Front Matter and Back Matter Fun: Disclaimers and Author Notes

front matter funPart of the work that comes with independent publishing is writing your own front matter. That is, a disclaimer at the front of the book, and for historical fiction, an author note at the end. I’ll admit I’ve kinda of always thought of the front matter as boring and a part of due diligence. But thanks to reading a couple blog posts, my mind is changed forever!

Front Matter: Disclaimers

I read this blog post about writing creative disclaimers from The Book Designer. The point of a disclaimer is supposed to protect the author and publisher from being sued for defamation or libel… you know… “any resemblance to anyone living or dead is coincidental,” etc. However, guest blogger Helen Sedwick makes the claim:

Many authors assume the legal disclaimers at the front of their books are supposed to be boring. They presume some pricey lawyers devised standard legalese, and they dare not depart from the norm.

Not so. The law does not require a disclaimer to be boring. In fact, just the opposite is true. The more interesting the disclaimer, the more likely it will be read. From a lawyer’s point of view, a well-written, well-read disclaimer is best of all.

I loved this idea. I had to take a stab at it for my work-in-progress…

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously to build a believable historical world. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, however, was very real. For story purposes, the author altered the timeline of historical events but attempted to stay as close to the truth as possible. Well, as truthful as a story about assassination conspiracy timelines can be.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this disclaimer! I love the idea of beginning the story right from the front matter copy, rather than from chapter one.

Back Matter: Author Notes

This was one of my favorite parts of reading Ann Rinaldi books as a child. It’s one thing to read a thrilling story about girls do heroic things in long skirts, it’s another to read that the stories were inspired by real events that I could learn more about, if I wanted to. Ann Rinaldi began my love affair with historical fiction, and I want to continue the tradition along with authors like Amy Timberlake.

My author note has a number of sections, including the below “Ohio and the Civil War.” I also have sections titled Lincoln’s Assassination; Camp Chase, the Confederate prison that my main character escaped from; John Wilkes Booth; and a couple other sections which would be total spoilers if I shared them with you.

Here is a part of the draft author note I’m crafting for my yet-untitled work:

Ohio and the Civil War

Lincoln is often quoted as saying, “Ohio won the war,” and the reason for that is because Ohio volunteered the highest number of soldiers of any Union state. Without the help of Ohio’s men, it’s hard to say what would have happened. All we can say is that those huge numbers bolstered the Union Army so that its might was greater than the Confederate’s.

If you’re interested in learning more about Columbus in the Civil War, I encourage you to visit the Camp Chase cemetery in Hilltop, the Ohio Village sponsored by the Ohio History Connection, and Grove City’s Century Village.

Original 19th Century barns and cabins from all over Ohio have been collected to a single plot of land in Grove City to use for educational reenactments and school field trips. In fact, a couple of the characters in this novel were inspired by stories told to me by Grove City elders. Just remember though, that the personalities and actions of the characters in this novel are my own invention!

Thank you for joining me on this adventure. Your time and imagination are precious.

I hope to share more teaser content as I get closer to finishing the first draft. I’m within 10,000 words of my goal, which is exciting! And a little scary, because that means I’m that much closer to brutal edit mode…

The Big Question

Dear Reader,

As of writing this post, I’m 17k words into The Rebel’s Hero, which is about 24% toward my word count goal. Without fail, when I get to this percentage mark, I get cold feet. I don’t know why. It’s very frustrating. I start to doubt my ability to write, to craft characters, to weave details, to drive the plot forward. I think this is because the beginning is complete. Now the meat of the story takes over, the plot thickens, and more questions are thrown to the reader.

I’m standing in place, deer in the headlights, frightened by this monstrous train called The Rebel’s Hero steaming full blast down the tracks because even though I’ve set up a good story with a multitude of questions I need to answer throughout the plot…

I still don’t know what The Question is. What am I trying to answer with this work? What is my big question that I’m struggling to explore and engage?

Peeking over shoulders

Do other authors do this? I feel like they do. I think MJ Rose explores the question of “what if the paranormal were real?” Her form of paranormal is more of the mundane… reincarnation, hypnotism, etc. Her fiction is fascinating, deep, driven. Joan Reeves, highlighted at The Book Designer last week, asked the question “Why would a woman marry a man for money?” and was surprised when her book was labeled a romance.

Sometimes crafting fiction feels backwards. I know I write romances, sweet though they may be. But maybe I should stop worrying about the genre, since I already know that’s what I gravitate to. Instead, I should worry, what is my question?

Exploring the space

I write this blog to be transparent about the writing process. It isn’t easy, and sometimes, it isn’t fun. I look to my previous fiction to remind myself that I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. Catching the Rose asks the question “what would you do to find your first love?” Haunting Miss Trentwood asks “what do you do after your parents have died?” Mad Maxine, my short story, asks “what happens when you don’t let go?”

I’ve blogged about The Big Question before in terms of individual characters, but for the plot? Here is a list of questions The Rebel’s Hero could be about…

  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Why would a woman marry a man with no memory?
  • What would you do to escape an arranged marriage?
  • What would you do to help a man in need?
  • What would you do to regain your memory?

I think the last one might be a winner. Throw the question into the Civil War, add the Underground Railroad, and I just might be able to pull this off. After all, it always feels impossible until it is done.

Best,

Belinda

Time for My Second Chance

Dear Reader,

Joe Konrath says the best part about self-publishing is if something isn’t working, you can always redo it. As much as we like to think a book that has been released to audiences is a finished product, we authors know better than that.

I wrote Catching the Rose (CTR) when I was in high school. Seven years later, I released my second book Haunting Miss Trentwood (HMT) with awesome reviews. CTR has made some sales since its re-release in July, but nothing compared to HMT.

This information, coupled with the fact that Wulfshado took a look at it and had so many suggested changes within the first couple of pages has convinced me.

I must rewrite CTR if I want it to get the attention I think it deserves.

Perfect timing, because I’m a sponsor for the Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), led by Kait Nolan. Below are my goals for the first round of eighty days, which should keep me busy as I’m working on two projects.

Round of Words in 80 Days Goals

Catching the Rose goals

  • Week 1: Finalize new blurb
  • Week 2: Finalize updated, tightened outline
  • Weeks 3+: Write 750 words a day

Love or Lack Thereof goals

  • Weeks 1+2: Write 750 words a day;
  • Week 3: Send clean draft of anthology to my editor, Cindy
  • Week 4+5: Review edits, prepare for publication
  • Week 6: Release for publication, just in time for Valentine’s Day

The thing with ROW80 is that if I accomplish all my goals, or find that my goals are too much for whatever reason, I can change them. I think this is a manageable effort, though. I’m excited to make CTR more into the Civil War-based fairy tale I had imagined originally. And I’ve never released an anthology before, so I’m interested to see how that goes, too.

Seems like 2011 is going to start with me as a busy little bee. All the best,

Belinda

A non-evangelist self-publisher? What?

Why is it that stating I want to self-publish makes me a politically-charged topic for people who couldn’t possibly care about publishing in any form, traditional-, subsidy-, self-, or e-? I’m speaking primarily about readers, friends, co-workers, etc. I understand why fellow writers who prefer any format would want to–at the very least–discuss the matter.

I am a published author who wants to self-publish. You all know that, right? If you didn’t, you do now, and I welcome you to my blog.

Why would I want to self-publish? What’s the difference between self-publishing and subsidy/vanity publishing? Why would I want to bother publishing if I obviously can’t write well enough for traditional publishers?

That’s the one that I don’t understand. I mean, I do understand, because culturally speaking, we seem to assume that by following the big boys with their big editors, we’re weeding out the bad books. And that’s true, to an extent. But we’re also not taking chances on books that don’t cater to the masses.

There are pros and cons to the publishing situation, as there are to all situations. But my choosing to self-publish isn’t the political statement people assume I’m making. The fact is I’m an entrepreneur, I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and hey, if I’m going to write, and if I want to publish, why wouldn’t I learn as much as I can about this industry that I love so much, and try to do it my own way?

I’m not expecting to make bank with my books, no author does. Do you think JK Rowling knew she would be richer than the queen when she began writing on that train so long ago? Do you think Jane Austen knew she would have a cult following and a movie industry obsessed with adapting her stories when she asked convinced her brother to allow the local printer to take her seriously? The following authors self-published, and I’m happy to be considered one of their crowd.

  • Virginia Woolf
  • Walt Whitman
  • Christopher Paolini
  • Edward Tufte
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Mark Twain
  • Stephen King

“True self-publishing” according to Wikipedia, means…

Authors undertake the entire cost of publication themselves, and handle all marketing, distribution, storage, etc. All rights remain with the author, the completed books are the writer’s property, and the writer gets all the proceeds of sales. Self-publishing can be more cost-effective than vanity or subsidy publishing and can result in a much higher-quality product, because authors can put every aspect of the process out to bid rather than accepting a preset package of services

Or to put it simply, self-publishing is a labor of love. I don’t want to send my story through the ringer, have a stock cover slapped upon it, and have some random title that says nothing about the book. I’m not making a political statement, I just want to make a good experience for my reader. It’s not that I don’t trust editors, I plan on hiring a copy editor et al. to make sure I release a quality product. I want creative freedom. Is that a political statement? I don’t mean for it to be, and I hope I will never come off as an author who rails against the evils of traditional publishing.

So I’m a self-publishing author-in-progress who isn’t on the warpath, and isn’t trying to evangelize readers around the world. I just want to tell my story, and hope to touch some hearts. Does that make me crazy? Or is it simply that I’m playing pacifist in the middle of a war where it’s either choose sides or go down burning with the loser?

Find a Friend Dialogue Exercise

By _Yogu at Flickr

Today in class we talked about the mechanics of dialogue, and how it’s a weakness for some writers and a strength for others. We read Robert Bausch’s short story, “Aren’t You Happy For Me?”, which I suggest you all read as an excellent example of external conflict (the dialogue) and internal conflict (the exposition).

You should also read David Foster Wallace’s “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” for another type of story where the dialogue is the entire story. Not only that, but he only provides half of the conversation, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps. Disturbing and brilliant.

Besides talking about the pitfalls of dialogue, which can include talking heads and over-philosophizing, we talked about exercises that we each use as a way to strengthen our dialogue-writing skills.

I admitted to being a closet eavesdropper. One of the guys in the class pulled out a tiny composition book and admitted to taking it with him to the bar, which inspired another guy to pull out his own tiny notebook meant for the same purpose.

For our class exercise, we had to pair up and write a conversation together. This was a lot of fun. My partner and I began giggling because we were writing an argument that started over the lack of peanut butter… it was, as Dane Cook describes, a “nothing” fight. Yet, under the surface, there was real conflict. Amazing what can come out of five minutes of passing a journal back and forth.

Try this exercise with a friend of yours, whether they’re a “writer” or not. It’s a lot of fun, and inspires new story ideas, guaranteed.

  1. The first writer pulls out a piece of paper and begins their dialogue with the words “I’m sorry, but…”. They complete the sentence and pass the journal to their partner.
  2. The partner, after reading the sentence,writes a line (or paragraph) of dialogue which heightens the tension.
  3. Keep passing the journal back and forth, trying to throw curve balls at one another without delving into the absurd.
  4. Try not to rely on dialogue tags to reveal how the character is speaking.
  5. In fact, don’t use dialogue tags at all. Rely on your word choice and punctuation.

Do you have a favorite dialogue exercise? Let us know in the comments.

Stop Beating

“Could it think, the heart would stop beating.” – Fernando Pessoa

Today in my English class we talked about the implicit promises writers make to their readers… these promises act as hooks, or mini-crises that build up the tension to the climax or sub-climax of the plot.

In romance, we begin our stories with a promise. At the beginning, we have two people who may or may not know one another. One thing we do know is that whether they know it or not, they will grow to care for one another, and we get to watch that process. It’s the fun part of love.

If this promise isn’t fulfilled, whether with a twist, or unexpectedly, we are left with a sense of disappointment and often anger. We discount the entire work as a waste of time.

As writers, sometimes we forget the promises we’ve made to our readers. We ignore the initial hook of the story, or never complete that subhook which made them turn the page to the next chapter.

Draw your readers in. Speak to their hearts rather than making them think through your plot. Once you drop a promise and confuse the reader, you’re destroyed the suspension of disblief and made them think again. As Pessoa claims, if the heart is made to think, it might stop beating.

A Tap on the Wing

“A book is like a man – clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.”
– John Steinbeck

There comes a time when you realize that there will be weak points in your work, and there isn’t much you can do about it on your own. What do you do when this happens? Some writers turn to trusted friends, family members, former English teachers. Some writers turn to other writers to act as beta readers. Some writers join local writing groups.

As a graduate student, I have the rare opportunity to work with a published author this semester for graduate credit. I’m incredibly lucky, excited, and terrified about this opportunity to take an “advanced creative fiction” course.

And there’s a catch: I’m not allowed to write historical or romantic fiction. I’m also not allowed to work on a novel-length work, which was kind of my plan… to work on the sequel of Trentwood’s Orphan, Trentwood’s Heir. I can have a romantic theme, perhaps, but I’m expected to write literary short fiction.

So for the next couple of months, I’ll be writing about my experiences. Any advice that I learn from my professor, I’ll send it on to you. I will suggest that you all go and buy Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. It’s as good as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, though it does take a little dig at genre writing now and then.

So I modify my suggestion. If you’re open to learning about writing creative fiction, and enduring a dig now and then at genre fiction, pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

Focus on those Nitty Gritty Details

I hope you’re following Dory’s advice and staying persistent… just keep swimming (writing)!

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed yet, but editing really is my favorite part of the creative writing process. I know I might be alone in this, and that’s ok. My goal this week was to help you see that editing is not as hard as it seems… it just takes patience, persistence, and motivation. Today I want to leave you with some ideas to help you edit on a very detailed level. Beware, those faint of heart and annoyed by long posts, as this just might be my longest ever.

Timeline

Set up a timeline for editing your book. Do you want to finish editing a chapter a day? Whatever it is, make a pact with yourself to go through your draft once only. Be determined to catch every mistake the first time through. This will keep you focused and efficient.

Give yourself a break if life gets in the way of your editing timeline, too. There is nothing worse than feeling guilty about not working, and worse yet, the more upset you are with yourself about not working, the more your guilt will build. To the point that you won’t want to edit. Always, always, always avoid feeling like you don’t want to touch your work.

Editing the Beginning

This is by far the hardest and most frustrating part of the book to edit, it seems. Therefore, I’m going to apply this week’s editing tips to the introduction of my first book. That way you can see an example of how I’m thinking, and hopefully find similarities in your own work to know how to edit.

I started my first book, Catching the Rose, with narrative description because I read classics when younger and that’s what I was used to. It never occurred to me that reader preferences would change in 100+ years.

Silly me. Today’s readers expect to begin with action, whether by/to the main character or by/to a character who will affect the main character later. So let’s see an example of what my first paragraphs were, and what they would be if I were writing the book now.

Continue reading

Tell Me, Don’t Show Me


Here is a conversation I hope I never see in your work, ever.

“Hi Belinda.”

“Hey Marcie. What’s up?”

“Nothing much.” Marcie sighs into the phone. “Making dinner. Hubby’s coming home soon and he gets grumpy if I don’t have it ready.”

“Oh man,” Belinda murmurs. “What’re you making? Spaghetti? Gotta love spaghetti.”

Snore, snore, snore, right? How many of you have heard a conversation like this while walking around a store? A conversation about nothing that annoys everyone else who has to hear it? Don’t force it on your readers or they’ll throw your book against the wall.

As important as showing is, telling is equally important when used at the right time

Let’s define some terms, first. Exposition is when the author stops to describe something to us, say, a house. We need to know what this house looks like because the main character is about to sneak inside, but it doesn’t forward the plot at all. Narration is when the description forwards the plot along, often by describing emotions or thoughts, or when transitioning from one scene/location to another.

As you can see, there isn’t a big difference here, so I’m going to collapse both terms into simple ‘narrative.’

Now, narrative is imperative for prose fiction: it’s what defines prose from poetry (among other things, of course). But how do we know when to show and when to tell?

Use narration to set the scene.

Do this quickly. You don’t want to disrupt your reader too long, which is what you’re doing whenever you rely on narration. This is the most traditional way to use narration, because it works. A simple paragraph describing the scene does more than a page of dialogue talking about the trees, the sky, the buildings, and the characters’ moods. Let’s see an example:

It was night, not that Belinda could tell the difference with the blindfold on. Her hands pulsed with a dull ache thanks to the rough rope knotted around her wrists. She had lost feeling in her legs hours ago. Her cheeks were sticky with tears, and the old sock in her mouth choked her.

There it is again. Heavy footfalls shuffling up the wooden staircase toward her.

This narration tells us everything we need to know. What time of day it is, that Belinda is panicked, tied up, has no idea where she is, and dreads the sound of heavy footsteps coming toward her.

Use narration when you need to cover a block of time or a boring conversation.

We don’t need to know every detail, just tell us the information we need to know to keep up. This includes generic introductions between characters, or when a couple of days go by in your plot timeline that don’t have any real action or events to maintain interest. Never do extended flashback scenes if you can help it. Going back to my opening example:

A week went by before Belinda called Marcie. The phone rang four times before Marcie picked up, and there was a definite hesitation in her voice. Belinda ground her teeth as they wasted time talking about how Marcie was making dinner for her husband. Forget your husband, Belinda wanted to scream, and get out while you still can.

I could have written this narration two ways: Marcie upset about her husband’s demands, or the way I wrote it with Belinda not understanding how her friend can stand her husband’s demands. Or a third way, with the husband coming home and wanting to know why Marcie’s gabbing on the phone instead of making dinner.

Use narration when you’re switching locations, moods, characters…

This is the smoothest way of letting your reader know that something is shifting. For example, you can end a chapter with your character saying, “I bet Frank’s sneaking his way into the girl’s locker room again.” And then start the next chapter with a teacher dragging Frank by his ear out of the girl’s locker room. You gave a hint about where Frank will be the next time we read about him, and not only is he there, he’s making us laugh that he got caught. Silly Frank.

Use narration when you’re giving your reader information that your characters don’t have.

This is used all the time in romance, as well as political thrillers, mysteries, suspense… We as readers know that when the bad guy promises not to do it again that he’s lying, but the hero believes him for some reason. We know that when the romantic hero says he doesn’t care about the heroine that he does, it’s just that he probably doesn’t realize it yet. Foreshadowing is a great example of this as well.

The Point

The only time you shouldn’t use narration is when it is better to use action and dialogue. The only time you shouldn’t use action and dialogue is when it is better to use narration. Sounds like a vicious cycle, doesn’t it? Here are things to keep in mind when deciding to show or tell:

  1. Always and only tell your reader what they need to know for the plot and characters to make sense.
  2. Don’t distract the reader with your writing mechanics. Too much narration, description, or dialogue will throw your reader off, so try to maintain a healthy balance.
  3. Don’t summarize important conversations, only the ones that don’t cover anything new.
  4. Always reveal something new. Never rehash what you told your reader earlier, they’ve seen it already.
  5. Don’t let the narrative run away from you. If it goes longer than a paragraph or two, take a step back. Does your reader really need all that information? Or can you see them thinking, “Come on, already!”

Comment with your thoughts on ‘telling’ to enter the free Worderella critique contest. Do you have trouble integrating narration into your action without slowing the plot too much? Does telling come easy to you, but showing is hard? Or vice versa?

Books to Buy: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style (free online version)

Links to reference: Why nouns and verbs are your friends, Active vs passive verbs, Using modifiers objectively

This five part series is my participation in Lynn Viehl’s Left Behind & Loving It (LB&LI) convention. I’ll tackle a different facet of editing each day:

  1. Monday: Put that shitty first draft away
  2. Tuesday: Be brutally honest
  3. Wednesday: Show me, don’t tell me
  4. Thursday: Tell me, don’t show me
  5. Friday: Focus on those nitty gritty details

Read more for details about winning a free Worderella critique at the end of this week!

Show Me, Don’t Tell Me

“Don’t talk of stars, burning above! If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams filled with desire, if you’re on fire, show me!
Here we are together in the middle of the night.
Don’t talk of spring, just hold me tight!”
Show Me from My Fair Lady

Think of your book as a court case. Would you, as the jury, believe the prosecutor if he screamed, “The defendant is guilty!!! …And I rest my case.”

No. You want proof so you believe beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

Apply the same idea to your writing. What proof do you have to convince your reader that your character is bored, that her hero is unhappy, that his antagonist is delighted? Let’s look at an example.

Belinda was bored. She had a lot to do and her friends, while hilarious, had no idea what sort of deadlines she faced. Three C++ programs and an analysis of Moby Dick to write? She had to figure out how to make her excuses and get out of there, quick.

What’s the problem? I’m telling you she’s bored and has a lot to do, but I don’t tell you how she’s reacting to these facts. Let’s try again.

Belinda twisted her ring around her finger. A paper and three programming assignments. She crossed her legs. Maybe she could write the Moby Dick analysis first? She uncrossed her legs. No, Moby Dick would take much longer, better do the programs first. Belinda glanced once at her cell phone, pressing the side button to illuminate the little screen and see the time. Class in twenty minutes. She stood to stretch, and no one said anything, knowing her history with back pain. She pushed her chair back to its desk and straightened the other empty chairs around her, inching for the door.

What is different? I rely on shorter sentences to portray an anxious mood. There are descriptive verbs: twisting, crossing, uncrossing, glancing, stretching, pushing, inching. Can you see someone doing this? Too polite to say they want to leave, but showing you they want to, anyway?

The Point: Use small details to reveal the bigger picture without flat out explaining the bigger picture.

Movies and songs do this because they don’t have the luxury of 80,000 words to explain everything. Love songs describe missed phone calls, the smell of an old shirt, the empty half of a bed. Small details showing us the singer is alone and heartbroken, which is more powerful than the singer repeating, “Oh, I’m heartbroken, can’t you see I’m heartbroken?”

Treat each scene in your book as if it were a scene in a movie. What details would the camera show the audience?

Showing Through Body Language

Watch your co-workers, family, friends and enemies, the strangers on the street. Can you tell what is going on without hearing the conversation? Are they standing upright? Are their shoulders hunched? Are they looking away as they speak? Are they sweating?

Showing Through the Environment

Sure, maybe it was a “dark and stormy night,” but we’ve all heard that before. What about your five senses help you realize that it is storming, and that you wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle of it? Are the gnats gathering into furious swarms? Is the heat pressing against your skin, making you feel like you can’t breathe? Are the trees swaying? Can you smell the heavy dampness?

Showing Through Architecture

What about the buildings that your characters live in? Are they worn down, a sad testiment to what once was? By the way, don’t ever say “the house was worn down, a sad testiment to what once was.” That’s telling.

Show me the house is worn down by describing spider webs in the windows, so thick they prevent the full sunlight from shining into the room. Show me how the roof is badly patched with pieces of rotting bark collected from the nearby forest. Details, details, details.

Comment on the Show Don’t Tell mantra to enter in the Worderella free critique contest. Do you think it works? Are you tired of hearing it? If this is the first time you’ve heard about it, does it confuse you?

Books to Buy: Eight Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, How to Write a Damn Good Novel

Links to reference: Showing Through Dialogue, How to Avoid Too Much Backstory

This five part series is my participation in Lynn Viehl’s Left Behind & Loving It (LB&LI) convention. I’ll tackle a different facet of editing each day:

  1. Monday: Put that shitty first draft away
  2. Tuesday: Be brutally honest
  3. Wednesday: Show me, don’t tell me
  4. Thursday: Tell me, don’t show me
  5. Friday: Focus on those nitty gritty details

Read more for details about winning a free Worderella critique at the end of this week!