Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Point of View: Finding Your Voice

I often see the comment from agents that they are looking for writers who have a “unique voice”. Therefore, simply develop an original voice. Right? But what exactly does that entail? First, we must decide who is telling the story. The point of view of the main character or characters has everything to do with voice. It’s not your personal voice but that of the character in your story.

For instance, this is one of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel. It does not mean that you must write only from a first person point of view. However, teenage readers often respond well to a first person narrative. But voice has to do with choice of vocabulary and style as well. For instance, my YA novels, STACY’S SONG and THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, are written in the first person from the main character’s point of view. Stacy has a sense of humor while Danna is sensitive and artistic. These things influence how they tell their stories. It often helps to read your writing out loud.

With traditional romance, there are generally two viewpoints that move from female to male, usually written in the third person. They need to be distinctive from each other even in third person POV.

 Mystery varies more. Often these days, the first person viewpoint is either the unreliable narrator who may not be telling the truth for a variety of reasons. Most common is the third person narration. This has the advantage of varying point of view with ease. But multiple viewpoints have one important disadvantage: they may cause the story to lose focus if mishandled.

Sometimes authors have multiple first person POV while others will use multiple third person. But changing viewpoints too often can confuse readers causing them to reject the book. Readers need to respond with a sense of connection to at least one character. So that character must seem real and matter to the reader on some level. When the POV of a key character resonates with the reader, what happens to that character is something the reader wants and needs to know.

In the 19th century, omniscient narration was popular. The all-knowing third person narrator informed the reader. Occasionally, writers will still use second person narration as well, addressing the reader directly using “you” and “your”. We don’t see much of either one of these in modern writing.

Cross genre novels can be tricky. My latest, DEATH PROMISE, is a romantic suspense mystery thriller. The novel is mainly presented from the POV of the two main characters who balance each other. Did I manage it effectively? If you read the novel, let me know what you think. I’d love your input and feedback.


In regard to short story fiction, editors tend to prefer one POV. Multiple viewpoints don’t work well because of limited length. The short story works best with a single focus.

To sum up, POV has the reader see and hear things from the unique perspective of the characters in a story. That is why you always have to consider the style and vocabulary each narrator presents if you want to create the semblance of reality, verisimilitude, in your work.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, welcome here.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What Makes for Winning Cover Art?

Every publisher and every author wants the front of their book cover to draw reviewers and readers. I have some thoughts on the topic. I’ll start by example.

My latest novel, DEATH PROMISE, a romantic suspense mystery thriller, will be published by Encircle on May 2, 2018.

It’s already available in pre-order from Amazon both in print and as a Kindle book.

Why was this cover selected? First, let me say that much thought went into the creation. From the cover, readers know immediately that this novel features a romance between a man and a woman. Second, from the cover there is a suggestion of danger--the city at night, the woman holding a gun. Third, it’s clear the novel is intended for an adult readership. I particularly wanted that distinction because I also write YA novels, and unlike those books, DEATH PROMISE does contain some sensual material.

As readers, do you initially judge a book by its cover? It stands to reason that writers want to create an appealing cover that draws the eye. Cover art can make or break a book especially if the author isn’t well-known. What kind of front cover will grab the reader’s attention? What kind of cover art should a book display?  A lot depends on the genre of the book itself. The cover should be appropriate to the type of book. A basic question to ask: is the book going to be sold on the shelf of a bookstore or is it going to be available only online? Is the novel going to be a hardcover, trade, paperback or e-book?

With hardcover fiction books, as with all others, the cover needs to fit the genre, be attractive, while the title should be easy to read and intriguing. Cover art needs to play fair with readers so that they don’t feel cheated when they select a book.
Paperbacks need simplicity in covers. The artwork should also support the title and the genre. E-book covers shouldn’t be too fussy or busy either. The old saying “less is more” works best for a book cover that’s displayed online. A short title with a large, easily readable font and bright contrasting colors shows up well on the computer screen. Publishers want to avoid covers that are complicated and hard to read. Plain, simple graphics are preferable.

What are the qualities of a good cover?

We are able to read the title and author and all subheadings with ease.

The image that doesn't interfere with the written information.

The book cover is memorable: simple yet vivid and pleasing to the eye.

The theme is expressed by the image and in keeping with the genre of the book.

The bottom line for good book covers is that they make you want to read what's between them.

What are your feelings regarding cover art? What draws or attracts you to a novel? What do you dislike or prefer not to see?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Making Valentine’s Day Memorable

What makes Valentine’s Day special? There’s a simple answer: personal relationships and connections with others.

Valentine’s Day is a favorite holiday for me. In fact, the entire month of February makes me smile. One reason is because it’s the shortest winter month; another reason is because we are getting more daylight again. A third reason is that my older son Andrew was born in February and also married in February.

Point of fact, Andrew and his wife Anna were married on Valentine’s Day. It was a joyful wedding, loving and romantic. No big fancy affair, just the bride and groom, my husband and myself, the bride’s best friend, and a judge happy to officiate, followed by a wedding breakfast at a local hotel. Afterwards the bride and groom had to take a long drive so that my son could represent in court a couple accused of white collar crime.

Andy and Anna are still happily married and now have a lovely little daughter to help them celebrate their anniversary. This love story is one of many worldwide celebrated on the most romantic day of the year.

Love stories have always been an important part of history and literature. Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. Cleopatra and Julius Caesar (Cleopatra did get around). As Shakespeare said, “she was a woman of infinite variety.” Then there is the story of Napoleon and Josephine, another passionate love affair. In the Bible, we also find some of the world’s greatest and unforgettable love stories. What can be more romantic than the story of Ruth or Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? And there is the story of Esther which is celebrated on Purim.

A lot of the world’s most famous, classical love stories, of course, did not end happily: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Helen of Troy and Paris, Lancelot, Arthur and Guinevere (a legendary triangle). These are tragedies.

Some of the literary characters I consider unforgettable are those of the Bronte sisters: Heathcliff and Catherine, the tormented lovers in Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester of Charlotte’s famous novel. Both romances are in the Gothic tradition. My tribute to that tradition, although one with a happier end is my novel DARK MOON RISING.

Thomas Hardy wrote a number of tragic love stories. For something lighter, I prefer Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy are memorable. I’ve read and reread that novel numerous times.

Love quite literally makes the world go round. My favorite Valentine’s Day gift to myself is purchasing a new romance novel. Candy makes me fat. Flowers wilt and die too soon. But a great romance can be read and reread and enjoyed.

 If you’re of a mind to read some romance to celebrate Valentine’s Day and enjoy short stories, consider my collection BEYOND THE BO TREE, a book that combines romance, mystery, fantasy and the paranormal. The first story in the collection is a free read:

For another free short story perfect for Valentine’s Day, check out “A St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” originally published in GUMSHOE REVIEW:

Here’s another free read suited to Valentine’s Day:

Can you think of any romantic stories or books you would recommend to fellow readers and/or writers?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Are You a Word Nerd?

Kory Stamper wrote a book entitled WORD BY WORD. In it she states that there are people who spend their work time writing dictionary definitions for Merriam-Webster. They are “word nerds” who devote a considerable amount of their lives thinking about words, categorizing, describing and alphabetizing them. They are lexicographers.

She further observes that the last printed unabridged Webster’s Third New International Dictionary astonishingly “took a staff of almost 100 editors and 202 outside consultants 12 years to write.” When a dictionary finally is published, these lexicographers have already moved on, working on an update, because “A dictionary is out of date the minute that it’s done.”

Are you a person who loves words? Do you play with them?
I confess I do. One reason I have continued to write poetry over the years is because as Samuel Taylor Coleridge said: “Poetry consists of the best words in the best order.” I seek appropriate language to express my thoughts.

This is not a slight of prose. I love experimenting with novels, short stories, nonfiction and plays as well. But I think everyone who loves words should make an effort to try expressing themselves in poetic form. It makes us better prose writers in the long run.

As to dictionaries, my favorite has always been The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (unabridged). We had it in our home for many years and I loved examining the derivation of words. I still do, although I had to give our huge dictionary when we downsized from our house to an apartment. That and over a thousand other books were donated since I no longer had the space to keep them.

However, the internet today provides us with great help.
I can google words and retrieve all sorts of valuable information.

Being a word nerd helps me be a better writer. I am not satisfied unless I find the right words to express my ideas.
In THE BURNING, for example, I was writing from the point of view of George, a blue collar worker, a simple man who suddenly had to grapple with overwhelming problems. The language had to fit the character yet convey depth of meaning to the reader. It was a challenge.

So back to my original question: are you are a word nerd?
If so, does it benefit you as a writer and/or as a reader?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Social Conscience and the Written Word

Some years ago I wrote an article that was published by GUMSHOE REVIEW. It was entitled “Social Conscience in Modern Mystery Fiction” and remains in the archives. At the time I observed: “Many of today's mystery and crime fiction authors display significant elements of social conscience and/or awareness in their writing.”

I would now like to amend and expand my statement to observe that earlier mystery writers, particularly those who wrote noir, also demonstrated social conscience. To demonstrate this point, I recently read a review of a newly discovered Raymond Chandler story written not long before his death. The story, “It’s All Right: He Only Died,” appears in THE STRAND MAGAZINE’s holiday edition. In true Chandler style, the story is in the hard-boiled tradition. It condemns a doctor at a hospital who doesn’t want to care for a patient he believes to be indigent.

Writing stories that make a significant point is a worthy effort. Mystery writers often act as a moral conscience to society—as do writers in general.

My last work, THE BURNING, is not a mystery, more of a thriller, but it is meaningful. It’s about a family surviving an environmental disaster. It deals with matters that need to concern everyone living on our planet.

Have you read or written any stories or novels that you consider socially relevant? Your thoughts and comments welcome.