This blog is by Susan Berliner, author of supernatural thrillers ("DUST," "Peachwood Lake," "The Disappearance," "Corsonia," "After the Bubbles," "Soldier Girl"); short story collections ("The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales," "George's Mother and Other Weird Stories, "Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories"); and a memoir ("Doing the Write Thing"). This page contains blog entries from January 3, 2014 - December 28, 2014.

Evoking the muse – December 28, 2014 

Last night, I wrote a short story. However, I didn't write down the words at the computer; I wrote the words in my head. 

Here's why: I have a bad cold, which kept waking me, so I decided to make productive use of the time rather than fret about my runny nose and cough. I had many hours to think about the hair-themed story I've been trying to write for the past week. It's called "The Rapunzel Effect" and it'll be told in the first-person by a college girl. 

The five shorts stories I've written thus far range from humorous fairy tales to grisly horror tales. As you can tell from the title, this story fits into the first category. I think it will be fun. Now, if I feel better tomorrow morning, I'll start to write the story.

*            *            *

Ebook problem solved – December 24, 2014 

I think I finally figured out why I had trouble getting the Corsonia ebook on Nook (and, as it turned out, on Smashwords) and the problem was my fault. Here's what happened: I had the brilliant idea of attaching links for my other three novels (The Disappearance, Peachwood Lake, and DUST) in the Corsonia ebook to make it easy for interested readers to purchase my earlier books. The links were to the novels' Kindle pages. 

It never occurred to me that other e-retailers wouldn't like the Amazon connection until Smashwords told me to remove the offensive links. That's when I realized that Nook might have the same issue with links to their competitor—even though Barnes & Noble never acknowledged the issue. When I removed the Kindle links in both the Nook and Smashwords versions of Corsonia, the ebook problems vanished. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

*            *            * 

High anxiety – December 20, 2014

I'm not at all tech-savvy so it's no surprise that I've had problems uploading my new novel, Corsonia, as an ebook, even though the book has been professionally formatted.

My first attempt—with Kindle—went very well. The difficulty wasn't with the site; it was with me. While the ebook is being processed, the instructions tell the submitter to continue filling out the required forms. I did that, and when I was finished, I pressed the "Publish" button—without reviewing the ebook to see how it looked on Kindle.

When I realized my mistake, I panicked and tried to withdraw the Kindle ebook. However, I couldn't do it. I emailed Amazon, telling them my error, and, a few hours later, a tech person responded that she had checked the book and everything looked fine. At about the same time, Corsonia became available on Kindle and I was finally able to preview it. The Amazon rep was right; the ebook looked fine. I just had several hours of angst. But I was impressed with the quick response by Amazon's Kindle team. They were terrific!

I had an easier time uploading Corsonia on Smashwords, a site that makes the ebook available for many ereading devices. Now my remaining problem is with Nook, which for some reason, doesn't like chapter divisions—and their customer service department is not as helpful as Kindle's. I'm working with the formatter, and hope to have the Nook version available soon.

*            *            *


Hairy happening – December 15, 2014 

I was at the beauty salon late last week with nothing to do while I waited for my hairdresser. I'm not a fan of just sitting and waiting. So what did I do? First, I did some people-watching. The young woman hairdresser with one heavily tattooed arm and half buzz-cut/half long blue hair was certainly intriguing. However, she was too bizarre looking to be a character in one of my books or stories. The people who populate my fictional universe are much more ordinary types. 

But then, as I scanned the room, I thought of an idea for a short story about—you guessed it—hair. It's kind of a modern Rapunzel tale. I haven't figured out all the details, but they'll become clear when I sit at the computer. Now all I have to do is write the story!

*            *            *

Book review – December 11, 2014 

In this post, I'm going to shift from my novels to discuss The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones, the supernatural horror story I just finished reading. "Shift" is an apt word because the villain in this tale is a psychotic shape-shifter—and what makes him even more formidable is he belongs to a Hungarian people called hosszu eletek, which translates into "long lives."

It's a great concept—a man who can disguise himself as someone else and lives for a long time, allowing him to torment one family for centuries as he tries to recreate a failed romance, killing many along the way. The story is divided into three parts: present day Wales, late 1970s England, and late 1800s Hungary. The chapters bounce back and forth effectively, with the missing pieces of the tale eventually fitting together like a complex jigsaw puzzle.

I loved the Hungarian folklore, which is interwoven throughout the book, and was surprised to learn the hosszu eletek myth didn't exist; the author created it. 

Here's what I didn't like: Some of the scenic descriptions were too wordy for me, slowing my reading. Also, I thought the ending was rather implausible.

However, the characters are interesting, the action scenes are well done, and most of the book moves quickly, especially at the end.

I would give The String Diaries four stars. It's a fun read.

*            *            *


The next step – December 7, 2014

I've reviewed the proof copy of my mind-control thriller, Corsonia, and approved it. That means the paperback version of the book is ready for publication. As soon as it's listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble—hopefully early this week—it will be available for purchase.

I began writing Corsonia more than three years ago so it's been a lengthy process, but this baby book is finally ready to be born. Now I'd like the ebook to be finished in time for the holidays. But that version is still being formatted.

And for those who follow this blog and read the entry below, I did receive the Corsonia proof before my Saturday book signing event and shoppers at the Holiday Boutique in Montrose were very excited about it—including the director of the local library, who wanted to add Corsonia to her collection. (Since it wasn't available yet, she purchased The Disappearance instead. See Happenings.)

*            *            *


The waiting game – December 2, 2014 

You've heard of the play, Waiting for Godot? Well, I'm waiting for Corsonia—the printed proof version—of my mind-control novel. I "finished" the book just before Thanksgiving and it's been approved by the printer, but before I release the paperback for publication, I need to review it. To do that, I need the printed book.

I'm hoping to have the sample copy by next Saturday, December 6, because that's when I have a book signing event at the Montrose (NY) Fire House. Since I already have the poster that includes Corsonia, as well as the bookmarks (see post below), I'd like to be able to show the paperback to people attending the Holiday Boutique. Wish me luck!

*            *            *

Finished at last! - November 28, 2014

Corsonia is done. The paperback is in production, the ebook is going to be formatted, and Corsonia will soon be born. As you can see, this website features a new Corsonia banner and I also have new printed materials for Corsonia. Here is the bookmark:                                                           

And this is the newly-designed banner. (The new poster is similar, but vertical.)

Thanks to Book Graphics for all the terrific artwork. Now all I need is the book. The paperback should be available in early December.

*            *            *

Home stretch – November 24, 2014 

I've got nearly everything I need for my new mind-control novel, Corsonia. After working with the artist last week, I now have an awesome cover (see post below), bookmarks, a poster, and both print and web banners. 

What's missing? Just the book itself. I'm reading the formatted pages for the last time (except for the proof copy) and I've found a couple of little things to change—but no real mistakes. So it's nearly done. In a few days, I'm hoping to get the novel into production for the paperback version, followed by the ebook.

Corsonia is finally going to be born!

*            *            *

Cover story – November 20, 2014

The cover of my new mind-control thriller, Corsonia, is finished. It took time, but I'm very happy with the result. For me, a book cover is an intense collaborative effort with the artist. First we discuss the different options and possibilities and then the designer gathers the elements and arranges them to create the desired effect—i.e. the effect that I desire.

Corsonia is about two teen girls who uncover a horrifying trail of evil in a strange little Nevada town. It's a creepy mystery and I hope the cover reflects some of this creepiness. Here's the first public showing of the cover:


The Corsonia paperback will be available in December, followed by the ebook. I hope you like the cover—and will read and enjoy the novel!

 *            *            *

The disappearance of The Disappearance – November 16, 2014 

It's been a hectic, but fun, weekend because I had two lengthy book signing events—one Saturday and another on Sunday. That meant I spent two days meeting people, talking about my novels, and signing copies. 

Usually, I sign a fairly equal number of my three novels. But on both days this weekend, I had an overwhelming number of people choose The Disappearance. I don't know if this was just a fluke or if more people are becoming time travel fans. A couple of readers mentioned that the title sounded like the subject of the popular movie, Gone Girl, although my novel isn't anything like that book or film. But, hey, if a suspected similarity attracts new readers, I'm all for it!

*            *            *

Color blind – November 12, 2014

I'm still proofing the latest formatted version of my mind-control novel, Corsonia, and still finding a few errors and repeated words. Most of the mistakes are minor—missing quotation marks or periods. However, I found one disturbing error that no reader picked up: I used two colors (silver and white) for the same car—and no, the car wasn't repainted in the story.

But I know how this mistake happened. I wrote Corsonia nearly three years ago and then put the book aside for a while, which is fine. Unfortunately though, when I wanted to work on it again, the Hostess bakery went out of business. Since one of my characters is addicted to Hostess cupcakes, this was not a good development. I thought about substituting another cupcake or cookie, but I didn't like the other choices. As a result, the book sat on the shelf.

When the Hostess brand was revived, I went back to working on Corsonia. That's when I inadvertently changed the car color from silver to white—several times. I had just forgotten the color. I even had a list of cars in the book—but I wrote the wrong color on my list. I'm glad I finally noticed the mistake and was able to fix it.

*            *            *

Fun and not-so-much fun – November 8, 2014 

I love nearly everything about writing novels. My favorite part is writing the first draft—just getting the words down. (I was going to say "getting the words down on paper," but that's not how I "write" anymore.) I also love receiving my first print copy of the book, which is almost like giving birth. And I adore book signings, talks, and interviews—experiences where I can meet people and talk about creative writing. 

But there are a few novel-related things that I don't enjoy. I dislike doing research and I'm not thrilled about the arduous tasks of editing and proofreading my work. 

There is one other thing I love about writing a novel: working with an artist to design the cover—and that's what I'm doing next week. So right now, I'm mixing the fun with the not-so-much-fun. As I proof the latest formatted version of my mind-control novel, Corsonia, I'm looking forward to working on the cover—and then giving birth to this book.

*            *            *

Formatting finds – November 4, 2014

I've received the formatted pages for Corsonia, my mind control novel, and have been busy proofing them. Since this is the first version of the way the book will look in print, there are many things that need to be corrected—indents, spacing, different sized page numbers, etc. But those are easy to spot and relatively easy to fix.

I'm more concerned about writing errors that I have made and overlooked. So far, I've read about two thirds of the formatted book and found two little mistakes involving quotation marks along with several repeated words. If that's all that's wrong with this novel, I'll be thrilled!

                                                *            *            *


Analyzing the "likes" – October 31, 2014

The Facebook Halloween book contest I participated in the month of October, along with more than forty other authors, ended tonight. What did it do for me? The contest required entrants to like Facebook pages and I got nearly 500 new likes on my page for The Disappearance—almost double what I'd had. The page now has more than 1,000 likes.

Unfortunately, however, most of the contestants didn't do anything else on The Disappearance page so they probably didn't learn much about my time travel thriller. And the contest didn't result in many additional sales. But it did get my book cover and title out there, it does make me feel good to have so many likes, and I didn't have to beg for them—asking readers to "pretty please" like me with a smiley face. (See the post below.)

*            *            *

Ebook etiquette – October 27, 2014 

I know ebooks have more flexibility for promotion than printed books, but I just came across a weird example. I wonder if readers find this approach acceptable, because to me, it's tacky. (I won't mention the title or author because I don't want to publicize this novel.) On the first page of the ebook, the author had the following suggestions for readers:

* Visit her website to buy other books.
(That's not so terrible, although I don't think this information belongs in the beginning of the book. A line at the end, after the reader has finished the novel, seems like a better placement.)

* Subscribe to her mailing list.
(Again, this seems to belong at the end of the novel.)

* Leave a starred review on Amazon.
(Another possibility for the end of the book.)

* Like her on Facebook—with a "pretty please" and a smiley face.
(That doesn't belong anywhere in print. It's just plain tacky!)

I do have a "Praise" page with reader comments at the front of my novels—in both my printed books and ebooks. What I'd like to do with my next ebook is highlight each book title and link directly to its Amazon page. I hope readers will consider that move a subtle promotion—one that's not offensive. What do you think?

*            *             *

Corsonia is "finished"! – October 23, 2014 

Corsonia, my mind-control novel, is finally done. Is it completely perfect? No. I've sent it to the formatter and already found a small change I'd like to make. But the last time I reread the manuscript, I discovered just one small plot error and two corrections I neglected to make after changing a date from March to April. (See post below.) Other than that, I fixed repeated words and commas. 

And it's not as if I won't be proofing the book again. After the novel is formatted, my editor and I will both be rereading it—again and again—so it's time for me to let it go.

I've said this before, and today a Facebook friend made the same analogy: Producing a book is like giving birth to a baby. The child (or book) has to come out and this novel is finally ready to be born.

*            *            *

And the rereading continues – October 19, 2014 

Corsonia, my mind-control novel, still isn't finished. It's been two years since my last book, The Disappearance, was published and I think I'd forgotten how many rereads it takes until a novel is "done." 

I completed the latest reread of the book last Friday and still found about fifty things to change. My corrections ranged from minor revisions (e.g. adding/omitting a comma or substituting a better word) to making changes that impact the story. For example, an important incident takes place during spring break of a certain year and I had placed the event in late March. However, I discovered Easter Sunday of that year occurred in mid-April so, to be more accurate, I moved the incident in my book to that later time.

I'll start my next rereading on Monday morning, once again hoping the book will be finished.

*            *            *

E-reading for toddlers – October 15, 2015

The headline of a front-page story in last Sunday's New York Times posed the following question: "Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?"

The article explains that many parents now read stories to their young kids on electronic tablets, an approach that features lots of bells and whistles—i.e. sound effects, but often lacks the interaction that comes with reading a printed book—i.e. turning the pages, pointing to pictures, and discussing the story.

Is e-reading more like watching TV or a DVD than actual reading? Some experts say it is, and one man fears the possibility of e-books becoming "the TV baby-sitters of this generation." 

E-books for kids may be fancier and trendier, but I don't think they're better vehicles for fostering reading. I hope little kids will continue to read paper books and turn the pages—even if they do sometimes rip them.

*            *            *

Weird nature – October 11, 2014 

At today's book signing event in Somers, NY, I met a woman who works for the Bronx Botanical Garden's press division. She expressed a need for plant-themed fiction.

I mentioned The Ruins by Scott Smith, a horror story about man-killing vines, which I enjoyed. I also told her I'd recently written a short story about murderous flora. 

"We need a best seller," she said.

That leaves me out of the picture—although I have written two books with weird nature themes:  DUST, about an evil swirl of colorful dust, and Peachwood Lake, about a murderous jumping fish. 

Coincidentally, tonight I read an intriguing weird-nature news story: Thousands of venomous brown recluse spiders have infiltrated the walls of an expensive home in Missouri, forcing the residents to flee. The house is now covered with nine tarps as an exterminating company attempts to gas the spiders. But what if the spiders survive and escape, moving to the next house? That might make a fun—and creepy—story.

*            *            *

Yet another reread – October 7, 2014

I just completed yet another rereading of Corsonia, my almost finished mind-control novel. Note the "almost finished" description because the book still isn't ready for publication. 

The good news is I found fewer mistakes this time through—just a couple of periods missing or commas instead of periods (and several repeated words—not errors, just sloppy writing). The bad news is I discovered a couple of minor plot issues, which I fixed. Even though Corsonia is a work of fiction, I want the story to make sense. Now I hope it does. 

I'll start reading the book again tomorrow—with fingers crossed that it'll soon be done.

*            *            *

Lots of "likes" – October 3, 2016

Since Wednesday, October 1, The Disappearance page on Facebook has gotten a lot of new "likes"—180 at last check, adding up to a total of 754 fans of my time travel novel.

The page has even attracted the notice of Facebook's business division. Because I'm doing so well, they've offered to help "grow my business" by providing a "free phone consultation" to help me create my first ad (not for free).

What have I done to attain this level of popularity? I'm participating in a Halloween web contest with more than forty other authors. The October event requires entrants to "like" authors' Facebook pages (or follow Twitter accounts) in order to win a total of 34 Amazon gift cards, ranging from $25 - $100. 

I love the exposure and hope some contest entrants will consider reading my novels. But, thus far, the follow-up has been minimal. Only 22 of my new "fans" have checked out The Disappearance page—and I haven't gotten many extra website hits either.

But the contest is a great opportunity for readers so, if you'd like to enter the Booklover Halloween Contest Event, here's the link. Happy reading and good luck!

*            *            *


Still not finished! – September 29, 2014

I started rereading Corsonia, my mind-control novel, again today, hopeful that the book is almost finished. But it's not. More than halfway through this reread, I'm still finding errors, some of them serious. I'm trying not to get depressed about this situation and think happy thoughts: The book is still in pretty good shape, it's a fun read, etc. But the mistakes—not just commas and repeated words—errors with the plot, an out-of-place scene—ugh!

It's been two years since The Disappearance was published and I guess I've forgotten the agony of the rereading experience. It takes forever until a book is really finished, meaning no real errors, and, unfortunately, this novel isn't there yet.

*            *            *

Mind-control matter – September 25, 2014

Before rereading my mind-control novel, Corsonia, yet again, I've been concentrating on getting the book ready for publication, spending this week working on related pages: the back cover copy, the afterward, and the dedication, among others.

I decided to use an appropriate quotation to introduce Corsonia so I googled "mind-control quotes." Although I didn't find many that fit the story, I discovered this one:

"That which consumes your mind, controls your life." 

I've created a "Mind-Control Quotes" board on Pinterest, which includes the above saying and a few others that are relevant to Corsonia. I hope you'll check them out—and if you know any other good mind-control quotes, please contact me.

*            *            *

Fiction vs. non-fiction – September 21, 2014

I just read this comment by an author in one of my Facebook writers' group: "Working on my first fiction and I'm thinking it's easier to write non-fiction than fiction. Your thoughts?" 

I disagree. I've written both fiction and non-fiction and, to me, writing non-fiction is much more difficult because you have to research all your material. Then, after you gather your facts, you have to create an outline and piece all the information together. I've written educational books and it's a lot of hard work. 

On the other hand, fiction writing is fun because you're telling a story. Although you may have to do some research, you're entertaining yourself as you write and create your novel. In my case, my characters do most of the work, dictating their dialogue and taking over the action.

I'd much rather write fiction than non-fiction. Fun vs. work: Which would you prefer?

*            *            *

A case for multi-tasking – September 17, 2014 

A friend recently sent me an interesting article, titled "Five Tips for Writing Faster" by best-selling author, Nalini Singh. Some of her suggestions are obvious, like setting realistic goals and exercising. But, in my opinion, her most appealing recommendation is to work on more than one project at a time. She writes two books in different stages and different genres, which she finds increases her productivity.

I'm multi-tasking too—writing short stories while proofing my mind-control novel, Corsonia, both in the same genre (supernatural). Of course, I'm writing and proofing—not writing two works at the same time, which I don't think I could handle.

And I haven't forgotten about my doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part Two. I'm just taking a break. And when I return to finishing the first draft, I'll put the short stories aside.

                                                 *            *            *

Procrastination - September 13, 2014 

While I wait for two readers to review the manuscript of Corsonia, my mind-control novel, I really should be getting back to my work in progress: The Touchers, Part Two. But that's not what I'm doing.

I have so much work to do on that doomsday book—including rereading the entire manuscript, about 75,000 words. And, after that, I have to finish writing the first draft and then make a zillion changes.

Rather than tackle that daunting task, I've chosen an easier path. I've started writing a third supernatural short story, tentatively titled "The Woods," even though I don't know the ending of this story yet. As you can see, I'll do anything to avoid working on The Touchers right now. But I'll get back to it—just not right now.

*            *            *

Those pesky details – September 9, 2014 

I've finished reviewing Corsonia, my mind-control novel, for at least the tenth time, and while I wait for one reader to evaluate the technical material and another to proofread this latest version, I'm going to check the details. 

Reviewing details isn't my favorite part of writing a book because it's such tedious work. I've got to make lists to be sure all character and place names are spelled right and that all descriptions are accurate. Basically I have to confirm that everything in the book is correct.

Like my other three novels, Corsonia has a supernatural element, but the story is grounded in reality--and, for the book to work, everything has to make sense.

*            *            *


Getting it right – September 5, 2014

I just finished rereading Corsonia, my mind-control novel. Since I thought the manuscript was in pretty good shape, I was disappointed to find things to revise on just about every page.

Yes, most of the changes are small—a better word, a missing comma, a dialogue tweak. But I did find a couple of major blunders too. In this new version of Corsonia, a large chunk of a scene was somehow omitted. I have no idea how it happened, but luckily I recognized the error, found the missing text, and reinserted it

Even more troubling was something I did at the end of the book. A character has a lengthy, important speech and when I read it, I realized it didn't sound right. This character doesn't speak very good English, but in this instance, he sounded too well educated. I had to revise his words to make them fit his character.

Hopefully, the next time I reread this manuscript, I'll have fewer changes to make.

                                               *            *            *   

Tell me a story - September 1, 2014

This morning, I finished editing my second short story, a little fairytale called "EVERYTHING $50!" It felt wonderful to complete the story and it was a great change of pace as I struggle to finish my doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part Two, which is already more than 75,000 words and taking forever.

In comparison, the 2,000 word short story took me about a week to write and edit. It's so much easier to work on a short story! I've written two now so maybe I can eventually put together a short story collection and publish it. Two stories down--only about fifteen more to go!

*           *            *

Another gimmicky cover - August 28, 2014

On August 12, I blogged about an ebook cover that split a one-word title into two syllables on two lines, which I thought was a gimmick to catch the reader's eye. This week, I discovered another goofy cover: a book title that's written upside down.

The cover art is a duplicate image in gold and black of a howling man being choked, with the black picture upside down, so I guess that's the rationale for the inverted title (The Freeing of Jonathon Mark) on the bottom. But it doesn't work for me.

According to a seal on the cover, this book is an award-winner--maybe for the text, certainly not for the hard-to-read gimmicky cover.

*            *            *

A very tall tale – August 24, 2014

A fun little story—an early example of an urban legend—recently appeared as a question in the F.Y.I. column of the New York Times: "What can you tell me about a New York newspaper hoax involving a man-eating tree?" 

The hoax started in 1874 with a front-page article in The New York World about a "gruesome discovery in the Madagascar jungle" by a botanist named Karl Leche. The anonymous author wrote that pygmy cannibals had taken the botanist to an 8-foot tall plant featuring writhing tendrils and an oozing liquid. As he watched, the tribe forced a young woman to climb to the top of the tree and drink the liquid, and, as she screamed, the plant's tendrils strangled and swallowed her. Then the members of the tribe drank "the mixture of nectar and blood" that oozed from the tree. 

The article was reprinted in publications around the world. However, in 1888, a new magazine called Current Literature proved that the story was totally false. But instead of ending the hoax, people disregarded the explanation and the original New York World article continued to be reprinted and gather publicity. A former Michigan governor even traveled to Madagascar to find the man-eating tree and, in 1924, wrote a book about his efforts.

That's quite a tall tale!

*            *            *

Dreaming up stories - August 20, 2014

A few nights ago, I had another strange dream. Here's the gist: I went into a store that required all shoppers to pay $50--regardless of whether or not they purchased anything. The only thing I wanted to buy was a teabag. But when I checked the price, I found it cost $74.99! Then I was charged $50 and complained to authorities that a store shouldn't make a customer pay a fee just for entering.

When I woke up, I was still angry about the dream. But after I started thinking about it, I had an idea for a short story. It's not about a store that makes you spend $50. Instead it's about a shop--like a high-priced dollar store--where every item costs $50. In fact, that's the title of the story: "Everything $50!" I started writing it this morning.

Working on a short story is a welcome respite from my never-ending doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part Two. In less than a week, I can finish it. Since this is my second short story, perhaps I can develop a short story collection.

                                             *            *            *

Book review - August 16, 2014

I just finished reading Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King and I loved the novel. Here's why:

The plot is excellent--a psychopathic killer is being tracked by a retired detective. Many times throughout the novel, I thought I knew where the story was going, but was never able to figure it out.

The main characters are likeable (except for the killer, of course) and a couple are downright quirky. They're also very well defined. The book jacket refers to "three unlikely heroes" and one of them is really unlikely--a character I didn't expect would play such an important role.

Because this is Stephen King, be prepared for gruesome murders, including some of the likeable characters. But because King will kill anyone, you don't know who will die--and that makes the book that much more intriguing. In fact, I didn't know till the the lead character would live or die--and I changed my mind about that a number of times.

I also loved the epilogue, maybe because it was similar to a couple of my endings.

Unlike some other King novels, this one is not overly long with extraneous material. It's just the right length. So if you enjoy thrillers, I highly recommend Mr. Mercedes. It's a great read!

*            *            *

Do you gotta have a gimmick? - August 12, 2014

As I've mentioned, I get several daily emails featuring new or discounted ebooks, which I enjoy because I get to see interesting novels. Today, however, I saw something I've never seen before: a cover with a one-word title, broken into two syllables, and spelled on two lines, one syllable on each line. The title was VESSEL: VES (first line) and SEL (second line).

Maybe there was a symbolic reason for this strange title set-up (e.g. a ship was actually broken in half). If not, I wonder why the author decided to break up the word. Yes, it did catch my attention--but for the wrong reason; I didn't like it.

This reminded me of the time when I worked for a shopping publication and a car advertiser wanted to run an ad upside down to get readers' attention. (It wasn't allowed.)

Do you need a gimmick to succeed? Maybe, you do. VESSEL, is selling a lot of books.

*            *            *

Mission accomplished - August 8, 2014

I did it! I finally stopped procrastinating and spent the last few days working on Corsonia, my mind control novel. I rewrote several scenes, added a backstory to explain a main character's behavior, and line edited the entire book. While Corsonia isn't ready for publication, it is ready to be critiqued by a valued reader.

It's amazing how much I was able to accomplish when I stopped talking about what I had to do--and just did it. Of course, now that I'm (temporarily) finished with Corsonia, I have to go back to writing my doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part Two, and try to finish that never-ending story. But maybe this little vacation from that novel will be inspirational. We shall see...

*            *            *

Procrastination - August 4, 2014

I'm back to editing my mind control novel, Corsonia. Several weeks ago, one of my trusted manuscript readers pointed out weaknesses in a few of the book's action sequences (not enough motivation, too little resistance, an illogical happening, etc.).

Since I've had the reader's comments for a while, why did I wait till now to tackle these issues? They're complex fixes. So instead of editing, I chose to procrastinate. I'm an excellent procrastinator; it's a lot easier than working. But I've started editing again. Today I improved one scene and I'm hoping to do another tomorrow--unless I procrastinate again. 

*            *            *

Picking on Stephen King - July 30, 2014

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm reading Stephen King's new novel, Mr. Mercedes. It's gory (of course), but, so far, I do like the story. Here's what I don't like: a dumb mistake. The very bad villain (think Criminal Minds-type psychopath) is named Brady Hartsfield. However, on the cover flap, he is called "Brady Hartfield."

To me, that mistake could mean several things: The book jacket copy was proofread by someone who didn't read the novel (or didn't have access to the characters' names), the proofreader was aware of the name and missed the error, or the flap copy wasn't carefully proofread because the publisher (Scribner/Simon & Schuster) doesn't care much about the description on the hard cover book jacket because most of its sales will be in ebooks, which don't have book jackets.

Let's see if the error is corrected in the paperback version.

And as long as I'm criticizing Stephen King, one of my favorite authors, tell me if you like this: In the first 70 pages (which is what I've read so far), he alludes to two of his novels: Christine and It. Is is just me--or is this a bit egotistical?

*            *            *

Musing again – July 26, 2014

In my July 18 post, I wrote about suddenly getting the idea for a short story titled "The Factory." However, I couldn't write the story because I didn't know the ending.

Now I do know the ending so I've started to write my short story. In fact, I've been writing it for the last few days. (It's not that short a story.)

Interestingly, I figured out the ending just after I began reading a novel. On July 22, I blogged about whether or not a novelist can read another author's work and still write at the same time. I guess I can. Although the novel I'm reading is in my genre (Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King), it didn't influence my story. But I do think it stirred my creative juices.

*            *            *

Reading while writing - July 22, 2014

A novelist in one of my Facebook groups just asked other authors if they were able to read for pleasure while in the midst of writing. The answers varied tremendously. Some writers said they couldn't read when they wrote because reading interfered with their work. Others said they could read, but not books in the genre they were writing. Still others said they could read any kinds of books because reading helped their creative juices.

What about me? When I started writing novels, I worried that reading other stories would affect my writing. However, I found out that it really doesn't. I can read any type of book and it neither interferes with my work in progress, nor inspires my writing. It's just an enjoyable pastime.

In fact, I'm looking forward to receiving two novels--both in my genre--that I intend to read while I continue to write my never-ending doomsday story, The Touchers, Part Two. If I waited till I finished writing this novel before reading these books, it would be a very long wait.

*            *            *

Return of the muse - July 18, 2014

A couple of days ago, I woke up very early in the morning and couldn't go back to sleep because a short story idea had taken control of my mind. The story, called "The Factory," started writing itself in my head.

It didn't matter that I'm really not interested in writing a short story right now; I'm already writing an end-of-the-world novel (The Touchers, Part Two) and editing a mind-control novel (Corsonia). But that didn't stop my brain from coming up with this intriguing story.

So here's where I stand: I know the concept and the main character. However, I can't figure out the ending and, until I know what's going to happen, I don't want to put the story on paper. I'll stash it in my brain until the ending comes to me. I hope it does.

*            *            *

Serious comic books – July 14, 2014

They're killing Archie. You know him: Archie Andrews, the redheaded comic book teen who's pals with Betty and Veronica.

They're not killing the teenage Archie; they're killing the adult version in "Life with Archie," a recent spinoff comic that deals with the Riverdale High characters as grown-ups. In the July 16th issue, Archie is fatally shot while saving the life of his gay friend, a newly-elected senator and gun-control advocate.

I remember Archie and other comic books as fun, escapist, totally unrealistic stories—first cousins of TV series like "Leave It to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best." These days, however, comic books want to do more than provide escapism; they want to parallel real life. Although that's a noble idea, I wonder if it's a good one.

I enjoyed reading comic books to escape reality, not to deal with it. Life is serious enough for today's kids. Do even their comic books have to be so agonizingly true to life?

*            *            *

The never-ending novel - July 10, 2014

I've started writing Chapter 23 in my end-of-the-world saga, The Touchers, Part Two. My problem is that this book is already over 72,000 words and I don't see it ending anytime soon. I'm getting tired of the characters, I think there's lots of repetition in the plot, and I dread the editing process that awaits me after the preliminary draft is finally finished.

This is the first time a book has become tedious during the writing phase. Usually, that happens when I have to read the manuscript over and over zillions of times to revise and correct. Maybe I feel this way because it's a two part story and it's taken me so long to write The Touchers, Part Two.I'm hopeful I'll like the book better after I complete this draft.

*            *            *

DUST: The real story - July 6, 2014

This is dust devil season, the time of year real dust devils--not the imaginary whirlwind in my novel, DUST--cause havoc, injuries, and sometimes even deaths. Dust devils are miniature tornados that form suddenly on warm, calm spring and summer days. Several dust devil incidents have been reported recently, including one in Nevada on the Fourth of July that I read about today in my New York newspaper.

Here's what happened: During a holiday party, an inflatable slide was tossed 300 feet into the air, even though it had been properly tethered to the ground. Luckily, no children were on the slide when it went airborne. However, two people were hospitalized after being hit by debris. In addition, a lamp post was torn apart by the dust devil's winds, which were estimated at 60- to 70 miles per hour.

Here's the link to this story. To see many other dust devil incidents, check my Real "Dust" Events page.

*            *            *

Killing them softly (con't) - July 2, 2014

In my last post, I wrote about having to kill some characters in my end-of-the-world novel, The Touchers, Part Two, but not knowing which ones would die. Well, now I know. The revelation came to me yesterday morning when I wrote my daily scene. It always amazes me how one minute I don't know what's going to happen--and then it suddenly becomes obvious.

At this point in the story, four people will die, one whom I really like. The other three are incidental characters. But still it's sad. The only good thing for them is that their deaths will be painless. In this novel, lots of people die, but most don't suffer.

I haven't yet written the scene that reveals their deaths; I do expect to write it tomorrow.

*           *            *

Killing them softly - June 28, 2014

Being a novelist makes me the ruler of my little imaginary world. I'm incredibly powerful; I can create characters and I can also kill them. The decision is completely up to me.

Right now, I'm at a point in my end-of-the world novel, The Touchers, Part Two, where some of my subjects have to die. That's not a surprise since I am writing a doomsday story. But it's still difficult to part with characters that I brought to life.

I've written two scenes since discovering this was going to happen and I still don't know who's going to be killed. My main characters, who determine the action, haven't told me. I'm hoping I'll find out tomorrow. That's the perk of being a novelist--watching the story unfold, even if it's a sad tale.

*            *            *

Points of view - June 24, 2014

At the creative writing talk I gave on Sunday (see Happenings), I brought up point of view, noting that I wrote my first four novels in the third person, using an outside narrator. Then I explained I was writing my fifth novel, The Touchers, in the first person, with a teen girl narrator because it worked better for this doomsday story.

I mentioned that, in a point of view discussion on Facebook, several people had said they won't read first-person novels, which I'd found surprising.

"I hate first person novels and I don't read them," a woman in my Sunday audience said.

"Why?" I asked.

"First person stories make me uncomfortable," she replied.

I really find the dislike of first person stories strange. But this woman did admit to having read The Lovely Bones--a novel told by a raped and murdered teen girl--and enjoying the book. That novel made me uncomfortable, not because it was told in the first person, but because it had a disturbing plot. However, it's a wonderful book. I think people who avoid reading first-person novels miss a lot of excellent stories.

*            *            *

Cover comments - June 20, 2014

As I've mentioned before, I get emails about current ebook offers, which I enjoy because I get to see new novels and covers. Since I'm thinking about art for the cover of my mind-control novel, Corsonia, it helps to see what's being done by other authors, especially in my genre: thrillers.

In the past few days, I've seen two thriller covers with similar art: crime scene tape. You know, the "Police Line--Do Not Cross" sticky yellow stuff that's strung along trees and poles to cordon off an area under investigation. I thought these covers were rather odd because both featured just the tape--no bloody corpses, no detective, no person--just the tape.

What do you think? Would a cover like that get you interested in reading a novel?

*            *            *

Signing books - June 16, 2014

To me, one of the biggest perks of being a novelist is having book signings where I meet many wonderful people and occasionally sell and sign copies of my books. I thought about this when I read about Hillary Clinton's book signing last week at a downtown Manhattan Barnes & Noble.

That's about all Hillary and I have in common: We both do book signings. However, Hillary's lines wind around city blocks and mine don't. Obviously, Hillary doesn't have time to schmooze with her throngs of fans. In fact, the B & N customers were told not to talk to her and that she wouldn't do personal dedications or photo ops. She would just sign "Hillary."

I love the schmoozing, always take photos, and personally dedicate each book I sign. Although I write more than my first name, I do use the book's tag line for nearly all my signings. While it's great to be creative, it's difficult to cleverly word each dedication. That reminds me of another author's autograph. It was from my favorite novelist, Dean Koontz, and on the sample I saw, he just wrote "Boo!"

*            *            * 

Making time for novel writing - June 12, 2014

In my last post (June 8), I wrote about the need to treat writing like a job. Of course, sometimes life interferes and it's difficult to follow that advice.

I'm in the middle of a lengthy freelance writing project with multiple deadlines. I knew I had two assignments due next week. However, after checking more carefully, I discovered I actually had four assignments due between today and next Thursday.

Could I still find a block of time to work on my novel? It's something I try to do every day. I've had to skip a couple of days, but this morning I did write a scene in my doomsday book, The Touchers, Part Two. And I intend to write again tomorrow. I'm trying to follow my own advice: There's always time to write.

*            *            *

Aspiring writers' syndrome - June 8, 2014

One of the people I met at Yorktown Community Day on Saturday told me she was writing a coming-of-age science fiction novel, much like my book, Peachwood Lake. She had begun her novel three years ago, wrote a few pages very quickly, and then put the writing aside until a few weeks ago. Now she was starting to work on the novel again.

I asked if she was writing regularly.

"No," she said, explaining she wrote when she could. However, she loved the writing experience, calling it "amazing."

I agree that writing a novel is an amazing experience. But I doubt this woman will ever finish her book. Since becoming a novelist, I've spoken to many people like her--folks who start writing, complete a few chapters, and then stop. They may start writing again, but they stop again too.

I'm calling it the '"Aspiring writers' syndrome"--procrastinating, but not writing on a regular basis. Unless you commit to writing, and treat writing like a job, a book doesn't get done. Writing is hard work and you've got to be willing to do it.

*            *            *

Killing them softly - June 4, 2014

In The Touchers, Part Two, the novel I'm writing, many people die. That's not surprising; it's an-end-of-the world story. In one of this week's scenes, I knew I'd have to kill some characters. I wasn't sure who, just that several people had to be eliminated.

Yes, I know they're only characters in a book. But it still hurts. The people I killed aren't even important characters. However, I created them. Being a novelist is powerful, sort of like a god of words, deciding which characters live and which die. I love the writing experience, but I grieve for the lost characters--especially if, as in this case, they're not the bad guys.

                                                  *            *            *

Best selling books – May 31, 2014 

What types of novels sell best? I would like to think it's well-written books that tell wonderful stories and feature intriguing characters. However, that's not always the case.

An author today told me about a friend of hers, an elderly man, who is also a writer. It seems he's been selling a lot of books—without paying anything to publish his work and without doing any marketing or promoting. What kind of novels does he write? Pornographic ones. 

It's disturbing to hear a tale like this. It reminds me of the young woman writer I met a few years ago who boasted that her blog got 5,000 hits a week. "What do you blog about?" I asked.

"Sex and violence," was the answer. 

I don't write pornography and I don't blog about sex and violence. I'll pass on those routes to success.

*            *            *

Time Rhyme contest – May 27, 2014 

I love devising contests—especially creative ones. I did that for many years as the promotion manager for a large chain of shoppers and, since becoming a novelist, I've continued the practice on my website.

The first contest I ran here simply asked entrants to submit their names and emails. I got a lot of entries, but I hated it. Boring! Since then, I've only posted creative contests, some of them successful, others less so.

My last contest, unfortunately, fell into the latter category; it was too difficult. As a result, I promised to create a simpler, more user-friendly contest this time and I think I've succeeded. The new contest requires just a rhyme word and a very brief description. Ironically, I'm calling it Time Rhyme—the reverse of Rhyme Time, one of my most popular PennySaver contests. Click here to check it out.

*            *            *


Remembrance of Part One – May 23, 2014

I've been writing the second part of my doomsday novel, The Touchers, for what seems like forever. In this week's scenes, my characters have returned to the setting of the first part of this story. But it's been so long since I started writing this tome that I've forgotten some of the Part One details. 

Fortunately, I had drawn a crude map of Walnut Lane, the street where most of the action of The Touchers, Part One, takes place. As a result, I was able to refer to the map and correct my mistakes. (I mixed up the location of a couple of houses.)

I'd really like to finish writing this manuscript and start editing both of these books, but, unfortunately, my characters are still battling the monsters.

*            *            *

Tech travails - May 19, 2014

I hate technology! I'm not good with computers, phones, TVs--or any other mechanical device. I'm good with words because I'm a writer.

Right now, I'm in the middle of a freelance writing project that, unfortunately, requires me to use a secure computer site to transmit materials. Since I've been doing this standardized testing project for many years, I've finally mastered the technology for this site and can send and receive files without too many problems.

So what happens? The company I'm working for (a giant corporation) decides to change the current secure site to a new secure site that's completely different--so different that it requires a 37-page manual. I complained about all this to my boss and today she gave me a one-on-one 30-minute training session on this wonderful new way of transmitting material.

I think (hope) I understand it. I'm going to practice using the site this week because I have to submit files on it at the end of the month. It would be great just to do my writing and not have to worry about technology. But sadly, that never happens.

*            *            *

Expiration dates – May 15, 2014

When my 3-year-old clothes dryer broke last week, the repairman, whom my husband and I have known for many years, fixed the machine, but said it might need a new motor. 

"Should we get a new dryer rather than spend at least $200 to repair this one?" I asked.

"It doesn't matter," he said, shrugging. "All these appliances are only built to last about ten years." 

They don't make appliances—or most other consumer goods—like they used to. And today, nearly every product has an expiration date, even my deodorant. (The one I'm using supposedly expired in 2006, but I think it's still working. At least no one's complained about my body odor.)

All this got me thinking about books. They don't expire (except borrowed library books, of course). We read novels that were written hundreds of years ago because the stories still work; they continue to entertain us. Tales about romance, suspense, history, horror, fantasy, and mystery don't have expiration dates. Unlike most other consumer products, books can be enjoyed forever.


*            *            *

Spreading the word – May 11, 2014

I had a book signing on Saturday in Montrose, NY, the first venture by the local business association. The crafts fair was held in the center of the business district, just off the main road (Route 9), within sight of the local firehouse, ambulance corps, post office, and local shops. 

The setting for the event was lovely: We were in a small grassy area that included a gazebo and rock garden. And the weather, which called for the possibility of showers, turned out to be warm and rain-free. (See May 7 post.)

There was just one problem: Not enough people attended the event. Why? Since it was a new event and we weren't directly on the main road, people didn't know about the fair. There were no signs, arrows, or balloons at the major intersection to tell passersby about us.

Yes, people driving along our street did see the tables and tents and some of them stopped and came to see our wares. But the folks traveling on the major street had no clue that we were there.

The event organizer was very open to vendor suggestions so, hopefully, the next time the fair is held, there will be signs and balloons on Route 9. Then, in addition to a lovely location, we'll have many more customers.

*            *            *

Wishing and hoping – May 7, 2014 

If you check the Happenings page on on my website, you'll see I'm in the midst of a flurry of spring book signing events. So far, I've had two indoor shows. But my next three signings are all outdoors, starting with this Saturday, May 10.

Because of the uncertainty of the weather, outdoor events are always dicey. While I can hope for a 70 degree, sunny, windless day, that rarely happens. The temperature is usually either 50 or 90 degrees, with 30 mile an hour wind gusts that knock down my poster and books. Once I even had a book signing interrupted by a tornado warning.

And then there's the matter of rain. Many vendors have tents, but I don't, mostly because it wouldn't help enough. Books don't do well in the rain, or even in humidity, and because tents aren't fully enclosed, they don't offer full protection, especially in heavy storms. As a result, if it rains during my outdoor event, I'm in a lot of trouble.

As I mentioned, I have an outdoor event this coming Saturday. It's all day—9 to 4—in Montrose, NY. And the organizer just emailed the vendors that forecasters are predicting a 30% chance of rain. That's why I'm wishing and hoping. Let there be sun!

*            *            *

Contest contemplation – May 3, 2014

I love making up contests! For 20 years, as the promotion manager of a large chain of shopping guides, I created original contests so, when I became a novelist, it was natural for me to post creative, fun contests on my website.

I've just judged the latest web contest and posted the results on the Contest page. This thriller rhyme contest turned out to be more difficult than I had hoped. The problem was that entries had to include one of my book titles, but the line could contain only 7 or 8 syllables. It worked with DUST, a one-syllable name. However, Peachwood Lake is three-syllables—a bit tougher. And The Disappearance, a five-syllable title, was an almost impossible task!

Although I did get some excellent entries, the contest should have been more user-friendly. But here's the good news: I've already come up with a new contest, which I promise will be a lot better!

*            *            *

Event season – April 29, 2014

After hibernating through the long cold winter, I'm participating in lots of local book signings this spring. I had an event last Friday (see April 25 post) and I have signings this Sunday (May 4), next Saturday (May 10), and others in late May and early June. (See Happenings for details and updates.) 

I love book signings! Why? Because I get to talk about my favorite subject: my novels. Of course I understand that not everyone enjoys reading the type of stories I write, supernatural thrillers. But for those readers who do like books in my genre, I look forward to gently coaxing them to try my novels. I find the personal touch does help—and it's a fun challenge!

*            *            *

Morale boost - April 25, 2014

I'm basically an optimistic person, but, as a writer, I sometimes get discouraged: A scene comes out poorly; I get a mediocre review; my books aren't selling well. However, there are times when it's wonderful to be a novelist--and today was one of those times.

Here's what happened: I had a book signing at a lovely little eatery, Steampunk Coffeehouse, in Mohegan Lake, NY and Dawn Fitzpatrick attended. Dawn is a Facebook friend, someone I'd never met because she lives in Syracuse. This is the great part: Dawn and her husband, Tim, drove all the way to Westchester just to meet me. That's more than a four hour trip!

Dawn has already read all three of my novels, but wanted to meet me because I'm her favorite author. Wow! It feels amazing to be someone's favorite author. I don't think I'd travel that far to meet my favorite novelist, Dean Koontz.

Dawn has inspired me to finish editing my fourth novel, Corsonia, so she has another book of mine to read. After all, I am her favorite author. (For photos of today's book signing, please see Happenings.)

*            *            *

Hit by the muse - April 21, 2014

It always surprises me when I can't fall asleep because I start thinking about something in a book I'm writing. The thoughts come out of nowhere and interfere with my sleep. But there's nothing I can do when the muse hits.

Late last night, I had an idea about adding a time reference to the beginning of The Touchers, my doomsday novel. I realized that if the world was destroyed at a particular time, my heroine would remember the day, like we do with 9/11. But I believe the beginning of this novel is strong and I don't want to weaken it. Also, this idea has nothing to do with what I'm writing now. But the muse doesn't care; it comes without asking and takes control of my mind.

*            *            *

Words of wisdom - April 17, 2014

As I write my neverending doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part 2, I sometimes get discouraged because I've worked on this manuscript for such a long time and lately I don't like a lot of the material I'm creating. Nevertheless, I persevere, writing a scene nearly every day.

For encouragement, I occasionally skim through my Pinterest "Writing Quotes" board. It's amazing how many of the quotes seem to be written just for me. Here's one that I found especially appropriate:

Thank you, Jane Smiley! That's just what I tell myself: "I will edit this later." For many more useful writing quotes, please check my Pinterest board. Some of the advice may help you too.

                                            *            *            *

Time travel thoughts - April 13, 2014

I love everything time travel--books, movies, TV shows--and last night I watched the Season Three premiere of SyFy Channel's time travel series, Continuum. The story revolves around policewoman Kiera Cameron, who is unwillingly transported from the year 2077 into our present time along with some very bad terrorists.

I really enjoyed Season One, which focused on Keira trying to stop the terrorists while attempting to return to her own time. Season Two was more jumbled with many side plots thrown into the mix. And now Season Three is making me dizzy. Keira and boy genius Alec have time traveled into the recent past and are dealing with two versions of themselves while they attempt to alter events.

As much as I love time travel, I don't like stories--in novels or film--that become so convoluted that they're difficult to follow. Unfortunately, Contiuuum seems like it's heading in this direction.

*            *            *

Lights! Camera! Action! - April 9, 2014

Just about every novelist fantasizes about his or her book being made into a movie. I know I do. But there are zillions of great novels--and very few of them become movies.

Earlier this week, I was contacted by a marketer from the publisher of my first novel, DUST. The woman suggested that I get a screenplay written so the book could be made into a movie.

"That's wonderful!" I exclaimed, feigning excitement. "So that means you have a producer who wants to make a movie of DUST?"

Of course, that wasn't the case. I was supposed to pay lots of money to have a screenplay written on speculation. Writers are vain. Because we think our books are terrific, people prey on this conceit, trying to get us to waste our money.

I declined the woman's offer. "No thanks," I said. "Call me when you find a producer who wants to pay me to turn DUST into a movie."

Think she'll call me again?

*            *            *

DUST: The Series? - April 5, 2014

As I've mentioned, even though I don't own a Kindle, I receive daily emails promoting various ebooks because I want to know what's out there. And what's out there are series--and more series. It seems that every third or fourth novel is part of a series-- mystery, horror, thriller, young adult--just about every genre is affected.

Writing a series is a great way to build readership--create an interesting protagonist and then showcase him or her in future novels. Unfortunately, my mind doesn't usually work that way. When I finish a book, my characters generally walk off the stage (page) and never return.

The exception is The Touchers, the doomsday novel I've been writing for what seems like forever. I thought I was finished after 80,000 words, but my characters insisted on continuing the story. So, although I won't be writing any series for DUST, Peachwood Lake, The Disappearance, or Corsonia, it looks like I will have at least one book with a sequel.

*            *            *

The "P" word - April 1, 2014

Publicity. If you're an author, "publicity" is a wonderful word. So when George Ondek invited me to appear on his cable TV program for the second time because his wife loved my books (she read DUST and The Disappearance), I immediately said, "Yes!"

Last night, I went to the Peekskill, NY studio to tape the show. I knew I was George's second taping. What I didn't know was his first guests were three local beauty queens, aged 8 to about 14. Had I known that, I would have opted for another time slot.

One girl arrived late and, after the show finally began, the technicians had to stop twice and start again because the girls made too much noise in the control room. As a result, instead of taping my interview at 7:30 pm, we began close to 9:00. However, once we started, I got to talk about writing and my novels so it was worth the wait.

The show will air on Cablevision in Peekskill and Yorktown (NY). When I find out the days and times, I will post the information on the "Happenings" page. Then I will put the interview on YouTube and on the website.

*            *            *

Name and sex changes – March 28, 2014 

"Has anyone ever gotten through a whole novel, all the while doubting their main character's name, and then gone back and changed it?"

That question, asked in one of my Facebook writers' groups, got lots of author responses, most saying they frequently changed the names of their characters. I do too.

I've changed many names, although not usually the name of the main character. Sometimes a name doesn't fit the person or it's too similar to another character's name. In fact, in The Touchers, Part Two, the doomsday novel I'm currently writing, I'm going to change the name of Ellen, a secondary character, because it sounds too much like Erin, my protagonist.

The most interesting experience I've had with names was with my second novel, Peachwood Lake. Halfway through the first draft, I decided that the single parent raising my main character, a 13-year-old girl named Kady Gonzalez, should be a father instead of a mother so Monique, a young reporter, could counsel her. 

That's the beauty of being a novelist—you can perform instant sex change operations! It was easy to transform Eva to Edgar. However, the "Find/Replace" key in Word changed every word containing "Eva" to an "Edgar" word, like "Edgarluate" or "boulEdgarrd." Fixing those wacky non-words was almost as much work as changing all the "she's" to "he's."

*            *            *


Call for action – March 24, 2014

For quite some time, the characters in my doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part Two, didn't seem to be getting anywhere; they were just spinning their wheels, much like hamsters. This book is supposed to be a thriller, which means action, and lately, there hadn't been much.

But in the last couple of days, I've been happier with the way the action is progressing. Things are finally moving at a faster pace and the characters are in danger again, fighting a powerful enemy. Although this novel will require lots of editing to eliminate the slow parts, at least I hope I'm now on the right (and write) track.

*            *            *  

The eyes have it - March 20, 2014

Although I don't have a Kindle, each day I get emails that promote a variety of ebooks. I like learning about novels that are out there--particularly thrillers--and, if I see a book that appeals to me, it's usually also available in print.

Lately I've been thinking about the cover of Corsonia, my mind control novel, so I've been focusing on the covers of these ebooks--and there's one thing I keep seeing: a giant eye. It dominates many of the covers in nearly every fictional genre: sci/fi, thriller, fantasy, mystery, adventure--pretty much everything but historical novels and romances, where intertwined torsos and touching lips still rule.

At first, it was intriguing because I like the concept of a huge eyeball, fluttering eye, crying eye, or even a space ship zooming out of the eye. Now, however, it's too common. So I've made one decision about the cover of Corsonia--it won't contain a giant eye.

*            *            *

Being patient – March 16, 2014

In the morning, before I write a scene in my novel, I often think I'm about to reach a crucial point. But, although I'm ready, many times my characters aren't and I have to write a preliminary scene—maybe even two—before I reach the important one.

That's what happened today. I've just realized a newly introduced character will be integral to solving a major problem in my doomsday novel, The Touchers, Part Two. But I didn't get to that juncture in today's scene. Now I'm hoping I'll be writing the critical scene tomorrow. If not, I'll have to be patient and wait till my characters are ready to get there. 

Update: I just wrote the pivotal scene!

*            *            *

Switching gears – March 12, 2014

I'm writing a doomsday novel (The Touchers, Part Two), which is taking forever and isn't going as well as I'd like. The action is moving too slowly and there's too much repetition. So I switched literary gears.

I reread my fourth novel, Corsonia, which focuses on mind control and has been sitting on the shelf for quite some time. The good news is I really enjoyed the manuscript. It's in much better shape than I remembered (or maybe my standards are getting lower).

The past few nights, instead of thinking about my complex problems with The Touchers, I've been thinking about Corsonia, especially the cover, because I don't have a firm grasp of what it should look like. That led to thoughts about text for the back cover and I wrote—and rewrote—three paragraphs, which is completely out of order because the book isn't finished. But I'm hoping the back cover copy will give me some ideas for the cover. So far, it hasn't.

Meanwhile, I'm supposed to be thinking about reading comprehension passages for my freelance writing project. There's a lot to think about!

*            *            *

Keep it short – March 8, 2014

This week, a Facebook friend asked me to read the first three chapters of his novel and give him some feedback; I agreed.

Although I liked his writing, especially the descriptions, I didn't like many of his paragraphs. They were much too long.

When I was a young newspaper reporter, I was instructed to write short paragraphs. Why? Because they're easier to read. Pick up a newspaper and glance at the first few pages. You'll see that most paragraphs are short. Newspaper stories are written in narrow columns and reading a long unbroken block of words is more challenging (physically and psychologically) than reading a short block.

I think the same principle holds for novelists. We want to make our pages enticing to the reader. That's one reason for using dialogue. It breaks up the text and makes a page less full.

Of course, a novel will always have some lengthy paragraphs. But a writer should strive to add some white space to let the pages breathe.

*           *            *

Eating, drinking, and other bodily functions – March 4, 2014

A few days ago, I realized my main characters in The Touchers, the doomsday novel I'm writing, had been running around for an entire day without eating. When I mentioned this oversight on Facebook, lots of friends acknowledged the "problem" and several commented.

One author said she reread a manuscript and realized the only thing her characters had consumed was coffee. (This was better than my characters, who drank just water.)

A friend wrote: "that detail always bugs me (as well as going to the bathroom, but that may be a harder writing issue!)."

Yes, it is! Authors are interested in moving along their plots—and food and toilet, while essential in real life, are less important in books and movies. Think about it: Do you want to read about all the meals a character eats or his or her daily trips to the bathroom? Unless a bodily function is intrinsic to the story, it's boring. (In Corsonia, my mind control novel, the toilet does play an important part in one scene.)

However, you can't ignore food completely. That's why I backtracked to a previous scene, added a couple of lines, and quickly fed my characters. By making this correction and not starving my characters, as another friend put it, I won't have to be reported to CPS (Character Protection Services).

*            *            *

Writers write - February 28, 2014

I'm a novelist, but I write other things besides novels. In fact, each year at this time I have a job creating standardized test reading passages and questions for non-English speaking students in Texas.

Of course, writing a 50-word story using a second grade vocabulary list is far different from writing an 80,000 word novel. But it's challenging in a completely different way. And it's writing. If you're a writer, it's important that you write--whether it's a novel, a short story, a letter, or, in my case, a 50-word test passage. Writers write.

*            *            *

One book or two? - February 24, 2014

When I realized my characters didn't want to end their adventure in my doomsday novel, The Touchers, I wondered if the story should be told in one book with two parts or in two separate books. Because the action continues immediately, I thought the one book/two parts option made more sense. But now I'm not so sure.

Both parts are book length. Part One totals 80,000 words and Part Two, which I'm still writing, already contains more than 50,000 words. Although the second part of the story is an outgrowth of the first, it is quite different so I think if I strengthen the ending of Part One, it might be able to stand alone.

I'm a reader as well as a writer and I hate when a novel I'm reading doesn't end and, to find out what happens, I'm forced to read the sequel. Of course, if I have a two-book series, I'll want readers to read both. But it should be a choice, not a necessity.

*            *             *


Character assassination – February 20, 2014

Today, using my almighty power as a novelist, I got rid of two characters in the first draft of my doomsday novel, The Touchers. I made them disappear.

Here's why: After I introduced the two men—Derek and Phil—and wrote a second scene with them, they faded into the background and didn't add anything to the story. So this morning I eliminated the two scenes with Derek and Phil (about 1,000 words) and wrote the men out of the remaining scenes of the chapter, making the necessary changes. My main characters were handling most of the action anyway. It was extra work and it meant I wasted lots of time writing the scenes, but the book is better now.

On Facebook today, one friend asked: "When you delete a character, does it give you a funny feeling, like they have become almost real people in your mind and you are now killing them? Or were they minor enough that they hadn't become real to you?"

It's more of the latter. Derek and Phil hadn't been in my novel long enough for me to get attached to them—and they were minor characters. Since the two men didn't move the action along, they weren't needed. Yes, sometimes I feel bad when I kill characters in my books. But these two guys weren't killed; they were deleted. They died before they were ever born.

*            *            *


Apostrophe abuse - February 16, 2014

Continuing my Andy Rooney imitation, I'm again tackling the apostrophe issue that surfaces every Presidents' Day. The holiday celebrates the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two of our greatest presidents. It's a huge time for retail sales--and apostrophe errors.

I've been kvetching about this problem for years, but 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 honoring: George or Abe?)

This year, more major advertisers are getting it right. However, in print ads, auto dealerships and many retailers are still guilty of apostrophe abuse. Here are a few examples from my local papers: A national Chevrolet ad proclaims "Chevy Presidents Day," City World Toyota promotes a "Presidents Day Sale-A-Bration," La-Z-Boy is running a "Presidents Day Sale," craft chain Michaels tells shoppers to "Celebrate Presidents Day All Week Long," and Harlem Furniture misplaces the apostrophe with its "President's Day Sale."

In last year's post, I cited several major online retailers that omitted the apostrophe in their web ads, which resulted in a strange email from a Sears coupon rep. (See January 7, 2014 post below.) Guess what: The Sears web ad is wrong again this year--still no apostrophe!

*            *            *

Kiddy lit lament – February 12, 2014

I'm again releasing my inner Andy Rooney: Why is there such poor quality control with current children's picture books? I don't remember this problem when my kids were little, but some of my two-year-old grandson's books have careless errors or dumb writing that shows nobody bothered to check them.

Do I notice these flaws because I'm now a novelist or because the mistakes are more prevalent? Most new children's books seem to be printed in China. Does that mean English readers no longer examine the books? Here are three examples:

Sally Sheep's New Nibbles is about a sheep that tries different food. On one page, Sally "trots past Peggy Pig." Then: "'Would you like to try one of my lovely red apples?' Pippa asks." Did I miss something? How did Peggy suddenly morph into Pippa? No one caught this?

Here's a subtler error: In Big Blue Truck, four new cars (blue, yellow, red, orange) are being delivered. The blue and yellow cars are dropped off at a showroom. Then the truck stops at a port. The text reads: "The cars are driven off the big blue truck and lifted onto the ship." But, on the next page, the orange car is dropped off at another showroom. If there were only four cars on the truck—as shown throughout—that's not possible. A car (the red one)—not cars—was lifted onto the ship. Who proofread this book?

Red Truck, Yellow Bus: A Book of Colors, a simple story about vehicles and colors, goes from "The bus is yellow" to "The road roller is yellow too." What kind of everyday vehicle is a road roller? The author couldn't find a more common car or truck? And, from the same small book: "The airplane is white." Only it isn't; it's gray.

I don't think I'm being especially picky here. Does anyone else see too many examples of poorly written or edited children's picture books? Please let me know.

*           *           *

Point of view review - February 8, 2014

"When one is writing in first person, is it okay to talk about things other characters are doing when not with the person telling the story?"

A friend posted the above question on my Facebook page this week and I answered it briefly. However, since understanding first-person vs. third-person point of view is so vital, I'm explaining it here. Then I'll repeat my answer.

In a third-person novel, the author uses an outside narrator ("he" or "she") to describe the action. It's the most commonly used point of view and is recommended for beginning writers because it's the easiest to use. In fact, I used the third-person for my first four novels. The major advantage of third-person is that the reader isn't aware of the author's presence.

In a first-person novel, the author assumes the role of the main character and uses "I" to tell the story. This means your tale is limited to what your narrator sees, hears, thinks, and feels. For example, if your character faints, you can only continue your story when he or she has regained consciousness. You might resume your narrative with: "When my head finally cleared..."

So keeping this information in mind, here is how I answered the question:

"No! That's the problem with a first-person story: The character telling the story must be there all the time. You cannot change the point of view for your convenience. I'm currently writing a first-person novel (The Touchers) and it's more challenging than a third-person novel for that reason. The only way to introduce things that happen when your narrator isn't there is for another character to tell him/her or to have the narrator read about it—some plot device like that.”

There are other challenges using first-person. For example, in The Touchers, my main character is a teen girl so her language can't be my language, plus her vocabulary is more limited. My third-person novels featuring teens aren't limited in this way since an outside narrator—not the teen—is telling the story.

*            *            *

Modern marketing - February 4, 2014

Do you remember book clubs like Book of the Month and Literary Guild? With the booming popularity of ebooks, today's book promotion scene is completely different.

The new "book clubs" are websites that publicize ebooks via daily emails to readers. The sites feature highly-rated Amazon books that are either cheap, on sale, or free. Each day these sites email several titles--complete with cover photos, short descriptions, and retail links--to people seeking good reads.

It's a great way for lesser-known authors (like me) to promote their novels. I've been fortunate to have The Disappearance featured in two of these sites: eBookSoda, today (February 4th) and PeopleReads, late last year. If you enjoy reading ebooks, I encourage you to check out these sites. You may want to sign up to receive their daily emails. Many of the publicized books look like terrific reads.

                                          *           *            *

Review request - January 31, 2014

The Disappearance received a terrific review this week and I bragged about it on Facebook and posted a condensed version (it's very long!) on the top of the novel's Review page. How favorable was this review? When I showed it to my husband, first he asked if I knew this person (no) and then if I paid him or her to write the review (no!).

Every time I get a glowing review, it reminds me how important reviews are to little novelists like me. Since most readers don't know me or my books, rave reviews are like gold: They prove that people read--and like--my novels.

So the next time you enjoy a novel written by a lesser-known author, please take a few minutes to post a positive review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads--or any site where readers can find it. Believe me, your few words of praise will make a struggling author very happy!

*            *            *

Chapter length - January 27, 2014

A novelist just asked the following question in one of my Facebook writers' groups:  "How long do you usually make a chapter?"

Some authors gave word amounts they aimed for, like 2,500 to 3,500 words. Another said chapter length depended on genre: i.e, historical fiction chapters are longer than mystery chapters. But I agree with this novelist's comment: "I end a chapter when it's right. It doesn't matter to me if one chapter is two pages and another is ten."

One author mentioned an informative blog post titled "Keep It Short and Lengthen Your Chances" by author Michael J. Holley, who cites a study that shows readers are 25% more likely to finish books with shorter chapters. He believes that figure is probably true because everything today is shorter and faster--from tweets to emails to newspaper articles to movies.

Again I agree. And I'm glad readers prefer shorter chapters because that's what I tend to write. It's especially true with my first novel, DUST, where many of the chapter are just three or four pages. And I've gotten good feedback on this subject. One DUST reviewer wrote: "I especially like short chapters that allow you to take a break without being in the middle of a plot line."

*            *            *

Contest time - January 23, 2014

I love contests, especially creative ones. In my twenty years as promotion manager for a large chain of shopping guides, I devised many contests and, after I became a novelist, I continued the fun. Only now the contests on my website relate to my books.

I've just introduced an easy creative contest. All you have to do is write a short rhyming line that follows the phrase: "If you like reading books that thrill," and includes the title of one of my novels. Prizes include a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble and signed copies of DUST, Peachwood Lake, or The Disappearance. Interested? Then please check out the Contest page.

*            *            *

Name game - January 19, 2014

A Facebook friend (not someone I really know) just messaged me about the title of the doomsday novel I'm writing. She doesn't like my choice of The Touchers. "It doesn't jump out at me and make me want to read it," the woman said. "The concept of the book sounds interesting, but the title doesn't live up to the potential of the book."

This isn't the first time I've had negative feedback about this title. A few people have told me The Touchers makes them feel uncomfortable, that it's creepy, reminding them of a group of pedophiles. But here's the problem: This novel is about creatures that kill people by touching them so the title makes perfect sense. And I'm not sure that having a controversial title is such a bad thing. Perhaps the title will have the opposite effect and make people so curious about the book that they'll want to read it.

In any case, right now I'm not changing the title of my work in progress. I do appreciate this friend's comments, which were made very politely. However, I know I won't take her suggestion: to have a Facebook competition for a new title. I love contests, but I'm the only one who'll decide the names of my books!

*           *            *

Another fish story - January 15, 2014

People often send me articles about strange fish that remind them of the mythical monster in Peachwood Lake. This week, a friend posted a story from LiveScience on my Facebook page with the comment, "Saw this and immediately thought of Peachwood."

Titled "Strange Ancient Fish Had Front And Back Legs," the article explains that a 375-million year-old-fish called Tiktaalik roseae, whose fossils were discovered in Canada in 2004, possessed four working limbs. Although the 9-foot ancient creature resembled a crocodile, scientists say it was definitely a fish because it had gills, scales, and fins. Did Tiktaalik walk as well as swim underwater? Scientists don't know.

This is yet another case of truth being stranger than fiction. Now if only the Tiktaalik was an armored fish that could jump!

*           *            *

Periodic sentences – January 11, 2014

I'm editing my husband's humorous memoir and, for the most part, his writing is clever and funny. However, some of his longer sentences occasionally meander, losing their effectiveness. I try to restructure these sentences to make them periodic.

A periodic sentence is a long sentence in which the meaning doesn't become clear until the final word. It's used for emphasis and can also create suspense (for a novelist) or interest for the reader.

Here are a couple of my husband's sentences that I reworked, aiming to add emphasis and interest.

Original: No sense in consuming extra time, especially since I have this growing fear that time is all we'll be consuming for a while.   
Periodic: No sense in consuming extra time, especially since I have this growing fear that, for a while, time is all we'll be consuming.

Original: Unfortunately, Señor Unger has already headed for the kitchen by the time I utter the final word.
Periodic: Unfortunately, by the time I utter the final word, Señor Unger has already headed for the kitchen.

Which sentence do you find more effective?

                                                 *            *            *


Writing and retailing - January 7, 2014

I blog about writing-related topics twice a week and occasionally I get feedback about my posts. Today, however, I received a bizarre request from a web coupon rep who noticed a link to Sears on one of my posts and requested that I link to her Sears coupon page. "I believe it would be a terrific resource for your visitors after reading about Sears on your site," she explained.

Huh? I checked my blog and the reference to Sears occurred last February before Presidents' Day when the chain omitted the apostrophe in its holiday ads. Because I linked to an ad to illustrate a grammatical error, I should promote the store's coupons? I explained why I had mentioned Sears, closing with: "Sorry, but my blog is about writing, not about retailing."

Her response: "We'd still really appreciate it if you could add the link."

My suggestion ended our strange correspondence: "How about this? I'll link to Sears if Sears links to my website. Writing is an important resource, even for shoppers."

*           *            *

Novel names - January 3, 2014

"One of the first things I do when I start a new novel is play around with titles," a member of one of my Facebook writers' groups posted recently, adding that finding the "perfect title" really motivated him. "Is it the same with you?" he asked.

I'm not sure deciding on a title for a work in progress motivates me, but I've known the titles of my three published novels (DUST, Peachwood Lake, The Disappearance) as well as The Touchers, the end-of-the-world story I'm currently writing, when I began writing the books. 

The exception is Corsonia, my not-yet-published mind control novel. I knew the title would be the name of a strange little Nevada town where most of the action occurs. My problem was settling on an acceptable name. I wanted a place that didn't exist anywhere, but sounded plausible and harmless. I was a long way into writing the book before I chose Corsonia. In the meanwhile, I used the working title, Merlynn, the name of the novel's terrible villainess.

*           *            *