Sunday, December 25, 2011
NOTE TO ALL: We wish you happy holidays! The Writers' Lens will resume posting on Jan. 9.
Friday, December 23, 2011
PLEASE NOTE: The Writers' Lens will take a break from Dec. 25-Jan. 9. Happy Holidays!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Field Research for Your Novel
Because sometimes you just have to step away from the computer.
By Brad R. Cook
My first post, Researching Your Novel: Always Start With Google, gave you a few pointers about online resources. Here is the second post in that series and it’s about resources to help you that aren’t online. Yes, sometimes hard copies can provide more than electronic files. I know that’s digital blasphemy.
- Newspapers & Journals
- Historical Societies
- Renaissance Fairs / Pirate Festivals / Re-enactors
- Gun Range
Libraries have more resources available to them than you could ever hope to have. They pay yearly fees for access to certain databases and many of these resources are free to use. Not to mention the thousands of books on every topic imaginable.
Newspapers & Journals capture the times they write about like no other resource. Today they may seem like a dying art form, but remember it was the internet of its day. If you need to research a time period you’ll find slang, pictures of people, of places, and events written by eyewitnesses, not some historian looking back and trying to imagine what life was like.
Historical Societies can provide invaluable information about a city, building, or people. You may not even need to dig through their records if you talk to the historians.
Bookstores, hurry before they disappear, but there is a book on almost every subject you could ever need. If you find a subject that doesn’t have a book – then you know what your next book should be. But seriously, if you are writing about a place, check out the travel books, if you are writing about a person, find another biography.
Museums, I love museums, for those writing about the past seeing the artifacts will instantly connect you to your characters and time period. Not to mention, you may even want to include the museum itself in your novel.
Movies, have been made about almost every subject you may want to write about, a small town person looking for love, the glimmer of hope in the chaotic urban jungle, and almost every time period of history. Usually Hollywood is really good about capturing the clothing, the slang and phrases, or the look and feel of a place. Just be wary, they often use illusion so make certain its really New York and not Sydney when describing your landmarks.
Renaissance Fairs / Pirate Festivals / Re-enactors, allow you to immerse yourself in the past. You don’t have to participate, but experience is what it’s all about. You can ask about the clothing, the items they used, see a small glimpse of what life was like for those without our modern conveniences. Plus you can dig into a giant turkey leg and eat like a caveman.
Ride-a-longs, if you are writing a police procedural it could be invaluable, they allow you to immerse yourself in their world, pick their brains, and experience a world that the cop drama tv shows can only hope to capture. But it doesn’t just have to be the police, when NY Times Bestselling author Angie Fox was writing the Accidental Demon Slayer Series she went on a ride-a-long with a group of bikers.
Gun Ranges. Have you ever shot a gun? You may want to consider firing a few rounds from your character’s gun. That’s where the range comes in; it will allow you to get a feel for the weapon. Find the answers to questions like, how do you load the ammunition, what kind of kick does it have, and what does it sound like? The same thing goes for swords, or almost any weapon you may write about.
What I’m really saying is that as a writer you need to get away from your computer and experience the world you are writing about. It’s like the old saying – write what you know.
A quick note about Libraries,
Not all Libraries are the same. There are differences between University, County, and City Libraries. They have access to different resources and will have a variety of different books in their collections. University Libraries will have the most but you will find more local records at the City and County Libraries. There is one other distinction to be aware of – Libraries vs. Archives. Libraries are filled with second hand sources (books written about subjects) Archives are filled with firsthand accounts about events (letters, journals, records, all direct from that time period.) So know what you need and find the right library. Just remember that Librarians and Historians are your friends. They are invaluable resources who I guarantee know more about their records than you could ever hope to – so talk to them.
If this sounds too daunting, remember that research can become a distraction from actual writing. Don’t spend forever researching, but it can be fun, and will provide the details for your story that will bring it to life.
Your computer will be waiting when you get done.
Monday, December 19, 2011
After Bachelor One decides he wants her for dessert, Laurel dispatches him with her cell phone. The next day she discovers her drop-dead gorgeous date has literally dropped dead. When Bachelor Two disappears during dinner, Laurel's only alibi is a friendly bottle of Dom Perignon. The investigative detective has to decide if the sassy soccer mom is a killer, or the next target.
Her boss at Hangtown Bank threatens to fire her when he learns the latest victim was an important client. Fortunately, he needs her expertise to investigate some questionable loans. Laurel and her mother, who insists her daughter is innocent because she is too disorganized to plan a murder, set out to save her reputation, her job, and her life.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
My new year's resolution is to find a project management system, preferably in spreadsheet format that will allow me to, and this is utmost important, EASILY update, and keep organized, my projects for the year. All the blog posts, all the outlining, writing, and revising I'll do every day throughout the year. At the end of next year I want to see it in quantitative form. I want to be able to look at that pie chart or whatever chart and say,"See? That's what I've done!" And then, of course, hold up my newly published novel! :)
So I've done some research out there on varying project management systems. Most are costly. I'm looking for free. Because really, unless I love a system I'm not going to stick with it.
Below are a few of the project management tools I've googled over the last week. Let me know what you think. And better yet, let me know what YOU'VE found out there that helps you keep your writing world organized.
Smartsheet.com - looks brilliant with wonderful video tutorials but it's far from free.
Top 10 Best Free Online Project Management Application Services - just found this one, plan on checking it out today.
LotusLive Gets Social Project Management Tools I find this concept fascinating, but for writing projects, not so sure.
Excel for Writers and other Artists I love seeing this, as a writer I don't feel that my creativity is the opposite of tech
Monday, December 12, 2011
Get your very own St. Louis Reflection!By Brad Cook, President of St. Louis Writers Guild
It’s Monday and here at The Writers’ Lens that means – GIVEAWAY TIME!
Today I have something very exciting. I will be giving away one copy of,
St. Louis Reflections An Anthology by St. Louis Writers Guild to Honor its 90th Anniversary
St. Louis Reflections
An Anthology by St. Louis Writers Guild to Honor its 90th Anniversary
Order it today!
Also available on Amazon.com, B&N.com, and all major online retailers
Founded in 1920, St. Louis Writers Guild continues to thrive! St. Louis is known to many as home of the Cardinals, the Blues, the Rams and the Arch, and as the birthplace of Ragtime, ice cream cones and provel cheese. It has always been a literary hotbed. To show our love for everything this city on the mighty Mississippi has given us over the last ninety years, we decided to share our reflections of our wonderful, close-knit community. We honor the culmination of the Guild's 90th Anniversary Year of Festivals with this anthology written by some of today's greatest writers. Inside you’ll find 45 poems, stories, essays, and memories. Enjoy!
St. Louis Reflections contains a list of every member in 2010.
This anthology contains 45 poems, stories, essays, and memories as well as a quick history of one of the oldest and largest literary organizations in the country.
The Writers’ Lens very own David Lucas took the back cover image, and I have two pieces in there, too. It contains some great St. Louis authors like, Senior Poet Laureate of Missouri Faye Adams, former SLWG President Dr. Rebecca Wood, and Missouri Writers Guild President Deborah Marshall. As well as authors like Claire Applewhite, Linda O’Connell, Patricia Bubash, Peter Green and amazing poets like Dwight Bitikofer, Niki Nymark, and Marcel Toussaint.
One note about the giveaway: Due to shipping limitations, you have to live within the continental United States to win. Apologies to the international readers, we also have giveaways are fully online so anyone can win.
To enter the contest, simply leave a comment or question on The Writers Lens Blog between December 12th, and midnight December 17th, 2011. Please include your email so we can reach you if you win. The more comments you leave, the greater YOUR chance of winning the contest. The winner will be chosen after midnight on Saturday and the announcement made on Sunday, December 18th.
Want to learn more about St. Louis Writers Guild, you can find us at www.stlwritersguild.org – on Facebook – or on Twitter @stlwritersguild
To learn more about Brad R. Cook please visit www.bradrcook.com - @bradrcook – or my personal blog http://bradrcook.tumblr.com
Erica, please leave your contact info as a comment or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with your preferred eBook format (and Amazon email address, if Kindle).
We appreciate your comments at The Writers' Lens!
Friday, December 9, 2011
The Classics through Modern Eyes
By Brad R. Cook
It’s the end of the year and everyone is creating their best of 2011 book lists. Now, I enjoy all the new novels coming out, many of them are now by my friends, so I have to say that… but I love old books! So as the year winds down and the lists are formed, remember that the classics are amazing novels. That’s why they’re classics – the best books of their ages, written by authors who will still be revered by our children’s children – kind of like JK Rowling. These brilliant novels came with timeless messages, hidden subtext, plot twists to rival M. Knight, and biting commentaries about the times they lived in, kind of like And Tango Makes Three. There is nothing better than sitting back with an old hardcover book. However since I am not a wealthy author, I am often reading a modern reprint that was so nicely priced in the B&N Bargain Section. I love to read novels that are over a century old or at least close to it.
Why, you might ask? There are a number of reasons.
I love the language, like the slang of "The Great Gatsby", the "Juno" of the Twenties.
I love the stories, like the tales of Allan Quatermain or the epic journey of the "Odyssey".
I love connecting to the past, getting to experience what for them was everyday life but to us is a long forgotten past, like the streets of Jekyll and Hyde, or the sailing ships of "Moby Dick".
If you’re a little unsure about the classics here’s how some compare to our modern day stories.
"A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens should probably be passed around the Occupy movement.
Sherlock Holmes by Sir Walter Conan Doyle – Mystery – it even has the forensic component that has come to dominate the genre.
"The Book of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi – Self help – who knew that Musashi, an amazing swordsman was the self help guru of 1645.
"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne – actually skip this one and just watch Easy A, Hawthorne takes way too long to say anything.
"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne – Steampunk Science Fiction – If you like the genre, then find out where it all started.
"Le Morte d’Arthur" by Sir Thomas Malory – Y/A Fantasy Fiction – is the Lord of the Rings of 1485 and Middle English can be just as tough as elvish.
"The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane – Y/A Memoir – stirs up memories and causes us to pause just like the modern accounts from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
"Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain – MG Humor – not exactly "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" but no one ever thinks of Twain as a MG author.
"Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll – MG Fantasy Fiction – takes you away to a magical world like Harry Potter, where the Red Queen chases a young girl crying “Off with her head!” Kind of like Voldemort.
"Romeo & Juliet" by William Shakespeare – Y/A Romance – puts any modern day romance to shame, and its message still resonates today. Parents just don’t understand.
So read the Hunger Games, Steve Jobs, Zero Time, or Hemingway’s Boat but then add some Hemingway to your e-reader. The best part is that you can often find Fitzgerald, Shelly, or Dumas for free – which can help with your book budgets.
For your enjoyment and to expand your reading lists – here are links to some of those Best of 2011 Book Lists I mentioned earlier.
Find out more about Brad at bradrcook.com or follow him on Twitter @bradrcook
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Some people adamantly oppose giving away your latest book, and others say to offer as many free copies as you can to stimulate buzz. I'm taking the middle road, currently focusing on three main venues: Library Thing, Goodreads, and partnering with other bloggers.
Library Thing: With more than 1.4 million users, Library Thing gives you a place to write about yourself and your library (I'm a huge fan of libraries!). You can list your favorite authors and bookstores, leave comments for other members, and see the interesting data about your books. After you list your books, you can sign up to become an official Library Thing Author. Memberships are $10 per year or $25 lifetime. Then you can participate in the LibraryThing Member Giveaway, which allows members to give away books to members willing to review them. Currently, 7,014 copies of 83 books are being given away. From Oct. 20-Nov. 6, I offered three Kindle ebooks in a giveaway and 48 people signed up. I haven't seen any reviews yet--I'm still hopeful--but at least four dozen readers learned something about my book!
Goodreads: Goodreads is also a book-cataloguing site where you can post reviews--these also show up in Google's bookstore--and share info about what you're reading. Goodreads has more than 6 million members...and it's totally free. Sign up for the author's program to be identified as a Goodreads Author; readers can opt to become your fan or friend. Even if you don't have advance reading copies of your book, you can offer a giveaway if you have a printed book (no ebooks). My Goodreads giveaway started Nov. 15 and ends Dec. 8. So far, 236 are vying for the two copies, and 43 people have added my book to their "to read" list!
Partnering with other bloggers: I appreciate the chance to join with others in promoting books. For instance, this week The Writers' Lens is teaming up with Pots & Pens to offer two ebooks--my own ZERO TIME and Susan Kaye Quinn's OPEN MINDS--in a giveaway for those who comment on this site through Saturday. It's harder to gauge the success of this approach, but again it's all about getting our books into readers' hands.
Between these three approaches, my giveaways have reached around 300 potential readers at the cost of four ebooks and two print copies. I'd love to hear your thoughts about giveaways as a marketing tool.
Monday, December 5, 2011
When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.
Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can't read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can't be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf's mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she's dragged deep into a hidden underworld of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.
I love giving stuff away on a Monday! :) Comment for a chance to win a copy of this awesome book. And hey if you don't win, consider treating yourself this holiday, it's only $2.99 for Kindle or nook!
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Congratulations to Janet Bettag. You have won the two Erle Stanley Gardner two novels in one.
Monday will be a new chance to win a book on The Writer's Lens!
Friday, December 2, 2011
Why Science Fiction, how did you come up with the idea of MindJacking (which is super awesome)?
What are some of your favorite SF/Fantasy writers/books and why?
Tell us a bit about your next book in the series, progress, release date estimate (I'm already excited for it!)
Thank you so much for joining us today Sue! I can't wait for book #2!
When everyone reads minds,
a secret is a dangerous thing
Amazon (UK, France, Germany)
Request a Kindlegraph
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer—well, at least since third grade when I wrote a Halloween story. Despite everything I learned in school before college on how to write a story, I felt that I was missing a huge key to unlock how to write. I found this key –at least the seed that could blossom in my mind—in a chance encounter in the campus library. I didn’t run in to Mr. Gardner, the prolific and best selling author of Perry Mason and many other novels, or any other great author. I ran into a book, sitting on a shelf by a bunch of other books on writing. The spine gave the main title: “The Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer.” Dubiously I pulled it from the shelf and then my eyes must have grown to the size of small moons as the front cover gave the secondary title “The Story Telling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner.”
I grew up on the Perry Mason TV show and I had read a lot, but not all of the more than 80 Perry Mason Novels. When I saw the title, I had to check the book out. When I finished reading it, I combed the used books stores to buy a copy (as it was already out of print by the time I read it.) Unlike many other books on writing that I have read before and since that moment, this book was written directly from an examination of the plotting notebooks, the notes, and the diaries that Mr. Gardner left behind. The book documents his struggles and his life, not just how he wrote.
Mr. Gardner’s notes made it clear that as an early writer, he was determined to turn his mind in to a plot machine—which was my goal as well when I discovered the book. To do this, he actually created a plot machine that he played with until his mind did exactly what the machine did. The plot machine was only a bunch of circle cut outs that had a spinner and plot elements on it. After playing with it and a few other elements (which I may blog about at another time) his mind was able to create the twisting plots.
The plot machine cardboard wheels consisted of nine circles, each answering a question. It was these nine questions that he used to plot out (most) of his 154 novels that he wrote under a variety of pen names. These questions were written to write murder mysteries, but they can easily be changed to fit any genre. The nine wheels, thus the nine questions that he used (and that I use as part of my plotting method) are:
1. The act of primary villainy
2. Motivation for the act of villainy: Villain resorts to crime because of desire for (“Note difference between a static and cumulative motivation. Better wherever possible to start with a departure from a cumulative murder motivation—gradually, inexorably, forced to a murder motivation.” Erle Stanley Gardner)
3. The villain’s cover-up: Having committed the act of villainy, the villain tries to conceal it or escape consequences, or to help carry out motive by
4. Complications which arise during and after the cover-up: In trying 3 or afterward, villain is confronted by complications incurred through
5.The hero’s contact with the act of villainy: The Hero contacts an but not necessarily the act of villainy either by chance or by deliberation
6. Further complications and character conflicts: When conflict has been joined and hero comes in contact with villainy there are certain complicating circumstances which make for character conflicts and story
7. Suspense through hero’s mistakes: The complications become involved with the suspense element
8. Villain further attempts to escape: Villain feeling net closing about him tries to escape by some further act which points to a more exciting dramatic climax when carried through
9. Hero sets solution factors in motion or traps villain.
The plot machine looks easy, but it isn’t. Nor, is it the end of how Mr. Gardner pulled his plots together. It is only one huge cog in his method that drove the rest. If you would like for me to blog more on this, please comment and let me know. If want to find the book (as I am reluctant to loan it out as my ex-wife loaned it once to one of her friends I never got it back and had to but another one at a hefty sum—per Amazon.com it sells for $71 to $125.00 as of today), look for “Secrets of the World's Best-Selling Writer: The Storytelling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner” by Francis L. Fugate and Roberta B. Fugate (Sep 1980). ISBN-10: 0688037011 ISBN-13: 978-0688037017 Publisher: William Morrow & Co You might be able to still get a copy at your library or through the interlibrary loan system (which is why I have given you the ISBNs and the publisher).
To learn more about me, please visit my website and blog at www.davidalanlucas.com
Monday, November 28, 2011
Do you know the name Erle Stanley Gardner? Maybe not. It is likely you have heard of one of his famous protagonist: the famous Defense Attorney Perry Mason--known both in book and from TV as portrayed by Raymond Burr. Gardner was proclaimed to be the king of American mystery fiction. He was a criminal lawyer who filled his mystery masterpieces with intricate plots with more twists than a wood screw. Gardner wrote novels, short stories, radio dramas, and articles on forensics and travel. He published 134 novels and 15 non-fiction books under his own name and A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray and Robert Parr. On Wednesday, we will post a blog on Gardner's "Theory of an Unstatic Plot" which helped turn his mind into a "plot machine."
Meanwhile, you have the chance to win two Perry Mason novels contained in one book: The Case of the Caretaker's Cat & The Case of the Perjured Parrot:
The Case of the Caretaker's Cat (1935) – "Charles Ashton is a cranky old caretaker with one friend in the world: a Persian cat. Samuel Laxter, his new boss, wants him to get rid of the feline. A simple case . . . on the surface. But when Perry Mason gets involved, there's suddenly more at stake. Like some priceless diamonds. A million dollars. And two gruesome murders. Only Mason with the invaluable help of Della Street and Paul Drake, can crack The Case of the Caretaker's Cat."
The Case of the Perjured Parrot (1939) – "Fremont Sabin, an eccentric millionaire, is found murdered in his country cabin. The only witness: his pet parrot. The bird keeps saying, "Helen, put down that gun." But is a parrot's testimony valid in a court of law? And what's Perry Mason to do when he discovers that the dead man had two wives named Helen? In one of his most ingenious and entertaining cases, Perry Mason puts Della Street and Paul Drake to work to help solve The Case of the Perjured Parrot."
How do you win? To enter the contest, simply leave a comment or question on The Writers' Lens blog between now (Nov. 28) and midnight December 3, 2011. Please include your email so we can reach you if you win. The more comments you leave, the greater your chance of winning the contest. If you refer others to The Writers' Lens who mention your name in their comments, we'll enter your name again in our random number generator along with theirs, also increasing your chances at winning! The winner will be chosen after midnight on Saturday and the announcement made on Sunday, December 4th. Good luck and comment often.
Thanks in advance for your comments, and good luck!
For more about David Alan Lucas, please visit www.davidalanlucas.com