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
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I want to extend a hearty welcome to thriller writer Mary Deal, my guest blogger today! Mary is a native of Walnut Grove in California’s Sacramento River Delta, has lived in England, the Caribbean, and now resides in Kapaa, Hawaii. (I’m insanely jealous). She has published three novels: The Tropics: Child of a Storm – Caught in a Rip – Hurricane Secret, an adventure suspense; The Ka, a paranormal Egyptian suspense; and River Bones, a thriller, which was a winner in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards competition. A sequel is being written. Down to the Needle, her next thriller, is due out early 2010. Mary is also a Pushcart Prize nominee. Read More
My guest today is Margie Church, AKA Churchlady, author of romance/thriller novels with “SASS.” She tells me that stands for Suspense, Angst, Seductive Sizzle. Margie is a married mom of two children, and a Minnesota native. He writing career began early when she published in “McCall’s Magazine” in the sixth grade. Margie describes her professions as a mother and author whose guilty pleasures are great beer, real vanilla ice cream, and lobster. I couldn’t agree more with that list! Read More
MA: My guest today is Peter G. Pollak. Peter is a retired business executive who has also been an educator and editor of two weekly newspapers. He also runs a web business where he interviews people, and he writes a blog on New York State government and politics.
Welcome, Peter. Please tell us more about your background.
PP: My working titles have included visiting professor, editor, publisher, CEO and lately chairman (of the company I founded), but what has characterized my professional career has been a willingness to take a risk in order to make a difference. After finishing my B.A., I spent a year as a VISTA Volunteer. Although I went back to school and eventually earned a Ph.D. (in history and education), in between I was editor of two alternative newspapers. In 1985, I said good-bye forever to being an employee and started a press release delivery service which is still in existence (under the name readMedia). I’m semi-retired now, spending most of my time writing.
MA: With your particular credentials in business and journalism, how did you end up writing fiction?
PP: I love to read fiction. To me fiction is on par with painting, sculpture and music as a higher art form. It requires both talent and dedication and good fiction rewards the reader by transporting h/h to another reality. In doing so, the reader can experience life’s horrors and its potentials.
MA: In your novel, did you create characters based upon people you’ve known in your personal and professional life?
PP: I don’t draw on real people for my characters. I suppose my characters are composites of people I’ve met, read about or come in contact with in some other way.
MA: Tell us about your novel.
PP: The Expendable Man is a political thriller. The protagonist is thrown into a bad situation for which he is ill prepared. He not only has to find a way out of that situation, but in order to regain his life he must find out why he was put there in the first place. He must survive the crucibles of being wrongly convicted of a crime and contracting a normally fatal illness.
MA: I love political thrillers. What makes your hero who he is? Strengths? Weaknesses?
PP: At the beginning he’s all about himself. He lacks family or friend. He’s not a bad person, but one who hasn’t allowed himself to smell the roses. No one can go through hell without being changed in the process. I hope my readers see the changes that take place in his personality as he struggles to regain his health and his freedom.
MA: Every good thriller has to have a bad guy, so I assume you have a unique one?
PP: Yes, of course. There is the person who sets the ball in motion and the one who has to do the dirty work of making my protagonist “expendable.” Readers may recognize their types.
MA: I imagine you don’t have any real life experiences that you drew from to create your story, or do you?
PP: I’ve been behind bars…for a few hours. I was arrested when I was about 19 for violating a local ordinance, selling without a permit. I was trying to earn money one summer selling encyclopedias. Later I had the privilege of teaching political science 101 to inmates at more than one NYS Correctional Institution (prison). What’s worse than being locked up? Answer: facing a deadly disease. What if you had to contend with both? That’s the fate of my protagonist.
MA: Well, I never saw that coming! What are your future writing plans?
PP: I’m working on a mystery which I hope to finish by the end of the summer and then publish a second mystery set in the same city using two of the characters from the first one. The protagonist of The Expendable Man has ridden off into the sunset. I’ll let my readers imagine what his life is like, but I think readers will like the main characters in my next two novels — Jake Barnes, a retired cop turned P.I., and Karen Battaglia, recently promoted to detective on her local police force.
MA: Excellent! Any parting thoughts for my readers?
PP: If you live in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region, I’d be happy to do a reading for your book club or other organization. Contact me through my website: http://www.petergpollak.com/
MA: I am pleased today to welcome co-authors Chris DiGiuseppi and Mike Force. Chris and Mike have penned a wonderful suspense novel, The Light Bringer. Both of these gentlemen are fellow former law enforcement officers, so I have a special place in my heart (and on my blog) for their service.
Chris has over nineteen years in law enforcement at various levels up to and including Assistant Chief of Police. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and Northwestern University School of Police Staff Command. He is trained in various aspects of law enforcement and holds degrees in Human Resources and Business Administration. Chris lives with his wife and children in Missouri.
Mike has spent over 30 years in law enforcement, the last 19 as a Police Chief. Mike has numerous certifications in various areas of law, forensics, investigations and criminology. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and served 22 years in the U.S. Marines where he retired as a Captain. He oversaw operations for twenty-seven military installations worldwide. He holds degrees in Political Science and Human Resources. Mike lives with his wife in Missouri and has three grown children and a granddaughter.
Thanks for your LEO and military service, and welcome aboard! I’m going to fire questions at you both, so perhaps we’ll go back and forth for equal time. Chris, please tell us a little bit about your professional LE background.
CD: I’ve risen through the ranks from patrol officer up to Assistant Chief of Police for a small community near St. Louis, MO. I’ve experienced many different facets of police work during my tenure since starting in 1991 to include general patrol, public and community relations, support services functions and administrative functions over our Operations Division. Since our agency is smaller, 30 sworn officers and 10 civilian employees, we’ve had the luxury of building a team of professionals centering on good core values that we look for when recruiting people for our organizational family.
More important than my professional background, I’m married with 3 children and 2 step children – and couldn’t be happier.
MA: Excellent, and I could not agree more with your assessment about the role of family. Mike, your turn. Tell us why you chose to write a novel, especially why you and Chris decided to co-author a project.
MF: Chris and I talked about writing a book for many years. The desire to write was sparked from the many tragedies we experienced over the course of our careers and our book relates to those instances. In my opinion, the initial reason that we wrote was basically therapeutic, as our story helped us make some sense of those things that often bothered us involving tragic incidents of death. Helping people through those times of despair and grief pushed us to question the complexity of life and why things happened, that seemed so wrong. The first half of our book is based on real incidents that Chris and I experienced in both our professional and personal lives. The last portion of our book delves into a supernatural explanation that takes the reader beyond life.
MA: Obviously, your professional careers inspired your story, but are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?
CD: Our personal and professional lives definitely formed our writing, and our characters are based on real people and/or personalities we’ve encountered throughout our lives.
MA: Tell us about The Light Bringer.
MF: The Light Bringer is our first novel and is part of a trilogy. Our publisher, HCI Books, has it categorized as Suspense Fiction but it also has a paranormal/supernatural element as well as an inspirational theme.
MA: Who is the hero or heroine in the story?
CD: Our main character is an ex-military man who is now a police sergeant. His personality traits and overall characterization was developed as a mixture of our (myself and co-author Mike Force) background, habits and personal traits.
MA: This may be a tough question considering your protagonist is a composite of you both, but what are his strengths and flaws?
MF: I believe his strengths and weaknesses stem from the same thing. He’s a deep thinker and extremely empathetic where he spends a great deal of time fighting to stick to his core values.
MA: There’s a lot to be said about having strong core values, and I’m afraid not too many real people, let alone fictional characters, embody them. What about a bad guy – any unique antagonist you want to tell us about?
CD: There is one particular character that was developed who portrays a person of poor character and values who is continually doing what’s wrong. His constant dedication to victimize others leads to a much bigger plot and eventually reveals his involvement in something extremely evil and wrong.
MA: I suspected as much based upon your hero’s description. What better antagonist than someone who is the polar opposite? I take it there are some elements of real-life experiences and people in The Light Bringer?
MF: Absolutely – the first portion of the book centers around 16 different people who die – most of those incidents are based on real experiences that we’ve had in our professional and personal lives.
MA: Since The Light Bringer is the first in a trilogy, how close are you to getting the second book out?
CD: We have the second draft written and hope to further it within the next year or so. The second book bridges the first and the third. The third book will offer finality to the overlying plot and message. The main characters will continue through the trilogy with new characters being added as we go.
MA: Given the inspirational nature of The Light Bringer, what do you want your readers to walk away with after reading it?
MF & CD: The Light Bringer focuses on the question “Why do people die.” We’ve received many praises and endorsements from readers via advanced readers’ copies. The book seems to appeal to a diverse crowd from those who like a good paranormal suspense/thriller, to those who like a murder mystery with a supernatural twist or even those who are looking for an inspirational message of hope in dark times. It’s our desire that this book will not only entertain but also help people who struggle with grief and despair because of tragedy. We additionally aspire to challenge the reader to draw their own conclusions pertaining to the concept of how “doing what’s right” in life perhaps follows you after death.
MA: Gentlemen, it was a pleasure having you guest with me today, and thanks again for your public service. I encourage my readers to learn more about Mike Force, Chris DiGiuseppi, and The Light Bringer by visiting their website: http://www.thelightbringerbook.com/ Read More
When you write your first draft, perhaps you simply write whatever comes out just to get the ideas onto the page. You know you’ll go back time and time again to get it polished just right. Maybe you polish your sentences or paragraphs before going onto the next one. Then, after all your editing, you feel something is still lacking. Maybe it’s the way you phrase the action. Maybe it’s a simple matter like your choice of words.
To help you make your prose as descriptive as possible without sounding flowery, read your composition again and look for specific words that could be replaced with descriptive VERBS that zero in on the exact action taking place.
I’m no stranger to getting the first word out that comes to mind and then needing to go back and clean up my grammar. Here are some samples from the novel I’m presently writing. I first wrote this:
Afterward, she went on her way.
If you write a sentence like this, ask yourself, How did she go? Instead of went describe her movements or gait:
Afterward, she sauntered away.
Afterward, she slipped away
Read this phrase:
Danced across the floor
Danced is a descriptive word, but it’s also a little common and could refer to many, many ways of dancing. How about…
Did a two-step across the floor
Waltzed across the floor
She felt around the floor of the car, trying to find the cell phone
Felt is also quite common.
She groped around the seat and on the floor of the car…
She slid her hand between the seats
Although a lot of emotion can be stirred just reading certain words they, too, can be made more descriptive. Replace this:
The thought of dying came to mind.
…with something like this:
The thought of bleeding to death came to mind
The thought of succumbing to coma, never to wake again, came to mind.
The above has two words to watch. We could have used:
The thought of slipping into a coma… instead, succumbing is more dramatic than gently slipping into a coma. Slipping hints at the character gently fading. Succumbing tells us she would put up a gallant fight to stay alive until, perhaps, more powerful forces overtook her. It’s more dramatic.
Here’s another sentence with two words:
The fireman holding up her head managed to get his upper body through the open windshield space.
The fireman supporting her head managed to squeeze his upper body through the open windshield space.
All of the words replaced above, and many, many more, are common words. The actions need to be exactly defined, made more exciting with better, more descriptive verbs and adverbs if your grammar is to stand out.
Your prose must sing and dance off the page. Anytime you describe what a character does, always check to see if a more descriptive word might apply. Using words that better show the exact actions that your character performs helps your reader become the character. That’s exactly what great prose does.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
MA: I’m joined today by author Ellen Brazer. Before getting published, Ellen did just about everything but write. She was in business. She worked for the State of Israel, and she was involved with the community. She actually did not begin to write seriously until she was in her forties. So tell us, Ellen, with no real writing background, how was it that you came to pen novels?
EB: I was waiting for some medical test results to come back. I was extremely successful in business when I was very young and while waiting for that phone call I asked myself what mountain had I yet to climb. The answer for me was writing a book. I have a dear friend who is a Pulitzer Prize winner. When I wrote my first draft of Hearts of Fire I pressed the Caps Lock key on the computer and wrote the entire first draft in capital letters with almost no punctuation. It was my writing friend who said, there is something here and you must keep going. That first book took me 10 years to write. The manuscript went from under the bed to the closet and then back under the bed again. A doctor friend took it on a ski vacation and he was the one that finally got me to become serious about getting the book published.
MA: I can’t even imagine going more than a full sentence with the Caps Lock Key on! Tell us about what you write.
EB: I write historical fiction. Let me tell you about Clouds Across the Sun. Before the end of WWII, Hitler charged a group of his most trusted and brilliant comrades with a mission—educate your progeny and then elevate them to positions of power throughout the world. Steeped in fact and impeccably researched, Clouds Across the Sun is the story of just one of these children.
From Naples, Florida, New York City, and Washington D.C., to Israel and then the killing grounds of Vilnius, Poland (Lithuania) this story is one of great romance, discovery, redemption, and enlightenment as Jotto Wells unravels the intrigue surrounding a plan to take over the government of the United States.
MA: How did you develop your characters? Was there a great deal of research involved into the lives of people from this era?
EB: I am not sure as writers that we develop our characters. I think they are born to the page and then they develop us. Whenever I have a new character I find myself sitting back and watching their personality emerge. Sometimes I have to rein them in when it feels like they are doing something out of character but most of the time they are in control of me. In Clouds Across the Sun I have more than one protagonist and I was always amazed that they each had their own distinct voice.
MA: More than one protagonist? Tell us about one of them.
EB: I will focus on Jo for this question. She is very independent and self-assured. As the first woman Senator from New York she is intelligent and opinionated. Her greatest weakness is that she falls prey to her family’s influence over her.
MA: Any unique antagonists, other than the obvious?
EB: I think I do bad guys really well and in this book there are some really evil people. When creating an antagonist in the Holocaust time period it is challenging to show all sides of the personality. My antagonist is a Nazi doctor from the Concentration Camps. We see him as a dangerous monster but we also see him as a loving father. The danger is constant when he comes to America after the war with one goal: placing someone under his influence as President of the United States
MA: Do your novels ever fool people into thinking more of the fiction is actual fact?
EB: I write historical fiction that is so based in fact that when people finish my book they tell me that they are chilled and always ask themselves: Could this happen? Is it happening? I talk about IBM, The Red Cross, Hitler and Henry Ford’s close friendship and how the U.S. allowed thousands of known Nazis into the U.S. in exchange for information about our new enemy, Russia.
MA: Interesting…so what’s next?
EB: I am writing an historical novel that takes place in the year 135 of the Common Era. It was a time period when the Jews believed that Shimon Bar Kockba was the Messiah. Following him, they managed to defeat Rome and for a three year period Israel was under the control of the Jews. And So It Was Written is the story of two brothers, one who becomes a famous physician in Rome and the other becomes a commander in the Jewish army. There are some very unique and controversial elements to this book that I am keeping close to the vest so stayed tuned. I am in the process of rewriting and I hope to be finished within the year.
MA: Well thank you, Ellen. I encourage everyone to visit Ellen’s website for more information: http://ellenbrazer.com/Home_Page.html Read More
No one likes rejection, but rejection is just a word – a word on which too many writers place too much emphasis.
When you understand the process of submissions and rejection, that word will hurt less if at all. You’ll see it as just another step in your progress.
The process includes you wearing your fingertips down to nubs as you get your prose written. Before you send your submission, what you need to know is that many factors become involved in acceptance or rejection. Here are only a few:
1) Did you follow the Guidelines perfectly?
Every publisher has different guidelines because they all have varying publishing formats and processes, from the type of story they accept to the format in which they require you to submit. Do you know how to switch your story from a .doc (in Word) to .rtf (rich text format)?
So you have followed all the guidelines? Next…
2) Did you read a copy of the magazine or some of the publisher’s novels or books to understand the type of stories they accept?
Are you submitting blindly, thinking your plot is so good they will accept it? No matter how good your story, someone else has written a better one.
3) Another factor may be the mood of the person on the receiving end.
You have no control over that, but if your story doesn’t ring bells with a literary agent or editor, no matter how good, you’ll get a rejection. The agent or editor could have recently been slapped with a divorce suit, or suffers from PMS that day. You have no control and human frailties do play a part in the process.
4) Have you submitted your manuscript all over the place, especially when guidelines call for “no simultaneous submissions,” and irritated a bunch of professionals you had hoped to impress?
Agents and editors all know one another. They talk. They tell each other of their negative experiences. Once someone associates your name with a really negative experience – C’est la vie!
5) Did you meet the deadline?
Did you wait till the last possible moment to submit? Most editors will choose favorites from the early entries because they can’t depend on what’s coming in with the slug of last minute arrivals. That’s not to say they won’t change their minds when a late arrival is so good they feel compelled to share it.
People find themselves in a rush when they wait till the last minute to finish their manuscripts. When they do, it’s thrown together haphazardly. An agent or editor can’t be blamed for picking favorites early. I believe all stories get read, but it would be difficult to displace a favorite. Submit early. Show you are ready to do business.
These are just some of the reasons for rejection, both in your control and out. If you know the process and still feel depressed over a rejection, your issues are not with the word “rejection” but, perhaps, you feel you’re being slighted. That just isn’t so.
I keep records of all my submissions, acceptances, and rejections. You should do that from the beginning. I have so many rejections that, knowing the process, rejections bounce off. My response is, “Hmmm… didn’t fit in that agent. I’ll try this new one.” That’s all the thought I give to it. That’s if I followed all the guidelines correctly.
Agents may send rejections, but editors won’t tell you if you followed the guidelines. You’ll just get a standard rejection. Sometimes it’s a form letter on their office memo; other times they may hand write a note on your cover letter and return it. In the case of magazines, you may never hear from them again, maybe not even get a rejection, just… nothing. But times are changing.
One of my biggest lessons of rejection was that I forgot to transfer my manuscript into .rtf format. I sent it in .doc. I knew I’d not hear from that editor again. I submitted the story elsewhere and got it accepted. To this day, I have never heard from the first editor, nor will I send a follow-up email since the story was accepted elsewhere. The first magazine was my first and greatly favored choice. I paid for my mistake.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
MA: Help me welcome my newest guest, Steven Nedelton. Steve is a professional engineer, but most of his life he dabbled in arts. For example, he likes to paint in oils. He lived for a while in several countries outside of the U.S. and was born in the Balkans. Steve lived and worked all over the U.S., from the Washington and California coasts to Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. He started reading when he was ten after beginning to receive books as birthday gifts. Those included Tom Sawyer, then a year later, The Three Musketeers, and so on. At first, it was hard for him to concentrate, in fact, he hated reading. But then, gradually, he began to love good novels. Zane Grey became one of his favorite writers. He still remembers how he got the lunch money from his grandmother and spent it on books about cowboys and Indians, and the Wild West.
That’s a very colorful life and background you’ve had! You mentioned dabbling in the arts and having a love of reading, so it sounds like a natural progression to writing.
SN: Way back in my early teens, together with a few of my school chums, I began writing short stories. There’s no doubt that Tom Sawyer, The Three Musketeers and the various pirate novels were the principal contributors to our writing affliction. Also, the principal cause of all my later accompanying woes. But, aside from those early literary misadventures, and a lot of reading since, my first serious involvement with English Literature happened in my college English 102 and the subsequent course, Advanced Creative Writing. It was a true miracle that I managed to get through those two classes with A’s, and even to this very day, I am convinced that my professor was one crafty yet friendly soul. I guess, my feeble pretenses to understand Shakespeare warned him I wasn’t the material for a future scribbler. Thus my English Literature marks, A or F, were quite inconsequential. And his conclusion was natural, I was studying how to become an engineer, not how to write another War and Peace
From then on, my writing was, one might say, ‘placed on hold.’ A lot of occasional reads, but not much else until a decade ago. It was then that that sordid writing affliction got sort of reawakened within me, and the desire to become a writer was reborn too. And so, finally, after all those years, I chained myself to my laptop, and began writing again. I worked very hard while braving various virus attacks and rejection e-mails from a multitude of publishers and agents.
MA: Given your penchant for writing short stories as a teen, how did you come about writing novels?
SN: That is an interesting question. Early on, in my teens, I dreamed of writing a top short story. Much later, after reading a number of novels, I decided that short stories were not for me. Mostly because avid readers loved novels. I felt it was in my best interest to stay away from short stories and proceed with novels. There I could fit in my interest in thrillers–suspense and crime, the genre that was my true love and I knew I could do it well.
MA: You and I share a few writing things in common. My Child Finder Trilogy is a thriller series with paranormal elements which some of your books have also featured.
SN: I write fiction based on partly true events and characters. My novels deal with infamous criminals, espionage, and extrasensory perception tied together with unusual and extraordinary action. Basically, I write about anything that will make the reader interested in the story. I don’t specialize in any genre; I try to write about life in general. My stories cover local and international events. Also the events I have lived through and been a part of. Mixing fiction with fact makes readers believe in my stories.
For example, Crossroads is a thriller/suspense based on extrasensory and the action takes place in the US, Russia and France. The principal character is a U.S. agent assigned to lead a group of men with very special gifts like claivoyance, remote viewing–the ESP. The inspiration came from a sentence found in a major newspaper in the early 90s. The story is far more than espionage, James Bond like flick. It deals with several countries and characters with their ethnic peculiarities.
The inspiration for The Raven Affair came from the news too. In this case I had already heard quite a lot about one particularly infamous criminal involved in genocide who was finally being prosecuted in California. I thought that I could write a story that would be far more interesting than a description of his hideous exploits alone. I decided to add a number of fictitious characters and a number of fictiotious events. The title of this book was based on its central character, the hit man known as ‘Raven’ who, as a child, witnessed the horrors of genocide and decided to revenge his family. But the stories included in this book are far more interesting than the criminals and, of course, I’ve used my imagination to make them believable.
Both books were reviewed by the top country reviewers like the Midwest Book Review, The US Review of books, Apex, etc. I just received a note from the “Eric Hoffer Award” representative advising me that The Raven Affair is “Da Vinci Eye Finalist” and an “Eric Hoffer Award” finalist.” I feel that it is a great achievement for my novels.
Fear! is my next book that I hope to have it released soon. It is a sort of a historical biography. And, I am presently working on my third thriller, Tunnel.
MA: Congratulations on the book award accomplishments! Those are two excellent and prestigious selections. Tell us how you approach the development of your characters.
SN: I develop my characters through events. I let them speak, act, and from their actions and dialogs one can get the feel for the character’s strengths or weaknesses. For example, in The Raven Affair, the hero (the hit man Raven) has the criminal in the gun sights and yet he does not shoot him. He lets him live so that the people’s courts can judge him for his hideous crimes.
MA: A hit man protagonist! Tell us more about him.
SN: Raven is a very determined man. He is ready to sacrifice his life yet, occasionally, he is cold and detached, disinterested in other people feelings.
MA: I take it with these standalone novels that you do not migrate any of the characters over to other novels, or do you?
SN: I don’t have a recurring character in my novels as yet. Each of my novels is a completely different story with different characters, with one exception. I am developing the use of a character from Crossroads. This is still in a developmental stage and I am not yet set on other characters and their interaction. I can assure you that he will be used in the most interesting way.
MA: Given your travels in life, have any of your experiences outside the United States inspired your writing?
SN: Yes, I lived in several countries, England and France for example. I dealt with various people there and although people are pretty similar everywhere, there are ethnic peculiarities that one needs to experience in order to portray a character properly in a story.
MA: Where can people learn more about your stories and purchase your books?
SN: My books are available in print and e-book formats on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Fictionwise.com, etc. They can be accessed directly from my web site: http://snedelton.com.
MA: Thanks, Steve!