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Thursday
Feb132014

Don't skimp on the villains

While readers want someone they can care about in a protagonist, they also need villains. Villains stir up the circumstances that give readers reasons to care about your protagonists. I like to subject my main characters to a heaping helping of villainy. It takes a villain to make a good read. Or two. Sometimes the more villains, the more memorable the book.

Protagonists need trouble with a capital T
One of the simplest formulas for storytelling goes like this: Stick your central character up a tree. Throw stones at her. Don’t let her return safely to the ground until the very end of the story.

Though some writers tend to fall in love with their protagonists, unlike those we love in real life, we shouldn’t try to protect characters from trouble. Let them skin their knees, encounter a world of trouble, or feel a universe of hurt. Or all three. Every time your character gets picked on, shot at, or dumped on, you’ve given your reader chances to bond with her.

The sky’s the limit for villains
There are limitless possibilities to villainy in stories: Villains who look good; villains who look evil; otherwise well-meaning people who make one villainous choice that wreaks havoc with your protagonist. Villains can also be mostly bad people who do one redeeming thing that helps your pro when circumstances are most dire. Or mostly good people who do one heinous, unforgivable thing. Weather, highways, or even screen doors can also be villainous.

I personally love the villains that James Lee Burke packs into his Dave Robicheaux detective stories. They are interesting and ever-present. Obvious ones like the circus rodeo clown who’s a serial killer and not so obvious ones. That includes people in law enforcement, who see everything in black and white, and yet many times, the law calls for decision-making with deadly firearms in the gray areas. 

Attractive villains like Happy Henderson in WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'? are fun to writeOne of my villains in WHO KILLED ‘TOM JONES’? is Grace’s childhood friend, Happy Henderson, who used to be a mean girl in high school. Now that she’s in her late twenties, she’s still mean. She's just learned to disguise it better.

Writing villains can be cathartic
We all encounter people or organizations or bureaucracies in life who victimize us. Wouldn’t it be great to have a way to get back at them that wouldn’t entail a five-year stint in the state penitentiary?

For me, writing has been that catharsis. If you are going to use a real-life character as a villain in fiction, it’s best to conflate her with a couple of other people. That opens up more character possibilities, too, because she becomes a new person and can do other things that that individual in your mind’s eye couldn’t or wouldn’t do. In WHO KILLED ‘TOM JONES’?, Happy is many former friends all rolled into one buxom but also treacherous babe. Do I still get a lot of satisfaction out of creating her even though I got burned by her real-life counterparts? You bet I do.

Find your inner villain
Stories become really compelling when your protagonist has villainous thoughts or is faced with two bad choices but must make one. Think Sophie’s Choice here for a stellar example. Characters should be tempted to stray from their wives. Or at least think bad things. Characters need to come off as human.

Did you know, for example, that most women tell at least two lies a day? Characters can lie and still be sympathetic because it makes them more human.

While we probably want to steer clear of villains and their villainy in real life (unless you are suffering from some bizarre mental disorder like Munchausen by proxy syndrome), your reader needs villains and obstacles in the stories she reads.  Give your readers juicy villains, served up medium rare, topped with crab meat, with a side of sautéed mushrooms. Don’t skimp on the villainy. It truly takes a villain to have a good novel. 

Monday
Feb032014

Dishing about 'The Welsh Stallion' and how we take our tea

Today I'm featured on the charming book blog "A Book and Tea" hosted by the lovely Clare Henry, a Welsh book blogger.

Clare introduced me to the term the Welsh Stallion--a term I'd never heard before describing Sir Tom Jones (but how fitting). I nearly did a spittake when I stumbled across it, reading her interview questions.

And Clare is offering a giveaway, too. Just Tweet about the giveaway from here and you might win a copy of WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'?

So please stop by and let Clare know how you take your tea. You can read Clare's review of WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'? here. Do drop in!

Sunday
Feb022014

A valentine hug to some writing pros...

The difference between people who believe they have books inside of them and those who actually write books is sheer cussed persistence–the ability to make yourself work at your craft, every day–the belief, even in the face of obstacles, that you’ve got something worth saying.” --Jennifer Weiner

At then end of 2013, Andy Roberts, the Chief Technology Officer for Booktrope (my publisher) posted this message to all the authors, saying "Booktrope thanks you for being in the latter category."

I'm sure Andy has no idea how meaningful that post was to me at the time he posted it. To have your publisher or an officer representing your publisher thank you for your sheer dogged determination, in the face of all manner of obstacles each of us faces en route to publication, was balm for my worn-out soul.

I just published my third novel, WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'? with Booktrope Editions. Make no mistake, getting to publication is a slog. I had been working on TOM JONES for five years. It began as a NaNoWriMo novel in 2008, and I've been workshopping it (online and on-ground) since then.

The occasion of the publication WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'? I thought it might be a nice opportunity to give a shout-out to certain writing professionals (they teach and also write, edit, and publish themselves) who profoundly influenced me, whether they realize it or not.

Alicia Rasley--When I first began writing fiction in 2005, I easily found Alicia's content on the Internet and read (I believe) every thing she had posted on her site. She has tons of great tips and articles to help you develop your craft. I then took one or two of her courses, learning even more, if possible. Alicia's the writer who introduced me to the idea of a journey or narrative arc, that you must consider your protagonist's arc: from delusion to self-discovery, from loneliness to contentment, etc. Spend an hour on her site, and I guarantee you'll learn something, no matter how many books you've written.

Michael Giorgio--I took a couple online mystery writing classes with Michael back in 2008-09 (I think.) He was extraordinarily helpful to me, and his guidance allowed me to realize that I needn't try so hard to be jokey when I write mystery. I took his advice seriously, and allowed the humor in WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'? to flow out of the story and the interaction between characters rather than wedge it into the narrative. I appreciated his early, careful feedback on my writing and grew as a writer from it.

Roz Morris--Roz wrote a wonderful post on the value of reincorporation and guest posted on this blog a few years ago. She has lots of other great tips available to help you improve as a writer and deepen that reader writer relationship. The first time I heard her relay that the technique of "reincorporation seems to hit the audience’s satisfaction centres to a primeval degree," I knew she was right, but had never heard it expressed before, let alone so succinctly, and set out to use it in my writing.

Lenore Hart--Lenore was my fiction foundations instructor at Wilkes University. Boy, was she ever tough on me. But I learned a ton from her. She exhibits the most masterful use of figurative language. The way she paints pictures for readers makes me sigh with delight. And we all know readers can't feel a thing you want them to feel without concrete language and details underpinning the scene. When I last contacted Lenore, she was hard at work--as always--on numerous writing projects. Her sheer devotion to hard work alone, always pushing herself, never resting on her laurels, inspires me daily. I featured Lenore here a few years ago, and want to talk with her very soon about some of the new things she's doing for and with writers.

Lori A. May--Lori gave an eye-opening and ultimately life-changing presentation during my last semester at Wilkes University. She introduced me to the idea of literary citizenship (which you can read more about here), which she continues to model in her endeavors. She also introduced me to a model for goal-setting and monitoring toward forward progress and ultimately success as a writer. It's a winning plan she herself has obviously user-tested and proven. I would do well to go back and review since it's easy for life to intervene and sidetrack authors meaning to accomplish this and that.

Thanks to all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for helping me along my path to publication, for inspiring me and encouraging me. This is my valentine to you, for your wisdom and expertise, so kindly shared for my benefit.

Saturday
Feb012014

My 'Winter's Respite Read-a-thon' progress

 

Now that Who Killed 'Tom Jones'? has launched, I figured that I would do a little bit of pleasure reading. I just won a book in a Goodreads giveaway--it's always so fun getting that print copy in the mail--so I thought I would start that one. I also purchased some historical fiction off of BookBub that swirled around the world of barogue opera and never got to start it.

Yes, it is extraordinarily consuming publishing a novel--that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

So, I have used this read-a-thon to dive into these two books:

Finding Harmony (Katie & Annalise #3) by Pamela Fagan Hutchins and Interrupted Aria: A Tito Amato Mystery by Beverle Graves Myers

Because I write contemporary fiction and just released a contemporary mystery, I suppose I am a little more critical of Finding Harmony. I keep comparing my mystery to hers, and I think I come out looking pretty good--though I do love her cover.

Also, as an opera wonk and opera performance reviewer for Bachtrack, Aria Interrupted is right up my alley. I love historical fiction and know that it is loads too difficult to write for me to ever attempt. Thus far Interrupted Aria is exquisitely written and informative--and I am just loving it.

So, thank you, Michelle, for forcing me to dig into some new fiction with your very cool Read-a-thon. I am having a blast so far.

Sunday
Jan262014

Last prize up for grabs...DVD set of Tom Jones' old variety show

Today we've reached the end of our Totally Groovy Book Launch for WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'? And in the eyes of some ardent fans, it's not unusual that I may have saved the best prize for last.

This collection is a fan fave on AmazonI've heard tell that "This Is Tom Jones: Legendary Performers" is a 3-DVD set of the best moments from Tom Jones old variety show on ABC from 1969 - 1971. It features clips of legendary entertainers such as Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Liza Minnelli--all of whom I LOVE.

Sir Tom (I am inscribing a signed copy of WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'? to "Sir Tom") shows his versatility as a song stylist, going down home with Johnny Cash. 

Honestly, I really want to watch it myself right now since so many of Sir Tom's YouTube videos are mostly grainy and/or blurry.

If you are interested in this prize, just use the Rafflecopter widget below. Of course, you can go totally old school, too, and leave a comment on this blog post. I LOVE all of your comments, btw.

Just so you know, Rafflecopter will select four more winners once the giveaway is concluded. Each winner will have her (or his) choice of any one the following prizes featured this week on this blog:

  • The tie dyed apron 
  • The yoga pants
  • The Best of Tom Jones CD
  • The puffy shirt
  • "This is Tom Jones" volume 2 DVD set (3 discs)

And every person who enters is a winner! Not only because you read this blog, but also because you'll get a free ebook of WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'? (Nook, Kindle, or PDF--your choice).

Totally devoted to puffy shirts and skin-tight pants,

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway