Author Interviews


Today I have a special guest blogger–Julie Momyer–who will be sharing her secrets for developing realistic characters, who readers will either love to love or love to hate! Julie is the author of Kiss Me Awake, a suspense novel filled with all kinds of diverse and richly developed characters. I asked Julie to please share with my readers her suggested ways for developing the characters in a fiction piece.

Hope you enjoy what she has to share…

Thou Shalt Know Thy Character

Have you ever read a novel where the characters were just names on a page? Where, other than a few descriptive words, you didn’t know anything about them, who they really were, or what made them tick?

Some refer to such characters as flat, lifeless, or one-dimensional. They have a shallow surface and a hollow core like the chocolate Easter bunnies on the store shelves. This happens because the author didn’t take the time to get to know their own characters.

Don’t let this happen to you.

When a reader picks up a book, they are embarking on a journey, and they don’t travel alone. The characters are their companions. They want to know them. Intimately.  And the only way this can be accomplished is if the author knows them intimately, first.

Physical descriptions are important to convey: eye color, build, hair length, distinguishing traits, such as a limp and how they acquired it. But if you want your characters to come across as authentic, your primary focus needs to be on their personality, their behaviors, and their life experiences.

Get inside your characters’ head, walk around in their shoes. Take them on like an actor would take on a character on the stage. It’s up to you to determine who they are, what they like, what their skills and desires are, what they are capable of, how they will react under stress, and so on.

How to Get Acquainted with Your Character

One way you can get to know your character is to create a character interview. The questions and answers are simple, similar to those asked in junior high school yearbooks and newspaper interviews:

  • Where do you live?
  • What was your worst experience?
  • What was your best experience?
  • What are your favorite foods, music, books, etc?
  • What hobbies do you have?
  • What are your vices?
  • What is your family like?
  • Who are your friends?
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • What are your goals (in this case not a life goal, but the goal in the novel)?
  • What is your education and occupation?

Then go a little deeper, and ask yourself about your character. Is your character…

An introvert or an extrovert?

Kind hearted or cold?

An optimist, pessimist, or realist?

Timid or bold?

Intelligent or ignorant?

Intriguing or boring?

Evil or good?

Charming or annoying?

Easygoing or uptight?

Are they sensitive? If so, is their sensitivity directed more toward others or themselves? Or both?

Are they hard and unemotional?

Are they passive or aggressive?

Do they have a strong sense of justice or none at all?

How do they deal with pain or trauma?

If it will contribute to the shaping of the character or further the story, you can go one step further and determine why they are the way they are. For example, if your character is unusually sensitive you can weave the cause of their hypersensitive nature into the story.

These are methods various authors have used to build their character profiles, and are not mandatory to your success. You may choose another route. Some writers flesh out their characters with detailed outlines while others can “feel” who their characters are. In the case of character development, the end justifies the means because all that matters in the end is: Do you know your character?

Thanks, Julie, for sharing about character development today. It’s true that there are many processes that will help you sketch out and develop characters for your stories. What works for one person may not work for another, so you may end up having to try several methods before hitting on one that’s just right for you. But until you know your characters intimately, don’t expect them to be anything but lifeless to your readers. The more you know them, the more your readers will as well.

To read more about Julie, you can visit her author website at http://www.juliemomyer.com (“Fiction for Real Women”). From there, you can check out her blog and read about her book, Kiss Me Awake.

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I’m excited to have a guest blogger today to share some tips on writing rhyme for kids. Tiffany Strelitz is a children’s writer and critiquer who has always had a passion for the art of rhyme.

Here’s Tiffany…

Rhyme is a beautiful thing. Except when it’s not.

Stringing together rhyming sentences is only the tip of the iceberg. Great rhyming picture books result from the seamless integration of story telling, perfect meter, bouncy rhythm, and last but not least, the rhyming words.

Below you will find a mix of tips, tricks, and tests that should help you not only gauge where you may stand as a rhyming picture book author, but also elevate your work to the next level. Here we go!

 1)   Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.

Aka:  THE most important rule of all

Like a figure skater gliding across the ice, executing leaps, spins, and perfect landings, the words of a rhyming PB should flow effortlessly from the reader’s mouth—never forcing him or her to stumble, reread, or create awkward pronunciations to fit the rhythm.

Test: Here’s a simple test you can run to check on the accuracy of your word stresses: Pick a line in your story. Any line. Put it alone on a page and read it out loud. What syllables do you stress? Capitalize them so you don’t forget. Now put the line back into the context of your story, and read it out loud again. Are you still stressing the same syllables? If so…awesome! If not, rewrite that line. Period.

Additional test: Read through your entire story out loud while tapping your toe like a metronome. You should be able to bounce right along through the whole thing with no stumbling. Is it working? Good! Not so much? Go back to the first test:

 MON-sters are a SPOO-ky bunch

 a SCAR-y, hairy GROUP.

They RUN in packs, leave GI-ant tracks

and DINE on eyeball SOUP.

Do you hear the consistency of the meter in the stanza above?  Can you tap your toe right through it?  Do you hear how every stress is completely natural?  Note that each couplet has the same number of stressed beats as well. If we mix up a few words, we can see the stanza completely fall out of rhythm (as well as the consistency of the number of stresses that occur):

Monsters are spooky as can be

A scary group.

They run in packs, leave tracks

and dine on bone soup.

Do you hear how many unnatural stresses the reader is forced to insert in order to get through the stanza?

MON-sters are SPOO-ky AS can BE

a SCAR-y group.

They RUN in packs,  LEAVE tracks

and dine on BONE soup.

That’s the way I would be forced to pronounce the words.  Unnatural stresses are everywhere:  AS, LEAVE,  BONE….  You wouldn’t naturally stress any of those if you were saying the same sentences one by one.  (Try it!)  And as a result of the awkward reading, it’s tough (I’d argue impossible) to get lost in the story.

Tip: These tests are even more helpful if you have an objective party read your manuscript FOR you while you listen and take notes on where they stumble, etc.

2) Step right up and pick a meter….any meter….

Did you choose the right meter in the first place?  Different meters definitely lend themselves better to different stories. Try starting your story with a few meters before you commit to one.

Tip:  The right rhythm will make your whole book fall together beautifully. Experiment and see the difference! (PS: I cannot lie. This is HARD.)

3) Syllables are your friends!

Scan through your manuscript. Does every rhyming word contain exactly one syllable? Play, day, say, hay, may? No way!

Trick:  Sprinkle some two- and three-syllable rhymes throughout your story to make for a more enjoyable read AND expose children to a broader vocabulary!

4) Story first. Rhyme second. Period.

This is critical. When you write a rhyming picture book, your number-one priority should not be to make it rhyme. Your number-one priority should be to write the most beautiful, humorous, silly, lovely, heartwarming (insert adjective of your choice here) story you can…that just so happens to rhyme.

In other words: rhyme shmime. Without a solid, well-paced storyline, believable character development, real conflict/resolution and a strong open and close, who really cares if it rhymes?

Test:  Be honest with yourself. Take any (or perhaps every) line in your manuscript. Would you have written those words if your story didn’t have to rhyme?  Would your main character have said that, done that, felt that if your story didn’t have to rhyme?  Make sure your answer is YES 100% of the time. If it’s not…scrap the line immediately and rewrite.

Little Molly took her dolly

out to drink some tea.

She tripped and fell and dropped her doll,

and then she said, “oh gee!”

I can’t tell you how many times I come across verses like this when I do critiques.  The verse is completely unnecessary to the story (or at the least the final two lines are), which causes the rhyme to feel forced.  I guarantee, it is nothing they would have ever written if they weren’t searching for a rhyme.

We can replace the last line with:  “beneath the chestnut tree.”

This adds purpose to the verse (description of where the doll landed), which saves the rhyme from sounding forced. Can you feel the difference?

Well, there you have it.  A light smattering of tips, tricks, and tests to help gauge the level of your rhyming manuscript.  I hope you’ve found these useful, and remember: Rhyme is a tricky but wonderful thing. When it’s bad, it’s a mess; when it’s right, it will sing. Happy writing!!

Tiffany’s obsession with rhyme began at the age of 3, when a nursery school admissions scout asked her, “What is a flower that rhymes with nose?” and she proudly shouted: “Rose!” Twenty-five years later (give or take), now married with two sons and coming off of a long career in finance, she has reconnected with her love of words and rhyme as a writer.

To learn more about Tiffany, visit her website at www.itsrhymetime.com or visit her on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/tshauthor. And, if you write rhyme and need that objective third party to review your work, contact her for a critique quote. She can help you fine tune and find your rhythm!

Today, we’re continuing Scoti Domeij’s post on How to Find an Agent. Scoti is a freelance writer,  workshop teacher, and leads writing critique groups as well as a successful writing group in Colorado Springs. She recently wrote her first book and acquired her first agent. Here’s her next points of advice for how to go about finding an agent for yourself:

7.      Read Publishers Weekly (PW). Available at the library, Publishers Weekly http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/home/index.html prints a weekly list of “Hot Deals.” Read this list to know which agent in your genre is selling manuscripts to which publishers. PW makes readers aware of new agencies and agents. It also announces which editors left publishers to start their own literary agency. By the time these agents’ listings are in the above listed books, their client lists will be full.

8.      Check out The Association of Authors Representatives (AAR). http://aaronline.org/ AAR, a not-for-profit membership organization, is active in all areas of the publishing, theater, motion picture and television industries and related fields. It lists literary agents, their blogs, websites and if their members accept queries via email or snail mail. The AAR’s equivalent in the UK is The Association of Author’s Agents. http://www.agentsassoc.co.uk/index.php/Directory_of_Members . If you write screenplays, obtain a list of approved agencies from the Writers Guild of America. http://www.wga.org/

9.      Ask a published author for a referral. One writer pitched his book to a well-known author. Excited by the topic, the author recommended the beginning writer to his agent. Alas, the writer was truly a beginner. The agent passed, but provided great feedback on his writing.

10.      Make a list of agents to contact. After researching agents that represent your genre, charge no reading fees, accept queries, and want new clients, decide who to contact first. Before sending your query, head over to Preditors and Editors. http://pred-ed.com/pubwarn.htm Scroll halfway down the page and read “Some General Rules for Spotting a Scam Literary Agency.”

11.      Read Rachelle Gardner’s blog. http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/ Rachelle’s blog consistently makes the Writers Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writer’s. She offers writers the inside scoop from an agent’s perspective on writing and publishing. Check out her articles and links.

12.      And how did I obtain my agent? I participated in a critique group for seven years. I wrote a book proposal that took months and months to write, critique, edit, and polish. Then I polished a query email and shot them off to two agents that I wanted to represent me. One asked to see the proposal. Three days after signing the contract, the other agent emailed and asked for my proposal based upon my query email to his info@literaryagent email.

It may take months or years to find an agent. In the meantime, hone your writing skills. Build up your writing credits. And never, ever give up.

I’d like to introduce you to Scoti Domeij.  Scoti has worked for several publishers over her career in various facets of editing. She is now a freelance writer,  workshop teacher, and leads writing critique groups as well as a successful writing group in Colorado Springs. She recently wrote her first book and acquired her first agent.

I asked Scoti to walk us through the process of researching and finding an agent when you don’t know where to start. The following is the first part of her advice for locating an agent.


I recall the first agent I knew. As the editor of Harvest House Publishers, I wondered, Why would an author give up 15% of their advance and royalties to an agent? Seemed crazy. Who would have guessed that agent was a man ahead of the times?

Fast forward to 2011. These days most authors need an agent to help their manuscript land on an editor’s desk at a publishing house. So how do you get an agent?

If you’re not a superstar, celebutante, Jesus, or famous for being famous, first you’ll need to hone your writing skills, write a quality book-length manuscript, join a critique group, edit, edit, edit, and then craft an irresistible query letter. And that may take years. Since you only have a minute or two to catch an agent’s interest, make sure your topic, writing voice and skills, book, book proposal, and query is up to par to send to an agent.

And the Next Steps?

1.      Research agents by genre. Don’t waste your time or the agent’s by contacting someone who does not specialize in your genre.

2.      Subscribe to the Guide for Literary Agent’s blog. http://guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/ This blog’s tagline says it all—where and how to find the right agents to represent your work. This blog lists agents looking for new clients.

3.      New may be for you. Look for an agent that’s new and needs clients. Or check out agents looking for new clients or that accept unsolicited queries.

4.      Attend a writing conference with top-quality agents. Make an appointment to professionally pitch yourself and your book. Better yet, attend a writing conference known for attracting beginning writers. If you’ve honed your craft, you’ll stand above the crowd.

5.      Read book forewords in your writing genre. Read the acknowledgments page. Authors thank their agents by name. Google the agent’s name and go to their website. Read their query submission guidelines, and then follow their directions to the T.

6. Head to the library. Read 2011 Guide To Literary Agents http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Literary-Agents-Chuck-Sambuchino/dp/1582979537/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299990055&sr=8-1 or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2011, 21E: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over. http://www.amazon.com/Hermans-Publishers-Editors-Literary-Agents/dp/1402243375/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1299990186&sr=8-2 or Literary Market Place 2010: The Directory of the American Book Publishing Industry with Industry Yellow Pages. http://www.amazon.com/Literary-Market-Place-2010-Publishing/dp/1573873578/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299992811&sr=8-1

Scoti has another 6 points to share, so please stop back next week to learn more about how to find an agent.

Please stop by author Margaret Fieland’s website, http://www.margaretfieland.com today for a discussion with me on the in’s and out’s of tech writing!

Today, I’d like to join up again with Nancy Sanders to have her continue our conversation about work-for-hire vs. royalty writing.  Nancy writes primarily for children, but work-for-hire and royalty contracts are available in both children’s and adult markets.

Often, writers don’t consider work-for-hire contracts when they think of writing a book, yet they can offer many benefits over royalty contracts. Today, Nancy will discuss what some of those benefits are.

By the way, I must apologize that on my first post of Nancy’s interview, I had some interesting tech problems and was not able to add Nancy’s picture to my post. This time, it seems to have worked!

Here’s Nancy…

Nancy I. Sanders

It’s nice to be back on your blog again, Renee! Thanks so much for having me join your readers and share my perspective on work-for-hire versus royalty contracts. I’ve signed lots of both, so I’ve had experience on both sides of the page. Today I wanted to share about some of the benefits work-for-hire contracts can offer a writer.

There can be key benefits to work-for-hire. One is that most work-for-hire assignments have fixed guidelines and a pre-arranged format writers are required to follow. Some writers prefer this. Editors who work with writers on these assignments also realize there is a learning curve for those who are new to their publishing house. They’re often willing to help and train newbies—an added bonus! It can feel like signing up to take a writing course, but being paid to take it.

Other benefits are that you learn to write what an editor wants and work on a tight schedule. Plus, it helps acquire published credits. These are essential ingredients of building a successful, solid writing career.

The one main concern you want to be careful of when signing a work-for-hire contract, however, is to never agree to write about something that is near and dear to your heart. Don’t sell all rights to the picture book about your nephew’s first birthday party or a middle grade novel series with your twin daughters as the main characters. Save those books for royalty-based contracts where the copyright is registered in your own name.

To get started with work-for-hire contracts, most publishers will expect to receive a query letter stating that you’re interested in being considered as an author for a potential assignment. List any published credits you already have. They’ll also need to see samples of your work, but if you haven’t yet written in their specific genre, mention in your query that you’re interested in preparing sample text for their review for a potential upcoming new project. That way, you can fine tune your writing sample directly to their in-house style and format. And if they like your sample, you just might be offered the contract to write that project.

[I’d like to add here that I believe wfh assignments are an excellent way to break in to a publishing house. In my opinion, it’s much easier if you are given an assignment and told how it is to be written than to try to break in as a new author by sending out proposals in hopes something will catch someone’s attention.

I realize that some writers hate the structure of wfh and would rather be free to create the way they want to, but even with royalty publishing, you still have to adhere to the editor’s guidelines and format.]

Thanks, Nancy for shining the light on work-for-hire vs. royalty contracts!

-Bestselling and award-winning author Nancy I. Sanders has signed numerous work-for-hire books as well as royalty-based contracts. She is the author of the ground-breaking new book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, Award-winning Finalist of the National Best Books 2009 Awards. http://www.YesYouCanLearn.wordpress.com

For today’s post I’d like to bring back author Nancy I. Sanders. Nancy has written dozens of work-for-hire as well as royalty-based books, so I thought she would be a great person to help explain not only the differences with these two types of publishing but also the pros and cons.

Please welcome Nancy back to my blog…

It’s great to be visiting your blog today, Renee! Thanks for asking me to participate in a discussion about work-for-hire contracts versus royalty contracts.

Many passionate opinions abound as to whether or not a writer should sign a work-for-hire contract. A work-for-hire contract basically means that you agree to write a manuscript and give away all rights to it. Your manuscript becomes the property of the publisher and as such they can do whatever they choose with it. Many writers feel passionately that work-for-hire contracts should never be signed.

On the other hand, some writers love the world of work-for-hire publishing. Assignments can come at a steady pace. Deadlines are fast and furious. Nice paychecks arrive in the mail on a frequent, regular basis. These writers usually don’t like royalty-based contracts because they’ve learned from experience that it may take years for cash to trickle in from royalties on a book that doesn’t sell well.

Work-for-hire can be a great source of quick cash in the world of publishing, but it might be to your advantage to establish a balance of work-for-hire contracts along with royalty-based contracts. In between your work-for-hire contracts, take time to query publishers who offer royalty-based contracts. If you can land contracts for several royalty-based contracts each year, along with several work-for-hire contracts, it can help you financially in the long run. The beauty of writing royalty-based contracts, other than the all-important reason that you get to keep the copyright to your own work, is that over the years, as you build up your published credits, the royalties start adding up as well.

Stop back tomorrow and we’ll discuss some of the benefits—yes there are actually benefits!—of signing work-for-hire contracts.

Nancy I. Sanders is the author of the ground-breaking new book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, Award-winning Finalist of the National Best Books 2009 Awards. http://www.YesYouCanLearn.wordpress.com

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