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Work In Progress Wednesday 3/25/09

The official contract is all signed, so now I can tell you more about the deal.  *Big grin*

The book, currently titled NERVOUS BREAKDOWNS AND PSYCHOTIC KILLERS: A Writer's Guide to Psychology, will be published by Quill Driver Books.  I don't have a publication date yet, but I hope to have one not too long after I complete the manuscript.  My due date is October.

As I mentioned last week, I'm currently working on a chapter about psychiatric emergencies like suicidality and homicidality, and what happens when people are hospitalized.  As part of my research, I went and visited a local private hospital's psychiatric unit.  Since I had only ever toured a state institution before, I was impressed by just how nice the ward was.  It was like -- surprise! -- a hospital. 

Everything had been suicide-proofed, so nobody could cut themselves or hang themselves from anything...including the pipes inside the toilet tank.  (How, you might wonder, would someone hang themselves from the pipes inside a toilet tank?  Well, they tie something to the pipes, wrap the something around their neck, and lean forward until they pass out.  Obviously once they pass out they just become dead weight against whatever's around their neck.  But as I said, nobody could do that on the unit.  The tanks were sealed and locked down.)

Now I'm working on connecting with someone who has spent time working in a state institution, because there's a difference between private hospitals and state-funded institutions.  Because you know how much money goes toward mental health care in our communities?  Not much.

Here's a picture of the old insane asylum that used to stand in Columbus, Ohio.  I believe the date on the picture is 11-7-1909.  According to some accounts, this was the largest asylum in the world at one point, with 1,300 beds.  It seems to me that Bedlam must have been bigger, but it's still an interesting bit of trivia.

I've also been working on a chapter about mood disorders (depression and manic depression), anxiety disorders (OCD, PTSD, phobias, etc.), and psychotic disorders (like schizophrenia).  If you have questions or things you want me to be sure to include about any of those disorders, let me know!

My friend Mary brutalized my ToM manuscript, and I can't believe I couldn't see some of the problems until she pointed them out.  Can I just tell you how valuable honest, trustworthy crits are?  I always feel a little (and sometimes a lot) embarrassed by my manuscript's shortcomings, but I am SO thankful when someone I trust cares enough to really be honest and give it to me straight.  I've been doing major rewrites.

My other projects -- SW and my NaNo novel -- are taking a breather while I work on this.

Want more info on this whole WIP Weds thing?  Here's Kate's original post.

How are your projects coming?

Work In Progress Wednesday 3/18/09

Nonfiction Project

The Project: I am writing a book based on the same idea as the Archetype site: a guide to help writers get the psychology right in their fiction! The book will have far greater breadth than the site, and go into much more depth to help you get the details right in your stories.

The Update: I am currently working on a chapter about psychological emergencies like suicidality (being a danger to yourself) and homicidality (being a danger to others). The chapter includes information on what it's like to be hospitalized. Since I'm not currently working inpatient, I'm meeting with the director of a psych unit on Monday to make sure all my facts are up to date. That means now is the time to let me know if you have questions (or just want me to be sure to cover something particular) about suicidality, homicidality, or hospitals! 


ToM: My friend Mary spent the last few days reading the the manuscript and tells me she was liberal with the red pen, so I'm awaiting her first round of edits. (*Gnaws fingernails*)  This is the one I'm going to send back to the agent who suggested I do some rewrites and then get back to her.  I'm having some trouble nailing down the genre with this one. I think it's contemporary fantasy.  It has magicians and swords and a heroine who's afraid all this fantasy in her reality means she's crazy.

I was thinking it was paranormal romance, but there isn't a lot of detailed sex, so maybe not so much.  And it's not urban fantasy (my heroine doesn't throw kick ass, throw knives, or wear leather pants, and there's nary a vampire or werewolf in sight).  And it's not dark enough to be dark fantasy.  So...contemporary fantasy.  But not Charles deLint contemporary fantasy -- more Kay Hooper's Wizard of Seattle.  (Which is a paranormal romance.  Le sigh.  Can anybody think of novels that sound like what I'm describing?)

SW: I also pulled out another novel that needs work.  Going to buckle down with it as soon as I'm finished with the one above and see if I can whip it into agent-ready shape.  I think this one is science fantasy -- does anybody say "science fantasy" anymore?  It could also be called future fiction, which is something set in the not-so-distant future, but you rarely hear that as a genre designation.  Hey, are you getting the feeling genre is really an issue for me?  'Cos it is!

S: Which means that I put my NaNo novel on the back burner for right now. I have the feeling the story may become longer than it is right now, and maybe if I spend some stewage time I'll figure out why I feel that way.  At least, that is what I'm hoping will happen!  (PS - This one is either a paranormal romance or an urban fantasy.)

So, dear reader -- where are you with your WIPs?

This cosmetic ad is a FAIL

I am still gaping at this ad.  It would be one thing if the woman were the one talking in the picture, but the man is.  Can you imagine being with a partner who snapped up a product right in front of you because he (or she) was so desperate to not look at your supposed flaws anymore?  Talk about killing your self-esteem!
I also find it interesting that the picture is clearly a throwback to the 50s -- because can you imagine both of them dressed in business attire?  I should hope that a modern woman would look at a man who behaved this way and say "I beg your pardon!?"  (Just as I would hope a man would do the same thing to his partner if that partner did something similar in front of him.)
If someone could please explain to me how benefit thinks this ad is appealing, I'd appreciate it, because I'm stumped.


I can't stand it anymore, I have to tell you what I'm working on.  I am writing a book based on the same idea as the Archetype site: a guide to help writers get the psychology right in their fiction! The book will have far greater breadth than the site, and go into much more depth to help you get the details right in your stories.  I don't have a publication date for you yet, but I do have a due date from the publisher, so I'm working hard to get it ready!

Right now I am working on a chapter that includes details on therapist training and ethics.  Might not sound crucial at first glance, but a lot of writers get tripped up by these areas -- especially ethics.  I recently read The Reach by horror author Nate Kenyon, and he does a really good job writing about one main character's diagnosis and institutionalization; unfortunately, he doesn't do such a good job writing about his therapist-in-training.  Students progress through school and therapy training in steps that are pretty consistent from school to school, but nobody in the book pays any heed to those steps.  Worse, nobody in the book seems disturbed by some pretty flagrant violations of the normal training process and ethical code.  The problem, of course, is that the author didn't understand the steps most therapists follow as they're trained, or (in many cases) when he was portraying ethical violations.

If you have any thoughts or questions about training or ethics, now would be great time to ask -- your questions will help me make sure I cover the information you need for your story.  (Feel free to ask questions or make comments on other areas you'd like to see covered as well.)

Some people have asked me about the process for selling nonfiction, so I'm going to tell you just a little bit about it.

Selling Nonfiction

In most cases, when you want to sell a nonfiction book, you write a proposal rather than completing the full manuscript, the way you do for fiction. A proposal introduces the agent or editor to the book idea, compares it to books currently on the market, and sells the reader on the idea that this new book is needed. Because author involvement is crucial in today's book market, the proposal includes a marketing section explaining what the author plans to do to build publicity. Finally, the bulk of the proposal is made up of a chapter-by-chapter outline.

I have several books on proposal writing, but the ones I found most helpful were How to Write a Book Proposal and Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why. (Other people swear by Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody can Write and The Fast Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal.)


I'm pretty discouraged with my NaNo project. If I were going for a paranormal romance, heavy on the romance, I might be okay, but I want there to be more to it than that.  I'm kind of bored with it at that level.  It's slowly becoming clearer to me that I need more tension, higher stakes, and probably more angst.  So I think I need to develop some darker backstories for my characters.

It's so frustrating.  I've never had a novel come in such fits and starts and give me such fits in the process.  Anybody had any experience having to go back in and build dark backstories?  I'm sure some advice would help me!

Showing vs. Telling (cross-post)

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the most oft-repeated pieces of advice writers receive. But what exactly does that mean? And when is it better to tell than show?

This article went over really well over at the QT Blog, and I wanted to share it with those of you who haven't seen it (cos I worked really hard on it).  Last week during the QT Blog's Open Mic MondayLady Glamis asked, Can you think of instances where it is appropriate to "tell" instead of "show"? Yes, we can, and I'll share some of them toward the end of this post, but since a lot of writers struggle with showing vs. telling, first I want to tackle how to show rather than tell.

When you give someone the Rorschach inkblot test, you go through 12 cards with ambiguous inkblots — twice. The first time, you ask the person to tell you what she sees. The second time, you ask her to show you how she sees it, so you can see it just the way she does. Was it the texture of the inkblot that made her see what she did? The shading? The color? The shape?

When you show your readers what’s happening, you’re doing the same thing — helping them see your story just the way you do. And your goal is not to show them a grainy youtube clip that gives them vague impressions — you want to show them your story in big-screen high-def, complete with a killer 7.1 speaker sound system, tastes, and smells. You want them to be there.

Tip 1: Be a connoisseur.

For me, showing is a sensual experience. I close my eyes and imagine what I would smell, hear, taste, see, and feel in my characters’ situation. Then I do my best to capture the most important of those impressions as vividly — and uniquely — as possible. I want the scene to have immediacy for my reader. When writers tell, they are usually looking at the scene but not listening or touching or smelling or tasting. They’re not slowing down long enough to capture the most outstanding details or pick the most exciting verb.

Here’s a lifeless telling sentence: The bad guys suddenly shot out the tires on the good guys’ SUV.

Time to stop and ask questions about all five senses, using the most descriptive verbs you can find.

* What do your characters see? Does the SUV spin out of control, making the scenery whirl by as if the good guys were on a carousel? If your character is a racecar driver who’s lost control of a speeding car on multiple occasions, his impressions are going to be different from those of someone who just learned to drive.
* What do your characters feel? Does the SUV jolt to a halt? Does the SUV drop closer to the ground? Does the SUV slam into a curb? Do the airbags marshmallow out of the dash, crushing your characters into their seats?
* What do your characters smell and taste? Can they smell rubber burning as it’s dragged across the asphalt? Can they taste their own fear? What does that taste like?
* What do your characters hear? Having blown a tire, I can tell you that the explosion of one bursting is as loud and startling as gunfire. But what else do your characters hear? Other cars screeching to a halt around them?

If this all seems like a lot of work for one sentence, it is, but as you get used to asking questions like this, you’ll start to do it automatically, and the showing will come quicker and easier.

Here is how I rewrote the line for my story. Note two things. First, that there are almost no adjectives — both sentences are carried by strong verbs. Second, I didn’t go on and on about all the different details. This is happening fast, so I have to emphasize only the sensory information that is most important.
More gunfire, and both of the front tires burst, dropping the SUV onto its axle. Metal screamed against asphalt, and a shower of sparks hissed past my open door.
Tip 2: Use active verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.

Adjectives and adverbs tell; verbs show. Strong verbs make your writing vivid and real.

Adjectives and adverbs don’t move the action forward. Nothing is happening with an adjective or adverb; it just sits there on the page and tries to look pretty. For example, if I tell you about an escalator that is tall and silver but standing still, there is absolutely no movement in the sentence. If, on the other hand, I tell you the escalator looms over my character, mocking her with its steely teeth, you have a whole different feel for the escalator. It’s doing things. Scary things.

It’s not very interesting if I tell you that Raven was a clutz. You have to make up the details for yourself. That’s not the case if I add a more information so you can see the scene for yourself: The bell rang, startling Raven, and she bumped her textbook and sent a sheaf of papers tumbling to the floor. She had to wait until her classmates had clambered over her to clean up the mess. Her face hot, she stuffed the pages into her bag, jammed her pen into her purse, and stood so fast she nearly knocked over the man who stood there.

Tip 3: Pick something unique to emphasize about your main characters.

This is going to sound harsh, but nobody cares if your main character has dark hair and hazel eyes. So do millions of other people. You need to pick one or two extraordinary characteristics and emphasize them well enough that your readers could pick your character out of a lineup.

Over time, personality becomes etched into the lines of the face and body, so try to emphasize a physical characteristic that reveals character. Maybe your heroine hunches her shoulders as if she’s fighting a strong wind; maybe her black hair is braided so tight it looks like a licorice stick. I find that when I exaggerate a characteristic, that can help. So rather than just saying your character has flowing black hair, you say her black hair gushes over her shoulders and eddies into the small of her back.
Example: The angular planes of his face turned the soft light into a study in contrasts, and in that context, what might have been a sensual mouth merely looked hard. His cheekbones were high, angry slashes, a sentiment echoed by the frown between his brows.
And rather than telling you that my hero is insouciant but intense and that my heroine finds him attractive, I can show you:
He sprawled against the far wall, the exposed flesh of his chest bronzed and glistening in the heat. A gold piece lay at the end of the chain around his neck.

Had she been forced to describe him without using licentious language, she would have said that the lines of his face were aristocratic. In the uneven light, his eyes appeared black, but their intensity, not their color, was what fascinated her.
Telling vs. Showing

In spite of the magic of showing, sometimes it’s better to tell. Here are a few of those times.

* During transitions. When you just need to get from one day to the next, don’t worry about the evening sunset, the darkness of night, and the morning mist. Just say something like “The next day…”
* When you’re summarizing something that happened during a transition. Let’s say your character had a fight with her boyfriend before she left for work in the morning, and you want to convey that she has an okay rest of the day. You can write something like, “She made it through class and the rest of the afternoon without incident” and let it go at that.
* When you’re talking about a minor character who isn’t important to the story.

Your Job

Go through every sentence of your manuscript and make sure three things are true:
1. Every single sentence and word furthers the story. It moves us forward. It shows us something crucial. This is why it’s important to just choose a few details, not overload the reader with every. single. one.
2. You have used vivid verbs, not just-sitting-there adjectives, to show your readers what is happening.
3. You have closed your eyes and thought about the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches in each scene. You have shown your reader enough of that sensory information that they are experiencing the scene the same way you are.

Please feel free to comment!

Marketing Your Novel

For this round of the chain gang, Heather asked,

What plans do YOU have to market your novel? How will you make sure the public finds your work?

Now, I’m an oddball when it comes to this marketing stuff. I think it’s fun. I’m looking forward to it. And I see my willingness and ability to market my work as the number-one thing that can make or break book sales, so I take it very seriously.

Astonishingly, the best book out there on marketing for writers has gone out of print. You can still get it through, though: Guerrilla Marketing for Writers : 100 Weapons to Help You Sell Your Work. I don't often say you must buy a book, but if you're serious about marketing yourself well, you should run, not walk, to get this book.

The other book I've found helpful is Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors, Book Publicity through Social Networking.

So what are my strategies for marketing my novel?  Here are just a few:

  • Creating an author website -- I really believe websites are crucial these days.  Right now I am using and, but I do intend to create a site that's a presskit for me as a writer when I get a little closer to having a book out there on the shelves.  (If you're wanting a website for yourself and can't code, consider Purple Squirrel Web Design, a company that QueryTracker  and RallyStorm  programmer Pat McDonald and I recently created.  We offer affordable custom designs as well as hosting packages, and soon we'll have up some ultra-affordable U-Design templates that let you pick a site design and customize it to meet your needs.)
  • Putting information about my book in my email and message board signatures.
  • Letting everyone in my social networks know all about the book
  • Letting visitors to the websites I currently run know about my book
  • Including links on each of those sites to major online retailers who carry the book, such as,, etc.
  • Use AmazonConnect to personalize the book listing and connect with readers who view it on
  • Providing opportunities for readers to purchase personalized, autographed copies directly from me.
  • Create a discussion group on for readers to discuss the book
Your turn, dear Reader -- how will you market your book?  What are your ideas, plans, and hopes?

Work In Progress Wednesday

Nonfiction project
I now have the first drafts of three chapters almost written.  And coming soon -- exciting information about my nonfiction project -- plus, ways you can help me with it!  (I know, that would be more exciting if you knew what it was.  Don't worry, more info soon.  Stay tuned!)

Contemporary fantasy/paranormal romance
I'm starting to get antsy about not having sent my manuscript back to the agent who requested the rewrites.    The agent requested rewrites back in January; I wrote frantically in January and February, and then started finding readers to help me out. Elana's edits helped me a great deal, and now I am anxiously awaiting two other readers' thoughts to see if I got the characterization and so forth working again.

Do you think I should be getting antsy, or am I just being paranoid that too much time is passing?

NaNo novel
I've been slowly editing my NaNo novel, and I have the feeling I know what part of my problem is.  My characters are fairly healthy, angst-free people.  They have problems, sure, but their problems are external.  These are not characters tormented by things they are or have done. 

What do you think I should do?  Start creating tortured backstories?  The characters do get...well, mistreated as the story goes on, so I think it's going to gain momentum for me.  Maybe I should wait and see if that happens before I get out the thumbscrews.  Try something new and all that...

So dear Reader, what are you working on?  Are you using psychology in your project?  I'd love to hear about it, either way!

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