Category Archives: writing

Medieval Ninja Detectives! CLAWS OF THE CAT by Susan Spann

Been a rough week Chez RomanceMama, my dear ones. Not gonna go into details, but I have learned once again that you never really know someone, and heartache can — and usually does — get let in the door by someone you trust.

But enough of that. There are a couple of extremely bright points in my life today. I’m heading to The Big Peach, Atlanta Georgia, tomorrow for the RWA National Conference, which is a high point of my writing year. But even more importantly, today is the Debut Release Day for a good friend and a great writer, someone you are going to hear a lot about in the coming weeks, months and years.

So to celebrate that release, I’ve got an extra extremely special post for y’all! If you read my facebook and twitter feeds, you are familiar with my crit group, the incredible ladies of the SFWG. (Don’t ever ask what it stands for. If we tell you, we have to kill you.) It has been a rare and wonderful thing, being in a group like this. Everyone is encouraging and supportive, while respecting you as an author and the craft of writing enough to tell you what you need to improve. All done with lots of humor, prayers, and virtual sangria along the way!

The first one of the SFWG that I actually met in real life embodies all those virtues, and she’s even more fabulous in person. Susan Spann is, like me, a lawyer in the day job, and she has a college-age kid, so we had a lot in common from the beginning. But I am simply in awe of Susan as a writer, and starting today, the rest of the world will find out why!

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Susan’ debut novel, THE CLAWS OF THE CAT, is now in a bookstore near you! I’ve read it, and it is wonderful — a beautifully-written, intelligent story about (get this!) a medieval ninja detective. Yes, you read that correctly — Medieval. Ninja. Detective. What is there not to like about this concept?

And trust me, she carries it off — you will absolutely love Hiro, the hero. (And I love saying that, btw. Hiro the hero. Hiro the hero.) So, today, my darling readers, I am bringing you the straight scoop about medieval ninja detective stories from the author herself, Ms. Susan Spann!

Q. Tell us about yourself – you know, the who, what, where and why.

A. Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Arabella! As you mentioned, I’m a publishing lawyer by day, ninja author by night. I live outside Sacramento, California, with my husband, college-age son, three cats (one of which is so fat we can count her as two), a cockatiel named “Miracle” (because my son, then eight, said only a miracle would have made us let him have her), and a 60-gallon saltwater seahorse reef.

Q. And of course, we want to hear about your book.

A. CLAWS OF THE CAT is the first book in the Shinobi Mystery Series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. It also has angry samurai, beautiful geishas, a Portuguese weapons dealer and a kitten thrown in for good measure. And the kitten isn’t even the reason I titled it Claws of the Cat!

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Here’s the slightly longer version:

“May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer in order to save the girl and the priest from execution.

The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Worse, the ninja’s investigation uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.”

Q. Everyone always wants to know where authors get their ideas, and I have to say that just saying “Medieval ninja detective” makes me want to read it! What was the initial inspiration for your story?

A. I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, getting ready for work, when a voice in my head said, “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.” I knew instantly this was a book I HAD to write. Also – like you, I love that the hero’s name is Hiro—I still smile every time I think about it.

Q. What drew you to that genre?

A. I’ve always loved mysteries and thrillers. I read my first Nancy Drew mystery in the second grade, and I was hooked. By fourth grade I’d moved on to the “hard stuff” – meaning Agatha Christie and P.D. James – and I’ve been reading in the genre ever since.

When first I started writing, I didn’t think I had the chops to write in the mystery genre, but eight years and four historical manuscripts later the ninjas attacked—and I realized that mystery fit my talents as well as my heart.

Q. What else do you have in the works?

A. Right now, more Hiro! I’m under contract for two more Shinobi Mysteries. Book 2, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, is already with the publisher, and I’m editing Book 3, under the working title FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER. The series could extend for many more novels, but that’s for the readers and the publisher to decide. If so, I’ll gladly spend more time with Hiro and Father Mateo. If not, I’ll find new ways to kill off my imaginary friends.

Q. Plotter, pantser, or a combination? How do you do the work of writing your story?

A. Plantser!

I outline the stories before I write, with a two-column outline that tracks the characters onstage as well as offstage. I need to follow the offstage action because my supporting characters lie—they seldom are where they claim to be at any given moment.

Once I start writing, however, the outline becomes a guideline and the characters usually depart from it fairly quickly. In the end, the books are a hybrid of my plans and those of the characters. I admit we do not always see eye to eye!

Q. What is your best writing advice for all the hopeful authors out there?

A. Don’t give up.

At my very first writers’ conference (in Maui, back in 2003) I heard agent Kimberly Cameron say that “writing is a game of last man standing, and only you get to decide when you sit down.” Those words stayed with me for almost a decade, as I wrote and struggled and faced rejection over and over again. It took me nine years and five full manuscripts (500,000 words) to reach publication. Every day, every word, and every rejection was worth it in the end.

If you want to be published, you can be. All you need is the fortitude and the will to keep on writing and keep improving until you reach the “yes.” For some, the road is shorter and seems much easier than for others, but success is attainable for anyone with the will and the courage to persevere.

Oh, and here’s a shot of Susan’s incredible Coral Reef Aquarium — writing, law practice, family, and raising exotic sea creatures! She’s an absolute Renaissance Woman!

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Tunesday: Summertime

Summer is fast approaching here on the Gulf Coast. Just yesterday, it seems like, we were shivering and suffering in the bleak desolation of February’s 50-degree days. Yeah, okay, so winter isn’t that bad down here. But we make up for it between May and October.
Yesterday was not bad, by Emerald Coast standards — it was about 88, with 80% humidity. That’s going to seem downright pleasant in a few more weeks, when we regularly top out in the high 90’s, and the air is so wet you’d swear you can wring it out like a dishrag.
And every year, I know it’s getting to be summer when I catch myself singing that greatest of odes to the lazy, crazy days — Summertime. I’ll get in the car, turn the AC all the way down to “Frigid Wastelands of Siberia,” peel my collar off my neck, and realize that I’m humming about jumping catfish and good-lookin’ mamas.
Yesterday, as I was driving along, discussing my plot with Bridget, my muse, and my two main characters (schizophrenia works for me!), Mr. Gershwin’s lyrics kept sliding through my head. Oh, the cotton is so, so high.
Many of you know that I always have a soundtrack for my books — songs that help me get into the character’s heads and experience their emotions. My current WIP is a Southern romance/women’s fiction involving a city girl who ends up living at the family fish camp in rural South Georgia. Yesterday, it hit me — I am nothing if not obtuse — the absolutely perfect song for a story about long, hot days sitting on the dock with a cane pole and an ice-cold Co’Cola: Summertime, as performed by the South’s First Lady of Heartfelt Lyrics, Miz Janis Joplin of Port Arthur, Texas.Listen to it here.
Does that make you wanna grab an innertube and run jump in the nearest swimming hole, or what?

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Writer Wednesday – Candi Wall and Agent/Editor Shop

As y’all know, I am now an agented author. (cue applause) But that’s pretty recent, and I sure know what it feels like to be out there in query hell. Which is why I love my friend Candi Wall so much — she didn’t just endure the torture that is the submission process, she set out to find a way to make it better.

So today I’m turning my little blog over to Candi to explain what Agent Shop and Editor Shop are all about:

As if the question ‘Wanna pitch to an agent or editor’ isn’t enough.

Hello! A huge thanks to all my wonderful hosts as I run all over cyberspace talking about Agent/Editor Shop at the Musetracks blog.
In this crazy world of easy access to information, it’s also easy to miss huge opportunities, or forget! Because I get so many comments that writers either forgot, or didn’t know Musetracks did pitch sessions, I asked a bunch of fellow writers, bloggers and readers to help me spread the word.
For those of you who don’t me, I’m Candi Wall, one of the authors who co-contribute to the Musetracks blog. Jennifer Bray-Weber, Marie-Claude Bourque, and Stacey Purcell are my super smart co-contributors and goodness knows where I’d be without them!
I’ve been hosting acquiring Agents at Musetracks for almost two years, and only recently, we decided to add editors as our guest. We’ve been lucky to have agents like Melissa Jeglinski, Jessica Alvarez, Mollie Glick, Becky Vinter, Kevan Lyon, Scott Eagan, Lois Winston, Jill Marsal, Michelle Grajkowski, Kimberley Cameron, Emmanuella Alspaugh (now Morgan), Laura Bradford, Jenny Bent, Sara Crowe, Weronika Janczuk and Stan Soper.
Our guest editors thus far have been Rhonda Penders w/ The Wild Rose Press, Jennifer Miller w/ Samhain Publishing, Debby Gilbert w/ Soul Mate Publishing, Beth Walker w/ Secret Cravings Publishing, and the editors at Books To Go Now have booked three dates in the future!
What we offer is a ‘Pitch Day’. I only take 30 pitches, and only the first thirty VIABLE pitches that come in on pitch day will be seen by the agent or editor. And I will warn you, I’m a stickler for following guidelines. If you don’t include exactly what is in the rules… I delete without prejudice. And I delete quite a few. (And yes, I receive plenty of hate mail.)
You can find us here:
Musetracks and there is a sidebar with Agent/Editor Shop dates and attending professionals
You can find the rules for pitching here:
Musetracks Agent/Editor Shop rules Please read them carefully!
I’ve also created a Yahoo group so writers can sign up to receive Agent/Editor Shop updates. I only send messages with agent/editor attendance updates, reminders of pitch dates, and any information about the contests we run on pitch day. Usually a giveaway or a chance to comment for the Top Pitch Slot. You can request to join here:
Editor/Agent Shop Newsletter Group
Easy as pie! We welcome every stage of writer and at Musetracks, we strive to help other writers, the way we were all helped when we first started out, and the way we are supported today.
Hope to see you all at a pitch day, and if not, feel free to pass the word along to others.
Happy reading and writing!
~Candi

A little about Candi:

Candi Wall is an author of contemporary romance, and YA.
Her début novel PRIMITIVE NIGHTS released from Samhain in Jan 2013, and STAY, the first in the Changing Tides series releases from Samhain on Aug 6th 2013.
She’s a mother of four (21,17,12,9), a rescuer of six (4 dogs & 2 cats), proud auntie of too many to count, a soon-to-be grandmother and great-auntie, a retired Cub Scout leader of 16 years, an avid animal lover/protector and ex-animal control officer. Oh yeah, and wife.
You can find her here:
http://www.candiwallbooks.com
Twitter
Facebook
Goodreads
Musetracks

Exactly What Hemingway Said

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The first draft of anything is shit.
― Ernest Hemingway

(It’s good to know that Papa would say my WIP is exactly what it should be at this point.)

No Guilt! (Well, Maybe a Little ….)

Okay, I admit defeat. I started the year off with the best of intentions. I didn’t make any of those stupid “I’m going to lose 50 pounds, learn French, and completely organize my house” resolutions. I just said I would write my wordcount goal daily and blog three times a week.

Alas, even with such minimal expectations of myself, I have come up short. I will say (patting self on back) that I have met my wordcount goal about ninety percent of the time so far this year. But the blogging…..

Just a quick glance over the past few weeks will reveal my failure. Nope, I don’t blog three times in one week — one time in three weeks would come closer to being accurate. But I’ve decided not to beat myself up over it.

See, I now consider myself an author. I have a published novel, an agent who is submitting my two completed (and one partial) books to publishers, and I being successful in meeting my productivity goals there. I am also a lawyer with a pretty darn responsible job in a local governmental agency, and I get my work done there, no questions asked.

I have two daughters, one in college and one in high school, and I’ve been married for 29 years. I volunteer with the local historical society and we are active in our church.

In other words, people, I am doing my share. I would love to be a Constant Blogger, but if it comes to the choice between keeping up with my fiction-writing goals and typing up a couple of hundred random words for a blog, right now I think my time is best spent telling my stories.

So I’m going to stop feeling so darn guilty about the blog. I love making my opinions known, and I’m glad some of you are enjoying it. I’m certainly not saying that I’m giving it up. But I just don’t have the energy to feel guilty about it.

So that said, I really will try to post more often in the future! I hate not doing what I said I would!!!

Point of View: The Devil is in the Details

Tom Hiddleston, my darling Loki in the Avengers Movies, explained his mindset when playing the bad guy as follows: Every villain is a hero in his own mind. In a similar vein, Sir Winston Churchill noted how society determines who is right and wrong: History is written by the victors. If Richard III had gotten that horse for which he offered his kingdom, we would remember him less as a man deformed in body and soul, and more as a triumphant protector of his country.

I started writing when I was in elementary school, though (luckily for my friends and family) I never let anyone read those early efforts. One of my favorite books as a child and beginning writer was The Worst Room in the School by Lois Baker Muehl. It told the story of some misfit kids and how they came to be friends — standard middle grades fiction. But the thing that stuck with me about TWRITS was that Ms. Muehl shifted the narrator’s point of view; each chapter was told by a different student in the class.

This was amazing to my 9-year-old self. There wasn’t a good guy or a bad guy — every one of the characters was just trying to do the best he or she could under the circumstances, and their actions made sense when you knew their motivations. As I remember it, an early chapter was told by a teachers’ pet, who made it clear that the class bully was evil incarnate. But then the bully had a chapter, and when I realized why he was acting the way he did, it was far more sad than evil.

As an avid reader and a sometimes writer, I’ve been fascinated by the way a few changed words, a couple of omitted details, can change your understanding of the good guy and bad guy. Certainly, in my career as a trial lawyer, I learned how to shade my word choice and choose the right details to stress, so I could convince a jury that the defendant was or was not guilty of various charges. In fact, as a young showboat moot court member, I once did a demonstration where I argued against myself — playing both prosecutor and defense attorney — and did a damn fine job for both sides!

I recently had a demonstration of this in my own life, where the omission of a few details and the emphasis put on various aspects of a situation changed its tenor completely. I don’t like to hang my private life out on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, so I’ll just say that, when I heard the story, I couldn’t believe it was the same incident I’d seen. What I’d understood to be an unfortunate change of plans because of an unforeseeable family problem was presented as a terrible personal attack on a friend. If I had perceived it the way it was told, I’d hate the “villain” too.

That’s not to say that the person who related the story was wrong in his/her perception of the event. Absolutely not. That person’s emotions, motivations, and perceptions are also real. Feelings were hurt, and for that, I’m terribly, terribly sorry. But there are, in fact, two sides (or more) sides to most stories, and lashing out in public is rarely constructive. It only raises the feeling of victimization on both sides, and makes real communication impossible.

Of course, in fiction (as in real life), POV characters rarely change their minds. The way they perceive events, the way they remember them, is generally set in stone. They say a person who is absolutely convinced in their own mind about a fact can pass a lie detector with flying colors, even if he or she is absolutely, demonstrably wrong about that fact.

I guess as I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to internalize the lesson my 9-year-old self learned from Ms. Muehl’s little book — except for the odd Pol Pot or Ted Bundy, there are no good guys and bad guys, there are just people doing the best they can for reasons that make sense to them. If I can incorporate that into my characters, I won’t end up with flat cardboard “heroes” and “villains,” but with three-dimensional characters my readers can believe in.

Monday Muse: Advice from Kurt

For today’s Monday Muse advice, I’ll just turn it over to someone who has forgotten more about writing than I could ever learn – here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s advice for writing fiction:

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Eight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

— Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.

The Monday Muse: Even a Muse Needs a Makeover!

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A writing friend and I were discussing our manuscripts the other day. She’s a bit newer to the whole path-to-publication madness than I am, and she was bemoaning what she perceived as the shortcomings in her Work In Progress. “I read mine,” she said, “and then I read your manuscript, and I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to write that well.”

Now, I am not telling you this story to shamelessly brag on my writing. Rather the opposite, in fact. Because my answer to my friend was basically, “I don’t think I’ll ever write that well either.” You see, my manuscript, which my agent has out on submission to several publishers, is not what I wrote. My writing, quite frankly, is not nearly as good as what ended up in my manuscript.

So, what happened? My writing appeared in the first draft, lo, these many months ago. Then I edited. And re-edited. And sent it out to beta readers. And re-edited. And then did some major rewrites. And more re-editing. What the editors are reading (and hopefully falling in love with!) is not exactly my writing. It is my writing after extensive plastic surgery, weightloss, and a professional makeup job.

Really, have you ever seen those photos in the grocery store tabloids — Celebrities Without Makeup? Some of the most gorgeous women in the world look a little — or a lot — less appealing in the cold hard light of day, sans makeup, hair, and designer clothes. For example, take the incredibly gorgeous, incredibly talented Sofia Vergara. I love her in Modern Family, where one of the running jokes is how her over-the-top gorgeousness affects men. But I recently found a photo where Sofia was — how shall I say this? Not quite over the top. Here it is:

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After you get over the shock, though, you can see the improved version of Sofia lurking somewhere in there. The woman in the first photo has great bone structure, good hair, and all the other things she needs. At this point, though, those natural attributes need to be polished to bring her up to the level we know and recognize as “Sofia Vergara.”

Your manuscript, hot off the first draft press, is the unmade up, greasy-haired, sweat-pants and tee-shirt version of your story. Don’t compare it to other people’s writing until you’ve hired it a stylist, done its makeup and coiffure, draped it in borrowed jewels from Harry Winston, and shoved it into Spanx and a beaded evening gown. When it’s ready to hit the red carpet, it’s ready to submit.

“Where’s The Love?” Blog Hop: Hook, Line, and Sinker

Today I’m participating in the “Where’s The Love” blog hop, sponsored by my friend, the Fearless Leader of my crit group (I love you, SFWG!), Ms. Heather Webb.

Ms. Heather’s fabulous book, Becoming Josephine, will be published by Plume/Penguin in early 2014. And since it tells the story of how a young Josephine captured Napoleon’s heart, the girl knows her love scenes!!!

Y’all hop on over to Heather’s website, join in the Celebration of Love, and have a happy Valentine’s Day!!!

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In my WIP, Hook, Line, and Sinker, Emory is a city girl who unexpectedly ends up at a fish camp near the Florida-Georgia border. Against her will, she finds herself attracted to Gary, a hunting and fishing country boy with the heart of a Southern gentleman. In this scene, Gary has taken Emory out into the woods on his family’s property to see his special place, a magical, ancient oak tree.


As soon as he had spread the blanket out, he turned and lifted me down from my perch on the branch. “I want you. Right here. Right now. Out in the open, nothing hidden.”

Oh. Wow. “Me too. Right here. Right now.”

We sank together to the ground, under the magical fairy oak.

“What do you want, Emory?” He murmured between deep, soul-baring kisses. “Tell me what you want.”

“I want you.”

“Where? How?” His lips burned a trail across my skin. “Tell me what you want.”

“You…. I don’t know.” I tried to catch my breath, but it was a losing battle. “I want you.”

I had done a lot of things in my life, but I had never made love out in the open air, with nothing but the branches of a tree for shelter. It was sweet and intimate and yet brazenly exposed.

Gary rose up over me, his face taut with concentration and — what? Love? Of course not. But as he looked down at me, his eyes somehow fierce and tender at the same time, I realized that I had done exactly what I had intended not to do. I had opened my heart to someone. To this funny, sincere, very real man. And I didn’t know how I was going to deal with that.

One Line Wednesday: Hook, Line, and Sinker

The day after my heroine, Emory, makes her interest known to the hero:

Mid-afternoon, Gary wandered out to the kitchen and threw together a lunch out of the party leftovers. I took the opportunity to visit the bathroom. I looked in the mirror — there was no doubt what I had been doing. I had that contented glow that only comes from time in bed with Mr. Right. Or, in my case, Mr. Right-now.