Friday, April 26, 2013

Legendary and Contemporary Thoughts on Writing and Characterization

Fellow author Terry Odell's blog recently recounted hearing Stephen Coonts quoting Mark Twain on Fenimore Cooper: The rules he spoke of hold true today.
"The rules governing literary art require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones."

How do we do that? As authors, we know that scenes are units of conflict lived through by character and reader. Characters must be three dimensional, living, breathing beings. As authors we must know the whole person before we place them into the story. We use experience, observation of others, inspiration and imagination to create them. We have to know what drives them and how they will react to different problems. We set imaginary goals for them. Goals help characters become motivated and moves your story along. Characters face adversity in a scene and in a sequel they decide what to do with it.

At a recent Book Talk I told about a lithograph of a woman tending a spinning frame in a cotton mill which metamorposed into my grandmother. She inspired a beloved continuing character in my Maine shore Chronicles series, created through inspiration and imagination.  My readers loved Tante Margaret and urged me to make her a main character with a story of her own.

As authors and readers we know  that characters leave lasting impressions. Nora Ephron captures the feeling  in her book: I Feel Bad About My Neck:And Other Thouhts About Being A Woman.
 Reading is one of the main things I do. Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”
Nora Ephron,
There is something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can't tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he's liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can't adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All of this happens to me when I surface from a great book.”
Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
WOW! May we seek the rapture of the deep with our reading. . . . Creating good characters may help!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

Does Cover Art Sell Books? By Jacqueline Seewald

Any savvy writer will tell you that the first thing a reader notices about a book is the front cover. Maybe you can’t or should not judge a book by its cover, but it sure helps to have an attractive one that draws the eye of the reader.  For new fiction authors, cover art can make or break the book. What kind of front cover grabs the reader’s attention? What kind of cover art should a book display?
Probably the first and most basic question to ask: is the book going to be sold on the shelf of a bookstore or is it going to be available only online? Is the novel going to be a hardcover, trade, paperback or e-book? Yes, it really does make a difference!
Let’s examine e-books. Online the cover is small, so you don’t want anything too fussy or busy. The old saying “less is more” works best for a book cover that sells online. A short title with a large, easily readable font and bright contrasting colors shows up best on the computer screen. You want to avoid covers that are complicated and hard to read. Plain, simple graphics are best. Here’s the e-book cover L&L Dreamspell provided for: THE INFERNO COLLECTION, my first Kim Reynolds romantic mystery in the librarian sleuth series:

With hardcover fiction books, the cover also needs to fit the genre, be attractive, while the title still needs to be easy to read. Here is the original cover art for the Five Star/Gale hardcover and subsequent Wheeler large print edition of the same novel:
The artist and I worked together to create an appropriate cover for the novel which has romantic and paranormal elements as well as being a mystery thriller. The cover art fits the plot of the novel. Five Star/Gale respects input from its authors which is a plus. Mystery or thriller novels are often dark and boding in appearance, appropriate to that genre. Readers expect it.

There is usually a “money” quote on the cover of hardcover books, either on the front or back. This can be a blurb provided by a well-known author or a partial review from a respected publication. It should always offer praise for the writer’s work. Sara Paretsky provided the money quote for my first Five Star novel: “An unusual setting—the esoteric banned manuscripts of a library—and an unusual heroine with a horrific secret set The Inferno Collection apart from other romantic suspense novels. With some powerful imagery in her disturbed and disturbing dreams, Kim Reynolds makes a thought-provoking heroine. I hope Jacqueline Seewald will explore her life in more depth in the future.” This appeared on the back cover along with other blurbs:
“Irresistibly spellbinding. Captivating from the start, The Inferno Collection, compels with tension and brims with edginess. A thrilling read for suspense lovers!” Iris Green, The Chick Lit Review
From Booklist: “… Interesting characters abound…Seewald’s take on the dark side of academia will make readers glad their course work is finished.”
 The most recent cover for THE INFERNO COLLECTION was developed by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery which published the novel as a reprint April 1, 2013. I had no input into the cover art for this edition.
Paperbacks need simplicity just as e-book covers do. The artwork should support the title and the genre. Here’s the cover art for the new paperback version  of THE INFERNO COLLECTION:

What are your feelings regarding cover art? What draws or attracts you to a novel? What do you dislike or prefer not to see?
To celebrate the Harlequin Worldwide Mystery edition of THE INFERNO COLLECTION, I am offering a paperback copy  to a commentator. Leave an e-mail or web address if interested. Winner will be drawn at random and contacted within the week.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"If you don't like something, change it..."

"If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it."
~Mary Engelbreit

As writers we all know the jewels are in the editing, and what is editing - but change. When we write, we want to capture the scene, the mood, the senses and move the story forward. But, sometimes we repeat phrases or words because the story is flowing onto the page and the muse is hot. Hopefully.

My philosophy is to let it flow! You can always change it later. Get the bones set on the page, hopefully with a bit of meat, then flesh it out more later. (I know I just mixed my metaphors, but...I can edit it later.)

When I first started taking my craft seriously and spending every waking moment writing (outside of the day job, of course), I longed to be able to pen something perfect the first time. Once in awhile writers get lucky and the phrase turns to a nice golden brown and poof! It's fabulous the first time. But only "once in awhile." Most of the thousands of words we write in that first draft suffer from passivity, repetitiveness (there I go again) and two dimensions only.

I think I read somewhere that Hemingway would edit one page more than twenty times before he would move onto the next one. That happened to me with the first chapter of "Feisty Family Values." In essence, I was stuck. So, after weeks of worrying over those first pages I decided to move on with the story. Good thing, or it would never have gotten written.

With "Patchwork Family" I wrote in chronological order and when I got it all down to a fairly satisfying conclusion, it was time to edit. Over. And Over. And Over again. And no doubt the publisher will find something else that should be tweaked here and there, so it's not done changing yet.

Sometimes the story doesn't go the way you first anticipated. I've gotten totally derailed and ended up with a different genre, focusing on the secondary character, and basically had to start over. Those detours can be interesting and help you build your "world" and "characters", but they are not always what the story is or should be about.

I recommend you keep the snippets you remove, they might work somewhere else. And if the story totally changes, keep the earlier version, just add something to the title that reminds you why it's still in the folder and not on the publishers desk. You might want to mine it for other jewels on your next story.

These days "change 'r us" and we have to learn to go with it. It's hard, I know. We get into a routine or expect a certain outcome and if it doesn't happen that way, well, let's just say - enjoy the journey. Those detours might just give you the inspiration you need to write your best story yet!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Time: How to Find It and How to Use It

We live in an age of "not enough time." How often have you said it? How often have you heard someone else say it, when you nod and murmur agreement? For anyone who writes, the phrase comes often, sometimes every day. But is it accurate?

Every writer needs time to write, think, rewrite, edit, revise, review, critique, and polish. There seems never enough time when I start writing, and I slog along wishing I had more time. But I'm starting to think this is one of those automatic thoughts, and I would do well to ignore it. When I stop to think about it, I find time in lots of corners of my day.

One morning last month, because of the snowstorm, I left for work three hours later than usual. These three hours were a luxury, and instead of doing something mundane like vacuuming or sorting laundry, I proofed a copy of the paper back of my newest work, Last Call for Justice: A Mellingham Mystery. I knew the text was correct, since I'd already read it through, but I wanted to go through each page to make sure no lines had fallen off, the pagination hadn't suddenly gone awry, and similar concerns. That took less than an hour.

After proofing, I took the time to review a short story I'd written several months earlier, sent out for review to a reader, and revised. It was ready to send out, but where? I spent half an hour considering where to send it, made a choice, and submitted it online to a literary journal. (I write all sorts of things, with and without dead bodies. This one was without, but it did feature a homeless teenager.)

Next came a friend's mss, which I had eagerly offered to read and comment on. She's been kind enough to read almost all of my work and I wanted to return the favor. I gave the story a first reading, made notes, and mentally scheduled a second reading for the next day, when I'd have had time to digest the first one. After that I had a little time left so I read. My current reading is Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn, a Jackson Brodie mystery.

I can't always count on a snowstorm to start my day, but I can find half an hour before I go to work to do one or two things--send out a short story, read a few chapters, make notes for a scene.

On my drive into work on that snowy day, I thought about the first draft of my current work-in-progress, which has been sitting on my desk for over two weeks. It's taken me over three years to finish the draft, and I have already made a mental list of the main changes I want to make. The ending is a little too perfect, unlike life, and in this mss I want the reader to come to the end and think, yes, this is how it would end; this is what would happen. I know I also want to strengthen the first chapter. Occasionally I hear perfect lines in my head and I hope I can hold onto them till I get to work, or can pull over and write them down. I am a firm believer in both hands on the wheel. I do not answer my cell or make a call while driving. (Warning: Do not call me on a cell when you're driving. I'll ask you to call back when you've parked the car.)

When I got home after work, I turned on my computer, checked email, viewed FB, and made a few notes for editing. I started dinner and left it simmering on the stove while I returned to my mss. Later, my husband and I ate dinner, he did the dishes, and I tidied up. After dinner I drafted this short essay. And now, as I come to the end of this piece, I'm glancing around for my book. I have fewer than one hundred pages left in Atkinson's mystery and want to finish it tonight.

Even without those extra three hours this morning, I would have completed almost all of the writing tasks I got through. My day is like anyone else's, with little pockets of time I can use for writing or for something else or for nothing. But since I'm a writer above all else, I'm going to use them to write, edit, revise, read, and more.

Would I like more time? Certainly. Do I need more time? I'm not sure. Having more time would be a luxury, but anyone who thinks he or she needs days and weeks of uninterrupted time in order to write will probably never write. Each one of us has many things to do, but if we want to write, we will. Writers write. That's what we do. We find the time, however much or little it is, and we use it. So when someone tells me he or she doesn't have enough time to write, I smile and nod, and then I think about making them a character in my next story.