Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dee's Mystery Solvers: The Beating Heart Beneath Hollow Hill Cemetery

When I was young living in rural Alabama, my sister and our friends made a club to investigate mysteries in the pastures and woods behind our house.  So, it comes as no major surprise that I'd eventually begin writing about a club of teenagers (Dee's Mystery Solvers) who seek to solve mysteries.

Behind our house, an old dirt road divided the dense woods and a large pasture, but the owners finally blocked the old dirt road when I became a teenager.  Along the old road were places where people had dumped garbage long before I was even a thought.  We found old bottles, shoes, discarded clothes, and other odds and ends that made for interesting "loot."  But also, in the center of the pasture, within sight of our yard, was an old house the pasture owner used for a barn to store hay.  Unpainted, and missing parts of the walls and tin roof, this house certainly looked haunted.

My older brother and I had once gone into the old house to investigate.  I was only about five years old, so the experience was frightening and exciting at the same time.  He had me stand on the ground floor beside the old brick fireplace while he walked up the short spiral wooden staircase to the top floor.  He wanted to knock on the fireplace to see if I could hear him from down below, but I never heard the knock.

Later, I went upstairs to find him.  About one fourth of an upstairs wall was missing. Outside this open space was a panoramic view of the pasture, trees, and the pond on the next hill.  An old iron bed frame stood against the other wall.  Rusted hangers hung on an old metal wire with tattered clothes dancing in the breeze.  The inside of the house wasn't as frightening as I had imagined it would be, which is also how most unknown situations can be when one explores.  Our minds often paint darker images of the unknown.  Of course, my brother and I also read all kinds of scary comics, so in my mind I feared what might actually be hiding in that old house.  To my satisfaction and partial disappointment, none of the things I pictured were there.  It was rather tame.

Other mysteries abounded during our younger years.  Some we never found explanations for why they occurred.  One unknown occurrence was what we called the "ghost dog" because this dog barked and howled but we never ever saw it.  We learned to accept that he was there, even though we never found him.

My oldest brother lived a while in the old one room shed behind our house during his mid-teens.  Even to this day, he talks about the strange things that happened at night in the woods behind that shed.  Things that frightened him, and he was never one to show fear.

So many elements during our youth shape us.  Our earliest fears, curiosities, and obstacles get stored inside our minds.  For writers, this is a wealth of information that later comes out in our stories.

And along comes Dee's Mystery Solvers.  The Beating Heart Beneath Hollow Hill Cemetery is based on an account told to me from a friend years ago.  The overall premise is based upon this legend, and the outcome is nothing less than what others discovered about the strange mysteriously beating heart near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

More stories are to follow with Dee's Mystery Solvers.  I enjoy the freshness of how teenagers attempt to discover the truth through adventure and investigation.  Writing these accounts brings me back to a younger time when there was so much to learn and new places to explore.  Of course now, most of my explorations occur on the page, leading me to places I'll never find in this world.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Shawndirea: The Magic of a Faery

When I started writing Shawndirea, I anticipated that the story would be a novella (40-50,000 words), as a back story for the characters in Devils Den, which is a novel set twenty years after Shawndirea takes place.  This didn't happen, and for whatever reason, the book took to life on its own.

I suppose this shouldn't be a shock to me.  Most of the characters were from a novel I had started in 1993.  The novel was bad, so I scrapped it.  However, the characters remained inside my mind for nearly twenty years.  During this time, they matured without my knowledge, and once they were placed onto the pages, they came alive and took the reins.  They had things they needed to do and voices that needed to be heard.  I let them take over so I could see where they were going.

Truth be known, I don't consider myself a writer.  I'm a note-taker.  I write down the scenes as they appear vividly, and stand idly by, taking careful notes while eavesdropping on my characters.  This has never failed me.  The next thing I know, there's a completed novel.

But still Shawndirea was different.  This wasn't an ordinary novel for me.  Amassing 528 pages, this proved to be the longest of my projects, but it has also opened many doors in the realm of Aetheaon.  Already, I have tentative ideas for three novel plots in this series, but as the second book is coming along (at 200 pages currently), I realize there may be many more.

What I love about this journey is meeting new characters within different races that I never expected to meet.  Some of the strongest characters are the ones that show up unannounced and introduce themselves.  This happens far more than you might expect.  But these are the things I enjoy about being a note-taker in a new world.  And for those of you who are following this journey, there aren't enough words to express my thanks and gratitude.  The feedback has been overwhelming and knowing that others love these characters and novels as much as I enjoy putting them on the page, is one of the greatest rewards this author could ever have.

My thanks to each of you!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Using Sensory Impressions to Bring Your Scenes to Life

Using sensory impressions in your creative writing helps draw a reader into your story.  Certain sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures produce pictures in readers' mind that are connected to emotions in their pasts.  A writer doesn't have to be flamboyant with the descriptions.  Sometimes subtle depictions do more than over-description.

If you've ever walked through a forest after a heavy rain and kicked up wet leaves, your mind picks up that scent and visual while you're reading the setting right now.  Does the thought of a freshly plowed field in early spring trigger anything in your mind?  It might, if you grew up in an area where farmers planted their crops. What about walking along a pier as the misty breeze off the ocean flows past you?  Moth balls in your grandmother's closet.  Honeysuckle on a late summer afternoon. Freshly picked tomatoes.  Dill pickles.  Grandpa's pipe.  These images remind me of times in my youth and as I grew up.  They might mean something totally different for someone else, or others might visualize similar things.

The point is words produce images in our minds, and sometimes those images are linked to our emotions.  Exact sensory words connect with readers, but they won't if the writer doesn't get out of the way.  "Show, don't tell" is an adage that is more valuable than most writers understand.

A simple example is:

I saw a big tree and heard a bird singing on a branch. (Telling)

A red robin sang on the leafy branch of the massive oak tree. (Showing)

Even in the modest example, showing is more beneficial for the reader.  You get specifics, which are details that paint a picture with words.  So, if you're writing about a man driving a car, don't be vague.  What kind of car?  What color?  Rental or does he own it?  How old is the man?  Does he have a beard?  Is he bald?  Tall and skinny or short and chubby?  The possibilities are endless, but all these details give the reader insight into his personality, his tastes, etc.

However, don't be too overly descriptive, either.  Too much detail will cause a reader to skim ahead or skip entire passages because it bogs down the plot and eliminates the urgency.  Have you ever read a novel where the entire room or house is thoroughly described to the point where you flip ahead?  Yeah, me too.  Overdoing description is almost as bad as not enough details.

Take a notebook and go for a walk sometime.  Find a place to sit and describe all the sounds, smells, and sights.  Bring your surroundings to life on the page.  It might take a few attempts, but the effort is well worth it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Shawndirea (Chronicles of Aetheaon: Book I) Release Date: June 12th

I am proud to announce my newest novel, Shawndirea, will be released on June 12, 2014.  Here's the book blurb:

" Often the smallest unexpected surprises garner the most demanding dilemmas, which proves to be the ordeal that entomologist Ben Whytten faces.  While netting butterflies to add to his vast collection, he mistakenly sweeps what he thinks is the most spectacular butterfly he has ever seen into his net.  Upon examining his catch, Ben is horrified to discover he has captured a faery and shredded her delicate wings into useless ribbons.

Devastated, Ben vows to take Shawndirea back to her realm, Aetheaon; but he discovers that doing so places their lives into immediate danger.  To get to Aetheaon, they must pass through a portal rift deep inside the haunted cavern, Devils Den. 

Once they cross the rift, Ben enters a world where mysteries, magic, betrayal, and power struggles await.  He must adapt quickly or die because Aetheaon is filled with enchanted creatures and numerous races where chaos often dominates order.  And since Shawndirea’s destined for the throne of Elvendale, opposing dark forces plot to prevent her from ever reaching her kingdom again.  The faery's magic isn't enough to fully protect them, so he must trust other adventurers to aid them during their journey."


Book contains a great map drawn by Millard Pollitt.
Book Length: 148,000 words or 536 printed pages (It's a LONG book).
Genre: Fantasy, Fae/Faeries, Sword &Sorcery, Action/Adventure, Magical Realm, Dragons, Wizards, Dwarves, Elves, etc.

Pre-orders at Barnes & Noble later this week!  $5.99

Friday, May 30, 2014

Indies, Why the Rush to Publish?



Why the rush to publish?

Never upload an unpolished novel to Kindle or Smashwords without hiring an editor to proofread and make corrections.  Finishing the first draft of your manuscript is a remarkable accomplishment, but the novel isn’t ready to enter the world of readers.  Your reputation is on the line.  First impressions do mean everything.  A book filled with excessive grammatical errors, improper punctuation, and plot holes will only reveal the author’s lack of writing qualifications.  Think about it.  The better your book is, the more readers will anticipate your next one.  And the best part is word of mouth.  If readers are telling other readers how great your books are, your audience is going to grow.

Trust me.  I speak from my own experience.  In 2007, I published my first novel through a Print-on-Demand publisher, and it was riddled with numerous flaws.  The publisher, which I shall leave nameless, did not make corrected edits that I had paid for, and the “package” I bought was hefty in price.

At first I was so ecstatic to see my book in print that I didn’t notice.  However, as time went by, readers would message me via Myspace and let me know where they had found some errors.  The more I looked, the more I realized the publisher had taken my money but didn’t do the work they were hired to do.  And worse, this knowledge came to me after having a third novel published through them.

The final straw was with my third book, The Game of Pawns.  I handed one of my sisters-in-law a copy because she loved the series.  A week later she said, “Did you know at the end of the thirteenth chapter that it stops midsentence?”

I was horrified.  I know I enjoy writing suspense, and an incomplete sentence does leave a reader wondering what happened, but this wasn’t a good thing.  For one, the book had been completely edited by an editor with over twenty years experience.  Secondly, I had gone through the first digital galley they emailed me and found only six errors.  I marked those and sent it back.  When the second galley came, I checked for the corrections.  All six had been fixed.  I okayed the novel to go to print.

Once my sister-in-law pointed out the error, I went back to the galleys.  Somehow between galley one and galley two, two and half paragraphs had vanished.  This was not on my end, so I called them.  They wanted to charge me another $149.00 to “fix” their error.  When I told them that I kept copies of the digital galleys and could prove the error was on their end, they were taken back but insisted that I needed to pay for the correction.  My reply was that short of legal action, I don’t know what else to do.  They fixed their error for free.

Another problem with the third book was the royalty rate I was receiving.  Both Beyond the Darkness and The Game of Pawns are ~80,000 words.  However, The Game of Pawns was almost seventy pages longer than Beyond the Darkness, which not only increased the price of the book, it lowered my royalty per book.  Thanks to CreateSpace and learning how to format paperbacks, I figured out what they had done.  Instead of 1.15 space between the lines, they used 1.5.  Sheesh . . .

In my situation with that publisher, and since their imprint was on my books, most readers faulted the publisher, not me.  This was before the Indie craze took flight and sales of Kindles and Nooks dramatically increased.  Now the majority of readers do fault the authors because we’re the ones that push the “Publish” button.  Not other publishers.

I learned about KDP in 2011.  I wish I had known sooner.

Since I retained the rights to all of my books, I pulled them from the POD publisher and decided to upload them after thoroughly editing them once again.  I’ve learned a lot in three years, and during that time, I also finished my MFA in creative writing.  I believe the more I write the more patient I have become as to when to release a book.  I have also grown pickier about the quality of my writing.  With most of my books, I try to read each page at least fifty times.  Excessive?  Yes.  Are there still errors?  Of course.  No one catches all of them.

Let me give you an example.  With Beyond the Darkness, I know I read the first page at least 100 times.  No exaggeration.  I handed the finished draft to my wife to read.  On the first page she caught a mistake that I hadn’t seen.  Instead of “reclining” chair, I had typed “recycling” chair.  After nearly a hundred times of reading that page, I had missed it.  That’s why it is crucial to have Beta readers, proofreaders, and editors.  My mind kept correcting the word to what I thought I had written, but we all do that.  Another set of eyes is essential to catch the mistakes.

Periodically, I have an author send me a request to read a novel and write a blurb.  One author requested friendship on Facebook and after I accepted, she asked me to write a blurb for her novel.  I told her that I couldn’t because I had not read the book.  She sent me a PDF of the novel, and I read a few chapters.  I politely mentioned that she needed to have it edited, which infuriated her.  I explained that I was only speaking from my own experience.  Suddenly she “unfriended” me on Facebook.

I am thankful for what Amazon and Smashwords have done for Indie authors, but the ease at which people can publish is like a two-edged sword.  It’s too easy to rush to publish.  However, here’s a formula to consider: Rush 2 Publish = Readers’ Rush 2 Judgment.  Quality should always outweigh the quantity.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Following Your Muse



Sometimes a writer’s muse will do unexpected things with a character or a storyline, but that’s a good thing.  Don’t ignore the gentle prodding.  Follow.  I give you two examples of how this has worked well for me.

First:

I’ve been asked if I use an outline when I write.  The answer is: “No.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to outline events well before they occur in my fiction.  When a great idea pops into my head, I immediately write it down.  That’s my writer instinct.  I may not know where the idea will lead, but I’m willing to follow.

That’s how the Darkness Series began.  In January 1996, when I laid down to go to sleep, the opening sentence came to me:  “Dropping a cat from the top of a ten story office building was not the best way to remain hidden, but it was necessary.”

I was intrigued.  I didn’t know where the story would go or why someone dropped the cat off the building, but I got up and wrote it down.  A few minutes later when I was trying to go to sleep, the next two paragraphs came to me.  So, again, I got up and wrote down the words.

The next day I sat at my computer and hammered out twenty pages in a few hours.  At the end of those pages, I found myself in a new dilemma.  I couldn’t add anything else to the storyline.  Anything I attempted to add didn’t fit, sounded too corny, or took away from the characters and the building plot.  I was stuck, and I didn’t know why.  I printed it out and set it in a box to work on later.

Two years later, during my final year at Morehead State University, I registered to take two creative writing classes in the coming fall.  During the summer I took out the twenty pages and thought I would see if any new ideas stirred to breathe life into this story.  Rereading the piece I realized something.  I didn’t have twenty pages of the novel.  What I had was the skeleton of a novel that needed depth, description, and more urgency to push the plot forward.

I took a yellow notepad and made a lot of notes.  When I was content with how I would flesh the book out, I sat at the computer and spent a week working and revising with the new ideas.  The last sentence of the original twenty pages now ended on page 100; but still, I couldn’t add anything else.  Frustrated, I set it aside.

Once the fall semester started, we met the new creative writing professor, Dr. Chris Offutt.  He stated that his class would be treated like a writer’s workshop, and on our designated days, we could bring in a short story or the chapter of a book we were working on to have the class evaluate it.  When my day came, I brought the first chapter (~32 pages) of Predators of Darkness: Aftermath in and gave each student a copy.  The next week they came back to critique and offer suggestions about what did/didn’t work.

After everyone in the class made their suggestions, the professor walked to the chalkboard.  He drew out a diagram on the board and said, “Leonard, you don’t have one chapter here.  What you have is five or six chapters.”  In a matter of minutes he mapped out five chapters.  I feverishly wrote down his suggestions.  The best part is that something clicked.  The fog lifted.  And I suddenly visualized my characters, their uniqueness, and their voices were audible in my head.

Eventually, Predators of Darkness: Aftermath grew into 340 pages, and there are four complete novels in the series.  Had I not written that sentence down, I do wonder if the series would have occurred.  After all, I didn’t have a plot or any characters.  All I had was the one sentence.  I never imagined the opening sentence would spawn four more novels afterwards (Yes, I’m working on the fifth book), which is why I suggest that writers follow their muse, carry notebooks, and don’t get chained to an outline.  If a character takes an unexpected turn into a dark alley, don’t stop him/her.  Follow.

Second:

A couple of years ago I published Devils Den.  Due to the characters in the fantasy realm of the novel, I thought that writing a novella backstory would be a good idea.  However, my muse had a much different idea.

The fantasy characters in Devils Den I’ve known—in my mind, at least—for more than twenty years.  The first novel I attempted was based on these characters, but the plot was too weak to develop, so I killed the story.  But the characters never died.  They didn’t speak a lot, but they were there in the back of my mind, maturing.

As I started the “Prequel” for Devils Den, something strange occurred.  The characters wanted their voices to be heard, and they weren’t shy about letting me know.  What I thought would be 40-50,000 words, came to life on a much larger scale.  Twenty years of maturing in my mind, the characters suddenly brought their world to life.  And thanks to Millard Pollitt, who drew an outstanding map of the realm, so many places can be explored.  The plotlines are endless.

The new novel is a 148,000 word epic fantasy novel (Name and cover soon to be announced). Since the events in this novel are twenty years prior to Devils Den, and so much occurs between the two, the new book has become the first book in its own series.

So, you see, my muse took me in a different direction and definitely farther than the novella I had planned.  Most often my muse knows more than I do, so I follow, take notes, and I write down what I hear and see.  If there’s a better formula than that, I don’t know it.