Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Flash Fiction Writing Contest

Halloween Writing Contest!

Okay, my lovelies. Many of you know, I love Halloween. The fall is my favorite time of year (maybe because my birthday is the day after Halloween, aptly on All Saints' Day - just sayin'). My son's birthday is just around the corner, too. And autumn in my neck of the woods is pretty darn spectacular, and even more so if you want to drive a few hours to the North Carolina mountains and see the leaves change colors.

In honor of my BIG 4-0 coming up tomorrow, and my love of Halloween, I decided to have a spooktacular little flash fiction writing contest. Don't be scared, I know you're up for it!

Here are the rules:

1) Must be a new, unpublished anywhere else piece.
2) You must be the author. (It can already be written and unpublished, or you can write it!)
3) It can't exceed 1,000 words.
4) It can be of ANY genre, but nothing too racy because I'm primarily a YA/children's writer, though I support all genres on this site. But there's no level of gruesome too gruesome - it is Halloween after all. *Halloween or something Halloween related must be the central theme.* 
5) Please submit by 10 pm tonight (EST).
6) I will pick my three favorite stories and post them, then share the hell out of them and get you as much FREE PR and recognition as I can!
7) READERS will vote on the winning story and one of you will be named (and be given a cool, graphic badge for your Web site) Scarowriting King or Queen 2013.
8) Not only will you get this awesome honor and the badge for your Web site, but your work will also be published and highlighted on this site and PRed like crazy. In addition, I will do an interview with you (if you want), and you will win a prize pack with a $25 Amazon gift card and a bag full of candy!
9) Please submit to cmalbertwrites (@) gmail (.) com. Thanks!

Recap: Original, due tonight 10 pm EST, under 1K, best of three, winner crowned, prizes. Got it? 

Hoooooooo's up for this spooktacular writing sprint today? Please share with all of your writing friends and let's get some great shorts out there for people today! 

The contest starts...3...2...1...NOW!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What Corporate America Taught Me About Writing & Editing Novels

Some of you know that in my "past life" I worked for fourteen years in corporate America; thirteen of those years were spent with a Fortune 500 company (technically it's on the 25 and under list, so I'll just call it a Big Ass Company) and one year was spent in civil services. While working at said Big Ass Company, I had a variety of roles and worked on many teams; mostly in the communications, writing, editing, and training design & development areas.

Most people think of corporate writing as non-fiction and therefore not relatable to fiction novel writing. But this couldn't be further from the truth. No matter what you are writing, or editing, there are some fundamental truths we can all learn from that cross over. Every day in my "new job" as a fiction editor, and writer, I find lessons I learned from corporate America bleeding over into my work. So I wanted to share just five of them with you today.

1) Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) - Doesn't sound very nice, but the point is clear. Believe it or not, at said Big Ass Company, we aimed our writing to a 10th grade reading level. You might be scratching your heads thinking, why in hell would you do that? To keep it simple. It wasn't always achievable (especially when throwing around technical jargon), but the point was to make it easy for the reader to absorb and apply. Why use a convoluted word when a simple one will do? 

The same goes in fiction. Sometimes, (I'm just sayin') writers try too hard. While there is a time and place to pull out a thesaurus and break out the big kid words, if it's over done, it will come off as contrived and awkward instead of having the impact you wanted. Some writers complain when they hear this and say they don't want to write to the lowest common denominator, they want to sound "smart" in their writing, and they are tired of using simple, clich├ęd words. All of which are valid concerns. But you don't want to lose your readers, or your message, by making them have to stop reading and pull out a dictionary all the time either.

I'm pretty well versed in language and words, but every once in a while one of my authors will use a word I've never heard of, which is why I share them with you. But most people aren't as word nerdy as I am; not even avid readers. Keep them in your story. After all, isn't that what we aim for? Readers who just get lost in our books and can't put them down? This doesn't mean you can't ever use "big words." That's not what this is about. But if there's an easier, more direct way to say something, then say it so that the reader will understand. You want to be relatable and not come off as too academic and snobby in general/mainstream fiction--unless you're a highbrow author and that's your audience/readership. But if you are a clever and strong enough writer, your novel will still sound smart anyway. Big words or not. 
2) Passive vs. Active - When you use a passive voice, the action happens to someone as if they have no control over it. It also sounds softer and weaker and can be unclear who is performing the action being placed upon the character.

When you use an active voice, it is very clear who is doing what in the sentence, because the subject (or character) is performing the action. It is a more direct, simpler, and cleaner sentence that leaves less confusion.

As an editor, I actually don't correct every passive sentence if it's unnecessary. Because like with most grammar/style rules, there's a time and a place for everything. But when you can, and where it makes sense, active is most often preferred by both editors and readers because it tightens up the writing and is more clear about who is doing what.

{Check out the Grammar Girl's blog post for a much more in-depth look at Active vs. Passive Voice, including examples.}

3) Breaking the Law - As writers and editors we all rely on some sort of "rule" book to help guide us. It helps both the writer and the reader better understand each other and our intentions. In Big Ass Company, I created our Style Book for my team (whenever I joined a new team), so that everyone was working from the same set of guidelines. There's a reason for this, and it's called: consistency. For most novelists and editors, the "style book" of choice is the Chicago Manual of Style. It is our Holy Grail, our Bible. Among other things, it tells us where to put periods, how to use Em dashes, how to avoid comma splices, and whether to use their, there, or they're. 

You knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you? 


Rules are meant to be broken. Yes, I'm an editor. And, yes, I really did just say that. Hear me out.

About 95% of the time, I follow CMS's editing "rules," as should most authors. However, my fundamental belief in any writing is to have it make sense to the reader first. The reader is more important than "following the rules."

Let me say it again: The reader is more important than following the rules.

I have heard about editors having knock-down-drag-out fights over CMS usage and whether a certain point of punctuation is right or not. Really?!* 

Some of the best authors in our history broke free from the restraints of grammar tradition (think e.e. cummings, for one). The point of any writing is: readability and impact. Instead of getting too hung up in the minutia, consider:
  • HOW does it make your reader FEEL? 
  • WHAT do you want your audience's reading pace to be (fast, slow, jilted, lyrical, trotting)?
  • WHAT will happen if I don't follow the rule? (God won't strike you down with lightening, but yes, you may get a few trolls vomiting on your reviews--but they would do that anyway, because they're trolls.)
Don't mistake my intention here. I'm an editor, and I will tell you what the "rule" is. But I will also offer suggestions on when it's better for the reader to break it. I will probably get hate mail from some editing purists on this one. But my focus isn't on them. I'm not trying to make THEM happy. I'm trying to make readers everywhere happy. I want them to stay in the story. I basically want punctuation to disappear (unless you WANT IT IN THEIR FACE!) so that the reader can focus on the story and keep rolling the wave of your beautifully written prose.

You don't want something to be so jarring that it pulls the reader out of the world you've created for them. And sometimes, following grammar and punctuation to a T can do that and come across as overly stiff and unlike true dialogue. Break the rules judiciously. But don't be afraid to, as long as you are consistent throughout your book (and have consulted with an editor about whether it's one worth breaking or not!).   

4) No Twins Allowed - Have you ever found yourself unable to express a thought without using the same word over and over again?

It happens to the best of us, and is often unconscious. For most, it is hard for us to spot when we use duplicative (or redundant, or to KISS: "the same") words within mere paragraphs from each other. (That's why we use beta readers, critique partners, ARC reviewers, and editors!)

In Big Ass Company, it was especially hard to communicate technological changes without repeatedly using the name of a system or the name of the change. In fiction, most readers will notice if you repeatedly use the same word too much; this is especially true the more uncommon the word is. As writers, we all have what I call "word crutches." Mine is "just." I'm sure I've used it at least five times in just this one blog post.

So what can you do? If you notice a pattern during an edit, especially in close proximity, change one of the words. Find a new and refreshing way to say the same thing. {Check out Word Hippo for fun alternatives, but remember to KISS.} Consider if there is a way to reduce or combine a sentence.

I've read works in progress with the same word being used on average more than once per page for the entire book! Wouldn't you notice if you saw the word jack-rabbit (for example) 350 times in one book? Yeah, me too. So, do a Find and Replace before you send your baby out into the world (an editor helps, too!). It's not that we don't like twins (and, sometimes, repetition can be beautiful, impactful, and lyrical in writing) but, again, use it judiciously for impact; and when you can't, kill off the other baby. 

5) Elevator Pitch - In Big Ass Company, we needed to sum up a complex change that we were implementing that may be costing millions of dollars, and impacting thousands and thousands of employees...all in one teeny, tiny paragraph. If you can't simplify your over-arching "story" in just a few sentences, you're over complicating things. This doesn't mean it's easy. It's not. It just means you need to work on it. Consider it your pitch line (to an agent or publisher), consider it your book blurb for the jacket or Amazon, or consider it your elevator pitch for when friends and family ask, "What's your story about?" But you need to be able to concisely summarize your plot at some point.

Hope some of my time and experience in corporate America has been of help today. I look forward to hearing from you about what you've learned from your job and how it's helped your writing! Please leave stories in the comments below!

* Exception to rule: As a general rule of thumb, I will fist fight to protect the Oxford Comma. Read some pros and cons from The Best Shots Fired in the Oxford Comma Wars. And, with that, I'll leave you on this note:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Go be happy for somebody!

Let's talk gratitude for a moment.

As writers, we are all looking for a certain amount of success. While we *say* we write because we have this burning need to, there's a story inside of us, for our fans, etc. (and it's all true), we also do thrive on and need some level of validation to know if we're any good, or if we're headed in the right direction. And sometimes, writing can be a lonely place full of self-doubt and inner-criticism. Even the most famous authors have admitted to the woes they've experienced while writing.

And sometimes those woes can lead to jealousy. Have you ever looked at someone else's writing and thought: 
  • Why did his book make it so big?
  • How did she get that publishing contract?
  • Why is my writing not getting this kind of attention?
  • I suck, I can never write like him. I'm giving up.
  • No agents want me. I'll never get one.
  • My idea's not even new. Who needs another werewolf/vampire/historical romance/chick lit/ coming-of-age book?
You are NOT alone. Every writer feels these things at some point. But what separates those who make it and those who don't are an abundance of gratitude, a relentless dedication (meaning, they write, yeah, usually every day), and the power to shut that negative inner self-chatter off long enough to push through it anyway and say, "To hell if I fail. If I fail, at least I'll go down in flames and be happy knowing I tried."

But the first thing we must do and know and truly understand is that we are NOT competing against each other. Repeat after me: 

We are not competing against each other.

 We are competing against our own standards. The Indie community especially, I've found, is so generous with sharing their wealth and knowledge and lessons' learned the hard way. They don't hog it to themselves and wish for others to fail. 

Instead, most writers I've come across reach out their arms across cyberspace in gratitude and give back. They share tips with other writers, they cheer for their successes, and they trade time and skills with each other -- anything to help make each other successful. They do blog posts about book reveals, they read advanced copies of books and blog about them, they critique each other's work and help work out the kinks, they take the time to rate them on Amazon. Because as an Indie author, we all need help sometimes, and we all know how important these things are to help the other writer succeed.

I feel a sense of peace knowing that I don't ever have to be jealous of anyone else's success. Because their success takes nothing away from mine. And without one another to cheer each other on and lend a hand, the whole wheel stops turning, and no one wins.

So, today, I am giving my happiness to a friend, a client, and a bestselling author named Delia Colvin, who just released the third book in her Sibylline Trilogy called The Last Oracle. Today I found out she hit #20 in bestsellers in Mythology, #3 in Hot New Releases in Mythology, and #8 in Hot new Releases in Psychic Romances.

Hot damn.

Am I jealous? Hell, no. Am I jumping up and down and throwing confetti at her from across the internet? Hell, yes!

All I have for her is gratitude. For what's she's taught me about dedication and perseverance, for her willingness to help other authors, for her down-to-earthness (yes, I just made that up), and her transparency with her fans on her Delia Colvin & Book Fans Unite! Goodreads group, on Twitter, and on Facebook. The point is - she gives back. She has an abundance of gratitude and expresses it daily. And she cheers other writers' victories as well.

So, go be happy for another writer today. And then tell me, tell your friends, tell your fans, tell the world -- who are you happy for and why? What did another writer do that makes them one awesome person who makes you just want to love them and hug them and call them George? You get the idea.

Just remember, gratitude is a cycle, and you have to feed it -- in yourself and with others -- to keep it moving. So go be happy for someone else today!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Reveal: Fresh new anthology to IGNITE your heat

I am so excited and proud to be a part of Brickstone Publishing's (BSP) big reveal of their new anthology. As a YA and children's author, I don't normally blog about such spicy books, but the folks at Brickstone are just amazing people, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Especially because this anthology...

{drum roll, please} 

...aptly titled Ignite, is written for women, especially moms, who are looking to feel a little heat in their read (well, and in other places, too!).

Ignite is edited by the talented Lori Verni-Fogarsi, who also has a story included in the anthology. Without further ado, here is the tasteful cover, which is why I was so lucky to be able to include it on my blog! As the back of the book says:

"They're short. They're hot. They're a little something just for you."

"Whether you're a woman who has put passion on the back burner, or you're a hot mama who has been keeping things aflame, these stories are sure to light your fire!"

Ignite has ten hot writers, some with lots of stories under their belts, and some new comers (no pun intended) to the adult romance/light erotica genre. Click here to read more about each author's story and click on their photos to read their full bios.  

Ignite is being released December 1, 2013, but stay tuned because BSP will be giving away some spicy, fun surprises between now and October 9. Visit Brickstone's Reveal page to get on their mailing list to be notified when Ignite is available, and to enter to win an advanced copy of the novel. Five winners will be chosen.

If you are a professional book reviewer or media professional, and would like to request an ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) of Ignite, please visit BSP's Request ARC page. BSP is offering some Blogger love, too, so visit their Blogger Opportunities page to learn how you can get involved with Ignite's release. Deadline to sign up is 11/17.

To learn more about the awesome team at Brickstone Publishing, check them out on Twitter, Facebook, or on heir web site.

I know I don't even have to say my normal "happy reading" after this one! There will be plenty of happy readers -- and hubbies, too! Instead, I hope you get IGNITED!