Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Writer's Thanksgiving Menu

All around the country today, millions of Americans will belly up to the dining room table and scarf down gallons of gravy and tons of stuffing. But these common holiday foods have a double meaning to writers . . .

Royalty checks.

The first draft of a novel.

What all the ideas for a story look and feel like inside an author's brain.

A returned critique of a manuscript if the editor used a red pen.

What an author would like to do with all the 1-star reviews on Amazon--stuff them in the trash.

When a writer misses a deadline.

Typing "The End."

A fan letter from a reader.

Happy Thanksgiving from me to you!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stump the Chump: How Do You Wrangle An Epic Story Onto Paper?


"My story ideas always seem so different (better) in my mind. How do you get a story from your head to paper without having it freak out and become something totally different?"


You don't.


Don't panic because of the short answer. I hate to be the pin holder bursting your authorly balloon into flying shreds of latex, but honestly, there's no way you'll ever capture the Cinemagraphic story in your head so that readers see exactly what you do . . . but that is the inherent beauty of every story. Just because it changes and comes out differently doesn't mean that it's bad.

But sometimes it is. Just today I read a Facebook status from one of my favorite authors, Travis Thrasher. He said:
"Hello, Solitary Tales fans. I wanted to let you know about this particular title that I had planned on releasing before the end of the year. Well, that plan changed, not because of busyness but because the story went places that I didn't want it to go. Actually, Chris Buckley (that's his main character) said that it was unbelievable. He told me he'd never do that stuff. He said that readers would be confused if I went in this direction. So yeah . . . I stopped writing and am now figuring out how to tell this story."
Writers at every stage of the game continually wrestle with the beast of wrangling a story into words. At times it can be downright discouraging.

All that being said, though, I'm still of the belief that change is good, and here's why . . . even if you wrote exactly the story you wanted to tell, every reader who picks that book up will experience it in a different way than you intended. Why? Because readers come to the table with different baggage, a plethora of backgrounds, and assumptions galore.

Writing is art, and art is like that. For all we know, daVinci had a blonde-haired, blue-eyed vixen with a toothy grin in mind when he painted the Mona Lisa, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a beloved masterpiece.

Go forth fearlessly, little writers, and pen your masterpieces. Embrace change. And it never hurts to eat much chocolate along the way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stump the Chump: How Do You Hold a Reader's Attention?

Today's question comes from a young writer who no doubt will become a superstar author one day. How do I know? Am I some kind of prophet? Do I read tea leaves? Did I get a screaming hot deal on a crystal ball at Woot? Nah. Nothing like that. I'm confident she'll succeed because the girl has a hunger to learn the craft. Here's her question:

"My story is long. How do I keep a reader's attention?"

The answer to that question is to raise a question. At the end of every scene, leave the reader wondering about something. . . 

Will the heroine give in to the temptation to eat a slab of chocolate cake and ruin her chances of fitting into her wedding dress next week? 

How is the hero going to escape the clutches of the ninety-seven-year-old granny who's stalking him? 

Where in the world is the villain's rubber ducky--the one that fell off the back of the pickup truck and is filled with C-4?

Not every scene has to end with a helicopter crash, but there does need to be some hook to make the reader turn the page instead of setting down the book. And that's accomplished by raising a question in the reader's mind.

Apparently I'm on a Dear Abby roll, so if there are any other questions you'd like to stump the authorly chump with, leave them in the comment section.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dickens Meets Sherlock Holmes

What do you get when you mix a shade of the darker side of Regency London with a quick-witted lawman? Nicholas Brentwood—a hero who’s a little rough around the edges, colorful as a Dickens character, and observant enough to be a forerunner of Sherlock. But he’s not just any lawman.

He’s a Bow Street Runner.

Traditionally, male householders in London were expected to police the streets in their neighborhood, and every citizen was to report anyone they witnessed committing a crime. This changed in the eighteenth century because of increasing concerns about the threat of dangerous criminals who were attracted by the growing wealth of London’s middle class.

Prompted by a post-war crime wave in 1749, Magistrate Henry Fielding hired a small group of men to locate and arrest serious offenders. He operated out of No. 4 Bow Street, hence the name “Bow Street Runners.”

Fielding petitioned the government and received funding, but even so, he soon ran out of money to pay these men a worthy salary. Still, the runners were committed to justice, so they took on odd jobs such as watchmen or detectives for hire or even—as in the case of Nicholas Brentwood—guarding people or treasures.

What attracted my interest as an author was an old newspaper advertisement put out by Fielding. It encouraged the public to send a note to Bow Street as soon as any serious crime occurred so that “a set of brave fellows could immediately be dispatched in pursuit of the villains.” I wondered about those “brave fellows” and what kind of villains they might come up against, and thus was born Nicholas Brentwood.

Despite Bow Street’s efforts, most Londoners were opposed to the development of an organized police force. The English tradition of local government was ingrained deep, and they feared the loss of individual liberty. So, as gallant as the Runners were in tracking down criminals, the general public did not always view them in a positive light. Even the nickname given them by the public—Bow Street Runners—was considered derogatory and was a title the officers never used to refer to themselves.

Bow Street eventually gave way to the Metropolitan Police, and by 1839, the Runners were completely disbanded. But that doesn’t mean they don’t live on in the fictional realm. See if you can match wits with an experienced lawman as he tracks down a dangerous criminal in BRENTWOOD’S WARD.

There’s none better than NICHOLAS BRENTWOOD at catching the felons who ravage London’s streets, and there’s nothing he loves more than seeing justice carried out—but this time he’s met his match. Beautiful and beguiling EMILY PAYNE is more treacherous than a city full of miscreants and thugs, for she’s a thief of the highest order…she’s stolen his heart.

Available now as a pre-order in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine booksellers.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Aliens, Winter, and An Old Coaching Road

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stump the Chump: Book Reviews From Hell


"What should be avoided when writing a book review?"

Every author's had at least one . . . a kidney-punch of a review that sucks the creative juices from his body and leaves him whimpering in the corner for his mommy. Those are the absolute worst. But what exactly is it that makes for a bad review?

Expecting more than what the story promises.

Before you haul off and whack an author over the head for handing you a plate of literary lasagne when you wanted a steak and potato novel, how about this: read the freaking back cover copy. If the blurb gives off a dark tone, don't expect bunnies and lollipops. Or if it reads lightheartedly, then the novel is probably not going to delve into deep topics. Be realistic.

The spelling and grammar of a three-year-old.

Really? Do I have to mention this. Yep, I do. Bad reviews almost always include typos and grammar that's worthy of a felony. If you're going to rag on an author's writing then yours better be impeccable.

Dishing out judgment as if you're God.

I understand that everyone has different worldviews and morals. Newsflash: books do too, because they're written by humans. So if sex outside of marriage pushes your buttons, don't buy 50 Shades of Grey and go on a rant about promiscuity. Instead of writing a review condemning the author to hell, I suggest that your time would be better spent praying for the poor slob.

Spewing pride poison.

Oh, so you think you can write a better book? Go for it. Writing a novel is stinking hard work, I don't care how bad you think the writing is. Because of that, do not -- read my lips here -- do NOT attack the author's work ethic. The novel may not be Steinbeck quality but I guarantee you the writer put in as much effort as Steinbeck would have.

Those are my top 4. What else do you think should be left out of a book review? Leave your ideas in the comment section and your name will be tossed in the Tupperware for tomorrow's big drawing. You could win the Gannah book of your choice!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stump the Chump: What An Author Likes to See in a Review


"As an author, what are things you wish your reviewers would pick out from your books and mention in their reviews? Or, in short, how does one review a book in a way that will be helpful to others?"

A clear statement of what the reader liked about the book.
Characters? Plot twists? Skill with sewing words together into a stunning literary quilt? As an author, it's helpful for me to know exactly what it is that connects with a reader so that I can continue to do that in the future.

Honesty. . . always has been and always will be the best policy.
Above all, be honest. If you hate something particular in a story, name it. An author needs to know when they've crossed the line with their writing. Disclaimer: Don't beat the pathetic author into a bloody pulp. That's what sales numbers are for. 

Share your gut feelings.
Avoid a lengthy summarization of the story because guess what little ninja . . . you're not writing a junior high book report. Instead, tell others what caused you to weep, laugh, or shout. What was it about the story that connected with you on an emotional level?

What's the tone?
As a reader, what did you think the overall feel to the book was? Lighthearted? Fast-paced action? Gut-wrenching or gut-splitting?

And lastly, this isn't a must-have, but it's nice to know who the reader would recommend the book to (examples: middle-aged women, teen moms, diabetic warthogs, whatever).

And don't forget that anyone leaving a comment this week will get entered into the grand prize Gannah drawing this Friday.