I grew up among middle-class everyday folk. Language was one thing that separated groups of people as I had come to know them. When I was young, every once in a while I’d hear someone say, “Oh my! She talks so uppity!” Read More
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“Repetition Offends Your Reader” Let Me Repeat, Okay, You Get the Point! Another Writing Advice Article By Mary Deal
When descriptive words are used repetitively in writing, it makes the reader wonder why they have to be told something they’ve already learned earlier in the story. Repetition can kill your reader’s interest. Read More
MA: I’m happy today to introduce my guest-blogger, Nelson O. Ottenhausen. Nelson is a retired Army officer and an accomplished writer published nationally in periodicals and anthologies. His latest poem, Out of Sane, appears in a Siruss Poe anthology collection, Mind Mutations. His book, Flowers, Love & Other Things, released in November of 2005, is a selected collection of his own published poetry and short stories.
Several of his short stories have been published and one, A Fish Story, is included in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, Chicken Soup for the Fisherman’s Soul, now available in book stores everywhere. His short story, Duty, appeared in the December/January 2006 issue of the Pensacola Today magazine. Feature articles of his have been published in various magazines about the USS Oriskany, an aircraft carrier sunk in the Gulf of Mexico in May of 2006 in the Navy’s artificial reef program, and Survivors a human-interest story about a Pensacola military family that survived Pearl Harbor, World War II, Hurricane Ivan and 70 years of marriage.
He has published five novels, Civil War II, (2004), The Blue Heron (2005) and The Killing Zone: Evil’s Playground (2007), Jugs & Bottles (2009) and The Sin Slayer (2010).
Nelson founded Pen WISE Poets (Writers in Service to Education), a literary arts outreach program in the schools of Northwest Florida, which he managed from 1994 thru 1998, and in 1995, he was cited by Governor Lawton Chiles of Florida for this work. In October of 1995, he received a fellowship for his writings, and in August of the same year was appointed by Florida’s Secretary of State to the Directory of Visiting Artists to lecture in Florida schools about poetry, only one of five poets throughout the state to be honored so.
He holds a Bachelor of Business Degree in Operations Management and a Masters of Business Administration Degree from Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois.
A former native of northwestern Illinois, he now resides in Gulf Breeze, Florida.
Okay, that was a mouthful! Tell us how you began writing novels, because it seems like you wrote a lot of poetry before this.
NO: I wrote poetry for over 7 years and had 40 poems published, 28 of them I actually received compensation, but the highest payment I ever received for a poem was $35.00. In the late-90s, I came to the conclusion I was wasting my time with poetry and began writing novels. However, the poetry writing experience taught me to express my thoughts in a more concise manner and greatly improved my sentence structuring.
MA: Tell us about your novels, and did any real-life experiences inspire them?
NO: My first 2 novels are action adventure novels with political overtones and loosely based on my military experience as an Army officer. Almost all of the main characters in my novels are based on people I know or have met in a professional working relationship in some way.
Here’s the list:
Civil War II – My first published novel, action/adventure (2004) – A story of coercion, bribery and a military coup, overthrowing a sitting President of the United States, the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court.
The Blue Heron – An action/adventure (2005) – A story about a U.S. military covert operation and coup to overthrow the Cuban government.
The Killing Zone: Evil’s Playground – Police thriller/mystery (2007) – Police Detective Daniel Patrick O’Malley is called out to investigate the death of a young woman in what appears to be an apparent suicide, but he soon discovers she is a victim in a series of bizarre murders.
Jugs & Bottles – Police thriller/comedy (2009) – A woman deaf since birth, is targeted for murder after witnessing a Mafia style execution then identifying the two hit men to the police. She, along with her dog become involved in a series of chaotic events as two brothers attempt to silence her with their bumbling, comedic ways.
The Sin Slayer – Police mystery/suspense thriller (2010) – For thirty years, a self-ordained church leader has convinced his small congregation to secretly kill dozens of people after hearing an inner voice, whom he believes to be God, telling him to cleanse the world of chosen sinners.
Flowers, Love & Other Things (2005) – A collection of poems and short stories by Nelson O. Ottenhausen published in other media from 1994 through 2005.
MA: That’s quite an assortment! Are your heroes based upon real people you’ve known?
NO: Protagonists, as well as the main characters in all of my novels, are mirrored after someone I knew, both relatives and friends.
MA: I’m intrigued by Jugs & Bottles because your protagonist is not human. Tell us more.
NO: My hero in that story is a dog. His strong points are; he is loyal, obedient and lovable, and will face danger without hesitation to protect his charge. His biggest weakness; he tries to befriend everyone because of his lovable attitude.
MA: I take it you have many different antagonists in your stories?
NO: Each novel has a strong “bad guy” and all of them are a little whacky. In Jugs & Bottles, there are really 2 “bad guys” and 2 good “bad guys” (2 brothers wanting be major criminals, but just don’t have the smarts nor ability to become so).
MA: As prolific a writer as you are, I assume you are working on something new?
NO: I’m presently working on two novels, Black Mist of the Trinity, a story of terrorists, nuclear warfare and black OPS; and Auggie, a historical novel about a young Russian girl growing up in Japanese occupied China during World War II, based on the true life experiences of a long time acquaintance.
MA: Anything else you’d like to add?
NO: I am President and part owner of Patriot Media, Inc., a small independent publishing company in Niceville, Florida. We are a traditional publisher in the sense we do not charge authors to publish their work. We are specialized and publish only military theme books, both fiction and non-fiction. To review our titles, go to www.patriotmedia.inc.
MA: Nelson, thanks for your service in the Army, and thanks for being my guest today. Folks, please visit Nelson’s Patriot Media website, as well as his personal site: www.booksbynelson.com. Read More
MA: I am pleased to have visit with me today, Australian author Diana Hockley. Diana lives in a southeast Queensland country town, surrounded by her husband, Andrew, two 19 year old cats and four pet rats. She is a dedicated reader, community volunteer, and presenter of a weekly classical program on community radio. She and her husband once owned and operated the famous Mouse Circus which travelled and performed for ten years throughout Queensland and northern New South Wales. Now that the circus is sold, she is the mouse judge for the Queensland Fancy Rat and Mouse club shows!
Diana and Andrew also bred Scottish Highland cattle. Prior to 1995, her last occupation was medical transcriptionist specializing in Radiology at a major Brisbane hospital.
They have three adult children and three grandchildren.
Diana has had articles and short stories accepted and published in a variety of magazines, among them, Mezzo Magazine USA, Honestly Woman (Australia) the Highlander, Austin Times and Austin UK, Australian Women’s Weekly, It’s A Rats World, Solaris UK, Literary Journal of University of Michigan USA, Foliate Oak, children’s website Billabong. She was awarded Scenic Rim Art Festival prizes for poetry and fiction. Since that time she has published two crime novels, The Naked Room and The Celibate Mouse.
Now, that’s one of the most diverse – and interesting – backgrounds I’ve ever seen. How did you go from the circus to novels?
DH: I wrote a novel in 1971 which was rejected but deemed “worthy of merit.” After this, I didn’t write anything more until I attended university when I was in my 30s. Raising children was a fulltime occupation for a widow, so I didn’t write anything more until 2005, by which time I was living on a small farm in rural Australia, married again and on my own a great deal in the show season. I started off with articles about our animals – always a rich source of amusement for city magazines, then ventured some short stories and had some success there as well. It was a short step to novel writing after that.
MA: Did your professional career inspire your writing? Are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?
No, my professional life – from which I retired in 1993 – didn’t inspire my writing, but I think some of my characters couldn’t help being heavily disguised as some people I know!
MA: I won’t ask which of them resemble rats! Tell us about your stories.
DH: My debut novel, The Naked Room, fits into the crime genre, the idea for which came to me one night when I was in the studio at the radio station. What would happen if the pianist didn’t turn up for the big concert? There would have to be a very good reason why not. So I set about creating one!
MA: How did you develop your protagonist?
DH: I allowed Ally Carpenter’s character to develop in response to her abduction and the personalities of her kidnappers. I once read that you have to listen to your characters, rather than trying to force them to do what you want (within reason of course) so that is what I tried to do and it seems to have worked.
MA: Is there a hero in addition to a heroine in your story?
DH: It’s hard to say who is the hero in The Naked Room. Is it her boyfriend who takes it upon himself to investigate the crime? Is it her father who holds himself together and works on the ransom money? Or are they both the hero? My heroine’s strength is that she refuses to give in. My hero’s strengths are neither of them are about to give up searching for Ally Carpenter.
MA: I understand you have more than one antagonist in the book. Tell us about them.
DH: Oh yes, there are three bad guys and one bad woman in this – but they too have an agenda other than money.
MA: Any real life experiences that flowed over into your stories?
DH: No, not really. I psyched myself into standing behind each character, listening to them speaking and the reaction of those around them – like reading a newspaper over someone’s shoulder. And I am sure they got a bit cranky with me sometimes (chuckling).
MA: So who migrates over from The Naked Room to your other novels?
DH: I have taken the main female detective from The Naked Room and given her the starring role in The Celibate Mouse. In this novel, the reader finds out what is happening to three of the protagonists from The Naked Room. For After Ariel, my next story, I have taken one of the characters from The Naked Room and made her the character. We find out what is going on with some of the Naked Room characters who were not in Celibate Mouse (some have moved on, it’s two years later) and Susan Prescott turns up again, now an Inspector. I don’t want to over-use the same characters beyond giving continuity to the series.
MA: Any last thoughts?
DH: It’s said that you should always write what you know, so my novels will always be set in small towns/rural/Australian city/UK or Wales and they will feature people whose lifestyles I understand and whose point of view I can put across. My stories will never feature high finance, spies or sophisticated political themes because I have no knowledge of these genres. I do know, however, how people keep secrets!
I tend to write my main characters in first POV and the rest in third, with the exception of The Naked Room which is very different, darker and more violent than The Celibate Mouse.
MA: Thanks, Diana! Please visit Diana Hockley’s website for more information about her writing: http://www.dianahockley.webs.com. Read More
MA: I am pleased to welcome to my blog today, Dr. Louis P. Solomon. Louis founded Life Echoes, a Family Legacy Book Publishing Service. In addition he founded Pearl River Publishing (PRP), a publishing house. He spent most of his career in the military-industrial community in government and industry. He continues to be a consultant on business, technical, and financial issues. He is technically trained with a PhD from UCLA in Engineering in 1965.
Louis has written several books including five novels: The Third Legacy, Gotcha!, Unknown Connections, Library of the Sands, and Instrument of Vengeance, and several nonfiction books: Transparent Oceans: Defeat of the Soviet Submarine Force, Teleworking—A Complete Guide for Managers and Teleworkers and the Solomon Haggadah.
You have a fascinating background, especially in the technical realm. Please tell us more.
LS: I have substantial academic technical training. I have had a varied career, covering multiple disciplines, both in government and in the private sector. I received a PhD in Engineering from UCLA in 1965, specializing in Fluid Mechanics, Applied Mathematics, and Electromagnetic Theory.
Prior to entering government service I was one of three founders of a very successful consulting firm, Planning Systems Incorporated (PSI) which grew from three to over 400 people located in several states. PSI primarily supported the United States Navy (USN) during the Cold War. After ten years with PSI I went to work for the Department of the Navy for nine years as a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES). As the Associate Director of Naval Ocean Research and Development Activity (NORDA) for Program Management I was responsible for the Long Range Acoustic Propagation Project (LRAPP).
Subsequently I worked with the DoD National Security Education Program (NSEP) in placing within the federal government over 3,000 NSEP award recipients (graduate and undergraduates in all academic fields) who lived and studied throughout the world and learned less commonly taught languages and cultures. I also served as a subject matter expert in developing The Language Corps for the Department of Defense (DoD) as a national entity to support government agencies in times of national emergencies.
In addition to PSI, I am a founder and chief executive of several firms: LPS Collaborative Group, (a very unusual technical and management consulting firm), Pearl River Publishing (a book publishing firm) and Life Echoes, (a Family Legacy Book Publishing Service). In addition, I sporadically write a blog: The Wisdom of Solomon, which focuses on subjects which are of interest to me.
MA: I can understand the technical writing you’ve done, but how did you end up writing novels?
LS: In a single sentence: My Mother made me.
I wrote many technical reports and refereed technical papers. I eventually lost interest in discussing and writing about detailed technical issues. That is work for people beginning their careers.
I had no interest in writing fiction until my Mother came to me one day and told me that she had a fiction story she wanted me to write, based upon an actual event. Being a dutiful son, I said that I would write the story and promptly did nothing. But she was a tough old lady, and nagged me about it, regularly. I continued to put her off. But I was then invited, as part of a family outing to celebrate the 80th birthday of my mother-in-law, to go on an ocean voyage for a week. I find cruise ships the height of boredom, but as a son-in-law, I was obliged to accept the invitation with good graces. I then realized this was a heaven sent opportunity. I took my Mac Power Book laptop, and spent every day from 0600 to 1800 in the ship’s library. It was a nice little quiet room, which was never visited by another single soul during the entire trip. I wrote all day long, and by the time the cruise was over, I had completed the first draft of the book. My Mother loved it, and I found it a very interesting tale. This story, The Third Legacy, was edited by Linda Jenkins, who has edited not only all my books, but used to edit all my technical documents and refereed journal articles which I wrote while I was associated with NORDA. She is a superb editor, and I always accept follow her suggestions about making changes to the documents I entrust in her editorial care.
MA: Did your professional career inspire your writing? Are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?
LS: My professional career did not inspire my writing. It had an effect on how I write my novels, just as my technical training influenced how I write. I focus on relatively complex stories, which fit together in order and sequence. All parts of my stories hang together. The problem that I have is that I do not focus on the characters of my books. I like them all, and would associate with them in real life, if they, in fact existed. But I don’t emphasize the emotional part of my novels, nor the character interactions. To me the story is one that I tell, in detail, in what I would characterize as a somewhat laconic voice. This is, I believe, the major drawback to all my novels. If I continue to write novels, and I probably will, I will be searching for someone who is very good at constructing characters who are lovable, hate able, etc. My coauthor will probably be sought as a budding playwright.
All my characters are based, to a greater and lesser degree on people I know, or knew. The skills and capabilities of my characters are based upon real people. However, I should add that I do not pay much attention to the human characteristics of real or imaginary people. They are what they are, and that is how I deal with people in real life. I like them, or do not; and friendships develop or not. I assume they think the same about me, but this may be an inaccurate assessment. I have many long term, close friends, in many fields and areas of endeavor, but I never think about them purely in an emotional way. They are wonderful in that sense that they have great enjoyment to me, but I never analyze them.
MA: Tell us more about your novels.
LS: I have already mentioned my first novel: The Third Legacy. This novel, written at my Mother’s request and prodding, was based upon the historical fact that Hermann Goering, Reich Marshall of the Third Reich, was sentenced to death for War Crimes at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trial at the end of World War II. He died a few hours before he was to be hung. How he died, and who helped him was never discovered or explained. This single event allowed me to develop a tale which explained all the facts, and hopefully was interesting as a novel.
The second novel, Gotcha! was based upon the Enron scandal and the terrible effects on the people who worked for Enron. The entire story of the Enron scandal was part of a Pulitzer Prize article from several Washington Post writers. I was infuriated by the way Enron executives handled themselves and decided that I could write a story which would have the characters, originally part of a fictional corporation who underwent the same series of events that Enron encountered. Once I had the idea of wrecking vengeance, the story was easy to develop.
The third novel, Unknown Connections was a little different. I have just finished a nonfiction book: Transparent Oceans: The Defeat of the Soviet Submarine Force. This book was written for a very select professional group of people who were familiar with the issues of naval submarine warfare during the Cold War. But several people suggested that I take the same information and create fictional characters and retell the story as part of a novel, using the same information. I did, and Unknown Connections is the result.
The fourth novel, Library of the Sands, is based upon the factual event of the destruction of the library at Alexandria in the 7th Century by the invading Arab armies. The library was itself about 1,000 years old at that time. It was the largest and most complete library in the Western Hemisphere with collections dating back 1,000 years from many sources. The librarians had a long and wonderful history in developing and protecting the collection. It was, and remains, my contention that the men and women of the 7th Century were emotionally no different than the men and women of the 21st Century; but the technology is different. If I were the Chief Librarian of the Alexandria Library at the time would I let my collection be destroyed by the invading armies? Absolutely not. So, how would I protect the collection which was in my care and my responsibility? The novel, Library of the Sands, is in fact, devoted to telling the imaginary story about how this was actually accomplished.
The most recent novel, Instrument of Vengeance, is due to my enjoyment of the assassin which was told about in the series of novels by Lawrence Block. I enjoyed them, and then, as is my habit, I asked myself how someone becomes an assassin, and how can a business which offers assassination as a service, exist in the modern world? How do you find clients? How do you stay free and not get caught by the law enforcement services? After thinking about it for a little while, and with the technical background I have, it was easy to solve the problem. So, I wrote a novel about how it could be done. All the technical details are correct, and plausible.
MA: How would you characterize the antagonists in your stories?
LS: My bad guys are really not people, but events and organizations.
MA: Will you keep writing fiction, or are you going to concentrate more on your technical writing?
LS: I will continue to write novels as ideas and events appeal to me. I can’t predict what they will be, or when they will occur. But my current focus on my firm, Life Echoes, I expect will have me encounter some interesting historical events and stories which I will use as a basis for a new novel, or series of novels.
MA: Thanks very much, Louis, for being my guest-blogger today. I encourage my readers to learn more about Louis Solomon by visiting his many websites:
www.tumblr.com/tumblelog/louispsolomon 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
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: 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).
MA: My guest today is author J. D. (Dave) Webb. Dave resides in Illinois with his wife (43 years counting) and their toy poodle, Ginger, losing all family votes 2 to 1. Dave served in the Security Service of the Air Force as a Chinese linguist and weather analyst in Viet Nam and the Philippines prior to spending 25 years in corporate management. After a company purge he promoted himself to cobbler and he owned a shoe repair and sales shop for 11 years. But being a full time author, always a dream, became a reality in 2002. Dave has garnered several awards. His first novel Shepherd’s Pie won a publisher’s Golden Wings Award for excellence in writing. His second novel Moon Over Chicago was a top ten finisher in the 2008 Preditors and Editors Poll in the mystery category and was a finalist in the prestigious 2008 Eppie awards by the Electronic Publishing Internet Connection. His latest book, Smudge, recently placed fifth in the mystery category of the 2011 Preditors and Editors poll. He is also the Owner and Moderator of the Publishing and Promoting Yahoo group with over 900 international members.
That’s an impressive and diverse resume, Dave! Tell us why you chose to write novels.
DW: Actually the novels chose me. I’d always written short stories, but wanted – no needed – to write novels. They are what I love to read and they are what I love to write.
MA: What kind of stories do you write?
DW: I write family friendly mysteries, no excessive violence, gore or profanity. I realize that goes against the current trend. Rex Stout once said (not sure of the exact quote), “Mysteries can contain sex or violence if it is essential to the story. That is perfectly all right. There is none of that in mine. So it must not be essential.”
I have a series featuring laid-back Chicago PI Mike Shepherd. Shepherd’s Pie reflects that Mike loves pie and swears it helps him solve a case. In this one he is hounded by Ferlin Husky Lewis, the serial killer he is trying to capture. In Her Name Is Mommy Mike finds a tot in a busy mall whose mom has been kidnapped from that mall. His promise to her is that he’ll find her mommy. Moon Over Chicago – Amateur sleuth and cobbler Fulton Moon merely tries to help a customer out of an abusive relationship. But his attempts to help never go as planned. Smudge chronicles the adventures of Trish Morgan a paralegal in a small Chicago suburb. She wipes a smudge off her ATM screen one night and it’s blood. Then she hears a moan coming from the alley next to the bank. She shouldn’t go into that alley, but she does.
MA: How do you go about developing your characters?
DW: My characters seem to develop themselves. Often one pops up and I have no idea where he/she comes from. I wrestle with them to stay on plot. They are sometimes headstrong. I develop back story as I go with them and I have to keep notes to make sure I know who they are.
MA: Tell us about how you shape your heroes.
DW: All my protagonists are competent and smart but with weaknesses. I also make my antagonists equally smart and competent. I abhor the uncouth, whiskey-swilling images of PIs. I don’t subscribe to the recurring bad guy. Each book can be a standalone and good always triumphs.
MA: Does your art imitate your life in any way?
DW: Well, let’s see. I’ve never been chased by a serial killer, never had a bald headed giant florist beat me up, never had an abusive husband, so I guess the answer is mostly no. For Her Name Is Mommy I did see a tot alone on a mall bench one busy Christmas shopping trip. I wondered where her parents were and after about four minutes the girl’s mother popped out of a shop and retrieved her child. I was incensed that she’d leave a small child alone in a busy mall for even a few seconds. I decided she needed to be punished – so I put her in my book and had her kidnapped. It was great therapy. I now do it often. Someone ticks me off, they wind up in my book and suffer consequences. My attempt to right the world.
MA: (chuckling) I might want to tick you off in time for a new release of my own. Can’t get too much PR, you know! Any irons in any current fires?
DW: My work in progress is called Gulf Terror. The premise is – what if the gulf oil spill was a suicide bombing by two terrorists? And one of them survives and is loose in Louisiana, planning more destruction?
I have begun the third in the Mike Shepherd series and the second in the Fulton Moon series. I have no plans right now to do a sequel to Smudge, but who knows? My characters have minds of their own it seems. I have another novel almost one third done about a young Pakistani boy orphaned by a tribal chief, taken to Afghanistan and forced to become part of the man’s militia. The young boy’s only goal is to survive to avenge his father’s murder.
MA: What methods do you use to avoid writer’s block or push through it? Do you even get writer’s block?
DW: I can remember a famous author saying there is no such thing as writers block. That is just someone’s excuse for laziness. I don’t remember who it was so I won’t get him/her in trouble. There are times when I get stuck and can’t think where to go next. I don’t consider it writer’s block because I know where I want to go, just not how I want to get there. Sometimes my characters are telling me to go one way and I want to go another. They often win.
MA: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
DW: A writer’s mantra should be – Butt in the chair. The best thing to do is like anything else, practice your craft. Read what you are writing. If it’s mysteries, read mysteries. Read the how to books. Go to writer’s conferences, join a writer’s group, and subscribe to writer’s magazines. I do all these things.
MA: Great advice! I would like my readers to visit Dave Webb’s website for more information about this intriguing author and his works: www.jdwebb.com
Fine Detail behind the Scenes
All of us perceive and interpret information predominantly in one of three different ways. They are seeing, hearing and feeling.
If you’ll notice the speech of others, three people may receive information and respond to it differently.
I see what you mean.
I hear you.
I feel I know that.
When having your story characters use any of those three verbs, it is advisable to have them stick with the same one throughout the story unless a particular situation demands else.
If your character first says, “I see what you mean,” try not to have him or her later say something like “I feel I already know that.”
When being told something, the sight-minded person will respond, “I can see that. Yes, I saw that.” They may not have actually seen the action being described but they visualize it in their mind and respond with sight-related words.
The hearing-related person perceives better through hearing, as in a lecture as opposed to quiet reading. Have you ever told a person to do something without saying why? Then that person’s response is “I hear ya’.” That person is actually telling you that he heard the unspoken meaning.
When someone feels something, they are kinesthetic. That is, they feel the effect of what is being said or shown. Whatever they perceive causes a “felt sense,” albeit known only to them at the moment, unless they say something like, “I feel you’re right about that.” Or, “I feel it in my gut.”
All of us use any of the three senses at different times, but we specifically use one most of the time. For example, I can listen to a lecture or read a text and understand, but I will better understand what is being taught if it comes with pictures and diagrams. I am visual.
If you did not realize these habits about yourself, you may be creating all your characters in your likeness. When reading your work, look for these traits in your story people. Did you use only feeling words for your characters? Or hearing words? Or seeing words? Where these characteristics are concerned, you may have passed on the predominant way you perceive the world to ALL your characters. However, all characters should be different. One may see, one may hear, one may feel.
When you establish your characters predominantly using one of these three traits, see that you carry this usage throughout the entire story. This is yet another bit of fine detail behind the scenes that helps add cohesiveness not only to your characters but to your prose as well.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.