Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Today we are going to talk about something potentially embarrassing, but hey I have no shame. But I believe this is a cool thing because I talk about stuff A LOT of people have been through, but few are bold enough to talk about let alone post it in a blog for all to see.

The old way of being a “professional” was to portray you were perfect. Spin everything. Maybe some people still do that, but meh. Not my style. I take the hard hits then talk about them so you guys can learn and to me? That’s more important than anyone thinking I am “perfect.”

So…

Want to know who people really are? Three ways. One. How do they act when they have everything? Two. How do they act when they have nothing? Three. How do they act (respond) when the proverbial caca hits the fan?

For the purposes of today’s blog, I’m interested in number three because it involves a lot of number two (the stinky kind). Before we start though, we must understand that….

Life is NOT Hermetically Sealed

I’d love to say that every time some land mine blew up in my face that my response soooo perfect that Mother Theresa was looking down gettin’ all jealous. That I handled said caca with grace, maturity, kindness, love, yoga, bible study and inspirational quotes. That my response did NOT involve a hell-mouth opening beneath my feet and then spewing out of my mouth. That my reaction did not involve a blast radius.

But one thing I promise on this blog is honesty.

One thing we must learn to be successful in this profession (or any other) is to forbid outside circumstances to own, control or derail us.

Sounds easy in an inspirational quote. The doing? Not so much.

How are we going to handle it when the proverbial caca hits the fan?

Because it is GOING to happen. It isn’t a matter of if, rather a matter of when.

If we allow ourselves to be at the mercy of circumstances? We’re going to be miserable and we’ll never finish the blog or the book. We’ll give up, tap out and take every carb in the house down with us.

Though I’m not where I’d like to be? I’m a hell of a lot better than I used to be. Making the decision to become a writer was the single best thing I could ever have done to grow my character, to mature me and to make me a better (not perfect) person.

Successful people don’t avoid stress, they learn to manage it….often the hard way. Yay!

Managing Expectations


A lot of why we make ourselves miserable and end up depressed is that our expectations fail to meet with what reality delivers. If you ever want to see this in action, just watch Bridezilla clips off YouTube. The bride has this absurd expectation of what the wedding day should be, an expectation that reality cannot meet (No, sorry, we cannot have cherubim deliver you to the altar on a cloud)…and they implode.

A sinkhole forms around the bride that eats all the bridesmaids, the caterer, the flower girl…and the groom is just standing there like he’s just landed at Normandy.

Expecting too much? Can be problematic.

But we need to be careful about the other side of this emotional coin—especially those of us from crazy dysfunctional families. We can stray to the opposite side of the spectrum and that’s dumb too. Maybe we’ve gone through a lot, been let down a lot so we just expect nothing. Or worse, we expect bad things to happen. We expect to be let down.

That is bad juju as well.

Thus, there is this fine dance we must master between expecting great things, but also being prepared for everything to just go sideways, too.

$h%t WILL Hit the Fan

Going to let y’all in on a little secret. Lean closer. This will blow your mind. Publishing involves…humans. Humans who screw up, make mistakes, etc. Even better? Now that we’re in the digital age? Humans can screw up much FASTER and INSTANTLY.

Great right?

Sometimes things will go great. When I self-published Rise of the Machines? It was glorious. Beautiful cover, perfect formatting, not a single typo *gets cramp patting self on back*. Of course this was all run by Control Freak Perfectionist Kristen and I damn near killed myself doing it all on my own.

That and Hubby wondered if he needed to bring me more coffee or perhaps toss holy water on me.

The power of Christ compels you!

I’d written a novel The Devil’s Dance  (ha ha). I even sent the manuscript to an agent friend who was unafraid to make me cry, just to see if the book was solid. Her answer? Great book and I don’t even like that genre. Thus, I felt cool to query. And I queried and queried and got a lot of “Love the story and the voice but not for us.”

See? Even I get rejected 😛 .

But with all the family stuff going on the past few years (my husband ordered to deploy to Afghanistan, deaths in the family, sickness, Shingles, etc. etc.)? I just didn’t have the bandwidth left to push my novel for a legacy deal and still have passion and energy for this blog and classes, etc.

Thus, the book sat and I just kept feeling inside that I needed to take that step. I needed fiction out there because 1) my original goal was to be a novelist 2) I have enough unpublished novels sitting on the hard drive, no need for one more and 3) I needed skin in the game. I can’t blog week after week challenging you guys to be brave…while hiding.

#UNCOOL

To make a long story longer, I finally let go of my novel and handed it to a new indie press. I loved the cover. They did a great job proofreading it and I was really happy with the final version. My launch date got pushed up a week. Was supposed to be May 25th and instead it was May 16th but whatever, right? Roll with it.

So we put it on sale for .99 and I am promoting it and messaging people and then all the sudden this inner is voice telling me, “You need to go look at the sample pages.” And I argued with said inner voice. “Nah. What are you talking about? I saw that final version. I approved it.” Inner voice. “Seriously, GURL. LOOK.”

May I welcome y’all to every control freak’s nightmare…

I pull up the sample pages on Amazon and the world drops out from under me. I have no idea what happened. Sun spots. Mercury in retrograde. Essential human error.

Suffice to say the wrong version was uploaded. Better than that? An un-proofed version. Good news is a lot of people bought the book. Bad news? They bought the wrong one.

Excuse me while I go shoot myself.

The publisher immediately corrects the problem, but then Amazon takes their time and it was a mess. The correct version wasn’t syncing and BLARGH. It certainly was NOT how I envisioned launching my debut novel. There were way more typos and way fewer calls from Hollywood involving talks on an HBO series.

Class, What Did We Learn?

I’m a huge fan of failure. No I’m not high on anything, and trust me. If I have a choice between failing and winning? Winning always feels way better. But failure often can be better FOR us long-term.

If we never fail, we never learn. Show me a person who never fails and I’ll show you someone who’s never done anything interesting. They’ve never done a damn thing themselves and often they have a profile that looks like this…

Then they go sprinkle one-star reviews on Goodreads like frigging fairy dust when they’re not trolling blogs.

I learned not to allow myself to be rushed. I was people-pleasing again. I’d just come off the road and was tired, emotional and thin. I went along instead of saying no, then getting rested and making sure what was being put out there. When it blew up in my face? Aside from scrambling to make it right, I refused to make any big decisions because this Kristen when she’s tired…

Yes, I do turn into Danny Trejo with an ax.

And I’d love to say this would never have happened if only I’d been a Random-Penguin! Everything is perfect for legacy published writers. Right? Yeah, no. They have their own (albeit different horror stories) and one day I am sure I will have my own to share.

See, a lot of bad things will happen to us in life and definitely in publishing. Often is it not our fault, but it is ALWAYS our responsibility. People will make mistakes. The mistake is not the core issue, rather what do they do to FIX it?

And how do we handle it when everything goes pear-shaped?

Obviously this is not me being laissez-faire about mess ups, but there is a balance. Yes, strive for excellence as a standard but also recognize there’s this inconvenient thing called reality 😉 .

I was extremely blessed, namely because of this blog. A lot of fans messaged me to tell me my digital skirt was tucked in my digital underwear instead of hammering me with one-star rants.

I was able to explain what happened and get them the correct version. This only happened (I feel) because 1) I had an established reputation for quality and 2) the fans I’ve cultivated here genuinely want me to succeed because of a long-standing relationship.

*prostrates before you*

***NOTE: If you happened to get the wrong version, feel free to email for the correct one. Send a message to captivequillpress at gmail dot com and either a screenshot of the receipt or image of it on your device and include the email for your kindle. We will get you the correct version.

All In All?

Try stuff. When it goes pear-shaped? Examine it. Study. Learn. Try new stuff. Grow, improve, evolve. Get better, change tack. Wood moths did it and surely we’re as smart as a wood moth, right?

(After coffee.)

And to quote Teddy Roosevelt…

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever had something go so bad, SO sideways you thought you’d die just from the embarrassment? If so, comment and give us proof of life 😀 . A cover go wrong? Formatting that bit back? Amazon issues? Whatever it is! I like hearing from people who have failed because those are my kind of peeps! People brave enough to at least DO something and give it a go.

LOVE hearing from you guys!

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction 

July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS May 25th $45

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors June 29th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 7th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

Research for Historical Romance Writing – Or, How NOT to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8th $35 for Basic/ $75 for GOLD / $125 for PLATINUM

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear June 30th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook June 24th $40

 

 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of jayneandd

My goal for this blog has always, always, always been to be honest with you guys, to offer tough love and guidance and support. Because the world has three kinds of people, but two are the most common. Two are not exactly helpful and can be downright toxic. We will start with these folks, then move on to how to win that race!

The Discourager (Enemy)

This is the person who’s going to tell you what you’re unable to do. That it’s too hard, that you’re stupid for even trying.

You want to be a successful author? Seriously? Everyone can be published. It means nothing. Do you have any idea the competition that’s out there? You need a mega-marketing budget and even then you’ll probably fail.

Okay I need to stop there because I’m depressing myself.

These people are poison and I’ve dedicated many a blog to showing you why they need to go and giving tips for getting these people OUT of your life. They need to go if you hope to do ANYTHING remarkable.

The Sugar Coater (False Ally)

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Then there is the sugar-coater. This person might tell you it’s easy to make a million dollars writing a book…if you just BUY and DO this plan. A lot of folks out there willing to sell a dream. So caveat emptor there. This type of sugar-coater has lots to gain, namely money.

Yet, when we are chasing gimmicks, we’re not doing the two most important activities every writer must do—writing more books, building that platform/brand.

The sugar-coater might also be people around us in, say a critique group, who tell us everything we write is better than unicorn hair. Friends who think everything we write is genius.

While these folks are great encouragers, they might not be what we need. Too much sugar bad for us 😉 .

We might really need a tough and honest editor/critique partner to show us that maybe we don’t know as much as we believed we did. That we still have a LONG way to go and in love, offer constructive criticism.

The True Ally

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

I want to give you guys a balance of love and encouragement because, to be blunt, most of us have an entire family filled with discouragers. Conversely, I also want to be honest. This is a tough job. Writing a work that spans 60K-120K words (and having that sucker actually make frigging sense) is NOT EASY.

I want you to be gentle with yourselves. There IS a learning curve. But, also step it up. We’re often capable of far more than we realize.

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Often we think that if we could only write full-time we’d be machines, turning out book after book. Not always the case and this is why deadlines are crucial.

I find that if I have all day to do something, I get sidetracked and I’m inefficient. I wander off, start on unrelated tasks. Yet, shorten the time I have to do something? And I am ON FIRE!

This is one of the reasons that I’ve run writing sprints on WANATribe every day for almost 18 months…even when I’m the only one there. I set the timer for 40 minutes for the push. How much can I get accomplished in 40 minutes?

Often? A hell of a lot more than I would have believed.

The ally will call us on our own BS. If we’re overextending ourselves? They’ll tell us to knock it off, eat something green and for the love of all that is chocolate…take a NAP.

If we’re going day after day and week after week not producing pages? And we whine we haven’t had time. The true ally will remind us we had time for Facebook and that Firefly marathon and to get our ass to work.

As Your TRUE ALLY, Here is Some Advice

I can carry you, Little Buddy.

Okay so y’all know I finally released a novel The Devil’s Dance after years of writing only non-fiction. Totally new gig for me. It was also pretty terrifying for a number of reasons beyond the usual.

First, I teach craft and have been haunted by that terrible saying: Those who can DO and those who can’t TEACH. Deep down I know it isn’t true, but stuff doesn’t need to be true to still freak us the hell out and keep us up at night.

My fiction would be out there. Did I happen to learn any of what I taught?

Second, I also teach that platform is critical for any kind of success. I’ve released books with a platform and without and can—from experience—tell you which is preferable. My first NF took months to be a blip on the radar versus the second NF launching to the top five of major categories on Amazon like Business and Marketing in less than 24 hours. #GoMe

But I’ve also claimed that if you build a platform the way I teach that we can switch genres, that the brand is US. So, when I was releasing a mystery-thriller when I was known as a NF branding expert? I got to be my own test case.

Did I instantly become a USA Today runaway best-seller hitting #1 in ALL categories AND have a movie deal by the weekend because Reese Witherspoon read my book and loved it and just HAD to produce it?

YES! I DID! #OMGOMGOMG

And then I woke up from my nap. *sobs*

I didn’t. But I did really well for a first novel, breaking the top 200 in multiple categories. Got a bunch of great reviews, reviews that made me sob with joy that 15 years of hell had been worth it. Additionally, my theory on platforms held solid. I already had a base of people eager to buy and read and spread the word.

But let’s face it, fiction is a whole new leg of the race for me and I need to earn my stripes. I have more of my theories to test, namely that it takes more than one book to gain the real traction. I saw this with NF and now? Get to test it with fiction, too. We shall see how it goes.

The RACE

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Pedro Travassos

We are all in a race and we are racing with the goal of winning. Thing is though, we all have our OWN race. What is success for me is not necessarily success for you. But the key to winning your race is to keep your eyes on your finish line.

Ever run track? Most of us have even if it was forced upon us in P.E. class. When you’re running toward that goal line, the fastest way to trip, to even fall, to lose momentum and any kind of lead? Look at where other racers are.

You know, you turn your head to check and see how far your lead is and then *ass over elbows*.

Same with writing. Truth is, writers are not in actual competition with one another. Books are not so cost-prohibitive readers cannot buy more than one. Readers can have multiple favorite authors.

You guys know I am a huge fan of writers helping writers, connecting, learning, supporting. In fact, the genius dream team Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi…creators of the, well this is easier… (do yourself a favor and just get them all ) I recommend the paper versions.

I knew these ladies before they’d ever even completed The Emotion Thesaurus (their first resource) and was even a very happy guinea pig. Since that ground-breaking resource (as you can see from above) they have come out with many more and even launched an on-line resource One Stop for Writers.

Yet, despite their AMAZING success, they took time to support ME. They wrote a post We’re in This Together: How to Help Other Authors Succeed and not only are there some fantastic tips in here I didn’t even know (but will now do), they are raffling off copies of my book. I never asked them to do this, which explained the tears. SO much love there.

Ergo why I hammer platform, platform, platform. That community we build is going to be SO critical.

Yet, it would be easy for me to look at The Emotion Thesaurus and go, *sniff* Angela and Becca have 1,252 reviews. My book only has 168. Or Such-and-Such is at this rank and I am only here. Or they hit number one and I can’t even break out of the top 100,000.

THIS is when we are looking at other writers, but not in the correct way. This is the way that makes us stumble and fall because we are taking our eyes off OUR race.

Where Comparison Begins, Contentment ENDS

We need to embrace the whole of the writing experience. The challenges, the failures, the setbacks, the wins…ALL OF IT. If we are looking to another writer it needs to be to 1) love and support them or 2) learn from them.

If I compare my first draft of Sin Eater (the second Romi book) to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, the book I am currently reading? I am going to give up…right after I lay waste to every carb in the house.

First, not even the same genre. Then Neil’s been at this a smidge longer than I have and also? I am reading a FINAL product.

We have to stop comparing our behind-the-scenes footage to the highlight reel of others. Comparison is a nasty, nasty habit and puts us on a path that leads nowhere we want to go.

And we all do it. Even me. Jealousy and comparison is natural and human, and research shows humans write better books than robots. But feel it (blip) then press on. This is me…

BE CONTENT BUT BE HUNGRY

Okay my first novel was so bad it’s now being kept in my garage because it bites. But so what?

Millions of people say they want to write a book if they could only find the time. Well I made the time and I finished. I was (eventually) content I had passed that threshold, but I had to remain hungry. Learn, improve, press on, make allies and on and on.

In the end, choose who you will run alongside of…a pride of lions or a pack of hyenas. It matters. Then run your race, keep your eyes there on YOUR finish line (then the next and the next). I cannot promise you this is easy, but I can promise it will be worth it.

What are your thoughts?

Do you struggle with comparison? I do. I’ve just learned to see it, turn away FAST and get my mind on MY race. It takes practice. Trust me. Are you getting too down on yourself? Failing to see what you HAVE accomplished and too focused and what you’re not? Where you lack? Where you could have been better, faster or whatever? Or have you gotten too content and forgotten to be hungry?

It’s okay. We have all been there.

LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is relatively new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction 

July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS May 25th $45

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors June 29th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 7th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

Research for Historical Romance Writing – Or, How NOT to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8th $35 for Basic/ $75 for GOLD / $125 for PLATINUM

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear June 30th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook June 24th $40

 

 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of DualD Flip Flop

Recently, I wrote a guest post This is the Reason All Great Stories are Birthed from Shame. It was a tough post and I needed a nap after writing it. It forced me to peel back layers I hadn’t touched in years. But the post got me thinking about probably the single most important element of great fiction

SHAME.

Since that post was not per se a craft post, I wanted to explore what I began on that blog here today. I firmly believe shame is the critical ingredient for fiction to resonate. It’s the difference between a forgettable fun read and a book we keep and read over and over.

Some Examples

I dig examples. I learn better when I have some to work with, so sharing some goodies with you today.

It by Stephen King

It is, of course, terrifying and is the main reason a disproportionate number of Gen Xers hate/fear clowns. But what makes the story so great is SHAME. Big Bill (protagonist) made the paper boat for his little brother, the paper boat that was then was swept into a gutter, the gutter where the beast was waiting to devour an unsuspecting six-year-old (thus kicking off the story).

Bill also has a terrible stutter. He is ashamed of his stutter and suffers false guilt for the death of his little brother Georgie.

The Losers Club

All the characters in this novel suffer from profound shame, especially Bill’s allies (who call themselves The Losers Club). Ben is morbidly obese and his mom a single parent in the 1950s. Beverly’s father beats her and is sexually inappropriate with her. Stan lives under the cloud of being a Jew, and Mike is black. They face shame in regards to who they are in the WASP dominated world of post WWII America. Richie is socially awkward and tries too hard. Eddy is a hypochondriac, ashamed of his perceived (yet false) delicate constitution.

Without shame, this story would be uninteresting and forgettable because the real monsters in this book are not (only) what is lurking beneath Derry (though that sucker is pretty terrifying), rather what is in each of the children then later adults that also must be defeated—their shame. The monsters who look a lot a hell of a lot like people.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The protagonist is a raging alcoholic propelled by real and false shame. She is ashamed (obviously) that she is a drunk, but she’s also ashamed her drinking supposedly ruined her “once perfect” life. Yet, once she is pulled into a potential murder mystery, she uncovers not everything is as it seems and in seeking truth, she also uncovers the seeds of her shame were not planted by her.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Three protagonists drawn together over a seemingly innocent infraction in a Kindergarten…that ends in murder. All three protagonists are propelled by shame.

Madeline was abandoned by her first husband, who now has decided to move practically next door.

Celeste has a perfect life that is a perfect lie. Because she is perfect, who can she turn to with the truth?

Jane is an outsider and mother of an illegitimate son, fathered by a man whose real name she doesn’t even know.

The Ones We KEEP

When I think of all my favorite characters? The ones I remember and keep in my heart forever, why do I love them? Their shame. Harry Bosch is ashamed that he was the son of a murdered prostitute, that she was thrown away by the system. Everyone matters or no one matters.

Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) is ashamed his father never loved him, that he never measured up. He’s ashamed he failed an innocent client who’s serving life in prison because that was the only way Mickey could save him from the needle.

The Hobbits are ashamed they are too little to make a BIG difference.

Shadow in (American Gods) is ashamed of going to prison, believes he’s culpable for his wife’s death.

Y’all get the gist.

Finding the Shame

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Noemi Galera.

Some of us older folks recall that schoolyard taunt, “Shame, shame we know your name!” But I think this nasty taunt can serve as an interesting guidepost when crafting visceral and dimensional characters. When we begin with our story idea, I feel it’s imperative to look for, find and NAME the shame.

When we start out? No, shame, shame we DO NOT know your name.

But we need to.

Shame is a powerful driver of character decisions and actions. It’s the linchpin for all the emotional armor, the lock on the box of the inner demons. The story problem is the crucible for exposing then firing away the shame. That is how we know the protagonist has evolved to a hero. We can’t accurately determine any character’s Goal, Conflict ,or Motivation until we know the dark place they’re doing everything to protect.

Finding the shame can elevate an okay story to an unforgettable one.

A Good Example

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Alan Levine

For instance, last week I had a student of the log-line class call me for a consult. She had an interesting story but it was all falling flat for a reason she couldn’t quite grasp. I liked her idea, but sensed she was right. Something important was missing.

Her story was set in the 70s and a young girl was running away from home because of her alcoholic mother. Girl jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak when she runs away and gets tangled in a world of predators (sex, drugs and rock and roll). Yet, what happened was the story just was a series of bad situations.

Running away is not a story goal. It’s passive and stories need active goals. Protagonists can run away but heroes return to face and conquer. So how could this protagonist return and when she did, what exactly would she face and conquer?

Her story idea lacked the connective tissue it needed to fully come together.

In this case, the connective tissue was…

You got it. SHAME.

I asked the writer, “Okay so WHY does the mother drink? WHY is she an alcoholic?” Because an answer of, “Well it’s genetics” or “She just likes Jameson way too much” isn’t meaty enough for a good fiction.

I challenged her to think about why the mother drank. What was HER shame that she was numbing with booze?

The writer actually hadn’t asked that critical question, btw.

Since the story is set in the 70s, women were very vulnerable. Mom has four kids. She wouldn’t be able to get a bank account without her husband’s permission. Odds were she had no money of her own and no way to get it without her husband’s knowledge. Divorce was highly frowned on and if she did get a divorce the courts likely would have ruled in the man’s favor.

So why does Mom drink? *puts on thinking cap*

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of davidd

What if the father the protagonist (the teen) adores who everyone thinks is this super amazing guy is actually an abusive bastard? What if he’s a traveling salesman who takes great joy in coming home and relaying his conquests to his wife? Tells her if she hadn’t let herself go pumping out babies, he wouldn’t need to find other women?

He’s a narcissist, manipulator and master of gas-lighting everyone, including his kids. Mom drinks because she is ashamed she is so powerless. She is ashamed she married such a person, that she believed he loved her. She probably also has false shame from his abuse (she is fat, ugly, stupid, useless).

So you have a scene. Mom comes out into living room ready to go to a cocktail party. Dad makes a big deal over how beautiful she looks in front of the kids, goes up and passionately kisses her (oh the adoring husband) then whispers “lovingly” in her ear, “Don’t you have a tighter girdle? I’ve seen pigs with a better figure.”

Mom’s face changes and she mutters something about needing to adjust her girdle and twenty minutes later stumbles out clearly toasted. Dad then sighs to the kids and gives the pained Look at what I have to put up with face.

So in the beginning, the teen protagonist is unaware of the real villain (because of incidents like the one above). She’s judgmental of Mom, but when she runs away, she gets a hard dose of reality and matures. She begins to see things in a new light, her mother in a new light.

NOW, the antagonist (alcoholism) can be defeated because when she returns she can forgive her mother and even possibly expose her father. Lay shame at the feet of the person who should be held accountable for it. Once she helps free Mom of false shame, Mom can get help for her drinking.

By naming the shame, we’ve taken a story of vignettes and threaded something entirely new throughout that holds the story together in a far deeper way. The writer was pleased, I was pleased and I think she has a hell of a story that I look forward to reading.

Why Do We Miss This?

Image courtesy of Eflon via Flickr Creative Commons

When I get samples from writers, I see a lot of uber-perfect Mary Sue characters. Heck, my first novel? My protagonist was beautiful, a genius, always made good decisions and she bored the paint off the walls.

I believe a lot of new writers are afraid. I was. Often looking for shame for a character makes us have to dig into our own tender places.

OUCH.

But, it IS worth it. Promise!

So I challenge you to look at your own work and see if you can pinpoint the shame. My stories all sucked until I learned this. Finally, I got brave.

In my debut novel, The Devil’s Dance, Romi’s shame is she grew up trailer trash and is from a highly dysfunctional family. Her mother abandoned her as a kid and every man who’s ever loved her has betrayed her. Every decision she’s made has been to escape her shame—leaving the trailer park, going to college, landing the perfect job and perfect guy.

But what happens when everything she’s carefully constructed comes tumbling down on her head, dumping her right back in the one place she vowed to never return to?

She did everything to escape the trailer park and now it’s her only refuge.

She’s forced into a position to face the shame that has been driving her. Romi has a LOT of baggage and baggage makes for interesting characters and stories ( click the sidebar and get a copy 😉 *cute face*)

Look at your favorite books, movies and characters with new eyes and look for the shame, and I think you will be surprised how much it drives the story.

What are your thoughts? Do you see what I am talking about in reference to shame? Did you have to face some of your own shame to start writing fiction worth reading? Heck, I did. Do you like books with characters who are able to finally see then conquer shame? What are some of your favorites?

LOVE hearing from you guys!

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT! We’re having a Facebook launch party tomorrow for The Devil’s Dance. We will have kittens and unicorns and magic powers as prizes. A raffle for immortality! Okay, yeah (disclaimer) writers LIE. We will however be giving away all kinds of cool prizes and you get to hang out with me so HELLOOOO? FUN INCARNATE!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer. Cait Reynolds was my answer. She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction 

July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS May 25th $45

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors June 29th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 7th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

Research for Historical Romance Writing – Or, How NOT to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8th $35 for Basic/ $75 for GOLD / $125 for PLATINUM

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear June 30th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook June 24th $40

 

 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Since the boom of the digital age, would-be writers have been practically coming out of the woodwork. Everyone wants to be a writer and hey, I can’t blame them. Sweet gig if you can score it. Yet, many of these eager folks are ill-prepared for the reality of what all an author’s job entails and this job is so much more than simply writing the book (though that is a saber-toothed bugaboo all in itself).

Years ago, when I decided I wanted to become an author, I heard all the sage advice from my writing mentors. Stuff like:

The first three books you write likely will be total crap. Don’t get too attached.

You can’t do this for the money.

Book signings are WAY overrated.

Remember to put on pants when leaving the house.

Me, being a total neophyte completely rolled my eyes because I knew *flips hair* that I was the exception. Yeah about that.

Frankly all of this is seriously excellent advice, especially the part about the pants. But why am I mentioning all of this? Well, I decided to become a novelist…in 2002.

I just published my debut fiction…Tuesday. As in of this week.

Yes I am being serious.

Granted, I did take a side-trip. I knew social media was going to be a MAJOR game-changer for authors. All the people I saw teaching how build a platform were insisting writers turn into marketing robots that shoveled out spam faster than C-Span shovels out BS. And I knew their approach would be more successful at turning writers into cutters than actually selling any books.

For me, becoming a branding expert for creative people was a moral imperative…a calling.

Just not my original calling.

I recall a conversation with a friend back in 2011. She was laying into me that I needed to work on my fiction. My answer?

“Social media is one of the largest tectonic shifts in human communication. There need to be guides. In 5 years? We won’t be as necessary and in 5 years? People will still want thrillers. Social Media How-To’s? Meh. Not so much.”

My years of blogging and being a social media expert and craft teacher kind of remind me of the movie Karate Kid. Instead of writing glorious novels that became instantly famous and were made into movies? Here was Kristen….

Wax on. Wax off. Wax on. Wax off.

But, I was willing to do it (yeah that hadn’t happened before). Sure technical writing, and editing and blogging and writing social media books wasn’t making me a novelist…but I sensed it would get me there and that it was MY road. The road that I needed. The one involving way more @$$ kicking.

Image via www.freerepublic.com

Granted, if I am brutally honest, there is a part of me that feels like a complete loser that it took FIFTEEN years to become a novelist, but I wouldn’t change how this all happened because this seriously long@$$ journey changed who I was. It shaped this undisciplined, self-centered, unlikable, lazy pile of wanna-be-hack into an actual honest to God pro.

Process

Before I decided on “author” I tried a lot of things. Hell, I wanted to be frigging everything when I grew up.

I loved ballet. I wanted to be a dancer. I loved being on stage. But the bleeding, wrecked, blistered feet? Practice six days a week for four hours a day? Working my a$$ off just to end up in the background waving a rose?

Yeah, not so much.

Then I was going to be a doctor. Loved me some science. Even won a military scholarship to become a doctor. I looked seriously cool in the white jacket and practiced signing Dr. Lamb…and deliberately making it messy because who the hell ever heard of a real doctor with legible handwriting?

All was cool at first, but then I had to start dissecting stuff. I’m not squeamish at all. Hell, my mom is a nurse.

But then I hit a crossroad in Majors Biology with, of all things? A starfish. The super smart Indian kid next to me in lab? His starfish was PERFECT. Like razor lines and every tiny organ laid out and delicately pinned in artful perfection.

My starfish? It looked like it got drunk then called Chuck Liddell a p***y at which point said starfish got pounded into paste…then peed on.

And what I realized was that, while science and medicine “in theory” fascinated me, I just wasn’t in love with the process of getting any good at it. Hell if I did that to a starfish? Yeah. Probably best not to let me near people.

There is a point in all of this and hopefully one that you guys will find helpful. I certainly had aptitude for all the careers that interested me, but I lacked one critical element—love for the process.

Was I willing to do anything for however long it took to get good at it? Really good. Maybe even the best? Nope.

That was, until I decided to become an author. Then everything changed.

The Author’s Life FOR REAL

There is this myth perpetuated by popular culture that talent is vitally important, when in actuality it is highly overrated. People seem to believe that if we are skilled with language then magically we’re capable of creating a work spanning 60K-110K words as easily as breathing.

They seem to think anyone with command of their native tongue can whip out a novel, no problemo. Writing is EASY!

***Note: These were the same people paying us a hundred bucks in college to help them with a four-page essay while they chewed a Xanax *rolls eyes*

No, writing is not easy. It is a craft. We are builders. But instead of getting wood and nails and sheetrock and concrete and crews of people helping us build? We are tasked with creating entire worlds from various combinations of 26 letters…alone.

Yeah, super easy.

It’s a skill and it often has a long and brutal apprenticeship filled with blood, tears, rejection, and too much box wine. We get down on ourselves because friends and family, six months after we start, are certain we’re a failure because we aren’t toppling J.K. Rowling out of her top spots on the best-seller lists.

I know. Been there.

But this is why loving process is critical. When we love the process, we keep at it. We learn all we can. We are willing to tweet and blog and maybe even figure out what the hell is so interesting about Instagram. We learn to ignore the naysayers. We gut through the unfun stuff because love fuels all we do. It has to.

I am not particularly worried about the millions of other “published writers” because many won’t be in it for the long haul. A lot of them are there for the cover, the book in hand and a “signing” and “launch party” and nothing wrong with that. It is their fun. Not all dreams are meant to be life callings.

But, often when these sort of folks discover this isn’t all a giant unicorn hug? That sure we authors can get raving 5 star reviews, but we can also get raving ONE star reviews from lunatics who have nothing better to do than be cruel and crush a writer’s will to live?

They move on *shrugs*.

Or maybe they are pretty good writers, but they don’t want to do the unfun stuff like building a platform (which actually IS a lot of fun if you do it the way I teach it). And these folks will languish in Amazon purgatory because they only loved part of the process, the fun parts.

Some will invest years and never get there and give up because it is taking too long. Heck took me 15 years. I can appreciate that kind of discouragement.

My first book? Well it reminded me of that starfish from Majors Biology (dramatic reenactment of Kristen’s starfish performed by a pumpkin)

Image via Flickr Creative Commons via Josh McAllister

But I kept at it and kept at it and kept at it and now, my starfish looks like this! 😀

So yes! My romantic mystery thriller is finally out and available for .99 on Kindle (just click the cover pic above). We will do more official “launch” stuff next week. And thank you kindly for sticking with me these many long years. You have no idea how many times I would have given up had it not been for this blog, knowing y’all were there in the trenches rooting for me. So THANK YOU.

In the end, lighten up on yourself and give yourself a break. Not too much of one. You still need to get your tail to work. But remember everyone has their own road, their own journey and process and keep your eyes on YOU and YOUR work.

What are your thoughts? Do you get discouraged with the process of writing? I know I do. Would be awesome to just spend 8 hours a day making up stories but there is a lot more to this. Do you maybe feel better if you believed you were taking too long? 15 years is a tough number to beat, LOL. Did you have a similar experience? Did you try a career you thought you’d love but then went…yeah NO.

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***April’s winner is Carl D’Agostino. Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. Double-spaced, one-inch margins and New Times Roman and CONGRATULATIONS!

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Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 May 25th, 2017

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Researching for Historical Romance (How to NOT Lose 6 Hours of Your Life on Pinterest) $35 May 20th

 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

Today I have a guest post from my lovely, yet ruthless editor Cait Reynolds and she is here to talk about an important topic, particularly for those in the romance genre. Yes, I am an expert at a lot of things, but shifters? I am deferring to Cait. She is hard, brutal, but really excellent in shaping—*wink, wink*—you into a way better author than you imagined you could be.

She’s kind of like that coach who razors your swollen black eye so you can see but you bleed and then she tosses you back into the ring to get your face hit some more. But in the end you win and nail the TKO and so you forgive her.

Eventually.

Anyway, without further ado, take it away Cait!

****

Much like Cait.

Shifters are hot.

Well, okay, we knew that. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a multi-million-dollar niche market for them. I mean, who doesn’t want to read and fantasize about a delicious Alpha male with rippling pectorals whose instincts are all about…mating?

Let’s not forget the possessive, protective, wild, and dangerous parts of the shifter male. The shifter hero is a sexy beast. Literally.

But, I’m not here to talk about any of this. In fact, I’m here to come down with the Red Pen of Wrath on the shifter genre. Get ready, because I’m going to be controversial, mean, and utterly, utterly truthful.

Ready?

Many shifters are boring.

Whoa. Yeah, I know. I figured I’d just come right out and go balls-to-the-wall. Before you run to the comments section to testify for the defense, hear me out.

I say many shifters are boring because far too many shifter romances cheap out on two things: world-building and character development. I know that most stories do include some basics about their shifters, but it is rarely enough.

The character development problem shares some traits with the overall issues of character development in romance in general, but there are specifics to shifter characters (and their mates) that are tied to world-building.

Basically, we have reached a point where the genre is saturated in stereotypes and tropes.

Stereotypes are never sexy, and tropes are trite.

How do we get away from it, though? Aren’t there certain things readers will want? Isn’t this taking the idea of shifter romance a little too far away from its purpose as an escapist fantasy?

A fantasy is only as good as how immersive its world is. If our shifters are skimming the surface, using shortcut stereotypes and tired plot gimmicks, then, it’s no wonder we’re struggling to be heard above the noise of 99,000 other ‘meh’ shifter romances on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

The business of shifter romances has always felt like a race-to-market to get the most pages read. With the Sword of KENP hanging over our heads, it’s less about quality and more about putting out 50,000 words every month.

There’s little time and even less incentive to ‘indulge’ in something like spending weeks—and sometimes even months—creating a world that both gives depth to characters and can handle the resulting complexity.

Don’t despair (or write me hate mail just yet). There are things we can do to ‘shift’ our world-building and character development to the next level, and all it takes is some time, patience, and thought.

The Literary Litmus Test of Awfulness

Okay. This is the hard part that is going to make you squirm, but you need to be honest! Answer the following questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’:

  1. My shifters live in a small, rural town.
  2. My shifters recognize their mates by instinct (scent, sight, gut feeling, etc.).
  3. Once my shifters recognize their mates, that’s it: instant devotion.
  4. My shifters think nothing of relentlessly pursuing their mates for the purpose of seduction and securing lifelong mating.
  5. My shifters mark their mates in some way.
  6. My shifters are dominant Alpha males.
  7. My shifters produce shifter children with their mates.
  8. My shifters run in a pack.
  9. My mates feel safe around their shifters.
  10. My mates might have trouble accepting the fact that shifters exist at first, but they eventually do believe it.
  11. My shifters have enhanced senses even in human form.
  12. My mates can smell their shifters and are attracted to their scent.

Let’s stop there, though I could keep going. You probably answered ‘Yes, but…’ to several of these, indicating you do use the idea but have a variation on it.

I’m here to tell you that isn’t good enough. Variations are like sprinkles on ice cream. We love all the sprinkles, but the colors all taste the same. They just look a little different on the surface.

Taking any of these stereotypes or tropes and working it so it becomes something more than just a pink sprinkle instead of a red sprinkle involves hard work, failure, and some success.

The goal is not to write a shifter romance at the level of Tolstoy. But, who doesn’t want to write a better, more engaging story with hotter characters and a world that grabs the reader’s imagination and doesn’t let go?

Today, we’re going to look at how having a deeper, richer understanding of ‘the nature of the beast’ will help you do just that.

Native American Magic? Yawn.

Seriously?

What a cop-out.

Yes, I am pushing buttons, but, once more, hear me out. Using some generic Native American magic—or, insert generic magical accident/two-sentence explanation here—as the raison d’être for shifters doesn’t just show me that there is sloppy world-building.

It shows me that the author doesn’t really want to do the work in order to write a character that has any depth, complexity or backstory.

We don’t have to spell out every single detail of how our shifters came into existence, but knowing all this will influence our writing at a fundamental level. Our characters might interact with each other and strangers differently.

They might have a radically divergent opinion about something from the heroine who isn’t a shifter. They could face challenges that non-shifters have no clue about, but that could breed resentment/courage/patience/etc. Maybe, they are prejudiced against non-shifters or shifters from other territories.

Every shifter species has an origin story. Think about how important origin stories are to every culture on the planet. From the oral traditions of tribes in Papua New Guinea, to the book of Genesis, even to “On the Origin of Species,” we have a psychological bedrock of these spiritual, mythological, and intellectual origin stories that form the basis of everything we build about our identities and societies.

Imagine you are born a shifter. You are eight years old and ask your father about where shifters come from, and why you are different from other kids. “It was some kind of Native American magic that happened when our ancestors moved here, son,” is an explanation that might suffice for an eight-year-old (though, knowing eight-year-olds, I highly doubt it).

You ask the same question at twelve. Sixteen. Twenty. Twenty-five. Who are you? What are you? Why are you?

If all I got in response was that one sentence, then personally, I’d feel pretty damn lost, isolated, and threatened by the rest of the world, even if I was bonded to my community of fellow-shifters. It’s like showing up for the first day at a new school…every day…for the rest of your life.

Yet, somehow, all of these shifters are totally cool just going around their daily business, completely content to accept the “It was some kind of Native American magic that happened when our ancestors moved here, son” explanation without further questioning or emotional impact.

Now, we’ve come to the point where you might look at me and say (with a degree of asperity I probably richly deserve), “It’s all well and good to say, ‘Develop an origin story,’ but, how do you actually do it?”

An origin story has the following key components:

  • a creator
  • a moment of creation
  • a purpose for creation
  • a challenge to creation
  • a lasting consequence of creation

Let’s translate these points into concrete questions you can use to build a creation story:

  1. Who created the shifters? (alchemist, shaman, wizard, demons, etc.)
  2. What happened when the first shifter was created? (Killed the creator? Mated? Captured and tortured for witchcraft?)
  3. Why were the shifters created? (To fight vampires? Protect from demons? Protect a certain geographical location?)
  4. If they were created to fight something, what was it? Does the threat still exist? If it doesn’t, has that changed the nature of the shifters and their culture over time? Is there a similar threat that still exists? If so, how does the shifter react to it, or any danger, for that matter?
  5. Were the shifters first created in Europe or North America? What century? What culture? If they came from North America, you need to do research about the indigenous tribes of the time and their beliefs. If they came from Europe, were they part of Christianity or part of a pagan religion (and, no, you can’t just say druids and shortcut that sh*t)? Are there cultural customs (food, celebrations, ceremonies, beliefs, etc.) that the shifters have retained and practice in human or animal form that are related to their culture of origin?
  6. How do your shifters reproduce? (Mating, biting, alchemically?)

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you start building this origin story, you find yourself asking more and more questions. This is a good thing! In fact, this is one of those rare occasions where you should allot plenty of time to go down various rabbit holes and chase esoteric details.

You might not use everything you find, but you never know when that one, little, insignificant fact might become the pivot point for an entire character…and, that is when the fur begins to fly.

Genes and Jeans

I am a math-and-science reject, at least in practical terms. God gave us calculators for a reason. However, I have a layman’s fascination with science, and I try to use it in my writing because it adds so much more to every aspect of a story.

(Why writers should read about science is a whole other blog post of epic soap box-ishness.)

When it comes to shifters, you can’t get away from science. If you do—and most do—you lose out on the opportunity to use one of the most important tools in building an immersive world.

What does science do? It gives our world, our story, and our characters that flavor of reality and tantalizing hint of plausibility that makes readers greedy for more.

So, if we’re going to science! all the things, what does that mean in terms of research for those of us who are scientifically-challenged?

Let’s start with the basics and use wolves as an example.

Most of us have a somewhat basic grasp on wolf biology and behavior because we have waggy-tailed variations running around the house, perking up at the sound of the peanut butter jar opening. We know that wolves live in packs, have an incredible sense of smell, and stamina to travel long distances.

But, did you know that the theory of the ‘Alpha Male’ wolf has been significantly revised? It turns out the study was based on research that used wolves held in captivity and not wolves in the wild. In the wild, wolves live in more dynamic social structures where dominance and submission are driven by complex factors of age, parental relationships, sexual maturity, abundance or scarcity of prey, etc.

A simple Google search on ‘wolf behavior’ brought this article up. This raises interesting questions about having an ‘Alpha Male’ in your shifter pack.

What if there was rivalry for the alpha position? What if it was based on competitive mating opportunities? What if one of the men used his position as owner of the biggest company in town to drive off a competitor for a mate’s attention?

Wolf cubs tend to grow up and leave their natal pack, either joining another pack or forming their own. Does this wolf behavior impact the human side of your shifter’s family relationships? Do the sons of the town tend to move away? If the human side overrides it, what are the tensions it creates?

Does your shifter’s human hair color match his wolf’s fur? What if, instead, your wolf pack bore coloration and markings that had evolved according to their habitat? The density of a wolf’s fur, its color, and its ability to retain heat all vary based on the latitude in which the wolf lives.

Do your shifters have to get haircuts more often in the winter because their wolf fur is thicker? Does human pattern baldness affect your wolves? (I’m serious! These are the kind of questions that keep me up at night!)

Don’t even get me started on geeking out about the various theories on the evolution of the wolf. Why settle for a North American gray wolf when you could have an Italian wolf, the Dinaric-Balkans cluster wolf, the Carpathian wolf, and the Ukranian steppe wolf?

When it comes to the physical attributes of shifting from human to wolf form, you can let your imagination run wild—literally—and make it bone-breakingly painful and violent, or you can make it quick, smooth, and deadly. But, once in wolf form, the rules of biology must come back into play to some degree.

You can make your wolves over-sized and preternaturally strong, but for goodness’ sake, set some limits! Maybe they can run fast, but for how long? Maybe they have keen eyesight, but only at night? Maybe they are capable of breaking down doors and crashing through windows, but exactly how resistant is their skin to tearing?

Creating an all-powerful shifter wolf is the equivalent of a Mary Sue who never leaks snot when she cries. Setting limits based on real biology and behavior gives you more scope for challenge, conflict, and character development.

Sexy Taylor the wolf shifter is blindingly fast, but he can only run at that speed for half-a-mile. Tessie, who-will-be-his-mate-when-she-surrenders-to-his-charisma-eventually, is a mile away. Will he get to her in time? Can he push past his natural endurance limits? What happens if he doesn’t?

Sexy Taylor the wolf shifter also looks super hot in blue jeans. However, we’re just going to leave the whole clothing debate for another day. Suffice it to say that if your clothes shift with you, there’s definitely some extra hocus-pocus going on at a molecular level.

Though, it does bring to mind a plot bunny of a wolf shifter community that discourages visitors by labeling itself a nudist colony, since shifting generally involves nudity…

Shifters are the ultimate bad boys. They are the—sorry, I have to do this—party animals of the romance genre. They are unabashedly sexual and offer a dash of danger. Winning the heart of a shifter falls somewhere between winning the lottery and getting a puppy for Christmas. We read shifter romances for escapist fun and to indulge in dreams more intense than what we might dare in real life.

The point of all of this is not to dampen your enthusiasm for writing shifter romances or to bash the genre needlessly, but rather to bash the genre where needed in order help writers take their stories to the next level.

I want to lose myself in a world that feels so real, I forget that it isn’t. I don’t want to waste my time reading another shifter story that feels like someone did a ‘ctrl-H-replace-all’ for the names and slapped a different cover on the same damn story.

Writing is work. Writing well is hard work. Writing well about a world that is rich, complex, and dynamic? That’s hellishly hard work…

But, so, so worth it to the reader.

***

Thank you Cait! And make sure to check out her class on Shifter Romance listed below!

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***Will announce April’s winner next post. I was supposed to do it this post but I lied. I am a writer, it is what we do. I will get to it! 😛

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

BUNDLE DEALS!!! 

Book Bootcamp  $99 ($130 VALUE)

Book Bootcamp GOLD $269 ($430 VALUE) This includes the log-line class, antagonist class, the character class AND a three-hour time slot working personally with ME. We will either plot your idea or, if your novel isn’t working? Fix it! Appointments are scheduled by email. Consults done by phone or in virtual classroom.

Individual Classes with MOI!!! 

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 May 25th, 2017

The Art of Character $45 May 18th, 2017

NEW CLASSES/INSTRUCTORS!!! 

Shift Your Shifter Romance into HIGH Gear $35 May 19th with powerhouse editor Cait Reynolds.

Researching for Historical Romance (How to NOT Lose 6 Hours of Your Life on Pinterest) $35 May 20th

 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook