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.

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.

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.