Yves Brown McClain: Literary Fierceness

Writer Wednesday: Killing your story softly #1

Posted by Dahlia on August 3, 2011

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. However, I’m a reader first. I love reading books as much I enjoy writing them. I have found from both the reader’s and writer’s perspective that there are things an author can do to a book that could place it in urgent care, ICU, or just flat out kill it altogether. Based on feedback from both writers and readers the Killing Your Story Softly (KYSS) Series was born. So, you ready? LEGGO!
***
KYSS #1: The Half-A** Committment
Say you smash your toe into the wall, burn your hand on the stove, break your acrylic fingernail right across the nailbed. If you’re like me with a bit of a cussing spirit (maybe a lot), what’s your reaction? I’ll tell you what it ain’t… “Oh, S!”
I once read a book where boyfriend and girlfriend are having a heated argument. Girlfriend finally has enough of boyfriend’s mess and says…”F*** you!”
Seriously?
No, for real…where’s the rest of the word?
I kid you not, that’s really how it was written.
So, what the f*** is up with censoring the words? It’s a novel, not a live performance on CBS. The FCC isn’t going to come after you for spelling the whole word out. I was really bothered by that. It wasn’t a serious enough blow for me to put the book down, but I proceeded reading with caution.
My thing is if you’re not going to commit fully to whatever you’re putting in the story, be it strong language, action sequences, steamy sex scenes, whatever, then just don’t put it in. This is where the come correct or not at all rule comes into play. There are workarounds and alternatives if you’re not comfortable. However, censoring the word in print isn’t one of them because people who use profanity don’t talk and think in asterisks. I consider this a dialogue fail in the story. The author “bleeping” out the f-bomb wasn’t necessary. There had to be another way to effectively show how fed up the female character was.
Now maybe it’s just my cussing spirit, but if one of my characters is going to say it, you best believe you’re going to get all four letters on the page. Or all five, eight or maybe even all 12 letters if the scene calls for it and it’s in the character’s nature. Now, this doesn’t mean every three words should be a s, d, or f. Not every character likes to get his/her cuss on. Too much strong language can kill a story, too. Perhaps it’s taboo for the genre. (Now we know there are five-year-olds out there that can cuss you under the table and probably chew so much Dial they burp, hiccup, and fart soap bubbles, but those words shouldn’t be in a picture book…sorry.) The writer has to determine the appropriateness of strong language as it pertains to the story and to the character(s). If it is appropriate, go on and let him say it. All of it. Don’t hold back. Commit.
***
Now it’s your turn. My beloved readers, what things have you come across in books that have made you scratch your head or just throw the book in the garbage? For my writer peeps, what pitfalls are you avoiding so that your work will be its best effort possible? I’d like to know. Perhaps your story pet peeve will make the “KYSS of death” list. Happy writing and happy reading 🙂

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Gotta have Girlfriends

Posted by Dahlia on August 1, 2011

I’ve got a ton of associates, just as many colleagues, and people I know that I think are generally good folks. Friends, specifically female ones, I can count on one hand. I’m talking about those real, true girlfriends that always has your back and will ride with you no matter what. Some you’ve been friends with since diapers. Some you met somewhere along the course of growing up, either in the sandbox, first day of school, sitting next to you in homeroom. Others you met in college. You sat behind her during freshman orientation. Perhaps she was the roommate that didn’t set your suite on fire (yes, this happened to me). Maybe you met her during that dreadful summer internship at XYZ Corporation the summer before junior year. Still, there are some you don’t connect with until your adult years, be it at work, church, the beauty salon, a networking event, et cetera.
I believe that the “girlfriend” relationship – that close bond with another female is a very significant one. A key relationship in life. True, some women don’t want to be bothered with female friends. Why? Because some women can get overly emotional, sometimes petty, and in some instances just flat out nasty. Just watch any reality show with a predominantly female cast. And in order to avoid the foolishness and dramatics, it can be easier just to have platonic male friends. But, still for most of us, we need girlfriends. That relationship is as important as the romantic one or the family one.
Think of the TV shows that celebrate and embrace the Girlfriend relationship: Girlfriends, Sex & The City, Single Ladies, Desperate Housewives, Laverne & Shirley, Kate & Allie (yeah, I went in the Way Back Machine for those last two). Or the books with strong female friendships, such as Misty & Reesy from Lolita Files’s Scenes From a Sistah, Getting to The Good Part, and Tastes Like Chicken. Or Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria, and Robin — the women from Terry McMillan’s Waiting To Exhale & Getting to Happy. Those are just a few examples of fictional girlfriends. And for the most part, those relationships are pretty solid, just like real-life friendships.

So, in celebration of the BFF, below is my little list of reasons why you need at least one Girlfriend in your life:
1. She’ll tell you those shoes are kick-ass and you need to buy them. Like now. Raht now. Same goes for that Coach bag.
2. She’ll cheer you on when that idea/dream/aspiration you’ve been pursuing makes you want to not just throw in the towel, but throw the damn thing out.
3. She’ll help you escape when dude with the ecru-hued teeth and breath from the pits of Hell gets all up in your personal space.
4. She understands that your manager is Satan’s mistress.
5. She’ll let you cry, vent, whine, whatever. You don’t have to “suck it up” with her.
6. She shows up at your house with the vodka, martini mix, and shaker when that date/day at work/ relationship has gone totally and completely wrong.
7. She holds your hair when you’ve overdone it on the vodka and martini mix.
8. So, Beaches, Steel Magnolias, AND A League of Their Own are on TV? Not only is she game, she’s bringing the cheesecake.
9. She thinks it is completely normal to eat an entire half-sheet of birthday cake by yourself. Matter of fact, she’ll grab a fork and take half.
10. Despite what that family member said about your lack of direction/husband/children/career, she always thinks you rock.

These are just a few reasons. I know there are more. What are your reasons that girlfriends are important? Why is the girlfriend in your life so important? What is it about her that makes you say that she’s more than a friend, she’s your sister?

Posted in Relationships | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Change the Game

Posted by Dahlia on July 28, 2011

Lately, I have been thinking of ways to expand my platform to get more readers. Like I mentioned before, I love the writers who follow me. Great relationships have been formed because of it, and while I know writers read, I really wanted to reach out to that reader that I’m writing for. And the majority of my posts haven’t been for the reader.

I subscribe to Kristen Lamb’s blog and get her updates in my email. For those who don’t know who this fabulous lady is, she is considered a social media expert. She has written a book titled We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and it’s all about platform building to attract a following of you guessed it, readers. Not even halfway (I was at about 22%) through her book, I saw that my strategy was wrong and I needed an overhaul of my blog. Simply put, with the imminent publication of my novella with a full novel to follow, I’ve got to change my game. However, I don’t want to lose the writers that have hopped on this journey with me. Supporting each other is
still important to me. At the same time, books generally don’t sell themselves,
especially if you’re going the independent route like I am. So, I’ve got to
reach my target audience and change the way I’ve been approaching social
networking.

So, here are the changes that I’m going to incorporate. **drumroll, please and thank you**

1. Blog title change

You may have already noticed this. I feel the new title is more inclusive of
not only this writing process but the content relevant to my genre and my style
of writing.

2. More frequent updates

No, I’m not going back to daily. I’m a writer who blogs, not a blogger who writes. I am pushing for three days a week. I want to dedicate my Wednesdays to my writer followers that have been hanging out with me since February. And since I like alliteration like that, Writer Wednesday is for you! Smooches!  :X

3. More reader friendly content

I write fiction. Specifically women’s fiction. Even more specifically chick-lit (and the occasional drama). My characters are predominantly African-American. So, my niche is African-American Chick Lit. So, I need to talk about things related to what someone reading African-American Chick Lit would read in a book: relationships (not just the romantic ones but the ones between parents and children, siblings, etc.), love, friendships, fashion, socializing, and maybe a little bit of drinking. Also included in this would be interviews from authors similar to me, book reviews of books in the same genre, etc.

4. A slight Twitter change

My original twitter handle was already ok. It was @ycbmcclain, but I felt
it was better to use my full professional name. It’s a part of branding. Unfortunately
@yvesbrownmcclain was too long, so I settled for @yvesbmcclain

I would HIGHLY recommend Kristen’s book to any writer trying to navigate the internet and all these social networking sites to engage readers. It can get overwhelming and time-consuming. The tips just make good common sense and can help you from spamming away your network. This is only the beginning of the revamp of my platform and I am very excited. You can get either the print or the electronic version. It’s so worth the investment in yourself, your brand, and your product.

Posted in Announcements, Marketing & Promoting, Publishing, Purpose, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Relax, Relate, Release…

Posted by Dahlia on July 27, 2011

I completed my novella’s draft about a few weeks ago (I’ve got an excerpt available here). I was a little tapped out creatively to jump right in and start revisions on it, so I decided to return to my other WIP that I’d placed on hold to write the novella.

However, I wasn’t able to flip out of one story into the other for a few days. My novella had taken on a more dramatic tone, whereas my novel is a bit more lighthearted. Two things helped me transition: One was an enlightening conversation about fear and vulnerability with a fellow writer friend. (I won’t name names 🙂 ). This conversation helped me see that I must see my novel through to the end, despite the internal and external obstacles. Second, I read the work of one of my favorite authors, Lolita Files. And I laughed. A lot. I won’t get into too many details, but I’ll never see a thunderstorm the same way again.

Then I went back to my WIP. I began to have an experience similar to Beyonce’s after she wrapped up Dreamgirls and started work on her second album, B-Day. She said in an interview that she’d been confined to her Dena character for so long that when she got into the studio, she was able to release and all this creativity just came out. I
had taken about a month to craft this novella that’s a bit out of the box for me because of the drama involved in it. I tend to like my writing lighthearted and fun. But, I needed to do something different because I was getting stagnant with the WIP. (When you’ve been working on it as long as I have, it can get that way sometimes). So, I took the challenge of being a drama writer and immersed myself in it completely. So, it was safe to say that when I finally got back to my WIP, I needed to release. And I did. Suddenly, I had all these ideas and ways to fill in the blanks of the chapters I needed to add and make adjustments to existing chapters. And for me, I found them to be not only lighthearted and fun, but funny. (I’ll find out soon if others agree with me on the funny stuff) I’d been through too much pretend drama in the past month. I
needed a good laugh.

So, you may not need to go as far as I did and write a completely different story to get a break from your current project. It just so happened that I had the idea and decided to run with it. Fortunately, it helped me return to my WIP with a fresh set of eyes and a bunch of ideas while at the same time, I was able to stretch out of my chick-lit comfort zone and dabble in drama for a bit. So, what do you do to release when you find that your WIP is getting a little stagnant?

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A Conversation with…Hannah D. Spivey (part two)

Posted by Dahlia on July 20, 2011

Last week was part one of my talk with Hannah D. Spivey, author of Ebony The Beloved. It’s very fitting that our conversation concludes today, as July 20 is the official release date of her novel. Again,  I enjoyed talking with Hannah, I’m very excited about her book, and I’m sure she will continue to do well on her future projects. Enjoy!

*****

YBM: If you could meet or work with any author, alive or dead, who would it be?

HDS: I’d love meet and work with Kimberla Lawson Roby, Toni Morrison, and Mary Monroe. I think they’re awesome wordsmiths. They’re irreplaceable.

YBM: I ♥ Kimberla Lawson Roby. She’s definitely in my top ten…From the reader’s perspective, what can they expect?

HDS: My readers can expect the unexpected. You name it: Shock, humor, sadness, everything! (LOL)

YBM: When a reader sees your name, what is it that you want them to say about your work?

HDS: I want them to say that I’m a good story teller, and I’m very descriptive, and detailed.

YBM: Any advice for aspiring writers ?

HDS: Know your target audience, never edit your own book–

YBM: Amen to that! Any more tips?

HDS: Join social media sites and writing groups, write for other people, think out of the box, and never ever give up.

YBM: Any future projects?

HDS: I have twenty more novels and a screen play in the works. 🙂

YBM: LOL, you sound like me. I’ve got at least that many projects planned for down the road…where can we find your books?

HDS: You can find my short story e-books on www.Lulu.com. The names of them are: My Sherry Amor, Lloyd Tube, and Payback is an S.O.B. My novel, Ebony the Beloved will be available on Amazon and BN.com this month.

YBM Now for five random questions, just because I can get a little random…the first one is If you could be on a reality show, what would it be?

HDS: My reality show would be called, “The Literary Adventures of Hannah D. Spivey”

YBM: If your main character, Ebony, could be on a reality show, what would it be?

HDS: “Ebony Butterfly”

YBM:  If you could coin a term for yourself as a writer, what would your title be?

HDS: I would use my twitter name as my title: Boss Lady Writer.

YBM: What makes you smile?

HDS: Chocolate and the R & B singer Lloyd! Girl, that man is too hot to trot! LOL

YBM: Lastly, what makes you go WTF?

HDS: Face tattoos and all sorts of dumb down ratchetness.

YBM: I’m with you on the face tattoos. That’s just craziness. Any last words?

HDS:  Follow me on Twitter @Bossladywriter

Posted in Author Interview, Marketing & Promoting, Stories, Writing | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

A Conversation with…Hannah D. Spivey

Posted by Dahlia on July 13, 2011

My husband and I love to entertain. We’ll fire up the grill or the deep fryer, have some friends over and crank up Pandora (or Music Choice). Everybody has a good time, the laughs are plenty, and the conversation even better. The best conversations always take place at our kitchen table, usually over a few drinks and a plate of food. When I decided to expand my blog to include author interviews, it was my hope to make my guest feel at home and really just have a conversation with him or her, as if we’re hanging out in the kitchen.

For this post, I got to talk with Hannah D. Spivey. Hannah is the author of Ebony the Beloved. She holds an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and is currently working on her second novel, The Bold and Ugly Truth. She’s a huge fan of the R&B singer Lloyd and she’s a natural hair stan (that’s a fanatic for anyone not familiar with Eminem). She resides in Ft. Lauderdale, FL with her parents and sister. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to chat with her and really pick her brain about her novel, her inspiration, and really what makes her tick. My talk with her was actually pretty lengthy, so I broke it into two parts. Part two will be posted next week. Enjoy!

*****

YBM: Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? Family? College? Where do you live now? When did you start writing?

HDS: I’m the author of Ebony the Beloved, I’m a natural hair zealot, and I live with my parents, unfortunately (LOL). I have an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and I began writing professionally on Oct, 2009.

YBM: I had to go back to my parent’s house for a while, too. It can be a challenge once you get to a certain age, especially if you’ve already been out on your own. Anyhow, did you have any formal writing training such as classes or workshops? Or are you basically self-taught?

HDS: I just read books and articles by other authors. This has helped me in many ways.

YBM: So, what inspired you to become a writer?

HDS: My imagination and eccentricity has inspired me to write. I have a way with words and I mostly express myself through the stories I write.

YBM: Tell me about your novel, Ebony the Beloved. Is it your first?

HDS: Yes, Ebony the Beloved is my first novel. Ebony has been condemned and rejected by her parents and peers all of her life. Like many other black girls who grew up weary to face life, she struggles with the adversities of being impoverished and accepted for who is she is. After being mentally, emotionally, and sexually abused Ebony still struggles to fight her way to the top, never fully realizing her worth is until she finds love and acceptance from one of the faculty members at her school. From that point on, things began to blossom for her until she meets a smooth operator named Desmond Waltz. Desmond is a world renowned entertainer who takes a sudden romantic interest in Ebony. His hidden sadistic and sexually devious desires for her erupt into rage, abuse, and imprisonment. Not only is Ebony’s world turned upside down yet again as she deals with Desmond’s desire to see her suffer under his thumb, but she is also subjected to his domineering mother, who hates her and abuses her every time she gets leaving Ebony beaten and bloody and begging for the pain to stop.

YBM: I got a chance to read the excerpt on your blog, youcametothewriteplace. I could definitely feel Ebony’s pain in that brief passage and I was hooked. When will I be able to read the rest?

HDS: The e-book version should be available on July 20th or sooner.

YBM: So, there will there be a print format as well?

HDS: Yes, my books will be available in print and e-book format. I should be receiving some of copies of my book, which I’m very excited about. But people can still order my books through my website (Which I’ll announce on Twitter soon)

YBM: What is your strength as a writer?

HDS: I’m good at telling wild stories and my vocabulary is out of his world. LOL

YBM: How did you find your publisher? How long did you query before you connected with them?

HDS: I found my publisher via Facebook on June 2010. Before I found her, I queried lit agents and independent publishers for the first six months of the year. It didn’t work out but I struck gold when I met my publisher.

YBM: What about writing challenges you most?

HDS: Coming up with the conclusion of the story is my biggest challenge.

YBM: Talk to me about your marketing. What avenues are you using to build your fan base? What has been working for you?

HDS: I have a publicist and marketing planner. I write for a magazine called www.ontherisemagazine.com. It’s owned by Attica Lundy. I write for her in exchange for her representation. Writing for On the Rise has a lot of perks such as networking and building your credibility as a writer. I met my Marketing Planner on Facebook too and she’s phenomenal. I also tweet about my book, which has helped. I also love to think out of the box.

*****

Come back next week for Part Two of A Conversation with…Hannah D. Spivey

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Does not play nice with others…

Posted by Dahlia on July 6, 2011

Yes, that would be my computer that’s not playing nice today. So, a quick post via my CrackBerry.

1. My scheduled post for today was my first author interview! I got a chance to speak with Hannah D. Spivey (@bossladywriter on twitter) about her new novel, Ebony The Beloved. The book is set for release on July 20. It was great to have a chance to talk with her about her story and her writing. I will post as soon as I get my technical issues worked out.

2. My blog is available on Kindle. How cool is that? The thing is, it is a subscription service, but still available for the convenience of Kindle owners who want to read my nuggets of random info and rantings about this writing process. Whoo-hoo! I just got syndicated!

3. I’m still working on my short story. It’s going really well and I’m on pace to have my draft completed within the week (even with the computer setback, thank goodness for smartphones) My working title is The Tenth and it’s about how desiring something that you can’t have can lead to serious consequences…I plan to post a little “something something” for you soon.

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Listen to the Voices…

Posted by Dahlia on June 29, 2011

I recently decided to expand on an a piece I submitted to my writing class. I wanted to make it a long short story as opposed to the flash fiction piece it was. However, it was written in first person, and I decided to change it to third. I wrote the first three parts and bits and pieces of other parts as they came to me.

I sent off the completed pieces to two trusted friends that are honest (the same two out of three that assisted me with the whole name-changing dilemma) and both liked it. However, one indicated there was a transition issue from part one to part two. I realized that I assumed the reader would get what happened, which she did, but it was too “jump the shark-y” and it didn’t make sense to her.

So, I went in to insert a scene to ease the transition. That’s where I started having problems with my MC. The story didn’t work. It felt clichéd and overdone. My dialogue, which is the easiest for me to write, was giving me grief. What is going on? I was feeling good about my story, now I was wondering what went wrong.

Then a voice began to speak. It was my MC. “I know what I’m doing. Why are you trying to make me into this innocent woman that falls for the ploys of a man? I’ve got dirt, I have agendas and I really don’t care if people like me. And another thing, I look damn good and I know it.”

That was it. The reason my story started to crumble was because in my rewrite to change the POV, I rewrote the MC into something she wasn’t. She was originally portrayed as a bit of a vixen in the flash fiction piece, but somehow in my rewrite I attempted to make her more likeable, a victim of circumstance. I was no longer true to her. And as crazy as it sounds, she let me know. So, after she checked me, I went back, revisited the original and took another go at the first two parts.

And voila! The dialogue flowed and the story began to gel again. I cleaned up that missing transition scene that I’d struggled with and now the story feels right. My MC is happy being a somewhat of a bad girl, and that’s really the point of it all. Even though I created the characters, the story is theirs and it’s my job as the writer to tell it accurately.

So, if you find yourself struggling a bit with your characters, try listening to them. When you listen to the voices, it all comes together.

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Blogging: A few Novel ideas

Posted by Dahlia on June 22, 2011

As a writer,  when I started this blog, I wasn’t sure what to blog about. I’m not a non-fiction writer, so I couldn’t write posts about my topic of expertise. So, I decided to make the blog about the process of getting my novel written and when I do publish, start sharing my experiences of being published as well do some promotion. I wanted my platform to be more than just self-promo (“Buy my book! Buy my book!” gets old after awhile). A lot of my posts have been targeted towards encouraging other writers, sharing tips and experiences. As a result, I’ve attracted a lot of other writers. This is great, because we should support each other and I’ve formed a few relationships “in the cloud” because of this. However, I also wanted to attract an audience of readers. Outside of posting an excerpt from my WIP (which I did as part of a blogfest), I was a little short for ideas. Until I came across a post from bookmarket.com. There is a list of 45 ways (more like 47 plus several reader contributions) to blog as a novelist, and it’s a pretty good list. A few items I’ve already done or am in the process of doing. Many more I’d like to incorporate. Check the list out — do you see anything on that list you’d like to try?

Posted in Marketing & Promoting | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

Toot! Toot!

Posted by Dahlia on June 14, 2011

Sometimes, you just have to encourage yourself. Writing can be arduous and daunting, often times a labor of love. Times when the words don’t flow, you get the umpteenth rejection, your plan to get up early to write goes awry because you slept through the alarm…and many other obstacles that can be discouraging.

However, despite the challenges and areas of improvement, there is something about your writing that stands out. A strength about the words on your paper or screen, be it descriptive setting, an awesome ability to show and not tell, a knack to pull the reader in immediately, etc. There is one author, Sylvia Hubbard, who is known as “The Cliffhanger Queen”. I would have to agree – her online stories, which are posted in sections, tend to leave you hanging on for more. It’s one of her strengths.

So, I want to use this post to celebrate my strengths as well as yours in writing. What are you or what could you be known for? If your poetry is beautiful, it’s cool to call yourself The Princess of Prose. Write fast-paced, hold-on-to-your-seat action scenes? The King of Kick-Ass may be for you. Love Scenes your thing? Consider The Sultan of Seduction or perhaps The Barry White of Romance. All these silly titles are for fun, but who knows, giving yourself a catchphrase just may push you through the rough spots. And you are what you believe. Go ahead, toot that horn and slap yourself a five because you rock.

So, here’s my little list of self-proclaimed titles based on feedback of my strengths. Beware, some are a little (or a lot) corny…
1. The Dialogue Duchess
2. The Conversationalist
3. The Voice Coach
4. The Discourse Diva
5. Auto-Tune (because I get that voice just right)
6. Collo-Queen

Posted in Encouragement & Motivation | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »