Monday, October 31, 2016

A Night of Fear and Laughter

Halloween means it’s time to think about scary stuff. Vampires, zombies, super heroes, angels and princesses may all show up at your door. Sometimes fear can actually be fun, if you’re reading a book or watching a movie. In real life? Not so much.

I remember years ago when my mother was watching a scary movie on TV. I happened to be watching the same movie. She phoned me and wouldn’t hang up until the movie was over. All she had to do was change the channel, but she couldn’t do it.

When I first started writing I created a book titled Mysteries of Holt House. I tried to think of what readers might like and came up with a spooky old house (which was transformed into a boarding house), located in the middle of nowhere, and I added secret passages and unexplained events and circumstances. It’s light reading and has a little humor in it. Because of that, I was surprised at some of the comments I received. It turned out there were scenes in the fictional house and in the secret passages that frightened people. Who knew? I had no idea that the book would cause a few people to lock their doors, check the windows, and sit on the edge of their seat. I guess it’s all in the perception, because I don’t think it’s that scary.

Anyone who was around when Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was first released remembers the paralyzing fear that the shower scene caused. To this day there are women who take a bath instead of a shower because of the movie.

All kinds of things scare people. For some it’s a snake, and for others it might be a spider. Things that go bump in the night will make people sit up and take notice because they represent the unknown. I know a woman who won’t read even simple mysteries because they make her so nervous. The subject doesn’t matter, but the unknown does.

In some of my posts I write about dogs. They make great characters – or do they? Remember Stephen King’s Cujo? Dogs make great villains, too. They aren’t all named Lassie and they aren’t all heroes. I’ve had more than one canine set my teeth on edge, and dogs are my pet of choice.

Ugliness, monsters, clowns, the unknown, surprise, graphic violence; these are all things that can frighten a reader. However, the list is a lot longer than these few things. Some fear heights, and an author can set a scene where you feel like you’re right there on top of a thirty story building with someone. Mountain driving, bridges, freeways and deep water are frightening to some. What doesn’t give one reader the heebie jeebies will cause another to lose sleep. How about flying? Plenty of people are terrified of airplanes and flying.

My point is that like riding on a roller coast, fear can be both terrifying and fun at the same time.

This is the day for spooky ghosts and wicked witches. It’s also the day for angels and princesses and picnic tables. Yes, I know someone who once placed a red and white checked table cloth over a cardboard box, attached condiment containers, paper plates and cups, and stuck his head up through the middle of the table – through a serving plate. This is a day to be creative with costumes, and it’s a day when many purposely set out to be frightened.

What scares you?

Until next time, BOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Marilyn Levinson, Guest Author

 I'm pleased to have Marilyn Levinson as my guest this week. Her books have entertained me on more than one occasion, and I'm always looking for entertainment. Marilyn has made some good observations about editors and editing in her post. Welcome, Marilyn!

 When Editors Edit

Having published thirteen novels in more years than I care to mention and two books coming out soon, I’ve been vetted by a variety of editors. Just as each writer has her own voice, every editor edits in her own particular way. Some editors I’ve worked with considered me a clean writer and made a few notations on my manuscripts. Their edits mostly dealt with simple grammar and punctuation issues: adding or deleting the occasional comma, pointing out that my protagonist had invited a guest for mac and cheese then prepared a dinner of meatballs and pasta. Or they split my compound words into a hyphenated word or two separate words, depending on the publisher’s style. These are small changes editors should and do make.
Other editors have inserted their stamp via changes and deletions. I thought I’d mention a few I’ve found interesting:

1. An editor changed every “he asked” to “he said.” Interesting. Recently, when I used “she said” after a question, my current editor changed it to “she asked.”

2. Another editor deleted many of my introductory sentences to a new scene, feeling they weren’t necessary. I believe such sentences establish time and setting and I continue to include them.

3. One editor eliminated expressions such as “she grinned,” “he nodded,” “she smiled.” While I felt the cut was too severe, it taught me to be more creative and not to rely on these well-worn phrases.

4. After a statement, I often write “he said,” and follow it with an action. For example: “I’d like you to make the corrections in red,” I said, handing him the pages. My editor eliminated “I said” and followed it with a new sentence: “I handed him the pages.” I’m of the school that considers “said” a tag hardly noticed by readers, and considered this type of change to be her personal preference.

5. Is there something wrong with saying “ten o’clock?” I ask because one editor eliminated my use of “o’clock” each time it appeared in my manuscript.

6. Another editor insisted on inserting the word “and” in every clause beginning with “then.” An old grammar rule, I believe, that’s gone the way of the floppy disk.

Most of the corrections—or differences of opinion—involve the use of commas. I suppose that’s because different editors follow different schools or styles. Until recently, I inserted commas to set off clauses not essential to the sentence. I inserted a comma to separate two independent clauses. In both cases, I’ve had my commas removed. I haven’t always inserted a comma after timed-related phrases such as “after dinner.” Now that I’ve been “corrected” re all of the above, I’m truly confused as to when to use a comma.
The rules are constantly changing. We authors must remain flexible and accept the new order when long-established rules are discarded. We no longer type two spaces after a period. Nor do we insert a comma after “white” in “the red, white and blue.” All of this takes some getting used to. I’ll abide by the rules and try not to get too upset when a new editor changes what I’ve just managed to learn.  

Thank you, Marilyn. Sometimes it's difficult to change old habits and lessons, but you seem to do it quite well. It's helpful to know I'm not the only one who has to relearn a few things. I hope you'll come for another visit.

 Marilyn's bio: 

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries and romantic suspense for adults and novels for kids and young adults. Her Twin Lakes mystery series includes A MURDERER AMONG US and MURDER IN THE AIR. MURDER A LA CHRISTIE and MURDER THE TEY WAY are the first two books in her Golden Age of Mystery Book Club Mystery series. She is currently writing a sequel to GIVING UP THE GHOST called THE RETURN OF THE GHOST.

Her books for young readers include THE DEVIL’S PAWN, and DON’T BRING JEREMY, a nominee for six state awards, NO BOYS ALLOWED, and RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK, an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council “Children’s Choice.” RUFUS AND THE WITCH’S SLAVE will be out in time for the holidays.
Marilyn like traveling, foreign films, reading, knitting, Sudoku, dining out, and talking to her grandkids on Face Time. She lives on Long Island.
Marilyn's links:


Monday, October 17, 2016

 This is the book I used to find my "voice."

I write two series and I’ve produced a couple of standalone books. Switching from one protagonist to another can be a little tricky.

I’m preparing to write another book in The Bogey Man series, having recently finished with a book from the Sandi Webster series. Every character in every book needs to have a distinct “voice.” I found myself in a quandary. Would Pamela, Mrs. Bogey Man, end up sounding like Sandi?

If you write a series starring Jane Doe and a series with Mary Smith, you don’t want the two characters to sound alike and be interchangeable.

I decided to sit down and read some of one of the Bogey Man books to “get into voice,” so to speak. It struck me that because of differences in age, lifestyles and families, of course the voices would be different.

Habits are part of the voice, too. Sandi sighs a lot and occasionally rolls her eyes. On the other hand, Pamela has a habit of rolling her eyes frequently and only occasionally sighing. Sure, they can share habits, but only to an extent.

I, personally, both sigh and roll my eyes, habits I hadn’t realized I had until my husband called it to my attention. However, the characters aren’t based on me, other than having a few annoying traits.

There are some traits they can share because they’re things many women can relate to, such as eating chocolate because it’s comfort food.

As I mentioned, lifestyles can make a big difference between characters. Sandi and Pete have only recently married. Chris (the Bogey Man) and Pamela have been married for a few years and have a young son. Sandi and Pete look out for each other. Chris and Pamela have a son to add to their equation. It makes a difference.

Pamela’s husband is a Humphrey Bogart look-alike. He walks the walk and talks the talk. In other words, he uses old-time slang. Pamela’s character needs to fit in with him, but Sandi is too much in the present. Pamela and Chris own a forties-themed restaurant and dress the part. Sandi is a jeans and comfy shirt woman. Major differences.

In the two standalone stories, there were more differences. I couldn’t let the protagonists take on traits of Sandi or Pamela. They each needed personalities of their own and they needed fresh, new voices. I had to wipe the two series women out of my mind, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

If you’re writing books with different protagonists, try reading aloud in the voice of each character. See if they sound alike or not. Better yet, have someone else read a piece from each person. You can make the words sound any way you want them to, but an outsider will read it the way it appears on the page. Does that make sense? I hope so.

So, now you have a few of my thoughts about voices. Any thoughts you’d like to share about keeping them separate and unique?

Until next time, think about the voices you’ve read in the books of prolific authors. Do they manage to keep voices fresh?

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Is a Lemon Always a Lemon?

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, is it a duck? Probably, although I once knew of a roadrunner that quacked like a duck. Maybe it had voice issues?

So is a lemon always a lemon? No.

Many moons ago I was invited to do an author presentation at an RV park. The woman who managed the park said they were full and many of the RVers were readers. She thought it would be a great venue for me. I drove to the RV park, unloaded all of my books and promotional goodies, and set up in the recreation room. Several people arrived and sat at the tables. I thought this was going to be a killer event.

As I started to speak, people began talking to each other. A couple of men even played poker. The funny thing was that I kept receiving odd looks, like “What the heck is she doing?” I had no clue what was going on.

It turned out the manager hadn’t told anyone who I was or what I was doing there. She’d simply told everyone that if they came to the Recreation Room, there would be free ice cream. Talk about feeling foolish! But that’s the life of a writer. You never know what’s  going to happen. In that case, I didn’t sell one single book, no one listened to me, and I didn’t even receive any free ice cream.

Oh, well, it was a good experience. Yes, I said good. You have to learn to take the good with the bad. I once did a book signing at a Senior Center. I figured it was good exposure, although I didn’t expect to sell many books. Uh, with one exception, I sold more at the Senior Center than at any other event I’ve ever done. You just never know what’s going to happen.

Fast forward a few years. I spent an entire day at a book fair in the park. What a great place to sell books, right? Nope. I don’t know if it was the economy or what, but there weren’t all that many people buying books. A few people stopped to tell me they’d enjoyed a radio interview I’d done a few days earlier, but they weren’t buying either.

However, while at the park I was invited to speak to a writers’ group about marketing and promotion, and I was invited to do a presentation for a civic group. I was able to do a lot of networking, and I made a few new friends. The weather was beautiful and although the wind was blowing, it felt good. I got out of my office and enjoyed a park setting. Sales or no sales, it turned out to be a glorious day. I got a little sun, had a tasty hot dog and chatted with some interesting people.

I once did a spot on the morning news in Northern Nevada. The station called me later in the day to tell me how well I did. They also asked me to call the Mayor’s wife who had an offer of a large arts and craft fair she wanted me to attend. I also got another presentation out of the appearance.

So even if you feel frustrated and things don’t go quite the way you planned, don’t lose heart. There’s always the next event, and the one after that. You never know what might come from the experience.

You may sell a ton of books, or you might not sell any. However, any way you look at it, it’s exposure for you and your books, and experience is the best teacher. It gives people the opportunity to get to know you, and if they like what they see, your name will be tossed around like a great big red rubber ball.

The frosting on the author’s cake is meeting new and interesting people.

Have you, as an author or a reader, had any memorable experiences that made you spread the word?

Until next time, remember that Christmas isn’t all that far off and books make great gifts. (Don’t snarl at me because I’ve already mentioned a holiday.)

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