Story Dream – The Jewel in the Eye

Story dreams can inspire writers to write entire books. These can be vivid tales that we don’t want to let go when we wake up. We have to continue the story to its fitting end.

Mine are usually in the scifi/fantasy genre, although on occasion I’ll have one in the mystery or suspense arena. Circle of Light, my first published book and winner of the HOLT Medallion Award, began with a dream. It was so exciting that I didn’t want the dream to end. I had to finish it, and I did. This led to two more books in my Light-Years series. Scenes in Silver Serenade also were inspired in this way.

Dreamer Fantasy

Now there’s this one. It could easily be adapted to my Drift Lords series, which still needs the final three installments. I left it as a trilogy but with more to come. My attention turned to mysteries, but obviously this genre is still on my mind. So here is the dream. Let me know if you’d want the story to continue.

Enter the Dream

I watched this dream as though it was a movie. I am in it and yet I am not. A man is strapped to a table and about to be stabbed through the heart with a dagger. He is inside a temple where he’d attempted to steal/recover an ancient relic. The temple’s keepers have captured this Indiana Jones-type hero. He figures he’s a goner, but at the last minute, someone stays his assassin’s arm.

This person says he’ll save the hero but only under one condition. The hero must marry his daughter. Heck, why not? the hero thinks. He can figure a way out of it later. He agrees, and the rescuer asks for his word. Our hero has a stalwart reputation for integrity. He offers his promise to comply.

His rescuers whisk him aboard the savior’s ship. Before he can think of a way to escape his pledge of honor, the wedding commences. He stands beside the presiding authority at the far end of a gallery filled with seated guests. While presenting an outwardly calm appearance, he wonders why the father must force a man to wed his daughter. The woman must be truly ugly. As though to confirm his theory, she appears in her bridal gown fully veiled. He can’t see through the thick gauze. The veil remains on during the ceremony until its conclusion when he is told he may kiss the bride.

Wedding Couple

This is the moment of truth. He steels himself to face her and not betray his emotion.  But as the slender woman raises her veil, his mouth gapes in astonishment. She is the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen! She has long wavy blond hair and features that could have been carved by angels. He kisses her soft lips and is smitten by her beauty.

Blond Woman

They stride down the aisle to booming applause. What’s the catch? Does she turn into a werewolf at night? Is she a vampire who will use him as her next victim? Or is this beauty itself a glamour spell, and she’s hideous in her true form?

After the wedding feast, they retire to their cabin. The girl is shy about disrobing. Maybe she has horrible scarring from some childhood event. But no, her skin is smooth as silk and her body as desirable as his ultimate dreams.

She seems ashamed of an insignificant birthmark and claims it is the mark of a demon’s spawn. According to her people’s legends, at the age of thirty, she’ll turn into a monster that devours its young. Her parent’s story reinforces this belief. Her mother was said to have been visited by the devil because her husband was away at war when she allegedly conceived. The baby’s birthmark confirmed the superstitions.

Yet the heroine doesn’t fully believe this tale. She’s heard rumors of a ship in the harbor around the time the conception would have taken place. Could it be her mother knew of a secret exit from the castle and she’d met with a man from this vessel? How else could she have gotten pregnant when she’d been barren in the ten years she had been married? Had she been the one to spread rumors about a demon conception to allay suspicion about her infidelity?

The heroine means to discover if she is another man’s child. If the hero helps her with this goal, she will aid him in finding the coveted Jewel of the Eye. He needs this treasure’s power to right a terrible wrong that was done years ago. And so their quest begins. It turns out that the Jewel in the Eye is the hero’s new bride. She has a power….

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So what do you think? Write the story or let it go? Have you ever been inspired by a dream?

 

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Adding Front and Back Material to Your Book

Today we’re discussing adding front and back material to your soon-to-be self-published book. This is one of the advantages of indie publishing. You can add whatever bonus materials you want. In terms of Front Matter, less is better. You’ll want readers to access the first chapter as quickly as possible for the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. So what should you include? Here are some options:

Front Material may include:

Cast of Characters
Copyright Page
Dedication
Family Tree
Map of Setting
Story Blurb with Review Quotes
Table of Contents

If you have a lot of characters, a cast of characters might be useful to the reader. Or it might discourage them from reading the book if they think it’ll be hard to keep track. I’ve had feedback both ways from fans.

The copyright page contains the book title, author, year of copyright, publisher imprint, statements about fair usage and permissions, ISBN numbers, and a Library of Congress number. Some of these are optional and some are not. We’ll discuss these choices more in another post.

Maps are always popular as are family trees. These could be offered in the back of the book rather than up front to save space. Same for the Dedication. A Table of Contents is critical for a nonfiction work. For a fiction work, this will be added when you upload your mobi or epub file to the different distributors.

Back Material may include:

About the Author + Social Media Links
Acknowledgments
Author’s Note
Book Club Discussion Guide
Call to Action for Newsletter and/or Reviews
Character Timelines
Excerpt of Sequel
Glossary
More Books by [Author] with Buy Link
World Building Details

After your story ends, you’ll have the chance to add bonus materials, such as a list of your books in series order, an excerpt of the sequel, reader discussion questions, research notes and more. Here you can put a Call to Action for your newsletter and/or reviews. Regarding buy links, keep in mind that certain vendors don’t like you to mention other sites. You’ll be safe if you use the book page on your website. Otherwise, you’ll have to change the buy link for each distributor.

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General Formatting Notes

My personal preference for e-books is to format my work in Times New Roman 12 pt. font, 1 inch margins, indent first line 0.33 inches, Widow/Orphan off, single spacing. I put a page break at the end of each chapter. The first paragraph of each chapter or after a space break is flush left. Your formatting source might advise something different. You can also upload your Word file to one of the third-party aggregators like Draft2Digital and they’ll do the conversions for you. More on this option another time. Next we’ll discuss Buying and Assigning ISBN numbers.

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Previous Posts on this Topic

Preparing Your Book for Self-Publishing

Why Self-Publish Your Book

 

Musings During the Virus

Being safe at home isn’t a hardship for a writer. We are used to long hours with our story characters as company. Many of us, during normal times, wish for more time to write our novels. However, now that we have this opportunity, it’s difficult for us to concentrate on a story in a fictional world that no longer exists.

Fortunately, I still have ten backlist titles to get online for your reading pleasure. Four of them are my former Five Star mysteries, books ten through thirteen in my Bad Hair Day series. The other six are earlier romances. My very first book, Circle of Light, features a plague that sweeps the galaxy. It’s very appropriate to today’s situation, but I want to get the whole Light-Years trilogy ready to go before hiring a cover artist. Here are the original covers from Dorchester. I’m working on book two right now. Yes, I wrote as Nancy Cane in those days.

Circle of Light by Nancy J. Cohen   Moonlight Rhapsody  

These books, being my earliest, require heavy self-editing to bring them up to my current standards. I am, in a way, grateful for this time to work on these books. It helps me escape the reality of what’s going on outside. And when fear threatens to steal my ambition, I tell myself that these stories help other people to escape the world we’re in together.

And so you can escape, too, whether it’s through books, TV shows, audiobooks or movies. If you’ve never listened to an audiobook, now is the time. It can be soothing to hear someone read you a story. I especially like the way a good narrator does the different character voices. Or maybe you prefer doing jigsaw puzzles or have craft projects you’ve always wanted to do.

It’s important to connect with friends and relatives via phone or online chats so you talk to someone each day. This will help you feel less isolated.

God bless each one of you. I am grateful for your support and friendship which means everything to me. I’m not too inspired to write blogs these days, so you may not hear from me for a while unless I decide to republish some of my earlier posts. You can always follow me on my other social media channels until then. Or let me know what you’d like me to discuss here and I’ll do my best to comply.

Let us all get through this safely. Eventually, things will get better. Our world has seen plagues before, and we have the best scientists researching in their labs. Please stay home and be well. Feel free to offer your suggestions for keeping sane in the comments section.

If you want a free copy of Permed to Death audiobook with a 30-Day Audible trial, go here:
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NOTE: My writing workshop on “Self-Publishing Made Simple” scheduled for April 25 at 2:00 pm at the Alvin Sherman Library at NSU may be moved online. Keep watch here or on the original site for more details: https://nova.libcal.com/event/6616179 

Knickknacks Reveal Character

You can learn a lot about your story characters from the knickknacks in their house. Consider this topic when enhancing characterization in fiction writing.

Knickknacks Reveal Character

As we are attempting to declutter our shelves, I’m wondering why I collected so many souvenir drinking glasses, paperweights, candles and rocks. Yes, rocks. There’s also my wonky pen collection, a box full of troll dolls that I am loathe to give away, and letter openers. What do these things say about my personality? You tell me.

  trolls2

What can they say about your main character? Perhaps your heroine presents a tough exterior but has a collection of hair ornaments. Or your bookish hero hides a fascination with antique hunting knives. Maybe a sidekick is a cat fan and has decorated her house with cat-themed throw pillows and handmade ceramics depicting cats. For inspiration, check out those unsolicited catalogs you get in the mail.

hair ornament   ceramic cats

Be specific about what type of reading material your character keeps around. Does the heroine read steamy romances but pretends to disdain romance? Does your hero stick to instructional manuals because fiction isn’t real? What if the woman he’s interested in collects unicorn figurines? Will there be a clash in their interests? How about the pages of the magazines or books? Are the corners folded in, the spines bent, or is there a bookmark inside?

What secret longing do these objects represent? How about art? What does your heroine hang on her walls? Does your hero prefer sports memorabilia or does he have an interest in wall clocks? Maybe he hasn’t an eye for design and mismatches colors, while your heroine reads interior design magazines and believes everything should be coordinated.

pens   

It’s fascinating to view the items inside another person’s house. You can see what they enjoy collecting and learn more about them. It also gives you an idea what to get them for a gift. So next time you visit a friend or relative, take a stroll around and see what’s inside their curio cabinet, adorning their walls, or standing poised on a bookshelf.

Even owning nothing of a personal nature makes a statement in itself. Have fun delving into the intricacies of your protagonists’ hobbies so you can describe the collection through their eyes. It will give an added dimension to your story.

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Writing Goals Revisited 2019

Each year, I set goals for my career as a published author. In December, I’ll examine these writing goals and take stock of what I’ve accomplished. January is the time to set new goals for the year. It’s important to perform these tasks so you have a path to follow. I divide my writing objectives into two sets – Creative and Business. We have to work on both of these in our careers as professional authors. So let’s see what I’ve gotten done. I hold myself accountable to you, my readers.

 

CREATIVE GOALS

Reissue remaining backlist titles – PARTIALLY DONE

The following Author’s Editions were released this year. Each one takes a couple of months to complete with manuscript preparation, proofreading, formatting and cover design.

Died Blonde – March 5, 2019
Dead Roots – March 26, 2019
Perish by Pedicure – April 23, 2019
Killer Knots – May 21, 2019

Write and publish A Bad Hair Day Cookbook – DONE; released on Nov. 19, 2019

Any new book release requires a lot of work, from launch parties to blog tours to social media to reviews. A couple of weeks at least should be reserved for the prep work. The blog tour carries on for a couple of weeks past the release date and involves guest posts, interviews, articles and excerpts. These have to be written as part of the launch sequence. Reviews have to be recorded, reviewers thanked, and quotes added to online sites. Once all this is done, social media posts need to continue even as you turn your attention to the next book.

Write and publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries – IN PROGRESS

I wrote the book, revised it, did the edits, and sent it to beta readers. My cover artist almost has the cover done. This release is slated for March 10, 2020. Meanwhile, I’ve written the posts for a virtual book tour. Final proofreading and formatting come next before the book will be ready for pre-orders.

Publicize Large Print edition of Trimmed to Death from Wheeler Publishing – DONE; released on August 7, 2019


BUSINESS GOALS

Enter latest releases in writing contests – DONE

Carry on with newsletter, blogs and social media – DONE

Update website – DONE

This year, we converted my site to Managed WordPress, updated the theme, switched over my blog to my website, and added Office 365 email. These are things that hopefully don’t have to be done too often!

Bundle books into box sets – NOT DONE

This has turned into a bigger project as I have my cover designer updating all of my earlier mystery covers to be compatible with the later ones. At a glance, the covers need to have the same overall appearance in terms of font, text placement, color palette and series logo. Plus, there was an unexpected development with Five Star announcing they’ll be returning rights at the end of this year. That means we’ll have four more books to do. So this project has to be carried over to next year.

As you see, some things got done and others are incomplete. These will be added to my goals for 2020. And that’s the subject for another post in the new year. How did you do with your goals in 2019?

 

Benefits of Writers Conferences

Now is the time to consider which writing conferences you’ll be attending next year. You want to pay the registration fee before the early bird discount evaporates. With so many conferences out there, how do you choose which ones to attend?

It depends upon your goals. Here are some opportunities offered at writers’ conferences. Which ones apply to you?

  • Further your skills by attending craft workshops
  • Get updates on industry news and business issues
  • Learn the latest marketing tips
  • Increase your knowledge of social media
  • Pitch your work to editors/agents
  • Learn about alternate paths to publishing
  • Discover innovative marketing techniques
  • Meet fans
  • Meet other authors
  • Meet librarians
  • Meet influencers in the writing community
  • Get feedback on your work if manuscript critiques are offered
  • Enter a writing contest sponsored by the conference organizers
  • Get a new headshot if a photographer will be on-site taking appointments
  • Participate in an audio or video segment if available
  • Present a workshop or participate on a panel

You don’t want to be stuck in classrooms all day. Most of the benefit at a conference comes from the people you meet. Editors and agents aside, meeting other authors should be one of your prime goals. You can learn so much from each other. Industry personnel, such as bloggers, booksellers and reviewers can be another target to approach. And if it’s a fan conference, by all means target your readers. Chat up everyone you meet in line waiting for meals, sitting next to you in a classroom or at the lunch table. This is not the time to be shy. Choose a table for breakfast or lunch with strangers so you can meet new people. Be gracious, professional, and interested in others. And don’t forget to exchange business cards. Always ask permission before adding anyone to your mailing list.

Some conferences have a hospitality room where you can hang out, drink coffee, and meet other attendees. Frequent this place and come prepared with bookmarks, postcards and swag. Present a friendly face and start a conversation, not so much about your books but perhaps about the conference city, your favorite subgenre, or what you’ve learned so far.

Don’t know what to say? How about, “Is this your first time at XYZ Conference?” Or, “What do you write?” Here’s another: “What sessions have you attended? Did you learn anything new?” And if you’re talking to fans, “What do you like to read? Who are some of your favorite authors?” And remember, writers are readers, too.

So get out there and schmooze. You’ll make new friends, meet readers, and gain lifelong fans. You’ll get the scoop on the publishing biz and learn new techniques to promote your work. Be eager to learn. Be open to new relationships. Be yourself and relax, and you’ll have a great time.

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My favorite mystery writers conference is SleuthFest. Register now at http://sleuthfest.com/

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The Editing Process

Editing a manuscript is a critical stage in the writing process. In an earlier post, I discussed the Five Stages of Writing. Currently, I’m in the editing or revisions phase with one book and the production phase of another. This often happens, because finishing the first draft of a book doesn’t mean you’re done. It’s only the start of more work.

The Editing Process

After my draft is complete, I begin an intense round of line editing. This means reading the printed pages word-by-word through the manuscript to tighten sentence structure, catch repetitions, fill in emotional reactions, add dialogue tags and more. Here is an example of what one page looks like from Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in The Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

I scribble changes on the printed page, then go back to the computer and make the fixes. Like this:

Easter Edits

Then I read through it again. Note one paragraph here has the same word, “staff”, three times. In the second round, I changed the middle one to “employee” entrance. This means another session at the computer and another printout.

Easter Page

I read it again and keep doing this process until each page is as perfect as I can make it. For revision tips, see my previous post here.

The next step is to send it to my freelance editor. She’ll return the file with remarks using Track Changes in Word. Here comes another round of corrections and one more read-through to make sure all is smooth and I didn’t miss anything. For traditionally published authors, they’ll get edits from their developmental editor and their copy editor.

Next round? For indie authors, that’s beta readers. These are ordinary readers like you who read the book the way they would any story. But they’re looking for flaws, misspellings, info dumps, inconsistencies, or anything that would give them pause. Their input is invaluable, and they always find new things for me to modify.

Is the book done yet? Nope. From here it goes to my formatter. Once she converts the file, I have to read through it again to look for conversion errors. This is akin to the advance reading copy that traditionally published authors receive. It’s the last chance for a final proofread.

This is why the editing process can take so long. I set myself a goal of 10 pages a day. For a 300 page manuscript, that’s 30 days with no time off. Sometimes after several rounds and numerous changes during one day, I still can’t finish those ten pages. I get too close to the material and have to put it aside until the next morning.

So please be patient, dear readers, if it takes longer for me to produce a book. I want it to be as perfect as possible by the time it reaches your hands. Or at least, the hands of my early reviewers. That’s a whole other topic.

Unfortunately, no matter how many passes we make through a book, including our editors and beta readers, some errors will slip by. It’s only diligent readers who can point them out to us. If you see them, please communicate in a kindly manner directly to the author via private email. Depending on our publishing status, we may or may not be able to fix these mistakes. Your eye for detail will be appreciated as long as you understand that most of us really do try our best.

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Do you get annoyed by occasional typos in the books you read, or do you accept them as inevitable and keep reading? Feel free to leave a comment below.

 

Editing Conundrum

I have begun line editing Easter Hair Hunt. The problem is that I can’t get past the first page. I keep redoing the opening paragraphs of my manuscript. So I need your help. Let me know which rendition you think is best.

Coming Soon

Number One

“I don’t see Blinky anywhere, do you?” Marla asked. She and her best friend stood on the rear terrace of Tremayne Manor, a historic mansion privately owned but open to the public for special events and guided tours.

“Blinky seems to have disappeared,” Tally replied. “Where were you supposed to meet after the Easter egg hunt?” She rocked the stroller holding her nineteen-month old son, Luke, who sat happily playing with a squeaky toy. Marla had figured the duo needed an outing, so she’d invited Tally to join her. After her husband’s death, Tally was struggling to raise Luke on her own.

Number Two

“I don’t see Blinky anywhere, do you?” Marla asked. She stood on the rear terrace of Tremayne Manor along with her best friend. The historic mansion was privately owned but opened to the public for special events and guided tours.

Number Three

“I don’t see Blinky anywhere, do you?” Marla asked. She stood alongside her best friend on the rear terrace of Tremayne Manor, a historic mansion privately owned but open to the public for special events and guided tours.

Another Question

Should I add last names for Marla and Tally? This would speak to new readers, not fans of the series who are familiar with the characters.

Which choice do you like best? Any changes to the second paragraph? This is why line editing can take me so long. I get hung up on one section and can’t move past until it’s as perfect as I can make it.

 

Tripping Over Timelines

How do you keep track of timelines in your work-in-progress? Do you use graphs, charts, or plotting boards to note the days of the week? When I was starting out as a writer, I kept plotting boards. This was a poster board that I divided into blocks representing each chapter. After I wrote a section, I’d fill it in on the poster for a quick visual reference. These days, I use a chapter by chapter outline in a Word file. I’ll still fill it in after I write each segment. I add the days of the week so I can remember what day it is for each scene.

Tripping Over Timelines

Spoiler Alert!  As I was working on EASTER HAIR HUNT, #16 in my Bad Hair Day mysteries, I hit a major snag. The story begins on the day before Easter. It’s March. My hairdresser sleuth, Marla Vail, is seven months pregnant. Her mother wants to plan a baby shower. Meanwhile, Marla is chasing down her missing friend, Blinky, who disappeared after an Easter Egg Hunt at Tremayne Manor.

How much time has passed since Blinky had gone missing? Was it reasonable to think she might still be alive? Uh-oh, I’d better check on the timeline. This realization led me to a plot twist two-thirds through the story.

clock

I’d been concentrating so hard on the storyline, that I had lost sight of the subplots. If Marla is seven months pregnant, when is her due date? I had to go back to the previous book, Trimmed to Death, to figure out when she might have conceived. Then I printed out a set of calendars from https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/

According to what I read online, Easter Sunday can fall between March 22 and April 25. In 2008, Easter was March 23 and Passover was April 20. Okay, my story will start on Saturday, March 22. By counting the weeks, I figured out Marla’s due date will be June 15.

calendar

By now, my story had progressed into April. Her mother could hold the baby shower on April 19, the day before Passover. I penciled in other events involving Marla’s friends and relatives. Now I know exactly what is happening, and when. Had I done this from the start, I wouldn’t have had to go back and change each conversation that mentioned these personal issues. I’d like this story to finish before Marla’s baby shower, so that could be my final wrap scene.

Sometimes you get carried away in the rush of storytelling and have to go back to fill in the details. What’s my advice? Get a calendar and follow your story along so you know which week you’re on and how long the action is taking. Sometimes you’ll read an entire murder mystery that takes place over a weekend. In that case, you’d need to keep an hourly account. Either way, keep track of your timeline from the start and save yourself some time-consuming revisions.

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Inconsistencies in Word Use

It’s important when editing your work to detect inconsistencies in word use. As I am revising my backlist titles, I am coming across several of these instances. One way that you can help avoid them in the future is to create a style sheet. Sometimes your publisher does this for you. Or you can note down observations yourself to make sure you follow through during the editing phase.
editing
Here are some examples of items to note:
Two words or single word – town house or townhouse; coffeemaker or coffee maker, nightstand or night stand?
If you have different publishers, each one will have their own preferences. But if the editing is up to you, choose one way to list your word(s) and stick to it. Don’t know which one is correct? Look it up in your favorite grammar text. And if both are commonly used, choose the one that suits you and use that one on a consistent basis.
Wine types – Chardonnay or chardonnay? I’ve seen this done both ways. Whichever you do, be consistent for all wine varietals.
Character names – Chris or Christine? Jan or Janice?
In my recent book that I’m editing, I noticed that sometimes I referred to a character by her full first name and at other times by her nickname. This can be confusing for the reader. We’re reading about Jan through several chapters, and then there’s a Janice who shows up. Who’s that? Best to stick with one rendition, unless you happen to be giving the person’s full first and last name together, like in an introduction.
Terms of endearment – hon, sweetheart, or babe, as used by a particular character
If your guy is always calling the ladies “babe” then don’t have him switch suddenly to another word. It’s part of his characterization to use that one term.
Foreign words – chutzpah or chutzpah?
Decide if you are going to italicize the foreign word or not, and then be consistent throughout the story.
Hyphenated words – hard-boiled eggs or hard boiled eggs; fund-raiser or fundraiser?
Again, this can be a publisher choice. If not, look it up to see what’s correct or make your own decision about the hyphen.
Whatever your word choices, be consistent as you edit your work. Keeping a style sheet will help you remember which word to use.
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