Release Day – Two Weeks Away

The Second Chance House will be released in print and digital formats on March 7, 2018. That’s only two weeks away! It will be available from all major online retailers, and on my website.

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Sorry about the picture of me sitting in Panera. I’m trying to mess with the Facebook algorithms.

There are so many moving parts in getting a book out into the world. I could write a blog post every day for a month and still not hit on all the things an author has to do to get a book into the hands of her readers.

A friend of mine recently suggested I talk about my process for writing the book. So you can blame Sean for this one. Wink! And then when you’re done here today, jump over to Sean’s blog and read about writing (he has a great book coming out if he’ll ever stop editing it. Joking.), movies, and his nostalgia for New York City. You won’t be sorry. I promise.

Come sit beside me as we talk about writing. I have my tea. You? Great. paneracup

In 2015, in the midst of finishing the third book in my middle grade series, Welcome To Skull Mountain, two characters began talking to each other in my head. Non-stop. No matter what I was doing, they’d show up. They drove me crazy. That’s good stuff for an author. I started putting their story down on paper.

Problem was I had to finish that third book first, and then my daughter became sick. It took a little while before I could really figure out who these two people were. Thankfully, they kept talking to me.

I believe all stories are character driven. In my world, people talk about plot driven stories and character driven stories. In my humble opinion, you could have the best story in the world, but if your characters don’t actually make choices on every page then who cares about your plot? Characters are what stay with us long after the book ends. Characters make me laugh and make me cry. Plot is just an accessory. The most important, like a pace maker, but plot can’t do diddly without character. I’m sure someone else will have a different opinion.

The first thing I have to do when I write a book is get to know my characters. I don’t do character interviews, though that’s a popular technique. I start asking myself questions about what their wounds are. The ugly stuff we hide from Facebook. I need to know what happened to them in their past that makes them the way they are when my reader meets them. I come up with stuff you’ll probably never see, but that’s okay. The better I know my characters the more real they’ll be to you.

We’ll pick on Grace for a minute. Grace Starr is the heroine in A Second Chance House. I like Grace. I can relate to her. She’s middle-aged, has a teenage daughter she can’t communicate with, and a husband who left her for a younger woman. (I can’t relate to the husband part. Good thing for the Coffee King. Otherwise he’d be coffee grounds. Ba-da-bump.) She’s a control freak, and she’s been following the rules her whole life. When you meet Grace, she wants a new life.

First question for Grace is what happened to you that made you this way? I start to build her backstory. Her father left her when she was too little to remember him. Her childhood was filled with chaos. For some people, in order for them to handle chaos in their lives they like to control things. That’s Grace.

So, who would be the worst kind of match for her? Well, a rock star might be a good place to start. We’ve all heard wild stories about rock ‘n roll. I have a vivid imagination. Enter, Blaise Savage. Just his name alone should have Grace shaking in her boots. In more ways than one. Ha! Sorry, Grace.

I’ve sat through countless workshops and seminars on the craft of writing. I learned pretty early on if you want a romance to sizzle on the page you need to pair opposites. The analogy often used is if your hero is a fire fighter then your heroine better be an arsonist. Follow?

Once I know who my characters are I need to know what they want. They must want something they can touch, and they must want something internally. Love, family, a second chance. Those things Grace wants have to be connected in some way to the things Blaise wants. And as often as I can work it in each scene, Grace has to stop Blaise from getting what he wants and Blaise has to stop Grace from getting what she wants. So, if Blaise wants to kiss Grace, it can’t happen. If I can’t get Grace to control herself, (because let’s face it, Blaise is a damn good kisser) then I bring in another character to break up the moment. I know, that’s so mean! Trust me, makes for a page turner.

Now I can build the plot. I won’t go into the details about inciting incident, plot points, black moments, point of view, show don’t tell, etc. Unless you’re a new writer and need to learn it, all that stuff will just pull the curtain back too far. Readers need to be mesmerized by the smoke and mirrors. If you are a new writer, and have questions email me. I’ll get you going in the right direction.

I write the first draft. A Second Chance House is 99,000 words. That’s about 380 pages. I edit that draft with the help of my critique partners. I ask questions, they give me suggestions. I let them read the first fifty or so pages because they understand all the technical stuff and they can tell me if I’m hitting my stride in the right places.

After the third or fourth time through the book can go to my editor. ASCH is published traditionally so the publisher has its own process I will follow at this point. Indie or self-pubbed books follow a slightly different path. But either way, a lot more editing happens over the next several months. Right, Sean?

By the time you read the book it’s been polished to a high shine and in it’s best Sunday clothes.

I am eternally grateful for all the people who help me along the way. My critique partners: M. Kate Quinn, Shari Nichols, and K.M. Fawcett. My editor on this book, Roseann A., is the master editor. I owe her big time. Also have beta readers who I bring in at different stages for help. They read the book all the way through as readers. Readers read like readers. Writers read like writers. My betas give me invaluable feedback so I can fix whatever else might need fixing. Thank you, Robin and Betsy. Love you tons.

I’m hosting a Facebook party on March 7, 2018 from 7 – 9 pm to celebrate the release. We’ll be playing games, there will be prizes, and we’ll be chatting about writing, publishing, and whatever else you want. Hope to see you there.

I’ll be having a Book Launch Concert on March 28, 2018 in Neptune, NJ at Patrick’s Pub. 7 pm. Patrick’s hosts an open-mic night every Wednesday with wonderful bands playing some great music. They were kind enough to allow me to tag along because my hero is a drummer in a rock band. I’ll have books to sign, and I’ll be doing a reading. If you live in the area, please stop by and say hi. We’ll have a good time.

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How To Make Me Read Your Book – ETT

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I don’t write reviews about books I don’t like. I don’t think it’s good karma since I’m an author too and I know how hard this person has worked to write the book even if it needs more work. Instead, I come here and tell you what not to do when writing your books.

The thriller genre is one of my favorites. I’ve said that before. I read a lot of thriller novels. I’m okay with the book starting out with a killing. In fact, the book probably should start out with the very least a dead body. But the trick is making the reader care so early on. They don’t know these characters yet. There has to be a reason for the reader to keep turning pages. I don’t recommend starting in the killer’s point of view especially if we know right off the bat it’s the killer and he’s about to make a kill. I just put down a book that did exactly that. Right away the killer is on the prowl. He bashes his way into a professional establishment and starts swinging an axe at people. My first thought was, why should I care about this? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not so cold-hearted that I don’t care about people dying. This is a work of fiction, I hope, and my editor brain never sleeps.

The reader isn’t invested in the story on page two to have the killer describing what the axe feels like in his hands. I’d say if you’re going to be in the killer’s point of view so early on, get right to the point. Leave out the sensory details, blinding lights, smooth handles, the clothing of other people. All the inner thoughts of how he’s moving around the room or perhaps he pulled a muscle while swinging the axe. (I don’t know, maybe the author has a weird sense of humor?) The killer is crazy, he breaks in, swings the axe, the victims try to get away, but fail. Done. Now, get me to the protagonist whose going to stop this madman but not before the end of the book.

All that other stuff? Nobody cares yet. The reader isn’t sympathetic to your villain yet. Remember what I said about three-dimensional villains. You can’t pull that off on page three. I promise. But I tried a few more pages hoping it would get better.

Here’s another tip: Your protagonist, the main character, isn’t going to think about her beautiful hair and how she doesn’t have to fuss with it upon waking up. Do you ever think about that in the morning? Not me. My first thought is usually, why the heck is it so early? Followed by who has to be where at what time? Thoughts of my hair, like do I have time to wash it, are further down on the list. An author needs to hold off on fancy descriptions of hair until there’s a better way to let the reader know what the character looks like. Heck, here’s an idea, let the reader make it up for himself. And if you’re going to tell me your protagonist doesn’t fuss with her appearance, she isn’t mentioning her lovely locks.

I gave up completely a few pages later. The author tells us it’s early winter. On my calendar, that’s December. Anyone else’s calendar have a different date? Okay, the hero, the detective, and his partner and getting in the car. The partner is yapping about a professional baseball game he watched the night before.  NOT IN EARLY WINTER. Major League Baseball finishes in November except for 2001 when a few lunatics flew planes into buildings in this country. Where is this woman’s editor?

I checked to see who published this book. She’s an indie author. That’s okay. I’m an indie author and know plenty of very good indie authors. But if you are going to be an indie author I can’t stress enough the importance of hiring a professional editor. We could argue in circles all the stuff about point of view, caring about the characters, description of appearances, but a professional baseball game in early winter is just too big of a mistake to miss. You’ll lose all credibility if you don’t check your details. A professional editor would’ve red flagged that sentence. And if the editor wasn’t a hundred percent sure when the baseball season was, an editor worth her salt would’ve checked.

I closed that book. I will never recommend it and I will never read another book by that author. Don’t be that author. Be better. Learn your craft. Make me want to read your book until the end.

Any questions?

Editing Tip Tuesday

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Just get on with it.

I’m reading a book now for pleasure. (Yes, I still do that in addition to all the other stuff I read for work.) I won’t mention the title or the author, but I will tell you it’s categorized as a thriller.

Right up front we know one of the 4 POV characters has a secret. (Let me digress for a second and say I don’t love the fact the book has 4 POV characters. Who am I suppose to get attached to?) The author mentions repeatedly this character, a girl – age seventeen, has a secret, but the author doesn’t tell us what it is.

She wants us to wonder and keep turning the pages. Honestly, the fact that she keeps mentioning this big secret, but won’t give us a hint (though it’s in photo form now so we know someone else is going to get their hands on it) just annoys me. Say it once. Character Number One has a secret. Then be on with it. Author doesn’t have to keep hinting. It’s like kids on a play ground, “I have a secret and I’m not telling you.” At which point I want to shut the book.

Yes, you have to create suspense if the secret is somehow connected to the arc of the story. But I like books that hit the ground running and don’t slow down. This book also gets bogged down in the beginning with a lot of setting. It’s a very nice setting and one I might even want to visit some day, but I’d rather learn about the secret or what led up to this horrible thing hanging over Character Number One’s head. Because once she’s faced with the fact her secret is out she’s going to be forced to make a decision. One hopefully, she doesn’t like. Now we have conflict! And the race is on.

Since I can’t turn off my editor brain while I read, I often say out loud, “Get on with it.” Give me something new. And I don’t think having multiple POV characters is the answer to something new. I see what the Author is trying to do. Each character has a secret and I guess we’re supposed to keep turning the pages until someone’s secret blows up.

Honestly, I don’t care enough. I want action. I want characters shoved into making choices between two evils. I want to see how they respond under pressure.

I want you to get on with it.

Any questions?

 

 

Editing Tip Tuesday

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Whose scene is it anyway?

In many novels, there is more than one point of view (POV) character. It isn’t unheard of for characters to run around in a writer’s head demanding to tell their story. This goes on in real life too. Do you know how many people I’ve met who tell me I should write about them? But back to the point.

Not every character can be the lead in every scene. You must decide who has the most at stake in that scene and that’s your POV character. You might find while you’re writing that a scene isn’t working. I know this is happening when I’m writing because I physically feel like I’m banging up against something. (I know, weird, but I’ve learned to identify this strange feeling and work with it.) If you ask yourself the hard truth, you’ll know if a scene isn’t working for you too. Sorry, not all our writing is pretty.

Ask yourself who has the most to gain or lose in this scene? It might not be the person you started out with. Rewrite the scene from another character’s POV and see what happens. At the very least you’ll learn something about the people in your scene. If you’re doing your job right, every character will sound differently and when you give someone else the chance to stand center stage they will show you something you didn’t know about before in your story. I promise you.

Any questions? I love hearing from you. Happy Writing!

Editing Tip Tuesday

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How’s the writing going? Slow, words are flowing, staring at a blank screen, characters with minds of their own, too many words, not enough words, need more conflict. All appropriate answers.

I’m a believer that all stories are character driven. Sometimes you’ll hear stories are plot driven. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Characters under pressure drive the story. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t have your characters making choices under pressure it doesn’t matter how good your story idea is because nothing is happening.

It’s important to know who your characters are before you even begin writing. I write character sketches of all of my main characters, not just the protagonist or antagonist or in a romance not just hero/heroine. When you know you’re characters well you’ll know what kind of choices they’ll make.

There’s also a difference between characterization and character. Characterization are all things we know about our character. Character is revealed in the choices they make under pressure.

Here’s an example of questions I ask and tell other writers to ask about their characters:

Gender, Age, Hair/Eye Color, Birthmarks, Height, Body Type, Family Life, Education, Jobs, Where did they grow up, Style of Speech, Attitudes and Opinions, Religion, What do they like to eat, Hobbies, Sports,

First date, First crush, first kiss, did they go to the prom, college, travel

Are they weak or strong emotionally, honest or a liar, cruel or kind, generous or selfish

You can keep going from there. The more you know the easier it will be to drive the story.

Any questions? I’d love to hear from you.

WinerywtableAre you having trouble keeping the distractions from creeping into your writing time? I’m hosting a distraction free writing retreat on September 10, 2016 in Ringoes, NJ at Old York Cellars Vineyard. It’s a day dedicated to keep you moving forward on your manuscript. Designated writing areas with no Wi-Fi, no cell phone zones. We also have optional activities to participate in: writing sprints, group walks, critiques, neck and shoulder massage, discussion groups for brainstorming, plotting, craft, etc. Sample wine in the tasting room.

For more information and to can sign up go to our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/writenowwritersretreat