Author Archives: lucybalch

About lucybalch

Midlothian VA Regency Romance Writer

Blurb critique

I’m trying to furiously finish/polish my “Middle grade” book, and would love any and all opinions on its blurb. Is it something you think your eight – twelve-year-old would like to read? Don’t be shy!

Here goes:

Nathan and Nina transport to Cloud Seven after finding magic vials that belonged to their grandfather. Cloud Seven, a history-changing training station, gives the twins a task: travel back to 1963, Papua New Guinea, and save a cancer-curing plant from extinction.

Success has a high stakes payoff that could reunite their family…

To all the mothers out there: Have a wonderful day tomorrow!

Regards,

Lucy Balch, author of a historical romance set in Regency times -

Love Trumps Logic

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Pitching in a Good Way

If you are going to a writers’ conference to pitch a book, here are some  “pitching rules” that I discovered in an article by Kerrie Flanagan, the director of the Northern Colorado Writers and a freelance writer.

1) Remember: agents and publishers want to find good writers as much as writers want to find good agents and publishers. With that thought foremost in your mind, act confident even if you don’t feel it, and try to stay relaxed. The more desperate you seem, the less you will be taken seriously.

2) Make sure you’re pitching to the right person. You don’t want to pitch a young adult book to a publisher who only handles romance.

3) Practice your pitch many times before giving it, and be prepared with a notecard of memory triggers if nerves make you forget where you are. It helps if you can explain the story in one sentence, giving character, goal and conflict. Maybe “The Hunger Games” could have been pitched like this: “Katniss is a teenaged girl from a futuristic, ravaged America who must win the Capital’s twisted and bloodthirsty version of the Olympic Games to stay alive, but whose win would mean the death of her good friend—possibly boyfriend—Peeta.”

4) After your hopefully stunning one-sentence pitch, use the rest of your time to explain what makes your book stand out, and which writers you can compare yourself to in terms of style.

5) Dress professionally. You don’t have to look corporate, if that’s not your style, but make sure that whatever your style is, it’s well-groomed and projects confidence.

6) Be polite. Take time to shake hands and make a bit of small talk before jumping into the pitch. Continue being polite afterward by sending a thank you note—regardless of how the pitch turned out. You want to make a good impression and cultivate relationships, even if this pitch didn’t go as you wanted it to. Leave editors and agents with a positive impression for next time.

7) If all or part of your manuscript is requested, make sure you send it out in a timely manner. Don’t let more than a week go by before sending it (which is why you have to have it finished before you pitch it).

Does anyone have any other suggestions? I’d love to hear them!

Lucy Balch, author of

Love Trumps Logic

Second Wind Publishing

Also available at Amazon.com

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Lois Winson (http://www.loiswinston.com) talked to the Virginia Romance Writers on Saturday. She had some good advice for anyone who volunteers to be a judge in a contest, or offers to critique another writer’s book. Here’s what I took away from it:

Be kind and go into the job looking for something good to read rather than looking for problems. When problems are found, be constructive rather than destructive.

Remember that–in many cases–rules are meant to be stretched or broken. Of course a writer should never send an erotic romance to Steeple Hill, but if a hero and heroine do not meet in the first three pages of a manuscript? No big deal if we’re reading a 400 page saga rather than a Harlequin novella. If you’re going to critique or judge a particular genre, you need to know the conventions of that particular genre. All genres are different.

You’d better know all the rules regarding POV and GMC before giving advice on them.

Don’t correct every little thing. Look for trends and point them out, so that an author can then go back through the story and make his own corrections. If you do everything for him, he’ll never learn how to do it for himself. [Or herself :-)]

Do not assume to know all the research on a particular topic, especially if you’re basing your knowledge on a TV show. If you question whether or not something actually happened, or wonder if a certain word is appropriate for the time, ask the writer to take another look at the topic/word in question. Suggest that she not use Wikipedia.

Be honest with yourself about your biases. If you don’t like to read Westerns, don’t offer to critique one.

Don’t be afraid to hurt someone’s feelings, but remember to be kind. Point out the good in a story, while also pointing out what needs work. Be honest, in a kind way.

Be flexible and open. Not everyone has to write a story as you would write it.

Remember: it’s all about good writing. Lois asked us which types of books we didn’t like. But when I thought about it, I agreed with her that it doesn’t really matter what the story is about. What matters is whether or not it’s written well.

Lois went on to tell us what makes a story well-written, but that can be another blog for another day. Better yet, contact Lois and get the information straight from her.

Lucy Balch

Author of Love Trumps Logic

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by | February 12, 2012 · 9:22 am

Win a Critique!

In lieu of writing a blog today I want to offer a contest. The rules are simple: The person who replies with the most eye-catching (to me) blurb about their work in progress will win a chapter one critique from me. The winner will be announced at 10pm tonight. Good luck!

Lucy Balch, author of

Love Trumps Logic, a Regency romance

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More Advice from VRW, this time from Elaine English

The Virginia Romance Writers’ Christmas party was wonderful as usual, with a delicious potluck lunch, a fun gift exchange—I stole a beautiful red serving platter—and a riveting speaker, Elaine English, who is an attorney and literary agent based in Washington, D.C. http://www.elaineenglish.com/ is her website, if anyone wants further details about her specialties.

When Elaine first started talking, she apologized for bringing news that might be considered a bit depressing to a Christmas party, but she made sure to stress the bright points in the publishing industry as well.

First the bad news: print sales are dropping drastically, which makes the “legendary” publishers even more conservative. Most large publishing houses will not pick up new authors unless they are perfect in regards to matching current successful trends. And, of course, their manuscripts must be well written and well edited.

Another negative is that agents are opening up shop as publishers, which could be seen as a conflict of interest. If an agent-publisher likes a manuscript, what’s to stop them from publishing a book that might fit better at a different publishing house?

All writers must also become proficient as business managers and advertising executives, which isn’t something many of us care to do. We wouldn’t have become writers—expressing the creativity bursting forth from our souls—if we were interested in getting overly familiar with publishing contracts and branding. Perhaps that’s why the lawyer relationship is just as important as the agent relationship these days, so that reversion of rights and the term “out of print” can be thoroughly understood. (And make sure to find a lawyer who has specific experience in book publishing.) As far as advertising goes, it’s good to “know your brand” and market it well. Establish yourself in the virtual world and figure out how you can make yourself stand out from the crowd … because there is a crowd. Approximately two million new books are published each year nowadays.

 

Now a positive: there are more books to read, since many more books are published each year. More good—and great—writers have a chance to get their stories read.

But a few words of caution: all writers, no matter how good, need a good editor behind them. So if self-publishing is something you’re thinking about pursuing, be sure to get an editor—one who “gets” your voice—on board. You don’t want to get your book out there, only to discover it’s speckled with flaws.

It’s also important to understand “discoverability.” Writers tend to be introverts, so “social media” is regarded with dread. You have to get over that. Get comfortable with Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and all the rest. The more solid relationships you develop, the more people you’ll know to support you when you announce that you’ve just published a book.

 

Lucy Balch, author of

Love Trumps Logic

Second Wind Publishing

Also available at Amazon.com

 

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My first critique group experience

I’m attending my first official critique group today and I’m nervous. I’ve never understood why people love their critique groups so much—they can’t wait to get to the next one! Perhaps I’ll find out today what the big deal is.
In the meantime, I’ll “go all out” and extend critique day in this blog. I’ve been struggling with a few plot points, so I’ll ask my blogging audience about them too. Keep in mind that the targeted audience is young adults.
1) I have a pug dog in my story and at one point she is left in the care of a boy who has blossomed because of her. Is this a cop out? Should I instead have allowed the dog to go on a dangerous trip into the wilds of Papua New Guinea with the two main characters? It certainly could have made for additional conflict, for no one wants to see a dog endangered. (I think I just talked myself into taking her.)
2) Should the bad guy die … or not? Is redemption or revenge more what young adults like to read about now a days?
3) How can I make the cannibal characters—they are a tribe in PNG—sympathetic yet terrifying? External descriptions certainly help, but does anyone have any ideas on how to make a scary-looking, primitive tribesman act three dimensional and a bit sympathetic? I could show him with his child, but is that concept too clichéd?
4) Should someone nice die? It would be very easy to kill one off, since there are three “good” people, in addition to the main characters, trapped by the cannibals. I can kill off the bad guy here, but is that too boring an ending? I get the feeling that most teenagers today don’t appreciate happy endings the way I used to when I was one.
5) Any ideas on how to—believably—allow a guy to dive into crocodile infested waters and NOT get bitten/eaten?
Wish me luck!!

Lucy Balch, author of Love Trumps Logic
Available through Amazon.com and Second Wind Publishing

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Chemistry and Subtext

I attended another fabulous Virginia Romance Writer meeting on the 8th of this month. The guest speaker was Sherry Thomas, and she talked about creating good chemistry between the hero and heroine, and about subtext. As a group exercise she had us divide into four groups, and each group had to act out the same scene with different subtexts. It was funny how differently the same scene came across, and the difference went way beyond the various settings that each group picked. One group had to express fright, and their setting was a graveyard. Another group had to convey sexual attraction, and they picked an office elevator. Another group had to portray indifference. My group was given this instruction: “the second character has to pee really badly.” In order to get that feeling of desperation across without words, we chose, as our setting, a courthouse in its first recess of the day. One lawyer tried to talk to another one about some requested papers, but the one who had to pee didn’t want to stand around and chat. The words being spoken didn’t matter nearly as much as the acting and our set design (we posted a bathroom sign, and the one who had to pee kept edging toward it).

Movies have a bit of an advantage over books. There are so many ways that a movie can convey a message—through lights, costumes, music, acting and sets. A book has only words, so how does it clearly show the same thing? According to Sherry, CONFLICT is the biggest and best subtext driver. If a conflict is set up well, then the meaning of the dialog will naturally evolve and be clear. She gave the example of one book in which the hero is really an antihero. At the beginning of the book, his difficult childhood is exposed so that the reader is able to gain sympathy for him, and better understand his later nastiness.

 

About good chemistry: both people need to have intellectual common ground, mutual respect, and an emotional commitment. Sherry thinks that the movie “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” perfectly shows all three, and it’s one of her favorite movies. In the beginning, Mr. and Mrs. Smith hate each other. Love develops when they—through their actions as assassins—grow to respect each other’s work.

So how do writers enhance the budding romances in their books? According to Sherry there are several things to look for:

1) Does the plot challenge strength of mind and character?

2) Do the lovers affect each other’s growth?

3) Are visuals being used to best effect? One effective technique is to describe the hero through the heroine’s eyes, or vice versa.

4) How is the pacing? Is there just the right amount of anticipation?

5) Is the heat hot enough?

6) And, most importantly, does a love scene truly move the romance along or is it there simply because the hero and heroine have been together for several chapters now, so they’d better have sex? If the later is true, skip it. Sex isn’t the key factor here. Emotion is.

 

Lucy Balch, author of  Love Trumps Logic

Available through Amazon.com and Second Wind Publishing

 

 

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A workshop by Alicia Rasley

The Virginia Romance Writers started up with a bang on September 10th. After a quiet summer, they hosted a daylong workshop by Alicia Rasley. As is always the case with their workshops, it was well worth the time.

Alicia Rasley’s topics included character motivation and sentence structuring. I can’t give away all her secrets, but I’ll share ten of the juiciest tidbits.

On character motivation:

1) Make sure it’s your character’s motivation and not yours. Do you want your character to travel to NYC so that he can run into a long lost friend? That’s your motivation, not his. Why would he have wanted to take the trip?

2) Differentiate between goals and motivations. Goals are measurable and concrete. For instance, someone can have a goal of getting straight As in school, or finishing a writing project by a deadline. Motivations are more slippery: maybe a student wants the As because they get money for each A, or maybe it’s because they want to impress a teacher who will write a recommendation for college. Maybe a writer wants to finish a book by a certain date in order to pitch it to agents at a conference, or maybe they want to finish it before their grandmother, who is in hospice, dies. Motivation is the past. Goal is the future is one way to keep it straight.

3) There’s also a difference between internal and external motivations. A character might be saying he wants a gold medal to better the USA’s ranking, but deep down he might really be motivated by an old girlfriend—someone who broke up with him because she didn’t believe the goal was attainable and it was taking up too much of her boyfriend’s time. Give your characters an internal life to add depth to any story. Get to the root of their internal motivations.

4) Motivations and goals can change throughout the story. The mix-up keeps things interesting. You don’t want to write a story where there is a straight line between the statement of the goal and the attainment of it.

5) Distinguish between proactive, which motivates movement toward something, and reactive, which motivates movement away from something. Success is an example of a proactive motivation. Guilt is an example of a reactive motivation. If you create a proactive situation, make sure conflict interferes with the forward movement. If you create a reactive situation, make sure your character has to face whatever they are running away from in the end. Follow through and keep it interesting.

On sentence structure:

1) Avoid the generic, bland and passive. Use “shortstop” instead of “infielder,” for example.

2) Don’t use obscure language unless it has true purpose for the story. Don’t say “traversed the room” when “crossed the room” would work just as well or better.

3) Beware of starting a sentence with a participle, particularly “being” or “having.” When possible, end sentences with the most dramatic term in the sentence.

4) Know your purpose when writing. Is your purpose to inspire? To frighten? Use strong verbs for forceful situations, startling ones for spooky situations, etc.

5) Don’t get bogged down with trying to start each sentence differently. As long as the main clause is clear, and as long as each sentence in the paragraph means something different, you’re sentence structure is probably good.

Bonus thing learned:

The magic rule of three. According to Alicia, the Western mind is trained to respond to groups of three. Things in groups of three (3 tries to help, 3 appearances of a person, etc.) can add resonance and connectivity. Use the magic rule of three during turning points and important scenes.

Hearing that made me want to rework one scene of my WIP…..

Lucy Balch

Love Trumps Logic

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Soup is good

I’ve been assigned this day to blog and here it is, 5:45 a.m. on a day I have to go spend time at my non-writing job, and I have no writing ideas or thoughts to share today.

So I thought I’d share my love of soup. There is nothing so satisfying as a delicious bowl of soup with a few slices of buttered french bread. One of my favorite recipes is Mulligatawny Soup from the cookbook “Eater’s Choice,” by Dr. Ron Goor and Nancy Goor. Here’s the recipe:

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped carrot

1/2 cup chopped celery

2 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP margarine

1 1/2 TSBP flour

2 TSP Curry powder

5 cups chicken stock, or 2 cans (10 oz each) chicken broth, strained + 2 cans water

1/2 cup diced uncooked chicken

1 apple, peeled and diced

1 cup uncooked pasta (or 1/2 cup cooked long grain rice)

1/4 TSP thyme

1 TSP salt

1/4 TSP freshly ground pepper

In a soup pot, saute onion, carrot and celery in the oil and margarine until tender. Stir in flour and curry powder and cook about 1 minute. Pour in chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add chicken. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add apple, pasta, thyme, salt, pepper and simmer for 15 minutes more.

It’s a big hit with my family, even in the summer months. The pasta is my own addition by the way. I’ve never tried it with the rice, which the original recipe calls for, but I’m sure that’s good too.

Does anyone have any good soup recipes they can share with me? I love finding new ones.

Lucy Balch

Author of Love Trumps Logic

A Regency romance from Second Wind Publishing

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Improv and Writing: advice from Denise McInerney

As I’ve done on past blogs, I’d like to share things I learned at my Virginia Romance Writers’ monthly meeting. Denise McInerney talked about “improv for writers,” or “how to drive a stake through the heart of your inner critic so your muse will come out to play.” She taught some gems that I cannot keep to myself, and what better way to transfer her message than this blog?

Here are the four main points that I took away from her talk:

1. Improv is great for writer’s block or even for writer’s doldrums. Need to liven up a character? Need to make that dialog snappier? Use improv.

2. Trust your instincts. “Leap and the net will appear.” You might throw away 95% of what you come up with, but that 5% is well worth the right-brained effort.

3. There’s a time for critique groups or self-criticism, but there’s also a time for an unadulterated lovefest. When you are stuck, criticism can potentially jam you up even more. Brainstorm only with friends who’ve agreed to accept all ideas as valid. The key phrase here is “yes, and,” instead of “yes, but,” (or worse, no, never, and you can’t). No judgement means less fear. Less fear means increased creativity.

4. Listen with intent and make sure that your characters are also listening to each other. Stay in the moment, yet remember that the most interesting dialogues between characters aren’t made up of “How are you?”/“Fine” or “Nice weather, isn’t it?”/”Yes, but rain’s expected tomorrow.” Real life—the interesting part—isn’t so predictable. If your character absolutely has to ask someone how they are, then hopefully the response can be something unexpected, like “How can you ask me that when I’m covered in cat snot?” or something equally … improvisational.

The workshop in its entirety contains many more wonderful details, like the King of Denial (a crocodile), and it’s full of fun group exercises to get the brain huffing and puffing into the fearless city of soaring ideas. Everyone must participate, but the beautiful thing is that there are no wrong answers. None.

I recommend that every writer take this seminar!

Lucy Balch, author of

Love Trumps Logic

Available on Amazon (Kindle and print), and through Second Wind Publishing’s website

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