What’s in a pen name?

The first thing you do when you write something like a novel is ask people to read it. People you know well. People you like. But when the genre you’re writing is erotic romance, a few very specific thoughts go through your head when you unleash it on your friends.

“OMG I can’t believe I actually wrote that stuff!!! And people who know me are reading it. It’s like they’re going to imagine that’s what it’s like to fool around with me!”

More than once I wanted to curl into a little ball and pretend it wasn’t really happening. I had moments of running very quickly on the spot or flapping my arms (okay, you didn’t need the visual) to try and distract myself from the thought.

It’s no surprise that most writers of erotic romance choose a nom de plume, a pseudonym, a pen name. After all, creating a pen name is something like creating a main character in a book. You get to name yourself, and then you get to decide what your character is. It’s empowering to hide behind a writer’s persona, an alter ego who can write raw and naughty scenes, seemingly without any repercussions in real life. Because, with a pseudonym, no one truly knows who you are.

Apparently some novice authors of erotic romance choose raunchy, embarrassing names that sound hot upon conception, but with a dose of sober second thought, come across as ridiculous. I wanted a name readers and the public could take seriously, because I take my own writing seriously.

In Search of the Perfect Pen Name

I’ve gone through many variations.

Bronwyn Pierce – I have a Welsh ancestral background, so the name Bronwyn (which I’ve always loved, and almost gave to my daughters) rang in my ear. Pierce, a Welsh name, complements, and sidesteps Price by only one letter.

R L Pierce – This name kept my own given initials, with Pierce. Was that enough of a disguise?

R L Dubray – My own initials with a variation on my paternal grandmother’s maiden name, LaBrie. Sounded romance-novely.

But then I read an interview with DIVERGENT author, Veronica Roth, about how thrilled she was when she saw her name in print. That was the catch. Being published would be a thrill, but would I be satisfied with any name but my own on the cover? Would I regret using a pen name?

After some debate and consulting friends, I decided to go with my actual birth name. It’s not the name people know me by now, but if you looked at my birth certificate, you’d see “Rebecca L Price.” So in a way, I’m playing it both ways. It’s a pseudonym, and doesn’t interfere with my professional career. It hides me just enough that I think I’ll get away with it. And in the most important way, it’s my true name. If the day comes when I see R L Price in print, I’ll get my biggest thrill.

Dialogue with my readers: Do you use your real name or a pen name? Is your choice influenced by the genre you write? What factor(s) helped you decide? I’d love to know!

Story Structure as a Baseball Diamond

What does baseball have to do with the way stories are told? How will the image of home plate and the diamond of bases help you pace the “big moments” that propel your story forward and keep readers hooked?

One of the things I’ve learned over the past few weeks was how to analyze stories I’ve been reading all my life through the lens of structure. There’s a whole language that goes with this. First plot point. Key event. Mid point. Climax. (Those are not in order.) I’ve heard of words like these before but was always a little intimidated by them, and never thought I’d be able to grasp how to work these requirements into my own writing. If you’re like me, this blog post is for you.

Because I’m a teacher by profession, I’m able to take complex ideas and reframe them into simple images that make them easier to understand.

Here’s the structure we’re trying to build into our stories:

First Act: Hook, Inciting Event, Key Event, First Plot Point

Second Act: First half of the second act, Midpoint, Second half of the second act

Third Act: Climax, Resolution

Sound complicated? I read about it in a complete series on story structure in K.M. Weiland’s blog. She explains story structure and reasons to follow the plan in such a compelling way, that there’s no need for me to reiterate anything she covers.

But I will build on it to give you the image of the baseball diamond, and show how you can use this visualization to frame your story, even as you are first dreaming it up in your head and before you write one single word.

With only three acts in story structure, and four bases in the baseball diamond, you may wonder how this analogy works. So allow me to make the comparison between a baseball and structured storytelling in the form of a story.

A baseball diamond as story structure

The hitter (we’ll call him Tom) steps up. First we see Tom on home plate, and in terms of any story, this represents the beginning, when we see the main character at home in a type of “comfort zone” before events start to unfold.

Tom and the pitcher duke it out, and finally the pitch count is two strikes and three balls. The next pitch determines whether Tom hits, gets a walk, or whether he’s out. Maybe Tom’s team has two outs in the ninth inning, and their fate hangs on the next pitch. If Tom gets another strike, it’s over. We sit on the edges of our seats, wondering how this will play out. As spectators, we’re hooked, the same way we want to hook our readers near the beginning of a story.

Then Tom gets a hit. In a story, this is the inciting incident that draws the main character into the story’s events. Suddenly we’re completely engaged in his game and we want to know what’s going to happen to him. While he’s running to first base there are several throws in the field that tighten the suspense. There’s a throw to first, and Tom is just about to tag the base.

The first baseman catches a split second too late (the key event) and with his foot secure on the base, Tom is now so deep in the game there’s no going back. This is the first plot point, the moment the “First Act” makes the transition into the “Second Act.” In terms of structure, as with baseball, it comes at one quarter of the way into the story, or 25% of your word count. This is necessary to hold your readers’ attention.

The truth is, even though Tom is safe at first, he could be tagged out at any time. The pitcher, his ultimate antagonist, keeps tabs on him and threatens his progress at all times. But Tom is a fighter, and from first base he takes a lead-off, pushes his boundaries, tests his limits. But he’s a bit nervous, and doesn’t want to blow his chance. With the next hitter up, the catcher fumbles the ball and Tom sees his chance to steal to second.

Spoiler alert: The “Second Act” is the entire expanse between first base (the first plot point) and third base (the climax). That’s a whopping 50% of your word count in the middle of your story. The first half of the second act (between first and second bases) is the time when your main character is reacting to the event of the first plot point, still a little unsure of how he feels about it.

While Tom’s stealing to second there’s a desperate throw to the second baseman, but Tom prevails. He’s safe. In a story this is the Midpoint, when the main character turns the corner of his character arc and begins to face his challenges head-on. Instead of reaction, this means action. Confidence. Taking charge.

With another hit, Tom runs to third. The ball is fumbled in the field, and he touches third only for a fraction of a second, because the third base coach tells him to run. There’s no stopping the momentum that powers him all the way home. But there’s still no guarantee of success. If he’s out at home plate, his team will lose the entire game. The crowd goes wild, urging him on.

This is the goal with the climax. We want the climax to be such a gut-wrenching sucker-punch of an event, that there’s literally no putting the book down until there’s a complete resolution. In stories, the climax happens at the 75% mark, and the remaining quarter of the story is entirely caught up in untangling the tension.

With the ball hurtling through the air, and a throw to home plate, Tom hits the ground and slides feet-first full-tilt at the precise moment the catcher, foot on home plate, latches the ball into his voluminous mitt. There’s an audible gasp as everyone awaits the umpire’s verdict.

Safe! Tom is the hero and our story has a happy ending.

I must admit that I’d never given any thought to structure prior to finding Weiland’s blog. Luckily for me, by absolute fluke, my novel, Scenario, is very close to the 25%, 50% (with mid-point), 25% structure. Is yours?

I now know I need to remove about 8,000 words to move the first plot point to the 25% mark in the word count. To figure out what to remove I’m going to create a scene map to find out which scenes give me the most bang for my buck, and then cut the ones that don’t stand the test. I’d like to challenge you to do the same.

The other thing I’ve learned is how important these landmarks are to the character’s development through their arc. The first plot point, midpoint and climax aren’t there just to make a story exciting, they’re there to push the character to grow, to dig deeper. With this in mind, I now know I must create bolder strokes in my storytelling to show how the events in my story shape my main character. I would challenge you to ask yourself the same tough questions: How have your story’s events shaped your character’s development? How have you shown it?

Story structure is much more than a formula. It is a tried and true map of plot development, character development and reader engagement. I hope my baseball analogy compels you to consider its usefulness to you, and makes the structure unforgettable as you continue to hone your skill as a writer.

7/7/7 Challenge

Thank you Michelle Guerrero for picking me to play 7/7/7! What a fun challenge!

The rules of the 7/7/7 Challenge are:

  1. Go to page 7 of your WIP.
  2. Scroll down to Line 7.
  3. Share the next 7 sentences in a blog post.
  4. After the excerpt, tag 7 other writers to continue the challenge.

Here are 7 sentences from page 7 of my work-in-progress, Scenario.

“…Although sources cannot confirm or deny the club’s existence, or the actors’ involvement in it, the two were spotted together several times on the weekend in this part of town.” There’s a moving pan of the glimmering building. “Is there a connection? Let us know in your verbs!”

Surely this is evidence that something romantic is happening between them. Without planning to, clip by clip I’m sucked deep into uVu. Violet Stanten is so stylish and pretty.

[“Verbs” is short for “verbal messages” in this near future society.]

So now it’s up to these awesome peeps to keep the challenge alive!

1. Verna Austen

2. Natalie Page

3. Megan Grimit

4. Alana Saltz

5. Leila Oicles

6. Amber Riley

7. Aimee Schaefer

Have fun!

Brenda Drake’s magic door

Three years ago on a sultry night in August, my husband took me out to a wine café we frequented back when we were dating. Out without kids, we could talk about anything we wanted. And that night I had hot confessions. Incubating inside my mind was a story. I’d just finished reading two novels, one erotic, and the other, future/dystopian. These had cross-bred in my mind, and with my own mid-life crisis already in full swing, I had juxtaposed these two styles into a new story. Hubby leaned in close over the table and I whispered my plot to him. At the tables beside us, a frolicsome group from Kentucky dominated the room with their chatter about traveling here for a wedding. I didn’t want anyone to hear what I was saying out loud, because it was too raunchy for polite company. I had the dream of writing a dirty novel, and wasn’t sure I could.

Now, three years and many edits later, my erotic romance novel is finished and entered in Pitch Wars. Like a good contestant I’ve been paying attention to the Twitter feed. There’s a giving and supportive community surrounding this contest. The atmosphere is truly heartwarming. Brenda Drake has said on numerous occasions that she’s going to feel sad on September 2nd when well over a thousand aspiring authors will realize they were not selected.

Here’s my take. This is an open letter to you, Brenda, to help you feel better.

Being an unpublished writer, waiting, is like standing in an empty room with many doors. Beyond each door is the magical world of publishing where words are printed with shiny cover designs and promoted to a reading audience. But all the doors in this room are locked. In order for a writer to get out of the room and through a door, they have to figure out how to unlock just one door. But the trick to these doors is that they have many locks in different combinations, and the configuration is unknown until tested many times. The magic keys are named Fresh Ideas, Evocative Language, Endless Revising, Marketability, Networking and Perseverance (there are probably more). Maybe there’s a secret knock that inspires someone on the other side to open a door. It’s going to be a different door and key combination for each writer.

Pitch Wars is one of these doors.

(Brenda, you have built a door. That’s amazing!)

My Dad used to say, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” And, so it is with a contest like Pitch Wars. I’m very interested in positive spin, so I’d like to re-work that old saying to say, “Something ventured, something gained.”

For writers and contestants who have ventured into Pitch Wars with the right attitude, September 2nd will come and go, and regardless of who’s chosen, we’ll feel we’ve gained something. For some, Pitch Wars will be the door that welcomes them into the world of publishing. Others will have to keep trying to find the magic. But because of your initiative, Brenda, we’ve all gained already, just by brushing up our query letters, synopses and first chapters. That means more than 1,500 writers are ahead of where we were before this contest. Plus, we have new contacts and critique partners and friends in the writing world who are more than willing to encourage and support. Certainly “something gained” start to finish.

Pitch Wars is not the only door. Perseverance is one of the magic keys. For writers who keep trying, this contest will be one experience that has helped prepare for the moment when the magic is found and the door finally opens.

I was in a pageant once…

Back in the 90s I was asked to enter a local pageant (the wholesome kind, not the swimsuit kind). In my small community I was one of five girls who put oScreen Shot 2015-08-22 at 3.05.12 PMur names forward. Only one could be chosen. It was a judged competition, and therefore the girl who got the tiara would be picked based on her poise and preparation, but also based on the particular taste of the three judges on that day.

The other four girls were very pretty. They were smart and well-spoken and had great style.

Not daunted by the competition, I found a book called PowerSpeak, and learned everything I could about how to write a home run speech, how to practice my delivery, as well as how to give a first-rate interview. I pulled together the best wardrobe I could. I read a book on etiquette, and tried to remember when introducing two people whose name to say first (the woman’s or the elder’s or the highest-ranking). I did everything within my power to represent myself well.

But besides the preparation for the actual pageant, I also prepared a contingency plan, what I would do if I wasn’t picked. After all, I didn’t want to leave the place in tears. That plan came in the form of singing alto with a mass chorus in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection). Pretty awesome.

I’m writing this post because of the subjectivity of competitions. Right now I have an entry in Pitch Wars, so this is on my mind. In my professional line of work, I judge contests, both live and by submission, and understand the entire process. Entries are usually prepared at a very high level, but the rule is you can pick only one winner (usually because of prize money). Sometimes, there’s one that you connect with more than the others as a matter of personal taste.

On the day of the pageant I gave it my best. So did the other girls. We were all nervous and hoping to be chosen. And truthfully, any one of us could have filled the role beautifully. But there could be only one.

They called a friend’s name as runner-up. And then, it happened that my contingency plan was only the cherry on top. I wore the tiara and sash home, and several others left in tears.

I’m approaching Pitch Wars with the same attitude. If there’s another writer who has prepared more, or has a better concept, or more fluid prose, or better dialogue or characters, or better anything, I hope they’re chosen. But if a mentor feels they have something to add to my creative process, I’ll do everything in my power to make them glad they chose to work with me.

I didn’t win the pageant because I deserved it, or was prettier, or came from a particular family. I won because I’d worked my little buns off. AND…because on that day the judges chose me.

This time my contingency plan is Real Life (which includes working and reworking my manuscript, possibly with new critique partners), and for me that’s pretty awesome. Pitch Wars is a unique opportunity for aspiring writers regardless of the level of participation.

I’ve entered Pitch Wars!

Floundering: that’s what I was doing on August 3, 2015. It was the middle of summer, so it was normal for me to have nothing on the go, normal to feel lazy and at loose ends. But on that day, “lazy” wasn’t cutting it anymore. I was hankering for something different. Then, an email landed in my inbox from a friend who told me about Pitch Wars. It was the proverbial angel-light-from-the-skies moment, and I knew that I’d found my purpose for August.

Angel light or kick-in-the-ass, it got me going. Suddenly, I was obsessed with figuring out which mentors I wanted. I scoured 108 writers’ blog posts outlining genre requests, likes, dislikes, bio info, personal journeys, and saw lots and lots of GIFs that mesmerized me and made me forget what I was doing momentarily (on more than one occasion…watching them repeat, repeat, repeat). Looking for mentors made me feel like I was on an online dating site prowling for my match. Mmmmmm, yes, this one, and maybe…that one! Lucky for me it was a civic holiday and my husband was home to make supper, because I was otherwise occupied. I needed a match for my erotic romance manuscript.

With my mentor wish list saved in its own special document complete with links, I opened my MS doc and read my first chapter again. I reached out to critique partners who’d helped in the past and asked for a new report on my writing. My opening was weak. The first paragraph needed to show the main character’s motivations and desires. So I got to work and rewrote my first 250 words.

In the first days of pitch warring it came to my attention that writers are definitely on Twitter. And writers blog. So, like an eager little beaver (after all, I am Canadian) I tweeted and followed. And now that my submission is under my belt, I’m blogging. Woo-hoo!

Thanks, friend, for sending that kick-ass email! What’s life without a little adventure?