Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Some Reflections on Holiday Shopping

The where and how of holiday shopping plagues most of us. Nothing can quite compare with the yearly ritual of holiday shopping, which theoretically begins on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. However, in actuality it begins much earlier, of late right after Halloween. In fact, the way things are going, pretty soon the stores will start putting up tinsel on the 4th of July.
The frenetic pace of shopping madness increases unabated throughout December. The shopping itself takes on such dimensions that with many people the material supersedes the spiritual aspect of the holidays.
But before the shopping can even begin, there is the business of finding parking at The Mall. Holiday shoppers know when they are nearing this location because traffic becomes as thick as an ant colony, and jockeying for position starts in earnest. Inevitably, a type "A" personality loses patience and aggressively pulls out on the shoulder of the road, speeds ahead, then forces his/her way into the regular stream of traffic. This individual manages to gain perhaps four or five car lengths to ultimately beat the traffic light, forcing other drivers to slam on their brakes and come to an abrupt halt. A cacophony of horns proceeds to announce the general agitation.
Arriving at the mall, one is treated to a breathtaking sight—an unending sea of automobiles. There is quite literally not a parking spot to spare. And so begins the art of cruising for a space. This can be compared to the choreography of a ballet. Automobiles pirouette and arabesque around the lot.
Inevitably, there is a car waiting in each aisle for someone to pull out. Often there are two vehicles set to swoop down like vultures. The poor driver who must pull out of the spot has a serious dilemma: which way to go? One or the other of the waiting drivers must be disappointed, only to drive off angrily, perhaps offering the middle finger salute. Definitely not showing proper holiday spirit! (More like the gunfight at Okay Corral)
Drivers keep cruising, ready to dive like kamikaze pilots when they find a likely target--barely avoiding fender benders--a holiday miracle in itself. No matter how many spaces exist, there are never enough.
Another technique involves following those who are leaving. Sometimes these shoppers are merely putting away their packages and return to the Mall for further exploration. Then there is the individual, fully aware someone is waiting for his/her parking spot, who decides this is a good time to sit and light up a cigarette, fiddle with the car radio, or begin a philosophical discussion on the meaning of life with someone they've conjured on a cell phone.
Most amazing of all are those who decide to grab the closest parking spot. I'm talking here about nabbing the spaces set aside for the handicapped. These artists fall into several categories. First are those who have no physical impediment whatsoever but park illegally because they don't want to continue cruising. We have no trouble spotting them as they run out when the police start ticketing. The second category: those who somehow obtained handicapped stickers yet can move like gazelles, either had some impediment but are over it and kept their stickers, or obtained them illegally in the first place. There seem to be a growing number of these talented artists who we may refer to as prima donnas. With so many people claiming the right to place handicapped stickers in their automobiles, I am waiting for the time when non-handicapped signs will be issued instead.
After managing to obtain a parking spot and reaching the Promised Land of the Mall, we are greeted by a chorus of Hallelujah from the sound system. Unfortunately, by this time, we are almost too weary to shop.
When Christmas and Chanukah come and all the gifts are finally handed out, matters are not in the least resolved, as a good portion of those gifts will end up being returned soon after. (The heaviest shopping day of the entire year is December 26th) So just when we think our holiday shopping is finally done, it's only just begun!
Then there's the matter of re-gifting. That's the most bizarre ritual of all. This refers to presents that don't come with any clue as to where they were purchased. Even Sherlock Holmes would scratch his head in perplexity.
These are gifts that no one in their right mind would want to keep: purple plaid socks, perfume that would make a skunk turn up its tail in disgust. Well, you get the picture! So what does one do with such odious presents? Naturally, we save them and give them to those who have given us their re-gifts. You know you've gone full cycle when one of your re-gifts is gifted back to you.
So how do we avoid mall madness? More people than ever are turning to online shopping. I would like to suggest that e-books are excellent gifts to give. You don’t have to run around. You can make your selections in comfort. And you don’t have to spend your life savings. There’s a perfect book for everyone, whether nonfiction: perhaps a cookbook, a book on home repairs, or fiction such as romance, mystery, or thriller.
Naturally I’m going to recommend some of my own books that are currently available:
My prize-winning Highlands historical romance THE CHEVALIER available in all e-book formats:
TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS my paranormal Regency romance endorsed by bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick is available in all e-book formats including Kindle:
My e-book of short stories BEYOND THE BO TREE offers stories for every taste:
My co-authored family mystery novel THE THIRD EYE is A Five Star/Cengage novel:
My latest novels available as e-books are:
THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, published by Astraea Press, a clean read that’s not just for teens!
 THE BAD WIFE: A KIM REYNOLDS MYSTERY
Readers of GONE GIRL may enjoy THE BAD WIFE, an adult suspense thriller, full of surprising twists.  From Perfect Crime Books:
Published in a new, updated edition, DEATH LEGACY is now available as an e-book from Amazon, Kobo, Apple, or Google. This romantic mystery suspense thriller received excellent reviews in hardcover edition from Publishers Weekly and Booklist among others. You can check it at:

There is a book for every taste available for ordering online. What are your feelings regarding holiday shopping? Do you give books as gifts? Do you consider books good gifts? Thoughts and comments most welcome!



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What We Can Learn from Taylor Swift by Jacqueline Seewald

Taylor Swift was labeled by Barbara Walters as one of “The Ten Most Fascinating People of 2014.” There is no doubt that she has an amazing following of teens and pre-teen fans who adore her and her music. She is also ubiquitous—one sees and hears her everywhere.  I recently watched my ten-year-old granddaughter performing one of Swift’s songs, in perfect imitation down to the hair toss, for her seven-year-old sister and six-year-old cousin.

Swift’s life story and incredible success at only twenty-five years of age is well-known. She recently had the cover story for TIME Magazine. The journalist praised her highly. Swift knew from an early age what she wanted to do with her life. She convinced her parents to move to Nashville where she signed with a country label. She had and had the courage of her convictions and the determination to work hard at her career. I think Taylor Swift is an excellent role model for young girls.

As a writer, I also see Swift’s energy and effort as an example for those of us who write and pursue careers in publishing. As in music, there is stiff competition. If you want your writing well-published it is necessary to have focus, drive and expect to work hard, just as Taylor Swift has done. A “can do” attitude is required.

In my writing I create such heroines, women of strong character. For instance, in my YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER published by Astraea Press, Danna is a girl who is searching for her own identity and must build the self-confidence needed to choose the right path for her life. The novel is romance, allegory, and coming-of-age, a good choice for the holidays and for mothers to share with their daughters.





If there’s anything we can learn from Taylor Swift’s phenomenal success it is that we need to express what is unique to ourselves in our own way. By writing an exceptional work that stands out from the herd, I believe writers can also gain recognition and acclaim.

Your views welcome here.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Police in Fact and Fiction

In the December 9, 2014 online edition of THE NEW YORK TIMES, David Brooks’ op-ed column entitled “The Cop Mind” was published. It is well worth reading. Brooks was a police reporter early in his career. He is not an apologist for police brutality. But he offers valuable insights into the mindset of policemen and what they face in the real world. Interesting facts and statistics are offered as well.

In my novel, THE BAD WIFE, 4th in the Kim Reynolds mystery series, Lt. Mike Gardner, a police detective, is an important character, as he is in the previous novels: THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL and THE TRUTH SLEUTH.

In THE BAD WIFE, Mike makes a serious error in judgment early in the novel and it costs him dearly. The blunder threatens both his life and career. There are, in fact, a number of policemen presented as characters in this series. Some are inspired partly by real life people, others are completely fictional. Some are better at doing their jobs than others.

In DEATH LEGACY, the police are positively represented and help rather than hinder
Michelle Hallam’s investigation into the possible murder of a CIA agent. Is the character of officer Douglas Maclaren something of an idealization of how we want to think of police detectives? Possibly--or maybe not.

The fact of the matter is that real life policemen are people capable of making serious errors in judgment. Human beings are imperfect. This is true of the best of us as well as the worst. For police to be presented realistically in fiction, they too demonstrate flaws in character.


Your thoughts and opinions are welcome.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Empowering Women in Fiction

I did not shop on Black Friday. Instead my husband and I accompanied our younger son, his wife, and three young children into Manhattan to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our daughter-in-law actually did the driving. Having worked in the city for a number of years, she’s comfortable driving there and knows Manhattan very well.

We offered to pay for parking but she insisted on first looking for a spot. This turned up rather quickly. But the car that left the spot was smaller than the large SUV. Our son questioned his wife’s ability to park in that small spot. However, she was confident.

“I can do it,” she said. And she did! On the very first try at that. She parallel parked into a space that left barely an inch in front and back without touching the other cars. I confess it amazed me.

This kind of female empowerment is impressive. Recently, I discovered that the reason the editors of The Novel Fox chose DEATH LEGACY to be featured by their new publishing house was because Michelle Hallam, heroine and protagonist, is an empowered woman. Instead of a female who needs protecting, she runs her own unique “consulting” firm, is a master of martial arts and weaponry. She won’t rest until the bad guys get what they deserve. http://www.thenovelfox.com/death-legacy



In THE BAD WIFE, 4th novel in the Kim Reynolds mystery series, Kim, a quiet, introverted librarian of strong moral character and unwanted psychic abilities, solves murders. She teams up with tough Bert St. Croix, police detective and woman of color, to save Lt. Mike Gardner’s life. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J6PCKVW    


There are many empowered women in mystery fiction, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple for one. The P.I. novel was male-dominated until the late 1970’s and early 80’s when writers such as Sara Paretsky, Marcia Miller and Sue Grafton began creating women investigators who were as tough as men. These novels offered more in-depth characterization and, in the case of Paretsky, a social agenda.  

In romance fiction, no longer is the-too-dumb-to-live female in distress who needs rescuing particularly popular. Women want to read about females with strength of character who are the equal and can go toe to toe with an alpha male.

Today, more women than ever have an “I can do” philosophy like my daughter-in-law who runs her own business, nurtures her three children, is a supportive wife and maintains a positive attitude. That sense of female empowerment is increasingly reflected in literature.


Your comments welcome here. What empowered female characters can you think of? As a reader and/or writer what books reflecting female empowerment would you recommend, your own or those of others?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Gifts

First, I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving! May you, your family and your friends share the best holiday ever.

Second,  I’ve gotten word from The Novel Fox that the publisher is giving away electronic copies of my novel DEATH LEGACY. Here is the information:

"Tweet @thenovelfox and include Death Legacy #giveaway for a chance to win a FREE iBooks copy! The Death Legacy Giveaway will run for 7 days starting Friday, November 21st and ending Friday, November 28th. The Novel Fox will select 20 winners at random to be announced on Saturday, November 29th.

We look forward to your tweets!

 More about Death Legacy can be found here..."
(http://www.thenovelfox.com/death-legacy)


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Giveaway by Jacqueline Seewald

One week ago I posted a blog on the importance of book covers. I also said that I would select one commentator to receive a print copy of my novel DEATH LEGACY in celebration of the new e-book version of the novel.

I wish that I could mail each person who commented a copy. I appreciate all the wonderful comments as well as the many individuals who stopped by to read my article. For the time being, one reader has been selected. Susan Whitfield will receive a copy of DEATH LEGACY.

Again, thank you all for stopping by my website. For those of you who would like to know more about the novel, DEATH LEGACY is now available in an updated e-book edition from Amazon, Kobo, Apple, or Google. This romantic mystery suspense thriller received excellent reviews in the hardcover edition from Publishers Weekly and Booklist among others. The Harlequin Worldwide Mystery paperback edition sold out in just a few months. To read a free partial of the new edit of the novel, go to:






Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why and How Cover Art Sells Books

As readers, do you judge a book by its cover?  Of course you do! It’s the first thing you look at when deciding whether or not you want to read a particular book. So it stands to reason that writers want to create an appealing cover that draws the eye of the reader.  For new fiction authors, cover art can make or break the book. What kind of front cover grabs 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. Readers expect it. For example, writers of romance want to demonstrate that their novel is an irresistible love story. How to do this? The clinch or embrace is a familiar pose. Bare-chested men are popular as well. Dramatic raised lettering with flourishes is always in style. With mysteries, cover art varies as to whether the novel is a light-hearted cozy, a dark thriller or something in-between.

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? Yes, it really does make a difference!

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. The original cover art for the Five Star/Gale hardcover edition of my romantic suspense mystery thriller DEATH LEGACY did not convey the type of novel. I didn’t approve it,  thinking it would mislead readers. Cover art needs to play fair with readers so that they don’t feel cheated when they select a book. Covers for mystery or thriller novels are generally dark and boding in appearance, appropriate to that genre. Readers expect it. Fortunately, the editor was open to author suggestion. We settled on a different cover for DEATH LEGACY which I thought better fit the hardcover and subsequent Wheeler large print edition better:
 
If possible, there should be a “money” quote on the front cover of hardcover books. This can be a blurb provided by a well-known author or a partial review from a respected publication. It should always offer praise for the writer’s work. In the case of DEATH LEGACY, Stella Cameron read the initial edit and provided the following: "DEATH LEGACY is the book Jacqueline Seewald's fans have been waiting for! Seewald has a rare talent for painting her readers right into her story setting."  Since the novel received excellent reviews from both BOOKLIST and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY among others, I think Ms. Cameron’s blurb was a real help in drawing attention to the book.
Paperbacks need simplicity in covers. The artwork should also support the title and the genre. Here’s the cover art for the paperback version of DEATH LEGACY created by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery:

No reviews are offered front or back although many could have been given. Everything is kept linear. The boat on the cover, however, does relate to an important part of the mystery.

Let’s examine e-books. Online the cover is small, so authors and publishers don’t want anything too fussy or busy. 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. Authors want to avoid covers that are complicated and hard to read. Plain, simple graphics are preferable. Here’s the e-book cover The Novel Fox created for the brand new edition of DEATH LEGACY:

What are your feelings regarding cover art? What draws or attracts you to a novel? What do you dislike or prefer not to see?
In celebration of the new e-book edition of  DEATH LEGACY, I am offering an original print copy  to a commentator. Leave an e-mail or web address if interested. Winner will be drawn at random and contacted within the week.



Friday, October 31, 2014

Why Horror Literature?

Halloween Trick or Treat:  Part Two on Speculative Lit

In honor of Halloween, let’s discuss horror fiction--or dark fantasy as it now is often euphemistically called. Why does it continue to fascinate readers? Why do readers love what terrifies them? It appears that vampires never die. Zombies can be found in movie theatres, TV shows, commercials, books, and short stories. Programs like The Living Dead have higher ratings than ever before.

When people talk about horror fiction, they might let out an involuntary shudder. However, horror fiction isn’t just about the gruesome. It’s not only about such supernatural creations as: ghosts, goblins, ghouls, gremlins, etc. No, it’s really about what we fear, what we dread most, what strikes terror into our hearts and souls. These things may be ordinary, like a pit bull off the leash running toward us, or extraordinary, like meeting a vampire in a neighborhood bar at midnight. Our fears are both usual and unusual.

Horror fiction will not be going away any time soon because it is human nature to feel fear as an emotion. Horror fiction actually helps us handle these feelings, helps us cope with and confront our terrors, those within us and those in the environment around us. Writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz have recognized this. They reach into their worst fears and nightmares to help us come to terms with our own. As we find ourselves in real life forced to face horrors like Ebola outbreaks and violent terrorist attacks, there is comfort in paranormal solutions.

In my co-authored novel, THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY, a boy and his mother, writing alternating viewpoint chapters, come to terms with their own greatest fears while solving several connected murders. The novel’s setting is real but eerie. Legends of the Jersey Devil still seem to fascinate. Fans of both mystery and horror relate to this novel.

THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER also has a paranormal, allegorical edge:

TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS:
is a sensual Regency romance with elements of both horror and mystery.

Readers of GONE GIRL may enjoy THE BAD WIFE, a mystery suspense thriller with lots of plot twists that features a psychic sleuth.

Do you read horror literature? Why or why not? Do you have favorite authors that you would recommend to fellow readers? If you are a writer, do you write horror or paranormal lit? Tell us something about your most recent work in the genre. Comments welcome!




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why Read Speculative Literature?

Part One

In honor of Halloween, it’s seems only right to write on the subject of speculative lit. Why do readers consistently want to read fantasy, science fiction and horror and their various paranormal subdivisions? Why does speculative fiction remain as popular as it is with all ages of readers?

Let’s begin by talking about fantasy. There has always been a fascination with magical worlds. Many of the readers and writers of fantasy are escaping the negativity of the real world through fantasy worlds which are often more satisfying. Reality is readjusted. Lev Grossman in his excellent Time Magazine essay observed: “Fantasy holds out the possibility that there’s another way to live.” Certainly there are many fans of C.S. Lewis, T.H. White, J.RR. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin—just to name a few of the popular fantasy writers.

One of my own sword and sorcery short stories appears in the recent anthology
TALES OF THE BLACK ARTS:

Much fantasy world has a sense of times past. Several of my own novels with a paranormal edge are set in the past. TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS, a paranormal Regency romance endorsed by bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick, was initially published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale/Cengage and then as a hardcover large print by Thorndike Press. Now it has an e-book edition: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JFHMXWW

THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, a fantasy romance published by Astraea Press, is a clean read that’s not just for teens. It’s set in 1985, theoretically a less complicated time. http://www.amazon.com/Devil-Danna-Webster-Jacqueline-Seewald-ebook/dp/B00JZYXW7K/
 
THE BAD WIFE, 4th and final mystery novel in the Kim Reynolds series, also has a paranormal edge. Kim, an academic librarian, is a reluctant clairvoyant who has visions which cause her to both solve and prevent crime.


Fantasy as part of our poetry literature is not at all new. Remember ”Kubla Khan” a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge? How about his “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner “?  

Recently, Eldrich Press published three of my speculative poems which include fantasy, horror and science fiction. They are a free read online: http://www.eldritchpress.com/jacqueline-seewald.html

Science fiction continues to have a strong appeal. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines this type of literature as: “dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.”

Fantasy deals with imagination, unreal worlds, and magical realms. Some of these bear similarities to past societies such as medieval times. Science fiction, on the other hand, looks to developments in science or imaginative notions of future worlds. However, all embrace aspects of the speculative or paranormal.

For one of my science fiction poems that can be read for free on the internet, you can go to Kansas University’s “Ad Astra” site: http://adastra.ku.edu/genome-jacqueline-seewald/

Are there any authors of fantasy or science fiction that you particularly admire or enjoy reading? Ray Bradbury remains one of my favorites. Are you a fan of the Harry Potter series?  Have you read Ursula K. Le Guin or Octavia E. Butler? What about fantasy/paranormal romances such as those written by Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle?  Are there new writers of fantasy or sci-fi that excite your interest? Please share with us.




Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How to Benefit from Rejection

We can’t always succeed no matter how hard we try. That’s something I’ve learned to accept as a human being and as a writer. How do we go about making lemonade from lemons?

Here are some ways writers can actually benefit from rejection:

First, examine the nature of the rejection. Has this particular work consistently received standard rejections from numerous agents, editors, publishers or publications? Maybe it’s time to put this particular book, story, play, article aside for a while and examine it again at a future time with fresh eyes. You might need to do some rewriting. Perhaps this particular work is not yet ready for publication. Start a new project for now. But never, ever destroy your rejected work.

Second, if your work has received a personalized rejection from an editor, write back to that editor and thank him/her for taking the time to point out why the work was rejected. You might just turn that rejection into an acceptance after all.

Example, I received a personalized rejection on a short story. The editor stated she liked the story but felt the ending was too abrupt. I wrote back and thanked her, also asking for further details on how she thought I could improve the ending, because I was willing to rewrite it. She provided me with her insights. I actually had to rewrite the story’s ending twice before I finally made the sale. But the story was published in print and I was paid. Was it worth the effort? In my opinion, yes it was.

I can only speak for myself. I accept rejection as part of the nature of freelance writing. I always write to the very best of my ability, intending to create quality work. However, I know I cannot please everyone. I realize my words are not chiseled in granite—nor should they be.

What I advise: if you enjoy creating the written word, if you want and need to write, keep at it. Writing is a craft, and you can improve your abilities. Don’t let rejection discourage you. Success will come in time with effort, hard work and pit bull determination. Go forth: read, write, and prosper.

Your thoughts and comments welcome!




Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing Personal Essays that Sell

One market that many writers often overlook is that of the personal essay, article, memoir piece, or story. Whether you are a novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright or nonfiction author, this is a market that should be considered. It may increase your reading audience. I have some suggestions for helping you write personal essays that will prove marketable.

When I taught creative writing, one of the course requirements for students was to keep a journal. I feel it’s an excellent source of inspiration as well as a resource for writers.

What exactly is a journal?  It’s a record, an entry-book, kept regularly, though maybe not everyday. These entries are dated and honest. We can use journals to describe things, increasing our powers of observation. For example, we can describe places: houses, sidewalks, backyards, streets, cities. Consider your journal as a travelogue. Describe people, interesting or unusual, the ordinary too.

Jot down snatches of conversation. Think of your journal as a treasure trove or jewel box in which to place gems (quotes, pithy ideas, epigrams, insights, puns, nutshell wisdom). Write a little; think a lot.

Consider your journal as a laboratory for experiment. View your journal as a new wardrobe. Try on different styles. See what suits you, what fits and what doesn't. Think of your journal as a psychoanalyst's couch or a confessional. Explore your depths, dreams, fantasies, truths, sins. Regard your journal as a tape recorder attached to your brain. Record your thought associations, stream-of-consciousness.  Consider your journal as a confidante.  Much of your journal can provide fine raw material for future writing.

In your essay, move from the general to the specific. Describe vivid scenes and what they mean to you. Think of them as anecdotal. Chicken Soup, for example, likes dialogue. They want nonfiction that reads like a first person short story with a beginning, middle and end. Mix up sentence lengths to keep up interest level. Their guidelines are specific and if you choose to submit to one of their themed anthologies, follow their guidelines precisely. I’ve had my writing in a variety of these anthologies and was very pleased with their professionalism.

This is your story and it should represent your uniqueness as a human being. The personal essay can be humorous or emotional. But regardless, it must grip the reader. When you write to be published and paid, you must offer something of interest. You must not be dull or boring. So revise and edit where needed. Remember to be genuine, precise and avoid clich├ęs.

Here are some markets for first person stories. Be sure to read their guidelines carefully before you submit:

Anthologies:


Magazines:

 (check their current calls)



(Reader’s Digest accepts a lot of short humorous true stories but competition is keen.)


(Canadian version)

Check the internet for a more complete listing of magazines that accept first person stories. For example, parenting magazines often buy first person stories. Check out travel magazines. Also don’t forget literary magazines such as:


Newspapers:

 They often accept op-ed pieces and personal essays from writers. For example, The New York Times accepts both:


and


To keep up-to-date, check out blogs that list current calls for new anthologies as well as magazines and newspapers. Here’s my favorite:


Do you keep a journal at present? If so, does it prove helpful? If not, is it something you might wish to do in the future?


Your thoughts and comments are welcome here!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In Memoriam 9/11: Hometown Heroes

A number of residents of my New Jersey hometown worked in Manhattan and died in the attack on the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001. One man who worked with elevators near the Twin Towers hurried to the disaster hoping he could help bring people to safety. He lost his own life in making this heroic rescue effort.
A neighbor who lived a few houses away from us described another act of courage and human concern. At the time that the first tower was attacked, our neighbor was with his supervisor, a man who was born and raised in our hometown. The two men saw what was happening from the vantage of an office window on the 102nd floor of the second tower. Our neighbor's boss immediately told him to get out of the building, that he would warn everyone else on the floor to leave immediately. My neighbor lived to tell the tale. His boss? Not so fortunate. He didn’t make it out.
The parents of these two courageous men who lost their lives trying to help others were also good, caring individuals. They continued to live in our town with heavy hearts. It is a terrible tragedy to suffer the loss of one’s child.
A memorial was erected at the civic center and a ceremony is held every year on September 11th. Ours may have been just an ordinary American town like so many others, and yet in its own way it is special because of the people who live there.
As a nation, we should neither forgive nor forget the murder of thousands of ordinary, innocent people on that fateful day when terrorists wreaked havoc on our country.




Wednesday, September 3, 2014

In the Beginning: How to Create a Strong Narrative Hook

Good beginnings are crucial in capturing a reader’s attention. Every writer knows that a narrative hook is needed in any successful type of writing. Many readers pick up a book, glance at the first page, and if it doesn’t grab them, simply toss it aside. Of course, creating a good narrative hook for a novel or short story is easier said than done. However, here are a few suggestions that I believe will help to     interest readers in your novel:

Point of View:

One of the most important things in writing a successful work of fiction is to develop a unique voice. That does not mean that you must write from a first person point of view.
It is important to create a central character that your readers can sympathize and/or identify with. Whether writing a realistic or fantasy novel, if the reader can't care about the main character, then the reader won't believe or accept what follows.
Regardless of whether or not you use first person narration, try to stick to a main point of view which makes reader identification more likely. This viewpoint should be from the perspective of a major character in the story. This is one way of hooking your readers from the beginning. And it goes without saying that the main viewpoint character should be either the heroine or hero or both in a romantic novel. However, breaking the rules worked for F. Scott Fitzgerald when he used a secondary character as narrator in The Great Gatsby.

Element of Mystery:

Readers enjoy an element of mystery. Every good novel 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. Prick your reader’s curiosity. This needs to be done in the first few pages and if possible from the first paragraph.

Start in medias res:

Start with a bit of intriguing, provocative dialogue or some piece of action. Get your reader involved in the plot from the beginning. Don’t begin with detailed description of people and place. You will lose your reader!
Don’t start with your main character getting up in the morning or doing anything mundane like tooth brushing. Long boring descriptions were fine for Victorian novelists, but remember that Dickens was paid by the word. Plunge the reader into the heart of the story from the beginning words.
When you do need to use description, keep it pertinent. Don’t overdo adverbs and adjectives. Use active verbs. Replace your “is”, “was” and “are” with action words whenever possible. Vary your sentence lengths and structures. You want your writing to be dynamic and exciting. Your reader must be quickly involved, must be made to care about what is happening.
Get your reader focused, placing your heroine and/or hero as close to the main action and problem as possible. Build suspense from the beginning by getting your reader into the thick of things. Weave details and necessary background information into the story as you keep the action of the plot moving along. Introduce the protagonists as early in the story as possible.

Make It Dramatic

Dramatize your story. Don't show, tell. I'm certain you've heard that advice many times before before! How to do this? Create meaningful, realistic dialogue for your characters. Each character should be an individual, talking a certain 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.
Avoid stilted dialogue. One way to accomplish this is by reading your writing out loud. Remember readers have to accept the characters in your novel as real people.

Setting the Scene:

Although you don’t want to overwhelm your reader with too much detail from the outset, settings need to be vividly described so that they seem real. Think like a film director. Create your novel in scenes as if it were a movie.
Finally, take the time to write and rewrite the beginning sentences and paragraphs of your novel, recognizing that this is crucial. You probably won’t get it right the first time through. I confess I never do! I truly agonize over beginnings.
 Go back after you finish your novel or story and see if the opening could be more compelling. Ask some fellow writers and intelligent readers to look at your beginning and give an honest opinion.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you create the perfect narrative hook that will compel readers to read your work from beginning to end.

Here’s the beginning of my novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, a YA appropriate for both teens and adults. It’s got elements of mystery, romance and a paranormal edge:

When my mother talked about Lori, she always got a funny look in her eye — not ha-ha funny but strange funny. When I was little, I never understood. As I got older, I wondered more about Lori, but I hardly ever asked because it just seemed to make my mother sad.
Lori was locked away in my mother's past life like the things in the old attic trunk. I wondered about them too. But Mom would always say when I asked her to open the trunk that the past was best forgotten. Yet, every now and then, I would say something or do something that made her sigh and exclaim: "You remind me so much of Lori!"
Not long ago, I was sitting on the living room couch reading a novel I found on the bookshelf. My mother walked into the room and gasped.
"Something wrong?" I asked.
She stared at me for a moment and shook her head. "No, but for a moment, it seemed like I was looking at Lori. I remember when she read Rebecca. She loved to read old-fashioned romances."
"Mom, what happened to Lori?"
"Danna, I'd rather not talk about her. It only brings back sad memories."
"Sure, except I didn't bring it up."

As a reader and/or writer any comments, suggestions or input you would like to share are welcome here.




Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Writing Fiction for YA and Children 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. Not every juvenile book needs to feature werewolves, vampires, witches or goblins. Books set in the "real" world still have appeal for teens and children. Young readers are not necessarily trying to read books that provide a total escape from reality. Even fantasy books need to be believable, provide an element of reality through character development to which readers can relate.
            One of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel or children’s book is to develop a unique voice. That does not mean that you must write from a first person point of view. However, teenage readers often respond well to a first person narrative.
            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, than he or she won't believe or accept what follows.
            Teens as well as younger children enjoy an element of 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.
            A word of warning: If you are going to write about teens, you must know about 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.
            Dig deep into your own psyche. How did you feel as a teenager? My latest YA novel, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, published by Astraea Press in all e-book formats, is the story of a girl who has identity issues. Most of us have gone through similar problems as adolescents.

            Get input from your own children. Have them read your writing and critique it. Consider collaborating with your children on the writing of your fiction. I wrote WHERE IS ROBERT?, a middle grades/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”.

Make it dramatic. Dramatize your story. Don't show, tell. I'm certain you've heard that advice before! How to do this? Create meaningful, realistic dialog for your characters. Each character should be an individual, talking  a certain distinct way to reflect a personal point of view, a unique way of thinking. Good dialog leads to action and conflict between people with different viewpoints and goals.
Settings need to be vividly 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.
For my children’s picture book A Devil in the Pines, I created a faction story. I used the real setting of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the legend of the Jersey Devil combined with the fictional story of a little boy who learns how to deal with fear. Afton Publishing has kept this book in print from its publication in 1999 to the present because it is a timeless story and therefore continues to sell well.
As for short story fiction versus books, short fiction necessarily needs to be more focused: fewer characters, a single incident and/or theme. This is true for both children’s stories and young adult.
            My advice, don't write for the market; write the story you need to write. We are all writers. We all have within us a unique, important, wonderful story to share. Get in touch with your inner self. Start putting your ideas on paper. Begin with an outline, then a rough draft with key characters and scenes. When you develop your book, look for depth. Although books for teens and children are usually shorter than those for adults, it doesn't mean they require less creative thought. Respect your readers; give them quality.
The success of J.P. Rowling’s books has given new hope and inspiration to those of us who write juvenile fiction. No longer can we gripe that children and young adults do not read. If nothing else, the reception the Potter books received has proven that there is still 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 or TWILIGHT series.
 Market Listings:
http://evelynchristensen.com/mags.html (magazine listings for children’s writing)
http://www.cbcbooks.org/membership/member-list/ (children’s book publishers)

Your comments, suggestions and input welcome here!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to Create Realistic Characters


Readers need to feel a connection to fiction or they won’t continue reading. If they don’t, they will simply say: So what? Then they’ll toss what they’re reading aside and look for something else. Since writers put their blood, sweat and emotional existence into giving birth to their babies, it’s natural to want to have our work read.
How do we create fiction that readers will care about? The answer lies with the characters. Writers must first know their characters. It is not enough to have a general idea of a character in your head when you start writing. You have to live and breathe the character, know him/her the way you know yourself. In essence, realistic characters are extensions or facets of yourself. Create a detailed written character study of each main character before you begin to write your story or novel.
Here are items to consider:

Names
Shakespeare asks: What’s in a name? Clearly, a whole lot. A sweet young thing might have a soft-sounding name while a villain might have a hard-sounding one. What about ethnic names? Are they appropriate or inappropriate for your work?
Another thing you need to keep in mind is not to give characters names that might confuse readers. Names that are too similar in nature--for instance, Jane and Jana--should belong in different stories.
The name of your character will likely cause an assumption of gender, unless you are trying to keep it ambiguous. When I introduced African-American detective “Bert St. Croix” early in the novel THE DROWNING POOL, it comes as something as a surprise that she is a woman. She is tall, strong and fierce. A more masculine name fits her character. Readers don’t learn her back story right away, only the contrast that she has great sympathy and compassion for those who are in need of help but is tough with criminals.
Nicknames are also something to consider. Does your character have a nickname like “Bert" short for “Roberta”? What might that suggest about the character?

Age:
Age at the time of the story is significant. Is your story about an adult, a teenager, a child? Also consider how the time period the character lives in effects personality and beliefs. This is especially important in historical fiction. Character voice is also a consideration.
 In THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY, the novel is told from two distinct viewpoints--that of a teenage boy and his troubled mother. Point of view is very important. Vocabulary and use of language are unique to each character. Also, the reader understands things the characters do not comprehend. Dramatic irony can build tension and suspense.

Back Story
Although you know your character’s back story or personal history, the reader should learn it slowly, piece-meal. This adds to the mystery. It makes readers want to turn the pages to find out more details about the character.  I prefer to make my main characters sympathetic but complex. Maeve, the main character in TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS, lives in Regency London and has suffered much cruelty in her early life. She now does everything she can to help others, particularly orphans.

Appearance
It’s important to know how your characters look. Not only should you have a picture in your mind but you need to describe in words how the characters appear: short, tall, handsome, beautiful, ugly, fat, thin, eye color, hair color.
Mannerisms are important as well. Does your heroine bite her nails, twist locks of her long hair? Does your hero flex his muscles? Does your villain speak in a soft, menacing voice? In THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, teenage Danna is a pretty girl but doesn’t think she is.

Relationships
Start first with the family members, especially if they are an important part of the story. Who are the parents, siblings and extended family of your character? It’s not enough to just come up with names for them when developing your main subject. What are they like? Provide descriptions, personalities, etc. Are there any problems your character has with them? Kim Reynolds, the academic librarian sleuth first introduced in THE INFERNO COLLECTION, has a complex family dynamic that includes dark secrets.
What about friends? If they play a part in the story, we need to know your main character’s interactions with and feelings about them. In the Kim Reynolds mystery series, Kim comes to love police detective Mike Gardner. Their relationship is complicated in THE TRUTH SLEUTH by the return of Mike’s wife, Evelyn, who becomes THE BAD WIFE in the 4th novel in this series.
Kim and Bert St. Croix also become close friends, and in THE BAD WIFE, they work together and quite literally save Mike’s life.

Personality
 Get to know your character’s strengths and weaknesses, attitudes, fears, obsessions, special talents and hobbies. How does your character think, speak, act? What do other characters say about him/her?
Weave body language in with dialogue. This often creates subtle emotional signals. What is said may be in contrast to what the character actually thinks and feels.
When you write a scene where there is interaction between characters, try to visualize it as you would see it in a film. There’s nothing wrong with having the image in your mind of real people. It’s also okay to eavesdrop on conversations and be an objective observer which will provide you with material for your writing.

Okay, let’s sum up:

1. Be selective in choosing the names that convey what you want readers to visualize about your character.
2. Appearance is important. What does your character look like? Description can convey much about character. But don’t overdo it. As the old saying goes: show don’t tell.
3. What is special about your character’s speech? Are there unique phrases used? Dickens was a master of this. Also, dialogue should seem natural.
4. Get into the mind set of your character. How does your character think?  
5. How does your character act and interact with others?
6. What do other characters say about him/her?
7. Does the entire presentation have verisimilitude? Do your characters seem real and believable?

Your comments, observations and input are very welcome here!