Tag: Paula Munier

Paula Munier

The Long and the Short of It (Books I Saved to Read in Mexico)

For me, the anticipation of a trip is often as pleasurable as the actual journey. Wherever I go, I always bring books. Choosing them is more important than picking what clothes I will pack. The criteria for which books get saved for a trip is: 1.) Do I need time to relish a particular book written by an author whose releases I eager await? 2.) How many of these tomes can I fit in a suitcase without breaking the travel budget with excess baggage fees? 3) How much can I test the patience of my saintly husband who is still gallant enough to insist on carrying the heavier bags?

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The Beginning (full stop).

  Great opening lines are memorable. I suspect many people can quote the opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities even if they don’t know what they are quoting.  The first scene in a book is often the first one written. It may even be the scene that inspired the rest of the book (that image that won’t leave the writer’s mind, taking over until it has spawned characters, plots, settings, and hopefully a satisfying conclusion).  Fingers tap the keyboard or grip the pen, speeding through the first pages, tumbling onto the next chapter, and the next until it is time to type The End. Of the first draft, that is. Then reality sets in. The first pages are the ones that sell the book. They are the hook. The decision to continue. They become THE EVERYTHING. I suspect that first pages, or first paragraphs or better yet, first sentences are more studied than any other pages in any manuscript.  Workshops are organized around perfecting these critical pages (our very own Paula Munier frequently lends her expertise to a First Ten Pages bootcamp through Writer’s Digest). This is an excellent opportunity to receive critical feedback. However, what if you don’t have the ten pages yet? What if you have an idea for a story but keep fiddling with opening pages, second guessing yourself, until it is clear the book will never really start?  I have two suggestions. First, read the first pages of books that are well regarded in your genre. How do they treat the action and introduction of setting or characters? Precisely how are these pages setting up the story for the reader? Second, visit Art Taylor’s blog The First Two Pages. Art features various writers each week, each critiquing their own work, explaining the whys and why nots of their decisions. When asked to post as a guest on his blog I was surprised by my recollections of earlier drafts. After a refresher glance at my old manuscripts’ pile I could trace my own decision making processes. The beginning shouldn’t be honed to the point that the rest of the book falls short of its sheer perfection, but those pages are critical. Should I turn that page, and the next, and the next all the way to the end? That is the ultimate reader’s question. Hopefully the end of the first sentence gets, a Yes. The end of the first paragraph, a second Yes and by the end of the first page it’s no longer a question. It’s a given. Then you can start to worry about a conclusion that surpasses the perfect beginning.

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ThrillerFest in Photos

Last week, as I may have mentioned, I went to ThrillerFest in NYC. Had a fabulous time, and here’s the proof. The conference began with an absolutely fabulous party, thrown by the wonderful Talcott Notch crew of Gina Panettieri and Paula Munier. As you can see, a quorum of Miss Demeanors gathered together and had some fun. At that party were the great Lee Child and Lisa Gardner. They both signed my poster. You can’t see their signatures, but trust me, they’re there.  Following that was a barrage of workshops and panels. I heard Alexia Gordon talk about “Werewolves, Vampires or Witches” (in a panel moderated by Heather Graham). Hank Phillippi Ryan talked about “Playboys, Scoundrels or Foxy Floozies.”Paula Munier talked about “Editing Your Manuscript,” on a panel moderated by Lori Rader-Day. And then there was George R.R. Martin, who traded stories with Lee Child, Heather Graham, David Morrell and R.L. Stine. (On a personal note, I spent a good chunk of the 90s reading R.L. Stine to my children and he’s absolutely lovely.)  There were also tons of book signings and I came home with many wonderful things to read, among them a signed version of A Game of Thrones. Below is a picture of me meeting with George R.R. Martin. True to form, I could think of nothing fabulous to say, but we did agree it was nice that I did not have to travel a long way to the conference.   So there it is!A wonderful time. Anyone else have any ThrillerFest stories to share?

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Crime Bake

I spent last weekend at the New England Crime Bake, which is a small mystery conference in Massachusetts. By small I mean intimate, by which I mean that you could sit down at a table with mega-best-selling author Lisa Gardner and ask her questions. (I did not ask a question, but I did make a comment. An introvert’s triumph!)  There were so many craft lectures on topics I wanted to learn about: Lisa Gardner talking about Character Development, Jane Cleland talking about Mastering Suspense, fabulous agent Paula Munier talking about Practicing Your Pitch, Susan Reynolds talking about how to Fire Up Your Writing Brain. Then there were “Drop in and Ask the Expert” panels, including our own Miss Demeanor Robin Stuart teaching about cyber crime and Bruce Coffin explaining police procedurals. One of my favorite panels was titled “The Survivors Club: Career Strategies for the Long Haul.” On the panel were moderator Lisa Haselton and panelists Lea Wait, Stephen D. Rogers and Toni L.P. Kelner. Listening to them speak, honestly and humorously about a career in the writing business, was like going to therapy. There were the horror stories about editors departing suddenly and writers being jettisoned. Stephen Rogers has had 800 short stories published, which sounds fabulous, except that in order to reach that number he had to get 4,000 rejections. They shared stories about changing their names to get more sales,  trying to adapt to the times,  compromises they had to make or didn’t make. At the end, wrapping up the session, Toni said something wonderful that I didn’t write down, so I’m paraphrasing it, but it was something like, I’m so happy with what I do. I can’t complain at all. Agreed. Then there was the final banquet, and the Miss Demeanors (among them Michele Dorsey, who co-organized this fabulous conference) and an assortment of wonderful people, were honored for our achievements.  As everyone cheered, I thought how blessed I was to be part of this wonderful community.    

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Orange Juice and The DON’T Do Lists

 One morning last November, I strolled into the Market Basket just over the Sagamore Bridge, the entrance to Cape Cod, to pick up a few items on my way home to the tindominium. Right in front of me stood a display filled with various sizes of freshly squeezed orange juice with a sign saying, “Squeezed Today.” I headed right for it, reaching for one of the largest size bottles.            Then I heard the voices of the invisible committee, sitting on my shoulders, whispering in my ears. “Orange juice, Michele?” asked one. “All that sugar,” said the one on my other shoulder. I silently told the orange juice was good for me. Vitamin C. “Sure, if it survived the pesticides,” chortled a voice. “How old do you think those oranges were before they were squeezed?” sniggered the other. I told them to shut up and placed the bottle in my basket, wheeling it quickly away into the bakery section before I was shamed out of buying orange juice by them. I glanced at a package of fresh baked pecan cinnamon rolls, which I had never noticed or purchased before, and defiantly put them next to the orange juice.            The next morning, my husband and I sat in the toasty November sun, reading the Sunday papers, welcoming a new week with fresh orange juice and warmed pecan rolls we even buttered. I refused to listen to the committee of “they.”  You know who that is. It’s the preface to a sentence that starts with, “They say you should never eat these three items if you want to rid yourself of belly fat” or “Always tell your children the truth about…” They is a very diverse and busy committee, especially now with the Internet and social media. Sometimes they can be identified as a source from Huff Post or even the New York Times, but often the committee’s roots are vague and its name an acronym no one had the time to figure out. They tell us how to spend our money, raise our children, what foods we must and must not eat, and what to read before we die with such authority, it’s hard to resist. The committee’s advice is often distilled into lists. “Ten Reasons Never to Drink Milk in Your Coffee.” “The Twenty Things You Must Do to Live Longer.” It’s exhausting.            Writers are faced with these lists all of the time. On any given day, Facebook will have a dozen lists telling a writer what she should do to become successful. Some of these lists are from professional agents and editors and can be very help, but others come from less reliable sources and can cripple a writer. In 57 seconds, Google handed me more than 93 million choices for advice for writers.            I certainly take Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writers that the New York Times had to persuade him to share seriously, probably because it isn’t dished out as dogma. “Try to leave out the parts readers tend to skip.” But even one of Leonard’s rules was a myth debunked by Lee Child, who pointed to successful authors who start with weather, another Leonard prohibition. Child says the rule that a writer must show, not tell a story is wrong and that it’s fine for a writer to tell a story.            Getting an agent can be as difficult as writing an entire book, so advice from professional agents like my own, Paula Munier, who has penned three excellent books on writing, can be helpful. Agent Jessica Faust of Book Ends recently blogged five very helpful “Do’s and Don’ts” for writing a query letter. Jane Friedman’s blog is filled with great information. There is wonderful information available for writers. You just have to remember three things (and now I’ve slipped into writing a list of my own): 1. Consider the source of the advice and its credibility. 2. Remember that some of the most successful writers have hit the NY Times best seller lists by abandoning well established writing conventions.3. Writing advice, be it in a list or any other form, should help you to write. It should not shut you down.           Take one example on this last important point. “You must write every day” is a rule spouted by many wonderful and successful authors. When I worked as a lawyer, mediator, and adjunct professor, I would arise early to review my case for the day, head out to court, return to the office to meet clients and conduct mediations. At the end of the day, I’d drive to Boston to teach law students who miraculously invigorated me. When was I supposed to write? Oh, I listened and watched lawyers, clients, court officers, and judges and took notes, jotting down ideas. But writing everyday wasn’t going to happen. Did I quit because I wasn’t a real writer if I couldn’t write every day? No. I’d write for ten hours on weekends, considered writing a priority when I’d take a vacation, and managed to write eight books, two of which were published during that time.            So go ahead, read the advice after you’re sure it’s coming from a reliable source. Then, start writing. And while you’re doing it, treat yourself to a glass of orange juice.    

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Writing Books on My Desk

     I love to write. I love books. Why wouldn’t I love books about writing? I have shelves full of them, some better than others, a few well weathered from repeated readings and reference. Some provide inspiration. Others are instructional.     I’ll pull out Stephen King’s On Writing when I need no-nonsense advice about how to write without pretension or self-deception. “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” I snagged a first edition of On Writing for eight dollars recently. Score!     Elizabeth George (Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life) and Harry Bingham (The Writers and Artist Guide to How to Write) frequently come off the shelf when I need help with craft. Paula Munier’s (full disclosure, Paula is my agent and appears occasionally on MissDemeanors.com) Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene falls into my lap when I get stuck trying to tell my story, even though I know what it is. Her Writing with Quiet Hands: How to Shape Your Writing to Resonate with Readers is where I go when I need to remind myself about who I am as a writer.     There are so many other good books on writing, I could spend all of my time just reading about writing, but that would only fuel my avoidance of writing, something most writers seem to periodically suffer from. I try to read about writing in measured doses, either when a new writing book comes out and I am looking to ignite my writing, or when I’m in trouble, which happens a lot.    Three new writing books are sitting on my desk right now. Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel (revised and expanded) by Hallie Ephron is perched on the top of the pile. I learned how to write mysteries from Hallie in person and through her first book. The woman was born to teach. The new edition is bulging with information essential to new and seasoned writers.     The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings: How to Craft Story Openings that Sell, also by Paula Munier, reminds us that “the most important thing your opening needs to do is this: Keep the reader reading.” I spend an enormous amount of time aiming for a perfect beginning, terrified if I don’t write one, I and my fledgling novel are doomed. I need this book.     Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, first released in 2001, dared me to think about writing big and provided tools, which I return to when mired in a thicket of words.  His new release, The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, is sitting between Hallie Ephron and Paula Munier’s books. I’m writing a different kind of book right now, challenging myself to stretch into telling a story through a character entirely unlike any I’ve written before. I’m learning why readers really fall in love with protagonists in this book. “You are not the author of what readers feel, just the provocateur of those feelings,” Maass tells us.      I’m feeling fortified and challenged by these three new books, which also quell the fears I have about braving new territory. The comfortable presence and support of a team of pros waiting on my desk to assuage the panic when I inevitably get stuck keeps me writing because I know help is only a book away.What writing books are sitting on your desk or shelf?                  

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