Friday, February 16, 2018

What makes a book resonate?

Most good writers are avid readers. 

Do you ever wonder what it is about a book that speaks to you as a reader? Do you ever dissect a story to see what hits all the important notes? Namely, the: 

  • Head
  • Heart
  • Gut
  • Spirit
If a novel resonates in all of these areas it's a five star read for me. If it makes me think, then my head is satisfied. If I feel emotions (laugh, cry...) then it has reached my heart. If something in the story gets me in the gut, you know that intense episode that makes your breath catch or gets you really angry, that's a gut buster. And last, but never least, does the novel or characters within it touch my spirit or give me the feeling of peace or move me to the depths of my being?

A novel that does all that is a totally winner!

Many of the books I've read satisfy three of the four. I can't really say why, except that not all of these components are completely addressed. Some quiet or fun books are great for spending a few hours of entertainment and relaxation and that's quite all right. When I read a book that addresses all four I sometimes need a break and the quiet/fun read fits the bill nicely.

What is your go to genre for entertainment only? A little romance is always nice. Or maybe a fantasy romp fits the bill. Many of us prefer to read a couple of genres most of the time, but spice it up occasionally with something different. I love mysteries, historical and contemporary women's fiction. That's a broad arena that also generally gives me a bit of romance, too. Consequently, I write in these genres.


Do my books hit all of the magic four, probably not? I can only think of a few books that impacted all four for me and I've given them all five stars on "To Kill a Mockingbird" was the first novels that nailed all four items for me. Recently, "The Nix" and "The Kite Runner." Most novels fall in the four star range, "I really liked it", which is satisfying but not life changing. Fast reads that I enjoy fall in the "I like it" category, but not "love."

I have a note on my desk blotter with Head, Heart, Gut and Spirit written on it and always visible. When I'm writing and I pause to clear my mind or allow my train to get back on track my eyes often fall on those words. It's a good goal to reach for all of these in your writing.

Much good luck and keep up the good work, fellow writers. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Facebook: Bonnie D Tharp Books
Amazon: Bonnie Tharp Author Page

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Name Game by Jacqueline Seewald

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has Juliet ask: “what’s in a name?” Well, apparently a whole lot! For instance, choosing the right name for a character is a key element in reader conceptualization of a character. Hollywood understood this a long time ago, and that’s why so many actors and actresses were told they had to change their names to conform to their motion picture images. It’s the same way people choose their pets’ names. If you have a toy poodle, for example, you might name it something like Fluffy, while if you own a pit bull you might select a more aggressive moniker like Killer.

What about author names? Should authors use their real names on their writing or should they use pseudonyms? Is branding a help or hindrance to writers? There’s been a lot of discussion among writers as to whether it benefits authors to be branded--by that I mean that writers want to market themselves by promoting their name, associating their name with a particular type, genre or style of writing.The premise? This is the best way to build a readership. For instance, when we see the name Nora Roberts we immediately think of romantic suspense. “Nora Roberts,” real name Eleanor Marie Robertson, also writes under “J.D. Robb” for her mystery series. The name Stephen King is immediately associated with horror, but he has chosen to write under other pseudonyms as well. Jayne Ann Krentz writes her contemporary romances under that name, her sci-fi/fantasy under Jayne Castle, and her historical romances under Amanda Quick. The advantage is that fans know what to expect.

Many writers choose to use pen names. They write in a variety of genres and assume a different nom de plume for each. The theory is that it will confuse readers if writers use the same name for different types of work. There is also a tendency for publishers to try to place writers in neat categories. It’s more convenient to connect a name to a particular format. Harlequin was famous for insisting that writers have romantic sounding nom de plumes.

But what if you resist branding? Are you destroying your chance to be taken seriously as a writer or build a readership? I don’t have the answer to this question. I can only admit that I don’t limit myself to one particular format in my writing. My books are not “in the box.” I have written romantic mysteries, historical romances, YA mysteries and romances, as well as children’s books and stories. All of these appear under my own name.

However, there is an exception. When I write short stories from a masculine viewpoint, I use my initials. So, for example, my novella for SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE (Issue #19) entitled “Letter of the Law” is credited to “J.P. Seewald” rather than Jacqueline Seewald. A lot of female writers do this because men seem to prefer reading stories and novels ostensibly written by other men, especially when presented from a masculine viewpoint.

Personally, I am very comfortable writing from a male viewpoint and I also enjoy reading books written by members of the opposite sex as well as other women. My husband and I had two sons to raise which made me accustomed to the male perspective. However, male readers may not find a female author writing from a male perspective acceptable or credible. For this reason I chose to write THE BURNING, written entirely from a male point of view, under the author name J. P. Seewald. This was not to fool readers but merely to make clear that the novella was appropriate reading for both men and women. It is not a romance or a mystery but a serious literary work.


There are also a number of male authors who write women’s romances as well as mysteries under female pseudonyms. I know of several, and their novels are very popular.

What is your opinion? Does branding by name recognition benefit writers or is it not really important? Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Titles, by Susan Oleksiw

When I begin a story, I want to have something to put at the top of the page so that when I save it, I have some sort of identifier. I know by now that whatever I use may well not last until the work is finished. I consider these titles place holders, convenient tags so that I can locate the ms later on my laptop or in a file. There’s nothing special about any of this.

I did this with my first mystery novel, expecting to later develop the “perfect” title that would capture the attention of readers. Such dreams. Apparently I forgot about this after my ms was accepted by the publisher. Only when I got my proof copies (ARCs) with my place holder title on the cover did I realize I meant to come up with a better one, a real one. I didn’t expect my first mystery novel to be called Murder in Mellingham, but it was. I don’t know what I planned to replace it with, but I learned a lesson from that experience. The book isn’t finished until the title is.

Some people are gifted when it comes to titles. Ernest Hemingway thought F. Scott Fitzgerald had the gift and most writers agree. Raymond Chandler had the gift sometimes, and when it worked, it glowed on the page. Others may disagree with me but I love the titles The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. More recently, Louise Penny has come up with some especially attractive ones, such as How the Light Gets In and A Trick of the Light.

I envy a lot of cozy mystery authors because they’ve created a package with a setting and lead character that gives them a head start on inventing a title. Agatha Christie was no slouch in this category, but her nursery rhyme books featuring Hercule Poirot stand out, the first being One, Two, Buckle My Shoe. The Body in the . . .  series by Katherine Hall Page is well known. I especially like Edith Maxwell’s titles for her nineteenth-century Quaker midwife, Delivering the Truth and Called to Justice.

When I began the Anita Ray series I thought about how I wanted to construct the titles long before I finished writing the first draft. The name of a Hindu deity would give a sense of the story to follow, and an image of the god would show up somewhere in the plot. The title of the first book, Under the Eye of Kali, came easily as did those for the subsequent three books. (Of course, I failed to appreciate how little Americans know about India.)

The hardest titles for me are those for short stories. Some time ago I finished a short story I was happy with but the title sat like a dead tree on the front lawn. I put the story aside until the perfect title came to me, which it did a few weeks later.

Not every writer wants to spend so much time mulling over titles. I don’t either. But in my view every part of a story or novel has to be the best I can make it, and if I see a flaw in one part—the title, a chapter ending, a minor character—and leave it, then the work is unfinished. I take the time to work on anything that feels less than it could be. And that includes titles.