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Archive for December, 2008

I had the pleasure of reviewing Gustanis’ debut novel, Black Magic Woman, last year.

51gxz7g96il_sl500_aa240_The sequel, Evil Ways, has just come out and you may read an excerpt here.

Read my interview with the author here.

Check out the author’s Website.

I will be reviewing Evil Ways pretty soon, so stay tuned!

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So, I’m sitting at a gloomy bar and gazing dreamily into the mirror behind the array of bottles. I’m not thinking about anything deep, really. Just wondering if my nose is getting bigger and if I should do something about that.

A burly man sits down next to me and taps his fingers on the bar to summon the bartender. Then he turns to me.

“You must be a writer,” he says.

I nod happily, giant nose bobbing up and down.

“That’s right,” I tell him. “What gave me away? The deep thought? A clip of conversation that hinted at an ability for literary gymnastics? An air of seething imagination?”

“No,” said the man. “I just noticed that you drink a lot.”

Misconceptions about writers are everywhere. There are still those who remain convinced that we are all modern incarnations of Faulkner, stumbling from our drunken beds just long enough to eat food directly from pans and to pound out five thousand words of prose before climbing back into our bottles.

I can live with this particular myth. Let them romanticize the craft by imagining us all as brooding intellectuals chained to our addictions as we cope with the crushing weight of genius.

But other misconceptions absolutely slay me.

If you get one book out there – just one, mind you – there will be those who assume you are fantastically rich. They will wonder aloud why you’re driving around in a 1992 Stanza when you must have a vault of cash somewhere from all of those book sales. They will ask you directly why your shoes have holes in them when Saks is just a short jet ride away.

Is it any wonder we drink?

There are those who will offer up advice on getting your book into the hands of a behemoth publishing house, or getting crazy buzz for an existing book, in one easy sentence: “You ought to send your book to Stephen King.”

Yes, Stephen King, who writes three novels a week and tours like a rock star, will probably save your ass. He’ll drop everything, flip through your rough draft with all its crazy margin notes and coffee stains, and see that it gets off to Random House.

With a personal recommendation, of course.

When the masses get wind of your writing efforts, they will immediately presume that after writing a novel or two, you are now tapped out of ideas. They will approach you in corner stores and windy parking lots to save you from literary asphyxiation.

“You know what you should write about?” they will say. “Boy, have I got some ideas for you.”

They say Faulkner was a sober man until this started happening.

Most authors I know have more ideas afloat then they have time to write them. Presently between novels, my most pressing problem now isn’t conjuring up some grand idea but deciding which of a half dozen to tackle next.

Do I want to write about the iPod playlist delivering subtle messages to the music listener? Should I go with the cannibalism plot dreamed up one weird night while dining with the in-laws? Do I want to write that story about what happens within the brain in the final seconds of life?

Lots to choose from, yet a minimum of two people today will try to convince me that their ideas require immediate attention from me personally.

Who among you will share his bottle with me?

There is a certain mystery about anyone who makes a living out of the written word. Non-writers look upon the author the way they look upon a campfire, wondering over the seeming magic of it. They want to know where all those ideas come from. They want to know what it is like to have a million words circling in the sky of your mind all at once, like a murder of crows that never flies away.

The mystery and the stereotypes don’t hurt much. They’ve been around since the first caveman, having not yet discovered liquor, scrawled his thoughts upon a stone. When people marvel over you as a writer, they will be more tempted to check out your work, forking over money you can use to buy new shoes.

Embrace the mystery, I say. Greet all of those misinformed comments and answer those endless questions with flourish. Stare into the mirror above the bar like the pensive literary beast that you are and make them wonder about what goes on within that writer’s mind.

And while you’re at it, take a look at my nose. Seriously, is it getting bigger?

Mark LaFlamme is an award-winning crime reporter and columnist at the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine. His weekly column, Street Talk, where he often compares editors to bats, spiders, extraterrestrial slugs, and “other beings too diabolical to describe,” has been named Best in Maine and Best in New England. In 2006, LaFlamme was named Journalist of the Year by the Maine Press Association.

Read an interview with Mark LaFlamme here.

Check out LaFlamme’s books on Amazon:

DIRT

Vegetation

The Pink Room

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You’ve been working on your novel for months, maybe even years, and lately you feel more discouraged than ever. Perhaps it’s the disappointment of not having finished the book yet. Maybe you don’t know where to go next with your story. Or it’s possible that you’re just physically and emotional drained from all the time and effort you’ve poured into this dream. I’ve been there!

Each time I fall into the writing dumps, I wonder if I’ll ever dig myself out. Fortunately, I always do. You’ve put too much time into this venture. Now is not the time to give up.

Here are my top five tips for re-energizing yourself when you feel like giving up.

Read Inspirational Stories About Writing and Writers

Take a writing break and read about other successful writers who weathered the storm. Here are two excellent books to get you started:

Knit Together: Discovery God’s Pattern for Your Life by Debbie Macomber.

This book was such an inspiration to me. Macomber, a best selling writer with more than 100 million books in print, openly shares her story of writing rejection. Once you read about her writing journey, you’ll close the book anxious to get back to your own novel.

Rotten Reviews & Rejections, edited by Bill Henderson and Andre Bernard. This book shares the rejection letters and stinging reviews received by many successful and prolific writers, from Stephen King to Upton Sinclair to James Joyce and more. You’ll scratch your head at the discouraging rejection letters these wonderful writers received. They didn’t give up, and you shouldn’t either.

Don’t Strive for Perfect Prose

Many new writers think that everything that flows from their computer must be golden. Hence, if they write a few pages which doesn’t sound worthy of a Pulitzer, they’re disappointed. Forget about writing a perfect first draft. The most important part of writing is rewriting. Just concentrate on finishing a first draft. Then revise until you’re pleased with the final product.

Set a Writing Goal

Make a commitment to write a set number of pages per week. Can you commit to writing 10 or 15 pages per week? Or maybe committing to write three hours a day or three days a week works better for you. Whatever goal you set, make sure it’s realistic. Start out small and once you get into the flow of things, increase the goal. And if you fall short one week, don’t beat yourself up. There’s always next week.

Start a Writer’s Group

Put the word out that you’re looking to start a writer’s group. Tell friends, family members and colleagues that you’re looking for three or four serious writers who would like to build a supportive writing environment for themselves and other writers. You’ll probably have a lot of interest in the beginning, but only the serious writers will be around for the long haul. Establish a regular meeting time (at least once a month) and require at least two members to produce work for the group to critique each month.

Think About Your Story

Most people assume that if you’re not putting words on paper, then you’re not “writing.” I don’t feel that way. The next time you’re taking a long walk, standing in a grocery store line, or stuck in traffic, use the time to mull over your story. Think about your characters or your plot. Imagine your protagonist having a conversation. Think about how you might describe a room. Challenge yourself to invent a predicament that creates conflict for your character. If you come up with some great ideas, don’t forget to write them down.

Hang in there!

Pamela Samuels Young is a practicing attorney and author of the legal thrillers, Murder on the Down Low, Every Reasonable Doubt and In Firm Pursuit. You can find Pamela’s articles on writing at BizyMoms.com, where she is a featured fiction writing expert.

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What propels a mother to suddenly ‘snap’ and murder her own children?

janeology_9lziThe premise for Karen Harrington’s first novel, JANEOLOGY, is certainly ambitious and fascinating. I couldn’t help thinking, with a premise like his, she better know how to pull it off.

Tom and Jane are the ‘perfect’ American couple. He is a college professor, she is a homemaker. Together, they are parents of two beautiful twins. That is, until one day Jane ‘snaps’ and decides to kill her toddlers. She succeeds in murdering one and almost killing the other. We later find out that she previously ‘rehearsed’ on their family dog.

The story beings after Jane has been sentenced to life in an asylum for murder under temporary insanity, so the reader won’t have to go through any type of gruesome child homicide descriptions. The main focus now is Tom. A year after the sentence, Tom is charged with negligence and failure to protect the children, and for not being able to forsee his wife’s mental instability and somehow prevent the murder. After all, who knows a wife better than her own husband? Or so it seems. Of course, the answer is a lot more complex than that.

Tom’s ambitious attorney decides to take an unusual approach to the case and brings forth a psychic (who’s also happens to be Jane’s relative) to help them. The psychic is able to ‘see’ into the past and through backflashes we get a glimpse of Jane’s troubled ancestors and the mental instability prevalent in her family history. Should Tom have seen through his wife’s depression and prevented the murder? What propelled Jane to murder her own children? How much is her DNA at fault?

JANEOLOGY is an engrossing, fascinating read, though I have to say that after a great beginning that succesfully grabs readers by the throat, it slows down in the middle as we go through the past lives of Jane’s family members. I was surprised by Harrington’s psychic in that for me it took away a bit of the serious tone presented in the first chapter. This is, however, a minor criticism. Harrington’s prose is forceful and compelling, and her style elegant and evoking. Tom’s character is excellently drawn, so much more than Jane, who for me stays shrouded in mystery somewhere in the background. The dialogue sparkles with genuinity. The ending is surrounded by ambiguity–Jane’s reasons for murder and Tom’s level of guilt, if any.

JANEOLOGY is one of those books that stay in your mind for a long time after you’ve read it–if only because you’ll keep trying to come up with answers! Karen Harrington is a new talented author to be reckoned with and I seriously look forward to reading more of her work.

Visit the author’s website at www.karenharringtonbooks.com

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Irene Watson is the award-winning author of The Sitting Swing: Finding Wisdom to Know the Difference and The Story Must be Told. She’s also the Managing Editor of Reader Views, a book review site author_12catering to readers, writers, and the publishing community. Currently, Irene is touring the blogosphere to promote her memoir, The Sitting Swing, a candid, uplifting book about her sad, dysfunctional childhood and how she was able to find the path to recovery, healing and hope.

Thanks for being here today, Irene. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

My life has taken me on many paths, with breakthrough results and exemplar growth, to find my authentic and true self. I’ve designed and facilitated workshops and retreats throughout the United States and Canada. I hold a Masters Degree in Psychology, with honors, from Regis University in Denver, CO. My emphasis was spirituality and psychosynthesis. At present I live with my husband of 42 years on the banks of Barton Creek in Austin, Texas along with our Pomeranian, Tafton, a rescued cat Patches, and a rescued cockatiel Clement.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I had a story to tell, and I felt my story was going to help others heal from dysfunctional experiences in their childhood. I believe it’s never to late to find a way to re-write our scripts passed down for generations. By telling my story, I feel it gives hope to others.

Do you have another job besides writing?

Yes, I am the Managing Editor of Reader Views, a book review and publicity service based in Austin, Texas.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

No, I wasn’t an avid reader as a child. Reading and education weren’t encouraged in my family or culture I grew up in. The emphasis was to become a “good wife.”

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

My pretentious life could go no further until I faced my past. My memoir begins at the end, in a recovery center, where I had gone to understand a childhood fraught with abuse, guilt and uncertainty. My story is a testament that it’s never too late to change your life, never too late to heal.

The Sitting Swing: Finding Wisdom to Know the Difference shows us how guilt, fear and ignorance are borne by our children. Two distinct parts of the book look at an abusive child rearing and the process of recovery that takes place years later. On many levels this is a classic story showing us that change, growth, forgiveness and recovery are possible. It is also a heart warming healing story and a testament to the strength and courage of the human spirit. In the end it gives hope and freedom to those that accept the past and move forward by rewriting life scripts that have been passed down for generations.

What was your goal when writing this book?

I want readers to parallel their lives with mine, and know there is a way to make a change in their lives and move forward. Sometimes our lives become enmeshed with what I call “stuff” that gives us a sense of hopelessness. My hope is readers will grasp the fact there IS hope.

The Sitting Swing: Finding Wisdom to Know the Difference not only has my story, but it has much information about recovery, dealing with the first 3 steps of the 12-Step program, and a lot of explanation and clarification of how the recovery process takes place.

What will the reader learn after reading your book?

They will learn many tools to help them create a life they want for themselves. Although The Sitting Swing: Finding Wisdom to Know the Difference is a memoir, it is also a book of inspiration and self-help, not only for mind but for the spirit also.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes, I sure do. My personal website is www.irenewatson.com and my blog can be found here. My blog has articles pertaining to life, re-writing scripts, spirituality, addictions, and musings.

I love to communicate with people and I promise to answer all emails, as well as respond to comments on my blog.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Another book? Oh my, possibly. Right now I am concentrating on facilitating at retreats and workshops. That is a passion of mine. The facilitation I do goes in line with my book, my philosophy and my experience. My goal is to help others find tools to help them take their lives to higher states of consciousness – a place where their dysfunctional past no longer controls their lives. I want readers to find their authentic self and live the life they were meant to live – full of fun, love, and laughter.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

Thank you, the please is also mine.

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Characterization is one aspect of writing that many authors struggle with at one time or another. So where do you start? Let’s say you’ve determined who your character is, what he or she looks like, the-devil-can-waitnow take it a step further — find a way to make the character as real for the reader as the person standing next to you.

Description gives the reader information about a character’s physical appearance such as height, eye/hair color, and disposition.

Example:
Mary, the slender brunette on the third seat of the bus, looked distraught.

A better way to describe a Mary is through her actions and dialogue. Both of these methods will give the reader a more vivid image of the Mary than description alone. Add description to action and dialogue and the character has the potential to jump off the page.

Example:
Mary raised a slender, shaky finger to her eyes. Tears moistened the strand of dark hair that fell onto her face. She leaned her head against the window and stared at nothing. The world was passing her by as quickly as the ramshackle buildings that blurred past her – no one knew her pain, no one cared.

“You okay back there?” The driver asked.

She didn’t look up or answer. What was the point? In less than an hour’s time, it would all be over.

Now we can see a minute into Mary’s state of mind. We see her crying, something is weighing heavily on her mind, she feels alone, and whatever is going through her thoughts will be resolved one way or another in less than an hour. Is this enough to make the reader care and turn the page? A story may have a killer plot, but the manner in which a character is portrayed and developed will have a greater impact on the reader’s reaction to the story than anything else. If a character is weak, will anyone care if he drives his car off the cliff?

How often have we read reviews that indicated the reader couldn’t “fall in love” with the character? Is it necessary to fall in love with Mary’s character to sympathize with her? The word “love” might be a bit strong in this sense. Perhaps a better word is “connect” because I do want to care what happens to her, why it happened, and hopefully see her resolve her problems in a positive, uplifting manner.
As a writer, my goal is to draw the reader in and get him or her to connect emotionally with the character(s) and the story. The choice then is between describing a character or allowing the reader to see, hear, and feel the character’s persona.
Every writer has read or heard someone say, “show” don’t “tell.” That same principle applies to characterization. When we “tell” the reader what a character looks or acts like, we involve the reader intellectually (they have to think about what is being communicated). When we “show,” we involve the reader emotionally by giving him or her something to relate to from a personal experience. An image or feeling from that experience will immediately flash across the reader’s mind.

In other words, the character has to hit a nerve with the reader on a very basic level –touch the reader emotionally so the reader can connect with them and that usually includes letting the reader see the character’s flaws. What’s more important though is that the reader has to be able to see the character grow and overcomes those problems.

Maybe what that reviewer, editor or agent means by needing to “fall in love with the character” is the desire to see a small part of him- or herself in a particular character. First they have to know the character thoroughly and next be able to identify with him or her. When the reader is able to identify with a character’s plight, problem, weaknesses, strengths, etc., he or she will sympathize with character and will want to follow them through the rest of the book.

Description, action, and dialogue are effective methods used to create characterization. How a writer uses and combines them is a matter of style largely determined by the needs of the story.

© Marta Stephens 2008, all rights reserved

*****

About the author: Marta Stephens is a native of Argentina who has made Indiana her home since the age of four. This mild-manner lady turned to crime with the publication of the first in her Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, SILENCED CRY (2007) which went on to receive honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival and top ten in the 2007 Preditors & Editors Reader Poll. The second book in the Harper series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, will be released by BeWrite Books (UK) on November 3, 2008.

Stephens holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism/Public Relations from Ball State University (IN) where she is employed in human resources. She is a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime Speed City Indiana Chapter, and the Midwest Writer’s Workshop.

Stephens believes learning is a life-long adventure. Aside from her writing, she is trained in graphic and web design. She co-designed the award-winning book cover of her debut novel, SILENCED CRY with friend Scott Parkison (IN), created the book trailer, and designed/administers her website, www.martastephens-author.com, her personal blog, http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com, and the authors’ blog, MURDER BY 4 http://murderby4.blogspot.com.

Stephens lives with her husband, daughter (22), and son (20). She enjoys oil paintings, gardening, the family’s pet Boston Bulls and mini Daschunds, and shared moments with family and friends.

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