I am excited to post — with permission, of course — an article that Mary Deal has put together with her perspective on foreshadowing. I told her when she sent me the article that I love this particular literary device, and I’m pretty good at spotting it when I read. Because I can spot it so well, when I write my own stories, I try to use it with great subtlety. In fact, I like to sprinkle foreshadowing dust in my books, and then pull the foreshadowed hints together like a bunch of threads at the climax to the story. Read More
Tag Archives: development
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
MA: Today I’m joined by Madness and Murder author, Jen Hilborne. Jen was born in England, and currently lives in Southern California. As a dual citizen, she spends a good deal of time traveling back and forth between the two. Those long rides in coach have given her the perfect opportunity to develop many ideas for her stories. Jen began writing her first novel in 2007, an idea originally stemming from the competitive real estate world, and the industry she’s worked in for many years.
Real estate work must be a cut-throat industry if it has inspired you to write murder mysteries. How did you make the jump between the two?
JH: Once I get started in a story, I can’t seem to stop. I can’t get it all down in a short story or a novella. I blame it on my verbal diarrhea.
MA: So, tell us about Madness and Murder and No Alibi.
JH: Madness and Murder, my first book, is set in San Francisco and features homicide Detective, Mac Jackson, who is on a collision course with a civilian as he hunts a cunning killer. Jackson questions his own ethics when he risks an innocent life to catch his killer.
No Alibi, also set in San Francisco, is a tangled tale of deceit, murder and betrayal.
The two murder mysteries are not linked. My third novel, not yet released, is the second in the Jackson series.
MA: Do you craft your protagonists after real people you know?
JH: I base all my main characters on real life people with notable, interesting personalities, then fictionalize to make them my own. They are tenacious and willing to risk their own lives to stop the bad things in their world. They don’t always know the right way to handle danger and can often get in the way. I root for the underdog in my stories – no one person is better than anyone else and my hero/heroine is a reminder of this.
MA: And the antagonists? Perhaps a fellow traveler who snored too loudly on one of those long transatlantic flights?
JH: The bad guy is always based on a real life person, someone from my past or the past of someone close to me. It’s therapeutic to see them get their comeuppance.
MA: (Chuckling). Well, I hope not to offend you in any way! I take it, then, that with real people inspiring your character development, that you’ve allowed real life experiences to infiltrate your plots?
JH: Absolutely, which makes the stories so much more authentic.
MA: What’s next?
JH: My third mystery novel is complete and I am working on the fourth. For a change, I moved out of San Francisco for my fourth novel and set it in England, my homeland. I plan to write more Jackson stories as many readers asked for his return after reading Madness and Murder.
MA: Will you bring any characters from the first few books back to life in future works?
JH: Other than Jackson, I haven’t decided on which characters to bring back. I listen to feedback from my readers, which helps in the decision, but I also often don’t know what I’ll write until I sit down to do it.
MA: Thanks, Jen! Folks, read more about Jen Hilborne and her books at her websites: http://JFHilborne.com and http://jfhilborne.wordpress.com Read More
MA: My guest-blogger today is Paul Guthrie. Paul – or Dr. Guthrie – is a scientist by training and vocation. He received a BA in Physics from Cornell University, followed by a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Massachusetts. After graduation, Paul went to work for NASA at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt MD. His work was primarily in the development of computer models to simulate the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere in order to understand ozone depletion and climate change. After thirteen years he left NASA and joined a consulting firm in San Rafael CA, working mainly on air pollution issues for the EPA. By then he was irrevocably committed to the use of computers and the development of software. In 1999 he left the environmental field entirely and became involved in developing software for biotechnology and medical applications, which he continues to do part time. Starting in 2002, however, Paul decided to pursue another interest, that of writing fiction. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area, still married to the same person after thirty-seven years. We have two grown children.
Now that’s a fascinating biography you have, Paul. I am curious about how you found an interest in fiction with so much science in your life.
PG: I’m a scientist, with degrees in physics and astronomy. Working on issues like climate change, I was part of the collision of science, where truth (even approximate truth) is an ultimate goal, with politics, where truth is irrelevant. And I like to read. I‘ve read lots of fantasy and SF over the years, from classic “hard” SF to Tolkien, Eddings, Jordan, Martin, Stephenson, Gibson…the list goes on and on. I also like technology thrillers, like early Tom Clancy and early Michael Crichton.
MA: It’s good to have a wide breadth of interests, but how did you end up writing fiction, and why novels?
PG: My teachers always said I was a good writer, back before I chose a career in science and technology. In 2002 the medical imaging startup where I was working ran out of money and went belly up. Writing seemed like a good way to keep my mind occupied until something else turned up. Something else never did. Why novels…the form is long enough to really explore characters and story. You can say a lot of things in a novel.
MA: Tell us about your novel.
PG: “The Wrong God” crosses genres a bit. It involves something that looks like magic, elements of science fiction, some real science, politics and religion. Here’s the pitch:
Since the beginnings of history people have believed in magic, but California science writer Andy Taggart is not one of them. Until the day that John Chalk, his old friend from grad school, makes a ballpoint pen rise to stand on end – untouched. From that moment Andy is caught up in John’s mystery. Is this an illusion or is it new physics? Why can John do things that other people can’t – things that will mark him in some eyes as a worker of miracles? And why does John think someone is watching him?
Someone is watching. Wendell Murchison is possibly the most powerful man in America. He controls wealth, his own cable news network, an army of evangelical political operatives, and the President of the United States, but he wants more. From the new America of terrorist sleeper cells, detention camps and legalized torture he sees a path to levels of power not seen since the Inquisition. He would make a new all-out war of religion; all he needs is a leader – the New Prophet, John Chalk. Whether John believes or not.
When John refuses and disappears, Andy is left to face an adversary who will offer bribes, publish lies, send goon squads to beat him, whatever it takes to force him to betray John. Under constant surveillance and unsure who he can trust, Andy can’t stand alone; he has to find John. But even together, what can they do against Murchison? Levitating pens won’t stop him and there’s no point in hoping for miracles if you don’t believe in anybody’s gods.
Actually, it all grew out of a single observation. Traditional epic fantasy often involves ancient magic, with a venerable sage or a sacred book to explain the magic. My question was, how did the book get written? Who were the poor bastards who first discovered magic and had to figure out how it worked without killing themselves? Since I assumed (naturally) that they would approach it like scientists, the story became contemporary.
MA: That sounds intriguing, and it contains many of the same elements I enjoy reading about and writing with my own work. Tell us how you developed Andy’s character.
PG: Andy is kind of an almost-scientist. He has the training, but he isn’t entirely part of that world, the way John is. Andy can see the ambiguities in John’s discovery. I tend to like stories of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, so he had to be somewhat unheroic.
MA: Andy’s strengths? Weaknesses?
PG: Strengths…determination, loyalty, intelligence, humility, his love for his girlfriend, Rachel.
Weaknesses…fear, self-doubt, a little envy.
MA: It sounds like this Murchison guy is pretty devious…your antagonist, I assume?
PG: Oh yeah. I spent a lot of time on Wendell Murchison. My wife kept asking for more backstory. I kind of saw him as an amalgam of the kinds of people who have been involved at the intersection of great wealth, political propaganda, and the religious right.
MA: I almost hesitate to ask if any real-life experiences made their way into your story, especially given you hard science background.
PG: I guess the main influences were knowing how physicists think and approach problems, and experience watching scientists collide with politics. One other thing isn’t really central to the plot, but I’m a student and player of Taiko, the big Japanese drums. I gave that to Andy so I could try to describe it.
MA: I spent many years in Japan and always enjoyed Taiko drum performances, so I can relate to that character aspect (and a good thing you gave that to your hero!). So what’s next?
PG: I’m working on another novel that is still an untitled work in progress. It’s unrelated, more of a straight-ahead technology/political thriller. Beyond that I have notes for two more books to continue the story of “The Wrong God.”
MA: Thanks, Paul! You have a great blend of real science colliding with fiction in your work. I like the confluence of the two. For my readers, please check out Paul’s website: http://www.thewronggod.com Read More
Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent
Being aware of what agents look for will help you prepare the type of manuscript they will read. Keep in mind, these same rules apply once you have an agent and the manuscript is being sent out to publishing house editors.
All agents hope to find that one manuscript that is unique above all the others. It’s been said that all stories have been told. What makes them different is each individual writer’s slant on the topic, providing they have written a solid story.
When an agent begins to read, after years of experience, they are keen to grammar flaws. This is one area that could cause an agent or editor to reject a manuscript without consideration of any of its other merits.
Too, how long is your manuscript? Paper books presently should be 60,000 to 80,000 words. Anything more than that, since it’s the requirement, the agent will believe the writer too verbose, lacking control over their adjectives and adverbs and overall sentence structure.
With the advent of hand-held readers, entire books are now converted to ebooks. There may or may not be word count restrictions. Still, your story must be good to merit the higher-end costs of ebooks as well.
If the agent or editor reads on, they do so with one motivation. They need to decide if this book, when published, will sell enough to make back their commission and any advance royalty paid to the writer. And still, the book must make a profit for the publishing house beyond that point.
The agent or editor will also be judging the writer’s overall presentation. Is it neat? Was the cover letter professional? Did it follow standard form? Did the writer seem to know what he or she talked about. What they look for is how you, the writer will perform after the book is published. Are you going to be difficult to work with? Are you going to go out of your way to make this book a success? Or do you believe that’s the publisher’s duty?
Professionals know immediately if they want to spend the time to read all the way through. They are also concerned if a reader will want to spend hours with the story and author. They scrutinize to see if the writer’s descriptions are fresh and different. What the agent looks for is individual voice. It was once enough to say “the trees had greened up after the last heavy rain;” another to say “the morning sun reflected in the raindrops on the new green leaves and made the trees sparkle.” Your voice shows in how you describe scenes and action. Your description must be different than anything else you’ve read.
An agent is keenly aware whether or not they will turn from the first page to the second. Agents read thousands of stories. They know by the end of the first page if the book will stack up against others in the same genre.
Have you written characters that an agent will appreciate? Your characters must stand out from all the rest. For character development, see my articles Faces and Quirks and Character Sketches. Everyone, from agent, to editor to publisher to avid reader must like your characters. Make them likeable or make them the kind of characters we love to hate, but make them memorable.
The overall plot must be about something the characters need to attain or obtain. They must want it desperately or the reader simply will not care enough to follow the character through whatever conflict arises.
Not only in nonfiction but in fiction as well, your facts must be right. In nonfiction it can be no other way. If you wish to make your fiction true to life, which helps the reader suspend reality and keep reading, get your facts straight too.
Dialogue moves the story. It must be written in such a manner that enhances the character’s personality. Dialogue exchanges between characters must propel the story. Ordinary conversation is never written into books. It is boring and says nothing really. Consider this:
“Good morning, John.”
“Good morning, Jim. What’s on the agenda today?”
“Guess we’re supposed to take the plane out for a test run today.”
They went to leave immediately.
“Morning, John,” Jim said, rushing in. He thumbed toward the sky. “Let’s get upstairs before the boss sees the plane still sitting on the tarmac.”
Ordinary conversation has no place in good writing. Dialogue and beats move the action. Oh yes, see my article titled Let the Dialogue Speak.
The above could easily be included in the instruction we’ve all heard: Show, Don’t Tell. Simply, what this means is that the reader must see the action happening. Dialogue promotes action. Any time the writer begins to tell what a person thinks, how they interact with others, that should raise a red flag in the writer’s mind. See the two examples above? The first version contains dead dialogue and stalls the action. The second example not only contains dialogue that moves the story, but shows us what these two people are doing. Shows, doesn’t tell.
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Most of the information in this article applies to both agents and editors. You must find an agent before you can approach a publishing house editor. The agent does that for you. In rare instances I’ve heard about someone submitting directly to an editor, but it usually turns out to be a small start up publishing house. If you wish to approach the big houses, get an agent.
To help you find an agent, try the site which does not charge a fee. In my experience they have been totally reputable:
The agents listed on this site tell you what types of manuscripts they will accept and in which genres. It’s very thorough.
These are the people who publish those real thick volumes about everything you need to know as a writer. The book is expensive. However, if you sign up for their online edition, you get new listings and updates as new information come in all year long.
You can double check the credibility of an agent or editor you wish to contact by finding them on Preditors and Editors at:
Preditors and Editors tell you who is legitimate and who is a scam. Yes, there are scam artists in the writing industry. You knew that, right?
I’m sure other sites have additional information but these are great places to begin your search.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
MA: Today I am delighted to welcome Charles S. Weinblatt as my guest author. Charles was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1952. He is a retired University of Toledo administrator. He is the author of Jacob’s Courage and Job Seeking Skills for Students. His biography appears in the Marquis Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in American Education. Charles was a frequent Toledo television news guest, providing business, economic and labor-management insight. He received the 2004 Douglas Frasier Swift Award and he was awarded a certificate of achievement by Chrysler Corporation.
Charles, welcome! Please tell me a little bit about your professional or personal background, and what you did before writing professionally.
CW: I was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1952; raised the only child in a middle-class home. My father was a pioneering Toledo (OH) psychiatrist, starting his practice in 1932. He was well known in the professional community. He was also a football star at The University of Toledo in the 1920s and again at Michigan, while in medical school. Tremendously intelligent and gentle, he was the perfect role model. My book is dedicated to my dad, who gave me all of the tools to become a good person. It is also dedicated to the six million lost souls murdered by The Third Reich. They are gone, but will never be forgotten.
I am a graduate of The University of Toledo, with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. My post-university career spanned 31 years; the first 15 years devoted to psychiatric and vocational rehabilitation counseling, followed by 16 years at The University of Toledo. During my last nine years at the University, I created and led The Division of Organization Development. My division helped businesses improve their performance. We generated consulting opportunities for faculty and earned considerable revenue for the University.
My biography appears in the Marquis Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in American Education. I continue to live in Ohio with my wife, who is a retired special education teacher. We have two adult children.
MA: So what brought you to writing fiction?
CW: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. As a child, I wrote short stories and even some poetry. After college, my focus turned to family and career. Writing was pushed away for a while. Yet, the interest never departed and I was happy to return to it in earnest in retirement.
I had to retire at age 51 due to disability. Since I retired at a fairly young age, I decided that I should remain as mentally productive as possible. I decided to pursue writing. I had already been published for non-fiction in 1986, for a textbook called Job Seeking Skills for Students (Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company). After my University career, I turned to fiction. Three years later, my Holocaust novel, Jacob’s Courage, (Mazo Publishers), was published.
I made no conscious decision to write novels. Perhaps, as Mozart once described for his composition, the words were already within me. With Jacob’s Courage, I sometimes felt as though I was taking dictation.
I had known as a young adult that members of my maternal extended family were Holocaust victims. Only after I retired did those thoughts rise to the surface in a way that I could harness. I could not tell the story of my lost ancestors in any other format than a novel. No member of my current family knew enough about our lost relatives to write a memoir or a non-fictional account. No amount of research could produce an explanation for their disappearance into the darkness of Nazi-occupied Russia. Like millions of other innocent Europeans, they disappeared, without a trace. Perhaps they were shot and bulldozed into a trench, as at Babi-Yar, or maybe they were gassed in a death camp, such as Auschwitz, or possibly they perished from starvation, forced labor or the ubiquitous disease that existed in Nazi concentration camps. So, it was to be a fictional account.
I committed myself to creating a story of young lovers who became trapped within the horror and brutality of the Holocaust, as I imagined happened to countless young Jews, although not necessarily my ancestors. My hope was also that this story would be inspirational, perhaps as holocaust education for young people. Nowhere else today is it more important to teach about the Holocaust than with our children and grandchildren. A novel is a good choice for Holocaust education. Rather than dry historical accounts that go in one ear and out the other, a coming-of-age love story can engage youthful minds in a way that non-fiction does not. In the words of writer and philosopher George Santayana, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
I was also able to ground portions of the novel in fact, based upon my 100-year-old mother’s memories. As a child in Russia, she witnessed the brutality and terror of pogroms against her Jewish relatives. And, while these experiences occurred before the Holocaust, they provided significant grounding for important character development. She will soon be 101 years old, yet she can recall with perfect clarity the terror of Russian anti-Semitism.
MA: Please tell my readers about Jacob’s Courage.
CW: Jacob’s Courage chronicles the dazzling beauty of passionate love and enduring bravery in a lurid world where the innocent are brutally murdered. This is a tender coming of age story of two young adults living in Salzburg at the time when the Nazi war machine enters Austria. The historical novel presents scenes and situations of Jews in ghettos and concentration camps, with particular attention to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. Follow lovers Jacob and Rachael from their comfortable Salzburg homes to a decrepit ghetto, from there to a prison camp where they became man and wife. Revel in their excitement as they escape and join the local partisans, fighting their Nazi tormentors. Finally ride the crowded, fetid train to the terror of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Stung by the death of loved-ones, enslaved and starved, they have nothing to count on but faith, love and courage. From desperate despair, to unforgettable moments of chaste beauty, Jacob’s Courage examines a constellation of emotions during a time of incomprehensible brutality.
MA: How did you develop your protagonists’ characters…I understand you have two?
CW: The primary protagonist is Jacob, a 17-year old Austrian. He’s a very normal young man, eyeing the transition from secondary school to university. Jacob has some of my unique character weaknesses. It was important that my protagonists appear as normal young people, just like anyone else. The secondary protagonist is Jacob’s true love Rachael. Rachael is everything a young man would want; she is beautiful, bright, charming, deeply in love and fiercely loyal. Together, the young lovers are confronted with the most horrifying experience imaginable. To survive, they have only themselves to count on. They were not heroic individuals until they reached the precipice of destruction. I imagine that each of us wishes that we would become heroic under such circumstances.
MA: What are their strengths and weaknesses?
CW: Jacob Silverman is a very normal 17-year old. His thoughts focus upon three things: attending university, becoming a physician and, most of all, his precious love Rachael Goldberg. The young lovers had everything to look forward to, until Germany invaded Austria.
One night, in a terrifying nightmare, more real than life itself, Jacob finds himself older, emaciated and weak, in a large brick building with a roaring fire. He soon realizes that men wearing striped pajamas are burning the bodies of dead naked women and girls. Jacob awoke with acrid smoke in his lungs and a premonition that he would play a role in saving his people, who had been almost completely destroyed.
Sleeping inside of this normal boy was a future leader of men in combat. Yet, to reach that critical point in his life, Jacob would face starvation, sickness, brutality, forced labor and the death of his loved ones. He would need to find uncommon strength of body and spirit; and he would require good fortune, including the ability to play virtuoso violin.
MA: I imagine that with your subject matter, you had plenty of possible antagonists to develop.
CW: With Nazi Germany, it’s not difficult to create a credible antagonist. I created one particularly vicious antagonist, a commandant at Theresienstadt called Strobel. In that concentration camp, Strobel gained complete control over Rachael. This evil man followed her around the camp and made it his business to know everything about her. The result was very ugly.
In reality, the typical Holocaust survivor resided in several different ghettos and camps. Incarcerated Jews (and tens of thousands of others) became a source of free slave labor for The German Armed forces and for German industrialists. They were moved from place to place, as their slave labor could best assist the Third Reich. In addition, concentration camp commandants were often transferred. So, it would have been unusual for the typical prisoner and commandant to have been together very long. But, there were certainly many colorful commandants, guards and kapos at each camp.
MA: Did any of your family’s real-life experiences factor in to the plot at all?
CW: Certainly my fears and desires as a teenager became part of Jacob’s personality. He was brighter than me and far better behaved. Yet, I felt comfortable with his character development. I was far more worried about developing Rachael’s character. It’s a challenge writing a major character about someone of a different gender. Nevertheless, I believe that teenagers, especially young lovers, have some very common personality characteristics. My challenge was more in portraying how those characters changed and developed when faced with the most terrifying experiences imaginable. Holocaust survivors were not the same people that they were when the Holocaust began. No human could absorb the unrelenting daily terror, the death and murder of loved ones, the physical abuse, brutal forced labor and years of starvation and sickness, without it changing their personality. The lucky ones remained sane – and even that is arguable. My characters also had to change, yet without losing the better parts of their psyche. Without passionate love, they likely could not have managed it.
MA: So, what’s in your future writing plans?
CW: I recently completed a children’s book and I’m almost done with a science fiction novel. I’m thinking about writing another Holocaust book, or possibly a sequel to Jacob’s Courage. One thing I will try to avoid in the future is a book as long as Jacob’s Courage. At 524 pages, it was a serious investment in time. Yet, I could not have covered the final seven years of the Holocaust with less material. In fact, at my publisher’s urging, I removed some parts of the manuscript. My science fiction novel will come in at about 200 pages, a much more rapid commitment to reading. Whichever way I turn, I will always be writing something.
MA: You sound like you keep very busy with your writing! Will we see Jacob or Rachael again in a follow-on to Jacob’s Courage?
CW: Because Jacob and Rachael became heroic figures in my Holocaust novel, there is a natural pilot for a sequel. And, because they had to wait a long time in a displaced persons camp, there would be an increased likelihood that they would have immigrated to the Holy Land. They also had simultaneous dreams about being in a place that they later learned was Palestine. With Jacob’s leadership and combat experience, he would be a natural for an officer position in Israel’s nascent armed forces. Rachael would also have a natural role to play in the start of the Jewish nation. So, stay tuned.
MA: I will! Is there anything else you would like to add?
CW: Writing is a talent. Some people are born writers. The rest of us envy them. Still, writing is a skill that can be cultivated. If you think that you might have the ability to be a successful writer, maybe you do. Take writing courses at your local college or university. Participate in continuing education courses. Read books about how to develop your writing skills and take on-line courses. While it’s true that the vast majority of us will never become a renowned author, it feels pretty good to cash a royalty check. It could happen for you. Never give up!
And for those of you who could care less about earning money from it, just enjoy! It feels great to create stories about unknown people in unforeseen circumstances. Whether anyone reads it or not, it will always be your unique creation. For us, writing is not a matter of dollars and sense. It’s a matter of love.
MA: Thanks, Charles. I encourage all my readers to visit Charles’s blog: Jacob’s Courage Read More
MA: It’s always fun to have authors make return visits to my blog, and today I am joined by one such previous guest, Cynthia Vespia. Cynthia first posted with me on January 8, 2010, and you can read her original post here: Cynthia Vespia, Demon Hunter Author, Guests with Mike Angley.
Cynthia’s first novel, a medieval fiction entitled The Crescent (iUniverse) was published in August 2005. The novel was unanimously praised as “an engaging, descriptive read” which prompted a sell-out at Borders Bookstore in less than one hour during the first official autograph signing.
In 2009 she released Demon Hunter: The Chosen One (AspenMountainPress.com) which quickly reached number 3 on the Fictionwise.com bestseller list. The success of Demon Hunter was followed up by the sequel, Demon Hunter 2: Seek & Destroy which takes the characters and the reader on a journey that begins on the high seas and ends in Hell. Both novels (published in e-book format) were nominated for Best Series in 2009 by LRC Cafe.
Cynthia’s latest release returns to the contemporary side of thrillers but still contains that special “twist” that her novels are fast becoming known for. Life, Death, and Back (WeavingDreamsPublishing) delves into the paranormal when a man’s life is tragically cut short and he remains on Earth in the spiritual form to tie up loose ends.
Welcome back, Cynthia, and congratulations on your new release. Tell us a little more about you and what drives you to write.
CV: I believe we are all born with an innate talent and desire, something that drives us above anything else. Whether we develop and pursue that talent is up to us in the end. I’ve been interested in writing since I was a little girl and I’m fortunate enough to have realized my dream of publication. Most people never ever see their dreams realized. Sometimes life becomes what happens to you while you’re busy making plans. That is why my new release Life, Death, and Back is so special to me.
MA: And you mean it just released, as in two days ago, I believe! What do you enjoy most about the writing experience?
CV: Story telling. I like the escape novels bring. Creating worlds, characters, it’s always juiced me. I used to read alot as a kid and I loved the way writers like Piers Anthony, Robert E Howard, and C.S. Lewis used to draw me in to their stories. It’s been a passion of mine for years.
MA: You have to tell us all about Life, Death and Back.
CV: In the wake of his death Bryan Caleb begins to realize how precious living is and how much he’d taken for granted. Now he has unfinished business. In exchange for more time on Earth, Bryan has been granted guardianship. Even as he struggles with his own mortality Bryan must find the compassion within himself to help guide Lisa Zane, an emotionally and spiritually drained young girl, through her troubled life to find her true purpose. For it is only with Lisa’s help that Bryan can rescue his very own son from the life of crime he has fallen into before Kriticos Caleb’s fate mirrors his father’s…in death.
Life, Death, and Back was written in the spirit of all classic thrillers and suspense novels, but it carries with it crossover appeal. The phenomena of ghosts and angels is a widely discussed topic spreading to many channels. There are many who have seen and experienced things not completely explainable. This novel is intended for them as well.
MA: How risky was it for you to develop your protagonists’ character?
CV: Usually when writing a contemporary thriller you can push the boundaries but it needs to stay based in reality otherwise you lose your audience. But I had alot of freedom in the development of Bryan Caleb because you tell me how someone who comes back from the dead is going to act! It did present a challenge though. I wanted Bryan to be ethereal but remain emotional at the same time. Without emotion you can’t drive the story and Bryan needed to draw from his heart and soul to take on some of the obstacles that I put in his path.
MA: I like obstacles. They make thrillers…well…thrilling! What makes Bryan “tick?”
CV: Bryan’s a guy who’s had a blessed life but it has been cut short so he’s pretty bitter about it. He’s caught between worlds unable to contact his loved ones and presented with a task of helping this troubled girl Lisa Zane get out of the trouble and danger she’s found herself in. So his current predicament represents both strengths and weaknesses at the same time.
MA: So who is the main character that torments Bryan? Who’s the bad guy?
CV: I have my antagonists such as Cyrus Houston the criminal mastermind holding Lisa against her will. And also Kriticos Caleb, Bryan’s own son, who poses a very real threat and detriment to Bryan’s causes. But I’d say the nemesis in Life, Death, and Back is really Bryan’s ability to cope with everything that is being presented to him. From being tragically killed and walking the second plane as a ghost to being resurrected and having to relearn life skills, it’s all alot for one man to deal with…how does he do it? Well you’ll have to pick up your copy to find out!
MA: How did you come up with the idea for the story?
CV: The idea to write Life, Death, and Back came from a need to delve into the mysteries of death and the afterlife. At an early age I had to overcome some tough losses to my immediate family. Dealing with such tragedy sticks with you, it becomes part of your soul, and is probably reflective in this story. The novel is a fast-paced thrill ride that asks and answers alot of questions. How will we be remembered? Who will we leave behind? What is our legacy? And most importantly how can we make a difference while we still live? Not often in life do we get second chances. We make our mistakes and must continue on, hopefully a little wiser having learned from the experience.
MA: Some lofty questions, indeed! What are your future writing plans? Any new ideas?
CV: I have many. At the moment I’m seeking a home for my suspense novel Lucky Sevens which captures the spirit of my hometown Las Vegas and focuses on the raw human emotions unique to the people who live, work, and play there. In correlation with that I’m going to be focusing on more contemporary thrillers and suspense novels…and as always they will be real life situations you could find yourself in but hope to God you never do.
MA: Will you continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?
CV: That’s an interesting question and I’m filing it into my subconscious right this minute. I can’t really say what the future will hold except that I will continue to bring you more exciting reads so stay connected via my website. By the way, Life, Death, and Back is available through WeavingDreamsPublishing.com and your local retailer. Look for me on Facebook and Twitter.
MA: Thanks, Cynthia. Folks – visit Cynthia’s website for more information about her and her stories: http://www.cynthiavespia.com/
MA: Please help me welcome best-selling author, Frank Fiore. Frank has sold over 50,000 copies of his non-fiction books. He has now turned his talents to writing fiction. His first novel, CyberKill, is a techno-thriller that answers the question “How far will an artificial intelligence go for revenge”. CyberKill has garnered five star reviews on Amazon. Frank’s writing experience also includes guest columns on social commentary and future trends published in the Arizona Republic and the Tribune papers in the metro Phoenix area. Through his writings, he has shown an ability to explain in a simplified manner, complex issues and trends. He and his wife of 30 years have one son. They live in Paradise Valley, AZ.
It sounds like writing has been a passion for many years, and you’ve been quite successful at it. Is this something you’ve always done professionally?
FF: I started out as an entrepreneur. During his college years, I started, wrote and edited the New Times newspaper which is now a multi-state operation. From there I went on to start several business and retired to take on writing full-time.
My interests in future patterns and trends range over many years and many projects. I co-wrote the Terran Project, a self-published book on community futures design processes, and worked as a researcher for Alvin Toffler on a series of high school texts on the future. I designed and taught courses and seminars on the future of society, technology and business and was appointed by the Mayor of Phoenix to serve on the Phoenix Futures Forum as co-chairperson and served on several vital committees.
MA: I’ve always enjoyed reading the Tofflers’ works. When I was in the USAF, Alvin and his wife visited the Air Command and Staff College when I was a student there to talk about future trends. Fascinating stuff! With your background, why the transition to novels?
FF: I’ve always wanted to be novelist. I wrote my first novel in high school then another when I was in my late 20s. Both were not very good. Like many novelists, I write to entertain but also to make a point – to try and educate the reader in something they might not have been aware of.
MA: Tell us about CyberKill.
FF: My first novel is CyberKill. Fans of Tom Clancy, James Patterson and Clive Cussler, would enjoy this twist on the Frankenstein myth.
A brilliant programmer, Travis Cole, inadvertently creates “Dorian,” an artificial intelligence that lives on the Internet. After Cole attempts to terminate his creation, Dorian stalks his young daughter through cyberspace in an attempt to reach Cole to seek revenge. When cyber-terrorism events threaten the United States, they turn out to stem from the forsaken and bitter Dorian.
In the final conflict, Dorian seeks to kill his creator – even if it has to destroy all of humanity to do it.
MA: Where did you come up with the idea for the story?
FF: Many years ago I read an article in Time magazine about a young artificial intelligence (AI) programmer. He had created a series of AI agents and sent them out over the internet to see if they would evolve. I thought to myself, what if the programmer terminated his experiment? If the Artificial Intelligence evolved into a real intelligence, would they take his act of shutting down the experiment as attempted murder? From there, I thought “How far would an artificial intelligence go for revenge?” and stalk Travis Cole, my protagonist, through cyberspace to kill him. The end result was CyberKill. (cyberkill.frankfiore.com)
MA: Tell us more about Travis Cole.
FF: Travis is an intelligent and gifted programmer but he’s into shortcuts. That provides the opening that AI agent can exploit and reach Cole.
Readers are not interested in a main character that can do or know everything. It’s not only unreal but it makes for boring story telling. The main hero has to have his sidekicks – people who know what he doesn’t know – and that builds a relationship and makes the characters feel more real to the reader. It also lets the author play one off the other to create interesting dialogue and an interesting story.
I try and combine the male and female leads into what one character would be. Between them, they know enough to drive the story forward with the help of secondary characters. Besides a little flirting and possible love interest adds to the story.
MA: I take it that Dorian is the antagonist?
FF: The ‘bad guy’ is the AI software agent he created. The AI agent becomes super-intelligent and names himself Dorian.
MA: I don’t know if you’ve dabbled with AI at all, but from your background you’ve certainly had an interest in related studies. Any real life influences in the story?
FF: All my life I have been interested in many, many subjects – from the social sciences to the human sciences to science itself. All of this interest has helped me develop interesting and believable characters and stories. Also, CyberKill is speculative fiction with a science bent. That means the technology the geographic locations, government and military installations and organizations, information warfare scenarios, artificial intelligence, robots, and the information and communications technology in this book all exist.
As for the genetic weapon, pieces of the technology are either in existence or in the research and development stage. Now, according to the Department of Defense, it doesn’t exist. But the Fars News Agency of Iran reported otherwise last year.
I wanted to show the reader that what happens in the book could very well happen today. So I had to take what was known, combine it with other knowns and then stretch the facts a little.
MA: (chuckling) That pesky Department of Defense! So what’s next in your writing journey?
FF: I’ve just completed the first two novels of a three book series called the Chronicles of Jeremy Nash.
The Chronicles of Jeremy Nash is a new thriller series about a noted debunker and skeptic of conspiracy theories, urban legends and myths. Jeremy Nash is pressed into pursuing them by threats to himself, family and reputation. The Chronicles of Jeremy Nash capitalizes on the continuing interest of the reading public in conspiracy theories, unsolved mysteries, urban myths, New Age beliefs and paranormal events. I also feeds the growing appetite of the public for ‘puzzle stories’ in the vein of National Treasure and Indiana Jones with a little of the X-Files thrown in. The formula of the chronicles consists of a conspiracy theory, unsolved mystery, urban myth, New Age belief or paranormal practice that Nash is forced to pursue; combined with an underlying real world event, organization or persons that is somehow connected to what he is pursuing. This provides the thriller aspect of the stories.
MA: Fascinating. Anything else you’d like to add?
FF: I watch movies because I write my novels as movies. Movie scripts have a structure that is shared by novels. Both have a similar 3 or 4 act structure (spine/skeleton) that involves a hook, generally with the main character involved, then the ordinary world (who they are, etc) the first turning point, tests and trials, reversals, black moment when all seems lost, climax, the epiphany and reward. This is not a formula, it’s classic mythic structure and it’s used in both mediums. Current contemporary commercial novels are much faster paced than in the past, no matter what genre. Some genres (action and thrillers) move faster than others but the whole market has shifted. We are a USA Today society that deals in sound bites and Tweets, and that doesn’t bode well for the slow moving novel. Read More
MA: I’m joined today by an author with two pen names, Alice Griffiths and P.A. Wilson (I think for interview purposes I’ll use Alice’s initials to mark your responses). Please tell us about you and what brought you to the writing world.
AG: I’ve been writing for decades but I have been seriously interested in publishing for the last few years. I think the catalyst for the change was National Novel Writing Month. In 2008 I happened upon the site and impulsively decided I could write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It didn’t matter that I’d taken years to write previous manuscripts. I could do this.
When I typed ‘the end’, I had completed 82,500 words and my first full manuscript. I put it away for a month and then started the process of revision and polish. By April, I’d entered it into a contest and by June, I had created an indie e-publishing company with a partner. Off Track was published December 23, 2009 and I had graduated from writer to author.
I write in two genres with a pen name for each. I write romances under the name Alice Griffiths, and gritty mystery thrillers under the name P.A. Wilson. At first, I thought the lines would be clear between the two genres, but that’s not what happened. My romances have elements of violence and my mysteries have elements of romance.
Now, I work as a project consultant and managing editor, and author, my days are full but never boring.
MA: Tell us more about your background before becoming a writer.
AG: In the professional world I am a project management consultant. I worked in the corporate world for more than thirty years before I decided to go it on my own. I have to say that I have less time to write now than I did before, but more energy when I do write.
I’ve been working on projects for more than ten years and I have to say it’s taught me more about writing than anything else in my past. I get to meet so many different people that I can use to fill out my characters. I use project management methodology to get started on writing a book. I figure out what I’m going to write, investigate what I’ll need to learn to write the first draft, and then I plan out the different scenes. Writing for me is building the story up in layers.
MA: I’ve met many authors who use a methodical approach such as this. One thriller writer I met is an engineer by degree, and takes a disciplined design approach to crafting his stories. Why fiction?
AG: I have tried to write short stories and poetry but I don’t seem to have the talent for that. I guess I’d say novels chose me, rather than the other way around. I like having some room to build in secondary plots and more detailed richness. In shorts you have to keep it clean and precise and I don’t have that skill. I admire people who do, because when I’m in the middle of the third revision pass and wondering if I’m contradicting something that happened 60 pages ago, it would be nice to have a short story to handle.
MA: Tell us about what you write…I’m struck by the fact you write in what would seem like two very different genres.
AG: I haven’t yet found a genre I can stick with. I guess my constant is that there’s a romance somewhere in the story and that lots of people die.
I’ve written a fantasy romance, Off Track by Alice Griffiths, and that was my first National Novel Writing Month book. It’s the story of a lawyer on the track to partnership who finds herself pulled into a magical world as the result of a prophecy. Along with her easy going assistant, Madeline has to accept that she needs to fulfill the prophecy and figure out what it is exactly she’s supposed to do. While that’s happening, she meets and falls in love with a knight who really wants to be something other than a knight.
My serial killer novel, Closing the Circle by P.A. Wilson, is currently under review with my business partner in PaperBoxBooks.com. In this story Felicity Armstrong is the focus of a brutal serial killer who has taken her religion, Wicca, and twisted it in to something evil. The killer stalks and kills her friends, leaving their bodies in prominent sites around San Francisco as Felicity works with FBI special agent Sam Barton to identify and stop the murders.
I’m working on two other books, and planning out my NaNoWriMo book for this November. One book is a thriller set in Vancouver BC with gangs, human trafficking and teen hookers. The other a YA science fiction story with three heroes who raise a rebellion to save the humans.
Then my NaNo book will be an Urban Fantasy with a wizard, Sidhe, and Raven. That’s about as far as I am in planning.
MA: Well, sounds like you are keeping very busy with all those projects! I’m almost afraid to ask how you approach character development since you have such a varied writing style.
AG: I develop characters though a process of discovery. For Madeline, I sketched her out physically and gave her a flaw – she finds it difficult to trust people – and then I started to write some back story for her. I wasn’t happy with the lack of depth when I was done and I turned to something that romance writers use all the time. I read her Tarot. It sounds flakey (or at least it did to me at first) but by doing the Tarot reading I was able to push aside my own personal preferences and dig into Madeline’s psyche. I had to interpret the cards based on what I knew about her.
It turns out that Madeline doesn’t trust easily because when she gives her word it’s for life. She has difficulty making commitments as well because she wants to know she’ll stick with any commitment. Interestingly, this brought forth a habit that I could use. Madeline is a dabbler in learning; she takes courses, does well but gets bored and leaves. This means when she’s in the magical world, she has a bit of grounding in a lot of skills she’ll need. She learned how to ride horses, but still needs the knight to help her get better, and she has taken some martial arts, etc.
Madeline is highly competent and learns quickly; this allows her to integrate quickly – and saves me and the reader from having to wade through her learning curve. She’s also accepting of differences so she doesn’t judge people on first glance.
Unfortunately, despite her external image, she’s not confident in her own skills and talents. She focuses on the fact that she is a lawyer and doesn’t have any understanding that the prophecy brought her to the magical land for something else.
MA: Who did you throw into the story to stand in Madeline’s way? Who’s the antagonist?
AG: Madeline faces two antagonists. Throughout the story she is facing her own demons and is convinced she won’t be able to fulfill the task she was brought there to complete. She is used to being in control and finds it almost impossible to go with the flow and trust that it will all work out – as everyone keeps telling her.
The final antagonist she faces at the end is the enemy who must be killed. He is a marauding creature who is going to destroy the people Madeline is aligned with in fulfillment of an ancient feud. Madeline hopes her task isn’t killing the villain, but worries that it is.
MA: Considering how prolific – and disciplined – you seem to be with your writing, what are your future plans? Any sequels?
AG: I would like to be able to produce two books a year – I am certain I can do a first draft in a month other then November but I haven’t yet been able to prove it.
I also want to write a series, or a trilogy. I am fascinated by the idea of such a sweeping story and I want to explore the process.
The book set in Vancouver BC has always been a series concept. I need to finish this first story and then I already have a germ of an idea for the next one. I think the trick is going to be planting the seeds of the second book into the first, a great new challenge.
MA: Is there any particular challenge for you in writing?
AG: I find writing the romance difficult. The saving grace for me up to now is that the romance has been the secondary plot – important but can be dealt with in revision. I tend to write the story and clumsily insert the romance in the first draft and then thread it back into the story during the first revision pass.
And, my writing group will tell you I am not good with description. I have settings all worked out but I have difficulty putting it on the page. I have learned to insert some setting in as I go along and then each revision pass has a note – add description.
MA: Thanks, Alice, er, P.A. Folks, please visit Alice Griffiths at: http://www.alicegriffiths.ca/, and visit P.A. Wilson at: http://www.pawilson.ca/