Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Importance of Preparing to Write

Over the years, I’ve had a few discussions with writers about the habits they’ve developed when preparing to write. One day, a workshop facilitator asked how many of us make a cup of tea before sitting down to write. Over half the hands in the room, including mine, shot up. The next largest group was the coffee drinkers. There were also a number of writers who munched on biscuits, peanuts, or M&Ms while writing.

I have colleagues who prepare to write by going to the same place in their home everyday. Some writers prepare by composing a paragraph or two of whatever comes to mind. Others might do a little physical exercise while many writers choose to edit a page of the previous day’s work to put them back in the zone.

It seems that nearly every writer performs some sort of ritual to put them in a creative mindset. This isn’t so much a quirky habit but, as Betsy Warland writes in her book, Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing, a necessary part of writing. Warland views preparation as a three part process.

The first step she calls circling, which is where the writer gathers thoughts, images, research, and notes. This process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few years.

Warland calls the second step the approach, or “crossing the threshold”. This is where the writer does something that takes him (or her) away from the daily obstacles and activities of life. For many, this means going for a walk, or perhaps a bike ride. During this process, the writer's thoughts are shifting into a state of consciousness that allows him to focus on writing.

The third stage is the active waiting stage, which is when the writer sit at his writing place and lets the thoughts come. Warland compares this part of the process to a basketball player gathering his focus at the free throw line, however she cautions us not to rush this final stage. The urgency to put something down on paper because we only have an hour, is a common problem that often sends the writers’ work off track.

Over the years, my writing habits have changed. These days, I prefer a morning coffee to tea, and I’ve discovered the joy of writing a first draft on a laptop from anywhere in my home rather than using the PC in my basement office. I also prefer to download emails and visit twitter as part of my warm-up exercise, but I guess changing with the times is also part of the writing process.

Coming in March 2011, THE OPPOSITE OF DARK,

My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Great Books for Writers

I’ve been reading books about writing for three decades, and each in their own way has been helpful. Two of the more memorable ones during that first decade were The Art of Fiction by John Gardner and Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico. As I began to focus on mysteries, my how-to collection expanded to Writing the Novel From Plot to Print by Lawrence Block and How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz.

From there, I went on to Writers’ Digest’s collection of how-to books covering everything from scene of crime, to poisons, to weapons, bones, PIs, and police procedure. I’ve read Forensics for Dummies by D.P. Lyle, more books on writing mysteries by Michael Seidman, G. Miki Hayden, and Hallie Ephron. And of course, there were the punctuation and grammar books, including two favorites: Elements of Style by Strunk & White and Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

So, when a colleague recommended Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing, I had to give it a try. This book, isn’t a step-by-step, how-to guide, but rather a thoughtful collection of essays mixed with interview segments about the act of writing, being a writer, and the all important—but often overlooked—preparation for writing. With more than forty years of writing and publishing experience, author Betsy Warland discusses this topic with a depth I’ve rarely heard before.

Some of her topics might seem mundane, such as pencils, tables, and computers, but there are much more to these topics than meets the eye, and that’s really what the book is about. Digging deeper into the act of writing; thinking about what one is doing, and why; pondering what works and what doesn’t in your own work, and how problem areas might be solved.

This is one of those books that you’ll want to pick up repeatedly as you work on your prose and poetry. Warland clearly identifies common problems, such as what she calls billboarding: writing unnecessary and intrusive commentary, or scaffolding: the necessary writing during initial drafts to build narrative, but which writers often forget or refuse to remove during revision. A couple of essays were a little obscure, or perhaps too complex, for me to fully understand and digest on the first read. Still, I leaned so much that I highly recommend this book to anyone who is serious about writing well.

Not surprisingly, Warland has her favorite writing books as well, including Aspect of the Novel by E.M. Forster, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brand and A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf. It seems I still have some reading to do. So, tell me, what are some of your favorite books on writing?

Coming in March 2011, THE OPPOSITE OF DARK,

My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Friday, January 21, 2011

What Charlie Said

My husband just read a book I warned him not to read. We'll call the book NAME OF THE BOOK (not the name of the book). He said, "You didn't like NAME OF THE BOOK, did you?" I said, "No, I didn't. I not only didn't, I way didn't."

But he wanted to try it. I had disposed of my copy, so I bought him a used one.

Day One
Charlie: I like this book! The characters are real, believable and authentic. There's a lot of detail. It makes the characters and the setting come alive.

Me: Keep reading.

Day Two
Charlie: It's getting a little tedious. The author has already established credibility; now the author is just showing off how much the author knows about the setting.

Me: It gets worse.

Day Three
Charlie: These characters don't make any sense! Why would they do the things they do? The kind of people the author has set them up to be wouldn't do this or say that or put up with the situation. And why do we need all this history of the area?

Me: It gets worse.

Day Four

Me: I know what part you just read.

Day Five
Charlie: I finished that damn book. I just skimmed the last part of it. It had no integrity. The author didn't stay true to the characters or the storyline established in the beginning. The characters kept doing things, but none of it meant anything.

Me: Maybe we're not giving it enough credit. Maybe it's meant to play the male exploitative acquisitive principle off against the female personal nurturing principle.

Charlie: Well, it doesn't do it.

And so, fellow writers, let us keep in mind, as we write our stories, these guidelines:
  • establish the setting with authority at the beginning and then only touch on it as necessary
  • establish the characters, their strengths and flaws; if the character acts out of the general personality you've given him/her, make it reveal depths rather than letting it outrage reason
  • make the storyline make sense on its own terms: in real life, things happen and then other things happen; in a story, things happen for a reason and to a purpose; the reason cannot be "because the author made it happen" and the purpose cannot be "because the author wants it to"
  • the best stories say something about life or an aspect of life, and work as story and as commentary

Don't let your book be one that Charlie and I agree is a waste of paper (or electronic power). It doesn't happen very often. Don't let it happen to you.

Marian Allen

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest blogger Pauline Holyoak shares lessons she's learned since becoming published

Please welcome guest blogger Pauline Holyoak, author of Merryweather Lodge: Ancient Revenge, "a supernatural thriller that keeps you on the edge.” Today Pauline shares lessons she's learned since becoming a published author.

Although I have been freelance writing for many years, Merryweather Lodge is my first published novel. Since its publication in October, I have been inundated with questions and demands. I know now that being a published author isn't as glamorous or as easy as one might imagine.

Here are some of the lessons I've learned along the way:

Years ago you would write a book, get it published, then sit back and collect the royalties. But it’s not that way anymore.  Most authors are not salesmen, public speakers or comfortable being in the limelight, but we are expected to promote ourselves, as well as our books, even by the big publishing houses.

I’ve already participated in three book signing events, been interviewed by a newspaper reporter and was a guest speaker at our local library. It’s all a little nerve wracking, for an introvert like me. But I know I must come out of my shell and face the world if I want to promote my book.

The internet, of course, is the most powerful tool an author has and not nearly as intimidating. There are literally hundreds of sites that will promote one's book; some are free and some are very costly.  I blog, do online interviews, reviews, Facebook and try to keep a consistent online presence. It can be extremely time consuming but I know it’s an important element in establishing my writing career.

I’m learning that it’s not wise to criticize another author’s work, argue with my editor or debate with critics. As my dear grandmother would say, “Be careful of the words you say, keep them soft and sweet. You never know from day to day, which ones you’ll have to eat.”

I know now that unless your name is Margaret Atwood or Stephanie Meyer, chances are you’re not going to get rich from your writing. Even some of the authors I know, who have a dozen or more published books, barely make a living on royalties alone. And a lot of us spend more money on advertising than we make on our books. I must write just because I love to write, not with the assumption that I’m going to get rich.

I've been asked, “Do you consider yourself successful now?” Well, that would depend on how you define success. It may seem cliché to say that ‘success’ isn’t just about money or fame, but obviously that’s the way the world defines it, including the publishing industry. But if that’s how we define our ultimate success, most of us are going to be doomed to disappointment.

Ever noticed that the ‘top ten’ bestsellers list, by definition, only have ten spots? JK Rowling usually has at least two of those spots. Ask anyone on the street to name a successful author and they're likely to mention Steven King or JK Rowling, yet neither of these authors strike me as being any happier than the average Jo and certainly not as people who have been ‘made’ happy by their success.

I have this quote framed and sitting on my desk. “Successful is the person who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has gained the respect of children, who leaves the world a better place than they found it, who has never lacked appreciation for the worlds beauty, who never fails to look for the best in others or give the best of themselves.” If and when I become that person, then I will be successful.

People ask me, “Do you have a routine for writing?” I write long hand in my purple room, at my antique desk, under a large picture window. Then I type it into the cold inanimate piece of equipment I call my computer and edit as I go. Young people think this is weird, but the blank screen does not inspire me to write; the view outside my picture window does. I tend to compare my writing routine to my eating habits. Sometimes I graze, jotting down tasty morsels throughout the day. Other times I binge, feasting greedily at my desk for a long period of time on something scrumptious, devouring every delicious word that comes to mind. Then I find myself looking down at my work or my waistline and having to edit and revise.

I have learned that it can be, at times, extremely difficult to work from one's home; there are so many distractions. You have to be determined not to let anything tear you away from your desk. Not the phone, not the washing machine, not the door bell. I try to be oblivious to it all, but it isn’t easy.

I’m learning to sieve through the numerous bits of advice from so-called experts and well meaning people. We are all different; we all have our own way for deciphering information, our own idiosyncrasies and different writing styles. What works for me might not work for you. So I read and listen, keep what works for me and disregard the rest.

I have leaned that rejections are part of the writing life, and I've learned how to cope with them and how to move on. At first they were like nagging little gremlins, suggesting that I didn’t measure up. I had to learn how to distinguish myself from my work, to set up boundaries between myself and my creation. My writing was like a child to me, but like my own children, I had to send it out into the world to succeed or fail on its own merit. We all get rejections. JK Rowling received 14 rejections before finding a publisher for Harry Potter. I wonder what they're thinking now. Steven King's first book Carrie was turned down 31 times; it took him ten years to get it published. And look at him now.

I have discovered that perseverance, patience and bold determination are what most published authors have in common. So I write, not for success, not for money, not because it’s easy. I write to explore my inner world. I write because some mystical magnet draws me to my desk. I write to escape the mundane world of people and things. I write because I need to write. To me it’s a sort of innate longing, to get my thoughts, wild fantasies, opinions and stories on paper. I write because I love to write.

I grew up in Southeast England, in a coal mining village my husband calls, “The place that time forgot.” It is nestled between the notorious city of Canterbury and the medieval town of Dover. I came to Canada as a nanny when I was 21. This vast and majestic country has served me well, but England will always be home. I live in Alberta (western Canada) with my sports crazy husband, adorable Sheltie dog and cantankerous ginger cat. We have two grown children. They are the gems in my treasure chest. I love this part of the world, except for the winters. It can be a chilly minus -30 for days on end. Burr…..

You can learn more about Pauline and Merryweather Lodge by visiting her website at: 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Author Intrusion: More Mistake Than Writing Style

In 2010, I read and reviewed a number of independently published novels, as well as several traditionally published books by large and small houses. After twelve months, it became clear that while many of the independently published books had wonderful plots, nearly all of them could have used one final, substantive and copy edit to achieve the level of professionalism that the traditionally published books have.

It’s not just the spelling and grammatical errors, which seem to occur more often in the latter third of the novels (in traditionally published books as well), but the lack of control in point of view. Specifically, I stumbled across too much author intrusion in “indie” books, and all of them would have been stronger if the authors had been more careful about point of view. Some of the intrusions were very subtle – a piece of given information that doesn’t seem to come from any characters’ thoughts. Other authors were more blatant and actually stopped the narrative to tell the reader something that wasn’t crucial to the story. Now, a few authors used the omniscient point of view (where perceptions, analysis or predictions can only come from the author) or from a combination of omniscient and third person POV, but the transitions were awkward at times. If indie writers want to raise the bar and rise above the competition, hiring a professional editor and controlling point of view would go a long way.

If you can’t afford an editor, try Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and Dave King. It’s an excellent book that’s helped me and others.

Coming in March 2011, THE OPPOSITE OF DARK,

My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Sunday, January 09, 2011

New Year, Big Plans

Happy New Year, everyone! As I’ve written in the past, I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but I do a fair amount of reflecting on what I’d like to accomplish over the next twelve months. Now that I’ve broken free of a day job—for the time being, anyway—most of this year will be about creative output and promotion . . . lots of promotion, given that my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, will be published March 15. My copies will arrive a few weeks earlier, which is very exciting. One thing is certain: it will be a memorable year. Here’s the blurb my publisher posted on amazon:

Thirty-year-old Casey Holland likes being a transit security cop. It brings out the best of her compassion, perseverance and courage. After capturing a suspect who’s been groping female bus passengers, Casey learns that her father was murdered in his West Vancouver home the previous evening. The trouble is, Casey buried her dad at an open-casket funeral service three years earlier, and he never owned a house in pricey West Van. Convinced that the police are mistaken, Casey accompanies them to the morgue. When she sees the body, her certainty dissolves.

Against her better judgment and the wishes of the investigating detective, Casey starts asking questions about her father and the strange house in West Van, placing her life, and her friends’ lives, in jeopardy. Her search for answers takes her to England, Europe and Vancouver Island, and Casey uncovers a scheme her father was involved in that may have led to his death--which death, though, is still unclear. One thing is certain: Casey’s life is in danger.


My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Friday, January 07, 2011

Writing the Devil into Your Bad Guy

Every novel needs to have at least one major bad guy (or gal), an antagonist with flaws and desires that lead to chaos, crime and even murder. This bad guy must provide a certain amount of tension, even when he isn't in a scene. Readers must feel him (or her) lurking, plotting and planning, creeping closer to his goal. To do this, writers must often "write the devil into a bad guy".

By this I mean that writers must...

To read the rest of this article, please visit Criminal Minds at Work.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif 

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Check out Kindle Nation Daily for everything Kindle

If you were one of the lucky ones who found a Kindle ereader under the Christmas tree this year, I invite you to visit Kindle Nation Daily for everything Kindle. Kindle Nation is run by Stephen Windwalker, a Kindle enthusiast and author of Kindle Free for All and other books about Kindle ereaders.

What you'll find at Kindle Nation Daily:

  • Kindle News
  • Kindle Bestsellers lists
  • eBook of the Day
  • eBook Sales
  • Free eBooks
  • Articles on Kindle ereaders
  • Kindle Accessories
  • Quick links to Kindle on Amazon
  • Kindle Apps for other devices
  • Publishing info
  • Kindle Contests & More

You can have all this information at your fingertips by visiting Kindle Nation Daily now.

Click here to have Kindle Nation Daily pushed directly to your Kindle 24/7 with a subscription to the Kindle edition

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

P.S. My $0.99 Kindle (and Smashwords) ebook sale is still on. This sale ends January 10th, 2011.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Literary Agent Richard Curtis asks: "Do Authors Make Good Publishers?"

When I read respected agent Richard Curtis's post Do Authors Make Good Publishers? I wasn't surprised to find that Curtis believes the answer is 'No'. I get where he's coming from since I've been traditionally published AND self-published. Publishing takes a lot of hard work, knowledge and dedication. But is it fair for Curtis to lump all authors under that umbrella of 'No'? I don't think so.

For years, various elements of the publishing industry have tried to tamp down the involvement of authors in their own success. Publishers didn't want too much input from authors; they wanted to maintain their iron-gloved fist of control. Editors wanted to be seen as the experts on all things grammatical (and in many instances they were), even to the point of changing story elements to suit their tastes. And the writer has been at the bottom of the heap, the creator of a story that stemmed from their ideas.

Traditional publishing is made of many moving parts--publisher, editor, cover artist, publicist etc. Self-publishing required that an author either take on all these roles or sub-contract these areas. A smart self-published author quickly learns that though they may be good at all areas, it's far better to hire out and cut down the work load. This was they can focus on writing more books. That's what I do. That's what makes a good publisher, the ability to recognize areas of strengths and delegate others.

Respected author and self-publishing advocate JA Konrath posts a reply to Curtis on his blog, and he makes some valid points. First, anyone who has been following Konrath over the past year knows where he stands on self-publishing. He's all for it and is one of the top income earners in the ebook industry.

"Authors should self-publish," Konrath writes. "In an ebook-dominated world, are publishers even needed?"

I've watched the massive rise in popularity of ebooks and ereaders. No one predicted it would happen this quickly or early, but it's here. Ebooks are outselling print books. I know that just from my own sales data. My ebook sales in December blew my print sales out the door.

The biggest indicator for me that ebooks are King is this:

My mother who is an avid reader of about 3 paperbacks a week always claimed how much she loved print books and that she'd never read via an ereader. So I gave her one for her birthday in August. When I spoke with her at Christmas I expected her to tell me she hadn't bothered to turn her new Kobo on yet.

Boy, was I shocked by her answer. She "LOVES" her ereader. She likes that she can enlarge the font for easier reading and that she can buy books so easily. She's already downloaded all of Lee Child's "Reacher" ebooks. She reads during the day. She reads in bed. No more waiting for time to shop for books at the store. If you knew my Mom you'd know that this is a clear revelation as to where ebooks are going. The surprising news: We're there!

So back to Richard Curtis's question: Do Authors Make Good Publishers?

Here's my answer:

Some do; some don't. A self-published author taking on the role of publisher will have to dedicate time and energy to the process. If they're doing print, they may be looking at ways to get books into stores, something that is getting harder by the week. But if they're publishing ebooks, the doors are wide open.

Publishing is a skill or trade that can be learned. So yes, SOME authors can and will make great publishers. And SOME won't. It's unfair to lump all authors under the "No" umbrella. 

I'm an author who has been traditionally published and self-published. Yes, taking on the publisher 'hat' requires more work, but it's worth it. A smart self-published author turned publisher builds a strong support team. I can honestly say I'm a better "publisher" than my last traditional publisher. I'm still in business.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling author of Whale Song

P.S. I just answered the door. My new Kobo ereader with Wi-fi is here! Whooo-ooo!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Writing While Traveling

This week, our family spent four fun-filled days in Las Vegas to get away from the winter cold and the rain that was drenching the pacific northwest. My son and husband had never been there before, so it was a treat to show them sights that literally had their jaws dropping. As we strolled through the enormous over-the-top themed hotels and along the strip’s flashing, brilliant lights, and noise, I tried to come up with words that might best describe this overload—if not downright assault—on the senses, but I fell short. Maybe it’s just difficult to put some sights and sounds into words. My husband, who’d seen Vegas on TV and in movies and had heard about it countless times from friends, thought he had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but even he was flabbergasted by the place. I’m not a travel writer and haven’t read much about Vegas, so I’m not sure how other authors have fared, but I suspect that Las Vegas is one of those places one has to experience to truly understand what the writer is talking about.

So, I stuck to my own writing, which is always a bit of a challenge when you’re with others all day long, and faced with many attractions and distractions. The question is always what do I bring with me? When I left on Monday, I was in the midst of a final edit and proofing of the second novel in my Casey series. This requires concentration, so that book stayed home. I’d also finished the first draft of my fourth Casey, and the whole novel needed to be read again slowly and carefully to begin the second draft. That book stayed home, too.

Waiting in airports and flying offers plenty of time to think about works in progress, so I brought a short story I’d started in the summer, but hadn’t finished, and began plotting my fifth novel. They turned out to be good choices. The short story is almost finished, and I’ve outlined half of the book.

It takes some thought to figure out which writing projects will best fit your traveling schedule, but once you do, those airport waits and long hours of flying could turn out to be one of your most productive times of the year. Good luck, and bon voyage!

Coming in March 2011, THE OPPOSITE OF DARK,

My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at