Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tip O'Day #253 - From Real Life to Fiction

Guest blogger Kathy Rowe on fiction “torn from the headlines.”

I agree with the recent guest post on Wredheaded Writer about taking true life events and turning them into fiction. Actually I take it a bit farther. In my Dragonslayers Saga, I take real world events and turn them into a coulda-shoulda-woulda type of story taking place on a governmental scale. What would happen if a new, deadly explosive was discovered that bomb dogs and other testing devices couldn't detect? How would terrorists exploit this technology? How much damage could they do on our home soil? How could the government stop them? That’s the premise for Mind Games.

On a closer note, many of my characters suffer from PTSD. That's normal for a group of fighting men (and one woman), but I approach it from an intimate perspective - my husband is retired Special Forces and suffers badly from PTSD so I work that into my characters in a very personal way. My goal is to help civilians understand what veterans go through, and that they will never be the same. That is a recurring theme in Battle Rhythm.

To learn more about Kathy, check out her blog here.
Dixon says: Before I started daily blog entries on January 11, 2011 (1-11-11!!), I had a handful of followers & not much of a plan. I thought it would be interesting to share the knowledge of some of the fine writers – both seasoned pros & newbies – that I’ve met online, so over 75% of posts have been guest comments from other authors, editors, reviewers and readers. Now that my first e-book, The Assassins Club, has been published, I plan more posts about what I learned during its creation. Also, I’ve found that “excerpt exchanges” with other authors are a kick. However, guest post will still be in the majority. I think we have a lot to learn from one another.
Happy New Years!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tip O'Day #252 - The Likeable Hero

Guest blogger Bob Stewart on “every novel ever written.”

It was the first day of a college creative writing class. The professor wrote the following sentence on the blackboard: “A likeable character battles against great odds to achieve a worthwhile goal.”

He turned to face the class. “That is the one sentence description of every novel ever written.”

Over the years I’ve measured many of literature’s great stories against this one-sentence description, even novels and motion pictures built on characters with major flaws, but who possess an indomitable spirit. Great stories pretty much hold up to this writing truth and I try to infuse my own writing with that element. No character has a more indomitable spirit than the literary classic, The Count of Monte Cristo, a tale of a hapless son of the sea who spent years in a dungeon planning his revenge after he was betrayed by his best friend over a woman.

I’m sure you have your favorites. I can’t resist the impulse to challenge you to read my favorite book, The Watchers by Dean Koontz. It is a love story on many levels – man for woman, woman for man, animal for humanity – about a failed scientific experiment. Very flawed characters here – a man on the verge of suicide, a woman who is a virtual recluse – and a dog that’s one of the most likeable characters you’ll ever meet. The three join forces to achieve the worthwhile goal – love.

The character of the dog may be one of the prime influences in the creation of one of my novels, Alias Thomas A. Katt, written in first person from the cat’s POV. The cat switches bodies with his mistress’ boyfriend only to discover the boyfriend is a serial killer. I call it “feline noir.” The cat’s major flaw? A fear of becoming too human.

To learn more about Bob, check out www.writerbobstewart.com/
Dixon say: Bob contradicts my post yesterday, when I wrote that a book featuring an unsympathetic antihero can just as valid as the “likeable hero” paradigm. That’s okay – there are many opinions on what makes a good novel, and who’s to say what’s right or wrong? If you have a thought on this or another subject and would like to try a guest post, send your submission to me at montananovels@yahoo – Happy New Years to all!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tip O'Day #251 - Sympathetic Protagonist Needed?

Dixon challenges the notion that you need a sympathetic protagonist.

Experts often tell the writer that a protagonist must be likeable – somebody the reader can empathize and sympathize with. Well, that’s nonsense.

Agatha Christie’s most famous creation, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, was creepy, snobbish, bombastic and self-centered, taking delight in tormenting his assistant. Even Christie called him “insufferable.” In John Grisham’s novel The Brotherhood, which involves a group of blackmailers operating from within prison walls, there’s not a sympathetic character in the book. The people being blackmailed are even scummier than the convicts. For another example, think about The Godfather. For a time, Michael Corleone seems admirable, since he resists entering the family crime business; then he kills a crooked cop to avenge the shooting of his father, so that’s understandable, right? Eventually, he turns out just as corrupt as his father, even killing family members. Lovable characters in this novel? None I can recall.

My recently-published novel The Assassins Club concerns two serial killers. One is a complete wacko, a disorganized schitzo controlled by the voices in his head. The other is Tyler Goode, a young man in his mid-20s who accidentally becomes a killer when he’s cornered by the town bully, and then kills again when he’s stalked by the bully’s younger brother. He feels like he’s performing a community service, “taking out the trash” and rebalancing the scales between good and evil.

When Ty continues to kill – it’s become a habit he can’t shake – why should the reader continue to turn pages.? He’s a murderer who deserves whatever justice will eventually befall him. Except I want to explore his psyche further, and I’d like to have the reader come along for the ride. So I tried a couple strategies. First, I gave him a dead family – two doting parents, and a wonderful brother and sister – who are wiped out in a hit-and-run accident. Ty feels the world is out of kilter because of these good souls being removed while evil seems to flourish wherever he looks. Second, I portrayed him as shy and insecure, and then I gave him a sweet, trusting girl as his romantic interest. He feels guilty about continually hiding his secret life from her. He feels protective of her, not wanting his hobby to endanger her. He feels fulfilled for the first time in his life.

Hopefully my strategies make this antihero human enough that a reader will tag along for curiosity, to see what happens to the young man with an unusual pastime and a loving girlfriend he must hide it from. My critique group thinks it works. Maybe you will as well.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tip O'Day #250 - "Precise & Effortless"

Guest blogger Curtis Oddo on choreographed writing – sort of.

The best books I have read, such as The Three Musketeers, have story lines that read like a well-choreographed dance. Precise, effortless, synchronized movements with no wasted energy, very creative, and a killer finale that makes people cheer for more. I actually think about that – dance choreography – when I write. It takes a lot of effort to work out all the details in a plot intensive story, but it is worth it.

I tried to do that for my first book, The Crimson Battle Axe, and will try very hard to do the same with the second book, based upon the same characters.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tip O'Day #249 - Boost Your Chances

Guest blogger Marlene Samuels on how she improved her chances of getting published.

I created a very precise "elevator summary" about my book. Imagine you enter an elevator at the same time as an agent or editor. You have to be able to describe your book and engage that person in 2-3 sentences, before those elevator doors open up again!

My other efforts include taking classes at more professional writing conferences, carrying my business cards, collecting cards from anyone who may possibly to put me in contact with someone, and reading advice columns by agents. My other big effort - one that really requires self discipline that I still struggle with - is writing something every day and then going back a week later and reading what I wrote. That process has really improved my self-editing skills.

To learn more about Marlene, check out her blog.
By the way, it took awhile for the text and cover to marry up, but Dixon’s first e-book THE ASSASSINS CLUB is now up on Kindle for $2.99 - amazon reviews would be welcome.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Novel Excerpt Exchange #2 – Michael Haskins

I was invited to participate in an “excerpt exchange” by some nice folks at FB group Suspense/Thriller Writers. This is the 2nd of these. I’d invite followers of this blog to give me some feedback – love these exchanges, hate ‘em, couldn’t care less – what? Following is a 1,000-word selection from STAIRWAY TO THE BOTTOM by Michael Haskins – Chapter One:

If I hadn’t gone to watch the comedy showcase at the Key West Fringe Theater, I wouldn’t have silenced my cell phone. If I hadn’t silenced my cell, I would have answered Dick Walsh’s first call at 1:10 A.M., and then things might not have gone so badly. If is a damn big word for only having two letters.

I unplugged the cell from its charger in the morning and the lighted screen reminded me it was on silent mode and that I had five messages. Each of Dick’s messages was more frantic and pleading than the last. He needed help, but didn’t say for what. By the third message, he was cussing but still wanted me to call and that was at 3:15. He didn’t sound drunk, like most three in the morning callers do, he sounded scared. The fifth and final message came at 5:36. He had calmed down, asked me to come by his house as soon as possible and gave me the address. His composed voice assured me I would understand the problem after I arrived and he would be in touch later.

“Mick, I need you to believe me, it isn’t what it looks like. Please help me,” his message ended with a quiet plea.

I dressed quickly in last night’s clothing and swallowed cold water from a bottle out of the cooler. Before I got into my Jeep and drove to Dick’s house on Von Phister Street, I called his cell but it went to voice mail and I left a message. We were playing phone tag.

Von Phister is a narrow, tree-lined street in a quiet neighborhood of old and new houses. Dick’s was an old two-story house with a large gumbo-limbo tree in front and two more in back. He actually had a decent-size backyard, something that is at a premium in Key West.

The house was dark. It was almost six-thirty, about an hour since his last call. The sky was a light gray with a reddish-purple sunrise pushing the dawn westward. Only a large yellow tomcat crossed my path on the empty street. I parked in front and noticed Dick’s scooter was gone. I went up the steps to the wraparound porch, rang the bell, and then knocked. Nothing. I looked into the living room window. Nothing. I knocked again and when no one answered, I tried the door. It was unlocked so I went in.

The stench that greeted me in the hallway was familiar. The smell of death was strong and that told me somewhere in the house, death was very recent. Death, if left alone long enough cloaks all other odors, especially in the tropics – violent death even more so.

I called Dick’s name but no one answered. I walked into the living room and it looked lived in – a big screen TV, stereo with CDs stacked next to it, a sectional sofa set. A hallway led to a kitchen, small dining room, and bathroom. The stairway on the right went upstairs to the bedrooms.

Dick used the dining room as his office – medium-sized desk that was too big for the room, a computer, a printer, and a two-drawer file. I walked through into the kitchen. There was a table for two off to the side, dirty dishes in the sink and a woman’s body on the floor.

She lay face down and a large part of her head was gone. Pieces of shattered skull, along with parts of her brain and blood, tarnished the otherwise clean kitchen wall. Blood and human waste soaked the tile floor and stained her clothing. The stench of death filled the kitchen. I didn’t bother looking for a pulse.

An automatic with a silencer attached lay on the floor, her arm stretched out toward it as if reaching for the gun that had a small stream of brownish blood curled up next to it.

I ran upstairs to check the two bedrooms, calling Dick’s name. Both rooms were neat and the beds made. Nothing broken or seemingly out of place. Dick’s closet looked full with only a couple of empty hangers in the mix. The guestroom closet was empty.

Dick shot this woman, I thought as I looked down at her body. Whose gun was it on the floor? I didn’t touch anything, though I wanted to. My curiosity was getting the best of me.

I’m Liam Murphy, a semi-retired journalist and fulltime sail bum, some say. Key West has been my home for almost eighteen years. Before that, I lived in Southern California and reported on Central American civil wars and when they ended I covered the drug wars for a weekly news magazine so a dead body wasn’t something that frightened me it intrigued me. In Key West, I’ve made friends with all kinds of characters, including the chief of police, Richard Dowley. We have a two-sided relationship. One side is Richard the cop, the other is Richard the friend. He considers me a friend but always thinks of me as a journalist. He says I only have one side. I called him on my cell, sure of catching him at home, and knew I’d be talking to his cop side. I told him where I was and what I’d found.

“What are you doing at that nut’s house?” I could hear him banging around in the kitchen.

When I explained about the messages and Dick’s plea, he sighed loudly enough for me to hear on the phone. “Don’t touch anything and I’ll call it in,” he said. “Best thing is go outside and wait for the first unit, and I’ll make it there too.”

“Okay, Richard, but tell the ambulance it doesn’t have to hurry,” I said and he hung up without replying.

Outside, I sat and waited, thinking of Dick’s last message telling me it wasn’t what it looked like. It looked like murder.

My own first novel, THE ASSASSINS CLUB, has been uploaded to both Kindle and Nook, and should be available for purchase later today. (The cover art on Kindle doesn't show up yet - be sure to wait, so you don't miss the awesome cover.) Priced at $2.99 which is a little more than 3 cents per thousand words – my accountant says I’m crazy! - Dixon

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Writers & Readers

Merry Christmas, one and all! The lyrics below are by my friend Kathy Dunnehoff, one of the driving forces behind the Authors of the Flathead, and the author of THE DO-OVER and more recently PLAN ON IT, which was released just a few days ago.
Sing this to “White Christmas.”

Write Christmas

I'm dreaming of a write Christmas,
the one I hope's right down the road.
Where the scenes I hammer and readers clamor
to rush my Kindle book download.

I'm dreaming of a write Christmas
with every novel that I plot.
May the book be funny and hot,
and may all the comma errs be caught.

I'm dreaming of a write Christmas.
I've worked the keyboard all year round,
where my neck would seize up, my fingers freeze up,
my head would spin around and pound.

I'm dreaming of a write Christmas
I made my list in case he might…
May St. Nick bring a manuscript tonight,
'cause I've heard those elves can really write.

Dixon’s first novel, THE ASSASSINS CLUB, has been uploaded to both Kindle and Nook, and will be available for purchase as soon as a human being sets down the eggnog long enough to push the appropriate button. Wish me luck!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tip O'Day #248 - "Don't Give Up"

Guest blogger Kathy Bertone on traditional publishing.

I am going to swim against today’s tide and tell you yet-to-be-published authors, not to give up on traditional publishers. I have heard too many writers say that they can’t, no one hears them, it’s too hard, the odds are stacked against them, etc. That is not necessarily the case. Don’t be discouraged - be bold.

I wrote a one-page query for my book, The Art of the Visit which I emailed to those literary agents that I researched, knew would be interested in non-fiction, and would accept an electronic query. Of course I got rejections, but I did not give up. Finally, in my inbox, there were the words I longed to hear, “Hi Kathy, yes, I have an interest in your idea. Would love to see your manuscript…”

Don’t get me wrong – self-publishing can be a good thing for those who know how to do it. But if you have a good idea and can write, don’t give up, don’t have fear, and don’t be discouraged. You never know what might happen until you go for it. But do your research first. There are ‘rules’ that you must adhere to. And it may be worth your time and effort.

For more info about Kathy, check out her website: www.theartofthevisit.com
Thanks for all the guest bloggers, both published and unpublished, who have shared their knowledge and opinions this year. Dixon's first published novel, The Assassins Club, will be available as e-book on both Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook later today, or possibly Christmas Day.
Have a wonderful Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tip O'Day #247 - Get Pubbed the Inca Way

Guest blogger Barbara Chepaitis on a sure-fire way to get published.
Getting published is easy. All you have to do is propitiate the right gods. With a blood offering. Preferably someone else's.
Dixon says: "Disclaimer – don’t try this at home!"
Learn more about Barbara at http://www.wildreads.com/

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Novel Excerpt Exchange - Karen Vaughan

Some of the folks at the FB Suspense/Thriller Writers group are doing an excerpt exchange, and I was invited to participate. An excerpt from my novel, The Assassins Club (which will be released in JUST FOUR DAYS!!!) will appear in Karen Vaughan's blog. Below is about 1,100 words from Dead Comic Standing by Karen Vaughan.

An up-and-coming comic was just exiting The Laff Attak. The comedian usually left through the alley after his sets, usually two per night, 30 minutes per set. Like other wannabes, he worked two clubs per week whilst working part time at an upscale Coffee Emporium. This guy didn’t want to spend the rest of his career as a part-time Barista /Comic. Oh no, this dude had plans, he was going to be the Robin Williams for the next generation. Well, skip the 'Na-noo-Na-noo' bullshit that Robin had to tout, in his early years.

In the meantime, bills had to be paid and the comic had a wife to support as well. Debbie worked as an insurance adjuster for a huge HMO management company. She technically supported him and his “hobby”. At least it was a marginally paying hobby. The young man walked around the corner down another alley, a supposed short cut on his way home. He feared nothing, although he would never have let Deb do this, day or night. Her argument was why should he? Did he think he was “Iron man” or something? The young dude lit up another smoke, a filthy habit and Deb hated it. Another reason she thought he might die young. She just didn’t get the part about a good smoke, after coming off stage. Comics had to be the worst chronic smokers. He had to do it here because once he stepped into the house, no more ciggies. He might as well smoke now ‘cause Deb wouldn’t let him smoke after sex. Smoking brought him back from the adrenaline high of being ‘on’. No matter what shit hit you throughout your day, you hit the stage running with a smile, ready to show the crowd the time of their miserable lives. He stood in the shadows taking a few pulls on the Camel, dropped it and ground it into the asphalt with the other discarded cigarette butts. Debbie, as much as he loved her, had her phobias. She was convinced that some guy would jump out of the shadows and knife him to death, when, in reality, the worst killers came wrapped in cellophane and cardboard.

The next step he took into the alley was his last. A hand holding a butcher knife came out of nowhere. If this weren’t the end for real, he would have found a place in his act for the scenario. He felt the knife blade plunge into his stomach, and he went down on his knees, and then fell onto his back.

“Fuck man, if you want my wallet, just ask.” Dave was gasping for air.

“It’s not about the money, asshole. I just didn’t know how else to tell you……”

“What?” Dave croaked weakly.

The stranger grabbed the hilt of the knife, and yanked it out of his victims gut.

He looked straight at him and said, “YOU JUST AIN’T FUNNY!”

Then the killer slit the young man's throat.

* * *

The room was packed. People were lined up at the bar three deep, and all the tables were full. Jeffrey Beals, the owner and operator of Comic F/X was looking forward to a good night. His headliner, Phil Vetters was a real crowd pleaser for sure. He was more concerned about Shelley, the new girl starting tonight. She auditioned well, and Jeff had no doubt that she had talent. However, Shelley clearly admitted that her club experience was limited and most of her experience had been in an auditorium setting, doing comedy for educational purposes. This worried Jeff. Shelley was a small girl, and guys tended to eat people like that up, especially after a few stiff drinks. Great prey for hecklers and perverts.

Jeff tried to keep society’s baser elements out of the club. However, some just seemed to slip through the cracks. They walk in seeming quite civilized but once a female comic hit the stage, all vestiges of humanity escaped through their assholes.

Comic F/X was full of yuppies out for a few laughs. The club was a brightly lit establishment. There was no smoking allowed and there was a three drink minimum rule. The basic premise was to serve up good drinks and provide quality entertainment. Jeff wanted people to come back time after time, to see the rising stars of tomorrow. He hoped Shell was one of them. Jeff had heard she came from a tough neighbourhood, a white girl surrounded by Hispanics and African-Americans. It was everyone for themselves and one had to develop a thick skin and a strong backbone.

Shell was doing her initial sound check on stage. “Hear the one about…..”

“Never mind the jokes sweetie, just show us yer titties.”

“Hey guy what’s your name?”

“Who wants to know?” Shelley shielded her eyes from the spotlight to see the person who had addressed her and spotted a large man sitting at a center table. Oh god no, why couldn’t hecklers be gorgeous? Why were they always butt friggin’ ugly as well as obnoxious? So if she had to put up with this moron, she might as well have fun with him. Maybe the toad would get the message and back off.

“Well pal, I just don’t open my shirt for just anyone. I like to be on a first name basis with my voyeurs, if ya know what I mean?”

“If I tell ya will ya take it off?”

“I don’t know, by the looks of you, you seem to have a bigger rack than I do.”

“You Little Bitch!”

The guy was steaming as the audience watched her dismantle his ego one line at time.

“Whoa boy, you better put on your big boy pants to use language like that, you wanna take your potty mouth and go to the washroom?”

Jeff was watching the impromptu exchange, and decided that Shelley could handle herself. Gord-o was a dog, but Shelley was having an easy time having him neutered. If Gord-o had gotten out of hand, Jeff would have had him thrown out on his ass.

“Very funny girlie—God gave you a sense of humor –‘cause you just can’t please the boys. Gord-o can teach you what you need to know.”

“Well Gord-o, what you can teach me won’t take more than two minutes.”

“Au Contraire, sweetie, I could have you yelling Gord-Oh by morning.” Gord-O was giving back what she gave him.

“No doubt, loser, it would take you that long to get it up!”

The audience was enjoying the impromptu exchange between Shelley and Gord. There was a lot of laughing and clapping. Gord-o was starting to look the fool. Something he hated, especially at the hands of a chick. “You freakin’ cow! No one makes me look like an ass, and gets away with it!”

“Gordie, my dear, you don’t need my help to look like an ass. You’re doing a good enough job on your own.”

The purchase link at amazon.com for either paperback or e-book is http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Comic-Standing-ebook/dp/B005PIYMNI/ref=ntt_at_ep_edition_2_1?ie=UTF8&m=AZC9TZ4UC9CFC

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tip O'Day #246 - Don't You Love NaNo?

Guest blogger Eileen Hamer on that dreaded first draft.

Some writers sneer at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) but for me it's a way to get that God-awful first draft done. Without the NaNo time constraints, I just piddle around writing when the inspiration strikes, which isn't often enough. I've written drafts of four novels in my Chicago Stories series as NaNo novels. They were all pretty awful, but serve as the framework for longer and I hope better novels. Of course, I'm one of those perverts who actually enjoy revising and editing.

My first novel, Chicago Stories: West of Western, will go up on Kindle soon (just waiting for the cover). Wounded Ex-Marine and Darkpool agent Seraphy Pelligrini has come home to Chicago to start a new life as an architect. When she finds an abandoned drapery workshop in a marginal neighborhood to rehab into a studio and loft, she doesn't know she's on the border between two street gangs. Her windows are broken, death threats painted on her garage, a dead body left on her doorstep and things only get worse.

I started West of Western as a NaNo novel, deciding the last day of October to try it. With so little time, I had to choose a location I knew well, so I wrote about the neighborhood I'd lived in for ten years. I sat down that first day and just started writing. I never knew what the next day would bring. When the month was over, I had the basis of a story I'd never have found otherwise. That was four years ago and the draft has been completely rewritten and revised since then, but nothing was as hard as getting out that first draft!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tip O'Day #245 - Dream Up the Truth

Guest blogger John DeDakis responds to YOU SHOULD WRITE A BOOK.

Most writers are motivated to write because of things that have happened to them. And the first instinct is to write it as a non-fiction autobiography because the experiences are so vivid and personally profound. Often, well-meaning friends who've heard you recount portions of the story exclaim, "You should write a book!" But they don't realize just how hard that actually is.

One reason it's harder than most people think is that if you're writing non-fiction, your editor will need to know more of the facts and context of any given story than you - from your narrow and limited point of view - actually know. So, as you try to write FACTUALLY, you'll discover that you don't know nearly as many facts as you thought you did.

Of course you can set out to find those missing details, but, as a journalist, I can tell you that the process is time-consuming, expensive, and fraught with all kinds of difficulties. And perhaps the biggest difficulty is that if you're writing things that are unflattering about a person, you could get sued for defamation of character. Even though what you're writing is true, if the person's not a public figure, you could lose a lot of money defending yourself in court.

It ain't worth it.

Not only that, but publishers are less likely to want to make your story into a book because you're not well known, making it harder for them to sell the story of a nobody to the general public. Publishing is, after all, a business.

So.......? Here's what I suggest: Use those personal stories as a way to inspire your imagination. Change some of the details of the events and characters so that the real people won't recognize themselves, then build a story that still conveys the deeper "truth" you want to communicate. If you have a vivid imagination you'd be on firmer ground going in that direction. That's because you get to "dream up" the facts, something an editor of non-fiction won't let you get away with.

That's how I dreamed up my first novel "Fast Track." The book got its start because of two traumatic experiences in my life: a car/train collision I witnessed as a kid, and my sister's suicide. But, instead of recounting what happened in the style of a just-the-facts-ma'am journalist, I made up an entirely different story - a mystery/thriller - that still highlights themes and truths surrounding sudden death and suicide. I used my imagination to create a story that would resonate with people who don't know anything about me personally.

If you're able to camouflage the true events that happened to you and create a compelling story that still conveys a deeper "truth," you may be able to write not just one book, but ten, simply by using what happened to you as your creative muse.

John DeDakis is a senior copy writer on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer." John is the author of two mystery-suspense novels ("Fast Track" and "Bluff"). He's currently at work on novel #3 - "Troubled Water." Visit his website at www.johndedakis.com

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tip O'Day #244 - Looking for Feedback

Guest blogger M.K. Graff on what works for one writer.
I write mysteries and so tend to read them 90% of the time, with a heavy concentration on UK authors as my one series is set there. I've found that a good writers group with a handful of people who KNOW how to critique can be invaluable.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tip O'Day #243 - Judge by the Cover

Guest blogger Kaleb Zeringue on capturing a book’s mood in the book cover.

As an independent cover artist, I’m often asked about the process I use to choose colors to represent moods or themes in a book. It starts with learning a little about the book. I collaborate with the author to discover the overall theme or idea and then I go to the drawing board.

Color is a quintessential part of design in all design processes. Color governs the way we receive a piece. It’s amazing because as humans we subconsciously associate colors with moods. For example, we associate yellow with joy, intellect, and energy. So if I am presented with a book that has some or all of these undertones in its story, such as the cover I did for Renee Andrew’s Cake Icing, Butt Budder and Tea Lids, I will use colors with a lot of yellow in them to trigger a certain response from viewers before they even pick up the book.

I think it’s important for the mood of readers to match the book’s mood before they start reading so they can fully connect with the story and so the book can have that lasting effect every author desires. That is the cover’s purpose.

Learn more about Kaleb at http://www.wix.com/z4designs/z4designs
Book covers are crucial in buying decisions, it would seem, so more frequent posts on that subject are planned. Would love to hear from other designers.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tip O'Day #242 - Scams

Guest blogger Rose Blackthorn on being scammed.
I fell into that trap of submitting to an agent who referred me to a “book doctor” stating that after professional editing they would be pleased to represent my manuscript. The editor charged me an exorbitant amount, and after making the suggested changes I resubmitted to the agent, who now was no longer interested.
Dixon says: Thanks for sharing, Rose, and hopefully you've prevented other writers from falling for this scam. There are many honest and helpful literary agents, book editors, and book doctors - but how to ferret out the unethical ones? I'd suggest using the 'Preditors and Editors' website before signing either a contract or a check.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tip O'Day #241 - Can You Handle 10,000 Hours?

Guest blogger Tim Greaton reminds us that writers write.

Many famous authors are credited with having said, “Writer’s write…” and that is the truth of it. To sit down and begin a journey of words is the very heart of our craft. Talking about writing, thinking about writing, or even planning a writing project have little to do with the actual process of stringing words in a progression that is hoped to entertain or enlighten a reader. The late Jack Bickham used to say that the most important quality in any writer is the ability to sit down and refuse to get up until a certain number of words have been written. Ernest Hemmingway said, and I may be paraphrasing, “Write as well as you can and finish what you start.”

Clearly the message comes back to, “Writers write.” I recently saw a documentary suggesting that most successful athletes and musicians in our world today have achieved such great heights because they have practiced their chosen professions more than any of their peers, usually for a minimum of ten thousand hours. I believe that. It is also my belief that writers who strive to pass that same ten thousand-hour litmus test will ultimately find themselves among the finest writers of their generation. So I encourage anyone with a dream of making a dent in the literary world to…pull up a chair, grab your proverbial pen and simply begin.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tip O'Day #240 - Feel the Music

Guest blogger Bill Talcott is influenced by music.

On occasion I'll have someone ask me how I come up with my ideas for the fiction I write. Quite often I can only tell them I am influenced by the music I am listening to at the time. My book The Mission started out as an idea that developed while listening to the soundtrack for the movie, Blade Runner. I had finished my first attempt at a story and decided to hold off doing the editing on it to write a short tale. I originally called the story 'The Undead'. It was intended to be 20-30 pages of fan fiction, taking place within the world of an online game. The Blade Runner music kept bringing up feelings that practically wrote the story for me. Some 30 pages into it and not even close to an ending, I made the decision to kill off a character and suddenly my short story became more than it was intended to be.

Tracks 8, Memories of Green, and 10, Damask Rose of the Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis guided me through much of the writing process. There were other pieces by the group Audio Slave from their first CD that were a big influence. And then there was blues artist, RL Burnside and his Go To Jail. There were many others that made me feel something for the story as well. After finishing and making necessary changes in the story I eventually had The Mission, a short novel that I decided to publish as an e-book.

Music continues to play a big part in what I am currently writing and the ideas that I have for future stories. Who knows, something you are listening to right now may have influenced something you've recently read.

To learn more about Bill, check out http://billtalcottsblog.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tip O'Day #239 - Rejection

Matt Hilton on Rejection. (This excerpt is from “Col Bury’s New Crime Fiction” blog of Feb 9, 2009. He interviewed Matt Hilton, author of the Joe Hunter thriller series, and the subject of rejection came up.)

Like all writers I’ve suffered the dreaded rejection slip on so many occasions I can’t remember. Between writing Aggro, and my deal for Dead Men’s Dust coming to fruition, everything I ever wrote – apart from a few articles for magazines - was rejected for one reason or another.

I came very close on a few occasions, and it was the advice that I was given that spurred me to keep on writing. Rejection can be depressing, but you have to look beyond the ‘thanks but no thanks’ message and pick up on any advice contained in the rejection letter. I took each rejection as a step along the road to publication, and after each I’d go back to my work and see what it was that wasn’t acceptable to the publisher and try to put it right next time round.

Expect rejection and you won’t be disappointed, so when the acceptance comes it is a great surprise. If you lay all your hopes in one place – or one step of the process – it can pull you down if you’re knocked back. But don’t give up, keep trying. If you’ve got the drive and the talent, someone will pick you up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tip O'Day #238 - The Write Spice

Guest blogger Gayle George Gross on how to spice up your writing, and try something different with your story line.

Create a snappy interaction between characters, allowing their personalities to show by adding dialogue to the story. Watch the conversation dry up as the characters begin mulling over past transgressions. Preserve the mood with a flash of lust and passion. Find a natural setting for the characters to relax and draw on their inner strengths. Extract the hidden strengths from their strong character, overcoming the coarse words of a sour adversary. Don’t let them mince words when someone deserves to be put in their place. Provide an opportunity for them to ground themselves with friends and loved ones. Cut to the chase and let them know how you really feel about them before they’re roasted by a challenger. Mild or sweet, hot or sassy, love them with your whole heart and soul, even the nuts.

There’s a great newsletter that provides a new word a day for your vocabulary. http://wordsmith.org/awad/index.html adds to the spice collection on your shelf.

When you've maximized the right flavor and are ready for a taste-test visit http://www.10daybookclub.com/ We know there's a masterpiece waiting to be sampled. We look forward to serving you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tip O'Day #237 - More of How Readers Choose

I asked some friends how they pick books to read or purchase.

Lynna Dee - I usually go for any mystery. I also have certain favorite authors. I will give new authors a chance. Dislikes: I hate books with too much information that has nothing to do with the story.

Marta Moran-Bishop - I will read just about anything, as long as it is well written or gives me insight into a time, place, era, or imaginary world. When picking a book to read, I look for content and the style of the writer. It is very important for me to be able to believe in the characters. If I can't then I lose interest.

Anthony Newman - Many times, one of my friends will tell me that they just read this great book. I'll get it on the Kindle and give it a go. If it's good, I will get more books by that author. It also is nice that I can get sample chapters to read and then purchase the entire novel. I haven't been disappointed yet.

Terry Parrish - Reading for me is an addiction. If I could afford it I would buy every book that appealed to me, in many genres. When choosing between two books, I’ll choose the one I want to read the most, and then get the other one the next time. I also won't read the first books until they’ve all been published.

Eleanor Anders - For personal reading, I depend on the back cover description. Does it hook me? Am I already invested in the story just from the back cover? It both of these answers are yes, I buy!

Nanci Nelson Rogers - In a book store, I am first attracted to a book by its cover, and then the title. A cleverly chosen title can often sell the book by itself. Then I read the synopsis, and decide if this is a book I want to read. Online, my approach is a little different. If the title is not intriguing, I am not going to click to that next page to see anything else. Then, the synopsis has to be written so I just have to know more.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Saying for Writers #108 - Woodberry

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:
"Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure." - George Edward Woodberry

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tip O'Day #236 - Watch Those Bad Words!

Guest blogger Deb Peters wonders why Self-Publishing is a bad word.

First, big-name publishing companies do not consider writers published unless they got in print through the traditional route. Secondly, some companies who help authors self-publish do not even read the books they print; traditional publishers know that. Because of these two facts, all self-publishing companies get a bad rep.

There are two firms that I know of that read every word in your manuscript, no matter how long it is. I also know that there are self-published authors (like myself) who hire editors to help make their manuscript into the best book possible.

Another thing that traditional publishing presses do not take into consideration is that many famous authors were first self-published. If anyone wants a list, go to this site: http://www.simonteakettle.com/famousauthors.htm

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tip O'Day #235 - Powerful Verbs

Guest blogger Deborah Epperson on putting more power in your prose.

If you’ve been a writer longer than five minutes, you’ve heard the maxim, “Show, don’t tell.” To show actions, feelings, and relationships, we use verbs. Weak verbs are a writer’s kryptonite. Active verbs energize your writing. For example, “Sue wept when her cat died” is more powerful than “Sue was sad when her cat died.” The verb wept adds drama and emotion.

Action verbs also grab your reader’s attention. For example, “John staggered toward the door” is stronger, more precise, and paints a more vivid picture than “John walked unsteadily toward the door.”

While strong, action verbs add vitality and energy to your writing, there are times when passive verbs are useful, such as when you want to slow down the action, reduce the tension, or extend the narrative.

Finally, you should pick verbs that can stand alone and make your writing more concise. Ensure your readers receive a clear image of what you intend to communicate. By simply changing the verb, you can change the reader’s experience and expectations. Consider the difference between “The carriage dashed through the streets” and “The carriage rambled through the streets.”

To learn more about Deborah, the author of Breaking TWIG, check out https://ddepperson.wordpress.com

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tip O'Day #234 - Self-Pub Next Time?

Guest blogger Marta Moran-Bishop on plans for her next book.
Having gone the route of traditional publishing with my last book Wee Three: A Mother's Love in Verse, and gave up so much control of what I would like to do, I am seriously considering self-publishing my newest book.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tip O'Day #233 - Seize Every Chance

Guest blogger Marlene Samuels on getting published through a fluke.

Until recently, my writing has been academic and this type of book, especially PhD dissertations, have an easier time finding publication, however usually very limited runs with an academic press. Self-publishing has become a more realistic option for writers who aren’t always able to secure an agent. The success of self-published books has been advanced by increased access to internet-based public relations. The up-side: buzz is easier to obtain and more accessible. The bad news: each day, that medium is becoming more competitive.

My first non-academic book, The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, was published first by a conventional press. That was a fluke and done without an agent, a perfect example of meeting someone, who knows someone, who knows someone at a publisher. So you can and should tell anyone who will listen that you've written a book – only if you really have finished it or are almost finished. You should follow up with anyone who tells you they "know someone at a publisher" or has a friend whose uncle works at a literary agency, etc. I almost let my opportunity drop since I didn’t want to 1) seem like a pest, 2) waste my time with possible frauds, and 3) risk having someone read and then hate my work.

To learn more about Marlene, check out her blog at www.marlenesamuels.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tip O'Day #232 - "Get Lenin"

Guest blogger Robert Craven on the travails of historical fiction.

I still pinch myself. It took Get Lenin five years to grow from an idea to the novel. It started as a dream, then became a journey. Along the way I grew. As with all journeys, it had rough parts as well as smooth parts. The final destination remains unknown.

The idea started when I read a book review about Lenin’s Embalmers, revealing that Lenin’s mausoleum was shipped out of Moscow to the Ural mountains during the German advance in 1941. The first thought that came into my head was “What would happen if...”

Get Lenin finished as a novella clocking in at a modest 26,000 words as a straight adventure, then I started to pitch it. The subject matter of a stranded German unit in Russia during WWII was always going to have limited appeal. As the rejections clogged up the in-box, my wife pointed out that the main female character (Eva Molenaar) was quite unsympathetic. I went back and developed Eva from an innocent caught in the wrong place at the wrong time to an assured heroine. During the course of the pitches, I posted to the peer-review site authonomy.com. From there I found Night Publishing.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Saying for Writers #107 - Safire

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:
"Do not put statements in the negative form. And don't start sentences with a conjunction. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague." - William Safire

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tip O'Day #231 - Robots in SciFi (Part II)

Guest blogger Gary Starta continues on sentient machines.

The idea of robots is really not that extreme or fantastical. For the most part, they are already here. Will it be all right to use them for servitude? Most every science fiction story of the last half century portrays them in that manner. Think of Bicentennial Man. But in that movie, the robot evolves so it actually becomes human. Still, the robot is portrayed as a servant, although its owner treats it with respect.

Will humanity treat robots with respect once they grow in number? People who perceive them as mere machines such as a computer will probably dismiss the idea of expending emotion on objects. But others may feel compelled to interact with androids as if they were human, even if they don’t possess self awareness or are unable to feel genuine emotion.

In my novel Gods of the Machines, two androids find love in a future where they have yet to attain the full rights of humans, yet are accepted by some as sexual partners of humans. As androids inch closer to a new status within society, it becomes absurd that these beings aren’t considered humans. They are just another kind of human; instead of biological, they are artificial. But both can love.
Find more about Gods of the Machines (and maybe win a book) at www.garystarta.net

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tip O'Day 230 - Robots in SciFi (Part I)

Guest blogger Gary Starta on sentient machines.

My inspiration to write the novel, Gods of the Machines, basically comes down to one word of inspiration: sentient. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sentient as “feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception or thought.” The ability to feel defines our consciousness as humans. It is what distinguishes us from other devices capable of thought or calculation, i.e. computers. And although that line of separation, the inability of your laptop to feel emotion, is pretty thick at the moment, there may come a time when that line will either be blurred or crossed. Maybe you are skeptical that robots or perhaps, androids – beings that resemble humans – will ever exist in the way we see them in movies such as I, Robot. But there are signs that technology is advancing and that robotics is becoming more and more integrated into our everyday life.

The latest cutting-edge cell phone operating system is called Android (Droid for short). Although a phone is a long way from a walking, talking android, it seems to show the very idea of such technology is seeping into the consumer consciousness. In Japan, actual android/robots have been created! They have skin made of silicon, and sensors allow them to react. They appear to blink and even breathe! But what they don’t possess is sentience. And because they don’t, I believe these creations will be ripe for exploitation. Robots are already in use in battlefields. Androids such as the life-like creations in Japan may be used for servitude as well, perhaps as nursing aides.
Gary's comments will continue on Dec 2, including the premise of Gods of the Machines.