Sunday, July 26, 2015

Don't Judge Me for Judging

After assembling my own anthology for publication (Young Adventurers, due for release in December) I thought I was fully ready to help judge a short story contest that would result in an anthology for fellow publisher.  Well… maybe.

Nancy Sakaduski of Cat & Mouse Press invited me to be one of the six judges for this year’s Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest. I was honored, but still didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Nancy is tapped into a pretty vital writing community in Delaware, which resulted in more than 130 submissions! When I got my first batch of 40 stories to review I figured I’d blow through them pretty quickly. I just needed to pick my top five choices with no reviews, comments, or explanation required. We were judging the stories based on their creativity, quality of writing, their suitability as a beach read, and how well they fit the beach theme. Eliminations should be easy, right? You know a story’s too weak  by the end of the first page.
The problem is, almost none of them was weak. This was a pretty darn good bunch of stories. I wanted five great reads to float to the surface, but it was more like twenty. I had to get really picky to choose the 5.
But then we all needed to read the entire group of semi-finalists. Six judges,  five stories each.  That means thirty counting my five, but surely there’d be a lot of overlap that would reduce that number, right? Well, not so much. We had 28 semi-finalists to consider. And shoot, almost all of these were really good! Plus there was the apples vs oranges issue: is this really well written romance better or worse than that well written humorous story? Or the thriller? But hard choices had to be made. We each shared our top three choices (although I couldn’t resist mentioning two that were an eyelash away from the top three.)
Finally, we judges met to hash out which of these fine efforts would be declared first, second and third place winners. There was lively discussion but no conflict really. These people were definitely my respected peers and we all made passionate arguments for our favorites. Ultimately we all loved the top stories to some degree so settling on final winners was not that hard. And we each got to give a Judge’s Award to a favorite that didn’t make it into the top three.

It was exhausting but SO rewarding, and I now know several authors I want to pursue for a Intrigue Publishing. If you are an accomplished writer you should look for an opportunity to judge. It’s a wonderful experience.

Monday, July 13, 2015

It's All About the Dialog III

Last month I wrote a bit about dialog, but it was all just mechanics. But remember that good dialog is so important to your fiction because dialog is the best place to reveal your character’s inner self.  It is also the place where you can most easily destroy your character, and your book.  I know you’ve been told that every writer should have his own individual voice.  If you want your characters to become real people, they too should each have an individual voice, and that voice should grow organically out of who that person is.

You must think of every character you create as a real person, as real as you or me.  How you speak is the result where you come from, your age, your ethnic background, your gender, whether you’re a leader or follower, and whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  So you need to know all of that and more about every character before he opens his mouth. Your speech is also affected by what groups you have belonged to.  For example, ex-cons and retired soldiers have distinctive speech patterns that are very different.

One final tip on making your dialog fresh and believable.  When you have a conversation written and you think it’s the way it is supposed to be, the final test is done by ear.  Read your dialog aloud.  Say exactly what you wrote, and if you find yourself tempted to change it in the reading, consider changing what is on the page.  If you stumble over an unintentional tongue twister, change that too because people don’t usually say things that are hard for them to say during conversations.  And pay attention to the word choices.  Consider this sentence from a book I was asked to critique: 
“Your sourpuss persona is rubbing off on everyone, including Whimsy.  She’s seven years old and by now you should have adjusted to being a parent—-she deserves more from you.  It’s Christmas, for pity’s sake!”   

Now, if you had written that and then read it aloud, I hope you would ask yourself - would the person who used a phrase like “sourpuss persona” also use a phrase like, “for pity’s sake?” 

The test by ear is the final test of whether you’ve written strong, believable dialog.  I hope these few tips will help you put better words into your characters’ mouths.

Friday, July 3, 2015

What Genre Do I Write in?

Today's guest author, B. Swangin Webster, is the mother of five grown children and the "Nina" of seven grandchildren. She continues to write because if she didn't, she believes she would stop breathing. "Live life with passion" is her motto and this is something that she does every day. She has written two successful novels that strike close to reality, yet people still ask what genre her work falls into. Today she explains.

What is the genre I write in?

Well with a name like B. Swangin Webster you may assume, erotica. WRONG!

I write Contemporary Dramas. It can also be called Urban Drama.

Next question…oh, like street lit? WRONG!

Contemporary/Urban dramas are nothing like street lit. There are no drug dealers in my novels (well one time there was but he was just passing through) and there are no women stripping for money or marrying a man for money.

Street lit is hard core literature that has taken the literary world by storm. Most street lit novels will have titles that include the word, (pardon my language) Bitch and Nigga. Most likely they will have covers with stacks of money on the cover or a scantily clad woman or man.

My novels have none of that. Yes, it may contain the word Bitch but not in EVERY conversation.
Contemporary dramas are stories that can be lived right now. They could be your neighbor’s drama and most of them are LIFETIME movies. You know; the ones that have the stalker, the mistress or the missing child. 

What I write is taken from today’s headlines and fictionalized to put you in the middle of the situation and have you going through all of your emotions. If you don’t use at least 4 (or 5) emotions (well some say there are 6 emotions; but that’s another blog) while reading my novel, than I haven’t done my job.

So take a look at one of my novels and see what I write. Don’t assume that you won’t read an urban or contemporary drama because most movies that aren’t mystery, suspense or action are in fact contemporary dramas.

Give me a try and see if you enjoy it. Please feel free to contact me after you do; I’d love to hear from you. Just write to - and make sure to LIKE my fan page on Facebook:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Priest & A Rabbi Walk Into a Bar...

Today's guest blogger, Kimberly “Kimba” J. Dalferes, is a native Floridian who pretends to be a Virginian. Her accomplishments have included successfully threading a sewing bobbin, landing a 35 pound Alaskan king salmon, and scoring a ceramic sangria pitcher at an estate sale for $1. She also sometimes writes books. In fact, she allowed us to give you a sneak peek at her next book - The Magic Fishing Panties - right here! Her humor column–Dock Tale Hour–is featured in Laker Magazine. Today, Kimba tells us how to write humor her way.

I know it when I see it.
Justice Potter Stewart, famously defining pornography

Good humor writing is a lot like Justice Stewart’s porno. One gal’s laugh-fest is another woman’s offensive screed. I know a good joke when I hear one and I know a funny essay when I read it. However, sometimes it’s difficult to describe how to write good humor. But, here goes.

Key elements of good humor writing are not that dissimilar from good writing in general: show, don’t tell. “The clown slipped on the banana peel” is telling. More akin to showing would be: “JoJo, the sad-faced clown, never saw the yellow castoff strip of peel lying limp in the middle of the already wet pavement. In his haste to join his brethren in their tiny red clown car, JoJo perilously ignored a key principle of the clown playbook: slippery when wet.”

A well-written humorous story often evolves through three distinct phases: the hook; the set-up; and the punchline.

The Hook.

This statement–the hook– sets up the situation so the writer can now craft an engaging story. An effective hook has the reader pondering: Why are the priest and the rabbi together? What causes them to walk into a bar? What will happen to them in the bar?

The Set-up. The set-up often centers on an awkward situation, a ridiculous reaction, or a profound insight. In our example of our friends the priest and the rabbi, perhaps they are debating the use of Viagra, or why Viagra is blue, or how many Viagra pills it would take to screw in a light bulb. The set-up describes the bar, the conversation, and the back story leading up to the punchline.

The Punchline. Every humorous story needs a punchline. This is the final element of the narrative intended to make the reader laugh, snort, or giggle. The build-up to the punchline can bring the reader along so that the story ending is obvious, yet satisfying. Or, a punchline can be unexpected, catching the reader off-guard and gleefully surprised.

 One last suggestion: consider the “rule of three.” Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or the Three Little Pigs, most stories seem to flow better, and are perceived as being funnier, when there are three discernible components. Taking this to heart, our hook should probably be changed to: A priest, a rabbi, and Hillary Clinton walk into a bar

Gee, that is funnier.

Look for her new book, Magic Fishing Panties, to be released in August 2015 by Booktrope Publishing.  She is often found hanging out on her blog The Middle-Aged Cheap Seats. You can also visit her at

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The People in Our Heads

Today’ guest blogger, Betsy Ashton, is the author of two Mad Max books, Mad Max Unintended Consequences and the 2015 release, Uncharted Territory. In her spare time, she is the president of The Virginia Writers Club. She stopped in to share a bit about her relationship with her protagonist.

Thanks, Austin, for inviting me to yammer on about how Mad Max and I came to an agreement on how she should be portrayed. Let me begin by saying my Mad Max has nothing to do with the Mel Gibson character in the Thunderdome series, or in any other Road Warrior series. She is a fifty-something grandmother, smart, sexy, snarky and oh so wealthy. She also has two of the most adorable grandchildren who held her solve crimes. Oh dear, I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I began writing what became Mad Max Unintended Consequences, Maxine “Mad Max” Davies was a minor character. The original story line focused on the dissolution of a marriage, the idea prompted by real life, where a wife descended into alcohol, drugs and infidelity, leaving a family in mourning. Even I was bored with it. Max kept creeping in, asserting herself into the story instead of remaining in the background as the mother of the alcoholic, drug-addicted wife of the two adorable grandchildren. Through alternating chapters wherein the couple told their stories in first person singular, a technique I absolutely loved but which didn’t work, the story played out. It was so much fun to write, so painful to read.

One night about three in the morning, I heard a very clear voice shouting at me:  “It’s my story. Dammit, tell it my way.” Why, yes ma’am. And so, Mad Max was born.

I took the advice of a dear writer friend who read the first fifty pages of the original and said, “Let Max be Max.” I did. As soon as I focused on Max, I felt a story come to life. Admittedly, I wasn’t excited about the amount of rewriting this shift in point of view entailed. Like from sentence one to “the end.” Six drafts later, Max was a fully fleshed out character with multiple secondary characters, including her adorable grandchildren who helped her solve a crime.

I found an agent who loved Max as much as I do. She suggested short synopses for two more books in the series, which she then sold to Koehler Books, a small press in Virginia Beach. The thrill of writing a series was almost as intense as discovering Max in the first place. She taught me to listen to the voices in my head. I do, even to the newest one, a female serial killer who may or may not be a psychopath.

Betsy is a dedicated author and a staunch author advocate as well. You can learn more about her and her writing at

Saturday, June 13, 2015

From Genesis to Exodus

Today’s guest blogger Deliah Lawrence is an attorney who enjoys creative writing. Her debut novel, Gotta Let It Go, a romantic-suspense novel set in Baltimore, won the 2011 Finalist Next Generation Indie Book Award in the multi-cultural fiction category. She has now completed her second novel, and shares some thoughts and feelings about that experience.
When I wrote my first novel, Gotta Let It Go, a romantic-suspense novel set in Baltimore, I had no intention of writing a sequel  much less a series. But after my family, fellow writer friends and fans started clamoring for more, I thought, hmmm…why not?  So, I set off on generating ideas where my protagonist, a former burnt out prosecutor would dive in head first against the warning of her detective lover to solve the murder of a judge, someone very close to her.  This sparked the genesis of the sequel titled, Gotta Get It Back.
Well, life got in the way and the story stayed dormant for a while… a very long while. The longer I stayed away from the novel, the more I got pestered by folks, via phone calls, text messages, emails, and social media asking, “When’s the new book coming out?” “Aren’t you done yet?” “What’s your excuse this time?” and the list goes on. Of course, I knew it was all done lovingly so that I could get back into the creative writing seat and get it done. But it wasn’t easy.
Some days, the words wouldn’t come flowing like I wanted to. I would get distracted, move onto another project and create even more distance between myself and the storyline.  However, it wasn’t until I decided that I wanted to see my characters again that I became fully committed to finishing my second novel.
Toward the exodus of my novel, I learned a few lessons. First, I told myself that if the motivation for the characters didn’t work, it was okay to start again. Second, I was forced to see what really worked in the story and cut what didn’t. Third, I asked myself the tough questions such as “What is this novel really about?” “Are the voices consistent?” “Are the characters likeable?” “Is it all gelling?” This was all in an effort to ensure I had something readers wanted to get their hands on.
Now that Gotta Get It Back is finished, I look forward to the editing process and then getting it published. In the meantime, I’m imagining new ideas for book number three, Gotta Have It All, so I can take it from its genesis to its exodus. Can’t wait to embark on that ride!
Ms Lawrence is fulfilling her passion of being a writer. You can visit her at

Saturday, June 6, 2015

It’s All About the Dialog II

I’ll begin today’s dialog class with a reminder to keep it visual. In all fiction writing you’re setting a scene.  Whenever conversation takes place, there’s more going on than just the words

In last week’s dialog example (don’t make me repeat myself – it’s right there below this post) I think plainly stating that Eve was laughing at Adam has a lot more impact than slipping in the word “chortled,” and letting us see what’s happening between them involves us in the conversation so much better than the one-word clue that Adam whined.  If you paint a word picture, your reader will be able to accurately guess when the dialog is loud or soft, friendly or not.  In the revised example, I think you got the idea that Eve snapped at Adam when she said, “not anymore.”  Even if you didn’t, you probably understood the tone well enough.

I think the reason “said” substitutes are pet peeves for so many editors is that it’s the easiest way to express some thoughts, and nobody likes a lazy writer.  They want to know you’ve really thought about what you want to say and have searched for the best way to say it.  So go ahead and use the old reliable word, “said” along with other, equally neutral words like “replied” or “asked” and find better ways of letting us know that your character smiled, hissed or sputtered.

Now even the use of “said” won’t save you from another dialog evil.  Consider this:

Tommy was startled when he opened the door and mike walked in.

“What are you doing here?” Tommy asked nervously.

“I’m looking for you,” Mike said angrily.  “Where have you been all day?”

“I had to leave,” Tommy said softly. “The thing in the closet sent me away.”

“Thing in the closet?” Mike said fiercely.  “I’ve had enough of this nonsense.  I’m going in there and toss everything out.”

“No, no,” Tommy said, frantically. “If you go in there it will kill you.”

Hopefully you noticed and maybe even got a little uncomfortable with the adverbs in this passage.  Adverbs are a lazy way to try to make dialog more expressive.  They are almost always unnecessary if the dialog is well written.  Personally, I don’t think you ever need to use an adverb in your writing again in life. For the purposes of dialog they’re easy to do without.  Just think of another way to express the same thoughts and feelings. 

Next week, a few more tips on keeping your dialog realistic.