February 24, 2017

When Books Don’t Seem to End

From the title of this post, you may have thought I’d be writing about books I’ve read. Indeed, there have been many a book where I’ve wondered when will this book end. The author seemed to be toying with us–drawing everything out, teasing, until we toss the book at the nearest wall. But, actually I want to talk about the problem I’m having with my current work in progress.

I can’t seem to figure out the ending. I have all the characters developed and moving right along. There’s a murder and a mystery surrounding it. Things progressed nicely through the early writing of the book. I had a vague notion about who committed the murder and why. But the notion was vague. When I close to the the ending (in that character’s mind), things got murky. Everything seemed to fall apart. The motive for killing, the killer, everything was in a mixed up mess, more tangled than my leash when I walk two dogs.

Here’s what I decided to do.

  1. Keep writing even if I had to go back and change everything. If I could just keep going each day, then my hope was everything would work out.
  2. Don’t try and force what I vaguely thought might happen. In fact, I had to try and keep an open mind. Perhaps the person I thought had committed the murder, didn’t. Perhaps the original motive was something altogether different. In fact, I had to be ready for surprises just like my readers.
  3. Get away from the work. Stop writing and start thinking. Go to that place where my imagination runs free. Let go of everything and see what happens next.

With these three goals in mind, I began again. This time, I wrote and re-wrote. I allowed the characters to play out the scenes even if I realized that scene might have to go or one previously written might be trashed.

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Eureka! Yesterday it all came to me. The loose ends tightened and things started to fall into place. Nonetheless, I’m still working on it. But, today I believe I might really be able to end this book.

If so, what tips do you have for me and for my readers? Share!

MJ LaBeff’s New Thriller will Put the Scare in You! Check out #Last SummersEvil

MJ LaBeff’s newest thriller promises to keep you up late at night. Last Summer’s Evil book 1 of the Last Cold Case series.

Click to order on Amazon

A fearful city lies in wait. Summer is here. The solstice is near. Each time the serial killer strikes there are two more victims. One woman has already disappeared. It’s only a matter of time before another woman is murdered.

Homicide Detective Rachel Hood, a psychic empath, feels every ounce of a victim’s pain but is powerless to save her.

Psychic FBI Agent Nick Draven is a skilled profiler, specializing in occult crimes. Together, they must race against the clock to capture the psychopath terrorizing Snug Harbor, Ohio. Only one victim has escaped, but she can’t ID her attacker. What they do know is the sick signature the killer leaves behind. A handmade ragdoll crafted out of the previous victim’s clothes is found in the clutches of the deceased women.

Rachel’s obsession with the case deepens, and she devises a rogue plan to outsmart the killer. The risky plot puts her life in jeopardy. The serial killer has had years to master the crime. Nick only has hours to track down the killer and rescue Rachel before she dies in a ritualistic sacrifice at the hand of a knife wielding, blood thirsty murderer.

In this interview with Rachel Hood, for the show: What’s Happening Cleveland, Jordana Wesley asks the probing questions a community in fear want to know. the case files of homicide detective Rachel Hood, written by Jordana Wesley, transcript from ‘What’s Happening Cleveland’ show recap June 20, 2011.

I’d like to welcome my guest homicide detective, Rachel Hood from the Metro County Sheriff’s Department in Snug Harbor.

Thank you.

I’ll get right to it, detective. Snug Harbor is in the middle of a man hunt for a dangerous predator, who has abducted and killed several women over the past four summers. This maniac’s killing season is upon us. I think I speak for everyone when I say we’re scared. I know you want to protect our community. That’s why you agreed to come on the show. But before we get started, give us a little background. The public deserves and wants to know the truth. 

Take me back to the Rusty Barnes case. It’s 2008. Your sister is missing. A woman has been murdered. You’re in the thick of multiple investigations when you encounter Russell “Rusty” Barnes. How did your paths cross?

After my sister was abducted four years ago, I began spending a lot of time surfing the net searching for the person responsible for her abduction. Amy was a budding journalist who liked to torment me about my cases by asking a lot of questions about the investigations I was working. Everything is tied to the Internet these days. Criminals aren’t always tech savvy enough to cover their crimes. That’s where I discovered Barnes, a man with obsessive compulsive disorder who stalked several women.

But Barnes wasn’t the typical stalker we think of lurking in the shadows was he? Tell our viewers how he invaded these women’s privacy? 

He worked as a security camera installer, giving him access to the women’s homes. Barnes installed hidden cameras throughout their private residences. He was a cyber voyeur.

How did you learn this about him? 

I was suspicious about comments he had posted on social media and then I discovered he only had female friends on his account.

What kinds of comments so we can be aware?

There were multiple times he’d ask ‘how are the security cameras working out’ or ‘do you feel safer’? He had made the mistake of disclosing the name of the company he worked for so I contacted the owner. As I’d suspected, this kind of engagement with clients wasn’t acceptable. Any time you have a professional coming into your home for a repair or install they should never contact you personally. It’s one thing if they inform you about a follow up call, email, text or visit but otherwise they shouldn’t be engaging with you socially the way Barnes was on social media.

Why weren’t these women suspicious of him? 

He created a false persona of security. The women didn’t think twice about his social media engagement, assuming it was normal and something the company did. He gained their trust and then lied to them. The women had no idea he had installed cameras in the walls above their showers, tubs, beds, walk in closets and anywhere else he thought they might be in stages of undress or being intimate, but he also installed a camera in one other room where he guessed they would spend most of their leisure time.

How did you catch him? 

One of the women he cyber stalked was murdered. She had contacted Barnes via a direct message asking about a camera she discovered in the bathroom. He insisted the company he worked for didn’t install it, but that he’d come over and take a look. He then asked her if she’d contacted the police or security company. She messaged him back that she hadn’t and then asked him if she should. Barnes told her the company would just tell her they didn’t install the camera and that the police wouldn’t do anything about it. It’s easy to understand why she would have contacted him and not the security company. Paperwork for the installation had all of his contact information and he told her and all of the other women to contact him directly through his company social media page. Lies, lies, lies all of it, but how were they to know? Most companies use social media to promote their business. Oftentimes employees are encouraged to have their own accounts too. Barnes was a voyeur who stalked multiple women and got away with it for a long time. What he didn’t get away with was murder. He’s serving time and will most likely die in prison.

Do you still believe he’s innocent of your sister’s abduction and Theresa Waverly’s murder?

Yes. There isn’t any evidence to suggest otherwise, neither of them had security cameras installed or had any contact with Barnes.

Tell me about CAM?

You have done your research. CAM is short for Crime Alert Monitoring System. After we captured Russell Barnes, I was determined to start a local registry where we alert the public about convicted felons. I’d rather CCU handle it.

Isn’t that more work for the cyber crimes unit?

I’d work overtime without pay if meant uploading the information about convicted felons myself to keep the citizens of Snug Harbor safe.

Detective, it’s been four years since your sister, Amy disappeared and Theresa Waverly was murdered. Three more women, Karen Eaton, Juliette Burns and Beth Schwartz are missing from Snug Harbor and the murders of Theresa Waverly, Meredith McKinney and Sue Carmucci remain unsolved. Women are afraid. I’m afraid. Each summer another woman disappears without a trace and another is murdered. How can we remain vigilant? What can we do to protect ourselves?

The abductions are happening at night. If you can, stay in and lock your doors and close your windows. I know we’re having a hot summer. If you can afford a box fan, buy one. If you have to go out, travel in pairs, and pay attention to the people around you. If you feel like you’re being watched or followed blend in with a crowd or go into a public place. Carry pepper spray. Brush up on basic self defense moves. When you’re walking to your car keep your eyes peeled and check beneath your car from a distance. We still haven’t recovered a car one of the missing women was driving.

How close are you to closing in on the Summer Time Slayer? Are there any new leads?

No comment. The investigation is ongoing.

Thank you for joining us on ‘What’s Happening Cleveland’ detective. Ladies be safe, remember to travel in pairs or in a group, carry pepper spray, and if possible stay home with the doors locked.

Check out MJ’s newest release Last Summer’s Evil and learn if Rachel Hood succeeds in capturing the killer before he targets her.

You can learn more about MJ at her website or on her Amazon page

#MyBookReview A Gentleman in Moscow–5 Stars

Click to Order on Amazon

By the author of Rules of Civility comes A Gentleman in Moscow. Once again Amor Towles (@AmorTowles) writes with wit and skill to produce a book very much worth reading. If you loved Rules of Civility, you’ll gobble up A Gentleman in Moscow.

.For the past four years before the book commences, he is staying in the Hotel Metropol. At the outset of the book, he is on trial for scheming (writing a poem) against the Bolsheviks. At the trial, he uses humor and his good nature to get a lifetime sentence of house arrest at the hotel where he currently resides. His life is spared, but if he leaves the hotel, he’ll be shot.

From there the book commences to travel from 1922 to the 1950’s. We watch and participate in the Count’s amazing adjustment to house arrest. He is not allowed to leave the hotel. Inside the hotel, things change as the world changes outside. But, the Count’s world remains pretty stable in comparison. The author contrasts the count’s life with those not under house arrest. They live much more dangerously. The Count’s friends from the outside visit him and he learns of their perils.

So much happens to the Count in his desire not to let boredom destroy his life. At one point he is on the brink of giving up, about to take his life, but he’s stopped. That was the only point in the book where he let despair nearly win. His optimism and good sense of humor are refreshing. The Count’s life changes as he develops very strong personal ties with the staff of the Metropol.

How interesting to read from the point of view of a true Russian. Towles writes as if he was in the mind of Rostov. The skill of getting into the character’s head is amazing. Rostov in his elegance and good manners strikes the reader as someone we’d all love to meet. He is rarely ruffled. There are times when it’s hard not to feel sad for this man, who was a young man of the world–well travelled– before being arrested. But, the character’s good nature is even contagious to the reader.

I love the video that Towles has on his website. It depicts the flavor of the book better than I can! Take a peek and then get this book. You won’t regret it.

Tips for Telling a Good Story

When you share an experience and personalize it, you create interest. Think about the times you’ve sat in big auditoriums, bored out of your mind, as speakers drone on with facts. Suddenly, a new speaker takes the podium and begins with, “When I left my house this morning to come here, something happened to me that made me think about everything you’ve been talking about. I…” You perk up. You sit up straighter in your seat. You lean forward. You actually listen, curious about what happened. As a fiction writer, I can embellish stories—change them a bit to fit what I’m writing.

Although I couldn’t change the facts in nonfiction, I still used story. Here’s how. In both interviewing books, I created examples from real interviews. These examples helped the reader understand my points and also made the learning stickier. In the book about communication, I used dialogue and real cases to make the points. Again, those situations with people—confrontations I’d seen in my career—engaged the readers. Finally in the book on social media, my co-author and I found cases and examples to make our points.

 

They have certain attributes that enable them to convey their experiences with gusto and charm. Nonetheless, if you work hard, you too can become adept at telling stories.

Here are some tips:

1) Make the story personal. Even if it didn’t actually happen to you, tell it as if it did. Describe places and names your audience recognizes.

2) Use examples that fit your audience. You wouldn’t want to tell a story full of scientific information to a group of ninth graders.

3) Don’t get hung up on details. The audience need not know the color of the person’s hair or to whom the person is related. (Unless those details add color to your story). Only share details as needed. Too much detail gets boring.

4) Tell your story with passion and emotion. Use your nonverbal skills to emphasize points. Your voice plays a key role here. A monotone, no matter how good the story, will lull your listeners to sleep.

So, you might ask, “How can I tell a written story with passion?” Indeed, it’s harder when you use words with no visual or vocal cues to tell your story, but you can do it.

Instead of saying, “He went to the store,” say, “He raced to the store as if chased by a swarm of bees.” When one races, we get a verbal picture. Writing gives you a chance to imagine the story in your mind’s eye. Once the image forms, ask yourself, “How can I express that image on paper?”

Here are three tips for writing powerful stories:

  • Use strong verbs. Verbs that show action versus passive verbs or the to-be verb (is, are, was, were).
  • Use strong nouns. Nouns that imply action . Here’s an example. “She’s a dynamo vs. She’s a hard worker.”
  • Learn the art of writing with similes and metaphors. See my previous posts.

 

Why Genre is So Important in Today’s Amazon World

What I mean is in the past, we could browse the shelves of our favorite book store for potential reads. We’d skim the authors and the titles. Then we might wander over to another group of shelves.

We had access to all the shelves. That made browsing really a browse. Today, if we shop online for our books, browsing becomes more difficult.

If you tried, you’d probably never get anywhere. It’s almost impossible to browse all the books in a genre. I tend to be a shopper who is easily overwhelmed. It there’s too much out there, I don’t buy. I like a few choices or an opportunity to browse a few choices. Amazon, no matter how much we love the convenience and the service, will never be able to create that kind of browsing opportunity.

Of course, Amazon is trying hard to do so. You’ll see on your Amazon page, readers who looked at this book also looked at… Amazon also suggests books based on your browsing or purchasing habits. The problem is these hints often miss the mark. I shop for everyone in my family. If I purchase a heavy history tome for my husband, that doesn’t mean I want to read heavy history tomes myself. Furthermore, I’m often using Amazon for “research.” I’m looking for titles that may fit with something I’m writing. That doesn’t mean that’s the kind of book I want to read.

Here is where genre comes in. Genre has always been important. We as writers must identify our genre so readers will know what we are writing. In the past if we spilled over into another genre, the book store had to decide where to place our book.Once they did so, that book appeared on the shelf in that genre. But, my book might still be found by other readers because book store browsers can wander throughout the store.

For example, my first book The Clock Strikes Midnight is not a typical mystery. Some might say it was a suspense family saga; others might call it literary fiction; still others might call it Southern fiction. I had to place it in a particular genre, and I chose mystery. Fortunately most of my readers agree that it is a general mystery versus a whodunit. Nonetheless, the book also has elements of the other genres listed. I cannot remove it from the shelf of mystery, but I can add the other genre names when it appears on Amazon.

Identifying the genre of a book will place a book somewhere in the book cyber world. Giving it alternative genre or sub-genre will even better identify it. These are extremely important decisions. Some say if you select a limited genre, for example, Southern cozy mystery with a female sleuth, you will have a better chance to getting notice on Amazon.

The closer the target, the better the chance of finding that audience among all the millions of books and thousands of shelves a book store like Amazon offers.

What are your experiences with genre?

Are you a Genre Reader or a Generalist Reader?

This month the Ink Ripple bloggers are looking at Genre reading. Take a quick peek at what each has to say on this topic. Mary Waibel’s WorldKatie Carroll’s Observation Deck, Strands of Thought.

I’ve looked at reader personality and learned that certain personalities tend to stick to genre and certain personalities are generalist readers. Today I want to explore this idea a bit deeper. Most of us have brand preferences because we know we can count on them to satisfy us. For example, if you’re a genre reader, who likes mystery, you expect the mystery book you pick up to have a dead body, clues, red herrings, and unanswered questions that are resolved in the end. If the book doesn’t do those things, you are disappointed. But, there are some people who go about life in a very different way. They like change. They do not enjoy the predictability of a genre. In other words, they find genre reading tiresome.

They are simply preferences. Many people fall in the middle of the continuum. They read genre but they also read many different types of books for variety. Nonetheless if you hear someone say, “I never read fiction” or “I never read poetry” or “I don’t like science fiction.” You are probably talking to a genre reader vs. a generalist reader who will try anything.

  1. Do you know what your favorite reading genre is?
  2. When you browse for books, do you go to the shelves with your preferred genre verses wandering around the entire store. If online, do you browse the genre categories verses books in general.
  3. Look at your personal library. Do you have ten of fifteen books representing one genre verses a mixture of many genres?
  4. When your favorite author strays into another genre, do you cry in frustration and go back to that author’s older books versus reading that new genre?
  5. Are you a member of a genre book club (Mystery readers or Fantasy readers).
  6. If someone gives you a book that is outside of your usual reading habits–poetry or history–do you regift that book?
  7. Do your friends all read the same types of books?
  8. Do you subscribe to or want to subscribe to genre magazines, related to science-fiction or mystery or fantasy?
  9. Do you attend chat groups or other online interaction groups related to a particular genre?
  10. If you were a writer, could you identify a particular genre you’d like to write?

Easy little quiz to determine if you’re a genre reader or not. You can clearly tell by your answers what you are, but generally, if you answered “Yes” to 6 or more questions, you are likely a genre reader.

Three Simple Steps to Write a Book Review

I know I’ve asked my friends, colleagues, people on the street and people everywhere to write a book review after they read my book and others. Yes, I’ve asked and asked and still people don’t do it. That made me write a post some months back about how to write a book review. But, that didn’t take either. So, I thought I’d try again. This time I want to make it as simple a process as it gets. All you have to do is fill in the blanks. How’s that?

Step one:

I read Author X’s book and found it:

You found it enjoyable. A fun read. A page-turner. One you couldn’t put down

You found it boring, hard to get into, confusing.

Step two:

The story is a:

mystery, thriller, romance, mix of mystery with romance, cozy mystery, horror story, science-fiction, fantasy.

Step three:

I would (not) recommend this to my friends to read because:

It made me laugh, it made me cry, it held my attention, it didn’t hold my attention, it surprised me with its twists and turns, it didn’t surprise me. It was predictable.

Three easy steps.

Once you write the first review and then the second one, they become second nature. Remember all you need is enough information to help another reader decide to read the book or not. You don’t want to tell the full story and you don’t want to give away any spoilers. For example, don’t say something like, “I didn’t figure out that the husband was the killer till the end.” Instead say, “I didn’t figure out the killer until the end.” Easy? Of course.

Here are some simple, short examples of real book reviews:

“Great mystery!!!! This book is well written and I did not identify the killer until the end. I especially enjoyed the setting as I have lived in Athens, Georgia. I am looking forward to more mysteries with Jenna Scali.” –e-Murderer

“Although, not completly authentic, the book is well written, devastating to think our country could be so inhuman and ignorant. I was disappointed in the ending. The book just stopped. In all I very good book.” –Underground Railroad

“Great book. I loved the development of the story and the characters. Totally held my interest. I highly recommend it.”–All the Light We Cannot See.

 

Writing Boo-Boo’s with Similes and Metaphors

In my last post, I talked about what similes and metaphors were and how writers use them to add power to their writing. What I didn’t discuss was how writers might abuse these two figures of speech. Learning what a simile is and learning how to use them are important. Learning how not to abuse them is equally important.

Let’s look at the biggest boo-boo’s writers make when trying to incorporate similes and metaphors. What I consider the worst mistakes.

Readers love to see a good simile. They recognize it as quality writing at its best. But, if you have three similes or metaphors in one paragraph or even in two paragraphs, the reader gets tired. The writer wants to incorporate these figures of speech for the most important messages, not for every message. Imagine a sentence like this one:

The man ran through the fence like a bulldozer and stumbled over the log as if it were a dead body, falling to his knees as though in prayer.

A bit too much, wouldn’t you say? Three similes in one sentence!

By cliche I mean something everyone has heard before. There’s really nothing terribly wrong with using cliches. And if you’re writing dialogue, it is acceptable usage (People talk in cliches). But, if you can think of a comparison that is different and not cliched, you will create a more powerful metaphor. Here’s an example:

As soon as the man entered the room, he stopped, not wanting to upset the apple cart.

How many times have we heard the expression upset the apple cart. This metaphor has been around since the beginning of time (which by the way is a cliched metaphor).

Sometimes coming up with your own simile or metaphor takes time and thinking, but when you get one that works, wow! It feels wonderful.

Perhaps you’ve heard of mixed metaphors or common images that don’t work together. Here are some examples of mixed metaphors:

He could talk till the cow turned blue

People are dying like hotcakes

His words hit home like my uncle’s Chevy

Notice that 1) A cow can never turn blue 2) People don’t die like hotcakes 2) How can your uncle’s Chevy hit home?

The metaphor must be able to do what it is compared to for example he could talk till the crops died on the vine.

I’ve mentioned just three mistakes. There are probably many more.

Here are some good examples of similes and metaphors:

  • She spoke to me in tones like my mamma when I’d missed dinner.
  • Rioja? Now there was a wine that would clash with the stew as Achilles clashed with Hector.
  • …Then, like a lone sailor adrift for years on alien seas, he wakes one night to discover familiar constellations overhead.
  • …with rhetorical questions and capital letters and an army of exclamation points.

 

 

Similes, Metaphors, What in the World?

Talented writers know how to do this without overburdening the reader. Many new writers do not understand the difference between a simile and a metaphor nor do they understand how to use these figures of speech. 

Let’s first look at what in the world a simile and a metaphor is and how they may be used to spice up your writing.

Here are a few examples from published works:

His voice sounded raw, like it had been run against a grater

Being loyal to the one who owned me gave me prickly thoughts, like burrs trapped in my shift

Michael was a short, fat, somnambulistic little man who looked like a well-boiled prawn

Notice that each comparison has a connecting word. In these examples “like” was used. But you can find many more that use other connecting words.

Notice how the examples above give the reader a more vivid picture of the description. In the first one, the writer could have stoped after his voice sounded raw. We readers would have made different interpretations of what that meant. But, by adding “like it had been run against a grater” gives the reader an actual sound.

In the second example, again the writer could’ve stopped before the simile. But the second part makes me tingle inside. Doesn’t it you? It provides the feeling, the emotion.

And the third example shows not just a short, fat man, but a man who looks like a well-boiled prawn. Can’t you just see that?

Metaphors do much the same thing as similes. They help add power and feeling to the writing.

What is a metaphor? It’s a comparison, like a simile, but without the connector. It says one thing is another that it cannot actually be. It’s a rhetorical comparison that cuts to the chase.

Examples:

Gossip is the foul smell from the Devil’s backside.

The truth in his harsh words was a hammer striking a stone.

A bruise is how the body remembers it’s been wronged.

Note there are no connecting words but there are comparisons. In the first instance gossip is compared to a foul smell. Gossip cannot ever really be the foul smell of the Devil’s backside. That’s not what matters. What matters is that the reader understands the speaker’s belief about gossip. The writer says it in few words but makes a big impact.

The second instance similarly compares two things that aren’t alike: truth and a hammer. Again by using this metaphor, the reader clearly feels those harsh words as if hit by them.

And, finally in the third example bruise is a body’s memory. Very powerful, very rhetorical.

What powerful similes and metaphors have you seen in your reading? Share some!

In my next post, I’ll share how new writers abuse these figures of speech along with some tips for how to incorporate them into your writing.

Can #Writers Break the Rules? You BetCha!

The more seasoned writers get creative with point-of-view without violating the main principles. They use more wordy expressions than I might and they challenge the basic rules we all hear–like not writing prologues. Sometimes there are so many rules we have to adhere to I wonder where the creativity comes in.

Granted some of the rules make sense. It’s important to hook your reader on the first page or two. How you do that might vary. It’s important to maintain consistency with your point-of-view so your reader knows who is telling the story. And, it’s important not to write for yourself but for your reader and their enjoyment. In other words, throwing in information that’s unnecessary just because we enjoy writing about it isn’t such a good idea.

In last week’s blog post titled Unconventional Point-of-View, I shared three instances where writers broke the rules but stayed within the boundaries of good writing. New writers have less opportunity to break rules. It’s hard enough to get published without trying to do someone unconventional. But, once the writer is known and has a following, that’s a different story.

One book that I very much enjoyed but I have friends who didn’t is Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The title ought to tell the reader that this will not be your typical read. Nonetheless, Barbery strays from the rules by giving us quite a bit of philosophical information. The author is a philosopher. Perhaps she couldn’t help herself. I actually liked this because it felt consistent with the characters she developed. But, I have friends who did not and in fact some friends who wouldn’t finish the book. Too bad. Because it’s a very good read!

That’s a risk authors take when they test the rules. Some readers can’t deal with the unconventional.

Writers who test those boundaries risk losing readership.

Nonetheless, if done well, those authors who cause us to stretch our reading styles are the ones who set the pace for new readers. J.K. Rowling did this. She did it in several ways, but one particular rule she broke and enjoyed breaking was writing a “young” adult book in an “adult” language. In other words, she didn’t dumb-down the book because she was writing for young people. Violating this convention probably caused many arguments with her potential publishers. But, look at the result. We have an entire new genre. Young Adult means not simply for teen readers but for adults as well. The books cross over and are appreciated by a wide range readership. Furthermore, the young people are reading and learning new vocabulary.

. If you do, you might be another pacesetter in the world of literature.