Debra Bokur’s new Release: The Fire Thief

The first book in Debra Bokur’s mystery series, The Fire Thief, was released last month to rave reviews. The series is set in Hawaii and you can check it out on her website at https://www.debrabokur.com/.

Debra visited with me on The Writer’s Voice this week, and we talked about how her career as a celebrated journalist and editor of magazines and literary journals did NOT prepare her for writing and publishing fiction. You can listen to the podcast episode here. A short video excerpt will appear on my YouTube channel on Friday, here.

As most writers will agree, we tend to write long or short. When you’re a journalist, as Debra is, you tend to write to specific word counts required by the outlet publishing your work, such as 1,000 per piece. When you write fiction, you tend to write thousands and thousands of words … only to find you need to slash your word count by as much as 25%.

My experiences have been different from Debra’s. I found that writing a newspaper column and magazine articles actually helped me keep my fiction writing tight and in accordance with required word counts. Then again, I began writing fiction first and found it fairly easy to cut word count. Not every writer can toss away words with relish.

But when you begin writing short nonfiction it’s much more difficult to retrain yourself. Give Debra’s interview a listen and then share YOUR take on how writing one particular type of work did or did not prepare you for tackling another type.

Writer’s Voice Guest: Connie Johnson Hambley

Connie Johnson Hambley is the author of tense, twisting thrillers with a strong moral code. She visited with me earlier this week on The Writer’s Voice podcast to discuss writing and the community of writers.

Connie currently serves as the president of Sisters in Crime New England and two her award-winning books, which are part of The Jessica Trilogy, won the Best English Fiction literary award at the EQUUS International Film Festival in NYC.

You can listen to Connie’s appearance on my podcast here, or watch the YouTube video of that conversation here.

Podcast Guest: Barb Gavitt Talks Insurance Licensing in a Pandemic

Barb Gavitt is Vice President of Product Development and Education at A.D. Banker & Company, one of the leading insurance pre-licensing and continuing education providers in the country. She is also the 2020 president of the Securities & Insurance Licensing Authority.

Barb sat down with me recently to discuss the challenges many have been facing, and continue to face, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Although the insurance and financial services industries have been deemed “essential” during shelter-in-place orders, the licensing test centers were not.

This means that individuals who were already hired to work in the industry could not obtain their licenses, despite having paid significant fees and devoted tremendous amounts of time studying. Similarly, those wanting to be hired or wanting to obtain an additional license or line of authority on an existing license find themselves equally frustrated and stymied.

On Episode 6 of my podcast, Taking the Mystery out of Insurance, Barb explains what’s been happening to date, how the states are opening up now, and what she anticipates in the future.

A video of our chat will appear on the podcast’s YouTube Channel later in the week.

Spotlight on Matt Medeiros

I interviewed Matt Medeiros recently for Episode 3 of my Podcast, Taking the Mystery out of Insurance. Matt specializes in content marketing, from blogging to podcasting, all the way up to email capture automation and social media. Essentially, Matt can do anything to help a business or professional build an effective brand.

He’s a man of many talents, generous with his time, always willing to help others. I’ve known Matt for more than 20 years. In fact, I was his first business client–he built a computer for my first insurance agency when he was still in college!

Slocum Studio is a business Matt established with his father and, through that business, Matt and his associates helped me design a couple of websites and create two logos. Currently, one of his ventures, SouthCoast.fm helps entrepreneurs in the South Coast of Massachusetts build their businesses. He also works for Pagely, which provides Managed WordPress Hosting.

To learn more about Matt and what he does, or to reach out to him for help with your content marketing needs, visit him at CraftedbyMatt.com or on Twitter at @MattMedeiros. You can also listen to Matt’s interview on the podcast to pick up tips about what you DO want to do, and what you DON’T want to do, on your website and with social media.

Later in the week, I’ll be publishing 2 short video excerpts of the podcast on my YouTube channel.

Guest Post by Francis Powell

After posting my last blog post, Francis Powell reached out to me from across the pond to share his take on short stories. Powell was born in England and currently lives in France, where he writes prose and poetry. This is what he had to say:

Short Stories

Like a thirty second advertisement, with a short story you have to pack a lot of information into a short space. You need to put an explosive first sentence that grabs the reader’s attention right from the off and immediately grabs their attention.

I have read short stories that are fairly abstract, but my short stories can have a variety of characters and a strong defined theme that runs through them. There is dialogue and a certain amount of description. Everything has to be concise and the stories can’t go off on any wild tangents, which is not the case with novels, where maybe one chapter can be totally different from another.

There are advantages to short stories. The writer can put a lot of energy into the story and it can be written in a morning or afternoon, during a period when the writer is inspired and has an urge to externalize an idea that perhaps popped into their heads. A writer of short story can imagine the beginning as well as the end of the story, right from the off. There can be a lot of freshness and spontaneity with short stories.

People might see a short story in the same way that people in the world of art might see a sketch as opposed to an old painting. A lesser creative art form.

It is true to say that a writer can develop their style by starting off by writing short stories. This was how I developed. When I first attempted to write, I tried to write a novel. It was a disaster; I lacked the skill and technique. It was through writing short stories that my style developed.

I remember as a child reading short stories by Roald Dahl, who produced a considerable number of short stories. What struck me was that he always placed an unexpected twist at the end of his stories.

I guess most genres work with short stories, but horror stories in particular seem to being more successful, with “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe often being praised as a great work. MR James is often considered as a forerunner of the great horror writers that would follow.

Women have contributed some great horror stories, such Daphne du Maurier, who provided the ideas behind three Alfred Hitchcock films. If you have seen a memorable and extremely disturbing film called “Don’t Look Now,” which stars Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, perhaps you are unaware it originated from a Daphne du Maurier short story.

For the reader, the advantage of short stories or collections of short stories is that they are not lumbered with long stories which they feel obliged to finish. They offer different tastes and flavours, like an array of hors d’oeuvres.

Publishers might frown at short stories, because they imagine that they don’t sell like novels do. My advice is if you are not reading short stories, try it, I am sure it will be a most rewarding.

Powell’s latest release, Adventures of Death, Reincarnation, and Annihilation, explores the inevitable unknown that lies before us all at “death.” It is the subject of a book tour and giveaway between now and March 18. Check out the book tour here: https://www.silverdaggertours.com/tour-sign-ups/adventures-of-death-reincarnation-and-annihilation-tour-sign-ups

 

Guest Blogger: Michaelbrent Collings (Part Two)

My guest blogger, Michaelbrent Collings, finishes his little rant about writing rules. Specifically, The ONLY Three Rules You MUST NOT BREAK. Here’s Part Two. Part One appeared on Sunday, February 23rd.

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3) Make Me Better Or Leave Me Alone

A few of you might have noticed that these rules are NOT written from the point of view of the writer. No, they’re written from the point of view of the READER. From the perspective of our AUDIENCE.

This is intentional.

Because the reader is the person on whom I am going to inflict my work. The person who will enjoy my triumphs, but who will have to suffer through my mistakes. And I’m not talking about typos here. I’m not worried about whether I used a semi-colon correctly or if I misspelled “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis.” (I didn’t misspell this. I rock at that word.)

No, I mean that every work that goes out into the world should go out with the intention of improving the world. Of making the world we live in, this lone and dreary place, a little bit better. A little bit closer to Paradise. A little bit closer to God. Even if you don’t believe in God as a reality, think about it for a moment as an abstract – an all-powerful, all-knowing being who wants nothing but the best for us.

You are the god of your story. You craft and create a world, organizing all the ones and zeroes of your computer program into something amazing. Out of the quantum nothing of computerized chaos emerges character, setting, plot.

And what then? What is the purpose, the point?

Some of you may be turning up your noses at this point, saying, “This is none of his business. I write what I write, and I don’t worry about whether it improves the world. It’s art, dammit!”

I think “artists”–meaning people who do creative stuff and expect others to look at it–have a responsibility to leave their audience better than they were before looking at the creation. This doesn’t mean “shiny, happy, feel-good” necessarily, but BETTER. Sometimes this means challenging them to look at the world in a different way, sometimes it means giving them hope in the darkness, sometimes it means just allowing them some time to escape and enjoy something for a few hours of pure fun.

If you are going to create art and send it into the world, it isn’t for you anymore, it’s for everyone. And if it’s for everyone else, it should make everyone better.  It should improve the universe that it has become a part of. It should represent you, and in so doing, should be your agent for positive change.

CONCLUSION

There really aren’t many rules that you CAN’T break as a writer. But there are a few. Three, to be exact. Break any of them and you’re still writing. But are you a WRITER? Nah.

IMAGINARY CREATIVE WRITING CLASS

Teacher: In writing we never use run-on sentences.

Student Writer: Unless you’re Shakespeare. He did it, like, all the time.

Teacher: Yes, well. Of course. I guess you can use them. Just don’t use sentence fragments.

Student Writer: Everyone speaks in sentence fragments. And poets pretty much only use them.

Teacher: Of course. But one rule is that we never start sentences with a conjunction. And the reason for that is –

Writer: Uhhh … you just did that.

Teacher: Get out of my class before I kill you.

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Michaelbrent Collings is a #1 bestselling novelist and produced screenwriter. His most recent novel, Crime Seen, is a paranormal thriller.

 He hopes someday to develop superpowers, and maybe get a cool robot arm. Michaelbrent has a wife and several kids, all of whom are much better looking than he is (though he admits that’s a low bar to set), and much MUCH cooler than he is (also a low bar).

Michaelbrent has more writing advice at his website, MichaelbrentCollings.com

He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter

Follow him for awesome news, updates, and advance notice of sales. You will also be kept safe when the Glorious Revolution begins!

Guest Blogger: Michaelbrent Collings (Part One)

My guest blogger, Michaelbrent Collings, has been kind enough to share some advice about writing rules. Specifically, The ONLY Three Rules You MUST NOT BREAK. Here’s Part One. Part Two will appear on Wednesday.

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Writers are fond of finding exceptions. It’s part of who we are, I guess. I mean, if we were people who liked following rules we’d already be in a more “normal” profession. We’d be doctors. Or lawyers. Or terrorists. Anything but these free-wheeling weirdos for whom “Pants Optional” is a huge job perk.

And here they are: the three rules. Only three, no more, no less. And every other skill I know, every other technique I use, hangs on the framework provided by one or more of these rules.

  1.  Bore Me And Die
  2. Confuse Me And Lose Me
  3. Make Me Better Or Leave Me Alone

 1) Bore Me And Die

This is first because it MUST be the first consideration of any storyteller. It may not be the most “important” from a cosmic “will I be remembered when I die” sense, but it is first from a “will I even sell a book to anyone in the first place” sense.

People come to fiction for many reasons, but the thread that runs through all is this: they want entertainment. They want to experience new things, to go to places and see new things and be new people they have never been.

How many of you have ever looked for a new and exciting book?

How many of you have ever gone on a quest for a boring book about things you do on a daily basis–something titled, perhaps, My Day Waking Up, Then Making Breakfast, Then Going to the Bathroom, Then Working at a Job I Feel So-So About, Then Eating Some More, Maybe Another Bathroom Break (or Two Depending on if my Fiber Bagel Kicks in), Then Home, Then…

Yeah, you get the point. You probably phased out around the third “then” in the title. That was intentional.

You gotta excite your audience. Not just once, but over and over. Every page, and more than that (since pages for a lot of people are largely a function of how big or small they set their text function on their Nooks or Kindles), every sentence.

Bore me and I’ll put the book down.

Bore me and I’ll look for entertainment elsewhere.

Bore me and you’ve lost my interest as a reader.

Bore me … and die.

2) Confuse Me and Lose Me

This one is a natural extension of the first. You have a riveting story. There’s action, suspense, intrigue, a quirky secondary character with a funny name who collects artisanal bongs and believes the government is secretly stealing his skin. It’s all there.

And the first page starts out:

Dell couldn’t believe it. He was sure it was him that had followed him. Because she was on it when it happened, and she wasn’t there with her. The thing she believed most of all – that God had transported from space and was now there with her – was troubling, but not enough to keep Dell from defending herself from the robot ninja dinosaurs.

Okay, so if you’re like me, you instantly zeroed in on the fact that God came down from space – a highly bizarro and (possibly) fascinating concept. Also, there were robot ninja dinosaurs. Which, as everyone knows, make everything Instantly Awesome.

But I had NO FROIKIN’ CLUE where these character/set pieces/flaming hot piles of radicalness belonged in the story. I THINK Dell is the main character. But I’m not sure if Dell is following or being followed. I don’t know what “it” she was on, or what “it” happened. Heck, I don’t even really know if Dell is a boy or a girl.

Confusion.

Now, a sad reality of life is that books are becoming viewed more and more as consumables, less and less as treasures. A few hundred years ago if you could read and you bought a book and it was difficult, you muscled through it. Because that was something educated people did and because you wanted to be able to impress yon maeiden faire with your impressive myte and knowledge trew. But also because it was likely the only book you could afford, or even the only one you were going to see for a while. It was a treasure.

Now, books are less and less treasures and more and more consumables. That is great for authors because people like to read and are plowing through tons of books. It means, though, a lot of people are going to take any confusion as an excuse (if only subconscious) to put the book down. They’ll watch a show, or feed the kids, or even get another book. Because it’s easy to do all those things, and why try to figure out Dell’s relationship to the robot ninja dinosaurs if there’s probably a TV show on that will explain the legend of RNDs for her, no thinking required?

Books don’t have to be dumbed down. They can be challenging. But I firmly believe that they should say something clearly. If you want to build in layers so that the reader discovers more under the surface on a second (and third and fourth and fifth) read-through, then by all means, do that!

But the first read-through should be understandable. Not just on a macro-level, but a micro-level. Chapters should contribute clearly to the work as a whole. Paragraphs should contain coherent thoughts. Sentences should be phrased so there is no question as to what pronoun refers to what antecedent. Words should be chosen with absolute care.

A few “writers” get all testy about this. “But… but… that’s so much work.”

Yeah. Being a writer is a LOT of work. I used to be a big-city lawyer. Now I’m a laid-back writer. Guess which “me” works longer hours. If you’re afraid of spending time getting it right, go do something easier. Brain surgery, or quantum physics.

You’re a writer. Suck it up.

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Michaelbrent Collings is a #1 bestselling novelist and produced screenwriter. His most recent novel, Crime Seen, is a paranormal thriller.

 He hopes someday to develop superpowers, and maybe get a cool robot arm. Michaelbrent has a wife and several kids, all of whom are much better looking than he is (though he admits that’s a low bar to set), and much MUCH cooler than he is (also a low bar).

Michaelbrent has more writing advice at his website, MichaelbrentCollings.com

He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter

Follow him for awesome news, updates, and advance notice of sales. You will also be kept safe when the Glorious Revolution begins!

GUEST BLOGGER: Christy Dorrity

Christy Dorrity is a champion Irish dancer and writer whose debut novel, Awakening, was just released. She was kind enough to share her response to the question most writers hear more times than they care to: “Where do you get your ideas?”

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The answer is from everywhere. A spark of a new idea comes from something a three-year-old says while playing, from other books and movies, and sometimes from dreams.

For me, one of the most fertile grounds for creating fantastic worlds and far-off lands comes from what is already here. Have you ever seen an octopus that can change color and texture to blend into his surroundings? Did you know that there are people who truly believe that faery folk exist? Have you ever really thought about the fact that giant lizards used to rule the earth? Did you know that technology has produced a 3-D printer that prints ears, livers, and kidneys with living tissue?

The world around is so fascinating that I don’t have to go far for ideas.

World mythology is one of those sources of potential for world-building and plot ideas. When I began researching Celtic mythology for AWAKENING, I was amazed at the rich culture and limitless idea-hatching possibilities. Mythology is filled with Hags who pronounce curses, men who turn into beasts in battle, and star-crossed lovers who are destined for heartache. You can’t ask for better material.

AwakeningFrontCoverSmallTake Cliona, the banshee in my book. When I did research on the legends surrounding banshees, I found very little. She is in spirit form, and often attaches to a certain family, warning them with her wail that a death is about to occur. Travelers are warned not to pick up a lost comb; the banshee who often combs her hair by a stream may have left it behind. Some have seen the banshee washing bloody clothing in the river. By some versions she is beautiful, by others, she is frightening.

In creating Cliona, I took what was already there and built on it—giving her motivations and a relatable backstory, while keeping true to original mythology. The elements are all there—the comb, the wail, the wraithlike figure, but the extrapolations are what give my story life.

The make-believe stories that come from an author’s brain are really just an extension of the fascinating facets of the world around us. It’s like Captain Hook says, “Lie? Me? Never. The truth is far too much fun.”

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To learn more about Christy, visit her on her website, her Facebook page, or at Twitter.

Awakening is now available on Amazon.