Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writing lessons learned from GONE GIRL


Quick...before the regular post, are you participating in NaNoWriMo? I am! You can find me here.

As you probably learned in my post Unredeemable Characters and Unhappy Endings, I absolutely loved Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Like, I'm obsessed. As a reader, I was entertained. As a writer, I was blown away by the author's skill.

It was tough to whittle down the lessons learned to a manageable list, without giving too much away. Fair warning...if you haven't read the book yet, and don't want to know anything about the story, stop!

First, about Gone Girl:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

What writing lessons did I learn from this book? Too many to list in this post, but here are my favorites:
  • Get to know the missing person. How? In Gone Girl, we get to know Amy, the missing wife, through a series of journal entries. Early entries describe a wonderful romance, but soon the entries become dark and fearful. In my guest post on Traci Kenworth's blog, I listed ways for readers to care about an absent character.
  • Unreliable narrator. Nick, the husband/suspect, confuses the reader. Is he concerned about his missing wife? Sometimes. And sometimes it seems his concern is just for show. When he's interrogated by the police he tells us, "It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting." After that, I kept wondering if he was lying or telling the truth. I tell ya, this book is filled with liars, cheaters, and psychos. I mean that as a compliment.
  • Add personality to the prose. In Amy's diary, she tells how she used to write quizzes for women's magazines. When at a crossroad in her life, she'd write a quiz about it in her diary with multiple choice answers. It was a cute way to get to know the character better.
  • If there's a gun on the wall, use it. Remember that saying? If there's a gun on the wall, the writer had better use it? I can't remember who said it. Anyway, there was a couple of clues I picked up on that didn't go further. Nick and his sister Margo are twins. They'd even experienced telepathy. I expected the author to explore that in the story. If it was explored, it was done in a way that I didn't catch. It seemed like a missed opportunity.
  • List of suspects. Nick soon becomes the main suspect in Amy's disappearance. He does show signs of innocence, though, like occasional shock and worry. But there are also other characters who could be involved. There's a roving band of homeless men in the town, and there are old flames and stalkers who might have motive to harm Amy.
  • Unexpected character backstory. Most protagonists come from messed up families. After all, how interesting are characters who have wonderful lives and come from wonderful families? Amy's parents seem to have the perfect marriage and a charmed life. This made Amy uncomfortable about being single at 31. This perfect marriage also played into the story in unexpected ways. It went against type and also caused problems.
  • Treasure hunt for clues. In this story, there was literally a treasure hunt. Amy's anniversary tradition was to send Nick on a treasure hunt, with gifts planted along the trail. She goes missing on her anniversary, and yep, a treasure hunt had already been planned. Cops find clue #1 and gift #1 before Nick does. The gift has been carefully opened. This was a clever way to weave mystery and suspense into the story.

Have you read Gone Girl? Seen the movie? What's your opinion? What do you think of these writing lessons? Are you participating in NaNo? If so, good luck!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Sequels and Juggling Chainsaws: Interview with Crystal Collier



Today we have Super Mom and Super Author Crystal Collier here to shed light on writing sequels and juggling chainsaws. Her latest release, SOULLESS, is available now!

Q and A with Crystal Collier:

1. SOULLESS is the sequel to MOONLESS. Had you written a sequel before? How did you prepare for the process of writing a sequel?

I have actually written a couple other sequels. Great practice. SOULLESS wrote itself for the first 50 pages, then I told it to stop and plotted out the rest. If you want a solid story that carries specific themes and character arcs, you do have to slow down the muse sometimes.

2. What were your main writing lessons learned from writing a sequel? Continuity of story arc? Character arc? Adding new plot elements? None of the above?

It was somewhere between character arc and plot arc. I had to push my characters harder and into more difficult moments/decisions than in book 1. I agonized with them. It hurt.

3. Which marketing tasks worked best for MOONLESS? Which did not? Are you trying anything new with SOULLESS?

Because we home school, I’m pretty much confined to digital marketing for now. In that vein, the blog tour worked great. Goodreads giveaways expanded exposure, and getting featured on a ton of review blogs brought in significant traffic. With Soulless I’m being slightly less aggressive, focused on spreading the campaign out. I’ll be trying a facebook party and a live reading via youtube. We’ll see how they go.

4. Now that you have two books out, how do you balance being a busy wife, mother, author, marketer, and juggler of chainsaws?

I eat cheese, of course.

There is no balance. Some days I tip one way, the next, another. My weekly calendar is plotted out with a balance of tasks, one major thing to be done each day with writing, marketing, chores, family events, and whatever else comes along. Sometimes the planning even works, but effort over time (even with disruption,) equals eventual accomplishment.

5. What is the most important writing advice you’ve ever received? Why did it resonate with you?

I don’t know that it was an exact piece of advice. It was more an encouragement to study my industry and know what’s out there, what’s selling, and what publishers were looking for (both in technique and plot). That included reading all the time—industry books and popular fiction. Mostly it was that light bulb moment when I realized I needed to treat this job like a profession, not a hobby.

6. What’s next for the wonderful Crystal Collier?

(You called me wonderful! Yippee!) A baby. A serial story (Bellezza). The third book in the Maiden of Time trilogy (Timeless). TONZ of cheese. Survival.

Survival is good! Crystal, thanks so much for hanging out with us here on the blog.

Friends, have you ever written a sequel? What's your favorite writing advice? There are prizes! Want to enter? a Rafflecopter giveaway

About SOULLESS...

The Soulless are coming... 

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she’s forced to unleash her true power. 

And risk losing everything. 


Connect with Crystal:

Blog | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook | Website

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Unredeemable Characters and Unhappy Endings


Friends, I must brainstorm with you. I have this strange need to just chat about a book with book lovers, and try to understand a couple of things.

I just finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Mind. Blown.

I'd heard the book was good, twisted, and dark. It was all of those things and more. I literally could not put it down. When I began Part Two, my eyes bugged at the twists. I shook my head in wonder at the author's brilliance.

After reading the final words, I wrote this on Facebook:

Just finished reading "Gone Girl." Holy cow. Wicked, twisted, and totally entertaining. I hope the movie is half as good. Who's read it?

The responses I got were fascinating. Most readers agreed it was dark and twisted. Most agreed it was good. Many had seen the movie and said it followed the book closely and was excellent.

But a couple of responses surprised me and really made me think.

My cousin Marcia said this:

"I didn't like it. It was well written but I don't enjoy stories where there is not a single redeeming character."

She's right! Except for maybe the sister and one of the cops, these characters were awful people. Selfish, manipulative, spoiled. Why in the heck did I care what happened to them? Morbid curiosity? What had the author done that made me turn the pages when I should've been cooking dinner? And why did I love a book that was peopled with unlikeable characters? WHY?

I'm still pondering that one. My writing lessons learned post about this book is coming soon.

My friend Kris said this:

"Totally sick and twisted! I really disliked the ending!!"

She's also right! The ending was NOT happy. It wasn't even satisfying. It was frustrating. I wanted to chuck the book at the wall and scream "NOOOOO!" I gravitate toward satisfying endings. After spending so much time with characters, I want to turn the final page and know that things are going to be ok--that these people will go on to live normal lives. This is SO not the case with Gone Girl.

As a reader, I didn't love the ending. As a writer, I admired it. Maybe that's why this book still haunts me. Maybe because I was reading it as a reader, while also marveling at the writer's skill. I'm rarely this surprised by twists, and believe me, this one has some gems. I can't even hint at them without giving away the story.

If you've read the book or seen the movie, and want to read an entertaining thread, there's a fascinating conversation over at Book Journey. Warning! Serious spoiler alert. I mean, they're talking about the twists and the ending.

Whether people like the book or not, it's definitely had an impact.

This book reminded me why we love books. They're entertaining. They make us think. They make us happy and afraid. Gosh, I love reading.

Can I understand why I sometimes love a disturbing book? No. But I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Have you read Gone Girl? Seen the movie? Have you ever thought about a book long after you've turned the final page? Have you ever loved a book with twisted characters? Have you ever enjoyed an unhappy ending and wondered why? Friends, help me understand!! 

(No spoilers, please! I don't want to ruin it for anyone else)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Writing About Personal Trials: Interview With Author Elizabeth Heins


Friends, today I'm honored that Elizabeth Hein, author of the newly released How To Climb The Eiffel Tower, is here to chat about her story and offer advice to new writers. But first, a bit about Elizabeth's book:

Lara Blaine believes that she can hide from her past by clinging to a rigid routine of work and exercise. She endures her self-imposed isolation until a cancer diagnosis cracks her hard exterior. Lara’s journey through cancer treatment should be the worst year of her life. Instead, it is the year that she learns how to live. She befriends Jane, another cancer patient who teaches her how to be powerful even in the face of death. Accepting help from the people around her allows Lara to confront the past and discover that she is not alone in the world. With the support of her new friends, Lara gains the courage to love and embrace life. Like climbing the Eiffel Tower, the year Lara meets Jane is tough, painful, and totally worth it.

What first inspired you to write How To Climb The Eiffel Tower?

When I was in the throes of my own cancer treatment, I met several people who told me that getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. I found that hard to believe at the time. Still, that statement was a seed of an idea. I wanted to give voice to those women’s lives, so I imagined scenarios for how getting cancer could lead to a positive life transformation. After a few false starts, Lara began talking to me.

Who was your inspiration for the characters of Lara and Jane?

Neither Lara nor Jane is entirely based on a real person. The character of Lara is an amalgamation of several young women I have known over the years. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect are far more common than many people would like to believe. I grew up a loving family. Girls in need of a safe place seemed to follow me home on a regular basis.  I knew several girls that were exceedingly bright, but were made to feel stupid by the adults in their lives. Others were mistreated so much that they had no self-esteem left to carry them into adulthood. Even as a child, I was outraged at the way these girls had to live. I guess that indignation stuck with me and came out when I sat down to write this novel.

Jane, on the other hand, is a completely invented character. I was writing what became the first scene of the novel and she walked into the room. From there, the character developed a life of her own on the page.

How is this book different from other books about cancer?

I feel How To Climb The Eiffel Tower is unique because Lara is not a typical “cancer book” protagonist. Many of the other books I read as research for this book had protagonists that were leading charmed lives that were halted by a cancer diagnosis. Lara Blaine’s life was not great before she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cancer could have been just another awful thing for her to withstand. Fortunately, she meets Jane and the other women that teach her to use her cancer experience to reframe her life. Few of the other books I read used cancer as a psychological tool that the main character can use to transform her life.

 What advice do you have for new writers?
  • Learn everything you can about the trade of writing. Read books of the craft of writing. Read books to learn how books are structured. Learn, learn, and then learn some more.
  • Write at least something every day so you stay in touch with the story. Once you get in the habit of writing every day, it is just that – a habit.
  • Writing is not a pursuit for the faint of heart. It is difficult. Don't give up. I have seen tremendously talented writers stop writing because it stopped being easy. Even more people walked away after a handful of rejections.
  • Follow your gut. You really do know what you are doing.
  • Allow yourself to write terrible first drafts; just don’t mistake them for final drafts. Get your ideas down on the page, then edit. Then edit again. Rest. Then edit again.
  • Find some writer friends. They will keep you going when the going gets tough.
Great advice, Elizabeth! Thank you.

Writers, have you ever written about your own personal trials? Was writing the story therapeutic? Do you write every day? Do you power through terrible first drafts? Please share!

Buy links:
Amazon UK 

Twitter: @_ElizabethHein

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cover reveal! Gears of Brass

Gear up for GEARS OF BRASS! 



It's cover reveal day for Gears of Brass! Sheri Larsen, a good friend of this blog, is one of the contributing authors to this anthology (TIME SPUN SOULS). Best of luck to Sheri and all her co-authors!

A few words about Gears of Brass:

A world like ours, but filled with gears of brass, where the beating heart is fueled by steam and the simplest creation is a complex clockwork device.  

Within this tome, you’ll find steampunk fairy tale re-tellings, as well as original stories that will send your gears turning.  

Welcome to the steampunk realm, with eleven authors guiding your path. 

GEARS OF BRASS is a steampunk anthology published through Curiosity Quills.  It will be available for purchase on November 10, 2014.  Within the pages, you’ll come across clockwork inventions and steampunk-ified fairy tale retellings.  Eleven authors will guide you through worlds filled with airships, top hats, and corsets. 

Meet the authors:
Jordan Elizabeth writes young adult fantasy for Curiosity Quills, including ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW which was published in October and the upcoming TREASURE DARKLY; she’s represented by the Belcastro Agency.

J. Million is the author of Last of the Giants and can always be found reading or writing.

Lorna MacDonald Czarnota is a professional storyteller and author of several books including, Medieval Tales That Kids Can Read and Tell, Breadline Blue, Legends Lore and Secrets of Western New York, Wicked Niagara, Native American and Pioneer Sites of Upstate New York, and Dancing at the Crossroads: Stories and Activities for At-Risk Youth Programming.

SA Larsen is represented by Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary and is the author of published short stories, community-interest stories, and magazine articles focused on children. 

Grant Eagar is an Engineer who would take the tales he told his children at bed time, and transform them into fantasy stories. 

Clare Weze is the author of The House of Ash (forthcoming) and the co-author and editor of Cloudscapes over the Lune.

Eliza Tilton: gamer, writer and lover of dark chocolate; author of the YA Fantasy, BROKEN FOREST, published by Curiosity Quills Press.

Heather Talty's stories have been featured in Enchanted Conversation, as well as her own fractured fairy tale site, Mythopoetical (www.Beatrixcottonpants.com).

W.K. Pomeroy is a third generation writer who has published more than 70 short stories/articles/poems across many genres and styles, which now includes Steampunk.

Christine Baker is the author of Lana's End, The Guild of Dagda, and many more. 

Natalia Darcy: a bookilicious reader, tea drinker and Zumba aficionado who enjoys playing cards against humanity and washing her hair with ice cold water. 

You can get your steampunk fix before GEARS OF BRASS is released in November.  To enter for your chance to win a copy of GEARS OF BRASS, you will need to share the cover.  This can be on your blog, Facebook, Twitter… Each time you share the cover image, log it into Rafflecoper to record it.  It will give you more chances to win.  The drawing for the winner will be held on October 27th


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hey, writer! Cross that finish line! #IWSG



Welcome to the October installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. *gasp* It's October already! If you want to be a part of this amazing group (inspired by the ninja himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh) click here.

I'm big into podcasts now (I blogged about podcasts for authors here). I recently listened to Joanna Penn's interview with Orna Ross. Lots of good info packed into the interview, but one thing stood out to me: "Finish, even if it's not good."

You see, I'm deep in a tough revision right now. Like, a gut-the-opening and drop-useless-characters kind of revision. There have been days when I've opened the manuscript, revised one page, and then closed the laptop. It's overwhelming. My next step is to use Janice Hardy's tip to create an editorial map.

Orna Ross's advice reminded me that I just need to cross a finish line, even if the finish line is small. Finished one chapter? That's a finish line. Erased one whole character from the manuscript? That's a finish line. Even if those chapters aren't good, the simple act of finishing something is positive. It's one step closer to the ultimate finish line...creating a wonderful story.

I have a lot of hard work ahead of me. But should we ignore something just because it's hard? No. As Susan Kaye Quinn said on her blog, "It will always be hard."

Are you with me, fellow writers? Let's finish, even if it's bad. We can go back and make it good.

Have you ever been mired in a tough revision? Were you tempted to close the manuscript and not finish? Are you ever intimidated by the amount of work that needs to be done?


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Audiobooks: How To? Interview With A Narrator



Guys, I'm soooo excited to announce that my YA novel, The Boy Who Loved Fire, is now available in audiobook!

Audiobooks are a fun way to reach readers. If you're interested in creating your own audiobook, or if your publisher is looking for a how-to, check out this great tutorial by Elizabeth Craig.

The narrator of The Boy Who Loved Fire, Neal West (who did an amazing job, by the way), has kindly answered a few questions about how to begin the process and what to look for in a narrator.

Neal, thanks so much for stopping by my blog. What made you decide to narrate audiobooks?

I guess the truth is it was a pretty natural progression. I had done a lot of acting when I was in high school, and I followed that into radio. I began to cut commercials and I did a lot of volunteer work. I was also a big listener of audiobooks, my favorite being Stephen King at the time. I got to a point in my professional broadcast career where I was left a bit unchallenged, so I took on working with audiobooks as a way to expand my skill set, and to make a little side money.

Why should authors work with professional narrators instead of creating their own audio?


The main difference between a professional narrator and an author who would record their own book is that I have spent 16 years developing this talent. To assume what I do when I sit in front of a microphone is the same as what someone who has never done this before will do in front of a microphone is just simply not true. As the saying goes, those who are the best at it make it look the easiest.

And you have to define the word professional. For instance the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers makes a heck of a lot more money than a guy who warms the bench for the Bears, although both players are still considered professional. And the same can be true with professional narrators. Some of them work on much bigger projects and demand a lot more money, and others will work with smaller authors on independent projects.


And there are a variety of reasons for that as well. With me, for instance, it's a side job. For others they're just starting out. Generally speaking I think it's better to leave it to the professionals when you want to job done right, and that's why I stopped working on my own cars years ago! A mechanic I am not.

When authors listen to audio auditions, what should they be on the lookout for?


The first has to be technical quality. That's your number one goal, to find a narrator with a professional audio setup that can create sweet audio. You have to remember when you're dealing with an audiobook it's as if I am speaking to you, right in your ear...just you...and me (the narrator)...it's a very intimate experience!


The next step should be finding a voice that fits the kind of book that you've written. There are a variety of standards for that...it's pretty much based on what you think is best. When the book is read in your head...who does it? How does it sound? Male? Or female? Young? Old? Accent? Are there characters in your book? How should they be done? 


I would also say that before an author starts the process of hiring the narrator, they should have spent at least some time listening to several different audiobooks. My best advice is get a feel for what you think your book should sound like and then find the narrator who can achieve that.

When authors listen to the final audio, what should they be on the lookout for?


My advice during the quality control process is first make sure that the audio is up to your standards. There should be a very consistent feel to the tone and pace of the read. It should be the same at the beginning as it is at the end.


It's helpful to listen to the book with a notepad and a copy of the manuscript. Make notes as you go along. Pronunciation of names and places, or just screwed up words, rooms noises or noises in the recording should all be noted. 


Generally if you've done a good job of selecting a professional narrator, most of this should not be an issue. But there are almost always some changes to be made. Remember, once it's done, it's done.

If someone is interested in narrating audiobooks, what do they need? Where do they begin?


Well, first they're going to need to invest some money in gear. There are some really good entry-level broadcast microphones that would do well in an audio narration environment. You also need to invest a little bit in some sort of room treatment... believe me if you've ever heard a tape recorded in a room with bare walls, you'll hear the voice and then on a delay of several milliseconds, hear the voice reverberating from the wall back into the microphone on a delay...it's very distracting.


A good audio interface and then some recording software should be your next buy. And then practice practice practice. Just find some books and tear into to them. And make sure to listen to yourself.
There are quite a few independent voiceover exchanges on the Internet. ACX.com is an example of one. Voice 123 or voices.com are other examples. Get yourself an account set up at some of these sites (depending on the kind of work you want to do), then audition audition audition! You won't get the job you haven't auditioned for.


Remember, above all it's a craft. Practice, network, grow. And never get to big to listen to advice... You will never hear yourself the way someone else can, so it's always good to incorporate some level of feedback into the process.


Neal, you're a superstar! Thanks so much for giving us the lowdown on narrating audiobooks.

Friends, do you listen to audiobooks? If you're published, is there an audiobook available for your book? Feel free to share your link in the comments!