Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brandon Massey

Brandon Massey has come on board with a few articles. Massey self-published his first novel, built his own audience, and parlayed it into a career writing thrillers for Kensington Books. Since the aim of Write Good or Die is to offer different perspectives, here's one of a self-pubber made good (though he will be the first to tell you you probably shouldn't try it!)

Massey is the award-winning author of several thrillers and story collections, including Dark Corner, The Other Brother, Don’t Ever Tell, and Vicious. He lives with his family near Atlanta, GA, where he is at work on his next suspense thriller. Visit him online at and sign up for his free newsletter, The Talespinner, to receive book news updates and writing tips.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Harley Jane Kozak

Okay, I now have all three of the Killerettes in Write Good or Die...which was the REAL mission of this project! (For those not aware of this obscure pop-cult reference, we were in the Killer Thriller Band that performed at the first Thrillerfest awards ceremony--I guess that was 2006).

With thirty-some plays to her credit, Harley Jane Kozak at age 19 headed for the Big Apple and into the professional acting program at NYU's School of the Arts Join the mailing list! (now Tisch School of the Arts). After completing the program, she was cast in the feature film The House on Sorority Row. This enabled her to retire her waitress shoes.

Then came a trio of principle roles in soaps—Texas, Guiding Light and Santa Barbara—that came to a smashing halt when Harley's final character (a nun) was crushed to death by the giant neon letter "C." But that "C" gig had gotten her to L.A., where she went on to star in feature films and prime time television programs. Ten years later she began to write novels, have babies and acquire dogs, cats, fish, and rabbits—and the rest, as they say, is history.

Harley currently lives with her family in Southern California, where she's working on an international thriller. Meanwhile, she's added teaching, blogging and public speaking to her resumé, exploiting her checkered past.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Heather Graham contributing

Bestselling novelist Heather Graham, who also writes as Shannon Drake, is contributing a cool piece on what it takes to be a writer. As a mother of five, she downplays excuses and encourages dedication and persistence.

New York Times and USA Today best selling author Heather Graham majored in theater arts at the University of South Florida. After a stint of several years in dinner theater, back-up vocals, and bartending, she stayed home after the birth of her third child and began to write, working on short horror stories and romances. Her first book was with Dell, and since then, she has written over one hundred novels and novellas including category, romantic suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult and Christmas family fare. She wrote the launch books for the Dell's Ecstasy Supreme line, Silhouette's Shadows, and for Harlequin's mainstream fiction imprint, Mira Books.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Clarifying supporting clauses

Clarity is one of the keys to effective writing. Confuse the reader once and she glances over at the television set, the XBox, the iPod, or the romantic interest. Confuse the reader two or three times and you might want to reconsider your future career as a the next Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling.

Stray clauses are one of the killers of awkward prose, and I've always preached that if you can function competently at the sentence level, all the rest can be learned through study and practice. We'll get to comma usage later, but for today, let's take a look at descriptive clauses.

I recently edited a manuscript sample that contained a sentence "He killed his wife and children as they were asleep in their beds with a shotgun." I can't be sure, but I assume the killer used a shotgun, not that the warm-and-fuzzy family cuddled up with shotguns and teddy bears at night. The sentence could be made clearer either by shifting the descriptive clause closer to the "acting agent" (the man who used the shotgun) or totally restructuring the sentence.

One possibility is "With a shotgun, he killed his wife and children as they slept." Simple and effective, though not very artful. Personally, I would build a little suspense and use a series of short sentences--"The shotgun was cold in his hands, but warmth radiated from his sleeping wife..."

My first draft of a newspaper story I wrote this morning contained the sentence "Watauga County Republican Party chairwoman Pam Blume encouraged her fellow party members to work hard during Saturday's meeting..." I immediately caught the error, because she wasn't asking conventioneers to work hard just for that hour on Saturday, she wanted them to work hard during the entire election year. I moved the clause to the beginning of the sentence and ended up with "During Saturday's convention, Watauga County Republican Party chairwoman Pam Blume encouraged her fellow party members to work hard in the election year."

The basic lesson is to place the supporting or related clause as close the the subject as possible. An ancillary lesson, learned through years of mistakes and revisions, is simply to not write anything you have to revise later. Leave out the bad parts. Write good.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Your friend, the compound modifier

In my freelance-editing work, one of the most common mistakes I see in all skill levels is confusion over compound modifiers. Believe me, it took me years before I understood them--luckily I had professional copy editors on my early novels. As with comma usage, it's still an imperfect art, no matter which style book you use.

I lean on Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" when in doubt, but even that sacred tome is fairly vague, calling them "compound adjectives" instead of "compound modifiers." The rule is pretty basic, though. When using two words working together to describe or modify a noun, they should be hyphenated.

A fine example is the title of the Hemingway story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." If he had used "well lighted," we might have wondered if the light had radiated from a well, perhaps by someone dropping a lantern down it. You may say it doesn't matter, because the meaning will always be clear, but why not help the reader as much as you can? After all, you have given her a very hard job in the first place, stringing a bunch of glyphs across a page or screen and expecting it to be translated just as you have imagined.

Try this one. You're in a science fiction story (or is it a "science-fiction story"?), and the orbital and rotational periods of the Earth have been altered. But you write "He walked under the late afternoon sun." You might very well mean the sun is arriving several hours behind schedule. But if you use "He walked under the late-afternoon sun," we know the two words are joined. Make sense?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Gayle Lynds, Queen of Espionage

We are pleased to have two contributions from author Gayle Lynds, whose advice has some weight--she's a professional journalist who turned her sights to fiction. Gayle has contributed two articles.

New York Times bestseller Lynds is the award-winning author of nine spy novels and has been called the "Queen of Espionage." Her newest, THE BOOK OF SPIES, is due in stores March 30 and is the beginning of her first series. Lee Child writes she’s “today’s finest espionage writer,” while BookPage claims: “Lynds has joined the deified ranks of spy thriller authors like Robert Ludlum and John le Carre” and the London Observer says simply she’s “a kick-ass thriller writer.”

I met Gayle through the Killer Thriller Band at the inaugural 2006 Thrillerfest, when she was helping organize the awards ceremony and musical presentation of The Killer Thriller Band, in which I was participating as bass player. (Alex Sokoloff, one of our singers, is also in Write Good or Die). Thanks, Gayle!