Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

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Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

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Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

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Hope's Rebellion

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Writing 101: Why You Need a Title Page

Ever literally read a book cover to cover? If you have, and maybe even if you haven't, you've found that there are extra pages at the start of any book. You flip through them to get to the good parts, barely giving them a glance. But if you think you can skip that extra stuff now that you're self-publishing, you're wrong. You need a title page...period.

In the Beginning, There Was Junk

Honestly, the title page is a rather worthless waste of ink in books -- or so I've always thought. It usually consists of just a few elements, some of which are really redundant.

  • The title: Obviously. The title page is used to repeat the title again. That's in case you missed it on the cover while you were buying the book, transporting the book or selecting the book to read. The author's name is usually placed here as well, because it's very likely you did miss that.
  • The publisher: Often, the title page will contain some information about the publisher -- the name, the address, and so forth. When you're the publisher, you don't have to do any of this but you can if you like. Some self-published authors create their own publishing labels to give themselves more of that professional sheen.
  • The copyright: Legally, you've got to add a copyright to your book. You also have to legally obtain one. Don't self-publish without doing so. Find appropriate copyright wording online so you may include it on your title page. Add this! You want the disclaimer there, just in case.
  • ISBN: If you've got an ISBN, this is where it goes.

Much of it is unnecessary, and you could just as easily put the copyright at the end of the book if you wanted to. But I maintain that you've got to have a title page for one simple reason: all the "real" books have them. If you want to make your book look polished and professional, you must add a title page. It's easy to do, and it will make your book look very well put together...so do it!

Wondering About Justice

 "I enjoyed reading this book."

"Well written and will leave you wondering just what will happen next."

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at Hope, Love and Happy Endings. Read the whole review to find out why the book got four ducks! 

Writing 101: The F-Bomb

The F word is considered, in American society, to be the worst of the worst of words. It's so salty, movies and TV shows that contain it come with special warnings. Books don't come with warnings...so when is it okay to drop the f-bomb on the page?

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

The letters FUCK were once scrawled on prison cells of those who were incarcerated for sexual misconduct. Adulterers, fornicators, anyone who maybe showed too much ankle -- don't laugh, it used to be a serious crime.

And so, the F bomb was born. For centuries, it would continue to be associated with sex and with the unspeakable. It continues to be provocative, so much so that saying it just twice in any movie will guarantee an R rating.

Authors might use it way more than that on just one page of a book. And some readers are always going to hate it. So when is it okay to use? And beyond that, when should you be using it?

At the top of the post, I specifically referenced American culture. This is because the F bomb isn't much of a bomb in other cultures. Irish authors are known for it. The saltiest, swearingest author I ever read is an Irish Catholic priest -- no shit. F bombs everywhere. His books are largely about love, and sometimes spirituality. Actual angels may appear as characters. And he swears constantly.

His books are not considered to be offensive, and he's won awards. It's because hes smart about it. When you want ti use the F bomb, use your head first.

  • Non-adult genres: Clearly this is not a word to be used in children's books. It may appear in YA books, and quite often does, but it's dicey. If you sprinkle it in here and there for realism's sake, that's one thing. If it's appearing in every single paragraph, parents are going to get riled up about it.
  • Adult genres: Even when you're writing books for adults, you can't get too liberal with your F-bombs. Mystery books and romances rarely contain the word, for example. Mysteries are provocative when it comes to crimes and crime scenes, but usually you won't find a lot of sexual activity or swearing in them. Romances are supposed to be about love, and a whole lot of F-bombs is just going to distract from the story.
  • Setting: No matter what genre you're writing, in there are times when the F-bomb is simply appropriate to a certain setting or character. Certain characters are often given salty language to display some aspect of their personality -- a tendency toward aggressiveness, for example. It may also appear because of a certain setting. An attractive female lawyer walking down a cell block is highly likely to hear a few F-bombs during the course of the journey. Sometimes, F-bombs are expected and the scene may even demand it. 
  • Make a point: And like all words, the F-bomb serves an important purpose. It's a storytelling device, just like any other word. When used correctly, it can make a very strong point or bring a certain flavor to a scene. Remember how it all plays out in the movie A Christmas Story? When you use the F-bomb extremely sparingly, it stands out and it makes a strong point. Use it well, and readers will see the necessity and importance in the word.

The F-bomb is provocative, and it's been used as a provocative word for centuries because it does work. Be smart when you drop it into your books. Make sure every F-bomb has a purpose, illustrates a point and paints the scene. Otherwise, it's gratuitous...and readers do not like gratuitous swearing. Choose all of your words with care, especially this one.

Writing 101: Chapter Length

How long should chapters be? It's a question that indie authors ask over and over, and one I've asked myself many times. So what's the answer?

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Letters

It would be nice if there were certain rules about chapters. For YA, write chapters that are 2,000 words long. Adult romance? Try 5,000. Historical epic? You're going to be skirting 10,000.

I'm just making those numbers up out of thin air, of course. There is no standard when it comes to chapter length...maybe that's why authors are asking about it all the time. Every writer does it differently, and maybe that's another reason it's so confusing. But when it comes to chapters, there's really just one answer: there are no rules.

I mean it -- none. Lewis Carroll wrote chapters that were one word in length, or a handful of words. He ended chapters in the middle of sentences, nevermind in the middle of scenes. If he can get away with that, you can get away with anything you want, too. 

So, forget about length. Next? Uniformity. Some authors like to have fairly precise chapters. I used to read an author who wrote chapters that were so perfectly organized, I could finish each one in exactly 30 minutes. Seriously, I could practically time a watch by it. Weird stuff. But this is just a matter of personal preferences (or maybe with some authors, a weird compulsion). If you want uniform chapters, write them. If you want to be as unbalanced and random as Lewis Carroll, do it. You're writing your book, so go crazy if you like.

What I'm saying is this: disregard chapter length. If you're writing in an organized fashion, you've got an outline to follow so you have a rough idea of what should happen in each chapter. Write out your scenes until the chapter feels complete and all important plot points are covered. When it's done, you'll know. Forget about how long it is, and write the next chapter. 

Instead of worrying about how many words or pages your chapters are, worry about how long it takes you to write them.That's something worth thinking about.

Writing 101: What's Steampunk?

Steampunk has gone from being sub-culture to being much  more mainstream, and it's inspired many authors to write lots more books. But before you rush to label your work, make sure you understand the genre. Make sure you can answer this question: what's steampunk? 

The Sum of Its Parts

To get technical about it, steampunk is a sub-genre of the larger science fiction genre (which isn't at all a bad place to be). All steampunk must have a single element in order to be steampunk: steam-powered engines. If you don't have this, you don't have steampunk. 

However, the umbrella could be much wider than you think. The genre does not limit you to the industrialized American or European culture of the 1800s. A steampunk story can be set anywhere in any time -- on a distant moon or in a distant future -- so long as it features the steam-powered machines that marked the early Industrial period.

Because the genre harkens back to the Victorian era, it often features the fashions, art and general styles of the day. Often, technology is enhanced to make the setting much more mechanized than what would be historically accurate. The ideas that marked the era and general inequality is often changed for the sake of steampunk stories, in which women often hold key roles.

H.G. Wells and Jules Verne could both be considered steampunk writers because they envisioned future worlds and grand steam machines. However, the term didn't actually exist until the 1980s (so they were really pioneers). More contemporary steampunk authors include Scott Westerfield and Cassandra Clare. 

To learn more about the steampunk genre, research the Victorian Era. It's rich in great ideas and some pretty amazing fashions.

Writing 101: Characer Development

The term character development can be a little confusing. It sounds like character invention; you're developing a character to fit into your story. But that's not what it means. And if a reviewer or agent is telling you that you lack it, you've got a problem. 

Every good story needs character development. How do you know you've got it in yours?

It's Alive

With any book, you want to create characters with whom the readers can relate. Without that, they won't connect with your book and they probably won't like it. So as a writer you spend a lot of time thinking about the main characters in your stories, who they are and what they look like and how they talk. 

Here's the trouble: your characters can't be the same at the end of the book as they were in the beginning. You've got to show character development. Without it, the audience isn't going to relate. 

Human beings (and I'm referring to the ones who live off the page) are never static. They are constantly taking in new information every single day, learning something new or honing their skills in a particular area of expertise. You can see the proof of it for yourself. Open up your files, and read a little bit of that last thing you wrote. Now, go and find something you wrote at least one year ago.

You're better at it now, right? That's because you, too, undergo character development in that your own character develops over time. The same thing has to happen to the characters you put on the page. In any good book, there is some plot. Events will occur. Interactions will happen. Your characters will meet new people, learn and do new things. Like real people, their personalities and world views should change accordingly. 

That's character development, and every good book has got it. Show that your character is learning and adapting, that they are changing because of the events that are happening to them on the page. Show growth. Do it well, and you'll find that people enjoy your writing much more.

Trapped by the Tower

"The lies. The twists. The phenomenal writing that is Jade Varden. It kept me completely engrossed and hanging on until the very end."

"As Rain begins her own search for the killer, she soon discovers that NOTHING is what is seems. Once you think you know a character or what’s really going on, something else happens and it makes you question EVERYTHING."

The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2) has been reviewed at Lily Bloom Books. Read the mostly spoiler-free review to see why the reviewer is second-guessing everything!

Writing 101: How to Write a Book

Regular readers know that I'm not the biggest fan of writer forums. I think would-be authors ask too many questions instead of doing their own research. But recently I realized it isn't their fault they're so lost.

It's mine, because I haven't yet explained how to write a book. It's time to fix that.

Turning the Page

So you want to write a book. Learn the process, and this very ambitious plan wont seem so overwhelming.

In order to write a book, all you have to do is break it down to its most basic parts and plot points. For this example, we're going to write a book about two best friends who fall in love. But the template is solid, and you can use it for any story.

When you write a book, always keep the big picture in mind. Every word should drive the plot further. Allow me to illustrate:

  • Introduction: Start with the scenes that introduce your main character. Show the reader what this person is like. Maybe she's a free spirit, so the opening scene is her bungee jumping. This gives the reader immediate information.
  • Introduce the cast: What's this world like? Show the character in her normal life, interacting with the people who make up her world.
  • Introduce the drama: Time to meet the love interest (or whatever it is that will move your plot forward). Set it up for the action.
  • Show the action: Okay, introductions over. Time to make stuff happen. Throw obstacles in the way, give your characters challenges. Allow them to succeed or fail.
  • Progress: Readers want to know they're getting somewhere. Make sure your character is reacting. They should grow and change in direct relation to the events of the book. Lets use our example. A girl in love might change her appearance, maybe join activities to get her closer to the one she loves.
  • Result: The character is reacting and taking action. What are the consequences of that? It helps that there are only two possibilities. It will either push the character closer to their goal, or set them back.
  • End: Know how it ends, or your story will meander along with no purpose at all. Always be driving toward the end.
And everything else? It's mostly cosmetic. Once your plot is in place, either on the page or in your mind, the details are easy. Be descriptive without going overboard, edit until you just can't edit anymore, check the story for flow and accuracy...and you're on your way.

Dying of Suspense

"The life of a girl that is more than a mystery series, with amazing ingredients such as power, money and love."

"Jade Varden does an excellent job maintaining the suspense and surprises until the last page. You never know what is coming next."

Death (Deck of Lies, #3) has been reviewed at Reading...Dreaming by Ruty, longtime friend of the blog. There are spoilers in the review if you haven't read the first two books (and if you haven't, get caught up!). Read the whole review to find out why the book got 5 out of 5 stars!

Writing 101: Why Are You Writing?

I look at writing tips and advice every once in a while. My reason is twofold: for one, I need fodder for this blog. But like any writer, I want to become a better writer -- so it follows that I should seek advice. And I keep finding one piece of advice that greatly disturbs me. So today I have to ask: why are you writing?

Be careful of your answer. You don't know it, but other authors are judging you.

For Love of the Game

In scouring interviews, articles and blog posts, I've noticed a particular piece of advice that successful authors trot out whenever they're feeling superior...and trite. Many of them tell writers that they must think about why they are writing...and that if they are doing it for financial gain they will never succeed and never become "real" writers.

I'm calling bullshit on that misguided notion, and I'm prepared to explain why. 

Many writers don't wake up at age 25 and decide to become writers. You don't go to sleep one day and wake up the next saying "I think I'll write a book." It's a decision I made at age 9, to write a book that is, but I didn't manage to put a full story together for many, many years. When I was 9, all I wanted to do was write. I didn't think about the money involved.

That's because I was 9, and didn't understand money. A few (very few)  years have passed, and now I know the one thing I need to know about money: no one can live without it. And I love to write. So naturally, and quite reasonably, I hope to make money writing because this would seem to be more fitting for me than to make money doing something else...say making saddles. I'm sure it's a noble profession, but I don't really have a passion for saddle-making so I'm not certain I could be very good at it. 

Yet so often I see successful authors offering up little nuggets of wisdom saying that to be a great writer, you mustn't think about money. And I strongly disagree. If thinking about money motivates you to write, do it. If you dream about making enough money to support yourself with your writing, keep doing it. This notion that you can't write to make money is silly and cruel. Everyone wants to make money doing what they love, whether it's saddle-making or storytelling.

Some advice, I think, is meant to be ignored. Next time you come across a successful author suggesting that you can't write to make money, send them a comment: if they don't think authors should write to make money, they ought to make all their books free.

Amazon Gobbles Goodreads, and What it Means for Self-Published Authors

If you've somehow managed to avoid all writer forums, self-published authors, Twitter and the news, I've got some rather shocking news: Amazon owns Goodreads. You haven't noticed any changes yet, but you will soon. It's a big merger that begs a big question: what's it all mean for self-published authors...like me? 

The World That Amazon Bought

If it's on the Internet, there's a darned good chance that it's owned by Google, or Amazon, or both. Amazon pioneered online shopping. Then it revolutionized the book industry. Now, it's got some other plan that's either exciting, or terrifying...or both.

Goodreads is well-known to indie authors because it is the self-published author's best friend. Countless forums allow indies to use the site to market their work, find reviewers and connect with promotional opportunities on other book blogs. The site allows authors to acquire fans, share blog posts and keep all of their book reviews in one convenient place. It is the only site that even comes close to having as many book reviews as Amazon. 

And now, Goodreads is owned by Amazon. Every author knows that Amazon is already a well-established site. It's already got book reviews. It's even got writer forums. So what the heck is going to happen to all the stuff on Goodreads...and, for that matter, to all self-published authors in general? Is Amazon, the site that built the indie author, now about to kill them all? 

According to a blog post I stumbled across in my research, Authors Guild president Scott Turow is practically predicting Armageddon. He called the merger "a textbook example of how modern Internet monopolies can be built...the key is to eliminate or absorb competitors before they pose a serious threat." In a roundabout way, he even accused Amazon of attempting to control information in order to drive sales.

There's no secret to the fact that Amazon is in the business of making money. With more than 16 million regular users and many millions of reviews, Goodreads was in line to be serious competition. Now it's not. For Amazon, this was a pretty simple business move. The company also released a new Kindle model to compete with the iPad, and nobody's screaming "conspiracy theory" over that

But it is scary. Goodreads has become a warm and fuzzy home to many self-published authors. Amazon, to many indies, is still a towering mountain that's impossible to scale. As soon as you climb up the lists a little, you'll slide back down. So what does it mean for the self-published author? Will Goodreads continue to exist?

The answer is that no one knows what to expect. Amazon hasn't made any sort of big announcement, Goodreads has offered up a saccharine public statement about how swell it all is, and everything is pure speculation at this point. The smart money's on more of a complete merger, with Goodreads operating as a stand-alone book discussion community. This could allow Goodreads ratings and reviews to remain in place, but GR author pages could become a thing of the past. Amazon has its own author pages.

But only time will truly tell. If the Goodreads indie author community does fade away due to the merger, don't despair. The indies will band together again, somewhere new, and wait it out until Amazon (or Google) buys it.

Writing 101: Just Say No

I'm terribly behind on my book requests (literally months and months out). I'm over a month behind my own publication schedule for my books. I'm typing this post at 2 am, and I'm going to get less than 5 hours of sleep tonight.

I have trouble saying no to stuff...and that's why I'm always drowning in work to do. Brace yourself. You're about to hear a cautionary tale.

I Am Not Leading By Example

It's me. I'm the cautionary tale. I've managed to get myself into a mess, and I'm going to do what I do best by telling other people how to avoid my mistakes.

Just say no

  • Read this book!
You don't even have to hang up a shingle, so to speak, to receive review requests from authors. You just have to have a blog. You'll get requests through your email, Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, whatever the heck you've got. Some pitches are great. Some books look amazing. Sometimes, it's really hard to say no. But if you know you don't have any time to read and you've already got books on your list you'll never get around to finishing, say no. 

  • Guest posts and interviews.
Yeah, I know why you do them. Guest posts and interviews allow you to become exposed to users on a totally different site, a book blog where you may find many new readers who are picking up whatever you're putting down. But too much of a good thing is still too much. Don't agree to so many guests posts and/or interviews that your own blog and books suffer.

  • Forums.
As faithful readers know, I'm not a big fan of writer forums. This should clearly be the first thing to go whenever you're feeling pressed for time. If you're going to make time for something, please don't let it be slogging through the forums

  • Personal limits.
My time-management problems go beyond the responsibilities I have as a self-published author. I have a hard time saying no to work assignments, and I don't back down from the exercise and cleaning commitments I've made to myself. You have to say no in your personal life as well, sometimes to your friends, your bosses and even to yourself.

It's very difficult to say no, and I understand that. But sometimes you have to...or you'll end up going for many weeks without enough sleep, and perform poorly at pretty much everything.

Writing 101: What's in a Book Name?

I see new indie books literally every day. Because I move fast, I'm usually looking at one piece of information only: the title. I won't even look at the cover, I'm not worried about your name. I don't even care about  the blurb. I make my decision after I read the title. 

What will I be thinking when I read yours?

By Any Other Title...

They say that names aren't important...and they're wrong. When it comes to books, the title is everything. And lately, I've been seeing all sorts of weird stuff in all kinds of titles. I think it's time we set a few guidelines for writing good ones. 

  • Length: Too long is just too long. I've noticed all sorts of epic book titles lately, one or two that were just about as long as one of my opening chapters. If you're having trouble squeezing all the words onto a book cover, take that as a sign that your title is just too long. By the same token, you may want to re-consider all those really short titles, unless you have some way to distinguish them. One-word titles are perfect for books within a series. Otherwise, you might have trouble distinguishing your one-word title from all the others that are out there. 
  • Proper Names: There's a rash of book titles containing proper names lately. It's tricky business, doing that. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is pretty good, there's a hook in there. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert sounds intriguing. Abby Got an E-Mail from Kate Winslet isn't such a great title, and I'm not even sure it's legal to write that book. Only use a proper name if it is what? Easy to spell and easy to remember, which is what your pen name should be also. Never forget that you are already asking readers to remember a name before you put one in the title: yours.
  • Weird Adjectives: Stuck on You is a clear metaphor that I immediately get. Coaxing Your Love is a little bit more obscure, but I'm still with you. Venerating Johnny, that's just too darn complicated. If I have to figure it out, it's just too much. The title is not the best place to trot out the four-syllable words or impress the world with your knowledge of little-known descriptors. Remember that simple language is usually the best.

If you look for these three things, and eliminate them, you'll have better book titles. You want something fairly simple, yet distinct. Something I can remember that's not too cumbersome, something unique. Try cutting proper names down to just one (The Curious Case of Benjamin?), simplify those adjectives and edit out any unnecessary length. Because by any other name, I might decide not to read that book.

Books on Film: Fried Green Tomatoes

Fannie Flagg was a Match Game regular, an actress and a colorful personality, so it makes sense that she would write a book that managed to shine and stand out. She's the mind behind Fried Green Tomatoes, the novel that inspired one of my favorite chick flicks (and I've seen an embarrassing amount of them). But if you pick up the novel expecting to find the Idgie you loved from the film, you're in for a bit of a surprise.

The Book

Flagg published Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which is the actual title of the book, in 1987. Like the movie, it focuses on two different time periods in one woman's life. In the novel's present, an elderly woman in a nursing home named Ninny Threadgoode becomes friends with a middle-aged stranger named Evelyn Couch. During their once-weekly visits, Ninny tells Evelyn a story that happened many years ago.

Her story revolves around the Whistle Stop Cafe, which is found in Whistle Stop, Alabama. Idgie and her friend Ruth ran the cafe, which was known for its fried green tomatoes. The story took place a long time ago, around the 1920s, but hearing it inspires Evelyn Couch to make positive changes in her own life. She's enthralled with Idgie's bravery, and it compels her to shed some of her own cowardly ways.

But the novel doesn't tell the same tight, cohesive stories you'll see unfold in the film version. The narration is confused at times, and the reader must determine where and when they are based on the descriptions that open up each chapter. This is helped along somewhat by the Weems Weekly, Whistle Stop's local paper. Events are revealed out of order and in no real pattern.

Ninny was taken in as a child by the Threadgoode family and she married Cleo, one of the brothers. But her true first love was dashing Buddy Threadgoode, who was very close with his little sister Idgie (short for Imogene). She's a tomboy, and the apple of her brother's eye. But things change when Buddy is hit by a train and killed. She takes to living away from the house and becomes even more boyish. Years pass in this fashion, and then Ruth Jamison arrives.

Ruth has also come to live with the family because she's teaching at the nearby Bible School. Idgie falls in love with her and begins to spend more time at home, but Ruth has not come to Alabama to stay. She's promised to marry a man, and moves to Georgia to be his wife at the end of the summer. Idgie leaves home again, and once more the years start to roll on by.

A Bible page torn from the Book of Ruth arrives at the Threadgoode home. Idgie understands at once that it's from Ruth, and that she's being abused by her husband. How she infers that from Ruth 1:16 one never knows, but then I have trouble understanding much of the Bible as it is so I'll let it go. Idgie brings Big George, a servant in the Threadgoode home, and her two surviving brothers to take Ruth away from her husband Frank Bennett.

Ruth's carrying his child, so Idgie's father gives her money to start her own business so she can care for Ruth. Idgie builds the Whistlestop Cafe. Sipsey, Big George and Onzell begin working there with her. Together, the two women raise Buddy Junior, later nicknamed "Stump" after a train accident.

Regulars come to the cafe, people like Smokey Lonesome. He's a Depression-era hobo who rides the rails, and the cafe gains some notoriety among this set. Idgie and Ruth ruffle a few feathers when they even start serving blacks out the back door. Frank Bennett has disappeared, and detectives come by to ask Ruth if she has any information about it.

Hearing about Idgie's incorrigible ways inspires Evelyn to create an alter-ego named Towanda -- she's sort of like Sasha Fierce. It makes Evelyn confident, self-possessed, bold and unafraid.

And in the past, the cafe carries on. The Depression comes and goes, as does World War II. Buddy Junior becomes a man, and the town grows quiet around them. Ruth dies of cancer in the 50s, and the railroad was already out of fashion by then. Idgie is later arrested, along with Big George, for Frank Bennett's murder. His car was found at the bottom of a lake outside town, you see. But the case is dismissed after the town minister lies for Idgie on the stand. She once helped his son (and most of the people in town).

We learn later that Sipsey killed him with an iron skillet when Buddy Junior was still a baby. The detectives ate Bennett's body when they came to investigate, meat that was barbequed by Big George. They loved it.

While away at a weight loss spa, Evelyn learns that Ninny Threadgoode has died in the nursing home. It's a sad ending, and a different one from what you'll see when you view the film. In fact, a whole lot of things are different on film.

The Film

The movie Fried Green Tomatoes was released in 1991, and starred Mary Stuart Masterson as Idgie. Mary-Louise Parker played Ruth. Jessica Tandy became Ninny onscreen, and Kathy Bates was a perfect Evelyn.

The meeting between the two new friends is much the same on film...and the story begins to deviate almost immediately from there. We focus right away on young Idgie, and meet Ruth early. In this version, it's Ruth who is in love with Buddy and she has moved into the home because she will marry him. Both girls are present the night Buddy dies, and both are devastated.

Ruth is asked to come back to the home years later, once Idgie has slipped so far out of civilized society her parents become concerned. Though at first reluctant, Idgie soon accepts Ruth's friendship and returns it in kind. But Ruth still leaves Whistle Stop to marry Frank Bennett, and Idgie is left bereft because she misses her best, and arguably only, friend.

Idgie goes to visit Ruth under her own steam and all alone, and sees evidence that Frank has been beating up on her. Idgie pretty much drags her BFF back to Whistle Stop, and the events of opening the cafe take place just the way they ought.

The rest of the film pretty much carries out as the book does, with a few very glaring omissions. Ninny goes to live with Evelyn at the end, and it's revealed that Ninny is actually Idgie.

What Got Adapted?

The few changes made to Fried Green Tomatoes are probably the most important, because they manage to change the entire tone of the book. You see, Idgie and Ruth are lesbians. Such is not the case on film, where the relationship is made into more a sisterish or best friend pairing. If you don't know they're supposed to be lesbians, you probably won't see it anywhere on the film.
Ninny lives on film, because her death really does make the whole thing so sad. In the movie, Ruth lives to testify at Frank's trial. In the book, she never lives to see Idgie arrested. On film, Ninny and Idgie are the same person. This is not the case in the book. They talk to each other and they are certainly two different people; Ninny was Idgie's sister-in-law.
The book is largely about aging. It's an extremely important element that we meet a childhood and adolescent Idgie, a twenty-something Idgie and Ruth, middle-aged Evelyn and elderly Ninny. All represent something different. The town ages, too, as does Idgie's childhood home. The south becomes older, a little colder, and changes come to take away some of it charm.

It really feels like Whistle Stop dies with Ninny at the end of the book. Racism is a strong theme of the story, but only briefly touched on film by comparison. Death is another central theme, and avoided on film wherever possible.

It becomes a different kind of story, but both versions of Fried Green Tomatoes are great. It's still one of my favorites. If you don't read it and watch it, you'll be missing out.

Writing 101: Pursuing Perfection

I tend to over-research my books. I once spent an entire afternoon learing the history of plumbing in order to double-check a chamber pot reference (once upon a time I wrote historical novels). I pursue perfection...and sometimes it's a real problem.  

The Perfect Novel

Every writer wants their work to be error-free, engaging, important. Thar's not the kind of perfection I'm talking about. I get so caught up un perfecting the details, it might take me years just to finish a single story. I take perfection to such a dark place, it nearly set me back to the beginning of my newest book.

It all started with a discussion about global warming. That might sound random, but it's relevant to the book in question in a roundabout way, and therefore to this story. As the discussion carried on, I realized that I had estimated the future projected water table incorrectly.

I'm terrible with math, anything involving numbers really, so this is not shocking. But I was upset, because I  realized the science of the story is wrong.

Specifically, I realized that my map was wrong. It could not be tolerated. I immediately began making plans to throw the story out altogether, go back and do more research to get it right this time.

I was lucky that day, however, because someone else told me I was acting crazy. It was true. Someone else had to remind of what no writer should forget: it's my story, so there is no right and wrong. I make the world, I make the map.

When you're busy pursing perfection and getting caught up in the details, throwing out an entire book (or even half of a first draft) suddenly doesn't seem like a terrible idea (and trust me, it really is). Don't get too caught up in the details of writing it perfectly and getting every fact right. Sometimes, creative license isn't just an option -- it's an absolute necessity. 

Just remember to repeat this to yourself the next time you start wading through the detail swamp: it's my story...I can lie if I want to.

Writing 101: The Worst Case Scenario

When I'm afraid of trying something new, I play a little game with myself. I imagine the worst possible outcome and I create an entire plan for how I would deal with it. I figure that if I have a plan for the worst thing, I can handle anything

It doesn't always work. Recently, I was blind sighted by a worst-case scenario I never saw coming. There is something worse than a one-star review from a reader...and it happened to me. 

The Worst of the Worst

Say what you will about Amazon, but at least it makes you write something if you're going to rate a book. Such is not the case with Goodreads, which allows readers to rate books all day without so much as a by-your-leave.

This, my fellow authors, is the worst-case scenario. You know the reader didn't like the book, and that's it. You don't know what they didn't like, or why, or even if they read the whole thing.

Doesn't give you much room to improve, does it? 

This is why it's the worst of the worst, because there's nowhere else to go. You can't learn from it or build upon it. You can't even figure it out unless you contact the reader and ask, an action I do not recommend.

It's truly the worst, but it's not the end of the world. You simply have to ignore it. I know that's hard (I know because I spend so much time staring at my own ratings), but that's all there is. It's a worst-case scenario, but it really isn't so bad.

And now that you can imagine the worst and you have a plan to deal with it, you can handle all the rest. Maybe it's not so hard to be a self-published author after all.

Chaos and Justice

"Rain Ramey's search for herself in the midst of all the chaos drew me in until the very last page."

"Quick and entertaining read, with an interesting set of characters."

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed by the Intrepid Book Moth! Read the whole thing to find out what the reviewer didn't like about the book.

Writing: Falling in Like

I watched a movie on Sunday. It felt like a big deal because it's one I've been waiting to see since last Christmas. So I watched it...and I hated it. It wasn't necessary the amateurish singing, the casting choices I thought were bad, the inattention to wardrobe or even the lack of dialogue (which is my favorite part of any story). It was the characters. About halfway through, I realized that none of them were likable. I felt really unhappy with every moment of it after that. Making your readers fall in like is essential if you want them to keep being your readers.

The Middle of the Road

Notice I didn't say that readers should fall passionately in love with your characters. That's hard to do for even the most brilliant of writers, and it's polarizing anyway. Think Twilight and Gone With the Wind. Both stories have very strong male leads that make female readers swoon, but the female leads are not well-liked by their reading counterparts. Scarlett O'Hara and Bella Swan are both incredibly unlikable in different ways, and it's only tempered by their way-too-sexy literary co-stars.

I'm not asking you to capture lighting in a bottle...or on the page. You'll have a much better chance of creating a character that's just plain likable. Think Harry Potter. You probably aren't in love with him (I never did like a man with shaggy hair, myself), but you probably like him and want him to win his battles. He's a little bit clumsy and inept at times -- aren't we all -- and he's no romantic hero. He's just a likable guy who makes mistakes but wants to do the right thing.

And he sold billions of books, so don't tell me that likable isn't good enough. It is. By far, likable is a lot better than having characters no one can like. So now it's your job to create characters that people like. For writers, who tend to be introverted loners who are focused on what's happening in their heads, this can easily feel like an insurmountable task. But don't fret -- there's a formula to creating a likable character (and I happen to know what it is).

  • They're relatable: Your character can live on a space station or in a house behind a white picket fence, and still be relatable or not. Make your character one the reader can identify with. Give them flaws, give them dreams, give them fears and hang-ups and crushes and bad memories and inside jokes. Make them feel real, and I will be able to relate.
  • They fail: The reader is supposed to root for the hero to triumph, and that's fine. But sometimes, the hero should fail. People fail sometimes, so people in books should also.
  • They try: Heroes don't have to do the right thing all the time, but they should want to. They should regret it when they do the wrong thing. They've got to try, because that's all anyone can do. Effort makes characters likable.

Your characters don't have to be gorgeous and they don't have to be perfect, because most ordinary people are not these things. They simply have to be real people who attempt to succeed at being good. Do this, and I'll be falling in like with your book.

Passing Judgment

"I LOVEDDDDDDD the courtroom scenes!!! Oh my freakinggggg goodness, it was gooodddddddddddddddd!"

"I am pleased to give not only this book, but the WHOLE series a 5 OUT OF 5 STARS!"

Nourin, friend of the blog and the blogger behind BookAThonFreak, has reviewed Justice (Deck of Lies, #4). Read the spoiler-free review to see how she felt about the conclusion of the series!

Writing 101: Make 'Em Laugh

Some of the most memorable stories end told end with tears. Romeo and Juliet is designed to produce tears, and I became hysterical after I watched Terms of Endearment for the first time. Sadness certainly has its place in storytelling. But please, remember to lighten up sometimes. I should crack a smile, at the very least, during the course of your book...but I'd really like to laugh out loud.

Everybody Loves a Clown

Jokes have always had a way of bringing people together. Certain body muscle relax when you laugh, and sharing laughter with another will put you at ease. Ever sat in a crowded movie theater and heard everyone laugh along with you at the same joke? Laughter inspires camraderie. It's the basis for many friendships and even romantic relationships. 
It's great stuff, and that's why you've got to make an attempt to add some humor somewhere to your book. What if you're writing a gritty drama, a serious tragedy, a tear-soaked epic? 

To my way of thinking, that's when you need laughter the most. 

Even tragedies need a little laughter, because nobody can be serious all the time. A joke here and there will alleviate tension. You cannot keep constant pressure on your readers, or they'll break. It's a pretty simple law of physics. If you place a bowling ball on top of a wicker basket and start to press down, that basket will buckle and break if you don't ever relieve the strain. But if you let up every once in a while and let that basket bounce back, you can go right back to applying pressure.

Take a similar approach with your readers. Put the screws to them. Drag them through emotions. Make them cry. But every so often, lighten up. Give them a joke, give them a laugh, give them a bit of a breather -- and then you can go right back to the tension. Your writing will be better for it, and your readers will be far, far more tolerant because of it. 

So make 'em laugh...at least, every once in a while -- and make them keep reading.

Books on Film: Jaws

Jaws became one of the most famous big screen villains, a predator so frightening he has his own theme music. But before he swam onscreen, Jaws lived on the page.

The Book

Peter Benchley wrote Jaws in 1974, and changed horror. He was inspired by real shark attacks to write the book, though it sure didn't hurt that Doubleday asked him to pen the story.

It was so good, it was destined to become a film even before it was finished. Two producers read it before the book was even published, and quickly purchased the film rights. They helped the book become a bestseller. The very next year, in 1975, it became a hit movie. 

Jaws is set in fictional resort town Amity in New York. A young girl is attacked and killed by a shark while on vacation, but its buried by the Mayor and a local newsman so as not to disturb the town's appeal as a tourist destination.

But the killing doesn't stop. A local fisherman disappears after being asked to go kill the shark, an action prompted by the beast's attack on two local residents. The local chief of police, Brody, pulls a huge shark tooth out of the fisherman's boat. It's all that's left of the fisherman (Ben).

We learn that the Mayor is in collusion with the mob to keep the beach open (and the property values high), and the chief's wife has an affair with the fish expert who is brought in, a guy named Hooper. By the way, Jaws has a lot of sub-plots that were cut on film.

The chief decides to take action when the tourist population swells. People are flooding Amity instead of running away, as expected. They're hoping to see the killer shark. Brody hires himself a shark hunter, a guy named Quint. Together with Hooper, the men set out on Quint's ship the Orca to hunt the beast themselves.

It's tense. Brody suspects the affair, Quint is a loose cannon and Hooper seems to enjoy goading Brody. For days they find nothing, see nothing.

But they eventually find the shark, and Hooper dies in an attempt to capture it. Brody is now out of money, but Quint no longer cares. Hunting the shark is all that matters.

He gets his wish, and Jaws dies in a thrilling action scene, but the shark takes Quint with him.

The book was on the bestseller list for 44 weeks. Jaws became part of cinematic history for ever. Later in life, Benchley felt guilty for giving sharks a bad rap and became an activist.

The Movie

Director Steven Speilberg didn't like the characters in the book, and wanted the shark to win. On film, Roy Scheider stars as Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper and Robert Shaw as Quint the shark hunter.

They had problems making the flick right away. Filming went over budget and past schedule. The mechanical sharks kept breaking, so Speilberg had to get creative. Instead of the shark, there are a lot of shots of the water, backed up by the famous score composed by John Williams. 

It made for a thrillingly terrifying film, and moviegoers responded accordingly. Jaws became the highest-grossing film of its day, and the first summer blockbuster. Three sequels followed, though Benchley and Spielberg were not involved.

Spielberg removed many of the subplots, because he said the shark hunt was his favorite part. He made the characters more likable, got rid of the affair and brought in new writers to rework the script after Benchley turned in three rewrites.

As a result, the film focuses more on the shark than on the people, a deviation from the novel that made Jaws a big screen legend. Spielberg and his fleet of writers took heavy poetic license with the script, but it's hard to complain at the final result. The movie is chilling, action-packed, and it ushered in a new era of glossy big-budget films that we still celebrate today. But purists will note many, many differences when comparing the two.

What Got Adapted? 

The trouble in Brody's relationship with Ellen is obvious early in the novel, when they argue because she's so unhappy with her life with him. In the film, they're amicable with each other. Hooper in the book is a bit of a snobby elitist, an Ivy Leaguer who isn't likable once. Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper is impossible not to like. 

The Mafia subplot is abandoned in entirety, newspaper reporter Harry Meadows is shoved to the fringes of the story, and Brody never tries to strangle Hooper to death on the deck of the Orca. The illegal dolphin bait is exchanged for standard chum on film, and the Orca stays on the oceans for many days and nights (in the book, it returns to dock at night). 

One of the most noticeable differences is Hooper. He dies in the cage on the page, but survives the ordeal on film. Quint's death is changed. In the book he dragged under water when his foot is caught in the harpoon rope. The shark eats him on film. Even the shark dies more dramatically on film, but then it's a visual medium.

Surprisingly, it's the book that's the darker of the two. Spielberg hired comedy writers to lighten up the script and add some jokes in order to balance out the life-and-death struggle that plays out in the story. On paper, Jaws reads like a whole different story altogether. Give it a try after you watch the movie...and think about it next time you go swimming.

Writing 101: Strings Attached

What are you willing to do to get exposure for your book? There are people out there who hope you'll do just about anything. Give them a chance, and they'll use you for their own ends.

But maybe that's only fair...because aren't you using them?

Quid Pro Quo

I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine. This is a well-known expression, so common in fact it's hardly even considered. But let's consider it, shall we?

By definition, a favor is given freely without promise of recompense. Yet many indie authors are asked to give something in return for receiving book reviews. This takes many forms -- some more overt than others.

Tying to get book reviews? Be careful. Sometimes there are strings attached.

  • Exchange
The review exchange is a common thing between indies. Review my book and I'll review yours. Some authors openly solicit this arrangement, while others use book blogs.

It's no secret that I dislike exchange agreements. There is a certain obligation to give a good review, and fear of repercussion if you do not. But mostly I hate them because they trap you. You may unknowingly agree to read a book that's offensive or poorly written. You can't back out...not if you want a review.

  • Pay Up
You are always expected to provide your books for free to get reviews. But sometimes the reviewer asks for more. Namely, money.

It's happened to me and it'll happen to you, too. You may be asked to pay for reviews. I caution you not to do this. The review may not be fairly written, and even if it is it will always be suspect to readers. Plus, you don't need to spend your money on reviews. Save it for promotion. 

  • Promote
There's always a sort of unwritten rule that when a blogger writes you a review, you promote it on all your sites. That means social media, too. It isn't usually part of the agreement, bit it is a standard courtesy. It's also just good marketing...when the review is good,anyway. 

There are always strings attached, though sometimes they're a bit more visible. Use them to create strong ties to the bloggers you like and admire, and develop a relationship. You'll need them again and again.

Writing 101: What Are Your Responsibilities as a YA Author?

Every writer wrestles with themselves. Does that sentence make sense? Is this character relatable? Should I add that cliffhanger? Authors struggle with questions. Now, I'm going to dissect the one that's always on my mind.

Wait...Can I Write That?

I write YA books that feature teenage main characters. As such, I often ask myself what sort of responsibilities I have to my audience.
  • Sex: Personally, I'm extremely uncomfortable writing about it. But the reality is, teens do have sex. If you write about it in your YA books, I encourage you to write about safe sex.
  • Drugs: Teens also do drugs, sometimes. Many fine books look at this frankly, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, you do a disservice to your readers if you don't show the real consequences of drug abuse. It can be life-threatening. Do not make light of it.
  • School: I read this great YA blog, and lately they've been running an ongoing feature about the many cliches in YA books. One of them is teens who don't ever go to school, or even think about it. Your teen characters should be going to school. If they ditch, if they do poorly, they should face repercussions. Don't you when you shirk your responsibilities? 
  • Underage drinking: It happens. There are entire movies about teenagers buying alcohol to have parties. But drinking to excess at any age can be dangerous and it can lead to problems (like hangovers, and fatal car accidents). So if you show it in your books, do so three-dimensionally. Always strive to show all sides of a situation; this makes for better writing anyway.
Like it or not, as a YA author you have to be a bit of a role model. You have a responsibility to your audience. I realized this for myself after I exchanged emails with a mom. Her daughter read one of my books and enjoyed it, so the mom read it, too. During the course of our email conversation, she mentioned that her daughter had a habit of adopting weird (potentially unhealthy) dieting habits from the books she reads. Teens pick up on all those little details you write. What if one of them leads them into behavior that they don't even know is bad for them?

You've decided to speak directly to young readers with your stories. When you do so, think carefully about exactly what you're saying to them. You always have a responsibility to your readers as an author, no matter how old they are. Do your best to wear that responsibility well.

Writing 101: When Book Returns Make You Crazy

I spent all of last week maniacally checking my sales and re-thinking every line I ever wrote...because I had two book returns on Monday. Book returns make me crazy. 


It's been a week since those two book returns sent me into a tailspin, and I can now identify all 9 stages of a condition known as Insanity Due to Incomplete Ereading -- otherwise known as INDIE. 

  • Denial: Clearly this is a computer error. My books are amazing. Like anyone would return them on purpose. By tomorrow all of this will be sorted out.
  • Obsession: Any day now. All I have to do is watch my sales. Those returns are going to disappear. It's been five minutes -- I better check again.
  • Anger: Who needs readers, anyway? You want to return my books? Obviously you're the one with the problem, not me.
  • Criticism: Did I use too many metaphors? Is this because of that weird sentence in chapter 4? I knew I shouldn't have used the F word.
  • Doubt: I'm a terrible writer. Maybe all these books I sold will get returned. Maybe they never even got read. Maybe I should get into something I'm qualified to do...like eating pie. Will anyone pay me to eat pie?
  • Blame: What am I doing? This isn't my fault -- this is because Amazon has a BS return policy. Now I have to suffer because of their crazy window of opportunity.
  • Acceptance: Okay, the books got returned. I'm going to sell more...eventually. Does anyone have any pie?
  • Blame: I lied. I'm not okay, and this pie isn't helping. This is my fault. I should be a better writer, and then returns wouldn't happen. 

Yes, blame happens at least twice (and sometimes there's a third stage of blaming the reader). But don't end on blame. Complete the cycle, and get yourself to the final stage. 

Shrugging it Off

Returns happen even to the best authors and the most well-written books. Yes, even when the price is very low. Apparently, some people do know the value of a dollar..and they may change their minds about spending it on you.

So just shrug it off. Eat some pie and write some more. You will never please all the readers out there, but here's some good news:

There are always more readers.

Writing 101: Fooling Yourself, Fooling the World, Playing the Fool

April 1 is a day for fools, and that makes it a great day for all writers everywhere. It was Shakespeare who said that all the world's a stage, and the people in it are only players (unless you believe in the Shakespeare authorship controversy, but let's not get into that debate just now). As a writer, you're pretty much always doing one of three things: fooling yourself, fooling the world or playing the fool. So today is really a day for you.

Everybody Plays the Fool

I don't mean that offensively. Remember, I am also a writer -- and a fool. It takes a fool to believe that your own words are so very important, millions will want to read them. Read them, hell. They'll want to own them, to memorize them, to study and repeat them and love them. It takes a fool to scoff at rejection letters, to daydream brand-new worlds into existence...to make oneself vulnerable on the page. So today, be foolish when it comes to your writing. Foolery can be even stronger than bravery.

  • Fooling yourself: To even dream about becoming an author, you've got to fool yourself a little. You can't be discouraged by the reality that millions of people have written books, and want to sell millions of copies of them. You can't think about the fact that agents receive thousands of letters a week, and readers are constantly inundated with book promotions. You can't be overwhelmed by the massive task of creating an entire book out of blank pages and your own mind. You've got to fool yourself, and tell yourself that none of this stuff is really that hard and that you can do it. This gives you the necessary stubbornness to forge ahead, and actually get it done.
  • Fooling the world: Once you've got yourself fooled that you can become an author, your next task stretches before you: fooling the world. You see, you've got to make them believe it, too. Plenty of authors use self-publishing to create entire careers overnight. They begin writing a blog, publishing books and creating social media profiles online. If they work at it every single day, they'll collect followers and (with luck) book sales. This is what's known as fooling the world, and if you're a huge fool you can be really successful at it. 
  • Playing the fool: When you are an author, you are primarily an entertainer. Think about your origins. Once upon a time, writing as we know it didn't exist. But ancient men who painted on cave walls absolutely had a form of storytelling. We know, because we can see the stories unfolding in the images they left behind. Your roots as a storyteller extend back even further than the bards who traveled from castle to castle, telling their stories before live audiences. Today's storytellers entertain in a different way, but make no mistake about it: they entertain. In order to be an entertainer,  you have to be playing the fool some of the time. You might have to be funny, or serious, or thought-provoking, or ridiculous. It's all part of the author package, and always has been. 

So what I'm saying is, if you're an author you've got a little bit of foolishness in you. Let it shine, for today is your day. Fool really means dreamer, and this is what all writers really are.