Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday's Writing Tip: Don't Send Out Your Your Manuscript Too Soon!

"Writing is an adventure.  To begin with, it is toy and amusement.  Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant.  The last phase is that just as you are about to become reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public."  Winston Churchill

Just make sure your monster is ready to fling!  There's always a sense of accomplishment and achievement when you've completed your manuscript (or killed your monster).  After numerous drafts (of being held captive slave to it), you're likely to feel confident enough to submit it.  But hold on just a little longer before you do that.

I'm reading Robert Masello's Rule 27, "Let it Marinate," from his Robert's Rules of Writing.  He suggests holding on to a manuscript for about two weeks.  And this means not working on it, and especially not reading it!  Just "let it marinate."

Afterwards, you'll be able to view your work with "a passably fresher eye."  I'm doing this now with a novel I'm preparing to submit, yet again!  I was a bit hasty in thinking it was ready.  Now I'm going through it with a fine toothed comb and discovering all sorts of things I can improve.

Masello says you're likely to find "sentences that bump strangely, paragraphs that don't belong, bon mots that no longer seem so bon, typos, and misspellings."  I've been restructuring sentences and finding places where I've left out words completely, and of course, now I'm seeing all those little spelling errors not picked up by Spellcheck, like form used for from!

How do you manage to miss all those things, the first time around?  You're too close to your work, according to Masello.  And this is understandable, after you've worked on something for months.  He states, "You knew every nuance of prose, every beat, every twist and turn and transition.  It's not that you couldn't see the forest for the trees--you couldn't see the trees for the twigs."

So time to pull back.  Kill the monster, but don't throw its body to the masses yet.  Hold onto the remains (in a drawer, hard drive, thumb drive, etc.)  Put some distance between you and your work.  Get it out of your head for a while, so you can encounter it as a stranger would. 

Ask yourself if there are passages that don't seem immediately clear.  At the beginning of a new chapter, have you accurately described where a character is, or is that not made clear until paragraph three.  If you have to pause a moment to get your bearings straight, time for some revising!

Masello ends this section as follows, "It happens to every writer out there.  But the good ones know that by holding on to the work for just that little extra bit, by giving it a final once over-over in the cold light of a new day, they stand a much better chance of eventually seeing the work in print, or between covers."

Have you let your finished manuscript marinate for a while before that final once over?  Tweet me @: maria_mckeknzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Recipe Friday: Chicken Soup

"And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for a funeral either." John Steinbeck, East of Eden

One of the best comfort foods around is chicken soup! Not only does it taste good, but it's good for you, just like Grandma said!

According to Natural News, research shows that chicken soup helps break up congestion and eases the flow of nasal secretions.  It also inhibits white blood cells that trigger the inflammatory response, causing sore throats and the production of phlegm.

Chicken contains cysteine (an amino acid that's released when you make soup) and this thins mucus in the lungs which aids in the healing process.

When combined with nutrient rich vegetables, homemade chicken soup definitely helps heal those suffering from colds and colds flu!

Nothing hits the spot on a cold winter evening like a bowl of home made chicken soup, and today I'm sharing my all time favorite recipe, adapted from one in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Unfortunately, lots of cutting and chopping is involved. Listen to an audiobook to keep yourself entertained, and consider this a labor of love since it's so healthy for your family! Make a pot this weekend and enjoy!

Chicken Soup

1 whole fryer chicken
3-4 quarts chicken broth
3 carrots, peeled and chopped roughly
3 celery ribs, chopped roughly
3 onions, chopped roughly
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped roughly
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped roughly
1 t salt
1 t pepper
2 t garlic powder
2 t onion powder
1 1/2 t dried dill

Place chicken in a very large pot.  Cover with broth.  Bring to  boil and skim off any scum that rises to the surface.  Add seasonings and chopped vegetables.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove chicken and vegetables from soup.  Puree vegetables and return to soup.  Remove skin and bones from chicken and chop. Return chicken to soup. Makes 8 servings.

Does your family have a chicken soup recipe that's been past down from generation to generation? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Wednesday Discussion: Are You an Audiobook Junkie?

"I'm laying down my audio book.  No writing, just spoken words, the old fashioned way."  Danny McBride as Kenny Powers in Eastbound and Down

As writers, we're readers. So it goes without saying, we're book addicts!  And what better way to feed our addiction (when we don't have time to sit quietly and read) than with an audiobook? 

If you haven't tried Playaways, the palm sized digital audiobooks, I highly recommend them! They're available at bookstores and libraries.  Since they are a tad pricey, I use the selection available at the library.  All that's required for use is a set of headphones and one AAA battery.

Years ago (before kids), when I worked full time, I had a half hour commute each way.  That long drive allowed me time to listen to books on tape, which I absolutely loved doing!

I hadn't thought about listening to a novel, when not riding in a car, until I discovered Jennifer Hoffine's blog, YA Audiobook Addict.  Jennifer provides recommendations for YA Romance, Contemporary, Supernatural, Fantasy, SCi-Fi, and Historical audiobook fans.

Audiobooks have made my morning runs more enjoyable, but that's not all!  Listening to them is a great way to pass the time while doing those mundane things that life requires, like housework, ironing and folding laundry.  And since reading is part of writing, I feel like I'm doing something productive, while involved in something I hate (like cleaning toilets).

I made a New Year's resolution to read one book a week. Now with Playaways, I can.  And the added bonus, I can enjoy housework--well, kind of--okay not really.  But it's not nearly as bad while entertained by a wonderful story!

Disclaimer: I can't guarantee that listening to an audio book will make you appear as glamorous as the lovely model above.

Do you listen to Playaways, and are you an audiobook junkie?  Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday's Writing Tip: Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov

We've all read craft books which explain that in our writing, we should show, not tell.

Okay, so I admit it, I thought I could get away with telling and not showing! I'm rewriting a novel I started over 10 years ago. A chapter I read to my critique group over the weekend started off with three pages of back story.  Needless to say,they wouldn't let me get away with that!  I was told that I was depriving the reader--which is true!

So today I'm rewriting again, and actually looking forward to it.  Describing a scene, and interweaving back story into is much more exciting for the reader--and won't put her to sleep.

Instead of me explaining what two weeks in Oberlin, Ohio has been like for a newly escaped slave, I can show her interacting with another character.  In my original draft, she merely thinks about this particular character, and how said character shows disdain for her.  She also reflects upon her new life and all the changes she's seen. 

Now I'll need to create a scenario that enables me to show the newly escaped slave with the character who doesn't like her.  This will make for a fun interplay, and the dialogue between them (when not catty) can reveal some of the back story.  More elements of the back story can be woven in at a later time, and some aren't really necessary at all to keep the story moving.

So, no shortcuts, please!  Avoid that dreaded info dump, and show, don't tell!

Have you done an info dump lately? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks so much for visiting today!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Recipe Friday: Chicken in a Pot

"As for those grapefruit and buttermilk diets, I'll take roast chicken and dumplings." Hattie MacDaniel

My Comfort Food series continues here on Recipe Friday with a yummy, easy to prepare crock pot chicken!  This recipe is homey and simple, and so delicious, even my kids like it.  Because of the paprika, they call it chicken with spots!

I've adapted this from my GE Slow Cooker Recipe Book, the one that came with my crock pot. Hope you like it!

Chicken in a Pot 

1 16 oz. pack frozen mixed veggies
1 1.5 oz. envelope beef stroganoff sauce mix
1 5-7 lb whole chicken
1 t salt
1 t pepper
2 t paprika
2 t garlic powder
2 t onion powder

Combine vegetables and sauce mix in the crock pot. Combine salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and paprika.  Rub seasonings into chicken.  Place chicken in crock over vegetables.  Cover and cook on low 8 hours.  Serve with rice and a green salad.  Makes 4 servings.

Do you have a favorite comfort food sort of chicken dish? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Wednesday Discussion: Are You Submitting to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award?

The time is quickly approaching for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.   The submission period opens January 24 and closes February 6.  If you're not familiar with the contest, click the link. 

The competition is open to unpublished and self published novels in the YA and adult fiction categories. There are two winners, one from each of those categories and the prize awarded to each is a $15, 000 publishing contract with Penguin USA and distribution of the novel on

This time last year I rushed to finish the last three chapters of a novel I was working on. I submitted, but didn't make the first cut.  Since then, I've rewritten those last three chapters and revised the whole thing.  I've also been submitting to agents and publishers, but as of yet, haven't received any bites.  However, my last rejection letter was actually personalized and mentioned one of my my characters by name.  That alone made my day!

When I got the email about the ABNA  contest a few days ago, I wasn't all that excited about submitting the same book again, but my husband and kids talked me into it!

What about you? Will you be submitting something? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday's Writing Tip: Character Care

"A writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature." Ernest Hemingway

Last week I wrote about letting your characters lead your story. This week I'll focus on the importance of making your readers care for those characters.

No matter how good the plot is in a story, if the audience doesn't really care about the characters involved, chances are the book will be tossed aside and never finished.

As writers, we need to let the reader into our characters' heads and reveal their longings, desires, hopes and fears. Knowing these things allows the audience to empathize and understand any hesitation or reservations seen in our characters. 

Better yet, readers will feel those dreams and defeats, and begin rooting for the people we've created from our imaginations.  They'll want that job promotion, breaking story, dinner invitation, bake off prize or home run to be a success just as much as our humble characters do.

Don't hold back, be dramatic! Reveal what's going on inside; and this includes bad guys!  They need a little empathy, too.  So even if your plot doesn't include a quest for world domination, it can be absorbing, as long as the reader cares for the characters!

In your current WIP, have you revealed enough about your characters to make the reader care? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Recipe Friday: Pot Roast

This month I'm featuring comfort food on Recipe Friday, and one of my favorites is pot roast!

Several weeks ago I told Norma I'd post a fantabulous slow cooker pot roast recipe from Woman's Day. Unfortunately, my recipe has disappeared. I looked all over the Woman's Day site, but still had no luck

The good news is, Woman's Day has several pot roast recipes and I found one similar to my old favorite! I haven't made it yet, but I will next week! Hope you enjoy it.

Be sure to visit the Woman's Day site so you can take advantage of all the great recipes listed!

Pot Roast

1 can (10 3⁄4 oz) condensed golden mushroom soup
1⁄3 cup dry red wine,
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
3 1⁄2- to 4-lb boneless bottom round roast or chuck roast
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 2-in. pieces, thick pieces halved lengthwise

In a 5-qt or larger slow cooker, whisk together soup, wine, tomato paste, garlic and thyme. Add beef, turning to coat. Arrange carrots around meat.

Cover and cook until meat and carrots are tender, on low 8 to 10 hours or on high 5 to 6 hours.

Transfer meat to a cutting board and slice. Arrange the sliced beef and carrots on a serving platter and spoon some of the gravy over the top. Serve with the remaining gravy

Do you have a favorite pot roast? What's the most unusual pot roast you've ever heard of? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for visiting with me today, and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Wednesday Discussion: An Interview with Novelist Norma Beishir

Today I’m interviewing Norma Beishir, who’s written 16 novels ranging from romance and thrillers to fantasy/science fiction. Norma’s earlier works, including Angels at Midnight, Luck of the Draw and A Time for Legends, were published through the traditional industry. Now Norma has moved to self publishing with books like Chasing the Wind, Final Hours and An Army of Angels.
Norma Beishir
Norma, who lives in St. Louis with her son, Collin, offers great advice for newbies trying to break into the competitive world of the publishing industry.  So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the discussion!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I first began to feel the urge when I was around eight. I fell in love with Charlotte's Web and wanted to be able to make people feel the way that book and those characters made me feel.

That, and the fact that I always liked the fictional worlds better than I liked the real one. (Pass the Prozac, please....)
When did you realize you could make a living at it?

(Laughs) The day my agent told me how much she was asking as an advance for my first published novel. It took her fifteen minutes to get me to stop laughing. I thought she was kidding. up to that point, I figured I'd be lucky to get maybe a couple of thousand dollars.

You've said that Sidney Sheldon was your mentor (even though he didn't know it), and that reading him helped you learn your craft. What other writers have influenced you?

Some of the classics. Unlike most writers, I didn't love Jane Austen, but I did love Homer, Dickens, and Hemingway. Jacqueline Susann--she may not have been a great writer, but she was one heck of a saleswoman. She promoted herself right onto the bestseller lists.

I LOVED Judith Krantz's Mistral's Daughter. I wasn't all that wild about her other books, but I have always loved that one!

How does your personal life influence your writing?

I confess to nothing!

Seriously, I think all writers are influenced by real-life. It's unavoidable. When I read Sheldon's memoir, I saw things from his life that were incorporated into his fiction. I've done that, used anecdotes and situations from real life. I've created characters from backgrounds similar to mine. There's a little of me in each of my heroines--and the heroes are all men I could love myself.

You were a romance writer with Silhouette (as Toni Collins), but now write more in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi genre. Why the change?

This is something I've always wanted to do. I wanted to stretch my imagination, and this is the genre in which to do that. Among my favorite movies are the Omen films and The Seventh Sign. And then there's the Indiana Jones films. Indy's my hero!

You've written thrillers as well as the above mentioned genres. Tell us about your current project.

Which one? (Laughs) Chasing the Wind is the first in a series involving a man who has, shall we say, special abilities he doesn't understand. Is he a prophet...or is he the result of an illegal experiment. When he marries and is about to have a child of his own, he must face the truth about himself to save his wife and unborn child from the forces of darkness.

Final Hours is a love story. One reviewer called it a love story that's not a romance novel. Jamie Randall is a successful man who appears to have it all--a beautiful wife, twin sons, wealth. Then, trapped in an underground garage during an earthquake with a freelance photographer, Kate McAllister, he starts to question everything he's done. And for the first time in his life, he falls in love.

You're a huge advocate of e-books and self publishing. Why?

Don't get me wrong--I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to have been not only published, but promoted and paid very well for my work. But as you've pointed out, I've switched genres. My agent and publisher were against this. I had proposals that were rejected because they "weren't glamorous." I'm not from that glamorous world, and to be truthful, I have no interest in it. I fought it for a long time before I finally realized I was better suited to today's options in self-publishing.

Honestly, I think this is the future of publishing. Period.

As a published writer, you have a following to self published books. What advice can you give to the unpublished with no following who want to take this path?

Learn to promote yourself and your work online. Join writers communities. Blog, blog, and blog some more. Be a regular presence on Facebook. Amazon and Barnes & Noble, too. join their online communities. Post reviews. The more of an online presence you maintain, the better you'll do. Some first-time authors who have done all of these things are having amazing success.

Do you have an agent right now?

Only for my previous books. Maria Carvainis is and always will be the agent of record for those fourteen novels.
It seems tougher than ever to get an agent. You mentioned once that an agent signed you, even though she said your work was "unpublishable." Of course she saw the potential because she eventually got you signed to a 3 book six figure advance! Wow! In your opinion, what are agents looking for? Any advice to those trying to find agents?

I couldn't begin to venture a guess on that one! I've been out of that loop for a long time now, but I think the bottom line is a good story from a writer who can be a professional--present a well-written manuscript as free of errors and typos as possible. Don't nag, don't make unreasonable demands, be willing to do the work.

Tell us about the writers group you belong to.

It's a small group. We meet once a month at my church. There are seven of us. Four are church members. Two--William and April, join us via Skype. For a church group, we get pretty rowdy sometimes, and four-letter words aren't banned....

What advice can you give to writers on how to improve their craft?

I'm not a big believer in creative writing course. I think the best thing an aspiring writer--or any writer, for that matter--can do is read the types of books they want to write. Learn from favorite authors. That's what I did.

Any words of encouragement to those trying to break in?

Two words: self-publishing.

Thanks, Maria, for giving me the chance to talk about my work. Hope everyone will stop by my blogs...or better yet, give the books themselves a read!

Norma, thank you, for joining me today! 

Be sure to visit Norma's blogs (see below) and read Norma's books!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday's Writing Tip: Let Your Characters Lead the Way to a Great Story

"There are, according to whichever authority you listen to, three main plots, or six, or a dozen, and everything else is just a minor variation on one of them."  Robert Masello

Today I'm sharing some great advice from Robert Masello, who says in his Robert's Rules of Writing, that every plot you come up with will  start to remind you of some other plot in a book you've read or a movie you've seen.

If that's the case, how can your story engage and excite the reader if it's just a stale, well worn plot? 

Masello suggests that rather than trying to spice up your narrative with something big, like a ticking time bomb on Air Force One, a deadly outbreak, or a policewoman who can read the mind of an ax murderer, think small.

You might think "big" is more exciting, but "small" involves characters, not plot.  If you're unsure of how the action should progress in your novel, concentrate instead on the people.

"No matter how strong a plot is," Masello writes, " won't won't amount to much...if the characters aren't engaging or memorable."

Masello says to visualize your characters.  Envision who they are, what they look like. Imagine their hopes, fears and desires, and how getting what they want will put them in conflict with others.

Some writers create elaborate biographies for their characters.  I'm not one of those, and neither is Masello. He tries to figure out what sets his characters in motion and how they wind up colliding, and what happens after the collision.

He also states that if that doesn't work, he'll introduce a new character.  I read recently, that to up the conflict, add a smoking gun.  But a smoking gun doesn't have to be a real gun toting character.  It can be a smart mouthed teenager or a jealous ex-girlfriend. 

Masello suggests that to kick start the story, throw something new into the mix, like a mean boss, flirtatious neighbor, overbearing mother, or a long lost brother.  "And," according to Masello, "because the action evolves from the peculiar interactions of characters that only you could have brought to life, and to the page, and not from some mechanical and superimposed plot, it'll sound and feel original."

Are you letting your characters lead the way?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for visiting!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Recipe Friday: Barbecue Meatloaf

"Meatloaf just doesn't get any respect. It never has been able to rise above the rank of  'home cooked meal.'"  From Once a Chef

Although I love exotic, spicy cuisines, I adore comfort food! Remember all those wonderful meals your mom used to make back in the olden days?

When I was a kid, I hated meatloaf! But now I love it, I guess because it reminds me of the good old days--the days when I wasn't doing the cooking!

I have several meatloaf recipes, but this one, from The Cincinnati Enquirer, is a favorite! It's quick, easy to prep, cheap, and really delicious! Hope you like it!

Barbecue Meatloaf

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 lb lean ground beef
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup plus 2 T BBQ sauce, divided
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 t Dijon mustard (or regular mustard)
1 t minced garlic
1/2 t dried thyme

Heat oven to 350.  Microwave onion 1 minute on high. Combine cooked onion, turkey, beef, crumbs, 1/2 cup BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic and thyme. Mix. Spoon into 9x4 inch loaf pan. Brush with remaining BBQ sauce. Bake 50-60 minutes. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Slice and serve. Makes 10 slices.

What's your favorite meatloaf? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Have a great weekend, and thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Wednesday Discussion: Have You Made a New Year's Resolution?

"A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other." Unknown

Yesterday someone asked if I'd made a New Year's resolution. I had not for this year, but I have in previous years. I'd usually remember those past resolutions for about a month, then fall back into my old routine.

After being asked that question yesterday, I started thinking about what I could do to help improve my writing. 

Procrastination is an issue I struggle with, and I could probably get a lot more done if I didn't.  A writer mentioned in an article I read recently that to improve your craft, you should read one book a week in your preferred genre. 

All writers love to read and usually have a stack of books waiting to be read. Because of time wasting habits, I have a hard time making it through one in a week's time. So I'll use my time more wisely to work on that.

There's my New Year's resolution, and I plan to stick with it! What's yours? And please share any tips that can help the procrastinators among us save time!

Tweet me @: maria_mckenziewrites. Thanks for visiting!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday's Writing Tip: Now, That's a Problem!

My kids are still on vacation (they go back tomorrow). So here's another recycled post from April that I hope you find helpful if you missed it the first time around!

"To avoid unnecessary use of the word "that" in writing, remove "that" from sentences to see if it changes the meaning." WMU Writing Tips

For many beginning writers, use of the word "that" is a problem. In addition to adding needless words to a manuscript, its constant repetition causes choppiness and interrupts the flow of writing.

Not long ago, I attended an insightful and informative workshop on editing presented by Ann Warner.  The first exercise she assigned for us was to look through the works in progress we'd brought and highlight the word "that" in our first two pages.

Ms. Warner was pleased to see that none of us raised our hands when asked if it appeared five or more times. "You're not beginners," she said. But at one time, we all were.

In Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, "that" and "which" are discussed as follows:

That is the defining, or restrictive pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive.

The lawnmower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)

The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question)

The use of "which" for "that" is common in written and spoken language...Occasionally "which" seems preferable to "that"...But it would be a convenience to all if these two pronouns were used with precision. The careful writer, watchful for small conveniences, goes "which" hunting, removes the defining "whiches," and by so doing improves his work.

I just want to add to that, although I lack the eloquence of Mr. Strunk and Mr. White here, that a careful writer will trim those thats, too! Remember that trimming that unnecessary that from your writing is like trimming that unnecessary fat from your diet! And that's a good thing!

Any comments on "that?"  Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping  by!