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.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 19

What’s next?  Crazy!  You won’t believe it!

My first book, FIND EDSELL! was published in 2014.  It won a few awards (most notably, the Writer’s Digest Mark of Quality) and had good reviews in newspapers here in the Carolinas, in New Jersey and in Maryland.    

Since then, I wrote a golf course murder mystery called Footes Creek.  It is now available in electronic form at Inkitt.  Just click on the following and you will go directly to my novel.  http://inkitt.com/stories/thriller/199014

In the meantime, I’m working on book #3, a cross-country thriller about a woman who must become homeless to escape a brutal killer.

Now, the craziest news of all:  out of the blue, a company called Voyage Media contacted me about my first book, FIND EDSELL!.  They think it might make a good movie.  I’ve had several phone conversations with Nat Mundell, the CEO; Daniel Schneider, a writer, producer and director; and now I’m working with Mike Chamoy, a producer.  We are creating something called a “Treatment”.  This is a present-tense narration of the proposed movie, scene by scene.  No dialogue or other instructions, just a bare-boned storyline of what happens.    

I am learning so much through this process:  For example:  how do you show a flashback in a movie?  You cannot have as many characters in a movie as a book.  A 300-page book has much more detail.  But then a movie has sound and light and action that you only see in your mind when you read a book.  These are two very different means of communication.  And that’s why we need a Treatment before a script can be written.   

When the treatment and the script are done, Voyage will begin the process of selling it to film companies, financiers, etc.  It’s all so exciting.  And I’m learning new things every day.

Funny thing is, several folks who read FIND EDSELL! said it would make a great movie or TV series.  It has all the ingredients:  teens in trouble, a medical sci-fi angle, an international plot, a raging forest fire, and both adult and teen heroes. 

There’s something new happening every week if you’re a writer.  New opportunities arrive and you run with them.  The life of a writer is truly exciting.  Stay tuned for more adventures. 

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 18

Public Appearances

You’ve always wanted to write a book.  You got the idea for it, you plot it in your mind, create characters, mouth dialogue in the car while running errands.  Soon your story has a beginning, a middle and an end. 

Whether it’s a historical romance, a sci-fi thriller, a murder mystery, a memoir, or a western, the process is the same.  You research, you outline, write a rough draft, edit, edit, edit and soon it’s done.  Your pals in the writer’s group critique it, more re-writing happens and soon it is ready. 

A few months later, a book emerges and you are so very proud.  You are a published author; a dream has come true.

You thought it was over, but the work is just beginning.  Libraries and book stores ask you to speak.  You are featured at a women’s luncheon.  Book signings all over, press releases, and (if you are lucky) awards for your efforts. 

Wait a minute, you say.  I’m a writer, not a public speaker.  I don’t like getting up in front of people and talking.  I get nervous in front of crowds.  I like to stay in my office, glued to my keyboard.  I write; I don’t make personal appearances.    

Whoa!  Please understand there can be sheer joy in interacting with the public.  First all, most of the people in your audience will be in awe of you.  Some are jealous as hell because you’ve done something they’ve only dreamed about.  You put in the hours, the late nights.  Page after page, you created your story.  Then you worried and wondered if anyone would read your book and if they did, would they like it? 

Get over it.  Writing is an art, a passion, a calling, but it’s also a business.  You have a product and you’ve worked hard to create it.  Now sell it!

If you’ve ever sang a solo or played the piano in public, you’re ready.  If you’ve ever pitched a baseball game or ran the football down the field while the crowd cheered, you’re ready.  Anything done in the public eye brings confidence in later life. 

So, enjoy the day.  Rejoice in the fact that you’ve created something new and wonderful and, go ahead, tell everyone about it!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 17: Take a Break!

Writing is my passion. Time flies when I’m at my computer or scribbling notes on a legal pad. Minutes turn into hours and I often look up and realize that three or four hours have gone by. It’s way past lunch time and I’m hungry. That is how engrossed I get when I’m in the midst of a story.

Years ago, I always traveled with my personal computer. My husband would drive and I would write and not see the mountains and rivers, farms and villages just outside my window. When I played golf at Pebble Beach, I anticipated getting back to my PC even as I teed up my ball on the famous 17th hole. I was stupid.

After several years of non-stop creativity, my writing became stale. New and original ideas and plot lines dried up. I had taken a good thing and pushed it too far. I needed a break.

Whether you love or hate your job, you occasionally need to get away from it. Go somewhere for a weekend. See new things, meet new people, get a fresh outlook on life and work. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, expensive cruise. Simply take a walk on the beach or at a nearby park. Turn off the PC and read a good murder mystery.  Spend a weekend with all your devices turned off.

Today, I write during the week, usually several hours a day. On the weekends, I play.  My husband and I love college sports and we’ve adopted Coastal Carolina University. For the last two weekends, we’ve gone down to Myrtle Beach (the University is in Conway, a nearby suburb) to watch a baseball tournament. We go to the games and cheer on our team; we walk the beach; we go to the Boardwalk and eat lunch at a waterfront restaurant. We play games at the Arcade. We have fun!

On the ride home (one hour), my head throbs with new dialogue and plot twists, character sketches, and scenes. I am refreshed renewed and ready to write again.

So, no matter what your job (raising a family, teaching, carpentry, farming, police work, accounting or writing), you will function better with the occasional break. Try it.

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.