13 Titles – An Incomplete List of Books I Love


The Monster at the End of this Book13

I don’t think I could count how many books I’ve read over the years, but some stand out in my memory for various reasons.  Instead of telling you what’s special about each, I’ll let you enjoy them for yourself. 

The Professor’s House Willa Cather
Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll
Walden Henry David Thoreau
A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K. Le Guin
Lost Michael Robotham
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson
A Parchment of Leaves Silas House
Books A through V Sue Grafton
Far and Away; A Prize Every Time Neil Peart
Outlander Diana Gabaldon
The Monster at the end of this Book Jon Stone & Michael Smollin
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak
Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein


Hey, Look Over Here!


There’s only so much jumping up and down and waving your hands you can do before people stop paying attention.

So how do you get noticed in the digital age? The simple answer is Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etcetera… etcetera…. all of the above. How’s your traffic? Tweeting and updating your social media is great, but what if a few tweaks could significantly increase your traffic? It’s not about getting attention, it’s about being found in a sea of tweets and email blasts.

Here are some tips:

Search Engine Optimization

  • Your blog or website is your public persona and billboard for branding, writing and winning over new fans. How do people find information on the web? Search engines. Is your blog Search Engine Optimized (SEO)? It’s not so scary or hard to tweak your site content to be search engine friendly. Begin with a list of words closely associated with your branding. Now look through your recent blog posts and see if these words appear. If not, you’re not giving a clear message to readers of who you are and what you’re about AND search engines, which send out crawlers, will not find you and deliver your site to new readers. Optimization should come after you’ve written your post and before you publish as part of the proofreading/revising stage. Key words should feel natural, not planted.

Appeal to Short Attention Spans

  • Bullet points allow readers to skim and read information they feel is relevant to their needs. If they like what they skim, they’ll take the time to read more.

 Infographics

  • Map your characters, plot, or anything that delivers a fun nugget of information to your readers.

 Use Cool Tools

  • Find innovative ways to use new media tools. Pinterest is the hot new social media trend, but how do you use it for gaining attention rather than pinning random pictures? Try creating a board that’s all about your writing genre, or the novels that most influenced your writing. How about organizing pix and links for your writing research? This lets your readers see into your creative process. I’m building a board titled The Art of Art Theft. I’m pinning famous work, giving the artist and date the piece was stolen. Some of these will be mentioned in my new art crime thriller, “WIRED” and the follow-up novel “Persistence of Time”.  

Branding… or how to find your keywords

  •  Branding is what you’re all about: your writing, your genre, your style, your theme. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer selling novels or a business promoting a new product, the words should represent what you want others to identify with you. Without thinking too deeply, jot down the words that come to the top of your mind. Now imagine a triangle. At the top is what you’re trying to accomplish, on the lower corners you have your list of key (branding) words and your novel/product. They should all work together to make a cohesive message. If you wanted to find you on the internet without using your name or the name of your novel/product, what words would you choose?  

At the top of my triangle I’ve written Build Audience. The lower left corner lists key words Thriller, Mystery and Art Crime. The last corner lists “Perfect Copy” and “WIRED”.

My Last Tip…

  • Check out LinkedIn groups related to social media, your interests, or writing platform.  The conversations shared will give you a fast track to new trends and tools to help you get noticed.

Look Around


  Settings and descriptions are easy to find. Look around. Did you notice anything while driving to work this morning? How about the guy in the car next to you? I bet he picked his nose without even considering someone would see him. By the way, there are a couple of teenage boys walking along the sidewalk, but it’s a school day, so why are they out and about? Observations can lead to interesting questions for writers. Small details in description allow your readers to experience the story, not just read it. Where do you find these details?

Like I said, look around.

Driving through North Carolina, there is a vast landscape of imagery apt for writing. The Research Triangle Park (RTP), surrounded by prominent universities and corporate headquarters, is ripe for a high-tech setting. Drive a few miles out and you find tobacco and corn fields burning under an early summer heat wave. I recently discovered a few gems and have tucked them away for a future project:

  • A Baptist church with brick framed sign advertising “Massage Therapy. Walk Ins Welcome”
  • A farm-house with a perfectly manicured lawn sporting a 70’s era tan sedan in the car port nearly invisible under a growth of kudzu
  • Stumpy’s Taxidermy (do I really need to explain that one?)

I translated some of the scenery and the questions it invoked into the passage below. By writing without a plot in mind, this exercise lets my imagination explore the “what if’s”. Sometimes it even turns into a new story.

“The two-lane highway curved in and around woods, past weedy horse pastures, and bordered fields freshly plowed for late spring crops. Each sign of animal habitation was mirrored by human habitation in the form of wood-frame houses void of paint or posh. This isn’t the part of the country big on appearances. Labor was born of the need to feed families, pay off back debt on acreage and to scrape out a living. There was no money for house painting or landscaping beyond a mower.

Casey turned her ten-year old Ford pickup onto a gravel road, wincing at the sharp ruts that bucked the truck like a rodeo bull. Sweet tea sloshed over the top of her Hardee’s cup and left a glistening rivulet across her arm. She ignored it.

The white outline of the church revealed itself through a veil of dark green leaves. A downburst of wind parted branches for just a second and she could see the modest wooden steeple against a Carolina blue sky.

Craven Baptist Church was founded in 1823 and had stood facing the eastern sunrise ever since. First, her four times great-grandfather cut a clearing and laid in pine benches and a slab of granite for an altar. Sixteen years later, his son built a small church on the same site. The building now in its place was a young 75 years old. Vines twisted along the roof edge and the air was thick with honey suckle. Plywood sealed the windows and the front door, while padded locked on one side, stood ajar from its hinges on the other.

The cemetery would be in the back, hidden in the undergrowth and guarded by snakes.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever use this in a project, but the exercise is a good writing warm up so you can sneak past your inner critic:).


Yes, I fell off the face of the earth.


Well, at least my sense of balance was off kilter.  Life does that to you.  I just find it ironic that I last wrote about Tweeting and Blogging and yet hardly touched my apps in two weeks.  I did read the witty comments of others on the stream and enjoyed Anne Charles’ Optical Delusions in Deadwood… really too funny to put down.

The more complicated my life becomes, the more I want humor and a good mystery to help me escape.  But now I am emerging from my quiet corner to work on novels at hand and follow through on my writing commitments.  Here’s my list of priorities:

  • Update Amazon with new edited version of Perfect Copy. Let me know if you’d like a free read:)funny happens
  • Shape up WIRED to send to my editor by April 15 (Yes, I borrowed the deadline from the IRS)
  • Get on board more blog tours for the summer
  • Be a better IBC (Indie Book Collective) member and help with the workload

That should be enough for the moment.

While on sabbatical, I listened to several audio books, paying close attention to how the author wove multiple plot lines for the main character. Everyone has a lot going on these days, so why not the characters in our stories? Just today, I’m juggling a dozen client projects/calls/setting video shoots, writing a blog post, planning a vacation, making a mental grocery list, managed to fit in a haircut at lunch so no eating = starving, and what comes next?  I don’t know; it’s too much to track without a TO DO list. 

If that’s my boring life, imagine what your over-achieving super clever hero is doing. He’s piecing together clues while wondering if the strange tapping coming from the bath pipes means anything.  She just wanted a frappucinno when she got pulled for driving mph in a school zone. The police detective couldn’t help but notice the location of the crime scene looks like the house where he grew up.

Humans are so funny….in a good way.  Our brains can’t stay in one place, we want to daydream and worry and notice odd things as we go through our day.  To steal a line from the movie “Up”, “Squirrel!” Yep, we are easily distracted.

Have fun with your characters this week and let their minds wander.  You may end up with a brilliant twist to your story.


Twitter. LinkedIn. Facebook. Google+. Goodreads. Google Groups.


Every day I have more conversations around social media and the best ways to use it to sell brands, promote good public relations and engage loyal fans. It’s more than getting your book sold or noticed by readers, it’s who makes the best taco and where should you get your car serviced. I have a large client list with some businesses deep in the social media mindset and others who are still trying to figure out their smart phone. Does their media savvy effect their business efforts? Yes and no. I’m listening and learning and trying to gauge where to spend my social media time for the goals I have in mind for my writing.

The bottom line: you need to know your end-goal before you lay in a plan to get there. The goal and the plan determines the best tools and delivery methods. Sorry this is sounding like a marketing spiel, but indie authors have to be marketers and PR specialist. You have to cut out time vampires whether it’s a bad habit that keeps you from writing or a line of self-promotion that doesn’t deliver.

The best advice I’ve gotten on the subject is to find what you enjoy and make that your focus. Some writers love engaging in forums. Others thrive on Facebook. I’ve decided Twitter has the biggest return for my invested time, as well as blogging and taking part in blog tours.

What works for me on Twitter?
I use the search feature to find followers who may like what I write and are interested in the same subjects I’m researching. My follows bring them in as followers and soon I have a dialog.

Knowing where my followers live allows me to tweet on their time. No, I don’t look up street addresses, but knowing the country or time zone lets me tweet when they are looking. Carolyn McCray oft tells on the IBC Blogtalk radio show, “on Twitter everyone sees you and no one sees you.” It’s all in the timing.

I skim through my stream and retweet what I find interesting or fun and in turn they may feel inclined to share my tweets with their followers.

Striking up a conversation is fun and helps build a connection. I’ve met so many wonderful writers and avid readers on Twitter and they have been generous in supporting my work. Guys, I couldn’t do this without you:)

Why does blogging work?
You get to show off your personality. It also helps if you have something interesting to share. If you write with passion it will resonate. If you write well, your blog readers may become your novel readers.

Some weeks it’s tough to come up with a topic, and often I write something completely different than what I planned. This week I intended to write about symbolism in novels to help build the plot and characters using WIRED as an example. Then I had a meeting and the conversation came around to social media. Its a full time job in a growing number of companies. I’m also testing out a new 3rd party Twitter app, Timely.is which analyzes your followers and schedules your tweets for times when they may be on the stream. It’s only been two days and so far not much response. I’ll give it a week or two and see if it really gets more new followers and RTs than my own efforts. At times I think gut feeling is stronger than algorithms.

Share what works best for you and the smart tips that make you a rock star in the social media world.


Scraps of the Past


It’s inevitable. As we get older we become less sentimental about the odd bits and pieces we carry around from our past. I’m referring to the box(es) of stuff that has survived childhood and traveled to college dorm rooms, first apartments and finally the closet or attic where you now live.

Every time you move and have to pack these things and carry the box to a new home you weigh its importance to your memories or future.

In my box of “stuff” is a stack of notebooks full of youthful angst, poems and the beginnings of a first novel written the summer after fifth grade. Other bits of interest include petrified chewing gum from my 1st Police concert, a t-shirt from Girl Scout camp plus a moth eaten beret.

Digging deeper (metaphorically speaking) I see stories – the ones I read growing up, the stories I dreamed of writing and an impression of a little girl that wanted to see the world through the eyes of Nancy Drew and HG Wells.

I get the same feeling whenever I walk through a junk store looking for vintage jewelry or a discarded first edition. I can’t help but create a story for the journey the objects traveled. Who owned them? What was the world like when it was new?

These details often find their way into my writing. I think that’s why I love writing about art and have spent so much time learning about its plight through history. Each portrait is the face of someone with a story and the painting itself has its own tale. Landscapes are as much an image of a place frozen in time as it is the artist’s personal expression.

Move through time to Impressionism and Modernism and you see a world that is rapidly transforming to an uncertain destiny.

As I add details to Jade’s life, I’m thinking about what bits she would carry around. How does a person with amnesia take stock of the past which made her who she is? Fun is in the details and for Jade, there are also clues there for her to discover.


Enigma


As I’m finishing the final tweaks on WIRED, I’ve begun research for the Jade Weekes follow-up novel ENIGMA.

If you’ve been following my tweets of late or if you’re a history buff, you’ll have recognized the reference to the WWII German code machine.  Enigma also describes a person of puzzling or contradictory character which is a perfect description of Jade Weekes.

In WIRED, she has amnesia, an unusual depth of knowledge for art and security systems (which makes her an excellent thief) and is haunted by vivid nightmares that can only hint at what may have caused her memory loss.  I won’t give away the plot, but by the end of WIRED she knows her real identity… for the most part.

In ENIGMA, she and John Young will partner to track down a killer and uncover a half century of secrets.  The story will take them across Germany and Austria, follow them as they probe bunkers under Dover Castle and reveal a different side of the war.

The idea for ENIGMA began about a year ago when I came across a news article concerning the repatriation of stolen art from WWII.

Courtesy of Wikipedia-Click image to learn more.

Hitler, once an aspiring artist, was denied entry into the The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.  Later, when he rose to power, he ordered master works confiscated from Jewish families and from museums of occupied areas.  He had a clear idea of what he wanted in his Führermuseum, collecting only the best masterpieces and none of the works he labeled as degenerate. The degenerate works included masterpieces by Picasso, Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh… any works of modern influence or impressionism. Rather than destroy the pieces, Nazi officials sold them at public auction and poured the money into their war machine. Since the late 1930’s, these works have changed hands, disappeared and were added to the collections of some of the best museums in the world.  Amazingly, some of them are finding their way back to the descendents of the original owners.

There are so many heroes we never hear about… those who ‘did their bit’ for the war effort. The remnants of WWII are still around us. Stories of German U-boats off the North Carolina shore and spies coming into port to eat and see American movies and perhaps pick up information are still told. If you vacation in Britain, you may find yourself frustrated with the lack of town signs and road markers.  During the war, these were removed so German paratroopers would not know their location. It is a war that has become ingrained in our shared consciousness across borders and time.

Jade understands that. For her, art is akin to time travel.  Looking at a skewed Dali image, she is looking through a window showing his unique view of a world gone mad.


Leaving Big Impressions: 5 Artists


Edgar Degas | The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer | Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A few years ago, I was fortunate to work with the North Carolina Museum of Art to produce a television commercial promoting an exhibition of impressionist paintings and sculptures which included this iconic dancer. The art was mostly installed, with the only work left to be completed was adding the information signs for each piece.

I had seen photos of the Dancer many times, but was still surprised to see the delicate cotton skirt in person. It never occurred to me how fragile a bronze statue could be. That’s when I noticed our light stand which suddenly seemed very close to the skirt. I spent the rest of the shoot holding onto the light stands, paranoid that one would topple and send the skirt up in flames. Luckily there were no mishaps and the exhibition was an enormous success.

Claude Monet | Femme à l’ombrelle tournée vers la gauche | Musee d’Orsay, Paris

In the late 90’s I spent a few days in Paris with my sister. After seeing the long lines in front of the Louvre, we decided to spend our day at the Musee d’Orsay. While I wish I’d visited the Louvre, it does give me a good reason to go back to Paris;)

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we began wandering around. This was before there were virtual tours on the internet with detailed descriptions of every museum piece. All I had were my Paris Rough Guide and the high school French to help indicate what treasures were inside.

Easily, the biggest impression was made by the Impressionists. Art work which I had seen in text books and on television were everywhere. Monet’s Woman with an Umbrella Turning Left seemed to shimmer with life and light. There’s no way a photo can capture how beautiful this painting is in person.

Andrew Wyeth | Winter 1946 | North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

The detailed brush strokes of Andrew Wyeth’s work give the impression that each blade of grass, wisp of hair or twitch of muscle is in motion. I’ve read the painting, Winter 1946, is actually a self-portrait expressing Wyeth’s loss and grief after his father’s death.

English: Red Vineyards near Arles (1888), the ...

Image via Wikipedia

Vincent van Gogh | The Red Vineyard | Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

It is widely touted that van Gogh cut off his ear over the love of a woman. Ingo F. Walther’s “Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890: Vision and Reality” accounts he cut it off after an upsetting argument with his friend Paul Gauguin. The Red Vineyard shows the fields near the house they shared. After walking past it near sunset, van Gogh painted the scene from memory. Wine historians believe it may suggest a virus which infected French vineyards about the same time, devastating French wine production.

M.C. Escher | Escher In Het Paleis, The Hague, Netherlands

Anything by Escher is iconic and has been copied by other artists, movie producers and graphic designers. His work is a labyrinth that lets your eyes and mind travel within his imagination.

This week, give yourself a treat and visit a gallery or museum.  Learn the story behind a single art work or the artist. I didn’t love hockey until I discovered how interesting the players were and learned to appreciate their mastery, talent and determination… traits that genuinely leave a big impression. Yes, I did just equate great art with hockey. Hockey fans will understand.

 

Book Marketing Insight


What if you could be sure there was an audience ready to devour your next book? What are the hot key words you should use in your book description and marketing to get readers to notice you? Is the trending interest going up or down?

Since there isn’t a working crystal ball nearby, I resorted to more useful Google tools, Insights for Search and Google Trends.

Google Trends
This nifty tool allows you to compare the trending pattern of multiple search terms to compare where the greater interest is trending across Google web searches and news references. But there’s more! It also breaks out the data by geographic region and time.

In my own search for “book, art theft” the trend for both the web and news were high which bodes well for my next two novels. Since I set the region to World, I also know that the United States ranks third in interest behind Egypt and India. By clicking United States under the Region results, I get a sub-region breakout by state and then top cities. Now I’m digging down to where my fans may be and can target their time zones via Twitter. (You may have 2k+ followers, but if you miss their coffee break, they’ll never see your message.)

If I were to use this information to tweak my marketing messages, I would need to be sure to include key words related to my genre/content that trend well in web searches. (Think Ad Words)

Insights for Search
The difference between this and Trends is that Search is analyzing the data over search volume rather than directional trend. The graphs may look similar, but the data gleaned will be more detailed here.
Here’s an example for my search “stolen art”:

I’ve added News Headlines so I can verify I’m actually looking at data related to my subject and not a video game or music playlist. Over the past 12 months, New York, California and Texas have the highest search rate. If you are logged into your Google account, you’ll also see actual numbers.

Since I have a fair number of Twitter followers and blog fans in the UK and Canada, I added those two countries to my search and voila, I can clearly see where I have my work cut out for me.

Disclaimer: I do not work for or have any affiliation with Google. I just love how easy they make it to do research and fine tune my work.

Have fun playing and be sure to share any cool tools you’ve come across that helps you write and sell more books:).

***   For other Google tools go to Google.com and click” More” on the top menu and them click “Even More”.   ***


Criminal Fun


Workshops

January is starting off great with an online workshop with former FBI agent Lucinda Schroeder, “Inside the Criminal Mind”. I’ve taken about a half-dozen workshops at savvyauthors.com and the information shared is worth the small fee, usually anywhere between $15-25. Plus, anytime you can get first hand information from a specialist you have a valuable tool to add realism to your fiction.

Research

It’s no secret that my next few titles center on art theft. To that end, I’ve spent some time researching art news, thefts, controversies and the role this has played in modern history. My Google alert continues to send daily links to blogs and news articles from around the web. A predominant trend is the theft of public art for the value of the metal. Scrap yards are on alert for these works, some valued in the 10’s of thousands while the perps melt them down for a few hundred dollars of scrap. Whatever your writing topic or interest, Google alerts are an easy way to get a roundup of information that is current as well as keeping you up to date on evolving stories and opinions.

The North Carolina Museum of Art is also providing invaluable information via their Lunch and Lecture series. Recent topics include registering priceless works for a major exhibition (procuring insurance, security, transportation and installation) to designing crowd flow and security for an exhibition with an expected attendance of over 150,000 people. Again, learning the titles and job responsibilities of museum staff will add depth and immerse the reader into my character’s world. If you look around, I’m sure you’ll find unconventional sources of information for your work in progess too.

Pleasure

Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Gold Chain /...
Image via Wikipedia

Again, the North Carolina Museum of Art is one of my favorite places. Their current Rembrandt exhibit, which runs through January 22nd, presents the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings ever displayed in the United States.

The meaning of a painting is affected by the other works displayed around it. In this case, the story of Rembrandt’s life, the evolution of his work and his legacy is well told. For hundreds of years, works by his students have been incorrectly attributed to Rembrandt, but the side by side comparison clearly shows the mastery he commanded. It’s more than the brush stroke which can be taught, or the lighting which can be imitated. There is an intangible quality that places thought and emotion within the eyes and faces of his subjects.

Fun

In keeping with the art theft and criminal mind theme, here’s a bit of fun from Art Series Hotels. The Cullen, The Olsen and the Blackman Hotels in Australia are designed in the style of 3 of their greatest artists. Until January 15th, guests are invited to steal an original Banskey valued at $10,000. Once the steal is successfully executed, the guest gets to keep the art.

“No Ball Game” was pinched December 19th by a guest posing as a hotel employee who even managed to get the staff to help her place the stolen work in her car.

If you want your chance to play cat burglar, there is another Banskey now on the wall, “Pulp Fiction”.

Good Luck.


The Art of Procrastination


I’ve been in a writing abyss for the past 2 months. Any and every word is taking four times the effort to write and I catch myself wondering if the there is a point to the self-inflicted suffering.

It’s the holidays, my day job is overbooked crazy and there are a million other things to take care of at home including folding and putting away 10,000 loads of laundry.

So, it’s time to find my motivation. If I were a method actor, I’d dig deep into the character’s psyche for that lost nugget of hope. So far I haven’t found it. Here’s where I’ve looked:

Read a sample.

  • Scrabble for iPad (I’ve now won more than 50% of the games played #inyourfacecomputer! )
  • Neverland (SyFy miniseries)
  • Tossing Runes at façade.com until they say what I want to hear
  • Audible books (47 hours of Connie WillisBlackout and All Clear)

Being a writer means I have special powers when it comes to creating distractions. Now I have to AIS (Ass In Seat) and get the last chapters tweaked and sent to my editor. Then—and only then—I can relax and enjoy the eggnog.  Granted, I still have a gingerbread house that needs decorating and presents to wrap and 5 pounds of shrimp to pickle, and….and…and…

I never have writer’s block, just procrastination pains. How do you deal with the urge to do nothing?

I’m trying to focus on the prize at the end of the work… being published.


Magically Mundane


In my professional life, I have to focus on message and concision and visuals while usually constrained to 30 seconds.  Yes, I produce those dreaded commercials:)

However, it does lend resources to my writing life.  I’ve learned there is only one best word for each use and it has to be active, visual and interesting. It has to help move my message–my story–forward.

The process takes me back to a high school art class where we were instructed to create art that makes the ordinary interesting and makes the viewer see the content in a new way, guiding their eye to what you want them to notice.

Writing is the same.  We want our readers to see what’s special about our characters and care.  They don’t want a caricature of the same people they see everyday.  They want details and new angles.

When I’m shooting video, I look for unusual ways to frame the shot or change the height from how we would normally see the scene. In my current novel, I have multiple viewpoints looking at the same subject: art theft. Each character is developed not only by their words and actions in their perspective viewpoints, but also by the observations and opinions of other characters.

I like to give my characters limitations either physical or mental which they have to overcome.  I love characters who are clever and notice the details in an ordinary scene that gives them the advantage.  I love love love characters that surprise me.

Case in point: as I’m re-writing the last chapters of WIRED, my sister, and first beta reader guessed who I planned to kill off.  Guess what?  Now he lives!  hahahaha.  Seriously, I’m changing the entire ending to keep the reader guessing until the very last word.  The first rule in making the mundane magical is to do the unexpected.

Happy writing.


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