This blog is by Susan Berliner, author of the supernatural thrillers "DUST," "Peachwood Lake," "The Disappearance," "Corsonia," the short story collection, "The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales," and the new dystopian novel, "After the Bubbles." This page contains blog entries from January 1, 2011 - December 28, 2011.
Those novel ideas - December 28, 2011
When people hear that I've written several novels, many of them ask me where I get my inspiration. For my first two books--DUST
and Peachwood Lake
--the answer is: from newspaper stories. I became a novelist after reading a small article about a strange weather phenomenon called a "dust devil," a miniature tornado strong enough to cause havoc.
In the little news clip, a dust devil lifted the roof off an auto body shop, collapsing most of the building, and killing the owner. Since the story was so weird--and it happened in Maine--I was sure Stephen King would write a book about some kind of supernatural dust. When he didn't, I had an idea, which resulted in DUST
The premise for Peachwood Lake
came from another newspaper story, this one a front page New York Times
article about gulf sturgeons, large bony fish, that--for reasons unknown--jump in a Florida river each summer, sometimes injuring boaters. Of course, my fictional jumping fish is a lot stranger--and a lot meaner.
It's good to read the newspaper. Besides finding out what's happening, you might get a novel idea!
* * *
Writer's block - December 24, 2011
I was asked again recently if I'd ever experienced writer's block. Fortunately, I've only had the problem once, and that was with Peachwood Lake
. One morning, as I sat in front of my computer trying to create the next scene in the novel, nothing happened.
I sat there for a few minutes, waiting for an idea, but the muse didn't hit. Then I realized I had two choices: I could either wait for an inspiration or I could move on. I chose the second path. Since I was unable to write about Wednesday afternoon, I wrote about Wednesday evening instead.
When I figured out the events of Wednesday afternoon a few days later, I backtracked and filled in the missing scenes. I don't know if this solution will work for other writers, but I'm grateful it worked for me.
Happy writing (without writer's block)--and a very Merry Christmas!
* * *
Ebook travails - December 20, 2011
Ah technology! After spending all yesterday morning working with my ebook formatter, she finally solved the ongoing Kindle issue (jumbled paragraphs, extra indents, missing indents) by submitting a web page file of Peachwood Lake
, rather than a more advanced version. For some reason, Kindle "liked" the simpler file and all the problems miraculously vanished. The Peachwood Lake
ebook is finally up on Amazon and available for Kindle
Feeling lucky, today I tried putting the novel on Pubit!, Barnes & Noble's ebook site for Nook. After I uploaded Peachwood Lake
and previewed it, the book looked fine. In fact, I liked reading it on the simulated Nook better than on the simulated Kindle. But, of course, I still had a problem. The site wouldn't accept my cover art--too big, too small, too something. I gave my artist the specs (bytes & pixels) needed and she quickly created another cover image. Success! Peachwood Lake
should be available for Nook within a day or so.
It's been a tough grind getting this ebook published. At least, with a printed book, you do it once and it's done. But with so many different electronic formats and devices, it's a technological jungle!
* * *
Finding the right "voice" - December 16, 2011
Although I'm still having technical problems with the ebook for Peachwood Lake
, I've gone back to writing my novel, The Touchers
. This morning, I finally finished the lengthy scene I seem to have been working on for weeks. But, as I reread the scene, I realized some of my language was a bit off. I'm writing this novel in the first-person as a high school girl so I have to be careful with my vocabulary and tone.
For example, I had a "shattered" window, but I think my character would be more likely to use the word "smashed" or "broken." In another instance, people "appeared," but I feel "showed up," is a better, more colloquial, expression.
My protagonist, Erin, is a bright girl, but she's still a teenager. Luckily, my writing is pretty simple and straightforward so I'm hopeful I can create a convincing teenage voice.
* * *
Technical troubles - December 12, 2011
My favorite part of being a novelist is the creative writing aspect. But I have to do lots of other things too. Editing and proofing are, of course, necessary (and at least writing-related). Then there's marketing and promotion, which is fun when I get to do events like this Saturday's book signing for DUST
and Peachwood Lake
in Ossining, NY (see Happenings
) and meet people and talk about my novels.
My least favorite part of being an author? It's anything that involves technology. And that's what I'm doing now as I try to make my ebook available to readers on Kindle, Nook, etc. It's never easy for me. I've just started and have already had numerous technical problems. Sorry to complain, but it does help to vent. And, at least, I'm writing here instead of battling my computer.
* * *
Benefit of creativity - December 8, 2011
I'm in the middle of writing a lengthy, tension-filled scene in my new novel, The Touchers
. I've been working on it for two days already and might not even finish it tomorrow morning. The best thing about this scene is that I'm not sure what will happen at the end.
To me, that's the biggest perk of being a novelist--writing a scene like this and not knowing the outcome. It's what makes the story just as exciting for me as it is for the reader. I get to entertain myself as I'm working. How many other jobs can offer that benefit?
* * *
Title talk - December 4, 2011
The working title for the novel I'm currently writing is The Touchers because this end-of-the-world story is all about death by contact. I really like the title, but today on Facebook a friend said it made her feel squeamish, like a giggly 12-year-old.
I hadn't even considered the negative connotation of "touchers." But it's in the news right now with former Penn State and Syracuse University coaches under investigation for inappropriate "touching" behavior with young boys.
Maybe my title doesn't work as well as I'd thought. I might have to change it to The Death Touchers or The Deadly Touchers. After all, I want the title to evoke goosebumps, not giggles. What do you think?
* * *
The books are here! - November 30, 2011
My copies of Peachwood Lake have finally arrived. It took longer than I'd expected because this is the busiest season in publishing. I keep having to remind myself that other authors have new books too, but, of course, I'm fixated on my own little novel.
When I opened the carton and examined the copies, I again thought about how great the pages of a book feel, look, and smell. In fact, all the senses come into play here except taste (unless a hungry dog is in the vicinity). You don't get that kind of sensory experience with ebooks.
Nevertheless, many people love reading on their Kindles or Nooks so I'm readying Peachwood Lake for ebook distribution and I hope to have the electronic version available in the very near future.
* * *
People in my neighborhood - November 26, 2011
The Touchers, the end-of-the-world novel I'm currently writing, takes place mostly on one suburban street. I've known from the beginning that I have to establish who lives in each of the occupied homes on my main character's block. However, I've avoided the issue because it's like solving a logic puzzle: Mr. X lives two houses across the street, Mrs. X is in the last house, Joe Jones is dead in front of a middle house, etc. Since this story is told in the first-person, my main character has to be able to witness the action going on outside.
Chapter 8 is titled "The Neighbors," so I couldn't procrastinate any more. I had to determine who is on the street and it took me several hours to solve the puzzle. First I drew a crude diagram of the block with square boxes representing all the homes. Then I wrote the neighbors' names in the corresponding boxes. I had to redo many of the names, using Wite Out, until, finally, I created a "neighborhood" that worked.
Now I'm moving forward again. I'm at 15,000 words, working on Chapter 9.
* * *
Print vs. digital - November 22, 2011
I may become a digital reader one day--but not now. I love the feel of a real book--the paper, the texture, the smell, the physical act of turning the pages. Friends rave about their wonderful Kindles and Nooks and I know it's the future. But I have a new novel, Peachwood Lake, and part of my joy is holding the actual book, admiring the glossy cover, and touching the smooth white pages.
Just when I received the first copy of my novel, a friend posted an article on Facebook from the New York Times, giving me hope that there's still at least one market for print books: kids. Apparently, even most lovers of e-books insist that their young children and toddlers read old-fashioned paper books. And parents like to browse for these picture books in actual book stores. So maybe print isn't dead just yet.
* * *
Giving birth - November 18, 2011
Finally! After years of writing, editing, and proofing, Peachwood Lake has been born. Publishing a book is a long process, one which I equate to childbirth, and the end result is also tangible: a beautiful baby book!
I read the proof copy of the novel with my fingers crossed, hoping I wouldn't find any mistakes that I (or other proofreaders) had missed in the many, many previous readings. And, thankfully, I didn't. Yes, there was a minor error--a character put her "arms" around another person instead of her "arm." But nothing forced me to yell, "Stop the presses!" (or in this case, "Don't start the presses!").
So what's the next step? As soon as Peachwood Lake is listed on Amazon and everywhere else, hopefully in a couple of weeks, readers will be able to orderthe novel online and at any bookstore. And the ebook version--for Kindle, Nook, etc.--is coming out too. Very exciting!
* * *
The snowball effect - November 14, 2011
On November 6, I wrote about having to backtrack and add more action to an earlier chapter of my novel, The Touchers. A few days ago, I wrote an exciting scene. Then I decided where it worked best and inserted the new material.
But that was the easy part. Changing the plot line meant I had to reread everything that came after (about 25 single-spaced pages) to make sure the story still worked. Of course, it didn't. Even one small change can impact other things in a novel. In this case, in addition to my characters acknowledging the new incident, they had to board up windows and move some activities to another room.
Now I'm back to writing the way I like--forging ahead.
* * *
Awesome authors - November 10, 2011
Since the publication of DUST, I've met a lot of area authors. Some have become friends with whom I've done book talks and signings. We've all gotten to know each other at local Barnes & Noble events, like the Small Press Expo I participated in yesterday.
It was great to catch up with my fellow writers and find out what they've been doing. A couple have written new books, I'm planning events with some, and we all gossip about the latest happenings in the publishing industry.
One of the interesting things I learned is that Amazon is wooing famous writers--urging them to sell directly through Amazon and bypass their traditional publishers. And why shouldn't they? It's an opportunity for authors to make more money for themselves and, at the same time, obtain total control of their books. It'll be fascinating to see how this situation plays out in the near future.
* * *
Backtracking - November 6, 2011
When I'm writing a novel, I try to move forward and create a scene each day, avoiding major changes until after I've finished the first draft. However, sometimes that's not possible.
For example, with my second novel, Peachwood Lake, I realized halfway through the first draft that Kady, my teenage main character, needed a father instead of a mother. As a result, I had to perform immediate sex change surgery (we authors are so powerful!) and Eva became Edgar.
In The Touchers, the book I'm currently writing, the problem isn't quite as extreme: The story needs an infusion of excitement so I've got to add action sequences to some earlier scenes. It's a pain because I have to go back, review the chapters, figure out where to place the revisions, and then write the new material. I'd much rather keep forging ahead, but, at this point, I just can't.
* * *
Real scary real weather phenomenon - November 2, 2011
DUST is about a colorful swirl of dust that terrorizes a condo community. Although the novel is based on actual weather phenomena called dust devils (Click here), it's an imaginary story.
Real life, however, is full of scary weather events. I just experienced one last weekend: a freakish late-October snowstorm that dumped a foot of heavy wet snow in my town--knocking down trees and power lines--and, once again, demonstrating the force of Mother Nature.
After a Saturday night during which my husband and I were stuck in a muddy and snow-filled rutted road, were pushed through the quagmire by an SUV, and got lost in our own neighborhood (street signs were unreadable and the eerie snow-filled night roads looked unfamiliar), we finally made it into our powerless house,where we spent three cold days and dark nights before moving into a friend's vacant warm and light-filled home, from which I'm writing this post.
I'm not really complaining (well, maybe a little), but I'm better off than my next-door neighbor who had a huge tree limb nearly land in her living room and couldn't even get into her home for a day. Rough weather is a great theme for a novel, but who wants to live through it? What I want is my electricity!
* * *
Filling in the blanks - October 26, 2011
Every novelist writes differently. When I create a book, I generally write a scene each day, concentrating on the action and often omitting important details. Then, at a later time, I add the missing information.
In The Touchers, the novel I'm currently writing, I reached a point today where I couldn't move forward without filling in some of the details: I needed to create several secondary characters. My novel takes place mostly on a residential street and I had to decide who, besides my primary characters, lived there. (Novelists get to make these God-like decisions. As Mel Brooks said, "It's good to be the king!") So I spent this morning populating my fictional block.
Of course, I'm still missing many other details in this story. But I'll continue to move forward with the plot, knowing that--eventually--the answers will come and I'll be able to fill in all the blanks.
* * *
Books and bagels - October 22, 2011
Signing events are fun for me: I get to meet lots of terrific people and introduce them to DUST. Today's experience at JV Hot Bagels in Jefferson Valley, NY (see Happenings) was especially great because the store traffic ranged from heavy and heavier to heaviest--with a steady stream of customers all morning and a line out the door for much of the time.
Since I was stationed directly outside the store, I offered bookmarks to shoppers on the line. "Something to do while you wait," I told them, giving new meaning to the concept of on-line reading.
The day's only negative was the the cold temperature, which numbed my fingers when I signed copies of DUST. I eventually changed into a sweatshirt with a muff to warm my hands. A cup of hot tea helped too, leading me to this venue's other important plus: my French toast bagel was delicious!
* * *
Robot authors? - October 18, 2011
I read a fascinating article in Sunday's New York Times Book Review by Pagan Kennedy, who noticed some weird--and expensive--non-fiction book titles listed online (e.g. "Saltine Cracker") and discovered that the author (Lambert M. Surhone) had written or edited 100,000 books. Kennedy speculates Surhone is not a person, but a computer program, especially after confirming that these "books" are based on Wikipedia articles (a disclaimer noted on the covers). In fact, she eventually bought a $50 book entitled "Pagan Kennedy" (with Surhone listed as lead editor) and found it filled with material from her own Wikipedia entries.
This is scary stuff! It's difficult for a human to write a book, but at least it's creative, fulfilling work. Now machines are doing this? Of course computer programs can gather and assemble information, but the result's not a book--it's a compilation of data. And Wikipedia articles aren't always accurate. (I'm not even allowed to cite them in research for my freelance writing.)
So what's the next step? Can robots become novelists too? Does a programmer choose a genre--e.g. horror, enter a load of ghoulish data, and then some robot-writer churns out a Stephen King-like best seller? Hey, this sounds like a good subject for a novel!
* * *
DUST: "Super for teens!" - October 14, 2011
Next week, DUST will be included in a middle school book fair, which is exciting for me because I want to get the book into the hands of that age group. I've always considered DUST a great read for teens: It's short, easy to follow, has lots of action--and doesn't have sex or bad language.
When I mentioned the school book fair on Facebook, a friend who had recently read the novel, commented: "Super for teens!" Several librarians, teachers, and others who have reviewed the book agree. (See Reviews)
So what's the problem? Technically, DUST doesn't qualify as a young adult novel because the protagonist is a 35-year-old librarian. But teens--and even preteens-- love the story. Last month, at the Brooklyn Book Festival, a nine-year-old boy convinced his mother to buy DUST. I hesitated, but his mother told me she would read the novel with him. I'm hopeful that next week some other young readers will take a chance on DUST.
* * *
Juggling act - October 10, 2011
My typical workday for the last few months involves writing a scene in my end-of-the-world novel, The Touchers, in the morning and editing one of my three books-in-progress (currently Corsonia) in the afternoon. It's not a full-time job, but it's certainly enough to keep me busy.
However, now my day has become more complex: I've just received the corrected formatted pages for Peachwood Lake. That means I've got to switch gears to proofread that novel and put aside Corsonia, at least for the next few days.
I can work on two books at once--writing and editing (or proofing). But I don't want to even attempt to juggle three at a time. That's too much for my brain to handle!
* * *
Handwriting on the wall? - October 6, 2011
It's not yet Halloween, but someone told me something scary today: Elementary schools across the country are eliminating the instruction of cursive writing. According to ABC News, as of January, 41 states had adopted the "Common Core State Standards for English," which omits cursive writing from the required curriculum.
Wow! I know penmanship isn't the most important subject, but don't we want kids to be able to write--not just print--their own names? Yes, computer keyboards are the modern communication tools, but don't people still need signatures, if only to sign documents--contracts, checks, etc.? And don't we still use pens and pencils? We may not write much of our correspondence by longhand anymore, but we still compose notes and shopping lists and cursive is a much quicker form of writing than printing, which takes forever. Because they are attached, cursive letters flow smoothly into each other.
Why would we want to eliminate the skill of learning how to write? What if the computer crashes? What do you think?
* * *
Filling in the blanks - October 2, 2011
When I write a novel, I concentrate on the action and don't think about the details until they pop into my head or I'm ready to revise the manuscript after finishing my first draft. That's what's happening now with the setting of The Touchers, my end-of-the-world story.
I'm purposely being vague about exactly where the novel is taking place. However, I do need to describe other important elements of the setting--time of year, days of week--and, thus far, I've avoided addressing these details. But I know the answers will come to me eventually.
At times like this, I think about Dean Koontz's approach to writing: He creates a finished book his first time through because he polishes each page until it's perfect. I know I could never do that. I write--and then I wait for my mind to fill in the blanks.
* * *
Chapter chatter - September 28, 2011
"How many chapters would you say you average in a book? Is 28 too short?"
A Facebook friend asked me those two questions yesterday and, since I really wasn't sure of how many chapters were in each of the four novels I've written, I took a quick inventory. The chapter count was 33, 24, 33, 24. What's interesting is that my shortest and longest books (DUST and The Disappearance) have the most chapters (33), while my other two novels (Peachwood Lake and Corsonia), both about 60,000 words, have the fewest chapters (24).
I never think about the number of chapters while I'm writing a book. I just write each scene and then form my chapters according to the action. It's like just about everything dealing with fiction-writing: There are no right or wrong answers--and no magic numbers for chapters. An author should include as many chapters as he or she needs to tell the story, whether it's 10 or 100.
* * *
When the muse hits - September 24, 2011
Right now, I'm working on two novels simultaneously: writing one (The Touchers) and editing another (The Disappearance). Ideas concerning these books leap into my consciousness all the time, whether or not I want them there.
For example, I thought I had corrected a recent plot problem with The Disappearance, my time travel novel. However, my mind disagrees. An element of a major sting operation still bothers me so I have more rewriting to do.
Then, with my Armageddon novel, The Touchers, I wrote a scene this morning involving a zombie-like character. But after I finished, I suddenly got a clearer picture of how she looked so I added that bit of information to the manuscript.
I'm trying to suppress any thoughts about my other two novels--Peachwood Lake and Corsonia. Thinking about two novels at once is difficult enough!
* * *
Book-saving strategy - September 20, 2011
Last Sunday, I participated in the Brooklyn (NY) Book Festival and one of the best things about the event--besides signing copies of DUST--was talking to other authors.
One novelist told me she had written several books, but lost them all when her computer crashed.
"Didn't you have hard copies?" I asked.
"No," she said. "I don't have a printer."
"How about a flash drive?"
She shook her head.
Wow! I've suffered through computer crashes and lost material--but not my novels. I save my precious (to me) words both on a flash drive and on old-fashioned floppy disks. I also print hard copies. Although I can create easily on the computer, I prefer to edit my books on paper. Of course, I then have to transfer all the revisions onto Word, which is much more time-consuming. But it's certainly not as time-consuming as rewriting an entire novel!
* * *
Getting it right - September 16, 2011
I've just reread the entire manuscript of my third novel, The Disappearance, which I'd put aside for months. Although the book is basically in good shape, towards the end, I found a couple of errors with the plot.
The Disappearance is my most complex novel, a time travel thriller with lots of back and forth action. At one point, the villain makes a reference about going back in time that is incorrect according to my parameters. Then, in a related scene, another character removes some items from a closet. The plot makes much more sense if most of these things remain in the person's possession.
I know I'm being rather vague here, but I don't want to give away the story. And I'm hopeful I can "finish" this novel soon so it can be published.
* * *
Balancing the books - September 12, 2011
In my new routine, each morning I write a scene in my new novel, The Touchers. Then, in the afternoon, I edit my third book, The Disappearance.
I hadn't looked at The Disappearance for several months, just letting it sit on a desk, collecting dust (no pun intended). I think that's a good strategy--to forget about a novel for a period of time and then return to it. Sometimes I'll get fresh ideas after not examining one of my manuscripts for awhile.
But now I've read more than a hundred pages of my time-travel story and haven't found any issues. The novel is quite good so I'm really enjoying it and only making a few minor changes. Maybe it's almost "finished"?
* * *
Questions and answers - September 8, 2011
Recently, I've received several writing-related questions from Facebook friends. Here are the questions and my responses:
"Do you have any special tips for writing? I'm starting to write but sometimes lack direction."
I get asked this question a lot. My answer is to treat writing a novel like a job--something you have to do. Get into a writing routine and force yourself to work for a certain amount of time every day. Even if I don't feel like writing, I close the door to my room, concentrate, and write. Although I became a novelist after leaving a full-time job--which made it easier--there's always time to write. Even if you just set aside a half hour, discipline yourself and then do it!
"Can I ask how you tackle writer's block?"
I've written four novels and I only encountered writer's block once, with Peachwood Lake, my second novel. At one point, I had no clue about what was supposed to happen during a period of time (an afternoon) in the narrative. Rather than sit at the computer and struggle, I skipped past that chapter and picked up the story's action at a later point. Then, after a few days, I figured out what I wanted to write and went back and filled in the missing pages.
"How do you focus when you have several ideas all clamoring to be put on paper at once?"
I can only write one novel at a time. It's difficult enough editing several books at once, which I'm trying to do, but I'd find it impossible to write several stories simultaneously. Unless you're a magician (or maybe a juggler), I suggest picking the dominant idea and developing it. Write a brief synopsis of each of your other ideas and then, if one of them is still churning in your head after you've finished the first story, you'll still be able to write it.
* * *
The next novel - September 4, 2011
Last week, I started writing a new novel, my fifth. Currently, I'm proofing one book (Peachwood Lake), editing a second (Corsonia), promoting and marketing a third (DUST), and finishing a freelance writing project so it's certainly not the best time for me to begin another novel. But I couldn't help it; this book demanded to be born.
It won't leave me alone. Each night, I think about this novel--the characters, plot, and events. It's an end-of-the-world story and I'm writing it in the first person, through the point of view of a teenage girl.
When I mentioned what I was doing on Facebook, one friend wrote that James Patterson writes five or six different books at the same time. But he's a famous author with a large staff to help research, edit, market, etc. so he can just concentrate on his writing. Me? I'm a one-woman band so juggling all these roles is a tough balancing act. But I'm trying!
* * *
Inconveniences - August 31, 2011
As I write this post, it's August 29th, the day after Hurricane Irene battered the East Coast. I'm very fortunate; the storm caused little damage to my house, just a downed tree limb that landed in my vegetable garden. On the negative side, however, I've had no electricity since Sunday evening, a result of strong winds, and my utility says I may not have power back for another week.
This is an inconvenience--not a hardship. People can live without lights, TVs, refrigerators, computers, etc. It's just that we're all so used to our modern comforts.
I'm writing this blog longhand, the way I used to write all the time, before I got my first typewriter. I was taking Typing in seventh grade and my teacher was so tough, I was afraid I was going to fail the class. In a panic, I talked my parents into buying me a typewriter--a Royal portable, which I used well past college. I thought that little machine was the greatest invention ever, although it now seems ridiculously primitive.
Hopefully, I'll be back in the 21st century soon, but until then, I can deal with this situation. It's annoying, but it could be much worse.
Update: It's 9 pm on August 31 and I finally have power and Internet back.Yay!
* * *
Issues large and small - August 25, 2011
I'm still rereading Peachwood Lake, trying to get to the point where I'm satisfied the novel is "finished." I mentioned this situation on Facebook a few days ago and a friend asked: "Are you sure you found some 'issues' and aren't just overthinking?"
My answer is "yes" and "yes." I'm overly fussy about little things like repeated words and commas. (I can insert and/or remove commas forever!) However, I do have "issues." I continue to find some inconsistencies with the plot. They are minor--and maybe no one else would notice them--but they bother me.
When I read a novel, the story has to make sense (even if it's supernatural). If the action doesn't jibe, it detracts from my enjoyment. This just happened in the book I'm reading, a medical thriller by a bestselling author whom I won't name: A senator and his aide sit on a crowded plane--one empty seat apart--and yet they discuss top-secret plans. Huh? That disturbed me.
Here's a Peachwood Lake example: Two National Guardsmen escort a pair of children--by themselves--to higher ground. I suddenly realized other neighbors would be included in this evacuation. After revising the scene, I feel much better!
* * *
DUST: The movie - August 21, 2011
Yesterday, DUST got a great review from a new reader: "It was wonderful. I really enjoyed it!...I couldn't put it down!" Then the woman added this comment: "I think your book would make an awesome movie!"
I've always thought DUST would make a terrific movie and many readers agree. (Steven Spielberg, are you listening?) But while I wait for Mr. Spielberg's call, I continue to imagine DUST--and my other books--in cinematic form.
As I write, I picture my characters performing their roles in scenes and acts (chapters) like actors appearing in a movie. And, apparently 25% of all fiction readers think like I do. (The other 75% of you probably think I'm nuts.) If you're a visual reader, check this fun website that lets you cast movie roles for DUST--or any other favorite novel: http://www.storycasting.com/work.aspx?id=4f9a2b40-3d60-4dc7-bc16-f2440184b4b7
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Redundancies - August 17, 2011
The past few days I've been rereading Peachwood Lake, the novel I hope to publish this fall. Every time I read that book, I hope it's for the last time; unfortunately, it never is.
I still found a few small errors, but my main problem is redundant phrases. I thought I had changed most of the "standing up" or "stood up" to "standing" or "stood" since the only way you can stand is up. Similarly, I removed the "down" in "lying (or laying) down." (You can sit up or sit down so that's not redundant.) The novel also had too many unnecessary uses of "over": "walking over to," "rushing over to," "hopping over to." Hopefully, I've fixed most of them.
Since my book's supposed to be a thriller, I don't need unnecessary words slowing the action.
The end of the world - August 13, 2011
Remember a few months ago when a preacher predicted the world would end? We're still here, but I've always been fascinated with the concept of Armageddon. My favorite "end of the world" movies are The Terminator and Planet of the Apes (the original--and I can't wait to see the new sequel). On TV this summer I watched Stephen Spielberg's miniseries, Falling Skies--and I'm still annoyed that the show didn't end. Now I have to wait a year to find out how the humans defeat the Skitters.
Of course, I really love "end of the world" novels too. My all-time favorites are The Stand by Stephen King and Swan Song by Robert McCammon.
I mention all this because I have an idea for my next book: It's an Armageddon novel. Right now, I just have the premise--what destroys the world and how it happens. I don't even know my characters or the storyline. I can't help thinking about this concept, even though I have other books to edit. Why? Because I really miss the creative process. Writing a book is always the most fun!
* * *
Trial (and errors) - August 9, 2011
I thought the plot of my latest novel, Corsonia, made sense so I've been rereading the manuscript mainly to make slight revisions, correct minor mistakes, and improve language. However, yesterday I realized a key premise of the story was completely wrong. The error involved pickup and delivery times that didn't work. I couldn't believe I had reread the novel so many times without noticing such an obvious mistake.
It took me several hours of writing and testing various scenarios to find a way to fix the problem. Finally, I decided to switch the pickup with the delivery and corrected the times and all the related incidents. Now the story works.
Afterwards, I again wondered how Dean Koontz, one of my favorite authors, can write a perfect first draft while I find significant problems even after numerous revisions. But even though it takes me a long time, at least I continue to review my manuscript until I get everything right (I hope!).
* * *
Blending fact and fiction - August 5, 2011
Corsonia, the novel I'm writing, takes place in rural Nevada, a place I'm unfamiliar with and I'm trying to be as accurate as possible. It's a delicate balance, positioning an imaginary place in the real-world setting of Elko County.
In my research, I've uncovered an interesting stat: Elko County is the fourth largest county in the U.S. with 17,000 square miles; my county (Westchester in New York) has 500 square miles.
This means that towns in rural Nevada are much further apart than what I'm used to in the smaller and more populated northeast suburbs. Although I've tried to be fairly accurate, I've taken a few liberties so my characters can travel faster than is probably the case. I've also given them 4-wheel-drive vehicles for climbing the rugged terrain. Although I'm writing a fantasy, I do want the story to be believable!
* * *
Research reflections - August 1, 2011
I've mentioned that I don't enjoy doing research for my books, mostly because so many of the things I write about are technical or scientific (e.g. electricity, prehistoric fish, airplanes)--not my areas of interest or expertise. However, when I'm writing a novel and my characters do something I'm unfamiliar with or live someplace I don't know, I have to understand what they're doing or where they're living. That doesn't mean I have to expound on the subject and bore readers with my newfound knowledge. But a novelist needs to know enough to ensure that the story makes sense.
As a result, I spent yesterday researching material on the Internet--reading dull articles and watching boring videos. Today, I incorporated a few snippets of the information I learned into my latest novel, Corsonia. Now I think (and hope!) my story is a little better and a little more believable.
* * *
On the radio - July 28, 2011
My first radio interview aired this evening at 5:30 EST on Janice Lee's "Featuring the Arts" program on Kentucky radio station WSKV (104.9 FM). Since I'm in New York, I couldn't hear the broadcast on the radio, but it was streamed simultaneously on the Internet at http://www.wskvfm.com/
It was strange to hear myself on radio. It's like listening to your voice on a phone message or on an answering machine: I didn't sound like I thought I did. Other than that, the interview went pretty well. I muffed a few words, especially in the beginning when I was most nervous, but managed to get through the half hour without stumbling too much. And I got to talk about my favorite subject: fiction writing.
Afterwards, I realized one thing: It's much easier being the interviewer than the interviewee. I've been a newspaper reporter and I'd rather ask the questions than answer them!
It you missed the radio broadcast, don't despair, you can still listen to it. (Go to "2011 Archives" and scroll to #17 - "7-28-2011 - Susan Berliner"):
* * *
Time-ly matters - July 24, 2011
When I was rereading my first draft of Corsonia, I noticed one of my scenes was out of order. As a result, I moved the misplaced scene to the previous chapter and then, since the second chapter was now too short, consolidated the two chapters into one.
It wasn't a major rewrite, but it made me realize that I needed to create a timeline for the book. Although I don't always indicate the time an event happens, as the author, I have to know when all the action occurs. Since the last third of this novel takes place during a frenetic 24-hour-period, it's rather difficult to determine the times. But I did it--and, although I had to slightly alter a few of the times, none of the other events was out of place.
Now I have an even more difficult task: I have review my characters to make sure they all work.
* * *
A tale of two novels - July 19, 2011
I've mentioned here and on Facebook that I'm editing my novels right now and a friend asked an interesting question: "With you doing all the books now--three or four--don't you get confused, or afraid you want to add something to one book and then put it in another?"
Yes, I've written four books. However, DUST is published so I don't have to think about editing it. The Disappearance, my time-travel novel, is currently "resting"--sitting on a shelf--so I'm not thinking about that book either.
That leaves Peachwood Lake and Corsonia. Since the two books are very different, I don't get them confused at all. The former is about an evil fish while the latter is about mind control. Maybe if I was writing a series, with the same characters, it would be a problem. However, that's not the case.
For instance, today while I made revisions in Corsonia, I realized I should flesh out the background of a pivotal character in Peachwood Lake. Yes, it's multi-tasking and often frustrating, but it's not confusing.
* * *
My 3 "R"s - July 15, 2011
I'm alternating between editing two novels: fine-tuning Peachwood Lake, which involves careful rereading (see July 11 post) and heavily doctoring the first draft of Corsonia, which requires three "R"s: researching, reorganizing, and rewriting.
For the past couple of days, I've been focusing on Corsonia, fleshing out my villainess's backstory to make her even more despicable. To do so, I've had to research material this wicked woman would have been familiar with, which amounted to thirty printed pages. As is usually the case, I've incorporated just two paragraphs of this data into the book--but they're two really good paragraphs!
I need to be familiar with lots of information, even though few of these facts appear in my novels. As a result, my brain is packed with worthless trivia. Just go ahead and ask me a question about carp doughballs or rubber rabbitbrush!
* * *
And the tweaks go on... - July 11, 2011
When is a novel finished? That's a tough question for a writer. To me, a book is finished when I can no longer find any significant corrections or revisions (and I don't mean commas; I can always add or subtract a comma).
I had hoped I'd finally reached the "finished" point with Peachwood Lake. But today I reread half the book and it's not ready yet. In addition to a few small errors, I found several examples of vague or unnecessary words: I changed the phrase "got out of" to the stronger "jumped out of." Several times a character "put" something "down." But where? I revised the sentences so the item was placed on the "floor," "table," or some other tangible site. Also, instead of describing a character's movements as "standing up" or "sitting down," I now have the person simply "standing" or "sitting," since the "up" or "down" is redundant.
Eventually, (I hope!) this very slow editing process will result in a good--and finished--book.
* * *
Stranger than fiction - July 7, 2011
For the past few days, I've been researching the theme of Corsonia, my new novel,and here's what I've learned about mind-control: Some of the weird things I've created from my imagination, really do exist. I love when truth is stranger than fiction!
This has happened to me several times already. The dust devils I researched when writing DUST turned out to be much weirder and more widespread than I expected--even extending into my neighborhood. Then with Peachwood Lake, my soon-to-be-published fish story, I found that some of the history I had invented for the evil fish was based in reality. And now the Corsonia revelations.
Only my third novel, The Disappearance, doesn't fit this pattern. As far as I know, there's still no evidence of time traveling in the real world.
* * *
Getting the details right - July 3, 2011
My first three novels are set in the northeastern suburbs, places I'm familiar with. But Corsonia, the book I'm editing now, is set in a totally different locale--rural Nevada. While the title, Corsonia, is the name of a mythical town, I'm surrounding it with real locations. Today I realized I had goofed.
Here's what happened: Character A (a local person) mentions a small town (a real Nevada place) and asks: "Ever hear of it?" Duh! True, it's a small town--but it's on the interstate, only an hour away in a very lightly populated area. Of course Character B (also a local person) would have heard of that town--and Character A would never ask such a dumb question. So I've changed the question to a more logical, "You go there much?"
It may seem like a small mistake, but it's the kind of error that would annoy me as a reader.
* * *
Character concerns - June 29, 2011
If you follow this blog, you know that when I write the first draft of a novel, my focus is on getting the story written. I concentrate on the plot and don't think too much about character details. In fact, in my latest novel, Corsonia, I even left out the names of several minor characters, just inserting dashes as placeholders.
But now that I'm reviewing the manuscript, I've been thinking a lot about the characters and yesterday I had a brainstorm about the way some of them should look. So I've added this revision to my "To-Do" list and, when I read through the book, I'll start to flesh out these minor characters. Of course, I'll also make sure they all have names.
The editing continues - June 25, 2011
I'm slowly working through my checklist of corrections, revisions, and additions for my new novel, Corsonia, before I read the entire manuscript again. However, even as I skim the pages, I'm finding lots of additional mistakes. Maybe it's because I was in such a hurry to finish the first draft and I didn't reread my earlier chapters. Whatever the reason, the errors abound.
Today, for instance, I found an important bit of information repeated. It's a place name that's supposed to be a revelation at the end of the novel, but the character mentions it earlier. Some revelation! It was a quick fix: I just eliminated the first reference. But now I'm afraid of how many other errors I'll find once I reread the whole novel and list and crosscheck all the pertinent information--names, descriptions, places, etc.
I really enjoy writing a novel much more than I like editing it!
* * *
You gotta have a gimmick - June 21, 2011
Recognize the title of this post? It's the strippers' song from the classic musical, Gypsy.That's what comes to my mind when I think of this season's hit "children's" book: Go the F*** to Sleep. Of course, it's really a book for parents, not children, but the shock value of the title has rocketed it to best-seller status. (As I write this, the book is #2 on Amazon.)
The success of Go the F*** to Sleep reminded me of something that happened before DUST was published. An acquaintance put me in touch with a young woman, whom he thought might help me because she was the co-author of a newly-published book that was selling very well. When she told me the title, I understood the book's popularity: How to Eat Like a Hot Chick. Another can't-lose title, pairing food and sex.
Here's one other related incident: At a book signing event last year, I met a novelist who mentioned she had an enormously successful blog--about 5,000 hits a day.
Maybe I could get some valuable pointers. "What do you blog about?" I asked.
"Sex and murder," she replied.
I rest my case.
* * *
The second draft - June 18, 2011
When I mentioned on Facebook that I had finished the first draft of my novel, Corsonia, and was beginning the revision phase, an author friend commented: "Writing the first draft is the easy part, in my opinion. It's the reworking of the second draft that can be fun, lol."
I agree completely. When I write a novel, I forge ahead, even leaving out important details, just to get the story written. But now, the tough work starts: I have to go back and fix everything. So a couple of days ago, I gathered my Post-its filled with numerous scribbled comments and listed each point neatly in a legal pad. (I also have other notes in brackets on the manuscript itself.)
As I finish making each correction, revision, or addition, I check it off my list. So far, I've completed just two items on the "to-do" sheet. It's slow work, very tedious--and not my idea of "fun." But I have to fix these things either now or later so I'm trying for now.
* * *
Walking a fine line - June 13, 2011
I've been doing a lot of technological research for my novel, trying to educate myself so I can write more intelligently about a subject intrinsic to my ending. After taking a mini online course, which included everything from YouTube videos to "For Sale" posts, I delved into the novel again and revised some scenes in my last chapter.
It's a tricky balance writing about technical or scientific details. I have to educate myself so the story is believable, but I don't want to bore readers with too many unnecessary facts just to show off my newfound knowledge. So I try to include a minimum of information--just enough to make sure my plot is semi-logical--and I know more than I need to about subjects like freshwater fish, electricity, and gold mines. But, not to worry, I'll keep most of that knowledge to myself.
* * *
It's done (sort of) - June 9, 2011
I've finished the first draft of my novel, which means the basic story is written. But the book is not at all done. I wish I wrote like Dean Koontz, one of my favorite authors. He works on each page until it's perfect so when Koontz has completed his first draft, the novel is ready for publication. But I still have lots of work ahead.
Here's part of my to-do list:
* Research technical and medical matters that are part of the plot. I've done some work, but more is needed.
* Add missing character names and check existing ones. In my rush to finish the first draft, I didn't bother to name a few minor characters. Also, names are complicated in this novel.
* Check all facts for accuracy. At this point, I always make a list of characters, places, and important details so I can begin to eliminate errors.
* Make necessary revisions. As I muddled through the first draft, I wrote little Post-it notes to myself with things I wanted to add or revise. I've made some of these changes, but not all--and I'm sure I'll find more to fix as I read the manuscript again.
On the plus side, as I move into the editing phase, I've finally given this novel a title: Corsonia.
* * *
Mission accomplished - June 5, 2011
I've finally done it--destroyed the villainess who's created such misery for the characters in my novel. It took much longer than I expected, but now she's gone and she isn't coming back.
I'm not thrilled with the abrupt way it happened, but I've had enough of this horrendous woman and didn't want to deal with her any longer so I rushed through the ending. I'll definitely have to revise the last scene to make it flow more smoothly. Also, I still have to do some technical research for the entire chapter.
Aside from those issues, my first draft is finished except for the epilogue, which will tie together the novel's many loose threads. But these wrap-up details have been whirling through my head since I started this book so I expect (and hope!) this phase of my writing will be a cinch.
* * *
The end is really in sight - June 1, 2011
This week, the weather in New York has been beautiful and summer-like so I've been sitting outside and doing my writing the old-fashioned way--longhand, with a legal pad and pen. I've written two or three scenes each day, which is much more than my typical one-scene-a-day output.
Besides enjoying the sunshine, I've got two other reasons for my creative burst. First, I wanted to complete my backtracking, inserting the heroine into the closing scenes (See May 28 post below.) That's now done. Secondly, I'm determined to get to the end of this novel. This afternoon, I had a "Eureka!" moment and I finally understand how my villainess is going to get what she deserves. Now I've just got to transfer the material from my head onto the printed (or written) page.
* * *
Missing in action - May 28, 2011
As I'm writing the ending of my novel, leading up to the demise of my evil villainess, I suddenly realized I have a new problem: My heroine is missing.
She was squarely in the middle of the action in the previous chapters when I originally planned to end this book. But my villainess still lives--and right now my heroine's not even a part of these extra scenes.
I've been thinking about a solution and, so far, the idea I like best is to insert the heroine into these late scenes, even if she's not fully involved. Then maybe I'll get a brainstorm as to how I can integrate her into the action.
* * *
Too many "M"s - May 24, 2011
I'm almost finished with the first draft of my novel and I just realized that I have too many characters and places that begin with the letter "m." It hadn't bothered me until the repeated beginning letters in one of my sentences sounded cacophonous, something like, "M____ and M____ went to M_____."
Since the name of the town is real, I'm not changing it. However, my characters, of course, are all fictional and I'm in charge so I can easily change their names. One character's name is symbolic so it has to stay. But the other person's name served no special purpose so he's now a "D."
What power we authors have! In my second novel, Peachwood Lake, I accomplished a sex change--transforming a mother into a father. As Mel Brooks proclaimed in the movie History of the World, "It's good to be the king!"
* * *
End in sight - May 20, 2011
Victory at last! After writing the latter part of my novel for the past couple of weeks without knowing how it was going to end, I've finally figured everything out. And now it seems so obvious that I'm surprised I didn't realize it earlier. In fact, I've even foreshadowed the ending more than once. It's like I was constructing a large jigsaw puzzle, with the pieces scattered all around, and was finally able to fit them together. In any case, my evil villainess will soon get what she deserves a la Dean Koontz (see May 12 post).
Of course, now that I understand what's going to happen, I still have to write it. But it's a relief to know where the book is going. In the past, I've always known the endings of my novels and, this time, I thought I did. However, my original ending was too simple and, when I wrote it, just didn't work. The new ending is much more complex--and much better.
* * *
Ideas from unexpected places - May 16, 2011
When I was writing DUST, I got an idea for a weapon my characters could use to battle the evil entity from a very unusual source: the exterminator. The idea had nothing to do with bugs. The man just happened to make a suggestion and a light bulb went off in my head.
Recently, I had another "Eureka!" moment. When reading a newspaper account of how the SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden, one of the details gave me an idea for the novel I'm writing now. It was just one sentence--a small mention that most people wouldn't care about--but it's perfect for the villainess in my story.
These two examples confirm something I've learned about fiction writing: Be observant and pay attention to small details. You never know when you'll come across a useful bit of information--and you may find it in a most unusual place.
* * *
The neverending ending - May 12, 2011
I'm still writing the ending of my novel and I've been posting my frustratingly slow progress on Facebook. Yesterday, a friend made this interesting comment: "Dean Koontz said the good guys will always triumph in the end in his books and the bad guys will always get what they deserve." It's good to know I have the same philosophy as Koontz, my favorite author. I also believe in good triumphing over evil--and my books reflect this credo.
But that's not my problem. My villainess will eventually get what she deserves; it's just a matter of "when" and "how." I thought this horrible woman would be out of the picture by now, but my original plan didn't work. Since she refused to die when I expected her to, the villainess is still a presence, out there in my made-up world, creating more mayhem. And I'm still waiting for the opportune moment to destroy her.
* * *
Genre-ly speaking - May 8, 2011
A writer friend who is having difficulty deciding on a genre for her novels, and believes we write similar stories, just asked me a very tough question: "In what genre do you market your work?"
I too have difficulty pigeonholing DUST into one specific genre, which is why I call the novel a "supernatural thriller." I've considered labeling it "light horror," but that's too limiting and, although I think the book is a "suburban fantasy," since it's set in the suburbs of the real world with only one supernatural element (the malevolent dust), most fantasy tales are set in magical kingdoms filled with strange and wondrous creatures.
Even DUST book reviewers don't agree on the novel's genre. If you read the reviews (click here), you'll see the novel called a "scifi/mystery/thriller," a book for 'fans of cozy mysteries," "more sci-fi than paranormal," and "not your typical supernatural book."
Sci fi? When I think of science fiction, I conjure up images of robots, alien planets, and spaceships. To me, a "cozy mystery" is a detective story, without supernatural elements. These labels don't describe DUST--or any of my books.
As I told my fellow writer, genre is really in the eye of the beholder. In my current DUST genre contest (See Contest), I'm using the "supernatural thriller" tag. For those of you who've read the book, how would you classify DUST?
* * *
Forgetting and misremembering continued - May 4, 2011
In my last post, I wrote about forgetting an earlier incident in my novel because I've been focused on moving forward and hadn't reread the entire manuscript recently. A novelist friend expressed sympathy, saying she's had the same problem and, when she starts her new book, intends to "keep a little journal of events and characters for each chapter."
I still prefer forging full-speed ahead with my first draft--not doing much record-keeping (except for writing Post-it notes to myself as I get ideas and sticking them everywhere). When the first draft is complete, I reread the book and create a complete log of characters, descriptions, dates, events, etc.--everything important. Then I cross-reference and correct my mistakes. I'm sure there'll be many errors with this novel, but, like Scarlett O'Hara, I'll worry about that issue tomorrow--or whenever I finally finish the first draft.
* * *
Forgetting and misremembering - April 30, 2011
I've moved forward with my book and I'm writing the wrap-up chapter in which I connect all the loose ends (except for those I'll address in the epilogue.) But here's my latest problem: I haven't spent enough time rereading the earlier pages. Although I still review the chapter I'm working on before forging ahead, it's been a while since I've read the entire manuscript. As a result, I'm making silly mistakes.
Take yesterday, for example. After I finished writing a scene, I realized I had screwed it up because I had totally forgotten an incident that had happened nearly a hundred pages earlier--a minor character's brief encounter with a bad guy. That character should have had input in yesterday's scene, which I hadn't included.
Obviously, the solution to my problem is to reread the entire book. But since I'm so close to end, I'm going to finish writing the first draft before backtracking and dealing with all the details I've either forgotten or misremembered.
* * *
Hitting a bump - April 25, 2011
After what seems like forever, I finally wrote the key scene featuring the confrontation of my main characters that leads to the ending of the novel. But here's the problem: I don't like it. As usual, I let the characters lead the action, only somehow my villainess morphed into a wimp. I didn't like the passive way she handled herself; it wasn't what I'd expected.
I spent a lot of time rereading that scene and trying to think of what went wrong. Then I put it aside for a day, picked it up again this morning and reread it, and I still didn't like it. So I tried revising the scene, adding a little foreshadowing and then having my villainess behave more proactively--and more wickedly. It's definitely better now and I'll reread the scene again tomorrow before moving forward. But I'm still not sure it works.
* * *
Writing talent - April 21, 2011
Earlier this week, a Facebook friend asked me to read his short story. I agreed, although I was somewhat leery, not knowing how well he wrote. But it turned out to be a good move because the story was excellent--entertaining, well-written, a pleasure to read.
This is just another example of how many good unknown writers are out there. It's worth taking a chance and reading a story or novel by someone you've never heard of because, by doing so, you might "discover" a terrific new talent. We've got TV shows like "American Idol" and "America's Got Talent." Maybe we need a new reality show called "America's Got Storytellers."
* * *
The last chapter? - April 17, 2011
I'm at the end of the novel I'm writing, creating what I believe will be the final chapter (plus an epilogue). But is it? As I mentioned recently, that's the wonder of being a novelist--not knowing everything that's going to happen. So although I keep thinking I'm at the finish line, and the confrontation I'm writing about will finally take place, it hasn't happened yet.
Each day, I learn a little more about my novel, a new development I didn't know about until I sat at the computer to write. Since I pace myself, only writing a scene a day, this process takes a while. But, like the reader, I want to enjoy the story unfolding and that necessitates an element of mystery. Although I do know the resolution of the book, I don't know exactly how my characters are going to get there. Eventually though, I'm sure they'll show me.
* * *
Ideas unlimited - April 13, 2011
Dean Koontz, my favorite author, was interviewed on "CBS News Sunday Morning" last weekend. He doesn't do many interviews (I can't remember any), but I wasn't surprised at the impression he made--a genuine, kind, and really nice man.
One of his comments really resonated with me. When asked if he saw an "endpoint" in his writing, Koontz replied: "I don't think writers who love what they do retire until they fall dead on their keyboard."
This is probably true. When do you ever hear of an author retiring? That's because most of us never run out of ideas. Every day, something triggers a thought I believe can be turned into a supernatural novel. The difficulty lies in choosing which of these many gems to develop. So someday (hopefully, not too soon),look for my body sprawled over the computer.
* * *
Anticipation - April 9, 2011
About a week ago, I wrote a scene in my novel and suddenly realized what was going to happen next. That's quite unusual for me--I rarely know the next occurrence until I actually start to write. This uncertainty is what makes being a novelist so much fun.
Now here's the strange part: I've written a scene every day since I had my epiphany and still haven't reached that point in the story. It seems to be just ahead, but there's always something else that has to happen first. It's like gazing from a window and seeing a crystal-clear lake in the distance. You walk towards it and keep getting closer and closer, but don't reach it because the water is much further away than you think.
Today, however, I do believe I've reached that lake and, this morning, will finally be able to write the scene I envisioned what feels like eons ago. Wish me luck!
* * *
Writing strategy - April 4, 2011
A few days ago, a woman who has wanted to write since she was a child but has always put writing on "the back burner," contacted me. "Was there ever a time that you had to just push yourself to write?" she asked.
My answer was, "yes." Many times, I've had to force myself to write. Some mornings, I feel lazy or uninspired. But if you read this blog, you know my philosophy: You have to treat writing like a job. Aren't there days you don't feel like going to work? But you still go to the office and do your job. Even if you don't have to punch in, you need thesame attitude towards writing.
My suggestion to anyone who wants to write, but can't find the time or the motivation to do so, is to set aside a certain time in the day for writing. It doesn't have to be a lot of time. Even a half hour will work. But you have to decide to do it--discipline yourself and stick to a routine. That's my strategy and it works for me. I manage to write almost every day--even when I don't feel like doing it. And each time, after I finish my "job," I'm glad I did!
* * *
Cursing characters - March 31, 2011
In the novel I'm currently writing, one of my minor characters suddenly started to use bad language. I wasn't expecting it, but the man had good reason to be upset and curse: Something horrendous had happened to him. It's yet another example of characters taking over the action as I sit quietly at my computer, creating a story.
This experience reminded me of an incident that happened not too long ago when I was part of an authors' panel, speaking in a small restaurant. One of the speakers brought up the subject of cursing in books and an audience member mentioned something novelist Stuart Woods had said. When asked why his books contained so much bad language, Woods had explained, "I don't curse, but my characters do." I feel the same way!
* * *
Technology talk - March 27, 2011
I've just returned from my annual vacation, during which I noticed one significant literary change. You know how lots of people read by the poolside or on the beach--often escape novels like DUST?
On this year's vacation, I saw many Kindles. Last year, the electronic reader was still a novelty, but now it's much more the norm. And that makes sense. An electronic book is easier to use than the traditional paperback: It's compact and the pages don't flap outside in the wind.
For those (unlike me) who prefer the new format, DUST is available as an electronic book on Kindle, the Nook, etc. Check the direct links on the Order page. And consider taking a paperback copy--or electronic version--of DUST on your vacation. It's a great vacation read!
* * *
Fictional characters - March 19, 2011
In a recent interview, I was asked whether my characters were completely fictional or if they were based on real people. Most of my characters, especially the main ones, come directly from my imagination. They aren't based on folks I know--especially the horrible villains. Fortunately, I don't have any friends (or relatives) like that. As a result the bad guys (and girls) I create are totally fictional, although I'm sure my mind takes note of the evil people I've seen on the news, on TV, in movies, as well as the monsters I've read about in fiction and non-fiction.
But some of my minor characters (especially the good ones) are based on real people--usually combinations of friends, relatives, neighbors, or former co-workers. For example, in DUST, the teen Adam Ackermann, is a composite of several nerdy young tech guys I used to work with.
* * *
Editing reflections (con't) - March 14, 2011
I've finished this round of revisions on my Peachwood Lake manuscript and here are some of my findings:
* Although I didn't have many typos, I did correct some subtle errors--e.g. characters should be "firing" their guns instead of "aiming" them.
* For clarity, I needed to insert several transitional phrases, especially indicating a change of time (e.g. "the next morning").
* I found--and eliminated--another instance of repeated information (in this case, violence caused by the evil fish) that the reader already knew and shouldn't have to read again.
* A few incidents needed to be fleshed out, so I added a bit more dialogue and/or description.
Of course, an author can always find something to change that makes the book better--but eventually you have to say, "Enough!" I hope I'll be able to say that soon.
* * *
Editing reflections - March 10, 2011
Right now, I'm skimming through the latest round of revisions to my second novel, Peachwood Lake, to see if I'm satisfied with the way the story reads. This is a book I thought was almost "done" several months ago. But I had some doubts and, after recent feedback from several readers, I've made substantial changes to both the plot and a few secondary characters. I think (and hope) the novel is significantly improved.
At the same time, I'm working on strengthening the description of my main character, a 13-year-old girl. To get a better handle of how she looks, I've been "picturing" her more fully. A few days ago, I found a photo of a girl who, in my mind, resembles the heroine and I'm using that image to help me create a more vivid word picture. If all goes well, the book might really be finished soon.
* * *
Book length - March 6, 2011
I've written about 36,000 words of my novel and I'm just beginning what I hope will be the exciting conclusion. While I'll probably add about another 10,000 words to this first draft, that's not very many words. And that surprises me. Although DUST is a short book (under 50,000 words), my next two unpublished novels are considerably longer: Peachwood Lake has 59,000 words and The Disappearance has 77,000.
Of course, the story dictates the length of a book.But the still untitled novel I'm writing is a complex tale so I expected it to take more words to unfold.So far, that hasn't been the case. Since I'll be editing the manuscript after I finish the first draft, I'm sure I will be adding details and, possibly, other events. I know I'll be developing my main characters in greater detail, including background material, and maybe some backstories. As I've mentioned before, I generally write the plot first and then fill in the gaps. Right now, I think this book has a lot of gaps to fill.Since I don't want to dilute the suspense of the story, if the novel is still short after the changes are made--so be it.
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Bad ladies of literature - March 2, 2011
On Facebook today, when I mentioned that the villainess in the novel I'm writing has been surprising me by becoming more and more wicked, a friend suggested the following discussion topic: "Who is the most evil female villain in modern literature?" Her choice was Ardelia Lortz from Stephen King's novella, "The Library Policeman."
As I considered this question, I thought of many wicked men, but few evil women. And when I checked the Internet, my feeling was confirmed: "Strong villainesses in fantasy, horror and science fiction literature are, unfortunately, not as prevalent as their male counterparts," Sandra McDonald wrote in an interesting discussion board on this subject (http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/09/mind-meld-bad-guys-we-love-to-hate-the-best-literary-villains-in-sffh/).
So, after rejecting several mean ladies, here's my vote: Annie Wilkes of Misery, also by Stephen King. She's the first villainess I thought of and I'll stick with her--at least until my current novel is finished. Do you agree? If not, whom do you consider the wickedest female character in supernatural fiction?
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Picturing your characters - February 26, 2011
I recently read an excellent article by Darlene Reilley about the importance of getting to know your characters, in which she suggests strategies like having "conversations" with them to find out their likes and dislikes (http://darwrites.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/getting-to-know-characters/). Darlene also mentions the importance of "visual inspiration" and was surprised that most of the writers she polled hadn't explored the idea of collecting pictures to "see" what their characters look like.
Taking this concept one step further, I--and about 25% of other fiction readers--visualize characters in a novel as actors in a movie. It's a logical progression for me since, as I write, I picture my characters performing their roles in scenes and acts (chapters). And many readers have said DUST would make a great movie.
If you're a visual reader, here's a neat website that lets you cast movie roles for characters in DUST--or any other favorite novel: http://www.storycasting.com/work.aspx?id=4f9a2b40-3d60-4dc7-bc16-f2440184b4b7
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Along for the ride - February 22, 2011
Not long ago, I couldn't write my daily scene because I had no idea what my main characters were going to do and they refused to guide me. Now, however, they're speeding forward--and taking me along for the ride. It's a fun experience.
That's the best part of being a novelist--the thrill that happens when you sit down to write and get swept up into your own story. Right now, one of my protagonists is in serious danger and I don't know what's going to happen next. But my characters are in control so I'll find out more tomorrow when I write my new scene.
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The apostrophe issue revisited - February 18, 2011
What are we celebrating on February 21? It's the birthdays of two great presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Therefore, it's the day of the presidents or Presidents' Day. The possessive apostrophe should be after the "s." But is it?
Every year, I check the newspapers to find out which advertisers have misspelled the holiday. In 2011, lots of companies are taking the chicken way out and avoiding the apostrophe altogether. For example, Macy's is having a "Presidents Day Sale" and Fordham Toyota is promoting "Presidents Week." And this year, I've noticed many retailers are touting "Presidential Savings," a correct, apostrophe-free headline.
For those still using the apostrophe, the most common error is made by merchants that advertise "President's Day" sales. The apostrophe placement shows these stores only celebrate the birthday of one of the presidents so I always want to ask them this question: Who are you honoring--George or Abe?
After Presidents' Day, the holiday apostrophe issue stays dormant--at least until Veterans' Day.
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Character concerns - February 14, 2011
In the novel I'm writing, my main characters have a plan for saving a lot of people, but suddenly, I couldn't figure out their next move. Although I know what they will eventually do, I had no clue as to how they would do it.
I sat at the computer a couple of days ago trying to solve this dilemma. Usually my characters take over when I'm writing and perform like actors, creating their own dialogue and moves. But for some reason, they didn't show up this time. (Stage fright?)
Does it count as writer's block when your characters refuse to cooperate? In any case, I mulled over the situation and now I know what's going to happen next. The characters are performing again and I've started writing my next chapter.
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Multi-tasking (writing-style) - February 10, 2011
Recently, I wrote about the juggling act a novelist has to do--writing and editing and marketing at the same time. But what happens if you're writing one book and an idea for another pops into your head? Can an author create two novels at once?
Maybe--but I certainly can't. Although I can write one novel and edit another book simultaneously, I can't craft two stories at the same time. Two casts of characters and two plots? That's a bit much.
Several authors have told me they start working on a novel, get a new idea, and never finish either book. My suggestion would be to at least complete the first draft before starting a new book. One young author told me he stopped writing novels because of this multiple-idea problem--and switched to short stories instead, figuring he'd have a better chance of finishing them. I hope his plan works!
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Heroes or villains - February 6, 2011
A few days ago, I was interviewed about DUST and my writing on a site called "My Home Away From Home." I had answered some of the questions before, but several were new and intriguing, especially one that asked who I lean towards--"Villains or the Good Guys."
The question made me think about how my writing has been evolving. In my first two novels, DUST, and Peachwood Lake (which I'm still editing), the villains--dust and a fish--aren't human. However, in my third and fourth novels, I've created two wicked people who do really awful things. Since people, unlike dust and fish, need reasons for their evil actions, I've had to analyze these characters and figure out what makes them tick--a challenging task!
So although I identify with my heroes (I'd like to think I'm a good guy), I'm starting to appreciate my villainsmore.To read the entire interview, go to http://www.facebook.com/notes/my-home-away-from-home/interview-with-susan-berliner-the-author-of-dust/199256353422028
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Horrifying ideas - February 2, 2011
People often ask me where I get the ideas for my books. DUST, my first novel, was inspired by a real weather phenomenon: dust devils.
Today, when I mentioned on Facebook that my home had survived an ice storm, one friend suggested the brutal weather might make a great supernatural topic--people hearing and seeing strange things in the storm. Then another friend mentioned her region had a weather condition called "freezing fog" and perhaps something evil could be lurking there. "I feel a horror story coming on," wrote a third friend.
Isn't imagination wonderful? Even winter weather can produce material for supernatural thrillers!
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A book is "finished" when... - January 29, 2011
When is the book you're writing finished? A beginning author asked me that question earlier this week and it's a tough one to answer. My novel certainly isn't finished when I've completed the first draft. After that, I read the manuscript numerous times and make lots of changes. When I think the book is in pretty good shape, I ask several people to critique it. Then I read their suggestions and make additional revisions. It's a very long process. I finally felt DUST was "finished" when I couldn't think of any more ways to improve it.
But, of course, every writer is different. Dean Koontz, one of my favorite authors, doesn't do a quick first draft and numerous revisions. Instead, he perfects each page until he's satisfied, sometimes spending all day--ten to eleven hours--producing just one-third of a "polished" page: http://www.deankoontz.com/writing-qa/
Me? I'm still revising my second and third novels (Peachwood Lake and The Disappearance) because they're not done yet!
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Writing and editing and marketing, oh my! - January 25, 2011
I find that being a novelist often requires a juggling act. Take today for example. In the morning, I wrote a scene in my new novel, part of a lengthy chapter that will necessitate more research. But, right now, I'm mostly concerned with getting the words down and moving forward.
Next, I did some more editing on my second novel, Peachwood Lake, concentrating on making my young heroine less wimpy and more heroic. I think I've made some improvements, but I'll have to reread the entire manuscript to see if everything still works. Editing has a ripple effect: Each change can affect something else in the story.
Finally, I listened to a marketing pitch for an ad to promote DUST, which sounded like a great idea, but probably isn't. It's one more thing to check out...Just another day in the life of a novelist!
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Becoming an author - January 21, 2011
A few days ago, a Facebook friend asked me the following question: "I love to write and I've always wanted to be an author. How do you become one?"
That's pretty easy to answer: You just write. And it doesn't have to be a story. You can write about a theory, a person, an event, a hobby. Whatever you're passionate about--just write it down. When you're finished, you're an author, even if your work hasn't been published. According to the dictionary, an author is "one who writes a literary work." Congratulations!
Of course, now comes the hard part: You have to edit your writing to make sure it's as good as it can be. Then, if you want others to read what you've written, you have to publish your work. Finally, you have to let people know your work is available: "Hey, I've written _____ and I'd like you to read it!" That's what I do with DUST--try to spread the word about the novel--and that's by far the toughest part of being an author.
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Characters in charge again - January 17, 2011
I've posted before about how, when I write a novel, my characters take over and determine their own dialogue and actions, almost as if they were actors performing in a play. That usually works out fine, but not this time. In the last scene I wrote, these two characters say and do things that don't jibe with the story. Of course, now it's up to me to resolve the problem.
So this morning, I reread part of my manuscript to determine whether I needed to insert, delete, or revise. Fortunately, it was an easier fix than I had expected, requiring just a little rewriting. Now the story makes sense--at least until tomorrow when these characters continue their unexpected actions in the next scene.
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Removing repetition - January 13, 2011
In editing the manuscript of my second thriller, Peachwood Lake, (hopefully for the last time), I found several instances of repetition. Not a good thing. When you read a novel, you don't want to have something you've already been told rehashed. It interrupts the flow of the story, which could result in the reader losing interest--something no author wants.
So now I'm eliminating the duplication. In one case, two characters talk on the phone. Originally, one of them reveals important information. I've removed this conversation so the news is mentioned only once--in another context in the next chapter. Definitely an improvement!
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Write reasons - January 9, 2011
In an online conversation today with a fledgling novelist, the young man was surprised when I said writing fiction wasn't financially lucrative. "Then why do you write?" he asked.
I think I write novels for two reasons. First, I seem to have a bunch of stories in my head that want (need?) to be told. Getting them written is akin to giving birth. Secondly, it's satisfying when readers tell me they've enjoyed my first novel, DUST. That positive input helps me to persevere--write my new book and edit two other manuscripts (Peachwood Lake and The Disappearance) for publication.
So even though I may not get rich as a novelist, I still feel I've chosen a rewarding profession.
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Technical troubles - January 5, 2011
Computers and printers are wonderful machines, but why can't they be more helpful in pointing out simple solutions to technical problems? Here's what happened to me this week:
When I tried to print a page from the Internet, I got the following message: "Communication Not Available." The suggested fix was to disconnect and reconnect the printer's power cable and then restart the computer. I did all that and the printer still didn't work.
I even knelt on the floor underneath the computer and, after cleaning out all the dust, tried to remove and reattach the printer cable at that end. Of course, I ended up pulling out the main plug and disconnected the computer instead.
Then I thought maybe that particular site had a problem because my printer's light was on. (If I had realized this earlier, I would have known the printer's power cable was connected just fine.) I tried printing another web page. No luck.
Finally, I had the brilliant idea to try to print a document from a Word file. It worked! That's when I decided to check the setting on the printer for the Internet. Somehow, it was set on "WebEx Document Loader" instead of my printer. So why couldn't the troubleshooting tips have suggested that simple solution?
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Writing resolutions - January 1, 2011
Happy New Year! This is the time for resolutions and mine are writing-related:
* I resolve to write at least one scene in my book each day. I've been pretty good about doing this and I hope to continue my morning writing routine.
* I resolve to finish the necessary research for the book I'm writing. Checking factual information critical to a plot isn't my favorite thing. For some reason, I always seem to choose subject areas that I'm not interested in and therefore completely unfamiliar with. As a result, I have a lot to learn--and I procrastinate.
* I resolve to get back to editing--and completing--my other two manuscripts. I've been given good suggestions for improving Peachwood Lake and I need to reread the book and make some changes. Also, I've purposely ignored my third novel, The Disappearance, for the last couple of months. I'm hoping when I review it again, I'll have some new--and brilliant--ideas.
What are your resolutions--writing or otherwise? Let me know.
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