Monthly Archives: November 2009

Guest Post: New York Times Bestselling Thriller Author Chelsea Cain

“What I Wish I Knew About Getting Published Before it Happened To Me.”

by Chelsea Cain

Author of the New York Times bestselling thrillers Heartsick, Sweetheart and Evil at Heart.

Travel with a corkscrew.  Otherwise you will end up having to buy one every time you want to take a bottle of wine back to the hotel room.

Never get photographed holding a glass of wine. The glass always looks askew, and you will look drunk.

When an agent/editor says they “don’t love it,” it means they hate it.

Every copy counts. You’d be amazed how few copies you have to sell to get on the bestseller list.

Don’t tell people you will read their manuscripts. You won’t, and then they’ll think you’re an asshole.

If there is a mistake in your book, readers will find it and they will mention it over and over again.

The Oregon State Bird is the Western Meadowlark.

Sometimes you will give readings, and no one will come. The resulting crushing despair will pass.

The best signing pen is the extra fine tip Sharpie. The regular tip Sharpie emits more fumes and will make you high after about a half hour.

Always ask people how they spell their names before you write an inscription, even if you are certain that there is only one way to spell “Pat.”

Protect your writing time at all costs. When you are published at a certain level, you will find that you have very little time to write, among all the events, social networking, interviews, book tours travel and endless online Q&As. Marketing is important, but only if you have a book to promote.

Get a really good accountant.

Make friends with booksellers, they are some of your most important allies.

No red wine before photo shoots – it stains your teeth.

Don’t put a heart on the cover of your book if you want lots of men to buy it.

On a related note, don’t put the word “heart” in the title of your book if you want lots of men to buy it.

If you have any say, go with trade paperback, as opposed to mass market.

When you start to panic because of a publishing issue, wait 24 hours before you send the frantic email to your agent/editor/publisher. This will save you having to write the second email where you apologize for the first.

People like it when you look like your author photo, so don’t go dying your hair platinum right after the book comes out.

Get a P.O. Box.

Few of your friends or family will ever truly understand exactly what you do. Tell people you are a nurse or a ballerina.

It is perfectly natural to hate your copy editor.

If you have to sign 1000 tip-in sheets, you probably want to do this over time rather than waiting until the night before.

Trust your translators. They are collaborators and they know their cultural markets way better than you do.

If you happen to know a language your book is translated into, never ever read it.
Some people like to see their names in books; some people do not.

Do not, under any circumstances, start checking your sales ranking on Amazon.
If you go to Book Expo America, wear really comfortable shoes. Even then, bring band-aids.

Sign stock anytime anyone asks you to.

Norwegians are awesome.

At some point you will be doing an event, and someone will bring you a used copy of your book to sign and you will open it only to find that you have already signed it to some dear friends who immediately unloaded it at the used books desk at Powell’s. Do not feed sad. It will make a funny story later.

To read reviews and buy Chelsea’s books, click on the titles shown on her by-line above.  You can access her website,, here.

Evil at Heart


Filed under Guest Bloggers

Guest Post: Writing Mentor and Character Champion Bill Johnson

Putting the Tense in Narrative Tension

by Bill Johnson

A Story is a PromiseNarrative tension is the inner tension characters in a novel feel about unresolved and unfulfilled events and needs. 

When characters in a story are blocked from gaining what they want, they experience narrative tension.  (Interesting to note, this is also the very essence of conflict in a story, which is what narrative tension is often called.)

When acting to gain something increases a character’s pain – because the story/storyteller increases the obstacles – a character in a story experiences increasing narrative tension.

And if done right, the reader experiences it, too.

In a nutshell, a storyteller creates a character that can’t refuse to act because of the cost of inaction (consequences of their decision, which drives plot, which ties back to character… thus demonstrating the full-circle linkage between all the key elements in a story), but there’s also a price to pay for taking action.

In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is a great example of narrative tension in play.  To act on his love for Juliet is to turn against his clan and family.  To not act on his feelings for Juliet is to violate his sense of what is important to him. But any action he takes increases his pain.

Notice how these consequences manifest within both an inner realm and the outer reality of his life.  Notice it carefully, because that’s what makes a character compelling and someone the reader can relate to.  Which is always a wonderful thing.

Romeo is a great character because he won’t allow even death to block him from being with Juliet.  As readers, we may not have ever felt that depth of love, but if we have a pulse, we’d like to.  Romeo delivers a vicarious emotional experience to the reader, and thus he’s an immortal character in literature.

A novel (or memoir) that lacks narrative tension fails to be compelling.  It can appear to be episodic; events happen, there’s an accumulation of details, but there’s no tension around to drive toward an outcome to these events. Characters act, but there’s no tension or drama generated around their actions.

If you’re looking for examples of this, that’s tough, because these stories don’t get published.

Merely suggesting tension for characters is only the first step in generating narrative tension.  The second step is to write about this tension in a way that it is transferred from a story’s characters to a story’s audience.

While a great plot can help hook an audience on finding out what will happen next, when an audience has internalized a story’s narrative tension, that audience needs to experience a story’s resolution and fulfillment for the relief of the tension created by the storyteller.

The greater the tension, the more compelling the novel.

Or put another, more experiential way… the greater that ultimate release of narrative tension, the more satisfying the story is to readers.

When I’ve worked with or talked with agents, a lack of narrative tension is their number one reason for rejecting novels.  Sometimes they call it by other names – shallow characters, weak story, etc. – but it always boils down to narrative tension.

If you can create a novel with a main character in a deep state of narrative tension, you’re on your way to creating a compelling story.  If you fail, you’re on your way to creating a dramatically inert account of someone’s life.  And, a rejection slip in your inbox.

For some new or struggling writers, learning the difference between these two paths often requires a conscious effort to understand the craft of storytelling. It means opening a book and perceiving how that author generates narrative tension from the opening lines.

That’s the challenge.  If it were easy, we’d all be publishing and going on book tours.  But it is a skill that, when understood and put into play in your stories, can take you to the next level.  And just maybe, that book tour.

It can be a difficult path, but it has the ultimate reward of turning ordinary writing into compelling, worthwhile and publishable storytelling.

Bill johnson jpegBill Johnson is a  writing instructor, mentor and coach, as well as a produced playwright, published essayist and has been a manuscript reader for literary agents.  His website and more about his book, A Story is a Promise , can be found at

You can order it from HERE.

He is also an active leader of the Willamette Writers, about which you can learn more HERE.

Next up — a guest post by New Times Bestselling thriller writer Chelsea Cain.



Filed under Guest Bloggers