Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“Now Class, I Want You to Write a Theme Paper”

No scary words were ever said to a young man. Ralphie, the hero (the Scut Farkus thing) sees this as his chance to explain the deep Freudian reasons for his need for a Red Rider BB gun (with the compass in the stock). And off he goes, goal in sight, all he needs is a theme.

When I end a specific writing project, and I mean finished (no more tinkering, no more content editing, no more anything to the manuscript; done, complete, fini), the first thing I say to myself: “Self, what the hell are you gonna write about next?” (It is always good to talk to yourself in third person, easier to be objective if the other guy blows it.)

What is my next theme? What am I going to work on for the next year or two or more that will keep up my interest until the end? Many writers just stumble into a story. Other writers try to make the story line fit into some thematic clothes they find (i.e. science fiction, romance, thriller, etc.) And others think about it, a lot; get frozen and don’t do anything.

That is where I am right now with Sharon’s Chronicles. I’ve written over 180K words about our heroine, I’m beginning to understand her and her issues (drinking, smoking, her dog, her loneliness, etc.) so theme becomes important for the next book. What challenge can I throw in her way? How will she overcome it? How will she be affected by the challenge? How will she grow? Writers of themed serial books (Michael Connolly, John D. MacDonald, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Parker et al) continually have to protect their hero and maintain the character’s personality. But that’s a whole other box of issues to deal with; today I want to stay with location,  theme, and story.

First issue is location:
  • Does the location of where your character lives matter?
  • Does the region spin off potential story lines that can impact your character?
  • Can you push your character into one of these story lines?
  • Does the regional location itself contribute to the story by providing mental scenery?

Second issue is theme:
  • Does the theme (ie. terrorism, murder, theft, redemption) contribute to the basis for the story?
  • Can the theme be enhanced by the story?
  • Can your character prevail and overcome the obstacles to succeed?
Simply put, it is this overcoming of obstacles and the character’s eventual success that is the story. Now class, wasn’t that easy?

But the boy in the last row, head in hands, has to first find a theme.

“What the hell am I going to write about next?” I said turning to look at Sharon O’Mara, her red hair falling on my shoulder, “And you, stay out of this!”
“But I have an idea.” Sharon said.
“I said stay out of this.”
Sharon just smiled and said, “We’ll talk.”

More later . . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Are Words Not Enough?

When it comes to writers and publishers, wEnvy (in our day of eBooks and pBooks), is an ongoing debate. wEnvy is word count envy. How many is enough? My book is bigger than your book! When is a word count a book or is it just a longer short story? In my Fiction Writers Guild discussion group on LinkedIn, this has become an interesting discussion. By your word count you will be defined.

Within the four generalized categories of fiction, short story (under about 8,000 words), novelette (under 18,000 words), novella (under 40,000 words) and novel (over 40,000 words), it is important to remember that size does matter. But the bottom line is simple, how many words does it take to tell the story?
  • The Cat and the Hat - 225 words (Seuss won a bet from Bennett Cerf on this one)
  • Atlas Shrugged – 561,996 words (Rand had a lot to say – count is debated, like her)
  • Lord of the Rings – 561,792 words (and yes, I did not count them myself)
  • War and Peace - 580,000 words (depending on translation and royal titles)
  • A la recherch√© du temps perdu (Proust) – 1,500,000 (depending again on translation and patience)
It seems, according to Wikipedia, the French own the four top spots – and these are multi-volume tomes. When is 2 million words in French enough?

When is enough, enough? It’s hard to say. Often one lesson given in writer’s workshops is to write a piece, then continue to cut and edit words until the essence left. I suggest that sometimes adverbs and adjectives are needed, sometimes they are not. But to cut all the flesh from the bone, leaves nothing but bone.

In the O’Mara Chronicles I intentional structure the books to be about 70,000 words, broken into 15 chapters, each chapter split into 3 subchapters (with variations). These are units that allow me write each subchapter at one sitting - usually. But in Elk River, the word count is 113,000 words – was that enough, I will let the reader decide.

Word count – smurd count. Each genre has its own expectations on word count and the parallel issue of page count. Want more pages? Write more words or print in bigger type fonts – simple. But the experienced reader knows the heft of their favorite stories, whether science fiction or romance. How many words does Buffy need to slay all the vampires (I think usually too many – but that’s just me)? Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is 74,880 words, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is 340 pages and over 130,000 words, which one do you prefer?

A writer needs to tell their story, the reader will either enjoy it or reject it. Or worse, close the book and not finish. The writer must keep the reader engaged and interested: Will the girl get the guy? Hell, will the guy get the guy? Will the vampire suck everyone dry – if then, what will he do – blood bank? Will John Galt be identified or will those evil mindless bureaucrats actually win? Will the Cat and the Hat come back? The correct number of words will tell us.

More later . . . .

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Better Late than Never

I have been on vacation this week. So on Wednesday, even with good intentions, the blog didn’t happen. Thursday, even with greater intentions, clean missed it. On Friday, moving day as they say in pro golf (we were traveling home), again I swung and missed. So now, early Saturday, with coffee in hand and the need to get this done (and a long list of other things) before the Michigan-Michigan State game at 9:00, I am pounding away on the old Mac (actually there is no such thing as an old Mac – don’t we upgrade every few years whether we need to or not? And, most seriously, think of Steve Jobs and how he changed the writing and book industry – it will be as dramatic as the changes to the music biz).

Update on Toulouse 4 Death
Dennis DeRose, my editor, tells me he’s almost done with the first editing draft. He will then email me the Word doc, I will review the Track Changes he has made, approve or reject as necessary (usually he bats around .950), then send it back for a final read. He’s thorough and now has my jargon style and POV. I look forward to his edits. I will then get back to the blogs about building a book in InDesign from the manuscript. I want to do it as I prepare the real book, it’s easier.

Still working on the cover, tweaking here and there, but it’s coming together. I am very excited about this next book in the Sharon O’Mara Chronicles. Nine months ago I promised, through this blog, a book. It is almost here.

Elk River
TV interview on Tuesday afternoon with a Traverse City station, a lot of buzz in Northern Michigan. See blog immediately below. We are looking forward to a book tour in the spring. I know that hardier folk, those with Michigan blood, would schedule the tour for the dead of winter, all that macho-tough-it-out stuff. Me? California now pumps through these thin veins and, besides, my tan would suffer. So the spring it is, maybe when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Quite poetic, don’t you think? BTW, Horizon Books of Traverse City just bought ten books, huzzah!

I have to admit, quite proudly that I am a writer. Why? Because it seems now that everything I do (outside of the professional community planning - moneymaking side of life) seems to come back to thinking about writing words on a page. Thinking of the next story, storytelling. All writing is story telling, even business letters. Even taking down an order for a widget is a story of a transaction. But within the world of fiction there are no rules other than to tell a good story. Lay it out for your reader, tease them into turning the page, then making sure they are not disappointed. Simple, yes?

Believe it or not, I am into the next Sharon O’Mara “story.” Almost 4,000 words and I’m jazzed. But a good story also must be mysterious, so for now, kind reader, you must remain in the dark. I will come clean in the next few months and then you can follow the bread crumbs as I weave the next San Francisco O’Mara mystery.

More later . . . .

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

O’Mara Update and Exciting Things are Happening!

I will get back to the building of my next book during the next few weeks. There are many things to discuss and I want to make sure that they are properly laid out. I am also waiting for the edited text of Toulouse 4 Death. Dennis DeRose is working feverishly on the draft and promises me the manuscript – soon. When I get it we can jump back into how an author needs to address and approve the comments and corrections by his editor, then I will back to the book building of  Toulouse 4 Death.


ELK RIVER Alert: On October 18th, for those of you in Northern Michigan, I will be interviewed by the National Writers Series in Traverse City on their weekly Writers Minute spot on channel 50 (and all the other ABC affiliated stations in Northern Michigan). It is scheduled for 6:45 in the evening, which works great due to the three hour time difference from my studio in California. They were gracious in allowing the change from their 6:45 morning show – 3:45 on the West Coast. I’m not sure anyone is at their best at 3:45 in the morning, especially when you need to put on your sunny marketing voice. Thanks Doug Stanton, Alex Raphael and Katie Granger for being so understanding. It may also show up later on the Writers Minute page on their web site - go HERE.

I am just getting to know the National Writers Series located in Traverse City, Michigan. They have been instrumental in bringing acclaimed authors to Northern Michigan as well as supporting new authors. Go HERE  for more information. I look forward to meeting Doug and his partners this spring during our Elk River book tour that is in the early planning stages. Let me know if you are interested in my visiting your bookstore or writer’s event. Post a comment below.

ELK RIVER is real and available in both paperback and eBook. It is online at Amazon (Kindle), and will be soon online at Kobo, Sony, and Barnes and Noble Nook. Send an email to to request a trade paperback copy, the price is $18.00 and includes shipping and handling. It will soon be available in many Northern Michigan independent bookstores - pleae support them and their ongoing battles to survive.

Send an email to to request books for your bookstore, normal discounts will apply.

More later . . . .