Food in Your Setting

Food is a large part of most cultures and one of the main guests at any celebration. A lot of our memories of growing up involve food: the smell of a roast on a Sunday afternoon, barbecues in the summer, and special cookies made at Christmas. Food and life are tightly interwoven.

Food in Your Setting

Food can serve any setting well. The ideal thing about food as a part of your setting is that it can engage the five senses. We all know how onions smell frying in the pan. We recall the sizzling sound of eggs and bacon. We do not like the feeling of sugar under our feet. We like our food well presented on a plate. And most of all we know how food tastes.

The use of food is so subtle in setting, that you do not realize that it is employed at all to create an atmosphere. When we were young, we watched the condensation form on the windows as the dinner boiled on the stove on a cold winter afternoon. We knew New Year’s meant corks popping and champagne bubbles. Thanksgiving was about turkey and the following food coma afterwards.

One of the ways we learn about other cultures through reading is about the foods that are eaten. Unfamiliar and mysterious, they make the setting seem exotic.

Incorporating food in setting can help create feelings. We read about a family around the Christmas tree drinking hot chocolate and we feel warm and cozy. Young women sunning themselves drinking drinks with umbrellas in them and we can almost feel the sun on our own faces. We understand the warmth of the nip of whiskey from a flask on a bitter cold night.

The lack of food in writing serves a purpose too. The birthday of the little boy where there is no cake. The overwhelmed mother of six who has one moldy loaf of bread left.

Food is an underrated part of a book’s setting. Try to think about the sights, smells, and sounds of food and what it means to you: good or bad. Keep a mini journal of the food you eat this week and make notes from all five senses after each meal. Then use it as the quiet, very welcome guest in the background of your writing.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

Writing Trend Addiction

It is very easy as both a reader and a writer to get swept up into book trends and for our reading and writing habits to be dictated by them. First Chick-lit was everywhere, we all read it and wrote it. Then Young Adult was explosive and again, it was everywhere with all of us reading and writing it. Then it was Erotica and well… lather, rinse, repeat.

The writing trend addiction has us chasing our tails for the latest.

We read so much of it that we began to operate under the delusion that we could do it and we start to think: “I could write that”. I am guilty of that one too!

However, the problem with writing trends is that we end up chasing our tail. As we are reading our book in the current trend (fill in the genre blank), it is happening… trending… now. So we decide to write for the trend. First, we need to write the book (well), then find an agent and a publisher. This could take two to three years. Then 18 months to be published. And that is where the problem begins to become evident: time. Because, trends whether it be books, or clothes, or TV shows do not last forever.

By the time our book hits the shelf, there is a new trend in town and our book is alone on a crowded book shelf with more of the same. Instead of writing for the current trend, we need to write the book we have always wanted to write. We need to write the story that will not leave us alone. This is our story. Our shot. We need to make it our own.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

The Delusion of Getting Paid

Aspiring writers know the sad truth about the publishing industry — the pay is lousy. If we should ever get lucky enough to be published, there is a strong chance that we will not be able to quit our day job. The delusion of getting paid like a premier author runs rampant.

Writers have the delusion of getting paid like J.K. Rowling and James Patterson.

The profession is tricky. We have to do more than just write in order to get paid, we have to get published, and we have to market ourselves and our book. And even then, do not hand in your notice just yet.

There are people out there who labor under the delusion that writing is a lucrative career (mainly non-writers but writers too). Financial independence is for the select few. A recent article in the UK’s The Guardian heralded more gloom causing even the most hardened among us to put down our pens.

We can write to our heart’s content but unless we are published, we are not going to see any real money. In the majority of traditional jobs, we go to work, put in the time and draw down a wage every two weeks. In writing, we could write for years and not see a cent.

Despite all of this, millions of people worldwide (myself included) sit down every day with our pen and paper (or laptop) and write our hearts out, even though we know that there is no guarantee that we will get paid for it. I assume, that most writers, like myself, write because there is always a story to be told and it makes us happy. Any money that comes from it, is icing on an already delicious cake.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

Establishing Boundaries

Establishing Boundaries During Writing Hours

Everything is all set: laptop booted up, pen and paper at hand and a cup of coffee that is still hot. You have been waiting for this “free” time to get all those words out of your head and onto the paper. With hands poised above the keyboard, you take a deep breath… And the doorbell rings. It’s your neighbor, who saw your car in the driveway and stopped for a quick cuppa and a chat. You really like this neighbor but right now you don’t. You start to say that you are writing, but you feel it sounds superfluous and arrogant, change your mind and throw open the door and put the kettle on.

It is important to stick to your guns when establishing boundaries for others.

Whether it is the doorbell, the phone, or a kid tugging at your sleeve, when you do find the courage to say it is not a good time as you are in the middle of writing. They look at you blankly for a millisecond then carry on, ignoring you. It is worse if you are not published as then friends and family view it as sort of a hobby, something you can do anytime, or in your spare time.

How do you get all your writing done without interruption?

First, set a writing routine and live by it. Let everyone far and wide know that you write between the hours of 9 a.m. to noon (or whatever your chosen time is) and are not available to do anything else. This requires a little bravery as you have to admit to family and friends that you write and you spend your free time doing it. And you are serious about it. The more you do it and tell people, the easier it becomes.

To establish boundaries, start with your immediate household and let them know that under no circumstances are you to be interrupted while writing. The only exception being hospitalization or death. Then go global. Tell your extended family, friends and co-workers that you will not be responding to phone calls, emails or texts during this time.

Be firm but kind. And if that does not work, ignore it. It may come to that especially if you have a pesky relative who is not to be denied. Do not answer that bell, phone, or whatever. Let it ring, chime or beep away (or better yet, take the phone off the hook).

I had a family member who napped between 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and if you called him on the phone during his nap, you incurred his wrath. Decades later, we still know not to call at this time. Way back when, he established his boundary, the consequences were consistent and clear and to this day, no one calls him in the afternoon. So he naps, uninterrupted.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

So You Think You Can Write

When I was offered a contract last year by Harlequin, I was not only excited but relieved as well. I believed that my writing had finally reached the point where it was publishable. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening!

So you think you can write? Just wait until your editor gets a hold of your manuscript!I was assigned to an editor and I quickly learned that my book still was not publishable, but it was salvageable. First there was the developmental edit which is pretty much what it sounds like: developing further certain points of the story, fixing plot points and tying up loose ends.

Then came the line edit, which has been a humbling experience. When I received my manuscript back from my editor, it was all marked up in red. The manuscript I had worked so hard on for years still needed more work and by the amount of red on the pages, it needed a lot more work.

Initially, I was disheartened. Was my writing really that bad? I struggled with this. Halfway through the line edit I realized a few things: nine times out of ten, my editor’s suggestions and corrections were spot on, which is why she is the editor and I am the writer. Her ideas made the work cleaner and tighter. Sometimes she pointed out the obvious. Sometimes she made great suggestions and sometimes, I disagreed with her.

Although the whole process has been humbling, I know that it will not only make my book better but it will make me a better writer. Writing is a continual process and there is always something new to be learned.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

Become a List Maker

It is quite possible that as a writer, you are juggling a lot of writing balls. You might be working on your novel. You might have an assignment due for a magazine. Or perhaps you are trying to get a short story written for a contest deadline. You have all of this plus what life throws at you on a day-to-day basis.

Become a List MakerWriters may be struggling with a full-time job as well as family issues which means time is limited. If you only have a one or two hour writing period, you need to get as much done as possible to maximize your time. Women by their very nature are natural multi-taskers however it is very easy to look at all that has to be done and lose the plot.

How do you not give up and get it done? You accomplish all your tasks by doing two things: create a list and tackle it bit by bit.

Each day (or the night before), create a list with what needs to be done for that writing session. Instead of looking at the complete magazine article, gather the facts tonight or concentrate on a catchy title. Short story due? Write down the rough draft tonight without making any corrections. Your novel? Concentrate on the next scene. If you do not know what the next scene is supposed to be then write any scene or write an outline of the book you want to write.

As you complete each small task and cross things off your list, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. What happens if you don’t finish everything on your list? Divide the tasks over your next writing day (s). But be sure to accomplish at least one item on your list.

Before you know it you will be whittling down your writing tasks on a daily basis and over time, it will yield big results.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

Unlikeable Main Characters

Can your Main Characters be unlikeable? Apparently they can, judging by two books I have read recently. Actually, in both instances the main characters were not only unlikeable but there was nothing redeeming about them. Nothing made me feel sympathetic to their plight (as a sidebar, both books were bestsellers which has me scratching my head). This leads me to a basic rule of writing: your reader should be interested in your main character. So perhaps unlikeable is OK as long as they are interesting.

Unlikeable CharactersIt begs the question as to why I would keep turning the pages about characters that not only did I not like but really did not care about. In both instances, the books had riveting plots and lots of unexpected twists. One of them was even set during a fascinating time period. It was enough to keep me reading.

However by the end of both books, I was left with a feeling of irritation. And for one book, a sense of frustration as the narrator was not only unlikeable but unreliable as well and I am still not sure how that book ended.

We are instructed as writers to make our characters sympathetic, make them strike a chord with the reader, make the reader care about what happens to them. In both instances, the writers appeared to know the rules well and obviously felt comfortable enough breaking them.

Perhaps this is experimental writing at its best; perhaps I am naive and there are more unlikeable characters than I care to admit. But it is not my cup of tea.

I want a character that I find interesting, that I can root for; that I can care about and who will stay with me long after I put the book down. I do not want a main character who causes me to grit my teeth in the end and throw the book across the room because, then, reading has lost its pleasure and satisfaction.

What about you? Is it important for you to both like and be interested in what happens to the main character of a book your reading?

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

Minding Your Plot

Somewhere along the way of writing your story, you will need a plot. The plot is the glue that brings everything else together: characterization, voice, setting and style. Without a plot, you do not have a story.

Here are five things to consider when minding your plot:
This poor little dog is bored by the plotting of this book.

  • Conflict – There is nothing a reader loves more than a character who is faced with a conflict, struggle or dilemma. Or something that needs to be overcome. As readers we want someone to root for. We want to follow them on their quest, whatever that might be: falling in love, moving to a different place or seeking buried treasure and all the difficulties they meet along the way.
  • Growth – Over the arc of the book, your character hopefully will experience some personal growth as a result of the plot or at the very least have a clear revelation of themselves because of the plot by the end of the book.
  • Pacing – It is important to pace your book correctly. Although you need to supply the reader with information, you can drip feed it throughout your story to keep it suspenseful. All books, regardless of genre are suspenseful in the fact that the reader keeps turning the page in an effort to find out what happens in the story.
  • Sub-plots – These are the minor stories within the main story that not only support the main plot but tie into it as well.
  • Final Resolution – This is the last portion of the book where all questions are answered and all answers are revealed. Leave no stone unturned and no loose threads, everything needs to be resolved by the last page, unless of course, you are writing a series.

All stories are boiled down to a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is your plot that will bring your reader from one section to another and a good plot will do it seamlessly.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

5 Steps to Improve Your Writing

It is not too late into the year to think about what you can do to improve your writing. Here are five steps to improve your writing:
One of the five steps to improve your writing is to improve your grammar. Even if it is to break the rules later.

  • Write every day because practice does make perfect. Even if it is only one hundred words that you end up throwing out. The discipline of writing every day will become an ingrained habit.
  • Read, read, read. You cannot be a writer if you do not read. More specifically, read the genre that you want to write in. It is the perfect hands on learning.
  • Enter some contests. There are loads of contests out there; you just need to find the one that is geared to what you are writing. The thing about contests is that sometimes you can get a free critique out of the deal. At the very least, you will learn how to format.
  • Do something writing-wise that you would not normally do or that you are afraid of. For me this would be tackling the short story form. What about you? Facing your writing demons, learning about them and mastering them is a good way to flex your writing muscles.
  • Buy a good grammar book and use it. We all forget and there are too many good grammar books out there not to have one on hand. I would recommend Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty, The Elements of Style by Strunk & White and/or The Blue Book of Grammar & Punctuation by Jane Strauss.

Writing is a fluid craft: there is always room for improvement, you never “graduate” because you are always learning.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

Voracious Reader Syndrome

If you have three or more of the following symptoms, you could have voracious reader syndrome and there is only one treatment for it!
Reading a book as a writer.

  • You know what TBR (To Be Read) stands for and your TBR pile never comes to an end. Ever.
  • The first thing you read in the Sunday paper is the book reviews.
  • You follow the bestseller lists.
  • You not only have a library card but you use it regularly.
  • There are piles of books everywhere in your house.
  • You don’t mind waiting for anything because you carry a book with you at all times, especially for appointments. You get in the car line at school early so you can read your book.
  • You reread your favorite books and can recite by heart your favorite parts.
  • A gift card to Barnes & Noble (or Amazon, or Chapters) is the ultimate gift.
  • You never sleep alone because you always take a book to bed with you. If you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep, you grab the book at the bedside and your reading light.
  • Reading, Interrupted: When stuck in the middle of a good book, you resent the fact that you have other things to do: like go to work, go grocery shopping, or get eight hours of sleep.
  • You read everything: the backs of cereal boxes, the church bulletin, cookbooks, advertisements, the fine print, this blog post.
  • You can spend hours in the bookstore or a library and you are always shocked when you realize how many hours you have been there.
  • You read every day. 

If you develop any of these symptoms, read one book and call me in the morning.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.