The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 29

Because of my background as a newspaper and magazine journalist, I only write fact-based fiction. My novels are based on real events, real people, real places.

My first book, FIND EDSELL!, is about a 17-year old who disappears on the Jersey Shore. Adults and teens join in the search which leads to the Pine Barrens, a million-plus acre woodland preserve in the heart of New Jersey. There a medical sci-fi angle and it all ends with a huge forest fire.

To write the book, I spent time in the Pine Barrens. I introduced myself to the men of the Forest Fire Service. They showed me fire stations, took me out to fires, allowed me in fire trucks and in towers and weather stations. For the medical parts, I read books on the human brain and interviewed nurses and doctors. I knew the Jersey Shore because we vacationed there.

I had the plot, the characters, the knowledge and the book flowed easily. I got good reviews, nice sales, one award from Writer’s Digest magazine

My next book is called FOOTES CREEK. That research was easy. I am a life-long golfer. On vacations, my husband and I played Pebble Beach, Blackwolf Run, Harbour Town Link, Sawgrass, and others. He had served on the board of a private club; I was ladies golf chairman several times. We have friends who are PGA Pros and golf course superintendents.

Writing my golf murder-mystery was fun because I knew the inner workings of those prestigious old-boy clubs. You can read it now for free on my website through Inkitt.

I just finished my third book, LOSING IT, a cross-country thriller where a wealthy woman from New Jersey must become homeless to escape a vicious killer. She flees from New Jersey to Connecticut to Pennsylvania and on to Montana. My husband I made that trip two years ago. I spoke with dozens of homeless people and spent time in trailer parks. I interviewed folks who work with the homeless and read dozens of books about the homeless.

Now I am looking for agents and/or publishers. Keep your fingers crossed! I want to keep doing this. More stories are floating around in my head. I just need to do the research!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 28

Use Your Imagination!

In order to write novels, poetry, children’s stories or humor, you need an imagination. As children, we see faces in the clouds, rainbows in the water, and monsters in the trees. A sudden click or crash in the house when all is still brings to mind monsters and devils. We lie in the grass on a summer afternoon and dream; we hike through the woods and see ourselves as heroes combating aliens in a far-off galaxy.

As we grow older and busier and more responsible, we don’t have time to dream and imagine events, places and things. We are so caught up in the moment we forget the wonderful delicious world of imagination.

As writers, we really need to take the time to explore that empty space, the unknown universe of our imagination.

Today, I needed a break from editing my book so I took a stroll through a nearby vacant lot. I took a few deep breaths and forgot about Chapter 36 and whether I should use the past or present tense in a flashback. I put away my concerns about my website and my potential new agent and what I was having for dinner. I cleared my mind and looked around.

There is was: a face in a tree trunk. A monster face with long droopy eyes and a sagging mouth. I took a picture with my cellphone and continued walking. Were there more faces in the trees?

Yes! I saw one, then another. Soon most of the trees and bushes had faces. Something rustled nearby and instead of being scared, I was glad. I had liberated my mind, my imagination was running free and wild through an overgrown vacant lot just down the street from my house.
I walked home strangely relaxed and ready to work, feeling strangely liberated and serene.

So do it, dear friends, no matter what your job or commitment is. Relax for a few minutes, clear your mind and be a kid again. Take a walk and let your imagination run wild.

It’s good for you!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 27

Tragedy Makes Us Grow and Become Better Writers

I have a nice life, with a great family, a caring husband and wonderful children, but I (like most of us) have also experienced times of grief and tragedy.  None of us escapes the sad times and now, in retrospect, I can consider those times learning experiences that equipped me to be a better writer. 

I can imagine what it might feel like to fly like Superman, to kill an intruder, travel to Mars on a spaceship.  But deep sorrow must be felt in order to understand the depths of sadness, to know that visceral feeling of losing someone permanently. 

My father was only 72 when he died a long lingering painful death from Multiple Myeloma, a bone cancer.  A few years later, I went to pick up my mother to take her for a ride in my new convertible.  She didn’t answer the door and when the superintendent of her apartment building let me in, we found that she had died in her sleep. 

One death was expected, in fact, welcomed as a release.  The other was shocking and unexpected.  It took me awhile to get over both of these events. 

I spoke with a therapist to help me through the grief process and he suggested I write down my feelings, even if it was one or two words scribbled in large letters across a page, even if was not in complete sentences.  “Be your true self,” he said, “let it all out, rage, anger, sadness.  Whatever.”

And I did.  Now, when one of the characters in my novels is sad for whatever reason, I feel it inside as I write.  It’s in my gut and it comes out through my words.   Here’s a poem I wrote about my mother (the Finnish word for Mom is Aiti). 

Aiti

The last cake was in the oven,

The last sheets, ironed and crisp,

tucked neatly under the mattress,

Then she pitched forward and died. 

Chaos descended upon the world

And the starched and pressed white shirts,

The angle food cakes made without

an electric mixer, went away. 

She was my mother, beautiful, laughing,

Running, daring, organizing the world,

Re-arranging the universe

So it made sense to her. 

Today, I order my chaos with words

Re-arranging dots on my computer screen,

Extending ink on a legal pad,

Seeking knowledge, painting word pictures,

Creating my own angel food cakes

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 26

Race & Segregation

A good writer must reach all people:  black, white, Hispanic, Asian, poor, wealthy, those with Ph.D.’s and those with high school diplomas.

I grew up as a child of Finnish immigrants on a small farm in North East, Maryland.  We spoke Finnish at home; English was my second language.  Our schools were segregated back then and all the black children were bussed to a school in Elkton, our county seat. 

I never once spoke to a person of color until I went to college and I often wondered about it.  I would see black people and their children around town.  Why couldn’t we talk?  Why couldn’t they go to my school?  What if all the Finnish people were green or purple or orange?  Would we be sent to a school somewhere else, shunned, ignored?  Denied basic rights? 

These black people had lived in our area for generations. Here I was, a first generation American and I had all the rights of a Daughter of the American Revolution.  Why?  Because I was blonde and fair skinned.   

Times have changed since then, thank God, and I welcome it.  Today, I have black friends, I worked with black children when I ran youth groups in our church in New Jersey.  In my first job out of college, my boss and most of the employees at the Tremont Welfare Center in New York City were black. 

Yesterday, my husband and I went to a Coastal Carolina Football Game.  Many of the players are black, many of the fans seated near us were black, and we all got along just fine. 

I went for a short walk on the balcony and ran into a group of handsome young black men laughing and talking while trying to take a group selfie.  I offered to take the picture.  They put their smiling faces together, I clicked their cell phone a couple of times.  We were all joking about it when one of guys grabbed me and said, “We need a picture!”

One of his friends took it and Phillip sent it to me.  Here I am smiling and having a good time with a complete stranger who happens to be a CCU football fan.  And he is as dark as I am fair.

What a wonderful world we live in today.  Freedom of association. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech.  The Bill of Rights coming true.   

Admittedly, there are still problems, but we’ve come a long, long way.  Thanks, Phillip for showing me that truth!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 25

A writer’s experiences in life are useful in a writing fiction.  That’s what empowers a book, that’s what keeps readers reading far into the night.  They can’t put it down, because it’s so REAL.

I was stuck in my new book, “Losing It”, about a woman who must become homeless to escape a vicious killer.  A well-known agent rejected my book and told me that I was “telling and not showing”. 

Looking over the first 50 pages, I realized she was right.  My journalism background had taken over my book.  After the first few pages, my novel read like a newspaper report.  Laura did this and that, but with no feelings, no intimate descriptions of the day, the moment, the sound of someone’s voice, the rain, the wind.    

I’ve interviewed many homeless people.  I’ve heard stories of what it’s like to be out there, alone and afraid, with no resources.  I’ve listened to tales of hunger and want, of going for several days without food.  Of dumpster diving behind fast food stores to find remnants of other people meals. 

But I had never been homeless myself. 

Until two weeks ago when my husband and I left our quiet peaceful home in Ocean Isle Beach NC to flee Hurricane Florence.  We headed for Gatlinburg TN, a favorite vacation spot for us, high and away from the winds and floods. The drive took longer than expected because everyone was evacuating the Carolina Coast. We were in the middle of nowhere late that night with hours of driving remaining.  We finally found a third-class motel in a not-so-nice area that had a vacancy. It was late and dark and scary.   

The next morning, we finished the drive and stayed for two weeks.  The whole time I was there, I felt disoriented.  All our belongings were in harms way back on the Carolina Coast.  All I had with me was my cell phone.  We were safe on a mountaintop, but I experienced something totally new:  uncertainty, not knowing what’s coming next.  I had 16 days to think about it.

Now I am hard at work, revising “Losing It” from a whole new perspective.  My house is fine and we’re back in it but I have a new understanding and empathy for the homeless.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 24

Truckers Are Cool

Next time you are on an Interstate Highway, check out the trucks.  Not the little ones, delivering local goods, but the big diesel-powered tractor-trailers.  They’re huge, they’re everywhere, and they are beautiful. 

Beautiful in power with 440+ horsepower in their engines and 10 or more gears to pull their loads.    But they are also beautifully designed.  Check out today’s colors:  orange, turquoise, red, blue, and sometimes even purple and pink.  Most have sleeping compartments. 

Years ago, most shipping was done by rail.  Today over 70% of our goods travel by truck.  We currently have 2 million tractor-trailers travelling our highways. 

In my next book, LOSING IT, Laura is fleeing a vicious killer.  Because he is connected to law enforcement, the killer can track her wherever she goes through her credit cards and cellphone.  The only way to escape is to lose it all and become homeless. 

She does and eventually finds help with some friends in a trailer park.  Unfortunately, the killer finds her again.  She escapes, thanks to a cross-country truck driver. 

He becomes the hero of the story, saving Laura’s life and eventually becoming a love-interest.  As with all my books, I do a lot of research and my research for LOSING IT has centered around the homeless and now, in the second half:  truckers. 

I am always amazed a how generous folks are in sharing their stories and information with me.  Last week I spent several hours in Wilmington NC at a Triple T Truck Center.  This company has five locations in Eastern North and South Carolina.  They sell and repair big trucks and perform many other services. 

My fictional trucker, Bart, drives a Freightliner truck which has about 40% of the semi market today.  Scott Schriver, the General Manager, was most kind. He answered questions and then, best of all, arranged for me to take a drive around their huge lot in a Freightliner.  We did not go out on the road because it is forbidden for truckers to carry passengers. 

Stay tuned for my next blog about truckers.  This is sooooo much fun!  And I’m learning a lot that I cannot learn from books.  I’ve already read several manuals and books about trucking, but to actually ride in a semi is priceless and exciting!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 23

Just got home today from the 2018 Writer’s Digest Conference at the Midtown Hilton Hotel in New York City.  It was a blast!  I took classes, attended seminars, listened to best-selling authors tell about their experiences, made new writing friends and, best of all, I had a chance to speak face-to-face with several agents and publishers. 

They run something called the Pitch Slam where for one hour, you have three minutes to speak to each of several agents.  It takes place in a large room where the agents and publishers sit at desks in a big circle around the perimeter.  You chose the ones with whom you wish to speak. In my case that included agents who handle thrillers or mysteries.  You talk, then they talk (sometimes they ask to see your manuscript and sometimes they pass) and then, when the bell rings, you move on to the next agent.  Because each encounter is timed, it’s fair for everyone. 

I practiced my presentation for LOSING IT over several days.  I was in the first Pitch Slam at 10:15 on Friday morning and it went very well.  I spoke with seven agents and FIVE of them wanted to see more of LOSING IT!  I was not allowed to show up with printed copies of my manuscript or synopses or beginning chapters.  If something is requested, it’s done by email.  That makes sense because there are several Pitch Fests during the conference and if printed materials were permitted, the agents would go home with boxes and boxes of paper.  Email makes it easy on both sides.   

I’m sending off my stuff tomorrow morning, so please keep your fingers crossed. 

The speakers were amazing.  The keynote speaker was Walter Mosley, an award-winning, best-selling author of over 40 books.  Many of his books have been made into movies.  He is most recognized for his detective series about Easy Rawlins, a black private investigator in Los Angeles.

My classes included Suspense Essentials:  Secrets to Tapping into Tension; The Final Twist:  How to End Your Stories with a Wallop; You Said It:  Mast the Two Most Important Elements of Great Dialogue, and much, much more.   

So, I’m back, totally energized and ready to write, rewrite and rewrite some more.  Ready to send out proposals and inquiries.  Ready to find an agent who will help me in my quest to become a best-selling novelist. 

Hey, if you never have a dream, you’ll never have a dream come true.     

I have been to several writer’s conferences over the years, but the Writer’s Digest Conference is totally fabulous, the absolute top of the line. 

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 22

Writer’s Conferences

One of the most exciting and productive things you can do as a writer is attend Writer’s Conferences.  Over my writing career, I have attended several and they are totally fantastic and energizing.

There are many writer’s associations across the county.  They hold meetings, sponsor speakers, conduct webinars, provide information about the industry, and most hold at least one conference a year. 

One of the largest conferences is the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City and I’m happy to say that I am leaving today to attend it.  There will be dozens of classes on various topics like dialogue and character development, selling your book, imagery, point of view, building tension, writing graphic novels, etc.  It’s like dying and going to heaven for a serious writer. 

One of the best things is interfacing with other writers.  They may not be writing in your genre, but everyone is open to dialogue.  If you are a mystery writer talking to romance writer, you’ll have fun, make new friends and always learn something new. 

I will be participating in the Pitch Fest, which is a series of short face-to-face meetings with agents and publishers.  You have 90 seconds to tell them about yourself and your book.  If they are interested, they will ask to see more of your work.  Many book contracts are forged at writer’s conferences, or at least the initial contact is made. 

To sell a book to a publisher or to get an agent to represent you is a dauting task.  Many publishers will only look at new material through an agent.  A cold call (email or letter) will most often be ignored.  Many agents will not look at you until you have a published book.  It’s a vicious circle and that’s why self-publishing has grown to much in recent years. 

I look forward to pitching my book(s) this coming weekend.  If have my materials prepared and am exciting to get started.  Bring it on! 

I’ll keep you posted on what’s happening in my next blog on Monday night

The Adventure of Writing a Book: Part 21

Real People

The best part of writing a book (and the most fun) is developing relationships with real people.  As I’ve said before, I write “fact-based fiction”.  That means before I write the first word of the novel, I have been to the places, talked to the people, eaten the food, hiked the trails, crossed the bridges.  I don’t make this stuff up, I see it, I hear it, smell it, use all my senses and then it becomes the reality of my story.

Because my third novel involves homeless people, I have been meeting and speaking with that population in several states for over a year.  I cannot make up the stories I’ve heard, they are real and extraordinary and show me the length and breadth of human survival in this world. 

Last week, I spent some time with a woman in Myrtle Beach.  She had a wagonload of clothes with her as she sat on a bench near the ocean.  She was an older woman, but so bruised and tattered that it was hard to guess her age.  She was a white woman with a deeply lined face, dark with many sunburns.  Her large eyes were sunken, red-rimmed and sad.  She had about half her teeth and they were scattered randomly in her mouth.  I couldn’t make up that face; it was beautiful and tragic, all at the same time. 

What was her story?  How did she arrive at this place, sitting on a bench on a hot summer day in one of the world’s biggest tourist areas?  She said she had worked in New York City years ago. 

I was intrigued because I had worked there, too, and my husband had spent most of his working life in Manhattan.  Unfortunately, I had another appointment and time ran short, so I didn’t get to hear her story.  I gave her a few bills, thanked her and left. 

I will go back and try to find her again, but if I don’t hook up with her again, that face will definitely be in my book.    

Last month, a homeless man whom I’ve gotten to know told me about a couple I met last winter.  I was on the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach and gave them some leftover food from a restaurant I was leaving.  They gulped it down quickly, thanking me and telling me they had not eaten in several days.  My homeless friend told me the woman died a few weeks ago of an overdose. 

I felt sad, because she seemed so young and helpless when I first met her. 

Homeless people are real human beings.  Some are addicted, some have mental issues, others are the victims of abuse, others have had a sting of bad luck and misfortune.  It is very humbling to get to know them.    

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 20: Finding “Place”

Finding a place for your novel is most important. Your characters must interact somewhere. You have a theme, a plot, a love story, a chase, a murder, but it all needs to be in a “place”.

Perhaps it’s an old spooky hotel, or at the foot a once-active volcano. Your story might take place in a castle, a battleship, a cave or even on Mars. A magical, different place enhances a story. A love story on a secluded beach is one thing. A love story during the Westward Migration is another. Perhaps your characters fall in love during a cruise; perhaps they meet in the military, or during an archaeological dig.

Place makes all the difference. The story comes alive as the reader sees the mountains, the desert or crowded city streets where the characters interact.

When I wrote FIND EDSELL!, I spent weeks and months in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. I visited old ruined villages, toured historical sites and hiked the trails. I read books about the history of the Barrens and its unique ecology. I met the people of the Barrens, folks who live and hunt and camp there. I spoke with folks from universities who research the rare plants and animals that are found in the Pine Barrens.

I loved every minute of it. It was like being in college again and when it was time to start page one, the sights and sounds were embedded in my memory banks. The story flowed.

Today we’re working to turn FIND EDSELL! into a movie script, and place becomes important again. We will show the beauty and the splendor and the danger of this very unique region. Viewers will love exploring the pine forest through the camera lens as my exciting story unfolds.

Mike Chamoy and I have nearly finished the final “Treatment” and it looks great! Keep your fingers crossed as the adventure continues. Next week, I’ll talk about the refocusing that Mike Chamoy and I have done to enhance the chills and thrills of FIND EDSELL!

For those new to my blog, a “Treatment” is a scene by scene write up of the story. It is done before the script and is the first step toward converting a book into a movie.