Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Progress Report #11 – A Death In Michigan

Toulouse 4 Death, the next book in the Sharon O’Mara Chronicles, is resting for a few weeks; it and I needed a time-out. The story is working well and I’m happy with where it’s going. But as I noted in last week’s blog, Kevin Bryan and Sharon are now in Paris. I’m going to give them a vacation then surprise them with all sorts of shock-and-awe. By the way (BTW for the twitter impaired), I ask you to please check out a writer I discovered through my LinkedIn account, Karen Chase is spending five weeks in Paris, blogging daily, it’s her 40th b-day gift to herself to write and stumble in the steps of others in the City of Light. Check it out here Bonjour 40 . I wish her well and look forward to her posts from the adult Magic Kingdom.

I’m holding Toulouse at 25,000 words, will push on in a few weeks.

The reason for the delay is simple, another project needs to get out of my head, the well masticated and diddled Elk River. It must be finished. It must move out of my head, it must get on paper, the bound and cover kind.

I have had extreme difficulty with the story since I inserted a nasty character with the name Victor Hooker; he has troubled the story with his presence and malignancy. So after a couple of scotches and a discussion with my in-house editor, I decided that I could best him in a knife fight. I cut him out of the story using both search and delete. He’s still popping up in the spots, but a quick slash, and he’s gone. The relief is amazing when you cut 8,000 well written words.

The intent of the story is tell of a challenged family in 1956 in Michigan. The push and pull of society, the Bomb, Suez, culture, city versus country, the press of religion, migrant workers, and the hidden and damaged lives we all live. The story was complete, and it is a good story, and in fact I think it is very good. But the aforementioned Mr. Hooker was turning the book into a King-like slasher-thriller, and it and he had to go. Now there’s a flow that the other characters appreciate, they now longer have to look over their shoulders for the bearded giant with a knife. They can deal with their own problems, and they are many.

My goal is to finish in the next three weeks, or less. It's running 112,000 words, high style, a complete project. I have nine art pieces that will be included (see below). During the next month there will be a contest to see what cover you patient readers like. I would like to get the book out in late summer or early fall.

BTW, if there is an agent out there interested in the story send me an email, and thanks for your precious time (

Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Progress Report #10 – The City of Light

The last week has been a street fight among time-suckers. You know, those little projects that, in your head, should take fifteen minutes and morph into hour long trudges and clock-eaters. No problem; take a few minutes and research the proper names and ranks of various SS officers. Then you find out there were many changes over the fifteen years of its inglorious reign, and I’m only concerned with April, 1945, insignia, uniforms, and medals. And those Germans did like long titles, for instance: SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny – now there was a Nazi’s Nazi. Then there is the vehicle issue of whether the term is Volkswagen or Kubelwagen - must be precise (and did you know that Ferdinand Porsche designed it?). And did you know that the workhorse truck of the German army was the Opel Blitz, built in the late 1930s it was registered as a civil vehicle to disguise its use as a military truck? Oh those Germans were tricky. As a civil vehicle I wonder what colors it came in; dark green is, well, so army. They could trick anyone, except maybe, Neville Chamberlain.

I’m at 25,000 words and working hard, 1,500 words a day is all I ask, the 3,000 word day is always a wonder.

Story venue is changing this week to the City of Light. An interesting bit of research help to those looking for venue development and story locations. I realize that it’s been around a few years but it’s getting better and broader with its locations; it’s Google Earth and the Street View application. I wanted an image of an apartment in Paris to use as the location for the next chapter (the idea of an onsite visit was nixed, albeit reluctantly by the president of our publishing company – something about budgets, “but it’s going to be a block-buster,” I said. “No loans against residuals,” is all I got in return), so after perusing great restaurants we know near the Boulevard Saint-Germain, I picked a likely street, clicked on Street View and strolled down the rues of Paris’s Left Bank until, voila, there she was. Perfect. Good garage entry, three floors (high enough to die from a fall from the roof), flower peddler on the corner, well known Hemingway haunt up the street, and a totally uninteresting fa├žade, again perfect. A quick screen shot, a few notes and all pasted in the notebook. As I said clock-eaters.

I am well ahead of my Toulouse 4 Death schedule, so before marching into Paris, I’m going to attack a few other ongoing projects, like the next edit of my literary piece Elk River (see previous blogs below). I need to increase tension, reduce repetition, blend/merge similar characters, and maybe, focus of the era’s paranoia as the dark haze of the story’s edge. Can a nuclear bomb spoil cherry picking?

More later . . . .

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Readers Favorite Gives Containers 4 Death 5 Stars!

Readers Favorite Review - It's also posted on Amazon.

Sharon O’Mara was on a fishing vacation in Mexico, healing from two gunshot wounds. Just as she was landing a magnificent 500 pound marlin, a nine foot red box floated by the ship. Only quick action by the captain prevented a collision with the shipping box. The captain and crew towed the box to shore in hopes of finding something on monetary value. Sharon’s investigative instinct kicked in when the red box was opened and revealed the rotting dead bodies. The box had three foot letters stenciled on the side, PCL.

Inspector Detective Xavier Immanuel Lopez assured Sharon he did not need her assistance in solving this case. Sharon could not resist investigating on her own. Designer handbags, Chinese Triad and Mexican Drug Cartel combine to make an fast paced, action packed thriller.

I was unfamiliar with Sharon O’Mara or her creator, Gregory C. Randall, when I picked up this amazing read. I can assure fans that Randall is now on my list of favorite authors. Randall is a master at characterization. Sharon O’Mara is a strong female lead; she is intelligent, curious and unstoppable. Even more important she is likable. I could picture Inspector Detective Xavier Immanuel Lopez strutting like a peacock. He was sure of himself in all ways. He considered himself, the best at his job, handsome, intelligent, and well the perfect man. I also enjoyed Kevin Bryan, Sharon’s best friend, almost brother, and side kick. It would be unforgivable if I did not mention Basil, the faithful dog. He helped give life to the plot. I enjoyed this read and look forward to the next Sharon O’Mara installment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Progress Report #9 – Criticism: “You can’t handle the truth!”

One of the greatest gifts a friend can give a writer is the truth about their work. This is well beyond the agreement to read the draft manuscript. It is to take time, out of their busy life, to not only read the story but to try and dissect and understand the intent of the writer. There are “for hire” editors out there that are very good, but they do remind me of the hired guns brought into a town to clean up the lawless mess, often leaving a larger one when they leave. How much do they assert their personalities into the work and how much do they leave for the writer? With a real hard content edit how much is left for the author to claim as their own?

Thank heaven for the few brave readers that love reading and understand the art. Some are friends, others are in book clubs, and others are in workshops and writer’s studios. But to have someone take the time to take notes, question characters, think of the overall picture; they are treasures. For my forthcoming novel Elk River I was thrilled to have a friend offer a list of constructive criticisms.
Some were:
  • Can you strengthen the links between the survivors of World War II and damage that the war caused to them physically, emotionally, and culturally, even though, if there ever was a “good” war, this was it?
  • As a coming of age story, when the young discover that their parents know all about drugs, sex, aging, it really ticks them off – expand on this.
  • Need more character development (a universal comment by editors), what’s too much, then what? Did the grandmother actually dance at the Ziegfeld Follies, why did she leave?
  • The story takes place in three months during the summer of 1956, you have put too much into the story, too many deaths are thrown around. This is not Stephen King. I’ll see on a death by death basis and the Andrea Doria did sink in the July, 1956.
  • Be careful on character introductions, they can’t be parachuted in (maybe, maybe not).
  • The migrant family (the pickers) needs more development (the hardness of their lives, what holds them together), what can your lead character learn from them?
  • And at the drive-in movie don’t have them bring their own popcorn; it’s always more fun to go the snack shop that glowed like a nuclear waste dump in the middle of a parking lot, than to eat homemade.
  • Be careful of cute throwaways that don’t contribute to the thrust of the story.
  • Increase the tension (again, another universal comment). What is looming beyond the main character’s reach and understanding, will it harm him, will he overcome it?
  • And believe it or not, there is much she loves about the story, so back to the keyboard.
These were just a few of the comments, all add to the overall texture and thrust of the story. To be honest I can’t wait to get back to next iteration and revision, there is actually someone I am now writing to. And I want to thank my friend from the bottom of my heart.

Containers 4 Death
Revised cover and text to the printer, out last Tuesday, new proof coming, then printing. And THANK YOU to those who have purchased the ebook version from Amazon and the other usual suspects.

Toulouse 4 Death
I’m at 22,000 words, and research is exciting, especially on the Nazis that escaped Europe after World War II. My two main characters are off to Paris to find the prize that is sought by everyone. Then back to the U.S., but will the gov’ment want their bit? Will the SS want it all? And what about the stolen art, will it be returned? Even I’m excited to find out.

More later . . . .

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Progress Report #8 – Cover Art and Characters

I received the galley proof of Containers 4 Death yesterday and, as always, the thrill of receiving the bound book is tempered by the phrase: “What was I thinking?” Other than some of the usual format adjustments (move the text up 3/16” on all the pages - more space at the bottom, less at the top), and the sudden appearance of a typo on page one of the dedication (the, the error), I was struck on how busy the cover was (see first version - column right and down).

I have worked on this for six months, on and off, and you begin to look past the cover content, you don’t and can’t look at it objectively anymore, my home editor and chief, and the director of the publishing company simply said, “It’s too busy, and get rid of that damn fish, it’s silly.” So, wanting to keep the wheels of Windsor Hill Publishing on the tracks, I wholeheartedly agreed and did some tweaking and color adjusting, reformatted the back cover and produced what you see below: 

The Revised Cover

I’m still playing with it, and will let it sit for a few days, but it does need to get back to the printer much sooner than later. Gentle reader, you have three days to comment, and then it’s off to the great POD in LA.

Toulouse 4 Death is again moved to the front of the line. I have made another full read and edit of the first 20,000 words; this has allowed me to lay structural hints and characters that will come back into the story. To be honest, this is going to be very complex. Maybe too many characters (a fault I have been pointed to in my other books), and maybe too may threads, but let’s see where it goes.

I have a question and would like feedback. How much detail is enough when fleshing out a character? Do you need their height, weight, hair color (or none, as you well know, evil characters always seem to be bald), scars, tattoos, eye color, type of clothes? Or are general characteristics enough? Some readers want a fully realized character; others want to shape them for themselves. I tend to fall in the middle and describe characteristics when they suite the story or help to more define the actor. Is it an all or none? I have mentioned, in a previous blog, that I have a good spreadsheet I use to develop my characters. It is five pages of particulars, but is their religion important (maybe), their birth date (maybe), where they were born (maybe), and are they fans of AC/DC or Bach (maybe)? The spreadsheet is available to anyone, all you have to do is ask.

The next few weeks will focus on the second act, the stage settings are done, the characters introduced, IT, that can’t be named, is positioned; now for the middle act. Players, to your marks.

More later . . .