Today’s guest author is Ed Rucker, author of The Inevitable Witness. He’s a criminal defense lawyer in California who has tried over 200 jury trials, including 13 death penalty cases. His forthcoming legal thriller, Justice Makes A Killing, will be released in July 2019.
Who better than this guy to give write this post?
A Criminal Lawyer’s Tips for Writing Legal Thrillers
Plot Requires Tension
Trying a criminal case has much in common with the creation of a mystery plot; in a jury trial, both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer are storytellers – although their stories are radically different.
When the police investigate a crime, they uncover and assemble an array of “facts,” such as witnesses, documents or forensic evidence. The prosecutor then weaves these facts together into a story, one that shows that the defendant committed the crime. In the prosecutor’s story, the defendant is propelled by a strong emotion like greed, jealousy, or revenge.
The defense must tell an alternative story about these “facts,” one that accepts the hard facts (science based forensics), but demonstrates the unreliability or falseness of other facts, leading to a different conclusion. If new facts are uncovered and added to the story, perhaps now they point their finger at another suspect.
In a mystery novel, as these contrasting stories evolve and move toward a climax, they can make for a tension-filled plot and an exhilarating read.
Build Complex Characters
Readers enjoy when a book’s characters have some depth, some complexity. This certainly applies to the story’s protagonist, but equally to its other characters. For example, when the storyline includes an innocent person who is wrongfully accused, there is often a tendency to treat that character as a placeholder while the business of solving the mystery moves ahead. In reality, when a person is charged with a crime it shakes them to their very core. The prospect of spending a good portion of their life in a steel and cement box tends to peel away any layers of pretense. People are stripped raw and their true being emerges with all its contradictions, virtues, and base impulses.
This is also true of the villain of the piece. As a criminal defense lawyer, I learned that no matter how abhorrent the acts my clients committed, I was always able to find a vein of humanity in them with which I could identify. Like all of us, they were a bundle of complex and contradictory impulses, both good and bad. Most had personal histories that made their life choices – while not acceptable – at least understandable. As the old adage says, there but for the grace of God go I. Even a villain should not appear one-dimensional.
Reflect the Media’s Effect on Criminal Cases
We are saturated today with a barrage of news, not only from such traditional outlets as TV and the newspapers, but also from social media. A significant number of the public receive their information from podcasts on Facebook and YouTube. Therefore, to write with authenticity about a criminal investigation or a legal thriller that involves a sensational case, the author must address the impact that this media coverage has on those involved. In my experience, if a case attracts the media’s attention it changes how that case is handled by the participants. The police detectives and their superiors go to quickly solve the crime in order to enhance their public image. Such pressure carries with the real possibility of a rush to judgment. When the case reaches the courts, the media spotlight shifts onto the judge and the prosecutor. Both must stand for election and may fear a backlash at the ballot box if their decisions do not meet with the media’s approval. Consequently, the prosecutor feels he or she must win at all costs and seek the harshest punishment in order to appear “tough on crime.” A judge may tilt his or her rulings toward the prosecution on close legal questions to avoid appearing “soft on crime.” The author should recognize and seek to depict this reality.
Prosecutors are Not Always Ethical
It is realistic to write about prosecutors stepping over ethical lines. Prosecutors, no doubt, have a difficult job. Not because, as is portrayed on TV, they have the “deck stacked against them,” but rather because they must often act against their own competitive instincts by sharing their evidence with the defense. This Constitutional guarantee is needed to guard against the conviction of innocent people. However, the pressure on prosecutors to win in order to advance their own careers and reputations may sometimes cause them to ignore these “legal technicalities.” They may be tempted to hide exculpatory evidence, coach a witness, use discredited informants, or tolerate police fabrications, all in the name of “we know he’s guilty.” When such misdeeds are discovered, the courts are reluctant to actually punish an offending prosecutor, choosing instead to consider such violations as “harmless legal errors.” This lack of accountability creates a sense of immunity among prosecutors. So depicting such malfeasance or the temptation to indulge in it should be something the author considers.
Ed Rucker is the author of The Inevitable Witness. He is a criminal defense lawyer in California who has tried over 200 jury trials, including 13 death penalty cases. He has received numerous awards, including the L.A. Criminal Bar Association’s “Trial Lawyer of the Year,” the L.A. County Bar Association’s “Distinguished Career Award,” and he is listed in “Best Lawyers in America.” Under the auspices of the Ukrainian government, he spent two years there establishing a legal assistance program for criminal cases. His forthcoming legal thriller, Justice Makes A Killing, will be released in July 2019.
DEFENSE LAWYER BOBBY EARL RETURNS TO FACE HIS TOUGHEST CASE YET
When Bobby Earl meets the beautiful but vulnerable Kate Carlson, a prominent LA lawyer who awaits trial in a small town jail for a murder during a prison break, he thinks he knows what’s at stake: negotiate a decent plea deal for a guilty client, pocket his fee and move on. But Kate insists she’s been set-up. To find the truth, Bobby must risk his own life, career and everything he loves by dredging up the secrets of the billion-dollar private prison industry and the powerful California prison guards union, in a desperate battle against a powerful and expanding conspiracy.
Pre-Order Justice Makes A Killing. Click the below to visit the site book pages to pre-order. (Will open in new window.)
Historical Accuracy Must Come First: The Real History of The English Patient and Operation Condor
By Samuel Marquis
In May 1942, just before German General Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, launched his offensive to drive the British Eighth Army out of Egypt and take the Suez, the German Intelligence Service (Abwehr) sent a two-man espionage team to Cairo. Operation Condor, as it became known, proved to be the most legendary and historically misrepresented intelligence operation in the WWII North African campaign.
In Lions of the Desert: A True Story of WWII Heroes in North Africa, I tell the tale of the famous Operation Condor and 1941-1942 Desert War between Rommel’s Afrika Korps and Eighth Army, based on recently declassified British and U.S. Military Intelligence records. The romantic Condor story has been told many times before—most famously in Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 Booker Prize winning novel The English Patient and the 1996 Oscar-winning film of the same name—but until recently virtually every fictional and factual account has been historically inaccurate. That is precisely why I had to write my book.
The reason that the Condor story has been shrouded in mischaracterization and embellishment is simple: prior to the 2006 public declassification of large numbers of WWII government documents, the only historical records on the subject available to the general public were those written by the main protagonists, who had access to only limited information and were not privy to the larger military-intelligence picture. In addition, records have conclusively shown that these participants, despite laying down a solid foundation of verifiable facts, have in a number of critical places distorted and embroidered the Condor narrative to enhance their own role in history or embroider the story, making it difficult for subsequent researchers to separate fact from fiction. I had no idea of these shortcomings when I set out to write my book—but once I discovered them, the opportunity to set the record straight and tell the true Condor story became my raison d’être for penning my work.
The narrators of these early first-hand accounts included: Anwar el Sadat, the Egyptian Army officer, nationalist, and later President of Egypt (Revolt on the Nile, 1957); Lieutenant Johannes Eppler, the German spy in the Operation Condor affair (Rommel Ruft Cairo, 1960, later translated as Operation Condor: Rommel’s Spy, 1977); Leonard Mosley, a British war correspondent in Cairo at the time of Operation Condor, who conducted extensive interviews of Eppler prior to the German spy penning his own version of events (The Cat and the Mice, 1958); and Major A.W. Sansom, the head of British Field Security in Cairo who played a prominent role in the capture of Eppler and his espionage cohort Heinrich Gerd Sandstette (I Spied Spies, 1965). While accurate in many respects and unquestionably entertaining, these subjective first-hand accounts have one fatal flaw in common: they exaggerate the espionage accomplishments of several of the key players in the Condor story and, consequently, draw conclusions that are not supported by reliable historical documents.
Without access to the declassified materials and thus the bigger picture, subsequent writers on the subject—Anthony Cave Brown, Bodyguard of Lies (1976); David Mure, Practice to Deceive (1977) and Master of Deception (1980); Nigel West, MI6 (1983); and Richard Deacon, ‘C’: A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield (1985)—could not help but fall into the trap of relying heavily on the embellished accounts of the main protagonists. Following in a similar vein, the bestselling historical fiction novels by Ken Follett (The Key to Rebecca, 1980, made into a 1989 TV movie) and Len Deighton (The City of Gold, 1992) used both the original sources and the subsequent embellished works as the basis of their books, making for great entertainment but questionable historical accuracy with regard to the significant details of the North African campaign and Operation Condor.
As it turns out, the Condor story needs no embellishment. The real-life protagonists, while admittedly more prosaic than their highly fictionalized doppelgängers, are still fascinating in their own right. That became my overarching goal in Lions of the Desert: to tell the real story—a story that has captivated the minds of authors, historians, and filmmakers for the past three-quarters of a century but that, until quite recently, virtually no one has been able to get right due to lack of access to the full truth.
With that in mind, I told the story through the eyes of six of the main historical figures who lived through the larger-than-life events in Egypt and Libya in 1941-1942: Scottish Lieutenant Colonel David Stirling, founder and leader of the Special Air Service (SAS), a brigade of eccentric desert commandos that raided Axis aerodromes and supply lines; Rommel, who as commander of the legendary Afrika Korps very nearly succeeded in driving the British out of Egypt; Egyptian Hekmat Fahmy, the renowned belly dancer, regarded as a Mata-Hari-like German agent in previous accounts but in fact a far more intriguing and ambiguous character in real life; Colonel Bonner Fellers, the U.S. military attaché in Cairo, who was privy to critical Allied secrets in the North African theater and inadvertently played an important role in intelligence-gathering activities for both sides in the campaign; and Sansom and Eppler, who played a game of cat-and-mouse and whose real-life stories are finally told.
Of the above historical figures, Eppler, Sansom, and the Egyptian belly dancer Hekmat Fahmy have been the most grossly distorted in previous accounts—primarily because of Eppler’s and Mosley’s embellished stories that set the tone but also due in part to the security chief Sansom’s self-serving recording of history in his own book. History has shown that Eppler was not quite the master spy portrayed in his own imagination or in books and movies; Hekmat was no Mata Hari at all but was a legendary entertainer and important member of Cairene high society; and Sansom was not the Sam-Spade-like sleuth who solved the case but one of several diligent British intelligence officers who helped catch the two German spies. In fact, Operation Condor ultimately proved to be more comical farce than an intelligence success story; in the end, the German operatives that have been portrayed as virtuoso master spies in books and the silver screen for several decades emerge with little credit from the affair. But it is precisely the sloppily real and deeply flawed human element that makes the Condor story so engaging.
From my standpoint, therefore, it was critical to present Eppler and Fahmy not as the ruthless master German operatives and Sansom as the master British sleuth of previous highly fictionalized accounts, but as the people they truly were with warts and all. To accurately portray the historical figures in the book, I placed the characters where they actually were during a given recorded historical event and use, to the extent possible, their actual words based on recently declassified British and American case files, contemporary transcripts, trial documents, memoirs, and other quoted materials. Like Michael Shaara in his excellent historical novel about the Battle of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels, I did not “consciously change any fact” or “knowingly violate the action.” The interpretations of character and motivation were still ultimately a part of my overall imaginative landscape, but the scenes themselves and the historical figures were deliberately rendered as historically accurately as a non-fiction history book.
Why? Because truth in historical fiction is paramount and not something to be compromised. Because all the other important things in a novel—sympathetic characters, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and unexpected twists and turns—spring from portraying ones beloved heroes and villains in all their glory and infamy just like the real-world, flawed historical figures they were in life. The bottom line is that history itself provides plenty of conflict, tension, and drama, and does not need to be consciously changed to generate more excitement. For Lions of the Desert, I felt it was up to me as the author to select those scenes of historical significance and bring them back to life in vivid color, while filling in between known historical events with scenes that shed light on the historical figures’ true motivation and character as revealed from the recently declassified documents and latest research.
While recently declassified government files form the backbone of Lions of the Desert, the original eyewitness accounts of Sansom, Eppler, Mosley, and Sadat have still proved useful—but only where supported by other eyewitness accounts, government records, or wireless decrypts. As David Mure, author of Master of Deception, states, “The Condor story has been told many times, always with new dimensions and variations; it is a tangled web indeed.” Not anymore. With the relevant declassified WWII records now available, the true Condor story can now be told—and that is precisely what I have done. Because telling the truth and getting the story right matters in historical fiction.
In fact, nothing matters more.
The ninth great-grandson of legendary privateer Captain William Kidd, Samuel Marquis is the bestselling, award-winning author of a World War Two Series, the Nick Lassiter-Skyler International Espionage Series, and historical pirate fiction. His novels have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Foreword Reviews Book of the Year, American Book Fest Best Book, USA Best Book, IPPY, Beverly Hills, Next Generation Indie, Colorado Book Awards), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). Book reviewers have compared Marquis’s WWII thrillers Bodyguard of Deception, Altar of Resistance, and Spies of the Midnight Sun to the epic historical novels of Tom Clancy, John le Carré, Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, Daniel Silva, Len Deighton, and Alan Furst. Mr. Marquis’s newest historical novel, Lions of the Desert is the true story of the WWII 1941-1942 Desert War in North Africa and Operation Condor based on recently declassified British Secret MI6 files and U.S. Military Intelligence records. His website is samuelmarquisbooks.com and for publicity inquiries, please contact JKS Communications at email@example.com.
I’m sorry this review doesn’t follow the usual format, but I ‘ve shared it on my own blog and thought many of the authors reading this blog might find it interesting.
Although I read more fiction than non-fiction, there are more and more non-fiction books finding their way to my to be read pile, and I’ve read a few that I want to share too. So to bring more variety to the reviews, here comes one I read recently that might be particularly interesting to writers, but I believe many people will find interesting and inspiring, no matter what their call on life.
The Way of the Writer. Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson
From Charles Johnson—a National Book Award winner, Professor Emeritus at University of Washington, and one of America’s preeminent scholars on literature and race—comes an instructive, inspiring guide to the craft and art of writing.
An award-winning novelist, philosopher, essayist, screenwriter, professor, and cartoonist, Charles Johnson has devoted his life to creative pursuit. His 1990 National Book Award-winning novel Middle Passage is a modern classic, revered as much for its daring plot as its philosophical underpinnings. For thirty-three years, Johnson taught and mentored students in the art and craft of creative writing. The Way of the Writer is his record of those years, and the coda to a kaleidoscopic, boundary-shattering career.
Organized into six accessible, easy-to-navigate sections, The Way of the Writer is both a literary reflection on the creative impulse and a utilitarian guide to the writing process. Johnson shares his lessons and exercises from the classroom, starting with word choice, sentence structure, and narrative voice, and delving into the mechanics of scene, dialogue, plot and storytelling before exploring the larger questions at stake for the serious writer. What separates literature from industrial fiction? What lies at the heart of the creative impulse? How does one navigate the literary world? And how are philosophy and fiction concomitant?
Luminous, inspiring, and imminently accessible, The Way of the Writer is a revelatory glimpse into the mind of the writer, and an essential guide for anyone with a story to tell.
“Charles Johnson has given us a book that will hopefully place a gentle but firm hand on the shoulder of every writer. Here are short essays offering advice, writing life insight and encouragement to anyone wishing to master the art of storytelling. Johnson’s book is a reminder that good writing consists of more than sleeping with the dictionary. It requires a major commitment to the love of language.”– E. Ethelbert Miller, award-winning poet and 2016 recipient of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature
“Charles Johnson here provides—as his subtitle promises—’reflections on the art and craft of storytelling.’ It’s a welcome addition to the small shelf of useful books on the way of the writer and one that belongs with those of his mentor, John Gardner. Here the writer links the personal with the professional in ways that both inspire and instruct. Use this book (a) to deepen your familiarity with the work of a distinguished author, (b) to understand how serious practitioners address their art and (c) to improve your own.”–Nicholas Delbanco, author ofThe Years
“Those of us who put pen to paper for a living have known of Charles Johnson for a very long time. He is one of America’s greatest literary treasures. He is a skilled wordsmith, superb craftsman, master of understatement, philosopher, cartoonist, and deeply talented novelist whose 1991 novel Middle Passage, (which won the National Book Award for fiction) predates the current surfeit of Underground Railroad novels by a good two decades. Like the great Ralph Ellison to whom he is often compared, he will forever cast a long shadow over us who follow in his wake. Here he graciously opens up the treasure chest of writing secrets and philosophy for those of us who seek to kneel at the tree of learning, told by a man who has kissed the black stone of literary excellence.”—James McBride, National Book Award-winning author ofThe Good Lord BirdandThe Color of Water
“If you’re looking to learn to tell stories in written form, look no further. This book is as accessible as it is profound, lively, practical, and full of earned wisdom. I was a student of Charles Johnson’s, and can vouch for the power and value of his teaching. There are plenty of craft books available out there, but this is the only one I know of that is–and I don’t think I’m exaggerating–indispensable.”–David Guterson, author ofSnow Falling on Cedars
“This is a book for many readers. If you are an aspiring writer, the path that Dr. Johnson sets out is a clear guide to your destination—whether you become a best-selling novelist or a top non-fiction writer or not. You will find a compass in this book that will direct you towards a real way that will fulfill your efforts. There is much practical advice and worldview wisdom here that will sustain you in your journey. Those who are on a different path (as readers) will also find fulfillment here. Dr. Johnson sets out original and illuminating guides on how to confront literary fiction—especially philosophical fiction. These reflections advance critical theory toward literature that is, itself, philosophy. This is a must-buy for both of these travelers. The destination will more than reward the price of the ticket.”–Michael Boylan, Professor of Philosophy, Marymount University and author ofNaked Reverse: A Novel
“An honest, engaging, and wonderfully inspiring book for both writers and teachers. Charles Johnson’s deep intelligence, joyful rigor and refreshing iconoclasm are evident in every subject he covers here. Philosophical and practical, The Way of the Writer is sure to become a classic in the mold of John Gardner’s excellent books on writing.”–Dana Spiotta, author ofInnocents and Others
“A meditation on the meaning of literature and practical guide to the art and craft of writing fiction.”–Library Journal
“Charles Johnson has a long-standing reputation as one of the world’s greatest fiction writers. Now in this brilliant new book, The Way of the Writer, he offers us an eclectic meditation on the storyteller’s craft that is by turns memoir, instructional guide, literary critique, and philosophical treatise. Every reader will be deeply enriched by the book.”—Jeffery Renard Allen, author ofSong of the ShankandRails Under My Back
“All writers will welcome the useful tips and exercises, but the book will also appeal to readers interested in literature and the creative process. Johnson’s wonderful prose will engage readers to think more deeply about how to tell a story and consider the truth-telling power of the arts.”-–Library JournalSTARRED review
“Throughout, Johnson’s voice is generous and warm, even while he is cautioning writers to be their own ruthless editors. A useful writing guide from an experienced practitioner.”—Kirkus Reviews
“National Book Award winner Johnson (Middle Passage, 1990) has taught creative writing for over 30 years and now shares his well-refined thoughts on how best to develop literary taste and technique…. Every aspect of this writing manual, which is laced with memoir, illustrates Johnson’s seriousness of purpose about literature and his laser focus on the thousands of small choices that shape a written work. The result is a book that will be appreciated by aspiring writers and everyone who shares Johnson’s delight in the power of words.”–Booklist
“A meditation on the daily routines and mental habits of a writer…the book radiates warmth…a writer’s true education might start in institutions, it seems, but for Johnson it is more a lineage of good, memorable talk.”–New York Times
“Eloquent, inspiring and wise, The Way of the Writer is a testament to the methods and advice the author espouses, and even if you aren’t an aspiring novelist, Johnson’s book is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of our finest writers.”–Seattle Times
“Writers who haven’t had the opportunity to study with Dr. Charles Johnson during the past 40 years are now in luck. The novelist, essayist, cartoonist, and philosopher has collected the creative lessons he’s learned along the way in a new practical and semi-autobiographical guide.”–Tricycle
“An instructive, inspiring guide to the craft and art of writing.”–Chicago Review of Books
About the Author
Charles Johnson is a novelist, essayist, literary scholar, philosopher, cartoonist, screenwriter, and professor emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle. His fiction includes Dr. King’s Refrigerator, Dreamer, Faith and the Good Thing, and Middle Passage, for which he won the National Book Award. In 2002 he received the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Seattle.
My review: Unique reflections based on a lifetime of thinking and writing well.
Thanks to Net Galley and Scribner for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review.
This non-fiction book is not a ‘how to’ book and won’t give the reader a formula for producing, and even less, selling, books by the bucket load. The subtitle, Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling describes much more precisely what the book is. And if there’s one thing we can’t accuse Charles Johnson of, is of lacking precision.
The book is structured in six parts (1. Who Is the Writer?, 2. The Process of Writing, 3. What Helps the Writer, 4. The Writer as Teacher, 5. The Writing Life and Duties of the Writer, 6. Philosophy and the Writer), each one collecting some of his essays on topics related to the craft of writing, that are very numerous. The parts, and each essay, can be read separately, although if read as a book there are reflections and quotes that will become familiar, and anecdotes and thoughts that appear more than once (not a big problem if readers dip in and out, or read it over an extended period and go back to revisit the parts they find more relevant or inspiring). Due to the nature of the materials, some of the content overlaps, particularly as this is a deeply personal book, based on Charles Johnson’s experiences, and he talks about his personal writing schedule, his interest in martial arts, how he started his career as a journalist, his love of drawing and design, his Buddhist beliefs, his interest in Philosophy…
The author taught an undergraduate and a postgraduate writing course for many years, although he has been retired for a while, and he describes his ‘boot camp for writers’ that he strongly based on John Gardner’s (that he describes as his writing mentor) programme. Johnson talks about the readings he recommends, the hard schedule of writing he requires, how he focuses on technique, how he advises writers to read a dictionary from cover to cover… So, there are exercises one could do independently and advice one can follow, but mostly the book is a reflection on his career, as a writer, philosopher, teacher and reviewer. From a personal point of view, I especially enjoyed his essay on reviews because it spoke to me and to my thoughts on what a review should be like, and the importance of telling people what they might find and like in the book, above and beyond your personal taste and opinion in the matter.
In some of his essays, he uses his own books as examples of some of the points he makes (character building, voice, point of view, among others), understandably, as he can discuss his intentions and how they relate to the technique he used, rather than assume what other authors were trying to do. This creates two issues. I’ve read some comments that would indicate he might come across as self-aggrandizing, arrogant and full of himself, although reading the rest of the articles makes quite clear that that is far from the truth. The other issue is that the comparisons and examples might not be as clear for readers who are not familiar with his work (although he does mention other writers often). I must admit that living in the UK, although I studied American Literature years back, I am not familiar with his work, and checking Amazon.co.uk, this is the only one of his books I could easily find. Even in Amazon.com most of his books are only available in paperback or hardback. But many of his comments about drafts, editing, working as a journalist, and his compelling defence of storytelling and the importance of finding a story that captures the reader’s (and of course, first the writer’s) imagination can be enjoyed and savoured without direct knowledge of Johnson’s fiction.
The author is an exacting and hardworking writer and thinker and he expresses strong opinions about what literature should be like. His is the world of literary fiction, and literature and stories used to explore and explain philosophical insights, of traditional publishing and paper books. He does mention pork literature or industrial literature and acknowledges that some writers make a living by writing genre fiction (although he does not mention it by name or discusses it in any details) but that is not what he’s interested in. I could not help but think about the self-publishing movement and the writers who embrace it, who will also find much to enjoy in the book but, like many other writers will feel very differently about some of the topics. Charles Johnson mentions a couple of times that he did not himself study a degree in creative writing (his method is more like an apprenticeship, and it reminded me of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and his account of his self-education and dedication to learning, although with a very different goal in mind) and says that those degrees do not exist in Europe (they do, so I’m not sure all the essays are up-to-date). He acknowledges changes in standards and interests in the student body, and how he’s had to adapt his reading list to such changes so they remain relevant.
The author uses wonderful quotes from great writers and philosophers to illustrate his thoughts and make some points. I had to stop highlighting the text as there was hardly anything left without colour on the page, and this is one of those books eminently quotable and that will keep readers going back for second helpings.
This collection of writings by Charles Johnson is likely to make anybody interested in books and writing think and reflect. Some of the advice might be easier to apply than other, depending on the style of writing and the intentions of those reading it, but many of his reflections and thoughts will resonate and inspire most of us, and who would dispute the importance of storytelling?
Thanks to Net Galley and to Scribner for offering me a copy of the book and thanks to Charles Johnson for sharing his career with us, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you feel so inclined, like, share, comment and CLICK.
Every writer has his or her own process. Ideas come, sometimes in the form of virtual Mack trucks that appear out of nowhere, usually at the most inopportune of times, creating the need for you to stop whatever it is that you’re doing and run away to write all that good stuff down before it disappears back to wherever it was that it came from. Kind of thing that gets us scribblers labeled as odd, at the very least. The inspiration for new stories is the easy part of writing—I have PILES of fabulous story outlines that are unlikely to ever see the light of day. Getting them going is what’s needed for them ever to become real books. Just those few first paragraphs are often all that we need to give us the push to write on through to the end.
Those first paragraphs are probably the most important part of any book, and the reason why these days I prefer to go back and write them after I’ve finished the first chapter. If you don’t manage to get your readers’ attention right at the start you’re likely going to lose quite a few eyeballs shortly afterwards. My first books don’t have particularly grabby first paragraphs, and even so those first paragraphs sometimes took days and weeks of angst and endless tweaking to be born. Now I find that the best way to get your hook in is to get to know your protagonist a little first, and drop a bombshell right there at the get-go. Take from something epic that’s going to happen further along. Take a little bit of that epic and use it to surprise, pique interest, or shock your reader into really wanting to know more. You don’t have to give the game away—just a little smidgeon of things to come.
Stories don’t have to be written horizontally. There are no rules that say that the writer must start at the beginning and soldier through each page as it happens. One thing I see all the time, both with my own first scribblings and with books that I proof or edit, is that stilted beginning—trying so hard to introduce everyone and everything, from the shades of eyeballs to the colour of the walls in a room. We try to keep our hero’s secrets and to build up slowly, not wanting to drop massive spoilers in our own work, and thereby render reading to the end rather pointless.
I think that once we’ve written the most riveting scene in any book, taking a little from that and whacking it down in the very first paragraph is the best kind of teaser. You might give a tiny bit away, but you don’t have to name names. How about a fantastically short but mind-blowing first chapter? Out the fact that your murderer is a woman to your readers before the cops get to find out. Fly your dragon over the valley that holds the most terrifying secret in the universe in the third sentence. Come face to face with the woman whose husband you accidentally shot. You get the picture— Don’t worry too much about always setting the scene first, although that’s sometimes good too, close your eyes, pinch your nostrils closed and dive in, boots and all.
Those of you who follow my reviews will know that I’m forever talking about narrators and how interesting I find them. The ‘unreliable narrator‘ can be put to very good use by authors, not only mystery writers, but also writers of other genres.
An unreliable narrator, a term first used by Wayne C. Booth in 1961, is somebody who in work of fiction tells the story, but whose version of the truth leaves a lot to be desired. There are many different classifications and definitions and I thought I’d share some articles about the subject, in case you’re thinking about using it. And a few lists of favourite unreliable narrators (I’m sure you have your own).
The link above, from Wikipedia, suggests a possible classification or different types, for example, narrators who are liars, who are mentally ill, children or immature, pícaros…
This link from Now Novel offers a general description and discussion of the term, with some clear examples.
We’ve all shared tips on how to write every day and how to fight that devil, procrastination. Or in other words, how to nip our laziness in the bud. Laziness is indeed a real thing, but often when we think that that’s exactly what our problem is, it isn’t. It’s overwhelm. Beating ourselves up with a whole lot of self-recrimination doesn’t help either. Feeling bad about yourself in general isn’t going to give you a fabulous boost of creativity or spur you to action. More than likely you’ll just spend the whole day playing Candy Crush and then top off your day eating piles of pizza while pondering your uselessness as a writer and in general. The secret to avoiding this is to know your real enemy.
We’re all very similar. All day long most of us are inundated with reasons to fail at whatever it is that we’re doing. We have lots to do as well as our writing. Family responsibilities, marketing, day jobs, and the list goes on. Then when we do sit down to write we freeze right up and not a single word comes out. A few angsty minutes staring at the blank screen, and then hello pizza, TV, and self-recrimination.
Next time this happens to you, before setting in motion the usual procrastination-busting sequences like clearing up your work space and forcing yourself to just dive in to any first sentence, take a deep breath and have a look at whether or not you have reason to feel overwhelmed. Then be kind to yourself. Break things down. Go slow. One sentence at a time is fine. One word at a time. It’s a common human behavior when faced with something that doesn’t seem doable to freeze and do nothing at all. You have your fight or flight instincts which are quite common and discussed often, and your freeze instinct fits in with them. These days in the modern world where we don’t often have to physically defend ourselves or run for the hills, many of us find those instincts coming into play on an emotional level and often wreaking havoc with the way we live our lives. The freeze instinct can be just as damaging as the punch or run. Often when what faces us seems frighteningly undoable by us, instinct tries to save us with the old immobilize and ignore. No matter how much we want to write, we just can’t seem to start.
A good exercise here is to realise that it’s a feeling generated by inappropriate fear blown out of all proportion. Be kind to yourself and accept that the fear is reasonable to you though, and then stay right where you are and let it come. Don’t head for the pizza until the anxiety goes away. Consider that even though you might write something not particularly fabulous it won’t be the end of the world. Writing nothing will never expose you to be a rotten scribbler, but ask yourself if the stress levels of staring at the blank screen and the extra poundage from avoiding it are worth it.
Accepting that you feel overwhelmed either by the thought of writing, or the enormity of writing a whole book in the little time that you have available, and giving yourself a little imaginary hug is a great step to getting words on paper again. If you can only write two words an hour, give yourself kudos for trying rather than self abuse for the teeny wordcount. Often tough love is not what’s needed when the story won’t come out. Try a little bit a self sympathy instead, and just do the best that you can. Recognise that it’s ok to feel overwhelmed. You’re human. That’s a lot more conducive to being able to write than calling yourself lazy.
As I know is the case with many of you, I’m a writer. Before I was a writer, I was a reader and I’ll remain a reader (hopefully I’ll remain a writer too, but perhaps I will stop publishing at some point. No matter). If you write reviews (I do), I imagine you might have all been surprised at times when checking other people’s reviews on books you’d read because they were the complete opposite to yours. Of course, personal taste and subjectivity come into it. I, for instance, am not a big lover of lengthy descriptions (although I can admire them if very well written, particularly if the genre calls for it), and I do not like a lot of background story (but sometimes it works). The best books for me, are those that can make me enjoy things that perhaps I wouldn’t choose, and also those that leave me wondering if I should call myself a writer at all because I’d never be able to write that way.
Sometimes expectations might play a big part in how we appreciate (or not) a book. I could not resist but share some one-star reviews of The Great Gatsby (I personally love it, but don’t worry if you don’t) to illustrate the point. First, I thought I’d share the ending, and the original cover, that is gorgeous.
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Here two one-star reviews (I’ve removed the identity of the reviewers, although I don’t know them because it’s irrelevant).
The Great Gatsby – I don’t get it. That is basically my review. I don’t get why this is such a classic, why people seem to love it so much, really I just don’t get it. It is just a bunch of rich people in the 20’s having parties and their nonsensical conversations. Throw in the fact that everyone cheats on each other and you have The Great Gatsby. There is very little actual plot and it is just this random hodge podge of conversations. I found it very hard to pay attention to what I was reading. I kept having to go back and re-read as I found I just read a few pages and could not tell you what happened. Then I would re-read it and think oh, well nothing really happened so no worries. Then I also would also go back and re-read parts as I was always feeling like I was missing something. It was just a strange read for me. Little character development, little plot development, really little plot and yet it is a classic. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I do think it will be way better than the book. I mean it has to have a more developed storyline than the book does right? We shall see.
The book starts off with our narrator Nick moving in next door to Gatsby. He also has a married cousin, Daisy, who lives nearby. The first 3/4 of the book I feel like nothing really happened. I kept thinking why am I reading this? Why do people love this book so much? Then we get to the last bit and a few things happened, but I didn’t really care. I didn’t care about any of the characters as they were all so over the top ridiculous rich people that it was just hard to connect with. That and you didn’t really get to know them at all so they are just random people.
Before I read this I remember hearing it is this great love story. That to me is the most head scratching thing of all. I don’t see how this is a love story. The characters were just cheating on each other which even if they would have been developed more so I connected with them, even if there would have been more of a story here, that wouldn’t be a great love story for me. A very strange read and I just don’t understand what so many people see in this book that makes it such a classic. Oh well, I guess I don’t have to get it. It is just not for me.
I leave this review fully aware that I’m going to catch flak for it. How dare I belittle a classic novel, after all, one beloved by generations of readers. Well, simply because a book is a “classic” doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to appeal to all tastes, nor that it’s a masterfully written novel. It simply means that it was popular or meaningful enough to endure, or that it’s worked its way into school curriculum. And while I never had to read “The Great Gatsby” for school, I did watch the film version and found it lacking. But I was still willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and give it a shot — the movie was obviously trying to ape “Moulin Rouge,” and perhaps the book would provide a better experience.
I don’t understand why this book is a classic. It is unpleasant, full of unsympathetic characters, and all-around overrated.
“The Great Gatsby” is narrated by Nick, a young man from the Midwest who moves to New York City during the Roaring Twenties and finds himself drawn to his mysterious, charismatic neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is fabulously wealthy, and constantly throws wild, lavish parties at his home. Nick becomes obsessed with Gatsby, trying to unravel his past (and finding countless contradictory stories about said past from various acquaintances), and soon becomes swept up in Gatsby’s mad quest to achieve his ultimate goal… to win the heart of the woman he fell in love with as a young soldier so many years ago. But in trying to capture his elusive prize, Gatsby will set off a chain of events that will destroy lives… the only question is whose, and who will escape in the aftermath.
I know, the above description makes the book sound intriguing. But in all actuality, the book is incredibly dull. Nothing of import happens until a third of the way through, and the book is larded with pointless conversations that ultimately go nowhere. I ended up skimming large parts simply because they consisted of nothing but characters aimlessly gasbagging about things that ended up having no influence on the plot. This book could easily be condensed into a novella or even a short story without losing anything plotworthy.
I can better tolerate pointless content in a book if said content is written well. But Gatsby’s prose is bland at best, awkward at worst, and never truly captured me. It’s not terrible writing — I’ve certainly read worse, especially in modern novels — but neither is it very good, let alone great. (I’m told there’s some controversy over whether F. Scott Fitzgerald really wrote this book, and some attribute it to his wife Zelda, but regardless of who wrote it, the writing is nothing to write home about.)
The characters are unlikable as well. Gatsby is a sad excuse of a human being, not caring who he hurts in his quest to win his true love, even descending to drug-dealing and homewrecking. The girl of his dreams isn’t much better, and comes across as painfully shallow. Her husband, and the closest thing this book has to an antagonist, isn’t much better than Gatsby himself — he’s also racist, but then, this book was written in the ’20s, and some uncomfortable elements of older novels are simply products of their time. The narrator, Nick, is the closest thing to a decent human being the book has, and even then he comes across as a wet blanket, letting himself be walked on and not bothering to get involved when events take a turn for the worse. Some might argue that the unlikable characters are the point of this book, that it was meant to show the shallowness and corruption of the day, but a cast of unlikable characters will make your book VERY unpleasant.
Finally, without spoiling too much… the ending of the book renders the entire rest of the story pointless. The characters have gained nothing, learned nothing, and in the end the moral of the story seems to be “isn’t this world a terrible place?” I don’t demand a happy ending from everything I read, but this book isn’t so much a sad ending as it is a nihilistic one. It’s as if the author set out to write an unpleasant and cynical book simply to make his story “meaningful” or “deep.”
I don’t understand why “The Great Gatsby” is considered such a classic. It’s unpleasant and miserable to read, without a single sympathetic character in the cast and without any sort of meaningful resolution. All I can say is that I’m glad I was never forced to read this in school.
As writers, words are our friends. Our best times are when they flow from us with beauty or power. They can sometimes trip us up too though, when we overthink them. A thesaurus can be very helpful when you’re stuck for a good word, or when you want to avoid using the same word excessively in the same paragraph. It can sometimes take a nasty while to create a sentence when there’s only one word available that you can think of to convey what you want to say or project, or when you sort of remember the word you want, but it insists of hovering just south of your thinking mind. That font of awesome wordiness can also be a problem when overused. It’s not only adverb overuse that can get you in trouble, but also the use of too many big, flowery, or misinterpreted words sometimes. Some writers avoid the use of said like the plague, and can end up with some decidedly odd dialogue. Said is a great word. It’s innocuous and not noticed, and so the sentences spoken by your characters assume a natural flow. Much better she said than she expostulated.
Think about those times when you were happily reading a book, totally immersed in the story, and you got to a word or sentence that made you cringe and stopped you in your tracks. Not anything sweary or rude—those things can often make for fabulous dramatic flow, but something pretentious or jarring. Often what you want to get across becomes much clearer when you leave something out completely. It depends on the style of the particular story that you’re writing. If you’re writing a winsome story that you want your readers to perceive in a poetic way, then adjectives and adverbs are going to hold forth happily. If you’re writing a murder mystery then terse dialogue with or without he said and she said could be the way to go.
Mostly, if you say that “she left the building, saying…”, your readers will picture that vocal exit fully in their minds—we all have our own mind movies of the books we read. Unless you want to make a particularly peculiar point for current or future reference, saying that “she turned left out of the kitchen, adjusted her lime green maxi skirt with her damply perspiring petite fingers, and ambulated down the stairs before gushing the words…” is going to have most eyeballs attempting to absorb those words glazing over. That being said, never try to exterminate any adverb that comes to you. They have their place in all great works of fiction, and sometimes a few excessively floral words are just what is needed. Everything in moderation, but use a bit of everything in your writing. That’s the joy of the scribbler’s life. We, mostly, get to make the rules in our worlds.
A while ago a well-known author published a book about a rich, handsome man who pretty much had anything anyone could wish for becoming paralyzed in an accident. He and the woman hired to care for him then fell in love, but at the end he chose to commit suicide rather than carry on. This caused quite a few disabled people to be deeply offended, and this was pretty obvious in the reviews. Several suggested that she hadn’t done her research properly, or she would have realized that it was very insulting to those in similar circumstances in that it suggested that living in that way was so unbearable that death was preferable. Most of those real, live people strive for the best lives that they can. They don’t generally give up, and I’m sure that they have just as much joy during the course of their lives as anyone else, even though they have such huge challenges. I can see why they wouldn’t want to be seen as so broken that there was no point in being alive anymore. The book was a bestseller anyway, and most of the reviewers loved it.
The thing with fiction is that within reasonable boundaries almost anything is possible, and writers shouldn’t have to write while worrying about being politically correct. Without purposely being insulting to any particular group, our characters should be allowed to be as good or as bad as we want them to be. They can be weak. So weak that they get up nostrils. Or strong, crazy, opinionated, nasty, murderous, or prone to poetry. Our characters should be what we decide they will be. That’s what being a writer is all about.
So, considering all the things we already have to take into account when we’re creating our worlds and the people in them, I don’t think that we should be attacked for our character’s behaviour. One of the books that I’ll be publishing next year has a matricide at its centre. Already published books of mine have racists and pot smoking pensioners in them. I don’t see any point in writing at all if I’m going to have to sugar coat my plots and have all my characters be “normal”. If you’re going to read fiction you have to expect the unexpected. Look at Stephen King’s characters. I’m pretty sure that quite a few of them could be construed as insulting to all sorts of people. His “country folk” for instance.
I suggest, within reason, throwing the political correctness right out of the window when you’re writing, and make your characters just as weird, whacky, or whiny as you want them to be, or you’ll just end up stifling your own creativity.
I’ve just read an article by Rebecca Solnit titled: HOW TO BE A WRITER: 10 TIPS FROM REBECCA SOLNIT. JOY, SUFFERING, READING, AND LOTS AND LOTS OF WRITING
Although I didn’t know Rebecca Solnit before, after reading this article I will check her out.
Here the link to the article, that I recommend. Advice on writing is a very personal thing, like advice on anything else, but this one is more a philosophy of writing. It might resonate with you or not, but if you have a chance, give it a read.
Just a summary of her points (I couldn’t say it better, so go and read the article, but just in case you need convincing):
How to be a writer. Ten Tips:
Write. I know this one is a shocker, but she makes great points about not worrying too much about how good or bad it is at first.
Remember that writing is not typing. Here her point is that writing is a process and that putting fingers to keyboard is the end of such process (well, the culmination, as we all know about editing), but a lot of things go into writing, including planning, thinking, researching.
Read. And Don’t Read. Read but be selective with your reading. Only read what speaks to you.
Listen. Don’t Listen. Listen to feedback but be your own writer.
Find a vocation. Write because it is your passion.
Time. You’ll need time for it, so prioritise (not your duties, but everything else).
Facts. Get your facts right, as relevant to your genre.
Joy. This I recommend you read her article for. It does not mean write only when you feel like it, but rather, find what writing can bring you.
What we call success is very nice and comes with useful byproducts, but success is not love. Don’t become enamoured with other things than the job at hand and don’t get distracted.
It’s all really up to you. No matter how much advice, how many courses, coaches, etc, you are the one.
And a little bit about Rebecca Solnit from the same site Literary Hub:
San Francisco writer, historian, and activist, Rebecca Solnit is the author of seventeen books about geography, community, art, politics, hope, and feminism and the recipient of many awards, including the Lannan Literary Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a contributing editor to Harper’s, where she is the first woman to regularly write the Easy Chair column (founded in 1851).
Thanks so much to Rebecca Solnit and to Literary Hub for this inspiring article, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to like, share, comment, CLICK, and keep writing!
I have taken up an external project with tight deadlines to work towards and that means sometimes I have to improvise more than I like, but I thought I could share a few thoughts on the possible benefits of joining in with other authors to promote your work, organize events, giveaways, etc.
Even if you’re a skilled marketeer (I am not), there are advantages to working as part of a team.
In no particular order:
You can share the organizing with others. Different events are organized differently, but it is possible to share and delegate responsibility for different parts of the event to different people, or you might just join in and follow instructions if you’re not a strong organizer.
You can join forces and share skills to create a great event. You might be very good at visuals but not good at keeping track of lists, or setting up a Raffle copter giveaway. Rather than doing a bad job, you can each do what you’re best at.
You can pull together your followers. A few months ago, when I had just started my own subscribers’ list and had very few followers, I joined in a giveaway with a group of authors where we could choose which link we wanted to promote. I chose the link to my list and I ended up with almost 800 subscribers. This works better when the giveaway is geared towards similar genres to those you write in, or set up as multiple genres from the beginning, but you never know what might catch a reader’s attention.
You can learn new things and join in events you might not have dared to organize by yourself. You might learn things and find out about resources you’d never used before, and you might dare to try things (within the safety of numbers) that you might not have wanted to do by yourself. (For example, I’d joined in several Facebook parties but only as part of the public, as I never thought enough people would attend just for me. If you are part of a group and know other authors from the same group will attend, you will feel more confident and dare to try new things. Yes, I eventually did participate in a Facebook author event. I did it!).
You might be able to cover a wider geographical area and take advantage of promotions or options that are otherwise limited to certain markets. I have, on occasions, tried to organize giveaways or send gift cards and then realized that they were only open to authors with accounts in Amazon.com (let’s say). If the event or giveaway is run but international authors it will be possible to access the best options for the different markets and your knowledge base will cover a wider area.
You will be able to afford bigger rewards and a varied choice of gifts and books that will make it more attractive to readers. If you take part in a lot of giveaways it can become expensive, especially if you want to offer something a bit costly. Joining in with other authors means you can offer bigger gifts without costing you the Earth.
They can be a great way to make yourself known in a new genre. If you’re writing in a new genre or market, joining in with other authors who are already known and have an audience with fans of the genre will open many doors for you.
You might feel more comfortable talking about other people’s books also taking part in the event and sharing their achievements than blowing your own trumpet all the time. I forgot this one, that for me is one of the most important, on first writing the post, but I’ve added it on.
I’m sure you can think of many other reasons to join in with other authors, but those were just a few I thought up. And I wanted to show you, as an example, a giveaway I’m taking part in.
There is no harm in sticking with a good thing. Once you’ve written and published your book, that doesn’t mean that you have to forget the people who live in it forever, and move on to something totally brand new and original. You can write about them again. Maybe just as background for totally new people, just living in the same town maybe. You could write a whole series of books that stand totally alone, with totally different characters but with similar themes. Just not too similar though. Think Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dan Brown, or Lara Croft series kind of similar – similar, but still very different.
One memorable occasion I read and loved a book by a certain author, so I promptly bought another two by him. They weren’t listed as a series, and even though I’m very partial to the familiarity of an author’s voice coming through very clearly in every book, it dawned on me not far into book two that I was reading the exact same plot with different characters, items of importance, and scenery. Not keen on believing that, I had a quick zoom through his third book, and with a nasty sinking feeling that I could have saved my money, realized that this too, was the exact same sequence of events with names and places changed. Clearly caring about it put me in the minority if the book’s sales ranks and reviews were anything to go by. At the end of the day, they were all well written, and there’s comfort in sameness for many of us when at the time all we want is a bit of escapism. I just thought that in that particular instance the sameness was too much. Not being too blatant with the basic skeleton plot though, it can be a fabulous way to build a group of books for your list where the reader knows exactly what he’s going to get, and wants it because he isn’t in the mood for heavy thought or emotion.
I suppose that I should be vastly ashamed to admit that in my very early teen years I was obsessed with Barbara Cartland books. Aah – the romance and gorgeous rich heroic guys. Always read while hidden in the loose cover of something a little more literary of course, so that nobody ever knew my secret. Where was the good old face-saving Kindle in those days? Now Barbara absolutely wrote to a very obvious formula, and her books sold in their millions. Gorgeous young orphan or lady minus her fortune meets gorgeous super-rich Duke. Big misunderstanding – much heaving of bosoms – a dangerous kidnap – hero saves the day – more heaving bosoms – happily ever after.
Those books were exactly what a whole lot of readers wanted regardless of their sameness, so why not have a go at a little bit of it yourself? No need for writer’s block when you already have a whole pile of inspiration in your already created worlds, and if you’ve found a specific kind of action that readers like, give them more of it in a recognizable and already appreciated form – just not copying and pasting and name changing though – familiar can also be just as sweet, but also brand new.
As you know I write (and translate) and I’m currently going through the corrections of my next novel (Escaping Psychiatry 2. The Case of the Swapped Bodies, is proving challenging, or rather the circumstances around it are. I might tell you the story some day). Although there’s still a while to go (I always publish both versions, Spanish and English, of my books at the same time, and that means multiplying by two everything, including the time it takes to get everything ready), I started thinking about blurbs. Despite having written quite a few, I always hesitate when I’m about to write another one, and check advice on it.
I decided to share some of the articles I found about the subject (the advice isn’t that different, but I thought you might find that the style of the writer of some of the articles connects better with you than others).
And after all that advice, I wanted to ask you if you had any tips or any strategies (different to those ones or adapted from them) that you found particularly useful. And also, what are your favourite book blurbs? They can be your own or other writers’. Personally, although I agree certain elements are expected, I think what will entice readers depends on each individual. As one of the articles observes, some very successful books have not-so-good blurbs. But I’m curious and I guess the best way to learn is to analyse well-written blurbs. So, please, do share! And if we get a good response, I’m happy to collect the best and share them in a future post.
(Ah, and a word about blurbs. It seems that in some cases, although not so much now, in the US a blurb might mean only a list of recommendations or positive reviews of a book added to the back-cover. That indeed can be included in what we are talking about, but we refer more to the short description at the back of a book in paper that tells the reader a bit about it and tries to hook him into buying and reading it).
Thanks so much to all the writers of the articles, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, do like, share, click on the articles and COMMENT!
I’ve had a bit of a crazy week and when I was thinking about this post it occurred to me that sometimes it’s not always about new stuff (the wheel was invented quite a while back) but about sharing something one has come across that seems to cover a fair amount of ground, both things that we might know and have tried already and others that we haven’t.
This article by Derek Murphy is one of those. 29 New Ways to Sell More Books Right Now (check here) goes through a variety of options, from following authors you like in Twitter, to setting up local events with other authors, from having the first book in a series perma-free to giving away book by famous authors in your genre to attract more followers.
Go and visit, follow Derek’s blog and see if any of his suggestions resonate with you. The beauty is that they are very different, and go from things that require little time investment to those that might attract those of us who prefer a challenge.
I hope you find them useful.
Thanks to Derek Murphy for his blogpost, thanks to you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK!
You might remember that last week I wrote a post asking the above question and listed a few reasons why authors might consider translating their books. (In case you missed it, here it is. As I translate from English to Spanish and vice versa I had prepared a talk about the subject and it occurred to me that I could sample some points of it here). I found the discussion that followed the post interesting, and Teagan Geneviene (I recommend her blog if you love great stories and recipes, check it here) reminded me of a story I had told her about some of my experiences when using Fiberead to get my book translated for the Chinese market. And I thought you might find it interesting. I surely did.
It brought to mind how I had started originally the presentation about translations…
Here it is:
What does the word ‘translation’ bring to your mind?
In my case, it always makes me think of a scene in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Bill Murray plays an actor filming a spirits’ advert in Japan (I think it was brandy) and the director is giving him instructions. As he doesn’t understand Japanese, there is an interpreter. The director talks for several minutes, gesticulating, quite intensely. He eventually stops talking and the interpreter just tells him that he wants him to say the lines looking at the camera. ‘Is that all he said?’ Yes, we’re never quite sure. (By the way, you can watch the scene that goes on, here:
Of course, that’s interpreting (rendering live and orally a conversation, conference, speech…) whilst translation implies a written piece of work, but there are connections.
It also makes me think of the risks of mistranslating texts. In the case of the Bible mistranslating a Hebrew word and instead of rendering it as ‘beam of light’ it ended up becoming ‘horn’ and we have poor Moses depicted with horns (and not only in Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, that judging by the small size of the horns, makes me think that he wasn’t that convinced about the translation). Oh yes, if you’ve used Google Translate (that seems to be improving, to be fair) you know all about that.
And now, I wanted to tell you a bit about my experiences with Fiberead, that is a website that offers you to get your books translated for the Chinese market. If they are interested, you give them the rights to the translation for a number of years, and you spilt the earning with them and with the translating. Yes, team…
What happens is that a team leader or manager decides that your book is worth translating, and then they set about getting a team of translators to translate the book. I’m not sure how the division of work is made, but I know you get notifications when evidently translators provide a sample translation and the team leader decides if it’s good enough. Once they think they have a big enough team, they start the process. The beauty of it is that they contact you with questions if they have them. In general in my case it’s been mostly the team managers but sometimes also other members of the team.
I realised when they started to ask me about my YA novella Twin Evils?, asking me if Lucifer and Satan were the same, and asking for the meaning of references to angels playing harps or being dressed in white, that of course, although the novella is not religious, such content would not be understood in a mostly non-Christian country. And although I tried to send them links to images of angels playing the harp, I am also aware that some links to websites might not work there. We might assume that certain things are common knowledge, but the world is huge and people’ s beliefs and lifestyles very different to ours.
Some of the other questions showed extreme literalness. It might be to do with the language, but when I tried to explain that I prefered to allow the readers to make up their minds as to why characters might say or do certain things (whatever I thought the reason was) they wanted a full explanation. I suspect ambiguity is not a well-received quality.
I had some interesting and curious exchanges too, like a policeman who told me he was translating one of my thrillers (so far, although not published yet as they’re still in production, they are working on both of my Escaping Psychiatry stories and have also translated Family, Lust and Cameras, so they seem intrigued by my thrillers) and really enjoying it, and I had the manager for the translation of one of my books asking me for help understanding a couple of pages she was trying to translate for a different project.
Ah, and to give them their due, they caught a mistake that neither I, nor quite a few readers and editors of both my Spanish and my English book had seen, so, kudos to them.
Here I leave you the cover of the other one of my books available so far (and that although it hasn’t been out very long, it seems to be doing much better than Twin Evils? and for sure much better in the Chinese version than in Spanish and English).
Thanks very much for reading, and if you’ve found it interesting, please, like, share, comment, and CLICK!
I’m a big fan of sticking things on the wall behind my desk when I’m working on a plot for any of my books – convoluted or not. Sticky notes and project paper abound in my world. Real paper, right there in front of you, can be a whole lot more satisfying than having to dig around in a Word document. Worldbuilding is a lot of fun, whether you’re writing action, chicklit, or the wildest science-fiction fantasy, but if it’s not “believable” our stories are going to end up on the receiving end of some one star clangers. It’s a lot easier for mainstream fiction, but still, it’s always best not to head too far out there, and always essential to do your research, and take notes – don’t rely on memory. Most people know quite a lot. We all have various interests, some of them rather odd and unexpected, and there will always be some reader out there who will catch you out if you take just making stuff up to unacceptable heights. Thanks to Google though, you can find out seven almost reasonable ways to infiltrate most royal abodes before breakfast, as well as instructions on how to take apart, clean, and reassemble any sort of sniper’s weapon chop chop. So there’s no need for excessively wanton making of dodgy stuff up, and if you note all you need as you go along on your project page you’ll be amazed at how smoothly your writing goes.
When it comes to science-fiction, rules also apply. Generally it’s accepted that the only possible way to get anywhere faster than the speed of light is by using a good old warp drive, worm holes, or the power of the mind – some kind of mind at any rate. It has lately been discovered that a galaxy far, far away is actually zooming along faster than the speed of light – what with the universe expanding so speedily and all that lovely stuff, so anything probably is possible. Still, it’s a good idea when worldbuilding in these fantastical cases to keep proper notes as you go along with your creation of your creatures and the worlds they live in.
As well as keeping a proper list as you go of each character’s name and physical attributes, species and so on, when you’re working on a series especially, it’s a fabulous idea to buy yourself a nice big piece of project paper, stick it to your wall, and draw a map of your world on it. This way you’ll never have to dig back through pages and pages to find out forgotten particular details, like the name of a river or a species of tree. I did this with the first book in my sci-fi series, and then had to have a big sit down with pen and paper, go over the whole book very carefully, and take notes while writing the second and third books because I’d forgotten just about everything.
So you’ll mark in rivers, groves, names and attributes of trees if applicable, and areas of habitation for various alien species as you write them. You can also pencil in your heroes at the various points of their adventures. If you leave a nice broad strip to the right of your big world map blank, you can make important notes right there too, all to be got at simply by having a squiz at your wall. As well as being extremely helpful along the way, with a bit of tidying up, you could have a fabulous map to put into your actual book to delight your readers. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider series had maps of Pern in them with the situations of all the Weyrs and other places of importance in them that were really great ways to bring the stories to more vivid life than her awesome storytelling already did.
Write everything down when you’re building your worlds – preferably somewhere instantly visible to you as a big picture, and you’re not likely to ever slip up enough to cause suspension of disbelief overload. Doodle pictures of your starships with notes on their modes of travel, drives and so on. Scribble in all the information that you need to know right there on your project paper map, whether it’s an actual map of your alien world, or a story map of your mainstream fiction book, and it will save you lots of possible future angst about little or large details.
Not all writers use beta readers, and not all writers offer their services as beta readers, but both of these things can serve as a huge help in our writing. Looking at it from the writer’s side first, it’s important to know what it is that you’d like your beta reader to do for your story, if there is anything in particular that you do want. Don’t be shy to ask if you suspect a weakness in any area.
In general, as well as glaring plot holes and so on, your beta reader will spot things like continuity problems, or hair that started out blonde and suddenly changed to auburn half way through the story. These are big deal issues for your future readers and often things that we miss because of our closeness to the story. For the same reason, we may leave out crucial descriptive passages or backstory because we know what’s going on. Beta readers could help you find typos and grammar gremlins too if that’s what you want and they’re so inclined.
When looking for beta readers, firstly look for those who enjoy reading the type of book you’ve written. A sparkly vampire book will probably not appeal to someone who thinks that Dostoevsky is the greatest thing since cream cheese. Be wary of those who are blatantly overcritical online. Some people just enjoy finding fault, and that’s not who you’re going for. Other writers generally make the best beta readers, because they know how to write, and mostly they’re kind too.
Be grateful for the service they’re offering you. Beta reading requires more than just reading a book, and all writers are busy bunnies, so giving you their precious time is a favour indeed – try and return it if you can, but even if you don’t, always appreciate it.
Don’t take all input to heart. Any critique can cut like a knife, but really make sure that you never, ever react to any of it with aggression. By the same token, you don’t have to agree with it, or implement any changes suggested if you don’t think that they fit your story or your particular writing style.
When you are the beta reader, on the other hand, always try and remain neutral when it comes to any of your personal pet peeves. We all have them, and they are most certainly not universal. Some people find particular words offensive. Others demand that NO telling at all be allowed in any tale – it must all be show, and show only.
Be kind. There are ways of critiquing that don’t have to include things like, “Your entire third chapter is a load of codswallop – delete it all!” Even if you do spot glaring and tragic errors and writing that grates on your very bones, be polite when returning your comments, while still remaining truthful.
In the end, remember that when it comes to the flesh of your story, and also your unique writer’s voice, you do not have to change any of it. Be open though, to the advice of those who don’t have a vested interest in your scribbles, and just take a deep breath or twenty, and try and take it for what it is – help.
All occupations have hazards, and one that I particularly dread in my line of work is for anything to go wrong with an eyeball.
Unfortunately this week I have been stricken in the orb department, and try as I might, I couldn’t see much of what I was trying to do with this week’s LWI article to share with you guys. So rather than post photos of the chickpeas I took shots of last week for my recipe book, in the misguided belief that they are in fact the screenshots I took for what I was planning on sharing today, I thought I’d post something that you might enjoy having a look at and discussing in the comment section.
I really enjoyed Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, so much so that I heartily recommend it to all writers and creatives. Right now, for a limited time – till 30 June only, he’s offering free copies of his latest book for anyone with access to the link. I downloaded it a couple of days ago, but zooming through it today—with said one remaining strained and not very functional, watering eyeball—I’m not sure that I would recommend it at all. So I’m going to add the link here for any of you who feel like a little discussion about it. It’s quite a short book, but even so, you can pick up quite a bit by just glossing over it. Love it or not, it’s always great to get insights into the thought processes of great authors. I look forward to seeing what you have to say one way or another.
Procrastination doesn’t set in because you suddenly see your writing as work, and all work must by its very nature be nasty. Procrastination generally sets in when you subconsciously convince yourself that you are going to fail. I read a very interesting article on a pretty good way to beat procrastination. Sit down quietly and visualise yourself – you, living your life from that point on.
See yourself pointedly not writing. Making coffee, washing long departed Granny Sue’s apron by hand on the off chance that you will ever desperately need to wear it. See your manuscript – just sitting there – not growing. See this going on for the next few weeks or months – or years. Then look that future self up in your head and say, “Hi.” Tell yourself how fabulous your new jeans are, and ask your future self how she/he feels about you not making the effort to write your book way back then, when the apron seemed so important. Caring about your future self and well being is actually a very big deal in the procrastination busting department. Feel the disappointment when old Future tells you that she’s totally lost the desire to write, and that there is no way of ever knowing just how different your life would have been if that book had been brought into the world.
It’s a very odd experience feeling the hurt of hurting your future self like that by your own free choice. Odd enough maybe to just get your superhero all fired up enough to put rear in chair and get to getting on with it. If that doesn’t work though, sometimes it’s a good idea to build yourself a Procrastination Palace. I’ve been working on ideas for this for the workbook I’m working on right now, so I’ll share one of my favourites with you.
Rather than just make list of your possible plot holes, get a little crafty with your writer’s block. Buy a whole pile of sticky notes, or just cut up some paper into squares. Think of this as your procrastination busting jigsaw puzzle. Write a character on a square, together with all his fabulousnesses and foibles, and the way that he looks too. Turn it over and write a bit about his role in your book. Do this especially with people who seem not to have any further direction in your story. Write out some pivotal scenes the same way. Scenes already written, scenes that you’ve been planning to write, and scenes that just pop into your head while you’re playing with your puzzle. Move them around. Talk to them. Ask them kindly if you can assist them in any way to move forward. It’s probably not a good idea to do this in a coffee shop unless everyone there already knows that you’re a writer by the way. Amazing the stuff that we can get away with. And you may also be amazed at the ideas that pop up this way while you’re seeing the parts of your story as physically different parts, and physically interacting with them, even if in a strange way.
Go ahead. Have fun with your procrastination. Wear a jolly hat and scarf to get in the mood. It’s really hard for fear (fear = blockage) to retain its grip when you’re having a ball, and before you know it you’ll be scribbling away.
After publishing the fifth book in my Andy Smithson coming-of-age, epic fantasy series I noticed something that helped my book sales. “What is it?” you ask, leaning forward, spellbound to learn how you, a fellow author, might exploit this nugget.
I noticed readers consistently report experiencing a roller coaster of emotions as they read the book. In fact, one woman reported she cried…which had her award my book five stars (how strange that seems, we feel hurt and award the author who hurt us with a perfect score…gotta love human psychology, LOL! But I digress).
These responses got me reflecting how earlier books in my series were received. With book two, I remember reviewers commenting on a small portion of the book. Book three had readers sighing and cheering as well but these responses were not as enthusiastic as what I was hearing about my latest release.
I started thinking about the books I enjoy reading…lots of YA fantasy, with a splash of romance thrown in. I love it when an author develops characters who connect with one another in a way that is vulnerable, yet pure and healthy—the characters who experience deep insecurities yet come to a point where they are able to share with one another the depth of their worry and pain without fear of being laughed at, knowing their confession will be respected and held in strict confidence. These are relationships, and in turn books, that get my heart a pumpin’ – I adore them. Put another way, I connect with them.
An example, I think of Air Awakens and Fire Falling. In this series, Elise Kova constructs a relationship between the crown prince and a relative “nobody” who, of course, is not of social status appropriate for him to fall in love with, let alone marry. That relationship is vulnerable and seemingly pure and I find myself rooting for the pair. The Divergent series is another example is Bea and Tobias’s relationship. You feel their pain and cheer their triumphs. And there’s so many more awesome examples I can point to, but I share that to prove my point. We adore these relationships because they touch us deeply, emotionally, many times over.
When I’m writing a particularly vulnerable part of a story, my whole body experiences it. It’s hard to describe the sensations: my heart feels soft, my emotions are raw, and I feel “twitchy” as I approach writing (much like someone before confessing a deep secret). Then once the dialogue begins my whole heart is consumed by an essence of purity for what my characters are truly feeling. Emotion pours out of me until I’ve gotten the scene down on paper. That may sound strange, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Its purity and heart poured out. And these are the scenes my readers have commented specifically about as touching their hearts—they’vealways started this way.
This realization has shifted how I orient as I write, for I see that causing my characters to connect with my readers on this deeply vulnerable and emotional level IS the difference between creating books readers like vs writing a novel readers adore! So, yes, I’m sure the old adage “Sex Sells” is true, but so does the creating of characters who connect with each other on a deeply vulnerable level. Having come to understand this principle I now work to create scenes that tug on my reader’s heart strings like never before.