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 series, The Touchers: "After the Bubbles" and "Soldier Girl." This page contains blog entries from January 1, 2015 - December 30, 2015.
Writing resolutions – December 30, 2015
It's time for this year's resolutions so here they are:
1. I resolve to finish writing the first draft of my doomsday thriller, The Touchers (Part Two), which I call the never-ending novel because there's no ending in sight. Even taking a year off to write a short story collection hasn't helped my muse. Although The Touchers (Part One) is pretty good, Part Two is still a mess.
2. I resolve to publish my short story collection (tentative title: The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales) by the spring. This should be an easier goal to achieve than Resolution 1 since the stories are nearly finished. They just need more polishing and several additional rounds of proofing.
3. I resolve to help my husband publish his humorous memoir in 2016. I'm still editing his manuscript, but it's been in the editing stage for years. It's time to get the book finished.
Happy New Year, everyone--and to my author friends, Happy Writing!
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Word breeding – December 26, 2015
I don't want to use more words than necessary. However, as I reread my short stories, I'm finding lots of unnecessary words. Interestingly, in assembling this post, I unknowingly selected six examples with three needless words used twice.
Here are the phrases and sentences containing the three culprits:
* "Let's go run all the tests..."
* "We've got to go find cover."
Although these are both conversations, and people might talk this way, the word "go" is not needed.
* "If I don't hear back from you..."
* ...tossed the farmer and tractor back into the bin.
Here the first phrase is dialogue and the second is description. In both cases the word "back" is unnecessary.
* ...she certainly wasn't in any shape to go to work.
* However, none of the passengers or crew paid any extra attention to them.
The word "any" doesn't add to either description. In fact, the second example already has a qualifying adjective: "extra."
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The well-dressed book - December 22, 2015
I love Patricia Fuller's analogy! No matter how wonderfully you write, you must be prepared to edit your manuscript. If you don't reread and revise before releasing your book to the public, it really is comparable to going out in public half dressed.
I reread my work and edit it so many times that, when a book is finally published, I've practically memorized all the words. Everything I write requires tons of revising. Of course, some authors may write better first drafts that don't require that much editing, but all writers need to review their work. We owe it to our readers to make our novels, stories, biographies, memoirs--everything we write--as good as possible.
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What's in a name? – December 18, 2015
I finished a list of all the names I've used for characters in my short stories. Since I have fourteen tales written over a one-year period, I knew there would be some repetition of names—and I was right.
I had already discovered that I loved the name Angie. I originally had four stories with girls and women named Angie. I also used Jeremy twice for important characters.
After completing my list, I found three Franks. But at least all of them were in minor roles.
The worst name repetition I found was in a last name. I had a secondary character whose last name was Freeman and then, several stories later, I had a major character with the same name. See why I need a list?
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Signing summary – December 14, 2015
Now that I've finished a series of holiday book signings, I've been thinking about how this year's events compared to last year. Here are some conclusions:
* The warm weather hurt sales. Although it's great to have temperatures in the 60s in November and December, the balmy weather isn't good for East Coast holiday shopping. Fewer people this year came to malls or craft fairs looking for gifts. In New York, it sure doesn't seem like it's just ten days before Christmas.
* Some kids still want to write. At my most recent events, two women told me their 13-year-old granddaughters want to be writers. Both ladies chose copies of Peachwood Lake (a story about Kady Gonzalez, a 13-year-old girl who aspires to be a writer) for their budding authors.
* Some young boys love to read. On December 6th, I wrote a post about 11-year-old Tyler who was so excited about getting signed books that, after choosing Peachwood Lake, he returned for a copy of DUST.
* It's impossible to predict the success or failure of these events. Some turned out great; others were less successful. But the mystery factor is part of the fun. And I enjoy all the book signings because I love meeting readers and discussing my writing.
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Sentence structure – December 10, 2015
I totally agree with Kurt Vonnegut's statement. However, it's impossible for me to reveal character or advance action in every sentence. I'm lucky if I can accomplish this goal in each scene and chapter.
That's why I'm so frustrated right now with the first draft of my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two). I feel like the story is spinning in place like a hamster on a wheel—with various adventures, but not action that advances the plot. It's as if my characters are content to have exciting experiences, but refuse to have their story end.
That's the reason I enjoy working on my short story collection so much more. First, the stories are already written and in good shape, and secondly, since they're short stories—not a novel—the sentences are more successful in revealing character or advancing action. Now if I can only convince the characters in my novel to move forward.
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Don't assume – December 6, 2015
My second novel, Peachwood Lake, is about an evil fish that terrorizes a lake. But it's also a coming-of-age story about a troubled 13-year-old motherless girl with frightening growing up issues (bullying, boys, etc.), making it a great read for young females. That's why, at book signing events, I steer younger girls to Peachwood Lake and younger boys to my other three novels. (I recommend all my books to men and women.)
At Saturday's Holiday Boutique in Montrose, NY, a young boy—an avid reader, but not even a teen—was fascinated by Peachwood Lake. "It's about a 13-year-old girl and girl problems," I cautioned him. "Maybe you'd like to read DUST?" Tyler flipped through the pages again and chose Peachwood Lake. Sometimes, readers surprise me with their book preferences.
However, Tyler came back to my table a few minutes later to get DUST too. (Click here for photos.)
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How to write a letter of complaint – December 2, 2015
I know how to write a really good letter of complaint. Here's why: Before I became a novelist, I co-authored a 6-part textbook series for grades 7-12 called Written Expression: A Specific Skills Program. Chapter 14 of the Gray Book (for grade 12) is titled, "Get Results With Your Letter of Complaint."
Last week, on Thanksgiving night, I had a bad experience at my local Toys "R" Us store. When I got home, I was so furious that I wrote a print letter. (I would have written an email, but the chain no longer offers an email option for customers, which also annoyed me.)
Here's a brief rundown of what happened: I was shopping for a "door buster" item—a train set with table, normally $110—on sale only Thursday night for $40. I arrived early, but several inept salespeople didn't direct me to the item, didn't know what the item was, pulled out the wrong item, and wasted so much time that two other customers scooped up the only train table sets in the store. When I complained, someone who identified herself as a manager said, "Sorry, we don't have any more. We only had one." (Really?)
That explanation didn't work for me so I wrote my letter and mailed it Friday. On Wednesday night I got an apologetic call from the manager of my local Toys "R" Us. She had received my letter that afternoon and, after frantically searching the entire New York metro area for the train table set, had finally found one in New Jersey. An employee was traveling to the Jersey store (more than an hour away) tomorrow to pick it up. I would have the item by Friday or Saturday at the "door buster" price.
How did I get such quick results?
* I wrote my letter to the Chairman/CEO, not to my local store. Letters to the top people in large companies work best. You don't even have to contact Customer Service. Here's another tip: If you do write to a Customer Service rep or another underling, add a CC on the bottom to the President or CEO.
* I clearly—and politely—explained my problem. I was critical, but not rude.
* I explained how I wanted my problem resolved. In this case, it was easy: I wanted the train table set at the "door buster" price.
* I kept my letter short—just one page. (Of course, it's easier to write a longer email letter. But you should still be straightforward and direct.)
A good letter of complaint is a pain to write, but if you take the time to write it, the results can be worthwhile.
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Event analysis – November 29, 2015
On Black Friday, I shared a table with fellow YIKES! & TYKES author Linda Griffin, just inside the main entrance of my local mall. It was a terrific opportunity to sign books during one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
I did very well, but I don't know if it was because people were in a buying state of mind due to the upcoming holidays or because I ran a "Black Friday Sale." At the last minute, I decided to lower my book prices for the event because everyone expects a "bargain" the day after Thanksgiving.
Even though I signed a lot of novels, many shoppers dashed by our attractive table as if they had blinders on, never even glancing our way. People frequenting this mall are in a great hurry to get to a particular store and don't want to be bothered with anything else. (Also, this is New York and people here are always in a rush.)
You can see photos of Black Friday Extravaganza here.
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Dialogue discussion – November 24, 2015
"Conversation is definitely not dialogue."
When I saw this quote tweeted recently, I realized how true it is. A lot of our everyday conversations are boring because we tend to ramble on, repeat ourselves, and interject expressions like "um hum," "yeah," and "duh." As Sam Shepard points out: That's not dialogue.
Dialogue is a literary technique used to propel the plot forward. It's talk between characters that simulates real conversation. No one wants to read all the unnecessary words and phrases we use when we talk. Of course, characters should sound like they are really having a conversation. But they don't have to say every single word—duh, huh, you know what I mean?
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The written truth - November 20, 2015
Dorothy Parker got it right (or write?) in this little quote. The joy in writing doesn't happen when I'm writing, it happens when I'm done.
Writing is a difficult chore. I force myself to write a scene each morning, even when I don't feel like it, and very often I don't like what I've written. It usually takes lots of editing and rewriting before I'm satisfied with my work. But after I've finally finished a novel, or more recently, a short story, then I'm able to take pride in what I've accomplished.
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Let it snow? – November 16, 2015
As usual, I'm participating in lots of book signing events now because it's mid-November. That's when people start shopping for holiday gifts, right?
It's been unseasonably warm here in New York. In fact, the temperature this afternoon reached the upper 60s. And the mild weather seems to be delaying the holiday shopping spirit. Yes, I've signed books at recent events. But the books are for the purchasers—not gifts for others.
Do I want it to snow? Not really. But maybe the temperature can at least dip into the 40s. With at least three more book signings in the next few weeks, I need people in a gift-buying state of mind.
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Foreshadowing fix – November 12, 2015
The response from the first readers of my unpublished short stories has been nearly all positive. However, one horror tale has received mixed reviews. I didn't see a problem with the story, but when a second reader had an issue with the ending, I reread the story again.
After the reread, I decided the problem was with the abruptness of the ending rather than the ending itself—and I agreed with the second reader's suggestion: The ending needed more foreshadowing.
It took me a long time to determine where to add the information as well as what to include. Finally, I hit upon a solution and plugged in the foreshadowing material, about 100 words.
The result was a resounding success. "You nailed it!" and "Wow!"were the reactions from the readers who had criticized the horror story. And although I thought the tale worked before, I agree that it's much better now.
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Research rebuttal - November 8, 2015
"I enjoy research; in fact research is so engaging
that it would be easy to go on for years,
and never write the novel at all."
-- Helen Dunmore
I usually blog about quotes I agree with. But not this time. I hate doing research! It reminds me of term papers and non-fiction writing--things I associate with work. What I enjoy most about fiction writing is that it's entertaining--and it doesn't feel like real work.
That's not to say I don't procrastinate when I write fiction. I just use other methods that don't involve research. I'll surf the Internet, play solitaire, read the newspaper, solve crossword puzzles--do whatever I can to postpone writing. But research? I only do that when I absolutely have to.
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Return of the Muse – November 4, 2015
I woke up early a few days ago and lay in bed trying to go back to sleep. But, I couldn't. For some reason, my mind was too alert. Then, suddenly, I thought of an idea for the blurb on the back-cover of my short story collection so I grabbed a flashlight and pen and quickly scribbled the words.
When I got out of bed, I reread what I had written and—voila! I still liked it.
So I don't even have a definite title for the short stories (although I'm leaning towards one), but I now have the back-cover copy. And that's important because this description appears on Amazon and the other online ebook stores.
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Elves wanted! - October 31, 2015
You mean the elves aren't going to help me? Darn it! I could really use some divine intervention with my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two).
This morning, as always, I forced myself to write a scene. But, with this never-ending book, I feel like I'm spinning around like a hamster on its wheel—going in circles without making progress.
If not an elf, then maybe a ghost or good witch will magically finish my novel tonight. After all, it is Halloween.
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Back to the book – October 26, 2015
I've returned to work on my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two). But, this morning, after starting a new chapter (25) and writing a scene, I realized I hadn't inserted all the corrections and revisions I had found in my recent reread. Since the manuscript is 80,000+ words, that's a time-consuming chore. So far, I've only updated two chapters.
It would help if I felt more confident about where this book is going. As I've mentioned, while The Touchers (Part One) is pretty good, this manuscript meanders too much. And I'm still not sure how—and when (if ever!)—the novel is going to end.
I'd rather edit my short stories! They're in much better shape.
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Tell me a story – October 22, 2015
On Wednesday, for the first time, I read my fiction to an audience. I've avoided reading excerpts of my novels, even when asked, because I think it's impossible to capture the essence of a thriller in a short sampling.
However, now I've written 14 short stories and, although they're not yet published, the tales are in pretty good shape. That's why I agreed to read two of the gentler stories to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders—a tough audience.
I think the readings went well. I know I enjoyed the experience—and the kids seemed to like "Jeremy's Toys" and "Everything $50!"
Now, if I ever decide on a title for the collection, I can move forward and get these tales published.
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Not "to be"? - October 18, 2015
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival recently announced a "Play On!" project to translate Shakespeare's plays into modern English. However, the project is more clarification than translation. The Festival won't change Shakespeare's meter, rhyme, or syntax--just the words that are no longer used the same way. For example, in "Macbeth," suggested changes include subtituting "authority" and "knocking-off" for "faculties" and "taking-off."
Readers have complained this action is "dumbing down" Shakespeare. But I don't think that's true. The project will make Shakespeare more accessible to readers--a positive move. After all, we want as many people as possible to read great literature. As long as the Oregon Festival only changes a few of Shakespeare's words, this idea is a good one.
Do you agree?
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The Martian (The book) – October 14, 2015
This novel had been recommended to me long before I heard about the movie. I read it during my vacation and finished it on the flight home last night. The Martian, by Andy Weir, is a page-turner and I loved it!
I'm sure you already know the plot: Mark Watney is an astronaut who's marooned on Mars and has to figure out how to stay alive on that desolate planet. It helps that he's a botanist/mechanical engineer. But he's also brilliant and resourceful—a modern MacGyver—with the ability to find a solution to every problem. And he has many problems!
Watney also has a terrific sense of humor. In fact, I laughed out loud numerous times, surprising my seatmates, who wanted to know what was so funny.
What's interesting is that we never know much about Mark—his age, his appearance, his friends—but somehow that doesn't matter. He's just an ingenious and likeable Everyman.
My only gripe with the novel is the science, which was at times a bit too heavy for me. Even though Watney explains everything he does, I found the details tough to follow. But I'm not good with science; others might be fine with it.
Now I'm looking forward to seeing The Martian, the movie.
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Revival review – October 7, 2015
I just finished reading Stephen King's Revival. While I love most of his works, this was not one of my favorites. The story, told in the first-person by Jamie, a likeable ex-drug addict, is a Frankensteinish tale centering on Jamie's former preacher's obsession with electricity. Like all of King's works, the characters are well defined and the plot, although not gripping, is interesting.
Strangely, however, except for one pivotal event, there's not much horror until the end of the book. And then (and earlier) most of the horror happens off stage (or off page) in events not directly involving the narrator. It almost seemed as if these terrible incidents are thrown at the reader for shock effect—and they are shocking (an appropriate word for this book). But I don't think all the violence is necessary.
If you've read Revival, I'd be interested in your reaction. Do you agree with me?
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Questions & answers – October 3, 2015
I had a book signing this afternoon (See Happenings), which gave me an opportunity to talk about my writing, my favorite topic. And sometimes, like today, people ask me good questions. Here are today's good questions along with my (hopefully) good answers.
Why did you decide to become a novelist?
When I was working as a promotion manager for a large chain of shoppers, I read a small article about a strange weather phenomenon called a "dust devil," a miniature tornado strong enough to toss dust and dirt into the air. In this news clip, a dust devil lifted the roof off an auto body shop, collapsing most of the building, and killing the owner. Since the story was so weird—and it happened in Maine—I was sure Stephen King would write a book about some kind of supernatural dust. I forgot about the article until I found it a few years later and realized Stephen King had never written a novel about weird dust. Then I got an idea, which became the basis for DUST.
What do you do for writer's block?
Fortunately, I've only had writer's block once—with my second novel, Peachwood Lake, when I had trouble filling in a period of time (an afternoon) in the narrative. Rather than sit and struggle, I skipped past that chapter and picked up the story's action at a later point. Then, when I figured out what I wanted to write, I was able to go back and fill in the missing pages.
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Necessary or not? – September 29, 2015
As I feared in my last post (September 25), while rereading my end-of-the-world manuscript, The Touchers (part 2), I did find a chapter that's not essential to the story. Although the section includes some interesting action, it doesn't advance the plot.
However, when I mentioned this dilemma on Facebook, a novelist friend asked a good question: "Does it enhance any character development?"
My answer? It might.
The protagonist and her boyfriend have a minor fight during the chapter. I could expand on that situation to create more tension between the two of them. If I can use the chapter to flesh out the characters more fully, I won't have to delete it. I'd prefer to revise it, because, like most authors, I hate throwing out all my wonderful words!
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Action alert – September 25, 2015
I'm halfway through rereading my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part 2) and so far it's pretty good. The action is purposeful: The characters are doing things that advance the plot.
Unfortunately, I think I'm coming to a point in the manuscript where the events don't enhance the story, which is one of the reasons I put this book aside about a year ago. If that's the case, I'll have to either eliminate the wayward chapter(s) or rewrite those sections—and I'm not looking forward to tackling the heavy revisions.
However, if I'm writing a thriller, then the novel can't meander lazily to an uninspired ending; it has to race to an exciting conclusion.
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The next step - September 21, 2015
I've finished rereading and making changes and corrections to my 80,000 word doomsday thriller, The Touchers, Part 1--at least for now. The book's in okay shape, but certainly not ready for publication.
I needed to read Part 1 to prepare for rereading Part 2, which is also 80,000 words. However, this novel isn't in nearly as good shape as Part 1. The story meanders too much and there's no sign of a conclusion.
That's why I stopped writing Part 2 about a year ago and started composing short stories. But now that the short stories are written, I'm ready to retackle this novel. First, I'll reread Part 2--and then I'll finish writing it.
Will there be a Part 3 of The Touchers? Maybe or maybe not. Keep tuned.
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Revising first drafts - September 17, 2015
I wish I could write nothing but first drafts all the time. It's creative and entertaining work. However, unlike Dean Koontz, I don't produce finished first drafts. My writing always needs editing--lots of it.
I've spent this week editing both my collection of short stories and my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part 1). The revisions usually involve multiple changes. Sometimes I have to add foreshadowing earlier. Other times, I have to insert changes in several places after the initial fix. For example, in The Touchers, I realized I needed more dead bodies in the streets. As a result, every time my characters leave their homes, I have to add corpses. (As I've said before, it is the end of the world.)
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Fleshing out the characters – September 13, 2015
When I write the first draft of a novel, I concentrate on the plot—telling the story. Of course I include the characters, but, at that point, they're not fully defined people. After I reread the book, I add the details to make the characters "real."
That's what I'm doing now with my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part 1). I've been thinking a lot about 15-year-old Erin, who narrates the book. I already know she's resourceful, artistic, and brave. But who are her best friends? Her other relatives? What are her quirks?
As I figure out the rest of Erin's backstory, I'll weave bits of that information into the narrative. Then I'll do the same for Blaine, Erin's boyfriend, and the other significant characters. When I'm finished, The Touchers (Part 1) will be a fully-written book.
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Updating the details - September 9, 2015
As I wrote in my last post, a novelist can put a book aside for years and it won't spoil. However, things do change over time and those changes can affect the story.
One thing that's changed in the nearly 2 1/2 years since I last read my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part 1), is the popularity of texting. In The Touchers, people make phone calls. But since nearly everyone today (except me) texts, I'm now going to have my characters text at the beginning of the novel. It's not important later in the book because there are no more phones or electronic devices. Hey, it's the end of the world!
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Revisiting The Touchers – September 5, 2015
Now that I've finished writing my short stories, I'm going back to working on my doomsday novels, The Touchers (Parts 1 & 2). I haven't looked at these books for about a year.
Fortunately, novels aren't like food; they don't spoil. Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1961), in July published a novel she wrote in the mid 1950s. That's a really long time to wait! But putting books aside and then revisiting them can give an author a fresh perspective.
I had grown tired of Erin, the 15-year-old protagonist in The Touchers. The novels are written in the first-person and I needed a break from my teen heroine and her many problems, including how to deal with her boyfriend, Blaine. Also, I felt Part 2 was meandering and I didn't know how to fix it or end it. With this rereading, I'm looking for some answers—which I hope doesn't mean writing a Part 3!
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Title search contest – September 1, 2015
As I mentioned in my last post (see August 28 below), I've just finished writing fourteen short stories, which I intend to publish as a collection. However, I'm having trouble thinking of an appropriate title (and subtitle) for this diverse assortment, which includes horror, thriller, ghost, fantasy, sci/fi, fairy tale, and humor.
When I mentioned this problem on Facebook, lots of friends suggested titles—and many of them were really good. That's when I got the idea of making my title travails into a contest. Hopefully, it will be fun for everybody entering—and I know the results will be helpful to me.
Can you think of a title for my short story collection? Check out the contest details here.
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Decisions, decisions - August 28, 2015
I'm pretty sure I'm going to have fourteen short stories in my collection, rather than the fifteen I originally planned. There are two reasons for my decision: I really like the last story I wrote--and I haven't been able to come up with another good, and different, story idea. (The one I'd been considering is too similar to several of the others.)
As a result, I'm assembling the fourteen stories into book form. Thus far, I've kept them in the order they were written because I haven't thought of a better arrangement. The stories are a mixture of genres: thriller, horror, fantasy, scifi, fairy tale, ghost, and humor. Now I have to think of an appropriate title (and subtitle) that ties them all together.
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Reading gripe – August 23, 2015
At the end of Saturday's Back to School book signing event at the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights, NY, a reporter from a local TV station interviewed me. (See 5th photo.) She fired off a bunch of questions about kids, reading, and books. I was exhausted by then so I don't know if my answers made much sense. My husband said I sounded angry—in a good way.
Here's why I was angry: I'm not sure about the question, but it led to my complaint that today's kids don't read as much as they should partly because many parents don't encourage reading. In fact, many adults don't read books. They're too busy doing other things like texting and playing games on their phones.
I've seen lots of parents attend events with teens, and show no interest in books as an option for their kids. It's a disturbing trend and I'm not sure how it can be fixed.
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Review request – August 19, 2015
Corsonia just received a 5-star review on Amazon. Here's what reader Stan Fielding writes: "Corsonia Hits the Mark! This is the best novel yet from new author Susan Berliner. Her characters have been well developed and the plot moves at a good pace right through to its surprising conclusion. Readers of all ages will be engrossed in this tale from beginning to end."
As I've mentioned before, reviews like the one above are important to all authors because they help readers decide which books they want to purchase. So if you've read Corsonia—or any other novel—and enjoyed the experience, please take a moment to review that book on Amazon (even if you didn't buy it there). It's easy to do—and you'll make a struggling author very happy.
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Slow but steady - August 15, 2015
I've written 14 short stories and hope to have 15 for a collection. While I try to think of a new story, I decided to reread the others. To my amazement, I wrote the earliest stories last September—nearly a year ago.
Obviously, I'm not a speedy writer, producing 14 stories in 11 months. I guess I'm like a turtle—slow and steady, moving at my own pace.
I'd nearly forgotten some of those early stories so reading them again was entertaining. I really enjoyed them! I may be slow, but at least I'm writing some pretty good stuff.
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Young adult steamy stories – August 11, 2015
I write thrillers that are good reads for teens and adults. My four published novels don't contain much sex, mostly because they aren't love stories, although there are touches of romance in each.
The New York Daily News' August 11th edition contains a two-page feature about young adult books, entitled "Novel Positions," with a full-page lead-in photo depicting a teen girl hugged by two shirtless young guys.
Here's the opening of the article by Allen Salkin: "Want to publish a young-adult book right now? Make sure it has a threesome."
According to the story, the current trend in YA literature is to have explicit sex scenes that involve multiple partners. An agent quoted claims adding sex helps sales. And a librarian adds, "These books can help young people as they search for their own sexual identities."
Wow! Yes, I know today's teens are much more sophisticated about sex than kids in earlier eras. But I'm not sure I'd want my teenagers reading such graphic books. What do you think?
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The end game – August 7, 2015
I was nearing the finish of my short story, "Nathan's Return," and, since I didn't know the ending, like an impatient reader, I was anxious to discover the conclusion.
For me, that's the best thing about writing fiction: the thrill of not knowing followed by the discovery. This morning, I sat at the computer and wrote the two final scenes of the story. Then I leaned back in my chair and said to myself: "Aha! So that's what happened."
The ending surprised me; I really didn't know the fate of my main character. But when I completed the story, I was pleased with the result. And, along the way, I enjoyed the ride.
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Foreshadowing focus – August 3, 2015
I've written more than 2,500 words in "Nathan's Return," my latest short story, which is about a woman who keeps seeing a man who resembles her long-missing husband.
Although I like the way the story is progressing, I realized today that I've got to add some early foreshadowing to hint at later possibilities—some of which I don't even know yet. However, I do have a feeling about how the story might end—and I've got to make sure the reader will think that it all makes sense.
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Writing routine - July 30, 2015
It's summer and the weather in New York this week has been sunny and hot. Frankly, I'd much rather be outside reading and swimming than sitting in my office and writing. But I force myself to stay true to my routine: Write a scene in my short story each morning before breakfast.
Often, I don't feel inspired to write. I procrastinate, twiddle with the computer, do just about anything to delay working. But eventually I do write because I know if I don't, I'll never accomplish anything. And when I've finally written my scene, I always feel good—even if I've produced total garbage. Why? I know I'll always be able to edit the scene the next day. As Jodi Picoult says in another of my favorite writing quotes: "You can't edit a blank page."
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Brain flashes – July 26, 2015
In most cases when I'm writing a book or story, I just sit at the computer, let the words come to me, and write them down. This time, however, the writing process is a bit different.
With "Nathan's Return," flashes of various scenes are popping into my head at odd times—and not necessarily in any particular order. I don't want to jot these story pieces down because they're so disjointed. Instead, I'm trying to remember them, hoping when I do my morning writing, these brain flashes will still be there. So far, they have been, which is why I'm writing more during my creative sessions. Yesterday, I wrote two scenes instead of my usual one.
P.S. Even with the barrage of muse hits, I still don't know the ending.
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Talking time travel – July 22, 2015
Do you love to read time travel stories? I do. That's why I wrote The Disappearance, a time travel-themed novel. Today, I was talking to a woman who said time travel was her favorite genre.
I told her I loved writing my time travel book because I could be as creative as I wanted. Since time travel doesn't exist, an author can transport characters in chairs, planes, dreams, portals, clothing—anything at all. No one can say it's wrong. Similarly, the writer can have characters travel backward or forward in time—as far into the past or into the future as he or she desires.
Then I gave the woman a brief summary of The Disappearance: A young woman is framed for her boyfriend's murder when he disappears into the past.
"The book sounds great," she said. "I'm going to get it for my Kindle."
I hope she does. But even if she doesn't, it was fun talking time travel.
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A disappearance story – July 18, 2015
I've just started writing a new short story, number fourteen in my collection. "Nathan's Return" is about an older woman who thinks she sees her husband after he disappeared many years earlier.
I think I know the ending of this story—although, of course, I can't be sure. However, I don't know how the main character, Isabel, is going to develop. I have several ideas in mind and it'll be fun to see which, if any, will prove to be correct. The not knowing—that's the joy of writing fiction.
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Switching gears – July 14, 2015
I try to write every day—a scene in the book or short story that I'm working on. But that doesn't always happen. Sometimes life gets in the way. Right now, for example, I have a freelance writing project with three assignments due this week.
As a result, these days I'm writing fiction, but, instead of scenes, I'm creating really short stories—test passages for non-English speaking students. Although it's quite different from my normal work, writing is writing. And, after I complete this week's assignments, I'll get back to my usual routine.
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Quote quibble – July 10, 2015
"Authors who tweet about writing—putting quotation marks
around their words and signing their names (like this example)—are pretentious."
— Susan Berliner
I look for interesting writing quotes, which I add to my Pinterest board and tweet or retweet on Twitter. That's how I've noticed this trend: little-known authors tweeting their own writing quotes—and adding the quotation marks and their names to make it seem like their words are significant.
Would Shakespeare or Hemingway have done that? Does Stephen King do that today? No. However, if what an author says or writes is deemed important, others will add the quotation marks and citation and publicize the statement.
Why is this happening? My guess is marketing or promotion firms are creating these quote-tweets for authors who pay for the publicity. In my opinion, it's not working.
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Teen talk - July 6, 2015
It always amazes me how my characters talk to each other--saying things I didn't expect. This just happened with "Behind the Fence," the short story I'm writing. Two 13-year-old boys are talking--and their dialogue flows like natural conversation. I just transcribe their words.
Although most of the action in this story involves only one teen, I reintroduced the second character today and, with the ensuing dialogue, the story seemed to come alive and the two boys became real.
So I agree wholeheartedly with Laini Taylor: "Get your characters talking." Dialogue works!
* * *
Technology trouble – July 2, 2015
Every few months, I'm reminded why I dislike computers and other modern devices: When they don't work, you can't reason with them. Here's my latest experience:
I'm in the middle of a freelance writing project and a small segment was due today. The assignment is for a major company and they've got a secure site, which I have to use to upload and download materials.
When the company introduced this new secure site last year, I was at first intimidated, but learned how to use the site and it worked fine. This year, I had no problem downloading materials so I thought uploading would be a cinch. Wrong!
When I attempted to send two short passages, I kept getting the following error message: "The web browser was unable to load the file. The file may be too large for the web browser you are using..."
The message might make sense except the files I was sending each contained a total of about 60 words. When I emailed the company's tech support about my problem, I was told to use a program called Voyager. I had to install the program and it came with all sorts of warnings that I was putting my computer at risk. Then, when I finished, a complex screen popped up and I again tried uploading my two little files. This time, it worked.
Why did I have to struggle to upload my materials when it was so easy last year? I'd ask the secure site this question, but I know it won't give me an answer.
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The great escape – June 28, 2015
"The nightmare is finally over."
That's how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo began his press conference to announce that, after 22 days, the second escaped murderer had been shot and captured, two days after his cohort had been shot and killed.
When I first wrote about Richard Matt's and David Sweat's escape from a maximum security upstate prison (see June 8), I titled the post "Stranger than fiction," and, as the details unfolded, the story became even more unbelievable. In fact, as Gov. Cuomo said, "If you were writing a movie plot, they would say that this was overdone."
Who would believe two men could cut their way out of their cells using hacksaws smuggled to them in frozen chopmeat and then find a contractor's tool box with the equipment they needed to break through walls and cut through steel pipes and chains? Add a romantic interest via their middle-aged sewing supervisor, whom they charmed into giving them tools and agreeing to drive their getaway car, until she panicked and backed out at the last moment. Then have the convicts elude the police until they are both gunned down in dense woods near Canada.
Now that it's over, we can expect books—and, of course, a movie. The script has already been written, although the screenwriters may have to tone it down a bit to make the story more believable.
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What's the rush? – June 24, 2015
In my last two posts, I wrote about how characters talk to novelists and direct the action. Unfortunately, however, these fictional folks aren't in a big hurry to make their moves. Since they don't live in our world (or in any real world), time isn't a factor for them.
Here's an example: In the short story I'm writing, I can't wait for Marcus, my teen protagonist, to discover what's behind a mysterious fence. But he's in no rush. I thought the answer would be revealed in the scene I just wrote, but that didn't happen. In fact, it might take two or three more scenes before Marcus—and I—find out what's going on.
Novelists are often like readers; we don't know what's going to happen next in a story and we're anxious to find out. Readers rapidly turn the pages while writers quickly type the words—and we all have to wait for the characters' revelations.
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Don't fence me in – June 20, 2015
I just started writing a new short story, number 13 in my collection of paranormal tales. "Behind the Fence" is about Marcus, a teen boy who is very curious about a mysterious fenced-in property near his home.
What's behind the fence? My character doesn't know and, right now, neither do I. That's the fun of fiction writing: not knowing how a story will develop.
When I came up with this idea, I realized I must like the fence theme because I've used it several times. In Corsonia, my teen girl heroines are confronted with a fenced property and in my unpublished short story, "The Woods," a young man and woman also encounter a fence.
In each case, the result is different. I'm looking forward to seeing what Marcus discovers behind his fence.
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Character conversations – June 16, 2015
A few days ago, a novelist friend emailed me the following explanation of why she was having difficulty writing:
"The problem is that the characters haven't been talking to me the way they usually do."
Her comment may sound strange to most people, but I understand it very well. Although we write stories from our imaginations, many novelists need help. Who helps us? Our characters. They talk to us and often direct the action. In my case, characters speak their own dialogue and I simply transcribe their words onto the page.
So when our characters stop talking to us, obviously we're in trouble.
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Tweet talk – June 12, 2015
I'm still learning how to use Twitter, which I joined earlier this year under unusual circumstances (see January 25 post). I've now got more than 200 followers.
I try to tweet once a day—usually a quote about writing, sometimes a mention of my latest blog post, and occasionally a promo for one of my books. I also retweet interesting writing quotes.
When people follow me, I follow them back (unless they just want me to buy followers or seem really bizarre). That seems to be the proper tweeting etiquette. And if they stop following me, I stop following them too.
I was surprised that several of the authors I follow seem to tweet all day. How do they have the time? Then I discovered they pay other people to tweet for them: "_______'s tweets are provided by _______."
I won't do that; I'm not that much of a twit.
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Stranger than fiction – June 8, 2015
I've always known that truth is stranger than fiction. I was reminded of this adage over the weekend when I read about the amazing escape of two inmates in an upstate New York maximum-security prison.
If you haven't yet heard the story: The brutal murderers in adjoining cells, both serving life sentences, propped hooded sweatshirts in their beds to make it look like they were sleeping. Then, using power tools, they burrowed through walls and pipes to flee the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, a small town 25 miles from Canada.
The escape immediately reminded me of the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, which was adapted from a Stephen King novella. But in that wonderful film, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) used a small chisel—not a power tool—to slowly chip his way to freedom.
"It's a great story," I said to my son as I related the prison escape.
"How can you call it 'great'?" he asked. "It's horrible."
Of course, it's horrible. But to a writer, it's a great (i.e. fascinating) tale, with so many unanswered questions: How did the prisoners get the power tools? Why didn't the guards hear any noise? How did the men know the interior structure of the prison? Who helped them escape—inside the prison and outside?
Where are the fugitives now? That's the most important question. The escape was discovered early Saturday morning and, as I write this post Monday evening, the two murderers are still at large.
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Summoning the subconscious - June 4, 2015
The short story I'm currently writing, "The Plant Whisperer," not surprisingly, is about plants. But it's not about a specific type of plant so I arbitrarily (I thought) chose one: the hanging ivy.
However, when I researched the ivy plant, I discovered it comes in many varieties--English, Swedish, Japanese, etc.--which is terrific for my story. That got me to wonder if, subconsciously, I had known this information and just didn't remember it.
This has happened to me before: I've written things in my novels and later found that the fiction was fact. It happened with the fish in Peachwood Lake and again with the Nevada setting in Corsonia.
So, as I write, I must dig into my subconscious and retrieve data I know. Either that or I'm just incredibly lucky.
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Wacky weather – May 30, 2015
"Sometimes the weirdest things happen on clear days."
The Maine meteorologist who made the above statement in May, 2003 was referring to dust devils, mini-tornados that occur suddenly on calm sunny days, usually in the spring. The dust devil in Lebanon, Maine was particularly destructive: It lifted the roof off an auto body shop, collapsing most of the two-story building and killing the owner.
That incident was the inspiration for my first novel, DUST, and since then, I've been collecting news reports about notable dust devils. Earlier this month, a whirlwind created havoc in downtown Palm Springs, California. See it here.
For more pesky dust devils, check my "Real 'Dust' Events" page.
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The surprise (to me) ending – May 26, 2015
As I've mentioned, stories don't always travel in the direction I expect. Often, the characters take over the action and develop my plot to their liking. That's what happened with the short story I just finished writing.
When I began "The Sea Crystal," I thought it would be a dark sci-fi tale involving shape shifters. But the story turned into something entirely different: a Wacky Wednesday type comedy-drama. (See the May 6th post.)
I had several ideas about the ending—but didn't use any of them. Once again, the story took an unexpected turn and now ends with a twist. However, it's too much of a twist so I've got to go back and add some foreshadowing. But I like this ending better than the others. And Margaret Atwood and I agree: Part of the fun of writing fiction is not knowing what's going to happen until you start writing.
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Strings attached – May 22, 2015
Earlier this week, I ran a three-day sale on my Corsonia ebook. During that time, several marketers contacted me about using their services. Nothing wrong with that; they're just trying to make a living.
Here's what I have a problem with: The two "nice" guys on Facebook who volunteered to publicize my book and then, afterwards, added conditions.
"Do you want to promote your book free to more than 250,000 readers?" the first guy messaged me.
Why not? I filled out the brief form—and got back this email: "Please pre order my book and it will give me confidence to promote your book." Then he had the nerve to tell me to forward him the order confirmation "and you will get lifetime free promotion for your book."
What exactly does "lifetime free promotion" mean? Each week? Each month? Each year? Would you trust this character to ever promote your book?
The second offer was similar. "I'd be honored to share your latest release with my Facebook friends."
How nice. I gave him the information with my link and thanked him for his generous offer. This is what he wrote back: "I'm offering indefinite shoutouts in front of my 4000 Facebook friends to help promote YOUR book, when you get my FREE audio book." He added that all proceeds would support his charity.
The response left me with several questions: If his book is free, what proceeds is he receiving? And what is this "charity"? Also, what are "indefinite shoutouts"? It sounded very much like the "lifetime free promotion" the first guy promised.
But I didn't ask any of these questions; I just politely declined. I didn't trust him either. Too many strings attached.
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Salient sale-ing – May 18, 2015
Today's novelists have to compete against a ton of super books—so, even if you've written a terrific novel, unless you're famous or prepared to spend lots of time and money on marketing, it's difficult to stand out from the crowd.
That's why I'm running a three-day sale on Corsonia, my new mind-control thriller. It's a fun book—a fast read—and it's received great reviews (4.8 on Amazon), but not very many sales. From May 18 through May 20, I've lowered the ebook price from $4.99 to $2.99 and backed up the promotion with ads on several ebook email sites and on many Facebook pages.
I'm not sure this little marketing campaign will sell a lot of copies of Corsonia. But at least I'm getting the word out about the book. And if readers like the novel and tell others about it, then maybe the word will spread. I'll never be a best-selling author, but maybe I can be a somewhat-selling author.
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Write is right! – May 14, 2015
The above quote makes a great point: Writers have to write—and sometimes, what we write isn't brilliantly creative. It's quite mundane.
I thought of Jane Yolen's advice because I'm just starting a freelance writing project, creating short standardized test passages for students in grades 2-12 who can barely read English. Obviously, these mini-stories won't make for fascinating reading. But I will be exercising my "writing muscle." And that's what counts.
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Event questions – May 10, 2015
I had a book signing Saturday at a local crafts fair, my first outdoor event of the season. Those events are always tricky because of the possibility of wind and rain. Luckily, the weather was fine, warm and partly sunny, with only occasional wind gusts (although one did topple an adjacent tent).
To attract more customers, the fair was relocated from a lovely small gazebo area on a nearby side road to a busy main street with our tables and tents spanning the entire front lawn of a large high school. Cars passing by had to notice us—especially since kids from local sports teams stood next to the road, waving signs at drivers.
So what happened? Not very many people attended the event. Vendors offered their opinions. Some thought the organizers should have done more advertising. Others felt there was too much local competition—kids' sports, similar craft events. But it was the day before Mother's Day, when people should have been looking for last-minute gifts and, for whatever reason, not many of them checked out our wares.
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Change of plans – May 6, 2015
In my April 24th post, I wrote about my latest idea for a short story. I intended to write a horror tale with a "Warehouse 13" theme, set on a cruise ship. Although it still takes place at sea, I've written more than 1200 words and the horror story has turned into a Freaky Friday-like wacky comedy.
I didn't know where this story was headed until the muse hit me yesterday afternoon and the direction it's taking is so weird that I started chuckling. I can't always control the paths my novels or stories take—but that's a huge part of the fun of fiction writing.
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Double the fun – May 2, 2015
As most of you know, I love running contests, and this month, I've got two contests going—my usual creative contest and an online book scavenger hunt I'm participating in with 37 other authors. Enter one or both to win great prizes.
For the scavenger hunt, you have to read book blurbs (including the blurb for The Disappearance) and then fill in the missing word(s) from a sentence in each blurb. Prizes are 100 Amazon gift cards, with a $250 grand prize, & 38 eBooks (including Corsonia).
For the creative contest, you have to use the titles of my four novels (dust, Peachwood Lake, the disappearance, Corsonia) in 1 or 2 sentences. Prizes are a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card or a signed copy of one of my novels.
You can enter both contests on my Contest page.
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If it sounds too good to be true... – April 28, 2015
We all love praise—and I'm no exception. So when a woman from a publishing/
marketing company emailed me that she'd read a sample of Corsonia and the novel sounded "interesting" and she wanted to read the rest, I was flattered.
But I didn't immediately send her my book. First, I asked for more info about her company. She responded with a lot of buzzwords and phrases that novelists like to hear: She was looking for authors "who write well," and for stories that are "potential sellers." She made it seem like the company was selective about the books they published, and if mine was selected, they would boost its sales dramatically. The pitch really sounded good.
Then I googled the company. Other authors had been approached and the consensus was that this was basically a vanity press that sold marketing services (covers, editing, etc.) to independent authors. There were no comments from anyone who had used their services.
Next I examined the company's website, which was quite attractive—except for the banner on the homepage that read "Don't believe everything you read online" and the lack of testimonials because they didn't want to "use" their authors to promote the company, which made no sense to me. Testimonials are a great way to attract new customers.
The last thing I did was randomly check three of the company's authors' Amazon sales—and they were no better than my sales. If something sounds too good to be true, it generally is. Be wary of publishers who contact you out of the blue to "boost your sales." Chances are they're only interested in boosting their own sales.
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Figuring it out – April 24, 2015
I've got an idea for my next short story, #11 in my collection. This one is a horror tale with a "Warehouse 13"-type theme, my tribute to the quirky SyFy series that I loved.
However, I'm having trouble putting this story together in a way that makes sense. I know what needs to happen, but I've got plot obstacles to overcome before I can start writing. I'm hoping that if I keep thinking, eventually I'll figure it out, especially since the story's got a dynamite ending. Of course, the ending won't happen if I can't get the rest of the tale together.
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Short story questions – April 20, 2015
I've just finished writing my tenth short story and, since I'm aiming to publish a collection of fifteen tales, I'm two-thirds of the way towards my goal.
As I write, I wonder how I'm going to compile and arrange these diverse tales. Although they all contain supernatural elements, some stories are dark, others are fairytales, and a few are even humorous. How do I organize them? Which story should be first? It should probably be the best tale, but it's hard for me to be objective. Also, I've got no clue about a title and cover for this collection. You don't have these kinds of issues with a novel.
Maybe things will become clearer as I write the last five stories, but right now, I'm quite confused.
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Computer complaint – April 16, 2015
After three days of suffering through a website "issue," I'm going to go Andy Rooney and vent about my dislike of modern technology, specifically computers.
It all started on Tuesday when I tried to update my Happenings page. I wanted to make two important changes: add a newspaper interview that had just been published and remove an upcoming event that had just been cancelled.
I was able to add the interview, but when I tried to delete the Children's & YA Local Author Fair at the Hendrick Hudson Library, everything on the huge webpage vanished.
Timing for a computer glitch is never good, but this was especially unfortunate because I wanted to let people know that Sunday's library event had been cancelled since the current local newspaper story mentioned that event—and ended with telling readers to check my "Happenings" page.
So I called my website support for help and I waited.
My "Happenings" page disappeared once before and the tech folks think it's because I use an outdated editor panel. Why do I use an outdated editor panel? Because the panel they support is user-unfriendly. It doesn't offer an easy underlining option, it's a pain for uploading photos—and it's more difficult to navigate than the editor panel I prefer. But now I'm going to be forced to use this unfriendly panel.
After writing the above post, I feel a lot better. It also helps that my 213 pages of Happenings are visible again.
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Finding the stories – April 12, 2015
If you follow this blog, you know that I'm currently writing supernatural short stories. I've completed nine and, after I write fifteen, I hope to publish a collection of these tales.
Lately, I've gotten a lot of ideas from my everyday life. I wrote "The Rapunzel Effect" after waiting to get my hair cut at the beauty salon. The story "Wordless" was inspired by a doctor's discussion about a speech disorder.
The tale I'm writing now is called "Jeremy's Toys" and it's about a little boy whose toys start talking to him. My young grandson lives with me and many of his toys are downstairs, some in the den where I write. Can you see where the idea for this story came from?
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The end game – April 8, 2015
When I write a book or story, I rarely know how the tale will end. This makes my writing experience so entertaining since, like a reader, I look forward to discovering the outcome.
However, there are times when I do know how a story will end. That's what happened with "Dare to Dream," the short story I just finished writing. Although knowing the ending did eliminate the suspense for me as a reader, it encouraged me to write faster. I wrote the final two scenes very quickly.
And even though I knew the ending, I didn't know how my main character would get to that point—so the creative writing experience was still entertaining. That's the wonderful thing about writing: It's fun!
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Newsworthy characters – April 4, 2015
I read an e-newspaper column by a Facebook friend that named associates at his former newspaper jobs. The article reminded me of the people I worked with many years ago as a young retailing reporter for Daily News Record (DNR), the men's wear/textile "brother" paper of Women's Wear Daily.
Our offices were at 12th Street & Fifth Avenue in New York City, on the edge of Greenwich Village. One person I remember well was Jerry, the pipe-smoking features editor, who never praised anyone's work. He was tall and lanky with curly gray hair and most of the young reporters (myself included) were intimidated by him.
Another intriguing character was Mary, the publisher's skittish middle-aged spinster secretary. She sat in a desk outside his cubicle and jumped whenever he called her name. "Yes, Herb," she would say and run into his mini-office, blonde pageboy bouncing. Then she'd return to her desk and type away on her electric typewriter, one of only two in our office. (The rest of the reporters and editors had to manage with manual machines.)
A third interesting person was Clara, the columnist, who wasn't a regular employee. She had a desk, always empty, and a phone that was always in use when she clomped into the office in her high heels. Clara, a petite 50ish brunette, was very loud—think mini-Ethel Merman—both in person and on the phone. Maybe that's what a woman had to do then to become successful in the men's wear industry. In any case, when Clara was in the office, we always knew it. One day, a young reporter picked up Clara's phone, gasped, and held up the mouthpiece for all of us to see. The phone was corroded. I guess she literally talked into the phone.
Perhaps I'll work some of these characters into a future book or story.
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Contest creativity – March 31, 2015
I love making up contests—especially creative ones. I devised many contests during my twenty years as promotion manager for a large chain of shopping guides. And now I develop contests for my own website.
My latest contest is lots of fun. Remember when, for homework, you had to write sentences that included your new spelling words? In this contest, you have to use all my book titles— Corsonia, The Disappearance, Peachwood Lake, and DUST—in one or two sentences.
Try it. Then check out the examples on my website and enter the contest. You can win a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card or a signed copy of one of my novels. And, even if you don't win a prize, you'll still have fun!
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To each his own – March 27, 2015
Reading tastes differ. A recent reviewer of Corsonia made the following comment: "I would have liked to have seen a little more descriptive passages, to set the scene in a visual way."
That's certainly a valid criticism because all my novels, including Corsonia, are plot driven, with lots of action and dialogue—and not very much description. The remark reminded me of the following Elmore Leonard quote:
I try to write that way too—eliminate the boring stuff—and to me, extra description just isn't very interesting.
However, even though this reviewer wanted more description, he enjoyed Corsonia. "Written in an easy to understand style, the work was straight forward, but contained enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged," he wrote, ending with the words, "Well written and well paced."
To see his review, and other Amazon reviews of Corsonia, click here.
What makes a terrific book signing? Of course, you need lots of people—and some of those folks have to buy your books. An attractive venue and good vendor mix also help.
Yesterday's Main Street Market event at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY had all of the above. The hall was spacious and inviting, with small round tables for customers to sit and eat while they listened to the wonderful music provided by local guitar duo Bob & Norm.
Main Street Market was on the lower level. The featured event, the Home Show, was upstairs in the main hall. However, shoppers steadily drifted downstairs to our food and crafts tables. We offered delicious food and drink—from yummy chocolate balls and stuffed cabbage to homemade wine. And, in addition to books, there were unique crafts items like handcrafted pens.
It really was a fun day! See photos on the Happenings page.
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Tweet talk – March 18, 2015
I was a guest this week on author Beverley Bateman's Tuesday's Tips and Tweaks blog feature [scroll down], with a tip for aspiring writers (Finding the "Write" Time) and an excerpt of my new mind-control thriller, Corsonia.
Although I've mostly posted writing quotes on Twitter, since my blog appearance was news, I decided to tweet the information. The results, however, were a bit bizarre. I only have about 100 followers, but 8 people favorited my post and 13 retweeted it—and all but one of them tweet in Spanish.
I don't understand. These "fans" don't follow me—and I don't follow them. If they don't write in English, why would they favorite and retweet my message? I'm still very new to Twitter and, obviously, I have a lot to learn.
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Life plus imagination – March 14, 2015
The above quote is certainly true. Our everyday lives don't translate into exciting books. However, a writer can use personal experience as an effective springboard into fiction.
Here's what happened to me: Recently, I listened to a doctor explain the importance of language—and how difficult it is for people to communicate if they haven't mastered speech. He equated it to being stranded in a foreign country where you don't speak the language.
I thought this concept of helplessness would make a good short story so I've started writing a tale in which a man suddenly loses his ability to speak English; all his words come out as gibberish. I've got the general plot, but I'm not quite sure of the ending. I'm excited to see what will happen!
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A paranormal crime story – March 10, 2015
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes is an unusual horror novel. It's essentially a crime story, with a paranormal element. The plot centers on Gabi Versado, a divorced Hispanic detective, chasing a disturbed serial killer who commits horrendous crimes: His first victim is a young boy whose top half has been attached to the lower part of a fawn.
The novel is set in Detroit and Beukes does a great job depicting the troubled city, more impressive since she's from South Africa. She also does a terrific job weaving social media into the narrative through the book's two other main characters: Layla, Gabi's vulnerable teenage daughter and Jonno, a reporter who thinks the murders can propel him to Internet fame.
For me, the novel worked well until the ending when, all of a sudden, things got wildly supernatural. Although there were subtle hints of paranormal activity earlier, the bizarre climax didn't quite mesh with the true-life crime story.
Still, Broken Monsters is well written and fast-paced. It's a worthwhile read for horror fans.
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And then there were 8 – March 6, 2015
On February 26, I wrote about the importance of Amazon reviews and my ongoing quest to get readers and bloggers to critique my new mind-control novel, Corsonia. I had been stuck on 5 reviews for about five weeks, which seemed like an eternity
But now, suddenly, I'm up to 8 reviews (all good) on Amazon: seven 5-star reviews and one 4-star review. I've almost reached the magical number of 10 reviews, which will allow me to advertise Corsonia on multiple ebook sites.
If you want to read the reviews of Corsonia, please click here. Better yet, read the book and write your own review.
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The perfect night – March 2, 2015
Last Saturday, my husband and I traveled to Queens, NY. First we had dinner with four good friends and then we all participated in a large group card game called military bridge. It's a simplified form of bridge, with 4-person teams, pairs rotating from table to table.
The game gave me a great opportunity to promote my books to a captive audience. I was team captain, which meant I never left our table. This allowed me to place bookmarks everywhere, and each time a new duo came to play a hand, I dealt cards and talked about my novels.
Most people were polite, but weren't interested. Several took bookmarks and one couple asked about publishing because their daughter had written a children's book. But two women bought books. One chose The Disappearance because she enjoys time travel stories. The other wanted Corsonia because she had loved The Disappearance. My friends also bought copies of Corsonia.
So I had a fun night out and sold four books. To top it off, our team won the tournament. The prize was a bottle of wine and a cute trophy. Friends, food, cards, and book sales=the perfect night.
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A timely matter – February 26, 2015
If you've followed this blog, you know I've been encouraging readers to review my latest novel, Corsonia. Reviews have always been important for authors, but now they've become critical because many ebook advertising sites require a certain number (e.g. 10 or 15) of good Amazon ratings before you can even place an ad.
It's a vicious cycle: You need reviews to advertise. But you need to advertise to get more readers to buy your book and leave reviews. So what am I doing about this dilemma? What a lot of authors are doing—asking book bloggers/reviewers to read and review Corsonia.
It's been an interesting experience. Many bloggers won't review books by independent authors. Others will, but they're so inundated with "Please read my book!" requests that they've got zillions of books to read.
Think I'm exaggerating? Here's part of a response to a review request that I received this week: "It sounds great, and I'd be more than happy to read and review it. However, I currently have around 400 books on my list...It would be at least a year and a half, and probably longer, before I could get to it." And this reviewer doesn't even have a blog!
So, you can understand, when another reviewer responded to my request, saying she had 5 books in front of mine and her review of Corsonia wouldn't run until May, I was thrilled. All of a sudden three months sounds like a very short time.
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A learning experience – February 22, 2015
I enjoy reading fiction and, as an added bonus, I often learn things from the novels I read. You don't have to pore through newspapers or textbooks to acquire knowledge. That's what makes reading great—nearly everything you read can be useful.
Here's an example: I'm reading a horror novel and when a character parks overnight in a Walmart lot, another character explains that the chain allows people to spend nights there. Just after reading this, I saw the exact same information tweeted on Twitter.
Of course, not everything you read in a novel is true. Authors make up lots of stuff—but they also research the topics they write about and readers gain knowledge from their hard work. So go ahead and read for pleasure. You might learn something!
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Editing brilliantly (I hope!) – February 18, 2015
The above quote, from my Pinterest Writing Quotes board, is one of my favorites. And I hope it's true because the first draft of my "Medium"-inspired ghost short story isn't very good—maybe it's not quite garbage, but it's certainly not gold.
I began rereading the story this morning and immediately found a major problem; the second scene doesn't make any sense. I've created a mysterious noise outdoors—but the ghost lurks inside, not outside, the house. It's time to start editing brilliantly!
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That dreaded apostrophe – February 14, 2015
It's time for my annual apostrophe rant, which I do every year before Presidents' Day. Yes, that's the spelling of the holiday—the apostrophe comes after the "s" because we're celebrating the birthdays of two presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. President's Day would honor just one man—George or Abe—and, if you eliminate the possessive apostrophe, i.e. Presidents Day, that's totally wrong.
Each year, I look for misspelled Presidents' Day ad headlines and I always find them. However, I have to admit that this year I've seen more correctly spelled holiday ads in my local newspapers than in the past. But metropolitan New York/New Jersey car dealerships still need improvement so here are a few erroneous print headlines.
Central Avenue Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge Ram is promoting a "President's Challenge Event." Similarly, Central Ave. Nissan's headline reads: "President's Day Savings Extended!!" while Teddy Nissan's ad proclaims: "Presidents Day Sales Event."
Other car dealers avoid the Presidents' Day apostrophe issue entirely with more creative headlines. "WideWorld BMW boasts: "Presidential Savings start here..." Major World Chevrolet's ad reads, "In Honor of Our Presidents: Savings for All!" And here's my favorite, from Garden State Honda: "We Respect Your Presidents." (Does this dealership celebrate the births of some other presidents?)
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Friends for sale – February 10, 2015
In my last post, I noted my first impressions of Twitter. Today, I discovered one other aspect that surprised me, although it probably shouldn't have.
I've gained a few "followers" since my last post. I now have 72—and no one's unfollowed me recently, which means my tweets aren't annoying people.
However, the other independent authors who follow me—or whom I follow—all have thousands of followers: One has 6,000, another has 17,000, and a third has a whopping 126,000! Those staggering numbers were giving me an inferiority complex until I read the following tweet: "For just $29 you can get 5,000 followers." Anyone want to buy some friends?
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Tweaking the tweets – February 6, 2015
After resisting for years, a couple of weeks ago, I finally joined Twitter. (If you want to know why, see the January 25 post.) One reason, I wasn't keen on tweeting was because I heard authors aren't supposed to promote themselves on Twitter—no posting: "Buy my books! Please buy my books!" Instead, I'm supposed to tweet clever tidbits to my "followers."
I've tried to write interesting snippets both about my work and about writing in general. But it can be discouraging. When I posted a link to an interview of me that ran on a fantasy author's blog, two of my then twelve followers "unfollowed" me.
I think I've tweeted some clever literary snippets: I reported the death of Colleen McCullough, author of one of my favorite novels, The Thorn Birds, and I noted that 88-year-old Harper Lee will publish her second novel this summer—55 years after her masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.
I'm trying to get into the habit of tweeting once a day. As of Friday, I'm following 103 and I have 48 followers. I've noticed that many of the book-related marketers I follow continuously tweet "Buy this book!" announcements. In fact, today I unfollowed one who kept retweeting a huge banner ad for a guide to social media. Now that was annoying!
If you follow me on Twitter, I'll try not to be annoying—although I do intend to occasionally mention my novels. After all, that's what I'm all about.
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A tale of two contests – February 2, 2015
If you follow this blog, you know I love contests. This month, I'm running two contests—
my usual creative contest and a book scavenger hunt I'm participating in with 38 other authors. Enter one or both to win great prizes.
For the scavenger hunt, you have to read book blurbs (including the blurb for Corsonia) and then fill in the missing word(s) from a sentence in each blurb. You can win a $500 Amazon gift card, 19 $25 Amazon gift cards, or 39 eBooks!
Click here to enter the scavenger hunt.
The creative contest relates to my new novel, Corsonia, which deals with MIND-CONTROL. You have to change one of the four letters in the word MIND to create a new book about some other type of control. For this contest, you can win a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card or a signed copy of one of my novels. Click here to enter this contest.
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Picking my poison – January 29, 2015
I'm in the middle of writing a "Medium"-like ghost story, an ode to one of my favorite TV series. But I need to research poisons, which, until tonight, I'd been putting off. (This isn't a spoiler because it will be a while before this story is published—and I'm not mentioning the title.)
I'd like an interesting poison, one that isn't easily detected. I don't want a well-known poison, such as arsenic, and I don't want one that's too obscure. I just found a poison that could work well, but it's injected so the victim would be aware of the crime. In my story, the poison is added to a cup of coffee so the victim is unaware of what's happening.
Now I have to decide whether to alter the story or choose another poison. It's not a major fix so I'm leaning towards revision.
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The form from hell – January 25, 2015
When I found a blog that gave me the opportunity to post a book excerpt, I was excited to fill out the form Friday night. My excitement soon turned to dismay. Without revealing the site, here's my email:
First, thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to feature my mind-control themed thriller, Corsonia, on your Excerpts page. But when I began filling out the information I was introduced to the Form from Hell. Filling out your form out took me nearly 4 hours because I had 3 major issues. However, I refused to give up so I persevered and went to bed at 1 a.m. Here were my problems:
1. Paragraphing of the Excerpt. My excerpt is nearly all short dialogue, requiring many paragraphs. However, every time I reviewed the text, the indents either disappeared or shifted. I kept correcting the paragraphing without success. Finally, I turned the excerpt into a PDF and that eliminated the paragraphs so I went back and put them in. After I did all that, the paragraphs have been eliminated in the completed form shown in this email!
2. Twitter. You asked for a Twitter handle. I didn't have a Twitter account so I wrote "N/A." Did the Form from Hell allow that? No! So at midnight, determined to complete this Form (after all the time I spent "fixing" the excerpt paragraphing--see Number 1), I signed up for a Twitter account. Yes, I should probably be on Twitter--and maybe I'll thank you for making me do it--but that wasn't the best time.
3. Uploading My Photo. You asked for a JPG, and I have a headshot by a professional photographer, which I use on my book covers. However, the Form from Hell rejected the photo. Why? It's called a jpeg, which is the same as a jpg--with the extra letter. When the FFH refused to accept the photo, I tried to rename it, email it--I did everything I could think of--but the FFH wouldn't relent. I hate computer technology! Finally, to complete the Form, I gave up and uploaded another photo. I am attaching the one I would prefer using, if you could substitute the JPEG (unless the Form objects).
Sorry for this long email, but I fumed over the FFH all night. Then I realized this situation probably sounds funny and will make a terrific post on my blog--so, at least, that's a bit of a consolation.
As I mentioned, I do appreciate the opportunity to appear on your blog. But what a process! Did I mention that I hate technology? I'm a writer, not a computer maven.
UPDATE: The above email got a very sweet response from the blogger, who apologized and said no one else had had issues with the form. She explained the excerpt was entered into a text file, without formatting, so the paragraphs had to be redone anyway. She said the Twitter information was not supposed to be required and when she tried omitting it, the form worked. (It didn't for me.) On the jpeg issue, the form was firm: no jpegs, just jpgs.
"Browser incompatibility?" she suggested. Just my luck!
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Spreading the word – January 21, 2015
As I've mentioned here many times (including January 13 below), writing the book is the fun part. Marketing the book is on the other end of the spectrum; it's the not-fun part.
Just today—as if she were reading my mind—Book Graphics, my wonderful cover designer, sent me a link to an author's huge alphabetical listing of blogs that review books for free. Unfortunately, however, there are a few problems with this enormous list. When I tried a random link, a huge "BAD SITE!" warning popped on the screen, courtesy of my antivirus software. Also, since the list was compiled in mid-2013, several of the blogs are either no longer active or gone. Others no longer review books, review fewer books, or don't want independent authors' books.
Like everything else, it's going to take time and effort to find bloggers who'll be interested in reviewing my new novel, Corsonia. But, at least, it's a good place to start.
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Ghost story – January 17, 2015
I finished writing "The Rapunzel Effect," my humorous modern fairytale, last week and immediately thought of an idea for another short story. Such a quick-striking muse doesn't happen very often, but I'm certainly not complaining.
The new story, titled "21 Cedar Lane," is a darker tale, more like a "Medium" episode, the former TV series that starred Patricia Arquette. Although my protagonist doesn't have psychic abilities, she does become involved with a ghost.
My only problem is that this story's action unfolds mostly on consecutive nights, much like the tale I just completed. But this similarity can be easily hidden when I arrange the stories into a collection; I'll just separate them.
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The best part – January 13, 2015
In interviews, I'm often asked what I enjoy most about being a novelist. For me, there are two "best" things: (1) writing the first draft and (2) finishing the novel. And now that I'm taking a break from my work in progress (The Touchers, Part Two, a doomsday novel) and concentrating on short stories, the same dual answer applies.
I've just finished writing my sixth short story, "The Rapunzel Effect," a whimsical modern fairy tale. Even though it's just a 4,000 word story and not a novel, I still have a feeling of accomplishment. It's done! Now it's on to the next story—whatever that will be. (I haven't thought of an idea yet, but I will.)
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A funny thing happened... – January 9, 2015
This is why writing fiction is so much fun: I'm writing my short story, "The Rapunzel Effect," and I think it's going to move in one direction, but instead, the story takes an entirely different trajectory. And it's also funnier than I thought it would be—kind of a quirky modern twist on the fairy tale.
An interviewer recently asked me if I outline my books. I don't because of situations like this. When I write fiction, I want to be entertained. Just like a reader, I don't want to know what's going to happen until I read the pages. Now I can't wait to find out what my characters will be doing in their next scene!
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The waiting game – January 5, 2015
Corsonia, my new mind-control novel, is now available as both a paperback and an ebook. People have been able to purchase the book for a couple of weeks. So now I wait. What am I waiting for? Reviews.
Favorable reviews, especially on Amazon, are very important to independent authors. Instead of me boasting about how wonderful my book is, I'd prefer the words of praise to come from objective readers. Of course, I can then publicize the positive reviews.
So far, I've gotten two 5-star reviews of the novel. But I'm hoping other early buyers will read and review Corsonia. A few words about the novel's merits really helps!
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Writing resolutions – January 1, 2015
Happy New Year, everyone! At the beginning of each year, I list my writing-related resolutions. Here's what I hope to accomplish in 2015:
1. Go back to writing The Touchers, Part Two and complete the first draft.
If you follow my blog, you know I've been working on this doomsday novel for more than a year. A few months ago, I got so tired of writing the book, which is told in the first person by a teenage girl, that I switched to short stories instead. But I will return to this tome sometime soon; I just needed a break.
2. Compile my short stories into a collection.
I'm working on the sixth story and I figure fifteen should be enough for a book. They're fun to write—and much easier to finish than a novel.
3. Edit my husband's humorous memoir so it's ready for publication.
My husband's book is very good, but still needs lots of editing. I'm the editor on this project and, now that Corsonia has been published, his memoir is the next project.
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