You self-published your romance ebook months or years ago, and the sales have gone soft. One of the great benefits of ebook self-publishing is that your book is a dynamic, living creature. You have the ability to evolve the inner and outer elements of the book over time as you work to connect with readers. Connection is key. You’re working to build the shortest, most friction-free connection between the reader’s desire and your book satisfying that desire.
Let’s review five steps you can take to give your book a makeover. With actions ranging from simple to more complex, you’ll breathe new life into your book. The tips here work on new books too!
Who is your target reader? If your answer is “all romance readers,” you’re probably aiming too broad. Drill down. Imagine the reader who will derive more joy from your book than any other reader. Visualize the reader who will love your story, your characters and your style more than any other. The reader who will give you five-star reviews. Your precise understanding of your target reader will help you clarify how you approach your book’s makeover, and will prevent you from marketing your book to the wrong audience.
2. Check your categorization
Most distributors and retailers allow you to set your book’s category and subcategory. Some, like Smashwords, will allow two full categories. Choose the most specific categorization possible. Some authors make the mistake of choosing the broadest category when a more specific category gets them more exposure to the right readers. For example, Fiction: Romance: Paranormal will get you on three virtual shelves (fiction, romance general and romance paranormal) whereas Fiction: Romance: General only gets you on two. A paranormal fan will go to the paranormal shelf. In answer to checklist #1 above, does your categorization match the reader most likely to enjoy your book?
3. Examine your reviews across all retailers
If you’re averaging 4.5 to five stars, you’re in good shape. If you’re averaging three or 3.5 stars, it’s a clue that something is seriously wrong. There are three likely causes if you’re averaging poor or mediocre reviews, but only the one is easy to fix: 1. You’re suffering from miscategorization (extreme example, an Erotica novel categorized as Christian Romance). You don’t want your book read by readers who won’t enjoy it, or listed in a category that misrepresents the true categorization. 2. Your book isn’t resonating with readers. A few years ago, a 3-star romance ebook could sell relatively well if it had a low price. But today, thanks to the rise of indie ebook authorship and the growing professionalism within the indie romance community, there’s a glut of high-quality low-cost romance on the market. This means that good is no longer good enough. If your book isn’t taking the reader to an emotionally satisfying extreme – if you’re not seeing the words “WOW!” and “Amazing!” in your reviews – then your book probably needs a surgical makeover in the form of a revision. 3. You don’t have a critical mass of reviews, or maybe you have no reviews at all. It takes sales (or free downloads) to achieve a critical mass of reviews. Once you earn a good critical mass of positive reviews, the reviews will drive your sales for years to come.
4. Take a fresh look at your cover image
Let’s say you’ve written the super-awesome book, you’re averaging 4.5 star reviews, but the book is still selling poorly. Maybe it’s time to give your cover a makeover. Readers judge books by their covers. A great cover draws the reader in to take a closer look at your title, description and sample. A great cover makes an honest emotional promise to your micro-targeted reader. It grabs the reader and screams (figuratively), “This book offers the exact reading experience you desire! This book will make you experience the emotional journey you crave.” It starts with the image. If you were to strip away the title and author name from the cover image, the image alone should carry your message to your target reader. If you think about it, images and words are simply symbols of some deeper message or meaning, and a deeper promise. The primitive human brain processes the symbolism of images faster than words, triggering an instant emotional response (like “oh, that’s a saber-toothed tiger, it wants to eat me, I should run,” or “That attractive [gentleman/prince/king/billionaire/hunk/werecreature/rocker dude/nerd/the object of your protagonist’s object of desire desiring your protagonist] looks like he wants to devour her, I want to read that!”). Words require more cognitive brain juice to process, so your prospective reader will process the image before they process the words in your title. Since your prospective reader is scanning a retailer’s merchandising page and viewing dozens of images all at once, anything that requires extra cognitive processing will be ignored in favor of books with images that speak directly to the reader’s desires. How large is your author name on the cover? Make it larger, but don’t interfere with the absorption of the image’s message. A large author name conveys the subliminal message, “This is a big author, a big name, a name I should know because they’re a big author,” and that message will be absorbed like an image before they consciously read the words of your name and decide if your name is familiar to them.
5. Add enhanced backmatter to all your books
One of the most powerful drivers of book sales will be your other books. Most authors end their books with a period and that’s it. That’s a squandered opportunity. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. They just finished your book and they’re crying happy tears because your book was so amazing. The reader just spent several hours immersed in your story, and with every paragraph and chapter you kept them turning the page, and with every turned page you earned more and more of their respect and trust. Trust is key in the author-reader relationship. Once you earn the reader’s trust, they want more of you. So at that moment where the book ends, tell them what they can read next!
Every novel should have at least three short sections after the end of the book, and a fourth or fifth if you want to earn bonus points. The three key sections include: 1. About Jane Smith – a short short bio that tells the reader something interesting about you that makes you more human, like you live in Dallas with your wonderful husband, two teenagers and a bossy cat and you like to garden in your spare time. Bonus points if you want to include your picture. 2. Other books by Jane Smith – provide a simple listing of all your other titles. If you write series, organize them by series. Hyperlink the books back to the book pages of your website where you offer more information about the story adorned by a large cover image. 3. Connect with Jane Smith – provide your social media coordinates. I’m constantly surprised by how few authors take advantage of this simple platform-building opportunity that helps forge a closer relationship with your readers. Provide full and direct hyperlinks to your Twitter page, Facebook page, Instagram, Smashwords author page, blog, website and private mailing list. Bonus sections: 4. Add a sample to another one of your books. If they liked the book they just finished, which book do you think they’d like the best next? If they just finished a book in series, the obvious answer is the next book in the series!
For more ideas to breathe new life into your books, check out Mark Coker’s free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success which identifies 30 best practices of the bestselling indie authors, and includes a case study on how R.L. Mathewson catapulted her way to the New York Times bestseller list simply by changing her cover image.
or, I’m Pretty Sure I Don’t Know What the Hell I’m Doing
Realize I’ve spent too much time marathoning Masters of Sex and pull out manuscript to re-read for the first time. Think, “Huh. This sounded so much better when I was writing it.” Nod off and go to bed.
Posted by: Shannon Moreau on Jan 31 2015, 6:59 pm in Writing
or, 5 Things I, the Writer, Will Probably Do This Year. At Least, I Should Do Them.
My cat thinks he is going to help me look up recipes in a cookbook. That’s nothing new.
My friend T sent me a HuffPo article that lists 52 new things writers can try for 2015. So many of the items were such great ideas that I found it kind of overwhelming. So I picked just 5 things that I will definitely think about/try/do in 2015.
Participate in NaNoWriMo in November 2015.
I had such a great time participating in my first NaNoWriMo last November that I am going to do it again this year. If I hustle on my rewrites sufficiently, maybe I’ll be scribbling out the first draft of a sequel.
Map a book you love.
Already happening. I’m trying to figure out where the heck I went so wrong on overwriting my first novel. Right now I’m mapping Jane Eyre, since the structure of that book has influenced how I view my heroines’ journeys. I’m also appreciating that while the recent movie adaptation was a decent effort, it never captured the magic and wit that is Jane and Rochester.
Read your work out loud.
Last year, I had actually seriously considered participating in my local DimeStories literary open mic night—before the holiday crunch set in, that is. It would be a good way to practice my public speaking. Eep. Hyperventilating. Like I said, I’ll think about it.
Do a literary pilgrimage to see a site where a favorite author lived or wrote about.
Now this is synchronicity. I just read an article in the paper about the D.H. Lawrence house in Taos reopening. This summer—day trip!
Set up a separate bank account for your writing pursuits.
Yep. As soon as I start making money from my writing, I’ll get right on that.
We hear the question, ask the question, participate in discussions about the question. What is hot in books today? What are readers poring over when they should be sleeping, cleaning, cooking (writing!) or mingling with live people instead of characters in a book? And when we hear or read the question, don’t we all just lean forward just a bit to hear the answer? Maybe click on that link to read someone the words from on high, if it’s a hot agent or editor?
And don’t we sigh a bit when we learn that shape shifters/vampires/elven lords are out, gone, passe, never to be sold or read again? Especially since we’re just polishing our unique take on shape shifters/vampires/elven lords.
How many of us put that book away and force ourselves to start something that’s up with the times? Only to read a few months later about the sale of an innovative shape shifter/vampire/elven lord series? I’m hoping I don’t see a show of hands out there. Anyone who has been in the writing business for more than five years should have learned by now, there is no way to predict what people will be reading six months from now.
Every time we think we understand market trends, they take a sharp turn to the left and leave us in the dust. The
Sometimes trends can be hard to see
new and exciting and innovative books we see on the shelves NOW were bought up to two years ago, often presented by agents who believed in the work. Especially the ‘Big Six’ published books. Anyone who scrambles to emulate those books is already months or years behind the trend. If you follow the publishing news, you might learn when those books are bought, so you’re not as far behind the starting line. Of course we won’t know how the books fare until they are on the shelves and/or in our e-reader.
Remember when Western movies, or television shows, were dead? Or Space Opera, or Relationship or…? Until along came something so exiting, so well done, it grabbed the viewing audience by the the throat and made massive amounts of lovely cash for all participating?
What’s hot? A well written book. A book with characters who grab our hearts, put into situations where we cringe for them and stay up late to read their success. For romances, what’s hot is the HEA in spite of all odds.
What’s hot is what people want to read, written by people passionate about their words. Okay, dino porn is also hot right now, but so were Pet Rocks (for anyone here old enough to remember them) Rather than writing to trend, think about writing to last. What makes those keeper books stay on the shelves?And what makes us want to keep writing them?
I’m delighted and honored that the irrepressible Jody—one of the bright new stars in the Bedazzled TOTS Brigade—chose me. (Look for her new book, Empath soon)
On with the questions.
1. WHAT AM I WORKING ON?
At the moment, I am working on revisions to book 3 of the Damaged series, Dispatched With Cause. After books 1 and 2, Damaged in Service and Defying Gravity, I needed a mental-health break and worked on a brand-new romance, Balefire.
The Damaged series was started in 2009. At the time, the story manifested so quickly, I could hardly keep up let alone worry about grammar or punctuation. That was a painful mistake that I am still correcting.
After some wonderful editorial coaching on my earlier works, I needed to make some signification changes to the third book in the series. In addition to cosmetic changes, I wanted to amp up the tension since this is the third book of four, it needs to produce a major turning point.
Now that I have pushed Zeke and Anne to another new challenge, I will begin work on revising book four.
2. HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN THE SAME GENRE?
I guess I would say that the major difference is the story arc, which is deliberately written over a span of four books. I envisioned the story like a television drama. It would be an end to season with a cliffhanger, then resume with the next season. Evidently, that’s not how commercial fiction is written. Who knew?
If you read the series, you’ll know that cliff-hanger was not a popular option for many of the lesfic community. They wanted HEA – happily ever after, as well as all the loose ends tied neatly.
I radically changed the story in book 2, but needed to keep the storyline intact. (Note: writing “by committee” is not the wisest direction.)
I consider this series romantic intrigue. However, that wouldn’t describe each individual book. Yet there are strong elements of both romance/love and intrigue in all.
3. WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
Like many others, I write the kinds of books I want to read. And in fact, it’s one of the things that make it difficult for me to read them critically. Almost every time I start to don my editing cap, I get caught up in my characters lives and don’t see the minutia. It makes me lousy editor. But…a good reader!
Recently I had this discussion with a friend and told her that I enjoy writing romance because I want to learn to be a better writer. I want to learn the craft by reading and writing stories that resonate with so many people.
When I’m ready, I have at least three books in my head that will be much closer to literary fiction. In the meantime, there are at least three or four manuscripts already written that I want to revise and submit.
And besides, I can’t NOT write.
4. HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
Glad they saved this one until last.
I would best be described as an imaginative, unrepentant, undisciplined, procrastinating Panster (someone who writes from the proverbial Seat of her pants). This is the polar opposite of a plotter (someone who lays out a foundation with a plan, notes, and or an outline.) I attended a conference with a very successful plotter who brought her outline in the form of an excel spread sheet 12 feet long!
At that moment I feared that I just didn’t have the fortitude to become a writer. But, at some point, I realized my strong suit was story-telling. I come from a long line of Gaelic story tellers.
Most of the stories I’ve created initially character driven, so I begin by creating the individuals around whom the story will grow. For the purpose of this blog I’ll use Balefire is an example.
I scoured several name lists to find Kirin Foster and Silke Dyson. I made up birthdays and did horoscopes on each woman, including their compatibility. I threw them into an actual situation based on a true story to see what would happen. I knew I wanted a Romance that was fairly uncomplicated. (Insert snickering)
I transported each woman to the airport. Coincidently, both left from the Milwaukee airport, where their paths did not cross. During this process, I found out who the secondary characters were. I also learned some of the back story.
Each scene unfolded moment-by-moment depending on whose point of view I was writing from. If it was Silke’s point of view, everything was painted with a level of anxiety, resignation, and her visual disability.
When I was with Kirin, I became a type A impatient, irritated, and disconnected frequent traveler.
Voila! The scene is set and I just need to navigate my two characters through it. The rest comes from my own history of traveling the same route, from the same airports, with the same conditions. The only thing I needed to change was the point of view. Then add to the mix a circus-trunk full of imagination.
One scene begets the next scene. For me, it’s linear and organic. I don’t create scenes independently and try to fit them into the story. On rare occasions, when I have been asked to move the scene or event to another part of the story, it’s been incredibly difficult, because each piece of the story is built on the information provided by previous blocks.
I have tried outlining a new story first, and I’m stopped at the gate. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I can use the structure to evaluate AFTER the story-line is written.
The downside of the linear approach is breaking the scenes and chapters into manageable pieces, while still keeping the reader turning the pages. I like to take breaks 😉
The upside? I love to makeup stories and then “Spackle” them with ambiance and emotion. It’s been fifteen years since I started writing the Epic Medical Mystery with 22 characters and 6 subplots, all from a singular omniscient narrator.
Thanks for stopping by! I’d be interested if anyone has questions, please share.
Posted by: Samantha Ann King on Sep 7 2013, 10:33 am
Congratulations to the 2013 Rebecca Winners
Contemporary RomanceFinal Judge: Leis Pederson, Berkley1st Place – Robin Delaney – Branded (request for partial)2nd Place – Jennifer Norwood – Coming Alive (request for partial)3rd Place – Susan Bloomingdale – Changed Luck4th Place – Jennifer Squire – Port Fairlight Summer5th Place – Brian Luby – The Love of a Plain WomanErotic RomanceFinal Judge: Peter Senftleben, Kensington1st Place – Lex Valentine – Out of the Pocket2nd Place – Rachel Wray – Once Bitten3rd Place – Clarita Sands – Desert HousewivesHistorical Romance
Final Judge: Jennifer Enderlin, St. Martin’s Press
1st Place – Julie Mulhern – A Haunting Desire2nd Place – Jillian Lark – Much Ado About Scandal3rd Place – Lisa Chaplin – The Tide WatchersParanormal/SFR/UF
Final Judge: Adam Wilson, Pocket Books
1st Place – Abbie Roads – Dangerous Dreams2nd Place – Kerensa Brougham – Debriefing the Dead3rd Place – Pamela Stewart – In Harm’s WayYoung Adult
Final Judge: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, Foreword Literary
1st Place – Sarah Shade – First Contact2nd Place – Janet Halpin – The Nascent Bloom 3rd Place – Katherine Fleet – Crimson and Clover
Lester Dent’s Magic Formula to Write a Saleable 6,000 word Short Story
[third installment in the Business of Writing Series]
Fred A. Aiken
In looking at the Publishing World today, it is difficult to image the Age of Pulp Fiction when there were hundreds of magazines in genre fiction, whose editors were buying stories that writers, even beginning writers would mail in to them. Thousands of pages of fiction to fill month after month. That bygone age is called the Age of Pulp Fiction, which spanned four decades, the great Depression, both World Wars and the UN Police Action in Korean, and lasted from the 1910’s to the 1950’s.
Writers back then wrote in whatever genre that interested them and had a following in several. One such writer was Lester Dent, best known as the creator and main author of the series of novels about the superhuman scientist, and adventurer, Doc Savage. All but one of the 181 Doc Savage novels of them appeared under the publisher’s house name Kenneth Robeson and were written over a sixteen year span (and Dent wrote all but twenty). In addition to the novels (average of ten novels per year), Lester wrote numerous short stories every year.
Lester was born in La Plata, Missouri, the only child of a rancher, Bernard Dent and a school teacher, Alice Norfolk. The Dents had been living in Wyoming for some time but returned to Missouri so Mrs. Dent could be with her family during Lester’s birth. In 1906, the Dents returned to Wyoming where they worked a ranch near Pumpkin Buttes, Wyoming. Lester attended a one-room school house and is said to have paid his tuition by bartering furs that he had caught [no free public education back in those days]. In the lonely hills of Wyoming, there were few companions or friends to be had.
When he was fifteen, the Dent’s returned to La Plata, where Mr. Dent took up dairy farming. There Lester completed his elementary and secondary education. In 1923, Dent enrolled at Chillicothe Business College in Chillicothe, Missouri, set on studying to become a banker. When he found out that telegraph operators earned $20 more a week than bank clerks, he changed his major to telegraphy. After completing his training, he taught at the Business College for a short time.
Dent’s first job was a telegraph operator for Western Union (1924). He moved to work as a telegrapher for Empire Oil and Gas Company in 1925 and, in 1926 he worked for Associated Press as a telegrapher where one of his co-workers had a story published in a pulp magazine, earning $450. Dent, being a voracious reader, was very familiar with pulp magazines of the day and was sure he could write at least as well, if not better. He used the slow time on the graveyard shift to write and sold his first story in September 1929. Shortly after the publication of his story, Dell Publishing in New York City offered him $500 a month if he would write exclusively for their magazines. After Dell imploded its pulp line in May 1931, Dent began writing for the other pulp chains. In 1932, Street and Smith Publications contacted Dent with a proposition for a new magazine, he was happy to receive $500 per novel (later increased to $750). In 1949, Doc Savage Magazine ceased publication and Dent found continuing success as a mystery and western writer; his last published short story was a Western published in February 1958 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. He suffered a heart attack in February 1959 and died a month later.
Lester Dent’s Magic Formula:
Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:
FIRST 1500 WORDS
1–First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with.
2–The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
3–Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
4–Hero’s endeavors land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
5–Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.
SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE? Is there a MENACE to the hero? Does everything happen logically? At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose the hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain the secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot. Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise’s tail, if nothing better comes to mind.
They’re not real. The rings are painted there. Why?
SECOND 1500 WORDS
1–Shovel more grief onto the hero.
2–Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
3–Another physical conflict.
4–A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.
NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE? Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud? Is the hero getting it in the neck? Is the second part logical? DON’T TELL ABOUT IT***Show how the thing looked. This is one of the secrets of writing; never tell the reader–show him. (He trembles, roving eyes, slackened jaw, and such.) MAKE THE READER SEE HIM. When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to the printed page. It is reasonable to expect these minor surprises to sort of inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts. One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open, wider and wider, until–surprise! The glass pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery.
Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader’s mind. TAG HIM. BUILD YOUR PLOTS SO THAT ACTION CAN BE CONTINUOUS.
THIRD 1500 WORDS
1–Shovel the grief onto the hero.
2–Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
3–A physical conflict.
4–A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.
DOES: it still have SUSPENSE? The MENACE getting blacker? The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix? It all happens logically?
These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.
These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until next the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a quick draw, might use it more than once. The idea is to avoid monotony.
ACTION: Vivid, swift, no words wasted. Create suspense, make the reader see and feel the action. ATMOSPHERE: Hear, smell, see, feel and taste. DESCRIPTION: Trees, wind, scenery and water. THE SECRET OF ALL WRITING IS TO MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT.
FOURTH 1500 WORDS
1–Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.
2–Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)
3–The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.
4–The mysteries remaining–one big one held over to this point will help grip interest–are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.
5–Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.)
6–The snapper, the punch line to end it.
HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line? The MENACE held out to the last? Everything been explained? It all happens logically? Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING? Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?
The Craft of Writing (Second post of The Business of Writing Series) By F. A. Aiken
When asked during a televised interview “What is writing?” Shea Barkley answered “Writing is perfecting the craft.” I liked that answer. Writing is a craft. In the middle ages and the Renaissance, people learned their trade and craft through craft guilds. Someone wanting to enter the professional first must find a master craftsman willing to train him in the techniques of the profession by becoming the Master’s Apprentice. Here, the young person will be trained in the techniques of the craft, given instruction and opportunities to hone his skills and learn the rules of the trade or craft. After years of gaining and honing this knowledge, the apprentice becomes a journeyman, also called a fellow craft (fellow of the craft), being able to perform the trade without supervision. After years of work, he would submit his masterpiece to the guild and hopefully be accepted as a master of the craft, thereby being able to take on apprentices to train in the art of the craft. As the work of the master craftsman continue to gain fame, his peers would bestow upon the master the title of grandmaster.
At each stage of his tenure in the craft, the individual continues to increase his or her knowledge through learning how to apply the rules and knowledge gained to produce products of value through hard work and constant practice. At each stage, the rules are different and are necessary to increase the quality of the work. As an entered apprentice, the writer needs to learn about proper manuscript style, fundamentals of copy rights, proper use of grammar, the structure of the story, how to plot, etc. Once the writer masters these basics and advances to be a journeyman or fellow of the craft (fellow craft), the writer is taught more advanced material, such as the rules of revision, marketing techniques and other business fundamentals required of a person making money from the trade. Once the writer has increased his or her knowledge and skill levels through practice, some of the earlier rules no longer apply as they have become internalized into the writers being and are done automatically in the writing process. So the secret to advancement within the craft is practice, practice, practice. A couple of decades ago, Volkswagen featured an advertising campaign using a German work that translated into English as “continuous, never ending improvement”. And this is what the writer must strive to do with his writing. How can a writer improve? Through practice! So what is the definition of practice for a writer? Sitting at the keyboard, butt glued to the chair, fingers pounding on the keys forming words letter by letter into recognizable sentences that tell a story, minute by minute until the session is over. Each story, each scene, each sentence is practice. Learning for a writer is a lifelong endeavor with the single goal of never ending improvement in his story telling techniques. The writer is a lifelong learner. Remember, Writing is a Business and the writer’s desire is to succeed in this business by mastering the craft of writing. In the words of Dean Wesley Smith, the writer only needs to focus on the next sentence.
TAMING THE DEMON wasn’t actually supposed to be set in various fictional parts of Albuquerque, New Mexico, at all. At the time I wrote the proposal, I lived in Flagstaff (which I loved), and I set the book down in the valley–hot, hot Phoenix, Arizona. Okay, I set it during winter in Phoenix, because summer in Phoenix is so hot I don’t even want to live it vicariously while writing it.
That’s the thing about the writing. If my characters are dealing with something in the book, in some distant way, I’m dealing with it, too. Not in the details, but in the essence. So if they’re in Phoenix in the summer, then I’m annoyed by the heat. If Devin James is in a battle of wills with a demon blade, then I’m stirring up my own feelings to siphon them into the book. I won’t say it doesn’t get intense!
But that means it goes both ways–that when things happen in real life, they can (if appropriate) have an impact on the book. And between the time I conceived and sold this book and the time I wrote it, I moved. Not so far as distance is measured in the Southwest, and a just couple thousand feet lower (and hotter) than I’d been in Flagstaff, which…as I said…I loved. (Then we moved again, out through the canyon and climbing up into the Sandia foothills, but that’s another story…).
Even from one high desert home to another, only five hours away…central New Mexico had an entirely different culture, entirely different geology and anthropological and historical origins. Still, the rich potential of exploring the area in fiction merely percolated in my hindbrain for the first months of settling in. For one thing, never mind the chaos of the unpacking–I was in the middle of writing a different book! But then came the day when preparing to write TAMING THE DEMON and exploring my new home overlapped. I rode my horse out along the local acequia (the generations-old canal system running through the Rio Grande valley) and discovered, tucked away in the middle of nowhere, a rather grand old southwestern home.
This, I realized, is where Devin and Natalie will come to know each other.
And so I suddenly had new purpose to my wanderings, and to studying the area. I found a way to honor my new home while exploring Devin and Natalie’s story, and an excuse to look at each new facet of it with an inquisitive eye. I learned about history, the uniquely flavored city quadrants, and the wide variety of microclimates and habitats–things I might not have discovered, while in my mourning for the move away from the San Francisco Peaks that seemed so magical to me. But talk about magical–there in the Albuquerque valley, there were sandhill cranes! Oh my golly, they migrated right over the house! And flock of nighthawks–the first I’ve ever seen! The bosque area along the Rio Grande is such a unique blend of fragile desert and water habitat, I quickly grew to love it–even if it was all a little too surrounded by urbanity for my hermit’s taste.
But this area is a place that Natalie and Devin each love, in their own unique experiences of it–in their survival in it–and it turned out to be a perfect place for them to fall in love, too. Seeing it through their eyes gave me a chance not only to understand them better, but it allowed me to appreciate the new things in my life. What could be better than that?
It’s Christmas and Holiday time yet once again! It’s time for parties, goodies, friends and much merrymaking. It’s also the time of year when the newest movies hit the silver screen.
I haven’t had too much time to visit the theater, but I did get to see Anna Karenina and Lincoln. While Anna Karenina had me tilting my head in wonderment at the theatrical interpretation of Tolstoy’s novel, Lincoln had me laughing, crying, mad and happy, all at the same time. Exactly what a good movie is supposed to do. In my opinion, what makes a movie spectacular is not only the cinematography, editing and acting, but mostly THE WRITING. A good movie inspires me to learn more about my craft and become a better writer. I am going to share with you five of the movies that have made me want to write the next best-selling novel (with movie rights!)
#5 The Man in the Iron Mask(1998) starring Leonardo di Caprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne and Gerard Depardieu.
Aside from the awesomeness of the cast, this version is huge due to its being a conglomeration of Alexandre Dumas’ D’Artangnan Romances and The Vicomte de Bragelonne, the 1929 film version starring Douglas Fairbanks, and the 1939 film version directed by James Whale.
Although the movie diverges a bit from historical accuracy, it is still a riveting story about the militaristic and cruel King Louis XIV and his sweet-tempered twin brother Phillip. When they are born, the twins’ father sends Phillip away to save France from dynastic warfare. For 21 years, he has been hidden from the world and must wear an iron mask to protect his identity. When Louis comes to power, retired and aging muskateers, Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan devise a plan to replace the despotic Louis with the more benevolent Phillip. Porthos is entirely fed up with aging and is constantly thinking of ways to end his sorry life, but never acts upon it. Aramis has become a devout Jesuit who masterminds the switch of the Princes. Athos a devoted father, whose son Raoul, a besotted soldier, has become caught up in a love triangle with the beautiful Christine and none other than Louis himself, must avenge the murder of said son by Louis. And D’Artangnan, ever steady and loyal to his beloved friends, lover, and King, is in great conflict with the overthrow plot and the ensuing threat to his friends.
This mish-mash of literary and film versions does not offer any great or awe-inspiring social commentary or profound message, but it doesn’t lack in action, love, valor and great story telling.
#4 The Man Who Would Be King (1975) directed by John Huston, starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer.
Again, another fabulous cast. This movie was based upon a novella written by Rudyard Kipling in 1888. The story is about Danny Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, rouge non-commission British officers of the Indian Army who decide to resign from the army and set off for Kafiristan (somewhere in Afghanistan) – a land where no white man has set foot since Alexander the Great. They are certain that if they can only get there, their dreams of Kingship, wealth, women and an easy life will be obtained.
They fight blizzards, avalanches and numerous bandits along the way. In one of their battles, Danny is struck by an arrow and is miraculously unharmed. The arrow sticks into a bandolier hidden beneath his jacket. The people of Kafiristan decide that Danny must be a god. He and Peachy go along with the ruse in hopes of fulfilling their dreams. But, as the old adage goes, “beware what you wish for.” The rest of the story depicts the pitfalls of power, greed and Illusions of Grandeur.
When I was in college I attempted to write an adaption of this story for the stage, but as you can imagine, it was a bit more than I could handle!
#3 It’s a Wonderful Life(1946) directed by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed.
What Christmas season would not be complete without an annual viewing of this American masterpiece? It was nominated for five Oscars and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made. It was based on a story called “The Greatest Gift” written by Phillip Van Doren Stern in 1939 and privately published by the author in 1945. I wonder why? Could he not sell it? If so, those publishing houses made a big mistake! Self-pubbed authors, there’s hope yet for the big block-buster!
If you haven’t seen it, which I cannot imagine that anyone has NOT seen this film, but there might be some,- it’s about George Bailey, a man in a small town who has constantly given up his dreams for the sake of others. When he learns that all of his efforts have culminated in bankruptcy, George is ready to end it all. His dramatic suicide attempt of jumping from an ice covered bridge into frigid waters is thwarted by an angel named Clarence who has come from Heaven in the hopes of obtaining his wings. Clarence shows George what life in the community would be like without him and his sacrifices. Of course that life is bleak and heart -breaking, and George is finally convinced that the world is a better place with him in it.
Clarence is successful in saving George, thus obtaining his wings, and George returns to his life with renewed happiness and appreciation. This is a story about focusing on what you have, not what you want. A good lesson for everyone.
Clarence: Strange isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” “Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends. P.S. Thanks for the wings!”
#2 To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) starring (dreamy) Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Mary Badham (as Scout)
This American favorite was made from Harper Lee’s novel, published in 1960. The novel was an instant success and won the Pulitzer Prize. In 2003 the American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century. Who could argue? Wouldn’t you want Atticus Finch as your lawyer, neighbor, husband or dad? Peck’s stoic portrayal of the controversial home-town hero is moving beyond words.
The story was based upon Lee’s observations of her family and neighbors during an event that happened in her small town when she was ten years old. It is a gothic story with the primary themes involving racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. It also addresses issues of class warfare, courage and gender roles of the deep South. From the view point of Scout, Atticus’s six year old daughter, the story unfolds about a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Atticus, a lawyer and man of honor, integrity, and strong convictions, agrees to defend him which causes mayhem in the small, fictional Alabama town.
Scout and her brother Jem also learn a life’s lesson in their dealings with the reclusive Boo Radley, a neighbor, who terrifies them and fascinates them at the same time. He is never seen outside but often leaves small tokens and gifts for the children in a nearby tree. Fueled by their imaginations, Boo, in their minds, is someone horrible and evil, but they soon learn that he is immensely brave and kind. This subplot of misconception, misunderstanding and prejudice dovetails beautifully with the main plot.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . . you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch
#1 Dead Poet’s Society (1989) directed by Peter Weir, starring Robin Williams.
The screen play was written by Tom Schulman based on his life at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Dead Poet’s won the Best Screenplay Academy Award in 1989. I had the great pleasure of once meeting Mr. Schulman at a Santa Barbara Screen Writers meeting. I don’t think he remembers the occasion quite as well as I do!
The movie is about English teacher John Keating who returns to his alma mater, the conservative and aristocratic Welton Academy in Vermont, 1959. It is Keating’s ambition to inspire his students through is teaching of poetry in unconventional ways. His methods include, having his students call him “O Captain my Captain,” referencing the poetry of Walt Whitman. He also regularly takes them out of the classroom and meanders throughout the school instilling in them the idea of Carpe Diem, or living life to the fullest. “Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” He shocks and astonishes his students when he has them rip out the introduction of one of their books he thinks ridiculous, and has them stand on their desks to “see the world in a different way.”
This movie is an English Major’s dream. It’s full of references to the beloved classics we all studied and lost sleep over in preparation for numerous essays and discussions. It’s also aesthetically pleasing with a particularly surreal scene shot in slow motion of the boys escaping at night through the dense forest to start their own version of Keating’s former literary club, The Dead Poet’s Society.
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” John Keating
And with that wonderful sentiment, I wish you all Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and many visits to the magical world of movie-land!