Happy “Get Horse-Faced and Talk Like a Leprechaun” Day!

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Celebrate Saint Paddy’s day this year with a pint and a good book.

Hindsight is set in Ireland with vivid descriptions of the land and “humorous and unerringly human [personalities], full of all the quirks and flaws that make a great character”. It boasts a white-knuckle plot with visceral action that hinges on old grudges and buried family pain. Best of all, it’s only $2.99, which saves you plenty of money to pay the bartender or to get that ill-decided shamrock tattoo.

Pick up Hindsight here for a perfect toast to Ireland without the crippling hangover.

Review: Odd Thomas

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A story of a young man in a nowhere town who can see the dead. I won’t give you much more of the plot. You can read the description on the book for that if you’d like.

Koontz’ Odd Thomas series has become something of his flagship work. I’d seen it a number of times, but never given it a chance. A few years ago, I read The Face. The two books have similar qualities. Koontz’ natural narrative voice is full of sensory detail, making every spoonful of ice-cream or juicy bite of an apple into a mouth-watering moment to savor. He makes note of the complexities of the human condition, juxtaposing the mundane with the extraordinary or the wicked with the benign. What I most appreciate about his work, however, is his ability to carry a metaphor all the way through a chapter. This might seem tiresome at first glance, but Koontz weaves the metaphor so skillfully throughout the narrative that you don’t want to miss a word, because each turn of the phrase brings out some new nuance to his metaphor that welcomes the reader into the deeper meanings of the tales. In The Face, I found myself intrigued by the villain, Corky Laputa. Odd Thomas, by contrast, is so full of unique and colorful characters that they all perk your attention when they pass through the frame.

Odd Thomas, himself, is as likeable, quirky, and complicated of a lead character as you are like to find in a popular novel these days. The story, told from his perspective, tints the world in the hues that only he can see. There’s an undercurrent of melancholy to his tone that is lightened throughout by his extreme hopefulness, humor, and knack for noticing the idiosyncrasies in the people around him. Of course, this novel is not solely about character and paces quite nicely into darkness and bloodshed. The horrors that the reader experiences, however, are always mediated by Odd’s philosophizing, trying to make sense of a life so full of death. Some readers might find this irksome, but I enjoyed it. I only wish I hadn’t finished the book while in a public place, because the end leaves you needing to sit down and take a moment.

Hindsight $.99 Sale

I’ve gotten some good love from reviewers lately. Lines like this one keep my fingers pounding out the pages on the keyboard, “Surprisingly for a novel in this genre it is more importantly unpredictable in its twists and turns, and this kept me turning the pages until I finished the book.”

You’re here for this reason, though. Kirkus Reviews has called Hindsight, “A high-stakes suspense novel with a breakneck pace and strong voice.” They have selected the novel as one of their Indie Books of the Month. It’s for this reason that I’m going to give some love back to you, my reading friends. This week till Friday, I’ll be dropping the price of Hindsight to $.99. At less than a movie rental, you can enjoy a whole weekend of “a staccato beat of furious double-crosses, stunning revelations and gritty action.” Just follow the link here, and be sure to leave me a review or drop me a comment letting me know what you think of the novel.

Kirkus Calls Hindsight, “A high-stakes suspense novel with a breakneck pace and a strong voice.”

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Kirkus Reviews has published the review of Hindsight and it’s stunning. The good news doesn’t stop there. They’ve chosen Hindsight for the “Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection,” which you’ll be seeing mid-March.

“A debut novel about an Irish-American ex-con combines the appeal of the thriller and noir fiction genres in a style similar to that of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books… Featuring some insightful character development and pedal-to-the-metal pacing, this novel gets its real power from its gritty narrative voice, which is simultaneously jaded and principled… A high-stakes suspense novel with a breakneck pace and strong voice.” – Kirkus Reviews

Click here to purchase Hindsight on Kindle for the low price of $2.99. If you’re a part of the Amazon Lending Library, then you can pick it up for free.

Busting Writer’s Block

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There are plenty of tips to breaking up writer’s block. They are all good, but here’s my favorite. It’s my favorite because it makes me feel in control of the act of writing, lets me stop feeling satisfied and start with plenty of new ideas to bring to the page. You ready for it? Okay, here it is. Real simple: don’t finish.

When we’re writing–especially when we’ve struck a vein and the words are gushing–there is this drive to get it all out before that vein dries up. Number one, that mentality is a problem. By thinking you’ve got a limited supply of ideas and they only really come in spurts of inspiration, you lock yourself into a mindset of inspirational poverty. That’s not the case. The words are always in you. It’s just about your mind making connections between concepts. When you put a full stop on an idea with a period, you sever those connections. If, however, you stop writing in the middle of a sentence, you keep that connection open. What’s more, using the analogy of the vein, you let those words keep flowing when you walk away from the computer and soon you’ll be swimming in them. Your subconscious will keep making connections, and bursts of insight will hit you while you’re pulling the milk out of the fridge, the car out of the garage, or your head out of your ass after a fight with your spouse.

Number two, if you know how a sentence, or a scene is going to end, then you come back into the act of writing with at least half a tank of fuel to get you going. Writing out a full chapter till you can’t think of what comes next leaves you dry, with little motivation to sit back down and start, since you don’t have that enough juice to get things moving.

So, how do we put this into practice? Easy. If your goal is to write a chapter a day, write a chapter and a half, or just three-fourths of that chapter. I don’t typically stop conversations if they are really crackling, or a description that I have just the right words for. I do, however, stop right smack in the middle of a sentence if the point of the sentence is the character performing an action or moving from one place to another. I know where it’s going and it’s not critical to say it just right (not yet at least). To get into this practice, all you have to do is call off the voice of that asshole overlord in your head that tells you to finish the sentence and stop right in the-

How’s that? You’ve got that urge to finish the sentence, don’t you? Good. That’s what I’m talking about. Now try it out for yourself. But before you go, why not share some of your own ideas on busting writer’s block?

Review: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

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Le Carre sets the standard for the intellectual spy thriller. While this is a George Smiley novel, you only see him in the shadows. The lead character in this novel is Alec Leamas, an MI6 operative running things in Cold War Germany before he gets sacked for a failed operation. He’s sullen, sarcastic, cunning, and quite likable. You can read the book’s description if you want to find out about the story. I’m here to tell you why I liked it.

Le Carre’s strength is the intricate web of lies that his characters weave around each other. The entire novel, like most Le Carre tales, is a dance of spiders, each trying to catch the other in their trap. Playing perfectly into this dynamic are the high-stakes consequences that result from seemingly insignificant exchanges of dialogue. In Le Carre’s world, it is not laser pens or grappling hook brassieres that turn the tides of war, it is the ability to deceive and maintain deception until the end. Take this excerpt that epitomizes what I think is the theme of the novel:

“A man who lives a part, not to others but alone, is exposed to obvious psychological dangers. In itself the practice of deception is not particularly exacting. It is a matter of experience, a professional expertise. It is a facility most of us can acquire. But while a confidence trickster, a play actor or a gambler can return from his performance to the ranks of his admirers, the secret agent enjoys no such relief. For him, deception is first a matter of self defense. He must protect himself not only from without, but from within, and against the most natural of impulses. Though he earn a fortune, his role may forbid him the purchase of a razor. Though he be erudite, it can befall him to mumble nothing but banalities. Though he be an affectionate husband and father, he must within all circumstances without himself from those with whom he should naturally confide. Aware of the overwhelming temptations which assail a man permanently isolated in his deceit, Leamas resorted to the course which armed him best. Even when he was alone, he compelled himself to live with the personality he had assumed. It is said that Balzac on his deathbed inquired anxiously after the health and prosperity of characters he had created. Similarly, Leamas, without relinquishing the power of invention, identified himself with what he had invented. The qualities he had exhibited to ****: the restless uncertainty, the protective arrogance concealing shame were not approximations, but extensions of qualities he actually possessed. Hence, also, the slight dragging of the feet, the aspect of personal neglect, the indifference to food, and an increasing reliance on alcohol and tobacco. When alone, he remained faithful to these habits. He would even exaggerate them a little, mumbling to himself about the iniquities of his service. Only very rarely, as now, going to bed that evening, did he allow himself the dangerous luxury of admitting the great lie that he lived.”

Conversations kill in “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”, so every word counts.

To Write Authentic Dialogue, Write Backstory First

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Last week I told you about a conversation my wife and I started having about writing.
“I wouldn’t know where to start writing a novel,” she said.
“It all starts with an idea, a ‘what if?’.” I answered. So, last week we talked about where you get your ideas. That wasn’t enough for my wife, though.
“Yeah, but all that dialogue,” she said, “where do you begin writing that?”
“Backstory, I guess,” I said. “I start by figuring out who my characters are. I don’t try to write anything until I’ve got that sorted.”
Backstory is, perhaps, the most critical step in the creation of a novel for me. To write a character, I have to feel like I know them well enough to invite them to a birthday party. That’s actually a great way to get to know your characters.

If you’re having trouble getting a handle on someone in your novel, imagine that you are out on a double date with them, or that you’ve invited them over to your house for a party. 

Ask them the typical questions that you get asked at a party. How would they respond? What questions would they ask you? Who would they get along with? If you want to make things interesting, imagine a crisis: a motorcycle drives through your fence, you find out your sister has been sleeping with that character, you ran out of dip. What does that character do?

After I nail down the backstory of my characters complete with at least a few childhood memories and the track of their life decisions, then I pen that down on an index card. From that point on, all I have to do is put that character in the room with another character and a subject to talk about. They do the rest.
“When you know your characters, you don’t have to worry about dialogue,” I told my wife. “You just let them talk. If you start hearing words come out of their mouths and thinking, ‘that doesn’t sound like Shirley,’ then you know that you’re taking over and putting those words in there.”
Sure, writing this way may lead to some rambling conversations about trivialities, but that’s often what makes the dialogue interesting. It’s the details that tell the story. And, if you’ve got twelve pages of blathering nonsense at the end of your writing, you know two things. First, you know a little more about your character. Second, you know that you can always tighten that dialogue up when editing time comes around.

How about you? What part does backstory play in your writing process? Are there any characters who have become immortalized in your mind because of the amount of detail that the author put into their backstory?