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: (magazine listings for children’s writing) (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:

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 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.

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.

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.

 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!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Finding Markets for Mystery Short Stories

Last week I blogged on writing short stories that sell and listed a number of sites that would be helpful to writers of short fiction. One site specifically for mystery writers that deserves special mention is the Short Mystery Fiction Society:

 I’ve just given you the market reference but there are many other valuable pieces of information here for mystery writers. For instance, you can subscribe to the group which discusses many things related to mystery writing via e-mail. This is a lively interactive group and you will find that writers such as myself discuss the craft of mystery short story writing and short story writing markets in depth.

Wishing you much success in your writing endeavors. Keep me posted!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ten Tips on Writing Short Stories that Sell by Jacqueline Seewald

I’ve written well over a hundred short stories, most of which have sold and some which have also sold as reprints. I’ve learned some things which I’ll share with you. In addition, I’m listing current markets for short stories.

Tip One:

There are two ways to go about this. You can write for a specific market following their guidelines and requirements or you can write the story you want to write and then look for a market that is appropriate. I suggest the latter choice--unless you are specifically invited to submit your work by an editor for a themed anthology or magazine issue.

Tip Two:

You are unlikely to sell short stories unless you’ve read a great many of them. This will give you an instinctive grasp of the genre. If you don’t enjoy reading short stories, you shouldn’t bother writing them. It will show.

Tip Three:

 Don’t assume that because short stories are brief in length that they are easy to write. In reality, it takes discipline to write a good short story and sheer brilliance to write a great one. Short stories are focused works of fiction.

Tip Four:

You need to decide the type of short fiction you intend to write. Do you love literary short stories? Try then to write one of your own. Are you into speculative fiction? Do you enjoy science fiction, horror, or fantasy? Are you a mystery writer? Read some of the best both past and present before you attempt your own.  However, be aware that each genre has its own type of content. Mashups are acceptable, but first know the rules of each genre before you attempt to mix them. Do the research before you start to write.

Tip Five:

Whether writing short fiction or a novel, you need to consider the basics: plot, setting, characters, and theme. Analyze how they fit together in your story. Each of these components deserves at the very least an individual blog—something for the future.

Tip Six:

Also consider style and point of view. For instance, who is telling the story? Will this story work best in first or third person? Why? Is the narrator sophisticated, jaded, innocent, naïve? The style and choice of language needs to reflect these considerations.

Tip Seven:

When you finish writing your story, put it away for a while and go on to another project. Wait at least one month, then reread and revise as is needed. You are now the editor. You will see the need for changes and improvements.

Tip Eight:

When you are ready to submit your story for publication, carefully read the submission guidelines. You have to follow them exactly. Each market has its own requirements.

Tip Nine:

Avoid writing only for “exposure” if possible. There are paying markets that encourage beginners without publishing credits.

Tip Ten:

Here are some market resources that will help you:

Novel and Short Story Writer's Market

One valuable source of information. You can buy it or ask for it at the reference desk of your local library. It is published yearly.

Check out these free websites:  (excellent current market listings for genre short story fiction) (another up-to-date listing for spectulative fiction) (posts new opportunities for freelance writers) This is written daily and managed by Brian Scott of: (another valuable site which offers free newsletters that are up-to-date. Do subscribe for Morning Coffee!) a great resource. Sandra blogs almost every day and offers the most current market listings as well as discussions on writing. Although her interest is geared toward mystery fiction, you will find many others listings of value here as well.
(submission database)

Finally, if you are curious about my writing credits, here are some of my stories available as free reads:

Beyond the Bo Tree
(first story in this collection is a free read)

Over My Dead Body!
"The Hotel Room Murder"-a locked room mystery with a modern twist

"Murder and Money"-police are aided by forensics in solving a homicide

The Gumshoe Review
"A Saint Valentine's Day Massacre"
Husband and wife detectives investigate separate cases that converge on a murder.

Comments welcome here!