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 3, 2013 - December 30, 2013.
Flesh-eating fish story - December 30, 2013
Although my novel, Peachwood Lake, is a work of fiction, it's based on fact--a real fish, the gulf sturgeon, that leaps out of a Florida river and sometimes inadvertently injures people.
Because of the book's theme, people sometimes send me news reports when carnivorous fish terrorize people. This happened last week when a friend emailed me a link to a story with the comment, "Peachwood Lake is becoming a reality!" The article is about a school of piranhas that attacked swimmers in a river in Argentina on Christmas day, injuring 70 people, including some whose fingers or toes were bitten off.
"This is an exceptional event," the director of lifeguards told the media.
Yes, it's yet another case of weird things happening, proving once again that truth is often stranger than fiction.
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Christmasland - December 26, 2013
I just finished reading, NOS4A2, a horror fantasy novel by Joe Hill. It's a good vs. evil tale, with a heroine, Victoria McQueen, who travels to various places to find things using her mind and a wonderfully wicked villain, Charlie Manx, a very old man who uses his imaginative powers to create a special place called Christmasland, where the children he kidnaps can enjoy Christmas all year long. The only problem is Manx is a mind vampire. He drains the children's brains as he transports them to Christmasland in his 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith with the license plate NOS4A2, phonetically "Nosferatu," a classic German vampire movie.
Although the book is long—700 pages—it moved quickly for me because the story is intriguing, Hill writes well, and the characters are well-defined and often quirky. (I like odd characters.) My main issue was with the heroine, Vic, who's so flawed that I didn't like her at all—and it's difficult to root for an unlikable character even if she is fighting an evil vampire. Also, there's a ton of violence—involving adults, children, and animals (think Stephen King who is Joe Hill's father)—so if that's a turn-off, don't read this book.
But if you enjoy fantasy tales in real-world settings, Hill's imaginative plot is terrific—and there's even a minor character who has a special ability involving Scrabble tiles—and I love Scrabble!
One more thing: Don't skip "A Note on the Type" on the last page. It's not about the type; it's about the book.
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Story choice - December 22, 2013
I'm often asked how I choose the ideas for my novels. My first two books--DUST and Peachwood Lake--were based on interesting newspaper articles. But The Disappearance and my not-yet published novels, Corsonia and The Touchers, focus on three of my favorite subjects: time travel, mind control, and end-of-the-world.
Here's a great quote that echoes my feeling about selecting story ideas:
The above quote is from my Pinterest board, Writing Quotes
. Check some of the other quotes that motivate me and may help aspiring novelists.
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Keeping it clean – December 18, 2013
Whenever the subject of cursing characters is brought up, I always quote novelist Stuart Woods. When he was asked why his books had so much foul language, Woods' response was that he didn't curse; his characters did.
It's the same with me. Although I don't curse, sometimes my characters do. This week, someone questioned why I used "F___ing," in The Disappearance rather than just write out the word. "If you don't like the word, find another or don't use it," the man said.
That's not the way it works for me. In my novels, the characters do their own talking—and that was the word Ryan used. Since The Disappearance is appropriate for young adult readers as well as adults, when Ryan cursed, rather than find another word, I chose to edit what he said.
Yes, teens—and everyone else—know the word I'm not spelling out. But like most newspapers, I'm keeping the text clean. I want everyone to be able to enjoy The Disappearance—including those who prefer that their teens read curse-free novels.
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Ant annihilators - December 14, 2013
If you read my blog or are aware of the histories of my novels, then you probably know ideas for two of the books (DUST and Peachwood Lake) came from news articles about weird natural phenomena (dust devils and jumping fish). So imagine my surprise (and delight) when I saw this bizarre story in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine: "There's a Reason They Call Them 'Crazy Ants.'"
It's a long, but fascinating article. Here's the gist: There's a strange new species of ants near Houston, Texas that act crazily. Huge swarms invade suburban homes, for some reason attracted to the electric appliances (TVs, toasters, microwaves), which they destroy. Even when some of the ants are killed, live ones traipse over piles of their dead comrades and continue to torment local residents. Their movements are disorganized and psychotic, thus the name "crazy ants."
Due to typical bureaucratic bungling, the federal government didn't act in time to halt the ant invasion and scientists were more interested in finding the name of the species than in finding ways to contain them. The fear now is that the Gulf Coast will soon be inundated by these tiny, crazy insects.
Sure sounds like a potential doomsday novel to me!
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Character concern - December 10, 2013
At yesterday's creative writing lecture to the Westchester (NY) Reading Council (see photos in Happenings), one audience member asked me if I would introduce a main character in the middle of a book. He said he had heard this tactic was a no-no for novelists.
I told him I didn't see any reason a main character couldn't be introduced in the middle of a novel, or even later, as long as the person entered the story naturally--where he or she belonged--and wasn't just thrown into the narrative for no logical reason.
Me? I introduced a semi-major character in the middle of The Disappearance. But that's when she needed to enter the action.
Remember: There are no "rules" for novelists other than to Write! Write! Write!
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Easy reading - December 6, 2013
On Monday evening, December 9th, I'm giving a lecture on the creative writing process to members of the Westchester (NY) Reading Council. (See Happenings)
One topic that interests this association is reading material for ELL--English Language Learners. I've written reading comprehension test passages for children (K-12) who are first learning English. I guess this can be considered creative writing (if you think any 50-word story on a 1st grade reading level can truly be creative).
But then there's my first novel, DUST. One reader recommended the book for the adult ELL population because it has the necessary ingredients: It's an easy read (perhaps 4th grade level); it has an exciting plot; and it's quite short.
In addition to being a suitable choice for adults learning English, DUST is a great read for teens and adults of all ages. Give it a try!
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Counting words - December 1, 2013
"Is 50,000-60,000 words too short for a fantasy novel?"
The above question, posted this week on a Facebook writers' group, generated many responses. Several authors said the number of words in a novel isn't important and a novelist should use whatever words he or she needs to tell a story well. I agree. Other authors commented that, in this digital age, word count is no longer important. That's true too. You can't tell the thickness of a book when you read it on your Kindle.
Check the word count variation in my novels:
DUST - 41,000
Peachwood Lake - 59,000
The Disappearance - 80,000
Corsonia (not yet published) - 62,000
The Touchers (not yet completed) - 123,000 and counting
Some novels need many more words than others. Hopefully, they are all necessary words.
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Giving thanks - November 27, 2013
On this special day for giving thanks, as a novelist, I'd like to acknowledge the following groups of people:
* My family - for giving me the opportunity to write and for putting up with me. (Sometimes, when I'm working on a book, I can be a bit ornery.)
* My characters - for taking over the action in the novels, therefore making it possible for me to write/transcribe their stories. Yes, sometimes I don't like what a character says or does, but usually they get it right.
* My readers - for having enough faith in me to invest their valuable time and money in my novels. Thank you so much for your support!
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!
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Dangerous fish story - November 23, 2013
Because I've written Peachwood Lake, a fictional tale about an evil fish, when friends hear of dangerous fish, they often send me the details. Here's the latest scoop: A Eurasian fish, the grass carp, has invaded New York's Lake Erie. No, it's not a monstrous killer like my mythical armored fish. But it's more dangerous because it's real.
The co-authors (a scientist and a biology professor) of this New York Times Op-Ed article, "Beware Marauding Carp," call grass carp "underwater lawn mowers." These large fish (nearly five-feet long and 100 pounds) have been stocked in waterways across the world to eat weeds. But, unfortunately, the fish don't always stay where they're supposed to.
The authors fear the carp will eventually swim east and invade the Hudson River. To prevent this ecological disaster, they suggest building some type of barricade along the Erie Canal.
It's a scary concept--a carp that will eat its way through New York waters. As I wrote in the Afterward of Peachwood Lake, in nature, truth is often stranger than fiction.
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Hamster wheel problem - November 19, 2013
I've reread about two-thirds of The Touchers, Part Two, and I'm not happy with the manuscript. I can deal with the errors and even the dangling plot threads, but this is supposed to be a doomsday thriller and, frankly, there aren't enough thrills. Moreover, much of the action is repetitive. These characters may be dictating their stories, but they're behaving like hamsters--spinning around a wheel and going nowhere.
I know first drafts can be bad and all my books need lots of editing, but this one is really disappointing. It's going to take a tremendous amount of work to turn it into an exciting story. So here's my plan: I'll finish rereading these 13 chapters, write the rest of the manuscript, and then begin the revising process. Wish me luck!
Update: The muse hit late last night so now I have several ideas of how I can inject thrills into this thriller. After I finish rereading, I'm going to make these revisions before completing the first draft.
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Repetition - November 15, 2013
I'm still rereading the first 13 chapters of my end-of-the-world novel,The Touchers, Part Two, and I've noticed a disturbing trend. In at least two places, a character behaves in a way that's nearly identical to the behavior of a character in another of my books (Peachwood Lake). One case involves telling a lie; the other involves hiding from someone.
The repetition is somewhat understandable since the characters in both cases are teen girls. But still, I'd hate to think I'm out of original ideas and have to resort to rehashing plot points. It's also disturbing that I didn't realize the similarities as I was writing the narrative. But since I basically transcribe my characters' stories, maybe my role in the repetition can be excused. It's my characters' fault!
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Backtracking - November 11, 2013
I've procrastinated long enough, but I'm finally rereading the 43,000 words of the second part of my doomsday novel, The Touchers. Although I prefer moving ahead--editing the scene I've written the previous day and then creating a new scene--it's gotten to the point where I've forgotten some details in the early chapters, which is why I'm now rereading the first draft of Part Two.
I read the first chapter this afternoon and while it was pretty good, I found lots of little problems: two minor characters with the same name, a discrepancy in the number of people, a vehicle mistake. These are all things I can, and will, correct. But I want to be aware of the issues before I continue to write this novel, which I hope to eventually finish. The conclusion's not in sight and it's already over 100,000 words.
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That confusing apostrophe - November 7, 2013
With the approach of Veterans Day, I intended to put on my Andy Rooney hat to rant about the common misuse of the possessive apostrophe. However, I just learned that I was misspelling the holiday! According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' website, "Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe but does include an 's' at the end of 'veterans' because it is not a day that 'belongs' to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans."
And for years I've been mistakenly chiding advertisers for omitting the apostrophe after the "s" in "Veterans." But that doesn't excuse major companies that insert an apostrophe before the "s" to promote "Veteran's Day." Type "Veterans Day Sales" on Google and you'll find major retailers like Macy's and Amazon listing specials for "Veteran's Day."
So now I know Veterans Day has no apostrophe. But just wait until Presidents' Day. That's still a holiday loaded with possessive apostrophe misuse!
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Multi-writing - November 3, 2013
"Do any of you writers work on more than one project at a time...starting two books at the same time that are in different genres and at totally opposite ends of the spectrum?"
That thought-provoking question was posted this week on one of my Facebook writers' groups and the answers were equally intriguing. Many authors said they often wrote two books at a time--even three, four, and more.
Did they get the projects confused? the questioner asked.
The respondents said they didn't get confused because the books were in such completely different genres--e.g. humor/erotica, romance/paranormal fantasy.
One author said he liked working on multiple books because when he got "stuck" on one plot, he could switch to another and always keep writing. Another mentioned that he wrote SIX books at a time--nearly 10,000 words a day--but his books hadn't been published.
Me? I was amazed by the replies. I find it difficult enough to write one book at a time and produce my 200-500 words a day. Sure I have other ideas in my head. But I can't imagine writing more than one novel at a time--in any genres.
Here are the two responses that I identify with: One author said she did writing and editing simultaneously--"helps me to put on a different hat when I want to!" (I try to do the same.) I also agree with the writer who said he had two works in progress for the first time--a contemporary mystery and a future dystopia (like The Touchers, my work in progress). "It does feel strange," he wrote. "And a little wrong."
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Toddler tales - October 29, 2013
I read an interesting page one story in last Sunday's New York Times called, "A Library of Classics, Edited for the Teething Set." It seems new board books--those sturdy cardboard readers for infants and toddlers--feature famous works of literature. That's right, little kids can now "read" (or chew) classics like Moby Dick, Sense and Sensibility, and Romeo and Juliet.
Of course, the plots have been greatly simplified. According to the article, one board book publisher uses the stories "as a springboard to explain counting, colors or the concept of opposites."
Still, I think it's a positive development. In this era of digital books, it's wonderful that parents and grandparents continue to buy paper books for their kids and grandkids. Also, classic tales like these will stimulate young children's imaginations. It's never too early to discover a great story!
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Casting the movie versions - October 25, 2013
Most novelists imagine their books as movies--I know I do--and many readers have said my novels would make great films. This week, a member of one of my Facebook writers' groups asked the following question: "Who would you cast in the lead roles in a movie based on the book you're working on now?"
It's a question I've thought about many times, especially with my novels, DUST, and Peachwood Lake, because when I write, I visualize the story as it evolves, with the characters acting out their parts for me as if they were performing in a movie or play. (The photos on the cover of my third novel, The Disappearance, make it harder to use your imagination to cast other actors in the movie version.)
Shortly after DUST was published, I discovered a site called www.storycasting.com, that's taken the idea of movie casting to the next level. It's compiled a large listing of books and encourages readers to choose the actors and actresses they want to play the characters. Check it out! You can cast movie roles for DUST, or for Peachwood Lake--or for many other novels.
Now all I need is the movie producer!
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Adding suspense - October 21, 2013
A few days ago, I thought I had finished writing Chapter 11 in my end-of-the-world novel, The Touchers, Part Two. But before I create a new scene, I always review the previous day's work. When I reread the last scene of Chapter 11, I realized it was flat. The scene lacked conflict; the characters weren't in enough danger.
So here's what I did: I rewrote the final scene of the chapter, inserting more drama. That change necessitated additional scenes to resolve the dangerous situation. As a result, I haven't finished writing Chapter 11 yet. But I've definitely improved the story.
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Importance of reading - October 17, 2013
This week, I heard two disturbing facts about reading: On the radio, a reporter said purchases of novels was down 30%. Then a friend mentioned that 50% of Americans haven't read a book in two years. Wow!
When I decided to write about the sad state of reading--especially fiction--and checked the Internet, I couldn't find references to the dismal statistics. However, I did find a lecture given by British author Neil Gaiman earlier this week that covered this subject much better than I ever could. It's a long article, but well worth your time.
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Sequel suggestion - October 13, 2013
A few days ago, a reader gave my time travel thriller, The Disappearance, a rave review on Facebook. "I love, love, loved it!" the woman wrote. But then she asked a question I hadn't considered: "I am very interested in the very last sentence though...are you leaving it open for a sequel?"
Until recently, my philosophy with my novels has been that when I write "The End," the story is really over, meaning I am finished with the characters and their problems. They exit the stage (i.e. book), never to be heard from again.
But now I'm not so sure. I thought I had finished writing the first draft of my doomsday novel, The Touchers, after 80,000 words. But my characters complained that their story wasn't over and demanded more so I'm currently writing Part Two of that book. It's not a sequel, but it is 40,000 additional words and counting.
So maybe there's a chance that the cast of The Disappearance will lobby for additional page time too. Hey, you never know!
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Memory lane - October 9, 2013
Once upon a time, before I became a novelist, I was a non-fiction writer. In Yorktown (NY), where I live, I worked as a freelance newspaper reporter (stringer) for the local weekly and full-time for twenty years as a promotion manager for a large chain of shopping publications. Most of the things I wrote were non-fiction--reports of town meetings, interviews with advertisers, press releases--but I also had the opportunity to develop many creative contests, which I loved.
I'm mentioning this now because I've been invited to appear on a cable TV show next week to discuss the modern history of Yorktown (1950-2000), hosted by the town's former planner. To refresh my memory, I pulled out my many scrapbooks.
I remembered most of my contests and some of my stories. However, a number of the newspaper articles, written from 1979 through 1981, didn't resonate at all. It's a long time ago! I just hope I can recollect enough interesting material to talk about on TV.
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Naming names (con't) – October 5, 2013
The aspiring author mentioned in the October 1 post had a second question about names: "Should I use real town names in a science fiction story?" she asked.
You can, but I don't. I make up names for the settings of my books because I don't want to be locked into factual details. But I locate the towns in the real world so my paranormal stories can seem plausible. If I wrote sci-fi novels that were set in other planets or universes, all the details could be imaginary.
For the setting of DUST, I created a "Haven" name, figuring it would sound realistic because Connecticut already has so many—New Haven, East Haven, West Haven, and North Haven—and came up with Rock Haven, a condo community terrorized by an evil swirl of colorful dust.
For Peachwood Lake, also set in Connecticut, I wanted a tranquil name that would contrast with the deadly violence that occurs in the water. I chose "Peachwood" because there's no U.S. lake with that serene-sounding name.
The Disappearance takes place in upper Westchester County, north of New York City. Here too, I wanted a quiet-sounding name and, since there's a Northvale in nearby New Jersey, I called my suburban town Southvale. It's a community with only one unusual feature: a time-travel portal.
Corsonia, my fourth novel (not yet published) is the mythical name of a very strange town in the remote hills of northeastern Nevada discovered by two New York teen girls on a cross-country vacation. The theme of the book is mind control.
In my opinion, creating imaginary places gives me much more freedom to tell my stories than using real names. But the choice is up to the writer.
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Naming names - October 1, 2013
Occasionally, I get questions from aspiring writers and, a few days ago, a young woman told me she was writing a story based on "true events" and asked if it was okay to only change her characters' last names.
I suggested she change both the first and last names. Why take a chance and risk a problem? By altering both names, you eliminate difficulties people you know may have with their resemblance to your fictional characters. All characters in fiction are composites of real people. But you don't want the likeness to friends, relatives--and enemies--to be so obvious that it leads to litigation.
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Location, location, location! - September 27, 2013
At large book signing events, location really matters. I've written about the positive power of location before. (See September 12, 2010 blog) However, last Sunday at the Brooklyn (NY) Book Festival, I experienced the negative power of location.
Like last year, I signed copies of my novels at Demarche Publishing's booth. But, in 2012, the booth was at the front of the main entrance to the Festival. Visitors saw my books as soon as they arrived and, because of the prime location, thought I was a super important writer.
This year, however, Demarche's booth was on the outside perimeter of the Festival, on the sidewalk adjoining the street. There weren't even any booths opposite to create a narrow walkway. As a result, many of the people who strolled past weren't visiting the Festival. They were just passersby, like the man carrying a tennis racket and the woman toting a musical instrument.
Our line of booths looked like we were a group of unimportant fringe authors. We all experienced fewer visitors, resulting in fewer sales. Location, location, location!
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School book - September 23, 2013
At Fieldhome's Fall Festival in Cortlandt Manor, NY on Saturday, a woman pointed to the cover of DUST on my poster and exclaimed, "I know DUST! It's my niece's favorite book!" She told me 12-year-old Jamie had borrowed DUST from the local library and then purchased the novel because she loved it so much. Then, over the summer, Jamie had written a school book report on DUST. The woman was excited to meet me and purchased Peachwood Lake and The Disappearance as gifts for her niece.
It's always wonderful to hear stories like this since, of course, all authors want to be told that readers love their work. In this case, it also reminded me that DUST, a great read for teens as well adults, is an excellent choice for a school book report: The novel is fast-paced, easy reading, and short--with a surprise ending. So if you know a teen who needs to write a book report, consider using DUST.
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When the muse hits - September 19, 2013
I'm always amazed at the way the creative process works--how one moment I have no idea about what I'm going to write and then, voila!, I'm at my desk, the characters are talking to each other, and I'm simply transcribing the action.
This morning was a bit different. I was going to start Chapter 10 in my doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part Two, and, like usual, I didn't know where the chapter was headed. I took a shower before writing and that's when the muse hit. By the time I got dressed, I knew what was going to happen in the first scene. The rest was easy; I sat at the computer and the scene flowed smoothly, practically writing itself.
It doesn't matter how many times this creative magic happens: It's always a wonderful surprise!
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Editing thoughts - September 15, 2013
I'm editing another author's work (my husband's humorous memoir) and, although it's not a novel, it's still a form of creative writing. The memoir is very good, but I'm finding some of the writing too contrived in an attempt to be clever. As I crossed out the unnecessary words, I was reminded again of the late Elmore Leonard who understood this problem perfectly when he said: "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it."
The aim of every writer should be to make words flow so smoothly that the reader forgets about you and concentrates on the text. You don't want the reader to see a grandiose phrase and think, "Wow! That author must have spent a lot of time thinking up those fancy words!" Of course, you want to be clever--but in a subtle way that doesn't distract from the writing.
It's not easy for a writer to achieve that delicate balance, but it's a goal worth striving for.
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First-person or third-person - September 10, 2013
A Facebook writers' group I belong to just had a discussion about point of view, asking which was preferable for a novel: first-person (told by a character in the book) or third-person (narrated by a character who doesn't appear in the book).
Several authors wrote that they prefer third-person because it's accepted by more readers. Apparently, some readers won't even consider a book written in the first-person, which is news to me. I'll read any novel that seems interesting, regardless of point of view.
One writer said he uses third-person because you can't show action that occurs elsewhere with a first-person narrator, which is true. In a first-person novel, the character telling the story has to be involved in every aspect--and can't die.
But most of the commentators felt the way I do: The point of view depends on the story. My first four novels (DUST, Peachwood Lake, The Disappearance, and Corsonia) are told in the third-person by an unseen narrator. However, The Touchers, the doomsday novel I'm writing now is told in the first-person by Erin, a teenage girl, because the point of view works better. It's a young adult novel so I was glad to read in the discussion that first-person is popular with YA readers--even though that's not the reason I chose the point of view.
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Supernaturally speaking - September 6, 2013
I write thrillers with a touch of the supernatural. My three novels are set in the real world and are believable except for one supernatural element. In DUST, it's the evil and colorful swirl of dust; in Peachwood Lake, it's the wicked jumping fish; and in The Disappearance it's the ability to time travel.
My new creative contest is based on this supernatural theme. You just have to finish the sentence: Reading a supernatural thriller is like... Enter the contest and you could win a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble or a signed copy of one of my books. Check it out!
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Writing regimen - September 2, 2013
This morning, I really didn't want to write. I'd slept poorly and felt tired, grumpy, and unmotivated. So what did I do? I wrote. I sat in front of my computer and finished a scene in my doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part 2.
The scene I created might not be very good. But at least it's written. As an author in my "Writing Quotes" board on Pinterest put it: "The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you did not write."
My approach to writing is to treat it like a job--something I have to do every day. So even on days like today when I don't want to write, I force myself to do my job. I'm a writer; I write.
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Remembering Elmore Leonard - August 29, 2013
Best-selling crime novelist Elmore Leonard died last week. He was 87, and continued to write (with a pen) until the end of his life. In fact, Leonard's son may finish his father's final novel, #46.
Leonard was known for his realistic dialogue. His most important rule was: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
And my memory of him relates to dialogue. It came in 2009, soon after the publication of my first novel, DUST. When I became a novelist, I was amazed that, when I sat at my computer to write, I usually didn't know what would happen next. But my characters took over the action and spoke their own dialogue, which I then transcribed. I called the experience "Characters in Charge" and thought it was unique. Then I read a magazine article called "Making It Up as I Go Along" by Leonard, in which he expressed the same writing philosophy: He makes it up as he goes along--and his characters tell him what comes next.
That article validated my writing method and made me feel I was a real novelist. If my characters were doing what Elmore Leonard's were, I had to be doing something right! So thank you, Mr. Leonard. Rest in peace.
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Details: a delicate balance - August 25, 2013
I just got another 5-star review on Amazon for The Disappearance. (Yes, it's from a former co-worker. But she is honest and wouldn't rave about the novel unless she truly loved it.)
In her review, Barbara compliments me for not being too wordy: "She never wanders away from the story line with unimportant side trips into too many details..."
It's a delicate balance for a novelist. How many details should you include? I want to give readers a clear picture of the characters, the setting, and the situation. But I certainly don't want to bore them with "unimportant side trips."
My solution? I write the way I like to read--that means telling the story without adding lots of fluff and focusing on what I want the reader to focus on: the action.
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Favorite characters – August 20, 2013
I'm being interviewed on another author's blog next month and I just reviewed the list of questions. One asks for a favorite character that I've created.
In fact, I have two: Monique in Peachwood Lake and Cheri in The Disappearance. They're both likeable young woman who support my protagonists.
Monique Atchison is a sassy African-American reporter for a trashy newspaper called Weird World Weekly. She provides female counseling for Kady, the lonely—and motherless—13-year-old main character. Monique is smart, hip, and fun—everything Kady wants to be.
Cheri Orchid (nee Anna Maria Buonoverduccio) is an exotic dancer, a "bad" girl with a kind heart who befriends Jillian, the naive heroine. Cheri takes a genuine interest in Jillian's situation (her missing boyfriend has framed her for his murder) and is glad to help when needed.
I love writing about most of my good-guy characters and find it much harder to get into the heads of the villains, especially the psychopathic ones. Monique and Cheri were such wonderful characters that it was great fun working with them!
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Buying friends - August 16, 2013
We all want people to like us and, as a writer, I'm especially interested in having lots of "friends" in social websites like Facebook and Pinterest. Of course, I'm hoping folks who like me might like my novels and maybe some of them will eventually read the books. But I've never considered buying friends.
Today, on one of the Facebook reader/writer groups I belong to, someone posted that he was selling "cheap but permanent likes" for authors on Facebook. And his business wasn't just limited to Facebook; he offered hits for YouTube and followers for Twitter too.
Yes, I realize there are zillions of books and authors and the competition to attract readers is tough. That's why advertising and promoting books and asking people to "like" a page or be a "friend" is necessary. But purchasing "likes"? That just doesn't seem right to me. What do you think?
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Strange starling murmurations – August 12, 2013
As you probably know, I write novels about strange phenomena in nature. DUST is based on mini-tornados called dust devils that arise on calm clear days and can harm people and property. (See Real "Dust" Events.) My evil fish in Peachwood Lake is based on gulf sturgeons, big bony fish that jump high out of Florida's Suwannee River each summer and sometimes injure boaters. Scientists have no explanation for this strange fish behavior. (For more information, click here.)
Because of my interest in these weird events, a friend just emailed me another mystery of nature, this one involving starlings. "Concept for another supernatural book?" she asked.
I don't know about a novel, but the story is fascinating: Each fall, thousands of starlings gather in the twilight above England and Scotland. These flocks of starlings (called murmurations) dance together in shape-shifting formations that require intricate movements. And scientists don't know how the birds can perform these feats, crediting it to "swarm intelligence." Here's the link to a video of this amazing aerial display.
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Research ruminations - August 8, 2013
For some strange reason, my novels tend to involve technical topics that I'm not at all familiar with or interested in. I've researched everything from fire hydrants and electricity to prehistoric fish and toilet cars in gold mines. And now, for the second time, I'm writing about airplanes. I don't even enjoy traveling on planes (I prefer ships) much less learning how these flying machines work.
Maybe my subconscious wants to improve my knowledge of these subjects even though my conscious self thinks they're boring. In any case, my characters require an understanding of airplanes so I have to do the research. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. Phooey!
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Reviewing books - August 4, 2013
I've just joined Goodreads, the book reviewing site several friends have urged me to try. I'm not sure what I'll do there as an author, in terms of my own novels. However, as a reader, I'll be like everyone else: reviewing books.
Currently, I'm in the middle of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a novel recommended by a friend. It's a fanciful, well-written, quirky tale about magicians at the beginning of the 19th century. It also has a supernatural element, which I, of course, love.
But I've got a major gripe with the way the book is organized. When I read, I like to focus on the story and not be distracted. Unfortunately, this novel jumps back and forth in years from chapter to chapter so I'm constantly checking to see when the events are happening. It's ruining my concentration, which is a shame because the story is creative, charming, and captivating--but the date switching makes the novel unnecessarily confusing.
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Weird web page – July 30, 2013
A funny thing happened Sunday night. I had returned from a book signing event and wanted to post photos on my website. But when I opened my "Happenings" page, I saw nothing, just a blank page. My 165 pages of photos and information had mysteriously disappeared.
I was upset of course—and would have been even more upset if this was the first time the page had vanished. But the same page disappeared about five weeks ago.
I contacted my website's tech department and they didn't understand what happened. One support guy even said it was "weird."
"Weird?" I asked. "I write weird books, but I don't want a weird web page. I wrote a book called The Disappearance, but I don't want a web page that disappears."
The web support folks think the problem might be the outdated control panel I use for my website. But I hate the newer one because it's not user-friendly, especially with photos. Also, it doesn't allow me to underline. In any case, the tech people are just guessing; they admit they don't really know what's making the page vanish.
But they did restore my Happenings page so you can again see the photos and newspaper clippings, including new pictures from Cortlandt's 225th Anniversary Celebration. Take a look by clicking here. (You don't even have to check all 165 pages!)
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Summer Splash Blog Hop (con't) - July 25, 2013
As I explained in the previous post, "Summer Splash Blog Hop" is a special 4-day contest, running from July 26 - July 29. It's a group contest, featuring 50 independent authors.
If you enter my contest, you can win an autographed copy of one of my thrillers: DUST, Peachwood Lake, or The Disappearance. You choose the novel.
To enter, go to my Contact page, leave your name and email address, and a sentence explaining why you'd like to win the book. One winner will be chosen in a random drawing from all entries received by midnight (EST), Monday July 29. The winner will be notified by email.
After you enter my little contest, go to http://splashhop.blogspot.com/ and enter all the other authors' contests to be eligible to win one of the grand prizes: a Kindle Fire HD 8.9", a $100 Amazon gift card, or a $50 Amazon gift card. You could also win signed books and other great stuff!
So have fun--and, starting midnight tonight, get hopping!
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Summer Splash Blog Hop – July 22, 2013
I love contests. That's why I have a "Contest" page on this website, featuring creative contests. In fact, I have a fun contest that ends on August 16. Check it out!
I can't afford to offer fabulous prizes in my little contests. But, from July 26 – July 29, I'm participating in a contest with a group of independent authors from Facebook. It's called the "Summer Splash Blog Hop" and I'll be giving away an autographed copy of one of my novels. However, by "hopping" to other websites, you'll be able to win big prizes: a Kindle Fire HD 8.9, a $100 Amazon gift card, and a $50 Amazon gift card—plus prizes offered by the other participating authors. Here's the logo for the upcoming contest:
This will be an easy contest to enter. Look for the details here, and on my Contest page, just before Friday, July 26.
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A time to write – July 18, 2013
When it comes to writing, I'm a creature of habit. I like to do my creative work in mid morning, before I have breakfast. That's when I lock myself in the den, remove the wall phone from the room, tell my family to leave me alone, hang my "Please do not disturb" sign on the doorknob, and write a scene in my novel. This routine lasts about an hour, and includes editing the previous day's scene, but it's a pretty intense sixty minutes.
Yesterday, however, was different. Life got in the way and I wasn't able to write at my preferred ten o'clock time. But I had a chance to work later in the morning, after breakfast. Would I be able to "create" then?
Taking advantage of an empty house, I tried writing at this odd time and voila! The muse still hit; I was able to create my scene. For the future, it's encouraging to know that I can write a first draft at other times. But I still prefer writing at 10 am!
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Location! Location! Location! – July 14, 2013
Last week, I had a book signing with another author at a local restaurant. The set-up was lovely; we had two tables and lots of space to display our books. The staff was wonderful and very accommodating. Only one thing was wrong: the location.
The restaurant was a grill/bar and the majority of the dinner traffic was in the main room. Unfortunately, we were in the back room where few people were seated. To many, we must have looked like we were hosting a private party.
My fellow author and I peeked at all the customers seated at the booths in the main room and wondered what we could do to attract them. But we couldn't do anything. Those people were eating dinner and we couldn't very well interrupt their meals to tout our book signing.
In the end, both of us did sign a few books. But the event would have been much more successful if our table had been in the main room. Location—it's so important!
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Dream muse – July 10, 2013
Like most people, I don't remember many of my dreams. Sometimes, however, the dream is so vivid that it plays like a movie in my mind. A couple of nights ago, I had one of those memorable dreams.
This one was more like a nightmare, really gory. I was vacationing in a tropical place with a mentally disturbed (maybe autistic) older teen boy, who I seemed to be taking care of. Then, for some reason, the boy ran away, leaving a note for me that said the vacation had been the best time of his life. I started searching for him and wound up in Texas. That's where the murders started.
Now I have nothing against Texas. In fact, I really liked the state when I visited it many years ago. But in this dream, Texas was a violent place. People were being recruited to have guns implanted in their mouths so that they could shoot directly from their bodies—and "handlers" were alongside these human weapons pulling the triggers.
I was in a park, looking for the runaway teen, when one of these gun-people started shooting at me. Another time, I was in a store and a human-gun just missed me, but I escaped by pretending to be dead. I met a woman I knew who was going to have a gun implant because she needed the money. When her handler told her to shoot me, she refused. But she warned me that the next time we met, she would have to kill me. And then I found the boy I was looking for—and he had a gun implanted in his mouth. That's when I woke up.
Pretty gory and graphic for a dream. But we can't control our night visions and, since I'm a writer, maybe I can use this dream in a horror novel.
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My close-up – July 6, 2013
Last night, I finally got to watch myself on TV. It's not that I haven't seen my two recently televised interviews. I've watched both on DVD and on YouTube. But last night I saw an actual broadcast of the latest show on TV. Okay, it was a local public access cable station, probably only seen by me, my family, and maybe five other people. But there I was—up on the TV screen for thirty minutes.
It was a funny feeling. First of all, I sound different than I think I sound. It's like when you hear yourself on a phone message and wonder it that's really your voice. I thought I looked a bit weird too, maybe because when I talked to the host, I was told to look at him, so viewers only saw the right side of my face. (I hope that was my best side!)
My overall performance? I answered all the questions without babbling like a fool and I think I did a pretty good job discussing my novels and the writing process. I hope to have the broadcast on my website and on YouTube soon so others can let me know what they think.
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The good and the not-so-good – July 2, 2013
Yesterday, I wrote a scene in my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two) that I really liked. It featured a clever dialogue between my two main characters, which I thought was quite good for a first attempt.
Today, however, I wrote a scene that I didn't like very much. It was supposed to be exciting, but it felt kind of flat and listless. I'm not upset though because at least I wrote the scene. To me, the important thing with a first draft—and with any kind of creative writing—is to get down the words. You can always revise them—and I do a lot of editing. Hopefully, I can make the flat scene come alive.
The following quote, taken from my Pinterest "Writing Quotes" board, describes my philosophy:
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Those novel ideas – June 29, 2013
Non-writers are always curious about how novelists get their ideas. When I was interviewed on TV earlier this month, host George Ondek asked me that familiar question. After explaining how newspaper articles inspired both DUST and Peachwood Lake, I told him the ideas for my next three novels—time travel, mind control, and end-of-the-world—came directly from my mind.
And I've got many more ideas. Ask novelists about their ideas and most will tell you they've got oodles of them spinning around their heads. Finding ideas isn't the problem; the problem is deciding which of the ideas to develop into a book. Some authors have told me they've started to write a novel, but then had to stop when another idea kept pushing through and interfered with their work. Some unlucky writers complain they can never complete anything because they have too many ideas dueling in their brains.
I'm one of the lucky ones. Once I start writing a book, I can keep the other ideas out of my mind and just concentrate on the story I'm working on.
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Dealing with details – June 25, 2013
I'm moving forward again, striving to write a scene every morning in my end-of-the world novel, The Touchers (part two). My objective is to finish the first draft and then work on fleshing out the story, characters, details—everything needed for a "finished" book.
That's why, right now, I'm not concerned with small details, especially the ones that require a great deal of thought. Here's an example of what I mean: I've got a lot of action happening in the streets. However, I don't want to stop writing to name all these roads. I'd rather concentrate on the plot and leave blanks for the street names. Then, when this draft is finished, I'll draw a street map and identify all the nameless roads.
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Technology, the good and the bad - June 21, 2013
I have a love/hate relationship with technology (actually, it's probably more hate/love). I really hate when things go wrong with machines (i.e. computers), but I love the opportunities that the machines (i.e. computers & TVs) provide.
Originally, I had planned to blog about my TV experience Wednesday night. I was a guest on George Ondek's cable show, which is broadcast on Cablevision in Yorktown and Peekskill, NY. (I don't know the air times for Yorktown yet; for the Peekskill schedule, click here.) In brief, I had a wonderful time discussing my novels, fiction writing--and even sports--with George. Yesterday, I posted a couple of photos taken before the taping on my "Happenings" page. That's when the bad occurred.
My "Happenings" page vanished. Not the title and the banner--just the entire contents of the page. And this was one huge web "page." In fact, it translates to 165 print pages of photos, newspaper and magazine articles--even radio shows. So you can see why this was so scary to me.
I immediately called my website support staff and the tech guy was stymied as to why the page had disappeared. But he contacted the engineering department, they did a "system restore," and everything on the "Happenings" page came back except the information and photos I had added yesterday about the TV show taping.
What a relief! Adding two photos is a lot easier than redoing 165 pages!
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Backtracking completed – June 16, 2013
I did what I had to do. I went back to the end of Chapter 6 of my doomsday novel, The Touchers (part two), and made the necessary changes, adding another attacker to an ambush in the next to last scene. Although it wasn't very difficult to do, I didn't like doing it. When I write a first draft, I much prefer to keep moving forward.
Of course, as I write, I realize many problems that have to be addressed. However, each time I think of a change, instead of stopping to make the revision, I write myself a short message. For example, here are a couple of my notes for this novel: "Change Ellen's name (too similar to Erin)" and "Review Major Figueroa's background during the ride on page 4."
After I finish writing this first draft, I will dutifully review every item on my list and either make the change or, if I decide the suggestion is unnecessary, cross it off. But, right now, I'm not looking at that list. I'm forging ahead. Tomorrow, I'll write a new scene in Chapter 7.
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Backtracking again – June 12, 2013
If you read this blog, you know I love the creative part of my work—the writing part— especially writing the first draft of a novel when I don't know much of what's going to happen in the story. Like the reader, I have to wait till my characters take over the action and show me. It's so much fun that I hate to stop moving forward and rewrite earlier chapters.
However, I'm going to have to go back now. When I started writing Chapter 7 of my doomsday novel, The Touchers, part two, I realized I had a problem at the end of Chapter 6. I didn't address an important feature of the creatures that are terrorizing—and killing—humanity, and I've got to rework some of the scenes to rectify the situation.
Then I'll be able to forge ahead and concentrate on the fun part of my writing.
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Writing vs. writing – June 8, 2013
This morning, I wrote a scene in my doomsday novel, The Touchers (part two). That's hardly a news bulletin since I aim to write a scene every morning. However, life sometimes gets in the way of my writing routine.
I'm still in the middle of a freelance writing project, with another set of reading comprehension passages for standardized tests due Monday. Since that's a paying job—with a deadline—it takes precedence over my everyday "job" as a novelist. Nevertheless, I believe any kind of writing is a positive thing—and I am still doing creative writing.
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TV travails - June 4, 2013
Last month's TV interview is finally up on the website. It took a long time, many steps, and I wasn't able to do it myself. Here's what happened:
First I tried to transfer the DVD onto my computer and send the digital pieces--via a bulk email service--to the tech folks who do my website. But that didn't work. Then I tried to burn a copy of the DVD so I could send it by mail. But I wasn't able to do that either. (As you can see, I'm not great with technology.) A sweet relative offered to make copies for me and I snail-mailed (an apt description!) the DVD from New York to the state of Washington. The post office clerk said the package would reach Washington in 3 days. However, it took 10 days.
Now a very helpful tech lady has installed the 28-minute video on this site. I hope you enjoy watching it. To see my TV appearance on "Let's Talk Writing," please click here.
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Event angst – May 31, 2013
I love book-signing events. They give me the opportunity to meet potential readers, talk about my novels—always a favorite subject—and, hopefully, sell a few books.
Tomorrow, I've got one of my favorite events. It's called Yorktown Community Day and it's a fun celebration in my town, with the vendors' fees supporting local youth programs. The only thing I don't like about the day is that it's held outdoors.
Outside events are always dicey because of two weather elements: rain and wind. Books don't do well in rain. Another author and I recently considered investing in a tent, but we decided that water could still pour in through the sides during a thunderstorm and even a little moisture would damage our precious books. So I keep my fingers crossed that it won't rain—and if it does, I back out of the event and lose any fee.
Then there's the wind. I always display a large poster of my books at my table, but I wage a continuous battle with wind gusts that develop regularly at these outdoor events and knock down my poster. This year, I'm trying to secure the poster with a bungee cord. We'll see if that works.
BTW, tomorrow's forecast is for 90-degree weather and no rain. I may burn, but at least my books should be safe.
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A new DUST audience? – May 27, 2013
Even though the protagonist of DUST, Karen McKay, is a 35-year-old librarian, I've always thought the novel was perfect for teens (as well as adults) for several reasons: The story is fast-paced and fun, the book—and chapters—are short, and the writing is easy to follow.
Recently, however, a DUST reader suggested another audience for the novel—one I'd never considered: adults learning English as a second language. "I think they'd enjoy a complex story with fairly easy language," she wrote in an email.
The idea makes sense. Now I've got to find out how to get the novel into classes where adults take English lessons. Another marketing challenge!
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Criminal minds - May 23, 2012
I really love doing book signings in bookstores (which in my community means Barnes & Noble, since it's the only remaining bookstore). However, there is a problem with this event.
Participating local authors supply their own books for Barnes & Noble book signings. We give the customer one of our books, inscribe it for him or her, and then trust the customer to take the book to the checkout line and pay for it. However, that doesn't always happen.
When DUST was published, my first book-signing event was at Barnes & Noble. I read suggestions on what to do and one author suggested letting customers walk around the store with a copy of your book. "It makes the customer feel attached to the book," the author advised. So I tried that tactic. But customers felt too attached to DUST: Two people who bonded with the novel simply walked out of the store with their "free" copies. That was the last time I tried the let-the-customer-hold-the-book approach.
But that doesn't stop all theft. In last week's event, a woman came to my table and picked up a copy of Peachwood Lake. When I asked whom she wanted the novel dedicated to, she said, "Just sign your name." Then I asked if I could photograph her with the book. "No," she said abruptly and quickly walked away. Now I know why; she left the store without paying for the novel.
Think there's any chance she'll at least post a favorable review?
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Retail woes – May 19, 2013
I had a book signing at my local Barnes & Noble on Friday night. "How was it?" a friend asked. The answer: It was sad.
I've had book signings at this store before. But it's been more than a year since I've been there and things have changed—and not for the better. I was with six other local authors, we had interesting, attractive books covering many genres, and we were positioned right near the entrance. The problem? Not enough customers.
At first I thought it was the timing—Friday night from 7:00 to 9:00—and mentioned my theory to the very nice Community Relations Manager who organized the event.
"No," he said. "The store's like this all the time."
"Is it because of ebooks?" I asked. "People aren't buying as many paper books?"
"It's not just bookstores," he said. "It's all retail stores." He explained that stores today are primarily showrooms, places customers go to see a product, try it out—and then they use their phones or computers to order the product online at the best price. He said customers do this with shoes, electronics—nearly everything.
Friday night, there were few purchases of any books in the store, including the works of the local authors. The most activity by far was at the café. That makes sense; you still can't "try out" a cappuccino.
This situation makes me rather sad. I'm a big fan of retail stores (I was once a retailing reporter, covering men's stores) and hate to see them die out. But I don't have the cure.
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Multi-tasking – May 15, 2013
Right now, I'm juggling two creative writing projects: I'm in the middle of a freelance assignment (composing standardized test reading passages and questions for non-English speaking students) while also writing the second part of my doomsday novel, The Touchers.
It's not easy. I try to write a scene of the novel each morning and, today, I finally finished a long chapter. But I've also got to schedule time for the paying job: producing the reading comprehension passages. I try to work on those in the evenings. In the afternoons, I do marketing and other tasks related to my novels. I'd like to get back to editing my fourth novel—and editing my husband's humorous memoir—but things are just too hectic.
However, I am lucky in one respect—all my work involves writing.
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Location! Location! Location! - May 11, 2013
A successful book signing has two basic requirements: worthwhile products and a good location. I think I have good products (my books), but in the Mother's Day Marketplace event that I participated in today, the second necessary component--a good location--was missing.
Yes, there was lots of local publicity for the event and there were many signs. However, the signs (without arrows) were randomly scattered all over the large property so I--and many other vendors--spent thirty minutes driving around the complex, asking various people where the event was being held, until I finally found the site.
If vendors had this much trouble finding the location--how can an event like this draw visitors? They give up and leave; I know I would have. And that's exactly what happened. Very few people found their way to this Marketplace. What a shame!
On a more positive note, if you live in Putnam County, NY and have Comcast cable, I'll be on Channel 8 on "Let's Talk Writing" Monday night, May 13, from 7:30 - 8 pm. Host Vinny Dacquino and I talk about my novels and the creative writing process. I don't live in the viewing area so I won't be able to watch the telecast. If you can, let me know what you think of my TV appearance. (I'm still trying to put the show on the website.)
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Story starter - May 6, 2013
My writing philosophy is simple: Writers must write! I've been busy working on a freelance writing project (creating reading comprehension passages for standardized tests) so I haven't been working on my doomsday novel, The Touchers, as much as I'd like. But at least I'm still writing--and that's the important thing.
Even though I'm busy, I always find a few minutes to go on Facebook and today a storyteller friend posted "a fun exercise." He asked people to compose a good opening sentence for a story that includes the following four words: frog, rollerskates, boundless, and fertilizer.
Since I believe any kind of writing--especially creative writing--is valuable, I tried his challenging little exercise. Here's my story starter:
The malodorous stink of the fertilizer seemed boundless and only increased
when an intrepid frog hopped into the garden and over the garden fence,
nearly landing on me and my rollerskates.
Anyone else want to try this exercise? It was fun!
TV talk - May 2, 2013
Yesterday, for the first time, I was interviewed about my novels on television. I was a guest on "Let's Talk Writing," a weekly half-hour show broadcast Monday nights on Channel 8 in Putnam County, NY. The episode will air sometime in mid-May. In the meantime, I have a copy, which I'm attempting (with help) to post on the website.
In addition to discussing my books, host Vinny Dacquino and I talked about the creative writing process. Topics included when writers write, how characters can take control of a story, and when a novel is "finished."
Some quirky moments from yesterday: The glossy covers of the books in the background created a glare on camera so the books had to be carefully repositioned. Linda, the producer, thought I looked too small in my chair so she gave me a cushion--my very own booster seat! The microphone wire ran under my blouse and, when a crew member tried to wire the next guest (they film two shows), he realized the top foamy piece of the mike was still wedged in my clothing. "Happens all the time," Linda chuckled.
To see photos of my TV experience, click here.
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Inspiring writing quotes - April 28, 2013
I really enjoy finding "Writing Quotes" to post on my Pinterest board. The quotes express the way I feel about writing--but say it in clever, humorous, and in some cases, succinct ways. For instance, I found this little quote by an unknown author a few days ago and like it so much that I made it my Pinterest board "cover":
When asked, I always say there are no "rules" for writers. But the above quote is the exception. Writing is all about getting down the words. After that, everything else follows. For more inspirational writing quotes, please check my Pinterest board
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Writing perks – April 24, 2013
What's my favorite part of being a novelist? It's the writing process—the act of creating a story.
But the next best thing to writing a novel is talking about the creative process. I've spoken in schools and libraries and to clubs and organizations. Last fall, I even taught a 5-lesson fiction-writing course to seniors. I've also been interviewed about my work by newspaper, Internet, and magazine reporters as well as by a few radio hosts.
But now, I've been invited to appear on a local TV show called "Let's Talk Writing." This will be my TV debut—and I'm really looking forward to the experience. Bring on the cameras. I'm ready for my closeup!
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Editing vs. writing – April 20, 2013
I'm in the middle of re-reading the second part of The Touchers, my doomsday novel, in order to make necessary plot changes. So far, I've fixed one important issue—but others still remain.
When I compare editing to writing, I see two positives: I'm able to edit at any time—morning, noon, or night—for a few minutes or for hours. When I write, I have to work in the morning. Also, I don't need to sit at the computer to edit. I correct the hard copy, which allows me to work on the bed, the living room floor—any place where I'm comfortable. (Of course, when I'm done, I have to transfer my corrections onto the computer. But, for me, that's a good trade-off.)
All this editing flexibility helps—but I'd rather be back writing the first draft.
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Fix-it time – April 15, 2013
I've been procrastinating about needing to re-read part two of The Touchers, the novel I'm currently writing, because I've got plot problems that have to be corrected. I've resisted thus far because I love creating a first draft and dislike having to stop writing. This morning, however, I began sifting through the 16,000 words I had written in the second part of my novel to tackle the necessary repairs.
Editing is a slow and tedious process. I've only re-read 10 of the 60+ pages, but at least I've finally started. Now I want to finish making the changes because that's when I can go back to the fun part of my job—writing.
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Just write! – April 11, 2013
I attempt to write a scene of my novel, The Touchers, every day because I believe writing is a job and sticking to a routine is important. Most mornings, I lock myself in my den, turn on the computer, and write.
Currently, however, I've got a freelance writing project that sometimes interferes with my daily novel-writing time. And since I'm creating very simple test passages and questions for non-English readers, the work lacks the glamour of novel writing. However, it is writing and that's what matters. Any kind of writing—a note to a friend, an email—is better than not writing. It's still putting words and sentences together.
As William Golding wrote, "It is part of the job that there should be...some daily stuff on the level of carpentry." This quote and others on the subject are displayed on my "Writing Quotes" Pinterest board. Check them out! The quotes inspire me—and, if you're a wanna-be writer—maybe they'll give you a needed push.
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Memorable novels – April 6, 2013
On my Pinterest board titled "Favorite Novels," I post images of books I've read and really enjoyed. What makes those novels so special? They're memorable—meaning I can still remember the story and/or characters, years after reading the book. Usually, the novels are well written, although in a few cases the plots—or characters—are so intriguing that I can forgive the not-so-great prose.
While I've read a zillion novels, most of them are jumbled together in my brain so I couldn't tell you much about even the ones I remember truly liking. The books that stand out have that extra quality—and as a novelist, that's what I aspire to achieve with my own books.
Check out my favorite novels on Pinterest and see if you agree with my choices.
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Long and winding road – April 2, 2013
I'm currently writing my fifth novel, The Touchers, and it's been a lengthy process. As I've noted here, after about 80,000 words, I thought the book was finished. But it wasn't. So now I'm writing Part Two.
It's been moving along slowly—but at least it's been moving forward. Today, however, I realized an element of my plot is what Star Trek's Mr. Spock would call, "illogical." Now I have to go back and fix it.
To me, the best part of being a novelist is creating the book. I want to keep moving forward; I don't enjoy backtracking and having to make corrections, especially before completing my first draft. But I've found writing a novel to be a lot like the kids' game, we called Giant Steps. You take some steps forward and then take a few steps backwards. Eventually, though, you do reach the finish line.
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Creative contests – March 29, 2013
I've always loved creative contests. I've entered lots of them—even winning a few—and then, in my twenty years as promotion manager of a large chain of shopping magazines, I created many contests of my own.
When I became a novelist and set up a website, I knew I would include contests there too. My first contest simply asked for names and addresses and I picked a random winner and two runner-ups. I got lots of entries, but it was boring.
That's when I decided to do web contests my way—make them creative and fun. I get fewer entries because people have to think a little, but the experience is much more enjoyable for me. My latest contest, in honor of my time travel thriller, The Disappearance, is really easy: You just have to complete the sentence, "Time travel is _____________." If you'd like to enter, hurry up! The contest ends midnight Saturday, March 30.
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Book reorganization (con't) – March 25, 2013
In my last post, I wrote about having to consolidate the books in my home, starting with dumping my dinosaur-like 1973 set of encyclopedias into a storage box. Here's an update on the reorganization process:
I replaced the encyclopedias, which had occupied the bottom shelf of a large bookcase, with hardcover novels. Then I added a new row of paperback novels on top of the bookcase, making room for them by moving knickknacks to other shelves—and tossing an odd-looking woodcarving that must have been done by one of my kids 20+ years ago.
Next, I got my husband to sort through the mountains of hardcover, mostly health-related books he hadn't looked at in years, which had been piled under the worktable of our furnace room. The result? I've now got five messy stacks of books in the den. But there is a light at the end of this clutter-tunnel: The local library accepts book donations the first week of every month. Luckily, next week is already April!
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Book nostalgia – March 20, 2013
I'm a writer so it makes sense that I love books and own lots of them—not even counting copies of my novels. I'm also a packrat. Similarly, my husband is a reader, writer, and hoarder. As a result, we've got tons of books in our house. They fill many bookcases and have spilled into other rooms where they form numerous clunky piles. It's gotten to the point where I have to consolidate.
I evaluated the situation and realized a bulky set of encyclopedias by Grolier, circa 1974, is occupying valuable bookshelf space. Who uses encyclopedias anymore? Even I don't. Like most people in the 21st century, I rely on the Internet for information. But these encyclopedias are nostalgic. I won them many years ago as a contestant on "Jeopardy" when the show was still filmed in New York and Art Fleming, not Alex Trebek, was the host.
I know I should just dump my outdated encyclopedias, but I won't. I'll just put them in a storage box in the crawlspace where they'll join other memorabilia that I no longer need or look at, like my first grade schoolwork. (Hey, I already admitted I'm a packrat!)
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Validation – March 16, 2013
Like many novelists I know, I'm rather insecure about my writing, not always sure my books have succeeded in making readers feel the way I want them to feel. That's why reviews of the novels are so important. The raves validate my writing. "You did it!" they shout to me. "The reader gets it! You accomplished your goal!"
This week I got a 5-star Amazon review from a reader who really understood my new time travel thriller, The Disappearance. Here's a sampling of what this reviewer wrote:
"THE DISAPPEARANCE is a fun read that grabs you from the first page when the reader is immediately drawn to Jillian Keating, the book's main character. It combines the elements of mystery and time-travel so well that I felt compelled to keep reading. The author does an amazing job of keeping the reader guessing as to whether or not Jillian can defeat the evil Ryan Cornell and the plan is ingenious!"
Feedback like that encourages me to keep creating novels. When I start moping about my less-than-wonderful work, I reread the positive reviews, get back to the computer—and write.
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Writers on writing – March 12, 2013
I love finding great quotes by authors about writing and posting them on my Pinterest "Writing Quotes" board. Here's a terrific one by novelist Ayelet Waldman.
I agree with all her points:
"Writing is a habit – a physical habit." Writing is something a novelist has to do. Think of it as a good kind of addiction. Authors have stories inside them that have to come out. But we need the discipline to be able to actually write the words of these stories.
"You can't wait for the muse – you must just sit down at the same time every day and do your work." That's been my mantra since I became a novelist: Find a time to write, do it every day, and stick to the schedule. Sometimes it's difficult, but I do try to sit at the computer every morning and write a scene of my book.
Finally, Waldman quotes author Anne Lamott's advice about first drafts: "All you need to do is write a shitty first draft. That's it. The rest – good drafts, publication, etc. – will follow." I hope both women are right because my first drafts are generally pretty bad. But I take comfort in author Jodi Picoult's quote, mentioned here on February 28th, and worth repeating: "...you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page."
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Reviewing the situation – March 8, 2013
"There are many modes of time travel, but this one takes the cake – so different from others I've read!" This was the opening line of a new review of The Disappearance on Amazon.
It's always gratifying when a reader enjoys one of my novels, but I've had a problem with reviews of The Disappearance. For some reason, Amazon had separate reviews for the paperback and Kindle versions, even though they're the same book. As a result, I had 4 reviews of the paperback, and now 7 reviews of the Kindle edition. I didn't know how to correct the problem, but yesterday I finally decided to attempt to fix it.
I belong to a Facebook group called "Indie Writers Unite" that encourages authors to help one another with issues like this so I posted my dilemma and asked the group: "Does anyone know how to get Amazon to combine all the reviews?" Several group members suggested I log into Author Central and contact Amazon directly.
I was amazed I could even speak to anyone in Amazon, but this was incredibly easy. In the "Help" box, I just had to select "Linking Multiple Editions," follow a few simple prompts, and provide my phone number. Amazon called me immediately and I spoke to Nick, a live human! He quickly linked my reviews, but cautioned that it would take 1-2 business days for the linking to take effect. But Nick was wrong; it was done instantly. I'm just sorry I waited so long to combine the reviews. To see all 11 Amazon reviews for The Disappearance, click here.
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Opening paragraphs – March 4, 2013
How do you decide whether or not you want to read a novel that you know nothing about? I usually check the back cover blurb and then skim through a few random pages.
At last Saturday's book signing at Tea Temptations in Mohegan Lake, NY, one woman told me she always reads the first two paragraphs of a novel and, if they grab her attention, she buys the book.
Her comment made me recall some of my favorite opening lines. Probably the most famous is, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Remember this one? "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." (1984 by George Orwell) I also love the first line of a book I recently finished reading, Replay, a time travel novel by Ken Grimwood that I blogged about on February 20th: "Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died."
What happened at my book signing when the woman read the beginnings of my three novels? She loved them—and purchased all three books! (To see photos of the event, click here.)
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Reason to write – February 28, 2013
Writers are human. We're not "inspired" every time we write—at least I'm not—and I don't think my latest chapter is coming out that great. Nevertheless, each morning I force myself to sit at the computer and write another scene in my doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part Two.
Why do I do it? I think this brief quote by Jodi Picoult from my "Writing Quotes" board on Pinterest says it best:
Fish story – February 24, 2013
Because my novel Peachwood Lake is based on a real jumping fish—the gulf sturgeon that inhabits the Suwannee River—people sometimes send me interesting fish stories. Here's a summary of an online news article I just received from a friend:
Giant goldfish have mysteriously invaded Lake Tahoe, threatening both native fish species and the clarity of the pristine California/Nevada lake. Scientists think the huge goldfish, which measure up to 1 1/2 feet and weigh as much as four pounds, evolved from former pet fish that were dumped into the lake by owners who no longer wanted them.
In Peachwood Lake, a mysterious jumping fish terrorizes a pristine Connecticut lake and, of course, my evil creature is a lot more threatening than these giant goldfish. But the Lake Tahoe goldfish are still growing so you never know...
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Time travel via Ken Grimwood - February 20, 2013
If you read this blog, you know I love time travel stories. Many years ago, a friend loaned me a time travel paperback by an unknown author. Although the book never became a best-seller, I really loved the story.
The book was Breakthrough, the late Ken Grimwood's first novel, published in 1976. It's about a young woman who suffers from debilitating epilepsy. She undergoes an experimental treatment--electrodes are implanted in her brain--and she's given a box with a button to press when she has an attack. But the box has extra buttons and one of them allows her to see through the eyes of an evil woman who lived 200 years earlier. The heroine becomes fascinated with her new ability and spends more and more time "eavesdropping." No spoilers, but there is a super twist ending.
Recently, while compiling a list of "Favorite Novels" for my Pinterest board, I googled Breakthrough and was surprised that many reviewers didn't like the book nearly as much as I did. A number of them compared it unfavorably to Grimwood's later--and much more successful--novel, Replay, so I decided to read Replay, which I finished yesterday.
Published in 1987, Replay is the story of a 43-year-old man who dies and wakes up in 1963 in his 18-year-old body and begins to relive his life--again--and again--and many more times. It's a highly creative concept (similar to Dean Koontz's novella, Strange Highways) and I enjoyed the book very much--but not as much as Breakthrough.
One interesting point: The last line of Replay (before the brief Epilogue) is almost identical to the last line of my time travel novel, The Disappearance. How weird is that?
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Apostrophe holiday - February 16, 2013
Next week, we celebrate Presidents' Day to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two of our greatest presidents. The holiday is a super time for store sales--and apostrophe errors.
Unfortunately, many retailers still don't get it. They either eliminate the apostrophe altogether ("Presidents Day Sale") or advertise a "President's Day Sale." (I always wonder which president they are celebrating: George or Abe?)
In newspapers, car dealerships are usually the primary apostrophe abusers and examples are easy to find so, this year, I decided to look online for errors. Here are some major retailers that decided to omit the apostrophe in their web ads: Radio Shack, Sears, Aeropostale, and Kmart. Stores did a better job avoiding the "President's Day" mistake online. I only found one car dealership, Brad Benson Hyundai, that misused the apostrophe in this way, although there are many more examples in print.
And I always chuckle at the clever copywriters who avoid the entire issue by promoting a "Presidential Savings Event" (Bay Ridge Honda) or come up with ingenious phrases like "...SAVE A FEW WASHINGTONS" (Chevy Presidents Day print ad--no apostrophe).
Check the holiday ads in your area and see how many apostrophe errors you find. I think you'll be surprised.
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Time travel rules - February 12, 2013
One of the reasons I love time travel stories is, since time travel doesn't exist, authors can make up their own rules. I thought about this point again Monday night when I watched "Continuum," the new time travel series on Syfy.
Now that "Fringe" is over, "Continuum" has become one of my favorite shows. It's a police drama about a group of terrorists from the year 2077 who, at the moment they're supposed to be executed, are instead transported back to the year 2012--along with Kiera, a policewoman who had been standing near them. Kiera, with the help of a teen computer genius, works with the police to try to capture the gang without revealing where she and they are really from.
In Monday's episode, the terrorists attempt to rid themselves of Kiera by killing her grandmother, who in 2012 is just a rebellious teenager. Instead, they kill the grandmother of one of their own members--but nothing happens to the terrorist. He doesn't disappear or change.
So the writer of this episode has decreed that killing an ancestor doesn't eliminate the future person. All that power! That's why time travel stories are so much fun!
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"It's a job!" – February 8, 2013
One of the picture boards I've created on Pinterest is called "Writing Quotes." I've had fun searching for quotes that I agree with and I've found quite a few--32 so far. It's encouraging when my opinion matches a famous author's.
Today I discovered a quote that made me feel especially good because it expresses what I've been saying since I became a novelist—almost word for word. Here is the pin:
The only part of the quote I don't agree with is the "you have to get a babysitter" line. Frankly, most writers don't earn enough money to pay babysitters to watch their kids while they work. But the rest of the quote makes a world of sense: Treat writing like a job, schedule a time for writing, and then stick to that time. Thanks, Rosellen Brown!
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Words per chapter – February 4, 2013
Recently, I blogged about my frustration with the first chapter of the second part of The Touchers, the doomsday novel I'm writing, because most of my chapters are relatively short and this one was huge by my standards: about 5,000 words. I groused about this neverending chapter on Facebook too and one friend asked, "What would you say is your average per chapter?"
I had never thought about that interesting question, but it was easy to determine an average word count per chapter. You just divide the number of chapters in a book by the total number of words. Here's what I found: Except for DUST, which has atypically short chapters, my other chapter word counts are remarkably consistent. In the five novels I've written (counting The Touchers, Part One) the chapters average 2,350 to 2,400 words.
So I was right about this introductory chapter being unusually long since it's more than twice the size of my typical chapter. But, of course, none of this really matters. Word count per chapter (or per book) isn't important—word quality is.
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Pictorially speaking – January 31, 2013
On January 23, I blogged about joining Pinterest, the social network in which members "pin" pictures onto boards. I mentioned that, as a writer who uses words, I needed to figure out how to best utilize the site to showcase my novels.
Of course, I've pinned my book covers and I also made boards for quotes about writing, favorite novels, and great book covers. Then I realized I could pin photos of real dust devil events so I added those pictures.
But here's my latest idea: I've got a neat poster that displays the covers of my books and three bookmarks—one (front & back) for each of my novels. I tried to pin them, but discovered they have to be somewhere on the Internet (not Facebook).
So please bear with me. In order to pin my poster and bookmarks on Pinterest, I've got to first post them here:
The actual size of the poster is 36" x 24"
Check out my updated Pinterest page and let me know what you think.
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A chapter is finished when... - January 27, 2013
I've written several posts on the topic of when I think a novel is finished (never really--I just decide, after a zillion rereads, that it's time to stop). But a chapter, which is comprised of several related scenes, usually has a natural beginning and ending.
My chapters are generally relatively short and contain lots of action. However, the introductory chapter of Part Two of The Touchers, the doomsday novel I'm currently writing, is long (about 5,000 words) and isn't laced with danger. That's because my heroine is in a new location with new people and she's recounting her first day in this strange place. But with the next scene I write, the day--and the chapter--should finally be over.
Then it's back to the action--and the killer beings will be coming.
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Pinterest interest - January 23, 2013
I've just joined Pinterest, the social network that lets members "pin" pictures onto boards on their pages. Since Pinterest is a very visual site--and I'm a writer--I'm not sure how this will work in terms of showcasing my novels. Although I've read several articles about "Pinterest for Writers" and asked Facebook friends for suggestions, I still find the site confusing.
Most people suggest I post photos of my book covers (which I've done) and then try to "creatively" market my novels in a visual manner. Some authors have told me they pin photos of their characters or pictures of sites they're considering for settings. Perhaps I'll create boards like that too. But for now, in addition to my covers, I've just pinned a couple of book covers and paintings that I really like.
Everyone says it takes time to get used to Pinterest; I hope I'll figure it out.
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Inspiration coincidence - January 19, 2013
A few days ago, I previewed an interesting novel that had just been published on Smashwords, an ebook site for independent authors. Although the book, Lagoon, a creepy-sounding horror story by T.J. MacGregor, was well written, I noticed a typo in an early paragraph, which I recognized from my own ebook conversion struggles as a formatting mistake. I emailed the author to alert her to the error.
Trish, who I discovered is an award-winning prolific novelist as well as a non-fiction writer, was grateful for my catch. She checked my website and realized we had more in common than our love for the supernatural: My inspiration for DUST was similar to her inspiration for one of her novels.
Here's how I got the idea for DUST: In 2003, I read an article about a strange weather phenomenon called a "dust devil," a miniature tornado strong enough to toss dust and dirt into the air. This dust devil had lifted the roof off an auto body shop, collapsing most of the building, and killing the owner. Since the story was weird--and it happened in Maine--I was sure Stephen King would write a novel about some kind of supernatural dust.
I put the article aside and forgot about it. When I found the story several years later, I realized Stephen King had never written a novel about weird dust. But, after rereading the article, suddenly I had an idea, which became the basis for DUST.
Trish's novel, Black Water, was also inspired by a newspaper article. Here's her explanation:
"In 2002, while visiting the Florida Keys, we heard about a mysterious black water that supposedly was about the size of Lake Okeechobee – 730 square miles. No one knew what it was or what was causing it. There was speculation that it was caused by runoff from the sugar cane fields, or that that it might be similar to red tide. Marine biologists analyzed it. Fish avoided the area. I wondered if perhaps it was nature’s version of a black hole. From that thought, came a time travel story, Black Water:
"For years, children have been disappearing without a trace in the Florida Keys. No one, even the FBI, has suspected it could be the work of a single twisted psychopath consumed by a desire to change his past and his future. But when he abducts the daughter of psychic Mira Morales from a deserted beach where the two have spent the day, Mira pursues him through the darkest passages of the unknown, to a place where every choice has terrifying consequences that no one, not even a psychic, can possibly foresee."
Sounds like a terrific novel—and, as you know, I love time travel tales! For more information about Black Water and Trish MacGregor's other books, check her synchronicity blog.
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Dream on - January 15, 2012
Recently, a member of a one of my Facebook writers groups asked if any fellow authors found solutions to plot problems in their dreams. I certainly do. I often dream about situations in the novels I'm writing. Sometimes I'm able to figure out solutions to problems; other times, my dreams make me aware that what I've written won't work.
For example, a couple of nights ago I dreamt about a scene I had just written in my doomsday novel, The Touchers. I realized I had forgotten to have a character get rid of the suitcase she was carrying so, in the morning, I fixed that oversight.
I think it may be easier to work out plot difficulties in the quiet of the middle of the night when there are no distractions. Unfortunately, though, thoughts about my books keep me awake when I'd rather be sleeping. But I can't control when the muse will hit.
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Characters in charge - January 11, 2013
On January 7, I wrote about why I love writing fiction. It's entertaining work because my characters tell me what they want to say and I merely write down their words and actions. Now that I'm writing Part 2 of my doomsday novel, The Touchers, I again get to enjoy this wondrous experience.
Here's what happened yesterday: I discovered that my main character, Erin, has an enemy--someone I didn't even know about. Now I can't wait until I write the next scene to find out more about this new person: Why does she dislike Erin so much--and what is she going to do about it?
That's why writing a novel is so much fun. It's a lot like reading a book, only I have to write the pages before turning them.
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Non-fiction vs. fiction - January 7, 2013
In a recent interview, I was questioned about the difference between writing non-fiction and fiction. To me, the two disciplines are entirely different. For most of my career, I was a non-fiction writer (newspaper reporter and freelance educational writer) and the process was clear-cut: collect facts; outline, organize, and assemble the information; and then put everything together to produce articles or books. It's a very straightforward job.
But when I became a novelist, I discovered fiction writing was nothing like that. It's much more fun. I don't gather information and then outline chapters, and, although I have a good understanding of my main characters and the basic plot, I really don't know what's going to happen in the story. I sit at the computer and let my characters tell me: They dictate their words and actions and I transcribe them. It's a fascinating and entertaining experience. Unfortunately, this entertainment only happens when I write the first draft. Afterwards, when I have to edit the manuscript (my characters don't know everything!) and do the necessary research, it becomes a more tedious job--sort of like writing non-fiction.
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Back on the write track - January 3, 2013
I've made most of the necessary corrections and revisions on the first draft of my end-of-the-world novel, The Touchers. Actually these changes were just for Part 1 of the book because my characters decided--after 80,000 words--that their story wasn't finished. But I got antsy editing--it's not nearly as much fun as writing--so today I returned to the entertaining aspect of my job; I wrote the first scene in Part 2 of The Touchers.
It's somewhat out of order, writing Part 2 when I still have work to do on Part 1. For example, I haven't yet compiled my lists of characters, events, places, etc. I use these lists to make sure all the details are consistent and accurate. Although I'm not really ready to write, the characters wanted to get back to telling their story--and I'm delighted to be able to help them do it.
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