Thursday, January 29, 2009

Carolinas Writers Conference

Twenty-one authors will be presenting sessions on the craft of writing including Publishing for Profit, How to Develop your Characters, ebook Publishing, Romance A-Z, Writing the Historical Novel, Polishing Your Manuscript, How to Find a Literary Agent, Putting a Little Romance in Your Mystery, Life is Poetry, Plotting the Hero's Journey, Writing a Naval Adventure, Police Procedures and more. Authors include Robert Inman, Robert Macomber, Joyce and Jim Lavene, Suzanne Adair, Judi McCoy and Glenis Redmond.
The event will take place on Saturday, April 4, from 9 am - 5 pm. Registration starts at 8 am at the Lockhart-Taylor Center, N. Washington St., Wadesboro, N.C. Sponsored by Anson County Writers' Club, South Piedmont Community College and the Carolina Romance Writers. Tickets are $30; Conference limited to 400. To register, or for more information go to:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Larry Kissell

Jim and I went out to see Larry Kissell take his oath of office in Montgomery County last week. There was a large group there, a mixed bag of Republicans (asking for money) and Democrats (asking for money) but most importantly, the people he grew up with were there. Many of them were as astonished as anyone that Kissell won the election against incumbent Robin Hayes.

This is one of those stories. If you made it up, an editor would say it was unrealistic. Kissell, a high school Social Studies teacher decided to run against millionaire Hayes because he wanted to go into public service. Underfunded and ignored by the Democrats who didn't think he had a chance in hell of winning against Hayes, Kissell came in only 300 votes shy of beating Hayes in 2005.

Many people would have given up at that point but Kissell continued. He ran again in 2008, this time with some Democratic money behind him. Despite Hayes' running a hard campaign against him, Kissell took the spot.

When I first met Kissell in 2005, I thought he could never win an election. He's not coy or fast talking. There's nothing sharp or salesmanlike about him. He's like a regular guy. Like a Social Studies teacher. Like someone you grew up with.

Now he's in Washington helping to shape policies that will affect us all. His friends and family are proud and amazed but they are still behind him, certain that he will do great things.

It's a Cinderella story for our times. A reminder that this really IS a land of opportunity where anyone can have a shot at making history. Even a Social Studies teacher from Biscoe, NC.

Joyce Lavene

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why Confiding in a Writer Can be Dangerous

blog pictures My friend had (it's now disbanded) an extraordinary book club.  Probably the only traits its members shared were an interest in books and the fact they were all moms.  The most extraordinary thing, I thought, was the schism in the group between the beach-book crowd and the serious-literature lovers.

My friend belonged in the latter group and regaled me with many great stories about her frustrations with the book club....especially their monthly selections.  She made several failed attempts to convert the selection to a classic. Although she probably didn't intend the stories to be funny, I found them hilarious.  What's more, I saw a spot for the stories in my manuscript. 

Since my book is coming out in August, I had a feeling I'd better 'fess up that I'd used some of the material in the book.  Although I wasn't revealing anything personal about her life, there was no hiding the fact that the situation was taken completely from my friend's experiences. 

Fortunately, she laughed and seemed pleased that I'd written about her club.  But when she mentioned being excited she was in my book, I had to stop her.  "Oh.  Well, I twisted the whole thing.  So, in the book, you're actually a 65 year old widower.  With glasses.  And he's nothing at all like you, except he wanted the book club to read The Brothers Karamazov."

That's the funny thing about writers.  We can take our life's experiences (or other peoples') and weave them into our stories in different ways and with different outcomes until there's a mishmash of fiction and truth.  I think it's what makes writing fun.

Web Stuff:

Mysterious Matters blog talks bout liars and their nonverbal cues. 

Agent Rachelle Gardner with exercises for eschewing Writer's Block (and improving writing.)

The Write to Done blog tackles writing style. 

How much???

I'm sort of out of turn posting today but it's the weekend so I kind of think of it as a free-blog time for members. I wanted to blog about Larry Kissell and may do that later, but right now I have to vent.

What are people thinking? I know we're supposed to value ourselves but charging almost $1,000 for a course on publicity for writers? And that's with the MWA membership discount! I couldn't believe it! When I went to look at the site, I realized I had never even heard of the two writers who are putting it on. One of them even had enough nerve to quote his numbers on Amazon. That's the biggest hooey in the world!

Honestly, are writers made of money? Are we every smart guy's fool who wants to make a few bucks quick?

I have to say that I even take umbrage with some expensive conferences that by the time you buy your way in, pay to spend the night and eat have cost almost that amount or more.

I work with a lot of new writers (for a lot less money) and maybe that's my mistake when I should be subjecting them to the harsh realities of writing life where everything is more money than most writers make in a year. What makes it even more of an insult is that NO ONE can guarantee what they tell you will work for YOUR book!

Maybe I'm missing the point but particularly in these economic times, how can anyone charge that amount of money for a short course in making money on writing? Surely the best route to making money might be not to spend so much on writing courses!

Joyce Lavene

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How important is local?

Many authors ask how important local is in the light of needing national and worldwide sales for their books. I admit to being one of those people for years. You can only sell so many books locally. There are only so many bookstores and readers locally. It almost doesn't seem worth the effort to promote locally.

I admit that I was wrong. Local promotion is important. Getting to know librarians, booksellers and readers on a local level is very important. They can make the difference between a book that does well and a book that doesn't do as well. Even though you need sales that are much BIGGER than what you can get in your area (unless you live in NY City or someplace that large)local sales and promotion can be the heart of your book campaign. These sales expand and multiply into other not-so-local markets. They become opportunities that came back for you in the future.

Marketing is a gray area for most authors. We know how to write. We can follow the rules and get published. But knowing what works and what doesn't work to market your book after it's published is hard. Most of us don't have an inexhaustible amount of money to spend on that campaign (especially right now) but we have to do what we can. Local marketing: bookclubs, libraries, speaking engagements, schools and bookstores can all play an important part in our plan. It won't make our next book another 'Twilight', but it will increase sales.

Joyce Lavene

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Don't Move in the Winter

Well, here it is again. My Thursday to blog and I haven't planned a thing. Maybe I'll use this space to complain today. Not really. I'm just going to point out a few facts.

Yes, I'm moving. It's not a move I wanted to make, but circumstances has made the decision for me. After having my condo in High Point for sale for three years and it not selling, I'm moving back. Now I'm going to try to sell the Kernersville place. Maybe it will go faster. I sure hope so because I can't afford to keep up two places any longer.

I didn't make this decision lightly. I almost had to force myself to do it. Though I knew it was a necessity, I did put the move off until after Christmas. Now I wish I hadn't. The weather was much nicer then. Today was cold, rainy and windy. Not a good day to take some items to the new/old place, but I did it anyway. I'm trying to get as much moved as I can because the movers charge by the hour and I'm trying to save a little. This isn't an easy task when you're alone, drive a compact car, have a bad back and are well pass the age one should be shoving boxes around.

One of the worse things about this move is that I have a new novel bouncing around in my head and I want to get it down before it slips away. Alas, I still have over a hundred Tom Clark Gnomes to pack up, all my clothes to go through, the kitchen cabinets to clean out and the movers are coming Saturday morning. Eight-thirty AM they said

So if you happen by and hear me talking to Olivia, Josh and Amos, don't call the men in white coats. I'm just trying to keep my characters alive until I get set up in my new/old office.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A new year and a little Duck

Joyce and I went down to Duck, NC for a few days right after Christmas. It was a nice getaway after the holidays and neither of us had ever been to the Outer Banks. After seeing OBX stickers for years, we finally figured out it was the Outer Banks! We enjoyed the lighthouses and the huge sand dunes. Mostly we enjoyed just being together. There wasn't a lot open and we were glad our hotel room had a microwave for dinner a few nights. We cruised from one end of OBX to the other, wild horses to Ocracoke. There were certainly plenty of story ideas there.

And we talked about 2009. This is our tenth year being published. Our first book, A Family for the Sheriff, was published by Silhouette Books in February 1999. Ten years! How far we've come. And yet . . . there is so much more to do. I guess writers never run out of ideas for things they want to write, projects they want to do. We certainly haven't. And outside of being one of those lucky writers who have their first book sold at auction for $10 million, we are very happy with what we've done and what we're doing. We love working together (not so much on the bad days) and we love what we do.

We started out writing romance and gradually made the change to mystery (like many other authors). We are looking at other projects now too, other genres. We both read in many different genres and enjoy non-fiction too. Who knows where we'll end up?

For now, we are happy to be here and grateful to Jacky Sach for her help in getting us here. It's a good year to write something new!

Jim Lavene

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Learning to be Flexible

blog pictures Although the Christmas holiday was fun, there were definitely some unexpected elements to it.  Travel dates we'd set were adjusted and new plans made. 

Flexibility doesn't come naturally to me, but it's something I'm working on as a mom (kids are notorious for changing plans.) It's important to be flexible when writing, too.  I'm not much of an outline person, but I definitely have an agenda in mind when I'm working.  I know the direction I'm heading with my characters and plot.

But then ideas pop up into my head and characters will do something completely unexpected. A character in my current work in progress is determined to be an animal rights activist. I've struggled with her choice for most of the manuscript. How could I fit her interest into the book? How did it work into the plot? Why the heck was she an activist anyway?  But by reworking the plot and considering different scenarios, this character became more well-developed and integral to the plot. 

The same process occurs when I've hit a wall with plotting. When you've written yourself into a box, it can help to make a list of all the different directions you can take your plot in. It's hard to abandon the plan you've made for your book, but with a little flexibility, we can all improve our manuscripts.

Good Stuff:

Moonrat has some great tips for Overwriters.  I particularly loved her list of words Overwriters love.

Earl Staggs at Make Mine Mystery shudders over "ing" words.

Cricket McRae at Inkspot gives tips on forming a great writing/critique group.

I always enjoy James J. Kilpatrick's column "The Writer's Art" as a weekly installment in my paper. His observations on writing are always helpful to me.  Particularly funny last year, was a column he wrote about "The Decline of Damn" : exploring why we rarely use the past tense of that useful profanity anymore.


I just finished reading Agatha Christie's Murder for Christmas, which I thought I was reading for the first time.  (It's also in print under the title Hercule Poirot's Christmas.)  I read the first couple of chapters without recognizing any of the characters, setting, or victim--and then realized I remembered the killer, method, and red herrings.  Argh! Weird how that worked out.  I did finish reading the book, however, since it was interesting to see how Christie had planted the clues and diversions.

Happy New Year!