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Aug 05

Larry Moniz, Award-Winning Author, Journalist, and Publicist Guests with Mike Angley

MA: Today’s guest is Larry Moniz, an award-winning author, journalist, and publicist. His background is so varied, that I’m going to let him tell us all about it.

LM: I’m a seasoned journalist and publicist transitioning to fiction writing.

I have 14 years experience as a senior public relations executive in the development and implementation of successful, goal-oriented communications and marketing support programs for major national corporations. I wrote the first public relations program for Coleco’s Cabbage Patch Kids and that program subsequently won the Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America. The Silver Anvil is recognized as the most prestigious award in public relations.

My public relations skills are augmented by being an experienced journalist and winner of 12-business writing awards for articles in 2000 through 2003 competitions. I was the founding editor of a highly successful new weekly newspaper, building from inception “the best newspaper to cover West Milford since the 1960’s” according to one long-time resident.

I also have 12-years prior experience as a skilled radio and daily newspaper editor and reporter for major media outlets in New Jersey, New England and Europe. I also published and edited a weekly newspaper serving Northern Ocean and Southern Monmouth Counties. Unlike many weeklies, this newspaper, The Progress, concentrated on real news, and regularly scooped far-larger dailies and weeklies with news events in the towns we serviced.

My experience also includes nearly five years as a crime and courts reporter and being a full-time sheriff’s deputy, thereby bringing a depth of firsthand knowledge about crime and law enforcement possessed by few other writers.

MA: Tell us about that transition to fiction.

LM: I’ve been an avid book reader since I was a child and always fascinated by words. I’ve been a journalist and writer for more than 45 years. Disabled due to COPD stemming from undiagnosed asthma and hence hard to hold down a full-time job, books were the logical alternative for me to keep busy and hopefully earn a living.

MA: Did your professional career inspire your writing?

LM: Yes, my career as a journalist and publisher set the stage for my creating the Inside Story: Murder in the Pinelands investigative team to investigate major crimes.

MA: Are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?

LM: The dead sailor found in the pinelands was based on a similar situation I covered in another state. Like one of the first cops on the scene, I didn’t believe the crime was a suicide because witnesses saw him walking without a rifle yet he died before he could reach and get his rifle, the weapon that killed him. Using that isolated incident I built up a plausible story line that would explain things that were known and much else that was secret.

As to other characters, if I were a newspaper publisher today I would be very like Manny Bettencourt, publisher of Inside Story.

Murder in the Pinelands is the first in a planned police procedural series dealing with the way different ensemble members encounter various criminal, corruption and other illicit activities and bring the perpetrators to the bar of justice.

MA: How did you develop the character of your protagonist?

LM: My investigative team is loosely based on law enforcement personnel I’m met over the years. The protagonist just sprang from my brain. He and his wife were just there one day, begging to be transcribed.

My hero’s greatest strength is his conviction that his take on the sailor’s death is correct. His weakness is that the conviction becomes a compulsion that keeps him awake at night and unable to concentrate on his daytime job as a police sergeant and SWAT team leader. The stress leads to his making a mistake and his patrol partner nearly dies in a shootout with bank robbers.

MA: Do you have just one antagonist or several?

LM: Actually, there are a couple. As the book evolves, they begin to seek a shadow figure, an assassin from Saddam Hussein’s regime sent to this country to avenge the death of Saddam’s kin by this Navy sailor.

But no one can find this shadow figure until investigation in several states leads to positive proof the man exists and he’s been hiding in the U.S. with political support from entrenched Washington politicians.

MA: Did any of your real-life experiences factor in to the plot at all?

LM: Yes. I was at the suicide previously described. I also have covered politics and cover-ups for many years. Like the reporting team, I also have prior law enforcement experience as a sworn deputy sheriff.

MA: So what will be next on your fiction plate?

LM: I’m putting finishing touches to a resurrected novel involving time travel into the past by two former military special operatives endeavoring to head off the kidnapping of Thomas Jefferson before he can complete the Declaration of Independence.

I also am working on an outline for a 1930s era detective novel in which millions of dollars and an entire railroad train vanish.

MA: Oh my! They both sound interesting. Please visit Larry’s website for more information about him and his stories: http://www.larrymoniz.org/ Read More

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May 27

Mystery Author J. D. (Dave) Webb Visits with Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is author J. D. (Dave) Webb. Dave resides in Illinois with his wife (43 years counting) and their toy poodle, Ginger, losing all family votes 2 to 1. Dave served in the Security Service of the Air Force as a Chinese linguist and weather analyst in Viet Nam and the Philippines prior to spending 25 years in corporate management. After a company purge he promoted himself to cobbler and he owned a shoe repair and sales shop for 11 years. But being a full time author, always a dream, became a reality in 2002. Dave has garnered several awards. His first novel Shepherd’s Pie won a publisher’s Golden Wings Award for excellence in writing. His second novel Moon Over Chicago was a top ten finisher in the 2008 Preditors and Editors Poll in the mystery category and was a finalist in the prestigious 2008 Eppie awards by the Electronic Publishing Internet Connection. His latest book, Smudge, recently placed fifth in the mystery category of the 2011 Preditors and Editors poll. He is also the Owner and Moderator of the Publishing and Promoting Yahoo group with over 900 international members.
That’s an impressive and diverse resume, Dave! Tell us why you chose to write novels.
DW: Actually the novels chose me. I’d always written short stories, but wanted – no needed – to write novels. They are what I love to read and they are what I love to write.
MA: What kind of stories do you write?
DW: I write family friendly mysteries, no excessive violence, gore or profanity. I realize that goes against the current trend. Rex Stout once said (not sure of the exact quote), “Mysteries can contain sex or violence if it is essential to the story. That is perfectly all right. There is none of that in mine. So it must not be essential.”
I have a series featuring laid-back Chicago PI Mike Shepherd. Shepherd’s Pie reflects that Mike loves pie and swears it helps him solve a case. In this one he is hounded by Ferlin Husky Lewis, the serial killer he is trying to capture. In Her Name Is Mommy Mike finds a tot in a busy mall whose mom has been kidnapped from that mall. His promise to her is that he’ll find her mommy. Moon Over Chicago – Amateur sleuth and cobbler Fulton Moon merely tries to help a customer out of an abusive relationship. But his attempts to help never go as planned. Smudge chronicles the adventures of Trish Morgan a paralegal in a small Chicago suburb. She wipes a smudge off her ATM screen one night and it’s blood. Then she hears a moan coming from the alley next to the bank. She shouldn’t go into that alley, but she does.
MA: How do you go about developing your characters?
DW: My characters seem to develop themselves. Often one pops up and I have no idea where he/she comes from. I wrestle with them to stay on plot. They are sometimes headstrong. I develop back story as I go with them and I have to keep notes to make sure I know who they are.
MA: Tell us about how you shape your heroes.
DW: All my protagonists are competent and smart but with weaknesses. I also make my antagonists equally smart and competent. I abhor the uncouth, whiskey-swilling images of PIs. I don’t subscribe to the recurring bad guy. Each book can be a standalone and good always triumphs.
MA: Does your art imitate your life in any way?
DW: Well, let’s see. I’ve never been chased by a serial killer, never had a bald headed giant florist beat me up, never had an abusive husband, so I guess the answer is mostly no. For Her Name Is Mommy I did see a tot alone on a mall bench one busy Christmas shopping trip. I wondered where her parents were and after about four minutes the girl’s mother popped out of a shop and retrieved her child. I was incensed that she’d leave a small child alone in a busy mall for even a few seconds. I decided she needed to be punished – so I put her in my book and had her kidnapped. It was great therapy. I now do it often. Someone ticks me off, they wind up in my book and suffer consequences. My attempt to right the world.
MA: (chuckling) I might want to tick you off in time for a new release of my own. Can’t get too much PR, you know! Any irons in any current fires?
DW: My work in progress is called Gulf Terror. The premise is – what if the gulf oil spill was a suicide bombing by two terrorists? And one of them survives and is loose in Louisiana, planning more destruction?
I have begun the third in the Mike Shepherd series and the second in the Fulton Moon series. I have no plans right now to do a sequel to Smudge, but who knows? My characters have minds of their own it seems. I have another novel almost one third done about a young Pakistani boy orphaned by a tribal chief, taken to Afghanistan and forced to become part of the man’s militia. The young boy’s only goal is to survive to avenge his father’s murder.
MA: What methods do you use to avoid writer’s block or push through it? Do you even get writer’s block?
DW: I can remember a famous author saying there is no such thing as writers block. That is just someone’s excuse for laziness. I don’t remember who it was so I won’t get him/her in trouble. There are times when I get stuck and can’t think where to go next. I don’t consider it writer’s block because I know where I want to go, just not how I want to get there. Sometimes my characters are telling me to go one way and I want to go another. They often win.
MA: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
DW: A writer’s mantra should be – Butt in the chair. The best thing to do is like anything else, practice your craft. Read what you are writing. If it’s mysteries, read mysteries. Read the how to books. Go to writer’s conferences, join a writer’s group, and subscribe to writer’s magazines. I do all these things.
MA: Great advice! I would like my readers to visit Dave Webb’s website for more information about this intriguing author and his works: www.jdwebb.com
Read More

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Nov 17

From Soup to Nuts…”Parts of a Story” by Mary Deal

Parts of a Story

by

Mary Deal

Parts of a story can be seen as action scenes or major scenes tied together with other action. They can also be seen simply as beginning, middle, and ending.

Tips for writing a story are many and varied. I’ve put together some suggestions that will help you analyze your own story plot. Or you may finally be able to get your story started. You’ll be writing a book before you know it!

These suggestions apply to any stories of any length. The only difference is in genre.

In fiction, you may lead your characters to do whatever the story dictates.

In nonfiction, you will have the usual beginning, middle, and ending, but you cannot manipulate occurrences since they actually happened.

Paying attention to the details given below can help you put your own story together. Other articles on this site will cover many more aspects of building a short story or novel.

The suggestions below apply to plot action and holding a reader’s interest. Building characters, a scene, or settings will be covered in other articles.

Here then, discussing parts of a story, are some valuable tips for writing a story, or for writing a book.

Beginnings

Always, that’s ALWAYS; remember to include the five senses in all parts of a story.

Most always, you will write the story from the point of view of your main character’s five senses. If any other character must say something about the heat that’s about to make them faint, this is a great way to have a person other than the main character contribute to the description of a setting.

If your reader’s five senses are stimulated, you are more likely to immerse that reader in your story.

The very first word or two should grab the reader’s attention.

In books written ages ago, it might have been okay to begin “The weather was temperate. I was feeling good.” Today, this is a waste of eight first words. Today’s readers want action or something to grab their attention to entice them to read further.

One of the most important tips for writing a story is to make sure you realize the value of your very first words. They must grab the reader’s attention.

The beginnings are the most crucial parts of a story.

All the main characters should be revealed early on.

Oftentimes, when writing a book of some length, new characters are introduced late in a story or plot. This seems only a crutch to get out of a dead-end plot situation to get the story moving again. There can be no saviors dropping into a story, only characters interacting together from near the beginning and carrying the plot toward conclusion.

In multi-genre writing, characters might pop up anywhere. Still, in order to make them credible, they must have a reason for being included.

Important characteristics of each character should be exposed.

Not important is a visual run-down of what each character may look like. Most important is to build each character’s personality.

It’s okay to state a few facts about their physical appearances, but it’s best done when describing them in action. If some information doesn’t help the reader visualize the character, or doesn’t apply to action to take place deeper in the story, leave it out.

An example: If a man never ties his shoelaces, only include something like that to emphasize his lackadaisical attitude (that you’ve already established) and if, deeper into the story, it’s what causes him to fall and break his neck. Otherwise, leave it out. Every act, every word, must have a reason for being included in parts of a story.

The main dilemma of the entire story line should be introduced in the first chapter.

Of all the parts of a story, this one is crucial.

The main dilemma can also simply be strongly hinted at as long as it’s immediately and progressively developed as the story moves along. The reader must see the succession of events moving along as it reveals more and more of the dilemma.

I don’t advise stringing the reader along. Let them know the dilemma as soon as possible. Otherwise, the reader may ask, “What’s the point.” They will put your book down and may not pick it up again.

When writing a short story, unlike writing a book, the dilemma must be revealed as soon as possible.

Almost everything in the first chapter should be considered foreshadowing.

All the plot action and character traits are set-up to propel the rest of the story. I have written a great article titled Foreshadowing, which deals with exactly that – better than I can explain here in few words.

Keep in mind that all parts of a story must lead to another, must hint at the next event. A future event should cause the reader to remember something that was said or done a few pages or chapters back.

Middles

Give your characters tough situations to face that make the readers wonder how things could possibly be resolved.

Make it seem there is no resolution. The situations are what flesh out the story.

Readers know that most situations get worse before they get better. This should determine exactly where you step into the action of the dilemma. Yes, step into it. Do not try to build the dilemma. You will be building back-story.

Have the situation already happening when your story jumps into it.

If you want to have your characters having a fun picnic in a park, and then a shooter comes along and ruins the day, that’s okay too. Just don’t waste too many words setting up how nice the day turned out to be.

Think of this example as if watching a movie. We see the family having fun in the park. We SEE everything immediately. Ten seconds after the film begins, the shooter comes along. If you think of the scene this way, you will know how quickly you must start the action in your written work. You will know how much to include in the first few sentences and how much to omit.

Thinking of your opening as a movie is good practice for including only that which applies and then getting on with your story.

Back-story is information that helps show why the characters have a dilemma.

Use back-story sparingly. Introduce it in snippets of conversation, or in your characters’ memories. Use it only if it enhances the present action. Too much back-story and the plot will stall instead of plunging your reader head first into the bramble bush.

An open ending of each chapter, known as the proverbial cliffhanger, encourages the reader to turn the page.

Another invaluable point in the parts of a story is to try to have cliffhangers at the ends of each chapter. Don’t bring all the action to a close just because the chapter is ending. The reader won’t have a reason to read further.

Leave some events open and questions unanswered. All the while, infuse that chapter with all that it can hold for that particular scene.

When writing a book, you will have many chapters in which you can build cliffhangers as well as great endings when the meanings of these are later revealed.

In various parts of a story, when developing the plot and continuing the action, what the characters experience must be a result of the plot dilemma you originally introduced.

Think about what you created. If you have someone robbing a bank, the plot dictates how these people elude the police. In the end, they are caught. A simple trail to follow only made interesting by complications you add.

Another example is if you begin your story with a seamstress sewing clothes, this could lead anywhere. However, you’ve chosen a topic that may be difficult to develop enough to hold a reader’s immediate interest. Your market for such a story would be limited.

The seamstress would then have to create some gorgeous line of clothing, maybe accidentally, that propels her to fashion design stardom. Maybe she comes in contact with the socially elite, while she, herself, lives in squalor. Think how a story like that might end. Her status is either elevated, or she remains an unknown.

Parts of a story such as this might suggest this seamstress is blind to improving her lot though she wants to. The ending must show the reader how the seamstress overlooks her chance at a better life – and is, perhaps, better for it. Or maybe she finds happiness and reason to stay in her own little world.

Endings

Endings make or break your story.

If a reader reads all the way to the ending and the ending falls flat, you will have a greatly disappointed would-be fan. That reader will not suggest her friends read the book. In fact, she may never buy another of your books.

The ending must follow the action. Only one ending would be apropos for any story, with rare exceptions.

The parts of a story must come together so that, with the climax and denouement, the reader feels a degree of satisfaction at having shared the characters lives.

Many stories have more than one ending.

More than one ending would be where the plot contains one or more subplots that, while carrying the main plot, are also nearly stories unto themselves. See my article Forensic Evidence in Plots. In the case of strong subplots, you would then have the main story ending, along with a wrap up of one or more subplots.

Ideally the subplots should wrap up before the main ending. That way, the wrap up of the subplots feed into the climax of the main story line.

When crafting the climax of any story, the actions of the characters will dictate the ending.

You’ve heard the saying “Let the story write itself,” haven’t you? Your story will write itself.

Don’t be concerned about the ending till you’ve arrived at the ending. Allow your characters to perform, to achieve greatness in their endeavors or their dastardly deeds. When you finally arrive at the ending, the characters’ actions will dictate the ending.

Then, as I always say, There is always an exception to every rule.

When I wrote my Egyptian novel, The Ka, I had the ending before I began. I also had many other scenes and knew how the story would flow. But I had to massage and manipulate the story line to arrive at the ending I could not change.

The denouement is the lesson learned after the climax has been realized.

Either or both the character and reader understand the result of the action that occurred in all the parts of a story.

For example, let’s say your character bumbles around doing bad things to people. Then he is caught in a situation where he needs help and things look pretty bleak because no one wants to help him. But someone steps forward, sees the good in the kid, and gives him a chance to turn his life around.

The climax to all this would be the kid getting help in the eleventh hour. The denouement would be the realization the kid has about how his actions hurt people and almost ruined his chance for getting help for himself. The kid’s life does a turn around and he now teaches other kids about good and evil.

The denouement is his self-realization, plus what the reader gets from it also.

Parts of a story can be developed on their own.

Often times, my mind is overflowing with the action of a scene that I write the scene without anything leading to it. Later, I go back and bring threads forward into the new action.

As long as you tie the scenes together in a cohesive manner, nothing says you can’t write the parts of a story that come into your mind in a rush. Write it! Catch that spark of creativity as it happens.

Tips for writing a story, as outlined above, are meant to help you understand the creative steps along the way to writing a book or short story; steps a writer must utilize in the beginnings, middles and endings of stories.

The parts of a story are scenes of action. Tie them together. Make one action cause another, and write it one page at a time.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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