Tips from the Editor

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Left Hand Blue, Right Foot Green: Things Only Stretch So Far

Remember the game Twister, where you had to contort your body into impossible positions?

As determined as you might be to win, your body will only stretch just so far.

That’s especially important during action scenes, and steamy romantic encounters. If Rob’s left hand is there, he probably won’t be able to reach there with his lips… unless he’s Elastic Man.

Get out of your chair and measure.

Grab a willing partner.

Make sure those parts will go where you want them to!

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Tips from the Editor

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I Feel Like I’ve Been Here Before

Or at Least, I Googled It

It’s been years, but I still remember sitting down to read Stephen King’s Firestarter… only to discover that he had completely mis-described Albany Airport, the location of his opening chapter.

Most of his readers probably didn’t know, or care. But I did.

When Firestarter was written and published, the Internet didn’t exist. King wasn’t able to use Google Maps and Google Earth to take a long-distance look at an airport in another state, and he couldn’t go to the airport’s website to find a map of the terminal.

We can.

In just a few minutes, we can take a virtual tour of almost any place on Earth. We can fly in overhead, or “drive” down the street and look at the shops and homes.

The majority of your readers may not know that you can’t see the lake from the end of the football field in Anytown, Missouri—but doing the research is easy, and that one reader who does care might be pleased enough that you got it right that they’ll buy your next book. Do them, and yourself, a favor! Take those few minutes to do your research. It’s a definite gift to your readers.

Tips from the Editor

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The Devil’s in the Details

More? Not Necessarily Better

Jen had no idea where the bus stop was, so she stopped the first person she found.

The woman was a good six inches shorter than Jen. Most of her brown hair was tucked into a knit cap, and she was wearing a bright blue raincoat with a row of white stars on the pocket. “It’s down that way,” she told Jen, pointing. “About two blocks.”

“Thanks,” Jen said. To her relief, she got to the stop a minute before the bus did.

Now we know a lot about Jen’s savior.

But… why?

If the point of the scene is that Jen needs to catch that bus to get to a job interview on time, we need to rush through this situation as quickly as Jen does—so bringing things to a halt to tell us about the woman’s raincoat not only isn’t necessarily, it interferes with the pacing of the scene.

Unless the woman appears again later on, and what she’s wearing tells us something we need to know about her (whether she’s trustworthy, or homeless, or she’s someone who wants that job as badly as Jen does), we don’t need to know what she’s wearing. In fact, the only important thing about her is that she provides Jen with the information she needs.

Jen had no idea where the bus stop was, so she stopped the first person she found.

“It’s down that way,” the woman told Jen, pointing. “About two blocks.”

“Thanks,” Jen said. To her relief, she got to the stop a minute before the bus did.

Tips from the Editor

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Let’s Get Progressive

If It’s Ongoing, Go for the “ing”

Most of my friends had already gathered in Mike’s family room. Mike wore a Steelers jersey, and Doug—who really didn’t care who was playing, or who won—wore his favorite Zeppelin tee.

Jen wore a gorgeous blue dress to the prom last week.

How’s that look to you? Okay in both cases?

There’s a difference.

The prom is over. The narrator’s looking back at it from some point in the future. So, yes: Jen wore a blue dress. It was a limited event that’s finished now.

But the big game is happening now. Everybody’s gathered in Mike’s family room now, from the narrator’s point of view, and what Mike and Doug are wearing is an ongoing situation. It’s not over yet.

Most of my friends had already gathered in Mike’s family room. Mike was wearing a Steelers jersey, and Doug—who really didn’t care who was playing, or who won—was wearing his favorite Zeppelin tee.

Similarly,

I got to the pub around three o’clock. Dan was sitting in a booth, nursing a beer.

All the women at the garden party were wearing fancy hats.

If the scene is happening now for your narrator, and the part of it that you’re focusing on is ongoing, go for the “ing”.

Ongoing = ing. Simple!

Tips from the Editor

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Here’s Lookin’ at You, Baby… Because I’m Talking to You

I looked at him. “I really think it’s important.”

“Well, sure,” he said.

“Don’t you think so?”

He looked at me. “I guess so.”

Yes, if you’re a cop on stakeout, you’re probably looking at something other than the guy sitting beside you in the car. If you’re a guy who’s focused on the playoff game, which has just gone into extra innings, you’re probably not looking at your wife, even though she’s talking to you. If you’re a super-busy mom trying to keep track of two toddlers, you’re probably looking at them and not at your friend Katie, who’s trying to tell you about her impossible boss.

But if you’re having a quiet, important conversation with your S.O., sitting out on the back steps or on opposite sides of a little bistro table, you’re probably looking at the other person more often than not. That’s also true for your characters. If they’re having a game-changing conversation, they’re going to be focused on each other.

It’s a given. You don’t need to keep telling your readers, He looked at me. Really, what else would he be looking at?

Newbie writers often fall into the trap of trying to fill those awkward spaces between lines of dialogue with small actions: He looked at me. He blinked. He smiled. He nodded. Those bits of information are okay… IF the action adds something to the scene, something you want your reader to take notice of. But if your characters are looking and nodding and smiling several times per page, you won’t draw your reader deeper into the story. You’ll be taking the chance of boring them and pushing them away.

Ask yourself, Am I including something important, or just filling up space?

Avoid stating the obvious. Make every word important!

 

New Season, New Plans

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At least… new season, continuation of the same plans!

When I got into the indy publishing game 3 years ago, I had no real plan in mind — other than to write books, publish books, make money from books. Not an astonishing amount of money, mind you — that comes with a lot of baggage I was pretty sure I didn’t want to handle. So… a little money. A little success.

I kept seeing other people saying, “Write more books.” So I did that.

Now I’ve got 44 titles up on Amazon, which seems like a pretty impressive catalog. Six different genres, each of them populated with at least a half-dozen books. All of them with pretty covers.

So here we are in the autumn of 2016… and now it’s time to crank up the publicity machine. Which means Carol training herself to blog and post and tweet and comment on a reasonably regular basis. Which means buying some ads and keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for good things in 2017.

In the meantime, have a picture. Hope your day is a tranquil — but successful — one.

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Moving forward… an inch at a time

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… And now it’s June! And I’m still awful at blogging on a regular basis.

Actually, what’s troublesome is finding enough time for everything. When I stepped down from my day job two years ago, I thought my new “freedom” would allow me to write for a good part of the day, and edit for other authors in the afternoon — while I also kept up with housework, spending time with my family, taking long daily walks, etc. etc. and so on and so forth.

Yeah, not so much.

I’m getting behinder and behinder. Haven’t found time to shampoo the living room carpet or give the house that “get into every little corner” dusting I planned to do during the springtime. My Facebook author page has crickets chirping as its soundtrack. I rarely tweet. I’m a month behind on the book I planned to publish last weekend. And because I can’t find enough time to edit enough other people’s books, my income is… wobbly.

On the plus side, I get to work in my pajamas. When the spirit moves me, I can put the laptop down and take a walk, or watch some TV for an hour.

So, it’s all good.

It’s all part of the adventure.

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Too Many Voices…

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I’ve been meaning to post for… well, six months now, which is probably enough time to convince you that I’m a terrible blogger. At the very least, an unreliable one. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Slapping a couple of random thoughts up on Facebook (usually accompanied by a random photo of something) is one thing, and putting together an essay that I figure other people would enjoy reading is a whole ‘nother one.

But blogging is nothing compared to putting together a new book for publication.

gray lake crop

Last fall, I ran out of juice. I had several new stories underway, but couldn’t put together the ambition to work on them. Time went by, then more time went by… and I’d made no progress. Then, after the holidays, I had a sudden burst of inspiration and put together all the pieces for a brand-new series. I zipped through first drafts of the first three books, bought the covers, laid out a publication schedule… and then I ran out of gas again.

Why is that? you might ask.

Because the world is full of voices. People with suggestions. People who were happy to tell me just what worked for them. People who posted their sales numbers, which are up in the stratosphere compared to mine. People who were complaining about one thing or another (or a lot of things). That’s a LOT of noise, particularly for an introvert who’s easily overwhelmed by too much input — and it resulted in my completely running out of gas again. I wanted badly to publish these new books in April and May, but every time I looked at them, my heart would sink. The whole world started to look like that picture of the lake I included up above: gray and stormy. Not only couldn’t I envision publishing anytime soon, I couldn’t envision publishing at all.

Then a friend suggested, “Listen to your heart.”

Which is what I wanted to do all along, but other people were telling me I was wrong. Telling me the choices I’d made wouldn’t work, that I should tinker and juggle and cut and redo. Buy different (and much more expensive) covers. Good advice, maybe — for someone who’s not me.

For me, writing is very personal. Most of the time, I’ve done the tinkering and juggling all alone, without offering anyone else the chance to weigh in. Usually, I’ll reach a point where I can look at the story and say, “This is finished now. This is the best way I can tell this story.” At that point, I hit “Publish.” Some of the stories have done very well, from my perspective, at least. Others have faded nearly into oblivion. They didn’t work for the readers.

Would they have worked better if I had let other people weigh in, and followed their instructions? Maybe. But for me, part of the heart of the story would be gone. The story would have become a group effort, and not just the product of my struggling writer’s soul, the story I needed to tell, in its own time, in its own way.

I’m going back to that now. I’m going to turn these new stories loose and see what happens. They may fail; they may succeed to a degree that makes me smile. Either way, they’re true to what I wanted them to be.

I figure that’s worth a lot.

31 Days of Creepy: The Possession

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11168615_oriI started out the month talking about some old favorites – classic scary stuff that’s given me chills over the years. Let’s finish up with something newer – the scariest movie I’ve seen in a long time!

The Possession is the story of a 10-year-old girl named Emily who comes across an intriguing old box at a yard sale. We’ve all had an object “speak” to us, I’m sure, in a way that says “take me home.” The box does that to Emily, but it’s not just the sense that she needs to add this battered old thing to her collection of treasures. It’s literally speaking to her… and that’s only the beginning.

Natasha Calis does a terrific job as young Emily, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick are spot-on as her terrified parents. The direction, photography and music add beautiful layers to the mood. A couple of questions remain unanswered at the end, but overall the story is involving, unsettling, and effective… to the point of making you wonder if you’re really hearing whispers in the middle of the night. Thumbs up to this one – my favorite recent scary movie!

31 Days of Creepy: Chatting with Author Will Swardstrom

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71MNzLaFHIL._UX250_Continuing my conversations with author friends about what creeps them out, on this scariest day of the year…

Meet Will Swardstrom, who’s typically a SF writer, but has dipped into the horror realm with the truly creepy Ant Apocalypse and Z Ball.

Book, movie, or TV show… what’s the one moment that absolutely scared the living bejeebers out of you?

When I was in fourth grade, I was invited to a sleepover at a friend’s house. I typically watched things like Star Wars and Eddie Murphy movies as I recall, so when we watched Children of the Corn, it was way out of left field. Being in an unfamiliar house definitely played into it, I think, but that movie…shudders…I still get creeped out thinking about it. What a scary, scary movie.

Tell the truth: would waking up to find a giant bug crawling on your face make you scream? Or would you attempt to make a pet out of it?

I might actually be too scared to even scream at first. I might be paralyzed by fear and revulsion, but the first move would be to bat it away from me and my face. All those legs…now dog-sized? I can’t even. Arachnophobia really got me as a kid, and of course my story Ant Apocalypse is my first attempt at horror. NO THANKS.

For you, who’s the Master of Horror?

For books, I’ll go with Stephen King. Can’t go wrong there. I really am a wuss when it comes to reading or watching much horror, but that dude is such a great storyteller I can get into any of his books no matter what. That said…the two books that scared me the most: the first is Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz. This was one of his books from the early 90’s where he was still going full-on horror/suspense with his books. In the latter years here he’s toned it down and horror is more of a character to his stories, not the entire setting.

But the one book that scared me the most? Hot Zone by Richard Preston (subtitle: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus). This was in the 90’s when Ebola first became a household name and I read that book. The true nature of it truly frightened me.

What’s the scariest scene you’ve ever written?

The kitten turns into a zombie scene in my book Ant Apocalypse. For sure. I hated writing it (I’m a cat person, honestly), so I forced myself to do it. Listening to it as an audiobook scared the crap out of me.

Zombie Apocalypse. What’s your weapon of choice?

Can I go with Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility? How about Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet? I would rather just NOT deal with the zombies if I had a choice. However, if I *had* to choose, it would be something that I could use again and again, like a sword or something along those lines where I wouldn’t have to worry about ammunition.