Friday, January 30, 2015

The construction of a novel

To the layperson observing a construction site, it's often difficult or impossible to visualize the finished project. In small town Mexico, where most construction is by done by manual labor, the dichotomy is even more pronounced as evidenced in these pictures.

As an author, I can say that the before and after of constructing a novel isn’t all that different as evidenced in these examples.

Before:           Em is forced to fight.


The man uttered a crazed laugh as he loomed over her clearly expecting her to cower and plead for mercy. Instead she flowed into his attack, blocked his swing with her left hand on his wrist, blended her body to his and used his forward momentum to throw him over her hip to the ground. He was a big man and her throw, though clumsy, slammed his head against the door jamb knocking him unconscious.

The guys I trained with should see this. Hell, they should be here with me. Jake too.

The man’s body blocked the one behind him. In her peripheral vision she caught sight of another man attacking from her right, with an arching back swing. She blocked his motion, grabbed his wrist with her right hand, his upper arm with her left and slammed his elbow against her raised knee. The blow was not strong enough to smash the joint but it did send the knife flying from his hand. He bent forward reflexively tucking the injured elbow into his side and she hammered his head with a closed fist sending him sprawling across the church doorway.

She spun to face a third man swinging wildly at her, ducked, slammed her shoulder into his hip, grabbed his legs behind his knees, lifted and sent him back down the steps. His falling body flattened two of the men still pushing forward and momentarily slowed the advance. A man grabbed her from behind. She reacted with a head butt and knew she had broken his nose when she felt warm blood and snot splattering the back of her neck.       From EMBATTLED

Before:           Jasmine tries to explain her visions to Victor.


“I have never told anyone about this, Victor. Not even Steph. They started when I was in first grade and continued almost daily for exactly two years.”
“What started?” Vic asked when she fell silent.
Jasmine sighed and a look of utter contentment came over her. “I would call them dreams, but I can’t because they happened when I was awake. They were more like experiences, like I was living someone else’s experiences along with them. I say that because I never felt I was alone. I was always with her. Maybe in her would be a better way to describe it.” From EMPOWERED

Before:           Love scene for Abby.


“You’re so beautiful.” He kissed her hand, her hair, her eyelids. “I love you,” he whispered. He didn’t need to say it. She knew.
“You must.” She giggled. “If you say I’m beautiful. I like the lie.”
“Abby, please, don’t joke. It’s not a lie.”
“Sam, give it up.” They were silent for a time.
“Abby, know this, I love you. I have for a long, long time and I will forever.”
“Sam,” Abby raised herself on one elbow to look down at him. His eyes were closed. “Sam? Look at me.”
“I don’t need to open my eyes to see you, Abby dearest. You are in my heart where you belong, where you will live forever.” He smiled. “It’s all right Abby. Everything is fine.”
“Sam, open your eyes.”
“I love you.”
That was the last thing Abby remembered.  From EMBRACED

Before:           Emily is forced to face the fact she might not be able to or want to go home again.


Tory took Emily’s hands in her own. “Can you stay away? Tell me honestly. You’re in love with Yves. You’ve got the kids and Essan sleuthing for you. You’re training with CC and me. You’re friends with Elspeth and Teeg and Exelrud and Zo. You’re embroiled in our lives whether you like it or not. Not to mention that you think something is dreadfully wrong up here, something none of the rest of us sees.”
Something is wrong.
“If you are right, you’re needed here. Desperately. And if you’re not, you’re still needed here. Yves needs you. He won’t be able to function without you.”
Emily sniffed. “He did before.”
“No, he didn’t. He was never without you.”
“You’re talking about those other women?”
“You, it’s always been you. No matter your name, no matter the time, it’s always been you.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

When you finish reading my books, try these.

I flog my books via blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc. so I thought it only fair to recommend books I’ve discovered and liked, some, but not all, written by fellow indie authors. Here are my reviews of six books I’ve enjoyed recently. All can be found on Amazon.

The Palaver Tree - My books are partially inspired by my experiences in Africa so this book was a natural for me. Subtle, direct, gentle, and jarring, The Palaver Tree takes the reader on an incredible journey from the safety of small town England to the dangers of Africa. But, for Ellie, Diane, and Tiffany, England isn't safe either as the wily and unscrupulous Gabriel cons them all.
And the Africa Ellie comes to know and love—the friends she makes and the children she teaches—cannot protect her from the dangers of either Gabriel or the rioting as rebels attempt a coup to overturn the government. I've lived and traveled in West Africa and found this book taking me down memory lane. Thankfully, I never had to face the dangers Ellie faced. If you're looking for a good read, that takes "ordinary" people into extraordinary circumstances, this is it. And, the ending is perfect

Night Must Wait - Masterful. Authentic. Gritty. Gripping. Complex characters. Night Must Wait has all the elements to make this novel so much greater than just another war story. Winter's subtleties in depicting the characters, the setting, the basic elements of Africa add depth and dimension much appreciated by this reader.

I lived in Mali at the time and could not visit Nigeria because of the war, but did travel through Niger, Benin (then called Dahomey) and Togo. I saw enough and knew enough about the area to relate to much in Winter's book. I have great admiration for what she has accomplished with Night Must Wait.

The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor - Good books intrigue and keep you turning the pages. Great books draw you in and wrap their soul around you until you feel that you are part of the landscape, and one with the characters of the story. The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor is just such a book. The fact that Charlotte is a historical rather than fictional character makes each aspect of her story that much more poignant. You read the book and immediately wish to reread it for fear you've missed some small detail. When you come to the last page and are forced to admit there is no more, you are left with a bittersweet heartache and know that Charlotte will be with you for a long time to come.

The Winter Pony - Wow! There aren't enough adjectives to describe how wonderful this book is. If I was cranky the next morning, it's Mr. Lawrence's fault because I couldn't stop reading. Who would have thought that a book written from a horse’s point of view could be so engaging? This tale of the trek to the South Pole provides a whole new perspective, one that this reader greatly appreciated.

Domingo’s Angel - A survey of fiction readers showed that the one most important aspect of a novel to readers was what they learned. Domingo's Angel fills the bill perfectly. The reader learns about conditions in Spain during Franco's rule through the lives of villagers in the mountains. The story is beautiful, heartbreaking, and haunting. The characters, depicted so vividly, stay with the reader long after the book is done. This is one I will read and reread. Do pick up a copy. You won't be disappointed.

Grows That Way - I don't like YA. I don't read YA. Caveat - I read (more than once) and loved Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen. So why am I writing a review for a YA book? Not just one, but the whole trilogy? Because Ketchen's books are amazingly well written and keep getting better and better. I won't call this a coming of age story as I can't stand that expression. What are they then? A story of a girl dealing with her family and friends at the same time as she is dealing with Turner Syndrome. Ketchen's characterizations are subtle and she informs as well as entertains. Each book can be read as a stand alone, but I urge you to read, in order, all three. You won't be disappointed. And then pass them on to any teen you know who loves horses.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Mom Knows Best

My mother had a saying for everything. They were always prefaced with the words, “As my mother used to say….” She claimed they sounded much better in 
Flemish as they rhymed, but as a kid, I didn’t see how any of them could sound good at any time. Now, a little older and wiser, I realize how apt they are in many situations.

For years I had a burning desire to write a novel, but didn’t know if I had what it takes to be an author. If Mom were still here she’d have said, “You won’t know until you try.”

“Sure, fine, no problem, Mom. But remember, I work full time, have a couple of kids at home, workout several times a week.”

“Ah well,” she’d have said, “No rest for the wicked.” Seems to me if I’d been that wicked, I remember much more fun times.

So, prompted by those sayings, I start writing and when I’m tired and can’t face the computer, I hear her words as clearly as if she were in the room. “Never leave till tomorrow what you can do today.” And I write, even if it’s just a little bit.

Eventually I have a completed manuscript and I hear, "If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right." Edit, edit, edit is the answer to that one.  And, if you’re lucky and have a writing partner who is a professional copy editor, you send your manuscript off to her.

Time to find a literary agent and off go the query letters. Then you wait knowing Mom would say, “No news is good news.” To your moans when the reject letters arrive, more of your mother’s words pop into your head.  "All good things come to those who wait." Good things do come in the form of advice at the Willamette writing conference. Self-publish everyone says. You go home and proceed.

Novel formatted for self-publishing, cover designed, website up and running, blogs posted weekly, Facebook and Twitter accounts active, and you’re ready to launch your first novel. Doubts creep in.

“Maybe I’m too old to be doing this?”

“Better late than never,” your mother’s voice answers. Of course she’s right. After all you’re not as old as Whistler’s mother.

“What if no one likes it or reads it?”

“Time will tell,” her voice reasons. Again she’s right. People are reading my books and writing reviews and I’m confident that my readership will grow, perhaps not always as fast as I would like, but it will grow and I have the satisfaction of accomplishing my goal. Mom would be proud.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Best-selling Author

New York Times
Book Reviews

Best-selling author – what does that mean in today’s market?

“In this #1 New York Times bestselling e-book …”
“The sensational New York Times bestseller …”
“A USA Today bestselling author …”
“From a USA Today bestselling author …”
“From an award-winning author comes …”
 “From a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author …”
 “From the bestselling author of …”
“A New York Times bestselling romance from an award-winning author …” 
 “gorgeous novel from a New York Times bestselling author who writes with “tender heart” 

Here’s the thing.

My books haven’t hit the New York Times or USA Today lists—yet.
My books haven’t won any awards, but then I haven’t entered them in any contests.

So, not being able to use the glowing headlines listed above, how do I entice readers to give my novels a try?

And here’s the more important question. Do I even want to use phrases like those above?

As soon as I see the word “bestseller,” I stop reading the book description. There was a time when “New York times bestseller” meant what it said. Millions of people had bought the book and read it. The author had a right to be proud and pour money into his or her bank account.

Now, the status can be bought. Gather your friends and acquaintances and convince them all to buy your book on a specific day and, voila!

How then to entice readers without resorting to contrived means? That’s the question every author asks themselves. We’re finding that there are no magic answers. We tweet, create Facebook pages, blog, set up websites, visit book bloggers’ sites, and search the web for inspiration. We join author groups, list our books on various websites and in on-line book stores. We’re told that building our brand, establishing a solid platform is what it’s all about.

Does this frenzy of activity lead to mega-sales? Not in my experience. So why bother?

Well, I’ve always been determined and this novel writing/selling business is no different. Fortunately, books don’t go rotten like apples. It may take a while, but I’m convinced there are readers out there who will find, buy, and enjoy my books.  

Meanwhile, I’m reaping the side benefits. I’m widening my circle of friends and acquaintances, meeting fellow authors and learning from them. I know my writing is improving as a result. And I’m enjoying many wonderful stories written by fellow indie authors.

So no, I’m not quitting. The first draft of my next novel is done. I’m into the rewrites and I’m having the time of my life creating and publishing my novels.