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.)
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.
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.
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!
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!
You will get bad reviews. It’s inevitable, I promise you. Take comfort in the fact that it’s a rite of passage all writers go through. Every – single – one of them, and after the first one has you on the floor, bawling your eyes out, and inexplicably trying to chew your own foot off for a while, they’re not so hard to deal with. Some are pretty funny, and some are just to be ignored. There are people out there who delight in trashing books, and sometimes the authors of books too, for reasons unknown to most decent humans. Sometimes it’s jealousy, and sometimes it’s just because they’re mean. Sometimes also these one star stabs to the soul are perfectly legitimate in their author’s hearts and minds, because they really didn’t enjoy what you wrote for reasons that do or don’t make sense to you. Whatever the reasons are for your one star clanger, you must never, ever, never, never, and I repeat, never respond to them. If you really need to share your pain then talk to a friend – preferably a writer friend, who will totally get you. I personally don’t think that it’s a good idea to respond to fabulous five star rave reviews either. “Liking” that wonderful review is good enough. The reviewer might actually not appreciate being gushed at by an unknown author, no matter how much you really want to catch a plane, find them, and kiss them on the lips. Reviews are for readers, good ones and bad ones. It’s best for you to let them be.
Now the trolls on the other hand can be some crazy scary creatures. Try and avoid them at all costs, and be very wary of provoking any. After any amount of time cruising around our dear world wide web you’re guaranteed to come across a couple. Whether it’s something you’ll read in a forum or on a blog or article that enrages you so badly you act before thinking, or a troll actually infiltrating your own sites for whatever reason, you need to throw away that pointy stick without poking that horrible hairy monster, turn around very quietly and run away. On other sites you’re better off never getting involved with these people – ignore them, and they won’t even know that you were there. On your own sites use your block, ban, and report buttons with gusto in the event of any sort of blow across your bows. I have a few times and that’s been the end of that for me personally, but I have witnessed some pretty awful trollings online that were truly appalling to see, especially on Goodreads. Have no part in these things if you can help it.
When you do get a negative review, pass it on to that part of you who is the business – not the writer – figure out if there is anything to learn from it, in which case it becomes helpful, and if not, move right along and forget about it. Don’t waste your valuable online time on trolls and hurtful reviews.
How much time of every day should you spend “marketing” online, versus how much time should you spend each day writing your next book? Writing your next book must always take priority. A couple of self-published books have gone on to be NYT bestsellers with break out first novels, but that’s not the way this author life generally works. You have to produce more than one book. A little quirk that all of us readers have is the desire to read more from a writer we love. We’ll read a book that we adore, and praise it from the rafters. We’ll look for more books by the same author, and if there aren’t any, we’ll forget about it unless something pops up to remind us about it again. So schedule your daily writing time, and try and stick to it, doing other marketing and business related projects at other times of your day.
If you want to write books and earn a living from it, you are going to have to write and publish more books. If you’re writing a series you probably won’t see substantial sales until you have a couple of books out there. Don’t panic about this though. Underlying anxiety fussing about getting this done could very well knobble your creativity and leave you staring at a blank computer screen. I read an article by Hugh Howey a long time ago, where he said that he didn’t ever bother trying to market his first book until he’d published others. It was only his seventh book, Wool, that rocketed him to fame. I took his advice and I’m glad that I did. As you publish more, you learn so much more than you expect to after that bright eyed ecstasy when hitting the publish button for the very first time. Definitely do market and advertise your first book – of course you must, but don’t let disappointing first sales put you off writing the next or let marketing consume all of your time. You need time to build a readership. Patience and tenacity are what the Indie needs to succeed.
James, the main character, meets a 150 year old lady with a mystery-filled reputation. To add to the suspense, James discovers the two of them have something in common—something found in the woods.
They’re wonderful, and if only you could tell your human loved ones of the bond you can share with one of those strange creatures, perhaps humans could learn from them, the 150 year old lady said to James.
The story moves along at a good pace and keeps you guessing, what happens next? An interesting, unique story filled with enough suspense to hold your attention. I enjoyed it. Our ten-year old daughter really enjoyed it. She can’t wait to get the next two books in the trilogy to see what happens next.
Please remember, this is for fun and to help get that writing mojo of yours flowing. Thursday is only a part of the title, not a deadline.
Here are the following rules:
Word count? Who needs word counts? Maybe you’re using the prompts because you just love writing OR maybe you need help to get through those pesky roadblocks. Either way, just let your fingers write the story and when you’re done, you’re done! (Of course, if you like flash fiction, let’s put a limit of no more than, say…500.)
Using the prompt of the photo below, WRITE. What is the bird doing? What is he looking at? What strikes your attention about this photo? (REQUIRED)Image Courtesy: Angela Kay
With my first manuscript finished, it’s time for me to start shopping around for ways to get my novel published. Originally, I wanted to go the way of an agent. I thought it’d be so cool to actually have an agent to want to represent me. I still think so. However, I’ve slowly realized, even before published authors told me, that the publishing world changed drastically from ten, or even five, years ago.
The worse part of it all is that it always depend first on who you know, then it depends on whether you’ve published anything already. It’s a disheartening process. I’ve thought many times that I need to figure out a new direction for my life. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the only problem with that is I’m 33 years old, and the only thing I feel I know to do is write. Maybe I have other talents that others see and I don’t. But the fact is, becoming a published author is my dream. I want it so bad, I can almost taste it.
Luckily, I’m not starting completely empty. Even I know that to succeed, it takes time. Stephen King or Nora Roberts had to work on getting names for themselves. Look at J.K. Rowling. She was rejected by agents countless of times until finally, one gave her first manuscript a chance. She didn’t give up, so why should I?
After nearly ten years (it really hasn’t been that long, but close enough to round up), I finally finished. I spent weeks trying to decide if I want to self-publish or find an agent. Whatever I did, I wanted to do it right. I decided that it’s hard to make money as a writer when you’re first starting out, so I’m not completely in It for the money. Although making money would be great! No, I just want the world I created to be published one way or another. I want people to read what I’ve done. I also want to learn how to become a better writer.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the publishing industry. It’s brutal. Agents get thousands of queries each week. New writers get rejection after rejection on their story for many reasons. Maybe the genre is difficult to break into (J.K. Rowling and her fantasy Harry Potter books) or your passion is in a genre where male readers prefer the book to be written by a male (again I will mention Rowling, hence the use of her sons’ initials). As a female mystery writer, I write in a very popular genre. People love a good mystery. The only thing I have against me is that I’m female. BUT I think that we’re moving into the time where people don’t care anymore whether you’re male or female.
Because I haven’t completely found my footing in the publishing industry, I decided that I should find an independent publisher. Right now, I feel it’d be less stress, quicker, and I’d be able to show published work for when (and if) I searched for an agent. I could publish myself and save a little, however, working with an independent publishing company helps save a lot of grunt work.
A writer recently told me that although several publishers wanted him, he chose to remain independent and that he sold about 50,000 of his books within a year. After reading his debut novel, I can see why. I would love it if one day that’s me. It can be a grueling process, but one I’m eager to put myself through.
A girl from church recently published her book through an indie publisher, and I kept the company in the back of my mind since they appear trustworthy, and she has had success. However, it’s important (if you want a chance to succeed that is) to not settle. So I asked other writer friends if they could offer suggestions. I was given a few choices, and I’m thinking that I may have possibly found who I want to go with. I’ve felt comfortable speaking with him via email. It’ll cost me a pretty penny, but I already knew that. The girl from church raised her money, so I’m thinking I can try doing the same thing.
The whole experience is nerve-wracking, kind of scary, but at the same time, exciting. Sometimes the best things in life come when you work for it. I don’t think God brought me this far with my writing talents to let me just set my hard worked manuscript on my desk as a dust collector. I’m a believer in meeting God halfway. If you do the work, He’ll bless you in some way.
Now that the hard work is over with, it’s time to extend my knowledge and move forward…while working on my sequel, that is!
Right now, I’m living with two people, two cats and a dog. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s difficult as a writer to be focused on the story you’re trying to tell. The distractions are countless, and it’s irritating, especially when you’re mind is on fire, but then someone starts talking to you, or the dog barks, or heaven forbid, your cat jumps onto the computer desk and sits on the keyboard.
As writers, we are in need of quiet time. And sometimes it gets tough to earn that quiet time. A lot of writers have children to care for or other demanding jobs. Right now, I’m searching for a job, so I have a lot of time on my hands. However, I don’t always get to have my quiet time because of the noise that surrounds me. I sometimes get so frustrated with a chapter, that I just want to scream, “please, give me a little peace!”
If I don’t find that peace, then it makes it even harder for me to find my “creativity” time. I found that lately for me, my creativity time is usually early in the morning, as soon as my step-father leaves for work. That’s around six thirty. I’m usually up by then, and the house is silent. I get up before I can think about what I’m doing, and hop onto the computer (kind of the way I treat exercising. Do it before your brain realizes it’s being forced to work). Then I write a few hours, and my mom wakes up. Sometimes she stays in her room to watch TV, other times she goes to the living room, where I’m working on my manuscript. Depending on the show she’s watching, I’m able to continue writing, but oftentimes, my concentration breaks. This primarily happens when I once again change where my story is going (I seem to do that often. Anyone else have that problem? It gets stressful and irritating.).
What I wouldn’t give to find a place where I can be alone, a place where I can get that creativity flowing in peace. But because there isn’t a place that I’ve thought of, I have to make due with what I’ve been given. In the morning, it seems to be easiest for me when no one is around, but sometimes, especially the weekends, I have to deal with distractions.
I found that listening to music helps me. At first, I was trying to find good music that could be considered mysterious, in order to help me work on my mysteries. I soon found out that words tend to throw me off track. So I decided to opt for listening to instrumental like Dave Koz or Jim Brickman. Either one of those, particularly Jim Brickman is my go to music of choice when I decide to listen to music while writing. I can get lost in the music, at the same time get lost in the stories my characters are telling.
I’ve also been on the lookout for other good solitude places to write. But so far, I haven’t thought of anywhere. I tend to go straight to the computer in our living room each morning rather than anywhere else.
Where you write is just as important as writing during your best creativity time. Even if no one is around, there can be distractions, like the television. In my last apartment, I had an office where my laptop was, but there was no TV. I didn’t allow it because I knew that I’d be distracted while trying to work on my book.
What are some of the ways and places that allow you to write and shut out the crazy noises of the world?
Recently, we here at LitWorldInterviews.com conducted a survey, “Why do you put a book down?” and through the assistance of the writing community we had a very nice response of over 100 participants (I stopped counting.). Now it’s time to share what we found.
First, I want to say why the survey was conducted. We wanted to help writers by giving them the information they most need. If a reader takes the time to check out your book and don’t like it, they are unlikely to give you a second chance with your next work. First impressions mean a lot.
86.30% of those responding were Female, thus leaving the remaining 13.70% Male. Considering the majority of those reading novels are Female, although not quite this extreme, I’m comfortable with sharing what we found.
There were 34 sub-categories as a result of the survey. Those results were then placed into 5 main categories: Writing, Editing, Proofreading, Taste, and Other, with Writing providing the largest number of sub-categories and results.
68.49% of those responding noted some form of dissatisfaction with Writing as a reason for putting a book down.
26.03% gave Editing.
23.29% gave Proofreading.
17.81% was Taste.
2.74% was Other.
Let’s take a look at the Writing sub-categories first.
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The above pie chart shows the concerns in descending order of greatest number of mentions. The story being Dull was the most frequently mentioned problem with 25.29% of the mentions of the Category. Followed by actual Bad Writing, then Dull or Unbelievable Characters,Info Dump, and uses of Profanity.
Let me speak about Profanity for a moment, this along with Gore, Violence, and Sex were all mentioned in the context of being included in the story for no apparent reason. Most of those who noted it as a concern stated they know these things occur in books, and even have a place, but the problem arose when the author was using them as obvious crutches in an attempt to hide poor writing and plot.
The subcategories of Writing Concerns as identified by readers are as follows in descending order: Dull, Bad Writing, Unbelievable Characters, Info Dump, Profanity, Over Describing, Violence, Weak Narrative, Confusing Beginning, Unexpected Sex, Gore, Weak Story, Bad Dialogue, Dashes, Racism, Poor Relationships, Head Hopping, Repetition, and Writing with Dialect Accents.
What does this tell us? The first thing that jumps out to me is that we as authors aren’t putting out books with stories that are capturing the attention of the reader. With a book done with professional intent behind it, a dull story should be the reason our books are not read. That’s right, we are not read because we just didn’t do a good job of telling our story. Maybe we didn’t have the right beta readers. Maybe they were too nice. Maybe they just went through the motions. Maybe they just aren’t that good at the task. Or maybe we should recognize our work isn’t that good. How about all of the above?
Let’s look at Editing Concerns
There were four subcategories for Editing Concerns: Actual Bad Editing, Plot Holes, Sentence Structure, and No Scene Breaks for Time Lapses.
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The bad thing about writing a novel is the author knows everything that is happening, even behind the scenes, the back story the reader never sees, and the in between scenes that happen. The problem this creates is hopefully caught during editing. A good editor can save a book from disaster. Fresh eyes see old mistakes that the author overlooks each time they’ve gone through each of the five drafts they’ve done.
An Editor is not responsible for rewriting a novel. I want to make that clear. They take what a writer gives them, looks for plot holes, sentence structure, weak story development, and things of that nature. They are not a Proofreader. I think people confuse the two, but having been associated with a professional Proofreader who has guest hosted here on the site, I know the difference.
If you pay an Editor they are to give you the tightest and most entertaining story they can from what you’ve given them. Of course you, as the author, can disregard everything, but that would be a foolish thing to do. I have a writing mentor who edits some things I give her at times. I take some of what she offers and disregard others because of the importance of what that means to the overall story, a story she isn’t fully aware of yet.
Notice I didn’t throw everything away, and I took into consideration what she said about the part I disregarded. I changed things to make that part seem more relevant to the story at that point, without giving anything away.
But what we get from this part of the survey is that readers notice editing of a book. The idea of not editing a book crosses the minds of Indie Authors. We’ve been through the book a dozen times. We know it’s just fine the way it is. Note the sarcasm I said those last couple of sentences with. I’m not saying it’s impossible to edit your own work, but you would have to be able to step away from the work long enough to see it with fresh eyes, several times. At least that’s my opinion. You also have to become slightly detached from this labor of love, in some cases.
There isn’t a need for a chart here. There were two sub-categories: Proofreading (66.66%), and Grammar (33.33%).
I have to say, this is an area I notice a lot in books. If there are proofreading problems in a book, they take me out of the story, out of the world created by the writer. Every book has a proofreading error, or perhaps a printing error, not so much on the printing these days with the modern printing methods, but back in the old days of typesetting, errors happened.
I’ve read several books for the purpose of reviews and I have put some down because of the proofreading problems. I honestly don’t think there was any proofreading conducted. You might get past the dull story, even some bad editing, but when you are constantly tripped up by spelling errors, punctuation, and all of that, you eventually become tired of it all.
Taste Concerns of the Reader
There were 7 different sub-categories placed under taste: Slow Beginning (30.77%), Tragic Ending (15.38%), Difficult Vocabulary (15.38%), Too Much Detail (15.38%), Back Story (7.69%), Genre (7.69%), and Cliffhanger Ending (7.69%).
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You won’t find two readers with exactly the same taste. They may have a discussion and it sounds like they are the same, but put five books in front of them and have them read them, I would be willing to bet you would get different opinions.
Some books, due to the nature of the story and world, may require a slow beginning. The trend is to jump right into action to capture the reader’s interest, but perhaps your story doesn’t fit that type of trend. Difficult vocabulary may be part of how a certain character speaks.
But I understand what the readers are saying. Sometimes the way things are done, they are not necessary. I think when it all makes sense, a reader is fine with it, but just as when people throw profanity or gore into a story, sometimes these tastes, other than perhaps genre, are signs of weak storytelling and plot.
There were only two that fell into the Other category: Having the book available for Screen Readers, and Having a Misleading Book Description.
I think these are two very valid reasons to not read a book. As my eyesight fails I know it becomes more difficult to read. Some will say just get glasses, but this is due to medications I must take. Eventually I will likely not be able to see at all. But I love books. It would be a shame to not buy a book because it didn’t work with my screen reader.
As for a misleading book description? It may be the opinion of the reader as to the misleading nature or not. If it truly is misleading, I think the book needs removing or at least the description updated.
What all did we learn from the survey? Good writing and story, with good editing and proofreading will make for a page turner.
“As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty. And if you are honest about the words coming out of your characters’ mouth, you’ll find that you’ve let yourself in for a fair amount of criticism.” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft, Page 217
Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft is considered a must by many in the profession. The quote above continues on about how King receives mail at least once a week calling him all sorts of names because of what his characters say. A lot of people confuse what a character believes with what an author believes.
Believe me when I say, that if I have a character murder someone, I don’t believe in people murdering people. I want that on the record. Oddly, I imagine King has rarely been called a murderer.
The dialogue he’s referring to are defamatory, degrading, and profanity filled. I agree that authors need to have their characters speak honestly. Here comes the hard part. Through which pair of eyes and ears are we listening with?
King believes, or at least notes that even the good little Christians will say the expletives when faced with things such as that smashing of the thumb with the hammer scenario, unless it’s an old maid aunt. I’ve never been called an old maid aunt before. Then again I was only hit in the eye with a fast ball by my son. The only thing I said was “Ow!” and “Gosh!”.
You see, my habits of life are to not use certain words in thoughts and conversation. What this in turn creates is a creative environment of ‘clean’ dialogue. Strangely, the no profanity doesn’t seem to come out as dishonest to people.
How can this be? If you create the setting, the world, and use the proper sentence structure, you don’t need certain words to convey certain emotions. I’m not saying a writer shouldn’t use profanity or whatever else they want to, but I wanted to point out that King doesn’t have it perfectly right, and he would probably be the first one to tell you that. His book is very good and he doesn’t profess to be the end all be all of writing. I think that, and his own honesty of life and experience is what makes this book one of the Top 5 books on writing people recommend.
Honesty is what every book must have in order to be an honest success. Have you read a book and then suddenly there is this scene that makes no sense? It’s an obvious insert. Someone decided the book needed that scene. Hopefully the rest of the book is strong enough to overcome an obvious veering away from a character’s portrayal to that point.
If you are an organic writer, like I am, your characters write your books. You tell them that you want them to arrive in the Bahamas by the winter of 1705-06 but you leave it to them how to get there. Along the way the characters you wanted as good guys end up being less than likeable and some even end up dead. That’s honesty.
I know sometimes you read a book that’s a success and it is so dishonest you want your money back although it was a free download for three days only. It makes you wonder if you are doing it all wrong. The question is, do you want to live with yourself, hold that book up to the world and say you wrote it?
Profanity or not, honesty or not, and what honesty of dialogue means is up to you. My advice is to be honest, whatever that means to you.
Book Reviewing is one of the main things we do here on LitWorldInterviews. So much so, that at one time or other most of us write about them. We write about the importance of them, how to do them, where to find people to do them, and the list goes on.
Most of the time the idea of Book Reviews is looking at it from the point of the author or how to relay helpful information for the author. Today I want to change it up a little.
Today we’ll talk about the Amazon Book Review, or the B&N Book Review. Sites that sell books, not sites that are for people digging for in depth analysis of a book, not that you get that from me.
My belief is regardless of which type of review you do, there is a golden rule to follow; don’t give spoilers. I don’t even care if you mention ahead of time that a spoiler is coming up, I don’t believe it needs to be out there. I do believe in trigger warnings. That’s fine. If you have a book advertising itself as a humorous cozy mystery and you find some type of assault against a woman or children, I say trigger alert away.
Now for the Book Seller Site Reviews. What is the normal person surfing through Amazon looking for? What are the first two things that catch their eye about a book?
That’s right: the Book Title, and Book Cover.
I know when I see a title I then see the cover and if still interested I go to the description or price next. Then I go to the reviews. If you want to know the truth, if the book has a lot of reviews and I see the percentage of 5 and 4 star reviews are high, I may not even read the reviews, unless the price is pushing my thrifty nature a bit.
Now I’m at the reviews. What do I want to know?
Enjoyment Factor is what I want to know.
Did they enjoy reading the book overall?
Was there anything in the book that took away from the enjoyment?
Did it deliver what it said it would?
Notice I didn’t mention unfavorable comparisons to other authors, long diatribes of things hoped for, or saying the author is the worst ever. There was mention of showing of a literature degree.
So what’s the difference in the writing of a review site review and an Amazon review?
If I came across a book I didn’t like, and the author asked me to post the review regardless of my score, I would keep in mind what needs said for the book buyer to make a decision. The more detailed version, if an unfavorable review, would go directly to the author in an email. On the site here, I would put detail as well, but still keep in mind not to rip the author apart. There might be several paragraphs explaining why I didn’t like the book.
Here is what I might say about a book I didn’t like on Amazon, if I dared put such a review on there. I doubt I would even if the author asked me to put it on there.
“The books idea seemed to be a good one from the description, but for me, it just didn’t come through in the actual story itself. I liked the main character most of the time, but there were inconsistencies that didn’t make sense to me within the given storyline, maybe in a sequel? What seemed to be important subplots never played out or ended up later contradicted with other plots. I’m not sure if this was intentional or oversight. It felt to me as though the author was so excited to get the book into our hands, they raced to the finish line when a little more time would have made a much better finished product. I’m not sure I would read it a second time in its current edition.”
What the review means.
“The author’s story does not match the excitement or intrigue of book description given. The main character is not well developed. In addition, the main character is like reading a confused jumble of ideas that never comes together for any reason. Maybe the author kept changing their mind during the writing and didn’t go back to edit for character continuity. Important subplots are left behind and ignored, as if the author completely forgets he ever wrote about them, and that makes for irritating points later that didn’t match up. It feels to me the book was rushed to market without being properly proofread and edited, which is what a customer is paying for. I would not recommend this book to anyone.”
Why do I not say the second review in an Amazon review?
There are a number of people involved in getting a manuscript to book form. It’s not only the author or authors. You also have proofreaders, editors, and publishers. An author cannot wholly depend on their own judgement about their baby. With my book, co-authored with PS Bartlett, we had each other to look to for any problems that came up and to push each other forward. That did not stop us from going to beta-readers, to test the story out. Then we took suggestions and made some edits. Then PS Bartlett sent it to her editor she’s worked with on some of her previous books.
Does all of that make for a perfect book? No. There is no such thing as a perfect book, but through that time taken, you can end up with a very enjoyable read.
What an author does is realize a book will never be good enough in his or her own eyes, and must trust others to help push them forward. Books I’ve written, that haven’t seen the light of a Kindle screen yet, are those I haven’t trusted to the eyes of beta-readers because I am not happy with them. In other words, I need someone to push me forward, but I don’t have a person on premises that does that, that encourages and nudges me forward. With the reviews coming out for Amber Wake: Gabriel Falling, I’m getting the confidence I need to move ahead with the more than a dozen books I’ve written.
Now do you see how important a properly written review is? The first review tells a reader that they may not want to read this, warns them there are problems. At the same time, it doesn’t destroy confidence in the writer because they realize they have something there, but they need to work on it longer and take time. They need help getting it in a polished state.
Everything we write has an effect somewhere along the way. We may think we are being funny at times when we hit publish or submit, but the truth is, we could be doing more damage than good. Be honest, but be professional at the same time, even in an Amazon review. Help, not hinder.
As a Reader or as an Author, what do you want in an Amazon Review? Share for others to know. Maybe I’ll compile the results in a future article.
Title: When Breath Becomes Air Author: Paul Kalanithi ISBN13: 978-0812988406 ASIN: B0165X8WN2 Published: Vintage Digital Pages: 258 Genre: Non-fiction, Medical Books: neurosurgery, Ailments and diseases: cancer
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.
Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.
Praise for When Breath Becomes Air
“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: ‘It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.’ And just important enough to be unmissable.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”—The Washington Post
“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”—The Boston Globe
“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”—USA Today
“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”—Entertainment Weekly
“[When Breath Becomes Air] split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed
Body of review: As this is a non-fiction book the usual format does not work well but I thought it was well-worth sharing.
Here it is:
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi A singular and professional look at death
Thanks to Net Galley and to Vintage Digital for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
I read this book with conflicting emotions. When it came to my attention and saw some of the comments I wondered if I was ready to read it. (My father died 14 months ago of cancer, in his case prostate, with bone metastases, stage IV at the time of diagnosis, after a year of fighting the illness.) In some ways I guess I was challenging myself to see if I’d manage and perhaps hoping that it would give me some answers, although I’m not sure what to. I will try to make this review as objective as possible, but by the nature of the book and its subject this is more difficult than usual (no two people read the same book and that’s the beauty of it, of course).
In my effort to try and make my mind up as to what to say I’ve read a few of the reviews. Some of the negative ones state that the book is little more than a couple of essays, a foreword and an epilogue. That’s a fair comment. We know that Paul Kalanithi died before he finished the book, and we don’t know how much editing went into it, or what else he might have written if his life hadn’t been cut short. The foreword works as an introduction of the book and a sum up of the author’s career and perhaps helps tie up the unfinished nature of it. It is nicely written, although the fact that Abraham Verghese had only met the writer once hints at how professionally packaged the book is. Yes, this is not just another account by a totally anonymous individual fighting cancer.
Other reviewers note that Kalanithi’s circumstances are so unique (well-educated, professional family, bright and driven, studying at the best universities, training in neurosurgery at one of the best hospitals, and also treated in one of the best units with access to all the treatments, surrounded and supported by his family) that perhaps his reflections and his experiences are not applicable to most of the population. I can’t argue with that. I’m not sure we can claim to a universality of experience and say that death or impending death affects everybody the same. There’s no doubt that the end result is the same but the process and the way it is felt is quite different. All lives start and end the same but that does not mean they are the same.
Some reviewers take issue with the decisions the author and his family made, for instance his insistence on going back to work as a neurosurgeon after the diagnosis and whilst he was being treated, wondering how safe that was, and accusing him of selfishness. Sometimes in harrowing circumstances we do what we have to do to keep going and to see another day, although that is no justification to put others at risk. In his case it is clear from the write up that there was a strong plan in place to ensure safety and that he was no operating by himself (we’re talking about neurosurgery, a highly complex field and a team endeavour). Perhaps the way the author focuses on his own efforts and how he managed to overcome the symptoms of the illness to keep working leaves too much of what was going on around him in the shadows, but then, he was writing about his experience and how he saw it at the time. Other readers appear upset at the family’s decision to have a child knowing he wouldn’t be alive to see her grow. That’s a matter of personal opinion and I can’t see how that has any bearing on our thoughts about the quality of the book.
After this long preamble (my review is becoming an essay in its own right), what did I think? I am a doctor (a psychiatrist, and although I remember with fondness my placement in general surgery and I attended in some operations for other specialties, like paediatrics, breast or chest, I can’t claim to any hands-on experience in neuro-surgery) and I identified with early parts of the book when Kalanithi describes medical school, and also his love of literature. I haven’t worked in the US although I’ve read (and we’ve all watched movies and TV series) about the gruelling schedules and training process medical students and trainees face there. There is a great deal of emphasis on his career and not much on his other experiences. Although there are more details about his relationship with his wife later on, we don’t know much about how they met or what they shared, other than their interest in Medicine and plans for their professional future. Some reviewers noted that we don’t get to know the man. I can imagine that to get to the professional peak he had achieved one needs to be focused on one’s career to the detriment of other things, and there are some reflections about that in the book: about delayed gratification, about working hard and putting other parts of our life on hold, for whenever we’ve reached that next goal, that next step. Often that moment never arrives, because we find other goals or other objectives. Living the now and for it is a lesson that not many people learn. I also felt I did not get to know Kalanithi well. He writes compellingly about his work, his efforts to find meaning and to offer meaning to others through his vocation, he mentions religion and how he turned to literature too to try and understand death. There are glimpses of him, mostly towards the end of the book, and truly heart-wrenching moments, like the birth of his daughter. I agree with everybody that his wife’s epilogue is more touching and heart-felt, less analytical and rationalised than the parts he wrote and I felt more connection to her than to her husband. I wish her and her daughter well and I have the feeling she is more than equal to the task of bringing up her girl and carrying on with her career.
This is an interesting book, a book that will make the reader think about his or her own mortality, and it will touch many. It does have a fair amount of medical terminology (I’m a doctor so it’s not easy for me to judge how complex it might be for somebody with no medical knowledge, although I saw some comments about it) and it’s not a touchy-feely open-my-heart type of confession about the final days of somebody. It’s a fairly intellectualised look at matters of life and death, but it ultimately provides no answers. Why that should be a surprise to anybody, I’m not sure. It is not a book on spirituality (although there are some reflections about it) or a moral guide to live your death. If bearing all that in mind you’re still interested, I found it well-worth a read.
Hi all. I’m promoting my translating services (English-Spanish) this month through my blog, and I thought I’d share it here too.
Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that apart from writing, reviewing books, and talking about books, I also translate book from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English. I started by translating my own books because I wanted to make sure my parents and my friends back home could read them, (although I’m Spanish, from Barcelona, I’ve lived in the UK since 1992) but in the last couple of years I’ve also been translating books by other writers. You can check some of those here.
Due to family matters I haven’t had much chance to promote my services until now. To get things started I’ve decided to offer a special promotion. 50% discount of all translations. It is a time limited offer.
My usual tariff is $40/1000 words but this will be slashed in half. If you’re thinking about translating your book in the near future, you can take advantage of this offer and reserve a spot at this price for a deposit. If you’d like to discuss your project in more detail, you can e-mail me at email@example.com
As an author, I know we live for our readers and want to ensure that our books can reach readers wherever they are and in whatever language they read. I won’t lie to you. There are other options to get your books translated, like Babel Cube where you can offer your books for translation for a split royalties’ deal, but you have to give control over the process to Babel Cube and they control the production of the book and the distribution rights for five years. I know quite a few of us are self-published authors and we are used to being in charge, or at least closely supervising, all aspects of our book production, so this might not be an attractive option for all. There are many places where you can find translators, including Fiverrif you’d prefer to be in charge of the process and you have the funds to invest and the time to check and vet. It’s your decision.
As you know, I blog in Spanish and English and I’m happy to share the books I translate with some of the readers and writers groups I belong to and to write a feature about them in my blog. But I’ll happily do that even if you get the translation done elsewhere. You only need to let me know.
Thanks to all for reading this and I’d be specially grateful if you like it, share, and comment. And send me an e-mail if you want to ask me any questions. (Ah, I’m happy to check translations done by others if you want a second opinion or a second pair of eyes).
As some of you know, I host a Fiction writing challenge on Fridays here on Ronovan Writes. It’s funny how I use Ronovan Writes as if it’s not me. Sometimes I shorten it to RW. That has nothing to do with this article, merely an aside.
One of the goals of the Friday Fiction with Ronovan Writes is to improve the writing of those who participate. At the moment my goal with the challenge is to encourage the improvement of the basics of writing Fiction. Some problems I see, not just in a few challenge entries, but in books I review, are the use of Dialogue Tags, Action Beats, and Dialogue Punctuation. Also today I’ll introduce some of you to Grammarly.
This piece today is not just for those doing the challenge. This is for anyone who:
Writes short stories
Writes novellas, or novels.
What I have here will help you. For some of you it will be a reminder.
Let’s begin with Dialogue Tags. A Dialogue Tag is when you have a speaker identified along with the dialogue and a word such as ‘said’.
Example: “The dog jumped the fence,” Bob said. OR Bob said, “The dog jumped the fence.”
Example: “Did the dog jump the fence?” Sally asked.
Notice there are words used to show what kind of speaking Bob and Sally are doing. Let’s change one to see what happens.
“The dog jumped the fence.” Bob pointed to Fido racing across the field after the sheep.
We know who is speaking here, Bob because he is the only one mentioned and he is doing an action associated with the act of seeing the dog jump the fence. Now let’s see what happens with Sally.
“Did the dog jump the fence?” Sally pointed to Fido racing across the field after the sheep. You’ll run into some people who despise Dialogue Tags, regardless of the situation. They would like you to use something like an Action Beat instead. What are Action Beats? An Action Beat is the actions taking place between the dialogues. The two examples above with Bob and Sally pointing are Action Beats. Notice there was no mention of the people speaking. You assumed who was speaking.
My personal opinion is you need a combination of Beats and Tags and nothing at all. Sticking to one and one tool only, in my opinion, would be boring.
Let’s take a look at passage using all three tools. Example with Dialogue Tags and Action Beats.
“This class is crazy.” Billy ducked the dark rectangular object on its way toward his head. Larry picked up the weapon, marker dust covered his hand. He threw the eraser back at the offender. “We’re not playing! Find someone else!” “Thanks, Larry.” Billy’s muffled voice came from the floor. “You can get up now, Billy.” “Do you think Ms. Willett will be mad when she sees what they did to her notes on the board?” “If I were you, I’d be reading a book when she comes in. Act as innocence as possible.” “Will that work?” “Did last year. This is my second year in the class. I failed by a point last time. She’s tough. They don’t call her hard butt because she works out so much.” Billy laughed, and said, “Either way she’s my favorite teacher.”
The above is not the best example, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. I used one dialogue tag, and then only to keep the reader on track. I didn’t want to throw in lots of Action Beats. Action Beats work great, but can be overdone. Return to the Top
Then you might have a passage with only Dialogue Tags. All Dialogue Tags:
“This class is crazy,” Billy said and ducked the dark rectangular object on its way toward his head. “We’re not playing! Find someone else!” Larry said. “Thanks, Larry,” Billy said. “You can get up now, Billy,” Larry said. “Do you think Ms. Willett will be mad when she sees what they did to her notes on the board?” Billy asked. “If I were you, I’d be reading a book when she comes in. Act as innocence as possible,” Larry said. “Will that work?” Billy asked. “Did last year. This is my second year in the class. I failed by a point last time. She’s tough. They don’t call her hard butt because she works out so much,” Larry said. “Either way she’s my favorite teacher,” Billy said. How boring is that? Annoying? Except for the exclamation marks for Larry there is no personality or life to the scene. Now you see why you use dialogue tags as little as possible. You also use Action Beats only when you need to. Of course you can pep up the dialogue itself and accomplish a lot. Return to the Top
One thing you need to do when writing is, give each character a distinctive voice. I always try to do that in every story I write. One character might speak in short sentences, another in long. This guy doesn’t use contractions, this guy uses them even when they don’t exist.
By giving distinctive voices, you can have a conversation without a lot of tags or beats. Beats are good. You do need them. However, if you can get as much as possible across in your dialogue you are a long way to being a success.
No Dialogue Tags and No Action Beats.
“Billy, duck!” “These people are insane. That could’ve hit me in the eye. Thanks Larry.” “We’re not playing! Find someone else!” “Ooo, you nailed him with that eraser.” “He shouldn’t’ve thrown it in the first place. Uh, Billy?” “Yeah?” “Stop hiding.” “Oh, yeah. Thanks. Do you think Ms. Willett will be mad when she sees what they did to her notes on the board?” “Put it this way, if I were you, I’d be reading a book when she comes in. Act like an angel.” “Will that work? This place is a disaster area. There is no way she will think we didn’t do some of this.” “Worked last year.” “Last year?” “Uh, Billy, I’m a year older than you, remember? I failed by one point last time. But as bad as my grades were, I never got in trouble with Ms. Willett.” “Larry, you’re always getting into trouble.” “I know, but every time something happened, I stuck my nose in a book. She’s tough but fair. They don’t call her hard—” “Larry!” “Okay, they don’t call her hard ‘butt’ because of how much she works out.” “I don’t care why they call her that, she’s my favorite teacher.” Return to the Top
Along with dialogue, one thing I notice in books I read and blogs I read is Dialogue Punctuation. I’ll only mention one form of punctuation at this time.
I’ll also make this as simple as I can. Where does the comma go?
Example: “The dog jumped the fence,” Bob said. OR Bob said, “The dog jumped the fence.”
In dialogue, we all know to use the quotation marks around the speech, the dialogue. Where does the comma go? Yes, there is a comma in most dialogue IF there is a normal expression of speech. Look at the example above. There is no exclamation nor a question mark, therefore you put a comma inside the quotation mark.
If you have an exclamation or question mark, then put the mark and close with the quotation, no comma is required.
Example: “The dog jumped the fence!” Bob said.
Example: “Did the dog jump the fence?” Sally asked.
No comma was required in the examples above.
You can do away with commas by not using Dialogue Tags and sticking with Action Beats. Yawn. Okay, not really yawn, if done correctly. When you have a scene with two people conversing, you can easily do away with Dialogue Tags and stick with Action Beats and no manner of denoting who is speaking at all based on the rhythm of the exchange. Return to the Top
Another TOOL to use, if you don’t have Word is Grammarly.com. It can be used inside of WordPress or any place you type, even comments on blogs. Also, they have a FREE version, which I use. Return to the Top
Why are the first few chapters of your book great and then the yawn sets in as you continue reading through your first draft? Did two people write it?
The problem is common, happens to us all, and is something rarely if ever discussed. I believe it is because we know. We. Just. Know.
I call it Manuscript Mental Fatigue (MMF). We put so much into those first few chapters, editing as we go, and you know we do, then we make it past perhaps chapter ten and it’s over. We just write. It’s not that our ideas are but we just aren’t executing them the way we did earlier. A rule given at every turn about something not to do it, but we spent all of that time on those first few chapters. Instead of letting the words flow, we edited and tried to make those first chapters excellent when it was only a first draft. Why?
If you are like me, then you might say to yourself, “I know once I am finished writing this I am going to hate going back and just doing it all over again, so I am going to make it perfect the first time through.”
We hate going back through it because we put so much effort into the first draft in polishing as we wrote it the first time.
Every time we go through a draft of the book we keep getting tired a few chapters in, and once again, we have poorly executed chapters as the book goes on and in truth, they need executed properly in the burn barrel in the backyard.
How To Avoid MMF.
The First Draft
First, don’t write when you are brain tired. When you feel the brain beginning to tire—STOP. Go ahead and stop. Nothing good will come from forcing water out of a dry sponge.
While resting do nothing regarding your novel other than simply jotting down an idea that comes to mind and make sure to reference when you came up with the idea, why, and where it should go in the book. If you don’t reference and have written a three-word idea, you’ll be lost.
We have finished our first draft!
The Walk Away
Now we need to walk away and:
Begin our next novel.
Work on the second draft of a novel.
Beta Read for an author friend.
Do anything that will get our minds off that first draft. You need to give the brain and the story a rest, a time to refresh and see each other anew. I personally love doing research for books.
Time goes by; let’s say a couple of months. I know; I am being optimistic with saying two months, some people say three months to a year. (I also know I have used two semicolons together in as many sentences.) Then there is the optimism we will stay away from our work for even two months.
I have run across things I wrote years ago and had no idea it was I that wrote them. They just didn’t sound like me, but were! That’s what you want to achieve. Put your all in other things and put that book out of your mind.
Set some type of alarm, maybe on the computer or in the cell phone that goes off on the date to start the next draft.
Don’t have it marked on a calendar somewhere that will remind you of it.
The Return Part I
Now we are back to the second draft. We are reading it and making notes along the way, not corrections, just notes. If we make corrections now, we will become brain mush. Just read and take notes.
If we began corrections, we will begin to tire out during those first chapters, just as we would if we did editing as we wrote the first draft.
The Return Part II
Divide the book into three parts. Beginning, middle, and end. We will first work on the beginning, making updates/changes to the story according to notes.
Take a break of a few days to a week. Rest that brain.
Continue the same process through the middle and end parts of the book.
Walk away from the book and work on something else. No, we don’t have to be away forever, but we do want a bit of fresh eyes.
The Return Part III
Now it is time to read the book with the changes in place. We can do a few things at this time.
Take notes of problem areas.
Highlight problem areas.
Print the draft and mark problem areas.
The Third Draft
Work on the problem areas.
Use Word, or something like Grammarly to check grammar, spellings, word usage, and passive sentence structure, if passive sentences are something to be avoided which they normally are.
This is the time to become happy with the manuscript, happy enough for others to read it. We need to make a decision at this point to either have the manuscript edited or sent to beta-readers. There are different thoughts on which to do first, the editor or the beta-readers.
Some believe not to let beta-readers see the manuscript until it is as close to publishable as possible, with minor changes to take place at their suggestion.
I do see the merit of beta-reader last idea. If you have several beta-readers giving feedback then make the changes, send to the editor, and then publish, there may be changes made the beta-readers might like or dislike that would affect a review or recommendation.
Give it up to the reader fairies of the world.
Rinse and Repeat for the next project, that book you were working on while this one was at rest back up there after that first draft.
If you have ideas of how to avoid MMF, leave them in the comments below for others to learn from your wisdom. Appreciation in advance to anyone who comments below.
The very thought of setting deadlines for your work is anathema to some writers. They believe that having a fixed time to complete a story will knobble their creativity and result in them churning out awful hogwash. I don’t agree – personally I think that there’s joy to be found in a little bit of discipline. Possibly if you set unrealistic deadlines you will indeed find yourself knobbled and not produce your best work, but reasonable time set for a project can inspire you to work at it every day rather than watching soaps because you have all the time in the world after all. Truthfully, we don’t have all the time in the world, and if we want to leave a legacy of stories, we need to get them written down. Goal setting helps us do this.
Deadlines can be terrifying things when life gets in the way in the form of illness, or some other kind of stress inducing thing that seems hell-bent on preventing you from accomplishing your goal. I believe that the universe has been, and continues to be, rather lavish with me personally with the terrifying and stress inducing things by the way, and I’ve missed many of my personally applied deadlines. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop setting them though. Living life without goals doesn’t seem very exciting, and just like any other worthwhile pursuit, I think that working towards a goal, which is just a personal deadline after all, is great for any writing or other project. Consider Parkinson’s Law.
When there’s no sense of urgency it’s human nature to let projects take much longer than they should. Rather set yourself the right amount of time. Having projects waiting to be finished is generally stressful to some degree to most of us, and the longer any particular project languishes the worse we tend to feel about ourselves for not getting cracking on it. Fiddling with one particular book for months or years on end might be pleasurable for some, but for many anything that takes so long to do has a very good chance of being abandoned altogether because of our feelings of failure. Setting deadlines for yourself will help you dive right in and write, rather than angst over single sentences for days and days. Now is the perfect time to get started on setting real date goals for your writing if you aren’t already doing that.
With 2016 poking its face up on the horizon, why not grab a pen and notepad and list your writing goals for next year? Be realistic – if you’re sure that you can finish X book by June and Y book by November, set your deadlines for July and December to give yourself a little leeway. You know the speed of writing that you’re comfortable with, so you can choose whether or not you want to challenge yourself with a little bit of extra zoom required. You can break those annual goals down into chunks with what you hope to achieve monthly, weekly, or even daily. The scariest thing about completing any project with a deadline is actually starting it, but once you do start it and accomplish that first day’s goal, the easier it gets. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you won’t make all of your deadlines, but that’s alright as long as you try to. Don’t ever be harsh on yourself if you don’t get there, rather relish the fact that you did your best. Don’t give ever up because of a missed deadline – rather set a new one. So dust off that book that’s been lurking unfinished for way too long, and write a date on it. A deadline. Then don’t worry about failing to complete it, rather have at it joyfully in the knowledge that it’s not the guarantee of literary accolades that means success, but the actual doing – the writing. Finishing your scribbles is absolutely success.