Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Role if Any of the Coronavirus Pandemic in Today's Novels



by Linda Thorne

I’ve read many articles claiming the 1918 pandemic did not have a major impact on the written word despite its immense human and economic toll. I’m wondering if this will be the case with our pandemic. Will it make a mark in American literature or appear as the backdrop in novels set during its timeframe?

When this pandemic started, my husband and I watched old science fiction movies about pandemics, some reruns, others for the first time. We found these interesting because of the ability to relate to the similarities of our own crisis. I have read that others rushed to pandemic fiction books and movies for the same reason. 

But what about writing fiction now if your story is set in today’s world? The novels I have read over the past few months, even though up to date, do not mention the pandemic. There are no germs, no masks, people do not fear crowds, socializing. For those I've read written by author friends, I’ve asked the question. Some said their book was already written prior to the pandemic and they didn’t want to change it. Others admitted they started and finished their novel after the pandemic began but were too sick of it to include in their story. Others have unfinished manuscripts set in current time, and confess they are ignoring the pandemic. If you’ve seen novels that include it, I’d be interested to know.

What do you think? Has the pandemic created a hurdle that needs addressed when writing modern-day fiction?



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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Publishing - A Basic Primer - Part Three

by Janis Patterson

Hope you had a lovely and romantic Valentine’s Day! We didn’t do much - just exchanged cards and shared a bottle of our favorite Veuve Cliquot champagne while watching some unfortunately not very romantic movies on tv. (The Husband prefers action-adventure movies and I prefer having my romance in real life, so we’re both happy with the way the evening turned out!)

I hope all of you are warm and safe during this terrible weather. We were without power for 30+ hours and the low was -1F! Not fun...

As promised, here is the third part of my originally conceived of two part series on the varieties of publishing. Nothing every really goes exactly the way you want it to, does it?

In the first two installments I covered the basics of and differences between Traditional publishing and Self publishing. Now I’m going to talk about a fairly new version of publishing, the Hybrid. I do so with some trepidation, as while I have published many times in both Trad and Self, I have never done Hybrid. So - if I make any egregious mistakes and you know Hybrid, please elucidate in the comments.

As its name implies, Hybrid is a melding of both Trad and Self where - basically - the writer pays for most everything but the mechanics of production are done by the company. It sounds as if it were a panacea with everything perfectly set out, but if things sound too good to be true they usually are. Hybrid pubbing can run the gamut between wonderful and supportive and worth it to just about the worst scam that can be imagined, costing the writer many thousands of dollars and delivering little to extremely little to - in a few sad cases - nothing at all.

In an ideal scenario the writer produces a book and contracts with the Hybrid, who produces a good editing, a good cover, a flawless format and uploading to the chosen market)s) and decent publicity with the writer bearing the cost. It is a true collaboration in every way, with the writer involved in every step. The author benefits from the radiated glory of being published by an imprint of a well-known and respected house. (The reader rarely knows or cares that the MyNewBook imprint is a hybrid arm of BigPublishingHouse and not a regular imprint.) Like the Cinderella principle mentioned in the Trad pubbing blog, it does on occasion happen like this - but very very rarely.

In the worst case scenario the writer produces a book and contracts with the Hybrid, who gives a slap-dash editing if any at all, an execrable cover, a so-so formatting and the only publicity is a listing on their usually pathetic website. Sometimes this kind of Hybrid demands that you give them your email and sometimes snail mail contact lists so they can aggressively market to your friends, relatives and other contacts. Unfortunately, this is more often about soliciting new authors for their publishing services than about selling your book. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between these low-life Hybrid outfits and a pure scam dedicated to separating a writer from his money.

Yes, I am a cynic, but I’ve been in this crazy business a long time (since 1979) and know how bad it can get.

Worst of all, these kind of Hybrids offer low royalties, some as low as the genuine Trad publishers - literally pennies on the cover price. Getting your money - whether much or little - is the next problem. Sometimes writers never see a cent or even get a statement of how many books have been sold. If any. The line between Vanity and these low-type Hybrids is sometimes very blurred.

Now before you inundate me with emails praising your Hybrid publisher, let me say that there are good ones out there. Some are very good. Some are honest but not very effectual. Sadly, many more are barely a hairsbreadth above the scam level. 

Personally, I cannot understand why anyone would risk such huge amounts of money and - on occasion - losing the copyright and ownership of their book by Hybrid publishing when they could hire out everything on their own and retain control. I just can’t. I have seen a bad Hybrid contract where the poor writer paid in the lowish five digits for basically nothing - a badly edited, badly covered book that got no publicity from the ‘publisher’ at all. The royalty scale was less than 5% of cover price - and I don’t think there was ever a copy sold except those the writer guilted friends/family into buying, and he didn’t even get royalties on those! However, I know there are many writers who prefer Hybrid pubbing and they deserve the respect due their freedom of choice. 

So how do you find a good Hybrid? First of all, read everything you can about any Hybrid house in which you are interested - and don’t assume that just because they are affiliated with a recognizable publisher they are aboveboard and honest. There have been a couple of real scandals through the years about semi-scams - at least from the writer’s point of view - in which exactly that and worse happened. Thankfully I haven’t heard of any concerning a big house recently, so maybe that sad time is over.

Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t ugly sharks out there just waiting to gobble up little wide-eyed writers’ money! You must do your research! Google the company and look at both good and bad comments. Best of all, ask your fellow writers. Most writers today are connected through at least one eloop, or know someone who is, and your fellow writers are the ones most likely to know if a Hybrid is good or bad. If they say it’s good, believe them - but verify! If you can get hold of their contract, go through it word by word - and you might be best served if you show it to an attorney. Who owns the copyright to your book? What input do you have in editing/cover/whatever? What are they offering - i.e., what are they guaranteeing in writing - for the money you are paying? Don’t be dazzled by smoke and mirrors and pie-in-the-sky promises. Publishing is contractual, and the contract should be equitable and airtight.

There are good Hybrid publishers out there - there are so many more bad ones. If this route is your choice, do your due diligence and be careful in your choice.

So - these last three blog posts have been nutshell descriptions of our publishing options. I believe there are so many variations and permutations of these three basic types that it would take a work bigger than War And Peace to cover them all, and by the time it was finished there would be new ways appearing.

Whichever you do, be careful, look out for yourself and your work, and choose wisely. And whichever way you decide to go, I do wish you the very best of good fortune.


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

HOW MUCH ARE MY CHARACTERS LIKE ME?

Deadly Trail is the first in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series.
 

On Facebook I asked what questions would people like me to answer about my books, writing, etc.

How much are my characters like me, was one, and I decided to answer it here.

The simple answer is hardly at all. I write about people much younger than I am--but I once was the same age as all of them. And, I have a good memory of what it was like all along the way.

In  my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries, Tempe is a strong woman, and I consider myself to be strong--but that's where the resemblance ends. After all, she is a native American and I don't have one speck of Indian in me. I've never been in any type of law enforcement, but have many relatives and friends who have been.

The same goes for my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, none of the women are variants of me.

However, whenever a character is in a certain situation, I see what's going on through the eyes of the person I'm writing about, see what she or he is seeing and experiencing, and I know how they are feeling based on my own past experiences--or just knowing how I would feel under the same circumstances.

I know my characters well enough to know how they will respond in various situations. Each one is unique and has their own past and personality. All of that has to be taken into consideration when I'm writing about them.

And now, other writers, what about you? Tell us how much your characters are like you.


Marilyn


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

3 Tips for Spinning Satisfying Plot Twists

 Today, I've turned over my spot today to my guest, Desiree Villena:


3 TIPS FOR SPINNING SATISFYING PLOT TWISTS

You jump up from the couch clutching your book. Your eyes are wide, you can’t believe it. “I knew it!” you shout, and point at the first creature you see, hoping they’ll share in your triumph. You’re humming with excitement and satisfaction: it seems you’ve encountered a plot twist.

A firm reader favorite, the plot twist is not just fodder for mysteries and thrillers. In recent times, it has reared its head in almost every fiction genre there is. But if readers have come to expect the unexpected, how can you keep them on their toes?

When crafting a plot twist, bigger isn’t always better. Rather than simply escalating the shock value, you’ll need to make sure your twist is unexpected, narratively sound, and expertly foreshadowed. So if you want to start writing a book with an impactful surprise, here are three top tips to help you nail all of those key elements.

1. Challenge your reader’s expectations

Some twisty tropes have been done so many times that they’ve become tiresomely predictable. “It was all a dream,” “she was dead along,” “I am your father,” etcetera, etcetera. Choosing to mimic one of these notorious twists makes it difficult to pull the wool over your reader’s eyes. Bamboozling your reader by foiling their predictions, however, can make for a great plot twist. If you successfully subvert their expectations by putting your own spin on a generic trope and avoid using tired clich├ęs, you can thrill your audience with a most-pleasing sort of surprise.

Upturning a trope isn’t the only way to topple expectations. For instance, most readers feel safe in the assumption that a twist comes at the end of a story, and there are moves you can make to challenge this. You might have them believe that the monumental twist has already happened, then hit them with an even more shocking twist later on. Or you could catch them off-guard by throwing them a second twist while they’re still recovering from the first.

You can also blindside a reader by revealing that the impression they have of a central character or series of events is entirely false. My favorite way to do this is to use an unreliable narrator. Readers are misdirected by the biased way the narrator tells the story — either because of their subjectivity, their misunderstanding of events, or a hidden desire to present things differently to how they are.

2. Don’t rely on shock value alone

Some unexpected plot twists are all about shock value (I’m looking at you, Gossip Girl), and these twists tend to feel disjointed. A dramatic reveal, like a suspect’s twin sister, might induce a sharp intake of breath — but if it has very little set-up or consequence for the story, then you risk deflating the tension and bringing things to an abrupt, unsatisfying end.

A gratifying plot twist is one that is both surprising and meaningfully connected to the story. It should reveal a deeper layer behind what’s come before, or significantly change the course of events. Whichever direction your twist catapults your plot in, the golden rule is that it absolutely must make sense alongside everything you’ve already established. One of the most frustrating things an author can do is ask their readers to forget everything they’ve understood so far.

To avoid personality transplants and long-winded explanations, be sure to ground your twist in the existing narrative and establish realistic character motivations — so that when it all goes down, your reader understands how and why. Once you’ve written your big reveal, re-read everything that’s come before and ask yourself: Does the story still hold up? Or better yet: Has the twist added value beyond just a momentary shock?

3. Play a game of Clue

If you’re looking to write the kind of plot twist that induces the famous “Oh, of course!” revelation, rather than an exclamatory gasp, then you’ll need to include an element of foreshadowing.

It’s best to think about foreshadowing when planning your novel, so that you can determine precisely the right moment to drop a subtle hint — carefully drawing the reader’s attention to it, but not being too heavy-handed. Your clues should be planted so that the tension builds towards your plot twist, keeping readers eager to reach the climax, without leaving so many clues that they have it all figured out too soon. After all, the guessing game is half the fun!

To that end, you might want to plant a few red herrings alongside your clues. Leading readers down the garden path and away from the truth, red herrings will keep your audience guessing right up until the twist, increasing the tension and escalating the pace of your novel. Of course, you don’t want to get so wrapped up in a false lead that it makes more sense than your actual plot twist. So take one more look over that manuscript and make sure that with the twist in mind, the truth makes perfect sense. 

Did I say there would be three tips? Well, how about THIS twist: here’s one more!

After taking the time to perform a thorough self-edit, share your manuscript with trusted beta readers to make sure your plot twist has readers jumping up from the couch and pointing at traumatized cats.

You can ask your beta readers to record their working theories as they read; this way you can see whether they picked up on your clues at just the right moment, and whether they were misled just the right amount by your red herrings. Or you can prepare some questions for them to answer. Was your plot twist unexpected? Did they feel cheated by the reveal, or was it rewarding? Were any red herrings unnecessary, or any clues clumsy? Getting a reader’s reaction in real-time is invaluable when it comes to spinning satisfying plot twists.

And that’s it! With the help of these tips, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a writer who’s always one step ahead of their readers. Best of luck!


--Thank you, Desiree, those were great tips!

Marilyn Meredith