Monthly Archives: August 2013

#BCReadalong: Reading THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER Like a Writer

Posted by August 18th, 2013

perks readalong draft 2One of the things we want to try with Book Country 2.0 is having a “readalong” every couple of weeks. What we envision is not just a book club (though I do love a good book club!), but rather reading a specific book as a community, from a writer’s perspective.

So what does it mean to read a book as a writer?

It means that we won’t just discuss what we like or don’t like about the book (though that’s fair game, of course!). We’ll also talk about the book as if the author was a Book Country member posting the manuscript for feedback. We’ll analyze what works and what doesn’t work in terms of structure, prose, dialogue, pacing, voice, and characterization. We can also talk about how this book was published, and what went into making it successful. Writing and publishing issues big and small will be up for debate, and the more people who join in on the conversation, the better!

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Genre Bending in GONE GIRL

Posted by August 14th, 2013

Marriage can be a real killer. One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn, takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Marriage can be a real killer.

My recent interview with Barbara Rogan about her superb literary mystery A Dangerous Fiction got me thinking about one of my favorite genre-blending novels ever, Gone Girl.

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is the story of a woman’s mysterious disappearance. It’s also the gut-wrenching exploration of her and her husband’s marriage. I relished every word, although it did make me glance at my partner suspiciously for about a week…

Like me, most people loved the book but many were frustrated with the ending. I thought the ending was perfect, but this ambivalence got me thinking: most readers either love or hate how the book ends. Why the extremity?

Then it dawned on me: genre conventions! Readers who consider Gone Girl a thriller are bound to be disappointed, as it violates one of the genre’s most fundamental precepts—a straightforward ending in which the good guy or gal wins. In Gone Girl, there is no Robert Langdon to save the Vatican.

(Spoilers ahead.)

The truth is that Gone Girl is kind of hard to categorize. The compound adjectives we save for thriller novels apply: the book is fast-paced, hair-raising, heart-pounding. The two main characters give us diverging interpretations of the unfolding story, to the point where we’re confounded and can’t trust either. They cast blame on each other, constantly withholding snippets of the truth from us. Reading the book becomes an exercise in finding who they really are. It gets harder and harder to sympathize with either of them.

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Toni Smalley

Posted by August 12th, 2013

Toni Smalley

I am happy to welcome Toni Smalley to the Book Country Member Spotlight! ~NG

Toni Smalley spent her childhood summers on her great-grandparents’  farm where she bailed hay, sang B-I-N-G-O, and ran around the meadows like a mischievous pixie. On the farm, her imagination grew like the apples in her grandparents’  orchard, and her athleticism sprung out of the peach basket her great-grandpa tacked up on a tree.

Toni holds degrees in Communications and Forensic Accounting. She also played Division I basketball at Niagara University. 

After developing a career-ending knee condition, she turned to writing for comfort. Over the past few years, she has been honing the craft, constructing the universes of her stories, and is now getting closer to unleashing them into the world.

NG: How did you become a writer?

TS: I remember my first story. I was nine years old, sitting on a boulder with the sun burning my skin as I listened to backhoes rumbling in the fields. I grew bored watching my father dig up dirt, and my thoughts drifted to Africa. Why Africa? Maybe the desert-like conditions, I’m not entirely sure. I found a legal pad in my dad’s truck and began to transcribe the life of an Egyptologist who unearths a human statue that awakens at night to kill people. Oddly, my third-grade teacher praised the murderous African statue, and that’s when I knew writing was important to me.

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Book Country adds a personalized news feed and other new features!

Posted by August 12th, 2013

Today we unveil another new feature for the Book Country community: a personalized news feed.

Here’s what you can expect to see in your news feed:

  • A Book Country member gives you feedback on a manuscript you’ve posted.
    We know how much courage it takes to post your work and how valuable it is to receive member feedback. You’ll see who gave you feedback and a link to your manuscript.
  • A writer posts a new version of a manuscript that you’ve reviewed.
    You took the time out to give feedback to another Book Country member. As soon as that person uploads a new version, you’ll see it appear in your news feed so that you can read it again and see how your support has helped that Book Country member.
  • You have a new connection.
    Book Country is a a community. We believe it’s important to seek out other writers and support each other through the writing and publishing process. When you connect with another Book Country member, you’ll see that you’re connected, as well as that person’s photo and a link to his or her profile.
  • Someone posts in a discussion board where you have a subscription.
    Stay up-to-date with the conversations that matter to you. Subscribe to the discussions you care about and you’ll see when another Book Country member posts in that discussion, as well as that person’s picture and a link to take you to the start of the conversation.

Is your news feed empty? Connect with other members. Give people feedback. Share your work. Subscribe to discussions. It’ll quickly fill up with the news that matters the most to you.

An Explanation
Some members have asked why do we have multiple pages: a home page, a dashboard, and a profile? We wanted to explain our thinking about the design.

When you’re logged in, the home page (where you see the news feed) is the place for you to see everything that’s going on around you in the Book Country community. You’ll see the activity in your news feed, as well as be able to keep track of the books you’re following and manage a list of your discussion subscriptions. Because it’s the hub of information around you, we designed it as the home page. You can get to it from anywhere on the site by clicking on the Book Country logo in the upper left corner.

Your dashboard is the place where you work on your book projects. Whether you’re polishing a manuscript (or two or three or four!) or publishing an eBook, your dashboard is where to go when you’re ready to create. We made this its own page for a couple of reasons. One, we know that work takes focus and wanted to build that into the design of the site. Two, while you may be thinking about your book all the time, we understand that you’re not making adjustments every single day. That’s why we put it by itself — and it’s always easy to access from the Read and Review menu on the left.

Finally, there’s your profile page. This is the place for you to tell people about you. The profile page is where other Book Country members come because they want to know more about you. Your profile is where people see your name, bio, and put a face with the name. It’s where people can see the manuscripts you’ve shared and the feedback you’ve given to others. It’s where other writers can see your favorite writers and books, and most importantly, where members can connect with you — on Book Country, and in social media, if you choose to add links to Twitter or to your website. We designed this as its own page because you know all about you, and it’s the place for others to get to know you as well. Your profile is always easy to view and edit from the Connect menu.

Another New Feature
We made another big change based on Book Country member feedback:

Persistent login. This is a fancy tech term for being logged in until you decide to log out. When you log in, there’s now a box that’s checked by default. It keeps you logged in, even if you close your browser.

If you’d prefer to login with your email and password each time you visit Book Country, simply uncheck the box and you’ll be able to do that.

Note: If you come to Book Country from two computers, say your home and work machines, you’ll have to login twice. The same is true if you use both Firefox and Chrome. (It’s because the login is based on your browser’s cookies. That means if you clear your cache, you’ll need to login with your email and password again. If your internet connection drops, you may also need to login again. If you have a machine that doesn’t accept cookies, you’ll need to login with your email and password each time to you come to the site.)

And a Fix

We’ve been squashing bugs as they’ve come up, but we wanted to let you know about a big one:

When you came to Book Country from an email, and you weren’t logged in, sometimes you’d get a white screen after logging in. We’ve fixed that problem so it shouldn’t trouble you again.

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Dos and Don’ts for Giving Feedback on Book Country

Posted by August 9th, 2013

Dos and Don't for Giving Feedback on Book Country

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been using the tips in Nevena’s recent “New to the Book Country Workshop? Start Here” post to find tons of great stuff to read on the site, from Regency Romance to Young Adult Fantasy.

If you’re like me, it can be completely overwhelming to be tasked with giving feedback on a whole novel, especially if I am the first person to review. Not every BC member has posted a whole book (nor is that a requirement for posting), but lots of members are posting very long manuscripts that deserve detailed, professional-level feedback. This type of reading takes a large amount of concentration (to explain why certain things in the prose are working for me—or not), and it takes courage to post those opinions online, where others can see them and possibly disagree with you. There’s also the fear of hurting the author’s feelings if you think their work needs quite a lot of editing.

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Author Interview with Barbara Rogan

Posted by August 8th, 2013

Barbara_RoganBarbara Rogan’s most recent offering, A DANGEROUS FICTION (Viking), is one of my favorite types of fiction–a coupling of literary and mysterious. The novel follows Jo Donovan, head of a prestigious New York literary agency and the widow of a renowned author. When a would-be client starts stalking Jo, she has to delve into the stories of real life that she’s carefully edited—or face the consequences.

Barbara Rogan and I sat down to talk more about the book.


I couldn’t stop thinking about how genre-bending A DANGEROUS FICTION is. Do you think genre taxonomy is important when it comes to publishing, and where does your book fit in that ecosystem?

“Genre” started out as publishing shorthand intended for the convenience of booksellers and reviewers, and I think its usefulness stops there. I don’t think of literary fiction as a category separate from other genres. My own books have been classified as literary fiction, women’s fiction, and mystery. Those deemed “literary fiction” are no better written than the others. I really don’t buy the whole dichotomy between literature and popular fiction. I see writing more as a continuum calibrated, not by genre, but by the quality of the writing.

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Romantic Suspense Author Stella Cameron’s Tips on Handling Rejection

Posted by August 7th, 2013

At this summer’s Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference, I picked up some great advice about rejection from romantic suspense author Stella Cameron. At the Friday night dinner panel, Cameron told the audience to:

Always have something in the mail (or email). If you’re always submitting your work to editors and agents, you’ll always be waiting for good news. That way, if you do get some bad news, it won’t feel like the end of the world.

Write before you check your mail (or email). Get your creative work for the day done before you find out if something you’ve submitted has been rejected. Your day’s writing won’t be plagued by self-doubt if you’re blissfully ignorant of any possible rejections sitting in your in-box. By the time you go to write the next day, the original sting will have likely subsided. Instead, you’ll already be thinking of how you can use the rejection as feedback.

It was wonderful to hear Stella Cameron, the author of more than 60 novels, remind us that every writer has a long history of rejections underpinning their success.

How do you handle rejection?


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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Michelle Hiscox

Posted by August 5th, 2013

michelle_hiscoxMichelle Hiscox is a career counselor who hails from Drumheller, Alberta. The dinosaur bones buried in the hills of her hometown inspired the first stories she ever wrote. Michelle holds a degree in psychology and is a member of the Romance Writers of America, as well as an avid paranormal romance fan. One night, she pulled her nose from a book to start working on her own and has been writing ever since.

NG: How did you become a writer?

MH: I was a reader first. My grandma introduced me to Stephen King when I was about twelve and I was hooked. In my twenties, I found the paranormal romance genre and that’s mostly what I’ve been reading ever since. I always read but hadn’t written since high school. Over time, the urge to write grew until I had no choice but to create a story of my own. That was about six years ago. My commitment to writing has grown over time.

NG: Why do you read and write paranormal romance?

MH: I get lost in the stories and love the characters. When they are well done, I get to live through their experiences, feel their feelings. I can’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next and will neglect sleep to find out. It likely relates to my interest in both horror and romance. Where else could I find such a perfect match?

anewdayatmidnightNG: True! Tell us more about your novel on the site, A NEW DAY AT MIDNIGHT. Why should the Book Country members check it out?

MH: Can I say because it’s worth it? I put all of my heart, and head, into writing something that I hope invokes emotion in the reader. Merik and Hannah, the main characters, are flawed, passionate, and conflicted. Their lives come through the pages.

NG: A romance novel needs to tell a good love story. How did you go about crafting yours?

MH: It didn’t start out as much, just a picture I conjured in my head and then jotted down on paper. I had Merik in my mind first with Hannah soon to follow. I can honestly say that who the characters are allowed me to develop much of the plot. The more I work on it, the more it has become about learning the elements of fiction. Grammar, plot development, and executing proper point of view are just the start of a long list of areas I had to learn more about. I think the best tool I found is being open to the idea that I can always improve.

NG: Let’s talk about your process. Do you keep a strict writing schedule?

MH: My strict writing schedule consists of writing every spare moment I have. At night, on my lunch break, in the passenger seat of the car. When I’m not writing, I’m reading, either studying the craft or looking at examples in the work of popular authors.

NG: How do you go about learning more about the craft and the business of writing? Do you have favorite resources you can share with us?

MH: When I get constructive feedback on Book Country, I research it, try to build my understanding, and then try to put it into practice. The last item is the one I struggle with the most. I like to have a good grasp of one concept, such as breaking out of the passive voice, and can execute it before I move on to the next area I need to work on.

I’ve also learned from some of the more experienced writers on Book Country, such as Elizabeth Moon. I read her entries because she gives insight into writing in terms I understand. Romance Writers of America has been helpful, providing access to free workshop content on anything from writing a synopsis to creating believable characters. Miss Snark’s blog and Query Shark are also great for picking up valuable pieces of information.

NG: Thanks for the tips! Who are your literary role models?

MH: Stephen King is probably the first. I’ve read every book he’s written with the exception of the Dark Tower series. Many of his euphemisms about the life of a writer really resonate with me. J.R. Ward is another. Everything she writes invokes emotion and every character is original. When I need inspiration or to see an example of how I think romance should be written, I read passages from her books.

NG: Why are you on Book Country?

MH: I joined Book Country because I wanted objective feedback on my work, but it definitely evolved into more. It gives me the chance to learn about the craft of writing from those willing to share what they know. It’s also good to be connected to people who can relate to other aspiring writers.

NG: Do you want to give a shout out to any of your friends on Book Country?

MH: I would like to say thanks to a few people. Is four still a few? David Downer, Michael Hagan, Rosie Ward and Kathleen Shaputis all helped me to identify areas I needed to work on in my writing. They also stuck with me until I understood what they were talking about. Their honesty and encouragement still means a lot to me.

NG: A round of applause for them!

What is something fun that we don’t know about you?

MH: I’m hooked on made for TV movies. Show me a good Danielle Steel special and I’ll show you an attentive aspiring writer. For some reason, my husband doesn’t think I should share that with others.

NG: Haha, we all have our guilty pleasures! Thank you so much for being our guest. It’s been a pleasure.

Connect with Michelle on Book Country and check out her paranormal romance novel A NEW DAY AT MIDNIGHT

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