Sunday, December 11, 2016

John Gardner on creating vivid characters

John Gardner in On Becoming a Novelist emphasizes the need to understand a wide variety of characters. He says, “To be psychologically suited for membership in what I have called the highest class of novelists, the writer must be not only capable of understanding people different from himself but fascinated by such people.”

The Smoke Game

Gardner recommends playing a game with your characters, saying, “Perhaps the best exercise for heightening one’s gift for discovering such equivalencies is the game called ‘Smoke.’”

Here’s how it goes:

One person thinks of someone living or dead and gives his fellow players a starting clue … living American, dead European … or whatever.

Each player in turn then asks a question in the form of …
What kind of (blank) are you? For example … what kind of smoke, vegetable, weather, animal, building, body part, car, and so on.

Of course, for a writer, the point of the game is not to win, but to see your characters in a different, more metaphorical way.

For instance, I’ve had a character show up in two separate books and he’s still a challenge so I’m going to play the game right here, right now, with myself.

I first wrote the words down and then closed my eyes and let the first answer that came to my mind be the answer.

Who is 15 year-old Jesse Sanchez?
Smoke … thick, swirling, white
Vegetable …  sweet potato
Weather … chilly, damp, slight breeze
Animal … hamster, skittish, trying to store all the nuts in his jaws
Building … tent, fragile, lacking stability in harsh weather
Body part …  arm and hand
Car … small, 4WD SUV
What does this tell me? Jesse hasn’t emerged yet as a fully developed person. He’s growing underground into a person who will bring nourishment into the world. He is sweet but we have to find the sweetness. He is shrouded by smoke so that we can’t see him and his warmth hasn’t broken through his exterior chilliness.

Jesse is fearful of not getting enough or losing what he’s been given and tries to hold on too long to what’s in front of him. He does not feel secure in his life as it could blow away with a harsh wind.
Jesse needs to hold onto things and he touches and feels things to make sure they’re real. He only truly understands things when he touches them.

He is practical and wants to be able to go anywhere, go off the beaten path, be safe in his adventures. He definitely wants to have adventures but also wants to get back safely.

While this game told me that Jesse is still unfolding, it also gave me metaphors that help reveal flashes of his character.

Gardner adds: “The writer with a truly accurate eye (and ear, nose, sense of touch, etc.) has an advantage over the writer who does not, in that, among other things, he can tell his story in concrete terms, not just feeble abstractions.”

What we do as writers, Gardner says, is set off a dream in the reader’s mind. Concrete metaphors set off vivid dreams.

“Show don’t tell” is a standard refrain. Gardner modifies that saying, “Good writers may ‘tell’ about almost anything in fiction except the characters’ feelings. … Characters’ feelings must be demonstrated: fear, love, excitement, doubt, embarrassment, despair become real only when they take the form of events — action (or gesture), dialogue, or physical reaction to setting. Detail is the lifeblood of fiction.”

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tips for Authors Using Twitter from Writer's Edit

Click here to watch the video.
Advice from Writer's Edit

What makes a great Twitter profile for a writer?

  • Represent your author brand accurately and professionally.
  • Use your real author name, so you're easy to find and follow!
  • Use a real (and respectable) photo of yourself for your profile picture.
  • Write a simple and direct bio. Feel free to list what you'll be tweeting about.
  • Use the 'Pinned Tweet' feature to link to your latest blog post or published work.

What should you tweet about?

  • Writing and industry-related news/feature articles.
  • Helpful, resourceful tweets - direct your followers to articles by other writers that you found helpful or inspiring.
  • Motivational images/quotes.
  • Make sure your tweets contribute to the writing community on Twitter.
  • Don't be all about self-promotion (asking people to buy your book).

How to use hashtags, and what hashtags should you use?

  • Be sure to change the hashtags you're using according to what you're tweeting about.
  • Don't use sentences in hashtags.
  • Check out the tool Hashtagify, which acts as a "search engine" for hashtags, explores the latest trends and related hashtag terms.

Should you use images on Twitter?

  • Keep your images basic and easy to view (and read, if they're quotes), nothing too busy!
  • Get the dimensions right (the width should be double the height).
  • Use Canva for image creation, as they provide you with the correct dimensions from the beginning, and offer super easy design features.

How often should you tweet?

  • Remember that the lifetime of a tweet is just 5 minutes.
  • You can tweet as often as you like, as long as it doesn't take you away from other responsibilities and writing!
  • Use to schedule tweets to go live, which means you don't have to be on Twitter all the time!

Common mistakes writers make on Twitter:

  • Getting too obscure and creative with their tweets.
  • Not using simple language.
  • Using superfluous words and taking up prime 'tweet real estate'.
  • Using too many hashtags (3 at most).
  • Using silly hashtags (sentence long hashtags, like we do when we speak).
  • Being negative - don't whinge all the time!
  • Trying too hard to promote and sell their book.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Results of a Facebook Boost

More about Gratitude:
I just finished a Facebook Boost campaign to boost the post shown here for the Gratitude Miracles Journal.

Campaign parameters:
Location - Living In: United States: California
Age: 30 - 65+
Gender: Female

Here are the results:

7 day Facebook Boost … cost $35
Results 10/13/2016 (Thursday) - 2892 reach 
Page likes: 22
Post likes: 207, 13 hearts
Blog Page views: 1239 
Post views: 316 
Sales: none attributable to boost

Lesson: pick a post that connects directly with book.
I boosted a beautiful image and probably attracted activity related to the beauty rather than the message.
Lesson: open up the location and try to focus on people who have gratitude as a keyword.
Lesson: should have email capture process in place before doing again.

Would I do this again? It is easy to do and inexpensive. Maybe with a well crafted post relating to a new project and the email capture process in place.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Writing Tips: Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer website

Carl Zimmer - writes books and articles about science,
Author of A Planet of Viruses, The Tangled Bankand Brain Cuttings

  1. Do as much research as possible away from the Internet — with living people, in real places.
  2. Be ready to organize vast amounts of data. Use a wall, or software like Scrivener.
  3. Be ready to amputate entire chapters. It will be painful.

Steve Silberman Website

Steve Silberman's collection of writing tips:

When Steve Silberman started working on his book NeuroTribes, The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, he decided to “tap into the wisdom of the hive mind.” Fortunately he had a great hive to tap and he shared a long article with brief tips on writing a book from 22 authors.
It’s really too much to read all at once so we will be posting each author’s advice separately so that you can savor each tidbit. (You can always click on the link at the end of the previous paragraph to get the whole feast.)

Now, go forth and write!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Great First Sentences

As they say, you only have one chance to write a great first impression. For a book, that means the first sentence, the first page. But, how do you write a first sentence that creates that instant chemistry that says to the reader, "Read me! Read me now!"?

The first sentence sets the stage. It is someone whispering, "Come here, listen, I have a story to tell you." It piques interest, introduces tone and voice, creates mystery.

Here are 25 of the 100 best first lines offered by American Book Review followed by seven specific priniciples offered in a Writers' Digest article.

25 of the 100 Best First Lines from Novels

from American Book Review

1. Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
3. A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (1973)
4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)
5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)
7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)
8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
10. I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
11. The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. —Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)
12. You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
13. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. —Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925; trans. Breon Mitchell)
14. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. —Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler (1979; trans. William Weaver)
15. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. —Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938)
16. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
17. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. —James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
18. This is the saddest story I have ever heard. —Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)
19. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me. —Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (1759–1767)
20. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. —Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)
21. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. —James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)
22. It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. —Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
23. One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. —Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
24. It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. —Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)
25. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. —William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)

Brian Klems in Writers' Digest offers some clues:

1. A statement of eternal principle.  
2. A statement of simple fact. 
3. A statement of paired facts. 
4. A statement of simple fact laced with significance. 
5. A statement to introduce voice. 
6. A statement to establish mood. 
7. A statement that serves as a frame.
READ More ... 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Blogger as Website

I was delightfully surprised to discover ConfluentForms, a website design firm that recommends using Blogger as a website platform. I've been using Blogger for several years and gradually recognizing how powerful and easy it is.

David Kutcher with ConfluentForms says, "What do all of the websites below have in common? They're all gorgeous, functional, easy to maintain, and happen to use Google's Blogger (Blogspot) as their Content Management System (CMS). They were all developed by our firm.

"As a thrifty small business solution, a website on Blogger can save time, money, and headaches. Click here to see the websites.

That link also includes a #TNTBootcamp video about using Blogger as a website platform.
Notes: Integrated with google+
- once you have a custom favicon and url, it no longer looks like blogger
- cheaper hosting costs
- check out page and post metadata ... is this labels? (look for tutorials on how to fix that problem)
- for ecommerce go to Shopify or a hosted cart system
- can sign up for an ad sense account through Blogger
- sites that host ads make sense for Google
- check out back links

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Scrivener: Yes or No?

From Scrivener website.
Great books have been written without Scrivener for millennia. But, then, great books were also written with quill pens. 

You don’t HAVE to have Scrivener … but, wow!, what a difference it makes. For months, I’ve slunk toward Scrivener like a thrice-kicked dog salivating for a bone just out of reach. I wanted it, and I feared it. I grabbed a quick taste and the pain of ignorance and overwhelm threw me backwards to lick my wounds.

Then, I attended a free webinar offered by Joseph Michael of Learn Scrivener Fast. It was like someone said, “It’s okay. You can do this. And, this is a really great bone.” Joseph, of course, tries to sell you his super course, and you may or may not want to buy it.

I hope you will give Scrivener a shot. As I’ve gotten knee-deep into my novel, I’ve begun to realize what a complex operation writing a book is. The details, the characters, the locations, the timing, the interactions, the research, the rewriting, the ideas and possibilities … all are just endless.

It wasn’t long before I started looking for answers about how other writers handle that flood of information. That led me to Scrivener … and to my first Scrivener failure. I couldn’t figure out where to go and what to do with what I was finding.

So, I began to kluge together a process using Evernote (love it!), Pages (or Word - ok but too many shortcomings for the writing process ), Scapple (easy visual mapping tool - love it!) and spreadsheets (useful). Things were getting lost and frustration was common. Every once in awhile I’d revert to index cards but that ancient, cumbersome process just added to frustration.

I wasn’t happy and I kept getting bogged down in my story. Who did what when? Did Stella say that or Janey? What do I do with all these ideas that come in the middle of the night?

Then, I attended the free webinar and got it! I could see how it could all work together … I just had to learn the software. I could either purchase the package or figure it out myself. I was impressed by Michael’s free webinar. He’s well-organized, visual and clear.
But, I decided to strike out on my own … which may, or may not, turn out to be a mistake.

My problem with the Learn Scrivener Fast package is that it is almost as overwhelming as the software itself. It’s too big. I want one bite at a time … and I want exactly the bite I want, not a Thanksgiving feast every day of the week.

I am a practical learner. I need to be able to apply what I learn. And, I need a map that says “Start here and take these steps to go there."

So, feel free to follow along on this journey … I'll put what I find on the Scrivener page. Obviously, my answer to the subject question is “Yes.” You’ll have to make your own.

BTW, I reserve the right to change directions and buy a training program. I’ll let you know if I do.

Three Hours Later:  I'm throwing in the towel and buying the Learn Scrivener Fast program. There is a TON of tutorials out there. Some are good; some aren't. And, you really don't know until you're 5, 10 or 30 minutes into it. If I have to be overwhelmed, at least I'm going to be overwhelmed by an expert.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hook: Kindle First, May 2016

Kindle First promotes six books every month. What a great way to study how books are marketed in the amazon environment. "GOOD Reviews" means reviews from other authors or recognized sources. Plan ahead to find these reviewers. Under a photo of each book is a one sentence "hook." This is shown in yellow.

Note: one review includes a beautiful sentence quoted from the book. Find a few beautiful, powerful sentences that can be sprinkled into reviews.

Note: one book has a review from a Top 500 amazon reviewer. It is dynamite. Find some top reviewers who would be interested in reading my book or being a beta-reader.

Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.

In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.

When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.
As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding…
About the Author  with 15 second book video (actually 21)  3.5 stars
Dot Hutchison is the author of A Wounded Name, a young adult novel based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the adult thriller The Butterfly Garden. With past experience working at a Boy Scout camp, a craft store, a bookstore, and the Renaissance Faire (as a human combat chess piece), Hutchison prides herself on remaining delightfully in tune with her inner young adult. She loves thunderstorms, mythology, history, and movies that can and should be watched on repeat. For more information on her current projects, visit or check her out on Tumblr (, Twitter (@DotHutchison), or Facebook (

Contemporary Fiction: A House for Happy Mothers by Amula Malladi —  One woman will do anything for her child; the other will do anything to have one.

A stunning new novel—full of wit and warmth—from the bestselling author of The Mango Season.

In trendy Silicon Valley, Priya has everything she needs—a loving husband, a career, and a home—but the one thing she wants most is the child she’s unable to have. In a Southern Indian village, Asha doesn’t have much—raising two children in a tiny hut, she and her husband can barely keep a tin roof over their heads—but she wants a better education for her gifted son. Pressured by her family, Asha reluctantly checks into the Happy Mothers House: a baby farm where she can rent her only asset—her womb—to a childless couple overseas. To the dismay of friends and family, Priya places her faith in a woman she’s never met to make her dreams of motherhood come true.

Together, the two women discover the best and the worst that India’s rising surrogacy industry has to offer, bridging continents and cultures to bring a new life into the world—and renewed hope to each other.

About the Author  4.5 stars, lots of reviews (GOOD reviews in the body of the amazon write-up)
Amulya Malladi is the author of six novels, including The Sound of Language and The Mango Season. Her books have been translated into several languages, including Dutch, German, Spanish, Danish, Romanian, Serbian, and Tamil. She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in journalism. When she’s not writing, she works as a marketing executive for a global medical device company. She lives in Copenhagen with her husband and two children. Connect with Amulya at

Fantasy: Enemy by K. Eason  She's a cartel assassin. He talks to the dead. Together, they're going to save an empire.

The Illhari Republic rests on the bones of gods, telling tales of conquest and forgetting its once-bloody devotion to its most powerful goddess. Snowdenaelikk, half-blood conjuror and smuggler, cares less about history than the silver she can win with sharp metal and sharper wits. But when the local legion blames her for burning a village, an outlander with a sense of honor intervenes, and Snow finds herself tangled in politics and an unwelcome partnership.

Snow and her new partner, Veiko, together with the legion scout Dekklis, uncover a conspiracy that will destroy the Republic from within. It seems that the goddess is back from wherever dead gods go. She has not forgotten the Republic, and she wants revenge.
Loyal Dekklis will do anything to save the Republic, and Snow reluctantly agrees to help—until she realizes that “anything” means sacrificing Veiko. Now Snow must decide whether her partner’s life is worth betraying her allies and damning the Republic to war.

About the Author — 3 stars (Book 1 of a series)

K. Eason started telling tales in her early childhood. After earning two degrees in English literature, she decided to stop writing about everyone else’s stories and get back to writing her own. Now she teaches first-year college students about the zombie apocalypse, Aristotelian ethics, and Beowulf (not all at once). She lives in Southern California with her husband and two black cats, and she powers everything with coffee.

Freshly trained detective Johannes “Hannes” Niehaus is brand-new to the Criminal Investigation Department. And his partner, unconventional veteran detective Fritz Janssen, isn’t the least bit thrilled to train a rookie.

When a woman’s body washes up on the nearby shores of the Baltic Sea, Hannes gets his first taste of real crime—and a chance to prove himself. Quickly the investigation pulls him and Fritz into a whirlpool of dangerous, decades-old cover-ups. As the death count rises, the clues begin to lead them back to the Third Reich—and to harrowing crimes some people will do anything to keep hidden.

With the dead woman’s beautiful assistant to protect and a missing girl to find, Hannes navigates an ever-twisting maze of concealed horrors and enduring vendettas. Will he be able to catch the murderer before another innocent life gets caught in the killer’s dark plan? 

About the Author … (translation, best seller in Germany) no reviews 
German author Hendrik Falkenberg studied sports management and works in sports broadcasting. The magical allure that the sea holds for him comes alive in his stories, which are set on the north German coast. His first book, Die Zeit heilt keine Wunden (Time Heals No Wounds), was a #1 Kindle bestseller in Germany and has been translated for the first time into English.

Modern Fiction: We’re All Damaged by Matthew NormanSometimes home is the last place on earth you belong.
Andy Carter was happy. He had a solid job. He ran 5Ks for charity. He was living a nice, safe Midwestern existence. And then his wife left him for a handsome paramedic down the street.

We’re All Damaged begins after Andy has lost his job, ruined his best friend’s wedding, and moved to New York City, where he lives in a tiny apartment with an angry cat named Jeter that isn’t technically his. But before long he needs to go back to Omaha to say good-bye to his dying grandfather.

Back home, Andy is confronted with his past, which includes his ex, his ex’s new boyfriend, his right-wing talk-radio-host mother, his parents’ crumbling marriage, and his still-angry best friend.

As if these old problems weren’t enough, Andy encounters an entirely new complication: Daisy. She has fifteen tattoos, no job, and her own difficult past. But she claims she is the only person who can help Andy be happy again, if only she weren’t hiding a huge secret that will mess things up even more. Andy Carter needs a second chance at life, and Daisy—and the person Daisy pushes Andy to become—may be his last chance to set things right. 

About the Author … 4.5 stars, GOOD Reviews

Matthew Norman lives in Baltimore with his wife and their two daughters. His writing has appeared on Salon, the Good Men Project, and the Weeklings. His first novel, Domestic Violets, was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award in Best Humor. Visit his blog at, or follow him on Twitter @TheNormanNation.

Quote from a review: "We're all damaged. Every single beautiful, stupid, precious one of us. Damaged, damaged, damaged."

Dream come true review: 
4.0 out of 5 stars Politics makes strange bedfellows. So does marriage.
Henry was the kind of husband, father, and grandfather every family would love to have. He was tough enough to survive being a Chicago Cubs fan and loving enough to remain devoted to his beloved Dottie after decades of marriage. As he lies dying in a hospice, Dottie (once again young and beautiful) snuggles against him and comforts him. But Dottie has been dead for years and the lovely young woman who's in bed with Henry is ..... Well, it's complicated.

I picked this book because it looked entertaining, but I was so irritated with the main character (Andy Carter, Henry's grandson) that I wanted to slap some sense into him. He's followed the path of least resistance all his life, allowing his family's expectations to mold his career and personal life. Faced with setbacks, he lashes out at everyone around him. It's a tribute to the author's skill that he's able to weave a fascinating story around such poor material. I see by the bio that he's an ad copy-writer and that explains a lot. NOBODY writes like an old ad-man.

It's a book about marriage. Henry and Dottie's happy marriage. Their daughter Nancy's tense marriage. Andy's broken one. People marry with insane expectations - sure that their partner will either never change or will become their dream lover. And then there are people who can't legally marry. Should we let them get married and be miserable like the rest of us?

It's also a book about the "fringes" of American politics. On both sides of any hot-button issue, leaders dig in their heels and behave as outrageously as possible while the media eggs them on. Who ARE those crazy people who stand outside the Supreme Court with signs and scream at each other?Read more ›

Literary Fiction: About the Night by Anat TalshirCan their love survive in a divided land?

On a hot summer day in 1947, on a grandstand overlooking Jerusalem, Elias and Lila fall deeply, irrevocably in love.

Tragically, they come from two different worlds. Elias is a Christian Arab living on the eastern side of the newly divided city, and Lila is a Jew living on the western side. A growing conflict between their cultures casts a heavy shadow over the region and their burgeoning relationship. Between them lie not only a wall of stone and barbed wire but also the bitter enmity of two nations at war.

Told in the voice of Elias as he looks back upon the long years of his life, About the Night is a timely story of how hope can nourish us, loss can devastate us, and love can carry us beyond the boundaries that hold human beings apart. 

About the Author  5 stars (1 review) 

Anat Talshir has been one of Israel’s most distinguished investigative journalists for over thirty years. She has hosted a television show on current affairs and taught creative writing at the College of Management Academic Studies. Talshir has written and produced several documentaries, including the award-winning program Israel’s Next War?
In 2002 she was awarded the Nahum Sokolov Prize for best journalism (the Israeli Pulitzer). Talshir is currently working on her second novel.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Software Writing Tools

Tools are important and need to fit how you think and write. There are lots of tools to choose from and these are just the ones I've chosen because they fit me.   I hope they help you find the right tools for you.

What sets a writer apart from the crowd?

This post comes from Caleb Pirtle III at Venture Galleries, connecting readers, writers and books, which is quickly becoming one of my "must reads," ...

No newsman was ever as trusted as Walter Cronkite. His was the voice of knowledge and authority.
No newsman was ever as trusted as Walter Cronkite. His was the voice of knowledge and authority.
THE NEWS was good.
Paul Harvey said it was.
He made us smile.
The news was bad.
I could hear it in the words.
Walter Cronkite could chill us to the bone.
What someone says may not be that important.
How they say it is unforgettable.
How they say it is all that matters.
It’s always the voice that we remember
In my days of long ago, there were two voices that I couldn’t wait to hear at the end of the day.
One belonged to Walter Cronkite.
We would gather in front of the television set, watch the images flicker in black and white, wrap our minds around the six o’clock news, and listen to Walter Cronkite tell us: And that’s the way it is.
The voice was distinctive.
It was different.
It rang with authority.
We heard the news.
We believed it.
We trusted it.
We knew that’s the way it was.
No one doubted it, especially when Cronkite offered up such nuggets as:
There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.
Or, Objective journalism and an opinion column are about a similar as the Bible and Playboy Magazine.
The other voice I won’t forget belonged to Paul Harvey.
He was a self-styled newsman who didn’t dabble in hard news.
He preferred catch phrase like:
In times like these, it helps to remember that there have always been times like these.
Or, if pro is the opposite of progress, then what is the opposite of “progress.”
Think about it.
Paul Harvey told us the rest of the story.
Paul Harvey told us the rest of the story.
Paul Harvey would spin a yarn with a surprise ending and tell us: Now you know the rest of the story.
We heard it.
We believed it.
We trusted it.
We now knew both the story told and the story that had never been told.
The New York Times said that Paul Harvey personalized radio news with his right-wing opinions, but laced them with his own trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average American and today’s observations that evoked his heartland, family values, and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around he dinner table on Sunday.
He, like Cronkite, had the voice that made a story worth listening to whether the story was any good or not.
Much the same can be said about writing.
When it’s all said and done, it’s not the story that counts.
It’s not the characters.
It’s not the plot.
It’s the voice.
We all tell the same stories about love and hate, greed and revenge, ambition and jealousy.
They bleed with mystery.
They ‘re breathless with romance.
They are stories about times both future and past.
Some even involve worlds that don’t exist and will never exist anywhere except on the pages of a book.
And there is only one thing that can make a novel different and give it a cadence and a rhythm all its own.
That’s the voice. .
You read: Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic. The second is intimate. The third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.
And you know it’s Raymond Chandler.
Pure and Simple.
You read: When you die, it’s the same as if everybody else did, too. … War was always there. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting the ultimate practitioner.
And you know the writer must be Cormac McCarthy.
It has to be.
No one else writes that way or has the talent to write that way.
You read: Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with somebody in order to get something or someplace you want or you believe it has to do with how your body responds to another body like robins or bison or maybe you believe love is how forces or nature or luck is benign to you in particular not maiming or killing you but if so doing it for your own good. Love is none of that.
And you know those words came straight from Toni Morrison.
She has a style and her voice has a depth that no one else has reached.
What makes a book good, perhaps, is the plot.
What makes it unforgettable, perhaps, are the characters.
What makes readers coming back for your next book and then the next is the voice of the story.
The voice is your signature.
It is as distinctive as a fingerprint.
It’s what sets you apart from the crowd.
And keeps you there.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Premise Statement: Best-Seller Analysis

Analysis of Premise Statements (or “Hooks”) for 33 Best Sellers

These premise statements or "hooks" are taking directly from New York Times best-sellers lists and analyzed according to the following:

- the IPA Model (Identification - Problem - Action)see previous post)
- the verbs used (active or passive)
- the number of words used
- the interplay with the title

The star rating (from one to five) is purely my call on the actual premise statement and has nothing to do with the quality of the book. I’ve tried to write a few words of explanation about what I think is lacking or weak when the rating has been less than *****.

I hope this helps you write a brilliant premise statement.

**** THE OBSESSION, by Nora Roberts. (Berkley.) A woman is haunted by her father’s crimes as she tries to pursue love and her work as a photographer.  IPA (20) Weak action.

** ONE WITH YOU, by Sylvia Day. (St. Martin's Griffin.) The chronicle of a tempestuous marriage comes to a close. P (10) No identification and weak indication of problem.

**** STUCK-UP SUIT, by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward. (EverAfter Romance.) An arrogant businessman's phone, lost on a commuter train, leads to an unexpected affair. IPA (14) Weak indication of problem … the affair is unexpected but did it have consequences?

***** FOOL ME ONCE, by Harlan Coben. (Dutton.) A retired Army helicopter pilot faces combat-related nightmares and mysteries concerning the deaths of her husband and sister. IPA (18)

**** ME BEFORE YOU, by Jojo Moyes. (Penguin.) A woman who has barely been beyond her English village finds herself while caring for a wealthy, embittered quadriplegic. IPA (19) Weak indication of problem and action.

***** THE NEST, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. (Ecco/HarperCollins.) Siblings in a dysfunctional New York family must grapple with a reduced inheritance. IPA (13)

***** MOST WANTED, by Lisa Scottoline. (St. Martin's.) A woman discovers that her sperm donor is a murderer. IPA (10)

***** NOW THAT I'VE FOUND YOU, by Bella Andre. (Oak Press.) An artist breaks his rule of never painting women when he meets a reality TV star.  IPA (16)

***** AS TIME GOES BY, by Mary Higgins Clark. (Simon & Schuster.) Secrets emerge when a television journalist searching for her birth mother covers the trial of the widow of a wealthy doctor. IPA (21)

*** THE NIGHTINGALE, by Kristin Hannah. (St. Martin's.) Two sisters are separated in World War II France: one in the countryside, the other in Paris. IP (17)  Without hinting at their “action,” there’s no sense of what the sisters will do. 

***** MAKE ME, by Lee Child. (Delacorte.) Jack Reacher pries open a missing-persons case that takes him across the country and into the shadowy reaches of the Internet. IPA (21)

***** THE MURDER HOUSE, by James Patterson and David Ellis. (Little, Brown.) When bodies are found at a Hamptons estate where a series of grisly murders once occurred, a local detective and former New York City cop investigates. IPA (26)

**** THE PLAYER, by Kresley Cole. (Valkyrie Press.) A grifter weds a man with a shadowy past in the third installment of the Game Maker series. IPA (18) Weak action, too many words allotted to series status.

**** THE 14TH COLONY, by Steve Berry. (Minotaur.) The covert operative Cotton Malone must thwart an agent loyal to the former Soviet Union. IPA (15) Weak action.

***** LISTEN TO ME, by Kristen Proby. (Morrow/HarperCollins.) Everything changes for a restaurateur when a former rock star walks into her Portland hotspot. IPA (15) I would have given this one six stars.

***** How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto A grad student who discovers hope in the personal stories of the ladies of her grandmother's quilting circle. IPA (18)

*** THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS, by Dominic Smith. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux.) A painting links a 17th-century Dutch painter and a modern art historian (and sometime forger). IPA (15) Weak action, plus it’s the painting that’s doing the action … although I do want to read this book!

*** ONE WITH YOU, by Sylvia Day. (St. Martin's Griffin.) Fighting for the love to which they have committed could set Gideon and Eva free, or break them apart; the finale of the Crossfire series. IA (25) No problem identified, weak action, plus awkward wording and no identification for new readers of this series.

***** A MAN CALLED OVE, by Fredrik Backman. (Washington Square.) An angry old curmudgeon gets new next-door neighbors, and things are about to change for all of them. IPA (18) 

***** THE GUILTY, by David Baldacci. (Grand Central.) Will Robie, the government's ace assassin, learns that his estranged father is charged with murder, but his investigation is unwelcome. IPA (20)

**** LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE, by Jessica Knoll. (Simon & Schuster.) The life of a successful New York magazine writer is shaken when secrets from her past are revealed. IPA (18) Passive verbs make the action weak.

* MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, by Elena Ferrante. (Europa.) The first installment in the author’s Neapolitan series, about the lifelong friendship between two women. No identification, no problem, weak action, too many words devoted to the series status.

*** MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S SORRY, by Fredrik Backman. (Washington Square.) A girl is instructed to deliver a series of letters after her grandmother dies. IA (14) Weak identification and action and no problem indicated, although, with the title, it’s an intriguing premise.

***** THE LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP, by Nina George. (Broadway.) Monsieur Perdu dispenses books to help mend broken hearts and decides to finally confront his own long-ago heartbreak. IPA (18) Another six-star candidate that makes me want to read the book!

**** MILLER'S VALLEY, by Anna Quindlen. (Random House.) A young woman comes of age during an assault on the land and the people she loves. IPA (17) A stronger action would have been good. Katniss anyone?

*** FAMILY JEWELS, by Stuart Woods. (Putnam.) In the 37th Stone Barrington novel, the lawyer becomes entangled in a mystery involving a wealthy divorcée’s ex-husband. IP (18) Too little action, too many series words.

*** ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, by Anthony Doerr. (Scribner.) The lives of a blind French girl and a gadget-obsessed German boy before and during World War II.  I (18) Good identification, no action, weak problem.

* THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR, by Helen Simonson. (Random House.) Life in Sussex, England, at the beginning of World War I. (11) No identification, problem or action.

***** JOURNEY TO MUNICH, by Jacqueline Winspear. (Harper/HarperCollins.) In 1938, the psychologist Maisie Dobbs travels to Germany to impersonate the daughter of a prisoner. IPA (16)

* THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, by Paula Hawkins. (Riverhead.) A psychological thriller set in the environs of London. (9)  No identification, problem or action. Which only goes to prove that some books can succeed, wildly succeed, in spite of their premise statement.

***** PRIVATE PARIS, by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan. (Little, Brown.) Jack Morgan, the head of the Private global investigative agency, probes the murders of members of the French cultural elite. (20)

*** THE MURDER OF MARY RUSSELL, by Laurie R. King. (Bantam.) In the 15th Mary Russell novel, the focus is on Clara, the housekeeper for Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, who is not who she appears to be. IP (28) No indication of action although paired with the title, it is implied.

* LILAC GIRLS, by Martha Hall Kelly. (Ballantine.) A story of three women’s lives during and after World War II. I (12) Weak identification, no problem, no action.

Last Resort

Again, if you’re still stuck and need help, send me your 15 draft statements and I’ll provide feedback and some word-smithing ideas … for $50. (This definitely should be your last resort, but it might be worth it if you’re really stuck.) 

Premise Statement: Simple as IPA

Finding the right “coach” for your novel writing journey can be tricky, but, once in awhile, you find someone who says exactly what you need to hear, exactly when you need to hear it. That happened to me with Randy Ingermanson’s brilliant “Snowflake Method” for designing a novel. Not only is it brilliant, but the basic article is FREE! (Randy is the author of the best-selling Writing Fiction for Dummies.)

After starting my new novel, Yellowstone Howling, and writing happily through several chapters, I hit a wall and realized I didn’t know where I was going. I had written my first fiction work, a young-adult, fantasy novella, (Sarana’s Gift) as a “pantser,” someone who just starts writing and follows along wherever it takes her. It was such fun that I wanted to do all my writing that way. But, now it wasn’t working.

I knew I was in trouble, so I started down the path of the “planner,” trying to develop an outline, put everything into Scrivener, developing full character sketches and so on. It wasn't working very well; I was bogging down and felt the joy of writing melting away.

Being Simple Minded

Then I discovered Randy and his snowflake article and the idea of “designing” a novel which seems to neatly merge the craft and the art of fiction. What really made me a believer was his simple structure: three disasters plus an ending. Maybe I’m just simple minded but that broke a log jam of confusion that had been created by dozens of “story arc” and “character transformation” books I’ve read over the years. Suddenly, I just had to find three disasters and I already had one really good one.

So, I jumped naively into Randy’s Step 1: the “premise statement.” He states,
"Step 1) Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel.”

"Great!” I thought. “I’ve got an hour.” I bet you know where this story is going.

I spent an hour and thought I had it, even if it was longer than his recommended 15 words. I went for a walk and realized I didn’t have it. It sucked.

Another hour, another “it,” another walk, another failure. Should I stop walking?

This went on for a few more rounds and finally I thought I had it nailed and sent it to a friend who basically said, “Barf."

At that point, I realized that I hadn’t followed one of Randy’s recommendations:  
Read the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list to learn how to do this. Writing a one-sentence description is an art form.
So, I analyzed 33 fiction best-sellers and developed a model for a one-sentence book premise. (This analysis will be included in the next post.)

If you’re wondering why a premise statement (sometimes called “the hook” is so important, read Randy’s article … or take my word for it … it is CRITICAL not only for future marketing but as your touchstone for what your book is. It might change, but until it does, this is the book you’re writing.)

 IPA Model: Identification - Problem - Action

This isn’t an arbitrary model. It’s based on what hooks readers into wanting to read a book: 
  • Identification with character, place or time (specific)
  • Problem or challenge that is significant or interesting
  • Action that promises a result, good or bad (active verb)
My analysis of the 33 best-sellers (and lots of years in marketing) confirmed this as an effective model. When I used it to write the premise statement for Yellowstone Howling, it pulled me out of the mounds of possibilities into a simple statement that I can now use as a way to describe the book to others … and to remind myself of where I’m going. And, yes, it might change, but, if it does, I now have the criteria needed to re-write it. 

Example from Randy

Randy has a software program, Snowflake Pro, and it shows his one-sentence hook based on Gone with the Wind: A self-willed Southern Belle struggles to survive the Civil War and win the love of the one man she can never have. 26 words. Perfect, huh? (although a bit longer than his own recommendation.) 
  • Identification: A self-willed Southern Belle ... Civil War
  • Problem: the one man she can never have
  • Action: struggles to survive ... and win the love ...
BTW, after looking at Snowflake Pro for about a minute, I bought it.
Ta Da - Mine!

Two life-weary women and a broken-hearted teenaged boy embark on a journey and discover a secret that changes everything. (19)
  • Identification: Two life-weary women and a broken-hearted teenaged boy
  • Problem: life-weary and broken-hearted … (Implied: how will they find purpose/happiness?)
  • Action: embark on a journey … discover a secret that changes everything. (action verbs)
Your Turn

Using this model (and the analysis in the next post), you might actually be able to develop your premise statement in an hour. I would suggest writing fifteen versions and picking one to live with for a few days. Write it on an index card. Say it out loud frequently. Send it to a friend. Listen and rewrite.

Last Resort

If you’re still stuck and need help, send me your 15 draft statements and I’ll provide feedback and some word-smithing ideas … for $50. (This definitely should be your last resort but it might be worth it if you’re really stuck.) 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Snowflakes and Story

I love simple. Especially thinking models which are memorable and pull you into deeper thinking processes.

One came to me in the midst of a Dara Marks workshop on transformational arc as a reminder that emotion is critical. I call it my one sentence story workshop: Make 'em laugh, cry or wonder "why?"

I've wondered for some time if other writing experts had similar simple approaches to story and just found one from Randy Ingermanson at Advanced Fiction Writing. He calls his process the Snowflake Method and it's interesting, but what I loved was his story one liner: Three disasters plus an ending.

I was in the midst of "designing" (a term he uses and I like) my novel when I read that. So, I tried writing down my three disasters ... and that was a disaster. However, within a few minutes (after months of worrying with the plot), I came up with disaster #2 ... and it changed everything.

Now, if I can figure out disaster #3, I think I'll have a real plot. Thanks, Randy!

More about the artwork: In the Garden of East and West by Joyce Wycoff