Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 28, 2016

Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 04-28-2016

Blue DaisyIt’s the final Top Picks Thursday in April! Our spring here seems to teeter between early summer and winter redux, but I think it’s finding its feet.

As writers, we often wonder how much to express our true opinions online. We worry about offending people and alienating readers. Deena Nataf explains why writing what we really think will make us better writers.

Some writers get nervous about writing diverse character, for fear of getting something wrong and offending someone, Elsa S. Henry gives some advice about writing blind characters and disabled characters in general.

Author Malorie Blackman discusses how closing public libraries will make it “harder to move up the social mobility ladder.

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For people who write memoirs or fiction based on their real lives, resources such as family photos, letters, and stories are available. Helen Sedwick discusses the copyright issues involved in using family documentation as part of your work.

Sometimes our stories require parallel plots. But how different can they be genre-wise without causing a problem? Roz Morris explores how to successfully blend a parallel, allegorical plot into your story.

Think world-building is only for speculative fiction? Think again. Martina Boone examines world-building for contemporary and speculative fiction. World-building often includes description, and Mary Kole tells us how to add an emotional stance to description to improve characterization.

Making it about character is one way Alex Limberg suggests to make boring story parts exciting, and Michael McDonagh reminds us that stakes only matter if we care about the characters.

When we write it is important to do our research, whether it be into psychology, culture, or details of setting. Debbie Howells discusses writing novels about emotional abuse, Nora Zelevansky explains how to write teen girl characters, Saira Khan goes on the job with New York’s crime-scene cleaners, Benjamin Sobieck interviews a police officer on the best handguns for detectives in fiction, and Sandra A. Arnold takes us into the disappearing world of slave graveyards.

Some writers have a flare for certain elements of craft—almost like a superpower. K.M Weiland asks if you have a writing superpower—and explains why you shouldn’t. Michael Dirda shares Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor to help with your imagery, and Penny Modra and Max Olijnyk list 10 everyday grammar mistakes you might be making.

Chuck Wendig has more advice for young writers, while Carmen DeSousa reminds us that writing the perfect book is impossible.

For the easily distracted, both reading and writing can be difficult pursuits. Stephen Carver shares 15 tips on close reading, and writer Elspeth Futcher talks about avoiding distractions.

Creativity is often inspired and influenced by life experience. Bill Joyce reflects on the autobiographical information that creeps into his writing, and Chuck Wendig celebrates his 40th birthday with a list of 40 life lessons.

BUSINESS

Google has won their copyright case against authors, allowing them to continue archiving all sorts of books.

Ruth Harris gives us a run-down of how to keep ourselves safe from the many people who prey on authors—and from our own self-defeating behaviors.

Marie Lamba explains how focused writing can help land an agent, and Janet Reid has a trifecta of advice this week. She answers the questions: How long do authors have to finish a revise and resubmit?; How do I know if my agent is paying me properly?; and How forgiving of grammar mistakes are agents?

There are a thousand ways to market, and they all take time or money. Fauzia Burke shares how to save money and do publicity yourself, Elizabeth Spann Craig explores whether pre-orders are always a good idea, and Nanette Littlestone has 5 ways to connect with your readers.

THE UNIQUE SHELF

Ever wonder why there are sea monsters on old maps? David Leveille explains the monsters and strange being found on old maps.

Turning to modern day images, Condé Nast is releasing thousands of unpublished photos from its Vogue and Vanity Fair archives.

We remember Beatrix Potter as the author/illustrator of beloved children’s books, but Potter had a tragic love story in her life.

Matt Brown takes a look at 15 Charles Dickens characters with really silly names.

If you need a historical costume, check out Artemisia Moltabocca’s free historical costume patterns.

With Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary this year, Shakespearean activities abound. Allison Meier takes us inside the Shakespeare’s Potions exhibit at the Currier Museum of Art, Vladimir Jurowski discusses Shakespeare and music, Jennifer Schuessler brings us a quiz about the Bard, and Rachel Thompson and Vicky Leta reimagine Shakespearean plays as Kardashian dramas.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you in May!

Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 21, 2016

Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 04-21-2016

20160413_104927Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! The tax deadline has passed, and most of us are breathing easier now. Spring has also made a re-appearance in our neck of the woods, and we are enjoying the warm temperatures and beautiful flowers.

Check out the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winners for letters and drama.

Beverly Cleary is 100 years old! Drop everything and read.

Marta Bausells brings us the perks of getting lost at the London Book Fair while John A. Sellers and Diane Roback report on the Bologna Book Fair.

In war-torn Afghanistan, a national book drive has provided 20,000 books to 7 libraries in provinces that saw some of the worst violence of the war.

Diverse voices are speaking up and showing up. Sara Bennett discusses her anger at the lack of authentic autistic voices in books, and artist Shawn Martinbrough fights for more diversity in comics.

In a merging of diverse schools of art, the Attack on Titan Anthology unites manga and Western comic artists.

Patricia Bouweaerts asks the experts if we should correct a co-worker who uses poor grammar.

In a bleak survey, the Authors Guild finds that income for US authors now falls below the federal poverty line.

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Think your book should be a series? Ash Krafton explains how to engineer a fiction series.

Sometimes authors wonder what the big deal is with word count—the story needs to be as long or as short as it needs to be. Janet Reid explains why a word count shorter than expected for your genre can be a red flag.

From big picture to fine detail, there are a lot of elements that go into a good story. Ursula Bloom discusses choosing your words carefully, Liz Bureman explains the techniques of parataxis and hypotaxis, Jami Gold explores the link between paragraph breaks and voice, and Kristen Lamb gives us 3 ways to add the sizzle to fiction that fizzled.

Characters can make or break your story. Joyce Scarbrough shows how to bring your characters to life, Becca Puglisi discusses friends as enemies, K.M. Weiland tells you everything you need to know about 3rd person, Marcy Kennedy explores using deep POV to capture readers’ emotions, and Joanna Roddy shares the Enneagram for character development.

Dialogue helps define character. Martina Boone explains how to use dialogue to spice up the middle of your story, while Larry Brooks warns against a dialogue mistake that always makes a writer look bad.

If you find that you cruise along until you get to the end of your story and then you can’t quite get to THE END, Dr. John Yeoman lists 7 brilliant ways to finish your story.

Jason M. Hough shares 5 reasons writers should listen to audiobooks, Eva Lesko Natiello explains why a writer’s work is never done, James Scott Bell finds writing lessons from The Masters, and Christopher Shultz has compiled 22 of the best single sentences on writing.

Lucas Mangum shares writing life insights, Maureen Eichner explores the particular pleasures of rereading, and Chuck Wendig discusses how to avoid burnout using the acronym WWYL.

There’s a lot of emotion that goes into being a writer—it’s as much a test of will as of craft. Julie Musil discusses how to deal with rejection and not waste your talent, Kennedy Quinn explains why she is writing it forward, and Jami Gold explores what helps you BE a writer.

BUSINESS

Sara Spary explores the rise in physical book sales last year, thanks in part to the adult coloring book craze.

If you’re searching for new outlets for your book, Jane Freidman discusses a new platform for serials, Tapas Media, and Mark Lund explains the 2 paths to getting your book made into a movie.

Agents weigh in on agent-y stuff: Janet Reid explains how having more than one agent should work, and Jane Dystel emphasizes the importance of a well-thought-out, professional book proposal. Rachelle Gardner answers questions about queries, and Janet Reid describes what to do when you realize you made a mistake in your query after you’ve sent it.

Janice Hardy explains how the business side of publishing works, and Janet Reid spells out what an author/agency agreement covers.

Marketing is all about getting eyes on your product so you can build and audience. Lisa London explains how to attract media for your book launch, Melissa F. Miller discusses using preorders to boost new release book sales, Cat Michaels has 11 tips to build an online community, and Fauzia Burke shares how to build an audience for your novel.

Author photos are important—it’s our public face to the world. Amanda Filipacchi tells us how to pose like a man in an author photo.

Looking at social media, Frances Caballo gives us an Instagram primer for indie authors and tells us how to find great content your readers will love. Kirsten Oliphant explores creating branded images for social media, and Aimee Covney discusses using MailChimp and BookFunnel to grow your mailing list.

THE UNIQUE SHELF

If you love books, check out these 5 awesome in-real-life bookish marriage proposals. And then you can use one of these 22 magical cakes book lovers will appreciate as your wedding cake.

Like horror? Take a look at the 10 bestselling horror authors alive today.

In a literary estate horror story, the heirs of John Steinbeck are now feuding over Steven Spielberg’s The Grapes of Wrath adaptation.

A lot of writers love to journal, others don’t. Chelsey Pippin brings us 19 journals that are actually fun to use.

If you have a mother-daughter book club (or just want to share a read with your mother or daughter), Karen Green has compiled 12 novels for a mother-daughter book club.

If you’re seeking something a little more light-hearted, check out these 10 books for fans of Pride and Prejudice, suggested by author Curtis Sittenfeld.

Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary is upon us, and we’re still finding out more about him. A rare Shakespeare First Folio was discovered in a grand Scottish home, and David Smith looks at how Shakespeare influenced the American ad industry.

Clearly, we all know who Shakespeare is, but Mary Sharratt discusses Shakespeare’s most accomplished female literary contemporaries.

We’ve all seen this typeface, but none of us knew how revolutionary it was. Dan Damon explores Johnston Sans: The Tube typeface that changed everything.

That’s all for this week! Join us next week for another Top Picks Thursday!

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | April 20, 2016

Mindful Observation: the Key to Minor Characters

When I was a child, I went through a time when I often complained of boredom to friends and family. Like most children, I had reached a stage when I expected other people or things to entertain me. Adults respond to this stage by either caving in and entertaining or providing things to entertain children or by helping children learn to entertain themselves.

In my case, my parents told me that if I felt bored, it was my own fault. As you might guess, I found that response more frustrating than helpful, but it did cause me to think. Eventually I figured out that boredom came from within rather than without. In other words, I didn’t need to suffer from it if I didn’t want to. If I put in the effort, I could always find something to occupy my mind, to interest me.

After that, whenever in a potentially boring situation, I chose to look for the interesting or unusual, to find something that aroused my curiosity, or to allow my imagination to take flight. I suspect storytellers, writers, musicians, and artists of all types — as well as readers — find it easier to avoid boredom by engaging their imaginations than other people. We’re called daydreamers for a reason. Daydreaming is not time wasted, as some people may think, but time well-spent exercising the creative part of the brain.

In the busyness of life, we writers need to grab whatever time we can to engage our imaginations. Long car rides provide one opportunity for me to set my mind to working out plot tangles or spawning new ideas and characters. Waiting in lines at the store or theater or waiting in doctors’ offices also offers a prime time for the imagination to blossom, although since the advent of the smartphone, it’s become effortless to occupy time without depending upon the imagination (unless you forgot to charge the battery). You can text friends and family, read and send email, check Facebook and Twitter, or look things up on the internet. That’s both a gain and a loss, and I admit to spending time in waiting rooms doing those very things — but not always.

Yesterday’s time in a doctor’s waiting room got me thinking about this topic. After finishing the inevitable paperwork, I opted to leave my phone in my purse and occupy my time with observation. A couple months ago I wrote a post about sparking inspiration and creativity through mindful awareness of your place in space, which emphasized how paying attention to and appreciating the details in your surroundings can help you chose the salient features that will bring the setting in your story to life. In the same way, studying the people around you can help you create unique, believable characters who will capture readers’ imaginations and emotions.

Most writers put time into developing distinctive, well-rounded major characters, but successful authors also create minor characters who are memorable individuals, not cardboard cutouts. When critiquing, I too often run across such lifeless minor characters. As a reader, I feel that if a minor character is important enough to include in the story, I should be able to picture that character as an unmistakable individual, especially if he interacts with or has a conversation with the main character(s).

Giving minor characters individuality adds depth and reality to a story. Yet, because these characters do have only a limited role in the story, the essence of that individuality must be established in a few sentences. Going overboard in the description of a minor character will make that character seem more important than she really is, and that can lead to a vague dissatisfaction in the reader. Like poetry, a good description of a minor character distills the character’s essence into a few, well-chosen words. Ideally, those words will allow the reader to perceive that much has been left unsaid.

When choosing the specific details to make your minor character come alive for your readers, you need to keep in mind both the minor character’s role or purpose (why he or she is included in your story) and the personality of your narrator. If your narrator is a woman who owns 200 pairs of shoes, for instance, she would not fail to notice the minor female character’s footwear, while a young unmarried male narrator would likely pay more attention to that character’s figure. In other words, you need to have some justification for the particular details you use. What would your narrator notice?

Avoid cliched details. Don’t mention ordinary details such as size or clothing unless the character’s exceptional height, unusually short stature, skeletal thinness, or rumpled, holey clothes make her stand out. Include details that hint at the character’s personality or job, and try not to focus only on visual impressions. Too much perfume or sweaty exercise clothing can also make a vivid impression.

Practice makes creating minor characters easier, and a good time to do this is the next time you have to wait in a line or a waiting room. Pick out a person you can observe unobtrusively and list three things that immediately strike you about that person, things that distinguish that person from others.

For instance, when I walked into the waiting room yesterday, the first person I noticed was the receptionist. Let’s look at a few ways I could describe her.

A young woman looked up when I stopped at the reception desk.

This is the kind of cardboard description inexperienced writers too often use. They don’t go beyond one basic characteristic that gives the reader little to distinguish the new character from any other young woman, with the result that the scene feels flat and means less to the reader than it should. More details — specific details — are needed to make this character live.

A long-haired young woman wearing bright red lipstick looked up when I stopped at the reception desk.

This is better. Can you see how adding two details — long hair and red lipstick — gives a clearer picture of the receptionist? Mentioning color especially increases the vibrancy of the reader’s mental image. Yet, this description still does not give quite enough specific detail to make the receptionist completely come to life.

The young receptionist wore her thick, waist-length, brown hair pulled back from her face and fastened behind her head. She had pale skin and full lips colored with bright red lipstick. When I stopped at the desk, she looked up and smiled with both lips and eyes.

Here, the more specific details of the receptionist’s hair, skin, and lips create a vivid image of her appearance. In addition, the fact that she smiles with lips and eyes hints at her personality. This is a character we can picture interacting with the narrator, and that will make the subsequent scene truly come alive.

Of course, we all know that appearances and first impressions can be deceiving, and you don’t want to make your story too predictable. The minor character doesn’t have to speak and behave the way we expect. Conversation may reveal that the seemingly friendly receptionist is actually curt or impatient or not at all helpful. After all, little surprises add spice to a narrative.

Try mindful observation of people you don’t know. What kind of interesting minor characters can you create?

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | April 14, 2016

Top Picks Thursday: For Readers and Writers 04-14-2016

purple-leaf plum - The Author Chronicles - Top Picks Thursday

Purple-leaf plum.

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday roundup. Hard to believe we’re halfway through the month, especially when we’re still receiving frost warnings. Warm weather is coming … sometime.

It’s National Library Week with the theme “libraries transform.” Have you visited your local library this week? And on this, the second week of the twentieth National Poetry Month, blogger Annie Finch speaks about how poets have a close relationship to spring.

Libraries need readers, and Lauren Magaziner proposes growing a reader. Sue Vincent lists 12 signs that you have a book addiction and why it matters. Here’s good news for adult readers: Parker Richards writes that the pulp fiction dime novel is making a comeback. Whatever you’re reading, Stephen Carver presents 15 tips on close reading, which can help writers.

Every writer who submits manuscripts has to deal with rejection. In response to requests, J. K. Rowling shares Robert Galbraith rejection letters on Twitter.

In “Writing and Bathing” — author Kelly Simmons discusses how modern authors need to consider their appearance, while Elizabeth Percer comes up with nine non-rules for writing.

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Research. Some writers love it, some hate it. K. M. Weiland considers the two sides to novel research: accuracy and authenticity, and Donald Maass thoroughly explores relevance in fiction.

Need to improve your craft? Melissa Donovan asserts that keeping a journal makes you a better writer and Heidi Angell suggests 5 tips to help you write what you know.

Alan Rinzler shares tips for writing great endings for novels, Janice Hardy writes about keeping plots fresh, and Roz Morris wonders must plot twists always be misfortunes and disasters, and where does the story end?

Now that you have your plot figured out, how about your characters? Angela Ackerman discusses why characters resist change, while James Scott Bell lays out all you need to know about character transformation. Clare Langley-Hawthorne asks who’s your narrator? and Roz Morris gives pointers on how to write several narrators and make them sound distinct.

For writers interested in characters with disabilities, Ada Hoffmann explores worldbuilding about, through, and with autism and Corinne Duyvis examines (not) engaging with disability: convenient approaches in SFF.

Your fascinating characters and events have to occur in a place and time. Cris Freese lists 5 key setting mistakes to avoid.

Kristen Lamb identifies three ways to add the sizzle to fiction that’s fizzled.

Is your writing giving you problems? Maria Konnikova looks at psychologists who have studied writer’s block and how to beat it, while Kelly Simmons discusses how your personality type wreaks havoc with your writing and 10 things you can do about it and Matt Thomas shares his adventures in coworking.

Once you’ve found your publisher and gotten your manuscript back from the editor, Juliet Marillier covers how to deal with the editorial report: change, compromise, or dig your heels in.

daffodils - The Author Chronicles - Top Picks Thursday, 4-13

BUSINESS

Publishing is a rapidly changing industry, and Jordan Dane takes a look at 2016 publishing trends.

For those ready to pitch or query, Marie Lamba provides some insight on pitching, Jeanne Kisacky delineates basic tips for writing an email query that actually gets read all the way through, Anne R. Allen discusses the top 10 ways to write a self-rejecting query to a blogger, agent or publisher, and Kathryn Craft sets out 5 tips to sustain you in the query trenches.

Agent Janet Reid answers the question: “I’m going to be a one book wonder. Will you still want me?

Susan Spann examines merchandising rights in publishing deals, Joel Friedlander suggests ways to keep track of your ISBNs as a publisher, and Kristen Lamb explains how self-publishing is lowering the risk for traditional publishers.

For those considering self-publishing, Andrew Rhomberg maintains that testing book covers before publishing can save time and money, Sandra Beckwith shares three common mistakes in Amazon book descriptions and how to fix them, Lee Wind reports on successful self-published author Hugh Howey’s impassioned support for Amazon and self-publishers, and David Kudler comments on piracy and the self-publisher. In an example of the latter, read how Eilis O’Hanlon found out her crime novels were swiped by a stranger.

Janet Reid provides tips on book promotion and Marian Allen explains how NOT to sell books at an event. Also check out Part Two of Jami Gold’s “what’s your reader retention plan?

Sharon Bially presents an interview with Magdalene Thomas revealing the secrets of trying for a bestseller list.

On the social media front, Jessica Lawlor shows 5 savvy strategies for how to get people to read your blog and Frances Caballo discusses what to post on social media and gives 38 examples. Plus, Caroline Noonan discusses networking for writers.

THE UNIQUE SHELF

Interested in writing or writers? Our mentor, bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, explains how he became a horror writer and Melanie McFarlane interviews horror writer Janice Gable Bashman. Claire Polders also shares her experience as a writer in “The Writer and Her Time.”

For those who don’t know what to do with all their books, House and Garden presents 101 novel bookshelf ideas. On the other hand, if you live in Tennessee and don’t have enough books, Alexandra Alter reports that Nashville’s newest bookstore is a van co-owned by Karen Hayes and novelist Ann Patchett.

If you’re planning a trip to England, the medieval manor that inspired the setting for Jane Eyre is set to reopen to visitors after renovation.

Check out Rebecca Onion’s article about a plea on behalf of immigrants believed to be written by Shakespeare’s hand. Speaking of the bard, Jason Daley presents evidence that tomb robbers may have removed Shakespeare’s skull two centuries ago.

Emma King shares Charles Dickens’ “gloomy epistle” to a friend.

Anna Gragert shares illustrator John Atkinson’s abridged classics.

daffodils - The Author Chronicles - Top Picks Thursday, 4-13

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday. Keep on reading!

Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 12, 2016

Character Genealogy for Worldbuilding and Plot

We all get to know our characters very well during the writing process. We delve into their backgrounds, searching for wounds, secrets, and personality quirks to make them come to life. But how many of us dig into our characters’ genealogy?

1873 - Charles McCall, 4th great-grandfather of Author Chronicle writer Kerry GansSome types of stories, such as multi-generational epics, require a firm grasp of family history, but most of the time we limit ourselves to our main character’s immediate family. However, I find genealogy creeping into my stories.

Genealogy is a passion of mine, so it’s no surprise it runs under the skin of many of my stories. My novel The Witch of Zal hints at genealogical mysteries to be further explored in later stories. My current WIP, Veritas, contains a genealogy that spans 300 years and carries evil repercussions for the descendants. Another WIP, The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas, takes place in a small town where your family line defines you—and since Polly doesn’t know who her father is, this is a problem. A third YA WIP, The Forgotten Planet, examines sisters whose close relationship is threatened when they discover they are not who they think they are. Even in my middle grade WIP The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone, the protagonist’s adventure is sparked by an uncle—the only member of his mother’s estranged family who speaks to them.

Why should YOU have genealogy in your toolkit?

Genealogy is something that fascinates me, but why should you concern yourself with family history in your stories? One reason is that the decisions the ancestors made directly impact the life the protagonist leads today. If they had decided not to emigrate, the protagonist would not be where he is. The decision to sacrifice to allow a child to go to school and get a non-manual-labor job impacted the future financial prospects of the family.

A second reason is secrets—family secrets can come back to haunt the protagonist. Family feuds attest to the longevity of revenge. A black-sheep family member could leave a fortune to the protagonist—or steal one away. An unmarried woman had an illegitimate child. A married man had a second family. The possibilities are endless.

Capt. William Wooldridge, 3rd great-grandfather of Author Chronicle writer Kerry Gans

Civil War, Union army Capt. William M. Wooldridge

A third reason is science. With the science of epigenetics, it may be smart to consider the longer family view. Epigenetics shows that trauma can change a person’s DNA expression and that change can be passed down to their children and grandchildren. If your protagonist’s grandparents or even great-grandparents went through war or famine or internment camps in your book’s history, this can impact your character and your character’s family dynamic. Personal trauma (rather than global) such as abuse, rape, poverty, or starvation can also cause epigenetic change. There is even speculation that DNA can pass down memories. Does that possibility tingle your writer’s brain?

So it might be time to take a longer view of your character’s family, at least back to the great-grandparents. Where would all those people have lived? What was going on in the history of your book’s world during their lives? How did decisions they made influence the protagonist’s present? By bringing your book’s world history down to a personal level, you can more easily access that history—and maybe come up with some great short story material to use to market your books.

Do you ever consider the genealogy of a character when you write?

Norse Lineage of Author Chronicle writer Kerry Gans

 

Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 7, 2016

Top Pick Thursday! For Readers and Writers 04-07-2016

Red & yellow tulips in Author Chronicles writer Kerry Gans' garden

Some April flowers

It’s the first Top Picks Thursday in April! We are seeing the “April showers” in my neck of the woods—hope we get the “May flowers” next month!

Easter has just passed, which of course means BUNNIES! Julie Eccleshare discovers the best books with bunnies for your reading pleasure.

Beijing-based author Cao Wenxuan has become the first Chinese author to win the Hans Christian Andersen award for children’s literature.

As with many industries, women still fight an uphill battle in the writing game. Claire Fallon dissects the most intersectional VIDA count yet—and it’s troubling picture. In a similar vein, Meaghan O’Connell examines the patronizing questions we ask women writers.

Diversity in children’s literature encompasses race, gender, and sexuality, but also disability. Courtney Summer discusses mental illness and disability in apocalyptic novels, while Corinne Duyvis, Natasha Razi, and Kayla Whaley talk about writing about magical disabilities.

We have all been touched by the power of books. John Hutton explores how books can help close the health equity gap, Jennifer Horan shows how stories can help us deal with life, and Bronwyn Averett shares her experience at a bibliotherapist.

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Writers learn a lot through reading. Tessa Emily Hall shares 10 tips for reading through the eyes of a writer. We also learn from TV and film. Charlie Jane Anders has 10 vital storytelling lessons learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Every story needs a strong plot. Janice Hardy lists the 4 classic conflict types that drive plot, Kristen Lamb discusses 3 reason to kill your little darlings, Beth Hill tells how to make your plot less episodic, and C.S. Lakin lays out the action-reaction cycle in novel scenes.

Characters drive the plot and pull the reader in. Bonnie Randall examines the wheels of character change, Janice Hardy talks about what your characters are not saying, Becca Puglisi explores the emotional wound of being raised by overprotective parents, and Yvonne Navarro shows how to make you characters come to life.

Misti Wolanski explains how copyediting’s little changes matter a lot, while Maeve Maddox gives us 7 redundant adjectives and how to properly use as and than in elliptical clauses.

We all want to be more efficient, more prolific, and bolder in our writing. Angela Quarles says we need to harness our day, Anne R. Allen shows how unexamined false beliefs hold us back, Megan McArdle has a theory on why writers struggle so much with procrastination, and Dr. John Yeoman has seven timeless tips for writing classic stories for the older writer.

Sometimes we just need someone to tell it like it is. Jami Gold admits that we are making the process up as we go along, P.J. Parrish advises letting go of bad ideas, and Roni Loren reminds us of our need for hobbies.

BUSINESS

James Patterson has a big plan for short books: BookShots will sell short novels for under $5 to try and attract those who don’t normally read.

In spite of the success of many self-published authors, some people still believe that “real” authors don’t self-publish. Kristen Lamb explains why self-publishing is real.

To support the indie authors, Penny Sansevieri has compiled the top 50 websites for indie authors, Linda Kovic-Skow shares 4 things she’s learned as an indie author, Liz Lazarus lists 12 steps to self-publishing, and Joe Moore has a checklist to publication.

For those trying for agents through the query process: Jennifer Laughran explains agent ethics 101, Mary Kole shows how to write the perfect query, and Janet Reid says you must disclose books you’ve written under a pseudonym when you query. After the first query is sent, Jane Lebak explores when it’s okay to contact an agent (and when it isn’t), and agent Sarah E. Younger pleads for someone to write a very specific genre book.

Some business miscellany: Steven Spatz examines the right price for an ebook, Jeffrey D. Neuburger discusses the privacy lawsuit that caused self-publishing platforms to be deemed distributors rather than publishers, and Janet Reid looks at when a “re-purposed” old book becomes a completely “new” book for querying purposes.

Our marketing strategy includes all sorts of online platforms. Syed Balkhi shares 3 simple steps to create a content calendar for your blog, and Kimberly Grabas shows how to overcome the 5 biggest marketing/platform roadblocks.

THE UNIQUE SHELF

The Salem Witch Trials have long been a riveting historical story. J.K. Rowling interprets this historical tragedy in her own wizarding way.

An interesting look at why Ayelet Tsbari chose to write in English, which is not her native language.

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park turns 200, and Tara Isabella Burton defends Fanny Price, Austen’s least favorite heroine.

Robert Hughes examines how the word “nice” has evolved different meanings over time.

Interviewer Studs Terkel investigates the creative process and the working class person.

In an era of new political openness, Cuban bookworms are benefitting.

That’s it for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Stay dry and come again next week!

Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | April 4, 2016

Writing what I know

In this month that hosts the holiday “April Fools Day”, I’ve been focusing on my urges towards foolishness as a writer.

I want the security of writing “what I know” but every time I play it safe, try to create characters from “real” people, my writing leans towards dullness.

That makes sense. I don’t read for “reality”. I read tales that peak my interest, tales where I can’t guess how the heroine/hero will get themselves out of the bind, tales with ridiculous circumstances that could never happen (or at least not too often), tales with larger than life characters who don’t care what other people think. The characters authentic responses to their situations make the stories believable.

As a reader, I see some writers fall into the pitfall of trying to force their characters to react in certain ways (because that’s how they are supposed to react). I as the reader, want to pound on the floor and wail “why are you making me read this”? It’s reached the point where I’m ready to kiss the feet of the author who doesn’t force her character to react in jealousy. Do other people really spend that much of their lives feeling jealous?

As I writer, I will admit to having a sense of what is the “right thing to do” (or at least what some would say is the right thing to do) and wanting to do “the right thing” but I’m also aware that I wouldn’t usually react as expected.

Oddly enough, and this where the foolishness comes in, I teeter back and forth on whether to do “the right thing”, the thing others would say is the right thing to do, or to follow my gut sense of what is right.

Bottom line, my goal in writing what I know is to write emotions — characters reactions — as authentically as I can. I know all about emotions; for everything else, I plan to experiment with bigger and crazier than life.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 31, 2016

Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 03-31-2016

Welcome to the last Top Picks Thursday of March! I cannot believe we have reached the end of the first quarter of 2016 already.

Find out how beloved author Beverly Cleary feels about turning 100.

It’s only March, but some people are already yearning for November. If you are one who can’t wait for NaNoWriMo, check out Camp NaNo, which begins April 1st.

As writers, most of us love book stores. Mary Ann Fraser shares what she learned working at a bookstore.

With the advent of ereaders, publishers and Amazon and others are tracking how you read. Clare Langley-Hawthorne wonders if tracking how people read is a good or bad thing for writers.

Got a writing problem? L.Z. Marie has weird words for writing problems—maybe even yours.

CRAFT

Ken Liu discusses the differences in writing sci-fi short stories vs. novels, and Gene Hult shares 9 ways to improve your poetry.

Beginning a story can be tricky. You need to pick a protagonist, pick the right place to start, and even have some idea of the plot. Martina Boone examines finding the perfect place to start your story, Rayne Hall shows how to write novel-opening scenes, and K.M. Weiland gives us the only reason you should ever choose a protagonist.

Janice Hardy explores the ebb and flow of plotting a novel, and Jacquelyn Mitchard has 8 practical tips to avoid too much plot in your novel.

Theme underlies every story we write, and for good reason. Ellen Mulholland tells us why your story needs a theme, and Jami Gold discusses what your genre’s theme promises to readers.

We talked above about beginnings, but how about your ending? Ash Krafton asks if you know your ending before writing or not, James Scott Bell has notes on the sacrificial ending, and K.M. Weiland shows how to know when to write The End.

While structure is important to creating a great story, character sells it to the reader. Ruth Harris explains why every story needs a VIP, Kristen Lamb shows that lies and secrets are the lifeblood of great fiction, Janice Hardy teaches us how to keep character motivations and goals fresh, and Jessi Rita Hoffman tells us how to write a great love scene.

Luckily for us, writers love to share their personal journeys, and we can benefit from learning from them. Ashley Hearn explains how writing fan fiction prepared her for being an author, B. Lynn Goodwin shows how to tap into the universal truths about young adults, Abbey Campbell Cook gives us 5 mistakes she made writing her first novel, and Jennifer S. Brown has 7 steps to a happy revision.

Daphne Gray-Grant tells us how to re-establish your writing habit after taking a break, Hans M. Hirschi has convention season Do’s and Don’ts, and Leah Dearborn lists 6 ways to spring clean your writing.

We close this section with some timeless writing advice and advice on how to be a modern writer. Karen Y. Bynum shares the C.S. Lewis rules for writing, and Frances Caballo lists 10 apps to help you be more efficient as a writer.

BUSINESS

Authors need to be aware of the legal side of publishing, especially if you are a self-published author. Helen Sedwick discusses getting creative with disclaimers, while Susan Spann demystifies when a book is out of print.

Work-for-hire can often be a good deal for the author, but what about when it’s your debut book? Janet Reid looks at how work-for-hire can impact your career.

Knowing what category your work falls into is vital to selling your work and building your career. Mary Kole explains why you need to pick a category for your book, and Janet Reid warns that you may have to choose a single category to write in at the beginning of your career.

Marketing is all about author platform, but some people are still confused as to what exactly that entails. Jason Garcia tells you everything you need to know about author platform. Platform often includes blogging and Facebook. Jane Friedman explores effective blogging for writers and whether you need a Facebook Page vs. Profile.

Fauzia Burke lists 3 tips for marketing your books online, and Marcy Kennedy shows how to create taglines that work.

THE UNIQUE SHELF

Rebecca Hussey shares 21 ways to get your hands on books.

Think laptops are modern inventions? Meet the laptops that powered the American Revolution.

When women couldn’t write—they embroidered. Explore the subversive history of women using thread as ink.

In the 19th century, they didn’t have Match.com. Instead, they found love through Valentine writers and flirtation cards.

Chris Callaghan lists 10 reasons you should eat chocolate while reading.

That’s it for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We’ll see you in April!

 

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | March 26, 2016

Saturday Special: Q & A with Kerry Gans about Her Book Launch

Kerry Gans signing The Witch of Zal at her book launch at The Doylestown Bookshop, 3-19


A week ago, on Saturday, March 19, 2016, our fellow Author Chronicles blogger Kerry Gans had the book launch for her first published novel, The Witch of Zal (from Evil Jester Press), at The Doylestown Bookshop at 16 South Main Street in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The Witch of Zal is a middle grade fantasy in which 12-year-old Dorveday flees authorities so she won’t have to give up her robotic dog, gets lost in a steampunk Oz, acquires an assortment of companions, fight zombicorns, battles hypnotic butterflies, and finally gains the power to change her world forever. 

To celebrate Kerry’s first publication and to satisfy our curiosity — since the rest of us have not yet published books and held book launches — we thought we’d ask her some questions about the topic.

Kate Brandes and Donna Galanti chat with Kerry Gans at her book launch for The Witch of Zal at The Doylestown Bookshop.

Kate Brandes and Donna Galanti chat with Kerry.

Kerry Gans signs a book for Robert Drumm (with Nancy Keim-Comley in the background) at the book launch for The Witch of Zal at The Doylestown Bookshop

Kerry signs a book for Robert Drumm (with Nancy Keim-Comley in the background).

We always thought an author had a book launch the day a book first went on sale; however, your book has been available for a couple months. So, just what is a book launch?

The cover of The Witch of Zal by Kerry Gans

A book launch is an event you hold to say, “I did it!” It’s a celebration of your book and all the hard work you put into getting that book published. It’s a moment to hold the book high and scream, “It’s real!” Ideally, this event will also be a big publicity push for you, so you can spread the word about your new book to the world.

Does an author have to hold the launch at a bookstore?

Many authors do have it at a bookstore because the store patrons are natural book buyers. But there’s no rule about having it at a bookstore. You could have it at a library. If your book has a natural tie-in with a certain type of non-book store, you could have it there. For instance, if your book is about pets, you could have it at a pet store or shelter. Friend of the blog Jon McGoran’s environmental thriller launched at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. The venue is up to you.

Kerry Gans speaking at her book launch for The Witch of Zal at The Doylestown Bookshop, 3-19How early should an author begin setting up the book launch?

As soon as you have a release date, you should pow-wow with your venue of choice. Sometimes their calendars are booked for months in advance. Early contact will allow you to find the time frame that will draw the most traffic for your event and work well for your personal schedule.

Should there be decorations and food?

How much or little you do in this area is up to you. Any venue that regularly hosts events will have a table with a nice covering and bookstands for your books. Most authors also have some sort of swag or eye-catching decoration. I had a green crystal ball next to my bookmarks and business cards, and a rainbow-colored floral arrangement at one end of the table. Both served to catch the eye and bring some color to the signing table.

As for food, I think most people appreciate something to nibble on at an event. This doesn’t mean you need to break the bank on food. I bought a couple of dozen cupcakes, my mother baked chocolate chip cookies, and a friend baked dog-shaped cookies. We also supplied some small water bottles. Get creative with your food—make it fun and book-themed.

Kerry Gnas signing a copy of The Witch of Zal for Ann Stolinsky at The Doylestown Bookshop, 3-19

Kerry signs a book for Ann Stolinsky.

What should an author be prepared to do at the launch?

What I did at my launch is pretty standard, but feel free to get creative, mix it up, add or eliminate items, whatever—this is your launch, it should reflect you and what you are comfortable with. Be sure to have someone take photos, so you can use them on your website, Facebook page, and other social media.

I gave a little speech thanking everyone who helped me get to where I am today. I felt this was important because a) I didn’t get published on my own, and b) you never know if you will get the chance again. For all that I plan to write more books and have more launches, you just never know.

I also played my book trailer, which gave me a moment’s break from being the center of attention and gave my vocal cords a rest. And it made a lot of people say, “Wow!” because it’s a really excellent trailer.

Kerry Gans reading from The Witch of Zal at her book launch at The Doylestown Bookshop, 3-19Then I read an excerpt from my book. Keep the reading to under 10 minutes. Longer than that and people can get bored (unless you are an awesome reader). The reading does not have to be the first chapter, but pick an excerpt appropriate to the audience that can be easily understood without a lot of setup.

After that, sign books, chat with people, and have a grand old time!

What should an author do after the launch?

Relax and bask in the afterglow of a successful event! But also, take some time to post photos of the event on social media—be sure to tag the venue. And always, always, send a thank you note to the venue, particularly naming any staff members who went above and beyond.

What’s the most important thing to remember about a launch?

39 - Kerry Gans and Marie Lamba holding a copy of The Witch of Zal at the book launch at The Doylestown Bookshop, 3-19

Kerry with Marie Lamba holding her signed copy of The Witch of Zal.

Believe it or not, the number of books you sell is not the most important thing about a launch. Sure, you’d love to sell out, but that’s not what the launch is about. The launch is about celebrating your book and the journey you took to get there. The most important part of the launch is the friends and family who turn out to celebrate with you. They have encouraged you along the publishing path, and they are there on your big day to support you.

So enjoy your book launch event — you’ve earned it!

Thanks, Kerry, and good luck with The Witch of Zal!

Kerry Gans signing The Witch of Zal at her book launch at The Doylestown Bookshop ,3-19

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 24, 2016

Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 03-24-2016

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of Spring! Oh, wait…

Snowfall on the first day of spring in the Author Chronicles' hometown

A snowy first day of Spring!

Now that winter has had its last gasp, let’s get back to the work of writing!

First, Booker Prize-winning author Anita Brookner dies at age 87.

Award season has begun! Check out the 2016 Golden Kite Award, Sid Fleischman Award and Lee Bennett Hopkins Award winners, and take a peek at the 2016 Carnegie Medal longlist—in pictures.

Increasing diversity is an issue in publishing today. Alyssa Cole takes a look at the economic impact of non-diverse romance and the “quality problem”. Corinne Duyvis tackles disability metaphors in sci-fi and fantasy, while Ava Jae, Andrea Shettle, and Logan W. discuss fictional disabilities.

Carol Fragale-Brill explains why we should reconsider the way we review books.

CRAFT

We all have so many ideas, it can be hard to pick one to work on. Martina Boone has 8 questions to determine what to work on next.

Everyone’s creative process is different. Some people need a title before they can write. David Lubar shares lessons learned on choosing book titles. Some people need to outline. K.M. Weiland lists 7 steps to creating a flexible outline for any story.

Sometimes a project calls for more than one writer. K.M. Hodge discusses what you need to think about when considering co-writing.

One thing you need to know before you start writing is what genre and style you’re using. Victorine E. Lieske explains the elements of a romance novel, Marie Mutsuki Mockett explores how fairy tales differ from Japan to America, and Deborah Patterson has 10 tips on how to write like William Shakespeare.

There are certain qualities our writing needs to engage the reader. Janice Hardy shows how to maintain believability in our writing, and Joe Moore explains the difference between action vs. suspense.

While many factors go into a story that readers can’t put down, compelling characters is a major one. Michelle Hoover discusses the duplicity of a character’s desire, and Marcy Kennedy shows how deep POV can create a page-turner.

After the writing comes the editing. K.M. Weiland share 5 (more) ways to trim your book’s word count, and Victoria Strauss shows us how freelance editors get paid, so we can avoid getting scammed. To help us edit other writers’ work, Jami Gold has 4 tips for beta reading outside our genre.

There’s plenty of advice out there, most of it well-meaning and much of it very helpful, but sometimes advice hardens into “rules.” Kit Alloway myth-busts some favorite craft of writing “rules”. One such “rule” is that a writer needs to write every day. Maggie Hall discusses how productive procrastination can help the writing process, while E.J. Wenstrom takes the other side and shows how to tap into writing mode anywhere, anytime, to make the most of our time.

Sometimes the writing journey comes with unexpected life lessons. Ellie Holmes explains why she’s paying it forward in self-publishing, and Heather Lende discusses what writing about death taught her about life.

We all want to find success (however we define it) in our writing life. Larry Brooks shares 10 myths that sabotage unsuspecting writers, Roni Loren gives us 5 lesser known but useful apps, and Jami Gold reminds us to be kind to ourselves because no matter how thin we stretch ourselves, we cannot do it all.

BUSINESS

Jane Friedman shares 4 lessons on the current state of publishing, and A.B. Keuser tells us how to set the right publishing expectations.

Jody Hedlund examines whether traditional and indie publication can live as friendly neighbors, while Beth Buelow explains the strengths and weaknesses of being an introvert entrepreneur.

If you are querying, there may be times you are unavailable. Agent Janet Reid has a solution to querying when you might be unreachable.

Marketing is as much art as science. Anne R. Allen reminds us that there is no single right way to market—and we should be wary of those who claim there is. Judith Briles shows us how to cope if we are scheduled for an appearance and something dreadfully unexpected happens.

Much of our marketing today involves social media. Frances Caballo lists 11 reasons why indie authors need social media (and how to get it right), Penny Sansevieri tells us how to maximize a Goodreads giveaway, and Mark Gillespie explains how and why to set up an Amazon author page. In the end, Frances Caballo reminds us that social media is simple: just be where your readers are.

THE UNIQUE SHELF

David Reuther recalls some anecdotes about Beverly Cleary.

Language is wonderfully evocative. Here’s 6 Irish words for people you don’t like, a Swedish nursery will teach a rare Viking-era language to its preschoolers, and Alex Wheatle invents new language for his new books.

The Brontë sisters continue to fascinate. Catherine Lowell shares life lessons from the Brontë sisters, while Charlotte Cory presents Charlotte Brontë in Babylon—a radio drama charting the writer’s 5 visits to London.

Think the Victorians had no sense of humor? Researchers are digging up Victorian-era jokes.

Hugh Schofield follows the story of investors conned into buying rare manuscripts. Or were they?

Why fictional detectives can’t go on vacation; a fashionable bookcase from 1814; why Britain has such bizarre place names.

Do werewolves only exist in fiction? Read about Georgia’s werewolf, Emily Isabella Burt.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Enjoy the spring!

Yellow Welcome banner with ladybugs at the Author Chronicles' headquarters

Welcome to the Author Chronicles! Please come visit again!

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