The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 16

I just got some big news about FOOTES CREEK, my second novel.  I sent it out to a bunch of agents/publishers.  In this business, you send agents a proposal for your book. You give them a cover letter and whatever else they request: a one-page synopsis or a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline; a few pages of the manuscript or the first 50 or 100 pages.  Your biography and writing experience.  Each agent is different.

FOOTES CREEK is a golf course murder mystery that takes place at prestigious old boy club in New Jersey. There’s a series of grisly murders at the club and Police Chief Ed McSorley must solve the crimes asap.  He meets a female member and a romance begins.  Soon he is up to his eyeballs in murder and intrigue.  

I love the game of golf and writing a novel with a golf course setting excited me. Our whole family plays: my husband won 10 championships at three different clubs; I was chair of several ladies 18-hole groups. I was a founding board member of The First Tee of Brunswick County (now The First Tee of Coastal Carolina). I’ve played golf at courses all over the country including Baltusrol, Firestone, Pebble Beach, and TPC Florida.

I’ve attended many charity or guest day events at prestigious clubs. My husband and I have friends and family in the golf business.  In addition, I wrote an award-winning golf column (Golf Gab) for the Brunswick Beacon for 14 years and ran the county championship for them.

Recently, I was approached by a company called Inkitt, a new online publisher/agency. They wanted me to send FOOTES CREEK to them. I did, and my book was approved for online publishing. It is now free at https://www.inkitt.com/stories/thriller/199014.  Click on that link and you’ll see my book.

Inkitt was listed last year as Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers. If I get enough readers and online reviewers like it, my novel will then be published in book form. This is a new way to market a book before the expense of publishing it. Pretty cool. Sort of test marketing a book.

If you read it and like it, please let Inkitt know. Also, if you have friends and or family who might be interested, please pass on the link (https://www.inkitt.com/stories/thriller/199014).  Thanks a bunch!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 15

You Gotta Have a Dream

One of my life’s mantras is a saying first attributed to Walt Disney. It goes like this: If you never have a dream, you’ll never have a dream come true.

I dream of writing a best-selling novel that is made into a movie that wins an Oscar. I dream of winning the Pulitzer and/or the Nobel Prize for Literature. Why not? Anything is possible if I try. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen if I give up before I start.

This philosophy applies to musicians, song-writers, athletes, scientists, and to almost every career from accounting to construction.  

Singers dream of having a hit that morphs into a Grammy; athletes dream of playing in the NFL, the NBA, the NHL or the Olympic Games.

My grandson Connor has always loved baseball. He’s a southpaw pitcher and first baseman; he excelled in several elementary school and middle school baseball leagues. One day, he told his friends that he wanted to play in the major leagues someday.  They laughed and mocked him.  His feeling were hurt.

When he told me about it, we had a long talk about dreams. I said that most of the guys playing for the Pirates, the Mets, the Phillies, the Yankees or any other Major League Baseball team probably went through the same thing. People laughed at them, but they worked hard anyway and didn’t lose their dream. They keep moving forward.

“You may not make it into the majors, Connor, but if you don’t try, you surely won’t,” I said. “The best thing is to work as hard as you can to realize your dream and maybe, just maybe, it will come true.”

Connor is on his way and will be playing Baseball for the University of Maryland next year. Fingers crossed his dream comes true. Whether it does or not, he will always know he gave it his best shot.

The Adventure of Writing a Book – Part 14

Dialogue:  As I’ve said before, interviews with real people are the essence of creating a believable work of fiction.  You learn more from talking with living, breathing human beings than you could ever learn from books, articles and internet searches. 

Now, translate that into dialogue.  Your readers will follow the plot so much better if you can move it along with believable dialogue.  If night is falling, you can let your reader know the time of day by having your character say, “Gosh it gets dark early these days.  It’s only eight o’clock.” 

Or “Stay close, I can’t see you in this fog.” 

Or “This road gets steeper each time I climb it.  Here, give me your hand.” 

In each of those cases, you could have described the setting:  It was eight o’clock, it was foggy, or the road was steep.  But narrating fact after fact is boring and soon your novel will sound like a lecture.  You want your story to live.  Use dialogue for information and color. 

Don’t worry about complete sentences.  I had to unlearn this from my days as a journalist.  Newspaper and magazine articles are written in complete, grammatically correct sentences.  People don’t talk like that.  They might use one word or a string of words, or even a grunt.  No grammatical rules.  For example: 

“Help!” she yelled from her overturned car.  “Someone, now!”

“Coming,” shouted the deputy, holstering his gun.

Even casual conversations are rarely spoken in complete sentences.  Just listen next time you’re with some friends.  The conversation is casual, not grammatical, with pauses and phrases and comments and exclamations. 

I’ve found that when writing dialogue, it’s helpful to speak it as you write it, assuming the roles of the players and adding inflection.  You will quickly find that what you thought was real dialogue is stilted and fake-sounding.  Take out some words, add some facial descriptions or intonations in the narrative and soon you will have real people speaking, complaining, screaming for help, making love or telling jokes. 

In FIND EDSELL, there’s a big forest fire. In this sequence, the fire chief is talking with Joshua, one of the firefighters” 

“One of the pilots spotted a 1024 yesterday.”  The chief interrupted Joshua’s reverie. “A body lying next to a burned-out vehicle under the high wires.”

“Yeah?  What kind of car?”

“Looks like a four-by-four of some kind.  Bronco, Suburban, maybe a Cherokee>’ 

“The body probably belongs to Vogel,” Joshua said.

In that whole exchange, there are only three complete sentences.  Keep it short, keep it crisp, write like people talk.  And, read it out loud to prove it sounds good. 

Think about it, with the proper tools, anyone can write a book.  I firmly believe that inside each person, there is a story that others would want to read. 

So, what are you waiting for?   

 

In researching “Losing It”, my husband and I traveled from New Jersey to Hartford, CT to Scranton PA to Bozeman MT.  While in Scranton, our dear friend and family member Glenn Khoury arranged for us to interview several people at a trailer park he owns.  We spent most of the day there and learned so much, just talking with people.  Glen is in the red shirt.

 

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 13: Interviews

One of my basic beliefs in writing a novel is the importance of interviews, of speaking to real people face to face. Internet research, reading books, attending seminars or listening to podcasts; all of that helps, but nothing will substitute for a face to face encounter.

You get more than words when you speak with someone. You get intonations, hesitations, loudness, softness and excitement. You see sadness, gladness, fear, and joy when you look into their eyes.

What started out as a simple few questions can easily morph into hours of information. When I first met Libby Vance, a lady trucker, our basic lunch went on and on. We liked each other and I felt comfortable asking difficult questions and she was comfortable answering them. Now I have a friend in the trucking business who is supporting my efforts to research my next book.

This has happened to me time and time again. When I was a correspondent for the Asbury Park Press, I frequently connected with the subjects of my interviews and sometimes what began as a single feature story grew into a series of articles.

Working here in North Carolina for the Brunswick Beacon, I was assigned to do an article on Hospice Care. As I researched the topic, it occurred to me that the best way to tell the story was to find an individual who was in Hospice care and to follow his progress from life to death. I found a gentleman who was willing to talk with me. I spent hours with him over a six week period as he slowly moved from this life to the next. My series, “One Man’s Life and Death” won an award from Landmark Publications that year.

The same thing happened when I researched FIND EDSELL! Several men in the New Jersey Forest Fire Service spent hours with me, taking me out to active fire scenes and arranging visits to fire towers and fire stations. One later moved on to be the head of the NJ Forest Fire Service. I’ll always be grateful because I could not possibly learn this stuff from books/manuals or the internet.

In my style of writing fact-based fiction, the interview is key!  Here’s a picture of a recently burned pine forest.

My next blog will explore “dialogue”. How it moves the story forward and why a writer must have keen ear in interviews.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 12

Characters: As I have said many times before, I write “fact-based fiction”. That means my novels are based on facts, real places, and real people.

I do a lot of research. I read books, search the internet, take photos and actually visit the places where my stories take place. On September, my husband Gene and I drove from Princeton NJ to Hartford CT to Scranton PA to Bozeman MT because that is the route that my next thriller takes. It is a cross-country chase story.

When I wrote FIND EDSELL, my first book, the characters were patterned after folks I knew or got to know in the process. A good friend of mine was married to a former Army Commando. Joshua, the male protagonist in FIND EDSELL, is a version of Don. He is a former Commando; he knows weapons and hand-to-hand combat. He is also a bow hunter and an all-around tough guy with a heart of gold.

The teens in that book (Edsell, Borderline, Mark and Stacy) reflect the many teens I knew when I was a Girl Scout Leader, Softball Coach, Youth Group Leader, chair of the Junior Golf Program at our club in New Jersey and later on the Board of Directors of The First Tee of Brunswick County (now The First Tee of Coastal Carolina). I raised four daughters and our house was often a hangout for their friends. We usually had an extra place setting at our dinner table for whoever was visiting or spending the night.

Now, as I work on “Losing It”, the process is the same. Laura is a conglomerate of some of the women I knew while living in New Jersey. She has led a somewhat sheltered life, but now she must flee a killer.  Because he can trace her through her phone or credit cards, she must become homeless to get away.

Luckily, I am a farmer’s daughter from rural Maryland. I know how to handle firearms (my father taught me).  I roamed the woods, camped, fished on the Chesapeake Bay and in the creek behind our farm. I know what the forest sounds like at night. As I kid, I slept on the ground under a canvas strung between two trees with just a blanket around me.  I can write about Laura’s experience in the outdoors.

Stay tuned for more installments of “The Adventure of Writing a Book”. Now that the holidays are over, I promise to write at least once a week.

The picture is 12-year old me on the farm.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 11

Writing a book is a big job, but it is also the most interesting, exciting, challenging task in the world. Just think: while you are writing, you are god. You create a universe populated with animals and people and events drawn from your own imagination and research.

You can imagine a cruel evil villain, a beautiful princess, a sweet baby, a scheming dishonest stockbroker or a witch. You decide how tall they are, how old, what color is their hair or skin. Are they educated or ignorant? Is your hero a genius or does he have Downs Syndrome? Is he addicted? Is he/she jealous, wicked, or kind and loving?

The characters in your book are in your head and they enter the world through your hands tapping the computer keyboard.  Maybe you write your rough draft in a notebook, but still your hands create your new world.  Maybe you dictate, but still it all comes down to words from your mind to the mind of the reader.

Then you manufacture the universe of your novel. Does your story unfold in the United States (city or farm or suburb)? Perhaps it all happens in a foreign country or distant planet? Is it winter, summer, hot or cold, dry or wet?  Present, past or future?

Now comes the plot: is your story an adventure, a thriller or a love story? Is it about war? Or the inner workings of an advertising agency? Perhaps your people inhabit a palace in the 14th Century or a ghetto in Nazi Germany.

Whatever you decide is fine.  YOU are in charge.    

Perhaps you want to create a three-book series like my daughter (Kim Campbell) did with her “Triple Crown Trilogy”. Her story takes place in and around the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont. She was quite ingenious in creating her world of Thoroughbred racing. The cast of characters is basically the same in each book, but the primary character changes with each one. Check it out at www.triplecrowndreams.com. Two books are out, the third will be published next year.

Many authors create a primary character and then design a whole series around him (her). Perhaps it’s a detective or an explorer or a spy. If the primary character (protagonist) is believable, folks will continue to buy the books to see his (her) next adventure.

Writing is truly and adventure. When I’m really into my research or writing a rough draft, a whole day will simply fly by. I can begin at 9:00 and discover that it’s now 2:00 p.m. and I’ve missed lunch. Not every day is like that for a novelist, but the best days are.

I’m taking a break for 10 days. I will resume “The Adventure of Writing a Book” on January 2. Stay tuned and have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or Winter Solstice.

Happy New Year and continue to read and write.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 10

Helping the Homeless

Last month, just before the wonder and excess of Thanksgiving weekend, I attended a Hunger & Homeless Banquet and Soup Luncheon in Leland NC.

The luncheon was put on by the Brunswick County Homeless Coalition. Several speakers from state and local agencies/organizations that work with homeless people gave short talks.  Also speaking were several former homeless people who now have jobs and homes. They confirmed everything I have learned in my last six months of talking with homeless people here and in other areas across the United States.

Homeless people are not necessarily lazy, alcoholic or addicted to drugs. They’re not homeless because they don’t want to work. Trust me, no one wants to sleep on a park bench, under the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk or in an abandoned house or barn. No one wants to live in their car for three years. No one wants to hold up a cardboard sign and beg for food next to a highway entrance.

Granted, there are homeless people who suffer from addiction, depression and/or mental illness and they need our help.  But, many of them are in this terrible situation due to circumstances beyond their control like a sudden illness, accident, loss of job or spouse, a fire. I have heard stories over the past six months that shocked and horrified me. As I listened, I thought: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

We live in a complex, detail-oriented world.  What do you do when you have no documentation?  No way to prove who you are?  No driver’s license, birth certificate,  cell phone, credit card, or bank account?  No Facebook, I-Pad, car, apartment or house?   

Many homeless children and adults are illiterate. How can they hold down a job or attend school if they cannot read or write? Even a waitress, cleaning woman, mechanic and dog sitter must fill out forms, write orders.

In addition, many homeless people are financially illiterate. They don’t understand how checkbooks, saving accounts and credit cards work. It they manage to get a cash-paying job, how do they pay rent, buy food, save for a rainy day? How can they qualify for a rental apartment or a mortgage? How can they buy a car to get to work?

These individuals are stuck in a precarious place where they must live from day to day, hour to hour, finding food in dumpsters or food pantries. When they get sick, they go to emergency rooms instead of a doctor’s office.

My next book, “Losing It”, will focus on a woman (Laura) who becomes homeless to escape a killer. This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever written.

Stay tuned from more installments of “The Adventure of Writing a Book”.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 8

Truckers 

Learning about whole segments of society that I knew nothing about has been a blast as I research my next book, “Losing It”.

A cross country trucker is an important character in my book. We see these drivers and their big rigs every day, but do we really know much about them? Who are they? Many cabs have sleeping quarters in the back and we can see rows them at truck stops all over the country. Are they sleeping? How many hours can they drive before they must rest? What are the regulations?

How do they pass the time as they drive from California to New York and back again? How do they stay awake? Do they drive as a pair or individually?

I stared visiting trucking companies and asking questions. I called a trucking school in Wilmington and they gave me the contact information for Libby Vance, a woman who had been a cross-country trucker, an instructor at the trucking school and later, the dean of the school.

I called her and she graciously agreed to meet me for lunch and talk about my book. We had a blast and I listened, totally in awe, for two hours. We agreed to meet again.

Now retired from trucking and trucking schools, Libby was full of stories and information. Not only that, but she brought me two of her instructional books, all marked and tagged for the most important information. How cool was that?

She told me that there are many kinds of truckers, local, regional and long-distance. Government regulations abound and each state has its own laws that must be followed. Trucking not an easy job. You must know how to handle your rig, back it up, brake on hills, shift gears, etc. Imagine backing up a big trailer into a small opening in a warehouse or factory. Yikes! Certain states allow double and even triple trailers, and they have their own required certifications and rules.

Truckers haul various kinds of loads. The trailer may be a box, or a flatbed that can carry an assortment of loads, anything from logs to large generators.  Then there are the tankers which carry vegetable oil or chemicals or fuel. Loads can shift. Stopping a tractor trailer in case of an emergency is difficult if you are carrying liquids or a product that can slip and slide.

Truckers haul all the things we use every day.  Whatever you have in your hand right now, a coffee cup or computer mouse or candy bar, it was hauled by a trucker:  the chair you are sitting on the car in your driveway, the shingles on your roof, the carpet in you living room.   

Thank a trucker today!  They are invaluable people doing a difficult job.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 7

The last part of my next book, “Losing It”, takes place in Bozeman, Montana. There will be an exciting finish with a amazing twist. I cannot reveal that now, it would spoil the book.  I want my readers racing to the last page, gasping with excitement and fear.

In researching “Losing It”, Gene and I finished our journey in Bozeman and spent several days there. Why Bozeman? We have been there several times over the years and have good friends in the area who were excited to show us places I needed to see and to answer many of my specific questions.  

Seth and Judy Harter lived across the street from us for 28 years in New Jersey. Sadly, Seth passed away a few years ago. Judy, one of my dearest friends, still lives in New Jersey and we talk regularly.

Linn and Mary, two of their daughters, live in Bozeman and we spent hours with them on our trip.

Let me tell you about Bozeman. It is in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, just north of Yellowstone Park. The town is in a valley surrounded by huge mountains and vast forests.

Linn’s husband Doug has a cabin near the top of one of the mountains. It took us 1½ hours on unpaved steep roads in a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to it. We dodged wild cattle on the trail.

The scenery is breath-taking. The cabin has no electricity or water. A spring just uphill from the cabin, brings clean water via a hose.  

The cabin has cots and a small table with wooden chairs. There is a wood-burning stove plus an outhouse. You can hunt and fish and trap and live there forever if the rest of the world falls apart.

It is breathtakingly quiet on the top of that mountain. There are no roads, no neighbors. At night, no lights. It’s an excellent place to relax and read and regroup.

Linn and Doug often cross-country ski in that area. When the roads (using term loosely) are impassable in the winter, they can ski to their cabin for few days of peace and quiet.

I loved it and decided my heroine, Laura, needed to go there.

Now I’m home and continuing my research.  Last week, I had lunch with a woman who drove a tractor-trailer cross county for years.  She told me fascinating stories of life on the road.   Did I tell you that one of my main characters is a trucker?  Check it out on my next blog.  

 

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 6

In our cross-country trip to research “Losing” it, my sweet husband Gene was the navigator. He cannot drive anymore because of neuropathy, but he is a fabulous wingman and navigator. He sat next to me for over six thousand miles with his MapQuest printouts, his giant US. Atlas, and Cellphone Siri. (Sometimes he talked to Siri more than he talked to me.)

We had laid out the trip in advance, so that the driving was usually about 6-7 hours each day. Sometimes because of construction or traffic snarls, the day was much longer.  There were times we drive for several hours without seeing any signs of human habitation except for the road before us and the vehicles on it.

Since one of the major characters in my book is a long-distance truck driver, it was great to be on a programmed trip, mimicking what truckers do every day for a living. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and we had great weather on our three-week trip. We saw mountains and more mountains, lakes, rushing rivers, cliffs, gorges, deserts and vast expanses of farmland. There were small towns and large cities with skyscrapers and long bridges over rivers.

You need to drive across our beautiful United States at some point in your life. Flying is great, but you miss the vastness, the beauty, the great sense of space and time. Compared to the villages and the cities, the mountains seemed eternal. The layers of rock that were forced up during eons of natural upheavals humbled me. I could see the bottoms of seas in the wavy parallel lines of the cliff faces. It was totally mind-blogging. I become an insignificant speck in the universe of time.

I am currently researching long distance trucking and have a meeting next week with some professional drivers. I’m also in the process of reading several books about truckers and I learned that one of the lures of the industry is the freedom to see parts of the country that are not the usual vacation or tourist places.

It’s the inside of our country, where the manufacturing happens, where things are built and shipped to the far corners of the world. The people are real with difficult jobs, but they have courage and they stay the course.

When you shave, think of your razor, it was made somewhere in the U.S. by real people. Your shirt? Same thing. Almost everything you touch was made in a factory somewhere by someone. Almost everything we buy today was shipped a long distance to our Walmart or grocery story or shopping mall.

And the truckers do the driving.

Check out these photos we took from the car. Stay turned for more installments of the Adventure of Writing a Book.