Friday, August 31, 2012
One of our frequent commenters, tjc, offered up a good reader topic for our open forum: What series character do you love? What is it about this character that attracts you? What do you think the secret is of an enduring series character?
Have at it!
Thursday, August 30, 2012
I’ve been an avid reader since I was a kid in elementary school, but as I grew older, I wondered how authors concocted their stories and how much of their own experiences became a part of their fictional stories. Vivid scenes can put you into that moment with the characters. Exotic sights and smells can put you there, even if you’ve never been.
Now with each book that I write, I know the answer—at least for me. I feel like I’m treading on dangerous ground to reveal too much. I run the risk of pulling a reader out of my books because they may know where elements come from. But maybe telling some of my secrets might enrich a reader’s experience, like saying my stories are inspired by real headlines or true stories.
My first HarperCollins Sweet Justice series book, Evil Without A Face, had been inspired by a horrific near miss abduction by a young girl who had been virtually seduced online by a charming human trafficker. The girl had her computer only 6 months, a gift from her parents. The clever trafficker set up an elaborate scheme, involving innocent adults who he lied to, to trick this girl into leaving the US even when she didn’t have a passport. The FBI thwarted the abduction in Greece, minutes before the girl was to meet her kidnapper in a public market. The Echo of Violence (Sweet Justice #3) came from a real life terrorist plot to hold missionaries for ransom.
But those inspirations aren’t what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the small creative morsels that you pepper into your stories that are your secrets, no one else’s. So it’s confession time and I’ll start.
There’s a line in No One Heard Her Scream, my debut novel:
If she wanted to engage the only brain he had, all she had to do was unzip it and free willy.
I channeled that line through my character and didn’t even remember writing it, until one of my sisters asked about it. It came from one of my vacations when I visited Vancouver and took a day trip to see where they filmed “Free Willy.”
In my debut YA with Harlequin Teen, In the Arms of Stone Angels, I wrote about my 16-yr old Brenna Nash getting extra credit for dissecting a frog and earning extra credit for extracting the frog’s brain intact. Well, Brenna may have gotten the extra credit in the book, but I never did. I jabbed at that frog until it’s head was shredded. The brain popped out whole, so I asked for the credit. After my teacher saw the wreck I made, she only gave me a grimace and a heavy sigh. (There are quite a few more kid stories of mine in this book, but I'm stopping here.)
Sometimes I use real people that I know in my books as “fictional” characters. They know I’m doing it but they roll when they read what I wrote. I crack up too. The priest and Mrs Torres at the end of The Echo of Violence, for example. Yep, people I know. One of my favorite book reviewers for my YA novels entered a contest of mine and won being named a character in my upcoming release – Indigo Awakening. O'Dell shared some of his quirks in an email and after seeing that list, I thought he would make an odd villain. He can’t wait to read the book.
So now that I've given you a peek behind the curtain of Oz, is there anything you care to share about your own writing? If you’re a reader, have you ever heard or read stories about what elements have been connected to the real life of an author?
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
What does this have to do with writing? Those of us who are full-time writers sit home alone all day. Our characters might keep us company, but it’s not the same as hearing a human voice. How long can you go without yearning to have a real conversation?
Despite having my retired husband at home, I still wonder why so few of my girlfriends pick up a phone anymore. Is it that they’re so involved with their busy lives? Is it because they’re afraid of interrupting my muse? Or do people nowadays consider it an inconvenience and a waste of time to talk on the phone? Our children are grown, so we don’t have to compare notes on child rearing. We’re not school kids, so we can’t moan about homework assignments or share high school angst. But in those days of starry-eyed youth, we would discuss the meaning of life, our knotty relationships with others, our fears and doubts. Do we writers just talk about them with our fingers on the keyboard now instead of our voices?
There’s great comfort in picking up the phone and hearing someone say, “I was just wondering how you’re doing.” Or, “I called to say hello.” What’s happened to those days? Is it my friends, or my attitude that’s off kilter? I still have intimate conversations with distant relatives on the phone. But that doesn't apply to local friends. Is the telephone an outmoded device for social interaction? Are online social networks replacing real, live conversations? Texting and email are too impersonal and brief to count.
Or maybe it's that cell phones are not as comfortable to talk on for any length of time as a landline. When speaking with this device close to my ear, I'm aware of the invisible rays boring into my head and the possible link to brain tumors. Or can it be a matter of economics, that people don't want to use up their precious cell phone minutes on a frivolous call?
I still like to hear another human voice. Maybe that relegates me to the age of the dinosaurs.
What about you? Do you still have conversations with friends on the telephone?
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Speed it up!
What I call it can't be printed here. Sigh. But I get it.
Monday, August 27, 2012
That all important first line of a novel...the one I agonize over as a writer. The one that, when I pick up a book, I read to assess (along with the rest of the first page) whether I'm going to buy it or not.
But how much does it really count?
In my current novel, I spent a long time deliberating over the first line - not because it was complicated or particularly awe-inspiring but because it needed to immediately draw the reader in and establish that things had already gone awry for one of the main protagonists. The first line is literally the hook to grab your reader and pull him/her in - but really, how much time should you spend on getting it right?
It should neatly encapsulate the theme of the story to come and lead seamlessly into the first page that, as we have so often blogged about, is integral to creating a compelling (and ultimately saleable) novel.
And this the entry point can be unforgettable. I mean who can ignore the simplistic beauty of the opening to George Orwell's 1984: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Immediately we get a sense of mood, a sense of foreboding, and a vision of a world quite different to our own - and all in one line. Or take Ray Bradbury's first line of Fahrenheit 451: It was a pleasure to burn. and my personal favorite (maybe because this is so often true...) I have never begun a novel with more misgiving (W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge).
But sometimes I wonder, is it worth all the agony? Do you think the first line of a book is really that important? Apart from the classics, what memorable first lines have you read recently?
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Friday, August 24, 2012
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
By Joe Moore
First, some shameless promotion. This Friday, August 24, Amazon will feature two of my thrillers (co-written with Lynn Sholes) on their Kindle Daily Deal. For one day only, you can download THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY or THE PHOENIX APOSTLES for only $1.99 each. Both ebooks were featured on the Daily Deal in 2011 and made it to #1 on the bestselling Kindle book list. If you didn’t take advantage of the reduced price before, be sure to do so on Friday. Enjoy!
I recently read THE LOST ONES by Ace Atkins, a terrific story about a local county sheriff dealing with gun runners in North Mississippi. In addition to being an excellent storyteller, Atkins has an enviable talent for creating a strong sense of place—a vivid setting. By the time I finished the novel, I felt like I was so familiar with the back roads of Tibbehah County that I probably should be paying property taxes. And it gave me a big hankering for fried catfish, buttermilk cornbread and grits at the local diner.
So today I want to build on Joe Hartlaub’s Saturday post on Location and offer a few tips on creating a strong setting in your book.
Setting is integral to any story. As a writer, you’ve developed a unique plot and a strong set of characters. Now you must consider the setting. You can’t split the plot and characters from the setting and expect to produce a believable piece of prose in which your readers can relate. Why? Because like real life, your characters don’t live in a vacuum. Just like all of us, your characters are constantly affected by and reacting to their surroundings. For instance, how would your night scene be different if it took place in broad daylight? Rather than the scene being hot and dry, what if it was pouring rain? Would the weather and other natural elements change the dramatic impact of a scene? How would the setting make a scene spooky or funny or dangerous or calming?
Think of some classic scenes in your favorite books or movies and imagine them in different settings. Would they be as strong? Would Indiana Jones being chased down the streets of New York City by a big truck be as powerful as being chased by a giant rolling boulder through a cobwebbed ancient tunnel deep in the jungle? Would Clarice Starling’s interviews with Dr. Lecter have worked as well if it had taken place in a bright, modern chrome and shinny white prison rather than in the bowels of a dark, dungeon-like mental hospital for the criminally insane?
Beyond what your characters say and do, you must consider how their actions and reactions contrast or blend with their surroundings. And the best way to do that is to consider your setting as another character playing a part in the story. Setting is not just walls and doors and sky and grass, it’s how their surroundings interact with your characters, and their inner and outer actions and reactions to it.
Another element of setting is how characters live within it. By that I mean how they manage the common functions of life such as eating, sleeping, and other natural human processes. Most of us are familiar with the highly successful TV series 24. Even within the twenty-four-hour premise of each season’s show, people still had to take a deep breath once in a while. While 24 was a rare exception, most novels span more than one day. So during the course of the story unfolding, writers must manage their human characters with time to eat or sleep or at least rest for a moment. If the pace is so intense that the characters never get a break, the reader will become fatigued. Thrillers and mysteries are often described as rollercoaster rides. But even the longest coaster ride has peaks and valleys. Give your reader and your characters a break now and then by using the elements of the story’s setting.
And don’t forget about the passage of time as being an element of the setting. How does time passing speed up or slow down the plot or pacing? Is your story’s passage of time realistic? Or is it too compressed or expanded to be believable. Remember, unless you’re H.G. Wells and your book is called THE TIME MACHINE, be sure to manage your story’s clock so that it doesn’t get in the way of the story and give the reader a reason to pause and question it.
Setting is more than the location in which your story takes place. It’s all the external elements that affect your characters and their goals and objectives. If you treat your setting as an additional character, chances are your story will be fully developed.
Now let’s all go out for some fried chicken and collard greens.
How about you? Do you plan your settings ahead of time? Or let them develop as the story progresses. And readers, what was the most memorable and realistic setting in your favorite book?
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Monday, August 20, 2012
My twin sons are avid absorbers of books and between what they can read themselves, what we listen to on audio books and my bedtime reading to them, we seem to have amassed an amazing backlist of children's books. Now, of course comes the inevitable plea-"why can't you write a children's book, mum?" (my current output gets little more than a collective shrug from these two). I have to confess I have an idea brewing which I think, maybe, possibly, might make a terrific series chapter book...but (and it's a big but), books for children are not an endeavour I would ever enter into lightly.
Children's books are, in my opinion, some of the hardest to write. Not only because children are the harshest, most brutally honest of all reviewers but also because I remember the impact reading had on me as a child and I want to live up to those expectations.
In the spirit of this, I have been compiling a list of my favorite chapter books I read as a child and identifying what made these so significant and memorable to me. There are books such as those by Enid Blyton that made me wish I could have adventures on my own island, classics such as Little Women that made me cry, and books like A Wrinkle in Time and the Narnia series that made me want to create my own fantastical worlds.
What sets all of these books apart from the dull readers we were obliged to consume at school was the same elements that make a great thriller or mystery - they created compelling characters and places, had terrific plots and pacing and were the sort of books you literally couldn't put down.
So not much to live up to right?
As I continue my 'research phase' on children's chapter books, I'd love to add some more titles to my list - ones that are the kind of books that stand the test of time. I'd like you to cast your minds back to when you were about eight or nine, and remember the books that made all the difference to you. They might be the ones that first inspired you to write - or the ones that made you the avid reader you are today...then let me know what you think about writing for children: a terrific new adventure or potentially treacherous seas?
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Friday, August 17, 2012
Here are some possible topics for discussion (but feel free to add more):
What are you working on these days? How is it going? Are you having any specific stumbling blocks you'd like us to talk about?
Have you been submitting work? If so, how are you finding the marketplace? What's working for you, what's not?
Happy Friday, guys! And as always, thanks for being part of the TKZ community!
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Recently I served on a panel at the Romance Writers of America annual conference on the topic of "Care and Feeding of the Writer's Soul." Below is only a fraction of the empowering presentation put on to a full house by Ellie James, Trinity Faegen, and yours truly. I had no idea how important our message would be to the attendees who found us afterwards and hugged us with tears in their eyes. So my message today is to take care of YOU.
1.) Meditation – Meditation isn’t about chanting “Ohms” and contorting your body. ANY repetitive action can be considered meditation—walking, swimming, painting, and knitting—any activity that keeps your attention calmly in the present moment. When your mind is at rest, the brain can be stimulated in a creative fashion.
2.) Visualize Being Relaxed – Imagine a relaxing setting away from your tensions, your perfect dream spot. This could be a vacation spot or a fancy luxury spot where you are pampered. Visualization could also include something you touch to trigger that feeling of calm—a silk robe, warm water, or a cashmere sweater.
3.) Breathe Deeply – Relaxed breathing is deep, not shallow. Get in a comfortable position and let out all the negativity in a deep expelled breath through pursed lips. Drop your shoulders to release the tension and imagine your core as the powerful place of your strength. Keep your mind focused deep into your power spot and consciously expel the stress with each breath. Breathe in the new and expel the negative until you are renewed. Believe it and make it so. Do this TEN TIMES and feel your body relax more with each step.
4.) Take a Look Around You – Something an author should do anyway. Keep your mind focused on one thing. No multi-tasking. Stay in the moment and focus on one thing or activity. Staying in the present can help promote relaxation, without all the clutter the mind can generate. If you are outdoors, focus on a bed of flowers or the sound of the birds. If you’re in a mall, keep your attention to one window, maybe one pair of shoes. Focus on how it was created, examine the details. Tell a story about that one object. As long as you focus on one object in the present, stress will take a backseat.
5.) Drink Hot Tea – Make a moment in your day to have a cup of tea. Go green. Coffee raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, while green tea offers health and beauty. Chamomile tea is a traditional herbal favorite for its calming influence. Any black tea is a stress reliever too.
6.) Show Love – Cuddle your pet or give an unexpected hug to a friend or family member. Giving a hug is like getting one back. Snuggling is good too. Snuggle that spouse who supports your writing. Social interaction helps your brain think better. Ever try a hug or snuggle for writer’s block? Physically showing affection—like stroking your pet—may actually lower your blood pressure. It can’t hurt.
7.) Self – Massage – If you don’t have time to visit a professional masseuse, try giving your neck a rub with both hands or use one hand to massage the other arm and alternate. The act will increase your blood circulation and be part of your newfound ritual to take care of yourself. Reward yourself with this each day when you’ve hit your word count. Make it your ritual of caring.
8.) Take a Time Out – When you sense stress happening or too much is bombarding you, take a time out. Walk away. Go to your happy place. Don’t let stress win. Find a quiet corner or room and decompress. Listen to your breathing and your heartbeat. Slow everything down. Remember that time is always on your side.
9.) Take a Musical Detour – Maybe with your afternoon tea, add music. If your mind is focused on the beauty of each note, this can also accomplish relaxation by keeping you in the present, away from your stressers.
10.) Take an Attitude Break – Believe it or not, THIRTY SECONDS is enough time to switch from stress to relaxation if you make the time. To do that, engage your mind in positive thoughts. Do this by anything that triggers a positive feeling in you—picture your child or your spouse, imagine your pet doing something cute, or picture wearing your favorite jewelry or shoes. Whatever that image is, it will slow your breathing, relax your tense muscles, and put a smile on your face. Your heart rate will slow down and a feeling of peace will follow.
Share what gets you through stress. You have any good tips?
To close, I’d like to share another secret with you: the outrageous benefits of Laugh Yoga. The technique is simple and can be done at any time, including five in the morning in Mumbai.
If you have trouble with this video, click on the link HERE.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Here is my author page if you want to “Like” me: http://bit.ly/c3YchC
If you are starting out, sign up for a Personal Profile Page. Add a profile picture. In the About section, put your links on top so they show first and then follow with your bio. Put in only the information visible to the public that you want to be seen. Where have you worked? Type in your publishers. Add a Project: List your book titles. Be careful with your contact info. How do you want people to reach you? To make changes on your Profile page, click Update Info.
I advise against giving Facebook access to your email address books. To find friends, type in someone’s name whom you know, and then click on his friends to find mutual acquaintances.When you qualify, and I forget how many friends you need, sign up for an Author Page. Click on Create a Page. Upload a banner or photo for your heading. Keep in mind that when a visitor lands on your page, they may only see the bottom part. Also leave space for your avatar. After you have 25 friends, you can shorten one of your links here: https://www.facebook.com/username
Apps and Tabs on your Author Page: Search for “Static HTML for Pages” in FB. Click Add to my Page. Select your fan page in the pop-up window. You’re allowed 12 tabs. Here are some to include: Author App, Blog, Excerpts, Events, Likes, Newsletter (Sign-Up Form), New Releases, Photos, Videos. Click on the little pencil in upper right corner of each tab to change the image or to swap places with another tab. Author app: https://apps.facebook.com/authorapp/?ref=ts
Import your blog into your FB pages using Networked Blogs: http://www.networkedblogs.com/blog
To edit the Author Page, go to your Admin Panel. Click on Edit Page. Note you can switch users and use FB as your author persona. That’s under Edit Page also.
A word of warning: Facebook doesn’t like you to run contests on its site but you can mention a contest you’re running elsewhere.
Periodically check your privacy and account settings by clicking on the little arrow on the upper right next to the Home button.
Make a post by filling in the box that says, What’s on your Mind? or Update Status. Then click on Publish Now. Use links and include photos when appropriate.
Click on Home to see other people’s posts and to comment on them. You can also “Like” a post or “Share” it with followers on your wall.
On your Author Page, click on one of the down arrows on the Admin Panel to See Your Insights. This will give you an idea of how many people viewed your posts, if anyone shared them, etc.
Link to your FB account from your other social net sites if you wish, but be careful not to flood people’s walls with your posts.
Join Groups. Periodically check through your list to see if you’ve been added to groups without authorization. If this occurs, click on that group. Click the arrow for a choice to Leave Group. Sometimes people enter you into a “Conversation” as well, and you can Leave Conversation as an option. To view your Groups list, click on “See All Messages”, top left middle symbol after “Facebook”. Groups will be listed in the left column. Or click on “Home” on your profile page. You can see your Apps here too.
Periodically remind folks to “Like” your FB fan page and to sign up for your newsletter so you can maintain contact.
Avoid clogging your posts with sale messages about your books. Share other links, newsworthy articles, and friends’ book releases in addition to your own. Be personal. Tell what book you read or movies you’ve watched, what recipe you’ve tried, or what sites you visited on vacation—but mention it after you are home. Don’t tell people you are going away beforehand. Also be careful not to get too personal about your family life. Always be aware of safety and security.
This applies to photos, too. Be careful of posting anything you don’t want strangers or your boss to see.
Tagging: You can create photo albums and tag people in your photos. You can also tag people in your posts by using an @sign before their name.
Successful authors on Facebook hold virtual parties, have interactive promotions, and stimulate discussions. Start a debate, take a poll, get a hot topic going. This shouldn’t be all about you. It’s more about the connection readers feel to you as a person.
I’m sure there’s much more advice out there, but these are the main points I have to make. Does anyone out there have additional tips to offer?