Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Author Interview--Barbara Rogan: Writer, Agent, Editor, Teacher

I’ve read Barbara’s SAVING GRACE, CAFÉ NEVO, ROWING IN EDEN, and A DANGEROUS FICTION. I love all of them. Each is unique, compelling, and populated by wonderful characters. This across-the-board excellence is the mark of a great writer. Barbara Rogan is just that and a fabulous writing teacher, too. Besides regularly facilitating writing exercises at the Books and Writers Forum, she also teaches for Writers Digest’s online school and her own Next Level Workshops. For a full appreciation of her love of helping writers, you have to visit her blog—In Cold Ink—too.

I met Barbara Rogan at the CompuServe Books and Writers Forum when I became a member in late 2008. Her ability to teach, mentor, and write showed through immediately. She has worked in all areas of publishing as an editor, agent, and writer.  On August 13, 2013, I interviewed Barbara when A DANGEROUS FICTION was published and I thought it was time to catch up with her.
ZM: You’ve worked in all aspects of publishing. What’s been your favorite part of the publishing business?

Barbara: That would undoubtedly be the people I got to work with when I was a literary agent. I was an agent during what in retrospect seems like the heyday of publishing, and I had the pleasure of working with some of the great publishers, like Roger Straus Jr. of FSG, Barney Rossett of Grove, and Bob Gottlieb of Knopf. I was 23 years old when I founded my agency, and to them, I must have looked like a kid who ought to be working in the mail room. But they treated me with the utmost respect and collegiality, considered my submissions seriously, and talked up the books on their current lists. I got to know some amazing writers as well: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nadine Gordimer, and Madeleine L’Engle in particular stand out.

ZM: You’re blog covers all sorts of craft and marketing tips. I particularly like your interviews with industry insiders. What’s been the best part of blogging for you?

Barbara: As a writer who has worked in the publishing industry, I’ve seen that world from both sides. There are so many misconceptions and myths circulating among writers that I felt compelled to try and put a different perspective out there, demystify the industry a bit. So that is satisfying, and so are the many friendships I’ve struck up through the blog.

ZM: New writers often make rookie mistakes. What are some you’ve noticed over the years? If you had to pick one bit of advice for rookies, what would it be?

Barbara: Almost everyone goes through a period of confusion about point of view early on, but that is a natural stage in learning to write fiction. Generally my advice would be for writers to keep working on their craft. Learning to write effectively is a lifelong endeavor that doesn’t stop once you’re published. The best way to break into print is to write a book that, regardless of current trends and issues in the publishing industry, is simply irresistible.

To get there, most writers have to endure rejections along the way, so that is my second piece of advice. Writers need to toughen up, because rejection, though painful, is part of the process and may even be beneficial, in a cod-liver oil sort of way.

ZM: I still say your characters are the best things about your books. Do you have specific exercises for discovering them, or do they just show up when you start a novel?

Barbara: They evolve during the process of writing. I do a lot of preparatory work before I start a novel, and that involves thinking about who the characters need to be for the story I’m trying to tell. But no matter how much I plan and think, the characters don’t come alive until I begin writing them into scenes. Eventually, after multiple scenes, they take on enough heft of their own that they can surprise you.

ZM: Tell us how the sequel to A DANGEROUS FICTION is coming.  (By the way, I can’t wait to read it. ;-)

Barbara: Thank you! It’s coming along splendidly. A lot of the characters from A DANGEROUS FICTION come back in the second book, including Jo’s German shepherd buddy, Mingus. And Jo is revealing secrets I never knew she had. In addition to contending with another murder, Jo is forced in the new book to delve deeper into her own past.


Barbara Rogan is the author of eight novels and coauthor of two nonfiction books. Her fiction has been translated into six languages. She has taught fiction writing at Hofstra University and currently teaches for Writers Digest University and in her own online school, Next Level Workshops.  She lives on Long Island.

Next Week: A very special day!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August Mini Book Review Week--Emily Giffin, Barbara O'Neal, Lind Yezak

I have only three new books for you this month, but because I'm slowly rereading Diana Gabaldon's WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD and devouring the details I missed in my first headlong read. That's a testimony to a great book, don't you think? ;-)

WHERE WE BELONG Emily Giffin--Women's Fiction

Giffin has written a poignant tale of the unintended consequences that a couple of teens set in motion with their explorations of each other. Every choice Marian makes to deal with her pregnancy at 18 reverberates down through the years until her daughter hunts her out. There's love, pain, and healing in this story. And a measure of peace and hope.

THE ALL YOU CAN DREAM BUFFET Barbara O'Neal--Women's Fiction

What happens when four women food bloggers all reach a turning point in their lives at that same time? They reach out to each other and take the journey together. O'Neal weaves these different characters' stories into a rich tapestry of love and growth.

THE CAT LADY'S SECRET Linda Yezak--Humorous Christian Romance

What happens when a woman with a secret, an eccentric cat lover, a veterinarian, and a small town mix? A delightful tale of love and laughter. Yezak's tale is a fun read, perfect for the beach. 


Have a great time reading and be sure to share a few suggestions for me to check out. 
Next week, you're in for an interview of a wonderful writer--Barbara Rogan. Don't miss it! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

August Tips Week: Structuring A Story

All stories must have structure. At least that's what all the craft books say. ;-)

And this is a time when what everyone says is true. Think about trying to figure out a "story" that just meanders from one event to another without any purpose in the telling. It's annoying. So, in the interest of story structure, I thought I'd share three new sources of info I've found in the last few weeks.

Story Spine

Check out the full post HERE. This one excited me so much that I turned right around and did a spine for FRIENDLY FIRE. And it worked!!!! ;-)

Five Key Turning Points

This article shows the way story is structured around doors of no return in 6 stages. Check out Michael Hauge's post HERE. He shows how turning points work in Erin Brokovich and Gladiator. This is very detailed, useful information.

Dan Harmon's Story Structure

Charlotte Rains Dixon has a great post on Story Structure, too. In it she introduces Dan Harmon's structure that I think is a great way to explain many Women's Fiction stories.

Picture this as a circle with point #1 at the top and then each point follows clockwise.

1. A character is in a zone of comfort
2. But they want something.
3. So they enter into an unfamiliar situation
4. And adapt to it.
5. They get what they wanted!
6. But pay a heavy price.
7. They return to their familiar situation
8. Changed forever.


I can foresee a lot of my time working on finishing the draft of FRIENDLY FIRE involving these ideas. I hope it's helpful for your writing, too.

Next week: Mini Book Reviews!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Poem and an Update on FRIENDLY FIRE

I'm enjoying sharing my poetry on the snips and poetry weeks here In the Shade. Since my focus is on fiction at the moment, poetry is an occasional occupation for me. The poem has to jump out of my brain and demand to be written to get my attention. Here's one that will probably find itself in the fourth Cherry Hill book...if I ever get to it. ;-) It came to me in bits and pieces in a dream. I could hear it said by a particular character from my Cherry Hill stories. Talk about being eery!


A China Cup

A china cup—chipped,
A garden trowel—bent,
A measuring spoon—dented.
All too small, too fragile
To hold a life well lived.

Her portrait on the wall,
Her books waiting to be read,
Her appointments abandoned.
All too empty, too cold,
Because she is gone.

And so is he.
His shared life—
Beyond repair.


I'm starting a new push to get this story finished. There's 349 double-spaced pages in my compiled print out.  If I edit, rewrite, plug holes at a rate of 2.3 pages a day, I'll finish by December 31. Wish me luck! ;-) I've already dealt with 78 pages.

Next Week: Tips Week--Story Structure

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Character Traits: Why Does Laura Grace Bake?

The characters who stick in our minds the most are the ones who have identifiable actions and traits that are unique to them in the story. Some characters run their hands through their hair when upset or worried. Others fiddle with their glasses. Finding the right trait for a character is as important as their name and more important than hair and eye color.

A writer has to ask themselves: what makes my main character stand out? I got lucky with FRIENDLY FIRE'S main character--Laura Grace Chandler. She showed up in the very first scene I saw her in with her identifiable trait--her delectable baking.


“Isn’t it great, Laura Grace?” A grin crinkled my friend Jen’s eyes as she looked around the room, then she turned to me. “I didn’t expect so many foster kids, but we have enough goodies for an army. And it wouldn’t be a party without your teacakes.” 

I piled my cookies closer to the edge of the tray so the little ones could more easily reach them better. “Glad they’re a hit. You had a good idea to give the foster parents with a bit of respite.”


I've been asked many times what exactly what type of baked good tea cakes are. ;-) So, I thought you'd enjoy the recipe for Laura Grace's Tea Cakes. Thanks to my sister, Thea, I have a copy of the oldie, but goodie tea cakes we enjoyed as children.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3-4 cups self-rising flour

Mix all ingredients except for the flour. Gradually add flour until the dough is stiff enough to roll out. Roll out and cut. Be sure to roll it out between 1/8 to 1/4 inches thick.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Don't cook until the cookies are brown. They will be too crisp and burnt on the bottom.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies depending on what shape cutter you have. Ice if you wish. Our family loved butter cream frosting.


Laura Grace has somewhere between 50 and 75 different fun cutters. Butterflies, birds, fish, leaves, Christmas trees and bells...you name it and she has it. 

Have fun baking and save me a cookie. ;-)


Thanks, Charlotte Rains Dixon, for this new mantra: Process is everything. Product happens. ;-)

Next Week: Snips and Poetry Week!


Barbara Rogan's A DANGEROUS FICTION is on sale today in paperback! Check it out HERE.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Author Interview--Normandie Fischer

 I heard about Normandie Fischer’s debut book through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Loop in 2013 and I love both of her books. She has a fresh voice and her characters are real people full of realistic life that springs off the page. Check out her website HERE and you’ll find a multifaceted person in her own right. Besides writing, Normandie is a talented sculptor. 

With her days chock full - designing jewelry for the shop she co-owns with her best friend, sailing her sharpie, and hanging out with girlfriends - Tadie Longworth barely notices she's morphing into the town's maiden aunt. When Will, a widower with a perky daughter named Jilly, limps into town in a sailboat badly in need of engine repairs, Tadie welcomes the chance to help. Her shop becomes Jilly's haven while Will hunts boat parts, and Tadie even takes the two of them sailing. It's the kind of thing she lives for, and it's a welcome distraction from the fact that her ex-boyfriend Alex, aka The Jerk of Jerks, is back in town. With his northern bride. Oh, and he's hitting on Tadie, too.

Those entanglements are more than enough, thank you very much, so it's almost a relief when a hurricane blows into town: at least the weather can match Tadie's mood. When Will and Jilly take shelter in her home, though, Tadie finds herself battling her attraction to Will. Even worse, the feeling is mutual, tempting them all with what-ifs that petrify Will, who has sworn never to fall in love again. Mired in misunderstanding, he takes advantage of the clear skies and hauls Jilly out of there and back to his broken boat so fast, Tadie's head spins.

With the man she might have loved gone, and the man she wishes gone showing up on her doorstep, Tadie finds herself like a sailboat with no wind; becalmed, she has to fight her way back against the currents to the shores of the life, and the man, she wants.


Love conquers all?
Maybe for some people.

When Samantha flies to Italy to gain distance from a disastrous affair with her childhood best friend, the last thing on her mind is romance. But Teo Anderson is nothing like her philandering ex-husband or her sailing buddy, Jack, who, despite his live-in girlfriend, caught her off guard with his flashing black eyes.

Teo has his own scars, both physical and emotional, that he represses by writing mysteries—until one strange and compelling vision comes to life in the person of Sam. Seeking answers, he offers friendship to this obviously hurting woman, a friendship that threatens to upend his fragile peace of mind.

But not even sailing the cobalt waters of the Mediterranean can assuage Sam’s guilt for destroying Jack’s relationship and hurting another woman. Soon the consequences of her behavior escalate, and the fallout threatens them all.

Sailing out of Darkness is the haunting story of mistakes and loss...and the grace that abounds through forgiveness.


ZM: After working in a visual medium, what led you to write? Did you ever consider other genres besides Women’s Fiction?

Normandie: Although I discovered the sensory delight of molding clay a year before I wrote my first poem (at thirteen), both media have served as creative outlets during various stages in my life. I love to sculpt, to work in three dimensions, but writing allows me to see or imagine or hear or think and then conjure worlds from words: something from nothing in two dimensions. It’s also immensely portable; I couldn’t have taken clay along on our sailboat.

Stories require enlarging. I’ve been an editor, a poet, a writer of non-fiction. Suddenly, I had to dig a little deeper, to exercise uncertain muscles and keep my brain nimble. In front of me, a few keystrokes away, were new worlds, the ability to people stories and find control in an otherwise out-of-control world.

I didn’t set out to write women’s fiction. I set out to write stories. My agent first dubbed these women’s fiction because they seemed to fit better there than anywhere else. After all, they’re usually about a woman’s journey, oh, and maybe a man’s or a child’s or a town’s.

ZM: You’re books really have deep hearts that readers can connect to. Tell us about your writing journey from draft to publication.

Normandie: What a lovely thing to say, Zan Marie. I write stories that show up on my radar, a what-if from a line or two or the imagined bits of a person’s life, from pain I’ve seen or pain I’ve experienced. People have always fascinated me, which is why I loved to sculpt them and learn their stories. And I’ve always been the listener, the one others came to with their hurts and needs.

When a what-if, a bit of dialogue, or an imagined scene shows up, I write and store it on my hard drive or in a notebook for later use. I have the beginnings (or middles) for dozens of stories that I may one day complete. (Or not.) Sailing out of Darkness is actually the third full-length manuscript I wrote, and Becalmed the fourth.

Becalmed almost wrote itself. I began with a what-if from my aunt’s life and had no idea what would happen to my protagonist, Tadie, what decisions she would ultimately make. As I wrote, all sorts of lovely folk showed up in the Beaufort of my imagination, and Tadie’s choices emerged from the possibilities that opened for her and Will. And, oh, for Jilly. I loved Jilly.

Sailing out of Darkness went through various iterations before landing in its final, published form. In Version One, the story began at the wrong moment in time, because I found myself wanting to excuse Sam’s behavior and so cluttered the writing with backstory. Version Two (or three, who can remember?) fell before my husband’s scrutiny. Do you have someone like that? Someone who doesn’t scruple to tell you the truth about your work? This time, he looked over his glasses and suggested I dump the entire first half and begin in the middle.

The middle? I had thought it ready to submit. I swallowed, squinted, and reread the thing. (Yes, it felt like a thing by then.) He was right: off with its head. The almost-final version began with us there, in media res, which turned out to be the true beginning and not actually the middle of the action at all. Oh, and then some beta readers coughed at the prologue. What? More to discard? I loved that chapter! Snip, cut, sigh…

I’m a tweaker, a slasher, a rewriter, an editor, which means that my book editors finally have to snatch the copy from me with a “Don’t you dare make another change. Proofing only allowed.” It’s the perfectionist in me.

This may not be what you asked at all. I’ve just told you about the writing journey and not the publishing journey. From inception to publication took years of reminding myself that each rejection should be seen as a blessing, that each one gave me a chance to revise and rewrite, to begin a new story, which I could then revise and rewrite, again and again as I watched the years pass. And in the efforts, in the learning, I had years of sailing, of living, of loving. It’s not over until it’s over, is it? If the joy isn’t in the doing, then what’s the purpose? Yes, I longed for a published book, but, more than that, I longed—and still long--to be the best writer I can be…the best me. I wish the journey were easier. I think it is for some people, but that may be because they have less to learn than I.

ZM: I think you answered the question perfectly, Normandie!  Many of your characters are sailors. How important has the experience of sailing been to generating your stories?

Normandie:  I’m not sure the sailing itself has been crucial, but we tend to write about what we know and love, don’t we? Places—Italy, the sea, Beaufort, New York, Mexico--sometimes cry out with a “Me, me, pick me,” and I turn my head in that direction…because I must. I love boats and being on the water, feeling the breeze rush across my skin, hearing that slap of waves on the hull, experiencing the freedom of moving at a slow pace, at one with the elements. There’s peace on the water countered by moments of terror in a storm, and all provide fodder for stories.

ZM: That sounds lovely!
Normandie: Living on a boat for those years informed much of my life, as did living in Italy, as does living in the South. These influences can’t help but touch my writing, though my second Beaufort book has nothing to do with sailing, and another I’m revising has characters who run amok in Italy and the Middle East. 

ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Normandie: Oh my, books, books, and more books. They’ve been my best friends for a lifetime. I don’t think I can pick one name—there are too many, and my favorite at this moment may not be my favorite when I pick up a new-to-me author tomorrow. I tend to read stories that consider the human condition; stories of love, be it platonic, familial, romantic, filial, or agape; stories of hope; stories that show heart and depth. I love the deep and lyrical work of Athol Dickson, the tender stories of Charles Martin, the comedy of manners of Jane Austen, an occasional suspense or mystery. Since joining WFWA, I’ve read a number of books by my fellow women’s fiction writers from which I’ve certainly discovered favorites—too many to name.

ZM: What’s next? Are you working on a new book? 

Normandie: I’m always working on a new book or revising an old one. Another of my Beaufort books is making the rounds now as I search for a new agent, and I’m rewriting my very first story, the one that garnered an award for me as the best new writer of 1994—which just shows you how long I’ve been at this. (I should never, ever have prayed for patience.) The beginning of the third Beaufort book waits on my hard drive, along with another story that’s set in Mexico. So much to do!

ZM: I need that reminder on praying for patience. ;-) Thanks for your time and wonderful stories, Normandie! 


Normandie had the best of several worlds: a Southern heritage, access to schooling in the DC area (which meant lots of cultural adventures), and several years of sculpture studies in Italy. It might have been better for her if she'd used all these opportunities more wisely, but it's possible that the imperfect and the unwise also add fodder for the artist and the writer.

Her life changed radically when she married the love of her life at an age when some would have said she was over the hill and way past her prime. (Clichés often speak the truth, don't they?) A lifelong sailor, she was delighted to find that Michael also longed to cruise lovely waters, which is what they did from Northern CA to Mexico, spending too-few years in the incomparable Sea of Cortez. Sea Venture, their 50' ketch, is back home in North Carolina now because Normandie's mama needed care. Still, it's gorgeous there, too, and she can write from home as easily as she could on the boat.

Her two grown children, son-in-law, and two step-sons are handsome (or gorgeous, as the case may be), talented, and a delight. And now there's a new granddaughter in the mix--woohoo! She just wishes they lived a lot closer to home.

Look for Sea Venture's clipper bow and beautiful lines when she slips into a harbor near you.

Next week In the Shade of the Cherry Tree, is a rare fifth Tuesday of the month. I'll share an example of one of my main character's traits. See you in the Shade!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mini Book Reviews: D. Benton Frank, P. Callahan Henry, L. Penny, K. White

Writers are told that the first thing they should do to prepare to write is to read. No one can accuse me of skimping on that step. ;-)

SULLIVAN'S ISLAND Dorothea Benton Frank--Women's Fiction
I haven't read any of Benton Frank's books before and I will definitely seek out her other titles after reading Sullivan's Island. This book is a pitch-perfect rendering of the Lowcountry of South Carolina and the author's deft weaving of Susan Hamilton Hayes' live in 1963 and 1999 is a story to remember full of the history of Civil Rights and human pain.

THE STORIES WE TELL Patti Callahan Henry--Women's Fiction
This is Callahan Henry's best book to date. The deftly perfect title sets up a great stories about we tell ourselves and each other. Lovely, rich characters and true to life situations makes this a great read.

STILL LIFE Louise Penny--Mystery
The mystery and its unfolding are very good, but the constantly shifting POV was hard to read. I kept having to go back and figure out whose head I was inhabiting. I liked Inspector Gamache very much, and would read more in this series if not for the POV issue.

A LONG TIME GONE Karen White--Women's Fiction
A Long Time Gone is one of Karen White's best. The interwoven stories of three of the Walker women of Indian Mound, Mississippi is a captivating. All of the stories come together in Vivien's story of loss, redemption, and renewal.

DOOMS DAY BOOK Connie Willis--SF
This deft handling of a time travel story will keep you on the edge of your seat. Willis is a multiple Nebula and Hugo Awards winner and her craft shows through loud and clear. This isn't a new book and some of the technology is a bit dated, but that doesn't hold the story and great characters back.

Pick a book and enjoy your summer!


Next Week: Don't miss my author interview with Normandie Fischer! You'll love her books. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Setting--World Building Shouldn't be a Stumbling Block...

...but for many writers it is. I'll admit to having to learn how to physically plant my stories. I'm a dialogue first sort of writer. Setting has been one of those craft items that I've had to seek information about and make myself practice. ;-)

Instead of summarizing another blogger's post, I reblogged a great one. Here's Charlotte Rains Dixion's "Build Your Fictional World" from June 28. Charlotte is a writing teacher and coach, free-lance journalist, ghost writer and author. Her debut novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior is a delight.

Recently, I was the judge in fiction-writing contest.  My job was to review the finalists in the novel first chapter portion of the contest, and select the top four winners.  It was fascinating because every entry had a good concept for a story.


Every entry but one had viewpoint issues (a topic I'll address in a separate post soon), and the other big problem I saw in nearly every chapter was a failure to adequately develop the fictional world.

While the set-up was interesting and the characters good (though also undeveloped) what I saw over and over again was not enough care taken to fully create the world of the story.  And I don't care if you are writing a contemporary novel, an historical story, or a science-fiction novel set on another planet, every novel has a world of its own that the reader will inhabit for the length of the book.  And it's your job to write that world so that we, the reader, truly feel as if we've stepped into it.
Some thoughts (in no particular order):

1.  Don't rush.  In many of the contest chapters, I felt like I was being escorted through the scene in a whirlwind.  Don't be afraid to slow down, to share description and details (see #4), to evoke the senses (see #7).  I guarantee that your problem is not writing too much, but too little.  Lay it on thick and write more than you think you should and you'll come out about right.
2.  Root the reader in the scene.  A simple technique is to continually hark back to the physical world in a scene to keep the reader reminded of where she is.  Otherwise, your reader will feel like she's floating in the air.   Use simple references to accomplish this--She leaned against the counter, or He set his coffee mug down on the table.  Doesn't have to be anything fancy.
3.  Fast is slow and slow is fast.  I learned this from a friend who learned it from the late Gary Provost. When you're writing a scene that would pass slowly in real life (such as an afternoon lolling on the couch) do it quickly.  We don't need the details.  And when you're writing something that would happen really fast in real life (like a car accident), slow it way down and note every detail.
4.  Telling details are your friend. Details are what bring a scene alive, such as the red rose petal on the wood kitchen table, or the solitary raindrop sliding down a window pane as a storm begins. But, don't include every single detail, the trick is to choose the ones that will illuminate the scene.  And that's something for you to decide.
5.  Setting is more than just location.  Setting is, of course, your friend when you're creating your fictional world, because it is what your characters walk through.  But it is much more than just the lovely ocean they live beside, it is all the furniture and accessories that fill the house they live in.  And guess what else it is?  Time.  Big difference between San Francisco 1906 and San Francisco 2014.
6.  Characters interact with their worlds in unique ways.  A man who grew up in Manhattan is very different than a farmer from Iowa.  The unique worlds of characters influence them in specific ways, and in return, causes them to exist in their worlds in certain ways.  Take advantage of this.
7.  Use your senses.  Obvious, yes, but also easy to forget.  One of the least under-used senses is smell.  Noting the aromas or odors of your world can be very evocative.  And how about touch?  When was the last time your character described the feel of a fabric beneath his fingers?  Or taste?  (Which reminds me, food can be very specific to different worlds also.) We get accustomed to our primary senses of sight and sound.  Adding in the others will bolster your world.

Photo by an ciss


And now the nifty link of the month:
Nathan Bradford: How to Plan a Novel without Actually Outlining


Next week's blog is the ever popular Mini Book Review featuring Dorothy Benton Frank, Karen White, Connie Willis, Patti Callahan Henry, and Louise Penny. Don't miss it!