Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What's it all about, Alfie?

There comes a point in every writer's life (several points, actually) when they wonder why they're doing this.

I just saw where one of my favorite multiple times best-selling author's discounted her new release. A big name in the industry. And one of my other favorite authors has taken to begging for sales. Another big name in the industry. "Buy my books so I don't have to go to work at Taco Bell." Granted, that's her style, funny, snarky, self-deprecating, but with the news about the industry changing almost daily, and with the big names resorting to indie tactics, it raises concern to those of us "outside of the spotlight."

I recently saw another of my author friends asking her Facebook community, "What's the point? Does anybody actually read my books?"

Writers write for one reason. It's what they do. It's what they love. Whether they are best sellers or middle market or only their friends and family buy their books, they get enjoyment out of the process that they hope to share with the rest of the world. But there are limits.

Writing is an investment. Of time. Of money. Of energy. At some point in time, without sufficient feedback or return on investment, everyone gets burned out and throws their hands in the air, regardless of their occupation. Some days it becomes overwhelming.

Another of my favorite authors stopped writing altogether. She wrote for 20 years, produced more than 20 books, and she was a best selling author. She's still relatively young, and her books are still being re-released both here and abroad (most notably Germany). But no new books. I can't tell you why she stopped writing, although I have several guesses based on what I know about her.

How do you keep your favorite author writing? We need encouragement and support, just like everybody else. I met some friends for lunch one day and one of them bought a book from me. Another one at the table said, "Can I borrow it when you're done? I never buy books." The friend who bought then said she'd pass it around to anyone else who wanted to read it. While I'm grateful for the sale, and I understand when people share their books - hey, I'm a library lover, where I borrow books regularly - but authors gotta live, too. If you love a book, recommend it. If you borrowed it either from a friend or from the library and you loved it, buy it. "Support your local author." Leave a review at your favorite website (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc.). Post it to your Facebook page or your Twitter feed or Instagram or Snapchat. Tell everyone you know what a fabulous book you just read. Without encouragement, it's hard to keep on keeping on. Yes, it's what we do, and yes, it's part of our DNA, but the difference in sales might determine whether we write for our own enjoyment or to share with the world.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Perry Mason

When I was a kid, one of my mother's favorite shows was Perry Mason. For those of you of a different generation, the character was based on novels by Erle Stanley Gardner about a lawyer who never lost a case. His clients were never guilty, and once in a while they refused to be defended properly, but in the end, they were always exonerated. The show was popular at the end of the 50's and into the 60's, and has been syndicated in reruns every since. Lately, my dear husband and I have been watching some of the old reruns, as much for nostalgia as anything else, and all the things my mother used to laugh at way back when are even more funny now.

As an author, I am always tuned into "info dumping." How much of the background do you want to convey in a story? Certainly some needs to be presented so readers can know something about the character and the story, but there's a line between filtering the information in a little at a time and "telling" the reader everything. When reading, discovery is much more entertaining than being told what you need to know.

I finished reading a book recently where the author did an excellent job portraying a kind-hearted, champion to the downtrodden who is determined to help other people after surviving her own personal hell. The author could have said "as an abused woman, she spent her time doing good for others," but instead she demonstrates the character's traits. Over and over. The reader learns about this woman in the things she does for others, with only occasional reminders of the woman's own past and what motivates her to be this way. Very well done.

What does this have to do with Perry Mason?

Aside from the overacting in many places -- in the end, the guilty party almost always stands up in the courtroom and very dramatically confesses after Mason's improbable leading of witnesses and conjecture and other legal no-nos -- the beginning tends to be a huge info dump. "So Paul, this is what we know..." and he goes on to "tell" the audience what they need to know to follow the episode/story. To be honest, I haven't read any of the books, so I'm not sure if Mr. Gardner's prose also follow that line. Old television shows, in the beginning, were entertaining merely by being something new and different, so they could get away with a multitude of sins. As I mentioned, even my mother used to laugh at the dramatics of the confessions. However, audiences are much more sophisticated these days. TV is no longer a novelty. Unlawful behavior in the courtroom is laughed at as unbelievable.

Layering in information, foreshadowing, has become an art form. Consider the movie The Sixth Sense with Bruce Willis. The writers very subtly give you clues to the truth of what you're seeing, but it isn't until the very end when you suddenly say, "Oh, I get it." To me, that's a much more satisfying feeling than, "Let me give you the details of the case." Which is not to say I don't still enjoy the old Perry Mason reruns, but maybe that's just nostalgia.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

It was a dark and stormy night...

I'm in between books. Finished one, preparing to start the next one, and struggling to figure out where the next one begins.

I also need some recovery time.

Many people equate finishing a book to birthing a child. They're not wrong. Like a new mother, an author needs recovery time. Time to refresh the soul. I certainly need that this year! Still, while I'm waiting for the final edits from my editor, I can't help but consider where the beginning is, even if I'm not ready to start writing.

Books need a hook in the first chapter. Action that grabs the reader's attention from the start. The first try usually turns into info dumping as I get acquainted with the characters and the setting, adding in all the details that I want to include. That's fairly normal. The first try is introducing the story to me, the author. From there, I can start culling out the unnecessary details, things that should be filtered in later. Things that don't matter other than for the author's information. THE SELKIE, the next in the Epitaph series, opens in Ireland, and while I was doing my research, my first cut included all kinds of details about the landscape, the topography, the Celtic Sea, and (or course) seals. Most of that was cut from the final version, but I left enough to "show" the reader, the pieces that move the story forward without dragging the reader down in minutiae.

Epitaph 6 will return to the cemetery, and I'm fairly certain that's where it will begin. As the final installment in the Epitaph series, the ghost in this last one will be figurative rather than literal (channeling Monty Python, "and now, for something completely different..."). No, it isn't completely different.

Authors are always thinking about the writing, so I'll likely start toying with an opening, even if I'm not ready to dive in quite yet. Funny thing about that, once I get the opening down, the rest generally starts to flow, but until I get my final edits back for THE SELKIE, I won't be able to devote all my energy to the new story, so my writing schedule for the next couple of weeks will be random, at best.

Unless these characters carry me away in the meantime....

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Coming up for air

The door on my cage is open! Deadline season at the day job is over, and now I'm looking all the things I've been putting off for the last several months in the eyeballs. One of those things is the release of the next book in the Epitaph series.

I'm very excited to share the new cover with you! The book will be out (oh heavens! I'm looking at the calendar and realizing it's MAY!) next month! I'll be sending out a newsletter as soon as its available for pre-order, so make sure you're signed up. What's the book about, you ask? Here's the back cover blurb.

Don’t mix pleasure with business…
Pro Soccer player Liam McCormick doesn’t date fans or groupies. The last thing he wants is a sexual harassment scandal shadowing his career. So, when his physical therapist makes a play for him, he quits therapy deciding he can rehab himself. Big mistake. When the coaches learn of his walk-out, they assign an athletic trainer to assess his condition before the exhibition game in Ireland. The fact the new trainer is a woman puts Liam on his guard. He’s not interested in a replay with another infatuated woman wanting a piece of him.

Emma Parrish has no time for relationships. She works 80 hours a week, but a free trip to Ireland to assess Liam’s recovery is something she will make time for. Unfortunately, a little too much Irish stout has Emma making a fool of herself in front of Liam, mistaking him for a Selkie—an Irish legend of seals rising from the ocean as humans—when she sees him stripping off his wetsuit after a swim in the Celtic Sea. She reasserts her professionalism, and when one of Liam’s teammates makes a pass at her, she demonstrates her self-defense techniques and shows she can take care of herself. Instead of being put off, her strength and independence attract Liam. The more time they spend together, the more the temptation grows until neither can resist.

But an unexpected visitor follows them home from Ireland. The ghost of Liam’s father has much to atone for, and when Liam refuses to listen to him, the ghost recruits Emma to help him make amends with his family. Is Emma in love with Liam, or is she under the spell of a Selkie?

You like?

              Catch up on the rest in the series (each stands alone)
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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

It's versus Its - It is a quandary

Working on final edits for the editor - until she finds all the things I've missed (hopefully). As I comb through my checklist and read for continuity, etc., my SmartEdit program is kicking out those commonly misused words.

We all know that grammar nazi, the one who jumps up to point out we've used the wrong "they're/their/there," "affect/effect," "you're/your" etc. Generally speaking, I get all these words right (although I'm definitely not perfect). My biggest downfall is knowing when to use lie/lay, probably because lay is a verb tense of lie. With that being said, today's contemplation is its versus it's.

At the day job several years ago, I still remember someone completing a report, copying and binding it and then she stopped, because as she was flipping through the final product, she found "its" had been misused. It's/Its is commonly overlooked. Sharp eye, that woman. So she took the report apart, went back to correct the error and inserted the correction into her final copies. How do you know if you've got the right one?

While I'm writing, I often stop to ask myself "it is," or "belonging to it." This is one of those break-the-rule things, where possession does NOT include an apostrophe - "its". In its contraction form - it is/it has - "it's" gets the apostrophe to account for the missing letters. Easy enough, but also easy to confuse, since the rule for possession inserts an apostrophe. NOT THIS TIME.

As for my lie/lay, borrowing from Merriam Webster to show you why it continues to trip me up.

Here's lay in context in tenses that show its principal forms:
I was told to lay the book down. I laid it down as I have laid other books down. I am laying more books down now.
And here's lie:
I was told to lie down. I lay down. I have lain here since. I'm still lying here.
The English language in all its confusing glory!

Targeting a June release for the next EPITAPH installment! I'll be sending out a newsletter as soon as I have a firm date in case you want to pre-order, so make sure you're signed up!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Channeling Julia Childs? When to begin the editing process

When you finish cooking something, a roast for instance, quite often you'll let it "rest" after you've taken it out of the oven to finish cooking. Or sometimes with baking, the cooling period is part of the cooking process, giving the creation a chance to set. Or gel. Well, you get the idea.

While I'm always eager to present my work as a finished product, I'm in that "resting" period to give it a chance to breathe. Part of me wants to plunge ahead with the next project, part of me wants to jump into editing mode, and yet another part of me needs to take a mental breather. I'm still in deadline season at the day job, and these next two weeks are going to be mayhem, so the smart thing to do is step away from the story. The distance provides a fresh perspective. I will forget parts of the story in the time I spend away from it, and as I go back to edit, I'll be more likely to see things I need to fix. With the distractions of deadlines, it's too easy to overlook important details.

Stephen King advises taking a month after you've reached "the end" the first time. The time gives you perspective. You move out of the creative mode and into the critical mode which is so essential to the editing process. Questions like "does this move the story along?" "Can this sentence be tighter?" Not to mention the critical overused and filler words that pop up once you've had a chance to step away from the WIP. I've been told I've overused the word "and" in this particular story. I'm hoping the time apart will make those things more obvious to me when I go back at it. Every work seems to have it's own unique repetitions. Another word I felt I'd fixated on was "recriminations," even though it only appeared three times in the original draft. It is, however, a "highly visible" word in my mind, so I have gone back to address that one.

THE SELKIE - Epitaph 5, is slated for a June/July release. I should have the cover art in the next week or two, and I'm planning to share it over at Booklover's Bench next month. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore"

When I was starting out with my writing, everything I read - everything I learned - preached "show, don't tell." They talked about using "stronger words" to present what was happening instead of using adverbs to support. As a person with a very large vocabulary, I had dozens of words at my disposal. I thought I was doing everything right. Until....

Someone came into my first critique group, before I'd been published, someone who HAD been published. She critiqued one of my chapters and pointed out all the flowery dialog tags I used. Here I thought I was showing mood and personality by choosing something other than said, which, to my "learning the craft level" brain was stronger. She taught me that "said" is an invisible dialog tag. While I found it repetitive and unimaginative, she pointed out the more descriptive tags I was using were 1) not necessarily referential to speech, and 2) called attention to themselves. As a newbie, I was stunned. Her comments went against everything I'd been taught. Everything I'd learned. Except she had something I didn't. A book contract. A professional editor. So while my initial response was "who are you, and where do you come off telling me blah blah blah..." I stepped back and considered my position compared to hers. I was still learning the craft. She'd learned enough to get a book contract. So I calmed down, remembered that critique groups are there to help you get better and that constructive criticism helps you grow. Asked her some pointed questions. Funny, she quickly realized she'd aligned herself with a bunch of neophytes and left the group in short order. She needed a group with more experience that would see beyond the things we were still learning.

She was right, of course. I still find myself wanting to slip into more colorful dialog tags from time to time, and my more experienced critique group lets me know every time I use one. Those dialog tags do have a place in the prose sometimes, but for the most part, they should be limited to "said" or "asked" or a similar form of speech. These words are, in fact, invisible, where as something like "she avowed" tends to stand out. It draws attention to itself.

Touched by the Sun
I've learned much in the sixteen years that I've been writing. If you've read my first novel (TOUCHED BY THE SUN) you might still run across many rookie mistakes. In attempting to convey a foreign accent, some readers have found my Italian hero's speech stilted. I was going for "realism," but sometimes realism is better portrayed with impressions from the person on the other side of the conversation than by "stilted" conversation. I did go back to update the original book (THE TREASURE OF ST. PAUL) on its tenth anniversary to correct some of those rookie mistakes, and my hope is that the book is at least easier to read than it was in its original form. It might still have its warts, but it also gives my fans an opportunity to see how much I've learned, how my writing has improved along my journey. I still love the story, warts and all.

So writing lesson for the day. If said or asked isn't strong enough to portray feeling or emotion, use an action beat instead.
He spun on a heel to face her, pointing an accusing finger. "Why are you stalking me?"
 instead of
 "Why are you stalking me?" he bellowed.