Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Deconstruction of a story OR Why I Do It This Way

I'd like to try an experiment. Let's deconstruct the Christmas story I just put out as a free Kindle Short (it is now back in the store at under $1.00 because Amazon only gives you five days for "free" promos, and I need to have this go free on Christmas Day as well). I would like to point out why I did the things I did in the story.

Critique groups will always carp on something or another. When a powerhouse agent was considering taking on MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS, she sent me a list of issues. One of the issues was that Ariadne owned a carved wooden box that Aaron had given her back at the height of their love (or whatever it was). The box had a unicorn motif. When *I* see a unicorn motif, it evokes the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters museum, from Renaissance times. It evokes a sense of mystery and mysticism. I think of the boyfriend I had who said I reminded him of the Jimi Hendrix song "Little Wing" and how I had come unto him as he sat quietly, as a unicorn approaches a virgin. This tidbit is in Ari's history as well.

Guess what? The agent wrote, "Unicorns are things for young girls. Why would she want a box with that on it?"

Well . . . I didn't want to enumerate all that stuff in the narrative. I had already hinted at the unicorn being a symbol of innocence and of the Virgin Mary (which is what it represented in medieval times!), and I had let readers know the box was sentimental to Ari. I thought that was a silly thing to carp about, and I didn't change that in the final text.

She didn't take me on for representation, either.

But now writers are freed from the tyranny of agents/big publishing. We now live by the tyranny of being unable to get the word out about our work instead. (LOL)

However, I think it might be instructive to take a look at the reasons I did what I did in this story. You may bring up questions and problems in the comments. That would be fun.

A fictionalized memoir of an imagined Christmas miracle
by Denise Weeks

I'll never forget the year I almost missed Christmas.

(This is the hook, presumably. I am not satisfied with it, because it telegraphs what happens, in a way, but readers say that without this, many people won't engage with the story. So it stands, for the moment.)

On the afternoon before Christmas Eve, our final bell rang, dismissing school for the next entire week and a half for Christmas break.

(Setting the date and time. Also, we are taken into the past because we're now reading about that year mentioned in line one.)

Mrs. Mischen turned from the whiteboard and smiled down at our sixth grade classroom. "Y'all have a great holiday. And come back ready to work!" She dusted her hands as every desk instantly got vacated. She called after me, "Madeleine Pierce, remember you owe me a book report on the book I lent you!"

(This gives you the age of the protagonist. She's in sixth grade. We don't need to quibble about exact age. Also, we see that Madeleine is the teacher's pet, and perhaps you'll think that is disgusting. You know that she goes by her full name.)

I waved in reply. Of course I would be reading it at my first opportunity so I could write one of my typically prolix (SAT study word) analyses. This teacher always wrote comments back that made sense, which is why I always enjoyed doing extra-credit work.

(Readers should now suspect her aspiration to be a scholar and get a scholarship. She does extra-credit work and already has a list of SAT study words. But she has a supportive teacher. Wonk!)

Despite being slightly delayed by this exchange, I was one of the first out of the school. As I skipped down the concrete steps, tiny snowflakes dusted my head and arms. I smiled. The cold didn't bother me . . . nothing could bother me. It was finally Christmas!

(Yes, she does have some enthusiasm for the holiday. . . .)

"Christmas won't be Christmas if I don't get everything I want." Michelle Stevens' voice pierced the cloud of falling flakes directly behind me. "It'll really suck. I asked for a tablet and a new smartphone and a cashmere twin set and some other stuff, and I'd better get it all." She huffed, but I didn't think it was from the cold. "I cannot abide my brother and I can barely be civil to my parents. I hate to think of being cooped up in that house with them for nearly two weeks."

(We see the attitude that some people have.)

"I know, right? I can't stand my family." Lindsay McIrate commiserated in a vicious tone. "If there weren't presents, and good ones, I would never be able to stay in that house at all."

I resisted an eyeroll because someone would be sure to see it and report back, and then they'd start with me, just when I was almost free. I was polite and civil to everyone, don't get me wrong, but I couldn't understand these ungrateful rich girls who didn't socialize with anyone below A Certain Station or people who didn't have designer clothes. Maybe our family doesn't have that much--even less now that Dad had remarried and was "forgetting" to send his child support check most of the time--but I'd rather be on food stamps and Medicaid than have such a lack of appreciation for what we had, the way they did. It was almost comical the way those two complained about their fancy this and their designer that and how they just couldn't wear something from Sears or whatever. Give me a break.

(You will notice that Madeleine is not walking out with a friend. The situation is that her best friend moved away a month ago and she hasn't made any other special friends, but I couldn't shoehorn that in--I already have backstory and telling here. Readers who are sharp will surmise that she's kind of a loner, though.)

But I had to concede they had a point about being stuck at home. If only I were older and could drive. My sisters and I got along fairly well as long as they stayed out of my stuff, but could I take them in close proximity (another SAT word) for the entire break? My mother was beginning to be difficult because she had no idea that she needed to relax her helicopter status, since logically you couldn't still put the same restrictions on me as you did the younger ones. She couldn't let go and realize I was becoming a teenager, so sometimes it was a little touchy with her.

(She has issues and right now doesn't entirely appreciate her family. This is to show how she changes by story's end.)

As soon as I was out of sight of the crowd (especially those two), I skipped along, catching cold little snowflakes on my tongue. The snow wasn't sticking, so there was no problem walking in it, although my eyes began stinging a little from the cold.

At the bottom of the hill was our house, a humble abode completely unlike the one Dad now shared with Miss Hotpants, but it was all ours and had no residue from the screaming and fighting Mom and Dad used to do all the time. Actually, we all got along pretty well as long as my little sisters stayed out of everyone else's things. I would just deal with it.

(More foreshadowing.)

Shucking off my heavy coat (it was a size too small already, but I managed with scarves to fill the gap) and the mittens that I'd crocheted from recycled yarn (I unraveled Lissa's old sweater that had so many holes), I heard Lainie's boom box blasting Frank Sinatra Christmas carols. She'd always had a thing for the Rat Pack and swing music, which she could indulge at Christmastime with very little teasing.

(The family is struggling and her coat is already too small, in case readers missed the hints from before.)

"Madeleine?" Mama called me into the kitchen. She had her cat-ate-canary face on.

My sisters were watching me from around the big room where they were wrapping last-minute presents and putting the final touches on the tree. That was unusual in itself--all of them cooperating. I'd seldom felt such a sense of expectancy hanging in the air.

Lainie, although the second oldest, after me, could never keep a secret. "You'll never guess . . . but we're going to have a little money this year."

"Elaine," Mama said in her warning voice. "This is Mother's news."

Lissa (Melissa), only six, couldn't contain herself. "The lady in the big house on top of the hill wants a 'girl' to help serve and clean up on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning for her huge gathering." I didn't even know she knew the word "gathering."

"Mrs. Franzblau?" I couldn't keep the surprise out of my voice.

"We do speak, you know." Mama smiled. They knew one another from women's church auxiliary and from Eastern Star, which for some reason Mama is still in although Daddy was the Mason. "And guess who she mentioned, by name?" "Me?" I wasn't sure if my heart was pounding from excitement or trepidation.

"Yes! I know you've been saying you want more independence and freedom, and this tells you I've been listening." She winked. "You'll go over there around noon on Christmas Eve and help in the kitchen and hand out food and take coats and such. Then in the morning you'll fix the big breakfast and help with whatever until they're done. They've promised you'll get a present." Mama was obviously expecting me to get something GOOD. "Of course, you'll get paid." She named a handsome figure. "We really need it this year."

(Yes, quite a surprise. We now see that Mama knows that Madeleine is chafing at the bit somewhat and thinks she needs more independence. She thinks Madeleine is ready for this sort of thing. Or does she? Maybe she is hoping this will be a lesson of sorts. . . .)

So there are reasons an author does what she does. They may not be good reasons, but by Jiminy she has them. . . .

Sunday, November 30, 2014



I'm currently helping someone design a workshop, and I just read, once again, the silly “Show, Don’t Tell.” This advice has now exceeded the limits of my medication. This confuses so many writers because ALL storytelling is TELLING, isn't it? "Show" means DRAMATIZE, meaning "make a scene out of it with background, action, conflict, talking," and "Tell" means "narrate or summarize/encapsulate, OR briefly do what Dwight Swain (XOX) calls "sequel" with the character musing about what happened and what may need to be done next." OK?

DRAMATIZE, don't NARRATE, all of the SPINE scenes and the interesting action. Cool stuff mustn't happen offscreen. Put it in center focus. This is not a play, where you can't portray some locations, nor is it a film, where the producer won't pay for you to travel to Outer Gorotoland to film the scene on the waterfall. This is text! Write anything you can make me believe!

And dramatize what the characters are like instead of telling me about it--he's a cheapskate, so make him pick up a penny left on the counter by someone who wanted to help a person who's short a penny. (A shopkeeper at a bakery did this in FRONT of ME the other day--she looked down at her countertop as I was checking out and said, "Oh, look, a penny, so I'll take it," and snatched it up--so I will never go THERE again!) She's nice, so even though she has just been drenched by the neighbor's sprinklers as she cut across the lawn because she's already late, let her save the cat out of the tree for the children. Don't JUST tell me she's nice. You can foreshadow by having someone say, "That nice Jane?" But then you can twist it by later showing Jane being meeean and the lady either lying, kidding, or easily fooled/mistaken.

Also, SKIP the boring parts--don't tell me that "she got into the car, started it, turned the wheel, left the parking lot, drove down the street to the bar, parked in a terrible spot, walked onto the sidewalk, got into the bar, visored her hand to look around the disco, etc." I see this in endless published novels put out by the major NYC houses, and I wonder what was wrong with the editor. Just do a scene break from when Joe slaps down the ten-dollar bill and says, "Go find her," and "Leslie visored her hand against the flashing lights of the disco." Three octothorp(e)s, centered, indicate a scene break in manuscripts.

Oh, and when you ARE telling, use that strong and artful voice of yours. Make it fun to read, and readers will lap it up. Never let a critgroup, partner, or editor dumb down or dilute your voice and make you sound like everyone else.

That is all.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Banned Books Week! Read something they don't want you to.

Please, people, get one of my books banned so people will read it under the covers, in the closet, or right out in the open as an act of defiance!

Monday, July 28, 2014

REMINDER: Book Event August 9 11-1 at Lucky Dog Books/Lochwood! And musings, o'course

REMINDER to all DFW denizens! The Jenny Milchman World Book Tour stops in Dallas on August 9th from 11 AM to 1 PM at Lucky Dog Books, Lochwood location, in Dallas, Texas. There will be discussion and door prizes as well as refreshments. Be there or be L7. (Are you old enough to remember "L7," let alone "be square"?!) Not only will we have Jenny's new book, but we'll have Kevin Tipple and his short stories and ME . . . with both my Denise Weeks mysteries/mainstream novels and my Shalanna Collins YA fantasy/adventure books. You'll get to meet people and have fun. Come on and show up!

"It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous." ~ Robert Benchley

Here's some food for thought in case you are thinking. I don't recommend thinking, at least not in this heat, but maybe when the storms arrive, you can have a brainstorm. We can discuss this sort of thing at the book event.

What does a fiction writer do?

* provide a vivid, continuous dream about a vicarious experience
* present characters and/or situations readers can empathize with, giving them a broader base of "experience" than their own single life can provide
* allow readers to project onto their inner viewscreen a movie that they co-create with the author as dreamer, meaning that readers of books will have different experiences of the books more often than viewers of video will
* tell lies
* tell lies that people willingly suspend their disbelief for in order to learn or gain some insight from the story

Orson Scott Card writes in Characters and Viewpoint that the highest purpose of fiction is to teach readers something profound about people (paraphrase). Storytelling is archetypal, and it is a universal human occupation/obsession to hear and rehear or tell and retell stories.

Michelangelo said, "I know the creator will go, but his work survives. That is why to escape death, I attempt to bind my soul to my work."

Why *I* write? To entertain and inform, naturally. Because I hear the Muses singing, and I'm fascinated by what they send me to create with. But also for a selfish reason. So that someday after I've crossed the veil into the next world, perhaps someone will find and read one of my books, essays, or stories, and I will live again. I will be remembered unto another generation. My work is a tour of my mind. It's a way of doing a neener-neener to death, which eventually makes each of us disappear into the next world and be forgotten by this one . . . except for artists and writers. Look at those ancient Greeks who are still applauded and loved by many today who read their plays and other works.

"i don't want to disappear"

"I don't want to live forever through my work. I want to live forever by not dying."--Woody Allen


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Magical Mystery Book Tour Begins! Launch Party 6/14 in Dallas

Shalanna Collins' Magical Mystery Book Tour! Launch Party-Book Signing 6/14 in Dallas, Texas!

Saturday, June 14th, from 11 AM to 1 PM, there will be a launch party for *APRIL, MAYBE JUNE by Shalanna Collins*, given by Muse Harbor Publishing, held at Lucky Dog Books/Lochwood, 10801 Garland Rd, Dallas, TX 75218, 214/827-4860.

We will have wine (I can't drink it, but why can't you?), cheese tray, appetizers, and cupcakes from the best bakery in Dallas that's right next door (voted by Dallas Observer and D Magazine fans), along with entertainment including the author acting out part of a scene from the book with willing audience participants and (with luck) accompanied by interpretive belly dance troupe. Come one, come all. You'll have the chance to buy the book at a discount or WIN it. Door prizes include tote bags, T-shirts, stationery, gift certificates to Lucky Dog Books, copies of the book, a disposable (ha) video camera, and a few joke gifts. You get a ticket to the drawing just for staying to the end, and you get an extra ticket with each book you buy. Such a deal!

See you there!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cottonwood Art Festival, Spring 2014, Richardson, TX

Wow, it was hot! 92 degrees when I arrived (for the second time) today. (Long story; maybe later.) But it was well worth walking around and looking at all the wonderful art and scenery and PEOPLE and DOGS. I got my exercise for the day.

Don't I look as though I am about to do something mischievous?

I wish I had gotten a shot of the lady who took that one of me. I took several of her with her phone and then gave her one of my bookmarks. Hope she gets to see this blog entry!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Free Kindle book!

Did I mention that one of my YA urban fantasy novels is up FREE for the Kindle this weekend?

CAMILLE'S TRAVELS by Shalanna Collins, my gritty, streetwise YA fantasy/urban fantasy ebook is FREE on Amazon until Tuesday.

Camille MacTavish is a seventeen-year-old runaway escaping an abusive home life with a stolen magic dragon in the pocket of her jeans. Which could be fun, if the dragon didn't attract all the wrong people. Who is after her, and why?

PLEASE take advantage of this and get your FREE book. Tell me what you think of it.

Hey, what can it hurt--it's FREE!

Camille's Travels

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Little Piece of Paradise on Earth--Pacific Grove, CA

I'm back from my trek to Left Coast Crime 2014 in Monterey, California. It should have been the trip of a lifetime, and in many ways it was, but . . . of course I had to get sick and miss out on some of the things I wanted to do. But I can now mark this off my list, and I accomplished my professional goals at the conference, so that's great.

Out family drove from Dallas/Ft Worth all the way across the Southwest and up Highway 1 to reach our beach house rental in Pacific Grove so that I could attend the conference. There's so much to tell you about and so much that I learned . . . but the stress of the trip (as well as the pre-trip planning and the arrangements for the house to be taken care of) caused me to break out with shingles!

I didn't know what it was until we got to Monterey and I went to the emergency room. (They are super-efficient and smart at CHOMP, and I can recommend them highly. The intake clerk asked, "Have you had chicken pox?") It's centered around my left eye, so they sent me to an ophthalmologist the next day, and I got eye drops. By the time we got home (seven days of "vacation" later and three more days driving), I was ready to see my home ophthalmologist, who diagnosed conjunctivitis and prescribed another set of eye drops. (He said my shingles seemed to be dying down, and I hope he's right--that burning across the scalp and temple is pretty rotten.) Good grief! I just can't get rested to do the things I need to do here at home, let alone for promo.

But! LOVE IS THE BRIDGE is starting a Kindle Countdown Deal this weekend!

From Friday, April 04, at 8 AM, the Kindle version will go for $0.99 (a 67% discount!) The trade paperback version will also be on SALE for $8.00. Such a deal! (I do love it when people buy the paper book, but some people prefer the Kindle versions. So long as you tell me how you liked it!)

Watch for it on Friday morning.

Love is the Bridge (Kindle download)

APRIL, MAYBE JUNE made its debut at LCC. I now have several copies to send to reviewers. I'll propose that if you will read and review the book, you can get a free copy through the mail! And if you send the link to your Amazon review to Muse Harbor Press (my publisher), you can get a discount on any other Muse Harbor book. What a deal. Try a sample (or do "Look Inside") at Amazon and see if you don't want to read more. (Remember, I write YA fantasy/adventure under my long-time 'net name, Shalanna Collins.)

April, Maybe June (Kindle edition)

I am thrilled by the great reviews APRIL, MAYBE JUNE, has received so far! I think it could really take off, if we could get word-of-mouth going. Doesn't hurt to mention it to people if you liked it (hint!)

I hated to leave such a wonderful spot, but after wrapping up the conference with the last panel, I sort of couldn't top that. See y'all at the next conference! Bring the books that you want autographed!

Friday, January 24, 2014

See you at Left Coast Crime in March! Please come!

Do you know how much fun readers/fans/writers conferences are? Combine that with the paradise that is Monterey/Pacific Grove/Carmel-by-the-sea and you really have something!

And while you're there, you can be among the first to see my new release!


(Note that the book is by my alter ego, Shalanna Collins, who writes the YA fantasy/adventure series because of branding. I'm dual-boot like J. D. Robb/Nora Roberts and many, many other authors.)

I'll be attending Left Coast Crime (Calamari Crime) this year. At last, a family vacation of sorts combined with an opportunity to meet my editors in person, meet fans, and schmooze with other authors I've only known online. I am really stoked and looking forward to it.

The BIG NEWS is that we will be launching my new YA urban fantasy/adventure, APRIL, MAYBE JUNE! Even though it is not strictly a mystery, it has a mystery subplot. I'll be meeting up with Muse Harbor Press's Dave Workman, my editor on the project, and perhaps with others from the company. We have books, bookmarks, and tote bags to give away! I'll know more about the venue for this later on. It might even be held where we're staying--in a beach house!

I don't think that any of my books will make it to the list of nominees for the Lefty this year, but maybe next year. I hear that you should be fairly well-known, and I'm definitely not. Still, I voted in the awards. We'll see who makes the list.

The exciting part is that I'll be renting the aforementioned beach house for the week in Pacific Grove, about a mile away from the hotel. My family (hubby, Mama, Pomeranian, and probably one of my cousins who loves to sketch) will run around and have fun while I do the con, and then in the evenings I'll get to sightsee and visit the Aquarium and the beach. We haven't had a family vacation in YEARS. They are fighting me on it even as we speak, knowing how expensive it all is (and being a bunch of homebodies, except for the dog, who LOVES to travel, as if he were born with wheels), but I believe I can get them into the van and get us all there.

I hope to be on a panel or two. Even if I'm not, I will be available for meet-ups, book signings, and schmoozing. Watch for my totebags!

Here's the pertinent con info (that you could get from their site):

Starts - Thursday, March 20, 2014 11:00 AM
Ends - Sunday, March 23, 2014 02:00 PM
Where: Portola Hotel & Spa, Two Portola Plaza Monterey, CA, USA
(This hotel is sold out, but they have an overflow hotel or two, including the Marriott)
Writing Workshop Wednesday, March 19 with Jan Burke & Jerrilyn Farmer

Would your family like to come along? There are events especially for them! *Because we know they don't want to hear about the things writers and readers like to blather on about.*

Whale Watching Tour Tuesday March 18, 2014 9:00 AM – Noon (I wish I could do this one!)
Monterey Movie Tour Tuesday, March 18, 2014 1:00 – 5:00 PM
National Steinbeck Museum Wednesday, March 19, 2014 9:00 AM – 2 PM (We'll hit the museum at some point, as well as the Henry Miller Library.)
Big Sur Scenic Tour Wednesday, March 19, 2014 1:00 – 5:00 PM (I may skip something so I can go on this with Hubby!)

There are also free events and activities, of course. There's a voluntary hike of about three miles that you can take, starting on the trail behind the Portola Spa. Or just walk along the beach!

I hope to see you there. It's a lot of fun to attend your first convention.

Anyone have any convention survival tips? (Other than get your flu shot NOW, and bring your cell phone and tablet(s)?)