Award-winning Author Clare Vanderpool to Speak at KAC 2019

http://clarevanderpool.com/

Clare Vanderpool is the award-winning author of two novels: Moon Over Manifest and Navigating Early.  Moon Over Manifest, her debut novel, was awarded the prestigious 2011 John Newbery Award which is awarded annually by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Clare is remarkably the first debut author in thirty years to win the Newbery Medal. Her books have both hit the New York Times best seller list as well as the Book Sense best seller list. The recipient of much critical-acclaim, including seven starred reviews, a top ten Historical Fiction Kid’s Book by Instructor Magazine, a Junior Library Guild selection, and a Golden Spur award, Clare’s writing has connected with readers young and old.  Interviews with Clare have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and almost all of the media outlets across the nation have covered her writing career.  Most recently, Clare’s second novel Navigating Early was named a Printz Honor Book for Young Adult Fiction by the American Library Association.

http://www.amazon.com/Moon-Over-Manifest-Clare-Vanderpool/dp/0375858296/
http://www.amazon.com/Navigating-Early-Clare-Vanderpool-2014-12-23/dp/B01F7X93F2/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In her early years of writing, Clare set out to write a historical novel set in the fictional town of Manifest, Kansas, which is based on the real southeastern Kansas town of Frontenac where her maternal grandparents lived. Drawing on stories she heard as a child, along with research in town newspapers, yearbooks, and graveyards, Clare found a rich and colorful history for her unforgettable novel, Moon Over Manifest. She says “having lived most of my life in the same neighborhood, place is very important and for me true places are rooted in the familiar—the neighborhood pool, the sledding hill, the shortcuts, all the places where memories abound. But I wondered, what would a ‘true place’ be for someone who has never lived anywhere for more than a few weeks or months at a time? Someone like a young girl on the road during the Depression. Someone like Abilene Tucker.”

Clare has been making appearances at schools, libraries, and conferences around the country and abroad.  She enjoys meeting children, educators, librarians, and parents who have embraced her and her writing.  She lives in Wichita, Kansas with her husband and four children.

At the Kansas Authors Club convention in Wichita, October 4-6, 2019, Clare will present a seminar, Writing in the Crossroads: Where Craft and Creativity Meet. As writers, we all work at the craft—honing our skills in use of language, imagery, detail, and description.  But is there a risk of focusing on the calculated to the exclusion of the creative?  How do we know when it’s time to loosen the reins on plot, character, and conflict, allowing the creative process room to stretch and pulse and breathe life into the bones of the story?  In this workshop Clare will discuss the synergy and struggle of writing in the crossroads — where craft and creativity meet.

In addition, for those who wish to share a lunch with Clare, she will talk about Books I Have Loved and I Swear Loved Me Back: The Transformative Power of Story. (Luncheon provided by Holiday Inn. Tickets available with registration.) We’ve all heard that to be a writer, you must first be a reader.  And we know from experience that stories have power—to touch, to heal, to transform.  In this talk, we’ll journey into our reading past to the books that provided joy, comfort, even friendship in our younger years, and discover how stories become stepping stones in the writing life.

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Hook ‘Em!

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Seminars Offered by Paul Bishop

District 5 of the Kansas Authors is pleased to host Paul Bishop as the featured Keynote speaker at the convention October 4-6, 2019 at the Wichita Holiday Inn, 549 South Rock Road. His planned topic for the Keynote speech is “When Worlds Collide.” For thirty-five years, Paul Bishop pursued two careers—putting villains in jail, and putting words on paper. As a detective with the LAPD, he chased bad guys and solved crimes. Under the cover of darkness, however, he donned his Cloak of Stories, finding cathartic release writing novels…But what happens when the cop and the writer inevitably crash into each other?

In addition, Bishop will offer two seminars at the convention. “Murder and Mayhem for Writers” will explore how to get police procedures right in your next mystery novel.  Veteran LAPD detective Paul Bishop will take you into the world of homicide crime scenes, sex crimes investigations, suspect interrogations, and many other aspects of law enforcement so you can get the details right.

A second seminar, “Getting the Words Right” examines how to trim excess wordage from your drafts. “Do these words make my manuscript look fat?”  Writer, editor, and publisher Paul Bishop shows you how to cut empty calories from your manuscript—words and phrases that will get your stories rejected before the end of the first page. He’ll also explain why putting second things first is important, and how to avoid the deadly sin of info dumps.

A special opportunity for four lucky participants will be a 15-minute private conference with Bishop as a writing coach and editor. District 5 will raffle off chances for these conferences. Win one of four fifteen-minute, one-on-one sessions with writer, editor, and publisher Paul Bishop. Bring the first five pages of your manuscript to battle The Red Pen, scourge of all writers. Get answers to make your manuscript bulletproof. This will be a possibly harsh, but honest experience. However, it could be the fifteen minutes you need to get published.

Contact Paul at http://www.paulbishopbooks.com

Hook ‘Em!

See you in Wichita this October.

 

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2019 Keynote Speaker in Wichita–Paul Bishop!

Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop is a nationally recognized behaviorist and deception detection expert. A 35-year veteran of the LAPD, his high profile Special Assault Units produced the top crime clearance rates in the city. Twice honored as LAPD’s Detective of the Year. Paul is the author of sixteen novels, including five books in his LAPD Detective Fey Croaker series. He has written scripts for episodic television and feature films and starred as the lead interrogator and driving force behind the ABC TV reality show “Take the Money and Run” from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. His book, Lie Catchers, is the first in a new series featuring two top LAPD interrogators. The forthcoming sequel is titled Admit Nothing.

Bishop’s books include:

  • Hot Pursuit
  • Deep Water
  • Penalty Shot
  • Fey Croaker: Kill Me Again
  • Fey Croaker: Grave Sins
  • Fey Croaker: Tequila Mockingbird
  • Fey Croaker: Chalk Whispers 
  • Fey Croaker: Pattern of Behavior 
  • Shroud of Vengeance 
  • Running Wylde 
  • A Bucketful of Bullets
  • Nothing But the Truth (Almost)
  • Suspicious Minds 
  • Felony Fists 
  • Swamp Walloper 
  • Lie Catchers 

Bishop wrote three episodes of the TV Series Diagnosis Murder:

  • The Last Resort (1998)
  • Down Among the Dead Men (1999)
  • Murder at BBQ Bob’s (2000)

He was featured as the Chief Interrogator in the 2011 Reality TV Series Take the Money and Run produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and in the 2004 Unsolved History documentary JFK: Beyond the Magic Bullet where he appeared as himself.

Since his retirement as a full-time detective, Bishop has been a featured speaker at law enforcement conventions and writing conventions across the country, including the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy Conference in Wisconsin.

http://www.paulbishopbooks.com

Book ‘Em!

Don’t miss Kansas Authors Club convention 2019, October 4-6, in Wichita.


 

A BRAG Medallion for Sundrop

A week ago I received notification that Sundrop Sonata has been awarded a Medallion by indieBRAG (Book Readers Appreciation Group) with consistent “very good” marks in all the reviewed categories, and some encouraging comments by readers. The event was even more meaningful when I looked up the BRAGmedallion website and learned that “April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and World Autism Awareness Month,” an uncanny coincidence since Sundrop Sonata contains elements of both. The conflicts revolve around saving an autistic child from a life of unspeakable abuse.

My evolution as a writer continues. Having aspired and dreamed of writing books since my grade school days, I was convinced the only acceptable way was the traditional way, through an agent and a publishing house. Self-publishing (indie books) has historically received a bad reputation, reserved for those who don’t make the grade. Mediocre quality at best.

Returning to writing after raising a family, as well as years spent polishing a different trade, I began again under the same illusion about indie books. I wrote seriously, studied with successful authors, revised, trimmed, polished the work. And I ended up with products that attracted the attention of some small to mid-level publishing houses. Rather than signing with them, I ended up revising my opinion of indie books. I sought professional formatting guidance and uploaded my work to the e-book industry, where one can also order a print-on-demand copy, if preferred.

Why the change of heart? I learned that the world of publishing has changed drastically with advances in technology. The big houses have to compete with easy access to online books. There are thousands of people writing books, and for publishers what counts is the return on their investment. Since I’m a nobody out in the boonies, the chances that any major publisher would accept my writing are slim to none.

Even when smaller publishers show interest, their contracts reflect expectations that their writers provide a lion’s share of the work for a fraction of any profit. They expect a lot, but offer little in return. If that is the case, why bother? Throw in the recent awareness that any request for me to speak may be channeled through a publisher who insists on high fees. Who needs that? Why make yourself unapproachable to enthusiastic readers? How much of those exorbitant fees are shared with the writer? I can only guess.

Everything revolves around money.

But that’s not why I write. I write because I have stories in me begging for release. I do my best to prepare them for others to enjoy, and to receive those sweet nuggets of appreciation when someone has enjoyed my work. I derive much pleasure from speaking to fellow writers and readers—often for nothing more than the comradery.

Considering the returns on my personal investment in time and effort, the priceless rewards connected with building new friendships, and my innate tendency to shy away from the spotlight, indie publishing makes a lot of sense. It does not have the negative stigma it once carried. Indeed, some best-selling books are indie books. What is important in reaching readers is to write quality books that readers will tell their friends about. Polish, revise, trim, and seek critical readings until you have the best piece of work you are able to provide. Offer it to the world and get started on your next book.

In promoting and spreading the word about Sundrop Sonata, I have found the growing network of readers and writers to be extremely important. One of my respected colleagues suggested I contact BRAG medallion, the Book Readers Appreciation Group. I took her advice. Sundrop Sonata was offered to a group of test readers around the globe. And they liked it. Now I can say I have been awarded the medallion. If you are looking for good books to read, note those adorned with this seal:

A few comments from Sundrop Sonata’s indieBRAG readers:

“This might be my favorite indieBRAG book I’ve reviewed so far! Title: intriguing and right for the story line. Cover: Makes me want to read the back cover. Plot: The plot and sub-plots were creative, elaborate, well-structured, and unpredictable. The fast pace kept me turning the pages, wondering where this was going. Characters: Multi-dimensional, believable, easy to picture, unique. . .”

“. . . I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s fluent writing style. Intriguing opening chapter. Minimal back story. Excellent flow. No information dumps. The change in POV worked well and was easy to follow. Loved the fast pace. . .”

“I really did like this story and it was well-told.”

“Have you ever wondered what would happen if you crossed Indiana Jones with a piano tuner? Neither had I—until I read this thrilling suspense book. . .When she shows up to tune Nola’s piano, Isabel finds herself urgently asked to take Nola’s autistic daughter and protect her from her father. With great uncertainty she agrees, thus beginning a cross country race against time that combines a bit of Indiana Jones, Deliverance, and international terrorism with a healthy dose of music, compassion, and love. I found myself literally unable to put this book down once I began. It was a joy to read and I highly recommend it.”

I am deeply grateful to the indieBRAG organization whose purpose is to highlight quality independent literature. And I feel energized to renew my efforts to wrap up the next story.

Considering Heroes

Last month, my grandson’s elementary school celebrated “Hero” day. Each student was encouraged to invite a personal hero to share lunch with them at school. For the majority of children, that meant a parent. To children, their moms and dads are real life heroes.

I had to wonder, “What makes a hero?” My dictionary says it’s someone who is admired and emulated for achievements or character traits, someone who shows great courage. To have courage is to hold fast to one’s convictions and remain true to oneself even in the face of tremendous obstacles. Perhaps the definition of a hero could be stretched further to include anyone who makes life better for someone else by example or action.

With that in mind, I suggest there are those among us who quietly set the standard, folks who are easily overlooked because they may not have the appearance of a strong, invincible hero. Their strength lies within. Kevin Olson is one such hero.

I recently heard Kevin speak about his life at a writer’s convention. A man who suffered an irreversible neck injury as a teenager, he’s been confined to a wheel chair for almost thirty years. He remains mobile with the use of a long straw connected to a computerized motor on his electric chair. Exhaling means “go.” Inhaling means “stop.” Other subtle air flow changes create right or left turns.

Through the use of a mouth stick (a long pointer manipulated by his jaws) Kevin wrote a book, one tedious letter at a time typed on a computer keyboard. Learning to Live With It (xulon press, 2013) tells how his accident changed his life. It describes his hopes and prayers aimed at regaining the use of his arms and legs, as well as his disappointment to learn that would never happen. Rather than sinking into despair, Kevin learned to adapt to a future he would never have chosen.

Kevin found meaning in his life, not just in public speaking, but as a tutor and mentor to children. Through their innocence and honesty, he learned important metaphorical lessons as he was helping them learn and grow. In fact, it could easily be that his young friends served as heroes for him, even as he fulfilled that role for them.

Kevin describes several of the big lessons he learned from little people in the second part of Learning to Live With It, as well as several metaphors he’s associated with life in general. The inspirational book is filled with his faith in God and his love for life, though faced with desperate circumstances. We could all benefit from his optimism to face whatever obstacles make us stumble through life.

I highly recommend this inspirational book. It is available through http://www.Amazon.com.

Christmas Wish List for Writers

If you’re wondering what to get for your writing friends for Christmas, there are a few simple things we might all really enjoy. No sweaters, fruitcakes, or winter robes. Forget candles and do-dads.  Jewelry doesn’t make the list. Actually the items on my list don’t really cost anything at all, but possess a value beyond dollars and cents. If you want to make a writer happy, consider the simple things on this list:

dsc02137First. Take the time to read what we write. Nothing pleases me more than to know I have published something that you enjoy reading.

 

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Second. Tell me what you think, particularly if you have enjoyed the book. Though constructive criticism is welcome too, I treasure the collection of notes that have filtered in affirming that my efforts have been appreciated by readers. Among them:

Locally: “I started reading the evening I bought the book. I had to force myself to put it down after the first few chapters and pick up the comics to read so that I would be able to sleep. The next day, I let myself finish it. Wow, what a ride!”

From New Mexico: “I wanted you to know how much we enjoyed your books. Both were page-turners and I was sorry to finish them!”

From Wichita: “Sundrop Sonata kept me intrigued right up to the end. Glad I bought the book.”

From a friend at church: “Do not ever stop writing!”

From Facebook friends: “Finished reading Sundrop Sonata a few days ago. Ludlum and Clancy have nothing on you. It kept me engaged and intrigued to the end. Well done.”

Facebook: “I downloaded your book Sundrop Sonata this afternoon. I just finished it. Excellent!”

Facebook: “Loved your book! Lots of great plot twists, and of course I appreciated the solfege clue. ”

dsc02136Third. If you belong to a book club, submit my titles as featured books. Invite me to speak at your meetings. The actual writing is a solitary activity and I don’t get out much. Speaking engagements allow writers to meet possible readers, connect with new friends and share enthusiasm for literature.

dsc02135Fourth. Recommend the book to the rest of your circle of friends and family. Take it a step further and post reviews online, such as on amazon.com or goodreads.com. Times have changed since I was a young adult with the idealistic dream of writing novels. Today’s world is driven by online reviews. Writers greatly appreciate a short note about their books that anyone can see. Excerpts from my favorite reviews:

“Hold onto your seat. The story leaves the reader breathless and hopeful that Izzy has another heart-thumping adventure in the near future!”

“Isabel (Izzy) Woods is an engaging heroine with flaws and strengths wrapped in a core of determination. I loved her. More please…”

“Couldn’t put this one down! Exciting from the first page until the ending. A MUST read!”

“My test of a good read is looking up from the page and taking a second to figure out where I am and what I should be doing. It’s been a little while since I’ve been pulled in so thoroughly. Thank you for a great read.”

“I found this book a fun read. I am looking forward to Ann’s next book! The story engaged me from the first pages and I hardly had time to work until I finished the book!”

“Wow! What a story….packed with action, compassion and just enough of the technical workings of the piano to draw us in and keep us tied up to the very end. I look forward to another Izzy escapade!”

Sundrop Sonata  is a gripping, can’t-put-it-down novel. I must give a top rating to this thrilling adventure and look forward to Ann’s next work.”

“A whopper of a tale with plenty of twists and turns and suspense. Wheee! what a ride.”

“Excellent mystery story. Kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.”

“This book was a fun and exciting mystery. I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend Sundrop Sonata.

“Read it in one day. Just couldn’t put it down.”

“This was one of the most exciting and compelling mysteries I have ever read, and I have read a lot of good mystery books.”

“Best book I’ve read in a long, long time! I am totally sleep-deprived because I couldn’t put the book down. Just one more chapter…Ann, please write another book!”

“I looked forward to time to read more of it everyday, and now sorry it’s over! Look forward to more from this author.”

Okay. Let’s face it. I like all the reviews and I’m so grateful that folks enjoyed the book enough to write a note about it. It would be interesting now to see how many good reviews mentioning a movie it would take before—oh that’s just a bit over the top.

Still.

I do appreciate the feedback. For those who have requested another book, I want you to know I’m working on the next one, which brings me to the final item on my Christmas wish list.

dsc02138Fifth. Time. Oh how I wish I had more time to spend sorting words, knitting them together, and dreaming up the next adventure for Izzy and her family. If you know how to increase the available hours in any day, please send me a few.

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Ann’s books may be ordered here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NUA5VVU

Note by Note and Scene by Scene–Suspense Novels: Part 4

Polish for Perfection

After you complete the novel’s first draft, then what? The next steps are the hardest work involved in writing a book–re-writing, revising, and editing. Check every chapter, every scene, every sentence and every word. This is grueling work but it must be done.

There are some steps to take which will be helpful. They involve calling in the troops. Build a network of folks who will support your efforts, even as you support theirs.

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Critique Groups

Join a critique group in your writing organization. Reading critically to help others is a wonderful way to learn to look at your own writing with critical eyes. As you help your friends, they can read selections you send them and all of you benefit.

Attend Writing Conventions and Workshops

You should be able to find several conventions or workshops that cater to your interests. Select classes or workshops that speak to your needs. It’s possible you will meet some other writers who will become fast friends. If your local group meets regularly, request programs that will benefit your endeavors.

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Beta Readers

When you have gone over the draft about fifty times and you think it’s nearly ready for release, it’s time to call in a team of Beta Readers. These would be folks you trust to read the entire novel with a critical eye to find any errors you might have missed. The readers could be fellow writers, but you might also wish to draw from your other circles to find out if you have missed any technical details from their fields of expertise. For Sundrop Sonata I used several writing friends, but also some people who just love to read, a young man who knows personally what it’s like to deal with Asperger’s Syndrome (who is also a gifted writer), a friend who is a native of New York, another piano technician, a drama specialist, and a military man who knows firearms.

Listen and Learn

Once you have delivered copies of the novel, or specific sections, for critical review, the next step is most important. Be prepared to listen to any and all suggestions for editing changes that your valued readers offer. There is probably no book written that can’t be improved in its early phases, and you certainly don’t want to release your book before you’ve done everything possible to smooth over the hiccups.

Much of my research for Sundrop Sonata came through years of full-time work as a rural piano technician. When I tune a piano for a client, the objective is to produce a harmonic instrument, something better than what I started with. Since I’d like the piano owners to call me back again in a few months, I strive for the very best result possible.

Consider that most pianos have 88 keys. What many people don’t realize is that most of those 88 keys operate mechanisms that end up striking and playing 3 strings simultaneously. Thus, on your average piano, for the 88 keys, a piano technician ends up tuning about 220 strings. This number varies due to the design and size of pianos, but let’s just say 220 strings need to be in tune with each other when I’m done with a piano call.

What if I end up tuning 219 strings perfectly, but leave one untuned? I have a piano that is 99.5% tuned. Pretty good, right? Almost 100%.

When I was in school, the grading scale was something like 90 to 100% considered excellent work, and earned an A. 80-89% was a B. 70-79% a C. Remember those days?

That’s not the way it works in the real world. If I tune a piano with 219 out of 220 strings perfectly in tune, and miss just one, I have a piano that is 99.5% tuned. But it is that one sour string that will draw attention, and the pianists will say, “She doesn’t know how to tune a piano.”

In other words: 99.5% is FAILING in the real world.

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As writers, we need our work to be 100% complete. If there is one little hiccup, that is what readers will notice. The process of re-writing and revising can’t be more important, and ultimately, it is the author who will receive credit (or blame) for the book.

With piano tunings, there is room for some disagreement about what might be considered “perfect”. Likewise, there are various opinions about choices writers may make that would lead to smooth reading. Absolute perfection is an elusive and impossible goal. Still, you want to smooth out as many hiccups as you possibly can before turning the book loose on your readership.

The month of November is National Novel Writing Month. (NaNoWriMo) If you are aspiring to complete a draft of a story that is forming in your head, I wish you many productive days that result in an excellent book. I hope to be working on a sequel to Sundrop Sonata  myself, so let’s write together!

Thanks for taking the time to ponder my musings. Hope you found something helpful in these last few posts.

Find Sundrop Sonata here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

Note by Note and Scene by Scene–Suspense Novels: Part 3

Hook ’em and Reel ’em in

Layers of Conflict

Within the pages of a suspense novel, readers will be increasingly concerned about several areas of conflict the characters face. This conflict arrives in several categories, or layers.

The obvious first layer of conflict is an external one, where the protagonist and antagonist come up against each other with conflicting goals in mind. They provide a source of conflict for each other that escalates throughout the story until they meet one-on-one and face-to-face with only one of them going to come out okay.

The gate

In Sundrop Sonata, the external conflict that Izzy faces starts from the first pages, when Nola begs her to leave the ranch, taking the child Laura along. Izzy is confronted with the need to save the child, though from what she doesn’t really know. Later, through various anomalies she discovers in a number of local pianos, she comes to understand that there is also a threat to the country–her neighbors, family, and friends. Both threats seem to be linked in some way to the same man, Laura’s father.

As the story progresses, a box of unknown substance from a backyard laboratory comes into Izzy’s possession. She doesn’t know what it is, but assumes it could be very bad and should not be left unattended in a crowded parking lot at a music festival. When she learns that her nemesis has abducted her own daughter, the conflict escalates once again. He has made it personal and brought the threat into her own family.

In the concluding scenes, Izzy and Jay meet face-to-face in a dark piano repair shop where she must find a way to stop him and thwart his agenda, or die trying.

Internally, each of the three viewpoint characters faces challenges of their own. Jay struggles with recurring nightmares of his past life. Laura must come to grips with the loss of her mother, the most important person in her young life. And Izzy struggles with self-doubt about her own ability to find the strength needed to persevere.

On a personal level, Jay must face his sweet mother and convince himself that his actions–whether she approves or not–are in her best interest and defense. Izzy faces marriage unrest, compounded by the actions and temptations of another man.

Each layer of conflict for the characters intensifies as the story progresses. Even when young Laura seems to find safe haven with family in the east, it becomes clear that she is not yet safe from Jay.

The ticking clock

The needs and goals of each character, whether external, internal, or personal, have to meet one other requirement. There is a deadline by which everything must happen. As the deadline approaches, the activity escalates as well.

A few years ago, in mid-September, I discovered an interesting plant in my flower circle. It was a thin green spike with a mass of narrow scarlet petals cascading from the top. I’d never seen anything quite like it, though it did resember the pink surprise lilies that bloom in the summer. My first thought was that some of those pink flowers had evolved into this fall-blooming red version. Through subsequent years, I discovered that the red lilies also had a late froth of narrow green leaves that stayed green all WINTER, but would shrivel up and disappear with the arrival of spring. One could forget they were there until September when the flowers reappeared, with no leaves.

I called this flower a red spider lily. The fact that it bloomed in September, coinciding with the local music festival, made it appropriate as a deadline tool in the fictional story. Later, I discovered that I did not have anything unique. There really is a flower, more of an amaryllis than a lily, that other people have also called “red spider lily”.  The flower comes from Asia, (how convenient) and its technical name is Lycoris radiata.  It was perfect–easy to hide in someone’s flower garden, always blooming at the same time of the year, and hidden most of the rest of the year. The red spider lily became a ticking clock.Red Spider Lilies

Building suspense

When writing a suspense novel, you want to invite readers to continue reading from the very first page. I would even go so far as to say, dare the reader to stop reading! The opening line is critical to keep folks reading and wondering what will happen next. Put a lot of time into crafting the perfect opening line for your story. It may not take you eight years, like it did me, but spend some time on the opening line.

Some of my favorites opening lines:

It was a pleasure to burn. (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)

I was not sorry when my brother died. (Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions)

First I had to get his body into the boat. (Rhian Ellis, After Life)

There was a time in Africa the people could fly. (Sue Monk Kidd The Invention of Wings)

Once you have the opening, take care with endings too. Readers should want to keep reading when they get to the end of a section or chapter. Make them wonder how it’s going to turn out. Tease them along by presenting more tantalizing questions or raising the stakes at the close of a scene. It’s kind of like a fishing expedition. First, hook them with the perfect opening line. Then tease them along to keep them reading. Make them turn the pagess

The use of multiple viewpoints in the “sonata format” allows multiple cliff-hangers in each chapter. You can leave one character in a formidable place and start a section with another of the viewpoint characters, moving their story along. Little by little, the questions are answered, and conflicts resolved, even as new challenges and questions arise. The final scene makes everything  clear to the characters and the reader as well.

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Stay tuned for the final part of this series on Suspense Novels: Polish for Perfection.

Find Sundrop Sonata here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

 

Note by Note and Scene by Scene–Suspense Novels: Part 2

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Memorable characters

The characters you create live the story. There will be major players—the protagonist and her adversary the antagonist, several second tier characters who make appearances to enhance the unfolding drama, and perhaps a host of mostly nameless folks who flit in and out of various scenes.

The major characters, and some of those on the second tier, will face challenges that escalate as the story progresses. Those challenges need to be logical for each character, given their personality strengths and weaknesses.

Each character should have strengths as well as weaknesses. No person is perfect. Neither should a fictional character be perfect—not perfectly charming or perfectly evil. Even the antagonist must have some redeeming qualities.

This is where some folks shake their heads and ask, “Exactly what is redeeming about Jay Pack?”

I admit he’s pretty far gone. But as his story is revealed, it’s obvious that he’s been the victim of bullies around the world. We can empathize with the boy Jay, and realize that bullies can create monsters more sinister than themselves. Jay also has a soft spot for his mother.

The Name Game

Once during a read-around at a writer’s meeting, I shared the opening scene of Sundrop Sonata. Afterwards, another writer came up and insisted, “You have to change her name. There really WAS a Nola Pack in Winfield when I lived there.”

I gave this some thought and decided not to change the name of this minor character. After all, I didn’t personally know a Nola Pack. The person she referred to was an acquaintance from forty or fifty years previously. I picked the name “Nola” from the title of a piano solo I have enjoyed since my teen years, and the “Pak/Pack” name was selected from a Korean/English dictionary as one that would easily be anglicized.

About the same time, I was reading a novel by my friend Mary Coley, in which the bad guy had the same name as my first father-in-law. Was I offended? Certainly  not. After all, Mary could not have known this name meant anything to me.

As writers, we have the glorious opportunity to select names for a whole host of characters. Parents agonize over names for their newborns. Multiply that agony by the number of characters in a book and you begin to see what a challenge naming characters can be.

I have a few guiding principles for selecting names. First, I want to stay away from names of people I actually know, or that are identifiable. Second, I don’t want to pick something so unusual nobody can pronounce it. With billions of people on the planet, the idea of picking names that are unique—that belong to nobody in real life—is a long shot. How many people share your name already? Have you ever done a search on Facebook for yourself? I share my  name with a dozen or so other women on Facebook alone.

In the selection of character names for Sundrop Sonata, I chose some common first names paired with surnames that sometimes show up in my family history, or in a dictionary, or are cities on a map. Traveling often inspires new words and names for use in the stories writing themselves in my head.

If you encounter a book with character names you recognize, don’t take it personally. Just enjoy the story.

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Viewpoint

Somewhere in the writing process, the writer must decide which character, or characters, will tell the story. I struggled a long time with this, writing and re-writing the opening scene about fifty times over the course of eight years. I couldn’t seem to get beyond chapter one.

Then, in a writing workshop, I encountered the idea of using several viewpoints, and even different voices. The use of three viewpoints answered my challenges. Izzy’s first person narrative is mingled with the thoughts, plans and dreams of two others in third person (Laura and Jay). There were just too many things Izzy would not have known that were crucial to the story. Yet I found it impossible to tell her story in anything but first person.

Thus, Sundrop Sonata is written with three viewpoints and a mix of first and third person voices.

A good friend reviewed the novel in the Piano Technician’s Journal. In her review, she raved about the “sonata” format, using this trio of voices. A sonata is defined as “a musical composition, usually for solo piano, in three or four extended movements contrasted in theme, tempo, and mood.” With the three different voices filtering through the story, each chapter becomes a literary sonata, or sonatina, with the entire novel a sonata.

The sonata idea worked quite well in several ways. I’ll share some of them in Part 3, Conflict and Suspense.

Walnut Valley Festival

Find Sundrop Sonata here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

 

Note by Note and Scene by Scene–Suspense Novels: Part 1

After the Kansas Authors Club convention in early October, some participants asked if I would post the content of my class online. The next few posts are in response to that request.

Sundrop Sonata Cover

I didn’t set out to write a suspense novel. There was a story in my head and it needed to be told. The genre identity was a puzzler for me. People suggested it would be classified as a mystery, and in a very broad sense, I suppose it is. But in a traditional mystery, the reader is presented in the beginning pages with a crime–often a murder–and spends the rest of the book analyzing characters and clues to figure out whodunit.

That’s not the way it is in Sundrop Sonata.  The reader knows early on whodunit but the protagonist does not. Indeed, the poor protagonist isn’t even sure what’s happened. The reader knows. The character doesn’t. This keeps the reader cheering for the innocent and naïve protagonist, wanting her to figure it out before it’s too late.

At the same time, nobody knows why the antagonist has acted so irrationally. In this story, motive is a mystery. The answer is to be revealed as the pages unfold.

How would you describe the difference between a mystery and a suspense novel?

Nola's deck

Plot

I like to think that from my very first memory, I have been conducting research for fictional stories. Everything I have ever done, every place I have toured, every age I have lived through–all things are ripe for plucking and setting into a new story.

I have lived almost my entire life on farms or in rural Kansas. But I have traveled extensively throughout the North American continent, as well as a few other places. My interests are many: music–piano music, handbells, symphonies and folk instruments as well.  I like the instruments themselves, especially piano technology and construction.

I have a deep love and respect for nature and the environment fostered from many camping vacations in the great outdoors. I chose science as a field of study in college, earning a bachelor’s degree in geology.

I have always loved to read, which led to my interest in writing. And I am a spiritual person with a focus on supporting and uplifting folks, especially those whom others may have looked down on.

"The gate is open."

There are snippets of all these interests in the pages of my books. I never really know when a tidbit from my scientific training, for instance,  may collide with my love of music to weave a new thought into the plot of a developing story. It’s much like making a quilt–you find patches from various scraps of the past and stitch them together into a new creation.

To write a novel is to make a quilt from patches of the past.

What are the areas you take special interest in? What experiences filled your life that will provide background and ideas for your writing projects?

Given that each of us has different interests and different experiences, even if we start out with the same premise, we’d end up with an infinite number of fresh new stories. If I were to suggest that you take a product you know and love that is often imported from another country, and make that product a  vehicle for smuggled goods, what product would you choose? What is being smuggled into the country? How would it be hidden? Who is going to discover the plan? And what will they do about it?

No two quilts would ever be identical. We’d all have different stories to tell.

quilt-collage-2

(Stay tuned for Part 2: Character and viewpoint)