The Eppies

EPIC is an organization of electronically published writing professionals, and every year they hold a contest to determine the best electronic fiction published during that year. This time around, RIO STAR, the second of my Patty O'Donnell novels, has been chosen as a finalist in the Mystery category in the 2007 Eppie Awards.

If you guessed that I'm excited, you're probably right. ;D

It will be March 10 at the EPIC convention before the winners are announced, so I've got a while yet to sit on my hands and wait. In the meantime, I've got plenty to do writing wise.

Till next time...


Making it real--Showing vs Telling

If you've been writing for any length of time, you've probably heard the admonition to 'show, don't tell'. What exactly does that mean? And why should it be of concern to writers?

In fiction, you want your reader to feel a part of the action. "Telling" is a mere recitation of the action. It informs the reader of what is happening in the story, but at the same time it holds the reader at arm's length, refusing to let them in any way experience what's happening. "Showing" involves inviting the reader into the action, though vicariously. The experience can be anything from close to extremely intimate, depending on if you're writing third person or first, and on how deep into a character's thoughts and emotions you're willing to let your reader get.

Telling is a straightforward statement of what happens. For instance, one might write:

Ardith left in an angry huff.

This gives you the essential details. But it doesn't pull you close to the character. How angry is she? And why is she angry? It's a bit dry.

Showing might look more like this:

Ardith spun away and half ran across the parking lot. She jerked the door of her silver Mercedes open and climbed in, slamming it shut again as she inserted the key in the ignition. Her hand was trembling, and tears of anger blurred her vision. How dare he treat her like this? The engine started with a roar. She flung the car into gear and pulled away, her tires spitting gravel. Pings of rock hitting metal told her she'd showered his car with them. She smiled, unable to suppress a surge of vindictive joy. Served him right.

The second version pulls you tighter into the character's pov, how she felt, what she thought, and shows you what she did and why. You now know that this unnamed man made her angry enough to cry, and that she's vindictive enough to be happy she left pockmarks in his car's paintwork. Yes, it takes a little more work than simply telling does, but the reward is a more interesting experience for your readers by making the character and situation a bit more real for them.

Click on the Writing label for all writing posts.



December once more

Ugh. Where has this year gone? I must have slept through most of it--doesn't seem it should have gone by so quickly.

The big winter storm brought snow and cold temperatures, along with the requisite cars off in the ditch. Had to buy tires for the hubby's SUV last week. Talk about making your hair stand on end! Cost over $600, and that was with a $148 discount. The worst of the storm went around us, which we were happy about because our heat is all electric, and we don't have a fireplace. If you'd like to see a shot of what the area of snowfall was, this satellite image will be of interest to you. (Sigh. The image is now in the archives. The link will take you to the site, but you'll have to look in the archives to find it now, because I know nothing of putting photos on the blog.)

One side effect of the virus I had a couple of weeks ago is that, after two days of basically fasting because I couldn't stand the thought of eating, I started reacting to foods that I shouldn't have been eating anyway, so it's jump-started that diet I've been meaning to start. It's amazing how bad some of those things were making me feel, but the cumulative effects of all of them kept me from realizing just how bad it was. Feeling much better, thinking much better, getting more done.

My new heroine, Kira, has been a bit slow talking to me, but she's finally making herself known. I've got her story started, and want to get moving on it, because Patty's next story is starting to come together as well. An effect of the diet, making my brain work better? Maybe. Makes me wonder why I didn't do it sooner.

In the meantime, I'm trying to think of another writing subject to post about. Maybe next time.




I've been out with a nasty little respiratory virus for a bit, so I obviously haven't posted in a while. There's nothing like a 101F fever for frying your thinking ability. I'm on the upside of it now, though not entirely over it, and may have the joy of getting hit by it again, since this one goes around two or three times every winter.

Got news of a new review for the Hate Anthology at The Romance Studio. Thought the rating of 5 hearts was nice to see.

Things are a tad slow at the moment. I'm waiting on the edits of a short story written for an anthology, and the next Patty O'Donnell story is on hold temporarily while I get some details worked out. In the meantime, I'm getting back to a story set on Maui, which features a different set of characters, so I'm still working. I may post bits from time to time, to let you meet the heroine.

If you have emailed me about the mailing list and you haven't heard back from me, please leave a comment. Email can be tricky.

That's it for now--still a little fried. This dratted cough kept me up for a big chunk of the night.



Lazy November afternoon

The year continues to pass at an incredible rate. When you're little and your parents tell you that one day the time will pass at a much higher rate of speed, it's impossible to imagine. Of course, it doesn't go any faster or slower in reality, but subjectively, it seems like only a short time ago that I was training myself to write 2006 rather than 2005 on my checks.

Patty's cousin Eddie has bowed out of the next story after all. Her husband insisted it was his turn to spend a whole book with her. Who am I to argue?

One of my favorite e-authors, Pauline B. Jones, has been saying some very nice things about my book Blood Money lately on her blog. If you haven't had a chance to read any of her work, check her listings at Fictionwise.com. Her latest book is Out of Time, which I have not yet had the pleasure of reading. I'm quite fond of the Lonesome Lawman series.

Until next time~~~


Research is essential

Did I just hear some folks groan?

Writing is the portraying of a thought or image in your head as a word portrait. Whether your intended audience is the average reader or specialists in the field, you need to make certain that your word portrait is accurate.

This means you need to do some studying. If you're an expert in your field, you've already done your studying, but if you're not, you'll need to get a good working knowledge of your subject before you try to write about it.

Where can you find what you're looking for? One good place to start is your local library. Your librarian can help you find books and articles in the field you want to write about.

Do you want to write about a specialized field? People who work in or are experts in the field that you want to write about are a good resource, provided that you can find someone who is willing to give you all the time you need. Many people are flattered to be picked as a source for such research. Don't forget to mention them in the acknowledgements when your book is published.

Another source is bookstores, whether in your locale or online. It can be handy to have basic texts in the field you're writing about, whether you're writing something technical or writing fiction. Inspiration may strike in the middle of the night, when you can't make it to the library. Or if it's something that you might revisit in future work, having the texts on hand will speed up refreshing your memory.

The Internet is another resource. Just remember that anyone can put anything on the web and claim to be an expert, so double-check things.

Are you writing about a foreign city or country? Sometimes tour books can provide you with basic knowledge and a brief history of the people and the area, but if you want to do something more in-depth, read up on the history of your chosen place and get a feel for the people and the reasons why their culture is as it is.

Do you need help with places and cultures that you might not otherwise be exposed to, or about earlier periods in your own country's history? Historical societies preserve records and items that might be of use to you. There are also often tourist information or cultural sites online where you might be able to contact someone for information. If they don't know an answer, they may be able to direct you to someone who does.

Is it important to be accurate when using real places and people and periods of history? Yes, it is. Readers in certain genres are familiar with what is normal for the time period/country that you set your work in. Anachronisms are spotted quickly, and will cause your readers to lose respect for you as a storyteller. Some will even stop reading your work all together.

You don't want to lose readers because you didn't take the time to make sure you knew what you were writing about.

Click on the Writing label for all writing posts.



Useful Links

If I've done this right, there should be some links in the sidebar now. Two are for literary agents who blog, Miss Snark, and Agent Kristin, both of whom are great sources of information in the world of agenting and publishing. One is for Evil Editor, who takes query letters and shows you why what you've written in them doesn't work.

Then there are three links for Writer Beware, a good place to check for information on writing scams and the folks who perpetrate them. One is for their blog, one is for their website, and one is for the list of the 20 Worst Literary Agencies. I highly recommend checking these links out.

Recovering nicely from mush brain. Next time, hopefully I'll have another post on writing for you~~


Mush Brain

The first Muse Online Writers Conference was quite an experience. Such an incredible amount of information exchanged over a five-day period--I'll be weeks sorting and absorbing everything. All the week-long workshops held on the yahoo message board were open to anyone who was interested in the subject, so I've got notes and handouts from a lot of workshops that I hadn't signed up for originally. I'd set aside a three-inch, three-ring binder to put handouts and notes in, and it's completely full. There was information there for all levels of experience. Quite worth the time and effort spent on it.

As a result, though, I'm still a bit mush-brained. But spending a week doing something else entirely has made me want to get busy on my novel. Knocked a lot of rough edges off the first bit, and it feels like it's going to flow a bit better now.

I'll be back when I've had a little more time to recover...


A few random thoughts

Well, the writing conference begins on Monday. Registrations closed on the 4th. We have around 102 people signed up for the workshop we're doing on writing suspense stories. 5 days of questions and answers on the yahoo conference board, and an hour-long chat on the 13th. And that's only the workshop I'm helping to present. I've signed up for a number of others, and a bunch of them came with paperwork to read ahead of time. LOL! I've got my work cut out for me, but it's great to be able to attend a conference this way.

The new Patty O'Donnell novel is starting to finally shape up in my head. I've gotten six pages into writing it--yeah, I know, you're supposed to plot it all out and have everything down in an outline before you start, but that never works for me. If I write it down as an outline, it never gets written as a story. Besides, the process of writing is very organic for me, and the outline would never match what I eventually wrote. I'd intended it to be a Patty and Micheal story, but Patty's cousin Eddie, who is something of a clown, shouldered his way in and took over. One of these days, I'll write one where Micheal gets a more substantial role, but it's not going to be this one.

My allergies are really stirred up right now--it's the fall mold season, we had a couple of deluges not that long ago, and the trees are dropping leaves. There's a lot of stuff rotting out there. One lesson I seem to need to learn every year around this time is that I should never try to communicate with others during the worst part of mold season. I always end up making a horse's behind out of myself. Apologies to all whom I've managed to offend so far this season. Which of course means I'll really have to watch myself during the conference.

It's a full moon tonight. I love the moonlight. Guess you couldn't tell that by my books. ;)

'til next time~~


Traffic Blues

There are some good things in living in a college town/metro area, and some bad. When I was younger, around the time I was learning to drive, my birthplace boasted a population of somewhere around 25-30,000 residents, not counting the cows and chickens that surrounded us in what was then a mostly agricultural region. Summer breaks for the college meant that there were a couple of weeks in the summer when the streets were so empty that you could practically walk down the middle of all but the busiest and not have to worry about getting hit. It was always a relief, because most of the kids coming up for college hadn't been driving more than a year or two, and were still in that awkward, 'I can drive anywhere and anyhow I want, 'cause Mom and Dad aren't here' phase. It was a great time to learn to drive, because you weren't having to contend with other, relatively new drivers.

The population has jumped since then by 40,000 or more residents, just for my hometown. I'm not sure of the numbers for the rest of the area, but some magazine named us one of the top ten places for something or other, and people started coming. Summer breaks no longer mean quiet streets. My son learned to drive last year, and drove himself to work over the summer. He tells me, "Those kids drive like maniacs," even though he himself is younger than most of them. Winters, now and in the past, tend to be adventures in idiocy. Many of the kids come from places where it doesn't snow. You can almost guarantee that you will see cars off in ditches all over town the first time or two the roads get slick. They find out that four-wheel-drive doesn't mean you don't slide when the roads are icy.

Sure, there are some things that are nice about the growth. We've got new restaurants and stores that we used to have to drive to Tulsa or Joplin to visit. And the small-town, roll up the carpets and lock up at 5:00 mentality has long since vanished. It's nice to be able to pop out to the store and pick up toilet paper or other essentials at 9pm.

The metro area includes three cities and a number of surrounding small towns. The roads were not designed for the volume of traffic that we get. There are often lines at the off ramps on the interstate, which has become the main traffic artery for folks trying to avoid the clogged city streets. These days, neither is a faster way of getting there than the other. On game days at the local college, the best time to try to get out and do things around town is during the game, when everyone else is at the stadium. Careful timing is essential. My husband and I misjudged the end time of the game one day not long ago. It took us nearly an hour to reach our restaurant of choice, when it normally takes around 15 minutes.

This past half-week, the nearest big city hosted Bikes, Blues, and BBQ, one of the fastest-growing, family-friendly biker rallies in the country. They were expecting an attendance of around 300,000 people. There was a ton of traffic, but I honestly think it moved more smoothly than game-day traffic. In spite of their reputation, bikers on the whole seem to be pretty polite drivers. If only we could teach the fans of the college football team to be so polite.


The Muse Online Writers Conference begins in 8 days. So far, registrations are running around 1,000. There's still time to register if you're interested in it. http://www.freewebs.com/themuseonlinewritersconference/index.htm


Word Art

I am an artist, the daughter of an artist. So for me, painting metaphors as applied to writing come naturally--painting in details with a large or small brush, writing with an artist's eye, among others.

I have a friend who's a painter. When she looks at things, she imagines what colors she would use to paint them. Usually they're colors I wouldn't have thought of using--while I'm an artist, I don't have the depth of understanding of color and what you can do with it that she does. She's a fantastic artist, too. She knows her tools, and she uses them very, very well.

Writing is an artform. The tools are basic--we use them in everyday life, when we communicate with others. Words have their basic forms, just as colors stem from the primaries of red and blue and yellow (or green, if you're working with light), but there are also endless shades of meaning, and a large and ever-growing vocabulary to choose from. English is a living language, always changing, even if we don't particularly like that the things we learned in our youth are being pushed aside for newer things. To learn to use it well, we have to study it, study its structure, study the various shades and colors of it. When we know what our tools can do, then we can concentrate more readily on forming pictures with them.

Imagine that you're sitting in a crowded plaza, watching people pass by. There are sounds, footsteps on pavement, the rustle of fabrics, voices pitched high or low or somewhere in between, bursts of laughter in the forms of giggles and deep-chested guffaws. There are smells--perhaps there are food vendors nearby, filling the air with the scents of pizza and hotdogs, or spicy Mexican foods, and perhaps your plaza is somewhere near the ocean, so the air also carries the scents of water and fish. It's mid-day, and the sky is mostly clear, with small white clouds moving lazily past, high overhead. The sun warms your arms and face, and your dark t-shirt absorbs the heat, making your shoulders and torso comfortably hot. Men, women, and children pass in pairs or in family groups, couples strolling hand in hand, children laughing and playing games, or chasing one another across the plaza. Colors are bright, red, turquoise, yellow, white, intensified by the sunlight. A breeze stirs the hair at your temples and on your forearms. A ship's bell rings, the sound reaching you clearly across the water. Gulls wheel overhead, raucously demanding a handout.

Can you see this place? What words would you use to describe it? Try writing it down. When you've finished, put it aside for a while, then go back and reread it. Have you accurately recreated what you experienced?

Word art has a particular advantage--In recreating a setting, a scene, a character's experiences, you have the ability not only to paint in what is visible to the eye, you can paint in the character's thoughts and feelings in a way that will enhance your picture and make your reader feel that he or she has actually been there and experienced the story with your character. Sensory input other than just the visual makes things real to your reader. Practice it. Like learning to paint, it takes time to get it right, but it's well worth the effort.

Remember that, just as splashes of bright color can be jarring in a painting in subdued tones, words used outside their proper context will jar your reader. Choose your words carefully. Big words are exciting, but they may not be your best choice. Simpler is better when you're choosing what shade to use. Complexity may please you, but it may distract your reader so that he or she sees that bright patch to the exclusion of the rest of your painting.

Finished for now...until next time.

Click on the Writing label for all writing posts.


Changing Seasons

Fall is coming. I can't say I'm terribly excited about that. While I'm happy to be out of the upper 90s and 100s that we endured during July and August, I don't like it when the temperatures drop below the mid 70s. Guess I live in the wrong part of the US. I'm also one of those folks who suffer from year-round allergies. I'll try not to harp on that when I post, but it's a part of daily life, and it's going to crop up. For instance, Fall weather, and the first killing frost, will put an end to the pollen that's still out there, but all that rotting, damp plantlife brings on the mold, which impairs my ability to write. Just when I was beginning to make some headway on the new novel, too.

Ah well. Best thing to do is haul out the big brush and paint in what I can, getting the basic storyline on paper. I can go back and add in details with the fine brush later. I don't think Patty, my protagonist, will mind all that much.


The Muse Online Writers Conference 2006 is scheduled to begin October 9 and run through October 12. The conference is free, there are a number of workshops available, some for the novice writer, and some for professionals looking to sharpen their skills and find new ways of promoting their work. I'll be part of the Suspense! workshop on October 13. If you're interested in attending and benefiting from these no-cost workshops, please go to http://www.freewebs.com/themuseonlinewritersconference/index.htm to register. Preregistration is highly recommended, as some workshops have limited space.


Where to begin?

My name is Pepper Smith, and I write mystery/suspense stories. Currently I have three books out in my Patty O'Donnell suspense series, Blood Money, Rio Star, and Reef Runner, as well as a Patty O'Donnell short story in HATE: An Anthology of Murder and Mystery, all of which are available from Whiskey Creek Press ( http://www.whiskeycreekpress.com ) and Fictionwise ( http://www.fictionwise.com ).

I don't know how frequently I'll be posting, but I'm sure as thoughts occur to me about the writing world, I'll be posting about them.

At present, I'm particularly looking forward to the release of Under Orders, the first NEW Dick Francis novel in a while. It's due out September 26, 2006, and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Until later~~