Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Author C.S. Lakin: First Scene Essentials Part 2

Today I'm featuring part two of author and editor C.S. Lakin's post on "First Scene Essentials," which can be found on her blog Welcome Back!

To briefly review what I introduced last month, I'll mention the first important elements again (and if you want more elaboration, retrieve that blog entry and peruse it).

Some of the main points discussed involved picking just the right starting place to begin your book. This means the story starts in present action, in the middle of something happening, with your POV character right in the situation and revealing her (or his) fears, dreams, needs, or goals and the obstacle that is in the way and presenting a problem. The visible "goal" of your protagonist needs to be revealed in some measure in the first few pages, and what we'll explore today is the need to establish both the plot question and the spiritual question your book is raising.

You may not have a deeply themed book, but there must be some reason you are writing this story. What is it about? If you were asked, "Why did you write this book?" (and spend months, maybe years of your life doing so!), how would you answer? Hopefully, there is a specific thing you want to say to your readers. It doesn't have to be a "message" or sermon on life, but every story deals with themes on one level or another, and your views as a writer will come through the story, sometimes whether you intend it or not. Better to begin a book with intention--intending to say something and leave your readers with that "take-home" thought when they read the last line and close the book. This ties in with your MDQ or major dramatic query.
I've never seen in any book on writing a novel the importance of setting up your dramatic query or question regarding plot alongside the protagonist's spiritual question. This is something I gleaned from Davis Bunn's intensive workshop at Mount Hermon two years ago. Learning this was a revelation to me, and took my writing to a much higher level. Now, with every novel I write, I begin with this.

The MDQ or major dramatic query is a yes-or-no question you ask at the start of the book. It's a question that MUST be addressed in the first scene, as it sets the stage for the entire novel. It is also called (by Michael Hague) the "visible goal" or plot goal. Your question may be "Will Mary save her brother before he kills himself?" or "Will Frodo destroy the ring and save Middle Earth before Sauron gets his hands on it?" or "Will Dorothy make it back to Kansas or be stuck with those munchkins for the rest of her life?" You get the idea. The are only a few variations of this plot question and they involve the character either getting something or somewhere, saving someone, finding something, or escaping something. Now, the answer that you reveal at the end of the book can be either yes or no. Maybe Dorothy will, after all, end up living in munchkin land, but she might enjoy it, and find her true path to happiness there. You're the writer; it's your choice.

But now we turn to another MDQ, and that's the spiritual question. It's a little harder to pinpoint, but it reveals the heart of your character and the heart of your story. Without it, you might have an exciting plot but will anyone really care about the story, or even read it to the end? Without a spritual question for your protagonist, the answer may be no. When I say "spiritual" question, I am not talking about faith or faith-based stories. Every good story has one. A question that involves the character's spirit--her heart--is what we're concerned with.
Think about Frodo. His MDQ spiritual question might be: "Will Frodo be able to live with himself and his world by the end of the book if he makes the choice to undertake his journey?" or "Will Frodo find peace and inner joy through his journey to destroy the ring, even if it kills him?" Dorothy's spiritual question might be: "Will Dorothy find her place in the world, feel she fits in, feel at home somewhere?" Think about how these spiritual MDQs are raised at the start of the stories, alongside the plot MDQs. Now, what it crucial to realize is that BOTH questions get answered AT THE SAME TIME AND IN THE SAME SCENE at the end of the book! This is amazing, and when done well, makes your book a winner. Dorothy gets home (plot) but at the same time she realizes she's always been home; that here, with Aunty Em, is where her heart truly lives (spiritual).

So before you even start writing (or if you are partway through your novel, stop and consider), write down your two MDQs--the plot and spiritual questions you need to raise in the first scene that will be answered in one of the last scenes in your book. This is what should shape and give impetus to your entire novel--these questions. Your plot arc and character arcs will all begin and end based on these questions. They seem simple, but the reader needs to know what they are. This doesn't mean you state them blatantly (although in my novel Conundrum, I decided to actually have my main character, Lisa, in first person, ask the MDQ in her head--literally and exactly word for word. That worked for my book, and it sure left no confusion on the reader's part as to what the novel was about and what Lisa's plot and spiritual questions were).
So ponder awhile on this, and if you have any questions or need help on determining your MDQs, drop me a line and I'll help ( Once you get the hang of setting up your novel at the start with these important elements, it will make writing your book that much easier. The MDQs become a beacon of light that guides your protagonist on her long, dark journey to the end of the story.

Lakin is the author of twelve novels, including the fantasy series, “The Gates of Heaven,” with the first four books now out in stores. She also writes contemporary psychological mysteries, with her Zondervan contest winner, Someone to Blame, having been released October 2010. She works as a professional copyeditor and writing coach and loves to teach on the craft of writing. Her new websites are dedicated to critiquing fiction ( and building community to help survive and thrive in your writing life ( Come join in! You can read more about her at

Thank you for being my guest for the past couple weeks and sharing such valuable information! Be sure to check out all of her great tips at!

--KSR Writer

Friday, June 22, 2012

"A Horse Called Trouble" by C.K. Volnek FREE Today on Amazon

Today I'm happy to join fellow MuseItUp author C.K. Volnek in the celebration of her tween book, "A Horse Called Trouble," which is FREE today on Amazon for Kindle! I downloaded my copy and can't wait to read it. Don't miss your chance to get this book! Download now! 

Book Description:

A troubled teen must overcome her abusive past to save the defiant horse that taught her to love and trust again.

Tara Cummings hasn't had an easy life. Abandoned by her mother at the young age of seven, she's been passed from foster home to foster home; not wanted anywhere by anyone. At thirteen she finds herself skeptic and suspicious, with no family, no friends and forced to participate in horse therapy.
Horse therapy 'will teach trust, perseverance, respect and the value of teamwork", or so says the program's instructor. Tara is unconvinced. Trust only got her heart broken, perseverance only gets her put down, and no on respects or wants to team up with the misfit foster kid.
At the horse farm, Tara meets Trouble, an angry and defiant horse, bent on destroying everything and everyone around him. At first Tara is afraid until she realizes the horse is as misunderstood and untrusting as she is. She pushes aside her fear and a special relationship is formed as she alone manages to calm him, much to the surprise of everyone on the farm. Trouble trust Tara, and she in turn finds hope and acceptance as well as the will to love and trust again.
Tara's self-esteem grows through the program as she begins to work through her shyness and reservations. But her confidence is shaken as an even greater challenge looms ahead. Trouble's manipulative owner is determined to have him destroyed because of his 'dangerous' nature. Tara must overcome her own limitations and fight to save the horse that has freed her heart and given her life value and meaning.

Congratulations, C.K.!

--KSR Writer

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Author C.S. Lakin: First Scene Essentials

Today I'm excited to feature a guest post by author and editor C.S. Lakin. I follow her blog,  and have learned so many good tips that I wanted to share some of them with all of you!

This week she is going to discuss part one of her two-part post on "First Scene Essentials." Welcome!

Because I read hundreds of first chapters of novels a year as a writing coach and copyeditor, I've been compiling my list of essentials for a first scene. When you think of all you have to accomplish in the first few pages of a novel, you really understand how writing a great first scene requires numerous hours of study, practice, and concentration. It takes examining successful, long-lasting novels to see how that first scene was constructed. Have you ever read a first chapter that took your breath away? Made you cry? Shocked you? If you can accomplish an emotional reaction in your reader that quickly--hopefully by a quick attachment to your protagonist--half your battle is won.

Without sending you into cardiac arrest by listing nearly twenty important items you need in that first scene, I'm going to concentrate on some important ones--the ones that really need to be considered. Some of them are essential "do-nots." And the first one you may already know (but often feel so tempted to fall back on): No back-story.

Okay, we've heard that forever. But it's true. In order to start your story with a punch and draw your reader in, you need to construct a scene happening right here and now (or with something in the past, like a historical, right then and now). Regardless of the semantics here, you get the point. Some writing instructors say things like "no back-story in the first fifty pages." Some editors will be so bold as to say they would be happy if they saw NONE in the entire book. Maybe that won't quite work for your book, but it's safe to say that countless scenes start with a line or two in the present and then, whoosh! There you are reading about the character's early life or marriage or something she did right before the scene started. Which should make you ask...

Are you really starting your story in the right place? More often than not, the answer is no. That's what second and third drafts are for--throwing out your first scene or two. Most of the books I read don't "get going" until page twenty. All that up-front explaining, narrative, setting up the scene, etc., was all great back in Dickens's time (A Tale of Two Cities, for example). But we don't do that anymore. TV, movies, and video games have changed the modern reader's tastes and they want cinematic writing (so says Donald Maass in The Fire in the Fiction).

So how do you avoid the dreaded info dump and back-story? Think about the emotion, feeling, or sensation you want to evoke in your reader. You want to put them in a mood right away. You want to be specific to generate that mood, which means bringing in all the senses and showing your character in the middle of a situation, right off the bat.

And that's the next essential element: establishing immediately (did I say immediately?) the drives, desires, needs, fears, frustrations of your protagonist. Not only do you need to show her in conflict, in the midst of an inciting incident, but you need to reveal her heart, hint at her spiritual need, show her vulnerability, and what obstacles are standing in her way. In the first scene? Oh yes. Yes.

On top of all this, you must give the reader some idea of what the book is about--the theme or point--what they are getting into and why they should care. A tall order? You bet. But think--why are you writing this story anyway? What is the one thought, message, idea, conclusion, or feeling you want your readers to take home with them when they finish reading your book and set it down? Whatever that is should be set up in the first few pages, even if just a hint of a promise of what to expect. If your book is about forgiveness, then something about forgiveness or lack thereof must be an important element of your opening scene.

So, once you have all this in mind, think what scene would best set up your premise, plot arc, character arc, theme, and mood. You may have to write a bunch of different first chapters, as I sometimes do. Sometimes it's not until you near the end of writing your book do you get the right idea for the opening scene. You might be like John Irving, who starts every novel with the last line of his book and works backwards (yes, he does!). But he's onto something there--do you see? He knows exactly where he wants his readers to end up--plotwise and theme-wise. He already knows the end of the story and the take-home feeling he wants to evoke, so he sets about figuring how to lead that back to the start. Maybe that technique will work for you.

I'll go more into detail later this month about first chapters and all the structural elements that need to be set up. But for now, think about the heart of your story and the heart of your character. Once you find a way to put her heart right out there from line one, in a scene that throws her at odds with her world and shows how she reacts, you are on your way.

Lakin is the author of twelve novels, including the fantasy series, “The Gates of Heaven,” with the first four books now out in stores. She also writes contemporary psychological mysteries, with her Zondervan contest winner, Someone to Blame, having been released October 2010. She works as a professional copyeditor and writing coach and loves to teach on the craft of writing. Her new websites are dedicated to critiquing fiction ( and building community to help survive and thrive in your writing life ( Come join in! You can read more about her at

Excellent information! Next week I'll post her tips for "First Scene Essentials: Part Two!"

--KSR Writer

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Dark Heirloom:" An Urban Fantasy from the Vampire's POV!

We've all read paranormal books told from a human's point of view, but my guest today has written a book told from the paranormal character's viewpoint, and it sounds incredibly intriguing! J.D. Brown is the author of "Dark Heirloom," from MuseItUp Publishing. Welcome, J.D.!

Tell us a little about your background and how you became an author.

Thanks so much for having me at your lovely blog today, Kathy, I’m delighted to be here. I feel like I should mention that my books are for adults who enjoy vampires and urban fantasy. :)

Writing started out as a hobby for me after I lost my job. I had a lot of free time but not of a lot of money and writing allowed me to channel my stress in a creative way without tearing a deeper hole in my bank account. I’ve always been an artsy person, always expressing myself through sketching, painting, or poetry. But that time the idea to write a full-length fiction novel just clicked in my head so I ran with it and haven’t looked back since. I get a deep satisfaction from writing novels now and just can’t picture my life going any other way. I absolutely love being an author.

What is one of your favorite books and why?

That I’ve read or that I’ve written? LOL. I’m currently obsessed with The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare as well as the Charley Davidson (First Grave on the Right) books by Darynda Jones. But I read often and my favorites are always fluctuating.

As far as my own writing goes, I have to say I love Dark Heirloom. I’ve written short stories and poems before, but Dark Heirloom was my first full-length novel and it will always be very special to me. I love the characters and the world they inhabit and sometimes it shocks me that my imagination came up with it all. :)

What inspired you to write this book?

I’m a huge fan of vampires and paranormal characters in general, but I remember at the time I was feeling frustrated by some of the books I was reading. I was tired of reading urban fantasy or paranormal romance from the human’s point of view. And frankly it didn’t make any sense to me - why would the hero or heroine of a paranormal story be human? Why couldn’t the vampire be the main character? Soon after that I read a quote somewhere that said “If there is a book out there you want to read that hasn’t been written, write it yourself.” That quote was just the kick I needed. I sat down and started writing the book I wanted to read and what resulted from that was Dark Heirloom.

How would you describe your writing process?

In a single word; hectic. LOL. I do a ton of researching, brainstorming, plotting, and outlining beforehand thinking it will make the process nice and smooth. But that never works. As soon as I start writing the actual draft the characters take over, scrap all my hard planning, and do what they want. So basically I’m just the manual labor working for a bunch of imaginary vampires.

How have you marketed your book?

You know, I actually have fun marketing. Sure, there are times when I feel like I’m drowning in it, but I’m very proud of Dark Heirloom, so why wouldn’t I want to show it off to everyone? As for how, well, I try to handle it the same way I handle most things in life; with kindness and creativity. I network on Facebook every single day. I’m up on other social networks too, but Facebook is my main powerhouse. I do giveaways and contests and scout around for reviewers and bloggers, like Kathy here, to host me. I’m generous when it comes to freebies. I want people to read my book more than anything. So I’ve posted the first 10 chapters of Dark Heirloom on my website for everyone to read for free. I’ve gotten great feedback that way too.

I have several more tricks up my sleeves waiting to be revealed, but Dark Heirloom has only been out for a couple months and if I’ve learned anything about the biz, it’s that timing is everything. So I’m waiting until I get all the conditions right before I launch my next big marketing idea.

What advice would you give to other authors?

Remember to have fun with your writing. It’s very easy to drown in the stress of the business side and totally lose sight of why you wanted to be published so badly in the first place. Don’t feel bad if you need to take a brake from marketing. Don’t feel bad if you want to do something totally silly or different or risky with your writing. It’s art, it’s supposed to be a little dangerous and intimate. Embrace it.

Please provide a favorite excerpt from your book.

            My reflection haunted me as I stood with my forehead pressed against the mirror in the bathroom. I couldn’t feel the glass. My brain told me it should’ve been cold and hard, but all my skin felt was pressure.
            I looked like a zombie. My tan had disappeared, replaced by liquid white, my skin a numb rubbery latex. My teeth fanged like an animal’s. My eyes…
            Two days ago, my eyes were bright brown. Now they were the darkest shade of black, like onyx beads. The irises blended into freakishly wide pupils. Little specks of scarlet glittered in tiny splashes around the irises. Shuddering, I stepped away from the mirror.
            I couldn’t believe it. One thing was for sure; they weren’t human. Humans couldn’t fly or walk through walls. Humans couldn’t hear or smell things from miles away with precise accuracy. They couldn’t see distinct detail or vivid color in the dark of night.
            Aliens, ghosts, monsters…it didn’t matter what name they chose. The fact remained the same; they were convinced I was one of them now.

Where can readers find you and your book?

Dark Heirloom is available from:
·    Amazon Kindle

You can reach me, J.D. Brown ay my website
And at:
·    Twitter Profile
·    J.D.’s Blog

J.D., the excerpt is wonderful and I'd love to read this book. Thanks for joining me today!

--KSR Writer

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Help Promote Children's Literacy!

Nothing is more important in a child's education than literacy, which is why I am so excited to be part of an endeavor to help make reading content readily available for ALL children. Knowonder! is currently publishing new, original, professionally written short stories every day for children ages 0-10 via its website ( and free mobile app. Now knowonder! wants to expand its literacy mission by offering fully illustrated digital and print books as well!

In order to accomplish this goal, knowonder! has launched a campaign to raise $15,000 for the development of its first ebook, mobile app, and printed version of the children's story called CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! Through its success, knowonder! will be able to publish many more wonderful children's books in multiple formats, many of which will be offered FREE to children across the country.

To find out more about this project and to donate (donations start at just $7!) please visit this web site:

Let's all help support children's literacy!
--KSR Writer 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Secret Behind Mystery Writer Heather Haven

I love a good murder mystery, but I love them even more when they have an element of humor to them. My guest today, Heather Haven, blends these two elements beautifully in her new book "Death Runs in the Family." Welcome, Heather!

Tell us a little about your background and how you became an author.

The first book I can remember reading was Uncle Remus. That’s when I was six or seven. At age nine, I went to the public library and checked out Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock. My life was changed forever. I not only fell in love with reading, big time, I fell in love with mysteries. It’s a love affair that has never waned. I went to college on a costume scholarship and studied drama. Ultimately, I went to NYC to become an actress, but I hated it. I hated the life of an actor. It wasn’t for me. All that traveling! Living out of a suitcase! Who needs it? However, I loved writing. I could sit in a room and write for hours, send characters to the far corners of the earth and not have to leave my chair. To make money, I worked in advertising for a while, wrote short stories, one-act plays, and ad copy for humorous ads, and acts for performers. I loved it. I didn’t tackle writing a book until I came to California.

What is one of your favorite books and why?

Right Ho, Jeeves! P.G. by Wodehouse. No matter how many times I read it, it makes me laugh. I have read every book of his I can get my hands on and he wrote over 90! His writing can make me laugh like no one else’s. He’s most famous for the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster collection of short stories and books but he was a prolific writer of screenplays, plays, novels, short stories, pretty much anything. I’m a big fan. Agatha Christie, the queen of the mystery, the plot maker, is the one who made crime writing all warm and fuzzy. Janet Evanovitz, who turned it all into a wonderfully, funny game. Then there’s Earnest Hemmingway, who was a terse writer, if there ever was one. He is credited with writing a 6-word short story, “Baby shoes for sale. Never used.” I mean, come on. The man was a wonder. And he loved cats. He was surrounded by dozens of 6-toed cats when he lived in Key West; many feline descendents still call his estate home. Have I left anyone out? Of course!

What inspired you to write this book series?

I wanted to write something about a quirky, loving family, who do their darnedest to stay together and be supportive and loving, despite whatever gets thrown at them. I wanted the protagonist to be a flawed person, but not so much she couldn’t learn and grow. Mainly, she’s happy to be in the world. She loves life. She wants to be a better person. Although, she is the first to spill coffee on herself, she’s a very with it, loving person. I adore Lee Alvarez. Also, and this is important to me, I love blended people. The Italian half of my family came to the States at a time when it was difficult to be Italian. But my family worked hard to integrate and become useful members of our society. I decided to write about new immigrants working hard and succeeding. The series revolves around a half-Latino, half Palo Alto blueblood family who have managed to capture the American dream through perseverance, hard work and familial love.

How would you describe your writing process?

Who knows? I get an idea from articles in the newspapers, on TV, listening to people in the checkout line of the supermarket and I’m off and away. Truth is stranger than fiction.
But the writing process itself, you need to WRITE. YOU CAN’T BE A WRITER IF YOU DON’T WRITE. Yes, I am yelling that message. You’d be surprised how many people say they want to be a writer but don’t find the time to sit down and do it. Steal time. Commandeer it, borrow it, beg it but take it and use it. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time but it needs to be every day. Writing for only a ½ hour to an hour every day will give you a lot more than you think! When I was still working at a nine to five job, sometimes I would get up at four in the morning to get some writing done. I didn’t do it every day, but if I was on a roll and needed to write, that’s what I still do.

What has proven to be your most successful marketing tool?

Constant bombardment. Never letting up. It’s a drag, but if you don’t have a lot of bucks to pay someone, you need to saturate the market yourself.

What advice would you give to other authors?

WRITE! Take classes, get into writing groups, listen to critiques from people you trust, who know what they’re talking about. Big, important caveat here: It should be from people you trust, but don’t blindly love it. Try to leave your family or close friends out of this. They often have a biased take on things. And unless they are a professional editor, you might not get the best feedback, anyway. Read good authors, who write what you want to write or are writing. Learn from the masters.

Please provide a favorite excerpt from your book.

Chapter Seven
I Don’t Know Who’s the Bigger Idiot
Without much conversation, we jostled Nick out of the room and down the stairs. As a precaution, we used the back exit, Flint flinging boxes of DVDs every which way so fast, the clerk only managed one “hey” before we were out the door. The exit led to a narrow back alley filled with garbage, trash, and more small scurrying animals that should be calling the SPCA to complain about the conditions under which they’re forced to live.
While Flint went to bring the car to the side of the alley, I waited in the shadows next to Nick and pulled out the Glock. The irony of the situation hit me like a double charge on a credit card bill for shoes not only too tight to wear but last year’s style.
On the left, a disgusting dumpster; on the right, an even more disgusting ex-husband. And me stuck in the middle as usual—a reluctant PI if ever there was one.
Rather than inhaling the stench of fly-ridden garbage, I’d really rather be sniffing out dastardly doings of computer sabotage or thievery, in particular, long after said dastardly deeds have gone down. It’s my idea of a good job, especially when I get to zip off whenever I want and have a great lunch.
The part I like best—besides the food—is sitting at a highly polished, recently vacated mahogany desk in an air-conditioned office, sifting through the rubble of high-tech deceit and betrayal. I like gathering enough evidence to point a manicured fingernail at the culprit and shout j'accuse! Backlit by enough briefs, memos, emails, and other telltale papers, the culprit is mine. That is a real high.
This was a real low. But I had to think about Stephen. My cousin was dead, and Nick knew something about it. Hell, maybe he even had something to do with it. And, of course, there were the cats. If Nick was in any way responsible, I might do him in myself and save whatever goons there may be the trouble.
All these things were flitting through my mind when Nick—the stupid idiot—made a lunge for my gun, muttering he could take better care of himself than I could. Sometimes an ex-marine, like an ex-husband, needs to get over himself.
One of the first lessons you learn as a PI is to not to carry a gun if you’re going to let anybody take it away from you. All the years I’ve been carrying, ten to be exact, people have taken all sorts of things from me—including my virtue—but never my gun.
So when Nick came at me, my knee went up fast, strong, and accurate. Ex dropped to the ground in a fetal position. God only knows what else was lying there with him, but I left him on the dirt, anyway. He was busy moaning while I cocked the Glock and gave a 360-degree spin, prepared to do whatever was necessary to keep the jerk safe. At least, for the moment.
Fortunately, no one showed up except a passing rat or two, excluding the one I stood over. After what felt like a lifetime, I saw Flint’s headlights, although I’m sure it didn’t take him more than three minutes to get there. I helped Nick up. He limped to the car, and Flint, bless him, raised an eyebrow over Nick’s condition but didn’t say a word. What a guy.

Where can readers find you and your book?

At the moment, it can be found at MuseItUp.
In a few days, it should be at Amazon, B&N, and all those other nifty stores!

I LOVE this excerpt and the humor in your main character. It's going on my "to read" list! Thanks for joining me today, Heather!

--KSR Writer

Friday, June 1, 2012

Find Fun, FREE Children's Stories Every Day at Knowonder!

I'm super excited to announce the official relaunch today of knowonder!, which provides fun, FREE, original reading content to children ages 3-10. Every day, a new, fictional read-aloud story is posted, which you can access from the web site or directly on your smart phone via the FREE knowonder! mobile app available for both iPhone and Android devices!

Kids should read 20 minutes every day, and knowonder! makes it easy by providing professionally written and edited age-appropriate stories, FREE everyday! Whether you want to read a bedtime story with your child or want quality reading material for your child to read any time of day, knowonder! has it readily available.

In addition to providing great stories, knowonder! also provides fun and engaging non-fiction articles each week, including Fun-Facts and Totally-True Tuesday! Kids are also encouraged to upload their own artwork and stories to share as well.

For authors, knowonder! is currently accepting story submissions and pays $25-$50 per story, depending on length. (Please follow submission guidelines on website.)

I encourage everyone to visit the new and improved knowonder! web site and download the FREE app today!

--KSR Writer