Monthly Archives: June 2012

Whooooo are You? Who-Who, Who-Who?

Masks, by Richard Dudley of Pyrmont, NSW, Australia

Thanks to World Literary Cafe’s “share the love” program, I’m getting to know a lot of authors on Facebook. Some are newly published, some have multiple books under their belts. I’d say 99.5% of them are interesting as people, as writers, as craftspeople.

I’ve noticed something, though. Most of my friends who are authors and a great many of the new writers I’m getting to know use pen names. In the past couple of months, I’ve seen more AKAs than a typesetter in the wanted poster printing office.

Now, I’m not good with names under the best conditions, and that’s when the people I want to remember only use one name. Trying to remember real names as well as pen names makes me dizzy.

One or two authors I know had to switch to pen names after a bad experience with a traditional publishing house. Some use a different pen name for each of the different series novels they produce, while two that I know of use one pen name for books in one genre, like mystery, and another pen name for books they write in a different genre, like romance.  I envy them their prolificity (is that a word?), but I think I’ve asked one of my friends at least a dozen times what their pen name is.  That feels disrespectful to me, but it’s an honest-to-God flaw in my brain. No offense meant, my friends.

Using a nom de plume may be a safety consideration for some writers. Who needs stalkers and cyberbullies making life harder? Sadly, modern society, both real and online, can not be counted on to be civil or well-behaved.

There’s nothing wrong with pen names. Authors have used them for centuries. I may use one, myself, when I get around to publishing Dying to Meet You, which is a mystery and nothing like Memory’s Child.

If I adopt a pen name or two, I  just hope I can still remember my real name.

Guest Post: Top 10 Tips for a Stellar First Chapter

Today’s post is a gift from author Lauren Clark, whose book, Dancing Naked in Dixie, I reviewed earlier this week. The advice she offers here is the kind of “thank you” we writers can all appreciate.

Click on the book image to read my review of DANCING NAKED IN DIXIE

If you’re a writer … in any stage of the game … you’ve likely stressed out about that ominous and all-important first chapter. It’s easy to get stuck on page one, but these tips should help get you thinking and planning your way through it. With some effort, you’ll soon be on your way to chapter two, then three, and beyond.

Here goes:

1. Open with action – Have your character doing something that matters (not drinking tea, taking a shower, or doing the dishes!)

2. What’s the problem? – Your hero or heroine should have a dilemma right away. It can be something that he or she created, an issue that someone else incites (revenge, grief, hate. love, obsession, etc.) an accident, or even a natural disaster.

3. Why should I care? – The main character’s problem should matter, in a small sense or a large one. The hero doesn’t have to be saving the world, but the crisis or issue at hand should be enough to upset the balance of life as he or she knows it.

4. Inject some empathy – Make certain that you show your character (on the premise that your hero is not a serial killer) demonstrates caring for others. It doesn’t have to be rescuing a baby from a burning building, but even a small act of kindness goes a long way with readers identifying with your protagonist.

5. Don’t overload the chapter with secondary characters – When you meet someone new, it’s tough enough to remember that person’s name. Don’t throw a dozen characters at your reader right away. It’s too confusing.

6. Light on the description – Don’t weigh the story down with too many details about the setting, every blade of grass, or the character’s eye color – there’s plenty of time for that later.

7. Skip the back story – Readers don’t need to know everything about the character right away. Save the details for why and how for at least a few more chapters — and later in the story if you can manage it. Remember, offer ‘crumbs’ along the way…don’t throw down the entire loaf of bread!

8. This is my personal preference, but keep the first chapter between five and ten pages (double-spaced in a Word document). Much more than that and you chance losing a reader.

9. Leave the reader hanging at the end of the chapter. Don’t explain everything. Ask a question. Pose another dilemma. Put someone in danger. Give the reader a reason to turn the page and go to chapter two.

 10. Put chapter one away for a day or two. Get it back out, re-read it. Make notes, do some light revisions. Let a trusted friend read it. Let a book-loving acquaintance read it. Make more notes, do more revisions as needed. IMPORTANT: Go on to chapter two. Write the rest of the manuscript.  Then, Go back to # 1 on this list and double-check that you’ve included everything needed for that stellar first chapter.

Looking for examples of stellar first chapters? Pick up a few of your favorite books. Try answering the questions above using those novels. What makes them special?

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Clark

 Lauren Clark is the author of Stay Tuned and Dancing Naked in Dixie. She writes contemporary novels set in the Deep South; stories sprinkled with sunshine, suspense, and secrets.

A former TV news anchor, Lauren adores flavored coffee, local bookstores, and anywhere she can stick her toes in the sand. Her big loves are her family, paying it forward, and true-blue friends. Check out her website at www.laurenclarkbooks.com.

 

 

Smart, Sassy Fiction with a Southern Twist

 Dancing Naked in Dixie for Kindle

Dancing Naked in Paperback

Dancing Naked for Nook

Dancing Naked for iTunes, iPad, iPhone

Stay Tuned

Lauren Clark Books Website

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Virtually no one can spell my name (one of the many reasons I hate my name).

I am long past being surprised when people spell my name Lynette instead of Lynnette. Spelling the name with only one N is apparently the norm.

I used to consider it a sign of disrespect if someone did not take the trouble to make sure they spelled my name correctly. I still feel that way, just not about my own name. Spell it any way you want and pronounce it any way you want. If you’re close, I’ll answer to it.

The only spoken form I may not answer to is Ly-NEE-tra. Someone actually used  that in a voicemail and it took me about a day to realize they were trying to pronounce my name.

Feel free to address me as Lynn, or LynSprat (I use that for a lot of online stuff), or you can use the nickname one of the members of the online writing group I joined back in ’93 – Lynt. Handy little moniker, don’t you think? Easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and best of all, everyone seems to enjoy using it in jokes and puns — Scarlynt when I’m being dramatic, Sadlynt, Happilynt, dryerLynt (I can be a mess sometimes). Anyway, unless you copy and paste it, you’re almost certain to leave out the second N in Lynnette.

In real life, I’ve answered to a wide variety of verbal variations: Lynn, Lynt, Lynnette, Annette, Wynette and, for reasons known only to the person who called me this, Lee. If all I hear is “et,” I’ll answer to it.

WordPress has an option for purchasing lynnettespratley.com to use as a domain name. I was waffling over this, because, as I said, most people can’t spell my name correctly. However, I googled myself with one N and found myself with and without the correct spelling. I’ll probably make the switch to lynnettespratley.com soon. If someone misspells it, Google will offer listings with the correct spelling.

Thank God, I gave my only child a name he wouldn’t have to spend half his life spelling: Chris (Christopher). As problems go, though, easily misspelled or mispronounced names aren’t a big deal over a lifetime.

Still, in my next life, I want to be named Pat. Nobody misspells Pat.

Here’s that pesky, elusive second letter N for anytime you want to write my name!

 

 

Let’s all ‘Dance Naked in Dixie’

Even if you aren’t a fan of contemporary women’s fiction, or “chick-lit,” Dancing is a good read.

Before I write my review of Lauren Clark’s Dancing Naked in Dixie, a couple of notes. First, I am pleased to call Lauren Clark a friend, though we’ve never met. She’s been friendly, incredibly helpful and a joy to converse with via Facebook and e-mail.

Second, I received an advance reader’s copy of Dancing, but the author did not ask me to review the book in return.  She did ask for a very brief blurb later, which I provided.

Okay, with all that out of the way, here’s what I think: read it.

Lauren Clark’s first offering was Stay Tuned, set in the town where I live, so it caught my interest right away. Plus, the setting was a television news station. I have a (very) little experience with television news and three decades of experience with print journalism. I enjoyed the book and appreciated the spot-on setting and characterizations, though contemporary women’s fiction isn’t the genre I normally choose to read.

Some authors write book after book with about the same level of skill, and some authors can never quite produce anything as good as their first books.

Some, like Clark, improve with experience. While Stay Tuned was a fun read and I certainly don’t resent spending my time on it, Dancing is a leap forward. Clark seems to be fine-tuning a native skill for storytelling.

Dancing starts off funny and fast, then proceeds to send the reader off on a roller coaster ride of romance and adventure, sprinkled with more humor. You might even shed a tear or two, though I won’t say why.

Here’s the synopsis from the product page on Amazon:

Travel writer Julia Sullivan lives life in fast-forward. She jet sets to Europe and the Caribbean with barely a moment to blink or sleep. But too many mishaps and missed deadlines have Julia on the verge of being fired.

With a stern warning, and unemployment looming, she’s offered one last chance to rescue her career. Julia embarks on an unlikely journey to the ‘Heart of Dixie’—Eufaula, Alabama—home to magnificent mansions, sweet tea, and the annual Pilgrimage.

Julia arrives, soon charmed by the lovely city and her handsome host, but her stay is marred by a shocking discovery. Can Julia’s story save her career, Eufaula, and the annual Pilgrimage?

I grew up about 30 miles from Eufaula, Alabama. In addition to camping, fishing and one truly foible-filled 4th of July picnic, I once worked at the newspaper there. I know Eufaula, and when you read Dancing, you will get to know it, too, because Clark shows the town to you with exquisite accuracy.

You can almost taste the sweet tea and hear the slow drawl as the characters interact. Clark is careful to include all the senses, gifting the reader with the sights, sounds and scents of this lovely old Southern town and its people. I laughed out loud when Clark revealed that one of the characters is named Shug Jordan, after the famous Auburn football coach. She even explains the correct pronunciation: JERR-dan. Now that’s nailing it!

While I’m not as familiar with New York City, I suspect Clark, a former television newsperson herself and thus accustomed to extensive research, nailed that city’s “personality” as well.

The pacing is well done. The characters are distinct and generally well-defined. You don’t get handed everything – some subtleties may dawn on you a page or two later. I like that.

Dancing is interesting. As a writer, I read books not just for story but for craft, and Clark has a good grasp of both. I expect we will see her writing career grow exponentially, and I’m looking forward to her next book.

While I received the reader’s copy free from the author, I bought the Kindle edition as soon as it was released. Why? Because I wanted to read the final, polished version, and because I firmly believe in supporting good authors as much as possible.

Click on the image of the book cover to go to the product page on Amazon. Dancing Naked in Dixie is available in e-book and paperback form.

Honoring My Father

That’s my dad with the notebook in his lap, doing what he did best: reporting.

Memory’s Child is free to download on Amazon today.

I hope some readers will take a moment to write a short review once they finish the book.

I didn’t make MC free for that, though.

Today, my father would have turned 97 years old. That’s him in the lower left of the photo above, writing in a notebook. Looks like he’s interviewing the fellow sitting nearby.

My dad was a career journalist, though most of his career was as an Army journalist in the Public Affairs Office. He wrote speeches, too, for generals and the High Commander of Okinawa when we were stationed there. He had something to do with the old documentary series, “The Big Picture,” though I don’t have personal memories of that. He moonlighted as long as I can remember, serving as copy editor and editor of various civilian newspapers near the Army posts where we lived.

He also served as editor of two post-war newspapers, one in Germany and the ComZ Cadence in France. I didn’t come along until Dad and the family were transferred back to the States.

Dad used to take me along with him sometimes to cover stories, when he needed a kid in a photo, or just to ride around and yak.

He said most reporters would be better at their jobs if they forgot half of what they learned in college. He meant they would be better at writing creatively to fulfill the five Ws without boring the reader. A news report is just a cold, lifeless body — the quality of the writing gives it warmth and a heartbeat, turns it into a story. He loved story.

He was usually serious when he talked about writing, but he had a puckish, irreverent side, too, and a great sense of humor. The photo at the right is more representative of his personality. I  have the original artwork on my wall near my desk to remind me that  you can’t always be serious or you’ll miss the thready pulse of a great tale inside the body of the who-what-when-where-why.

I learned a lot from my dad in the short time I had him. He died of a heart attack while at work in 1968, exactly two weeks before my 14th birthday. We didn’t have access to video cameras and camera phones — in fact, cassette tapes were fairly new back then! I don’t have much more than photos of my dad, the cute drawing of him, plus a rather large collection of newspaper clippings and entire newspapers dating back to World War II. He wasn’t much for writing letters, unfortunately. Not only do I have a good portion of his body of work, but I have plenty of memories. Not all perfect and pristine – he was human, after all – but mainly good ones.

As soon as I was old enough, I followed my dad into the newspaper business, and found myself working in some of the same places he had worked. People remembered him, and to me, that was a great honor.

He confided in me once that he was writing a novel. He showed me the typed pages that were in his dresser drawer, though he didn’t want me to read them. Adult stuff, I assume, like war or some other grownup-type strife. I respected his wishes, but oh, how I wish I hadn’t. The unfinished manuscript disappeared after his death. I don’t know what happened to it, though I suspect it was tossed in the trash.

As I write this post, Memory’s Child is ranked #1 in Amazon’s top science fiction list, and #25 in the Top 100 Free eBooks list. More than 7,000 potential readers have downloaded the book since it went free on Sunday.

I hope that everyone who reads the book will like it, even though they don’t know the free download is my gift to them, passed on from my father, for the love of story.

Happy birthday, Dad, and thanks for the gift.

Let it Flow, Let it Flow, Let it Flow

Do you outline your novels? Do you write synopses of the chapters before you write them or make lists of pivotal scenes for each chapter?

Although most of the zillion books on writing that I have read insist that you must outline or in some way plan the course of your story, I don’t do it.

I like surprises, but only in books and in writing fiction. I like to go with the flow, wherever the story takes me, rather than drag the story to some predetermined finish line whether it wants to go there or not. Too heavy. Too much trouble.

Besides, I know me better than the authors of those how-to-write-well books do. If I write an outline, detailed or bare bones, or synopsize the book chapter by chapter, I will never write the darned thing. Once I’ve told the story in any fashion, it’s told. The fun has been had and the party is over.

That is also why I rarely tell anyone what my work-in-progress is about. I may talk about a troublesome scene or even chapter, but never the whole storyline. Partly because I don’t know the whole story myself, yet, and partly because, as I said, once the story is told, it’s told.

I have used Cyn Mobley’s go-to plot points system in her BAM: Book A Month ebook, but mostly for problem areas that have me stumped, like a pivotal scene that refuses to pivot. That is when planning comes in most handy for me. I stress that because your experiences may be (and often should be) wildly different.

For me, outlining and short chapter-by-chapter synopses were most helpful when working on a query letter to an agent or publisher. Since I’m deeply in love with indie publishing, the outline/synopsis helps most with writing blurbs.

I usually have a pretty good idea of the story I want to tell before I begin writing.  Nothing specific or concrete, just an idea that has germinated and begun to grow.  Memory’s Child was an exception – I not only had no plan for the plot, I didn’t know what was going to happen until it flowed out of my pen. I had no inkling that the story was there, lurking in my brain’s creative half. I wanted to write romances!

If outlining works for you, hooray. If it doesn’t, hooray. Forcing yourself in either direction will only make you miserable and the writing more difficult. Whatever it takes to help your writing flow more easily, do that, no matter what the how-to books say.