Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

Visit the Books page for free samples

Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

Get book downloads on the Free Stuff page

Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

Get the boxed set edition to get even more secrets!

Hope's Rebellion

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Going Mad for The Tower

"This book was amazing."


"The story is fast-paced and keeps you hanging on for dear life."

The lovely Ariel Avalon has reviewed The Tower at her blog. There are some spoilers, so don't read the review unless you've also read Justice! 

While you're at Ariel's blog, check out her reviews of Justice and Death as well.

Writing 101: Making Money as an Indie Author

Even after you learn how to master grammar, punctuation and descriptive language, the self-publishing journey is far from over. You've still got to figure out how to make money as an indie author -- and trust me, it's not easy.


The Road to Self-Publishing Success is Paved with Broken Indies

You may have an amazing book on your hands, a story so pure and so good it absolutely deserves to be a bestseller. But there are thousands of writers just like you, people who have created truly exceptional work, and we may never learn their names. After you write the book, format the book and self-publish the book, you've got all the easy stuff out of the way. You were born to write stories, weave plots and entertain the masses -- so of course you wrote the book. Actually promoting the damn thing, now that's hard. 

And it's where lots of indie authors fail. Too many writers have a dream that they're going to write a book, publish that book and then, magically, the universe will respond. Yes, it has happened once or twice -- but lightning may not strike you just because it struck a few lucky others. Most of us have to create our own lightning; you can't even wait for the sky to get cloudy before you've got to get out there with your key and your kite (Benjamin Franklin reference). You cannot wait for the universe to discover your book. Under almost all circumstances, you aren't going to self-publish a book and have a bestseller on your hands a few weeks later.

Making Money as a Self-Published Author


It's much more likely that you'll publish a book, get a few purchases from friends and family members, and then nothing will happen. That's why you've got to promote to make something happen.
  • Price. Set a reasonable price for your self-published book. Like it or not, indies have a bit of a tarnished reputation. Your book might be even better than the leading bestsellers being churned out by the top publishing houses, but no one is going to find out if you've priced your work as high as theirs. Self-published books are priced lower; that's your market. Stay competitive in your market. Once you've established yourself and you've got a lot of fans and you actually are making money, then you can re-visit the issue of price. 
  • Get reviews. Selling books is a pretty simple formula: readers like what other readers like. The more reviews your book has, the more interest it's going to generate. I live by a personal philosophy that there's no such thing as bad press. Even if you have nothing but 1-star reviews, that can be an asset. People like what's good, but they're fascinated by what's bad. Take a look at reality TV, and you'll see what I mean. If people are passionately screaming that your book is terrible, it can be a good thing. Remember that Mark Twain's books still get burned in great big piles, and the more controversial Catcher in the Rye gets the more people run out to buy it. Don't be afraid of reviews; chase after them like it's your only job. 
  • Toot your horn. You can be however you want to be when you're at home, surrounded by friends and family. I happen to like shy, self-effacing types. But when you're in indie author mode, you are the greatest author ever. Your book is the greatest book ever written. Anyone who doesn't read this book is missing out on the experience of a lifetime. You are the best. Put yourself in that mindset, and start tooting your own horn. Get on Twitter and Facebook and everything else and post your links, show off your good reviews, offer up snippets of your sensational writing. Your agenda is to sell books, so get out there on social media and start selling them. There's a lot of talk about finding a good balance for promoting oneself, and it's valid to assume you shouldn't be running self-promoting ads every other minute on Twitter. But if you're doing it once or twice an hour, that's not too much at all. 
  • Sell, sell, sell. If you really want to sell books, you'll start selling them everywhere. Get on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and every other selling site you can find (as long as it's free; see the next point). Plaster links where people can buy these books everywhere. Put them on your blog, your social media profiles, in your email signature, in your forums signatures, and anywhere else I might have missed.
  • Don't spend. If you want to make money selling your self-published books, don't start off in debt. Do as much of the work on the book yourself as possible. Do your own formatting, a good portion of your own editing, make your own trailer and, if you can, design your own cover. Before you purchase anything, like a cover or editing services, do some shopping around first to make sure you're getting a good price and a good product. Spend as little as possible, and only on the essentials you've got to have (like the copyright). 
  • Write more books. Legitimize yourself by continuing to write and self-publish. Amanda Hocking didn't come to the self-publishing party with one book that suddenly became popular; she published 9 books very quickly. The more books you have, the more legitimate you look as an author. Readers will take you more seriously when you have more books out there, but don't ever fail to make each one exceptional. Make sure they're well-edited, beautifully formatted and all that other stuff I won't stop blogging about. 
And here's the most important step of all: keep doing all of that stuff. When you're an indie author, self-promotion is constant and it's every single day. Re-arrange your schedule and re-organize your life, if necessary, to give yourself time every single day to promote your books, your links and yourself as an author. You should tweet daily, Facebook daily, offer up something new on your blog daily whenever possible. 

Find a balance, and make sure you continue putting your family and your needs first. Take care of your job and continue doing good work there, because in the interim you still need money from somewhere. But when you're not working and seeing to your other responsibilities, you'd better be out there promoting. Otherwise, making money as an indie author is a dream you may never quite reach. The secret ingredient to success, in any field, is tenacity. Be stubborn, be hard-headed, be unable to hear the word no, and you've got a good shot at reaching your self-publishing goals.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

An Un-Original Idea: Unofficial Sequels

Some authors invent amazing new worlds and rich characters unlike anything readers have ever seen. L. Frank Baum, J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkein -- these are the greats. But it's not easy to invent an amazing new world; just ask any other author. You don't need to come up with something completely new to be a hit. Some authors have done very, very well with an un-original idea. Let us not forget that Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fiction. You might be inspired by something old, and end up creating something new. Have you ever thought about writing an unofficial sequel?


New Author, Old Story

Some authors have taken the work of other authors and added to it, successfully. Alice Randall wrote a book called The Wind Done Gone, a novel based upon Gone With the Wind that was not approved through Margaret Mitchell's estate. The Wind Done Gone is a re-telling of the original tale, this time from the point of view of a slave at Tara. There was some legal trouble with the story, of course, but in the end the courts ruled that the novel is a parody -- and that means it's publishable.

Some unofficial sequels have won critical acclaim and managed to stand out for their own merits. The Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, is a modern prequel to the 1847 Bronte classic Jane Eyre. It was even cited by Time as one of the best novels written since 1923.

Would Bronte appreciate the new story? The world will never know -- but it's pretty clear that J. D. Salinger didn't care for the unofficial sequel of his famous book that was first brought to public attention in 2009. 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye went through all sorts of legal trouble when the Catcher in the Rye author reacted with fury. Printing of the book was halted, and many legal processes later the book did get published -- in 2011, after Salinger died.

But even official sequels don't always work out. Margaret Mitchell's estate did approve a sequel to Gone With the Wind, a critical flop called Scarlett that wasn't at all popular with fans. However, the book did have all that Wind power behind it. Though poorly-received by almost everyone, it become a bestseller.

Every author draws inspiration from other authors, from stories they've read, from books that have touched them in the past. If you feel compelled to stick with certain characters or stories, why not? Always follow fancy when it tempts you, because you never know just where the next bestseller will come from. But if you're lucky, you'll be compelled to write a sequel or a prequel for a book that's a hundred years old or better. Otherwise, you could be facing serious legal melodrama.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Serving Justice

"Damn engrossing."



"It was simply superb!"

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at Reading 24/7. Go check it out before you get your copy of the book!

Writing 101: Adding Quotes and Song Lyrics to Self-Published Books

I once read a romance novel where every single chapter started with a quote from one of William Shakespeare's many works. To really drive the point home, one of the characters in the story was obsessed with the Bard; she, too, quoted him incessantly. Lots of books feature quotes at the start of chapters. I've also seen quotes from poems, songs and other books inside the text itself. Quoting is a great way to pay homage to someone else's work. It's also a great way to get yourself in serious trouble if you're a self-published author. Before you add quotes from songs, poems or other books to anything you're writing, make sure you're doing it without breaking copyright laws.

 
Copyright Laws

I've blogged about using brand names and celebrity names in self-published books in the past, and using song lyrics and other quotes is pretty similar. What I'm saying here is, you can get sued. Since you're not the creator of those lyrics, that poem or that other book, legally it's not yours to use -- up to a point. 

If you've just got to use a quote or a lyric to really make your book's plot sing, you do have some wiggle room. There is something called the Fair Use law, and this states that authors (and other copyright holders) can use very brief portions of other copyrighted materials in their works. In other words, yes you can use song lyrics and quotes written by other people -- but only in very small amounts. The Fair Use law is purposefully ambiguous, in fact, and I can't tell you a certain stopping point you've got to hit. The law doesn't say you can only use 8 words of a song, for example. The law says you can use insignificant amounts, and if a copyright holder decides to take issue with something of theirs you have quoted the two of you may have to hash it out in court.

A certain criteria is used to determined whether or not use of copyrighted work falls under the heading of Fair Use: the purpose of usage, how much money will be made from the usage of the work, the type of work it is, how much of the copyrighted materials were used and the overall effect on the marketability of the copyrighted work.

You can always attempt to obtain permission to quote another author, poet or songwriter, however. Send  an email and/or fax to them or to their representative explaining precisely what you want to use and how, but don't hold your breath waiting for a reply. You may not get one at all, and you should take that as a no if this is the case. You may simply receive a no, and in this case it's advisable to use none of that artist's material. If they say yes, obviously you're good to go. 

And because I love finding the path of least resistance, I can offer you a workaround that makes quoting much, much easier: public domain. 

No Law, No Problem

At some point, all great artists (and even not-so-great artists) die. That's a fact of life, and I'm sorry to bring it up -- but it is relevant. After the author of a work dies and a certain amount of time passes, the work they produced will eventually be deemed public domain. This means that copyright laws are no longer applicable. That means that you're free to quote away, and there's nothing that can stop you from it.

According to my resources, which may be sketchy and should absolutely be double-checked because I am not a lawyer, works created and published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Anything produced after 1989 in the United States will remain protected for 70 years until after the author has died (not when the work was first published).

In other words, there's a whole bunch of stuff out there that you're welcome to use for free. Here's a list of public domain music you can quote all book long if you like. The list includes classic standards like "Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." There's a great many Christmas carols that are public domain, including favorites like "Deck the Halls" and "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear." Quote them as much as you like. 

And if you decide you want to quote Shakespeare a whole bunch? It's perfectly okay -- all of his works are in the public domain. However, as a general courtesy you should include the specific copyright information for whichever version of any song or book you use from which to pull your quotes and lyrics.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writing 101: Mapping Your Books

 Every book has a setting. Some might be incredibly specific -- a certain house on a certain street inside a certain town in a little hamlet in Scotland. Other settings might be a bit broader. Tony Hillerman, for example, writes exclusively within the Native American reservation spreading across the four corners. This region covers four different states, a huge are filled with canyons, cliffs, mountains and people. No matter where your book is set, it never hurts if readers can picture that setting. Readers want to know where it is, what it looks like and what else is nearby. The best way to show them all of that is to give them a map. 

And making maps isn't easy. If it was, we'd all do it.


I'm a Writer, Not a Cartographer

Like writing isn't already hard enough, right? But sometimes, even the best and most descriptive authors need to add a few visual aids to hep their readers out. If your setting plays a big role in your book, a map is probably the perfect aid for your story.

And you're in luck -- I know how to make them. In fact, I did it; one of my earliest blog posts was a modified version of the map I personally use to keep my locations straight while I'm working on the books in the Deck of Lies.  It's not easy to make a brand-new map to bring your stories to life, but it's probably not as hard as you think. In fact, map-making is a favorite practice of brides and event planners. Nothing brings your event book to life quite like a custom map.

...Or Maybe I'm Both

Whether you're using a real setting or a fantasy world, there is a fairly simple way to create a custom map that you can add to your book to help bring the story to life.
  • Find your setting
Go to Google maps, Google Earth, or whatever online mapping software suits you best. If your book is based in a real place that you can find on a map, the battle's half-over. Just type in the city you're looking for and find it on the map. Zoom in and out until you get a view of the exact area you wish to display on your map. 

If your book is based on a place that only exists in your mind, don't fret. You can still find your setting. Pick a place on the map with the same general climate and geographic features as your made-up setting, and zoom in exactly on the area you'd like to use. If your book is based on a fantasy forest located on Venus, find yourself a nice, green spot in the Amazon somewhere. If your book takes place in a major city, pick any one of several around the globe. 

The beauty of making your own map is that you can change anything and everything at will, but you do need to start with a firm foundation (unless you're a gifted artist or you actually have experience in map-making).
  • Capture it.
Grab a screen cap of the map (at this point, you should have it framed up exactly as you want it). Open up Photoshop or your photo-imaging program of choice. If you haven't one already on your computer, it's no problem. You can go to the online image program I use if you like, Pixlr. It has some Photoshop-like tools, and for our purposes it'll do just fine.

Load the screencap you took and crop the image so that only the map itself remains. Save the image again, this time under a new name (like map). Select the entire image, and then cut it (trust me). Now, and this is very important, add a new, transparent layer to the image (look for the option under the Layer menu). Use the copy function to replace the map that you removed; it should be added to the new layer. Add another new layer (again, very important) and you're ready to start making maps.
  • Draw on it.
Select one of the drawing tools from the toolbar, and pick the color you want to use for highways. Start tracing the highways on your map. Select a new color, go down a size on your tool to draw in smaller lines, and begin tracing the major roads. Repeat this process to trace all the smaller roads. Use a new color and a different tool if you want to make marks for various locations on the map (such as character houses, or places where the characters go in the book). Go crazy, and mark off whatever you like. Add your text to make note of your locations and your roads, and use the tools to do whatever you like. 

Remember to keep everything clear and neat. Readers aren't going to work at reading your map, so don't make them. Also remember to trace only the roads and landmarks you want to use, and the stuff that's relevant to your story. Your map will still be accurate even if you leave off many of the secondary and tertiary roads that don't appear in the book. There's no reason to junk up your map with a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Again, don't make your readers do too much work.
  • Finish it.
When you're good and done with the map you captured off your screen, and all the details you want to add are in place, simply remove that original map. View the image's layers, and delete the layer with the old map you no longer need (it should be layer 2). Once that's gone, all that will remain is the stuff you drew and your original background. If you like, you can now add color to that background with the paint bucket tool. Just select the background layer from your layer list, paint it, and move the layer you drew on (probably layer 3) so it rests on top of the background layer.

Be sure to label your map with the name of your setting, and add a legend if needed so readers can decipher your symbols. If you don't want to cover up all your great mapping, just increase your canvas size to give yourself a little more room. You'll have to paint the expanded background before you start adding your new stuff. Once everything looks perfect and you're perfectly happy, save your map and you're done!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Writing 101: Accept vs. Except

Accept and except are spelled differently, but they're pronounced the same. That makes them difficult to write with, a problem that's further complicated by the fact that they have so many different meanings and forms of use. But if you put one in the wrong place in your book, you're going to greatly confuse your readers and totally change your own plots. 


Accept

Accept basically means to take or to agree. The word can also be used to show a response or an answer (Sally accepted Luke's invitation to have lunch). Synonyms for accept include gain, obtain, welcome and acquire. You can also accept a burden or a responsibility, maybe even unwillingly (I accept blame for all my wrongdoings). It's used in a lot of different ways, and that's what makes it so hard to use properly.

In spoken English, accept sounds like another word with a lot of definitions: except.

Except

Basically, except just means but. A fancier definition for the word is other than; you can also use the synonym unless. Other synonyms include excluding, save and without. Everyone was standing, except me. You could just as easily write Everyone was standing, other than me. But put accept where except ought to be, and you end up saying something like Everyone was standing, to take me. Doesn't make much sense, right?

  • Expect
It's worth noting that expect is also a word, and it's one of those tricky typos that's so easy to make because the hands know how to move faster than the brain. It's very easy to type expect instead of except, and the meanings are wildly different. Expect means to anticipate. So suppose you type expect instead of except, and you really should have typed accept in the first place? You might end up with a sentence that says something like Bob expected the job with a great sense of joy

It actually makes sense, and that's why these words are so dangerous. You meant to convey that Bob accepted the job with a great sense of joy. In other words, he got the job and he's happy about it. You went to type except and typed expect instead, and no grammar checker in the world is going to flag you for it. It's not enough to scan through your book to make sure it's grammatically correct. You've got to make sure it's readable, too, so you avoid errors like this. Because if you get that sentence wrong, readers won't understand that Bob actually did get the job -- and who knows what sort of plot holes that's going to create?

Knowing the Difference

It's much easier to avoid problems with common typos if you're avoiding grammar problems in first place. Knowing how to easily tell the difference between accept and except will only save you trouble in the future.

Remember that we someone is accepting anything, they're essentially saying yes. Becky accepted the gift. Joe accepted the advice with a nod. Joe accepted his defeat like a man, and stepped forward to shake hands

When something is being excepted, you're basically saying no. Everyone except me understood. Did I understand? No. I liked all of them, except the red one. Did I like the red one? No.

If that only gets you more confused, just go back to your basic parts of speech. Accept is almost always a verb, an action. Except isn't action, it's used more like a conjunction.

Or, you can match letters. Accept means agree, A and A. Except is excluding something, EX and EX.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Get Thrilled in The Tower

"If I could describe this book in one word, it would be EXCITING."


"I was left surprised, shocked, and blown away!"

The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2) has been reviewed at Little Book Star. Read the review before you get your copy from Amazon, B&N, Smashwords or Kobo. The Tower is also available in paperback!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Jade on Advertising

 I discuss book marketing in my newest interview at Verdict Book Reviews. Go check it out, and feel free to use the comments section to share your own thoughts on book marketing!


Books on Film: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Teachers all across the United States whip out The Legend of Sleepy Hollow towards the end of the every October and read the rich, poetic language aloud to the class. It's hard to understand; that why my teachers also showed an animated version of the story. I'm pretty sure the Disney version starred Goofy. The more famous film version of the story, Sleepy Hollow, is even more farfetched than the cartoon. 


The Story

To be technical, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow isn't a book. It's a short story, and it's so old that you can read the whole thing for free any time (public domain). It was written by Washing Irving, and first published in 1820. Irving is well-known for another short story, Rip Van Winkle. Though Irving wrote them both in England, Sleepy Hollow is considered to be American fiction because it's set in what would become New York state.


It takes place in a Dutch settlement named Tarry Town, in an area called Sleepy Hollow. The hero of our tale is Ichabod Crane, a skinny and lanky Connecticut teacher. He would like to court Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of wealthy farmer Baltus Van Tassel. Abraham Van Brunt, known as "Brom Bones," would also like to court her. They each attempt to woo her at a party inside the Van Tassel home. 

Ichabod leaves the party alone and finds himself being chased by the Headless Horseman, an enigmatic figure who is supposed to be the ghost of Hessian (German) trooper whose head was shot off during the Revolutionary War. Every night, the Headless Horseman rides through Sleepy Hollow in search of his missing head.

The reader learns that Ichabod disappears after the night of the party, and from then on out Brom Bones has a "knowing" expression on his face whenever the man's name is mentioned. Brom Bones goes on to marry Katrina, as he wished. 

The story never tells us who the Headless Horseman is, exactly, but seems to imply that it was Brom chasing after Ichabod that night.

The Film(s)

It's a very old story, and naturally The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been adapted many, many times. There are several animated versions, but even before these were viewed it became a silent film in 1922. Re-titled The Headless Horseman (because he's the best part of the story), it had Will Rogers in the role of Crane. I haven't seen it, but a few summaries point toward a fairly faithful adaptation. Crane is indeed a teacher and he does fall in love with the girl, but in this version Bones isn't his only enemy. In 1922, the whole town despises Crane, so no one knows who was really the Horseman.

By far the most well-known adaptation of the story is Tim Burton's 1999 joint Sleepy Hollow, which is probably the most unfaithful version you can find (but what else do we expect from Tim Burton?). Ichabod Crane becomes gorgeous Johnny Depp instead of a lanky teacher; he's also turned into a police investigator. 

This time around, there's a definite supernatural quality to the Horseman (played by the scariest actor ever, Christopher Walken). Christina Ricci is Katrina, and Capser Van Dien is Brom Bones. Crane is in town to investigate a series of strange murders, perpetrated by the ghostly Horseman.

Ichabod is highly skeptical of the villagers' explanation. He becomes a guest of the Van Tassels and becomes attracted to Katrina, like he's supposed to. He travels into the woods and finds the Horseman's grave and the Tree of the Dead. Eventually, he discovers that Lady Van Tassel, Katrina's stepmother, is controlling the Horseman for a revenge plot involving land. Crane has to find the Horseman's skull to end his reign of terror, which he does. Crane lives in this version, and takes Katrina with him back to New York.

What Got Adapted?

It might be easier to tell you what didn't get adapted in the transition between book and film for Sleepy Hollow. The most accurate part of the book is the setting, and even that's questionable. Obviously, some of the additions are necessary. Irving's story is pretty short, so it's understandable that characters had to be invented and new back stories revealed...but there were huge changes from the story in the Burton version, and I don't really think they were necessary.

Burton does include the party that's at the heart of the original story, and the tension between Crane and Brom is briefly touched upon. But stunningly, Brom dies in this version. He does dress up as the Horseman to frighten Crane, and ends up being killed by the real Horseman. This gigantic diversion from the original is only the tip of the interpretation iceberg.

Crane blacks out several times in the flick, and in this version the Horseman is well and truly the ghost of a soldier who has indeed lost his head. Walken is fantastic on film as the Horseman, because he's frightening no matter what he's doing, but it's a big deviation from the original tale.

Irving's story is filled with color. He describes food and clothing, and paints his world in bright hues. Tim Burton does exactly the opposite. Even the trees in Sleepy Hollow look gray, and honestly no one would live in this horrible place. Everything is dull and dirty and terrible-looking, and yet we're supposed to believe it's farming country. The ending is quite different, and there's nothing mysterious about it at all. In the story, Crane dies and we're never really sure who killed him (but we think it's Brom). In the film, Brom is dead and Crane actually gets the girl -- but with Depp playing the leading man, moviegoers surely wouldn't accept anything else. 

And besides, it wasn't even an original story when Irving wrote it. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is based on an even older German folktale that was set in New York state, and recorded first by Karl Musäus.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Seeking Secrets in The Tower

"The story seems straightforward, but then it curves and twists so [it] continually surprises."


"I really enjoyed going down the rabbit hole with Rain as she discovers secret after secret."

The Tower has been reviewed at Quirky Girls Read! Go and read the whole thing before you buy your copy of the book, and see if you can find the truth in the Deck of Lies.

Who Even Needs to Know Grammar, Anyway?

Clearly, I have strong feelings about the importance of good grammar, proper punctuation and well-crafted writing. But am I wasting my time, and yours, by blogging about it? In a world where word processing software highlights misspellings, underlines bad grammar and comes with a built-in thesaurus, besides, just where exactly do people like me fit in? Why do you need me, if you've got software that does it all for you?


 Oh, You Need Me

You can't even compose a tweet without getting spelling help nowadays, and every time I screw up during a blog post a helpful red line pops up to guide me. I don't even have to hit backspace and re-type the word; I can just right-click my mouse and magically fix the problem. That's the wonder of technology, and it's easy to grow incredibly complacent (lazy) when it comes to good writing. What's the point of knowing all this grammar garbage when any half-decent software program will do the job on its own? 

Because it can't read, that's why. I know that computers are cool, and iPhones can do darned near anything. I'm a big fan of streaming video and satellite radio and all the awesome extra stuff you can find in MS Word if you start looking (and I do go looking). But no matter how great your system happens to be or how wonderful your software is, it cannot read. It will never read your story and cry, or laugh out loud, or feel shock or surprise. It has no idea what you're writing about, and it never, ever will. Your word processor doesn't even comprehend that you're creating a book, and doesn't care. No computer can ever have the understanding and recognition that a human being has...that you have. 

And that's just the first problem, though honestly that's all you need to know to know that you've got to make good grammar decisions. The second problem is that word processing software is often wrong. It probably won't recognize most of the first and last names you give your characters, it'll flag place names all day long, and there are all kinds of foreign phrases it's going to pretend not to recognize (and we all know it's fluent in at least a gagillion languages). 

Forget about using it to double-check dialogue. If you're breaking your sentences up to make them interesting and actually writing the way people talk, chances are pretty good that you're getting an error line on every other line of your book. I've personally been waylaid by the built-in grammar checker on numerous occasions; once, my laptop even had me questioning my own sanity. It's a computer program that's trying to make sense out of something it cannot possibly understand, and if you rely upon it to write your book you are going to be led astray.

Only you can read your book the way actual reader are going to be reading, and only you know the story you want to tell. It's your job to tell that story in the best way possible, and that means knowing how to correct your own grammar. You wouldn't let someone else choose your book cover or name your protagonist, would you? Would you let someone else choose the price or pick the title for your book? 

Then why would you leave the writing of it in the hands of a machine that has no idea what it's doing?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Writing 101: The Joy of Templates

I've made it clear that I'm a big fan of staying organized during the writing process. I create outlines, character sheets, the whole ball of wax. But sometimes, you need something more than the standard blank document to keep your plot organized and all your thoughts straight. I'm talking about the joy of templates. 


Let's Hear it for Templates!

I've advocated using templates to keep your manuscript properly formatted; this will save you a ton of frustration and time when you convert your work into an ebook-ready format. But templates serve another important function: they can help you keep all your book notes organized. 

Plots can get pretty complex, particularly if you've got a lot of characters interacting or a big event happening. I'm usually pretty straightforward when it comes to writing outlines for my stories; in the past, a blank Word document has always been good enough for me. But lately I've been working on a novel that's extremely involved. There's a special event going on over multiple weeks that involves all sorts of information and characters, and frankly it's incredibly confusing. 

To keep the days of the event straight, I pulled up a calendar template that fits right onto my computer screen. It's possible to set the calendar to any year and month, so for me it worked out perfectly. I used another template to keep some very extensive notes organized and categorized (it's basically a list of objects with brief descriptions, and information about who's bringing each object -- sort of). 

The point is, I'm pretty sure my book would be an utter mess without these templates. When I need to know something specific, I can just glance at a single document to find what I need. Otherwise, I'd have to crawl back through the book to find out what I want to know (and I don't need that kind of hassle). 

There are dozens and dozens of templates available for a variety of word processing software. Microsoft Word, by far one of the most commonly-used processors, makes it incredibly easy to find templates. There's a built-in list of what's available, and if that isn't good enough you can always type something in the search bar to seek out the proper template online. MS Word will find the template and allow you to download it without ever leaving the program. Other word processing programs offer similar features, so you should never hesitate to look for a template if you want to get all your important notes and information well-organized.

Writers need tricks, help and props to survive, because writing is hard. Create as many documents as you like and write all the notes you need to keep your plot, characters and other pertinent information organized. The more organized you keep all your information, the less editing and re-writing you'll end up doing later.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Going Inside The Tower

"Rain's life only becomes more and more turbid, more tangled, more mysterious...an excelent sequel."


"Jade Varden has created another EXCELLENT book...with drama, mystery, friendship, self-discovery, redemption and one of my favorite characters."

The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2) has been awarded 5/5 stars at Reading...Dreaming. The review is spoiler-free, so feel free to read it at will.

Writing 101: Parts of Speech

Webster's Dictionary (the standard for American English) contains more than 400,000 entries. That's a whole lot of words for writers to try and track, and it's one of the reasons grammar is so difficult to master. Knowing which word goes where is pretty much impossible -- unless you memorize everything about all 400,000 of those words (including the correct spelling). Know your parts of speech instead, and you'll have an easier time making perfect sentences that won't confuse your readers. 



Articles 

Technically, there are just two articles in the entire English language: a and the. Sometimes, a turns into an, but they're considered to be the same word (vowels like to confuse everyone). Articles are only used with nouns. A sentence using an article with no noun would look something like this: The blue wandered past. Somewhere inside your head, a voice ought to be screaming the blue what? That's how you know there's a missing noun.

 Nouns

Remember the classic English lesson? Nouns are persons, places and things. Sally and Herbert are both nouns; so are balloon and Luxembourg. You can't make a sentence without a noun. Articles and adjectives cannot possibly function without them, and you'd have a pretty tough time using verbs, too.

Nouns are a big part of speech; there are a lot of words that fall into this category. But this part of speech is not without its confusion. Jade is noun...but she isn't. She is a pronoun.

Pronouns

She, he, her and we are all pronouns. A pronoun is simply a word that replaces a noun, and it's absolutely a necessary part of speech for a certain writing trick that everyone uses. If you write a sentence like Emma stared between Roger and Henry, Emma's green eyes lit with an angry fire as Roger reached to take Emma's hand. How repetitive and ugly is that sentence? You absolutely need the word her to avoid this type of redundancy, so hold your pronouns close to you at night.

Conjunctions

It's incredibly difficult to write descriptive sentences without conjunctions. Also known as linking words, the conjunctions include, and are not limited to, for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so. You can't even describe the holiday season without a conjunction -- unless you know another way to write red and green. Conjunctions link sentence parts together and link words within the sentence together. Robb wanted to go to the movies, but I wanted to visit the museum. The Monet was red and blue. In order to properly use conjunctions all the time, you've got to know how to use commas.

Verbs

Verbs are action words. You need them to walk, run, think or even just sit. All derivatives of be and do are considered verbs, so even if something just is you're using a verb. Traditionally, verbs are used with nouns. You can write To run through the park, but it doesn't make much sense and there's no narrative. Tell me that Molly runs through the park, and I understand what the heck is going on. Even when you put the verb in the sentence first, it's still describing a noun: Coughing and sputtering, the car climbed up the hill. The verbs in that sentence are cough, sputter and climb, and every single one of them is used with the noun car. If you can't find the noun in your sentence but you can find verbs, you might have a grammar problem.

Adverbs

Like the name suggests, adverbs have something to do with verbs. In fact, they're completely dependent upon them. Whether you know it or not, you probably use a certain adverb a lot: it's very. Adverbs are used to modify verbs. A proper sentence containing a verb and an adverb would look something like this: She carefully wrote the blog post. Obviously, to write is the verb in this sentence. The adverb carefully modifies the verb by helping to describe it. How did she write? Carefully, that's how.  

Almost all adverbs end in ly. An example of one that doesn't is always. You can't always something unless there's a verb involved - you can always love grammar blog posts, because love is a verb. But you can never always blue car, because that's totally nonsensical.

Adjectives

No writer could effectively write without adjectives. All colors are adjectives, as are most feelings. Adjectives are otherwise known as descriptive words, because that's the purpose they serve. They describe. I can tell you that The wheelbarrow was sitting in the yard. But if I tell you that The rusted, brown wheelbarrow was sitting in the yard you can picture it a whole lot better, right? Adjectives are the writer's best friend, so use them well. 

You cannot have an adjective without a noun or a pronoun. I can tell you blue, worn and ugly, but if you don't know what's blue, worn and ugly then you aren't going to care.

Prepositions

The easy answer for prepositions is that they are words describing anywhere a mouse can go. They're so confusing, I wrote an entire post about prepositions in the past. They're simply used to link pronouns and nouns, usually to each other, and I ignore all rules of preposition usage. Prepositions include words like to, under, over, with, up, toward and between, to name just a few. If you're between a rock and a hard place, you're properly using your preposition to link nouns. Prepositions, like many other parts of speech, can appear pretty much anywhere in a sentence -- even at the very beginning or the very end. Usually, but not always, prepositions are immediately followed by a noun or a pronoun.

Interjections

Truly the most under-appreciate part of speech, interjections are great fun to insert into any sentence -- and they can go anywhere. Really, words that are classified as interjections have been given this label because they don't belong anywhere else. Wow! Oh! Yikes! and oops are all interjections, and no you don't always have to use them with an exclamation point (I just like exclamation points). Using them very occasionally can draw attention to a specific moment in your writing: And oh! He'd hurt me terribly that day. Wow, he's really changed.

Parts of Speech

Knowing the basic parts of speech will help you craft strong, grammatically-correct sentences. However, many words can be multiple parts of speech -- it just depends on where you put them in the sentence. If the leather is soft and smooth, the word leather is a noun. If the leather purse is soft and smooth, the word leather becomes an adjective. It's usually easiest to identify nouns and verbs first, so once you figure out where these guys are at you can often sort out all the rest.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Death Comes to the Page

Death (Deck of Lies, #3) is now available in print! You'll get a full cover and 206 lovely paper pages filled with lies, secrets and conspiracies when you order your copy from Amazon.


Praise for Death

"Rain continues her quest for the truth - but what truth that is continues to change: her hunt for her identity led to a murder, her hunt for a murderer led her to more of her own secrets... Death delivers a good dose of reflection on the previous rollercoaster of events from Books 1 and 2, whilst continuing to throw up more surprises....

"Deck of Lies is a fantastic YA mystery series, with plenty of twists and fans of soaps like Dallas, Days of Our Lives and Sunset Beach, will love the mad hookups and random family relationship relevations. Jade's writing is style is vivid and concise, helping you to completely immerse yourself in her stories."



"Once again I wasn't able to put the series down. I love the detail Jade Varden writes in, the family history has obviously been thought about a lot and it is easy to follow. I'm not going to say too much about the storyline other than, Rain once again finds her life being turned upside down and herself being put in difficult situations, as the unpredictability of the book is what makes it so great."

-Sienna Logan, Lost to Books


Still haven't started reading the Deck of Lies? Look to the left to find out where you can get Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) and The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2), and see if you can find the truth beneath all the lies.

Writing 101: The Truth About KDP Select

Most indie authors head straight for Amazon's KDP program when they want to self-publish a book, and for good reason. Amazon is the leader in the ebook market, and their system is incredibly user-friendly. Personally, I don't advocate this -- for formatting reasons, I always advise going to Smashwords first. Some indie authors can't go to Smashwords first, or at all, because of KDP Select. Some indie authors swear by KDP Select; they think it's great. Before you sign up for it, learn the truth about KDP Select, and make sure you know what you're getting into. 


What's KDP Select?

When you go to Amazon to present your ebook to the world, you're going to find something called KDP Select. This is a special program for indie authors that allows you to run free promotions on your books, and if you spend any amount of time on the Kindle forums you'll learn that many indies love it. 

The program certainly has its merits. Listing your book on Amazon's free list is a great way to get a whole lot of downloads (not sales, because you can't earn any money on free). This means you're potentially getting a whole lot of readers, and this is why so many self-published authors sign up for the program. 

Free Promotions

The best thing KDP Select has going for it is the free promotions. It's a good incentive, I'll admit, especially for indie authors who really want to spread the word about their work. But free promotions have a dark side, too. Kindles, Nooks and other ereaders hold a whole lot of books. Plenty of ereader owners download books because they're free. How long are those free books going to sit on those readers before they get a second or even a first glance? No one knows. Maybe it won't ever get looked at. 

Yes, you're going to get downloads from running free promotions, but this doesn't necessarily translate into readers. Once the free promotion is over, the majority of indie authors find that their book sales go right back to where they were prior to the promotion. Sales rankings change quickly in Amazon, and a brief spike is commonly accompanied by a quick fall. 

KDP Select isn't the only way to fun a free promotion, either. You can generate coupon codes on Smashwords to give books away for free, and you can even create special promotions to give your books away for free on your own blog.

The Dark Side

There's one huge drawback to KDP Select that makes it a deal-breaker for lots of indies: it's an exclusive arrangement. Once you list your book with the program, you cannot sell your book anywhere else until you pull it from the program. This means you can't sell it at B&N, Goodreads, Kobo, Apple or another other online ebookstore. Amazon does have the biggest chunk of the ebook market...but they don't have the whole pie. Once you enroll a book in KDP Select, you're automatically limiting yourself  and shutting yourself off from a wide group of potential readers because you're only selling your book in one place. Is it really a good idea for indie authors to limit themselves...in any way?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Writing 101: Their, There and They're

Some words are so common, we never think twice about using them -- and that's a big problem. Three of the most common words are mixed up and misplaced very often in writing. It's time for that to stop. There's a way to master using their, there and they're, and once you do your grammar will instantly improve. 


Their

Their is probably the most difficult word in this homonym set, and that's why it's the first one of the group that writers have to master. Right out of the gate, their is hard to spell. It's an ugly word, and defies all spelling logic. In a proper word world, the i would come before the e, the way it ought, and everyone would be happy.

Not possible. Their is actually a form of the word they (as if the group wasn't confusing enough), therefore it's got to be spelled with the e first -- according to expert grammarians. The word their is possessive, which means it's always used to denote ownership. It belongs in the same word family as his and hers and ours. Something belongs to their when it's not yours or mine, but someone else's.

By the rules of language, their is the possessive of they. If their didn't exist, we would end up writing stuff like this: I can't take Muffy and Fluffy out for they's afternoon walk because I misplaced they's leash. Because that's how the possessive form of they would look otherwise. But their does exist, so instead I would write that I can't take Muffy and Fluffy out for their afternoon walk because I misplaced their leash.

Their is used to show possession, and that's the only time it's used. The word isn't necessarily used to indicate more than one person, but most commonly this is the case. That's the other reason this word is so horribly confusing: because they're also exists. 

They're

They're has an apostrophe in it, so right away you know there are some letters missing. They're is actually they are, and those two words always have a specific meaning. They are going to the store. They are reading stuff online. They are looking for grammar mistakes. It means that more than one person or thing is doing something -- maybe just existing (They are.) if no new verb is added. They can be people, or animals, or plants (they are wilting in the drought) or whatever -- as long as it's more than one. When you accidentally use they're someplace where there or their ought to be, you're changing things around considerably.

They're isn't anyplace to go in this town.

I saw someone standing in the shadows over they're.  

You're also changing the meaning of your words if you neglect to put they're in the right place.

Their looking at me funny, and I'm uncomfortable

So I'm telling this joke, and there laughing about it

Always remember the apostrophe. They're is always they are no matter what, and it always involves more than one -- more than one word, more than one person or thing, more than one opportunity to make the wrong grammar decision.

There

There is problematic because it's used in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes, it refers to a physical place that you can reach out and touch: Sandy stood there in the hallway. I found it in the chair, just there. It can also refer to a point in time. She paused there to smile at her audience. You can also use it to draw attention to something: There it is! Or use it for agreement: I agree with you there

That's a lot of different ways to use a word. Technically speaking, there very simply means in that place. It sort of means the same thing as here, except when something's there it's not quite as close to you.

This word gets confusing because it's common to use the words there's and theirs. Start throwing the letter s around, and you're getting into all sorts of sticky grammar situations. There's an easy way to solve the problem. Their is possessive. Add an s and it's still possessive. When something is theirs, they own it. 

You only use the word there's when you're pointing something out. Because of the apostrophe, you know it actually represents there is -- and that's not possessive at all. There is a good reason to learn proper grammar! When you're using there's, you're pointing something out. When you're using theirs, you're showing that something belongs to them

There is no such word as theres. It doesn't exist, so if you've got an e and an s next to each other with no apostrophe, it's bad! The s only joins the party when it's dating r. You can't add s to they're, either, so it's an easy rule to remember to keep your grammar guest list straight.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Love and Justice

 "Justice is full of mystery, problems, and drama."


"There was always something happening and there is still a lot that needs to be solved."

Justice has been reviewed at Pages of Forbidden Love, and I love the review! Go and read the whole thing. Get your free copy of Justice after you enter the giveaway -- just look to the left to find the link!

From the Trenches: Late Bloomer

Some writers find their calling at a young age, and begin scribbling on pages as soon as they can hold a pen. Other writers get that urge, and don't follow it -- maybe because they're afraid, or they're busy, or it just feels too hard to try. One famous writer found that she couldn't ignore the urge any longer, and began writing children's books when other women her age were grandmothers. Good thing she did, or else re-runs would be seriously lacking some seriously good period TV.


Laura Ingalls Wilder probably never thought of having her own career. She was a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a pioneer...and none of it left very much time for writing. But she felt the itch that all writers feel, and when she saw her daughter, Rose, making a go of writing Wilder decided she would try it herself. And so she did, and the entire world fell in love with a family that lived in a Little House.

Little House, Big Dreams

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born in the wilds of Wisconsin in 1867 to father Charles and mother Caroline. She had an older sister Mary, who went blind, and two younger sisters named Caroline and Grace. They were true pioneers, who settled on the frontier in what's now known as Kansas. Laura's father had a wandering urge, an they moved from frontier to frontier for several years before settling in South Dakota, where they saw an entire town spring up around them.


She began teaching school at age 16 to help with the family finances even though she was still attending school herself, not to mention working for a local dressmaker. All of this stopped, however, when she married a farmer named Almanzo Wilder at age 18. She joined him on his homestead and had a baby girl, Rose, shortly thereafter. Another son was born, but he died shortly after being born in 1889.

Disaster struck, and struck, and struck. Just before her baby boy died, Almanzo (whom she called "Manly") suffered illness that left him partially paralyzed for life. A fire destroyed their home and their barn, and then drought swept through the land and lasted for years. They left South Dakota and moved to Florida, which had a warm climate. This didn't last long. They moved back to South Dakota and each took jobs to support their small family. In 1894, they moved to Missouri where the land was still wild and undeveloped. Here, they built Rocky Ridge Farm. Eking out a living was tough. Almanzo cleared the property and sold cartloads of firewood for 50 cents in town. But as the land was cleared, the fields were tilled. Over the next two decades Rocky Ridge turned into a sprawling, 200-acre farm producing poultry, fruit and dairy products.

Meanwhile, Rose was growing up and dreaming of being a writer. She began to enjoy some success and earn some money at the task, and her mother took notice. Laura decided to follow her own writing itch, and penned an article for the Missouri Ruralist. It was great, and they gave her a permanent position as a columnist as a result. The Wilders began to work their own land less and less, hiring help to toil in the fields instead, and this gave Laura more time to write. Daughter Rose Wilder Lane enjoyed some success as a national freelance writer, and though her finances suffered in the crash of '29 she earned enough to get through the Great Depression.

Her parents were not so lucky. The stock market crash and resulting financial collapse hit them hard, leaving Rose to assume financial responsibility for them. But Laura Ingalls Wilder was still writing. She penned a biographical story about her childhood on the frontier following the death of her mother and her sister. It was called Pioneer Girl.

The publishers and Rose's agent didn't like it. Laura Ingalls Wilder, who had already experienced death, drought, catastrophe and even depression, wasn't about to give up that easily. She changed the autobiographical work into a story instead. "I" became "Laura" and the focus of the book became more for young girls Laura's age. The story became The Little House in the Big Woods instead, and in 1932 it was accepted for publication. Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 years old when it hit the shelves.

It was the beginning of a dynasty. While Rose wrote more adult fare, Laura Ingalls Wilder was thinking about her childhood -- and she wrote about it. Wilder's career as a novelist continued with Little House on the Prairie and a whole host of children's books that followed. Since the first Big Woods book was published in 1931, Wilder's novels have never been out of print.

Her first royalty check came in 1932 in the amount of $500 USD. In 1938, The Saturday Evening Post gave her $30,000 to serialize her book Free Land. She was a huge success as an author, and her writing brought in steady income -- not to mention fan mail. The next few years were filled with writing, and Wilder produced 8 Little House books. They fairly flew off store shelves.

Almanzo died in 1949 at age 93 at Rocky Ridge, where carloads of fans stopped nearly every day to meet the real-life Laura of the Little House books. She lived alone at the farm until 1957, and died just three days before she would have turned 90. She's buried, with Rose and Manly, in the nearby town cemetery.

You can still visit Rocky Ridge Farmhouse today if you like. The townspeople got together to buy the house and grounds, which they turned into a museum. Rose Wilder Lane gave them some of the funds they needed to complete the sale, and donated a portion of her earnings to its continued upkeep.


Years after Wilder's death, the Little House books became a television series on NBC. It ran for 8 years, from 1974 to 1982, and has rarely been out of syndication since. If you've got a TV, you've probably seen Little House on the Prairie at least once. Laura Ingalls Wilder couldn't possibly live long enough to see her book become a beloved and long-running TV show, but it probably would have delighted her. She once said that she wrote the Little House books because she wanted girls to see how much, and how quickly, America changed in her own lifetime. 

She got more out of her one lifetime than some people could get with five. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a late bloomer in the world of writing, because she wasn't afraid to try something new -- not even when she was what we would call a senior citizen. She wrote from the trenches in rugged circumstances, in times of financial trouble, because she had a story she just had to share. And for my part, I'm really, really happy she found a way to share it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Books on Film: Little Women

Some books are so good, they can't be adapted only once. They come around again, and again...and again and again. And while I'm not an expert on the book version of Little Women, having read it once and not liking it very much, I am an expert on the various film adaptations that followed -- and I'm about to save you 800 pages of reading.


The Book

Louisa May Alcott based Little Women on her own home life. Like the character Jo, Louisa had three sisters and lived in her family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts. And it is a ponderous book, so big in fact it was published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. 


Little Women follows the lives of sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, the March girls, and it was an immediate hit among readers. Margaret March, or Meg, is the oldest and quite a beauty. Meg is a perfect little lady, with a pretty face and pretty manners to match. She is something of a substitute mother to the others, assuming control of the house when their mother, Marmee, is not around. Marmee is often busy with charitable works, because the Civil War is raging. It's because the war that the girls' father is not home; he's a Yankee chaplain.

They're quite poor, but they are a well-respected family and the girls have been raised to be ladies. It's worked, for the most part -- except for Jo. The tomboy of the bunch, Josephine March is rambunctious and not at all a fan of being a little lady. She would rather be in the war with her father than sitting at home with her sisters, but it's not an option. Jo also has a quick temper and a ton of creativity; she has literary aspirations, and often leads the others in very inventive play-acting.

Elizabeth, Beth, is painted as something of a saint. She is musically gifted and painfully shy. Beth never desires to go to parties or even go outside of her home, preferring to stay around people she knows than those she does not. She's so good she's unbelievable, in fact. At one point in the book, Beth nearly dies of scarlet fever. Jo painfully nurses her back to health, but Beth is not long for this world after her brush with death. Eventually she dies in quite a serene (and wholly unreal) manner, passing away like an angel. Alcott's metaphors are heavy throughout this part of the novel, and she even borrows from the Bible to make her point.

Amy is the youngest, and artistic by nature. She very much wants to have more than she does and is very much focused on becoming better than she is. Amy loves using big words and trying to make other little girls jealous, activities which have a way of turning out poorly for her. Amy is spoiled, and of all the sisters has the most trouble getting along with Jo.

Jo meets and befriends their new neighbor. His name is Theodore Laurence, but he is often addressed as Laurie or Teddy. She brings him into the girls' play, and he often calls her a "good fellow" and similar friendly names. But as time progresses, the nature of Laurie's feelings change for Jo and he begins to fancy himself in love with her. When it becomes clear that Meg has eyes for Laurie's tutor, Mr. Brooks, he makes his move on Jo by proposing marriage.

She rejects him, and he leaves their friendship, the state and the country. Laurie goes abroad, to Europe, in an apparent attempt to escape his broken heart. Jo decides to pursue her literary ambitions and goes to New York. Amy is sent away during Beth's illness and becomes a companion to rich old Aunt March, who is very disapproving of her little brother (Jo's father). The two become close, and Amy goes to Europe with Aunt March to study art as a result.

In Europe, Amy re-connects with Laurie, and the two actually begin courting. By the time Amy returns to Orchard House, she is ready to become Laurie's wife. Meg, who has married John Brooks, delivers him two healthy babies. The war is over, and father has returned home. But Beth is gone, and Jo is once again at odds upon returning from New York. A man she met there, however, comes to find her to tell her that the publishers have accepted her book -- a book about herself and her sisters -- and Jo realizes her love for him. The two marry, and Jo has inherited Aunt March's old home. They decide they will turn it into a school.

Everyone lives fairly happily ever after, and you can read all about it in the sequels Good Wives and Little Men

The Films

 I know all of those details not because I've made a thorough study of the book. It's because I've seen the important adaptations. Honestly, I could barely get through the book version of Little Women. It's full of flowery language, it's incredibly thick and by today's standards the language feels archaic. But on film, the story is truly exceptional...if you're watching the right film (and you probably aren't). 
  • 1933

The first film major adaptation of Little Women was created when the movies were still young. Directed by the legendary George Cukor, it had absolutely everything going for it. Two previous versions of the book were made into silent films in 1917 and 1918, but neither of them had Katharine Hepburn in them.

This one did. She played Jo, of course, and was age 26. Amy March was played by a 23-year-old Joan Bennett (pictured above). Jean Parker as Beth was 18, and Frances Dee as Meg was 23 -- younger than Hepburn. But Hepburn is fantastic as the brash Jo March, and she shines on the silver screen. In this version, Meg works as a seamstress (not a governess) and Beth plays a clavichord and not a piano.

The critics adored the film, which quickly glossed over Beth's illness and death and barely even paid lip service to Laurie's broken heart. It focused on the prettier aspects of the story instead and kept the focus on Hepburn in every scene, so the story is Jo's more than ever in this version.

It's quite a good version, and decently faithful to the book...but it isn't the best. That was made 15 years later.
  • 1949

My favorite adaptation of Little Women was released in 1949, and contains a star-studded cast. It's done in full Technicolor glory, and stars June Allyson as Jo. At 28, she was really much too old for the role...and it's only one of multiple casting problems you'll find in the flick.

Beth is played by popular child actress (at the time) Margaret O'Brien, who was much younger than the big star the movie nabbed for the role of Amy (that would be Elizabeth Taylor, who looks great as a blonde). Beth is supposed to be older than Amy, but she became the youngest sister as a result of this casting decision. During filming, O'Brien was only 10 years old. Elizabeth Taylor was 21. Janet Leigh, who would go on to become a scream queen thanks to her role in Psycho was 24 when she played Meg. The famous silver screen queen Mary Astor is also in the film as Marmee.

Jo does not meet Laurie as a holiday party, as she does in the book, but actually goes to his home to meet him for the first time. The Christmas party happens later, and all four of the March girls go (only Jo and Meg went in the book).

The pivotal scene where Amy falls through the ice while skating is cut completely, though in the book it's important because it brings Jo and Amy closer together. Amy's romance with Laurie is also cut out of this version of the film.

So why is it my favorite? Because June Allyson was made to be Jo. She's absolutely perfect in the role, lovable and brash and bold all at the same time. Not to mention, the costumes look incredible in this version.

Another version of the film was made in 1978 with Meredith Baxter and Susan Dey, but I've never seen it. I have seen the much more recent adaptation, which is probably the most well-known. Like the '49 flick, it contains a star-filled cast.
  • 1994
Released on Christmas Day, the 1994 version of Little Women has been seen by many millions. The cast was packed with big names and no expense was spared on the costumes, but it's still not the best version. The 1949 joint is -- trust me.

This time, Winona Ryder plays Jo March. Claire Danes is Beth, and in the beginning Kirsten Dunst is Amy. Susan Sarandon nabbed the role of Marmee, while the boy who would be Batman, Christian Bale, plays Laurie. Eric Stoltz, of '80s movie fame, is John Brooke. Danes does an absolutely brilliant job as Beth; I can't get through her final scene without crying. But Dunst, who was still very young at the time, turns Amy into a screaming and hysterical wreck. Ryder is far too reserved to be Jo, and next to her Susan Sarandon doesn't feel convincing at all. Samantha Mathis becomes older Amy March, and she's even worse than Dunst. However, the film did land Ryder a Best Actress Oscar nod, so clearly the critics don't agree about the casting.

What Got Adapted?

The 1994 version of the book had too many stars. Claire Danes doesn't get the opportunity to do Beth much justice, and her shyness is really underdeveloped. Beth never overcomes her own worst fears to thank Mr. Laurence for the piano, and his character is pushed far into the background. Ryder's subdued Jo doesn't shout "Christopher Columbus" or any other colorful swears, and this Jo never laments the fact that she can't fight in the Civil War (scenes that Allyson's Jo captures beautifully). Meg never has her big awakening regarding her own love for Mr. Brooks, which does happen in the better 1949 version, in 1994. And in 1994, we never see Amy wearing the clothes pin to make her nose straight. The big present-giving scene with Marmee is also skipped in the newest version, and Jo never really learns her lesson after Amy falls hrough the pond.

The 1949 version also features more of Jo's struggles as an author, something that is barely in the 1994 version and is only mentioned a little in 1933. Casting problems aside, it's simply the best adaptation of the story and the one you ought to see -- especially if you don't plan on reading the book.