Tag Archives: reading

Hitting the Ground Running with Crazy Characters

With Sleuth Fest just a few weeks away, I’ve been practicing my Reader’s Corner piece. Twelve attendees were invited to pick a short read with a ten minute time limit. I haven’t decided if I want to read half a chapter in five minutes, or the whole chapter in ten. From what I gather from people who have done this before, the shorter reads hold the audience’s attention better. But, high action prevails over exposition or back story. To cut my piece to five minutes would clip off the high action. It’s a crime romp and the tone of the book is well demonstrated in this piece.

The suggested categories are:

Hitting the ground running

Calls to action

The usual suspects

Peeking through keyholes

Clever tricks

Milieu scenes

Stark confrontations

Mulling it over

Crazy characters

Cliff hanging suspense

And there should be a point to the read.

I can read my first chapter aloud in less than ten minutes. It’s a “hitting the ground running” chapter that does introduce the crazy characters. It’s also a non-spoiler chapter that will show in the book’s Look Inside, so I don’t mind sharing. However, I recently read a post about NOT naming street names in fiction, unless they are iconic. The photos show the iconic gay club complex and an iconic Orlando street in the first chapter. The piece I plan to read names several streets. My editor didn’t seem to mind, as they are necessary for the car chase. Now I’m wondering if I should strike them for more generic terms.

Chapter One

There was only one thing worse for business than not solving cases and that was keeping a new client waiting, and this one was the former mayor. Already running late for a meeting in Winter Park, Richard Noggin drove north on Orange Avenue through moderate nighttime traffic in his sporty, silver, two-seater Mercedes convertible, the top down and the air-conditioner blasting. As he approached Michigan Avenue, coming into downtown Orlando, two figures darted onto the road from his left.

Swerving and slamming on the brakes, tires squealed as he screeched to a halt in the middle lane. They stood like deer in the headlights, a tall woman and a young girl. A transfer truck thundered past on his left, its horn blasting him senseless. The woman whacked the car’s hood with a pair of stilettos and jumped, grabbing the girl close.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Richard yelled as cars whizzed past on either side. The woman marched the girl by the shoulders around to the passenger’s side. “Hurry. Let us in!” Releasing the girl, she tried the locked door, then grabbed the window ledge with both hands, shoes dangling.

He eased off the brakes, starting to roll, and looked across the car. Standing in the street in her sequined white halter and miniskirt, the woman looked terrified, panting and wiping her windswept, auburn locks back from her face. The almond-eyed girl even more so, with facial bruises and a busted lip. He took his foot off the gas. Dammit, he couldn’t drive off and leave them in the middle of the busy street. Before he could let them in, the woman tossed the high heels and her oversized shoulder bag inside, threw her long, lean leg over the door, and plopped herself into the passenger’s seat. She yanked the young girl over onto her lap.

“Drive,” she screamed. “Drive!”

Richard raced to the intersection.

“Turn left here!” she ordered.

“Isn’t this the direction you came from?”

“Just do it!”

He had a green light and took a hard, fast left in front of oncoming traffic, heading for Orange Blossom Trail, known locally as O.B.T. Then it hit him – these two had come off the Trail; the hooker trail in the red-light district. This was asking for trouble, but his investigative curiosity took over. “Why are you running?”

“Because standing on the curb waiting on a bus wasn’t an option.” A black car raced past in the opposite direction. She ducked, trying to pull the girl down with her. “I don’t think they saw us.”

“How could they have missed you? She’s sitting with her face pressed against the windshield.”

“You’re exaggerating.” The woman sat upright, shifted the girl in her lap to one side, and stroked the dash of the car. “Damn, your payments on this pretty girl must be more than Donald Trump’s monthly tab for hair spray.”

“She’s paid for.” He rolled his eyes and shot her a quick look. “Who are you hiding from?”

“Men with guns. Damn, I hate guns.”

“What men?”

“All I know is I was coming out of the Brown Pelican Lounge on south O.B.T. when this girl came charging across the parking lot next door in front of the Shady Breeze Motel, screaming, ‘Help, men with guns!’ I looked at her and her busted lip, and hearing ‘Guns!’ figured we ought to run. I snatched off my shoes and did just that.”

“Why didn’t you take her inside and call the police?”

“Let’s just say there were a few gentlemen inside whose company I didn’t care to keep.”

“So, you ran with her?”

“You catch on real quick. Two guys chased us on foot and two ran for their car.”

“Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Turn right at the light and take me home.”

“You live on the Trail?” he asked, only half-joking. He slowed for traffic at the intersection. Her scent caught him. The voice was mellow and raspy, like a smoker, but her fragrance was cinnamon and oranges, her skin, the color of fine café latte. Arms wrapped around the young girl made her cleavage deepen. She turned to him with emerald eyes sparkling.

“I’m staying at the Parliament House.”

“The gay club?”

“Resort. The Parliament House Resort. I’m a showgirl. Name’s Brandi, formerly Brandon.”

Richard did a double take, swallowed hard, and took a right turn, proceeding north on Orange Blossom Trail. “Where were you taking her?”

“The twenty-four hour pharmacy on Michigan, to get something for her lip, and let them deal with her. I dunno. What would you do?”

“I’d probably call the police.” He sped up and passed a few cars ahead.

“I’m sure those guys with the guns would’ve waited for us to do that.” Her sarcasm as strong as her perfume. “I used to be a cop and I know they’re not gonna do a damn thing for her. As far as they’re concerned, she’s just another poor girl walkin’ the streets.”

“Somehow, you don’t strike me as a cop.”

“It was a brief stint.”

He ran through the caution light at Kaley Avenue. “Call the police and have them meet us at the Parliament House. I have an important dinner appointment in Winter Park and I’m already late.”

“And I have a show to do tonight,” Brandi fired back.

“Well, I can’t keep her.” He glanced at the silent girl. “What’s your name?”

“Cara Kieu.”

“Where do you live?”

“I not know much English. Cara Kieu scared.”

Richard gave Brandi a hard look. “Listen, I can’t keep her. You’re going to have to figure this out.” He reached into the pocket of his sport coat. “Here’s my card. Call me later if you can’t deal with her, and I’ll see what I can do.”

She took the card. “Richard Noggin, P.I. Just my luck, I get picked up by Dick Head, P.I.” She tucked the card into her purse at her feet.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

He felt Brandi’s soft touch on his shoulder and cringed, her hand caressing as it moved up his neck. What the hell was he getting himself into?

She nudged him and smiled. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most striking crystal-blue eyes? They’re really set off by your thick, dark hair.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot, too.”

“I notice things about men.”

“I’m sure you do.” He leaned away, hoping she’d get the message that he wasn’t interested.

They crossed the intersection at West Church Street. A black Nissan pulled out behind them. Brandi jerked back her hand and ducked, pulling Cara down with her. “Holy shit, it’s them!”

“Hold on.”

He took a fast right onto West Central and another onto Parramore. The Nissan followed. He sped through the stop sign at Jackson and turned left into oncoming traffic on South Street, a busy, three-lane, one-way road. Cara screamed and clung to Brandi.

“You’re going to get us killed!”

“Wasn’t that your problem in the first place?” In his rearview, he noted the Nissan cross South Street behind them.

Horns blasted as cars roared by left and right. He saw a black Nissan speeding along on the next street over. Dodging angry traffic, he careened past the Amway Center, turning onto yet another one-way at Hughy. With no sign of their pursuers behind them, he plowed through.

Cara Kieu screamed again as he swerved to avoid a head-on collision with a city bus. After a couple of blocks and a quick left, he drove around the State Marshall’s Building, then made several fast turns through the downtown neighborhood streets. Soon, they would come out on the Trail.

He’d made a complete, albeit dangerous, wide circle. When they reached Orange Blossom Trail in front of the Parliament House, he parked the car on the corner. “Get out.”

Brandi looked at him in disgust. “You can’t just leave us here.”

“You need to get out and run. I don’t know how long we’ve got before these guys are back on our tail.”

“Okay, we’re outta here.” She opened the door, pushed Cara from her lap, grabbed her shoes and bag, then jumped from the vehicle and slammed the door. “Thanks for the ride, dude.”

Richard watched as they crossed O.B.T. to the Parliament House. RuPaul’s Raja: Heaven Scent gleamed on the billboard. Beneath all the neon multicolor, Brandi dazzled, looking like she was right where she belonged.

He sped away north up the Trail, and east onto Colonial through Little Saigon, then headed north on Mills Ave, with no sign of the black Nissan all the way to Winter Park.

 

 What do you think?

 Do street names in fiction bother you?

 Would you cut this down to a five minute read?

Giving Your Characters More Than A Reference Name

Frantic is a word I would use to describe the past few weeks. I’ve been visiting blogs and reading  but not writing much. Babysitting has become a large part of my activities as mama organizes, plans and nests in preparation for the third grandchild.

In my spare moments, I am reading, everything. Lots of classics, new authors, traditionally published and indie.

I have a complaint. It may just be me, but I’m put off by so many of the new and indie authors using popular references to TV and music personalities in their novels. I read, but don’t watch a lot of TV and I don’t have many visual images of recording artists. When I read, I want the author to create imagery for me. This seems to be trendy and I don’t care for it at all.

I can see saying, “He looked like George Costanza, a short, balding man with dark hair surrounding a balding head and nerdy glasses.” But to simply say, “He looked like George Costanza,” and move on…well, I just don’t like it.

I may know the character, but not the actor’s names. I don’t want to have to google every character in a book I’m reading in order to get an image. Give me some sort of description. If I said, “She was Phyllis Diller’s twin,” it might be lost on some (especially the young). But if I said, “She was a Phyllis Diller look alike, a tall woman wearing loud, brightly colored clothing with wide eyes and wild, gray, spiked hair, a gaping smile of pearly white teeth.” You have some clue, a description to imagine in your mind.

If I say, “He looked like Mr. T,” there should be some follow up to say, “A large, muscular black man sporting a mohawk with four pounds of gold chains around his neck.”  Likewise, if you say, “He looked just like rapper Lil B,” give me some clue as to what Lil B looks like…else I’m setting your book down…especially if you do that repeatedly.

There were several indie books I’ve read that I can’t recommend because they were filled with names of TV, movie, and music personalities with no descriptions. It’s just lazy writing, in my opinion.

Speaking of descriptions; I’m going to need to change author photo soon. I had a whim I acted on with no regret. I whacked off my long blonde hair…all of it. I went really short, from down my back to above my ears pixie, from blonde to natural silvery gray. I love it. I can actually shower, comb, dry, style my hair, apply make-up and dress in less than ten minutes. I only wish I did this sooner. It’s a great boating, swimming, Florida summer cut.

Does it hamper your reading pleasure to see names with no descriptions in novels?

What are you doing to get ready for summer?

Birth of a Book Nerd

There was a time in my life when I tried to be a “normal” kid. This wasn’t an easy thing to do considering my father had three wives in four years, and none of them would have won “Mother-of-the-Year”.

Just before my sisters and I went into foster care, I signed up with the city to be a cheerleader for the pony league football team. I was eleven years old and had just started into the sixth grade. I was the only one without saddle oxfords. Already, I was different.

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Our team, The Moose Club team, did very well and we eventually got to the State Championship. Yay! Go Moose. The whole community of my small town, LaGrange, GA, got behind us. There were signs everywhere cheering us on.

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Then came the big day. We were up against Savannah, a school team. An enormous crowd showed up at the city stadium to watch the game and offer their support. The Savannah buses pulled up and a marching band came off first playing triumphant music followed by a team of boys in black and gold that made our team in blue and white look like midgets.

We knew right away that we were NOT going to be victorious.

To make matters worse for me, a cheerleader on my own team slapped me in the chest with her pom-pom, shattering my beautiful white mum corsage. All of the petals scattered and fell to the ground.  There wasn’t anything but a red, white and blue ribbon to save.

When we went over to do our H.E.L.L.O. cheer, this same cheerleader slapped me in the face with her pom-poms in the middle of our cheer. I retaliated by smacking her back across the chest, likewise destroying her flower.

When we got back to our side, the cheerleading coach benched both of us for the rest of the game…which we lost. Bad.

The following school day, my sisters and I were seated on the school steps awaiting our step-mother to pick us up. The team quarterback, Jeff McHugh, was teasing me in front of a large group of boys and spit a massive loogie into the back of my hair. Again, I retaliated by jumping up and kicking him hard in the crotch. That got us both sent to the Principal’s office.

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My dad showed up to defend me. I was really proud of that. But I didn’t score any points with the guys.

After a summer of riding bikes around the neighborhood and falling “in love” with a boy down the street, I started to the all-girls junior high school. I was done with competitive sports. While my sisters and friends practiced band, drill team, tumbling, and so on…I was seated in the back of the library reading books.

I would lose myself in the stories and drift off to faraway places and meet interesting people. It was my escape from reality.

The library had a set of National Geographics that covered the entire back wall. A lady had donated it to the school and it had every copy from 1915 to 1972. I traveled all over the world through those magazines and was certain, with all of the Jacques Cousteau articles; I would someday be an oceanic photographer.

That never came to pass, but I had found refuge in those magazines and forevermore reading was my favorite pastime. I was no longer interested in competitive sports or being popular, just give me a book.

During foster care, traveling through four schools in three years in four different towns, I always had my stories to keep me company. My familiars. My love for reading and writing grew out of those days spent in the library.

Thus, a book nerd was born!

My reading and writing skills were well developed by high school and I received much encouragement, from dear teachers and fellow students, to pursue those talents.

Are you a book nerd?

How did you develop your interest in reading and writing?

Have competitive sports ever been your thing?

Were you a popular kid in school?

Writing to Make Readers Think Deeply

I have almost finished the edits on Naked Alliances and I still can’t say that I am totally satisfied with it. It’s entertaining, but there seems to be something I enjoy about writing that it is missing.

I like to make readers think deeply, to consider, contemplating an understanding of some serious subjects.

Red Clay and Roses does that.

Naked Alliances has a few moments of prose that might have someone pondering, but it is generally quite shallow. It lacks the depth of the solid reads that I most enjoy.

I have heard readers should never compare their writing to others, but I feel it is necessary to learn and to be inspired.

Anne Rice is one of my most favorite authors. Most people think of her in association to her legendary vampires, but she has written so much more.

She has erotica written under Anne Rampling, The Sleeping Beauty Quartet is a series of four novels written by American author Anne Rice under the pseudonym of A. N. Roquelaure, her Seraphim Series, the Christ the Lord books, The Wolf Gift Chronicles, The Vampire Chronicles, and The Mayfair Legacy trilogy. I’ve probably left something out, but needless to say, she is a prolific author with decades of terrific writing under her belt.

She also writes full-length novels on some of her ancillary characters, like Pandora, Merrick, Armand and writes on other subjects that interest her like Egyptian lore, Servant of the Bones and others.

With all of her writing, regardless of genre, Anne has an intuitive writing style that makes us think.

I believe many readers like to be challenged in that way with fiction.

One of my most favorite scenes in one of Anne’s books comes, not from vampire legend, but a man named Ashler in her Mayfair Legacy.

He’s thousands of years old and extremely wealthy. She has him standing in his penthouse suite in Rockefeller Center surrounded by his doll collection. This eccentric modern man is a descendant of Picts and has lived in some extreme conditions in medieval times.

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Here, in his contemporary form, he is thinking about capitalism, corporate America, wealth, prosperity and the Roman Catholic Church’s near poverty by comparison as he gazes out at the snow falling to cover the rooftop of St. Patrick’s Cathedral below.

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There is something deeply metaphorical about that sort of writing. It takes us beyond the scene and inside ourselves.

She’s an inspiration.

It’s magical.

I want to write like that.

Do you have a particular author that you thoroughly enjoy reading? Why?

 What intrigues you about their style?

Do you have an author who is an inspiration to your writing?   

Blogging Promotions and My Book Reviews

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Somebody recently asked me if I have read all of the other author’s work that I promote on my blog. It is a question that I am asked frequently.

Most often I have, but sometimes I have not. So why would I promote them?

If I am doing a book review, then I have read that book and liked enough about it to say so and recommend it. I may not have loved it, but I liked it. I can usually find nice things to say about the books I have read, after all I did choose them to read! I do book reviews at liberty and do not take requests.

I will not post book reviews for works that I could not read, for whatever reason, or works I did not like. I may post that review on Amazon &/or Goodreads, but not on my blog if it is an author not known to me. I will usually send the author a personal email if it is an author known to me. I try to keep the blog positive.

I do promotional posts and reblog indie authors or traditionally published authors I have met through blogging. Occasionally, I will post on a really good book I have read that is written by a non-blogger author, but is so very interesting to me that I think my readers may also be interested.

Books I have not read will sometimes be promoted because I feel that we all need to help each other out. So I am not really recommending them as books I know, but as books you might like to try. They may not be a genre that I am personally interested in, but having such a diverse readership, I know someone else out there might thoroughly enjoy the read. It is a way to help readers find books.

Blogging is a way to reach other people and I feel as bloggers interested in writing books we can all pass on information about books that others might find useful or interesting, a cover reveal, a blog tour, a debut, a continuation of a series, a sale. These are all ways we can be helpful and share the word.

I would spend my whole time blogging books for others if I tried to reblog everything, so I start with people who have engaged me on this blog or whom I have met on theirs. I may not pick up on everything.

I may not have read the works, it may not be your cup of tea (or mine either)…and that’s okay.

We’re all in this social media experience together.

Share the love.

Busy Weeks Ahead

Editing one project, jotting down little anecdotes for another, and outlining yet another, I am sort of between projects but feel as if I am busier than when I am in the throes of dedicated writing.

I am also doing some reading for other blogger friends/novelists.

If it seems that I am neglecting the blog, please forgive me. I read your posts and try to comment when I can, but I might seem a bit absent for the next week or two.

I also have several errands to run over the next two weeks and, if you know anything at all about Central Florida traffic, you know that driving five miles can take over a half hour, so driving twenty-five or thirty and back can be a half day event.

But there is so much beauty within an hour’s drive that makes it all worthwhile.

Sunday Synopsis

This is the first Sunday Synopsis in a couple of weeks. It has been a busy and a not so busy couple of weeks.

Past two weeks:

  • I am not doing any promos/ads in particular anywhere, but my Kirkus review and my Reader’s Favorite reviews posted. I am picking up new readers every day or two, which is WAAAY cool. It is so very exciting to me to think of folk passing on my writing through word of mouth. That’s the nicest compliment ever!
  • I am finally satisfied with my chapter one in my WIP. So I feel like I can now move forward. I have the first five chapters done already, but kept going back to the first one. That has resulted in a couple of edits with subsequent chapters. Who knows, maybe I will change it again after a beta reading? We will see. For now, I am leaving it alone.
  • My Writers’ Group has added a daytime meeting that gives me more options.
  • I am seriously reading much more than usual. Got a couple of book reviews done. Reading for another couple of authors. I put my writing on hold when I am reading because the styles, in my mind, sometimes conflict.  I also concentrate and focus better if I am not trying to do both reading and writing at the same time.
  • My grandson had his first birthday party! He is also just taking his first steps. It is an odd thing that he was born on my mother’s birthday and my granddaughter was born on the anniversary of my mother’s death. Do you have any weird dates like that in your family? It’s quite common.
  • Along with his first birthday celebration came a gathering that included the outlaws. I say outlaws instead of in-laws because they are not in-laws anymore. They are the former spouse’s family, whom I divorced eighteen years ago. These are folk I have not been in the company of for eighteen more years. Aunt Leann and Uncle Phil were fun.  I am glad the baby had his Great Oma and Opa there, and his Pappy. Sorry that my son, the baby’s Uncle Daniel, could not join us, but somebody had to hold down the farm. Glad my husband braved the crowd with me.
Allamanda is blooming!
Allamanda is blooming!
Colorful Pentas are always pretty. They bloom all year, unless it freezes.
Colorful Pentas are always pretty. They bloom all year, unless it freezes.
Happy Birthday Sebastian!
Happy Birthday Sebastian!
Had to slip this one in of the grandson with his smash cake.
Had to slip this one in of the grandson with his smash cake.
This is a thirty year old hibiscus tree (not bush). few leaves yet, but just started putting out blooms. It will be covered in leaves and blooms in a couple of weeks.
This is a thirty year old hibiscus tree (not bush). Few leaves yet, but just started putting out blooms. It will be covered in leaves and blooms in a couple of weeks. The blossoms are doubled.
Bright red double hibiscus blossom. I love how frilly they are.
Bright red double hibiscus blossom. I love how frilly they are.

Next two weeks:

  • I have work days scheduled. I don’t work often anymore, but when old nursing friends call with assignments they need help with I can’t say no. So I have a couple of days scheduled for wellness clinics the end of this month and a few scheduled for the first of next month.
  • Writing, writing and more writing. I am at a point with my WIP where things can really begin to move quickly, I think. Excited about that. We will see how things pan out over the next few weeks.
  • The rocket scientist has to be out of town this upcoming week on business, so I won’t be obliged to have meals or laundry prepared…lots of “me time”.
  • Some of our snowbird friends will be heading north soon, so trying to enjoy their company while we can.
  • Black algae appeared in little spots in the pool, so that has to be treated immediately or we will get into serious trouble fast…so I already have the chemicals to deal with that.

What are you up to?

Sunday Synopsis

This past week:

  • Ten more books delivered to bookstores in tornado weather. Already had one bookstore notify me that they sold two copies and would like two more. I am glad, but with the price of gas and dealing with traffic, this whole self-distributor thing sucks. Two books at a time and they won’t buy more in bulk. (One store buys four.)
  • Mailed off Goodreads Giveaway copies to United Kingdom and Canada…$72.60 to send registered so I can track both for delivery. That’s a lot of money to simply give away. Plus the Amazon Gift Certificates…geez…there went all the promo money earned. Do you ever really do more than break even?
  • Decided writing a book is more fun than marketing or selling/distributing books.
  • Cleaned house. Sprayed weeds. Still don’t have pool chemicals balanced.
  • About the tweets. Learned to check analytic stats.  I thought the tweets were selling books, but NOT ONE of my book tweets has been clicked through via the URL. I guess they are selling WOM from others who bought through promo and such. Of course, that has almost come to halt. Selling one or two every day or two.
  • Also, about tweeting: It says in my profile that I am a supporter of liberal causes. What do people think that means? They follow me, then, on those days when I mention anything about abortion, prochoice, or gay rights…on those days…I get unfollowed. As many as 4-10 unfollows in one day. Granted, 4-6 will follow on those days. I am also followed by a lot of bail bondsmen. Not sure what that means. People are weird.
  • I participated in my first Meal Train. That was fun. Young lady in a third floor apartment that had a C-section. Beautiful baby girl.
  • Had grandkids and daughter over for a day. My grandson hates me. Screams almost every time I touch him, unless his mom is right there. Major separation anxiety!
Grandson looks like his mother where his sister looks like her father. Yes, those are dog toys he is playing with. he refuses to play with baby toys and likes to harass the dogs. He had been crawling around on the back porch in his pJs and would not let me finish dressing him.
Grandson looks like his mother where his sister looks like her father. Yes, those are dog toys he is playing with. He refuses to play with baby toys and likes to harass the dogs. He had been crawling around on the back porch in his PJs and would not let me finish dressing him.

This week:

  • It took me from April 2012 through July 2012 to write the first draft of Red Clay and Roses. I was totally dedicated to it and did not have a blog or any marketing going on. I was not working at all outside the home. I don’t watch TV or much of anything else…like playing games. I have got to get focused on my writing if I want to produce anything else.
  • Next point: I have a post that I am planning for tomorrow…beyond that; I am seriously contemplating an extended social media hiatus. A few weeks without blogging unless something just must be put out there. Occasionally reading when I need a break from writing. No every day comments…just lurking around from time to time. I know it sounds selfish. You guys are my world. I don’t work outside the home much, but I have some wellness screenings to do around the end of March. I consider YOU my coworkers and will miss you sorely. I hope you will all be here when I get back. I am afraid if I don’t commit to my writing much deeper than I have…this project will take much longer than I hoped. I wish I was as good of a multi-tasker as I was when I was nursing full-time, but I am not. I want to get done with this first draft and I am terribly distracted.
  • I will still do any promo pieces I am planning.
  • I have forty books on my reader, and 20 more that I want to purchase. I want to get more reading done, so I will post a book review from time to time.
  • I have a major art fair coming up in April. I have got to finish my jewelry pieces.
  • Also, with the time change…my gardening and yard work demand so much attention…okay, so much for excuses.
  • It is too bad that social media is such a time drain. After a few weeks, I will revisit my writing progress, and see how much social media I can resume. I don’t have a clue how you guys can turn out book after book, work full time jobs, manage a family and all at the same time. I think you are amazing and I applaud you! I am far from lazy. I stay immensely busy. I have to blame it on old age creeping up on me. My brain does not hold or process information like it once did.
  • Now that I have told you that I plan to abandon you, may I ask if I can call on you from time to time? I am certain that I will need to.

Why do I feel like we’re breaking up?  I still love you!

Learning About Books and How to Produce Them: My Lists of Threes

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New Year’s Day I posted a brief “In a Nutshell” about my one goal for 2014: 1) to put my fingers to the keyboard and write.

I also made a 6 point list of things I had learned in 2013 that minimized the enormous amount of information my brain has digested over the past year.  This post addresses #6. “Books are books.” Honestly, it wouldn’t fit in a nutshell, so I have decided to post some of this information in hopes that it might offer to you some insights on the vast amount of information that is out here and how to apply it to the process of writing, publishing and marketing your story. ***Warning***This is a very long post. I picked just three things about each of these three aspects. I do believe this is the longest post I have ever made.

First, writing has rules. Rules offer guidance, but they are not the be all and end all of the writing process. Some of the best literature the world has ever seen breaks the rules.  So why have them?

Rules offer a foundation for getting started.  We all have to start someplace. Obviously there are books and books of rules, but these three have special significance to me. Before I list these three rules, I want to stress to you that these rules are simply someone else’s opinion. They are not carved in stone. Don’t let them cramp your own style.

1. Show not tell. We hear this a lot. I get this. Telling a story is like having it unfold as if it were a movie on a screen, whereas showing allows for more imagination in the reader’s mind to develop from your words a mental image of what is taking place.  For example: Instead of saying, “She angrily slapped his face and he reeled from the sting. He grabbed her wrist,” you might say, “Her reddened cheeks danced with fire as she looked directly into his icy eyes and drew her hand sharply across his face. He recoiled in that instant, shaking off the sting, and grasped her by the wrist.” Don’t state the emotion, but show how it plays out in action.

2. Minimalist versus eloquent prose. This is a preference thing. While the example above describes the difference between show and tell, it also introduces another topic. Details; how many do you need?

Icons, in particular, generally need no lofty description:

“He wore a long yellow slicker and a wide brimmed hard hat that draped down his back. He snapped his red suspenders as he reached for the hose. He smelled of ashes and soot.” He is a, “fireman,” for Christ’s sake, and the building is burning down while he is being so thoughtfully described.

Another:

“It was a great machine, red and covered in grainy brown dust, with yellow paint peeling back from its wheels and dry rotted tires long flattened by labor in the fields.”

Come on…wouldn’t, “Rusty old tractor,” suffice?

Is it enough to say, “Roasted pig?” Or do we need, “The porcine product lay on the silver platter with brown, crispy skin curled back to reveal the tender, moist, steaming flesh inside?”

Admittedly, this is a matter of what your reader audience prefers, but it is something to consider.

On the other hand: I would like to know what color hair she had. It occurred to me with a recent book that I read, not once did the author describe the protagonist’s hair color or features. Throughout the entire book…something critical seemed to be missing. I couldn’t get my mind around the character. Maybe the author did that intentionally, perhaps it was an oversight. But, as a reader, it left a gaping hole in my experience.

I am not saying that one way is right and another wrong, but the reader audience must be taken into consideration. Just like fifty dollar words are not going to make sense to children, an audience of forty year old rural farmers is not going to appreciate the same things that an audience of thirty-something urbanites would, or the same things that a college degreed  group of  50 year old world travelers would, or the same things that teens coming of age would. This sentence brings me to my next topic.

3. Same words.  Don’t use the same word in the same sentence…the same paragraph, on the same page if you can help it. I understand that this rule is important in preventing redundancy. Sometimes redundancy is necessary for emphasis, but nobody wants to read four sentences on one page describing the fog with the word “fog”.

The fog cast an eerie glow to the lamplight. The valley below was obscured by the fog. They walked through the fog across the bridge. The thick fog began to rise and then the fog lifted with the coming of the morning light.”

Perhaps a page that includes the following sentences, “The lamplight cast an eerie glow as morning mellowed its light,” …  “A white blanket shrouded the valley below,”  … “Wispy tendrils surrounded their ankles as they walked across the bridge,” … “Sunlight melted the mist of darkness.”

It might be acceptable to describe fog four different ways, but it might warrant moving away from once you’ve made your point. Once you have established that it was foggy outside, need you say more?

One sentence might be plenty enough for making your point. I get it. It was foggy outside.

Then again, if we NEVER used redundancy, we would not have such great classic statements as, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” (“Tale of Two Cities”).

In general, once you’ve made your point, it is best to move on; else you may lose your reader in the fog. Basically, it boils down to setting the scene and then allowing the reader’s imagination to do the rest.

Reading is a subjective experience. These are just a few writing rules that I have seen mentioned time and time again, and my personal thoughts on them. I could spend hours on the many writing techniques that are illustrated on the many writers’ blogs, but these are a few that struck me over and over again. Reading what you most enjoy is the best way to develop your own writing style. It also helps you see those methods that simply don’t appeal to you.

“Rules” can be intimidating. The best thing you can do is glean that which you truly feel might be useful to you and let the rest fall off like water on a duck’s back. Develop your own writing style, a comfort zone, and don’t let opinions and “rules” alter your style to the point that you are no longer happy writing.

I can’t stress the importance of READING enough.

Second, publishing has become a very simple process in consideration to how it has occurred in the past.  Are you ready? That seems to be the question that plagues most writers.

1. I have already mentioned that I published before I had a blog, before I was influenced in any way by all the writer rules. My writing was influenced more by the work I had read than any set of rules. I have also indicated that I would most likely have been far too intimidated to publish if I knew then what I know now.  Is that to say the writing is not worthy?  Did it require revision and editing? No, and yes. Is it my best? Probably not.

I recently reread some of the novels published traditionally by Anne Rice under the names of Anne Rampling and A.N. Roquelaure. Being an old lady, I have had the pleasure of watching this 72 year old author evolve over time.  I saw her come into her own. I saw her hit her stride. I have seen her falter, and I have seen her rally back.  It has been a fascinating journey. There is nothing that she has not written that I have not read. She is one of the most fantastic contemporary authors the world has ever witnessed. Also, one of the most successful.  Success did not happen with her first books, or Stephen King’s, or Charles Dickens’. The serial publication of The Pickwick Papers gave Dickens the opportunity to test his audience while he honed his craft.  Bloggers have that same opportunity.

Editing, revision, proofing…they are all necessary…mandatory!  Professional editing, copy and line, as well as having beta readers will greatly increase your potential for success. There are things that only other eyes are going to find…hear in your words.  However, picking the pieces to pieces is probably not going to help your progress.

There does come a point when you have to let it fly.  You have to do the best that you can with the knowledge you have and let it go out into that great big wide world!

2. Traditional or self-published? I don’t think that there is a right or wrong here. I am a big proponent for the sense of control that self-publishing offers, but at the same time I can see many benefits that traditional publishing provides. I won’t go into details here, but I would advise any writer to examine carefully what it is that they hope to achieve and what resources they have at their disposal.  There are risks with or without a contract.

3. When do you know it is time to publish?  If you have already edited your edits, and revised at least once, and you find that you have proofed it and it has passed…it’s probably ready to publish…as ready as it will ever be.  Perfection is not going to happen. It isn’t. If you think that it is, you are kidding yourself. Why?  Different people have different tastes, and you will never please them all.  Hopefully, you have written something that is marketable and will please an audience, but do not ever expect to make everyone happy. It is not going to happen in life or in writing.

I spent last week in a serious examination of reviews of books available online. It was almost laughable that some reviewers loved things other reviewers hated. Generally, you could see if it was a make or break novel, but it was profoundly amusing what some thought made the books and others thought broke the books.

I would highly recommend any potential author to go to the reviews and read both good and bad.  Not only will you come to understand and value the significance of being imperfect, you may also find your audience before you push the publish button.

Here is one review that I personally took to heart in consideration of my own type of writing.  It was a book written about a family of sisters who were socialites in the 1930s and 1940s:

 “Yes, these sisters are all rich and/or famous, but I found it very hard to care. Maybe because I found them boring. I’m too old to care about Paris Hilton and too young to find the era these sisters lived in very interesting.”

I found this review, as simple as it was, full of valuable information to me as a writer. There is an audience of people who prefer interesting over famous. There is, perhaps, an era in time that is neglected. People want to be able to care about their characters.

I was also amazed to see books published years ago holding a high sellers rank in the single digits, yet displaying a majority of scathing reviews. Likewise, it was amazing to see books published within the past year with hundreds, even thousands, of stellar reviews ranking around #800,000. I have yet to figure out these phenomena, but I do think marketing is a significant factor.

Finally, marketing, should it be so complicated?  I don’t know if I can answer that question but I am going to share with you a few of my ideas on the subject.

1. I don’t believe establishing a huge fan base and a reader market before you publish is necessarily going to keep selling your books.  I am not saying that it isn’t helpful, it is the greatest support a person can have in this world of many writers and readers, but even that becomes saturated…and where do you go from there? Write more books!

2. The more eyes you are able to put your title in front of the greater your success will be in getting it read.  There are 20 million plus books on Amazon alone.  We are grains of sand on the beach. If you have a fan base and a reader market already established, you are at least going to sell some books and have your material read.  Beyond that, you are going to have to find ways to get your book noticed as broadly as possible, utilizing your fan base and reader audience to promote your book.  Have blog tours, reblog other author’s work, offer guest posts, and ask for interviews.   Again, it may not sell hundreds of copies of every book you produce, but it is a start at getting your name noticed and establishing yourself as an author. The most visible authors out there have more than one book. Did I say, “Write more books?”

I am reminded of how I felt when I went from my little hometown’s bookmobile into the University library with my mother as a small child. Online bookstores are comparable to a whole world of University libraries and the search feature may not be as effective as the Dewy Decimal System if you don’t know what you are doing.  Where do you start once you have your book, your blurb/book description, cover image and all of the elements of a good product to market?

3. Keywords and advertisements.  I haven’t published thirty books, or even three, but I do know that nobody will see your book if you can’t even find it.  Before you title your book, do a search and see what comes up. If your title is too very similar to others, you may find yourself a small fish in a big pond.  I have a friend with a book that has so many similar titles that I have to put in both her title and her author name to pull up her book.

Also, while studying those reviews, look at the categories of similar reads posted at the bottom of the page.  How are these books categorized?  This is helpful information to know when selecting your keywords. If you would like more information on keywords and how they aid searches, you may start with this post, http://sknicholls.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/keywords-and-visibility-on-amazon/

And keep clicking through until you have found what you need to know to categorize your book effectively.  Selecting the most suitable genre is only half the battle.

Once you have figured out how to set your book up where it should be, just how do you get others to notice that it is there?  These are the folks who are not in your fan base or the reader audience you have established. These are total strangers in the greatest sense of the word.  How do you get exposure to a greater audience?

Book signings, independent bookstores, brick and mortar magistrates and/or newspapers if you are traditionally published or have already sold 3000 copies and published through contracted sources, online platforms, magazines, book reviewer processes, contests, offer promotions (but not too many), library groups, book clubs, online advertisements, (This link might be helpful: http://sknicholls.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/ad-your-book/), writer conventions, societies, schools, book fairs, as many of these methods as you possibly can…and few are free. Most are labor intensive and can be expensive. Some methods work better for some genres than others. Oh, and write more books!

It’s a Catch 22. The more books you sell, the better your rankings, the better your rankings, the more books you sell.

Reviews can also make or break you.  Some people are going to love what others hate and some people are going to hate what others love. You can have great reviews but few of them or you can have many reviews but they are poor.  When I reviewed book reviews, I looked for common threads/themes, whether there were many or few…both in the good reviews and the not so good. I believe most readers who are seriously looking to purchase will do the same. Pay attention. Take action. One of the glorious things about self-publishing is that you CAN easily correct things that need attention, or at least put some effort into it…or into future writings. At the same time, some of these common threads/themes may just be differences in style preferences, so don’t over react. Balance poor reviews against good reviews, criticism against praise, before you make any dramatic changes.

NEVER, EVER respond to a reviewer on a selling platform, either favorably or unfavorably. On a blog, it would be acceptable to thank a reviewer for their time and consideration, but to engage a reviewer in debate would be unprofessional and totally unacceptable. Many feel to even show a presence is somewhat distasteful. I suppose it would depend on how well you know the reviewer and whether or not you already have a relationship with them. Personally, I would not post a review if I could not give it at least three stars. But that’s just me…somebody is going to give you a one or two star review, and that’s okay. That person gave you their time…or as much as they could of it.

This is my nutshell cracked open. Did I say, “Write More Books!?”   

Writing, publishing and marketing ramblings of a mad woman. It isn’t all encompassing. I am not an authority on anything at all to do with books. These are my observations as a writer, reader, and author of one fiction book that has managed to pay for the cost of publishing it. Now, if it could just pay for the cost of promoting it and hiring a publicist, I could move easier onto the next project.

In the end, books are books. Ha!