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Jun 03

Back for Her THIRD Visit with Mike Angley: Julie Achterhoff!

MA: Julie Achterhoff was born in Michigan, but brought up mostly in the big city of San Francisco and a small island in the Gulf of Mexico. Her imagination was sparked by experiencing these different ways of life. She grew up reading very adult horror, mystery, and thriller novels passed to her by her mother. When reading she would get as excited about the writing of the books as the reading. She ended up becoming a home birth midwife with five children of her own. Still, with every book she read there was that gnawing urge to write something of her own.

Julie – welcome BACK! This is your third visit to my blog, and while I’ve had a few authors guest with me twice, you are the first with a triple visit.

My readers can go back and read the original posts Julie did with me, first on January 1, 2010, and then again on September 10, 2010.

Please remind my readers what you did before beginning your writing journey.

JA: I was a midwife raising a family for about 17 years, but when the oldest got big and responsible enough to watch the younger ones I started taking a couple classes a week at the local college. Of course I picked writing and English classes. I didn’t even dare hope to actually write anything. It was this deep, dark secret I kept even from myself! I started getting addicted when teachers and other students told me what they liked about my writing. That gave me more confidence. I suddenly realized the authors of every book I’d ever read were just regular people like me who probably started out not knowing if they could write. So I allowed my deeply buried creativity out and gave it full rein.

MA: I know you didn’t start writing novels right away, but you actually began with plays, is that right?

JA: My first major effort after some short stories and essays was actually a three-act play called Angel in the House. I really got excited about seeing my work performed. I eventually hoped against hope that I could work in the movie industry. But the structure used in plays and screenplays was very stilting for me. I had to pay so much attention to form that I felt it took away from the writing. I enjoyed just writing away without a care like I could with the short stories I’d written. I just couldn’t imagine putting enough words down to make up a whole darned book. But I decided to give it a try. I figured if others could do it, so could I.

MA: So how many books are you up to at this point?

JA: I’ve now written four books. I still can’t believe it, but I swear it’s true. I just kept writing and writing, and somehow the word count kept climbing until finally it was the end and I had a whole book in my hands. The first was Quantum Earth. It’s about a team of metaphysical scientists racing to find out why we’re having more natural disasters of a higher degree leading up to the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012, and if our own human thoughts are actually creating this reality. Deadly Lucidity is a thriller about a woman trapped in her nightmares and dreams. Then she meets someone who tries to help her find a way out of her own mind. He seems to be another part of her imagination, but he is also so real. Native Vengeance is a novella about a woman who meets a friend on the internet and eventually goes to visit her during the town’s main event of the year. Of course, this annual “event” isn’t what it seems. The town has an old Indian curse on it because of something that happened a long time ago. The new friend needs her so she can escape the evil that occurs each year to punish the residents of the town.

Then there’s my latest book, Earthwalker- Earth can be Hell for a Vampire. I’ve always loved vampires the most of any of the beasts around. Maybe that’s why it took me this long to write my own kind of story about them. Plus, I hate doing anything that’s “in.” So I figured I’d have to write the book so different and far from the main crowd that it would hardly resemble any vampire story from the past. I think I achieved this. Earthwalker is a book about a vampire. And there is a passionate love story. But from there on out it is different in almost every way from any past works of its kind. I think I was successful in finding a fresh new way of presenting it. It’s all in the writing, though, anyway, isn’t it? I mean if you like my writing, you’ll definitely like this book. It barely gives the reader a moment to take a breath. I write tight and lean. There’s not a lot of flowery prose or descriptive overload in my stuff. I think you learn a lot about yourself and your style of writing with each new attempt. I would call Earthwalker my dissertation.

MA: Are you the kind of writer who starts with a hero and then builds the story, or do you start with a plot and develop the right man or woman to fill the need?

JA: Whenever I begin writing a book I already have a pretty good idea of who the protagonist is. I have the framework in my mind and then let them develop and grow on the page. I say “let” them because that’s how it seems to happen. They become alive to me. I think that’s how I’m able to write a whole book at all. The characters kind of take over and tell me what could possibly happen to them that would be thrilling and exciting, but also believable to the reader.

MA: Can you give us an idea of one of your heroes or heroines?

JA: In Earthwalker, for example, Willa is the so-called heroine. In the beginning of the story she is pretty weak. She’s recently gone through some tough life situations and is worn out emotionally. But she’s basically a strong young woman with emotional reserves that she calls on from the beginning. She’s good at dealing with emergency situations, it doesn’t take much for her to catch on when something outside her past experience happens, and she has the capacity to be courageous if need be. She is also willing to sacrifice herself for a greater good. As most of us do, though, she tends to think of herself first. She does sense this about herself and ends up putting herself last. With Willa, it’s like she moves ahead two steps then one step back and so on.

MA: Where do you draw from to create your “bad guys?” I’m always intrigued by antagonists in supernatural stories.

JA: I’ve had pretty intense nightmares since I was very young, so I’ve got plenty of nasty people in my head. I actually tone them down for my books so they’re not totally evil. That would be boring. You’re always going to enjoy a story more when you can somehow relate to the bad guy/gal. It’s like your dirty little secret. It brings the reader in so they feel closer to the characters.

MA: I take it you’ve not had any real-life encounters with vampires or other such creatures, or have you (grinning)?

JA: Not at all. I like making it all up from scratch. You will probably never see a non-fiction book come out of me. The further away from reality the better. My writing is my escape. It takes me far away from this world. And that’s the way I like it!

MA: Okay, so four works of fiction down…how many more to go? Where are you headed in the near future?

JA: Just recently I had a very long and real feeling dream that inspired me to write another book. It’s been months since I’ve written anything, so it’s great to know I haven’t dried up in the writing department. The next one’s about a reporter out to research the latest drug craze. And boy is it a doozy! What a crazy dream that one was.

MA: I can only imagine! I’ve had a few intense dream in my life, so I can relate. Will your allow any characters from past books to tag along in future stories?

JA: I have been asked by several readers if there will be a follow-up to Quantum Earth. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a time-bound novel in that it revolves around a particular time, the year 2012. But I guess it all depends on what actually does happen in 2012 to tell you the truth. Maybe these characters will have more to say and do at that point. Who knows?

MA: Let’s hope the Mayan “prophecy” turns out to be a whole lot of nothin’! After all, the Mayans simply stopped counting days, without actually saying what would happen beyond the calendar. So much about that calendar is super-hyped. Any parting thoughts?

JA: I would just like to encourage anyone who has a desire to write not to make excuses or let your inner critic stop you from doing something that could bring you a lot of joy. Don’t let anything stop you. And don’t do it for the money or fame. Chances are that won’t happen. You just have to love it. And then just do it. Get those words down on that page! You’ve got nothing to lose and so much to gain. If you do it this way it’s gonna show in your writing. Then you’ll have something to be proud of.

MA: Thanks again, Julie, for coming back. I want to encourage my readers to check out Julie’s blog (http://earthwalker.tk) and her books’ website (http://julieachterhoff.tk).

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Feb 04

Steven Jay Griffel, Forty Years Later Author, Joins Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is Steven Jay Griffel. Steven was born in the Bronx, 1952. He tells me he, “met a beautiful blue-eyed art student in my junior year at Queens College (BA, Creative Writing, 1973) and married her in 1976. We’re still holding hands.” Steven studied American Literature at Fordham University, and he and his wife have two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Julia, grown and on their own. He spent his professional life in publishing, and he still works as a publishing consultant, though most of his time is now spent writing novels and talking about them. Steven is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer and especially enjoys leading book club discussions about his novel, Forty Years Later.

You told me you thought writing was a part of your DNA. How did you describe that, again?

SJG: I’m a born storyteller: sired by a father who never met a fact he couldn’t spin into fancy, and by a mother whose bitchin’ neuroses could make a grudge match of any relationship. From my father I learned there is no division between truth and fancy, just a wonderful gray area where imagination and ego could thrive. From my mother I inherited a genius for nursing regrets and grudges, so I’m never at a loss for reasons to rant.

I was raised on the colorful streets of the Bronx, where home plate was a manhole cover; where there was a pizzeria and deli on every other block; where there were always enough kids for a ball game; where it was okay to be Jewish, so long as you didn’t piss off those who weren’t.

MA: Well, that’s a colorful life! How did you decide to write novels? Was it always something you longed to do?

SJG: I wasn’t cut out to be a scientist or movie star or athlete. But I always had lots to say—and a talent for saying it well. In college I considered a career in journalism—until I learned I’d have to stick to the facts. I like facts, but I much prefer the novelist’s god-like sense of entitlement. As a novelist I decide the facts. I decide who rises, who falls. If I need a perfect line I create it, rather than relying on interviews and research for my gold. Thus I prefer fiction, where the music and meaning of words have primacy over facts. . . . I just remembered a pair of wonderfully relevant quotes:

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” –Matthew Arnold

“Literature is news that stays news.” –Ezra Pound

I like to think that my writing is meant for the long haul.

MA: Well said! So tell us about Forty Years Later.

SJG: A middle-aged man (smart, handsome, happy, successful) has a single, gnawing regret: a lost opportunity to make history. He has kept the regret alive for forty years, continually picking at the scab of its memory. A coincidence (Fate, if you believe in such things) reunites this man with a former teen sweetheart who is very much a part of his regret. The man is married with children, the woman is famously and formerly gay, and their reunion results in the kind of sparks that presage trouble. It is a tale of music, movies, murder—and madness too. It is also a story of love and redemption—except for those who are probably going to Hell.

MA: Oh my! So had did you develop your protagonist’s character? Sounds like there may be a little of you in him…

SJG: Until recently, I too had a gnawing, life-long regret. Like a cancer that does not metastasize, it was annoying but not life-threatening. A complicated coincidence reconnected me with someone I hadn’t seen in forty years: a successful screenwriter who is best known for writing about the subject that framed my regret: Woodstock. We met and hit it off—big time. Of course, I was happily married with children and wouldn’t think of getting involved with another woman—but I have a protagonist; an alter-ego; a doppelganger, I suppose, and this fellow (named David Grossman) has been known to explore roads I dare not travel myself.

MA: So, what are David’s strengths and weaknesses?

SJG: Like many people, the novel’s protagonist is a miracle of contradictions. He is clear-seeing despite his blind spots; confident when not suffering from crises of self-esteem. He is a man who misplaces loyalties and manufactures jealousies. He loves and is loved but sometimes loses his way. All of which is to say, he’s flawed enough to get himself into a royal pickle—and brave enough to see his way out.

MA: What about an antagonist … is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

SJG: There is a brilliant, formerly famous lesbian screenwriter with a blind lover and hip-hop son, who becomes a vengeful alcoholic with a particular fondness for dangerously sharp objects. Unique enough?

MA: (Smiling) Okay, so did any of your real-life experiences factor into the plot at all?

SJG: I also nurtured a life-long regret tied to someone I had not seen in forty years. We were reunited. Sparks flew. . . . Note: The real-life tale is private and tame and not worth the telling in this space. However, the novel it inspired is rip-roarin’. But it is not a story for the faint of heart or for those of unbending scruples. It is tale signifying: One is never too old to change; Beware what you wish for; There is no greater grace than tried and true love.

MA: Excellent! So what’s next for you?

SJG: I am working on a new novel called The Ex-Convert. It is, loosely speaking, a sequel to Forty Years Later. Though I am now in the enviable position of having a publisher waiting for my next book, I have no guarantee of publication. My publisher believes I hit a home run with Forty Years Later and demands I hit another one with The Ex-Convert. Batter up!

MA: An enviable position to be in…so will any characters from Forty Years Later migrate over?

SJG: David Grossman is the protagonist in each of my novels, and I haven’t sworn off him yet. Having said that, he is not quite the same character in each book. His voice and sensibility are pretty consistent, but his circumstances vary: he has a wife or not; he has a family or not; he lives in New York, or not, etc. Expect to see him again in the Ex-Convert.

MA: How do readers get a copy of your book?

SJG: Forty Years Later is available as an e-book on Amazon.com. The download is incredibly fast and easy. And no special reading device is required. Most people enjoy Forty Years Later on their computer, PC or Mac. But with each passing day more and more people are using e-readers (like the Kindle) or tablets (like the iPad) or screen phones like the Android, Blackberry, or iPhone. In fact, one of my first readers sent me the following text message from his iPhone: “Reading Forty Years later at 40,000 feet—and loving it!” I also encourage readers to friend me on Facebook and share their thoughts. It’s a digital dawn!

MA: Well, thanks, Steven. Folks, please visit these websites for more information about Forty Years Later and Steven Jay Griffel!

http://www.amazon.com/FORTY-YEARS-LATER-ebook/dp/B002T44IEE/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

http://www.staythirstymedia.com/bookpublishing/html/authors/schiller-wells/griffel-steven-jay.html

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Jan 21

Fellow Air Force Veteran & Author, Alan Simon, Guest-blogs with Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is Alan Simon, the author or co-author of 30 books dating back to the early 1980s. His writing career began with the 1st edition of How to be A Successful Computer Consultant (McGraw-Hill) that sold approximately 200,000 copies in 4 editions over the next 15 years. He is the author of three titles in the “For Dummies” franchise series and has written extensively about technology and business topics. In 2009 Alan began experimenting in self-publishing with Blocking and Tackling Your Way to Management Success in which he set 40 fundamental management lessons against a backdrop of 40 stories from the history of his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2010, Alan branched out into fiction with the publication of his first two novels including The First Christmas of the War, set at Christmastime, 1941 – only weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Alan currently lives in Phoenix and in the past has lived in Pittsburgh, Tucson, Colorado Springs, Denver, and northeastern Pennsylvania.

Please tell me a little bit about your professional or personal background…the prequel if you would to your writing career.

AS: The best way to describe my professional background is to quote The Beatles: “The long and winding road…” I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA until my family moved to Tucson, Arizona just before my 16th birthday. I attended college at Arizona State in Tempe and then went to graduate school at the University of Arizona back in Tucson before heading off to Colorado Springs where I spent four years as a U.S. Air Force officer stationed at Cheyenne Mountain. In the Air Force I wrote software for one of the real-life “War Games” systems, referring to the early 1980s movie in which Matthew Broderick breaks into Cheyenne Mountain’s computers to play “thermonuclear war.” After my Air Force days I worked for a series of technology and consulting companies in a variety of roles, including several as a national or global practice leader in business intelligence and data warehousing. I began my own firm – currently called Thinking Helmet, Inc. – in 2006.

In many ways my writing career began as an “accident.” When I was an Air Force officer in the early 1980s I started a small computer consulting business on the side mostly so I could stay up to date with the technology of the then-brand new “microcomputers” that were very different than the old-fashioned mainframes we used in the Air Force. One day I was thinking about all of the tasks I had to do to set up my company and learn about new technology and suddenly thought there might be a book in the making there. I wrote a proposal, sent it off to McGraw-Hill, and presto! Book deal! (Little did I know the publishing game wasn’t quite that easy…)

MA: Well, I definitely have a soft spot for fellow Air Force vets, and I am very familiar with Cheyenne Mountain during my work in Air Force Space Command nearby. With such a technical and non-fiction writing background, how did you end up writing fiction?

AS: I began “dabbling” in fiction approximately 25 years ago, sequestered in a near-deserted hotel in the mountains of Colorado in late May of 1985. I had gone there to spend a week finishing up the final manuscript for my first book, How to be a Successful Computer Consultant. (Thinking back, my long-ago writing getaway in the Rockies was sort of a combination of two works from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King: “The Shining” meets “Misery” !)

Whenever I’d take a break from polishing that manuscript during that trip, I’d shift to write two or three more draft pages for an idea I had for a “potboiler” novel; something that in retrospect was heavily influenced by the writing style and typical plot lines from popular writers of the day such as Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon. I shelved that book for all eternity shortly thereafter, but over the next two decades spent thousands of hours – and wrote the proverbial million words of fiction – on any number of long-dormant projects, as fiction writing grew into a deep passion of mine.

MA: Speaking of The Shining, my kids and I once spent a night in the “Stephen King” room at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where King stayed and wrote the book. Sadly, nothing spooky happened during our stay there. So tell us about your novels.

AS: I wrote two novels in parallel with each other over a period of 6+ years; both were self-published this past year. The first is entitled The First Christmas of the War and is a family saga set at Christmastime, 1941…only weeks after Pearl Harbor. Beyond the overarching and terrifying news coming back from the war front, each family member has his or her own “mini-drama” going on, and the story interweaves the “macro” and “micro” plots in a day-by-day format beginning with the Saturday before Christmas and ending the day after Christmas.

The other novel is entitled Unfinished Business and just like The First Christmas of the War, it’s set in my hometown of Pittsburgh. I like to think of Unfinished Business as “a darker Bridges of Madison County story” that begins in flashback with a brief wartime affair that takes place in 1942. The plot of the story is based around the resumption of that affair nine years later, in 1951, when Roseanne DeMarco’s steelworker husband is called up from the Army Reserves and set off to the Korean War…just as her long-ago “friend” reappears in Pittsburgh as she’s struggling to make ends meet.

MA: I have a hard enough time writing one story, so I can’t imagine what two parallel ones must be like. Who are your protagonists?

AS: In The First Christmas of the War I’m fortunate enough to have a number of main characters who essentially are an “ensemble cast” as the book’s protagonist. The family’s patriarch – Gerald Coleman – is patterned after one of my grandfathers. He’s a shoemaker who is fortunate enough to have made a decent enough living during the Depression. His wife, Irene Coleman, is the classic homemaker of the day…she runs her household and her family and is always looking out for the best interests of every family member. The eldest son, Jonathan, is patterned after characters such as those played by Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage in the 1980s movie Racing with the Moon…he knows with certainty he’s headed off to war soon and is trying to come to grips with this sudden reality. The rest of the family members are all “demographically appropriate” for 1941 children and teenagers.

In Unfinished Business I tried my best to get inside the head of Roseanne DeMarco. Her husband is suddenly sent off to war, she has no safety net to fall back on, and in general she’s sleepwalking through life…and here comes this person from the past who was her “partner” in an illicit yet exciting brief period of her young life. Throughout the book she’s conflicted between the renewal of this excitement and her increasing guilt about what she’s doing while her husband is away at war.

MA: They both sound interesting. Who are the antagonists in the stories?

AS: The First Christmas of the War doesn’t have an antagonist…unless you want to think of Hitler and Tojo as off-the-pages antagonists who made the story (and the war) possible!

In Unfinished Business Frank Donaldson – the main with whom Roseanne DeMarco renews her affair – is very much an antagonist, but a carefully constructed one. I patterned his character after that of Noel Airman in Herman Wouk’s 1955 novel, Marjorie Morningstar. At first he seems suave, debonair, the man of Roseanne DeMarco’s dreams who has returned to her…but increasingly his fascination in the story with Jack Kerouac (then a brand new novelist) becomes symbolic of his own character flaws.

MA: How much of your real life’s story influenced your writing?

AS: When I moved from Pittsburgh to Tucson just before my 16th birthday, I was very homesick for my original city and spent many hours in the high school and public libraries reading books about Pittsburgh and its history. Since I planned to go into the military in one way or another, I was also very interested in the World War II era and the aftermath, including the boom years of the 1950s. So my fascination with mid-20th century Pittsburgh formed the foundation for both of these novels. I spent many hours researching the facts and tidbits for both stories, though when appropriate I took a bit of poetic license in the interest of moving the story along.

In both books – especially The First Christmas of the War – I did use my real-life great-grandfather’s produce business in Pittsburgh as a plot vehicle, and in First Christmas had eldest son Jonathan working side-by-side with my real-life great-uncles in a couple of scenes. I dedicated that book to those great-uncles, all of them gone now, as members of the “greatest generation” who (to use the words of the book’s dedication) “sacrificed much of their youth to the Second World War.”

MA: So what’s next for you? You are so versatile, I can imagine either a novel or some techno-geek book coming soon!

MA: The biggest challenge I have is getting my head and hands around a much-too-full list of to-be-written projects for 2011. In all seriousness, I have a list of about 15 business, technology and management topics; 25-30 ideas for novels and short stories; and another non-fiction, self-help oriented title based on my own personal close call on 9/11. (A schedule quirk put me in Pittsburgh for a speech that morning, scheduled to fly to San Francisco from there that afternoon; otherwise I almost certainly would have been on United Flight 93 since I was shuttling between projects and proposals in New Jersey and the San Francisco bay area for the consulting company I worked for then.)

MA: Wow! I’m glad you missed the original flight, and it’s nice to hear you plan to turn that experience into something good that may help others. With regard to fiction, would any of your future writing involve characters from your first two novels?

AS: The First Christmas of the War is actually the first of a series of four holiday-set, similarly-structured novels featuring the Coleman family. Next up is Thanksgiving, 1942, taking place – as one can tell from the title – eleven months after the initial book’s Christmas, 1941 setting. The next title is The First Christmas After the War, set at Christmastime, 1945. Finally, a concluding novel set in the 1970s takes a final holiday visit with the Coleman family.

MA: Sounds like a nice set of books. Anything else you’d like add before we wrap it up?

AS: Over the years, I’ve had many, many people ask me about the writing business and my own experiences in the context of book or story ideas they’ve had themselves. I always enjoy sharing my experiences with others and am always more than willing to help people navigate today’s publishing world, craft proposals…pretty much anything.

MA: Thanks Alan for appearing on my blog, and thanks for your military service. Please visit Alan’s websites for more information about this amazing author and his projects: www.alansimonbooks.com and www.thinkinghelmet.com.
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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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Nov 05

Mike Angley Interviews Best-Selling Author Frank Fiore

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

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Oct 13

“Forensic Evidence in Plots” (A Subject Near and Dear to my Heart!) by Mary Deal

Forensic Evidence in Plots

Forensic science could kill your story.

With forensic evidence being able to convict a perpetrator on as little as a millimeter of hair fiber, for example, plots of stories and films could be brought to an end too abruptly. Too, explaining the forensic evidence and showing how it affects the outcome could take over any plot.

When a subplot takes over and becomes the action, this is to lose control of your story. It is important that the main plot hold the most interesting, the most critical action. Then, no matter how contorted a subplot, it will only serve to enhance the main plot. True, too, any twist or turn in a subplot must enhance the main plot action. It cannot be included only to enhance the subplot. There is a risk here of having your subplot become a story unto itself and distract from the purpose it should serve. Any action in a subplot must feed into but not be greater than the main action.

A perfect example of a subplot nearly taking over can be found in the movie, Witness, (1985). The good cop, John Book, discovers fellow officer, McFee, has committed a murder. When John Book discloses this to his boss, Schaeffer, he soon learns Schaeffer is just as corrupt. The bad cops are selling off confiscated drugs. Once found out, both Schaeffer and McFee want to kill John Book.

This is a simple subplot that adds to and is intrinsic to complicating the action of the main plot. This subplot of clandestine activities within the police department blocks the hero from accomplishing his goal of bringing the perpetrator to justice and heightens tension in the story. So, too, does the fact that John Book needs to hide out and heal while yet another person turns him in.

Considering Pamela Wallace won an Oscar for co-writing the script for Witness, how many times can such good cop/bad cop plots be done? If some cops are to be the bad guys in scripts, after the impact that Witness made in films, bad cop plots began taking more drastic turns.

In a thriller I started writing a few years ago, soon after I completed the rough draft of the manuscript, an explosion in forensic science occurred and my story immediately became outdated. A year of work had to be shelved. But my plot is so unique! I kept saying. I had to find a way to save it. I did. To this day, it is still a unique story.

The murders and arson I conjured in my original story could today be easily solved. How could I learn enough about forensic science in order to thwart its proving effects in my plot and still keep the action running?

Then I read, You Can Write a Movie, also written by Pamela Wallace. Finally, I hit upon a way to get around forensic science without myself having to become a forensic scientist.

In Witness, Wallace had crooked cops tampering with evidence. I have crooked cops in my mystery too. However, I could not be satisfied with simply adding crooked cops into the mix. It seemed all too convenient and way overdone in films. But not if you throw into the melee a radical group who just happens to get their kicks from wrongdoing.

In my story, I wanted to convolute the subplot way past the point of simplicity and yet not have it threaten to take over the main plot, as it almost does in Witness. My story has a subplot of not just crooked cops but a group of social renegades as well. But as I said, this was not enough for me. I have further complicated my plot with a hierarchy within the group of bad guys—and girls—all trying to out-do or eliminate one another in order to rise in stature. Then, so as not to distort from the main plot action, anything this group does enhances or thwarts the heroine from accomplishing her goal to help bring the proper person to justice.

While a certain amount of evidence is a must in order to redirect the finger of guilt toward the real perpetrator, my plot becomes complicated when evidence disappears. People within the wicked hierarchy fall or rise to power dependent upon who loses and finds and uses said evidence to climb another rung on the proverbial ladder. While all this is going on, an innocent inmate moves perilously closer to a date with lethal injection.

Ultimately, you cannot get away from using forensic evidence, but if there is no evidence to test, or if it is found and lost again, this heightens the excitement of your plot. If your story lacks excitement or is too easily solved, interrupt the pathway that connects the dots. Maybe kill off the only person who knows about the smoking gun. Let corroboration be found later on. There is no way to get around the fact that forensic science can solve most crimes these days, but only if there is evidentiary proof to test.

While no forensic evidence was needed to solve the murder in Witness, the complications that arose and blocked John Book from accomplishing his goal made for an exciting story. However, you must complicate your story to delay the final scene that forensic science can prematurely bring about. Make your plot as contorted as possible. Because of the splash Witness made by using the simple subplot of good cop/bad cop, chances are, another serious story of this type won’t fly because that kind of plot is simple and would have to be better than Witness. You must complicate your plot and learn something about the forensic information your story needs. The writer need not learn about all forensic science, only as much as must be used to enhance that one plot; enough to hide the true facts from being found too soon.

NOTE: The novel that Mary mentioned writing in this article is her new thriller, Down to the Needle, which was recently released. Read More

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Jun 11

Mystery-Thriller Author Richard Brawer Visits the Child Finder Trilogy

I started writing as something to do in retirement. But as friends and family said I should try to get them published, I became serious about writing. Did my professional career inspire my writing? Absolutely. My novel, Silk Legacy, is set in early twentieth century Paterson, NJ in the height of the silk era which Paterson was famous for. My grandfather started a silk business in 1904. It is very, very loosely based on vignettes about his early years in the silk business. And of course my years in the textile business helped me as I knew about weaving and selling textiles. If you go to my website www.silklegacy.com and click on the silk legacy tab you will see all the great reviews it has received. Silk Legacy was the book published just before Beyond Guilty, my latest book. Read More

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Mar 19

Alaskan Author Anna L. Walls “Chills Out” On The Child Finder Trilogy

KING BY RIGHT OF BLOOD AND MIGHT, my one published book, is about a young prince who must discover his birthright as well as the world around him. Raised in seclusion, he had scarcely been beyond the palace walls before he was whisked away to learn about the greater world as well as his own country. There his fate was joined with that of legends and fairytales, and together they were able to cleanse the evil that seeped through the land like a cancer.

On my website, I have the reviews for this book and the synopses for several other of my stories, and on my blog I have samples from nearly all of my stories, and just recently, I’ve started to post up another of my books a chapter at a time.

I really like the genre involving kings and princes and such, so that’s what I chose, but that is by no means the only way I make my choices. Several of my ideas came from particularly vivid dreams. That translates into more than one of my stories taking place in space or in another dimension. Read More

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