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Jun 17

Historical Fiction Writer Ellen Brazer Visits with Mike Angley

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

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Apr 25

Test-Driving Our New Website…Tell Us What You Think

We’ve revamped Mike Angley’s website considerably, choosing a sleek-looking theme with a lot of cool, curvy edges and blue/silver colors (kind of new age Air Force0like, huh?). Tell us what you think. Read More

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Dec 08

“Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent” by Mary Deal

Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent

by

Mary Deal

Being aware of what agents look for will help you prepare the type of manuscript they will read. Keep in mind, these same rules apply once you have an agent and the manuscript is being sent out to publishing house editors.

All agents hope to find that one manuscript that is unique above all the others. It’s been said that all stories have been told. What makes them different is each individual writer’s slant on the topic, providing they have written a solid story.

When an agent begins to read, after years of experience, they are keen to grammar flaws. This is one area that could cause an agent or editor to reject a manuscript without consideration of any of its other merits.

Too, how long is your manuscript? Paper books presently should be 60,000 to 80,000 words. Anything more than that, since it’s the requirement, the agent will believe the writer too verbose, lacking control over their adjectives and adverbs and overall sentence structure.

With the advent of hand-held readers, entire books are now converted to ebooks. There may or may not be word count restrictions. Still, your story must be good to merit the higher-end costs of ebooks as well.

If the agent or editor reads on, they do so with one motivation. They need to decide if this book, when published, will sell enough to make back their commission and any advance royalty paid to the writer. And still, the book must make a profit for the publishing house beyond that point.

The agent or editor will also be judging the writer’s overall presentation. Is it neat? Was the cover letter professional? Did it follow standard form? Did the writer seem to know what he or she talked about. What they look for is how you, the writer will perform after the book is published. Are you going to be difficult to work with? Are you going to go out of your way to make this book a success? Or do you believe that’s the publisher’s duty?

Professionals know immediately if they want to spend the time to read all the way through. They are also concerned if a reader will want to spend hours with the story and author. They scrutinize to see if the writer’s descriptions are fresh and different. What the agent looks for is individual voice. It was once enough to say “the trees had greened up after the last heavy rain;” another to say “the morning sun reflected in the raindrops on the new green leaves and made the trees sparkle.” Your voice shows in how you describe scenes and action. Your description must be different than anything else you’ve read.

An agent is keenly aware whether or not they will turn from the first page to the second. Agents read thousands of stories. They know by the end of the first page if the book will stack up against others in the same genre.

Have you written characters that an agent will appreciate? Your characters must stand out from all the rest. For character development, see my articles Faces and Quirks and Character Sketches. Everyone, from agent, to editor to publisher to avid reader must like your characters. Make them likeable or make them the kind of characters we love to hate, but make them memorable.

The overall plot must be about something the characters need to attain or obtain. They must want it desperately or the reader simply will not care enough to follow the character through whatever conflict arises.

Not only in nonfiction but in fiction as well, your facts must be right. In nonfiction it can be no other way. If you wish to make your fiction true to life, which helps the reader suspend reality and keep reading, get your facts straight too.

Dialogue moves the story. It must be written in such a manner that enhances the character’s personality. Dialogue exchanges between characters must propel the story. Ordinary conversation is never written into books. It is boring and says nothing really. Consider this:

“Good morning, John.”

“Good morning, Jim. What’s on the agenda today?”

“Guess we’re supposed to take the plane out for a test run today.”

They went to leave immediately.

Or this:

“Morning, John,” Jim said, rushing in. He thumbed toward the sky. “Let’s get upstairs before the boss sees the plane still sitting on the tarmac.”

Ordinary conversation has no place in good writing. Dialogue and beats move the action. Oh yes, see my article titled Let the Dialogue Speak.

The above could easily be included in the instruction we’ve all heard: Show, Don’t Tell. Simply, what this means is that the reader must see the action happening. Dialogue promotes action. Any time the writer begins to tell what a person thinks, how they interact with others, that should raise a red flag in the writer’s mind. See the two examples above? The first version contains dead dialogue and stalls the action. The second example not only contains dialogue that moves the story, but shows us what these two people are doing. Shows, doesn’t tell.

* * *

Most of the information in this article applies to both agents and editors. You must find an agent before you can approach a publishing house editor. The agent does that for you. In rare instances I’ve heard about someone submitting directly to an editor, but it usually turns out to be a small start up publishing house. If you wish to approach the big houses, get an agent.

To help you find an agent, try the site which does not charge a fee. In my experience they have been totally reputable:

http://agentquery.com

The agents listed on this site tell you what types of manuscripts they will accept and in which genres. It’s very thorough.

http://www.writersmarket.com

These are the people who publish those real thick volumes about everything you need to know as a writer. The book is expensive. However, if you sign up for their online edition, you get new listings and updates as new information come in all year long.

You can double check the credibility of an agent or editor you wish to contact by finding them on Preditors and Editors at:

http://pred-ed.com/

Preditors and Editors tell you who is legitimate and who is a scam. Yes, there are scam artists in the writing industry. You knew that, right?

I’m sure other sites have additional information but these are great places to begin your search.

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

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Nov 24

“Plot Elements” by Mary Deal

Plot Elements

by

Mary Deal

Plot elements are always the same when writing any story through the stages of writing development. This includes when writing creative nonfiction.

If you are adept at summarizing stories, I doubt you will ever find stories where any of the points listed below are missing.

Analyze some of your own stories. Notice if you, too, have included each of these elements in your writing.

If any of these elements are missing from your stories, chances are, it will be a story you felt you weren’t ready to sell or publish because something “wasn’t quite right.” Check the stages of writing development of your story for plot elements.

The list below shows the major construction blocks and the order in which they will happen as a story progresses.

Set Up (Want): The protagonist’s or characters’ needs

Rising Action: What the character does to reach his or her desired goal

Reversals (Plots Points): Something happens to the character to thwart him or her achieving their heart’s desire. Either right choices or mistakes are made by the character.

This is one of the areas that allow you to take your story in a new direction from what the character had intended. This is a major portion of the story because your character should be headed toward his or her goal when an occurrence stops them cold.

This will be the lengthiest of the stages of writing development. This section is considered the middle of the story. You’ve heard people refer to “sagging middles?” A sagging middle means the writer did not keep up the action going through the middle of the book. An attention grabbing beginning falls flat when the excitement fades in a dull sagging middle. Then while slogging through a questionable middle, the reader may never make it to the climactic ending.

Recognition: The character realizes what he or she must do, how they must change, in order to overcome their mistakes and achieve their goal(s).

This is one of the plot elements that bring about an Aha! experience. However, the character may not always make the right decision for change.

The Recognition portion of plot elements is NOT the climax. Do not confuse recognition of a problem with the climax of a story.

This is another of the major story building points. Perhaps the character still insists on pursuing what they set out to achieve, in spite of receiving great setbacks. Then finally, once they acknowledge that they need to make changes, those elements and change need to be developed.

This is the second lengthiest of the stages of writing development. Now the character must not only right the wrongs, but also forge ahead to heal the situation.

Climax: The climactic – or at least surprising – result of the action, or where the character ends up, what situation they find themselves in, embroiled or accomplished.

This is also the lesson of the story, the message or metaphor that you, the writer, hope to accomplish by writing the piece. You need not incorporate a moral or ethical message in your stories. However, as you move your characters through their story lives, you inadvertently give the reader a lesson in right and wrong.

Plot elements say this portion of the story should be quick, for added impetus of the realization. It brings the story to a close.

Denouement (Sometimes optional): Of the plot points, this is the lesson learned by the character(s), the after-thoughts, from the character’s choices made in seeking their desire.

If the character happens not to realize his or her mistake, then this is the place where the reader will understand the result of the character’s actions, no matter how naïve or in denial the character remains.

Plot elements are easiest to build in longer stories such as novellas or novels, and creative nonfiction. The length of the story dictates how much time and verbiage can be allotted to developing the steps of the story.

In short stories, the writing is controlled, dependent upon the length of the story. Short stories need to be, at times, punchy, quick. It’s a nice test of making use of fewer words while utilizing all the plot elements.

In building a story through the limitations of Flash Fiction, you will see just how adept you’ve become at writing when you can incorporate all of the above plot elements in very few choice words.

However, do not be mistaken by thinking that in a full length novel you can use more words, take all the time and use all the verbiage you need to make your story work. Novels and long works need just as much attention, if not more, to writing lean as any shorter stories.

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

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Sep 22

“Reader Empathy” An Article by Mary Deal

Reader Empathy

A rejection that I received for a short story caused me to take a look at the beginnings of all my stories, short or book length.

Your reader needs to make a connection with your main character. Your heroine or hero needs to have at least one strong quality with which a reader can empathize. When your readers make such a connection, they experience the story through that character’s senses.

Reader empathy must happen at the top of the story. When your reader cannot find anything about your story or characters to like, interest quickly wanes. Then they may not read deep into the story; if they get so far as to finish, the lack of connection will leave them asking “So what?”

I received a rejection from a magazine editor for my fantasy story about a woman’s experience with a UFO and aliens. While I thought it was one of my best fantasy stories, he said,

“I don’t know what to make of the protagonist’s experience. On one level, I don’t need to know whether they’re real or imaginary, but I didn’t learn enough about her to feel much empathy. Although I can’t use this story, please feel free to submit another.”

This editor didn’t say that I should tell more about my protagonist at the top of the story. Placing additional information at the top is my idea for the re-write. After all, how far into the story will a person read when they cannot find rapport with the main character? This editor, most likely, read or scanned the story all the way through because that’s an editor’s job. A reader is not obligated to do the same.

Another possibility of building rapport exists with the reader learning about the main character as the story unfolds. But again, how far into the story will the reader pay attention in order to build empathy? In the case of my story, I see that I can add two sentences at the very beginning of the story that should solve the problem.

Building reader empathy can happen by revealing anything about the main character that will draw the reader to them. The characteristic may be something that elicits any type of emotion, be it love, pity, admiration, or anything else that helps the reader feel connected to that character.

When your main character is the villain, you must still build a trait into her or his makeup to keep the reader’s eyes glued to the page. In a case like this, it might be someone we love to hate and will keep reading just to see that the villain gets a comeuppance. Yet, how many people write stories from the villain’s point of view?

Usually, stories are written from other than the villain’s POV. Not too many readers want to identify with a villain.

Test this advice next time you read a story or, specifically, when you are looking for a new novel to read. Usually readers test the story by reading the beginning paragraphs or pages. How soon do you make a connection to the main character, or even a secondary character? What was the connection made? Was it strong enough to keep you reading, even purchasing the book?

Clues, such as I received in the rejection, help so very much. If I must receive one, it’s the type of rejection I welcome. I’ve already fixed my story and sent it elsewhere. You can bet I will be sending other stories to this very generous editor. And I’ve already rewritten the beginnings of two of my future novels. Read More

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Mar 17

“Follow Those Guidelines” an Article by Mary Deal

A writer’s willingness to work with an agent or editor will show in how a manuscript is submitted.

When submission guidelines are established, how well the writer follows those rules and how well they are carried out, tell a potential editor or publisher how well they will be able to work with that writer. More than that, it tells them how much a writer is willing to cooperate and work with them.

For example, if the guidelines say not to use paperclips or staples and a submission arrives with a huge paperclip, this is a red flag to an editor. Chances are, after rough handling in the mails, the paper clip has bent the paper so badly that the sheets jam the editor’s photocopier. Many editors may not make copies, but what if the story is so exciting that a group of judges want to sit around and discuss it? They certainly aren’t going to do that over one single copy.

If an editor says he or she likes your story but says changes are required, your willingness to improve the story will show way before you’ve gotten your submission past the point of being read. It shows in how well you follow guidelines.

When an editor calls for the first chapter and the guidelines say not to fold your submission and you send a dozen pages folded in thirds and crammed into a number #10 envelope, your submission will either be returned unread or tossed.

If a writer cannot follow directions, it simply says that the person is not serious about his or her work. The writer probably places little value on instructions and thinks the submission will be read anyway because it’s so darned good, not realizing that the #10 won’t even be opened. This also shows a person who is too lackadaisical about keeping supplied with the proper materials of the trade.

A similar theory about following directions holds true in certain therapeutic practices. In administering therapy, the therapist may unexpectedly ask a client to do something, like move their chair a little to the side. This is a test of how well the client is willing follow directions. Whether or not they cooperate is a measure of how much they will submit to therapeutic techniques.

Like the patient that repeatedly arrives for therapy but refuses to cooperate, you choose whether or not to follow submission instructions. In order to receive more acceptances than rejections, or to have an agent or editor ask for your entire book manuscript, writers must be willing to play by the rules. So, follow directions and guidelines to the letter.

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

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Oct 22

Fellow Writer John Wills is Mike Angley’s First Guest-Blogger!

Today I am pleased to kick off my fellow-author series where I interview writers about their lives, their writing, their passions…and I’m honored to have as my first guest-blogger, John Wills. John and I met via PoliceLink, a website for people in the law enforcement community. He introduced me to my current publisher – our shared publisher – TotalRecall Publications (TRP). Read More

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