Thursday, September 6, 2018

How to Create Fiction Readers Can’t Put Down



I’m going to make this brief—short and sweet just as it deserves to be.

My advice: WRITE TIGHT!

Stephen King once wrote a great article on this topic. He explained how it’s necessary to eliminate unneeded verbiage. His advice: avoid repetitions and redundancies. Of course, you will only recognize this if you revise ruthlessly. Self-editing is crucial.

My suggestion: Put away your work of genius for a time. Work on something else. Then come back to it at a later date when you can examine the initial writing with fresh, critical eyes. Trade your writer’s hat for that of editor.

Victorian writers could get away with long descriptive passages but there was no television, computers or smart phones in their era. People were willing and eager to read long books and stories for recreational entertainment. Not long ago I read that the average attention span of today’s readers was shorter than that of a fruit fly. So we must cleverly contrive not to lose their attention.

How to do this? Start a book or story in medias res. Begin in the middle of a scene of some significance. Something important should be happening. Dialogue and action are crucial. You don’t want a static beginning. Description, internal monologue, narration, flashback and reflections all have their place, but they need to be limited, and they should not occur at the beginning of a work.

Instead, intrigue the reader by starting with some form of mystery. Make your reader curious from the first and then keep them guessing. Don’t slow the pace. Keep the tension building. Increase the danger and/or the obstacles. This goes for any genre of fiction whether it is romance, sci-fi, mystery, literary etc.

I was very pleased with the statement of the reviewer for LIBRARY JOURNAL who wrote regarding my latest mystery novel 
DEATH PROMISE:

“The plot kept this reviewer turning the pages."


Your thoughts and comments welcome.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

How to Write YA Fiction that Sells

Even before J. K. Rowling's tremendous success with her Harry Potter series, publishers were frantically searching for fantasy and horror fiction for children and teenagers that they hoped would top the bestseller list. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it does not insure success as a writer. Here are my suggestions:

Tip One: You don’t need to copy current market trends. (Honor bright!)

Teens have varied tastes in fiction. Not every teen or juvenile book needs to feature werewolves, vampires, witches, goblins, etc. Witness the huge success of such realistic teen novels as THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Note that ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction could easily be read and understood by teens as well as adults since the novel is suited to both. Here we have a book which is historical in nature. Teens are as curious about the past as they are about the present and the future.

Books set in the "real" world do have appeal for teenagers. Teens are not necessarily trying to read books that provide a total escape from reality. Even fantasy books need to be believable, providing an element of reality through character development to which readers can relate. In the crossover novel THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY, the real world is seen through the eyes of a teenage boy while his mother experiences it through an alternate reality. The paranormal elements in the novel are believable because the “real” world interacts with them.


Dystopian novels are still popular at the current time.  But trends change rapidly. My advice, don't write for the market; write the story you need and want to write. We are all writers. We all have within us an important, wonderful story to share. Get in touch with your inner teen self.  Strive for authenticity.

Tip Two: Develop a unique voice.

This is one of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel. This 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. In my YA novel,
STACY’S SONG, the story is written in the first person from the main character’s point of view. Stacy has a sense of humor and a unique perspective.



Tip Three: Character identification is significant.

It is important to create a central character that young readers can both sympathize and identify with. Whether writing realistic or fantasy fiction, if the reader can't care about or relate to the main character, then he or she won't believe or accept what follows.  A main character needs to be well-rounded, think and feel the way adolescents do.

Tip Four: Know teenagers.

If you are going to write about teens, you need to know them. Do some research. Besides raising two teenagers, I taught English and later Library Science. I taught at all levels: the university, high school, middle school and elementary. But most of my years were in the high school. I am accustomed to the way teenagers think, talk and behave. If you are not a teen yourself, talk to teenagers, read their magazines, watch their favorite TV programs, observe how they behave at malls, amusement parks, movie theaters etc.  Listen to them.

Tip Five: Recall your own teenage memories.

Dig deep into your psyche. How did you feel as a teenager? Were you confused about certain things? What made you happy? What troubled you? What are your most vivid memories of those times? Did you keep a diary or journal? If so, reread some of what you wrote.

My YA novel, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, published by Clean Reads in all e-book formats and print, is the story of a girl who has identity issues. She is also faced with peer pressure and conflicting values. Most of us have gone through similar problems as adolescents.



Tip Six: Get input from your own children.

Ask your teenagers to read your writing and critique it. Consider collaborating with your children on the writing of your fiction. I wrote WHERE IS ROBERT?, a YA mystery novel, with help from both of my sons who were teenagers at the time. Both boys contributed to the scenes of high school wrestling, since they both engaged in the sport. I couldn't have written the book without them. My son, Andrew, co-authored THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY published by Five Star/Gale/Cengage. He gave the teenage boy narrator an authentic “voice”.

Tip Seven: Make it dramatic.

Think like a cinematographer. Create vivid scenes. Dramatize your story. Don't just tell your story, show it. I'm certain you've heard that advice before! How to do this? Create meaningful, realistic dialogue for your characters. Each character should be an individual, talking in a certain distinct way to reflect a personal point of view, a unique way of thinking. Good dialogue leads to action and conflict between people with different viewpoints and goals.

Also, settings need to be described so that they seem real. In fact, there's nothing wrong with using real places for background setting. My five published YA’s are all set in Central New Jersey, an area very much like the one in which I lived and worked.

Tip Eight: Begin with an outline.

Outlines can be rough. They don’t need to be detailed. But you should have some idea about arranging the events of the plot line. This will be something to consult when writing your first draft with your key characters and scenes.

Tip Nine: When you develop your book, look for depth.

 Although books for teens are usually shorter than those for adults, that doesn't mean they require less creative thought. Respect your readers; give them quality.

Tip Ten: Provide an element of mystery.

Teens as well as younger children enjoy a mystery. Every good work of fiction should have a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages, wanting to discover what is going to happen next. It's important to set up some sort of a question that can't be easily or immediately answered, a secret of the human heart that must be delved into.

Tip Eleven: Develop key themes in your YA fiction.

Teen novels are generally about coming-of-age, of finding personal identity, making sense of the adult world, relating to it and fitting into it—or not.

My latest YA novel is WITCH WISH. Val Williams believes she will never be as pretty or popular as her older sister Ailene. When Ailene dumps her on an unfamiliar road after an argument, Val decides to ask directions of the only person she sees, an old woman engaged in a garage sale. Val purchases a music box which the old woman claims has magical qualities and will grant Val one wish. Val wishes that that her sister would stop being so perfect but soon comes to regret her wish.


                  https://blackopalbooks.com/witch-wish/ 
 
                  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DRB3VVH


The success of J.K. Rowling’s books gave new hope and inspiration to those of us who write juvenile fiction. No longer could we gripe that children and young adults do not read. If nothing else, the reception the Potter books received proves that there is an audience for fiction among young people. Also, such books if well-written have a strong appeal for adult readers as well—think of THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT or the TWILIGHT series.

Your comments, suggestions and input welcome here!


Friday, August 10, 2018

Summer Reading 2018


It’s that time of year again when every magazine, newspaper and newsletter offers suggestions on summer reading. So why should this blog be any different?

Summer is the perfect time to spend some time vacationing or just relaxing. Sit in the sun, lie on a chaise poolside, rest by the ocean or a lake, or under the shade of a tree, sip a cool drink, and read a book—hard cover, soft cover or digital.

Mysteries remain one of the most popular genres for summer reading. Why? Because they entertain us. They also engage our intellect in a satisfying manner. Romances provide us with a happy ever after ending. If you like reading for enjoyment, it’s the way to go.

Lots of good summer reading on the bestseller list.
But what about some of the excellent authors who write for small independent presses and provide us with quality fiction but don’t get as much publicity because they are not with the big publishers?

I recommend Patricia Gligor’s latest novel Secrets in Storyville which I recently reviewed on Goodreads. It’s an absorbing mystery that’s quite original. Another fine mystery is A Murder of Principle by Susan Coryell, a perfect summer read for those who enjoy mystery thrillers, ditto the extremely well-reviewed mystery Murder in the One Per Cent by Saralyn Richard. You can check these out on Amazon.

I also modestly recommend my latest mystery novel
Death Promise, a romantic mystery thriller.



For romance lovers, check out Daisy Dukes ‘Cowboy Boots by the writing team known as Zari Reede. I enjoyed reading this novel as well.

There are many other fine writers who can be added to this list. As a reader and/or writer are there any authors and/or books you would like to recommend for summer reading? You are most welcome to mention your own books.




Tuesday, July 24, 2018

How Important Is Name Recognition?



How important is name recognition? This question is pretty easy to answer. I can do so by illustration. The current #1 bestseller on the fiction list is THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING by former president Bill Clinton and bestselling author James Patterson. Needless to say, they are both famous. A literary agent put them together to produce this blockbuster thriller. The July issue of AARP features an “exclusive” interview plus excerpt. Like most people, I was very interested in reading the article. It was the first thing I turned to in the magazine.

Realistically, we can’t all be that famous. Most of us who write aren’t well-known at all. So we have to look for other ways to get readers acquainted with us because hopefully once they do, they’ll become fans of our writing. So let’s discuss some basic ways in which we can build our brand:

1.   Create a website that represents the image you want people to see. If you’re an expert in a particular field, make that clear through both photos and words.

2.   Create a blog in which you discuss matters relevant to your area of expertise. Interview others in your field. Try to blog at least several times a month to build a following. Once a week would be even better.

3.   Do interviews on other blogs.

4.   Use social media to create connections. We’re talking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. to get your message across. You can also join writer groups both in person and via the internet.

5.   Write articles for many types of media both in print and online to establish expertise in your particular field. TV is the best, but radio isn’t bad either. Personal appearances are always great. Meet and greet!

6.   Do library talks where you can show your books.

7.   If you’re lucky enough to have a local bookstore, see if you can present there and if they will display and sell your books in return.

It has been observed that personal branding is one of the keys to success in today’s world. As such it takes time and effort. However, by branding yourself you are demonstrating who you are and the expertise you have to offer.

There’s been a lot of discussion among writers as to whether it benefits authors to be branded--by that I mean that writers want to market themselves by promoting their name, associating their name with a particular type, genre or style of writing. The premise? This is the best way to build a readership. For example, when we see the name Nora Roberts we immediately think of romantic suspense. The name Stephen King is immediately associated with horror. But these writers have also chosen to write under other pseudonyms as well. Jayne Ann Krentz, for example, writes her contemporary romances under that name, her sci-fi’s under Jayne Castle and her historical romances under Amanda Quick. The advantage is that her fans know exactly what to expect.

Many writers choose to use pen names. They write in a variety of genres and assume a different nom de plume for each. The theory is that it will confuse readers if writers use the same name for different types of work. There is also a tendency for publishers to try to place writers in neat categories or pigeon holes. It’s more convenient to connect a name to a particular format.

But what if you resist branding? Are you destroying your chance to be taken seriously as a writer or build a readership? I don’t have the answer to that question. I can only admit that I don’t limit myself to one particular format or genre. My latest adult romantic mystery from Encircle, DEATH PROMISE, is a sequel to DEATH LEGACY which was critically well-received.



My most recent young adult novel, WITCH WISH, is now published both in print and all e-book formats by Black Opal Books. It follows STACY’S SONG and THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER.



Several months back, Annorlunda published my literary novella
THE BURNING under “J. P. Seewald”.

 I suppose if you were to ask me to elaborate on my “brand” I’d have to answer I really don’t have one. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra, I am a writer of infinite variety. Is it possible to build a readership without a definitive brand?


Your thoughts, opinions and comments are most welcome.

Friday, July 20, 2018

People Who Are Rich by Saralyn Richard


My guest blogger today is mystery and children’s book author, Saralyn Richard, a writer who teaches on the side. Some of her poems and essays have won awards and contests from the time she was in high school. Her children’s picture book, Naughty Nana, has reached thousands of children worldwide.



“There are people who have money and people who are rich.”
Coco Chanel

Like most people, I’ve always had a certain fascination with the rich and famous. Not all of the rich and famous. Just the ultra-rich and ultra-famous. When I was younger and more naive, I lumped all people with money into a single group, like people of a certain race, religion, or philosophical bent.

            Later I realized all people with money didn’t necessarily consider themselves rich, and they really didn’t consider themselves happy. How much money did it take to be rich, to be happy? And what about the source of the money? Was it better to inherit it, marry into it, earn it, or acquire it by nefarious means, as long as one wasn’t caught?

            Some years ago I attended a birthday party that was a weekend retreat at a country mansion in horse country. As I partook of the elaborate meals, the rich music, the refined atmosphere, I imagined what might happen if one of the party guests turned up dead. How would everyone behave, and which ones might be suspects?

            How far would privilege and power go to protect a person from being investigated for murder? How would greed play with grief during a murder investigation?

            I decided there was an intriguing story there, and that became the basis for Murder in the One Percent. The mystery pulls back the curtain on how the wealthy live, love, and treat one another.


            Clothes, furs, jewelry, furnishings, artwork, horses, cars, private airplanes, and other material possessions serve as important details of the setting, as well as constant reminders of just how far outside the norm these characters are.

 It would take a perceptive detective to brush the dazzle from his eyes enough to investigate and solve a murder in this milieu. Especially when the suspects appear to close ranks on him, and even more especially when the former President of the United States applies pressure.

            What happens when a billionaire dies? Is his funeral any grander? Are his mourners any louder? Is his absence felt any more because of his great wealth?
            Whether you’re in, whether you aspire to, or whether you’re just plain curious about the top one percent, you’ll gain insights from Murder in the One Percent. I know I did.

Murder in the One Percent, ©2018 Black Opal Books, pulls back the curtain on the privileged and powerful rich. Set on a gentleman’s farm in Pennsylvania and in the tony areas of New York, the book shows what happens when someone comes to a party with murder in his heart and poison in his pocket.
A member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn is writing the sequel to Murder in the One Percent. Her website is www.saralynrichard.com.


Comments welcome! 


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Cover Reveal: Witch Wish









My new YA novel WITCH WISH carries the publication date 
 July 7, 2018. July being my birth month, I look on it as a birthday present.

I had a choice of two covers from the publisher, Black Opal Books. The editor asked for my input. The truth is I liked both covers.

I chose the one my husband preferred. He felt it was more striking and would catch the reader’s attention, which as we all know is important. Here are the two covers:
 
              (1)                                                                    (2)

















Every publisher and author wants a book cover that will draw reviewers and readers. 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. 

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.
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?

Which one of the covers for WITCH WISH would you prefer and why? To see the one that was chosen, go here:

https://black-opal-books.myshopify.com/products/witch-wish








Monday, June 18, 2018

Interview with Publishers of Smoking Pen Press

Smoking Pen Press is an independent publishing company started four years ago by Catherine Valenti and Laurie Gienapp.  For now, they mostly publish short story anthologies. Two of my short stories are published in their anthologies and they are a pleasure to work with—highly professional.  For more information, check out their website at: http://smokingpenpress.com/


Question: How did you come up with the name Smoking Pen Press?  Is there some meaning behind that?

Answer:  We met online in the Nanowrimo forums, and the chatroom we met in was called The Smoking Pen. We liked the name, as well as the image it evokes of an author writing at such a pace that their pen smokes.

Question: You mostly publish anthologies, how did that come about?

Answer: It wasn’t always the plan to publish anthologies… in fact we’ve published one novel, and have several others in the works. Where we both have full-time jobs in addition to running Smoking Pen Press, time is at a premium, and we thought a short story anthology would be a good use of our time. Then we discovered that we really enjoyed the process of culling through the submissions, and working with the different authors throughout the editing process. 

Question:  Can you tell us about some of your published books?

Answer:  We have four titles in our Read on the Run series. The idea is that each story in the Read on the Run series of anthologies is short, “to suit your busy lifestyle”.  We started with A Step Outside of Normal, followed by A Bit of a Twist, Uncommon Pet Tales, and we’ve just put out the first romance—A Wink and a Smile.


We also have an anthology of longer short stories, The Ancient, which has variations on the Aladdin’s lamp theme. And we’ve published a novel—The Weatherman.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  We’re working on a few titles at the moment.  We’ve got a longer short story anthology of romances in the works, as well as three novels – a romance, a suspense and a sequel to The Weatherman.


Question:   What made you start publishing?

Answer: We knew there were a lot of good authors out there looking for a legitimate small publisher who would provide good editing and cover design services. We thought we could provide that, and compensate the authors, and still have a viable business.

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

Answer: Don’t stop.  Or perhaps more importantly – Start!  In order to be published, you need a well-edited piece of work. And you can’t edit what you haven’t written.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your book(s)?

Answer:  All titles are currently available at Amazon and other retailers, in both digital and paperback format. 
Links to Amazon: 
A Step Outside of Normal - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N31C3GR
For links to other retailers, see our website - http://smokingpenpress.com/books

Catherine and Laurie, thanks so much for coming here. 

For those who are interested, they are available to respond to comments and questions. But the best way to learn about what they publish is by buying one of their books and reading it.





Monday, June 4, 2018

Eight Tips on Getting Your Book Successfully Published

First, I must observe there has been a huge increase in the number of self-published books in recent years. I know there are many writers who claim to do well self-publishing. I applaud and commend them for their efforts. However, be aware that this involves a great deal of intensive work on the part of the writer and often requires a costly lay-out of expenses for professional services such as cover art and editing if the writer wants to present a quality product.

Tip #1: If you decide to self-publish, hire a professional editor and cover artist. Do not rush to publish work that is not ready. It will make you look amateurish and turn off readers.

Tip #2: Before you self-publish your writing, consider trying traditional publishing.

Let’s assume you have written a unique book, whether fiction or nonfiction. You have made certain that there are no obvious typos or grammatical errors. Take the necessary time to explore all possibilities for publication.

Tip #3: Create a query letter that will catch the attention of agents.

Google for suggestions. There are many detailed articles on this topic available for free on the internet. Generally, query letters which you send to agents must be relatively short. Agents are busy people and these days they have shorter attention spans than ever. So you want your letter to sound as interesting and professional as possible. Describe the genre of your book, the length, and give a brief, intriguing blurb in your first paragraph.

Second paragraph, offer your expertise for writing this particular book. Give any background info that might impress the agent. What have you previously had published?
Any awards for writing in this subject area?

Tip #4: Now that you have put together a general query letter, start examining the various agents. Check out WRITER’S MARKET. Get listings that tell you what the agents are interested in representing. For instance, you don’t want to send a query for a romance novel to an agent who only represents nonfiction.  

Do some research. Start with the better known agents in your genre. You can always work your way down. Pay close attention to the directions for querying and follow them exactly. Should agents responds affirmatively, submit what they request in the prescribed manner. Whenever possible, use the correct name of the agent you’re querying. Don’t start off with “Dear Agent.”

Tip #5: The top agents work with the big publishers who in turn pay advances, get your novel reviewed by influential review publications as well as providing PR people who help provide publicity and promotion. Most of all, the big publishing houses have distribution. This is vitally important if your book is going to sell and be read by the public.

Tip #6: You want a publisher that will offer you an advance against royalties which is non-refundable. I call this “good faith.” If a publisher isn’t willing to provide an advance, even a small one, it implies that publisher will do little to promote your book.

Tip #7: Contracts are negotiable. If you don’t understand the terms, ask your agent to explain and possibly work to improve the terms. You can also pay an attorney to go over the contract with you.

Tip #8: Once you sign a contract, you are bound by it. So make certain the terms are fair to you. As the old saying goes: act in haste, repent in leisure.

Note: For those who might be interested, my latest novel, DEATH PROMISE, was released on May 2nd.


You can check out the description of the new novel at:


DEATH PROMISE is now available from:



and many other booksellers.

From editorial reviews:

Library Journal

 "Romantic suspense with an interesting plot...the plot kept this reviewer turning the pages."
*****
 Mel Jacob at Gumshoe Mystery Review:

“The romance between Daniel and Michelle is incendiary with plenty of heat. Nonetheless, they work well together to catch a killer. She struggles with wanting love and not wanting to give up her dangerous work.”
*****
“This is a nice blend of suspense and romance with lots of action 
to keep the pages turning.”
 
Lelia Taylor, Buried Under Books, May 2018 
*****

Good luck to you in getting your book well-published! Wishing you great success and recognition in your field of expertise.  If I’ve left anything out or you have questions, please write them in the comments section and they will be addressed.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Celebrating Mother’s Day


You probably aren’t surprised that more people eat at restaurants on Mother’s Day than any other day of the year—followed by Valentine’s Day.

If you enjoy historical research as much as I do, you might want to know more about this holiday. So here’s the real deal regarding Mother’s Day.

The idea of an official celebration of Mother’s Day in America was first suggested by Julia Ward Howe in 1872.  She became famous with her Civil War song, "Battle Hymn of the Republic". Anna Jarvis is actually recognized as the Founder of Mother’s Day in the United States. She never married or had children herself. However, she got the inspiration for celebrating Mother’s Day from her own mother Mrs. Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis, an activist and social worker. Mrs. Jarvis expressed a desire to have a day set aside to honor all mothers, living and dead, and pay tribute to the contributions made by them. 

 By 1911, Mother's Day was celebrated in almost every state in the
Union, and on May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.  Mother’s Day is now celebrated in several countries including the US, UK, India, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Mexico, Canada, China, Japan and Belgium. People take the day as an opportunity to pay tribute to their mothers and thank them for all their love and support. Sadly, Anna Jarvis became disillusioned by the commercialization of the holiday.

Today mothers are honored with many kinds of gifts: cards, perfume, jewelry, candy, flowers, plants. If a mother is a reader, books are great Mother’s Day gifts, either print or digital.

But what many of us who are mothers appreciate most is simply spending time with our children. Sharing a meal like a brunch or dinner together is one way of making the day special. If children live and work too far away to visit, a phone call is always appreciated.

My gift to other mothers this year is a free read--since this is International Short Story Month as well.

For a Mother’s Day story try “The Art of Listening.”


I wrote the story in memory of my own mother and it’s more fact than fiction.

 BEYOND THE BO TREE is a collection of ten romantic short stories of all types and lengths. Amazon offers the first one, “The Phone Call,” as a free read:


For a humorous flash fiction story, take a look at “Bacon Bits” in SAINT RED:


What are your thoughts regarding Mother’s Day? How do you think this holiday should be spent? My intention is to spend time with my children and grandchildren.






Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Backstory: How Much? How Little?

One of the ways we make a character come alive and seem real is to provide that character with a backstory—a history or background. What we don’t want to do is drop too much of the backstory on the reader at any given time and most particularly at the beginning. Too much too soon bores the reader and trivializes the story. Dropping tantalizing bits and pieces whets the appetite of the reader.

One thing to recognize is that you don’t have to be writing mystery fiction for a bit of mystery to be worked into the story. You do want to weave backstory in a subtle manner so you keep your reader’s interest and attention. Backstory also provides motivation as well as sympathy for the character.

It’s crucial for the writer to really know the character completely. For this reason, I always write a character bible which includes all the key characters’ descriptions and details of their lives. Only significant parts of this information will appear in the actual story.

For example, in my latest novel, DEATH PROMISE, we learn the real reason why Michelle Hallam refuses to commit to Daniel Reiner and why Daniel decided to become a psychiatrist. Their personalities have much to do with their unique backgrounds.

Backstory is only one aspect of character development, but it can be used successfully to connect the reader with the character on an emotional level. I’ll end with the following:

According to Writers Digest, “including too much of it (backstory) too soon can halt your story’s momentum. A good storyteller has no trouble thinking up rich histories for his or her characters. But a good novelist holds these details back, revealing them only at the time that best serves the story.”

Your opinion and comments most welcome!


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Interview with Mystery Writer


My interview is with Fred Shackelford a Virginia attorney who lives on farmland that his great-great-grandfather purchased in 1817. Before writing his d├ębut novel The Ticket, he published Judges Say the Darndest Things, a collection of humorous excerpts from legal opinions. Fred is a graduate of the University of Virginia and its Law School. The Ticket was a finalist for The Clue Awards from Chanticleer Book Reviews, a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Awards, and a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.



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

Answer: The Ticket is primarily a mystery novel, but it has elements of the suspense and thriller genres. The plot involves a search for a missing lottery jackpot ticket, so the title is self-explanatory. I like to read mysteries that contain action and suspense, so I wrote the book in a style that would please readers who share my interests.


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

Answer: I read a news article about a winning lottery ticket that remained unclaimed after several months. I began to wonder why someone would risk missing the deadline for cashing in a winning ticket. Over time, one possible scenario evolved in my mind, and I decided to flesh it out in a novel.

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

Answer:  The hero, Lee Barnett, is a former police detective who was forced to retire after he was injured during an off-duty confrontation with an armed burglar. The burglar’s gunfire injured Lee and killed his wife. To distract himself during the months of loneliness that ensued, Lee begins to collect items that are auctioned on eBay. One of his purchases is a used camera, and he discovers a surprising clue on its memory card. Armed with the clue, he attempts to track down the missing lottery ticket before it expires. Along the way, he must contend with a corrupt and dangerous gambler who is also hunting for the ticket.       

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

Answer:  Before venturing into fiction writing, I published a book of humorous excerpts from legal cases. I work at a legal research firm, and I and my colleagues collected these funny tidbits over the years. When I had amassed enough of them, I published the collection in a book entitled Judges Say the Darndest Things.      

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I’m doing some background work as I prepare to write a screenplay based on my novel. Many readers have told me that they would love to see The Ticket’s plot unfold on the big screen.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I enjoyed writing short stories during my school years, and more recently it’s been fun to write elaborate Christmas letters and birthday poems for my children each year. As I have read novels over the years, I often wondered if I could write one myself. Finally deciding to give it a try, I began writing The Ticket.     

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

Answer: I can sum it up in two words: patience and perseverance. Be aware that it’s a long process, and you must be prepared for a lot of editing after you write the last page. I had no idea how much editing and polishing I needed to do when I finished the first draft of my manuscript. Initially it was 117,000 words long, but after extensive editing I had whittled it down to 93,000 words. If you’re still in school, enroll in writing courses. When you’re writing a novel, try to work on a more or less regular schedule, have discipline, and understand that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Of course, you should also read and learn from the work of other novelists.

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

Answer: The Ticket is on sale at most online sellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and others that are listed on my website: www.fredshackelford.com. The Ticket can also be ordered through many independent bookstores, and some indie stores stock it on their shelves.


Fred is available to answer questions. Your comments are welcome here!