Monday, August 25, 2014

First Person vs. Third Person (Part 1)

This blog post is about one of those things that writers often agonize over and that readers hardly notice. At least, if the author does a good job, there is no reason for readers to notice whether the author did the job right. But if the author flubs it... well, the reader notices all right!

I'm talking about choosing to write a story in first person or third person limited (I'm not going to discuss third person omniscient because I want to focus on only having one or two main characters, not a cast of thousands--or a dozen.) I will state up front that I do have a bit of a bias in this matter in that I do favor one over the other, though both are equally acceptable and entertaining, if done correctly.


In a way, there is not a lot of difference between first person and third person limited. The main difference comes in how the protagonist interacts with the reader/audience. In third person limited, the reader sees everything through the eyes of the protagonist, but the protagonist is not personally engaging the reader. You are being told what the protagonist sees, thinks, feels, etc. In first person, the protagonist is telling the reader, directly, what he or she is seeing, thinking, and feeling. Let's look at them one at a time.

Some of my favorite authors use first... and some use third!
First person can be either the easiest or the most difficult point-of-view to use. Easy because who better to talk about what's going on than the person directly involved? Think about the times you've listened to someone tell a story about something that happened to YOU. Inevitably, there comes a time when you want to (or have to) jump in and say, "No, that's not what happened. That's not what I said. You've got it all backwards!" The first person narrator is right there, telling you the story, exactly as it happened: "I headed to the office only fifteen minutes behind schedule. Despite being narrowly creamed by a reckless guy who ran a red light two blocks from my house, I managed to get to my desk in a reasonably calm frame of mind until my phone buzzed summoning me to the boss's office for an important meeting." (Yes, I know it's awful, but go with me on this for a while!)

So far it's not bad; we're right there with the character and the story is going to unfold for us right before our (and our protagonist's) eyes, so we can really feel like we're in the story. But who IS the character? Male or female? Young or old? Where does he or she work and what does he or she do for a living? This is where the author can shine like a diamond or fall face first into the mud. How do we (meaning the author and their protagonist) talk about themselves without coming off as annoying or boring? The easiest way: "I'm Protagonist and I'm a 23-year-old intern at Prestige Law Firm, the youngest woman on the staff." Easy, but lazy. We know a few things about the protagonist, but we don't KNOW the protagonist.

So we could say, "I gritted my teeth as I glanced at the dashboard clock. Of all days to be late. The boss wanted all the interns to be on their best game today and I'd had a rough time finding a pair of stockings without a run in them and my hair and suit looked like they belonged on a frazzled mother of two-month-old twins. The truth just might set me free from this job...."

That's a little better. We've learned a bit more about the protagonist other than just gender and job. We have a hint of her age and we know a little about her life circumstances, just enough to let us know that there is something at stake (a protagonist should always have something at stake) and that something is going to happen. And it sure beats an "info dump" that reads like a police description of a suspect or the dreaded "reflecting on myself" ploy: "As I stared into the mirror at my green eyes, rimmed in red from lack of sleep, I noted that my limp chestnut hair was badly in need of a perm. I wished I had time to curl it but I was already running late and I knew my job as an intern at a prestigious law firm was dependent on me making a good impression on the boss today." Ugh. I hope that very few people in real life (VERY few) feel the need to take note of their eye and hair color whenever they look in the mirror!

Perhaps the hardest thing for a writer to remember when writing in first person is that you are only in ONE person's head: your protagonist. You can't know what the other characters are thinking (you can guess, but you don't actually KNOW.) And you can't see what's going on behind a closed door or on the other side of town. If you're on the north side of town having lunch with your spouse, you can't be on the east side of town where your mother got rear-ended by a drunk driver while leaving the bingo hall. You, the writer, know that's what's happening but you, the protagonist, don't know it until you get a call from the ER or the police and that might not happen for a while. In a way, it's a bit limiting.

That could be a good thing if you want to incorporate an element of surprise. Your readers find out what's happening right along with your protagonist. They share in the thoughts of the protagonist and wonder right along with them what's next. But it's up to the writer to remember that, unless your protagonist is clairvoyant, they have to stay in their own head and see with their own eyes. So unless your protagonist is looking in a mirror--and this is what trips a lot of writers--they can't see their own face turn red (they can feel their face get hot, but they can't see it change color!), they can't see the look of surprise on their own face, and they certainly can't see themselves "look thoughtful" (I'm not making this up; I really did read a book where the author, writing in the first person, had the protagonist say, "I looked thoughtful as I read the note on the desk." Aaaack!)

Conversely, there is one element that is NOT going to be a surprise, at least in the mystery or suspense genre, is that the protagonist survives the story in order to tell it... and yes, there IS a murder mystery in which the protagonist is poisoned and is writing the story as he is dying (must have been a very slow-acting poison), but let's not stretch it!

Which brings me to what I consider the biggest problem with first person. It's one thing to have a protagonist who is witty and amusing. But when dealing with a situation that is tense and fraught with danger, it's hard to believe that the protagonist continues to be witty and amusing while being held at gunpoint, drowning at sea, or careering down a winding mountain road at 95 mph in car with brakes that have failed (or, for that matter, when confronting a cheating significant other in a public place... like church.) And yet, how often does a story surface with a protagonist who rattles off more calm, amusing, acerbic one-liners than Bruce Willis or James Bond? Not only does it stretch incredulity (or inspire envy... don't we all wish we could come up with a snappy comeback in a stressful confrontation?) it can become tiresome. And a distraction from the main story.

Done well, as if a friend is telling us an engrossing story, first person can be a very effective way to write a novel. Next week, we'll examine third person limited point-of-view.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Where Did Summer Go??

I don't know how it happened, but I got up this morning and realized that August is not only here, it's more than half over.

When I was a kid (back in the Dark Ages... ask my son if you don't believe me), the last day of school before summer vacation evoked a feeling of timelessness. For a brief moment, maybe a day or a week or two after school let out, I understood the concept of "eternity".  THAT'S how long summer vacation would be. Endless weeks of no school, no bells ringing, no lunch lines, no homework, stretched ahead of me into the far distant future (meaning September.)

Then sometime around the beginning of August, things changed. You'd walk into the store (in my case, it was Winn's, a discount store at the shopping center a block away from my house) with your money to buy a cherry Slurpee and a bag of popcorn or a candy bar and you'd see big signs posted in the windows: "BACK TO SCHOOL SALE!"

It was enough to kill all desire for that cherry Slurpee.

Stacks of loose-leaf paper, spiral notebooks, yellow No. 2 pencils, boxes of Crayola crayons, bottles of Elmer's glue, blue and black Bic pens, and the ubiquitous "Big Chief" writing pads (do they still even make those anymore?) greeted you at the door and a thrill of panic would spiral down your spine. Summer was almost over! How did that happen? Didn't school let out just last week? As you walked home, your Slurpee melting in the summer heat, you thought about how much you wanted to do all summer with all your free time and how little time you had left to do it. And you dreaded hearing your mom say, "It's time to go shopping for school clothes!"

As the last few weeks of summer dribbled away, your definition of "eternity" suddenly changed from being something you eagerly anticipated (like Heaven, perhaps) to something that you absolutely feared (like... some other place, perhaps.) And if you were anything like me, at some point, during the last few days of freedom, the feeling changed somewhat. Dread turned into anticipation. A new school year. A new grade. A new homeroom teacher. New friends (and many old friends) to share your days.

One of the great things about being a "grown up" is that you no longer have that "back to school" dread (other than the sticker shock that accompanies buying your kids school clothes and supplies--and since when are Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer school supplies??), but neither do you have that eager anticipation of summer vacation (unless, of course, you're a teacher.) Work is work, summer and fall, winter and spring, day after day. There is no longer a clear line separating the seasons... you wake up one morning, like I did today, and realize that the seasons changed without much fanfare.

Whereas for the last few weeks, dinner was planned for what could go on the grill so as not to heat up the kitchen, now casseroles are being prepared. Windows that were opened wide at night to let in cool breezes are now half shut, if not completely closed. Sunrise comes a little later, sunset a little earlier. There is a subtle sense of needing more structure, more scheduling, more regimentation. A holdover from our school days? Maybe. Maybe deep down inside of us is that 10-year-old nudging us and saying, "Hey, remember all that stuff we were gonna do this summer? We'd better get to it before summer is over!"

So call those friends for a barbecue. Head to the lake for a weekend. Do whatever it was you were waiting all winter last year to do this summer. Because it's August and summer is almost over.

Just a few more weeks left to enjoy the back deck in the evenings....

Friday, August 15, 2014

Meet OTP Author S. L. Smith!

Today, The Back Deck Blog author blitz finishes up with Oak Tree Press author, Sharon L. Smith, author of the Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney series.  Let's get to know Sharon and learn about her books and road to publication!
A lifelong resident of Minnesota, I was born in Saint Cloud and attended Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul. The tall iron fence surrounding the campus provided a sense of security for this small-town transplant. Over the next four years, I grew to love the Twin Cities, in part because of the Minnesota Twins and my love for baseball. After graduating, I rented an apartment a few miles from Metropolitan stadium and rarely missed a home game.

During my thirty-two years with the state department of public safety, I worked with law enforcement and fire officials at the state, county and municipal levels. Those interactions assisted me with writing mysteries, but were just the starting point. Without the help of a friend who spent thirty-five years as a cop, I would never have ventured into writing police procedurals. He contributed to my understanding of the perspectives of my two protagonists, Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney Thankfully, this friend is still a resource. He proof reads each manuscript and performs a reality check on the law enforcement aspects.

Publishing family memoirs helped fine tune my research skills, and taught me to contact everyone in the book. I used that tactic on the first Pete Culnane mystery, Blinded by the Sight, and included those who assisted in the acknowledgments. That paid rich rewards as I worked on books two, three, and four in the series. An investigator in the medical examiner’s office provided a foot-in-the-door with the head of homicide at the Saint Paul Police Department, and with a retired investigator (detective).

I’m always amazed by how willing the professionals are to help. The Saint Paul Fire Marshall and an emergency medicine physician patiently and graciously answered my questions. Taking it a step further, I spent four days at the State Fair, while working on Murder on a Stick. While there, I spoke with law enforcement and fire officials. I questioned at least fifty food vendors, and an information booth volunteer. A ticket booth supervisor gave me the lowdown on their procedures. True to form, I was bent on getting the facts right. If I didn’t know the answer, I researched it.


My Road to Publication:

My first encouragement to become an author came from my maternal grandmother. She told me how much she enjoyed the letters I wrote her.

Creative writing became my avocation when I decided to try my hand at writing the type of books I devoured—mysteries. I completed my first novel in 1996, but filed it away and decided to try again. Finished book two, found an agent, and anxiously awaited a publishing contract.

Meanwhile, I believed someone must write a memoir, commemorating the life of my maternal grandmother. No, not just because she liked my letters. :-) Being a realist, I knew it was me or no one. I took up the cause. Made several attempts, was never quite satisfied. Finally, I decided to start with my moments at her death bed.

Like the other versions, I sent this one to a sister who is still my go-to critic and proofreader. She said, “This one is perfect. I laughed, and I cried.”

I could identify with that assessment. I cried while typing it.

Well, to make a long story shorter, that memoir became a memoir of both of my mother’s parents, and all four of her grandparents. Couldn’t stop there. Dad’s family deserved equal time. For four years, I dedicated every spare moment to these memoirs—and none to writing novels.

After completing the memoirs, I had yet to see an offer from my agent. The theme of that novel was no longer in the forefront, so I did a major re-write.

I dove in and, true to my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, spent every available minute writing. The completed novel was Blinded by the Sight. This time, before taking on the world of publishing, I paid a writing instructor to evaluate the manuscript. My final question was, “Does it merit publication by a major publisher?”

 She said it did, but suggested limiting the time I spent on that endeavor. It could take years. She recommended looking for a small press after about six months.

I took her advice. A small press published Blinded by the Sight in 2011.

About My Books:

My books are set in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The protagonists, Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney, are two Saint Paul detectives. (The Saint Paul Police Department calls them investigators.) They’re close friends, but as different as parchment and newsprint. Their banter provides humor in my novels.

Martin is married and has two kids. Pete is a widower who wants kids in the worst way. In Blinded by the Sight, Pete runs into a woman in whom he’s interested, but has yet to make a move. With motivation perhaps provided by frequent nudges from Martin, that relationship begins and progresses through all three books.

I loved social psychology and hated abnormal psych. Guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that my books aren’t about mass murderers. They’re about people like you and me, people who are pushed just a little too far.

All three include a social issue. In Blinded by the Sight, it’s homelessness. For book two, Running Scared, it’s the impacts of a failing marriage on the kids. Book three, Murder on a Stick, addresses a plight faced by many of the elderly.
So there it is, everyone, just a sampling of the talent that populates Oak Tree Press! I'm so very grateful to my fellow authors for taking the time to join the blog blitz and I hope my readers found a gem (or a dozen!) in all this talent!  For myself, nothing was greater than the pleasure of getting to know my colleagues a little better!  Thanks for joining us on the Back Deck!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meet OTP Author Joe Chiba!

I am so pleased that so many of my fellow Oak Tree Press authors agreed to participate in my Back Deck Blog! Today, I'm hosting one of our newest family members, Joe Chiba, whose novel "Summer in Italy" has earned a spot on my "to read" list! Pull up a chair and get to know Joe!

Hi Amy,

Thank you so much for agreeing to have me included with the wonderful Oak Tree Press writers on your blog. This opportunity means so much to me, as I am new to all of the issues that surround book publishing and promoting. I see how lovingly our fellow authors treat one another, and I am honored to be a part of the family.
My journey as a writer began in 2008. I wanted to be a published writer a lot earlier than that, but I just never put forth the effort it takes to get it done. Luckily, in 2008, something incredibly wonderful happened that changed everything. But for you to understand it all, we need to go back to 1976.

It was the summer, and
thirteen-year-old, twin Italian cousins, John Mastrogiulio and Joseph Mastrogiulio, made their first visit to my family's home in Queens, New York. Before that blistering July day, I had never heard of them. The next day, they were gone, back to Italy, and out of our lives forever. Or so we had presumed. However, the brothers did not return to Italy, but remained in Brooklyn, New York, secretly hidden from us for reasons unclear to this day. But that did not stop Destiny from allowing us to find each other once again. It was thirty-two years later, in 2008, that Cousin John located my family in Queens. This was approximately one year after my father's death, when John found a forgotten letter written many years earlier by my father.
Being reunited with my Italian cousins motivated me to travel to Italy, embrace my Italian heritage, and write our story. I immediately fell in love with Italy during my first visit in the spring of 2009. And I began a writer's journey, eating and drinking and writing my way through the country, writing about everything and anything that I was absorbing, about this rich and wonderful culture I had been missing out on for so many years. I knew I had to write and publish my story after seeing Italy with my own eyes, hearing it with my own ears, and tasting it with my own lips. I turned the true-to-life reunion and my experiences in Italy into a fictional story about a man in search of a long-lost cousin, of whom he believes is in Italy. That is how Summer in Italy was born.

It's a feel-good story about a cynical man named Joey Santini, who is searching for some meaning in his life. When he finds a World War II letter hidden among his dead father's possessions, Joey recalls a long-lost cousin and flies to Italy determined to locate him. However, he never planned on Jeanette, a tall, stunning photographer with a tortuous laugh and a fondness for perfection. A season away from the wedding of her dreams, Jeanette agrees to tag along in a yellow Mini Cooper as Joey searches for his cousin. With lemons, cigars, and spiders along for the ride, a series of doomed misadventures sweeps them across southern Italy, changing them in ways they never imagined. But will their summer in Italy be enough to find the something they never knew was missing? You know how it will end, right? Summer in Italy is  like one of those romantic comedies on the big screen we all love so much.

The home of my ancestors, beautiful Italy has rekindled my love of music, art, architecture, and so much more. It has convinced my wife and me that nothing could ever be more important than family, wherever they come from, wherever they are, wherever they might travel. I have been to Italy three times now, and I can't imagine never going back. It's in my blood, and it beckons me ever on to the land of my people.

Joe Chiba was born in Queens, New York, into a large and loving Italian family. He spent his youth playing stickball in the street and soprano horn in his neighborhood drum & bugle corps. After Joe received a B.A. from Albright College in Pennsylvania, he moved to Japan to teach English and explore the exotic Orient. Summer in Italy is Joe's first novel, which has won the 2013 Oak Tree Press Romance/Timeless Love Award. The inspiration for his story came in 2008, when his family in New York were reunited with long-lost Italian cousins. Soon after, Joe traveled to Italy to do research for his novel and to begin a journey to understand the land of his ancestors. Joe lives in Honolulu, Hawaii with his Japanese wife, Sakura.

Thanks for sharing your story with us all, Joe, and best of luck to you! I hope you find a whole new audience of readers here on the Back Deck!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Meet OTP Author, Ann K. Howley!

The Back Deck Blog blitz wraps up today with a delightful visit with Oak Tree Press author, Ann K. Howley, whose memoir, "Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad" was released this month! Grab a glass of tea or wine or whatever beverage you desire and enjoy your visit!

Maybe Southern California deserves its reputation as Land of the Freak and Home of the Babe, but this was a reality far different from my born again, evangelical Christian upbringing there during the Sixties and Seventies. Though I tried hard to please my parents, who live in the tradition of the great religious killjoy, John Calvin, I was a “problem child.” I got arrested at an anti-nuclear protest, hugged a violent-looking inmate in jail, allowed wandering religious cultists to stay overnight, was nearly kidnapped into the Arabian slave trade in Istanbul, and was inexplicably mistaken for a prostitute in Israel.

After being raised in such a strict, sheltered environment, the real world, with all its wacky, funny, disturbing, and confusing complexities, came as quite a shock. I was wholly unprepared for it.

I wish I learned to curse sooner.

My first book, Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad, to be released by Oak Tree Press in August 2014, is a humorous coming-of-age memoir about stumbling my way through my youth and young adulthood, one misadventure after another. As I struggled to reconcile my ultra-Christian upbringing with women’s liberation, prejudice, protest and poverty during this turbulent era, I eventually gained a different perspective of faith in a world more complicated, funny, terrifying and wonderful than I ever expected.

If you’re a Baby Boomer who can look back and laugh at the naiveté and inevitable tyranny of growing up, and remember the struggle between wanting to conform and needing to defy, I think you’ll like my book.

If you’ve ever felt fat, awkward, out of place, and forever on the sidelines of popular culture, I think you’ll like my book.

And if you’re honest enough to admit that although you complained loudly when your parents forced you to watch the Lawrence Welk TV Show, you secretly liked it, you will definitely like my book.

I am a Wonder Bread, middle-class girl who has never thrown a punch, is cursed with a big bottom and who celebrated a personal milestone when I finally drummed up the nerve to call a cranky lady a b*tch. I’m a regular contributor to Pittsburgh Parent Magazine and my stories have appeared in publications nationwide, including Skirt! Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Clever Magazine, The LA Reader, Writer’s News Weekly and The Mirror Newspapers. One of my stories was selected as “Editor’s Choice” in the Fall 2011 edition of The Inkwell, published by California University of Pennsylvania.

We all grow up. But some of us grow up and GO BAD… in a good way!

Thanks for visiting with us, Ann, and telling us about yourself (and maybe a little about OURSELVES???)  Thanks to all OTP authors for participating in my Back Deck Blog! Let's do it again sometime!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Meet OTP Author Nicholas Checker!

Today, The Back Deck Blog presents, Nicholas Checker, one of Oak Tree Press's newest authors. I'll turn the Back Deck over to Nick so he can tell you more about himself and his books, "Druids" and "Scratch". You're on, Nick!

As one of Oak Tree Press’ emerging new authors, I’m honored to contribute as a guest blogger and hope you will all find it worth the time it takes to read. My forthcoming novels, Druids and Scratch, are the reason I’ve come to know Oak Tree Press, and I am grateful to Crystal Dyer as the first member of its staff to read & review them. My own background contains its share of adventures and misadventures – a life considered “freewheeling” by those more conventional: it’s been a zany mix of athletics, the arts – including filmmaking, produced plays, and published fiction – teaching & coaching, taking care of animals (especially rescue & feral cats), and cheering for the Green Bay Packers. I’m proud to say I’ve pursued and captured a fair share of my visions … and am en route to more of that now, due to Oak Tree Press.

People often ask, “Where do you come up with your stories?” My answer is that I don’t. Stories find me. Something triggers one and I jot down a bunch of ideas, then lay out a sequence of events that might occur, sum it all up in a loose structure … then start the tale. Research, of course, plays a key role in the process and I absolutely love that aspect of it. But it’s that initial muse that shows up and sets things in motion. Both my novels were inevitable because I’ve been influenced my entire life by the likes of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling, J.R.R.Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Richard Adams … and so many more adventurers who took my mind and soul on captivating journeys.   

DRUIDS is a medieval fantasy adventure of an isolated young man, born with an eerie cryptic sense that earns him the suspicion and contempt of those who fail to see it as a gift. It is a story that speaks for anyone deemed out of synch with the norm. Within the tale, our young druid acolyte joins with two renowned knights -- overtly caught up in a gender rivalry -- on a perilous quest that holds not only the fate of their broken feudal kingdom in hand, but their very souls as they contend with a monstrous elemental horror. The story itself was triggered by the morose howling of a brutal hurricane that struck New England some years back. The howling gave me cause to imagine the voices of the damned trapped within its vortex. That premise set the story in motion.

SCRATCH is a rousing tale of loyalty, friendship and courage, set against the backdrop of the mysterious world of feral cats. And within the realm of this allegorical adventure, both the decency and despair of human and animal relations come to the fore. Above all, Scratch represents the classic quest where heroes undertake daring journeys in pursuit of legendary figures who harbor dark secrets of their own. Above all, the story shows how opposing cultures often discover more in common with one another than expected. The tale was inspired while living in a woodland cottage in Mystic, Connecticut, and enjoying frequent visits from a roaming feral cat who would always stop by to flirt with my beautiful window-sill princess, Prowler. I got to wondering what sorts of adventures this “Puss-in-Boots of the Forest” journeyed on between his visits. That, and a vivid newspaper article I later read, set me on the path to writing Scratch.

These days I reside in a woodland cottage on the border of New London and Quaker Hill, Connecticut – still taking care of cats and still doing all that other stuff too. Thanks!

Thanks for sharing your story with us on The Back Deck Blog, Nick! I hope my readers enjoyed getting to know you as much as I did (and I'm a sucker for cats, too, but my husband, son, and dogs... well, they've tolerated cats for my sake!)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Bad Writing Ruins a Good Story

I just finished reading a mystery novel a couple days ago and was sitting at the laptop, staring at the review page for it. I make it a point to try to review a book as soon as I can, but I have to admit, sometimes honesty holds me back.  Though I rarely will give a review if I can't give at least three stars ("It was okay"), I struggle a lot with writing a four-star review ("I liked it".)  Especially when I see how many glowing, 5-star reviews the author has managed to amass. I feel that there lurks an unasked question--"Why didn't you love it?"--when I don't quite go all the way to five stars.

In this case, the author (who shall remain nameless, though I will say it was not someone I know from my own publishing house nor anyone who is very well known) wrote a very interesting and compelling story with characters who were very well-drawn and with whom I found it easy to feel a connection. So why didn't it rate five stars?

Most people equate the words "bad writing" with "terrible story" but that's not necessarily how it works. We all know people who have a great story to tell but bad story-telling skills. They wander from the main story to tell interesting side tidbits (well, interesting to the storyteller) or stop the story to explain the intricacies of the relationships between the persons in the story or they're in such a hurry to get to "the good part" of the story that they gloss over or confuse the details that make the story so compelling. A bad storyteller can take the best story and make it dull, boring, confusing, or unintentionally funny or sad and frustrate their audience. Likewise, there are many ways a writer can make a reader want to put a book down and go watch TV instead.

"Must... save... readers... from... TV...."
First off, you have to understand that in my personal circles, I'm known as a Grammar Nazi... make that a Spelling and Grammar Nazi. If a professional, published author misspells or misuses a word, I visibly cringe (I've been told this, so I know it's true.) I can't help it. To me, it's like biting into a breakfast burrito and finding an eggshell. Knowing that the author meant "waver" instead of "waiver", "ascent" instead of "assent", "then" instead of "than"... you get the idea. It's as if a painter, in the middle of a painting a wall, grabbed the wrong roller and ran a few strokes of a paint that was a shade or two darker or lighter. Those errors jump right out at me. And when they are prevalent throughout the book, it's almost impossible for me to even finish reading it. The errors become Easter eggs and I spend the rest of the book looking for them.

Also, it became apparent that the author had a tendency to switch back and forth between POVs (points of view)... sometimes in the same paragraph. The transition is a bit jarring to suddenly jump from one person's head to another's without warning. POV shifts should not be confusing; readers should know at all times whose head they're in. Some writers are masters at omniscient point-of-view and can manage a large cast of characters without losing the reader along the way. Many, like me, can't do this. It's best to stick to one or two POVs in a novel than try to force the reader to get to know everything about every character from the inside out.

The author also had a habit of switching from past tense to present tense, especially when talking about real-life locations he uses to add local color to his fiction. It's perfectly fine to mention a restaurant that actually exists in the real-life city you're using for a setting--it certainly sets the scene well, especially if readers are familiar with the location you're talking about. What is not okay is to suddenly switch to present tense to add a "public service announcement" in the middle of a scene:

"Five minutes later, she stepped into his office with an appointment to meet him at the restaurant for lunch at 12:15 today.
The restaurant is one of those places that succeeds by providing good food and good service and doing it all the time. The manager has started several other restaurants in town using the same strategy and has never needed gimmicks in spite of the high overall failure rate in the city's food service industry."
Nice to know (even if the restaurant alluded to in the book has now gone out of business) but it doesn't add anything to the story. The characters could have been meeting at McDonald's and it wouldn't have made a difference.
These are only a few things that made my experience of reading this author's work less than satisfying. I really was pulled in by the characters and the story, but unless the author brushes up on his writing skills, I doubt I'll spend my hard-earned money on another book of his. But as a whole, I still found the experience rewarding. After all, I learned what the author did right and what the author did wrong and I can always use that knowledge to improve my own abilities.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Meet OTP Author Thonie Hevron!

It's August 1st and we have so many talented authors at Oak Tree Press that The Back Deck Blog blitz had to spill over from July! Kicking off my August guest posts is OTP author Thonie Hevron, and today we'll learn more about her and her books and her writing advice.

My writing story is the same as many other writers. My exception: I won’t give up. Years ago, someone told me the sure way to fail was to do nothing. I agreed and decided to put my Norwegian hardheadedness to work for me.

I’ve been writing since I was in the fifth grade. As an assignment, I wrote a myth: “How the Leopard Got His Spots.” The story is lost but the idea of written story telling captivated me. I’ve never been good at extemporaneous story telling but love hearing and reading them. For years, I dabbled in the genre that I read, romance. The story never got written because I hadn’t yet learned how important good plotting, characterization, and story arcs are to fiction.  

My reading preferences changed to mystery, thriller, and suspense genres. In the mid-90’s, I started feeling my “biological clock” ticking. I knew if I wanted to write, I’d have to make some effort to learn the nuts and bolts. I took several creative writing classes and joined a critique group. The group disliked my story—for good reason. I had an agenda and lost the story to the message. After putting that book away, I came up with another completely fictional tale. I finished it in 1998 and was unsuccessful in finding an agent to market it. In 2004, I moved to the other end of California. During the move, my manuscript got lost. All I found was the outline. Enter Norwegian hardheadedness. I re-wrote that story, Probable Cause, now called, Intent to Hold. It was much better!! Even my new critique group liked it! It won third place in the Public Safety Writers Association Writing Competition 2012. Still no luck with an agent, so in June 2012, I self-published on Amazon in e-format. I had moderate success.

The characters compelled me to write the second story, Intent to Hold. I entered it in the Police Blotter Contest by Oak Tree Press and won a book contract for a print and e-copy. Hooray! On July 13, I hope to launch both books at the Public Safety Writers Association Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. This will be the culmination of decades of determination and nose-to-the-grindstone hard work. I am proud but humbled by this experience.

With no level of expertise, my only advice is to educate yourself and never give up!

Great advice, Thonie, and congratulations on your recent release! Thanks for sharing your story with us on The Back Deck!