Summer Reading for Fun and More

Girl on deck reading

No matter how busy I am, I manage to fit in time to read. Whether it’s two minutes while I wait for my tea to heat up, or an entire afternoon on the deck with a thrilling novel, I make the most of the time.

By reading.

Today I’ll share with you the ones that made me stretch two minutes to five, then fifty. Four novels and one book on writing. Here goes!

And, by the way, some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy the book. You pay the same exact price. Doesn’t make me a lot of money, but it helps to cover the costs of this blog.

The Devil’s Dance

I’ve been following Kristen Lamb’s blog for years, and was thrilled when she finally released her novel, The Devil’s Dance .

She had me hooked from the start with the plight of Romi, whose fiancé skipped with half a billion dollars (including Romi’s life savings). The company they had worked for folded, Romi was out of a job, and the prime suspect.

Unable to find employment anywhere, Romi was forced to return to her family home, a decrepit trailer park. Her certifiably crazy family doesn’t make life any easier.

She divides her time between trying to convince the FBI agent on her tail that she’s innocent, and figuring out why people keep turning up dead.

Entertaining, irreverent, sheer brilliant story telling, all done up in Kristen Lamb’s inimitable style. What else can I say?

It was well worth the wait.

The Emperor’s Edge

I’ve been a fan Lindsay Buroker’s novels for a while, but it took me awhile to getting around to The Emperor’s Edge.

I can’t improve on the description:

“Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an eight-foot pile of coffee canisters onto their heads. But when ravaged bodies show up on the waterfront, an arson covers up human sacrifices, and a powerful business coalition plots to kill the emperor, she feels a tad overwhelmed.”

This novel is a great example of a killer concept, complex plot, and engrossing story telling. I’ve got the rest of the series on my to-read list.

The Book of Deacon

I’d never read any of Joseph Lallo’s work before, but this is one author I’m going to keep my eye on. The Book of Deacon starts the story of Myranda, who has no interest in being a hero. All she wants to do is survive.

She was orphaned by a war that has waged for decades, and has been shunned because she refuses to support it. Then by chance she finds the fallen body of a soldier, and the priceless treasure he had carried. She had no idea that her discovery would change her life drastically and profoundly.

Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen

Taking a break from fantasy, I tried Alison Weir’s historical novel about Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine. Unlike many other novels about Henry’s wives, Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen: A Novel (Six Tudor Queens) is more nuanced.

The beautiful and accurate details give a sense of time and place, so much that I felt I was there. I could feel the drafty damp castle of Katherine’s later years, I sensed her agony over the destruction of her marriage and separation from her daughter.

Everybody Writes

Ann Handley has written a fabulous resource for business writers, but really for anyone with her outstanding Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

Not only does she cover the basics of writing and grammar, but she delves into what makes for good content. She also provides best practices for creating such diverse forms of content as blog posts, annual reports, and tweets.

Anyone who is writing for any business purpose will benefit from having read this book.

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Valley

Short Fiction In the Valley

Just a short piece of fiction for your reading pleasure…

Eric rolled down his window to spit his gum out and nearly ran over a rattlesnake. He swerved to miss the slithering reptile, clenching the wheel to avoid running off the road.

If you could call it that. His map labelled it “County Road RW.” Eric didn’t think two narrow lanes of gravel decorated with potholes were worthy of that status.

He glanced in the rear-view mirror to see the snake stretching out across the road, allowing its full length to absorb the little heat left as the afternoon sun waned.

Then he laughed at himself. What would it have mattered if he’d killed the snake? One less rattler in this wilderness would be a good thing.

He checked the road ahead carefully. No snakes or other wild life in sight. He spat his gum out and rolled up his window.  Coughing a little from the dust, he concentrated on driving as fast as he could without damaging his car.

He only had two days to get from east Texas to halfway into Arizona. His Aunt Betty wanted portraits done of Lily and Florence. How his aunt loved those two. Eric just couldn’t understand.

He wanted to refuse the job, but work had been slow. More people were taking their own pictures these days, thanks to their smart phones. Snap a picture, share it with the world. Who cares if it’s a crummy photo? He let out a sigh.

The road curved to the left, and he blinked, avoiding the blinding light of the setting sun. To his right, in the valley below, the shadows of the hills made a mottled pattern, some areas dark, others starkly lit.

All or nothing. That’s what Eric’s life seemed to be. All or nothing.

Some clients were cooperative, reasonable. They understood when things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Others were like his aunt, doting on her darlings, wanting the perfect photo.

He could just hear her. “Make sure Lily’s bow is a tidge to the right, will you, dear?”

She’d follow up with, “Should we try the pink sweater instead of the green? I think pink looks better on her. It brings out the brown of her eyes. They’re just the same color as yours, you know.”

After numerous wardrobe changes for both Lily and Florence (Florence, being four was a little more cooperative than two-year-old Lily), Aunt Betty would top it all off with, “I wish you could get Florence to smile a little more. She always looks a little sad.”

If Aunt Betty didn’t pay so well, including a generous allowance for travel, he’d never bother.

She made his life miserable with all her fussing and fuming.

All for a pair of toy poodles.

 

 

Posted in short fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment

Nine Plot Twist Ideas

Plot Twist Ideas

One of my go-to drinks when I don’t really want to drink is club soda with a twist of lime.

It’s refreshing and low calorie. Best of all, it looks enough like a vodka and tonic that it keeps those not so helpful people at bay. You know the ones I mean. The ones that can’t seem to enjoy a party if one person isn’t imbibing something alcoholic.

And they make it their mission to make sure everyone does.

But even that little twist of lime can get old. Boring. Routine. Predictable.

So I could try a twist of lemon.

Not much difference there.

How about a twist of pomegranate? That would be different. Almost exotic.

And the formerly clear drink would take on a vivid red hue.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

Glad you asked.

Plot Twist Ideas

One great way to improve your fiction is to add a plot twist.

In other words, the reader thinks the story is moving in one direction. Suddenly you do something that changes everything.

What are some great plot twist ideas?

Here are a few to get you going.

  1. The main character is presented in a way that reader thinks she is young. Then suddenly it is revealed she is old.
  2. A character who doesn’t appear directly in the story is presumed to be male. Then it is revealed that he is actually a she.
  3. Or the other way around.
  4. Two feuding characters have all the right traits to make a tempestuous romance. The tension builds. Then one runs off with the less interesting, but more stable sibling of the other.
  5. You go to bed exhausted one night. You wake up in a straightjacket, confined to a psych ward.
  6. Your main character’s deepest desire comes true. Only then does she realize this realization is going to ruin her life.
  7. A man loses everything: wife, family, home, career. He leaves town, looking to make a new start. He finds love, remarries and has a job. Then he realizes his new wife is a serial killer.
  8. Your hero is on a journey to trace his roots. He’s having a grand time, meeting distant relatives who warmly welcome him into the family. Then a hurricane strikes and uncovers dark secrets from his family’s past.
  9. Your heroine is on a trip. She spends time on a long train trip chatting with a fellow passenger. Shortly after leaving the train, she’s kidnapped and held for ransom. It’s thought that it’s because she’s American. Then she learns who the passenger on the train was…and why she was kidnapped.

Using Plot Twists Well

There are two things to keep in mind when adding a plot twist.

First, you need to add enough clues or foreshadowing to set up the twist correctly. You don’t want the reader to feel cheated, like they would if the murdered turns out to be someone who hasn’t been in the story at all.

The best reaction to your twist is a sense of “that’s why she said this” or “that’s why he did that.”

Second, don’t overcomplicate things with too many twists. A few well done, clever twists will have more impact that several halfhearted or clichéd ones.

What are some other plot twists you can think of? Share them below in the comments.

Posted in Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

10 Awesome Blogs for Writers

Top Blogs for Writers

Most of the other indie authors I’ve met didn’t major in English Lit in college. Fewer started life intending to be writers. Somehow along the way, our gift demanded to be used and here we are.

Now that we have a new profession (or wanna-be profession), how to we refine our craft to create the stories or books we dream about?

I, for one, have no desire to get another college degree. (Nor the bank account, but that’s another story.)

What we all can do is use the same medium that made independent writing and publishing possible.

The internet. That almost unlimited, overwhelming source of information.

That can teach us what others have learned.

Blogs are a great way to find the most helpful, actionable information out there. I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorites…the ones I refer to over and over.

Writers Helping Writers

No contest, this is my favorite. Not only are the posts informative and helpful, but this site offers unique tools that help bring writing to a higher level.

Having trouble expressing a character’s emotion without relying on a cliché? Check out the Emotion Thesaurus. Want to add a flaw to your protagonist? Try the Negative Character Trait Thesaurus. Stuck on how to bring your setting to life? The Setting Thesaurus can help.

And that’s not all this awesome site has to offer.

K M Wieland

This is a great example of an author website blended with helpful articles and tools, like her story arc workbook.

Write to Done

The tag line says it best: “unmissable articles on writing.” There’s always something to be learned here, like how to structure a series, or how to avoid story collapse.

The danger is finding so much to read that suddenly I realize an hour’s gone by and I’m still reading and not writing.

CopyBlogger

Every writer is also a book marketer. We all have to learn how to persuade people to buy our books through a different form of writing—our advertising copy. Copy Blogger is a great site to help learn to do just that.

The Passive Voice

The tag line to this site is “a lawyer’s thoughts on authors, self-publishing and traditional publishing” doesn’t do justice to this highly entertaining and highly informative site. It relies heavily on curated content, so there’s always something well worth the read.

Goins, Writer

Jeff Goins has developed blogging for writers to an art form. His blog is packed with tips and resources for writers and bloggers wanting to actually make a living from their work.

Author Kristen Lamb

One of the most engaging bloggers I follow, Kristen Lamb combines an entertaining style with practical advice for writers. Her specialty is using social media for book marketing. She calls herself a social media Jedi. Reading her tips, I can agree. She is a master and has much to teach.

Anne R Allen

Anne R Allen’s blog is “writing about writing. Mostly.”

Some of the most valuable posts I’ve ever read are here. Whether the topic is tips about writing or how to avoid being scammed by an editor, the information here has proven its worth over and over.

Janefreidman.com

Jane Friedman started in traditional publishing. Then she branched out to explore new business models for writers that were made possible by digital publishing.

I have found her deep insight into the publishing industry of great value in navigating the wild world of independent publishing.

Writer Beware

The Writer Beware blog (and its companion website) warn authors about scammers in the form of literary agents, editors and publishers. They’re not afraid to name names and publish mug shots. This one is always worth checking before signing any deal.

What are some of your favorite writing and publishing blogs?

Posted in Recommended | Tagged | Leave a comment

Story Ideas are All Around

Have you ever been stuck for a story idea?  It happens to all of us.

But it doesn’t have to. Story ideas are literally all around us.

Sometimes we just can’t see them. But they really are just about anywhere you look.

My Favorite Sources of Story Ideas

I have three ways I come up with stories.

  1. Use a painful experience as a starting point

Anything painful can work here. Change what led up to it, change how it turned out, make yourself the hero (or the villain).

  1. Use an odd news story and try to imagine what led up to it

I’m thinking about old ladies with 73 cats and a boa constrictor. Something had to happen in their lives to get them to that point.

  1. Take a random phrase or image and use it as a prompt to just start writing

This is giving the muse the most freedom. I’ve stunned myself with what come one phrase will lead to.

Occasionally, these sources fail me. So, I turn to my good friend the internet for help.

Three Resources to Help Dream Up Great Story Ideas

On my last search, I found these great resources.

There’s a Story Everywhere

This little list of 21 ways to find story ideas is a gem. It’s geared for journalists, but lots of tips that other writers can use.

I especially appreciated #20.

Short Story Ideas

A little more searching turned up this list of 72 ideas. Each one is better than the last.

The beauty of this list is each idea can be tweaked in multiple ways. Some of the ideas in the humor section could easily morph into dystopian fantasy or horror.

Ethically Stealing Story Ideas

Then I found this fabulous post over at The Write Practice.

It’s widely known that famous writers borrow ideas from each other all the time. CS Lewis, for example, admitted to being heavily influenced by George MacDonald. If you read both of their works, you can see traces of MacDonald in Lewis’ Narnia books.

No one, of course, is promoting plagiarism. What is certainly ethical is borrowing an idea and giving it your own twist and spin.

Check out the post for some ways to ethically borrow story ideas. All kinds of interesting story possibilities came to mind as I read it. Who knows, some of them may end up as the basis of a novel someday.

What are some of your favorite ways to come up with story ideas?

 

Posted in Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Theme of the Story and What it Does

Theme of a Story

 

Remember how lots of stories ended with the phrase, “and the moral of the story is…”

We don’t hear much of that anymore. But the moral was the thing you were supposed to remember, the thing that gave the story its deeper meaning.

That’s what themes do for stories and novels.

How Theme Adds Meaning and Depth

The theme another layer of meaning to the story, similar to the way the moral added a layer to the children’s stories.

For example, Dorothy Sayers’ novel Gaudy Night explored themes of choosing career over family, and personal loyalty over anything else, and the consequences of these choices.

In the novel, one character is shown to have sacrificed her career for a family. She chose to elevate personal considerations over academic success.

Another character chose academic honesty over any personal concerns, even though it led to tragic results.

The contrast of people’s choices helps deepen the theme. It makes the reader wonder how he or she would decide in similar circumstances.

But that’s not all theme can do.

How Theme Builds the World

Some novels start with a character. Others a place.

Mine started with a theme.

Or rather, a bit of irritation.

I’d become aware of all the laws and regulations that are supposed to make us safe. But the reality is that disaster will strike or accidents will happen, regardless of the rules.

But some people don’t seem to get that. So they keep pushing for more restraints on our lives, all in the name of “Safety” or “Protection.”

Blech. Some of these laws I get, others are just silly or intrusive with little actual benefit.

So I started to imagine a world that traded all freedom for safely. What would that look like?

Village Construction

High wooden walls surround each village. The capital and regional centers employ stone as well. Guard towers are placed at intervals along the wall. Small villages like my heroine’s might only have one in the center.

The purpose of these tower is to watch for bandit or risker attacks, (as the residents all know these people are prone to attack the village at any time). Or to watch for fire, or any unsafe behavior. Unsafe people are called to court to explain themselves.

Volunteer Day

All must help preserve the safe environment, so once a month there is a volunteer day that all must volunteer for.  Children are put to work sweeping streets. Adults repair streets and village buildings, surrounding roads, or to the village wall.

Regulations about Travel

To leave the village area residents need to get permission from the village Ephor, who is the mayor and head of security. Overnight stays out of the village must be applied for and approved.

People can’t leave the village often, unless it is part of their job. This would include traders, guardsmen and road workers.

Traders need to inform the traders’ Guild Master of their planned route.

Regulations about Dress

Everyone the same, with occupation marked on sleeve. Helps indicate if people are in a place they should be. For example, the judge’s clerks shouldn’t be in the market in the middle of the day.  Monitor people’s movements cuts down on crowds, which are a potential source of danger in the form of accidents.

Regulations about Hair

Only professional barbers and hair cutters can use the sharp instruments needed. Everyone goes for the regulation haircuts as the prescribed intervals.

Regulations about Cooking

Only professional cooks and bakers can use the sharp instruments needed. The only bread baked in loaves is for public consumption in inns or at village events and is sliced by the professional bakers. Bread sold to be eaten elsewhere, at home or work, is baked in small rounds that can be bitten into or broken into pieces.

Regulations about Sewing

Most women learn enough during their schooling to do simple emergency repairs, such as replacing a button or mending a small tear. All other tailoring must be done by professionals, who are the only ones who can use the sharp implements needed.

Regulations about Marriage

Mates are suggested, but people don’t have much veto power. The idea to is ostensibly to create the most stable unions. In reality, it’s a way to exercise more control over the people.

Regulations about Schooling

All get a basic education (reading , writing, and minimal math.) They do learn much of the history of the country and the importance of safety, fairness and prosperity. As time goes on, each generation more fearful, as the emphasis on safety and avoiding danger becomes more ingrained.

Regulations about Occupation

Jobs are assigned, to maximize one’s usefulness to village and to control the unruly (big punishment to have unsafe jobs, like blacksmith or cook, worse to have job that takes outside like road worker or agriculture, or construction on heights.) Guardsmen are well-compensated with extra perks. One of the village elders carefully selects the bold for this job.

Over and over the village leaders emphasize that only highly trained professionals can do certain “dangerous” occupations.

Regulations about Housing

Only small fires are allowed in homes for heating. People are only permitted to heat water for tea, possibly broth in case of illness. No knives are allowed at home, except a tiny one as needed to cut thread or other minor jobs.

The lessons my exploration of this theme taught me could be summed up in two thoughts.

When you are afraid of something, you’re in bondage to it.

It’s impossible to keep everyone safe all the time through rules or laws.

Think about novels you’ve loved. Chances are, they had a theme that resonated with you. Share which ones they were in the comments!

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Story Writing

 

Writing a story isn’t as simple as it seems.

I realized this when I tried to follow of the writing advice I’d been given.

Write a short story, I was told. You’ll learn a lot, get some feedback. It’s a better way than trying to write an entire novel and then finding out it’s not any good.

But writing short stories proved to be hard for me. Much harder than writing a novel.

I wasn’t sure why.

So, I thought I’d take a look at what makes writing short stories different from writing novels.

After doing some research, I came up with nine differences.

  1. A short story, to state the obvious, is short. It’s generally thought to be 1,000 to 20,000 words. If your piece is between 20,000 and 40,000 or 50,000, it’s a novella. Under 1,000, and you’ve got flash fiction.
  2. Novels unfold their stories gradually, usually in three acts. Short stories focus on one main event.
  3. Novels have many characters. Some, like War and Peace have over 100. Short stories focus on one main character, with an opposing antagonist and a few supporting characters, at most. Some short stories have only one main character, and his antagonist is not human. Things like disease, weather, or the government take on that role.
  4. Novels can have a much longer time frame, and some cover generations. Think James Michener’s Centennial or Edward Rutherford’s Russka. A short story, by contrast, often takes place in one day.
  5. Novels have subplots and twists. Short stories don’t. They only have time to focus on the core conflict, with maybe a twist at the end.
  6. Novels often give the back story of their main characters. Short stories give very little back story. What they give is highly condensed and only what the reader absolutely needs to know.
  7. The pacing in short story has to be much faster than in a novel.
  8. Novels give the writer the time to weave more complex stories that have many facets that all work together. Short stories must stay simple and focused on the main event.
  9. Novels usually has more meaning and can delve deeply into a theme. Short stories may have a theme, but only one aspect of it is displayed.

Maybe this explains why I enjoy reading novels much more than short stories. With a novel, you can get immersed in the plot and characters. I love the complexity and the subplots. With a story, it seems you’ve just gotten into it and it’s over.

And maybe this explains why I have a hard time writing short stories. My mind goes to the complex rather than the simple. That “focus on one core conflict” is hard for me to do. I just can’t stick to one idea.

Which do you like better, either to read or to write?

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

[VIDEO] How to Write an Award Winning Novel

We’d all love that, wouldn’t we? Writing an award-winning novel. And not just any award, but a prestigious one.

Here’s a little video with a seven step guide. Some of these made a lot of sense to me. None of this is rocket science (how’s that for a tattered cliche?), but they are well worth remembering.

He makes good points about failure, and how to respond to it.

Posted in Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fresh Book Marketing Ideas

Any of us who write know the challenge of marketing our books.

Not only are there literally millions of books available via sellers like Amazon, but the prices have gone down. Way down.

Now eBooks routinely sell for $1.99 or less.

Go ahead…do the math. How many books would you need to sell to pay the mortgage? Or even just go out to dinner?

And with all those millions of books out there, how will readers find yours?

The Best Book Marketing Solution

Nearly every indie author who enjoys good sales says the same thing.

It’s all about the list.

If you’ve got a good email list, then you’ve got a head start on your marketing.

So how do you go about building said list?

Start With a Blog or Website

Most authors have web presence, either a simple blog or full-blown website.

If you don’t have one, it’s easier than you think to get one up and running.  Software like WordPress makes things simple. Here’s a long (but informative and helpful) article on how to get a WordPress site up.

But why bother with a blog or website?

Because this is the place readers can connect with you. And these days, it’s all about the relationship. Making connections with readers is your chance to get and keep their attention.

Build That List

Once your blog is up (and don’t forget to post to it regularly, at least once a week), now you can start building your list.

And now for the question of the day….how do I get people to join my list and stay on it?

To get them to join, offer something for free. You could offer a short story. Or an excerpt from an upcoming book. Or an alternate ending to one of your novels. Or a look ten years into the future showing what happened to your characters.

You get the idea.

Once people are on your list, you need to communicate with then so they remember you.

This is crucial.

Because some day you’ll send out emails announcing your new book. And you want them to open those emails with excitement, ready to buy.

And hopefully, once they’ve read your new release, they’ll leave favorable reviews.

You might be thinking, wouldn’t it be easier to advertise?

Maybe. If you have unlimited funds and can compete with big publishing houses. And even then, if you have no reviews, not too many people will take a chance on an author they’ve never heard of.

You’d need, hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to make any headway with advertising.

Think again. How many books would you need to sell at $1.99 each to pay for $200 of advertising?

The list is probably looking like a better idea.

If you need more list building ideas, take a look at this article. It truly offers some great tips I haven’t seen anywhere else.

What other fresh book marketing ideas have you come across lately?

 

Posted in Marketing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Resurrection and Redemption

It’s the Easter season. A time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and new life.

So I thought I’d look around for some books with themes of resurrection and redemption. Books about new lives and starting over.  Books that tell stories of great loss or destruction and the triumph that comes through overcoming.

You know what? There’s lot of them. (Warning: there may be some spoilers).

We’ll start with one of my favorites.

Persuasion

Jane Austen’s Persuasion isn’t one of her better known books, but I found it as enjoyable, if not more so, than some of her more famous works.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliott, who was persuaded to give up her unsuitable fiancé. Twelve years later, she’s still unmarried, still attached to the man who won her heart.

She’s reconciled herself to remaining an old maid. Then her former beau comes back into her life. In spite of herself, in spite of his justifiable feelings of resentment, the two come back together.

Suddenly, the pain of the last twelve years has been redeemed and Anne finds herself in a new life. We’re led to believe that she lives happily ever after. (Not something we can say for everyone else in the story.)

Rite of Rejection/Revelation/Redemption

Sarah Negovetich’s trilogy grabbed me to the point I had to read it straight through.

The story opens with the heroine, Rebecca, getting ready to go through a coming of age ritual. All sixteen year olds are screened by a machine, to determine if they are suitable members of society, or criminals in the making.

Rebecca, the good student, was sure she’d be Accepted. Instead, she was rejected and sent off to a penal colony. For life.

Her world has fallen apart. She’s devastated at the idea of living in a lawless camp populated by criminals.

She does what she must to put a new life together. She joins a misfit band and acquires a fiancée she’s not sure she loves.

But she’s willing to do anything to get away from the label of Rejected. Along the way, she deals with betrayal and loss. And learns that the price of freedom and redemption can be extraordinarily high.

How Shall We Love?

Precarious Yates’ story of Cornelia takes the reader on an amazing journey. Cornelia’s intellectual parents raise her to ask questions and research everything she wants to know. As her family fractures, she starts to research how we should love.

How she finds answers, builds a life, and reconciles with her father takes her in unexpected directions. There’s no pat answer in the end. Just the joy of her new life, and the hope of redemption.

What other books have you found with redemption or resurrection themes?

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment