Marcy Kennedy

The Danger in Trying to Revisit the Past

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. For both of us, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a childhood favorite. We watched the cartoons, watched the movies, played the video games, had the Halloween costumes.

We went for the nostalgia.

But they’d downgraded the acting, had less plot, and made the turtles seem less like teenagers and more like twelve-year-olds. I was disappointed because I wanted to re-experience the joy I found in the Ninja Turtles as a child.

I think most of us have the desire to relive some of the happy moments of our past and re-experience some of the things we used to love.

Most of the times I’ve tried, though, they haven’t been the way I remembered.

When I was a kid, I loved those Hostess chocolate cupcakes with the white filling and white icing loops on the top. When I tried them as an adult, they tasted stale and lacking in flavor.

Maybe the problem was in looking back rather than looking forward. Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to relive or recapture the good moments of the past. Maybe we should leave those as happy memories and instead focus our time on forming new happy memories in the present.

Have you tried to recapture a happy childhood memory? How did it work out for you?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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Does Genre Matter?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I was interviewed by Julie Duffy of Flash Fiction Chronicles for her ongoing series of practical articles about genre. Let me give you just a taste of how the article starts.

No longer simply a genre of heaving bosoms and discreetly closing doors, Romance burst into the digital age as one of the broadest, most forward-looking—and profitable—genres in the publishing business. Romance titles represented $1bn in sales last year, or 13% of the adult fiction market. There couldn’t be a better time to be writing Romance, so whether you’ve ever hidden a Harlequin between the covers of the latest Pulitzer Prize winner, or if you have no idea what all the fuss is about, prepare for a brief encounter…with Romance.

Julie goes on to cover the importance of the central love story, whether or not you need an optimistic ending, and much more. I hope you’ll swing by and read “Does Genre Matter: Romance.”

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers, is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.)

Both books are available in print and ebook forms.

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How to Save Money on Editing Your Book

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Self-publishing your work means all the profits are yours, but it also means all the costs are yours. The two universally accepted areas where you shouldn’t skimp on quality are your cover and editing.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your costs to a minimum when it comes to editing without sacrificing quality. Today, in my guest post at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, I’m going give you tips that can help you save money no matter what level or levels of editing you need.

Click here to read the rest of How to Save Money on Editing Your Book.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers, is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.)

Both books are available in print and ebook forms.

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Behind the Scenes: Judith Starkton and Hand of Fire

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Judith StarktonIn this week’s episode of Behind the Scenes, I’d like to introduce you to Judith Starkton. Judith writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. She’s a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their Golden Retriever Socrates.

I recently interviewed Judith about her new release Hand of Fire. Before we dive in to the interview, I thought you might like to know a little more about Hand of Fire

In the Iliad, Homer gives only a few lines to Briseis, the captive woman who sparked the bitter conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon. Hand of Fire brings Briseis to life against this mythic backdrop. Thrust into leadership as a young woman, she must protect her family and city. Sickness and war threaten. She gains much-needed strength from visions of a handsome warrior god, but will that be enough when the mighty, half-immortal Achilles attacks? 

And now to pull aside the wizard’s curtain…

Hand of Fire CoverM: One of the things that fascinated me about your story was how you looked at what it would have been like if the Greco-Roman/Anatolian gods were real. What inspired you to blend history and fantasy in this way?

J: My novel tells Briseis’s story, the captive woman who triggers the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon in Homer’s Iliad. Homer’s poem depicts a world in which a goddess rises from the sea to comfort her mortal son and the fate of the war is determined in an assembly of the Olympian gods. I enjoyed keeping some of those fantasy elements in my novel.

By treating the gods as real, I was able to enter into the historical mindset of the period I portray—walk in my characters’ sandals, so to speak. The Greeks and Trojans thought of their gods as real and that included their gods’ direct interference in mortal lives. While I’m sure a Greek soldier of the Late Bronze Age would have been terrified to meet a god in the course of his daily life, he wouldn’t have been surprised by the god’s presence.

We often think of myth as trivial or frivolous and not genuinely religious, but to these Bronze Age people (and this wouldn’t be true of the much later Romans) these myths had immense power. We have rites recorded on clay tablets unearthed from this period from other cities similar to Troy. Those rites include the recitation of myths at public festivals as powerful analogic magic. So, for example, in my novel, Briseis as a healing priestess, makes a prayer for the fertility of her city’s fields, herds and women by reciting the story of how the god who oversees such well-being was wooed back from abandoning his people. By telling this story of the divine restoration of fertility, Briseis and her people believed that a similar restoration would truly happen in their midst. They paired the recitation with sacrifices and offerings to entice the necessary god to be present and then magically won him over with the telling of his myth. It’s an exciting world to depict because the blend between fantasy and reality isn’t nearly as sharp as the modern world would have it. Being historically accurate didn’t for a minute exclude exploring the mystical, otherworldly elements I enjoy so much.

M: You mentioned that your main character, Briseis, was based on a historical figure. How much is known about the real Briseis, and how did you choose when to stick to history and when to invent something for the sake of a good story?

J: As far as the plotline of Briseis’s life goes, we only know a little from Homer, who may or may not reflect historical memory rather than myth. We have no truly historical records that mention Briseis. Homer tells us that she was a princess of Lyrnessos captured by Achilles, and Achilles slaughtered her three brothers and husband. But sadly, we don’t know if she really lived or not. She might be a figment of the bard’s imagination.

We do, however, know a wealth of detail about life around Troy in the Bronze Age thanks to recent archaeological finds, including extensive Hittite clay tablet libraries found in the city of Hattusa. Everything I made up in order to construct a flesh-and-blood life story for Briseis is grounded in historical fact, but I did have to imagine quite a bit. For example, I made her a healing priestess, a position in Hittite/Trojan life that comes straight from the cuneiform tablets, the most concrete (clay?) evidence we have about this culture, but I was the one who imagined that this real job was Briseis’s. Giving her these duties allowed me to build connections between Achilles and her. As a priestess she is tuned into her protective god from an early age—and that turns out to be an interesting link to her experiences with Achilles. Also Achilles was a famous healer as well as the most deadly of the Greek warriors, so they find common ground in this area as well. I was able to tie the mythic with the historical smoothly by using the solid historical details I found in the tablets because it was a culture that saw the world of the gods as directly interfacing with the world of man.

M: For writers who are working on a historical fantasy or a straight historical novel, what’s the best piece of advice you could give them?

J: Connect with the rest of your writing community because your friendships there will be the bulwark you’ll need as you try to get published and as you keep to the job of putting the words down every day.

Also, make sure you get the history right but don’t forget that the story comes first. Can any of us imagine loving Tolkien if he hadn’t used all that amazing medieval history, but would we have been glued to Lord of the Rings if it had been overburdened with that history? That goes whether it’s fantasy or straight historical.

M: What one theme or message do you hope readers will walk away with when they finish your book?

J: Hand of Fire explores why some people, women especially, can survive great tragedy and violence against them, even managing to take delight in what life still has to offer. Despite being a book about war with a lot of death and violence, the fundamental theme of Hand of Fire is one of hope. I think people will come away with a renewed sense of the resiliency of humanity and of women in particular.

M: I don’t want to give any spoilers so I won’t mention details about your ending. I would consider your ending hopeful, but not necessarily happy. What prompted your decision to leave it open-ended? Will we be seeing more books in a series or is this a standalone novel?

J: Although my next book published will be the first in a historical mystery series I’m writing about the Hittite Queen Puduhepa (now also a sleuth!), there will be a sequel to Hand of Fire. I didn’t anticipate a sequel when I started writing Hand of Fire, and the open-endedness you mention was a direct product of the themes that I was integrating, rather than an attempt to set up for another book. But the ending does invite the story to continue, and I’ve already started the research for that book. This spring I spent five weeks in Turkey and on the island of Cyprus, getting a detailed sense of new settings and talking to some fascinating archaeologists about what women of this period could do in the form of launching new lives, so to speak. It turns out, women had a lot of room to maneuver in and Briseis has a lot of opportunities to choose from. I’ll be consulting with her via imagination and see what she thinks! It’d spoil the ending of Hand of Fire if I revealed the central theme of the sequel, but it’s an idea I’ve been intrigued by for a long time and I’m glad Briseis is giving me the chance to ground it in a good story.

An excerpt from Hand of Fire, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community can be found on Starkston’s website www.judithstarkston.com. You can also connect with her on FB or Twitter.

Hand of Fire can be ordered through your local bookstore and is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most other online outlets.

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Kiss Your “As” Goodbye: A Simple Grammar Trick for Better Fiction

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

A good grade in a high school or college English class doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to write great fiction, so it’s easy for us to mistakenly think understanding grammar isn’t important for fiction writing at all. Isn’t that what a copy editor is for? Won’t they fix all your mistakes?

A copy editor will fix our actual errors, but some of the rules we were taught in English class will actually hurt our fiction writing, not help it. And some easy grammatical tricks that our copy editor won’t do for us can improve our fiction.

In my work as an editor, one of the most common mistakes I see made by fiction writers is the reversal of the necessary order of cause coming before effect, action coming before reaction.

When we reverse the two so that the effect comes first or comes at the same time as the cause, our readers will feel thrown off-balance and disconnected from our writing, even if they can’t always explain why. In real life, cause always comes before effect. The effect can’t come before what caused it. They expect the same in fiction (unless we’re writing a science fiction story with a temporal paradox, of course).

If you’d like to read the rest of this post, please join me at Kristen Lamb’s Warrior Writers blog.

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Behind the Scenes: Ava Louise and Mail Order Brides in Space

Ava LouiseI have a special treat for you in this episode of Behind the Scenes. I asked Ava Louise to write a guest post for me because of how much the idea behind her series Intergalactic Matchmaking Services intrigued me. I don’t want to give too much away–I’ll leave that for her post–but I do want to introduce you to her.

Here’s what Ava said about herself:

I was born an Army brat overseas, and have been married to a retired Navy sailor for 25 years. Life in the military has given me many opportunities to see different parts of our beautiful country. Currently, we live in the Midwest. Since writing came to me later in life, I like to think I’m living proof that it’s never too late to reach for a dream or to achieve it. Before I started writing my own stories, I usually read from a wide array of genres. I love Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Mysteries, Thrillers, and Young Adult.

And now for her post where she shares with you what aliens and mail order brides have in common and how they inspired the books in the Intergalactic Matchmaking Services series. Take it away, Ava!

**************************************************************************************************************************

Thanks for the opportunity to guest on your wonderful blog. It’s a true honor to be here.

You asked how I came up with the idea for the Intergalactic Matchmaking Services series. This was a case of art inspiring art fed by a dare. When I read, I like to immerse myself into the story to the point of asking myself, “What if?” A truly good book, in my opinion, makes the reader ask that question in one way or another. What if this were really possible? What if it happened in MY life…how would I react?

Last Fall I was on a reading kick about Mail Order brides in the Old West. While mail order brides did (and still do) exist, I wondered what it would take for a woman to give up her current life for a completely unknown environment. The bravery it took to embrace that choice must have been tremendous.

A friend and I were talking about books and this topic came up. She suggested I write a book about it…she dared me. Writing about mail order brides sounded fun, but I didn’t want to write about the Old West. Inspiration struck!

Being a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I’ve always been fascinated by space travel. It’s an area that is open to endless possibilities in reality and fiction. I chose that route for my story.

I started by asking “What if?” From there, the ideas just sort of blossomed. What would make a modern-day woman give up her life? How bad would things have to be for her to make that decision? What if she had an emotional tie to someone or something here on Earth? How much harder would that make it? How would that emotional entanglement impact her interactions with an alien race?

When it came time to think about the males in my story, I didn’t want to go the route of the Tarzan/He-Man/Caveman stereotype. I don’t find that personality appealing, and I figured there had to be readers out there that felt the same. Give me a man who has manners and can still be strong without dragging his knuckles, thank you!

But what would make an alien race consider approaching human females—without just kidnapping them and racing off to the other end of the universe like some galactic Neanderthal? What could force the necessity while demanding diplomacy at the same time? The only thing I could think of would be that they were in danger of extinction, therefore, they needed other races.

Then, because my cat, Mamzell, is such a large part of my life, I wondered “How would I leave her behind?” The answer was simple, I couldn’t. So Mamzell was woven into the first story! What cat wouldn’t want to be the first one into space? And how would an alien race react when faced with this relationship? Mamzell offered me many avenues of humor in the first book!

I like to think Maggie’s Story or Shirley’s Story could happen one day. Not exactly as I wrote them, of course. But hopefully there is life out beyond our own galaxy. Perhaps we humans aren’t alone. And perhaps we have a role to play in the lives of these as-yet-unknown races.

Shirley's StoryAbout Shirley’s Story (Intergalactic Matchmaking Services, Book 2):

Just as Shirley decides to try opening herself up to a chance at love, a stalker from her past returns. How does she move forward when her past comes knocking? What’s going on with her young student, Hannah? Will her dog, Oreo, be okay with Shirley looking for love?

This is a novella-length story.

You can buy a copy of Shirley’s Story on Amazon!

Find Ava Online:

Email: AvaLouiseAuthor@yahoo.com
Website: http://avalouise.net/

Blog: The Road to a Dream: http://avalouiseauthor.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/@avalouiseauthor

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Five Words That Weaken Your Writing

Weak Words

Image Credit: Andrzej Pobiedziski (freeimage.com)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last week, I released my newest Busy Writer’s Guide, Grammar for Fiction Writers, so today I wanted to give you a taste of what you can find inside. This is a section from “Chapter Nine: Weak Words.” I’m going to share five unspecific words that weaken your writing.

Weak words are words that don’t pull their own weight in a sentence. Most of the time, they’re useless. So useless, in fact, that, by taking them out, you make the sentence stronger.

At first this might seem like a strange chapter to include in a grammar book. Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with weak words. But this is a book on grammar for fiction writers, and so one of the things we have to look at in terms of grammar is tightening up our writing and bringing it to life by removing useless words from our sentences.

Both weasel words and helping and state-of-being verbs could have been included under unspecific words because of how they tend to tell rather than show, but I broke them up because of the slight differences between them. In this section, I want to focus on five words that are weak specifically because of how vague and generic they are.

Got/Get

Get (and its forms) isn’t always wrong, but you want to be careful because it can lead to confusion. It means “to receive,” “to take possession,” or “to obtain.” However, some people also use it in place of have.

Let me show you how this becomes a problem.

I got five dollars.

Does this mean “I have five dollars,” as in “I currently possess five dollars”? Or does it mean “someone gave me five dollars”?

To avoid vagueness like this, you should rewrite your sentence.

Grandpa gave me five dollars.

I have only five dollars to my name right now.

As you go through your writing, don’t assume that your got sentences are clear. Make sure they are.

Things

Like got, things isn’t wrong, but we often use it as the lazy way to escape putting in the work to define what we mean by things. Things could stand in for problems or reasons, which are two very different things.

When your character says, “I have things to do,” what does she mean? Does she mean she has errands to run? A house to clean? A doctor’s appointment? The only time you should have a character saying they have “things to do” is if they’re being intentionally vague, such as if they don’t want their girlfriend to know that they’re planning a surprise proposal. But even then, why not have them give a more specific excuse?

Moved/Took/Looked

How many times have you written something like this?

He moved across the room.

Grammatically, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence. The problem comes from its vagueness. It doesn’t give the reader a clear picture of the way your character is moving.

Look at these three possible types of movement.

He shuffled across the room.

He stalked across the room.

He sauntered across the room.

In each sentence, we have him moving across the room, but they’re extremely different types of movement. Don’t leave your reader guessing.

Both took and looked fall into the same category as moved.

She took the letter from him.

This doesn’t show us what’s happening.

She snatched the letter from him.

She delicately plucked the letter from him using only her thumb and forefinger, as if she were afraid contact with it would contaminate her.

Two different emotions are behind those ways of taking the letter.

Here’s the one I see most often in my editing work.

She looked at him.

But how did she look at him? Was it a furtive glance from the corner of her eyes as if she didn’t want to be caught? Was she glaring? Was she giving him an I-dare-you-to-try-it look?

None of these unspecific words are technically wrong, but you’re shortchanging your reader and yourself.

For more of Grammar for Fiction Writers, please pick up a copy from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.)

Both books are available in print and ebook forms.

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The Fine Line Between Forgiveness and Accountability

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m going to admit up front that I haven’t been a huge fan of the Transformers franchise. I loved Transformers as a child, but I felt the first of the more recent movies was okay, and then the second two went downhill from there.

So I went into Transformers: Age of Extinction (movie #4) not expecting much. I only went because my husband loves the special effects and REALLY wanted to see them on the big screen.

And then I had to eat crow. Nicely roasted and basted with a raspberry-chipotle sauce of course, but crow nonetheless.

It wasn’t a perfect movie—far from it—but the dialogue made me laugh (in a good way), and I found myself drawn in by a new wrinkle. Optimus Prime was fed up with humanity and was tired of waiting for them to change.

Gone was the sacrifice-for-the-humans-at-any-cost Optimus from the past movies. He’d been disappointed and betrayed one too many times, and all he wanted to do was collect up the surviving Autobots and leave Earth for good.

Cade Yeager, the inventor and single father who is trying to help the Autobots, begs Optimus to give humanity a second chance. He claimed that screwing up is part of what humanity does. It’s what makes us human.

On one level, I agreed with Cade. Humans make mistakes, and we should be willing to forgive people for those mistakes. We should give second chances.

On another level, I disagreed because it sounded like Cade was arguing we should not only always forgive those who make mistakes but that we should continue to help them indefinitely, no matter how many times they make the same mistake and no matter how much we’re hurt by that mistake.

It’s the line between forgiveness (which I believe should always be extended) and allowing someone to walk all over you, never holding them accountable for their actions.

I know that the Transformers couldn’t hold humanity accountable or there wouldn’t have been a movie, but Cade’s answer felt trite. So many of the Transformers had been wrongly slaughtered, despite all they’d done in the past to save humanity. A “we’re humans and we make mistakes” reply didn’t cut it for me. And I had to wonder, is that how our society really feels now? Is there no place left for justice and accountability? Are we really expected to give infinite chances?

I believe mercy needs to be balanced with justice, and help needs to be balanced with accountability.

What do you think? Am I right or wrong? Is this how our society views mistakes, wrongs, and accountability now?

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Have You Committed Word Crimes?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

My next Busy Writer’s Guide is now out, and to celebrate, here’s some Weird Al Yankovic!

Now, if you’re wondering why I’m playing a song about word crimes to celebrate the release of my newest book, it’s because the book is Grammar for Fiction Writers

Grammar for Fiction Writers

It’s not your same old boring grammar guide! This book is fun, fast, and focused on writing amazing fiction.

The world of grammar is huge, but fiction writers don’t need to know all the nuances to write well. In fact, some of the rules you were taught in English class will actually hurt your fiction writing, not help it.

Grammar for Fiction Writers won’t teach you things you don’t need to know. It’s all about the grammar that’s relevant to you as you write your novels and short stories.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:
Punctuation Basics including the special uses of dashes and ellipses in fiction, common comma problems, how to format your dialogue, and untangling possessives and contractions.
Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t including commonly confused words, imaginary words and phrases, how to catch and strengthen weak words, and using connotation and denotation to add powerful subtext to your writing.
Grammar Rules Every Writer Needs to Know and Follow such as maintaining an active voice and making the best use of all the tenses for fast-paced writing that feels immediate and draws the reader in.
Special Challenges for Fiction Writers like reversing cause and effect, characters who are unintentionally doing the impossible, and orphaned dialogue and pronouns.
Grammar “Rules” You Can Safely Ignore When Writing Fiction

Due to popular demand, I’ve made Grammar for Fiction Writers available in both print and ebook form.

You can buy Grammar for Fiction Writers at Amazon.com, at the Amazon site for your own country, at Kobo, or at Smashwords. More sites will be coming soon! Like all the full-length books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, it’s priced at $2.99 at Amazon.com. If you’d like to buy it at Smashwords for $2.99, use the coupon code FB64J. (That coupon code is good until the end of September.)

I’d appreciate it if you’d share this post on Facebook, Google+, or wherever you hang out. And remember to add your favorite writing hashtag when you tweet! (Suggestions: #amwriting #amediting #writetip #MyWANA)

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5 Guidelines for Approaching Book Review Bloggers

 

Image Credit: Michael Leach (freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Michael Leach (freeimages.com)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last month I talked about self-published book awards as one means to help build word of mouth and credibility for your book. Today I want to talk about another important method for letting readers know our book exists and (hopefully) that they’ll enjoy it—blog reviews.

I know blog tours have become a debated topic of late. Are they worth it? Aren’t they worth it?

In this post, I’m not talking about you running a blog tour where you do interviews and guest posts. I’m talking about approaching book review blogs to have them review your book.

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll increase both your chances of a review and your chances of a good review.

Join me today at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for the 5 Guidelines for Approaching Book Review Bloggers!

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue.

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