Tuesday, April 28, 2015

More First Lines . . . This Time as "Scene-Setters"

As a follow up to yesterday's post on my own first lines (see here) as well as last week's first line on Frederick Forsyth's first line of The Veteran, I offer two more. I inadvertently stumbled into a nest of short stories. Didn't mean to. I was looking forward to a nice, long, British, spy-thriller. I got a series of shorties.

Still, the first lines of each help illustrate exactly what I was writing about yesterday. In both of the below cases the first lines act as scene-setters. I like reading the way Forsyth is able to produce a fantastic word picture of exactly where the reader is finding themselves in the story.



THE ART OF THE MATTER 

The rain came down. It fell in a slowly moving wall upon Hyde Park and, borne by a light westerly wind, drifted in grey curtains of falling water across Park Lane and through the narrow park of plane trees that divides the northbound and southbound lanes. A wet and gloomy man stood under the leafless trees and watched. 

The entrance to the Grosvenor House Hotel ballroom was brightly lit by several arc lights and the endless glare of camera flashes. Inside was warm, snug and dry. Under the awning before the door was an area of only damp pavement and here the uniformed commissionaires stood, gleaming umbrellas at the ready, as the limousines swept up, one by one. 

As each rain-lashed car drew up by the awning one of the men would run forward to shield the descending star or film celebrity for the two-yard dash, head down, from car to awning. There they could straighten up, plaster on the practised smile and face the cameras. 

The paparazzi were either side of the awning, skin-wet, shielding their precious equipment as best they could. Their cries came across the road to the man under the trees.

Forsyth, Frederick - The Veteran

THE MIRACLE

The sun was a hammer in the sky. It beat down on the clustered roofs of the walled Tuscan city and the medieval tiles, some pink but mostly long baked to umber or ashen grey, shimmered in the heat. 

Shadows dark as night were cast along upper windows by the overhanging gutters; but where the sun could touch, the rendered walls and ancient bricks gleamed pale, and wooden sills cracked and peeled. In the deep and narrow cobbled alleys of the oldest quarter there were restful pools of further shade and here the occasional sleepy cat sought refuge. But of local humans there was no sign, for this was the day of the Palio. 

Down one such alley, lost in a maze of tiny cobbled ways, hardly wider than his own shoulders, the American tourist hurried, red as beef. Sweat trickled down to soak his short-sleeved cotton shirt, the tropical-weight jacket felt like a blanket dangling from his shoulder. Behind him his wife tottered painfully on unsuitable platform sandals. 

They had tried to book far too late for a hotel inside the city, in this of all seasons, and had finally settled for a room in Casole d’Elsa. The rented car had overheated on the road, they had eventually found a parking slot beyond the city walls and now scurried from the Porta Ovile towards their goal. 

They were soon lost in the labyrinth of alleys dating back five hundred years, stumbling on the hot cobbles, feet on fire. From time to time the Kansas cattleman cocked an ear towards the roar of the crowd and tried to head in that direction. His well-upholstered wife sought only to catch up and fan herself with a guidebook at the same time.

Forsyth, Frederick - The Veteran

I find it interesting that the first one is about rain coming down near Hyde Park, then the very next one is sun in Italy. The rain soaked start is for a revenge fantasy regarding a painting con. The sun is the first line for a story about a miracle. Forsyth is a good enough author where I think both of those are intentional.

Monday, April 27, 2015

First Lines? Just How Important are They?

I love my first line series (see here). I started it years ago because I read a book about the importance of first lines (see here) and since then there have been some doozies in the list. In preparing for this post I went back and read a bunch and there are some good ones out there in the past of this blog, and there are some real disappointments too.

Plus as a new writer, you hear so much about the need to hook the reader, to get them involved immediately in the story. But you know what I've found. It's not so much the first line, it's that first scene. It's like I said in my last post on the subject (see here), it's not so much that first line, it's the first scene, the writer's library and stock pile of good will with the reader, and the overall writing in general. A well written book will overcome a shotty first line. A back ground of great books will provide a lot of credibility to overcome a boring first line.

In terms of my own first lines, I have mixed reviews (see here). I'm happier with On the Edge in general than I am with Toe the Line, but I think the first line for On the Edge, and the opening scene is weaker than Toe the Line.

http://www.amazon.com/Dick-Hannah/e/B007Q4YWV6

There is a specific fear, a state of panic really, that takes root within most people, parents particularly when they first discover that they've lost track of their child. It's the moment when a father loses sight of his son in a crowded food court, the second or two when a mother realizes that the little hand that belongs to her daughter that was holding her hand is no longer there. A flush of extreme anxiety with undertones of foreboding follow that first moment and are quickly replaced by hope. Hope that as the crowd parts he will see his son, or she will feel the little fingers reach up and wrap around her hand again. When that doesn't happen the panic becomes terror. My terror began half way into my Monday, six mile run. It was Georgia I missed first. 

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to the protagonist finding what happened to Georgia.

In Toe the Line, the first line is reminiscent of Max Shulman and his "Bang bang bang bang" opening (see here). 


http://www.amazon.com/Dick-Hannah/e/B007Q4YWV6

"Go to hell, Wheeler." As last words go they were hardly what one would call poignant.

Sadly, I don't think that either first line would land on any lists of "Great First Lines" nor even on "Good First Lines." More sadly is the fact that I don't have a library of goodwill built up with my "fan club." All I have, I hope, is decent writing in one of the books and passable writing in the other. To say it precisely I have the following reviews. For On the Edge I received a review that stated:

Dick Hannah has created one fantastic novel. Simply put- I love it. There were a lot of plates spinning & he didn't drop any. What I'd thought would be a simple mystery novel became multiple novels in one: family drama, thriller, a little romance, inspirational- you name it! Fingers are crossed for a sequel. Five stars straight through- brilliant!

For Toe the Line the most scathing review stated:

When I read the synopsis this sounded like my kind of book, intriguing plot with a mystery to be solved. While the book did have these characteristics, at times I felt like I was reading an assignment in a high school English class. The scenery that Mr. Hannah created with his use of imagery was amazing. I felt as though I was in the Pacific Northwest as I read the book. His character development was scattered, at best. I agree with the other reviewer, in that Wynn drove me crazy! His character had much potential but his obsession with triathlons became quite old quickly. He lacked depth and was flat, whereas his ex-fiancee's character was fiery. The extreme personalities frustrated me several times throughout the story. Also, a few of the secondary characters could have been developed more. It would have provided the insight needed for the conclusion. I felt the premise of the story was good; I wish Mr. Hannah had expanded his storyline. He only touched the surface of what could have been a 5 star novel.

Yikes, right? So again, no credibility provided through Toe the Line. But regarding that first line stuff, see this review:

When I read the first page I was hooked. Usually, if I can't get into a book by the third page then I know I'm not going to get into it at all. 'Toe The Line' was an exceptional read right through to the end. At one point I THOUGHT I had well and truly nabbed the murderer, but then it twisted so I was caught off guard - which stunned me because I can usually catch the killer before the story ends (hence I was a bit cross with myself but pleased for Mr Hannah for making me as the reader think differently).

So, like I said, a great first line isn't the end all beat all by any means. It can help, but mostly it's great writing that's going to get the writer over the hump of readers acceptance and love for the work. What have I learned? First, although the first line and first scene are important for my next work, Vapor Trail, it's not what's going to win the battle. Taking that "writing is a road march" idea from several weeks ago (see here) it reminds me of a thirty-miler that we took in Fort Ord, California. We had a briefing the night before and one of of the more senior squad leaders talked about the importance of keeping your feet dry and clean,  . . . fresh socks, good boots, . . . that sort of thing. Then the next morning, bright and early we start off. We are winding our way through some foot hill trails and there's a ford through a stream that stops us cold just a mile or two into the five hour ordeal. Imagine that. A platoon of Spec Ops, Ranger, Paratrooper Bad-Asses stopped in the midst of our thirty-mile mission by a team leader who took the foot hygiene class so seriously that he stopped at a three inch deep puddle from a small stream. 

Eventually the platoon sergeant came along, yelled at us all for being ridiculous and strode through that puddle making as many big splashes as he could just to show how much he cared about his own foot care and we were back off. Still, bad start but great content. I'd much rather have that the alternative of a great start with a poor finish. So, for Vapor Trail I'm going to focus on that first line, but more of my focus will be on the work as a whole than just on that first few lines. I have a bit of credibility built up with the readers, no need to undercut that now.

As long as we are talking about my reviews, my favorite has to be this one about On the Edge. 

At first I hated Joe and didn't know if I was going to make it through the book. He seemed to be such a douche. But as the story began to unfold, I found that some of the douchery was really his own anxieties taking hold. From that point forward I wanted to learn more about this guy and what makes him tick. The novel is full of twists and turns that keep the reader engaged. The story line is realistic and detailed. I am sure the author's military background made all the difference for me in the flashback scenes. Many times I will gloss over these types of things (military stories just aren't my cup o' tea) but Hannah truly painted a picture with his words that keep me intrigued.

There is a little bit of everything in this book. Suspense. Mystery. A little taste of romance. And pretty deep character development packed into a fairly short novel. It was a really good read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys "who done it?" mystery/thriller books.

As I said before (here) . . . who can't help but love a positive review that includes the term "douchery."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Miss My Writing Bud

So it has come to my attention that I need to discuss a personal issue here. Generally I don't like to do that. I like to keep this forum for thoughts on writing and reading and try to keep the personal at arms length. But as savvy, long-time reader know, I do mix the fam in every now and then (see here and here). Still, I generally try and find a way to bring it back to writing and I'm sure I'll find a way to do that here as well. All that being said, Killian, my best friend for almost fifteen years, who has made his way into this blog a couple of times (see here), passed away on Wednesday morning.


There would be several novels that could be written from this experience. I've managed helping to put a dog to sleep, but this time. . . Killian's passing was unlike any of the others I've been a part of. Good and bad. From the unexpected and surprising warm hug on my doorstep from the vet as he left, one that I didn't know I needed but obviously he realized I did, to the complex and sometimes difficult dealings with close friends and family. There has to be a novel in there somewhere about how it's good to know who you got in your fox-hole.

Or there is the "Marley and Me" style novel that recounts the life of a great fellow like Killian. One that brings up his wonky, over-the-line disgusting bad deeds, to his warm-hearted and gentle great ones. Mostly I'm sure in a James Herriot kind of way I would bring up how he would thump heavily at my side as I typed away on my novels, always seeming to search me out like a latent, somewhat running-behind-schedule shadow. Or perhaps how he grunted and groaned with satisfaction as a writer's toe reached down to give his ear a scratch every now and then.

But I think the most startling novel would be the one regarding the reaction to his death of those who were closest to him. How the almost nine year old in the house, who I had to tell to set a good example, couldn't contain himself from rushing inside to see if Killian was still home, and let just a few tears slip when he finally realized the bad news, but who bucked himself up and matured what seemed like decades right before my eyse. How the five year old wailed with grief for over an hour, tragically and completely beside himself in his sadness when he heard the news that the companion who had been by his side his entire life would no longer be around for long walks or to help him go to sleep at night. And how the four year old, still not quite sure what was going on, retreated into his shell to wait out the difficulty he saw his big-brother hero going through.

Somewhere amid all of this is a novel just waiting to be set free. But for me, I'll just miss having the fellow around when I'm writing.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

First Came Miss Cooper

Perhaps I have fallen victim to a scam, but I went and bought an application that is suppossed to help me with key word and SEO analysis for my book.



A few weeks back Elizabeth Cooper wrote about getting the most out of SEO (see here). I realized that I do very little SEO for my little blog here. I count on word of mouth, on Google+ and other (even more) passive aspects of advertisement to get my blog out into the main stream of writing and publishing culture.

Then a friend of mine at work wrote to tell me that I "suck at SEO." This was a taunt that I just could not condone. Not from this (very best of all-time) friend.

Taking these two things into account I resolved to make the most of SEO, and that's where Kindle Samurai comes into the picture. Kindle Samurai promises "High Traffic Keywords" and "Keywords that have low Competition" among other things in order to help drive more sales of your books on Amazon and Kindle.

So far I have barely scratched the surface and I'm a tad worried I've been conned. So, in order to make lemonade out of the lemons I intend to give this audience a detailed look into the functionality and the capability and my results from using the application.

If any of you have any history with Kindle Samurai, I would love to hear how things when with you and get your thoughts. If you have no history, and want to know if it can be used to help tweak SEO for your books, . . . STAY TUNED!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Efficasatiousness of Made Up Words

Other than the First and Last Lines series (see here and here) my favorite little series, and one that is neglected lately, is the Word Smith series (see here).

This series started when I started noticing that my kiddo's were experts at forcing the evolution of the English language. Where would society be without "Movie-ater" instead of theater . . . or "Jumpoline" instead of trampoline. And who could forget "Heli-hopter" for helicopter.

And yes, I understand that this is a pet project for me. So few people find what other folks kiddo's do as cute as the parent finds them. Not only that, but the picture of the Fiction Rule of Thumb that I show below (that I lifted from XKCD.com) proves that there is very little success in using any of these in my writing. But yesterday I commented about my new friend Andy Goldman's post about indoctrinating his kiddos into the Star Wars world (see here), and it made me start thinking about my own kiddos.



Today I have two. First I have one from our little foster kiddo, A. The first time he was with us he couldn't speak. Now, he's a speaking fool! He's constantly saying things. He said something the other day that made me wonder how many pearls of word wizardry were in his little head that whole time he was quiet.

Dick: "You guys want to watch a movie?"

P and C: "YEAH!" (with A echoing his brother's sentiment just moment after)

Dick: "Which one?"

P and C: "Despicable Me Two!"

A: "YEAH! Pickle Me Too!"

The other one came from P who is almost nine. He was explaining to me his state testing and the types of questions he had to answer as a part of the test.

Dick: "So all you had to do was add numbers?"

P: "Yeah, it was simple."

Dick: "Seems too easy for a Math Wizard like you."

P: "Well we did have to multiplicate as well."

Who needs "multiply" and "multiplication" when you can use a word like "Multiplicate!" You heard it here first folks. Soon you'll hear it everywhere.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

FLOTD (First Line of the Day)

I was all set to write about the first line of the book I'm reading now and was going to compare it to the first line in my own books, Toe the Line (here) and On the Edge (here) so went through my blog looking for the posts where I dissected my own first lines.

Couldn't find em.

May not have ever done it.

That's a problem. Here I have (what I think is) a wonderful series all about first lines (see here). It has shown me that first lines although important are perhaps not as important as many believe. I think it's proven to me that having a good quality product and reputation is more important than a super-fantastic first line. But without those other two qualities a first line that knocks the reader back a step can be a pretty good substitute.

All that being said, count on a post in the coming days and or weeks on my own first lines. What will be really interesting is reading the first line of my newest novel, Vapor Trail, to see if I've learned anything about first lines from this series.


I love reading Forsyth novels and he's had some doozy first lines (see here). This one . . . not so much.

It was the owner of the small convenience store on the corner who saw it all. At least, he said he did. 

He was inside the shop, but near the front window, rearranging his wares for better display, when he looked up and saw the man across the street. The man was quite unremarkable and the shopkeeper would have looked away but for the limp. He would testify later that there was no-one else on the street. 

The day was hot beneath a skim of grey cloud, the atmosphere close and muggy. The hysterically named Paradise Way was as bleak and shabby as ever, a shopping parade in the heart of one of those graffiti-daubed, exhausted, crime-destroyed housing estates that deface the landscape between Leyton, Edmonton, Dalston and Tottenham.

Forsyth, Frederick - The Veteran

Mostly scene setting. "He was inside the shop" . . . . "The man was quite unremarkable" . . . "The day was hot" . . . not really the type of thing that grabs the reader by the throat and compels them to know more. Saying "the day was hot beneath a skim of grey cloud," is hardly as profound as "The November sky over Manhattan was chain mail, raveling into steely rain." (see here).

This is what I meant by having a good quality product and a worthwhile library as a foundation. Forsyth certainly has the history. So far he's missed the first line and at the moment since the first part of the book reads like a particularly boring episode of Law and Order (the Ben Stone era, not the Jack McCoy era), he's taken two strikes and the next pitch is on the way.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Power of the Writing Habit

There is a lot of great articles both on this blog (see here), and on other blogs (specifically here and here) that discuss ways to overcome writer's block.

This springs to mind because this blog's primary "field correspondent" Kristi Jones, is off at a writer's retreat and is kicking ass at knocking out her word count (see @authorkristi on Twitter for a play-by-play).

But I wanted to discuss habits.


 I read a book once called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (see here and here). It was a great book, and invariably, like most non-fiction books I try to read, I failed to complete it. In the book,  Duhigg tells many many stories about how habit is more important in lifestyle than any other one thing. Not only that but breaking the habit that leads to poor choices is more important than stopping the poor choice cold turkey.

One of the more memorable stories was about an older gentleman who suffered a severe brain injury. He was left without the ability to function normally in life. He always had to have a nurse or care-taker after the injury occurred. He many have even been a university professor prior to the injury (I suppose a re-read is in order). Nevertheless, the old guy would go for walks every afternoon. He couldn't get out of bed by himself, or brush his teeth, or make coffee, or any of the daily ins and outs of regular life. But he would go out the door and walk around the block every day without fail.

It was a habit he had before the injury and it was one that he kept afterward. If he was stopped while on his walk and asked about why he had decided to go on a walk, he wouldn't even be able to tell you. As I recall he didn't even realize that he was on a walk. It was just something that he did cause it was habit. I have a dog that does the same thing. I will start Killian on a walk and he’ll just go on and walk around the block by himself and eventually find himself at our backdoor waiting to be let in. It’s autopilot.

Bully for Kristi for kicking ass at the writer’s retreat. And could this could be sour grapes if only cause I would love the chance to take off for a writer’s retreat (gotta love those “professional” writers), but I think my writing has more to do with habit than anything else.

I get into the habit of writing and that’s what keeps me writing. The more I write the more I think about my novel and the more I want to write. If I wake up on weekends and write, then I keep waking up on weekends to write. If I write at night then I keep writing at night. Whenever something gets in the way of that habit, be in baseball games for the kiddo, or an interesting show at night, then BOOM the chain is broken and the habit is lost. For me it’s that quick. I have to go back out there and re-establish the habit if I want it back.

It’s the quick fall off of the habit that is my Achilles heel. I don’t think I’m an addictive type of person. I smoked for a while as a kid, then I came home from Europe and I stopped. Just stopped. I dipped tobacco in the Army. When I got out of the Army I stopped dipping. I wanted to lose weight so I stopped eating meat and cheese and milk and eggs. I want to lose weight so I stop drinking. Stopping things is just that easy to me. I just stop.

I wish that I had a more addictive personality where I couldn't get away from my writing, even to watch a nine year old pitch for the first time in a baseball game. I have a novel that is two thirds the way done right now just waiting for me to get back into the habit of writing. Can you just imagine how terrific it would be to be like that walk around the block fella or Killian and just BOOM find yourself sitting in front of your computer knocking out your novel and not even realize your doing it. 

Still, I’m jealous of the writer’s retreat . . . that’s a habit I could get used to.





Friday, April 17, 2015

Guest Post: Your Book Cover Design by Michelle Rene Goodhew

Today’s guest blogger is Michelle Rene a freelance cover designer and illustrator from Northwest Washington. Michelle is published in six genres and allows her creative diversity shows in my various works. Some of her illustrations were previously published in Creative Review magazine, as well as a few of her cover designs. 

Your Book Cover Design


As a designer, my best advice is that you do not create your own book cover. Homemade book covers tend to look homemade. The result would most likely be an amateur cover with what the public will perceive as an amateur book. But if you are still interested in designing your own cover, I have included a list of the most helpful video tutorials at the end of this article.

When it comes to book covers, they are the first sales point of your book. You do not want to display a b-rated or homemade cover because it will suggest the value of your book. It is highly recommended that you find a professional designer. There are hundreds of cover designers out there, what you are looking for is a great portfolio full of unique designs.


The Basics



You can expect to pay a median range of $500 for your cover design, as high as $750 or as low as $200. Hiring an illustrator could cost you considerably more and then a designer will still need to arrange the layout and font design. A contract should be agreed upon and typically a down payment of 50% of the total design costs will need to be paid up-front.

• The Concept


Before you approach your designer you should create a brief that the designer can work from, and most professional designers will want to read your book in order to create your specific design. If they don’t, you may want to look somewhere else for your needs.

Before you get started on creating a brief for a cover design you need to decide on the message you want to send.

Ask yourself: What is the book’s single-minded value proposition?
What is the target audience of readers looking for – Inspiration and Aspiration, Success and Achievement, Knowledge and Power, Romance and Passion, Murder and Revenge?
Boiling it down to the motivation, incentive and emotion will help you generate tons of ideas or visual metaphors that determine the imagery, choice of color palette, typography, and layout that help your designer capture what the book is all about.

This is your chance to brainstorm and maybe make a collage of things that appeal to you.

• The Brief


You will need to provide a cover design brief. Take a look at what the designer needs to know.

Points to include:

1. The Concept

2. The style

There are, broadly, 3 types of cover to choose from:



3. You need to consider:

• The theme or key image from the book that you want to use on the cover.
• Is there a particular character or scene from your novel you would like to show on the cover?
• Should there be a dominant color?
• Are there any visual clues such as badges or colors that will identify the content?
• Is the book designed to be part of a series? Does it need to match existing books?

Please provide as full a brief as you can.

• The Design


Your designer should offer you two or three concepts to choose from.

The cover design should generate excitement. Grab attention. The main goal of every book cover is to generate excitement. The cover is one of the best tools in your marketing arsenal. That’s why you should create something that will stop people in their tracks and evoke interest. The book cover is the hook that will help you to promote your book.



       
So many books today have a repetitive design style, they are copies of other books in their genre and therefore have a hard time standing out in the crowd. A professional designer will invest time in their work for you and should provide you with something unique.

The book cover should show what genre the book is. A really good book cover “talks” to its readers through choice of typography, imagery and metaphor.

     

A great cover design engages the viewer by drawing them in with a design style that speaks for the story. Branding the author is imperative, the designer is responsible for presenting the books image as a first impression to the public, special thought and time should go into font, color scheme and layout.

Book Cover Design Tutorials


Create a Realistic Book Cover in Photoshop
How To Create a Retro Style Superman Book Cover - Visit this Photoshop tutorial to get some basic skills in book cover design.
How to Design a Book Cover in Photoshop - YouTube is full of different Photoshop tutorials. This one of the simplest but still useful.
Designing Book Covers Tutorial (Advanced) - This is advanced level video tutorial, but why not have a try?
Create Character Driven Book Cover Art Using Illustrator and Photoshop – Part 1 - Learn how to create the “Let’s Go To Monster School!” book cover.
Dirty Design: Create a Grungy Thriller Book Cover



About Michelle

My name is Michelle Rene and I am a freelance cover designer and illustrator from Northwest Washington. I also contract through several publishers as a cover designer and illustrator. I am published in six genres and my creative diversity shows in my various works. Some of my illustrations were previously published in Creative Review magazine, as well as a few of my cover designs. I am an artist and have a true passion for my work.

As a designer I feel that hearing the heart of the story from you, the author, the passion you express for your creation fuels my creativity and design process. I want my authors to feel that my illustration and design is the vision they hoped for in representing their work to the public. I want to pull potential readers in with the cover design. My design has to stand out from the rest as a unique work of art. As an illustrator and designer, I combine my services to create a unique look that only your book will have.

What are you currently working on and how can I be of service to you?

Come take a look at my artwork and designs, check out my variety of services offered on my pricing page, you will find my rates to be competitive. I also design social and website banners, posters for book tours, bookmarks, book teasers, and business cards, all for your book marketing efforts. Review my testimonials and discover some of the people I work with. http://michellerenegoodhew.com

I look forward to hearing from you :-)

Sincerely,
Michelle Rene Goodhew
Book Cover Designer & Illustrator
Website: http://michellerenegoodhew.com
goodhewmichelle@gmail.com
USA 360-854-8610

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ArtistandIllustratorMichelleReneGoodhew
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MichelleRene00
Google+: https://www.google.com/+MichelleGoodhew

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Over Two Dozen Distinct Smells in Just the First Half of the Book

The other day Cronin Detzz provided a guest post on how to Turbo-Boost Your Writing (see here). In the introduction she states: Really get your character into his surroundings.  Immerse yourself in the scene – what do you see?  Smell?  Hear?  Remember?"



Smell.

If one aspect of turbo-boosted writing is smell, then Nick Cutter who wrote The Troop (which I'm currently reading . . . see here and here) has hit the nitrous oxide on his writing and is speeding by all the competition.

Here is a sampling of the different smells his characters experience in just the first half of the novel.

All boys gave off a scent, Tim found— although it wasn’t solely an olfactory signature; in Tim’s mind it was a powerful emanation that enveloped his every sense. For instance, Bully-scent: acidic and adrenal, the sharp whiff you’d get off a pile of old green-fuzzed batteries. Or Jock-scent: groomed grass, crushed chalk, and the locker room funk wafting off a stack of exercise mats. Kent Jenks pumped out Jock-scent in waves. Other boys, like Max and Ephraim, were harder to define— Ephraim often gave off a live-wire smell, a power transformer exploding in a rainstorm. 

Shelley . . . Tim considered between sips of scotch and realized the boy gave off no smell at all— if anything the vaporous, untraceable scent of a sterilized room in a house long vacant of human life. 

Newton, though, stunk to high heaven of Nerd: an astringent and unmistakable aroma, a mingling of airless basements and dank library corners and tree forts built for solitary habitation, of dust smoldering inside personal computers, the licorice tang of asthma puffer mist and the vaguely narcotic smell of model glue— the ineffable scent of isolation and lonely forbearance. Over time a boy’s body changed, too: his shoulders stooped to make their owner less visible, the way defenseless animals alter their appearance to avoid predators, while their eyes took on a flinching, hunted cast.

The Troop (p. 12)

The man’s stink hit Tim flush in the nose. A high fruity reek with an ammoniac undernote. Ketosis. The man’s body was breaking down its fatty acids in a last-ditch effort to keep its vital organs functioning. When burnt, ketones released a sickly sweet smell— the desperate reek of a body consuming itself. The stench coming out of the man’s mouth was like a basket of peaches rotting in the sun.

The Troop (p. 23)

Max put a square in his hand. Tim dabbed away the warm ichor. The smell was horrible, like rancid grease. 

The Troop (p. 83)

Max saw brown grime slotted between his teeth. When he blew up the balloon, Max got a good whiff of him: rank sweat and something odder, scarier— a hint of shaved iron.

The Troop (p. 86)

The smell hit him like a ball-peen hammer. Sweetly fruity top notes, rancid decay lurking underneath.
The Troop (p. 102)

A wave of dizziness rocked the Scoutmaster. Gnatlike specks crowded his vision. His sinuses burnt with ozone: the same eye-watering sensation as if he’d jumped off the dock into the bay and salt water rocketed up his nose.

The Troop (p. 105)

It ended in this: Tim locked in a closet, alone with his thoughts. And his hunger. And the sick sweet stink of his body.

The Troop (p. 119)

Part of him— a shockingly large part— was okay being in here. Perhaps he was unfit for command. Fact: he was paralyzed with hunger. He kept catching whiffs of cotton candy from someplace.

The Troop (p. 121)

“You know what, Kent?” Shelley said. “Your breath stinks like shit. Like cotton candy that someone took a big piss on. Can’t you smell it?”

 The Troop (p. 139)

Ephraim barreled through into the cabin. The sickening sweetness hammered him in the face— the air inside a decayed beehive could smell much the same.

The Troop (p. 143)

This is just a few of the ones I've found and I'm only halfway through the story. I wonder if Nick Cutter is part bloodhound cause his olefactory senses must be off the charts compared to mine. Or for each scene he thought "What's it look like? What's the light like? What's the smell? What's it sound like? etc."

The best by far is the first one, about how all boys give off different scents. And Newton gave off a distinct nerd scent. As a reader it really helped me not just relate to the characters but also to differentiate between all of them.  

If you want to know what the entire island of Falstaff Island smells like, go read The Troop. By the same token if you want to read a very Stephen King-esque horror novel that will keep you guessing, entertained and feeling queasy, then again, this would be your book. Terrific recommendation. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Another Two-Fer

A few weeks ago with The Fourth Deadly Sin I found a two-fer; two quotes about the morning in one or two paragraphs (see here). I ran into the same idiosyncrasy by twos again today with The Troop.



THE BOYS rose with the drowsy half-light of dawn. The moon hung in its western altar like the last melancholy guest at a dinner party, who was too lonely to leave.

Then a page later:

HOURS LATER, sunlight filtered through the sap-yellowed window, sparkling the dust motes that hung in the stagnant air.

Cutter, Nick - The Troop 

I still say that it's a phenomenon in literature that you can't find a novel where within there is not a description of the morning. So far I've cataloged quite a few without even really trying (see here). The Troop by Nick Cutter makes me think my theory is valid. There are so many descriptors on so many things (see tomorrow's post for more) that finding one on the morning was actually quite hard. It's there. It's always there. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Guest Post: Turbo-Boost Your Writing! by Cronin Detzz

Today’s guest blogger is poet and book reviewer, Cronin Detzz.  We've had such a great response from readers of this space to Guest Posts (a phenomenon I'm not too sure how to feel about) that we're jumping ahead of our regular Thursday Guest Post schedule to host Cronin's thoughts today. Now that she is crafting her first novel, she’s been invited to share tips on weaving poetry into non-fiction.

TURBO-BOOST YOUR WRITING!

How does a writer accomplish adding that special flair without falling into too much purple prose or too much detail?  It’s a tricky, subjective area, but if a writer adds a few flourishes, he take his writing to new heights.

Really get your character into his surroundings.  Immerse yourself in the scene – what do you see?  Smell?  Hear?  Remember?

SOUND

Notice the opening lines of “Wool,” a fantastic series by Hugh Howey.  The only action that the main character accomplishes is climbing a set of stairs:

“The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do. While they thundered about frantically above, Holston took his time, each step methodical and ponderous, as he wound his way around and around the spiral staircase, old boots ringing out on metal treads.”

“Old boots ringing out on metal treads” is Howey’s way of informing the reader that the main character, Holston, is walking up a staircase.  It’s an odd situation:  children are laughing while Holston walks to his death.  This opening paragraph is far superior to saying something like, “Holston climbed the stairs to his death.”  This is, indeed, what Howey is telling us – but he is telling us so much more, too.   Notice how sound is being used. The children weren’t just playing, they were squealing.  Holston’s boots were ringing out on metal treads.

Those stairs are integral to the Wool series, and they appear in all eleven books.  Read them, you’ll love it.

MEMORIES TRIGGERED BY ITEMS IN SCENE

Katniss only does one thing in the opening paragraph of “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins – she looks down at her shoes:

“I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather. This is where the bed I shared with my sister, Prim, stood. Over there was the kitchen table. The bricks of the chimney, which collapsed in a charred heap, provide a point of reference for the rest of the house. How else could I orient myself in this sea of gray?”

In the simple action of looking at her shoes, Katniss tells us about the gray ash; you know something terrible has happened.  She remembers her bed, the kitchen table, the chimney.  Her home has been destroyed.  We don’t yet feel Katniss’s feelings, but we are set up for something dismal in the “sea of gray.”  Suzanne Collins is painting a picture for us.

TURBO-BOOSTED WORDS

Which words stand out to you from the first page of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Angel’s Game?”  Look for phrases that heighten your appreciation of this modern gothic novel:

“A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood …what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price… I was seventeen and worked at The Voice of Industry, a newspaper that had seen better days and now languished in a barn of a building that had once housed a sulfuric acid factory. The walls still oozed the corrosive vapor that ate away at furniture and clothes, sapping the spirits, consuming even the soles of shoes. The newspaper's headquarters rose behind the forest of angels and crosses of the Pueblo Nuevo cemetery; from afar, its outline merged with the mausoleums silhouetted against the horizon — a skyline stabbed by hundreds of chimneys and factories that wove a perpetual twilight of scarlet and black above Barcelona.”

Turbo-boosted words and phrases:

Instead of pointing out a writer’s goal of being published, Zafon writes “sweet poison of vanity.”
The main character wants to be published. He calls it a “miserable piece of paper.”
An aging magazine business is said to be “languishing in a barn of a building.”
Barcelona is wonderfully described in Zafon’s novels.  In this example, he writes the skyline is “stabbed by hundreds of chimneys.”  By using a verb, “stabbed,” we subconsciously feel the violence and darkness of his “scarlet and black” city.

I look forward to reading excerpts of your own turbo-boosted manuscripts.  Study the masters and highlight phrases that you enjoy.  You can do this! – Keep writing and keep sharing, Cronin Detzz

Cronin Detzz has been writing poetry, lyrics, and short stories for over 30 years. Her works have been published in numerous online journals and anthologies.  Her latest books, “Supernatural Poetry” and “Poetry for Our Time,” are available at Amazon.com.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Is It Wrong to Say I "Flirt with my Writing?"

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading vs. writing. And not so much “writing” writing, as habits with writing.

When my wife reads she reads in great big chunks of time. She’ll buy a book and start reading and in less than 48 hours she’s done. If it’s the weekend the time to finish is closer to twenty four hours. Years ago she started The Davinci Code on Friday night and was done by Saturday at noon. The only book that was able to break this pattern was Les Miserables, which was her “commitment book” (see here) in that it took her several months to complete.


I’m a bit of speedy reader too . . . well, if not speedy than greedy. I turn off most everything else that is going on and any spare time I find goes to reading. I’m not as fast as my wife, but I’m fairly dedicated.

When I was a part of a local writing club and worked with a local editor, they all proposed that I print out each chapter of my book and read it aloud to hear what it sounded like. This didn’t last long. Firstly, I don’t like reading out loud unless it is too my little sons. Secondly, I don’t read books aloud. Why should I read my own work aloud to see how it sounds when in every case (I feel quite certain) no one who buys my books (insert plug for my books here and here) will read it aloud.

What’s funny is that I read in great big chunks, so I naturally believe that I should write in great big chunks. I don’t. I don’t at all. Except for NaNo (see here), where I write fifty thousand words in a month (all of which seem to get rewritten in the following months and years) I usually barely write a chapter at a time. So my writing style and habit is the exact opposite of my reading styles and habits. I wonder how many other writers find this same disparity exists between their reading and their writing.

Just as I said in previous posts that writing a novel is a lot like road marching (see here), it’s also a lot like eating an elephant . . . the best way to do it is lots of little bites. I’m sure that there are many writers out there who can just churn out chapter after chapter after chapter in one big go, much like my wife reads. I find that I am a tinkerer, a bit of a flirty writer. I start here and work a bit, then I remember that I wanted to add something in that previous chapter so I dash over there for a bit, then I realize that I need to add a clue in chapter thirty-three, so I’m off to do that.

This latest novel that I’m writing, Vapor Trail, is the most flirty yet. I churned it out in NaNo, but since then I’ve thrown out the entire NaNo effort and have completely rewritten the entire novel. There are new characters, new settings, new plot lines. There isn’t a thing about that first draft that could be found in this final draft.

I used to read one book on the craft of writing for every four novels I read (see here). I may need to re-institute that rule. I’m curious if everyone writes in this or a similar manner, and whether this is the way it is if you’re a part time writer as I am or a full time writer. I imagine that those lucky few who are full timers are sitting at their desks just banging away all day. I don’t know if I could do that so for now I stick with flirty.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Advice and Procrastination

Today's Guest Post Kay Kauffman, author of Tuesday Daydreams: A Journal in Verse and A Song for All Seasons: A Journal in Verse.

 

I love my bedroom.  The door has a rather impressive deadbolt on it, which allows me the necessary peace and quiet to get some writing done every once in a while.  And I’ve decided to make use of it.
See, I’m in the middle of rewriting a novel, and lately I find myself completely unable to block out the background noise of my life.  But I have writing that needs doing, so up to my room I go, rather like I used to do as a teenager.  In my room, I can lock out the world and tackle the task at hand.
But first I’d better change clothes.  It’s been a long day and I need to relax.  Like, for real – my calves and my shoulders are killing me.  I ought to rub them, but rubbing one’s own achy muscles just isn’t as satisfying as having someone else do it.
Of course, now that I’m halfway relaxed, my two toddlers’ voices have picked up a little bit in the volume department.  They’re supposed to be sleeping.  Oh, well – at least no one’s crying.  Yet.  Time to go bust ‘em.
And now, to get rid of the flashing blue notification light on my phone.  Guess I’ll be checking my email tonight after all.  Maybe there won’t be too many…If I can stay off Facebook, I’ll be fine.  My productivity can still be salvaged.
The wind’s picking up.  In my mind’s eye, I see a heavy curtain of silver mist descend over the countryside, flapping away in the crisp April breeze.  I could totally write a poem about that…
Hey!  That clock can’t possibly be right!  I just sat down *yawn* a few minutes ago – how can it be nearly midnight already?  And how many words did I get down?
Five?  Are you joking?  You can’t be serious.
Well, so much for writing, I guess.  At least there’s still tomorrow…
*studies page*
*binks*
Well, what do you know?  Looks like I got this post written!  Yay productivity!  I might not have written what I set out to write, but sometimes when the words won’t flow, it helps to work on something else for a little while.  Sometimes it doesn’t, but you never know till you try.
Either way, you need to protect your writing time.  If you really want to write, you’ll make the time for it, so put it to good use when you’ve got it.  Whether that use is actually writing or just letting your ideas percolate, it doesn’t matter – both are important parts of the writing process.  At some point, you have to actually write, and maybe you won’t keep all of what you’ve written in your final draft, but that’s okay.  That’s what revision is for.
Finally, don’t be afraid to write tired.  Some of my best ideas have come when I’m tired.  The world looks a little different, and altogether more interesting, when your sight is dulled by exhaustion.



As a girl, Kay dreamed of being swept off her feet by her one true love. At the age of 24, it finally happened…and he’s never let her forget it. A mild-mannered secretary by day and a determined word-wrangler by night, she battles the twin evils of distraction and procrastination in order to write fantastical tales of wuv…twue wuv…with a few haiku thrown in for good measure.
The author of Tuesday Daydreams: A Journal in Verse and A Song for All Seasons: A Journal in Verse, Kay is currently hard at work on the first book in a fantasy trilogy. She resides in the midst of an Iowa corn field with her devoted husband and his mighty red pen; four crazy, cute kids; and an assortment of adorably small, furry animals.
Tuesday Daydreams captures the life and imagination of the author in vivid detail, touching on joy and loss, life’s everyday hassles, and the many faces of Mother Nature.  A Song for All Seasons paints vivid pictures of the Iowa landscape in all its glory, in addition to intimate portraits of family life.  From frost-covered windowpanes and snowy vistas to rolling green fields and bright blue skies, each poem is a peek into a fading world of untamed beauty.  If you’d like to pick up your own copy of Tuesday Daydreams or A Song for All Seasons, you can find them at Amazon, Amazon UK, Createspace, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.
Care to save her from the chaos? You can find Kay in the all the usual places:

At her blog, where she shares random pictures and silly poems; on Facebook, where she shares things about cats and books; on Twitter, where she shares whatever pops into her head; on Pinterest, where she shares delicious recipes and images from her fantasy world; on Instagram, where she shares pictures of pretty sunsets; and on Tumblr, where she shares all of the above.

First Line Today

You will know from yesterday's post that I had a hard decision to make. I put my reading life in the hands of Kristi and started reading The Troop by Nick Cutter. So far I'm glad I did.


EAT EAT EAT EAT The boat skipped over the waves, the drone of its motor trailing across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The moon was a bone fishhook in the clear October sky. 

The man was wet from the spray that kicked over the gunwale. The outline of his body was visible under his drenched clothes. He easily could have been mistaken for a scarecrow left carelessly unattended in a farmer’s field, stuffing torn out by scavenging animals. 

He’d stolen the boat from a dock at North Point, at the farthest tip of Prince Edward Island, reaching the dock in a truck he’d hotwired in a diner parking lot. 

Christ, he was hungry.

Cutter, Nick - The Troop

It's not a bad way to start. Who couldn't like a "The moon was a bone fishhook in the clear October sky." One thing to note however is that he actually starts with a news clipping that describes this fellow eating at a diner, but I see that as a prologue rather than the first line. 



Another thing I find neat. When I read my Kindle the page advances by wiping the screen then bringing up a new screen. It's an old school Kindle (see here) with the E-ink display that kinda flashes as it wipes and re-displays. Every chapter of this book has an image of a lightning bolt strike so when the page flashes it looks like a lightning bolt afterimage on the page. It's a nice touch for a Kindle reader who is reading a horror story. I wonder if they meant to do that or if it was just serendipity. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Gonna Be a Hard Choice

I have a slate of books to be read now that I've finished Flashman and the Mountain of Light (see here).

First there is a book recommended by Kristi Jones (see here). A horror to be sure, so outside my norm, but I'm a horror fan historically, and I know Kristi has an excellent sense of taste and writing talent (see thinks I'm a good writer, need I say more), so there's a lot going for The Troop.


Some thrillers produce shivers, others trigger goose bumps; Cutter's graphic offering will have readers jumping out of their skins. Scoutmaster Dr. Tim Riggs takes his troop for their annual camping trip to Falstaff Island, an uninhabited area not far from their home on Prince Edward Island.

Then there is Mila 18, a "deep dish" or "commitment" novel from Leon Uris. I loved Armageddon (see here) and based on what Amazon says about Mila 18, I'm betting I'll love this one just as much. The question is am I ready for a commitment book.


Italian-American journalist Christopher de Monti finds himself in Nazi-controlled Warsaw before the outbreak of World War II. Though wined and dined by German officers eager for sympathetic coverage, de Monti’s nose for the real story soon leads him to discover the terrifying conditions of the Warsaw ghettos and the Nazis’ chilling plans for the ghettos’ inhabitants. He soon comes to know the Jewish resistance movement and joins their courageous—if doomed—last stand.

Next is a horror that I read about last week on a blog. Never heard of this, but the writer stated it was among his top ten more horrifyingly creepy, psyco-murder novels. How can you say no to that?



Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas.  The worst thing most people can say against him is that he's a little slow and a little boring.  But, then, most people don't know about the sickness--the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger.  The sickness that is about to surface again.

Then there is the old standby, Frederick Forsyth. I've loved all of the Forsyth books I've read (see here), and I can't imagine The Veteran would be a disappointment.


On a grimy sidewalk in a defeated neighborhood, an old man is beaten to death. When a cop investigates, he finds two killers and a startling legacy of honor ... In a prestigious London art gallery an impoverished actor is swindled out of a fortune-until an eccentric appraiser hatches a delicious scheme for revenge... On an airplane high over war-torn Afghanistan, a passenger sends a note to the plane's captain, warning of suspicious behavior. But no one can guess who is really conspiring aboard the 747, or why... From the war-torn Italy to the Little Big Horn, from soldiers of fortune to victims of fate,The Veteran is a riveting experience in crime, heroism, and the kind of mano-a-mano duels-and surprising twists of fate-that are the hallmark of Frederick Forsyth at his very best.

Finally there is The Forever War. This was one I picked after following my way through this flowchart I found online through NPR (see here). Granted, the last Sci-Fi, by my favorite author no less, was a miserable failure since I gave up on Vernor Vinge's newest novel, but I'd be willing to try again.


The Earth's leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand--despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit, Private William Mandella has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties and do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home. But "home" may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Latest Last Line

Despite the fact that as I wrote earlier (here) that the first line was no great shakes, and despite these last lines that didn't leave me feeling too fulfilled, and despite the fact that I couldn't find a decent "morning quote" in the whole book (and believe me I looked), this might be my favorite Flashman adventure yet.


Don't go out looking to buy it just yet, however. I feel that I say that about every Flashman book. Even Flashman and the Great Game which I don't remember liking, was probably my favorite at the time. 

He shot me a look, his brow darkening, suspecting insolence but not sure. “Thank you,” snaps he, and showed me his shoulder. 

“Treaty all settled, too, I believe,” says I genially, but loud enough to cause heads to turn. Paddy had stopped talking to Gilbert and Mackeson, Havelock was frowning under his beetle-brows, and Nicholson and Hope Grant and a dozen others were watching me curiously. Hardinge himself came round impatiently, affronted at my familiarity, and Lawrence was at my elbow, twitching my sleeve to come away. 

“Good bandobast all round,” says I, “but one of the clauses will need a little arrangement, I fancy. Well, ’tain’t a clause, exactly… more of an understanding, don’t you know –” 

“Are you intoxicated, sir? I advise you to go to your quarters directly!”

“Stone cold sober, excellency, I assure you. The Leith police dismisseth us. British constitution. No, you see, one of the treaty clauses – or rather the understanding I mentioned – can’t take effect without my assistance. So before I take my leave –” 

“Major Lawrence, be good enough to conduct this officer –” 

“No, sir, hear me out, do! It’s the great diamond, you see – the Koh-i-Noor, which the Sikhs are to hand over. Well, they can’t do that if they haven’t got it, can they? So perhaps you’d best give it ’em back first – then they can present it to you all official-like, with proper ceremony… Here, catch!”

Fraser, George MacDonald - Flashman and the Mountain of Light (p. 337)



Again, not the best last lines. One must kind of have read the entirity to understand it all. I did catch this and think it was worthwhile to say the least.

Time for a brisk stroll in the cold night air, I decided. We were stopping in Gough’s camp by Sobraon, so that he and Hardinge could bicker over the next move, and I sauntered along the lines in the frosty dark, listening to our artillery firing a royal salute in celebration of Smith’s victory at Aliwal; barely a mile away I could see the watch-fires of the Khalsa entrenchments in the Sutlej bend, and as the crash of our guns died away, hanged if the enemy didn’t reply with a royal salute of their own, and their bands playing… you’ll never guess what. In some ways it was the eeriest thing in that queer campaign – the silence in our own lines as the gunsmoke drifted overhead, the golden moon low in the purple sky, shining on the rows of tents and the distant twinkling fires, and over the dark ground between, the solemn strains of “God Save the Queen"! I never heard it played so well as by the Khalsa, and for the life of me I don’t know to this day whether it was in derision or salute; with Sikhs, you can never tell.

If you don't like "the golden moon in the purple sky, shining on the rows of tents and the distant twinkling fires" then I just don't know if I can help you much.

Still and all this book did make me want to go back and read the original Flashman and relive his experiences in Afghanistan.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Adding Intrigue in Card Hands

As a part of my "Meat on the Bone" series that is supposed to provide a bit more information, thoughts, inspiration than the normal blog post you might find round here, I'm going to discuss my Friday night. I had the opportunity to play poker with about twelve other guys. These guys are very good. They go to tournaments in Vegas or Louisiana casinos at least once a month. They know the percentages, count chips with a daunting speed and usually know the strength of my hand before I do.


Whenever I play I find that without even trying I am the most remarkably predictable player in the hand. My rule of thumb . . . don't laugh . . .  is I only play if I would be comfortable going "all in" with the hand. "Oh look! I have a King and a four. Uh oh, they aren't suited so the chance of a flush is out. No chance to make a straight. Full house, sure, but with a four? Someone else may have a low card better than a four then were will I be? Nope, wouldn't go all in with a King, four, so I best fold."

That's the way most my hands go. Betcha you already realize I never ever win. I console myself with the thought that I only really go to see my friends and hang out away from the fam.

Still, there was one night when on the first hand I got bullets,  . . . two aces. So I calmed my palpitating heart and threw on a mein that said, "Huh, this isn't a great hand, but I'll play it" as I threw in the minimum bet to stay in. Apparently I should have tried to scare away the rest of the table from the get go cause the guy with the two's . . . he stayed in for the flop, got a third two on the river and beat my Aces that go no help from the table. It was the first hand and I was out on hundred bucks having gone all in. I was gun shy the rest of the night throwing away hands that even a three year old could have one. I remember I folded three hands that turned out to be full house hands had I played them right.

So, . . . what's the point of this post? It's that I love the underlying, understated conflict that comes from descriptions of card games and hands. That little snippet above about my two aces, I love the patois and the lingo that comes with card games. Bullets, big stack, broadway, limp in, fourth street, . . . even if the reader doesn't know the game the terms used are intriguing and fun.


In Casino Royale, Fleming writes about baccarat. I've never played baccarat. I've never even seen it played. The game has nothing to do with the plot and provides very little to the characterization. But when I read about the hands being played I was rapt. In Moonraker there is one of the most amazing card game descriptions I've ever read. In this case bridge. Ever played bridge? I have. It's not THAT exciting. Go read the chapter in Moonraker where Bond traps Drax. It's amazing. I particularly love when Basildon calls the hand "sheer murder" (see here or below).

And suddenly Basildon understood. It was a laydown Grand Slam for Bond against any defense. Whatever Meyer led, Bond must get in with a trump in his own hand or on the table. Then, in between clearing trumps, finessing of course against Drax, he would play two rounds of diamonds, trumping them in dummy and catching Drax's ace and king in the process. After five plays he would be left with the remaining trumps and six winning diamonds. Drax's aces and kings would be totally valueless. It was sheer murder.

Last night I came in fourth. I was short stack at a table of four having whittled down the two tables of ten. I had enough chips for maybe three more hands. We were playing for a couple hundred dollars. In fourth place I made two fifty. If I had won and hung onto third I would have made five hundred. I didn't think I would get a better hand in the next three than a King ten off-suit. So I went all in before the flop. Not a great hand but before seeing the flop, it was probably better than anyone else. The guy next to me followed me all in and when we both showed our hands, he had a nine and a four, off suit. Mine was a clearly superior hand. He beat me with a two, three, five, Ace, Jack on the table. Heart breaker. He followed me in with a horrible hand and got lucky. I was out.

It's these little subplot and side stories in Moonraker and Casino Royale that make the book more exciting. It's hard to believe that a description of a card game can be exciting, but it is. I doubt I'm good enough to do it, but it certainly increases the stakes in the story to throw in something similar in the story. Sure throw challenges at the main character, put in a ticking time bomb or dead line for them to solve the mystery, but throwing in some high stakes element, maybe with some jargon that brings the reader in, and writers can add a new dimension to their writing and suck the reader in even more.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Desk, A Cigarette, and Big Bay Window? The Myth of the Writer

Today's Guest Post is by my oldest writing friend (and one of my newest best friends) Kristi Macho Jones. She is the author of two published novels, both of which I have read and reviewed in this space, The Corpse Goddess (see here) and Valkyries Kiss (see here). This is (I hope) the first of many guest posts by Kristi in the coming weeks, months and years.

A Desk, A Cigarette, and Big Bay Window? The Myth of the Writer

Dick’s written some great posts this past week about what it’s really like to be a novelist. (I love his post about the guy who completely missed the point)

He’s got me thinking about the myth of the perfect writer and what we, as writers, can do to resist falling into the trap of the myth.

I myself have fallen into the trap several times and in several embarrassing ways!


Years and years ago I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Woolf was talking to a different generation of women, but her insistence that a wannabe writer needed a room with a door and a hefty lock mesmerized me. I pined for that room. I tried to turn a closet into that room. I firmly believed that if only I had a room of my own, I would spend hours and hours weaving storylines and publishing one novel after another.

Looking at iconic pictures of writers, from Hemingway to Stephen King, they all sit in front of a tank of a typewriter, cigarettes dangling out of their mouths. I fell for this myth so hard, that I actually bought a pack of Marlboro Lights and sat in front of my computer, the unlit cigarette dangling from my mouth. Did it help? Hell no.

Nora Roberts smokes and drinks gallons of diet Pepsi. I can’t stand smoking and I don’t like diet anything, so I’m pretty much screwed on that front.

When my kids were little, I just knew that the day they were in school, my writing career would take off. Then it was middle school. Surely when they were in middle school, I’d be released from school plays and parties, and my writing would take center stage. I now have two high schoolers – I still struggle to find the time to write.

A writer friend of mine lives in France and she recently posted pictures of her new country house on Facebook. She outlined what I used to think was the perfect writing scenario. Her kids were going to stay with their Dad during the week, in their apartment in Lyon, (I know, who wouldn’t kill for this kind of life?) while she stayed at the country house to write. This French country house is idyllic, of course, with wide windows to stare out of and a large mezzanine to plant a giant mahogany desk. I clicked through the pictures, green with envy – for about ten seconds anyway. Then reality reared its ugly and ever practical head.

It wouldn’t matter if I had that house in the French countryside. It wouldn’t matter if I had my own room, my own office, my own planet. As I sit here in Starbucks, writing this blog post, I realize how much time I’ve wasted pining for the perfect set of conditions to make writing easier. The fact is, it’s damn hard. There is no magic desk, magic room, magic French country house. There is only your story.

 I’ve gone through it all. The perfect pen, the perfect laptop, the perfect writing program (Scrivener, hands down), the perfect weekend away from it all.

The truth?

There is always resistance. There is always something a lot more fun to do. Going to the movies, going out to dinner, surfing the Net. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing more rewarding to me than writing. But fun? Sometimes. Most days it’s just damn hard.

What’s wrong with believing and trying to emulate the myth?

The myth can stop you from writing. If you don’t have a room of your own, if you don’t have limitless time to yourself, if you don’t have a penchant for cigarette smoke and a super cool typewriter/pen/computer, etc, you can convince yourself that you just can’t write today. And that is the kiss of death.

All you really need is the story and somewhere to put it.

So go to Starbucks, lock yourself in a closet, go for a long walk with a voice recorder, or work in the wee hours when all other responsibilities are put away – but write.  Just write. That’s all you really need to be the perfect, iconic writer.


Kristi Jones was born in Texas. She spent her childhood years travelling the world, living in England, Germany, and Turkey. She is married to an architect, has two wonderful children and a long-haired dachshund named Twinkie. Books have always been her constant friends. She also has a passion for history and loves to travel.

You can find Kristi at kristimjones.com
@authorkristi on Twitter
and
on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/authorkristijones

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Consider Me Intrigued . . . On Two Counts

I ran into this (see here) promotion for a class for book marketing by Karen Tyrrell and am intrigued . . . actually doubly intrigued.


First, I want to know more about marketing my novels. I have two novels out there (see here and here) and I've just updated their covers (see here) and I have some actually not bad reviews for them. In fact the artist who designed my new covers even said I should consider a "re-launch" as my reviews seemed so good. So, I'm always for learning more about marketing my novels.

I haven't done much marketing. Count me in the crowd that believes that the writing has to be good for people to buy it. I love what Hugh Howey did with Wool (see here). He produced a good work and let the writing speak for itself. People came, people recommended it, people discussed and reviewed it cause the writing and the idea was so good. That's the dream.

But I get it that's not the normal way of the world. Also, I'm guessing that that was how it was done. How do I know that Hugh Howey wasn't out there peddling his work to every Tom, Dick and Harry he walked by.

Secondly, I'm the Director of Training here for my company. We have over 50 offices across the United States. I've had a project in the past few months to outfit all of those locations with large format 52" video displays, PC's and speakers with microphones and other equipment to support online interactive streaming. My trainers can now train anyone in any of our U.S. locations from any of our other U.S. locations. The trainers can see and interact with the students and vice versa, real time.

Miss Tyrrell is considering providing her workshop via webinar (which is the only way I would be able to take part actually) and I'm incredibly curious about how she will do it. I know how I've done it when training people to work in refineries, but how will Miss Tyrrell pull it off.

We made the calculation to have two streams at once. One that shows the trainer in front of the class. The other that shows the power point. Audio and video stability is paramount which is tough to ensure in every case. And with all that bandwidth being chewed up it can get spotty at times, but we wanted both the power point and the trainer in front of the class to make it worthwhile.

Sarah Hill (see here), who is a part of my circles on Google Plus and describes herself with: "12 time Emmy award winning storyteller for the broadcast channel for Veterans United Foundation" and "the first journalist to use a Google+ Hangout on TV" also chews on these technological nuts. She has started to integrate Google Glass into her work which is something I'm thinking about trying as well.

Regardless, I hope Miss Tyrrell is able to get something together. I need the help in one arena and need to compare webinars for my job.