982

Last Monday, I asked readers what the best piece of writing advice was that they'd ever received. There were lots of great responses, but today I thought I'd focus on one tip in particular, the importance of moving ahead when writing a manuscript. 

As Satchel Paige says, "Don't look back." If we do, guess what's gaining on us? The possibility of not being able to complete that book!

Author Norma Beishir says, "Finish the first draft before attempting ANY changes of any kind. Otherwise, the manuscript will never get finished. I'd often give my agent or editor a first draft with the following note: 'Just tell me what's wrong with it.'"

A first draft is a first draft. Robert Masello says that amateur writers don't want to hear about drafts, because they believe that once something's written, it's done. Real writers (the ones who get published), he goes on to explain, know better. They know that the first draft is a working draft.  And it won't be perfect.  But that's alright, because real writers make it from start to finish.

One reason some don't complete their first draft is because they keep looking back.  I was talking to someone working on a children's book.  Although the story sounded awesome, and she'd thought it through from start to finish, she hadn't written that much. 

She said she just couldn't get the first few pages to sound exactly like she wanted.  I told her not to worry about that, and keep moving forward.  "You can go back and revise once you've finished writing the story."  I don't know if she took my advice, and even though she listened carefully to what I said, I don't think she  liked the idea all that much!

If we keep looking back, it's as though we become stuck in the mud, obsessing over words and details. But if we move on, we see that there really is an end is in sight!  The finished product might sound  a little rough and sloppy, but that's when the hard work of revising starts, the smoothing and sanding and cutting and shaping of your story.

During revision, whole scenes may be cut and characters eliminated to keep the pace exciting and the story progressing. But the most important thing to remember is that from the rough cut of your first draft (and second, third or more), will emerge a smooth and polished manuscript.

Have you made the mistake of looking back? Are you currently revising a first (second or third) draft?

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Recipe Friday: Sweet Potato Pie

"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie." Jim Davis (Pumpkin pie is delicious, but sweet potatoes make a pie that's even better!)

In the northern part of the United States, southern food is referred to as "soul food." And up North, "soul food" is mostly eaten by black people, since the majority of blacks have southern roots. 

It wasn't until I began living in the South many years ago, that I realized "soul food" is what all people eat in the South (and rather than being called "soul food," it's just called food).

My husband, originally from upstate New York, moved to North Carolina with his family when he was about nine years old.  He's a white guy, and although his mother didn't cook southern cuisine, he had his fill of it growing up on school cafeteria lunches.

Mr. McKenzie developed a taste for collard greens, something I've never liked that much.  Needless to say, hubby feels a little short changed having married a black woman who doesn't cook greens!

I do, however, cook sweet potatoes, in case you haven't noticed!  And I wouldn't be a real black woman if I couldn't bake a sweet potato pie! (Just kidding, but it sounded good for effect.) 

White people above the Mason Dixon Line make pumpkin pies during the holiday season, but Southerners and black folks all over the U.S. bake sweet potato pies.

Today I'm sharing my friend Elaine's recipe.  It's her grandmother's, and it makes the most delicious sweet potato pie I've ever tasted!  Hope you like it too!

This is not a slimmed down version, so just promise to take a walk after eating.  There's enough filling for two 10 inch pies--yum!


Sweet Potato Pie

6 medium sweet potatoes
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup flour
2 t baking powder
dash of salt
1 to 1 1/2 t nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 t vanilla

Bake sweet potatoes at 350 degrees until soft all the way through.  When cool, remove from skins and mash. Add remaining ingredients, beat until smooth. Pour into 2 10 inch unbaked pie shells. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350. Bake one hour more. Yield: 16 slices.

What's your favorite holiday pie?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Becoming a Versatile Blogger

Earlier this week, I had the honor of being named a Versatile Blogger by one of my peers in the blogosphere. Woo-hoo--my first blogging award! Once being recognized as a VB, a few things are required of recipients:
  • Thank the person who named you
  • List 7 things about yourself
  • Name at least 12 other bloggers (you've recently discovered and find fantastic) as Versatile Bloggers and notify them
Thanks:  I'd like to thank William Kendall (Speak of the Devil) for naming me a Versatile Blogger.  Although a self proclaimed rogue and scoundrel, I find William very nice (even though he hates my  bean recipes) and LOL funny. I enjoy his writing advice, character interviews, political commentary, and his general take on life in the personal experiences he shares. Again William, thank you!

Seven Things About Me:
1. I prefer the mountains to the beach; the solitude and magnificent views win me over (great for writing).
2. I'm married to a wonderful man.
3. I'm the mom of two beautiful boys.
4. I love museums, historic homes, antique shops and thrift stores.
5. I love spicy food--actually I love food (I don't mind cooking, if it's quick and easy, but I hate housework).
6. I enjoy working out. The health benefits are great, but I even met my husband through staying fit!  However, I don't recommend giving your phone number to a total stranger, who pulls over while you're running to ask you out, as a way to meet a potential spouse (but it did work for me).
7. I was a federal witness in the Georgia Mail Bombing case. I was working at the service desk as a librarian, and the mail bomber (posing as a PI) came in one day and asked some questions--thankfully, not about bomb building--I think he already had that covered. About three years later, the FBI came looking for me (regarding my exchange with the guy, who was then locked up) and needed me as a witness for two different trials. Who says being a librarian is boring?!

Fantastic Blogs:
Joanna St. James: Bionic Writer
Dangerous with a Pen
Dancing Down Serendipity Street
YA Audio Book Addict
Artzicarol Ramblings
One Significant Moment in Time
Through the Looking Glass (Dawn) 
Through the Looking Glass (Melissa)
Iggi & Gabi
W.I.P It
Adventures in Writing
Wordplay
Left and Write Brained
Above Water

Now I will notify the above listed bloggers that they have been named VBs, and woo-hoo! I have become a Versatile Blogger!

If you haven't already, be sure to check out the sites of the fabulous bloggers!

Have a happy, blessed and safe Thanksgiving! Thanks for stopping by! Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What's the Best Writing Advice You Ever Received?

 "Read, read, read. Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad,and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as as an apprentice and studies the master.  Read! You' ll absorb it. Then write.  If it is good, you'll find out.  If it's not, throw it out the window."  William Faulkner

I'm very thankful for all the great writing advice I've gotten over the years from writing friends, my writers group, books and workshops. Since it's Thanksgiving week, I thought this would be good time for all of us to share the best advice we've ever received.  Here are a few of my favorite tips:


Keep Moving Forward - Revise, research, rewrite later. If a fact stumps you, look it up later. If a sentence or a whole paragraph, page or chapter sounds crappy, revise and rewrite later. Don't let a stumbling block stop you-- keep going!

Utilize Another Set of Eyes to Read Your Work - Not your mother or non-writer friends. It's okay to let them read it, just don't expect any constructive criticism. It's important for another writer to read your work to help you improve it. So join a critique/writers group.

Brevity is Best - Do your best to avoid wordiness and keep your prose simple. Avoid long windedness: At the store she picked up lots of gag gifts that were insanely crazy and really wacky. Keep it short: She bought lots of crazy gag gifts.

Scrap Those Fancy Words - "Do not be tempted by a twenty dollar word when there is a ten center handy, ready and available." From Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. So in other words (again), keep it simple! Avoid this: Upon looking at her, he became discombobulated. And try this instead: Seeing her confused him.

That's enough from me. Now, it's your turn!  Leave a comment sharing the best piece of writing advice you've ever received!

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Recipe Friday: Curried Groundnut Soup

"Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter." James A. Garfield

Here's another fabulous sweet potato recipe, and today it's savory!  This is my favorite soup and stars the winning combination of sweet potatoes and peanut butter! If you've tried the African Chicken Stew posted here two weeks ago, you'll understand. This soup is a staple in our house during cold weather, and I make a batch every couple of weeks. 

Cutting and chopping aside, it's easy, and  pretty quick to prepare.  For a light dinner, I serve with a sandwich on the side.

I found this dish in Woman's Day Magazine several years ago. I served it a dinner party and people couldn't get enough; everyone wanted the recipe! It's a zesty, flavorful soup which originated in Africa, where peanuts are called groundnuts.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Curried Groundnut Soup

1 T vegetable oil
1 medium onion chopped (about 1  1/2 cups)
1 carrot grated (about 1/2 cut)
1 large sweet potato (about 3 cups)
3 cups water
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 t curry powder
1/8 to 1/4 cayenne pepper
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
2 T chopped peanuts (optional)

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot;saute until tender (about 3-5 minutes).  Add the sweet potato and water; cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until sweet potato is soft. Stir in the condensed soup, peanut butter, curry, and cayenne.  Bring mixture to a boil.  Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.  Puree the soup in a blender in 2 batches (or use a handheld immersion blender), then return it to pan and reheat. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and chopped peanuts, if desired. Serves 6.

What's your favorite soup?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

As a Writer, Are You a Poet, Too?

"All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling." Oscar Wilde

I am not a poet, not even a bad one! Some have a natural flair. A friend who used to be in my writing class often brought poetry to share--really beautiful poetry. She could take an episode from her work as a nurse, or a sight she'd seen on vacation, or even a dead deer she'd come across in the park, and create something breathtaking.

My husband, with a statistics and engineering background, also writes beautiful poetry.  When we were dating, he wrote some gorgeous pieces for me!  I know what you're thinking--he was on his best behavior and just trying to impress me. So? It worked! And I know you're wondering when the last time was that he wrote me something. Okay, it must've been 19...well, I can't remember. But he has helped me write poetry!

I'd written a scene involving two wealthy ladies (in the American south of 1936) who are discussing the work of a nationally acclaimed southern poet who'll be doing a reading in their town that afternoon.  Even though this gentelmen writes love poems that practically make women swoon, he's gay.

This poet of my imagination is Bennett Stuart. I'd come up with a sappy sweet title of an anthology, but my writing class suggested that one of the ladies recite a poem, one that sounded pretty awful for comic releif.

Of course that meant I'd have to write something--NOT! Remember, I can't even write bad poetry!  After struggling for far too long and only producing two lines, I asked Mr. McKenzie for help.  After explaining the time period, circumstances, and that it needed to be bad, my wonderful husband wrote the perfect poem. And it only took him a mere 15 minutes!

If you want a good laugh, the finished product is posted below!

Are you a natural poet?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

"Smitten" by Mr. McKenzie,
writing as the fictional Bennett Stuart (bad poet)
from his poetry anthology (of my imagination), Love's Passionate Bliss

My dearest, oh one of wonderment

I am assuredly smitten.

Admittedly so, I can think

of nothing but your gaze.

Though others hope of golden coins,

be they but hard and cold,

you, my love, my dearest one,

‘tis you that are soft and warm.

My mind is of feathers, floating,

fluttering back to you and your golden hair.

My dearest, my grandest wish is for you

to call me your lover, your beaux.

You have captured my heart.

My thoughts are a plenty, full of you,

rather than grits, greens or red eye gravy.

Though you’ve warmed my tummy, too,

you’ve mostly warmed my heart.

I long for you, my love, my cherished one,

I long for you, oh love, who stole my heart.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Creating a Villain's Villainy

"An excellent man, like a precious metal, is in every way invariable. A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards." John Locke

Over the weekend, I attended a fabulous all day workshop (at the monthly OVRWA chapter meeting) presented by authors Laura Baker and Robin L. Perini. Discovering Story Magic explored the integral relationship between character, conflict, plot, realization and turning points in producing salable fiction.

The information I received is much too plentiful to put into a blog post, but I do want to share an exercise Ms. Perini suggested in creating a villain.

Pick an "inciting incident" from your own life and spend three minutes writing about it in first person, present tense.  An inciting incident is a change that affected you in a bad or sad way. 

Then take that same inciting incident and pick one of the following villains: Hannibal Lector, the Wicked Witch of the West, or Lex Luthor. Now, write about it in first person present tense from the point of view of the villain you chose (be sure to stick with that same villain).

Perhaps the sadness of a grandmother's death to you, could bring happiness to the Wicked Witch, since your loving grandmother was an obstacle to her power. Maybe the sadness you felt after a friend moved would be joyful to Lex Luthor, who wanted him out of the way, since Lex's parents always compared the friend unfavorably to little Lex.  Or how about a  decision to drop out of medical school?  Disappointing, although the right choice for you, but Hannibal Lector regrets it and vows to go back.

So--you are your own villain! Think you'll give this exercise a try?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Recipe Friday: Sweet Potato Pudding

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating. By a small sample, we may judge of the whole piece." Miguel de Cervantes

This pudding's so good, you might want to eat the whole dish in just one sitting! Last Friday I featured a savory recipe using sweet potatoes. This week I'm posting something sweet! This scrumptious pudding can be served as a side (at Thanksgiving and Christmas) or a dessert.

Lots of people aren't familiar with sweet potatoes or don't realize their versatility. I, for instance, didn't know they could be used in savory dishes until I was grown.  A blogger from the UK said she'd never eaten them sweet.

Each Friday this month, I'll feature a recipe highlighting the versatility of the sweet potato. There's more to it than just being a plain old baked sweet potato or a fry! 

Sweet potatoes taste great any way you slice them (sorry, couldn't resist), and not only are they delicious, they're nutrtious, as well!

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) ranks the sweet potato number one of all vegetables. It scores 184, the next closest vegetable only ranks in at 100.  Points were given for dietary fiber, naturally occurring sugars and complex carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.  To see the complete article I've used  for sweet potato nutrition from foodreference.com, click here.

Today's recipe is a slimmed down version from one of my favorite cookbooks, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine. Hope you enjoy it!

Sweet Potato Pudding

5 medium sweet potatoes
3/4 cup of sugar
6 egg whites
3/4 fat free cup evaporated milk
1 t cinnamon
2 t vanilla extract
1 t rum extract (optional)

Bake sweet potatoes in 350 degree oven until soft (about 90 minutes to two hours).  When baked, let cool, then slice open and scoop out flesh. Mash with a potato masher until smooth.  Add sugar, stir well until mixed. Then add egg whites and beat well. Stir in remaing ingredients. Pour into 2 quart casserole sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Have you ever had sweet potato pudding?

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Twist Endings: Can You Figure Them Out Before the End?

"Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That and surprise." Julia Cameron

I'm hopeless when it comes to figuring out the twist ending of a movie. In a book, I'm usually fed enough clues to correctly guess the conclusion before it's completely revealed--but of course by then, I'm almost finished reading!

My husband, however, less than half way through a movie, will tell me the twist. "He's in on the scheme." "He faked his death." "She's got a split personality." Sometimes he's wrong, but most of the time, my husband's either on the right track, or he's nailed it completely.

I suppose our brains work differently.  I enjoy seeing the story unfold. I love being surprised, shocked and scared. I'm too busy being entertained to think about unraveling the plot. Also, I'm vulnerable and take things at face value.

In Derailed, Jennifer Anniston pays for Clive Owens' train fare near the beginning of the movie. My husband started suspecting something right then. Not me! If I'd had an extra $9.00 and someone (a stranger who didn't look suspicious) had forgotten his wallet, I would've been a good Samaritan and helped him out--just like Jennifer!

When the twist is finally disclosed, I'll rethink my way through the movie to make sure the screenplay was consistent, and the conclusion realistic. And sometimes, once armed with the knowledge of the ending, I'll watch the DVD all over again.  Then I'll see stuff I missed the first time around, and understand little things I paid no attention to before.  Shutter Island, The Sixth Sense and The Others all have to be watched more than once!

Despite my inability to figure out the twist, these types of movies are my favorites! Nothing like the element of surprise.

If you a good love twist ending, be sure to rent these if you haven't already seen them: Shutter Island, Derailed, The Secret Window, The Illusionist, The Sixth Sense and The Others.

Can you figure out the twist before a movie ends? What are some of your favorites (books or movies) that have twist endings?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Writing Your Author Bio


"There is properly no history; only biography." Ralph Waldo Emerson

You've finished your novel--that was the easy part! Now you've overcome your fears and written the query letter. In addition, you fought the idea of condensing your "baby" to five pages, but finally did and wrote a synopsis.

Good to go, right? In some cases yes, but not when the agent/publisher requests an author biography!  Writing your bio isn't as daunting, as it is challenging for those of us who lead average, run of the mill lives. 

Some people have experienced exciting and adventurous lives as army brats, or pursued glamorous professions such as corporate law or international business.  Even some not so glamorous professions can be rather exciting, such as truck driving or jail wardening.

But if we're not  lawyers like John Grisham, or doctors like Robin Cook, how can we make our lives (as housewives, sales clerks, accountants, insurance salesmen, etc.) sound a little more--robust? 

First of all, you're not required to write a book! Usually no more than a paragraph is expected. You can take any significant experience in your life that has shaped you as a writer and put it in your bio. 

Include your education if relevant to your writing background or your subject matter.  If you were an English major or have an MFA, great!  If you're a nuclear physicist, who's written a thriller about a nuclear physical disaster, by all means, state that.

Even if you don't have an MFA, or didn't go to college, you can take the life you've lived and work with it.  However, don't "toot your own horn." Author bios are written in third person. Your mother may think you're the greatest writer alive, but leave that to the agent/publisher to decide.

A previous published article (even if you weren't paid) and where it appeared can be mentioned in your bio.  Working in a job that used (or uses) your writing skill is also relevant info (such as news script writing for a local news station).

If you're a native of a notorious town (Las Vegas), popular tourist destination (San Francisco), or a historic city (Cincinnati), that fact can be used in crafting your bio.  Perhaps your hometown's crime history, famous prison, or relationship with the Underground Railroad tapped into your creative juices as you wove your story about the Mafia, Alcatraz, or an escaped slave.

As an avid reader, you can mention the authors who've influenced your work, such as Thomas Fleming and Eugenia Price for historicals, or John Grisham and Scott Turow for legal thrillers.

If you experienced an exciting trip to an exotic locale (this can be a trip in the mission field, or that trip to Europe you took with the high school senior class), you can describe how that experience inspired you in creating your story. Perhaps the people, the history/culture, or the art made an impression upon you.

Lastly, if you belong to a writers' organization (e.g. Romance Writers of America), and a critique group, place that in your bio.  This shows that your serious about your writing career and are working to improve your craft.

Here are a few basic points to keep in mind:
  • Write in third person
  • List facts
  • Cite relevant experience
  • Write tight
For more help, check out this link and this one. Both provide some great information for writing a compelling author bio!

Have you written your author bio yet?

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Recipe Friday: African Chicken Stew

"He who pursues a chicken often falls, but the chicken has to run." African proverb, Amaka

Today's recipe is a delicious chicken stew that can be served alone, over couscous, or over rice.  It's hot and hearty featuring a fall favorite--sweet potatoes! 

Growing up, I always ate sweet potatoes as a pudding or souffle. But as an adult, I've discovered lots of recipes that use them in savory dishes, which my husband prefers over the sweet ones.

This stew is easy to prepare, but unfortunately involves a little cutting and chopping (so just pretend it's therapeutic).  I've adapted my version from one I originally found in Woman's Day Magazine. Hope you enjoy!

African Chicken Stew

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 t onion powder
3 sweet potatoes
3 t garlic powder
1 1/2 t chili powder
20 ounces canned diced tomatoes
12 ounces frozen peas
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 cup peanut butter

Season chicken with salt pepper and onion powder. Coat a large pot with cooking spray. place over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook about three minutes until browned.

Peel potatoes and cut in bite sized pieces; set aside. Sprinkle chicken with garlic powder and chili powder. Cook about 30 seconds or until fragrant.

Add potatoes and tomatoes. Bring chicken to the top. Bring pot to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer about thirty minutes, or until potatoes are soft and chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with peas, cover and cook 10 minutes longer. Add peanut butter and lemon juice. Stir until blended and hot. Makes 4 servings.

How do you like your sweet potatoes, sweet or savory?

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Interracial Love: Conflict Supreme

"Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies." Aristotle

Who doesn't love a good love story? But what drives one to make it great? Conflict!
And when you throw an interracial element into the mix (pun intended) you have an intensely compelling and emotionally volatile story.

Several films address this topic including, Come See the Paradise (Japanese/white American), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (white/black American), Mississippi Masala (Asian Indian/ Black American), Something New and Jungle Fever (both white/black American).

Throughout history, interracial love has been a topic of great literature. In Shakespeare's Othello, a Moor is married to Venetian, Desdemona. Here racism is seen as Iago schemes to break up their marriage. Hoping to spur Desdemona's father Brabantino to annul the union, Iago tells him "an old black ram is tupping your white ewe."

In Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, the slave Cassie is repeatedly raped by her master Simon Legree.  But she's also been in a previous relationship with her former master, whom she loved. "I became his willingly, for I loved him!" Cassie says in chapter 34.

Sinclair Lewis's Kingsblood Royal tells the story of a bigoted character who discovers he has a small percentage of African blood, then falls in love with a black friend named Sophie.  When he held her hand, it was "warmer than any hand he had ever known," and when she kissed him, "he had not known a kiss like that..."  For more interracial love in literature, see Doug Poe's post on Interracial Sex in Classic Literature here.

Out of all multicultural combinations, perhaps the most explosive in our country is black and white. Make it a love story in the American South of the past--and POW!

I'm black, and my husband is white, but many years ago I began to think how sad it would've been if we'd lived a century earlier. Back then, we couldn't have married. That thought inspired me to write my first novel, Unchained, about the abolitionist son of a wealthy merchant who falls in love with a slave he helps to escape.

After reading Essie Mae Washington Williams's memoir Dear Senator, I wrote my second novel, The Governor's Sons. Ms. Williams's memoir told of her black mother's love affair with her white father, future South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond.  In my novel, a rich white law student plans to sacrifice everything and move overseas for the black woman he loves.

All through our country's history, interracial love has ignited conflict.  Forbidden Fruit by Betty DeRamus and  Martha Hodes's WhiteWomen, Black Men are two fascinating non-fiction accounts on the subject.

The topic of Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson's black mistress, was swept under the rug by history, and Jefferson's white descendants, until DNA tests revealed that her descendants, were Jefferson's as well.

Although there was an enormous amount of rape and exploitation of black women by white men in the United States (especially the South), there was also love.

If a plantation owner chose a slave as his "wife" and actually lived with her, he'd become an outcast from the community.  To prevent being ostracized, some white men, assuming the facade of bachelors to friends and family, would set up separate housing and provide financially for their black "wives" and children. And then there were those white men who chose to have two families, one white and the other black, hidden away in the shadows.

Thank goodness it's a different time!  Although still a touchy topic among both the black and white communities, at least as human beings we can freely love whomever we fall in love with.  As the old cliche goes, "love has no color."

Do you have an interracial love story to share? Are you, your parents or any relatives/friends involved in an interracial relationship?  Are you the product of an interracial union?  Feel free to share your thoughts.

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Synopsis: Friend or Foe?

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Mention the word synopsis to any writer, and you'll elicit fear or an overwhelming dread at the thought of having to write one.

I think most authors agree that writing a synopsis is no fun! After we've worked months, or years, to refine and polish our novels, how can we reduce them to 10 pages, five, two or one page, and then whittle them down even further to a paragraph or even a single sentence?

We can't let the synopsis be our enemy. It has to be our friend to help us sell our work. If you're not familiar with what a synopsis is, here's a simple definition: the summary of a novel.

But in summarizing your novel, you want to show that editor, agent or publisher that you can tell a knock down, drag out, darn good story that they're gonna want!

One agent told me that she doesn't read the synopsis until after she's read some of the sample writing sent along with it. So remember, you're writing (the actual novel pages) will always speak louder than the synopsis, because all the synopsis is, is plotting. But regardless, it must be clean, tight and extraordinarily well written!

There are varying lengths for a synopsis, the longer lengths, of course, being the easiest! Sometimes an agent will ask for a "short synopsis." This usually means one to two pages. Page length may or may not be specified. If a "synopsis" is requested (with no page limit mentioned) you're pretty safe to send 5 pages. If a "detailed synopsis" is asked for (with no specifications), up to 10 pages is acceptable. 

However, just be sure to carefully read the guidelines of whomever you're submitting to. Some agencies and publishers are very specific about the page length of the synopsis.   

The formats for a single page and a multi page document do differ. A one page synopsis is written in block paragraphs with double spaces between paragraphs. More than one page requires the entire document to be double spaced.

Still thinking the task impossible, especially the one sentence synopsis, or one line hook? Read this example from Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit: "As the Civil War rages, a woman's passion for the wrong man blinds her to the love of the right one."  That's a one line synopsis for Gone With the Wind!

If you're fighting with the idea of writing a synopsis, it's time to stop. As with writing a query, there are lots of great tools out there to help, such as Blythe Camenson's and Marshall J. Cook's Your Novel Proposal, and The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, mentioned earlier. Visit Charlotte Dillon's website at www.charlottedillon.com/SynopsisSamples.html for some great sample synopses. You can also find articles at http://www.ehow.com/ on how to write, as well as format, a synopsis.

Writing a synopsis can be difficult, but it can be done!

Have you written a synopsis for your latest completed work? Are there any other tools you'd like to recommend that have helped you?

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