Writer’s Block – Fact or Fiction?

You’re halfway through writing your novel and–bang! You’re stuck. Your inspiration has deserted you. You find yourself staring at a blank page for minutes, hours, days, possibly even weeks and months.

So what causes it?

Many different theories have been put forward, everything from lack of focus, fear of failure, poor plotting technique, stress—and if the scientific community are to be believed, Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

That’s all very well, but you need to get back on track and finish that novel. So how do you do just that?

Ask a group of novelists that question and you will receive a myriad of different answers.

Take me, for example. I’ve been struggling with one scene for weeks. I’d done all the research and had all my notes, but for some reason, the words would just not come. I went on holiday to Florida, the place where my novel is set (purely coincidental, I assure you). I made more notes and came home refreshed and eager to write. After a hesitant start, I finally got the words down on paper.

Now I’m not suggesting that you all rush out and book yourself a holiday. There are other tricks you can try. For example, step away from the keyboard and simply relax with a cup of tea (or coffee). If that doesn’t work, play solitaire (although be warned, that can be addictive), bake a cake, play with the children, doodle, play word association games, mow the lawn or write an article for your blog. You’d be surprised how many times that last trick has got me over a case of writer’s block. Then there’s my all time favourite of going for a walk in the local park or countryside. There’s something about the fresh air and listening to birds’ sing that clears my mind and fires my imagination.

The simple answer is do anything—anything that takes your mind off your project for fifteen to twenty minutes before you sit back down and attempt to write.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time I got back to work!

London Book Festival 2009

The winners of the London Book festival Annual Competition 2009, http://londonbookfestival.com/portal/content.asp?ContentId=600 honouring the best of international publishing have been announced, and I’m delighted to say that my novel, The House on the Shore, received an honourable mention.

The House on the Shore is a romantic suspense novel set in Scotland. It interweaves the lives of Anna, a scholar who is reaching for her long-buried creative dreams, and Luke, an American artist, who is running from his tumultuous past. One man stands between them and happiness. And survival.

Recently, The House on the Shore was shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon New Writers Award 2009, presented by the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the United Kingdom’s counterpart to Romance Writers of America.

“The House on the Shore is a sensually suspenseful story filled with non-stop action, romance, and mystery. The facts of Scotland are told with brilliant description that bring the land to life and leave you feeling as if you have stepped out of your world and into the pages. Ms. Howard uses such passion and emotion when telling her story, making the tale flow right along until the last page is turned. With many different characters that will keep you guessing, this novel is the perfect example of how a suspenseful story should be told. …Thrilling until the very end, this book has a who-done-it attitude with such an aching tone of sensuality and love, it will keep you up all night just so you can finish this fantastic tale.” —Danielle. Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance & More

Operation Ebook Drop


I am pleased to annouce that I am a participating author in Operation Ebook drop.

Launched by author Ed Patterson, a former military man, it provides ebooks for military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Smashwords authors, can provide coupon codes, which allow members of the Coalition Forces to down load books to their electronic reading devices or computer for free.

More information, click on this link: http://blog.smashwords.com/2009/09/smashwords-supports-operation-ebook.html

My managing editor, Kimberlee Williams, made sure that all all Vanilla Heart authors who wished to participate had the correct coupon codes to send. I hope that my books will give the men and women a bit of light relief from the harsh reality of service in extremely difficult conditions.

http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/victoriahoward

Pushcart Prize 2009

I am delighted to annouce that my novel, Three Weeks Last Spring, has been nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize.

Here’s a copy of the annoucement made by my Publisher:

Vanilla Heart Publishing Announces

2009 Pushcart Prize Nominees

Vanilla Heart Publishing is pleased to announce our nominations for the 2009. The Pushcart Prize – Best of the Small Presses, published every year since 1976, and widely recognized as the most honored literary project in America.

From the Pushcart Prize Website:

“The Pushcart Press has been recognized as among the most influential publishers in American history by Publishers Weekly. Pushcart won the National Book Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award (2005), The Poets & Writers/Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Prize (2006), and Publishers Weekly’s Carey Thomas Prize for publisher of the year (1979).

The Press is best known for its annual anthology The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, published every year for more than three decades and featuring outstanding fiction, poetry, memoirs and essays selected from hundreds of little magazines and small book publishers.”

And now, our Vanilla Heart Publishing Nominees:

Robert Hays; The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris

Chelle Cordero; Final Sin

Victoria Howard; Three Weeks Last Spring

Collin Kelley; Conquering Venus

Kate Evans; Complementary Colors

Vila SpiderHawk; Forest Song: Little Mother

Congratulations, Nominees!

Kimberlee Williams
Managing Editor
Vanilla Heart Publishing
http://www.vanillaheartbooksandauthors.com

Backstory: Relevant Information or Inconsequential Event?

Today, I’d delighted to welcome my good friend and fellow author, Brenda Hill to my Blog. A novelist, short story writer, Brenda is the author of two novels, Ten Times Guilty, and Beyond the Quiet, and a non-fiction book, Plot your way to Publication, which I can highly recommend. Brenda also writes features and restaurant reviews for her local newspaper and teaches novel writing and edits manuscripts on a freelance basis. Her website can be found at www.brendahill.com

A few months back I read Brenda’s article on Backstory, something that many new writers spend too much time on, and I’m glad to say she’s agreed to let me post it here.

When we begin a new novel, we need to intimately know our characters. We must know their motivations – why they do certain things and what causes them to react to events with warmth or hostility. Otherwise, their strong reactions or nonchalance may seem strange to other people.

So, to prevent our readers from thinking our character is an escapee from the psycho ward, we create backstories for them, inventing histories, naming parents and siblings, all information we hope will bring that character to life on the page. Some writers go into such detail that they fill page after page of character history, even listing grades the character received in school.

Not me.

While I’m a strong believer in plotting my story beforehand, I’m not one who needs to know what day of the week my character washes her hair – unless it’s relevant to the story. That’s the key. Our readers do not need to know every facet of a character’s life – unless that particular facet is an important storyline.

Suppose, for example, I begin a new book and name my main character Lucy. And let’s further suppose I create a northern Minnesota history for her, and after describing her, I want a character trait that other people would consider a bit ‘quirky’ but harmless. While I’m trying to decide what to give her, my husband flips the TV channel to the latest rerun of Arachnophobia, so I decide to give Lucy a strong fear of spiders. She’ll scream and run at the sight of even a harmless garden spider that may have found its way into her apartment or dormitory.

What do I do with that information? I could use it as a comic relief and show this fear as a source of teasing from her friends, but if that’s the case, it’s not very important and isn’t relevant to the story. When you’re writing tight, it should not be included.

But what if I include WHY Lucy’s fear is so strong. Remember, in fiction, we need to show motivations, not only in character conflicts, but we need to know WHY Lucy screams at the sight of a spider. We must remember to be like a child and always ask why, why, why? Why did George slug his brother on graduation night? Why does Lucy have this overwhelming fear of spiders? While most people do not particularly like spiders, most will not go into hysterics when spotting one. So why does Lucy scream and run?

Now we can invent something brilliant, such as a near-fatal black widow spider bite when she was seven. Venomous spiders are rare in Minnesota, but let’s say her parents visited the Twin Cities and bought home a tropical houseplant from Florida, and one of the leafy branches hid this nice, fat, poisonous black spider. Lucy survived the bite, of course, otherwise there wouldn’t be much to the story, but we could create this horrible experience at the hospital and how she was deathly ill.

That event, even though it’s dramatic, is just that – a dramatic event in her history. As with our friends’ and neighbors’ background, we might find the event mildly interesting, but really, who cares? I shouldn’t bore my readers with that bit of backstory unless it relates to the main plot.

If the plot is about Lucy meeting the love of her life while in graduate school and debating whether or not to marry him and move to another town in Minnesota, then the spider background is not an issue. It’s simply an event that happened in her life that is of no interest to anyone else and shouldn’t be mentioned.

But suppose I want to use it in my story? Suppose I want Lucy to overcome her horror of spiders as part of her character growth? If so, I’d need to invent a storyline where spiders could be an issue.

How about if the love of her life is a young man who thinks the curved tail of a scorpion is fascinating, loves to examine the long, hairy legs of a tarantula, and can’t wait to compare the beautiful red markings of different black widows? Lucy adores him beyond everything, or most everything – she’s repelled by his career choice, which, of course, is Arachnology. He wants to study these creatures and write a book about them, so he plans to move from nice, safe Minnesota and live in the states where their species thrive.

Ah hah! Now we have a possible storyline with the character trait as a main source of conflict.

And to make matters worse, we turn up the heat and say he’s just been offered his dream job as an assistant to the country’s foremost authority on spiders, but only on condition that he immediately accept the position and make the move within the next two weeks. He asks Lucy to marry him and accompany him to his new location.

Lucy now has a dilemma: her fear or her lover? She must make a fast decision, one that could affect her entire life. And readers, if I’ve written the story well enough, will turn the pages to see what she decides. Now I’ve taken a character trait and not only used it in my story, but I’ve used it as a major interest of conflict and built a story around it.

How about traits for your characters? I’m sure you can be more imaginative than the fear of spiders, so list several that are of interest to you. Then explore the conflicts each could trigger. If you can develop a trait and use it to build your story, it’s relevant. The others you can disregard – until the next novel.

Book signings, radio shows and talks!

This week has been a rollercoaster ride, and it’s not over yet!

Monday evening I attended a talk given by best selling author of romantic comedy, Adele Parks. It was good to take time out from working on my third novel to listen to Adele read excerpts from her new novel, ‘Love Lies,’ and to hear how Adele approaches the writing process.

I spent most of yesterday away from my desk visiting my best friend and my goddaughter on the Wirral. It’s always a pleasure to see them, and the time spent in their company yesterday was no exception. While we were chatting over a cup of coffee my cell phone rang. More often than not I forget to switch the darn thing on, so it was a surprise to learn the call was from the producer for BBC Radio Sheffield inviting me to take part in a programme called “Girl’s Talk.”

Not only that; I arrived home to find a message on my answering machine from the organiser of the local branch of the University of the Third Age inviting me to talk to their group.

This morning I received an email informing me that my interview with host Don McCauley of The Author Show, http://www.wnbnetworkwest.com/WnbAuthorsShow.html, be available on Friday 7th August. This weekend I shall be signing copies of my novels, The House on the Shore and Three Weeks Last Spring, in Borders Books, Warrington, and on the 14th August at 11.30 I can be heard on Girls’ Talk on BBC Radio Sheffield http://www.bbc.co.uk/southyorkshire/radio_sheffield/.

Saturday 15th August will find me signing books in Borders Books in Stockport, and I be talking to the readers’ Group at Borders Books, Cheshire Oaks on Wednesday the 19th August.

And in my spare time? Well, hopefully you’ll find me hard at work on my manuscript!

Readers’ Groups

Thank you to Jill Craven, Reader Development Officer for Barnsley Libraries, and all the members of Dodworth Readers’ Group for making me feel so welcome on Tuesday evening. There’s nothing nicer than talking about books with people who love books too.

While I’m no stranger to chatting to people in book stores during signing events, I’ve never stood in front of an audience and given a ‘formal talk’ before.

Now I’ve been interviewed by the local paper and by BBC Radio Sheffield, but the idea of addressing an audience really made my knees knock! Not only was the prospect daunting, I also had to think about what to say. Fortunately, Jill had given me plenty of time to plan my talk, but I still had to decide whether the members would want to learn about how my plot for The House on the Shore came about, or whether they’d like to hear about my writing process. And should my talk be ‘off the cuff’ or planned down to the last comma and full stop?

I’ve attended author talks before, and most of the speakers have the audience rolling in the aisles, but I’ve never thought of myself as a funny person. Oh, I enjoy a joke like everyone else, but I’m not known for coming out with witty or pithy phrases.

So it was with some trepidation that I set out on a rather damp Tuesday evening. But I need not have worried. The ladies I met were charming and I managed to raise a laugh or two from them when I told them about my own experience of staying on my own in a remote Highland croft!

Jill is a mine of useful information for any writer, and through her kindness I’ve made many useful contacts. Thank you, Jill!

And I raise my glass to the ladies of the Dodworth Readers’ Group. Not only did you listen to me, but you made me feel very welcome. I had a lovely time talking to all of you, and the supper afterwards was fabulous. Stephen especially liked the scones!

Author Events

Gone are the days when most authors could sit back and let their publisher sell their book. Nowadays authors new and established often get little marketing help, and the prospect of doing it yourself can be daunting. But with a little perseverance and a little practice it can be fun, especially if you enjoy talking to people, as I do.

I’ve been fortunate; every Borders Books store I have approached has agreed to host a book signing event for me. So far, I’ve met readers in Batley, Leeds, Cheshire Oaks, York, and only last weekend, I was in Inverness.

And while the shoppers might have co-operated, sadly the same can’t be said of the weather. I’ve roasted in York, and been rained on in Inverness. The British weather has an odd affect on shoppers. When it rains, they seem to flock to the stores in droves, and conversely, when the sun is shining and there’s no need for raincoats and umbrellas, they stay away!

Everyone I’ve met has been charming, which makes my job of engaging them in conversation and telling them about my book and the writing process, a pleasure.

Surprisingly, everyone who purchased a copy of The House on the Shore during the signing in York lived in Scotland, and what’s more, within fifty miles of where I used to live in Keith. Even more surprising, was the encounter in Inverness with a gentleman who at one time taught at Queen Mary Grammar School in Liverpool – my first grammar school. And while in a restaurant that same evening, I bumped into the guy who cut my hair during my twenty years living in Scotland! It just goes to prove what a small world it really is.

But occasionally, you do meet strange people, for example, the child who just stood in front of the signing table and stared at me for what seemed like hours in Barnes and Noble in Dayton, Ohio, and the pleasant gentleman in York who wanted to tell me what was wrong with our current government here in the UK (as if I didn’t know!).

What if someone asks seemingly endless questions about writing a novel and the publishing industry, or just wants to stop and talk about the weather, before walking away without purchasing a book? I smile and remind myself that an author event, be it a book signing session or an author talk, is a means of a creating a presence – getting your name out there and interesting people in your work. Any sales they generate are a bonus. And if you’re very lucky the local media might take an interest.

So, if you’ve a spare half hour or so, and happen to be in any of the following bookstores over the coming weeks, pop in and say ‘hello,’ and see if I can’t tempt you into buying a book – preferably mine!

Saturday 1 August 2pm-5pm Borders Books, Speke

Saturday 5 August 11am-3pm Borders Books, Warrington

Saturday 15 August 2pm–5pm Borders Books, Stockport

Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team

My novel, The House on the Shore, set in the Scottish Highlands with its rugged terrain, has an intense scene in the rocky gorges of the moors and mountains, and when I was researching, two team members of Wasdale Mountain Rescue came to my rescue…supplying technical details of rescue in rugged terrain and helping me to create the stupendous scenes in the novel. Thank you gentlemen!

The House on the Shore


CELEBRATING

The House on the Shore ISBN 978-1-935407-24-9

and

Support the

Incredible Volunteer Mountain Rescue Teams

Midnight June 4th, 2009 – Midnight June 17th, 2009

To celebrate the release of The House on the Shore, a romantic suspense novel set in the remote Scottish Highlands, a deeply suspenseful novel with intriguing plot twists, and harrowing mountain rescue scenes, my publisher, Vanilla Heart Publishing and I, are pleased to announce we will donate $1 per copy sold during the time period above to the Wasdale Mountain Rescue, to see their video, which provides education, training, facilities, equipment, and more to this incredible group of rescue volunteers.

To register your purchase of Print or Kindle editions, please email VHPPromoTeam@vanillaheartbooksandauthors.com with your name, email, and the info of your purchase including edition (Kindle or Print), and the last 3 digits of your order number. All Ebook sales are automatically counted by our Ebook Catalog detail counter, so no additional ‘work’ is necessary for Ebook purchases.

Every dollar donated goes to a great cause, with volunteers who make a difference and save lives, and now, …YOU can make a difference!

Friends of the San Juan Islands

CELEBRATING

Three Weeks Last Spring ISBN 978-1-935407-04-1

and

Supporting Marine Conservancy in the San Juan Islands

Midnight May 31st, 2009 – Midnight June 7th, 2009

To celebrate the release of Three Weeks Last Spring, a romantic suspense novel set in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, with intriguing plots and deeply developed characters and scenes, Victoria Howard and Vanilla Heart Publishing are pleased to announce we will donate $1 per copy sold during launch party week to the Friends of the San Juans, which provides education, training, and project management for the caretakers of the beautiful beaches, creatures, and waters of the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

To register your purchase of Print or Kindle editions, please email VHPPromoTeam@vanillaheartbooksandauthors.com with your name, email, and the info of your purchase including edition (Kindle or Print), and the last 3 digits of your order number. All Ebook sales are automatically counted by our Ebook Catalog detail counter, so no additional ‘work’ is necessary for Ebook purchases.

Every dollar donated goes to a great cause, with volunteers who make a difference to the flora and fauna of the region, and now, …YOU can make a difference!