Writing 101: The Character Arc

by Monica Shaughnessy

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If you’re a beginning writer or maybe a writer struggling with your second novel, you might be wondering how to construct the perfect character arc. Well, I’m here to help. First, let’s define it, shall we?

Character Arc: a character’s emotional journey throughout the story. 

This is completely different from (but intertwined with) characterization, which is the exploration of details about a character’s past and present that make them seem real and that help drive decisions (along with emotion) throughout the story. For instance, if your main character is autistic (characterization), it will significantly alter their emotional choices (arc). One feeds into the other. But for the sake of this post, let’s extract the character arc so that we may study it in detail.

At the opening of your story, your character begins with an emotional state. Here are some classic opening emotions:

Boredom – I wish something exciting would happen to me for a change.

Joy – I met the most wonderful guy last week, and now we’re dating.

Terror – I just woke up, and there’s a man at the foot of my bed.

Pressure – If I don’t defuse the bomb, the mall will explode.

Throughout the story, your character’s emotional state will vary, but the main emotion, the one you begin with, will drive the forward action of the plot because your MC will either be trying to rid themselves of that feeling or trying to maintain that feeling, despite roadblocks. So choose this state carefully and with purpose.

As we progress through the story, here’s how the above emotions might play out, depending on plot turns:

Boredom – I went looking for action, and I found it! Hooray! Except, it’s more dangerous than I thought it would be. And I have to be home in time for dinner.

Joy – My guy’s mother doesn’t like me. She’s trying to tear us apart.

Terror – I’m going to fight my way out of this situation. Again and again.

Pressure – I’m getting a little old for all this pressure. Do I even want it anymore?

As the story progresses, your character will continue to fight for what they want or they might begin to see what they’re fighting for isn’t worth it.

Boredom – Well, I’m not bored anymore. Because I’m in the emergency room with a broken foot.

Joy – I’m so confused. We were so happy once. Can we be that way again? Maybe, if his mother moves to Boca Raton.

Terror – I refuse to live in terror. I will make a plan, once and for all, to end this.

Pressure – You know, defusing bombs is kind of fun. And it beats working for the post office.

By the end of the story, your character will come to terms with the emotions they’ve been feeling since page one, and they will assess whether they want to maintain that initial state or not. Even if they don’t control the outcome of the plot, they can still choose their mental state.

Boredom – Things aren’t so bad at home. Especially when you compare them to a trip to the ER. I’ll take homework and dinner with my parents any old day! (character craves boredom)

Joy – Who needs a mamma’s boy? The guy was a jerk. Good riddance. (character realizes that joy is no longer attainable)

Terror – I defeated that crazy guy and reclaimed my life so that I can live in peace. (character overcomes terror)

Pressure – This job is totally worth whatever stress it gives me. I’m not ready to retire. (character accepts pressure)

You see? The main character will accept or overcome or reject or crave what they once felt. In all cases, the emotion is tightly bound by the plot, and the plot is tightly bound by emotion. If, once you write your story, you can’t easily change the plot without damaging what the character is experiencing emotionally, then you’ve nailed your character arc. Congratulations! But if you can easily swap out one emotion for another, say, lust for greed, then your story needs more work.

With a little hard work, I know you can get it right!

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Your turn, dear reader. Having trouble with a pesky character arc? Let’s talk shop.

 

Acing Unlikeable Protagonists

by Monica Shaughnessy

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Tell My Story. I Dare You.

When I look back at some of the short stories I’ve written, many, many of them feature unlikeable main characters. I find deeply flawed people fascinating, and it’s easy to “get away with” telling their secrets in short form. Readers might not stick with them for an entire novel, but they’ll definitely stick with them over, say, ten pages.

Here are just a few of the evil/pathetic/bigoted main characters I’ve cast over the years:

Lydia Strichter (“The Trash Collector”) – A bigot with a big mouth who loves prying into other people’s business. Perma-free on Amazon.

Josie Kreneck (“Date From Hell,” First Last Forever) –  A fickle thirty-something who’s dumped more men than Madonna.

The Professor (“Hell Cent,” Lethal Lore) – An academician with a giant ego and a yen for strangling women.

Lydia Strichter, by far, has hit the most home runs with readers. Reviews mention her by name, either calling her out for bigotry or praising her journey. (I won’t spoil the ending!) The Professor comes in a distant second, but only because “Hell Cent” is part of a recently released collection and “The Trash Collector” is perma-free (and more widely distributed). We’ll see about Josie Kreneck. But I think her story will resonate with readers as well.

So how do you write an unlikeable character that people will tolerate, maybe even secretly like or identify with? Here are my top tips:

  1. Give them a past tragedy that evokes sympathy and let it drive the story. Lydia is a grieving widow. Josie is afraid of entering middle age alone. The Professor is out of a job. Even readers who haven’t gone through one of these major life events can at least imagine what it’s like to lose a husband, their youth, or their career. This evokes a sympathetic response from the start. It’s harder to hate (truly hate) someone when you know they’ve had a rough past.
  2. Give them a least one likable or admirable quality. Perhaps it’s a sterling work ethic (The Professor) or sentimentality (Lydia) or even bravery (Josie). Your unlikeable main character must have at least one winning quality. Why? Because that’s real life. And people love characters that read like real life. No one is ever “all bad” or “all good.” If you write them like that, you’re creating cardboard characters (which is WORSE than writing unlikeable characters!) Plus, it gives readers something to root for when things turn ugly.
  3. Give them a foible that is very, very common. If a reader has that foible, too, or at least knows someone with it, chances are, they will receive your protagonist more kindly. In the case of my characters, Lydia is uncomfortable with anything too “different.” Josie is desperate for companionship. The Professor is superstitious. I don’t know about you, but these traits resonate with me because I’ve displayed them at one time or another in my life. Luckily not all at once!

Okay, to show you all of these tips in action (and to prove they work), I’m going to give you some characteristics of a real person (now deceased) who has made a great unlikeable main character in both fiction and non-fiction in the past. And by the way, all of the bullet points below are factual. Can you guess who I’m talking about?

Our Protagonist was:

  • An aspiring artist and cartoonist
  • A student with unfilled dreams
  • A grieving brother
  • A decorated veteran with multiple war wounds
  • A vegetarian against the slaughter of animals
  • A loving husband
  • An electrifying speaker

I don’t know about you, but I can either identify with or root for many of these qualities, even admire them. Except, they all belong to…

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>

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Adolph Hitler.

Yeah, no kidding.

Which leads me to the very last tip:

4. Don’t make your main character so freaking bad that no tragic past/admirable quality/common foible can overcome their evil. In other words, it’s possible to wade too far into the deep end and create a character that prompts readers to shut the book on page one and curse your name. Er, like Hitler.

So don’t be afraid of casting bad guys in protagonist roles. Just do it with thought and planning and a little sympathy.

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How about you, dear reader? Ever cast a bad guy as your protagonist? Ever made your hero an anti-hero? Let’s discuss!

Imaginary friends and writing

by Mandy Broughton

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My daughter had an imaginary friend. My daughter treated her as a real friend. So real that it was six months before I realized she didn’t exist. Imagine my surprise when I asked the preschool teachers to point out Olivia to me and they told me, “there’s no Olivia in this class.” Turns out there wasn’t an Olivia in any classes at the school. I know, I checked.

Best friends. Olivia was quite the trouble-maker. I’d hear all about these wild parties my daughter and Olivia would throw while I slept blissfully through the night. I said more than once I was glad Olivia was good at cleaning up the house after a wild night of partying.

Olivia’s mom was quite the rebel too. I was informed one day that Olivia’s mom was thrown in jail for speeding. I found myself arguing with a three year old on whether or not her imaginary friend’s mother was thrown in jail for speeding. Sheesh!

I decided to research children and imaginary friends. I never had any. As a child, I was perfectly content to sit and read in my room all day. Friends–real or imaginary–would disturb that peace.

Imaginary friends are what we would expect from highly creative people. Active imagination. Intelligent. Creative. Verbal. What I did not expect was that many adults had imaginary friends. What?! Are these people in need of a mental health professional? Maybe, but mostly they are creative adults. And it turns out many of those creative adults are authors.

As a writer, I know I have proper characterization when I dream about my characters. I can hear what they say in certain situations. I know how they’d act when problems arise. Fictional characters should not be shooting gallery ducks forced to respond in a certain way when a crisis occurs.* Characters should be organic, growing as the story progresses. They should feel more real than some real-life celebrities we watch and follow in the news.

As a writer, have you ever needed a character to act a certain way and she just wouldn’t? She’s supposed to be angry but she’s acting all quirky and sarcastic on the page. Or two characters start flirting with each other and they’re not supposed to even like each other. Happens to me all the time. My characters have taken over the pages of my manuscripts. And many of them are completely unrepentant for derailing my plot. I guess I’ve developed imaginary friends as an adult. Maybe I’m a late bloomer.

So tell me, dear writers, how do you know when you’ve achieved proper characterization? Do you hear voices in your head? Do you dream about them? Do you mock-up a fake Facebook page and imagine what they’d post? I mostly argue with mine.

Back to work on this first work week of the New Year. I hope the New Year brings plenty of good books, lots of writing, and great friendships–real and imaginary!

Oh, and I can’t forget, as a longtime, die-hard University of Houston Cougar alumni and fan… oDPuclxr.jpgCongratulations on winning the Peach Bowl. GO COOGS!

 

*My editor once told me my characters were like shooting gallery ducks, they were cardboard and went back and forth like I was shooting at them.

 

Small Steps First

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By Ellen Leventhal

Here we are approaching the end of the year. Time for resolutions, right? When we make resolutions, we look forward, but I think we look back as well. Speaking personally, my resolutions are based on things I didn’t achieve in the past year. In other words, if I didn’t get in shape in 2015, I may resolve to find my ideal body in 2016. If I didn’t get a book deal in 2015, I may resolve to get one in 2016. Sounds kind of crazy, right? Right.  Things like getting a book deal, snagging the perfect agent,  and certainly obtaining that ideal body aren’t really resolutions. They’re goals. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think you can put a time limit on those types of things. They can take years. Or you may never achieve those long range goals. But you CAN resolve to take steps that may lead to your goals. Those steps are what I consider resolutions.  So here they are, out in public, a few of my writing goals and resolutions.

  1. GOAL: Get a particular story traditionally published.  RESOLUTION: I will polish it, have it critiqued several times, revise as much as I need to, and most importantly, send it out to targeted editors.
  2. GOAL: Snag an agent. RESOLUTION: I will go to conferences, network, take classes, and again, most importantly, send my stories out.
  3. GOAL: Redo my website.  RESOLUTION: I will find people who can help me with this (I resolve to ask for help a lot this year!), and I will dive into it head first instead of just talking about it.
  4. GOAL: Indie publish an anthology of short stories.  RESOLUTION: Write two short stories a month.
  5. GOAL: Learn more about e-publishing.  RESOLUTION: Again, ask for help. (Especially from my wonderful, talented, and helpful Space City Scribes buddies!)
  6. GOAL: Reissue Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets.  RESOLUTION: All the resolutions are taken care of on this one. Ellen Rothberg and I are thrilled to be working with Joel Cook to create an even better book than the original. Stay tuned!

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On another note, I’d like to tell you about a goal I did reach this year. I was honored to be part of a Middle Grade anthology in which all proceeds go to the Sturge-Weber Foundation. It is a wonderful organization that helps families affected by the neurological syndrome, Sturge-Weber. If you want to find out more about Sturge-Weber, please check out www.sturge-weber.org. If you want to help, go to Amazon and purchase Kissed by an Angel compiled by Robyn Campbell.  You won’t be sorry you did!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and peaceful holiday season!

http://www.amazon.com/Kissed-Angel-Robyn-Campbell/dp/151936055X/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450096921&sr=1-9&keywords=kissed%20by%20an%20angel

 

 

A Picture May Spark a Thousand Words

by Artemis Greenleaf

Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees. – Marcel Proust

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What happens when your imaginary friends stop talking to you?

If you’re a writer, it is the dreaded “writer’s block,” that feeling of looking at a blank sheet – paper or screen – and finding that the only thing that comes to mind is the item you forgot when you were at the grocery store yesterday, or perhaps that song that you haven’t heard in years, and never liked anyway, that’s been stuck in your head for the past three days.

Of course, you can get up and take a walk, do yoga, or make another cup of coffee. Those things might help. Sometimes taking a hot shower is all that is needed to wash away the blockages and get the creative juices flowing.

But here’s another suggestion. If you really want to get into your characters and get them talking to you again, draw them. Draw things in their world. Paint the villains they face. What does your main character’s bedroom look like? What color is her kitchen? What kind of music does your main character listen to when he’s working out? Does he go to the gym or do it at home? What does that look like? It’s okay if the drawings aren’t perfect. It’s fine if the paintings are so cringe-worthy that you’d never show them to anyone. But the more you do, the better you will get at it. If you spend some time making a trailer for your book, it means you will spend a lot of time looking at (or creating) images/videos that you find evocative of the feelings and situations your characters are in. You will also be looking for music that sets the tone of at least the current scene, if not the entire work. Listen to it. Listen to it while you’re drawing/painting/sculpting.

Sometimes I draw with pencils, but mostly, I use a 3D modelling and rendering package called Blender and PhotoShop (I have a Creative Cloud subscription). Blender does have quite a steep learning curve (but there are tons of video tutorials out there to get you going). If PhotoShop CC or even Elements isn’t in your budget, Gimp or Paint.Net might work for you. Besides getting you back on track with your characters, there are added benefits to learning a new skill: 1) you have a new skill! Congratulations; and 2) it keeps your brain sharp, and may help ward off dementia as you get older.

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A Fantasy Interview: Almost as good as fantasy baseball–

by Mandy Broughton

Last Friday, Houston Writers Guild launched its new anthology, Tides of Impossibility. This collection of fantasy short stories is written by some of the field’s up-and-coming stars. And everyone knows what happens when I hear about a book launch–I find myself a new person to interview. After a flurry of emails, I was able to hunt down speak with one of the editors, C. Stuart Hardwick.

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Mandy Broughton: I’m always curious how editors are chosen. Kyle Russell selected you as a co-editor on the Tides of Impossibility Fantasy Anthology. Is it true that when you gave Kyle a sample of your editing style, you used a gallon bucket of red paint versus a red pen? And you told him the tears of writers fuel you like Dilithium crystals do the Enterprise?

C. Stuart Hardwick: That’s a vile rumor started by the guy Kyle pays to clean out our buckets! Actually, editing an anthology is as much about time and energy as line editing. You spend a lot of time with each story, and you want it to be as pleasant as possible. Kyle and I had worked together promoting the scifi anthology, so we knew we had compatible tastes and temperaments. The guild has done a lot for me, so I was eager to give back. The rest was easy.

MB: Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Hmm. I see distinct lines separating science fiction, fantasy, and horror, mostly determined on the basis if the story contains robots, magicians, or men in hockey masks. You write mostly science-fiction, but as an editor for a fantasy anthology, what do you see the differences among the three genres?

CSH: That sums it up rather well. It’s principally a topical difference, though fantasy readers are a bit more into world building, and horror of course has its own take on tension and pacing, and each follows its own tropes and conventions. But beneath all that, stories are about people, and the best are about interesting people in interesting circumstances changing in interesting ways. That’s what we tried to put into Tides.

I’ve found that the more I work in the field, the less I feel tied to any one sub-genre. If you asked me to recommend three books right now, they’d be Andy Weir’s The Martian, Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides, and Randy Henderson’s debut, Finn Fancy Necromancy. That’s one hard scifi and two fantasy, and all thoroughly enjoyable. What really drew me to scifi was how readily it skirts reality to act as a foil or lens through which we can view ourselves. But storytelling is more than social commentary. Space opera like Star Wars is arguably really fantasy with a technological aesthetic, and many of my perennial favorites, from Groundhog Day to SyFy’s Warehouse 13, are fantasies that I enjoy for the character arcs as mush as the plot conceit, which is why I think Robert Heinlein has the right idea in championing “speculative fiction” as an umbrella term.. 

MB: [An aside: Warehouse 13 BRILLIANT!] Okay, speaking of speculative fiction, umbrellas, and the great Robert Heinlein, you have been rubbing elbows with the top echelon of science-fiction. Tell us about your awards and publications.

CSH: I was fortunate enough to win the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest last year, and they flew me to LA for a week long workshop taught by Tim Powers and Dave Farland. I got to meet a whole slew of scifi legends, from Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven to Nancy Kress and Nina Kiriki Hoffman. I dined with Starlog founder, Kerry O’Quinn, shared pizza with Robert J Sawyer, and spent the evening of my birthday standing out on Hollywood Boulevard watching the lunar eclipse with my awesome new writer friends.

I was also a finalist for the Jim Baen Memorial award and a semifinalist for the BSFA’s James White award, and I’m tremendously proud of making those lists. WotF, though, really lit the fire for me. It’s oddly humbling to be welcomed by such an array of luminaries who tell you in no uncertain terms, that while you have the ability, making it or not is still a long slog of hard work and perseverance.

MB: Is it true when Orson Scott Card asked you for your autograph that you told him to get to the end of the line with the rest of the losers?

CSH: Nooo. I think when Orson stepped up, I may have giggled like a little girl while I tried and failed to think up something memorable to write. Ender’s Game is once of my absolute favorites. And Orson was wearing sneakers with his suit, the devil.

MB: Sneakers with his suit, I like that almost as much as I love Ender’s Game. In your bio, you’ve mentioned that you’ve worn a cape. Readers want to know, when wearing the cape, who do you most resemble Bela Lugosi, Snidely Whipslash, or Batman?

CSH: Lugosi, of course. I was in a college production of Dracula. I’ve been told I have a light foot-step. That experience was very valuable, as my Van Helsing was always loosing his place in the script, and I found that you don’t get stage fright if you have something outside yourself to worry about. The image on my website landing page is of me sharing that advice on stage at the Ebell theater in LA.

MB: Anything else you’ve like to share?

CSH: Yes, Everyone check out Galaxy’s Edge magazine, issue 14., where my story appears along with those of Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Nancy Kress, David Brin, and Alan Dean Foster, among others. Galaxy’s Edge is edited by the inestimable Mike Resnick and filled with scifi and unique and quirky fantasy far afield of the traditional fae and dragon fare My story, Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow, is a good example, about an elemental spirit that learns about love and loss as the copper it’s trapped in is passed down through human history.

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MB: I do believe May, 2015 is when your story will appear. Everyone check it out, it’ll be on the final exam. Thanks again, Stuart. Great work on the anthology. I’m looking forward to the release of Tides of Impossibility.

CSH: Me too. It’s has quite a variety and some really compelling worlds and characters. I know everyone will find something to their liking.

MB: Artemis Greenleaf has an excellent story in the collection as well a humorous piece from yours truly. That’s it. I hope everyone enjoys. **looks around** Hmm, I believe Stuart still has my pen I loaned him last Friday at the signing…

TOI

Would You Date this Protagonist?

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By Ellen Leventhal

I love character driven stories. Great characters become your friends. They hit a chord in your heart. You don’t have to like them, but they should evoke some type of emotion. Are they kind? Funny? Quirky? Certain characters stay with us forever. Is it weird that I wanted to name my first born either Scout or Atticus? As a writer, there are hundreds of ways to develop characters, and I’ve used a bunch. They were all good, but now I’d like to share a new one with you. Match.com. Stay with me on this.

I have been happily married for close to 44 years, but for some reason I get match.com emails almost weekly. I’ve now also been introduced to the ranks of eHarmony and my new favorite, OurTime.com (for mature couples). Obviously, the internet knows I’m old. It just doesn’t know I’m married. Or doesn’t care.  My inbox is a virtual cornucopia of “singles in my area.” One day last week, being of curious mind and wanting to put off real work, I decided to look around a little. You know, just for fun. And then it hit me. The Constant Contact gods did not want me to leave my husband and troll the internet for people looking for love in all the wrong places. They sent these lovelorn souls to me for something much more interesting. Character development! You want to know a character? Read the online dating profiles and then write one of your own. I’d like to introduce you to three characters you may meet in some of my stories.

Ms. Magnificent is a 5’10” (6’ in her Jimmy Choos) Texan with a heart bigger than Southfork. She has been hurt, yet she doesn’t let that stop her from trying to find love. She believes that everyone is basically good, and she is kind to everyone. Those Prada sunglasses she sports may keep out UV rays, but they are rose colored and has caused her some disappointment. But don’t worry. She bounces back for more! She wears her heart on her her Stella McCartney dress sleeves, and when she is upset, y’all will know it. She feels sure that her Prince Charming is right around the corner. Could it be you? Ms. M. likes mocha frappacinos (sugarfree, no fat) arugala salad (dressing on the side), and long walks. (But not in the rain because her hair has a tendency towards frizzing). Ms. Magnificent is an animal lover. She rescues puppies and kittens, and her favorite farm animal is a unicorn. She doesn’t eat carbs, but she’s a wonderful baker. That’s not the only reason they call her Cup Cake. Call to find out more.

Mr. Macho is 6’2” and muscular. He has been divorced for five years, and he enjoys life to the utmost. His luxurious hair is almost to his shoulders because he doesn’t care that it’s not 1969 anymore. He’s a people lover and wants to love as many people as possible. He sometimes gets sad when he thinks of his ex-wife because she is really pretty and rich. They only divorced because she took advantage of his good nature and had a crazy idea that their relationship should be monogamous. He’s too much of a giver to only give to one person. He is also too much of a man to be told what to do. He believes women should be treated like ladies all the time. He opens doors and makes decisions for them. He doesn’t want “his girls” to work too hard. If you want to have fun, and you have very low self-esteem, call him. He’ll answer if he feels like it.

Ms. March wants you to know that’s her name, not her title. And it will be Dr. March as soon as she finished her PhD. She is a biology professor at a prestigious university. She’s never been married because her career comes first. Although she spurns the institution of marriage, she’d like someone to spend time with and possibly travel with her to third world countries. She likes politics, but is open minded. As long as you agree with her. Ms. March does not want to be categorized by political party, race, or religion, but she will not date a Republican. If you don’t recycle, don’t call her. She will have to clear her chakras after being with you, and who has time for that? A perfect date would be margaritas on the beach and an anti-war demonstration. Call and find out why they call her Top Shelf.

So there you have it. Put any of these people together and watch what happens. Thanks, match.com! Research comes in all forms.

 

 

Covering Your Trail

By Mandy Broughton

Cover art is a reader’s first experience with a book. Will it entice her to pick it up and give it a glance? Or will it cause her to chunk it across the room? [Full disclosure: I have ripped the cover off of two different books and shredded them because they were so bad. But the books were good.]

I love to design covers. Selecting art, placing and manipulating it, and finally the reveal. I love the satisfaction of a job well done. What could be better? [A bestseller? The love and envy of other writers? The adulation of adoring admirers? An excellent alliteration? But I digress—]

Writing is fun—ultimately a job—but still fun. But designing cover art—that’s where I get to let myself go wild. I can’t draw but I do think I have an eye for balance. And that discerning eye made me want to write a post on designing covers.

Here are a few ideas on what to look for in a cover. Tell me if you agree, disagree, or if I’ve left something out.

Organized vs Disorganized

Is the cover planned, organized chaos, or just Chaos with a capital C? A jumbled cover is fine—it can work—but there must be a method to the splattering we are looking at. Randomness is only our friend when selecting subjects for experiments, not in our covers. Think of a bomb: a placed charge can move rock so the road can be built. But throwing TNT willy-nilly on the hillside will rarely result in a benefit to the driving community.

Complexity vs Crowded

I like minimalist covers. That’s a personal preference. Simple lines, smoothness, those are soothing and invite me in. An overcrowded cover gives me a headache. It reminds me of my house and how I need to clean. I want to enjoy a book, not be reminded of housework.

Flow vs Splat

Where do my eyes want to go? To the authors name? The title? Am I looking at the woman swimming for her life and ultimately to the shark underneath her? The shark just wants a small snack before breakfast. He’s so misunderstood. [Jaws a great cover even forty years later.]

Symmetry vs Hot Mess

Balance. Even if it is a full and busy cover, there must be balance. Think of Star Wars: “In the time of greatest despair [often when I design], a child shall be born [hmm—a cover?] who will destroy the Sith [all bad covers] and bring balance to the Force [an excellent cover].

Appeal vs Avant-Garde

Avant-Garde is trendy. It can work on a cover but always remember the readers. When appealing to a large group, try to get what most people prefer. Think of ice cream flavors: more people like vanilla over Marbled Cream Cheese Brownie, Southern Peach Cobbler, or Birthday Cake. Vanilla ice cream may not be the first choice but, for many people, it is in the top three. There’s a reason the latter flavors are flavors of the month while vanilla is always available.

So tell me dear readers… what do you look for in a cover? What are some of your favorites?

Raccoons, Poltergeists, and Exits (RUN FAST!)

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Mandy Broughton has found another willing victim for her hot seat. And hot it is. We’re here with Artemis Greenleaf, Purveyor of Fine Collocations.

MB: Most of your fiction features the supernatural. Is it true that you have a ghost in the attic of your house? And that she regularly bangs on the walls and floors to tell your family, “keep it down, you’re all too loud?”

AG: Well, there is something that lives in the attic, but I suspect it’s a raccoon.

MB: A raccoon. How quaint. I’m sure that’s a newfangled codename for “poltergeist.” Exit Point is your latest release. How did you come up with the name? Is it true that you’ve published so much fiction that you’ve run out of titles? And, while at the movie theatre, you saw a kid point to an exit sign and you said, “AHA!”

AG: An “Exit Point” is a metaphysical theory that before people are born, they choose the tasks they need to accomplish while they’re on the Earthly plane, but there are planned “escape hatches,” so that if they get done early, or situations change, they can leave. It might be something obvious, like nearly drowning in a swimming pool, or it may be something they’d never notice, like making a wrong turn or unusual stop on the way to work. If they’d gone the usual route, they would have been involved in a fatal traffic accident. But since they weren’t at the point of departure, the accident never happened, and they were none the wiser. In researching this book, I read a lot of material from Helena Blavatsky, C.W. Leadbeater, and Carl Jung. I came up with the idea for the story because one summer, there were a group of neighborhood teens who were breaking into the swimming pool area and drinking, and doing some malicious mischief. My husband said, “What if one of them fell in the pool and drowned?” and I thought, “What, indeed?”

MB: “What, indeed,” turned out to be a new story in a long collection of novels you’ve written. You are published under several pen names. Is that a secret or can I ask you if [redacted]?

AG: Yes. Artemis Greenleaf is my main brand. If these books were movies, they’d probably be rated PG-PG13. Although, I do have some short stories for younger readers that I’m working on converting to picture books/illustrated stories – those would be rated G.

One of the characters, Belinda Tate, from the Marti Keller Mysteries series (The Hanged Man’s Wife and The Magician’s Children), writes romance novels under the pen name “Coda Sterling.” The first book (well, novella) in her Dragonfire trilogy is Dragon by Knight. I’m about halfway done with book 2, Dragon Killer. The love scenes in Coda Sterling books are tame by 50 Shades of Grey standards, but they are much more explicit that what I normally write. Rated R.

A.B. Richards (Rescue: A Litter of Quetzels) is darker and grittier than Artemis Greenleaf. Definitely a strong R rating.

My experimental brand, Holly Dey (Puss in Spaceboots), is for story ideas that I’m not really sure how to classify. G-PG.

MB: If I had to guess, I would say YA is your favorite genre. Young adult fiction focuses on Dystopian worlds. Do you secretly have a mermaid army (navy?) that is trying to transform the world into a Dystopian Paradise—I mean—Nightmare?

AG: Funny you should mention merfolk – they do turn up in a couple of my stories (Earthbound, Space City 6), but, while they would be perfectly happy to see humans exterminated, they aren’t big on creating a dystopian society. The only true YA book that I have is Confessions of a Troll. It is true that Mimi, the main character in Exit Point, is 17 (so her friends are also around that age), but I’m not entirely sure it classifies as YA. I would say I mostly write Urban Fantasy, but some books are for younger readers, and some are for an older crowd.

MB: Funny, Confessions of a Troll is the first book I read of yours. I suppose that’s why I think YA! You do lots of personal sales, in grocery stores, at book events, farmers markets, etc. And you’ve mentioned that you enjoy people watching. Readers want to know: do you have a transmorgifier that you point at interesting people you meet and transform them into characters for your latest novel? And once transmogrified onto the 2D page, they are forced to act our your story for the rest of their natural lives?

AG: I have tons of notes about people that I scribble down, and I often combine attributes of random strangers. I was once in Target and encountered two young ladies, whose over-loud conversation I could not help but overhear. I wrote a blog post about that, and one of them turns up as Deb in Exit Point. There was once a lady in a store that was rude to me, so I promptly wrote her into a story and ran over her with a truck.

MB: *nervously worried that I’ve accidentally been rude* What’s next on the truck driving writing agenda?

AG: I’m planning on finishing up Dragon Killer, and then I will either write a novel length A.B. Richards book featuring Quetzel Cazares (and of course, Gato, the kitten), or write The Devil’s Advocate, the 3rd book in the Marti Keller series. I’ve got another project that’s set in that same universe, but stars a (mostly) different set of characters. Also working on the illustrated kids’ books – I’d like to have Brain’s Vacation out by summer.

MB: Thanks, Artemis, Coda, A.B., and Holly! Let’s take a look at your book trailer and Exit Point is on sale for $0.99 through December.

Celebrate Local Authors!

By Ellen Leventhal

 

local business Maude Marks Library

1815 Westgreen Blvd. Katy, TX

Dec. 6 1:00- 5:00

Help Celebrate Local Authors and Help Maude Marks Library!

 

It’s crazy out there. Really crazy. It’s loud, crowded, and just a little bit scary. Now understand, this is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Space City Scribes as a whole. After all, we are individuals, but this individual is not fond of crowds and pushing and ripping things out of other people’s hands. Let’s be a little civilized, can’t we? You do see the irony of finishing Thanksgiving and then running out on Black Friday to get more stuff, don’t you? I know some people love it, but the idea of camping out overnight to get a deal on a flat screen TV is not my idea of fun. Nor is fighting crowds and knocking over little old ladies to get that must have item for your fifth cousin once removed. But let’s be realistic. We are in the gift giving season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I love giving gifts. It may sound hokey, but I really do enjoy giving more than receiving. So I say, let the shopping begin….just not the craziness. How about shopping local?
Nov. 29 was Small Business Saturday. Small businesses were celebrated, and everyone was encouraged to “Shop small.” My husband and I were in a locally owned restaurant where the owner talked with us about the importance of small businesses and the difficulties of trying to stay in business in the shadow of mega everythings. I certainly admit to an occasional foray to Costco, but normally I try to patronize small locally owned businesses. It’s important for our economy, and it’s important for our culture. There is something satisfying about knowing that the mom and pop store will still be around with Mom or Pop personally helping you find what you need.
This coming Saturday, Maude Marks Library in Katy, TX will be highlighting local. But instead of restaurants and boutiques, they will celebrate local authors. Maude Marks Library has been very supportive of local authors, and now it’s time to thank them by donating a percentage of their proceeds back to the library. Sounds like a win-win to me. Twenty eight authors will be presenting, discussing, and selling their books. If you’re in the Houston area, come on out and meet us. We’ll get to know you, shake your hand, and sign some books. And I am pretty sure, there will be no pushing, shoving, or knocking down old ladies.