Friday, April 3, 2020

Writing: Fiction Mistakes and How to Fix Them

I initially wrote a blog for this week entitled “Life and Writing in the Time of Coronavirus.” My husband suggested it. However, when I gave him my article to read, he felt it was too negative. Since we are living in the epicenter of the virus across the GWB from Manhattan, this may be true. I don’t want to depress my fellow writers. So instead my new blog is about fixing fiction mistakes.


Those of us who write fiction are always looking for ways to improve the quality of our work. I ran across an interesting piece I’ll share with you. According to an article written by James Scott Bell that appeared in a WRITER’S DIGEST newsletter, there are five main fiction writing mistakes that should be avoided. They are as follows:

1.    Presenting perfectly happy, nice characters in the beginning scenes. It’s Bell’s contention that the reader should be engaged from the first in the plot via trouble, threat, change or challenge to the key character(s). In other words, a strong narrative hook is needed to grip the reader.

2.    “The best novels, the ones that stay with you all the way to the end—and beyond—have the threat of death hanging over every scene.” This goes for romance as well as mystery and suspense. This does not mean necessarily physical death. It can be of a vocational or psychological nature.

3.    Avoid what Bell refers to as Marshmallow dialogue”. By this he means dialogue that is too gushy or sweet.  Good dialogue is compressed and crisp. Each character has a different and distinctive way of speaking. Also, all dialogue needs to have tension and complexity.

4.    Avoid the dull and predictable. Place something unexpected in each scene keeping the reader turning those pages wanting to know what will happen next.

5.    Dig deep into your characters. Create detailed backstories for them.

My own suggestion is to know more about the characters than you will intend to use in the book itself. I like to create a “character bible” which means writing down all the details about key characters, physical and mental.


I found Bell’s advice particularly useful for mystery and thriller fiction as well as romantic suspense. What is your opinion?

Friday, March 27, 2020

Interview with Author Minette Lauren

As soon as Minette was old enough to write, she composed a play in one act called The Love of Seth and Beth, inspired by the movie, Gone With the Wind. Undeterred by the play's questionable success, Minette has been in love with writing ever since. Growing up in a small town outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, fueled a lot of Minette's creative endeavors. She travels often and takes advantage of any place with a view that inspires her to write. Minette now resides in Texas, where she loves to write outdoors by her pool, with her five furry writing muses. Besides her menagerie of tail-wagging pooches, Minette also has a loving husband, three turtles, and four parrots to keep her company. Together, they make all of her dreams come true.  

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer: My Hot in Magnolia Series, Cupcakes and Kisses, Five-Alarm Kisses, and Double Trouble Kisses, are all romantic comedies (rom-coms). Cupcakes is about forty-year-old, Melvina Banks, a talented baker who runs her father’s diner. She is known around Magnolia for her delicious cupcakes and other baked treats. Melvina has given up on men but she dreams of having her very own bakery. While pursuing her dream, she attracts two very hot, eligible bachelors. All of a sudden, she has some big decisions to make!


Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: I was at an RWA convention with a lot of other wonderfully inspiring writers. As I was blow-drying my hair at the hotel, I tweaked my back and I thought of a funny scene to write. That scene grew into a series based in Magnolia, TX.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer:  In Five-Alarm Kisses, book 2 in the Hot in Magnolia Series, Nina Salas is a feisty, Texan with Latin American heritage. She’s just lost everything she owns in a fire and has moved to Magnolia to pick up the pieces. There, she runs into a handsome fireman, Raphe Nash, who she deems off limits. Devilishly handsome and Captain of the local firehouse, Raphe is a risk to Nina’s fragile heart. Raphe is also running away. A firefighter based in Houston, Raphe almost lost his life in a five-alarm fire. He recently moved to Magnolia to be closer to his family and try to get back on track. Nina completely upends his life.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer:  I also write women’s fiction. Race for the Sun, the first novel in my Soul Watcher Series, won a national reader’s choice award. The second book in the series is complete and ready for release, but my marketing gal is trying to convince me to pitch it to an agent as a separate YA series because the main characters are teenage sisters. She’s excited about the coming of age content and its cinematic potential.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I always have something to write about, but I’m not allowing myself to start another book until I complete a few life tasks, like settling my mother’s estate. I recently lost my mom and family always comes first. When I’m ready to start writing again, I’m sure I’ll be torn between which series to continue. All my characters call out to me, especially late at night when I should be sleeping. The break from writing seems odd since I’ve been writing non-stop for the past year, but it also gives me some time to take a breath and plan out what’s next. Five-Alarm Kisses was written in fifty-one days and Double Trouble Kisses was written in fifty-four days. I like to plan the time to write when I know I won’t be interrupted. Losing our home in Hurricane Harvey derailed Cupcakes and Kisses for a year. The book was almost forgotten. Since then, I try to hold myself accountable for all the pages that I commit to when I begin a new book.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I’ve always created scenarios in my head. I started seriously in my early twenties but gave it up at the first rejection. I started again in my thirties, and then quit before finally tucking in and really giving it a try in my early forties. That’s when I finally started listening to my writing muse. I admit the publishing world can be daunting at times. I sometimes wonder why I keep at this, but the truth is, I can’t stop writing. It’s in my blood.

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: Never let a rejection letter define you as a writer. Opinions vary and you may get a better response from someone else. Listen to your critics. You can learn a lot from what people don’t like, but don’t let it crush your spirit. Write for yourself, ignore what’s selling. The story should be inside you, bursting its way onto the page. Hold yourself accountable for what goals you set down. If you promise to write one-hundred words a day, do it!

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: Since I said good-bye to my publisher last July, I have taken back all the rights to my books. Everything is finding its way back to print, but this time only on Amazon. I am a part of Kindle Unlimited, so readers who belong to KDP can read my books for free. My eBooks are only $2.99, and they are also available in print on Amazon. The audible books for my Hot in Magnolia Series are being recorded right now and should be available by April/May.


Questions or comments for Minette are most welcome!

Friday, March 13, 2020

Luck in Literature

Today, Friday the 13th, is considered an unlucky day. The Ides of March, the 15th and 16th of this month, traditionally bode ill luck as well. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the emperor is warned to “Beware the Ides of March” by the Soothsayer. Julius, not being a superstitious sort of fellow and believing in his personal immortality, sneers, ignores the warning, and refers to the Soothsayer as “a dreamer.” Not Caesar’s wisest decision.


 It will soon be St. Patrick’s Day which supposedly brings good luck and fortune. Luck is a reoccurring theme in Irish literature. People do at times have lucky things happen to them and at other times suffer misfortunes like ill health, accidents or assaults. However, authors prefer to believe that for the most part we make our own luck.

According to Napoleon: “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.” I apply that statement to authors. We get lucky with our work when we’ve done adequate preparation—that is being well-read, writing, rewriting, and editing until we’ve created something of value and quality. If we’re too lazy or too full of ourselves to make this kind of effort and commitment then alas we’ll never “get lucky.”

Luck is a common theme in literature. For example, Thomas Hardy created characters that were unlucky like Tess or Jude. Yet it could be argued that their bad luck came as a direct result of fatal flaws in their own characters. This is where Greek tragedy derives from. Things don’t just happen. There is a cause and effect relationship. The Victorian writers used coincidence commonly in their plot lines, something modern writers try to avoid.

I write about and admire main characters with positive values who make their own good luck and overcome obstacles through personal effort, not bemoaning their fate or bad luck. To quote Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar again, as Cassius observes: “Our fate, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

In tribute to Irish literature which as observed often deals with themes related to luck, I want to mention a few of the outstanding Irish writers I’ve appreciated over the years.


As an undergraduate English major, I read and enjoyed John Millington Synge’s The  Playboy of the Western World. Synge celebrated the lyrical speech of the Irish in a boisterous play.

In graduate school, I took a semester seminar on the works of William Butler Yeats, a great Irish poet. I learned a great deal about Irish mythology from his work.

George Bernard Shaw was also of Irish origins and a great playwright, another favorite of mine. His plays still hold up because of thought-provoking themes and clever dialogue.

I’ve read James Joyce’s stories and novels but most appreciated his earlier work. I thought Portrait of the Artist was brilliant as was Dubliners, his short story collection. His style was original and unique.

Satirist Jonathan Swift is often thought of as a children’s writer, but this is, of course, completely false.
Notable Works: Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of a Tub, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift.
Oscar Wilde was a talented Irish writer and playwright. Sentenced to two years in prison for gross indecency (homosexuality), he eventually lost his creative spark. Notable Works: The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest (play), Poems, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (children’s book), A Woman of No Importance (play).
Abraham Stoker (Bram Stoker) gave us Dracula (enough said!) Lawrence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith, C.S. Lewis all had Irish origins as well, although they left Ireland for England. The list of outstanding Irish men and women who have provided great literature is very long and therefore beyond the scope of this mere blog.
My mystery novel, DEATH PROMISE, is set in Las Vegas, and surprise, luck does play a part in it.

Do you believe in luck? Do you have any favorite Irish authors? Your thoughts and comments welcome!


Friday, February 28, 2020

Interview with Author June Trop

 I’m interviewing June Trop, author of historical mysteries. She gifted me a copy of a novel in her series which I enjoyed reading. I was impressed by the depth of her historical knowledge.

Question: June, what is the title of your current novel?  Why did you select it?

The Deadliest Thief (Black Opal Books, 2019) is the fifth novel in my Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series of historical fiction, which is set in first-century CE Roman Alexandria. The only surviving accomplice in a jewel heist vows to kill Miriam and her occasional deputy, the itinerant potbellied dwarf, Nathaniel ben Ruben. At the same time, a kidnapper seizes Miriam’s closest friend, Phoebe, and threatens to butcher her piece by piece. Miriam suspects the events are connected, but can she find her friend before it’s too late?
Aside from my own life-long love of mysteries, I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge. Readers should have access to all the clues but, at the same time, be unable to solve the puzzle. In fact, The Deadliest Thief has been praised for its surprise ending. And then, the solution must satisfy. That is, readers must see that the author was fair. And finally, justice should triumph. Writing doesn’t get more challenging than that!

Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?
Many years ago, I was taking a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry. The professor assigned a paper in which we’d select an historically significant concept and trace its development. I hadn’t a clue what to pick so I wandered through the stacks of the library hoping an inspiration would hit me. Instead a book did. Fell right off the top shelf, landed on my poor toe, and opened to an article about Maria Hebrea. She was a first-century alchemist living in Alexandria who held her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World.
I wrote my paper on alchemy but never forgot this woman or her inventions. Since very little was known about her personally, I was free to make her my amateur sleuth.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Actually, Miriam is right here. She’s always with me and will tell you about herself as long as you swear by Alethia to keep her work a secret:
Times are dangerous here in Roman Alexandria. I am an alchemist, and while the goal of our league is to perfect human life—to heal, extend, and rejuvenate it—we also focus on base metals like copper and iron, to perfect them into gold. But that’s where we can get into trouble, big trouble. The emperor is afraid that by synthesizing gold, we will undermine his currency and overthrow the empire. And so, the practice of alchemy, even the possession of an alchemical document, is punishable by the summum supplicium, the most extreme punishment. Like the vilest of criminals, any suspect is summarily crucified, left to hang outside the city gates to serve as an appalling warning to others. And so, when an alchemical document was stolen from my home (see The Deadliest Lie, Bell Bridge Books, 2013), I began to practice sleuthing. Now don’t forget: You must swear to keep my alchemical work a secret.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?
The story in each of my five Miriam bat Isaac novels stands alone, but the core characters mature through the series. All the titles start with these two words, “The Deadliest…” and begin with The Deadliest Lie, then Hate, Sport, Fever, and Thief. All of them have been praised for their historical accuracy and for bringing the reader to that very time and place.

Before writing fiction, I was a professor of teacher education. My research focused on storytelling as a way of constructing and communicating practical knowledge. My first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin, 2009) is about the stories new teachers told about their early classroom experiences.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on a collection of Miriam bat Isaac short stories.

Question:   What made you start writing?

I started writing with my twin sister when we were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. We sold our story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” to my brother for two cents. But more than the story and the proceeds, I saw the magic of expressing oneself in words. The challenge and the satisfaction have never left me.

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

I hope these precepts can support and encourage other writers:
1.     Avoid comparing yourself to other writers. You have your own distinct voice and stories to tell.
2.     Accept your failures and learn from them. In fact, if you’re not getting rejected some of the time, you’re not taking the chances you need to improve your craft.
3.     Be grateful you have this opportunity to express yourself. 

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

You can order my novels in e-book or paperback formats from any online or independent bookstore. Moreover, my website, http://www.JuneTrop.com, has a blurb, video trailer, excerpt, and reviews of each novel, and a button to order directly from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about me, Miriam, and my future and recent past events; read my weekly blog on Life in Roman Alexandria; and contact me. I’m eager to hear from you here or on my website.

June welcomes comments!


Friday, February 21, 2020

One Approach to Writing Effective Fiction

Once you’ve decided on a premise for a story or a novel, the real effort begins. How should you approach the writing of your first draft? A Bookbaby newsletter article suggests writing the first draft of a novel as if you were writing a movie script. “Spotlight the essentials of action and dialogue in your first draft, then add all the exposition and descriptive ‘book stuff’’ the next time around.” Focusing on dialogue and action gives the writing structure. The bare bones will be there to flesh out in later drafts. Perhaps this is another way of suggesting: show, don’t tell?

What do you think? Do you work in a similar manner? If you don’t, would you try doing so in the future? In the case of my novella THE BURNING, I actually wrote it as a movie script initially and then converted it. I found the dialogue flowed much more smoothly and naturally. The plot also worked better as did the theme.

Of course, novelists as well as short story writers really need to use all of their senses: taste, touch, smell as well as sight and sound. As fiction writers, we are not limited and can let our vivid imaginations roam freely. Our use of description and exposition also encourages us to do so.


Your comments welcome!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine’s Day: Why Celebrate?

I look forward to VALENTINE’S DAY each year--and not just because it gives me an excuse to indulge my love of chocolate.  I admit to being a romantic at heart. That’s probably why many of my mystery novels have a romantic element in them.

The day had its origin with the Romans. The fertility celebration known as the Lupercalia eventually became the Christian Valentine's holiday. The Lupercalia festival was partly in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who in legend nursed the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, supposed founders of the city of Rome in 753 B.C. The pagan festival was also in honor of the Roman god Lupercus who was the god of shepherds.

There are several different stories connected to three early Christian martyrs who came to be called “Saint Valentine”. Besides becoming associated with love and romance, the holiday continued as a feast day.

Valentine’s Day is also the anniversary of my older son, Andrew Seewald, who is an attorney in New Brunswick, NJ. He and his wife met as grad students at Rutgers University. They were married before a judge on Valentine’s Day. My husband and I were their witnesses. After a lovely brunch at a local hotel, bride and groom drove a hundred miles so Andrew could defend a client in a courtroom in another town. They finally got a honeymoon several months later. It made no difference; they are still very happy together and in love. In fact, their wedding was the most romantic one I’ve ever attended.

No matter how dreary February might be, I always feel cheerful on Valentine’s Day.  I enjoy reading and writing romance novels. But Valentine’s Day is special. I don’t need candy, flowers or fancy cards to enjoy the day—just the company of my husband.

My latest novel, published by Luminosity, is an historical romance entitled           SINFUL SEDUCTION. It’s a book I wrote with love.
Some Book Links: 


Goodreads

Amazon
  
B&N

Nook

Kobo

Review

Also: If you would like to read a Valentine’s story for free that combines mystery and romance, check out this one at:


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Sources of Inspiration for Writers

We writers are often asked about our sources of inspiration. Fiction writers can be inspired by reading nonfiction whereas nonfiction writers may be inspired by fiction. Love of animals is one significant theme that draws readers and writers of both.

Lee Juslin, a graduate of Bucknell University with a master’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, is a freelance copywriter living in North Carolina. She owns I B Dog Gone, an embroidery company, and is dedicated to supporting a number of breed rescue groups. She sells her embroidery items for Cairns, Scotties, and Westie folks on Ebay and writes profiles of rescued dogs for King’s River Life, an online magazine. Lee is my guest blogger today.


In reading The Park Pack by Helen O’Neill, featured in A Murder of Crows edited by Sandra Murphy, I was reminded of my certified therapy dog, Frosty, and our visits to hospitals, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes.


The bond between canine and human, so well illustrated in Ms. O’Neill’s story, I also saw with Frosty and the seniors we visited.


When we finished the training required for Frosty to earn her Canine Good Citizen certification (CGC) and become a certified therapy dog, the trainer approached and asked if we would be willing to do therapy visits at our local hospital. The hospital’s volunteer coordinator had asked her to recommend a therapy team. I was excited that we were her first choice.

After meeting with the hospital’s volunteer coordinator and confirming Frosty’s curriculum vitae—we had recently been accepted in Love on a Leash, a national therapy animal organization—we were assigned a ward to visit once a week.

On our visits we looked very official. Frosty had a Love On a Leash therapy vest and her official hospital name tag with her name and picture. I also had a hospital name tag with a picture but somehow mine didn’t look as interesting as Frosty’s with that big Scottie head and, large perky ears.

Every Tuesday when arriving at the hospital ward, we were given a list of rooms not to visit either because the patient was too ill or under quarantine or didn’t want a visit from a happy, friendly little Scottie dog. The latter reason was very seldom used.

The hospital also had a separate exercise/physical therapy building with a childcare facility. At Halloween all the children dressed in costume. The hospital asked if Frosty would serve as the Grand Marshall for the Halloween parade they were planning for the costumed kids.

When I told a seamstress friend, she insisted on making a nurse outfit for Frosty complete with the old-fashioned starched cap. That is how Frosty came to be known as Nurse Frosty and, as time went on, we incorporated the nurse costume into visits on special days. Later, she also got a Santa suit, and a kilt. She was gathering quite a wardrobe.

The day of the parade we were directed to the front of the line of dragons, princesses, and witches. We marched along through the facility enduring amused stares from adults working on treadmills and stationary bikes. I felt a total fool, but Frosty loved every minute of it as she was convinced the parade was in her honor.

When we reached the daycare room, all the costumed kids piled in. Frosty held back, not at all sure of the weirdly dressed folks shouting and carrying on. When they were in “her” parade walking quietly behind her, she hadn’t paid them much attention. I bent down and explained everything was O.K. After a minute, she agreed to go in. Immediately we were mobbed, the leash slipped out of my hand, and I lost sight of my girl. I felt panic. Then the crowd parted, and there was Frosty sitting happily in the lap of one of the adult caretakers.

The supervisor had the children line up and showed them how to gently pat Frosty. I learned a valuable lesson that day because though, nothing bad happened and Frosty was happy and safe, it could have been worse. I should have picked up Frosty before entering the room and asked that the children be organized either into a line or in their chairs. Happily, in our ten years of visiting, we never had a scary, out of control situation like that again.

On our regular visits to our assigned ward, we walked along the corridors, stopping in rooms, and visiting with patients. One visit that stands out in my mind was in a room that we were not supposed to enter. But, as we started to walk past, two women stepped out and approached us. One was in tears. “Please, can you visit our mother,” one asked.

I explained that we had been told not to bother them. The one in tears then begged me and said her mother was dying and had always loved dogs. Of course, we agreed and stepped into the room.

A pale and obviously ill woman lay propped up in bed. She managed a slight smile at the sight of Frosty coming in dressed in her therapy vest. On the other side of the room were several friends and relatives sitting quietly. They, too, smiled at the sight of my sweet Scottie girl.

We made our way over to the bed, and I lifted Frosty up. The woman managed to reach over to pat Frosty. Then she smiled and lay back. As I turned and started to put Frosty down, the audience on the sofa peppered me with questions. “What kind of dog is that” and “How did she get to be a therapy dog?”

We stayed for a bit, answered their questions, and let everyone have a turn at patting Frosty and rubbing her back. Then we left.

Several days later, I was reading the local paper and saw a death announcement of a lady named Lee. I was sure that was the woman we had visited because, during the visit, I saw that she and I had the same first name. I must have said, “Oh, she died” out loud as Frosty looked up at me from where she lay chewing a bone. I couldn’t explain to her but somehow, I felt she knew.

In The Park Pack, each of the people knows all the other dogs, their quirks, and tricks. No one knows any of the human’s names. That’s just the way it was at our hospital visits. No one remembered my name. Everyone knew Nurse Frosty, just as it should be.

Comments for Lee most welcome!