Tuesday, July 31, 2018

This Is Just To Say…

Over the years, a wonderful group of talented writers  contributed to making Author Expressions a special blog where authors shared information about books and writing. It is now time for us to end this blog and go our separate ways.

However, each of us does maintain our own separate blog, and so we hope that those of you who follow us will continue to do so individually. Wishing our readers and fellow authors the very best always.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Book Clubs

I belong to a book club, and I think I may be one of the oldest members. There are about eight of us that come regularly and range in age from late 20's to early 60's. The mix of ages makes book chooses varied and exciting. They also push me out of my comfort zone from time-to-time. Sometimes I let them, sometimes I just skip that book and enjoy their discussion.

A couple of months ago we read the memoir "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch, we all loved it and were inspired by it.  This month is a totally different genre, although it is based on a true story it falls into the thriller/horror arena for me. So, I am reading it in the daytime. "The Serial Killer Whisperer" by Pete Earley is based on a young man who suffered catastrophic brain damage and finds himself relating to murders. He reaches out to them, and they begin telling him their secrets. He also shares his life with them, which totally creeped me out. I'm not very far into it, so I am sure it will get worse before it gets better.

My point is, however, that book clubs are great for broadening your reading experiences. I would never have picked either of these books, I tend toward historical fiction, romantic suspense, mysteries, chick lit, YA and love a good family story. You know, the kind with quirky characters, comfortable settings, family drama, freaky friends, and who knows what else will peak my interest.

I was noticing the other day that our local independent bookstore has fourteen book clubs now. Each focuses on a different genre. That's where I get some of the ideas for books I want to read is from their chosen lists.

My favorite thing about book clubs is the lively discussions. Our club is pretty loose, in that we are not opposed to calling it a "dinner club" if no one has read the book. However, when the majority does read the book, we shared what we liked and didn't like. No censoring, whatsoever. If someone hates the book, we all talk about why. If someone loves the book, we discuss that also. Everyone brings a different perspective to the table, the story has touched them in unique ways.

I had the privilege of attending a book club as the guest author and heard from the readers what they liked and didn't like about my book. Boy, that was eye-opening. Not everything resonated with everyone and some things they noticed and commented on were not conscious efforts on my part when writing the story.

I highly recommend you participate in a book club. You make new friends, broaden your reading scope, and learn about yourself and how others are impacted by "story."

Enjoy the ride, my author/writer friends. Keep the reader in the back of your mind when you write.

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Why Read (or Write) YA? By Jacqueline Seewald

 When I attended Rutgers University for my M.L.S. degree, I took the additional courses needed to specialize in becoming an educational media specialist—a fancy description for a school librarian. I took a course in children’s literature and another in young adult lit. Both courses required reading a huge number of books and reviewing them. However, I very much enjoyed doing this.

As to young adult literature, I often felt the novels were better written than many of those for adults, something our professor said as well. So it’s no surprise that I decided to write some of my own. As an English teacher at the high school level I taught novels like J.D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES. These are just a few of the classics of YA literature worthy of note. I believe every author should try writing at least one meaningful coming-of-age book.

My novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER has proved popular with readers. It was written for teenage girls, as was STACY’S SONG. But the truth is that adult readers can and do connect with these books as well.

Black Opal Books has now brought out WITCH WISH, my current YA novel. I think it will be a good read for adult readers as well as teens.

Here’s something about the book:

Val Williams believes she will never be as pretty or as popular as her older sister Ailene. When Ailene dumps her on an unfamiliar road after an argument, Val decides to ask directions of the only person she sees, an old woman engaged in a garage sale. Val purchases a music box which the old woman claims has magical qualities and will grant Val one wish. Val wishes that that her sister would stop being so perfect.

When Ailene starts acting weird, breaks up with her boyfriend, stops talking to her friends, starts dating a “bad” boy, and cuts classes, Val is troubled. Val begins to fear she caused all this to happen by making her wish. She suffers a guilty conscience. How she goes about setting matters right makes for some unusual complications and surprises.

Excerpt (prior to editing):
Central New Jersey, 1985
My sister Ailene pulled the car to the side of the road, reached over and opened the door on the passenger side.
“Get out right now!” Ailene spoke through gritted teeth.
“No way!”
“Yes, way. You’re an obnoxious brat. I don’t have to put up with you, and I won’t for another minute.”
Maybe I had gone a tad overboard in the rude department today, but she’d deserved it. I had to stand and wait while she giggled and gossiped with her airhead friends by the lockers for what seemed like forever. I stood there being ignored and feeling like a leper. Then finally when she finally turned to me all she said was: “Come on. Hurry up.” Like she’d done me this great honor giving me a ride home.
Now she was all indignation. Well, I wasn’t going to stand for it. “I’m not getting out of the car,” I said.
Unfortunately Ailene’s taller and weighs more than I do. She shoved me out, hurled my backpack after me and drove off, burning rubber. She didn’t even look back. So there I stood at the side of a rural road with no idea exactly where I was.
Ailene had veered off the main highway when traffic stopped. There’d been an accident on the highway. No way of getting through any time soon. That pissed her off too. She’s not the most adaptable individual.
It was a warm afternoon. I didn’t mind walking, but the road was totally unfamiliar. I’d have to travel back in the direction of the highway. From there, I could find my way. Maybe my sister had done me a favor. Anything was better than being around her. She found me annoying but I felt the same way about her.
 As I walked, I fantasized.
Cheerleader shot dead at football game--mystery as to who pulled trigger. As a student of journalism I considered this possible headline. Were I to murder my sister, I wouldn't want to be caught.
Don’t judge me in haste. If you had a sister like Ailene, you'd probably hate her too. I’d like to say Ailene was nasty, selfish and spoiled, but it wouldn't be true. I have my share of faults. Lying isn't one of them. The truth? Ailene was polite, intelligent, beautiful, and even charming—when it suited her.
So why did I hate her? Maybe because she was everything I wished I could be but didn’t think I ever would be. Someone like Ailene, who was so much better than most people, you envied, idolized or hated her. It wasn’t easy living in the same home with perfection day after day.
A house came into my line of vision. It was an old Colonial with white clapboard shingles and black shutters that had paint peeling. There was an old woman sitting in a chair with all kinds of items set out on folding tables in cardboard boxes. I guess she was having a garage sale. I figured I’d stop and ask for directions back to the highway. She was kind of creepy looking dressed all in black. But she was the only person around. So I walked over to her. She stood up, smiling through crooked yellowed teeth.
“I’m kind of lost,” I said.
She nodded. “I can see that.” She had dark, penetrating eyes. She studied me in an eerie way that made my blood freeze.
“Can you direct me back to Route 516?”
“Certainly. But first why don’t you look at these things I have for sale. They are unique.”
“Sure,” I said, figuring to humor the old gal.
I began looking around. She had a lot of weird stuff, old crap that I had no interest in. But I figured if I offered to buy something I maybe could get the directions quicker. So I glanced at the stuff on one of the tables. A polished wooden box caught my eye.
“I see you like my music box. Actually, I have a bit of a collection.” She picked up the box and wound it up. “It plays Fur Elise by Beethoven.”
I listened and liked what I heard. “How much does it cost?”
“Whatever you can afford.”
I was surprised. I checked the pocket of my jeans. I had some allowance money with me but there wasn’t much. “I’ve only got four dollars.”
“Just the right amount,” she assured me. “There is just one thing about the box itself.” She hesitated. “You see, how should I put this, the box has a certain unusual quality. If I bestow ownership upon you, the music box will grant you a wish.”
I blinked and stared at her open-mouthed. Clearly the old lady was a few slices short of a loaf.
“Sure,” I said, trying to appear agreeable and humor her. “Great.”
“You don’t believe me, do you?” She gave me a knowing smile. Then she laughed, except I swear it sounded more like a cackle. The wind lifted her long, steel gray hair giving her an otherworldly look. “It’s all right. I don’t mind. But I think I should warn you. Once you open the box and make a wish out loud, you won’t be able to take it back. You get only one wish, you understand. So think carefully about it. Make certain you wish for something you truly want.”
You can also read more about the novel here:
Comments welcome!

Friday, July 6, 2018

How many characters are enough? by Susan Oleksiw

A few weeks ago I began work on what I thought would be a novella. The idea had been floating around in my head, drifting into view when I was looking for something to read in the library, balancing my checkbook, or opening the mail. That's how I knew it was a good idea, and decided to work on it as soon as I finished the edits of my next book.

The story went along well, probably because I'd had a lot of time to think about it and let it germinate. As the story progressed I jotted down notes as I went along, keeping track of new characters and events in each chapter. This week, when I scanned the list of them prior to writing the next scene, I wondered, did I have too many? How many is too many?

During revisions of some of my books I've combined characters, dropped others along with an entire scene or chapter, and generally streamlined everything. I wondered if I'd do that this time. But now that I'd raised the question, it kept coming back to me. How many was too many? 

In the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva, I included a list of characters, which I continued for five additional books and then omitted from the seventh one. I don't recall my thinking and may have to revisit that decision. There are no lists in the Anita Ray books. Curious about the number, I counted characters in the Mellingham books.

In the first, Murder in Mellingham, I list seventeen characters, including Chief Silva and hint at more in the catch-all "and other residents of and visitors to the town of Mellingham." Yes, I was at the time heavily influenced by British mysteries, which up to the 1970s and sometimes beyond presented the reader with lists of characters, maps of villages, and even warnings about the accuracy of the chosen method of murder or its circumstances.  

In the novella that got me thinking about this, I have fourteen characters so far, and since I'm about halfway through, that will probably be the total. I avoid introducing people late in the narrative, unless this is a minor figure who barely deserves a name. Bringing someone onstage past the middle seems unfair to the reader in my view. So, I have fourteen. Murder in Mellingham had seventeen, and I'm sure the first Anita Ray, Under the Eye of Kali, had at least that. In the first book in a new series, Below the Tree Line (coming in September), I have twenty-three individuals plus a number of animals. So, too many? Not enough? Just right?

I keep the list readily at hand, and will soon transfer each character to a notecard. Some will fade and become less and less important as the story nears its end, and I may fold one or two into a single person, or drop one or both altogether. So far I haven't made the mistake of giving everyone a name beginning with the same letter. (I made that mistake and didn't notice until an editor pointed it out.)

The easiest way to determine the worthiness of a person on stage is to identify exactly what he or she is contributing. What information is this one delivering? Unless each one is dropping a clue about another character, the murder weapon or method or motive, or some other crucial aspect of the crime, that person has no purpose. I can already see one who could lose his name and perhaps his usefulness. And I see another who has done nothing since the opening chapters. Already I'm reducing the number possibly by two.

There is no one answer to how many characters are enough. But asking the question is important for the development of the story, keeping it clean and well paced while also creating a richly imagined narrative that draws in the reader. How many characters do you have in your stories?

Coming in September, Below the Tree Line (Midnight Ink) follows a farmer and healer in the Pioneer Valley, in central Massachusetts. Felicity O'Brien enjoys the quiet life of her family farm until strangers take a sudden interest in her land.