Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

Get it everywhere online books are sold!

The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

Visit the Books page for free samples

Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

Get book downloads on the Free Stuff page

Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

Get the boxed set edition to get even more secrets!

Hope's Rebellion

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Monday, April 30, 2012

The Indie Author Month Event

Tomorrow marks the first day of Indie Author Month, an exciting event that's being sponsored by the Aside From Writing book blog. Up to 30 ebooks will be given away during the event, and a new writer will be featured every day all May long. I'm one of them! Check Aside toward the end of the month to see my feature and find out how you can win books from the Deck of Lies series.



Each day, a new indie book will be featured on the blog. The daily posts will also include a small interview with each indie author. Month-long and daily ebook giveaways will also feature heavily in the month-long event. To enjoy all the action and find out what makes indie writers tick, you'll have to check Aside From Writing every day in May!

Writing 101: Colons, Semicolons and Ellipsis

Is it okay to use semicolons? What does it mean when you add an ellipsis to your story? Do colons have a place in prose? These are the questions that writers have been debating for many years, and some have some very strong opinions. When it comes to the punctuation rules of fiction...well, what are they?


The Semicolon

"Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college." These were the words of Kurt Vonnegut, a well-known master of the literary arts. Writers are often opinionated -- occupational hazard -- but does that mean Mr. Vonnegut is right, or just passionate about his own style of prose? Other writers have waxed poetic about the meaning one of the semicolon; one well-known writer even likened it to God. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Book 3 Update

A lot of readers have been asking me about Book 3 in the Deck of Lies series, and I can now report that the first draft is nearly done! I put in a lot of hours this past week and through the weekend, and I'm now working on some of the final scenes in the book. So far, so good -- right now, I don't see any reason why I won't be able to release the book this summer as planned. When I'm feeling a bit more confident about it, and after I've talked to my lovely cover designer, I'll tell you the exact date you can expect to find the book on Amazon.






If you've been to my official site, you may already know you can read the blurb for Death (Deck of Lies, #3) there, but I've also included it below just to help you get excited about the ongoing family saga of lies and secrets. The story will continue this summer with all-new surprises, twists, turns...and romance.



All In

I never wanted to get in this deep, but I did go looking for the truth before I was prepared to handle it. But how do you close the lid on Pandora’s box? You can’t unlearn something, or forget a dark secret once it’s been revealed.

I have no choice but to do my part to bury the truth again -- this time, someplace no one will ever be able to find it. But that’s the problem with lies. Once you start pulling threads, everything unravels.

No one is who they seem to be…not even me.

Writing 101: Dialogue

Dialogue is an important element in any story, but many writers struggle with creating believable conversation. What's the secret to great dialogue? If you don't already know, you'd better figure it out before you publish your work. Bad dialogue can ruin any story, and will make readers stop turning pages.

Speech

Speaking is a basic part of the human condition, and it's likely that your story is mostly populated by speaking people. Less commonly, you might be writing about non-speaking characters who are deaf, mute or both, but even in this case they will be using some form of communication. It may not be speech in the traditional sense of the word, but you will still be using some form of dialogue so your characters may interact with each other. There's a certain formula to crafting great dialogue. Learn it, and your story will be much richer and more believable.

Participants

In every conversation, there are characters involved. No matter how many there may be, make sure there's a logical reason for the dialogue that's taking place. Few people stand alone in rooms and speak their thoughts out loud to themselves, yet this is a vehicle that is often used by writers. If you're going to do it, write it so it makes sense. When multiple characters are speaking, note what they're doing and where they're standing. This can help you avoid repeating "he said, she said" one hundred times during an exchange. Sometimes, you can skip the identifier entirely -- but make sure it's always clear to the reader who is speaking.

Know where your participants are and what they're doing, but also find multiple ways to label them. Pronouns are proper names are only so interesting. Throw in a description here and there (for example, the youngest child Clara might be called "the baby of the family," or the wizened grandmother "the matriarch) to keep things interesting.

Inconsistency

Don't always use "says or said." Use other words to denote speech. Characters can do all sorts of things with their speaking parts. Instead of making them say their words, have them respond, cry, scream, shout, whisper, reply, answer, and break out the thesaurus any time you want to find more words. When you're writing dialogue, inconsistency is great. Otherwise, your dialogue will become monotonous and boring. You can even do this when your characters are asking questions -- she queried, he questioned, they asked.

You should also be inconsistent in other ways when you're writing dialogue. Instead of following a specific pattern (for example, "Hello," she said; "Hi," he answered) try putting the speaker first and then the speech (ex: She said, "hello;" "Hi," he answered).


Break It Up

Don't just create a bunch of one-line dialogue to fill up a chapter. Add description and observation in-between the dialogue. Give the readers an insight into a character's thoughts or actions in the middle of a dialogue-rich scene to add interest and include something different and interesting. Remember that, above all, a good book is meant to entertain.

So be entertaining.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Tower: An Excerpt

The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2) has just been released this month -- and to celebrate, I'm releasing a selective excerpt. The piece of the scene you're about to read takes place in Chapter 5. Some names have been hidden to protect the dead (and the spoilers from Book 1!).



   I was taken aback by his interruption, and the way he’d honed in on my true feelings. “I…I wouldn’t say I hated her, exactly, but I-”
   “Where were you on the morning of March 29?”
   “What?”
   “March 29, Rain. It was barely two weeks ago. Surely you can remember where you were on the day that your fellow student disappeared?” His voice was low and gentle, almost chant-like.
   “I…” And I racked my brain for a moment before the memory clicked into place. Of course. March 29. That was the day I went to school to find that my locker had been completely trashed by Carsyn. I felt my cheeks flame just thinking about it. “I was at school.”
   “And before that?” He pressed.
   “Before that I was at home,” I answered hotly. Maybe it was that horrible memory of seeing Carsyn’s angry red lipstick smeared all over my personal space, but I was suddenly furious at Lieutenant Edwards. Why was he dredging all this up? And why were we sitting in this tiny room?
   “Did anyone see you leave that morning? Did you eat breakfast with your family? Can anyone verify your whereabouts before you walked into Sloane Academy that Monday morning? When did you first see the suspect that day? Were you with him in the canyons, Rain?” His tone had dramatically changed from singsong to rapid-fire, each word hurtled at me like a bullet.
   His hard expression, his unrelenting questions, the plain little room…I suddenly realized I’d seen this all before. On TV. And that’s when I understood that I was being interrogated by the police. I spun around in my chair to stare at the mirror, and cold dread washed over me when I thought that another police officer was probably staring at me from the other side.
   My mind started to spin madly. The note he’d asked me to copy. The receipt he’d pulled out of his pocket. Dread settled in my stomach, and for a few horrifying seconds I was certain I was going to throw up. “Oh my God,” I whispered. “A Fendi purse purchased on March 28. She was killed with a leather strap. Do you think -- do you mean --” I couldn’t even finish the question. I leapt out of the plastic seat, not at all surprised to find that my legs felt wobbly when I forced them straight. “Was she murdered with a purse strap?” I didn’t mean to halfway scream the question, but waves of shock were rolling over me now. I felt like I was caught inside a storm. “Then why have you been holding the suspect? Because his name was on the note? Where did you find that note? Did you find that note on her…on her?” I couldn’t say “body.” It was just too gruesome.
   Edwards was standing now, too. “Where were you on Monday morning, Rain?”
   “I’m a suspect?” It came out half-question, half-accusation. “Am I your new suspect?”







The Tower is now available at Amazon, on B&N and Smashwords. Read Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) to get caught up on all the backstory, or just dive right in to this installment of the ongoing saga of family deceit and secrets!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writing 101: Justify My Interest

 You spent all that time crafting an exciting book, filled with humor or romance or mystery (or whatever you write about). You wrote a blurb that garnered my interest, designed a cover that got me all fired up. So I bought your book. And now, I wish I hadn't...because you didn't even justify it properly. It's one of the simplest steps, and one of the most overlooked. Justify my interest in your work, and show all your readers that you actually give a crap about it. Take a few extra seconds to set your justification. Otherwise, you might look like an amateur.


 Justification

 Go to any shelf, pull out any book and open it to any page. You'll always see the same thing: neat, even edges on either side. There will be a few indents where paragraphs begin and end, but the overall look is still clean and straight.



You can create the same look with an ebook, and you should. Electronic books should absolutely look like print books, because everyone is familiar with how print books look and that's what readers expect to see.  Otherwise, one side of the ebook will have a ragged, unattractive edge. It looks lazy, it looks incorrect and it immediately aggravates readers.




 There are only four different ways to justify documents, and when you open up a brand-new blank document and start tying, your justification is automatically set. In most cases, it's automatically set to the wrong option.
  • Left. The default justification for most word processing software, left justification creates a clean, even edge down the left side of the page. The right side ends up looking jagged and uneven, because spacing between each letter and word will be perfectly even between each line. Words will end at different points all down the right edge as a result. 
  • Right. The opposite of left-side justification, right justification creates a neat, even edge down the right side of the page. This justification rarely appears in any work, and should only be used on selected text and images for stylistic purposes; you will not find any books where right justification is used throughout. 
  • Center. When the text is set to center justification, it will be symmetrically arranged down the midline of the document. Center justification is often used for chapter headings and titles. It may be used in poetry, but standard prose should never appear in center justification. 
  • Full. The only acceptable format for books, full justification creates neat, even edges on both sides of the page. 
 Here's the thing: Kindle will automatically change your justification. A lot of indie writers know that, so a lot of indie writers don't mess with the justification in their documents. But when you don't set the justification properly, you could get errors in your book's HTML code. The errors could create formatting errors that screw with the automatic justification...so that means you've got to manually set it anyway. Kindle is supposed to adjust the justification automatically, but the system isn't perfect -- and I know it to be true because I've read plenty of books with incorrect justification. So set it on your own before you ever publish your book, and avoid a silly error that could alienate your readers and make you look lazy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writing 101: Page Numbers, Headers and Footers

The beautifully bound books you buy from well-respected publishers usually have all the same characteristics...and that commonly includes helpful page numbers and pretty page headers that announce the title of the book and/or the author of the work. So why can't you include these same professional touches in your ebook?



Because of the formatting, that's why. If you want to use all that fancy stuff in your self-published books, do yourself a favor and give up the ghost right now. No matter what you do, they're never going to appear on the epage correctly. Yes, never.

Never, Ever Ever?

Never. There's no standard page size for eReaders, and there's no standard size for ebooks. What's that mean? Basically, that means your ebook is going to look different on different devices. Pull it up on a Kindle, and it will look one way. Open that exact same book up on your iPad, however, and there will be more text on each page. So if you try to carefully place page numbers at the bottom of each page, and add a header with your name and the book's title along the top, it's never going to appear correctly on all those different devices.

You can't even format your headers, footers and page numbers for a specific eReader and then only sell it on that eReader. You can sell your ebook exclusively on Amazon if you like, and make it available only to Kindle users -- but even so, there are different Kindles out there and more still to come. And your pages are going to look different on those devices. Even if they don't, your readers always have the option of changing the font size of your text. Someone who has trouble reading fine print might jack the size up, and that means less text will be appearing on each page...and that means your page numbers and headers are going to be off.

No matter what you do.

So save yourself the trouble, and only incorporate page numbers, headers and/or footers on books that are going to be physically printed on paper. Even when you're doing this, through CreateSpace or a similar self-publishing program, it's extremely tricky to get your embellishments placed correctly. Formatting your ebook is hard enough as it is. Do yourself a favor, and don't try to go above and beyond -- just focus on making the story perfect, and that will be enough to keep your readers happy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Writing 101: Brand Names

We all snigger during the movie or TV show when someone's drinking a black-label can of a beverage called "Soda," because it's so obviously generic. But we also know why the movies and TV shows do it: they can't afford to pay a billion-dollar company for the rights to the brand name, or perhaps they don't want to endorse a brand name, or the company said they couldn't use the brand name, or whatever. Basically, they don't want to break the law by using a brand name they don't own. So what about when you use a brand name in your book?


Brand Names

We all use brand names, and everybody owns something with at least one designer label (yes, Levi counts as a designer label). I wash my dishes in Dawn, drink Coca-Cola products and swear by the Swiffer. But is it okay if my characters do, too? Telling your girlfriend to run right out and buy Colgate toothpaste in one thing; self-publishing it in print (or eprint) is quite another. So are your characters texting on Androids, or smartphones? Are they crying into a handful of tissues, or Kleenex?

Using Brand Names in Your Book

There's no simple answers -- there never are. Basically, it boils down to this: it's all in the usage. Yes, you can use brand names and no, you don't have to pay for them...unless you screw up.

  • Brands as Nouns
Writing brand names into any book is very tricky. You can use them, but only when it's specific to that brand. For example, it's not okay to use the word in place of everyday nouns. You can't replace the word "toilet paper" with a specific brand like Charmin. You characters shouldn't be "typing away on the Sony Vaio" instead of on the laptop. In other words, you can't use brand names generically. However, if you add the specific modifier ("typing away on the Sony Vaio laptop") the usage is a little more specific.

You can reference that your character is using their iPhone to make a call or send a text, or that she reached for a can of her favorite soda, Diet Coke. You cannot use the word "Coke" when you mean any can of cola or soda pop. Brand names have to be used specifically, not generically. But even when you're careful about specifics, you're not out of the woods.
  • Negativity
It's fine, and makes a story much more believable, to use brand names as a background in the story. It adds a certain element of realism when your characters enjoy a fine bottle of Dom Perignon rather than any old bottle of fancy champagne. But if you go on to say that the Dom Perignon tasted like utter swill, you're in trouble. Companies do not like having their brand names disparaged, and if you do then you leave the door wide open for a lawsuit. It's called defamation, and it is illegal. In other words, it's fine to mention brand names. It's not okay to make any judgments about them.
  • Designer Labels
Can you mention designer labels? Absolutely! Let your characters strut their stuff in fancy duds from Calvin Klein, or have them sweating it out in a pair of well-worn Wranglers. Again, don't use the brand names generically and don't use them disparagingly in any way, and you're perfectly safe.

Review: No Mercy

I'm not sure when or where I stumbled across Wendy Cartmell's No Mercy, a collection of short stories, but I'm thrilled I did. From the first word to the last, this collection is engaging, interesting and extremely well written.


For starters, the formatting in No Mercy is perfect. I couldn't find a mistake, and you know how hard I look. But I didn't read the entire collection of stories in one sitting, when I promised myself I'd stop after one, just because it looked pretty. After the first thrilling tale, which introduced Cartmell's gruff detective Sergeant Major Crane, I wasn't about to put No Mercy down.

Each story was unique, but they all fit together well to showcase Cartmell's singular style. She writes descriptively, easily drawing the reader deeply into each tale before neatly ending the story with something altogether shocking -- and sometimes triumphant, or chilling, or sorrowful. The title of the collection sums it up perfectly, because Cartmell pulls no punches with her clear, sharp voice that shines in every page. Every little mystery was fascinating, and I'm looking forward to reading much more from Wendy Cartmell in the future.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing 101: Using Pen Names

How do you feel about using a pen name? Everyone's got an opinion, even your readers. Crafting the perfect pen name is a little like writing the perfect novel...only the name is probably going to stay with you a lot longer. If you don't use the right one, you'll make things unnecessarily hard on yourself.


What's in a Name?

Stephen King. Anne Rice. Stephenie Meyer. What do all the big, blockbuster writers have in common? Names that are easy to remember and easy to spell. That's very important when you want readers to start looking for you on Amazon, Google and everywhere else you exist. By the same token, you don't want to publish books under a name that's too simple. Type John Smith into Google and you're going to get way too many results.

What's Wrong with Your Name?

Friends and family aren't going to recognize you by a pen name (and neither will all those people from high school who need to feel envy). Don't you deserve recognition for your fabulous self-publishing achievements? Sure you do, but if your real name is a thirteen-letter nightmare you've got to be reasonable. If you were lucky enough to be given a simple, easy to spell but unique name, then use it. If you weren't, try toning it down a little. Authors use initials, nicknames and small changes to tweak their own names into something that looks a lot better on a book jacket.

If that's still not an option, you might need to choose a pen name. But the truth is, lots of writers aren't very good at choosing their own names -- even those who fill their own books with believable, poetic and beautiful character names.

Picking the Right Pen Name

Once you begin establishing yourself under a pen name, you're no longer your own person. Your name will be all wrapped up with your reputation, with the public image you present, with the books that you write. Every time someone looks at your book, that name will be attached to it. So choose a good one.
  • Don't go gimmicky. You write erotic fiction, so maybe a pen name like "Rose Pleasure" sounds like a great idea. It's not. There are very few examples in writing where gimmicky names actually work -- and most of those examples are in children's books. Pen names like Dr. Seuss and Lemony Snicket are more than vaguely ridiculous, but you have to get a little silly to spend lengthy amounts of time with kids so that works out okay. Otherwise, don't create a gimmicky name. Why? Because you want to get some sort of respect from your readers, and you want to be regarded as a professional. Choose a silly, gimmicky name and you'll never be taken seriously. 
  • Don't go too exotic. It's tempting to come up with a name that's so fresh, so new, so exotic-sounding that no one could ever mistake it for anything else. Writer Poppy Z. Brite, for example, stands out for her unusual name. Problem is, it's way too unusual. Poppy Z. Brite sounds like a pen name, and anything overtly fake is always hard to take seriously.
  • Don't go famous. Some names should really be off limits because they're already too well-known. If you publish something under the last name of Hitler, for example, you're clearly setting yourself up for failure and everyone you want to attract is just going to be confused. Try to avoid Presidential, movie star and other famous last or first names because you need to establish yourself on your own; you don't want someone else's name baggage bogging you down. 
Picking the right pen name isn't easy. Keep it simple, keep it decently unique, and keep it sincere-sounding -- like a name that someone could actually have. Above all, try to pick a pen name that says something to you, or about you, or that means something to you in some way. One day, an interviewer is bound to ask you about your pen name, and you're going to need an interesting story to go with it. That's what people expect from writers.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: The Teacher's Billionaire

I"m still a little confused by how much I liked The Teacher's Billionaire. The idea isn't exactly a new one -- your basic doomed couple who each come from completely different worlds. Their worlds collide, lust ensues, trouble looms...will they or won't they? Sure it sounds formulaic, but somehow it doesn't read that way. Christina Tetreault doesn't break any of the rules, but I completely fell for her enchanting tale anyway.


I'm not one for romances, particularly those in a contemporary setting. I can only tolerate love stories if they're steeped in history, something I actually find interesting. But somehow, this sweet romance kept me captivated and still followed the familiar genre formula.

 Tetreault's writing is so vivid, the characters so alive, that everything seems completely believable. A working-class teacher in Boston who works hard, gossips with her friends and doesn't feel so secure in her looks meets, and completely charms, a well-known Fortune 500 bigwig who just happens to be utterly gorgeous and all too eligible? Yeah, it could totally happen. I know it could, because it did in the pages of this book -- and I was so swept up in the story I never doubted it once.

The heroine's situation is pretty average, at least at first, but when a dark family secret comes to the fore she gets dragged into a new world that seems light years away from her run-of-the-mill Boston life. I would have liked to spend a little more time in Callie's world before the plot kicks in -- everything happens rather suddenly in the very beginning of the book -- but I liked her right away. She's not unbelievably gorgeous, or saintlike in her perfection. She's just a normal girl in a totally unusual situation, reacting to it as sensibly as she possibly can.

The unusual situation has an amazing smile. His name is Dylan, and he's your typical one percenter born in England and now engaged in American politics. Okay, so maybe typical isn't exactly the right word, but even he is totally believable. Tetreault beautifully gets inside his head and makes him seem like a pretty normal guy with normal guy hang-ups, despite the Adonis-like body, made-for-magazines face and highfalutin family connections. The reader sees him working out in the gym (that explains the rock-hard abs), and knows why he has a bit of a playboy reputation. It's easy to fall in love with Dylan, with Callie, with everything about the Sherbrookes -- and honestly, I was ridiculously happy when I learned that this is only the first in a continued series about the fascinating family.

 But it's not perfect. The paragraph indenting and justification are inconsistent and poor throughout, and you could go crazy trying to count all the missing commas. Aesthetically, this ebook isn't at all pleasing (I haven't seen the paperback version, so I won't speak for that), but it is beautifully written so that helps to balance the scales. I'll take an ugly book over a badly written one any day. I can't wait for the next installment in the series, for whatever Christina Tetreault writes next, and I'll definitely re-visit this book again and again. This one isn't going to be deleted from the Kindle anytime soon.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Writing 101: Adding Images to an eBook

Putting the text into a book is hard enough -- adding images complicates matters significantly. Writers have all sorts of reasons for inserting images into their books. In cookbooks, travel books and children's books, pictures are an absolute must-have. But writers in other genres may also wish to add a helpful visual aid to their work. A family tree, a map -- these are a common enough sight in many types of books. So...how do you add these elements to an ebook?


Images and eBooks

So, you want to add a pretty picture to your ebook. It is possible, but if you don't know exactly what you're doing it's going to become a frustrating, tedious affair -- and you may not succeed.
  • Find/create the image. First things first: get the image you want to place in your book. Make sure you know where it's located on your hard drive, so you can get to it easily. You won't need it again until the book is finished and ready to be formatted.
  • Open your conversion software. You probably already know that the word processing document you've used to write your book isn't ebook-ready. To turn it into something an ereader can deal with, you need to convert it. For that, you need conversion software. Open up your chosen program and load the book up as usual. 
  • Add the image. Using the File settings, open the picture(s) you want to add to the book in the software program. You'll have at least two files loaded into the program: the book itself, and your image. Add all the images you want in the book.
  • Add the HTML. Use the HTML editor to add the proper code to the file so the image will appear. First, find the exact location where you'd like to place the image within the book. Now, add your code. It's <img src="the name of the image file.jpg" width=500 height=300>. Write the title exactly as it appears in the file name; the full path is not necessary. Add any extra codes to make the image appear the way you want it (<center>, </center> etc.) and adjust the width and height values as desired.
  •  Finish the conversion. Follow the rest of your conversion process normally, and preview the ebook to be certain the image is appearing the way you want.
It takes a little extra time and effort to add images to ebooks, but once you know the process it's fairly straightforward. An image can be a wonderful aid to readers, particularly if the book is set in a fantasy world or there are complex family ties for them to follow. Avoid sizing the image any wider than 600 pixels, as it may not read well on ereaders when sized larger than this.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Writing 101: Can You Use Celebrity Names in Fiction?

Every writer strives for authenticity, even in fantasy writing. It's important to create real, relatable characters that readers can connect with as they move through the story. And what's more relatable than the famous celebrities who populate the real world? There are some names that everyone's heard of, and in creating a believable character you might want to throw some of these celebs into your story. Whether it's a casual mention or something more, there's some important stuff you need to know before you use a celebrity name...like the fact that you might get sued for doing it. Using celebrity names is tricky, so you might want to think twice before you put them in your self-published book.


The Line Between Fiction and Reality

In creating a character that feels real, many writers use real settings for their stories. You might move your characters around on a university campus that genuinely exists, take them to a park you yourself have visited, have them eating foods that you've enjoyed in the past. Little details like this make characters jump off the page and become more like real people.

And sometimes, you might have occasion to insert real people into your fiction. Suppose your character is into politics, a big-time sports fan, or loves a certain television show. Maybe they go on a date to a popular movie, or have a crush on a well-known movie star or musician. These details do great things for a book's authenticity, but they can do bad things to you as a writer.

Celebrities in Fiction

Celebrities appear in causal real-world conversations all the time, but when you put those names in print everything changes. Newspapers, television shows and people who publicly mention celebrity names do so with caution, and as a fiction writer you should, too.

But it's fiction! Isn't it okay to use the names of public figures in fiction, since you're only trying to tell a story? No, sometimes it's not.

More and more courts are recognizing that celebrities are also self-made brands, and in some legal cases the court has sided with the celebrity. In other words, if the celebrity doesn't like the way they're being portrayed even in a fiction work, they may sue and the court may side with them. Celebrities and public figures may sue if their name is used; they may sue even if their name is not used but the character in question very strongly reflects the actual celebrity. One celebrity who was accused of theft, and won't be named here, sued a highly popular TV show because her name was casually mentioned between the characters on the show. There are countless examples of fiction works and projects that had to be changed because of lawsuits. So you have to be very careful when you start dropping celebrity names even in a work of fiction.

Even when the work is complimentary, celebrities have the power to file a lawsuit because they did not give their permission for their name and likeness to be used. You may think you're safe because you have only kind things to say about the celeb in question, but you never know how that person might react. A casual reference is probably pretty safe in most circumstances, but the door to lawsuits can be opened with even the smallest mention of a real person.

Can you use celebrity names in fiction? It's your book, and no one's going to stop you -- but no one's going to help you, either, if it all goes south. If you have questions about using a celebrity name or any other brand name, you should absolutely seek legal counsel. Full disclosure: I am not a lawyer, and I have no training in the law. So don't take my word for it -- talk to your own lawyer and check it out yourself before you put yourself in any legal danger.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Writing 101: Paragraph Indents

Formatting is very strict in fiction writing. Crack open any novel, and 99 times out of 100 it will be formatted very specifically -- with paragraph indents. So it's only natural that when you're writing, you automatically hit the tab button as you type along. But you shouldn't, because the tab button is actually the devil.



The Devil in the Details

Yes, the tab button is Satan incarnate. And if you want to avoid a formatting Hell where html code will slap you around with pitchforks, you will never, ever use it when you're writing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writing 101: Creating a Sensational Blurb

Along with a great cover, you need a sensational blurb in order to move books. You've got very few chances to grab the reader's attention, and the blurb is one of the best shots you're going to get. It has to set the tone for your book, give readers information about what they can expect from the work and compel them to take a deeper look. The blurb has got to do a whole lot -- but you know, it can't be too long, either.



What's in a Blurb? 

You've already poured your heart, soul, blood and tears into creating an entire book -- and you should feel great about that. It's incredibly difficult to tough it out all the way from Chapter 1 to The End, and you deserve to be proud. But after you've put so much of yourself into that work, it can be heartbreaking when no one bothers to read it. Now, you've got to face a task that's very challenging in its own way: getting people to read what you've written. You do that with a sensational blurb.

After you've already done all that writing work, writing a blurb out of nowhere can feel overwhelming. Break it down into small pieces, focus on certain elements, and power through it.
  • The hook. The very first line of the blurb has to reel those readers in, so they want to keep reading the rest of it. Work on that first line the way you worked on the first line of your book. Grab them! You have just one shot, and this is it, so take it. 
  • The details. Now, let a brief summary of the book unfold. Remember everything you've learned about descriptive writing. Don't tell the readers what they can find in the book -- show them. 
  • The lasting impression. After you've whet the reader's appetite for more, end with a line that's going to make them want to buy the book. Make it exciting, make it compelling, make it great. Remember, you've got to make them want to read more. Give them a cliffhanger, give them a question, give them something that makes them want to do that.
Blurb Extras

The blurb is a great promotional tool, so use it. You can always add a few extras to your blurb to make it even more sensational. Pepper the blurb with the best review quotes you've got, particularly those from reputable and respected sources (like fellow authors or very well-known review blogs). If your book is part of a series, mention the other books in the series in the blurb to get readers to take a look at these works as well.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Writing 101: Writer's Block

It happens even to the best of writers: the dreaded block. It can strike without warning, and it can last for a long, long time. So how do you deal with writer's block? Waiting it out isn't really an option, so you've got to find a few tricks that might shake that creativity loose again.



Facing Writer's Block

Only you know when you've got it. For many writers, even admitting to writer's block can be a problem. If you've spent several days on one particular scene, or can't seem to get motivated to write even after several days, you might have writer's block. It's okay to admit it, because you've got to confront it if you're going to beat it. And there's lots of ways to beat it.
  • Begin at the beginning. Stumped by a story? Go to page 1 and start reading. Read it not like a writer, but like a reader. Let the tale re-engage you, and read all the way up to the point where you're stuck. By the time you get to it, you may have new energy and motivation. Simply reading where you've been can help you figure out where you need to go. 
  • Study your outline. If you don't have an outline, you should. Refer to your outline when you get stuck, and you should have a guide to follow. When you know where the story needs to go, it's a lot easier to figure out how to write it. 
  • Walk away. Stress can make it hard to write. It's possible that you're blocked because you're over-thinking your plot. Take a break from your work for one or two days, and do something absolutely not writing-related. Play a game, go on a short trip, visit with friends and family -- do something else.  After your break is over, come back to the story with fresh eyes and a cleared mind and you may find that the block is gone. 
  • Work on something different. If you're not feeling the same passion for your project, it might be because another project is on your mind. Go ahead and work on another book, another idea, research notes for an entirely different work, whatever. After a few days, you may find yourself thinking of your blocked story again. Sometimes, just getting back into the flow of working -- even if you're working on something else -- can help you overcome the block. If a certain story is completely blocking you, start working on a different story to get back into the habit of writing.
Writer's block isn't a joke. Many great writers can suffer from this malady for months or even years. Be willing to try every trick in the book to overcome the issue. Remember that it doesn't matter what you're writing...just that you are.

New Interview at Indie BookSpot

Want to know what I'm up to when I'm not blogging writing 101 tips? Visit Indie BookSpot to read my latest interview, and find out how I approach ebook-selling.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Writing 101: Chapter Breaks and Scene Breaks

Every book has just one definitive end, but each chapter is a small ending within the whole. Sometimes, the only way to move forward in a book is to end a scene and then jump to another point in the story. But how do you go about doing it all? Do you know how to write good chapter breaks and scene breaks?


Ending a Chapter

It's a tricky thing to end a chapter, trickier than most writers credit it to be. Each chapter ending should feel a bit like an ending, as if there is some small conclusion -- but at the same time, each chapter must compel the reader forward into the story. It's perfectly fine to create cliffhanger chapter endings, to move into a very tense and emotional scene and then end it abruptly only to have it continue in the next chapter. However, every chapter shouldn't read that way because readers like to come to natural stopping points within a book. Often, a chapter will end at the end of a day, a big event or an important conversation. The chapter that immediately follows will open with a new day, a new event, a new scene.

It's important for your writing to feel fluid, especially from one chapter to the next. You want your readers to get caught up in your story, to keep reading and feel unable to stop -- but sometimes, they do need to stop. It's a delicate balance, and only you can find the perfect one for your story. Look for the natural stopping points in your story, and make sure they're present. Look for fluid chapters that lead easily into each other, and be certain that's happening. Then you'll know you've mastered the art of ending a chapter.

Length is the least important of all factors in a chapter, though many authors do try to keep theirs even. You can always create a very short or very long chapter to produce a certain effect -- say the characters are going through a long journey, so you create a very long chapter so the reader really feels the length of the trip. Try to be fairly consistent with your chapter lengths, but always end a chapter when it feels most natural for you to do so. Good writing requires a lot of hard work and careful research, but some of it is pure instinct.

Ending a Scene

Ending a scene can be even harder than ending a chapter, because you'll be abruptly moving from one series of events to another all in the same chapter. It's also important to consider how to end a scene stylistically, so there's a lot going on when you suddenly shift gears in this fashion. When a scene comes to a natural conclusion (or an abrupt one, you're the writer) you have to immediately switch into something else -- but you've got to warn the reader it's happening.

It's common to create a scene break by inserting symbols, all alone, between your paragraphs. It's common to use three asterisks (***), but you can choose any symbols you like. Make it easy on yourself by choosing something on the standard keyboard. Don't create formatting headaches where they don't need to happen. If you'd like to go for a softer scene break, simply create a completely blank line between paragraphs.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Writing 101: Descriptions

If I ask you to visualize a ball, what do you see? A baseball, white with the classic stitching? Maybe a football, with its unique elongated shape and pointed ends. Maybe you see a bright orange basketball, an item that's big enough to hold with two hands. But if I ask you to visualize a ball that's hand-sized and fuzzy green, you ought to know I'm talking about tennis. The descriptions in your book are everything, and I'm never going to be able to picture anything in your story if you don't include them. Are you taking the time to write descriptions...or just a bunch of events?



 Descriptive Writing

Ever heard the expression show me, don't tell me? A favorite battle cry of writing teachers the world over, it simply means that you should describe the events you're writing about -- instead of just writing them. Here's the difference:

Kate walked into the living room, cup in hand, to tell John exactly what she thought of him. 

I just told you that Kate is entering into a scene in the living room, and John's about to get it. Now, I'm going to make you visualize it.

Kate moved briskly into the living room with quick steps, the fingers of her hand clutched so tightly around the green plastic cup the knuckles had turned white. Her brown eyes, shining with anger, immediately searched for John's familiar laughing mouth.

 Now, you've pretty much received the exact same information: Kate's totally pissed at John, and there's about to be a living room showdown. But you've received so much more information from the second version. You know that Kate's glaring at John with angry eyes, and he's probably unprepared for it because he's hanging out in the living room laughing. You know she has a weapon, after a fashion, and you even know that it's green plastic (so, not a very good weapon). You know that she's moving quickly, which suggests she's about to explode. Knowing all of this makes it a little easier to picture Kate and John and their confrontation, right?

Now, take it a step deeper. Tell the reader what the living room looks like. Show John's reaction to Kate storming into the room. Does he sit up straighter and take notice, or is he too caught up in his own thing so he remains casual and unaffected? You can tell me that John doesn't notice Kate in exactly those words, and I'll get it. But you can also tell me that John continued to stare at the TV screen with his back slumped against the blue cushions of the couch, barely glancing away from the flickering images to take note of Kate's arrival, and then I'll know it. I'll be able to see it.


Describing Your Nouns

Another rallying cry of English teachers: people, places and things. If you remember your early school years, you know I'm talking about nouns -- and you've got to describe those, too. It's a lot more fun -- and for some writers, much easier -- to describe action and verbs. But a great writer also has to describe people, places and things without being boring about it.

If readers are going to visualize their story, make sure they know what they're looking at. Describe the way your characters look, the setting they're in, even the food they're eating or the way the carpeting feels beneath their feet. Don't forget to tell me what color the carpet is, and always give me size comparisons I can relate to. "Jane was a petite woman." Well, compared to whom? Next to the right person, anyone can look petite. If you tell me instead that "Jane, from behind, could easily be mistaken for a teenage boy just entering high school" I know Jane's a pretty skinny little thing, indeed. If you tell me the pillow was big and fluffy, I can picture something -- but if you tell me the pillow was twice the size of Jane's cocker spaniel I know we've got a massive pillow on our hands. I have a point of reference, and that makes visualization easier. Are Jane's eyes green, or are they as green and dewy as the morning grass? Green and bright, like copper left too long in the rain? The fresh, new green of unfurling spring growth? There are a lot of greens out there, and you don't know which one I'm going to picture when you throw a color at me.

Turn to great writers to see really good examples of detailed, descriptive writing. Ernest Hemingway is an acknowledged master of descriptive writing. He conveyed his imagery on all five senses, describing tastes and smells along with colors and billowing smoke. Sit back and observe your scenes and watch them play out in your own mind. Then, just write them down.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Writing101: Book Trailers

Once upon a time, writers like Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austin sat hunched over wooden desks next to oil lamps, scribbling out fantastic prose in longhand with bottles of ink sitting just within reach. They sent voluminous manuscripts -- ink spots, and all -- off to publishers, who were happy to turn these gigantic collections of parchment into beautifully bound books. Those days are long over. Today's writer has to become an expert on using the Internet, a star in social media, an editor, a book formatter, a software guru, a forum nut -- and yes, even a graphic designer. Want to be a professional writer? You'll be lucky if you spend even half of your working hours actually writing. Among the many non-writing tasks you'll be asked to perform, you need to learn about book trailers. What they are. Who they're for. What to do with them. And, oh yeah -- how to create them from scratch. Put away your bottles of ink, and get out a keyboard.


What's a Book Trailer?

Commercials have existed for as long as television, and movie trailers have been made for flicks since the silent film era. Above all, movie trailers -- those minute-long clips you see in theaters for upcoming films -- are advertisements. And even if you aren't from Hollywood, you can make one for your book. And you should.

Your book is not the same as a film, I know. But people love looking at videos online -- go and ask YouTube if you don't believe me. Good luck getting through the piles of money that litter the path to the front door. An exciting book trailer, presented like a movie trailer, can create interest for a book the same way it can for a film. And here's the good part: you'll be advertising something they can immediately buy without even moving from the chair. You don't have to motivate your audience to wait three weeks, then get fixed up and go out to the theaters for a big night on the town. You just need them to click a link, and then another link. Think you can create a video that might make them want to do that? Sure you can!

Creating a Book Trailer

No one understands better than you what your book is about. Now condense all that into a minute-long series of text and images, and you've got a book trailer -- after a good four hours (or more) of pure tedium and stress. First, start thinking of the main points in your book. Is it about love? Murder? Grief? A coming-of-age tale of two sisters? Describe your book, to yourself, in a few words (no more than one sentence). Now you've got a starting place for your book trailer.


Think about all the trailers you've seen. First, the trailer introduces a character, a place or some concept. "The end of the world" may appear on the screen in bold lettering. In the background, a ruined cityscape will slowly come to life. Now I'm hooked. Why did the world end? If the world has ended, what's happening? Show me another image -- a heroic man with a gun standing in shadow. The text reads: "One man must save society." Who is he? I want to know him. Now I'm drawn in, I'm being carried along. And that's how you make a book trailer. Take me through different images, different catchy lines and at some point introduce me to the book. Remember to tell me where I can get it, the title of it, the author, maybe even throw the book cover in there at some point so I can be certain of what I'm buying when I go looking for it. End dramatically, and the trailer's over. Now I'm rushing through cyberspace to buy your book.

So...now you just need a bunch of images and software that helps you create a video from scratch. It's daunting, but it's actually easy if you know where to look. If you've got Windows 7, you've probably got movie making software already on your machine. Look for existing software first on your Mac or PC. If it's not there, you'll need to turn to free software online. No problem -- it's out there. Windows has a safe, very user-friendly free software package, and so does Mac. If that fails, try looking at CNet's list of software.

Once you've got your video program installed, open that bad boy up and start to play around. Throw some of your existing photos on there, music you've downloaded and play around with the tools. Once you're satisfied you know how it works, open up a new project and get to work. You're going to put this trailer live on the Internet, so the first order of business is don't break any laws. You have to have copyright-free, license-free, free free free images, video and music for your trailer. No logos, no footage taken from any movies you like, no songs you bought on iTunes. No. Even if you own it, you don't have the license to re-distribute it and YouTube will remove that trailer. If you took the video yourself of some trees blowing around (or whatever), that's fine. It's yours, use it. If you took the images and they don't have any logos or copyrighted material in them, use them. If you made the music, use it. Otherwise, make darn certain you're downloading something that you're allowed to use. You can find free music, free images and even free video footage that you're welcome to use. Take the time to do so, because you'll just have to fix it later if you don't. Arrange all your elements in your movie maker software, upload it to YouTube (accounts are free; you've already got one if you've got a Google account of any kind) and start promoting that book trailer.

Buying a Book Trailer

Okay, wow, that's a lot of work. It takes a ton of searching and no shortage of stressing to produce a book trailer that others will like. You can always make it easy on yourself by hiring someone. There are companies out there that specialize in creating book trailers, and still others that have found a niche in making indie book trailers in particular. Look for them on writers' forum groups. Find book trailers by other indies on YouTube, and if they were made by someone else you should see that person or company's logo at the end or beginning of the trailer. Contact them through social media, or their official website, and you're in business. Professional trailer makers will have a specific questionnaire for you to complete, or specific questions about what you want, and they'll take care of the rest. If you've got the money to spend, a professionally-made book trailer can make a big impact.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Writing 101: Chapters, to Title or Not to Title

Should you give your chapters titles, or just number them all the way through? How do readers feel about it? What's the point of doing it? Chapter titles might seem like a little detail, but any book is nothing more than a bunch of details laid out in a pleasing manner. Some readers have very strong opinions about chapter titles, and there may be a certain stigma that comes with using them. So the main question is: to title, or not to title?


Chapter Titles

Using titles for chapters (example: The Bright Red Balloon) as opposed to simple numbers (Chapter 3) adds another layer to any book. When used properly, chapter titles can make a very big impact on readers. But chapter titles can bring certain negative elements to your story as well.

  • The Good
Chapter titles help to set the tone for what's coming up in the next few pages. A gripping chapter title can completely arrest a reader, and make them keep reading when they might have closed the book to continue another day. Good chapter titles can show off a writer's particular flair and creativity as well, truly acting as something extra and enticing in the story.

  • The Bad
In some readers' minds, chapter titles are linked to children's books. Children's books very commonly use chapter titles, and though other books do as well it's standard through the genre to use chapter titles. Non-fiction works also commonly use chapter titles; generally they are somewhat long and very explanatory in nature and this sets these works apart from the more literary titles you'll find in fiction.

  • The Ugly
Chapter titles can weigh a story down as much as they can elevate it. Using a theme for chapters, for example, can be very interesting but also very tricky. Make sure you choose a theme that makes sense. Seasons or states of weather, for example, could set a specific tone and mood for each chapter (The Dawn, Dusk, Rainy Day, Winter, etc.). Random colors, on the other hand, may feel nonsensical to the reader (Blue, Black, Yellow, Green) and become off-putting. Don't think it hasn't been tried. Everything's been tried. Avoid ugly chapter titles by repeating yours out loud to yourself and thinking of the imagery it brings to mind. Does that fit the pages that follow? Does it make you want to read those pages? Think like a reader, and your titles will do what you want them to do.

Forget That

Many fine books have no chapter titles, just a plain reference at the top of the page. You certainly don't have to have them, if you don't want them, but it's not a bad idea to employ certain tricks to help keep the pace of your story moving. It can be somewhat disconcerting to be following a tale, and then stumble across a simple "Chapter 4." What's going to make me continue reading?

  • The Good
Numbered chapters are simple, and they won't take anything away from the prose as readers are moving through the story. No one's stopping to take a second look at a number four, so your readers aren't pausing to discern the meaning of some enticing title that's inserted itself into the middle of your tale. Numbered chapters help to set a serious tone for a book, and they keep readers engaged in the story while still offering natural stopping points.

  • The Bad
Maybe too many stopping points. You don't want someone consistently reading just one chapter a day of your work -- at least, not really. Ideally, you want them to get so caught up in the story they've just got to keep going. You want them to get to the end of that chapter and think, no way I can stop now! as they turn another page. That's why it's a good idea to use a little trickery, here and there, and break disciplined reading habits whenever possible. Instead of dividing the book neatly into numbered chapters that each naturally stop and start at the end and beginning of certain scenes, insert a few cliffhanger chapter endings. Begin an exciting new scene toward the end of a chapter, only to leave the reader hanging in a climactic moment. If it's done well, they will barely even notice that they've slipped into a whole new chapter -- they're just trying to get to the juicy stuff.

  • The Ugly
What's so wrong with numbered chapters? They're simple, they're easy and frankly, they're time-saving. Who wants to come up with 20-something different titles? Wasn't titling the book hard enough? Here's the problem: some readers hate it. For whatever reason, a certain contingent of readers are completely turned off by numbered chapters. Some find it to be boring -- or worse, lazy. It's a disheartening truth that all writers must face, but readers form opinions. Isn't that what writers want them to do? Once they start forming opinions about your setting, your plot and your characters, every tiny detail is fair game. Writers have to look at all the aspects of every decision they make -- good, bad and ugly -- and go from there. It's your book. Win them over however you think is best.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Writing 101: Tense

One of the worst mistakes a writer can make -- and a sure way to anger a reader -- is not sticking with a firm tense. Make your work consistent by choosing which tense you're writing in, and find out exactly how to do it.


Tenses

There are three different tenses, but most authors use only two of them. Once you choose your tense, you're going to have very specific grammar rules to follow -- so choose wisely.

  • Past
By far the most common tense in book-writing, past tense is used when the events being described have already happened. The narrator is telling the tale from some point in the future from when the book takes place. A book written in past tense doesn't have to be historical or even dated -- it can be contemporary, taking place even as the reader is working their way through the book. The narrator, however, is in the future.

That's important grammatically, because as a writer you have to be certain you're using past-tense words to describe every single action and event. He said, she said, they walked -- that sort of thing. The moment you slip up and write "says" or "walks," a reader is going to be gritting their teeth.

  • Present
It's much more complicated grammatically to write in the present tense, but it can bring an exciting pace to readers and make them feel like they're involved in the story. When everything is happening in real-time, there's a certain element of drama and excitement to any story. A book that's being written in the past tense can't be changed -- the events are already set, and everything has already happened. When everything is unfolding in the present, the reader will feel very engaged -- almost as if by will alone, they can control the characters and events taking place.

But you, as an author, have set up a huge challenge for yourself. It's so natural to read and write in past tense, it's incredibly easy to mess up this style of writing. Remember that the narrator is experiencing everything as it unfolds. The waitress is walking toward the table, she hasn't already walked to the table. It gets confusing to write in the present tense, because the narrator still has memories of events that have transpired before the story began. In almost all cases, there are already relationships that have been established in the past (a character's mother, for example, has been their mother since the day they were born). Only careful editing and double-checking will keep your grammar clean when you're relating a past event in a present-tense book.

  • Future
Writing in the future tense is almost unheard-of, but it has been done before. John Milton used the future tense a long, long time ago in the past for some of his epic poetry (which reads a little like book-style prose). Writing a book in the future tense is ridiculously hard, and it could easily be difficult to read as well. Just imagine it: Susan will walk into the bar and search every available face for John's eyes, her heart pounding furiously. She'll laugh when the drunk at the bar reaches out for her leg when she passes. A whole book of that could easily sound grating, so it has to be written very carefully. It's also a good idea to give the reader some explanation of why the book is in the future, and not the present or the past. Is this all someone's prophecy, or perhaps wishful thinking? Why are the events taking place in some yet-to-be-reached time, and not right now or yesterday?

Mixing it Up

Consistency is important, but there's always a possibility to mix in a different tense. This is most commonly done in the prologue or epilogue of a book. For example, you might start a prologue in the present tense and then relate a story that happened in the past. You might even write the epilogue in the future tense (Now that Winston and I have managed to get through all our problems, we will be married in the Spring.) But there's always a time and place for it if you're going to change the tense -- meaning you must have a reason for doing so. Only change the tense when you want to change the tone of the story, or perhaps relate something important to the reader.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Writing 101: The Book Cover

After you agonize over every word and debate plot points until nothing in your book makes sense any more, the last thing you want to do is worry about packaging. But at the end of the day, it takes a compelling cover to sell any book. A gripping image, a title that reaches through the screen -- a reason to buy, that's what every reader is actually looking for. And chances are, if they don't like your cover they're never going to read a word you've written...no matter how great the blurb may be.

Designing a Cover

Only very artistic people have the skills and know-how to create both the text and cover for a book completely from scratch, but you may not have to. There's lots of ways you can create a cover, and not all of them involve sitting down at a drawing pad or graphic design program.

  • DIY
If you've got the skills and the materials, you can always use a program or a piece of paper to literally draw and create your book cover from a completely blank screen. This method will give you the most control over the design, and it'll give you the most agony. You could spend many, many hours attempting to create something from nothing, but this is by far the most ambitious means of creating a cover.

People who aren't designers or artists can still DIY their book covers, however. Turn to sites with license-free imaging to collect pictures for your cover, and use a design program (like Photoshop) to put all those elements together in a pleasing way. Design programs also offer many different fonts so you may add text to your cover.

It's possible to get original artwork even if you aren't an artist -- just grab a digital camera and go take a picture. A beautiful bit of nature, a person of your acquaintance who looks like your main character, a startling image you create using sticks and twigs -- doesn't matter. If you take the photo, it's yours to use as long as it doesn't contain any copyrighted material. This means you should avoid photographing any logos, slogans or imagery that was produced by someone else (a movie poster or a television playing an actual TV show, for example).

  • Farm it Out
All the digital cameras and license-free photos in the world won't help some people (I'm one of them). Writers are definitely artistic people, but that doesn't necessary mean they can create or even judge aesthetically-pleasing images. We paint with words, not with...well, paint. So you're just going to have to hire someone who is an artist.

Look for cover designers through writers' forums and websites. Often, cover designers gravitate toward these online locations because they want the work, so they shouldn't be at all hard to find. If you're acquainted with other indie authors and you admire their covers, ask them about their designers and contact those designers directly if the authors give you permission to do so. If all else fails, you can always take out a free ad on sites like craigslist. Simply advertise for what you need, and you'll get responses.

The Tower Book Trailer Released


The book trailer for The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2) is now live! You can get the book at Amazon.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Another 5-Star Review for Justice

"I will read whatever this author writes."



Another reader has given Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) a 5-star review! Find it at the Kindle store to read the review and download your copy.

Win Justice and The Tower

Now's your chance to win the first two books in the Deck of Lies series FREE! Click the link and sign up to win. Good luck!




Writing 101: POV

Point of view is the most basic element to any book, and the first thing you're going to have to decide when you sit down to write (or stand, I'm not here to judge your style). Are you going with classic fly-on-the-wall, personal firsthand storytelling...or something even more bold? POV isn't something you should determine on a whim. Know who exactly is telling the story, and why.


Perspective

There are only three types of POV in book-writing, and that makes it easy to pick one. Perspective in books changes everything, so you have to make a decision when you pick your POV. Each option has its own advantages, and disadvantages that will limit you as a writer.

  • First-person POV
When you're telling a story from the first person, a single character is relating the tale. You'll be writing lines like I looked her straight in the eye, or I took a deep breath before speaking. But when you're in a character's head, you've got to get inside their head. Know what they're thinking, feeling, experiencing every moment -- and put all of that on the page. Do it correctly, and you'll draw readers deeply into the head of a single character with the first-person POV.

Usually, the main character is the one telling the tale (think Twilight), but it's not unheard-of to write from the first-person POV of a secondary character. Doing this can be a much bolder choice, but difficult to write. When you write in the first person, you're immediately limiting yourself because the character you're writing knows only what they, themselves, are thinking and feeling. The character has to figure out every other character based on mere observation and interaction. Insights may be wrong, motives may be second-guessed, and the reader will be on the exact same journey with your character. You as a writer have to be in every character's head, but the character you're seeing through in the book probably doesn't have that skill.

  • Third-person POV
When you write in the third person, you take a fly-on-the-wall perspective on everything that's going on. No one is "I," and every character must be described by their name or a pronoun (you know, she, he, all that good stuff). The third person you're writing through may be a Godlike person who sees and knows all, easily slipping in and out of the heads of every character to deliver insight on what they're thinking, or it can be someone who only clearly sees one or two main characters in the book. The third-person POV is usually removed from the events and characters of the book, relating the tale after the fact or as it happens -- but rarely, it may be revealed later that the third-person narrator of the book is actually a character within the story itself. 

  • Second-person POV
The rarest of all perspectives in books, second-person POV is also the hardest to write. When you write in the second person, you are directly addressing the reader (as I'm doing now) with words like you and your. The second-person POV, also called second-person narrative, is most often used in self-help and spirituality books, but some bold writers have authored entire fiction books by actually maneuvering you -- the reader -- as a character in the story. Bright Lights, Big City is a famous example of this style. A line from the book reads as follows: You are leaning back against a post that may or may not be structural with regard to the building, but which feels essential to your own maintenance of an upright position.

It's incredibly daunting to write an entire book in the second-person POV, but you can sprinkle it into books written from another perspective. Directly addressing the reader infrequently can add a powerful element to any story, and further draw the reader into the book. Acknowledging that the narrator knows he/she has an audience can make the reader pay a little more attention to what they're reading, but don't overdo it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Writing 101: Naming Characters

Writers are creative by nature, but that doesn't mean they can pull a thousand names from their heads without breaking a sweat. Naming characters can be pretty stressful, and we've all suddenly changed a name at the last minute for one reason or another. When you're drawing a blank, there's lots of resources out there that will help with naming characters.


 Name Resources

The simplest way to find names for your characters is to turn to sites designed for expectant mothers. Type "baby names" into any search engine, and you'll discover a wellspring of name resources that just won't quit. In fact, it can get overwhelming. Narrow the field by choosing a certain letter or combination of letters that speaks to you, and type that into a search string on the baby site itself. Baby sites are very helpful, and many of them will organize names by gender, origin, letter, popularity and a host of additional categories. If you want to write a character with Irish origins, for example, these resources are absolutely priceless. Use the sites to come up with last names as well, as many last names are derived from first names anyway. If you're struggling to find a suitable last name, try smooshing two first names together to create an melodic-sounding combination. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Writing 101: Converting to eBook

It's an exciting feeling to finish a book, but once all the writing and editing are done you've still got more work ahead of you -- so don't start celebrating just yet. Your book might look great in a document file, but there's all sorts of things that can go wrong when you try to convert it for eReaders. Software really helps when you want to make your book look great electronically, not just on paper.



Get Some Software

Your book isn't going to look the same on an eReader as it does on your computer. But even if you don't have an eReader, you can find out what your book looks like to your readers (and make sure it's perfect before it's published). First, you've got to convert your book into a format that eReaders can actually read. For that kind of thing, having the right software really helps.
  • Mobipocket is free, and it converts .html, .pdf, .txt and .doc formats into the Mobi format used by Kindle. Upload the book directly through the software, and you can edit the html file to remove any errors before the book is published. Add pagebreaks using the <mbp:pagebreak/> code and blank spaces with <br>. The software allows you to add the cover, author information and even the blurb.
  • Calibre is an ebook management program that converts .txt, .pdf, .html and all ebook formats (but not .doc). You cannot edit the book's html with this program, but you can easily convert your books into additional mobile formats. I use it to change my Kindle-friendly books into ePub books, the only format that B&N accepts.
Viewing Your Books

Always, always take a look at your books before and after you publish them online. If you don't happen to have an eReader, it's no big deal. Amazon, B&N and lots of third-party sites offer free software that allows readers to view ebooks on their computers. You can even download add-ons for web browsers that make it possible to view ebooks. Once you've converted your book into the formats you want, give them a good once-over before uploading them to a bookstore. Once the books are published and live online, download them and take another look at them just for good measure. You cannot double-check your book enough times. Readers want perfection, and perfection takes a whole lot of attempts.

Bah! Who Needs Software?

Not everyone has a great computer system, or the skills to download and organize a bunch of different software programs. Free software is all well and good, but free doesn't make it easy to use. So if just can't download a whole bunch of stuff, don't panic. There are ways around the problem.

Smashwords accepts .doc files all day, every day, and they'll convert your books for you into just about every format any reader could ever want. You've got to list your books on Smashwords to take advantage of this, but you'll get a lot for creating a free account and adding your books to this site. Before you upload to Smashwords, take a look at their style guide because the site has extremely specific formatting requirements.

After you upload to Smashwords, you'll receive emails regarding any stylistic problems with your work, so you'll know what needs to be changed. When all is said and done, go straight to your Smashwords page and download ebook copies of your own work. Even if you can't use it, places like Amazon and B&N can. You can take your downloaded, eformatted book and upload that straight to the other sites where you'd like to sell.

Smashwords will allow you to view certain formats of your book online, but to see it in eReader format you'll have to wait until you're uploading to another site. When you upload to Amazon or B&N, for example, before you complete the publishing process you'll have the option of previewing your work. Do so to see exactly what your readers will see when they download your book -- no software required.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Start Exploring The Tower!

The writing is done, the editing is finished and the formatting has been (painfully) completed. Yes, the day has finally arrived -- The Tower is being released! Book 2 in the Deck of Lies series is now available at Amazon's Kindle store, so download your copy while the downloading's good.


Book description:

A Tower of Lies...

Death brings some families closer, but it’s ripped mine apart. I wanted to convince the police that they had the wrong suspect…but I never expected them to start suspecting me. Now, I have no choice but to keep searching for the truth, even if all my relationships fall to pieces around me.

Someone is trying to make me look guilty. I never thought my mission to prove my own innocence would lead me to more family secrets. I thought I had already discovered the truth about myself. But every answer raises more questions, and everything I think I know is about to change…again.

I have to find the truth, no matter how much it hurts -- before I get charged with murder.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

New Review for Justice

"I very much enjoyed the story. It’s humorous, there’s a mystery to be solved...The story moves quickly and a LOT of stuff happens."


The lovely ladies at Quirky Girls Read have recently posted an in-depth review of Justice (Deck of Lies, Book 1).  Go to their site to read the full review, and find out just what it is I'm writing about, anyway.

Preview The Tower


The Tower (Deck of Lies, Book 2) comes out this week! Get a head start and get the first two chapters free at my official site.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review: Anywhere But Here

When I got an early review copy of Sherri Fulmer Moorer's Anywhere But Here, all I knew about the book was that it's a YA story. This is not accurate by any means, but I'm happy to say I wasn't too disappointed to find myself caught up in a contemporary tale about the cutthroat corporate world -- and a fantasy novel filled with dream castles and dragons. Surprisingly, the two halves of the story come together well to create a cohesive whole, blending elements of female-centric fiction, romance and fantasy. But if you don't know what to expect, you may find this ride pretty confusing indeed -- even off-putting, at times.


Anywhere But Here introduces readers to a heroine on the brink of a new life, and on the brink of breakdown. Graduating from college and embarking on a new path should be an exciting time, but Jana finds her entire world crumbling to dust instead. The reader will truly feel Jana's confusion as the fabric of her life turns to tatters all around her, and sink slowly into the depression that colors the rest of the book.

Who can be trusted? Who cannot be trusted? I found myself quickly turning pages trying to discover the answers, moving in and out of different realities without knowing which was real. This book has a very strong and compelling plot, but I cannot say the same for the general tone and structure of Anywhere But Here. The formatting and editing are far from perfect, which can be extremely jarring at times, and some of the workplace scenes are even more unbelievable than those within the fantasy world that's populated by a seemingly telepathic dragon. This should not be the case. At times I found myself getting frustrated and mired in my own confusion, but perhaps this is a master stroke by Moorer -- the author's way of truly putting the reader inside the mind of the book's heroine. Are you strong enough to battle with Jana's demons? Is she? If you can stick with this one all the way through to the end, you'll find the conclusion answers most of the questions created in preceding chapters and most things start to make sense again. Despite all the errors and what I think is a real misconception of what it's like to work in an office environment, Anywhere But Here has a fascinating and unique take on something that a huge number of people must face every day: depression.