Monthly Archives: April 2010

News flash from the day job!

I just got a copy of my latest nonfiction book, Buying a Home: The Missing Manual, which is on its way to bookstores now. Nice cover, huh? Even though there’s no flaming sword.


What does a novelist and former English professor know about buying real estate, you might wonder. Good question! My husband and I are also real estate investors specializing in residential properties. Since we’re both self-employed, we realized a number of years back that we’d need to figure out our own retirement plan. We decided on real estate, and we’ve bought numerous properties that we rent out to tenants. So we’re both very well versed in what it takes to find and evaluate a home, get a good mortgage, and close the deal.

This was a fun book to write, and it offers a lot of practical advice to potential homebuyers. Here’s what had to say about it: “This is one of the best buyer’s markets in quite some time. It’s tempting to buy a house right now. But before you rush off to buy, it might be a good idea to read this great book, Buying a Home: The Missing Manual, by Nancy Conner.” You can read the full review here.

I write all my nonfiction books as Nancy Conner, by the way, for one simple reason: That was my name when I started writing nonfiction. But it’s also nice to keep the fiction and nonfiction sides of my career separate.


Earlier this week I got a present from Kathy, my best friend from way back in high school, and her daughter Maria. It’s a t-shirt that says Be careful! Or you will end up in my novel!

If you’ve read Deadtown, you know that Vicky has a niece named Maria. Coincidence? Not really. A few years back, I was visiting Kathy and another high school friend. We sat on the deck at Kathy’s house and watched the kids run around the back yard. Kathy’s daughter Maria was terrific with the younger kids, and everyone had a good time.

Later, when I was writing the first scene that shows Vicky with her niece and nephews, the image that came to mind was Maria and the boys in Kathy’s back yard. So I went with that image. As Vicky’s niece grew in my mind, she became someone who was smart, maybe a little shy, patient with her brothers, and close to her family—a lot like my impressions of the real-life Maria. And she looked like the real-life Maria, too. So I called her Maria, because that was the easiest way for me to hold her image in my mind as I crafted the story.

As I wrote and revised, Deadtown‘s Maria and the real world’s Maria diverged, of course. Vicky’s niece stayed eleven, while the real Maria has grown into a sophisticated teenager. And of course Vicky’s niece developed her own personality as I got to know her better. While I wouldn’t say that I actually “put” Maria in my novel, she definitely served as the inspiration for a character in that book.

So if I look at you funny, it’s probably not that I’m sizing you up as a potential character. In fact, I’m probably not even seeing you but am deep in my own mindscape, watching a scene unfold. Probably. But on the other hand, inspiration comes from everywhere, right?

RavenCon Recap 3: More on Writing

From left to right: Catherine Asaro, Rachel Caine, Laurel Anne Hill, Valerie Griswold-Ford, & Chris Flick in a panel on vampires

I was involved in two other events related to writing: a panel about the business side of writing and a workshop that focused on the craft side.

To Agent or Not to Agent? focused on the question stated in its title. The panel consisted of an agent (Michael Kabongo), two agented authors (Leona Wisoker and me), and one published but unagented author (Jim Stratton). The consensus seemed to be that, although you probably don’t need an agent to sell your book to a publisher that accepts unagented submissions, agents more than earn their 15% by providing these services:

Editorial feedback before a manuscript goes out on submission. Many authors take a manuscript through several drafts with their agent before the agent submits it to publishers. Leona also noted that it can mean a lot to a writer simply to find someone who believes in a project after rounds of rejection and indifference.

Contract negotiations and expertise. My agent negotiated a slightly higher advance and better terms than came with my initial offer, and she also knew which subrights to hang on to. Even though I’ve published several nonfiction books, she knew what to look for in a fiction contract that I wouldn’t.

Subrights. A lot of aspiring authors don’t look beyond The Prize of getting an offer of publication. But what about foreign/translation rights, audio rights, film/TV rights? I wouldn’t have a clue how to go about looking for buyers for those rights, myself, but my agent does.

An eye to the future. An agent is beneficial here in two senses: offering help in planning an author’s career and keeping abreast of changes in the publishing world, which seem to be happening almost daily right now. Michael talked about ebook rights and how the dust is far from settled in that issue.

We also talked about the importance about finding not just “an agent,” but an agent who’s compatible with you: who likes your work, whose goals for  developing your career match yours, who has a compatible personality and communication style. A good fit can make a huge difference in building a productive working relationship with your agent.

The writing workshop, Breathing Life into Your Writing,  was conducted by Laurel Anne Hill (she’s  in the middle of the panel in the photo at the top of this post). For the first hour, Laurel gave a presentation packed with writing tips, illustrated with examples from fantasy stories and novels. For the second hour, participants worked on putting some of those tips to work in their writing. Each participant read their work for feedback from the panel: besides Laurel, panelists were Allen Wold, Barbara Friend Ish, and me.

Here are some of Laurel’s writing tips:

Stay in the viewpoint character’s point of view. He/she’s called the viewpoint character for a reason, right? If you tend to write a lot of tags such as “she thought” or “he noticed” in the first draft, cut those as you revise. Don’t try to pack in more viewpoint characters than the length of your story can support. (A short story might have one or at most two viewpoint characters, but a novel can handle more.)

Pay attention to dialogue. Dialogue needs to sound realistic while doing its job of conveying necessary information. Real-life dialogue (small talk, throat clearing) doesn’t sound right in fiction. Avoid “by the way, Bob” info dumps, as in “By the way, Bob, as I’m sure you remember, World War III has taken a devastating toll on this area. Let me explain…” In other words, don’t fall into the trap of having characters tell each other things they already know.

Avoid talking heads. While you don’t want to add a dialogue tag to every line of dialogue (especially dialogue tags cluttered with -ly adverbs, she said disparagingly), neither do you want to strip dialogue of the signals that help readers follow who’s speaking when. A good strategy is to layer in characters’ reactions to what’s being said and the viewpoint character’s thoughts about it.

Use all five senses. This makes the story world rich and multilayered.

The story arc needs both forward momentum and breathing space. I think pacing is one of the trickiest parts of writing a novel, so this point is important. (I feel a future post coming on…)

After Laurel’s presentation, workshop participants could apply these principles to a work in progress, or they could choose a photograph and use it as a writing prompt. They wrote for 15 minutes and then read what they’d written out loud for feedback from the panel.

Brave folks. Maybe I just don’t play well with others, but personally, I hate sharing that sort of quick writing exercise.  Not only did everyone agree to read their work out loud, the first drafts they’d produced in those 15 minutes were mind-blowingly good. Not all polished up and ready for publication, but alive and energetic and more than capable of pulling the reader in. I was really impressed—and also glad that the panelists didn’t have to do the same exercise to give examples. I don’t write that well that fast!

We finished with a discussion of how it’s important to know writing “rules” NOT to apply them rigidly to your writing, but to understand their effect so that you also know when to break them. There are times, for example, when an adverb or passive voice is effective—but unless you know why such things can vitiate your writing, you’ll never know when they can enhance it.

So that’s my RavenCon recap. It was a great time, and I hope to go back. (No way I’m missing the zombie makeup workshop next time!) I’ll end with a picture of me during my signing. (Thanks to Ciera and Rachel for taking the photo!) Several people stopped by during the hour, so I had some really fun chats and didn’t just sit there looking all lonesome. 🙂

Buy my book!

I’m at Book Chick City Today

Book Chick City runs a fascinating series called “Where Stories Are Made,” in which writers share photos of their work spaces and talk about their writing process. Past authors include Carrie Vaughn, Ilona Andrews, and Anton Strout, to name just a few.

Today it’s my turn. For a peek into my home office and how I write, please stop by Where Stories Are Made.

When You’re Married to a Novelist . . .

Actual conversation on the way home from the coffee shop last night (warning: starts off sappy):

Me: Love you, Honey.

Husband: You’re the best!

Me: I’m the luckiest; you’re the best. [Pause] TERRIFYING!!! That’s the word I wanted!

Husband: ?!?!? [Pause] Oh, you’re still thinking about that back cover copy, aren’t you?


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