Friday, April 21, 2017

Thinking Outside the Box

What does "thinking outside the box" mean to you as a writer? 

For me, it means telling "my" story and not trying to follow genres that are trending right now. Trends change and are cyclical like the tides of the wind.

Using creative ideas to not only tell the story but also to market and sell the story.  Finding new ways to get "buzz" going about your book.

An Example:

I was recently asked by the local library to facilitation a book discussion in honor of the anniversary of the Chisholm trail. The book was "The Log of the Cowboy." I grew up on western books and films so I said YES. For the past couple of weeks, I read this fictionalized journal, learning new expressions and factoids about history that surprised and amazed me. 

When I went to conduct the discussion I had pages of notes and questions that I thought would be interesting and stimulate discussion. It was a blast. Our hour discussion turned into 90 minutes and the attendees stayed after to continue talking about not only cowboys but getting to know me and what I write. 

Although I don't write westerns, the relationships of the drovers with each other, their horses and their foreman compares to a big boisterous family. Cowboys are characters that are natural born storytellers and love to weave tall tails over the campfire. 

This is definitely out of the women's fiction, romantic suspense box I've been writing in. I loved the experience and may also have gained a handful of new readers. I've also been asked to conduct another book discussion at one of the local churches on the same subject. 

By being open to a new venue to speak and a new subject to discuss I exposed new readers to history, new ideas, and me as an author.
Interestingly enough I just read an article about the lost art of designing the book spine by Chronical Books, which really illustrates a great way to "think outside the box". These folks had some very creative ideas besides just name and title. The use of color and photographs with textures and different typefaces - well, you have to see the excellent examples they shared.

As you move through your author's journey look for things that stimulate interest in yourself and in others. Notice the unusual and think beyond the surface. Is this something that can translate to your writing or marketing?

There's a line in the movie Avatar that the natives use, "I see you." It means more than seeing with the eyes, it means seeing with the heart. That's something creative people need to cultivate.

Best wishes to all of you on your writing journey.
 Amazon Author Page

Friday, April 14, 2017

How to Create Strong Beginnings by Jacqueline Seewald

First of all, I want to wish everyone healthy, happy holidays!

I’m reminded of when I taught English at the middle school many years ago. I announced to one of my classes that our spring holiday break would commence that Friday. A twelve-year-old girl commented with a deep sigh, “That will truly be a good Friday!” The entire class burst out laughing and applauded.
Good beginnings are crucial in capturing a reader’s attention. Every writer knows that a narrative hook is needed in any successful type of writing. Many readers pick up a book, glance at the first page, and if it doesn’t grab them immediately, they’ll simply toss it aside. It’s recently been said that the average reader has an eight second attention span—shorter than a goldfish. Of course, creating a good narrative hook for a novel or short story is easier said than done. However, here are a few suggestions that I believe will help to hold reader interest in your novel or story.

Element of Mystery
Readers are intrigued by an element of mystery. This is true whether a story or novel is an actual genre mystery or not. Every good story should have a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages, wanting to discover what is going to happen next. It's important to set up some sort of a question that can't be easily or immediately answered, a secret of the human heart that must be delved into. Prick your reader’s curiosity. This needs to be done in the first few pages and if possible from the first paragraph.

Here’s the beginning of my novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, a YA appropriate for both teens and adults. It starts with an element of mystery:

“When my mother talked about Lori, she always got a funny look in her eye — not ha-ha funny but strange funny. When I was little, I never understood. As I got older, I wondered more about Lori, but I hardly ever asked because it just seemed to make my mother sad.
Lori was locked away in my mother's past life like the things in the old attic trunk. I wondered about them too. But Mom would always say when I asked her to open the trunk that the past was best forgotten. Yet, every now and then, I would say something or do something that made her sigh and exclaim: "You remind me so much of Lori!"
Not long ago, I was sitting on the living room couch reading a novel I found on the bookshelf. My mother walked into the room and gasped.
"Something wrong?" I asked.
She stared at me for a moment and shook her head. "No, but for a moment, it seemed like I was looking at Lori. I remember when she read Rebecca. She loved to read old-fashioned romances."
"Mom, what happened to Lori?"
"Danna, I'd rather not talk about her. It only brings back sad memories."
"Sure, except I didn't bring it up."

Start in medias res

Begin with a bit of intriguing, provocative dialogue or some piece of action. Get your reader involved in the plot from the beginning. Don’t begin with detailed description of people and place. You will lose your reader.

Don’t start with your main character getting up in the morning or doing anything mundane like tooth brushing. Long boring descriptions were fine for Victorian novelists, but remember that Dickens was paid by the word. Plunge the reader into the heart of the story from the beginning words.

When you do need to use description, keep it pertinent. Don’t overdo adverbs and adjectives. Use active verbs. Replace your “is”, “was” and “are” with action words whenever possible. Vary your sentence lengths and structures. You want your writing to be dynamic and exciting. Your reader must be quickly involved, must be made to care about what is happening.

Get your reader focused, placing your heroine and/or hero as close to the main action and problem as possible. Build suspense from the beginning by getting your reader into the thick of things. Weave details and necessary background information into the story as you keep the action of the plot moving along.

Make It Dramatic

Dramatize your story. Don't show, tell. I'm certain you've heard that advice many times before! How to do this? Create meaningful, realistic dialogue for your characters. Each character should be an individual, talking a certain way to reflect a personal point of view, a unique way of thinking. Good dialogue leads to action and conflict between people with different viewpoints and goals.

Avoid stilted dialogue. One way to accomplish this is by reading your writing out loud. Remember readers have to accept the characters in your novel as real people. Try to differentiate speakers by mannerisms or actions as well.

Here’s the beginning of THE BAD WIFE, a romantic mystery, 4th in the Kim Reynolds series:

“Must be fate,” a deep, masculine voice said.
Kim Reynolds dropped the head of lettuce she’d been examining and it rolled across the floor.
“Didn’t mean to startle you.” Mike Gardner’s voice was like a caress.
She looked up, taking in his rugged looks. “I didn’t expect to run into you in the produce section of the supermarket.” Kim did her best to ignore the frisson of attraction she felt in Mike’s presence.
“I’m not stalking you,” he said.
“I never thought you were,” she said.
He gave her a small smile that implied he didn’t believe her. Then he scooped up the head of iceberg lettuce and handed it back to her. “You nearly decapitated it.”
“You would think that way,” Kim said. She meant to sound stern but ruined it by smiling back at him.
“Hey, I’m a cop. Guess I tend to think in violent metaphors.”

Setting the Scene

Although you don’t want to overwhelm your reader with too much detail from the outset, settings need to be vividly described so that they seem real. Think like a film director. Create your novel in scenes as if it were a movie. Use imagery, direct appeals to the senses.


Editors often say they look for a unique voice and that it needs to show from the first paragraph. They dislike flat writing. It’s easier to demonstrate a unique voice when you’re writing in the first person, but that isn’t absolutely necessary. Voice depends on choice of vocabulary, character opinion, behavior, dialogue, description and actions. The best way to develop character voice is to have that individual live in your head for a time before you start to write a single word.


Take the time to put your manuscript aside for a while. Then when you pick it up again, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. You may see the need to rewrite the beginning sentences and paragraphs of your novel or short story, recognizing that this is crucial. You probably won’t get it right the first time. I confess I never do! With my latest novel, THE INHERITANCE, I added and then later removed a prologue.

I truly agonize over beginnings. I often edit and rewrite after several drafts have been completed. I go back after I finish to determine if the opening could be more compelling. I suggest asking some fellow writers and/or intelligent readers to look at your beginning and give an honest opinion. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you create the perfect narrative hook that will compel readers to read your work from beginning to end.

Here’s the beginning of The Killing Land, my Western romantic suspense action thriller:

“For the right price, we’d kill just about anybody.” Russell Harris studied the man sitting across from him in the saloon and tried to determine what effect his words were having.
The rancher met his level gaze with a look of satisfaction. “I like to get my money’s worth. You and your brother have big reputations. I want to make certain you can live up to them.”
“Long as you pay us,” Russell emphasized, rubbing the carrot-colored stubble on his chin.

As a reader and/or writer any comments, suggestions or input you would like to share are welcome here.

You are also welcome to share the beginning of one of your novels or stories.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Writing and Using Dialogue, by Susan Oleksiw

When I was struggling with writing a particular scene in my first mystery, Murder in Mellingham, I recalled Dorothea Brande’s advice to read writers who have mastered the skill you’re struggling with. If your prose is terse, read someone more expansive, such as James Lee Burke. If your sentences and paragraphs run on too long, read someone who has mastered the skill of brevity, such as Agatha Christie.

The standard guideline for dialogue is brevity with a purpose. Conversation between characters can easily become a way of dumping information, telling the reader about important events instead of showing them. Mystery writers tend to tell the solution to the crime in the final chapters, making the story more talky than action. (And I confess to falling into this trap.) In Technique in Fiction, Robie Macauley uses the final lines of James Joyce’s story “The Dead” to illustrate the impact a few carefully crafted lines of dialogue can have.

In the Anita Ray series, I use dialogue to develop the setting of South India as well as reveal character. In When Krishna Calls, Anita questions both educated and uneducated Indians, each with his or her own dialectical peculiarities. The rhythm of Indian languages is recognizable in English, and gives me the chance to alter the “feel” of speech. In addition, because of the preferred grammatical forms of South Indian languages, characters have a variety of ways of concealing the truth that only sound awkward to foreigners, introducing an extra layer of confusion and deception.

One of the best examples of the use of dialogue is in the opening scene of The Maltese Falcon. Dashiell Hammett introduces Sam Spade and his secretary, Effie Perine, through a sharp, swift dialogue that is classic and known to everyone who loves crime fiction. But even though this passage is often chosen to illustrate how perfectly dialogue reveals character, it also reveals the ideal balance between prose and dialogue. The five lines of speech are set into one and a half pages of description of the room, the people, and activity. The ratio of dialogue to prose varies throughout the book, with the amount of dialogue increasing.

To understand what dialogue can do in a novel, the reader only need pick up Gregory McDonald’s first mystery, Fletch. The author wanted it to be 98 percent dialogue, and he feels he achieved that goal. The challenge, of course, is to use speech between individuals to establish not only character but also structure for plot and action. McDonald has called himself a post-cinematic writer, by which he means that because we as readers already have so much visual information, the writer doesn’t need to spend time or verbiage on describing a street in Paris at midnight—we’ve seen this street a hundred times before in the movies. We know the world fictional characters live in. If we don’t, a few words will set the stage, drawing on what we do know. This approach places a heavy burden on dialogue to inform, reveal, and move the story forward. Not many writers have followed in McDonald’s path.

When I work on the dialogue of a scene, I think of the best examples I’ve read, but I also think of something I read by Isaac Bashevis Singer, who said, “. . . when I have to hide something, I let the characters speak.”

To find the Mellingham series and the Anita Ray series go to these links:


Friday, March 31, 2017

How to Turn Average Fiction into Outstanding Writing by Jacqueline Seewald

Quality fiction requires a theme or idea that unites the work. Ideally, the theme will connect setting, plot and characters in a significant way. It’s easier to do than you might think.

Appeals to the five senses can make short stories and novels memorable. This isn’t a device that only poets should be using. With simile, the writer compares an abstract concept with something concrete using “like” or “as” in English. “My love is like a red, red rose”—according to Robert Burns. Of course, he might have been more direct and used a metaphor declaring something is something else—for example: “My love is a red, red rose.” Simile and metaphor create imagery.

A symbol is an image that is repeated. Consider it as an association cluster presented in many ways. For instance, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the first American symbolic novel, the author used the “A” as a symbol in many guises to emphasize the difficulties of overcoming the past, its institutions, and the values of family and society. The color red appears in numerous guises throughout the novel.

Religious writings are fraught with symbolism. Shakespeare used it effectively in his plays as did the early Greeks. In Moby Dick, Melville also uses symbolism in a varied manner. The great white whale, a finite thing, becomes symbolic of numerous sociological ideas. Melville examines the nature of good and evil through images of light and dark. Ahab’s unyielding aloneness is emphasized by images of the heart and head.

In the twentieth century, writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald were masters of symbolism. Color imagery was often used. For example, in the bullfight in The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway uses the colors red and green to create a vivid, violent scene. The images symbolically connect to his theme of the manly or macho code of behavior which was what Hemingway considered most important in life.

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald developed a theme he had earlier used in a short story entitled “Winter Dreams,” the love story of an American upper class girl and lower middle class young man—insider vs. outsider. Dexter Green is a romantic and his loss of Judy Jones causes him permanent pain because of the loss of his illusion of her more than the physical loss. She is a symbol of romance, just as Daisy is for Gatsby. In the novel the color green appears repeatedly and becomes a symbol for Daisy and the worldly wealth and privilege she represents. Gatsby looks longingly at the green light on Daisy’s dock across the water.

In Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, the image of the Brooklyn Bridge becomes a tragic symbol of the lack of communication and connection between two brothers. Living as I do not far from the George Washington Bridge, I can particularly appreciate this. There have been many suicides of people jumping to their death from the bridge which I find terribly troubling. Yet although the bridge can be considered a symbol of death and failure to connect and misunderstanding, it can also be a symbol of life and hope. Not long ago, one Port Authority policeman was able to stop a jumper. On that very same day in September 2014, PA police helped to deliver a baby near the toll booths on the upper level of the bridge. Bridges can also serve as a symbol of connection.

Contemporary authors often use symbolism. Consider Harry Potter’s scar—a symbol of his being the “chosen one”, as well as his ability to overcome evil.  J.K. Rowling may have chosen to use symbolism in Dumbledore and Hagrid's names. Dan Brown wrote a thriller entitled The Lost Symbol.

In my novel Dark Moon Rising, the moon symbolizes romance. However, the moon is also a symbol of night and darkness, fear and hate. Since this is a paranormal novel fraught with mystery, moon imagery and symbolism work well with the underlying theme.

In my latest mystery suspense novel, The Inheritance, the house that the heroine has come back to her hometown to claim as part of her inheritance develops into a symbolic representation of her past and the peril in her present life.

Simile, metaphor and symbolism can effectively draw the reader into a story through vivid use of sense impressions: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste.

In meaningful writing, simile, metaphor, and symbolism add depth and perspective to fiction, uniting theme with plot, setting and characterization. Writers always need to consider the big picture. What imagery will work best to imply the underlying theme?

Your thoughts, input and comments appreciated.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Agent. A five letter word.

I remember growing up and hearing my mom say, "Don't use four letter words" (cursing) because they aren't "nice."

What about five letter words like? AGENT or QUERY
Never having had an agent I can't say if they are naughty or nice, but I would think they are nice to have due to their wide experience with publishing, publishers, promoting, etc. Some are probably better than others, but if you don't have one you must do the job (to some extent) yourselves and keep the 15%, but it may be difficult to ingratiate yourselves into the industry when you don't have the connections. Networking is a huge part of getting published, the agent has those contacts. They are part of the inner circle (hopefully).

The word "Query" above is another "five letter word." Frankly, queries are difficult to write for me and many of my writing compatriots. You have one page to tell either the agent or publisher about you, your story, your credits if you have any, give them a flavor of your writing voice and encourage them to want more of you and your work. Advertisers say "that's easy" just wow them. Okay, but loud music, dancing girls, gooey chocolate, or gimmick's don't really work. Or so I've been told. The words have to do the dancing and whet the appetite.

Telling the agent or publisher you are the next Nora Roberts or your book is the next Fifty Shades of Gray in a query letter, just isn't going to cut it. We may be as good as Nora Roberts, but we aren't Nora - we are who we are and write with our own voice, which may or may not resonate with the masses. Our book may be even better than Fifty Shades of Gray - but will it appeal to audiences all over? Good question. What we do have to do is make the agent or publisher realize our work is good. It's a business letter with heart and imagination.

How do we do that? Answer these questions in your query:
  • What is the story about, the theme, or the problem that is addressed? 
  • Is there a quirky main character that you can introduce in the query?
  • Is your story similar to other very popular stories you can use as a comparison?
  • Why are you the best one to write this kind of story, your experience, or education? 
  • What have you published before so that you have a following?
  • What demographic does your story appeal to? Young Adults? Mystery buffs? Horse lovers?
That's a lot, so keep it short - to the point - punch it! How do you know you've done well with your query? Read it out loud. Critique groups can help you review it. And when you can't imagine your query sounding any better - send it! What have you got to lose? Because you may have written just what that agent has been looking for.

Enjoy the writing journey, my friends. 
Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Interview with Mystery Author L.C. Hayden by Jacqueline Seewald

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing L. C. Hayden who has written mysteries for Five Star/Cengage in the past. She has a new novel out that I have read and very much enjoyed and can recommend to other readers.

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer:  My new thriller, What Lies Beyond the Fence, is the fourth in the Harry Bronson series. Although I write other series, this one seems to have the most following. Also, I really like Harry Bronson. When I write about him, I feel like I’m with family.

Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer:  I had played with the idea of Bronson going to a place he wasn’t familiar with. In fact, he wouldn’t even know where he was. I needed a remote place so that Bronson couldn’t simply open the door and walk out. That began the premise for What Lies Beyond the Fence.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer:  Several people have emailed me and told me that Bronson is their literary crush. He’s mine too. One of the reviewers wrote: “He is steadfast, smart, and loyal with some interesting quirks that make him human.” But what I really want to do is talk about another character in the story. Bronson is hired to find 17 year old Roger Hallberg who is out in the woods where inhabited by wolves. In real life, Roger is a real life hero. He’s a MIA, lost during the Viet Nam conflict. It all began when the national headquarters for MIA’s/POW’s contacted me to donate a character in one of my books. I agreed and in the process, I learned how much our MIA’s families suffer. It’s an on-going pain that will never heal. I want to thank all of the men and women who serve and my deepest thanks goes to our MIA’s and their families for their great sacrifice.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer:  I write the Harry Bronson Mystery series which have been Agatha Finalist for Best Novel of the Year, Watson Award Finalist for Best Characters, have hit the Kindle Top 100 Best Seller List, made the Pennsylvania Top 40 List, the Barnes and Noble Top 10 Best Seller List and other.
      I also do the Aimee Brent Series. There’s two so far in that mystery series and I also have a stand alone, Secrets of the Tunnels.
      Another series I thoroughly enjoy writing is the miracle and angels one. These nonfiction books answers the question: are they coincidences or are they miracles/angels?
     I also have two children’s picture books and a host of other genre books.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  Promotion, unfortunately. I’m taking a break from writing to get my files done correctly and promote the books like they deserve to be promoted. Once that’s complete, I plan to do another miracle/angel book. If any of you have had an angel or miracle in your life, please contact me. I’d love to add it to my book.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer:  I’m a story teller—always have been. As such, it’s only natural that I would graduate to being an author.

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: Never, ever let anyone discourage you. The road to writing is paved with rejection. Stay true to your dream. Also, write that book. Don’t worry about whether it sounds good or if you’re following all of the “rules” of writing. Just get it finished. When you put the end, then you have plenty of time to go back and revise. Now, go write!

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer:  Like all things now-a-days, the best place is through Amazon for both the e-book version and the traditional version. Here’s the link:
I am also available to speak or Facetime.

Thank you L.C. for being our guest today.

Questions and comments welcome here for L. C.