In Medias Res: Where to start your story

Linda Apple, writer and fellow Hartline client, first pointed me to Kristen Lamb’s blog. Now I’m pointing you in her direction. Amid all the hype about starting your work with a bang, Kristen has some excellent advice.

                   Kristen Lamb’s Blog

All literary roads lead back to “Star Wars”….

On Friday we talked about using setting as a literary device. Setting is one of those tools that helps writers to do more showing than telling. Today, we are going to tackle a highly confusing subject for many writers—In medias res. In medias res quite literally means in the middle of things. This is a literary tactic that has been used since the days of Odysseus. It is a tactic that forces the writer forward, to begin the story near the heart of the problem.

The Trouble with In Medias Res

Ah, but this is where we writers can get in trouble. I see writers beginning their novels with high-action gun battles, blowing up buildings, a heart-wrenching, gut-twisting scene in a hospital or at a funeral, all in an effort to “hook the reader” by “starting in the middle of the action.” Then when they get dinged/rejected by an agent or editor, they are confused.

But I started right in the action! What is more “in the action” than a high-speed chase through Monte Carlo as a bomb ticks down to the final seconds?

Bear with me a few moments, and I will explain why this is melodrama and not in medias res.

Commercial Fiction Ain’t A Tale of Two Cities

(to continue reading, hop on over to Kristen’s Blog. )

I haven’t yet found my way to her books, but how are these for titles?  We Are Not Alone: The Writers Guide to Social Media  and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.




Traditional versus Self-publishing: Why the Furor?

Traditionally published (many times over) author Sue Grafton created a furor in an interview on August 7 in which she disparaged self-publishing and called self-pubbed authors lazy. I think perhaps Miss Manners might have cleared her throat, stepped in with an “A-hem,” and suggested that Sue pause and reconsider. Too bad she didn’t.

The words are out, in print, and we know what that means. Maybe the mike wasn’t turned on, but it might as well have been. And now Sue’s words are creating a lot of hate and discontent. I’m sorry about that.


It seems so unnecessary. You know?

I work for a small, traditional press, and my first book will be published by another small, traditional press. I’m trusting the editor at that house will take as great a care of my words as I do for the authors we contract. But I’d like to say that my recent purchases of books from some big, traditional houses have not given me much respect for the care their editors showed before shoving those stories out the door. Good stories, sloppy editing.

No, I’m not a perfect editor. Fortunately for our authors, I have folk who come behind me in the process and have my back. But I’d like to suggest to Sue (and to anyone else who declares that a professional work can only come via traditional publishing) that perhaps she ought to take a step back and reconsider. There are some excellent freelance editors out there (I don’t freelance, just so you know), and many self-publishing authors use them.

Yes, there are some who are so eager to get their work in print or in an e-book format that they rush the process and imagine they can see their own mistakes. They can’t. No one can. They’re the ones who give self-published authors a bad name.

But let’s not tar all self-pubbed authors with that same brush. If we do, we’ll have to talk about the egregious errors that crop up in books from major publishing houses–all the time. Have I quit buying books by authors I enjoy because their publisher used a novice editor (or at least a careless editor) on their work? Of course not. I squirm a bit when I read these adjectives pretending to be adverbs or pronouns in the wrong case, but I read on–because the story is worth it. And I don’t hold the author responsible for the editor’s mistake. Now, if he or she had self-published and left in those mistakes? Well, I suppose I’d want to write a nice, friendly letter suggesting an editor for the next go round. A good editor.



A Show-off Sky

We wandered outside yesterday to check on my little boat and look at what we saw:

Straight out the creek


Out the creek


Over Marshallberg


Toward the east
Toward the west


As you can guess, we imagined huge winds, a deluge, possibly even a tornado.

Instead, a drop or two and then a lovely sky.


Twitterpated by Twitter?

As I’ve said before, I love reading what other folk have to say. But when two blogs show up in my Inbox with conflicting advice, I’m forced to think about taking sides. First came Rachelle Gardner’s post.

Her headline read: “Authors, Are You Spamming? Stop It!” That got my attention. Yes, I’d read Joel Friedlander’s earlier one,  “Yo, Author, You Spamming Me?? Cut it Out!”

I get it. I’m there. Spam anyone? Horrors. I’m more likely to hide behind a bush and hold out my book, hoping you’ll notice it and not me. I wasn’t any good at promoting my art work. What makes me think I can do better with a novel? No, I’d rather go write another one.

But needs must.

Still, I love the advice Vaughn Roycroft and others have given: make relationships. Become part of a tribe. Marketing will take care of itself.

Excellent advice. Excellent. Absolutely. But I’m not sure I’m particularly good at tribe-building either. (I have talked about that before.) Is there an answer for those of us who are basically shy and completely intimidated by the idea of leaping into a crowd of any size, an answer that falls somewhere between being thrilled that five or ten people will buy our book and wishing for thousands?

The second post showed up on Catherine Howard’s hilarious blog. It seems that Mel Sherratt approaches things differently: “How Mel Sherratt Sold 50K Self-published Books.” Ah ha! Mel tweeted.  A lot. And then other folk tweeted her tweets and bam! Out of Amazon and onto e-readers.

I’m a non-twitterpated tweeter. My blog posts show up there, but that’s about it. I have tweeted about a few other folks’ work, and I think I have one independent-of-blog tweet, because, hey, my little free time goes to checking email and bopping over to Facebook.

Obviously, I need some clarity. Vaughn says what I want to hear,  and Rachelle makes me want to nod and sigh and say, “Amen, preach it!” But then I read Catherine’s post–she’s always a hoot–and I think, um, maybe I’m wrong? Maybe the folk out there waving their flag–or their book–have the right answer? I mean, 50K copies?

How on earth? Would someone come and give me some insight? Let me know that Rachelle and Vaughn and those of us who prefer one-on-one, who are introverted more than extroverted, can make this work just by hanging in, hanging out, and being friendly?

Your thoughts?

New Website–Yippee!

Reeling from sticker shock a few days ago when a lovely web designer sent me a quote for design and maintenance of a website, I got busy.

No, that’s wrong. I’ve been busy. If you’ve visited here at all in the last months, you will have seen various incarnations of the blog, themes  I’ve tried and tossed. A number of those cost a bit, too, and a couple of the theme developers even tried to help me figure things out. Of course, they did so using language that had me feeling antiquated and useless: I hadn’t a clue what their words meant or how to implement them, nor did I have the energy to take this aging body off to computer-lingo school.


Finally, finally I found a drop and drag template that lets me do anything I want and do it visually. I’m a visual learner, so these folk had me right there when they suggested I come in, take any of their designs, and play for free. A day later, I had something that I like — finally.

Here’s the screen shot of the home page in edit mode. See those cute little thingies up on the left? All I have to do is click on one of those and options appear. Lots of options. I can change the look of every single piece of the puzzle. But isn’t that background gorgeous?

I’d be very grateful if you’d pop over to see it and, if you like it, say so by clicking on that little button you see there. You know, the one with that big “0” next to it? Just so I know that I’m not designing in a void.

I moved my domain to that site:

I kept another one for this:

So, if you could keep those in mind, I’d be grateful, though you can navigate from there to here and from here to there easily enough.

Oh, and if you find any gaffes, do drop me an email. Any of my proofreaders know I grow a bit blind sometimes.




Here’s a challenge. Would someone please design an edit function so authors of online comments can get a free pass for a do-over? The way either my blind eyes or my dyslexic fingers miss typos is enough to turn my face red and make my back itch.


I mean, I know better. I type in a comment and I reread it. But do I see the gaffes before I hit Enter? Never. It’s like my eyes go into sleep mode. Yesterday I immortalized loose when I meant lose. I suppose loose sort of worked — if I wanted to stretch things. It’s like knowing the right answer on a test but scribbling in the wrong black dot. Forehead slapping time.

So. I suppose it comes down to humility. I’m never going to be allowed to puff myself up or get even a mite cocky, because before I’ve taken that deep breath, I’ve found a way to embarrass myself.

Yes, ma’am.

How about you? What typos have you set in stone? Are you ducking any titters?



In A Crowded Room


A long time ago, in pre-Internet / pre-social media days, my eyes were still young and too often turned inward.


(Fine, sometimes they still are. That’s what poetry is for: to release angst. I’ve less of it to release these days, hence fewer poems find themselves squiggled between lines.)

I wrote this one in those long ago days. The images will be familiar to many artists.


One’s a Crowd

Lonely isn’t lonely

If one looks from outside in.

It’s just the inside out

That makes a person feel so thin.

Peering on the inside

One can see a host friends,

All caring, sorting, building, coping,

Sharing life with him.




I remember sitting alone, feeling disassociated, odd and out-numbered as I watched others interact. I was happiest with my clay or my pen.

But something happened between the then and now, between the me I was and the me I’m now — a healing, a rejoicing, an empowering — answered prayer as I learned how to like me and so  learned how to let others in.

Yes, some of that had to do with life changes: maturity and overcoming pain, marriage to my best friend, sailing to lovely places with him, watching healing happen within me. But some came about because of here. This ability we now have to reach out and touch kindred spirits who may live a continent or a world away.

Hello, Facebook! Hello, blogs! Hello, critique friends and writer friends and friend-friends! Hello, world!

You know who you are. So many of you, old friends and new, who’ve touched me and continue to touch my life. You have helped me grow as a writer and as a person. You’ve reached out and let me reach to you.

I give you a salute today and a peek into beauty from my window.

I hope to meet more of you in the days to come, either here or on Facebook — or in person. Grab a cup of something good and let’s chat a while and get to know one another. None of us needs to feel lonely, no matter how crowded the room or how out of place we imagine ourselves. Reach out. Look around. Someone is waiting for you to say, “Hey, I’m me, and I’d like to know you.”










Any Truly Satisfied Writers Out There?

Put on your author hat and help me out here, would you?

Your agent has submitted your story. Rejection letters accumulate even as contest judges continue to give that baby accolades and at least one win. (You want to hug those judges–or at least send them some Godiva truffles.) You rewrite for the zillionth time. One more tweak, or two or ten. Surely, another rewrite will do the trick.

And then–glory, hallelujah–the phone rings. It’s your agent. Your knees begin to buckle. Three editors have shown interest, but here’s one offering a contract. You sign on the dotted line and wander the house, beaming, because finally, finally . . . FINALLY . . . you know you’ll have a book in hand. Your book. In your hand. (And, you pray, in many others’ hands, though that bit seems even harder to imagine than finally achieving a contract.)


The editor at the publishing house has yet to send you his or her suggestions. Meanwhile, you’ve still got a day job editing for others and three manuscripts in various stages of readiness. You plod along, tweaking, editing, rewriting, editing, reading, reading, and then you wake up one morning, quaking because once that final edit goes out on that contracted book, you won’t be able to tweak it again. Your name will be irrevocably tied to that bound copy or that downloaded ebook.

I’m posing this question to published authors.

How do you finally decide that good enough is actually good enough? How do you finally say, “Okay, I will lay down that piece and move on to the next?” Is it when your contract deadline nears? When you’ve got to have the work back in the publisher’s hands–or someone’s going to be in trouble?

Because, I don’t know about you, but I’m always rewriting. I love to rewrite. And each of my stories has improved with age. So, where do I quit?

If you’ve held your book in your hands, are you satisfied? Do you wish you could have a do-over on any part of it? Or do you worry that one of your story layers will topple? Do you ever worry that one of those stones–a relationship or a conflict or a theme, or even merely a moment or scene–might have worked better if nestled with just a bit more care?

I’d really like to know.