Monday, December 30, 2013

Save! Sale on quality software for writers including Scrivener and Nisus.

Discounts! Scrivener, Nisus Writer Pro and other quality software for writers now on sale at 20-25% off.

I'm a long-time user—and lover—of Scriv and Nisus and recommend them highly. Both are now on sale along with other, well-regarded software for writers like Tinderbox and Devonthink. Sale ends on Jan 10.

Here's the pitch:

These are programs with attitude, with fresh ideas and exciting new approaches. Small teams work every day to polish and improve them. If you have a question or need something unusual, you can talk directly to the people who handcraft the software.
  • Tinderbox: Visualize and organize your notes, plans and ideas.
  • Scrivener: Your complete writing studio
  • Scapple: Rough out your ideas, fast.
  • DEVONthink Pro Office: Your paperless Mac office.
  • Nisus Writer Pro: Word processing that's fast, clean, and powerful.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Now that you've written The End: How to move the merch. Ads, Promo, Marketing: Paid and FREE.

Amazon  |  Amazon UK  |  Amazon CA
 Nook  |  Kobo  |  iBooks (coming soon)   
After the book is written, edited, polished and published, ads, promo and marketing matter. 

A lot.

There are many sites—with new ones popping up constantly—that will promote your book. Some of them paid, others are FREE.

Each site has different rules and regs—not all of them accept erotica—and it’s important to read the fine print as you make your promotional plans and decide on a budget. As you will see later, some authors have found success with FREE promo, others with paid. There is, as has been pointed out many times, no such thing as one-size-fits-all.

In alphabetic order:
  • AwesomeGang offers FREE ebook listings in addition to a $10 paid option for more traction. As an extra service to authors, AwesomeGang provides a list of other sites offering FREE promotion.
  • Bargain Booksy will list your bargain or reduced-price book on their own site and in their daily email to over 50,000 subscribers at a cost of $50. If you are offering a free book, their companion site, free booksy, is the place to go.
  • BookBlast lists free and sale books discounted 50% from the usual price to over 40,000 readers. Authors can choose genres ranging from YA to thrillers to romance and just about everything in between.
  • BookBub, is picky and pricey but generally considered highly effective although, as with everything, YMMV and there can be variations between genres. As with most sites, BookBub works on an opt-in system and currently does not accept short stories and novellas or books costing more than $2.99.
  • Before deciding whether or not to try your luck at BookBub, you will want to do your due diligence. You will find the latest, hot-off-the-press info on BookBub promo results at this Writers’ Cafe thread.
  • BookDaily “invites [authors] to set up a FREE author account on BookDaily to promote your book to our readers. BookDaily introduces authors to new readers by providing a sample chapter from the author's books.” Recently, BookDaily emailed 43,753 sample chapters to readers.
  • E-Book Bargains UK is the UK’s version of BookBub and gets your book in front of readers in the UK (duh!) and other English-speaking markets that are otherwise tricky for American authors to reach. The site is run by the efficient and very-nice-to-work-with Mick.
  • E-Readers News Today aka ENT is a long-running book promo site with an excellent track record. ENT features include listings for a regularly-priced Book Of The Day, Bargain Books for books reduced to $.99 as well as free books. What sets ENT apart is that you pay after your promo runs and ENT bills you for 25% of your sales. Greg and Rachelle are the savvy guiding lights at ENT.
  • Donna Fasano, bestselling romance author, believes “the combined forces of BookBub and ENT are what propelled Reclaim My Heart onto the USA Today Best Seller List. My book appearing on the list captured the attention of an editor at Montlake who bought the pub rights. The BookBub ad cost $480 and the ENT ad cost approx $50. After the ads ran, Reclaim My Heart hit #9 on the Kindle Top 100, #4 on the Nook List, #20 on the Kobo List, and #9 on the iBooks Romance List.”
  •  Fussy Librarian  FREE (at least for now) is a new kid on the block and sends out daily ebook recs. You can choose from 32 genres, and select content preferences such as amount of sex and violence so that readers who want cozy mysteries won’t receive recs for steamy romance. Here’s a WC thread introducing Fussy Librarian.
  • You will also find an informative interview with Jeffrey Bruner who runs Fussy Librarian at Lindsay Buroker’s blog here.
  • Kindle Books and Tips is another paid promo site that offers readers a daily list of FREE and discounted books. 600,000+ visit the blog daily and 125,000+ people view the blog, FB page and subscribe to their email list.
  • Kindle Nation Daily is one of the first book promotional sites and, as the title indicates, specializes in featuring your book to Kindle owners and readers. KND offers a choice of genres including erotic which some sites don’t allow and also hosts a daily email blast called BookGorilla.
  • Pixel of Ink, another well-established and attractive book promo site, lists FREE and bargain books as well as Hot Deals browsable by category.
  • PeopleReads, a FREE ebook listing site, launched in July of 2013. Presided over by Van, PeopleReads features ebooks priced from $.00 to $3.99 and aims to offer top quality books to its growing list of subscribers.
  • Elaine Raco Chase ran a Veterans Day weekend sale for her contemporary romance title, Rules Of The Game, at 99 cents down from $2.99.  Elaine comments: “On Friday: Pixelscroll + Awesome Gang free ads equalled 20 total sales. Saturday: the People Read ad appeared at 10 a.m (Van does a lot of tweets on his own).  The Read Cheaply ad appeared at 11:45 a.m + tweets from other authors. On Sunday morning ROTG totaled 55 books sold over nite (just 1 at Nook).
  • “Have NOT paid a single penny and am pretty pleased plus sales on 4 other books at full price.”
  • Pixelscroll presents daily postings of eBooks, as well as Apps, Movies and Television Seasons, MP3s and CDs, Audio Books, and all sorts of electronics. PixelScroll offers both FREE and paid ebook listings and sponsorships.
  • ReadCheaply is another FREE book promo service offering targeted lists of free and deeply discounted ebooks. A few hoops to jump but an attractive option.
  • The Kindle Book Review is a multi-purpose site that offers author services like formatting and cover creation along with—as the name indicates—reviews. KBR also offers advertising services at prices ranging from $25 to $45.

In addition to these independent sites, the major ebook vendors offer their own promotional opportunities.
  • At iBooks, you can set your book to $.00 and get coupons to give to readers, reviewers and anyone else you wish.
  • KOBO will also let you set your book’s price to $.00  and has a new feature that allows you to specify a sale price for a specified amount of time. You will find this option when you scroll down to the bottom of the pricing screen.
  • Kindle has added a new opportunity, Countdown Deals, allows authors to run limited-time discount promotions while maintaining their usual royalty. Countdown also offers a dedicated website and real-time sales and royalty information.
  • NOOK also allows authors to set a book’s price to $.00 but, as of now, only via Smashwords.

Hope this rundown is helpful and, if you know of other promo sites and especially if you have experience with them, please let me know and I will add them to the list!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The assassination of John F. Kennedy. Dallas, Texas. November 22, 1963. 11:31 AM CST.

As the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination approaches, it is relevant to recall that convulsive event ushered in many of the cultural and social changes that are still with us today. One of those was a revolution in women's rights, status and opportunity, a battle that, to the surprise of many, is still being fought. In recognition of that tragic event and the tumultuous consequences to follow, here is the first chapter of my NYT bestseller, MODERN WOMEN, the  novel I wrote to explore, up close and personal, the lives of women in the pivotal years of the mid 20th Century.

Chapter I

NOVEMBER 22, 1963

“You certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome.”
—Mrs. John Connally, Jr., to President Kennedy in the motorcade in Dallas

“Jack! Oh, no! No!’
—Jacqueline Kennedy, several moments later



AT first she wasn’t sure what happened. If anything.
Wearing a phony press badge with a fake name borrowed from Ian Fleming's James Bond series, Jane Gresch was seated on the window side in the first row of the first press bus accompanying John F. Kennedy’s presidential trip to Texas. Because of a mix-up in scheduling, the bus was farther back in the motorcade than planned. As Jane gazed out the window at the sparse crowds that had turned out to see a president much too liberal for local John Birch tastes, she thought she heard a car backfire.
From behind the tinted bus window, Jane saw, as if in a silent film, a stir of uncertainty ripple through the crowd. She noticed several people turn and begin to run away from the motorcade. A young mother pushed her two children to the ground and, using her own body as a shield, flung herself on top of them.
Then the bright daylight receded and Jane’s view was blocked as the bus went into the shadows of the Dealey Plaza underpass.
“What happened?” Jane asked. She turned to Owen Casals, her date for the weekend, who was sitting next to her in the aisle seat. Tall Owen. Dark Owen. Lean, handsome, work-all-day, fuck-all-night Owen.
He stood up to get a better view of the scene in front of them.
“The president’s car sped off. Really barreled away,” he said, turning to Jane. He looked alarmed. Owen, too, had heard the sound. Rifle fire, he thought, although he immediately rejected the idea. It was impossible. Along the banks of the Yalu River in Korea where he had reported a war, yes, but not here in America.
Originally a police reporter like his father, Owen had risen through the journalistic ranks swiftly. At thirty-two he was a star in his world, a general assignment reporter for Newsflash magazine. Owen traveled constantly covering the hot stories—and President Kennedy’s Texas trip promised heat.
The local Democratic party’s bitter infighting had prompted what was hoped to be a fence-mending presidential trip. Adlai Stevenson, citing the ugly mood in the Lone Star state, had advised the president not to go. The warning added an edge of danger to the story. Mrs. Kennedy, known to dislike politicking and politicians, had accompanied the president, contributing a bracing jolt of glamor and sex appeal. Dallas promised to be the kind of story on which Owen had built his career.
When the bus came out of the underpass, Jane saw a policeman jump his motorcycle up over the curb, dismount, and scramble up the grassy bank. As he disappeared from her view, Jane thought she saw him reach for his holster. The bus stopped for a moment and a lone reporter got off and ran after the policeman. Then the bus started again and continued at a leisurely motorcade pace toward the Trade Mart where the president was scheduled to speak.
“Something really serious, we’d hear sirens. Cops and Secret Service would be all over the place. This bus wouldn’t be crawling along,” Owen said. He had decided that the noise he had heard was probably a motorcycle backfiring. The driver of President Kennedy’s limousine had certainly heard the same sound and, trained to act first, think later, had undoubtedly jammed his foot on the accelerator and peeled out
“Just act like you belong,” Owen advised Jane, leaping out of his seat as the bus pulled up to the Trade Mart. Even if nothing had happened, Owen wanted to be the first to report it.
Scores of tables had been set up in the huge function room of the Trade Mart. The speaker’s podium, where President Kennedy was about to address the crowd, was draped in red, white, and blue bunting. American flags stood by the speaker’s podium and bouquets of hundreds of yellow roses stood at the head tables. The organist was warming up with a few bars of “Hail to the Chief.”
Everything was ready, but suddenly everything ceased. Hundreds of Texans in the middle of a rubber-chicken circuit lunch stopped eating. Jaws stopped in mid bite. Forks hung suspended in midair. Water glasses poised midway between table and mouth. Jane could see eyes open wide in surprise, heads shake in doubt, mouths open in O’s of disbelief as the rumor spread through the room.
“Is it true?” a man in a business suit and ten-gallon hat asked Jane. He glanced at her press badge and, thinking she might know something, grabbed her urgently by the arm. “Did someone shoot the president?”
“Shoot?” Jane replied. A feeling of chill she had pushed away earlier returned. Jane remembered the stir in the motorcade route crowd—an uneasy and frightened ripple similar to the wave of movement that was sweeping the banquet room.
Before Jane could say another word, Owen grabbed her by the arm and propelled her into the surging mob of journalists that pushed through the banquet hall and up the stairs into the second-floor press room. Just as Jane and Owen entered the room, an official-looking man put down a telephone.
“The president’s been shot,” he said, his face turning white. “He’s at Parkland Hospital.”



ON November 22, Lincky Desmond did what she almost always did for lunch. She left the office at twelve thirty and went out for a brief walk and a breath of fresh air. Then she stopped at the deli for a tuna sandwich that she would eat at her desk while working on a manuscript
The fact that she had been sleeping with her boss didn’t mean that Lincky worked less. In fact, it meant that she worked more. There were two reasons. The first was that Lincky didn’t want Hank Greene to think that she would use their personal relationship to take advantage. The second was that Lincky didn’t want anyone in the office to suspect the affair by noticing that she was goofing off and not getting chewed out about it. Hank Greene, after all, was known as one of the most demanding bosses in publishing.
The first thing that struck Lincky was that the deli, usually frantic at lunchtime, was eerily quiet. The customary frenzy was notable by its absence. The waiters were not shouting orders at countermen. Dishes did not clatter noisily and silverware did not bang against stainless steel counters. The customers, too, were silent. They had stopped eating, stopped talking. Lincky would have thought that she had suddenly gone deaf except for the sound of a portable radio turned up high.
“The president is dead. That’s a confirmed report.” The announcer kept repeating the words over again and again. “The president is dead. That’s a confirmed report.”
Lincky was confused.
“President?” Lincky asked, turning to the Brooks Brothers-suited young executive who stood in the line behind her. “President of what?”
“Kennedy,” he said. Lincky noticed that his skin was ashen. “They got Kennedy.”
Irrelevantly, it struck Lincky that with his charcoal gray suit, rep tie, and horn-rimmed glasses, he didn’t look much like a Democrat. Even before the impact of the news fully sank in, Lincky ran out of the deli toward the office.
As she hurried down Third Avenue to 45th Street in the clear, gloriously sunny late autumn weather, Lincky still didn’t quite know whether or not to believe what the man in the deli had told her. President Kennedy dead? He was so young and so vital. Dead? It was incomprehensible. Yet that was what the man had said.
Lincky saw people standing on the sidewalks, huddled around portable radios. Traffic had come to a halt. A bus, its doors open, stood empty, abandoned in the middle of Third Avenue. Knots of people were gathered around automobiles listening to car radios through open doors and windows. A large crowd had gathered in front of a discount store window where banks of television sets showed grim-faced reporters and anchormen.
Half walking, half running, Lincky realized that something momentous really had happened. Part of her wanted to stop and join the people clustered in groups. The other part, the dominant part, wanted to get back to the office. She wanted to see Hank. She wanted to be with him. She wanted to share this moment with him.
The Henry Greene Literary Agency’s fourth floor offices were deserted. Everyone was out at lunchtime, particularly on a beautiful late November day, sure to be one of the last nice days before winter and darkness took over the city. Looking for Hank, Lincky went down the corridor to his modest corner office. Like everyone else, Hank was still out. Unable to be with Hank physically, Lincky did the next best thing. She sat down in his chair, smelled the familiar odor of his cigarettes and soap, and took comfort from these signs of Hank’s presence.
More prepared now to confront the terrible news, Lincky turned on the portable radio in Hank’s office. Every station had broken into its regular programming for the same bulletin from Texas:
“President Kennedy is dead. He was shot today in Dallas by an unknown assassin.”
It was only then, when she first began to truly comprehend the dimensions of the tragedy, that Lincky realized that not once since she had heard the dreadful news had she thought of her husband.



AS dumb jobs went, selling shoes in the Pappagallo boutique in Georgetown was one of the dumbest. As impossible customers went, this one, Elly McGrath had long since decided, redefined the species. Her name, although not nationally prominent, was fairly well known in Washington. Her husband was an upper-echelon lawyer in the attorney general’s office. It was said on the Georgetown dinner party circuit that she and her husband had the perfect marriage: he had the brains and she had the dough, piles and piles of it.
She also had a blond lion’s mane bouffant hairdo that she flew to New York every week to have set and teased at Kenneth’s, a wardrobe of Jackie Kennedy look-alike A-line dresses, and an overly emaciated figure to offset her overly developed bank account. Her existence proved that it was possible to be too rich and too thin. She reeked of Shalimar and insatiability.
She was exactly the kind of spoiled, materialistic, self-centered woman Elly McGrath had been brought up to despise.
Seven pairs of suede and patent leather shoes were scattered around the pearl gray carpet of the boutique. Three pairs were pumps, four were T-straps. Three were black, the rest were various shades of cream, tan, rust, and brown. Elly was on her knees on the floor, helping her customer slip her long, bony feet into and out of them. The woman had been parked there for an hour and a half unable to decide which color and which style she wanted.
Floundering in a morass of indecision, she inspected each style carefully, lingering over each one in turn. Under her breath, she debated the merits and debits of each style and each color, arguing with herself over its present and future usefulness, flattery, and fashion quotient. The microscopic examination did not seem to help her make up her mind Nor did the fact that she had repeated the exercise on the two previous afternoons.
“I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it,” the woman said.
She motioned to Elly to put her own shoes back on and got up, ready to leave. As Elly collected the shoes strewn over the carpet and began putting them back into their tissue-lined boxes, the stock boy suddenly burst out of the stock room.
“President Kennedy’s been shot!” he said. “He’s dead!”
For as long as she lived, Elly never forgot that at a moment of national crisis she had been on her knees, trying to sell shoes to a selfish and self-obsessed woman who greeted the announcement of the president’s assassination with an angry sigh.
“I suppose that means my dinner party’s off for tomorrow night. And Ethel promised she and Bobby would be there,” she said, her thin, predatory hand with its blood-red nails on the open door of the boutique. “Jesus Christ! Why does everything have to happen to me?”
Elly was jolted by the assassination and her customer’s self-centered reaction. She was wasting her life, her time, her energy. Where were her brains? Where were her values? Where were the ideals with which she had been brought up? Elly was appalled by the way she had been spending her time and energy.
“I’m quitting,” Elly told her boss an hour later. She was in tears.
“You’re just upset. Why don’t you go home for the rest of the day? Come back tomorrow,” replied Janice Kellen, the boutique’s owner.
Elly was an excellent saleswoman, the best Janice had ever had. She didn’t want to let her go.
“No. You’ve been nice to me and I’ve enjoyed working here, but I realize that it’s the wrong place for me,” Elly replied.

It was an impulsive, emotional decision that Elly couldn’t really afford. She had very little money and no idea about what she was going to do next other than that it was damn well going to be more constructive than selling shoes. Making her way home through a stricken city, Elly comforted herself by remembering that she still had the only things that really mattered to her: her friends and her family—and, maybe, if she really got lucky, the man she had her heart set on, Owen Casals.

Amazon  |  AmazonCa  |  Nook  |  Kobo  |  iBooks

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Carbon paper, typewriters and typewriter ribbons: Do you remember?

I remember carbon paper, typewriters and typewriter ribbons.

I remember four-digit phone numbers and dial phones.

I remember the Fonz and Archie Bunker.
I remember when LBJ meant the President (Lyndon B Johnson) and not a basketball player (LeBron James).
I remember the California Raisins, Louis the Lizard and the Budweiser Frogs.
I remember pin curls, home perms, garter belts and push-up bras.
I remember Dick and Pat, Jack and Jackie, Ronnie and Nancy, Jimmy and Roslyn, Bonnie and Clyde, Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, Liz and Dick, Ken and Barbie.
I remember when you had to get up and cross the room to change the channel.
I remember gas station attendants, newsstands and soda fountains.
I remember consciousness raising, est and transcendental meditation.
I remember Bullitt, The Godfather, and The French Connection.
I remember Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd and Marvin Gaye.
I remember Sergeant Pepper, Tricky Dick and Flower Power.
I remember the Bouffant, the Beehive, the Shag, the D.A, The Wet Look, The Dry Look and Greasy Kid Stuff. 
I remember Joy, "the most expensive perfume in the world" and  "Modess...because"
I remember Pan Am and TWA.
I remember disco and Donna Summer, hula hoops and Rubik's cubes.

I remember lots but I can't remember:
  1. What I had for dinner last night.
  2. Where I put my glasses
  3. Why I went into the kitchen and what I was going to do there
  4. Why I clicked on Google and what I wanted to look up (Thanks to Anne R. Allen for this one!) 

If you remember what I remember, you might enjoy the amazing and awesome adventures of no-BS Blake Weston and ex-cop Ralph Marino as they navigate their way through the past, face the future and solve a murder. Who says sixty isn't sexy?

Kindle  |  KindleUK  |  KindleCA  |   Nook  |  Kobo  |  iBooks

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Creative Habit: From Marcel Proust to Ludwig Wittgenstein, from Mozart to Yogi Berra

An elegant book physically, pleasing to the eye and the hand, THE CREATIVE HABIT by choreographer Twyla Tharp, is generous, authoritative, intelligent and well written.  Each page brims with advice, specific how-to’s, questionnaires and exercises about how to open your mind, overcome fear, deal with failure, defeat distraction, clarify your thinking, make your way through confusion and find solutions when you know something’s wrong but don’t even know quite what the problem is.
Using a wide-ranging set of examples ranging from Homer to Proust, from Ulysses S Grant to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Pope LeoX, from Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine to Ansel Adams, Raymond Chandler, Mozart and Yogi Berra, TCH offers a detailed road map based on Ms. Tharp’s own experience about how to define your creative identity. Practical, down to earth and never flinching from the nitty-gritty, Ms. Tharp explains the importance of routine, ritual and setting goals, how to know the difference between a good idea and a bad idea, how to recognize ruts when you’re in one and she offers explicit guidelines about how to get out of them.
Of special interest to Boomers is her candid description of the impact of aging—in her case particularly significant since, as a dancer and choreographer, her life is all about physical expression and movement.  She talks about her recognition of the decrease in stamina and the need to set new challenges and tells how she turned the same brutal honesty on herself that she relies on to guide her dancers. She tells how she changed her approach and work habits when, moving through her fifties, she recognized that she wasn’t the same dancer she’d been twenty years before and was confronted by the need to change.  She describes what, specifically, she did to make the transition from habits that had served her well for two decades to establishing new approaches that turned the reality of aging into an absorbing challenge.

You will find out about the value of “doing a verb” and about building a bridge to the next day, about the relationship between failure and success, the miracle of second chances and what to do when denial is no longer an option. It is hard for me to imagine anyone who won’t learn from or be inspired by a book that is part memoir, part manual, part how-to.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Big O for writers. Organization!

This week you'll find me at Anne R. Allen's blog.

The subject: Organize Up. Clutter Down. A cyber Container Store for writers. "A place for everything and everything in its place." Good advice from my competent and organized Mom!

It's episode #3 in my series: The Writer's Toolbox.

Case in point:  ZURI. It's a love story set in an African animal orphanage that needed lots of super-interesting research.

Amazon US  |  Amazon CA  |  Amazon UK  |  Nook

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to turn "real life" into bestselling fiction.

I found out this week that this post, originally published at Anne R. Allen's blog, is being used as an academic resource in a Tennessee prep school. I was, of course, flattered but it also occurred to me that ideas that might help students might also be of interest to readers and to other writers.

Writing a novel based on a real life situation is a lot more than just regurgitating a story you happen to know—even if it’s a whizz-bang, humdinger of a story. The challenge is turning real people and real events into compelling fiction. Having no guidelines at the time I wrote DECADES, I figured it out as I went along. I made plenty of mistakes along the way but had several advantages even I wasn’t aware of. 

Learn your craft

It’s basic but bears repeating: first of all, learn the nuts and bolts of creating fiction—story structure, characterization, dialogue. DECADES was my first major bestseller, but prior to writing it, I had been writing professionally for over ten years. I wrote weekly articles for men’s—and women's—magazines and original paperbacks, mostly Gothic romances and romantic suspense, under a variety of pseudonyms. 

Publishing salaries were as lousy then as they are now and I needed the money. In the process—and hardly intending to—I learned how to write action, emotion, and sex; how to grab a reader from the first sentence and how to create a cliffhanger. That knowledge of the craft would be the invaluable underpinning of the novel.

Be a good listener—and don’t gossip

Coincidence—and real life—provided me with the initial inspiration for what would become a novel about a marriage in crisis. The coincidence was that I happened, quite by accident, to know each of the three main characters, two much better than the third. They were:  a successful but restless husband, the shy, rather insecure, rich girl he marries on his way up, and a glam fashion editor who would become “the other woman.”

Over time, I heard separate versions of the adulterous relationship from the husband and the girl friend. They each told me “their” version of the affair because they knew they could trust me not to gossip. I knew the man’s wife only slightly and did not hear her version. None of them knew—nor did I at the time—that years later I would turn their real-life story into fiction.

Just because “it really happened” doesn’t mean it’s good fiction

In writing a novel based on real life, I faced the same challenges a writer does with any novel—the need to create believable characters and  a dramatic plot—with the added twist of having to structure the formlessness, confusion, and indecision of everyday real life into the demands of a novel. Knowing the “real people” turned out to be both a blessing and a hurdle.

Protect the privacy of your “real life” characters

Of course I changed their names but, as I began to write, I went further and changed their initials, too.  I learned it wasn’t enough to change John Doe into Jack Dawson. A radical name change—to Mark Saint Clair, for example—guaranteed JD’s privacy and had the secondary effect of freeing me from any reminders of the real John Doe/Jack Dawson. I also changed the character’s physical appearance, details of his family and childhood, gave him military experience he never had, and invented a professional success story for him. 

 Help your reader relate to your story

In real life, my fashion editor friend was a stylish, Manhattan single girl who led a glam, high-profile social life.  For the novel, I wanted a character more in touch with everyday experience so I left out all the glitzy fashion-world details. Instead, I portrayed a woman more characteristic of the times who marries young, has two kids, goes thru a drab, depressed, is-this-all-there-is? period. She divorces the husband who was her college boy friend & learns (the hard way) how to conduct herself in a challenging and competitive business world.

Each of the other characters got a similar makeover. I made the husband taller, handsomer and more successful than he really was and gave the fictional wife a talent even she didn’t recognize—a talent that, in the end, rescues her. 

Give your characters room to roam

The "real" story took place mainly in Manhattan but, as I drafted the novel, I found the setting too confining and added scenes in Florida, Nantucket and the Caribbean. Using different settings helped me show how the characters behaved in different geographies and in different social milieu. Trust me, a week in the Caribbean with a wife is a lot different than a week in the Caribbean with a girlfriend in the middle of a steamy affair!  For the novelist, pure gold.

Expand the scope of your story

Almost any “real life” story by its nature, tends to be limited to a small circle of the people directly involved. (Unless your story is about a friend who happens to be President of the United States.) As I drafted the novel and its plot and characters took shape, I wanted to show that the unintended consequences of what started out as a casual affair affected people not directly involved. I ultimately created a teen-aged daughter torn between her charming, straying father, her loyal, devastated mother, and the come-hither lure of contemporary culture, in this case, the go-go Sixties. 

Look for the larger significance of your story

 I don’t mean hitting your reader over the head with The Meaning Of It All. The final element that transformed real life into fiction came to me as I was halfway through the draft and paused to write what passed for an outline to the end (outlines aren’t exactly my strong suit!). I realized that the age difference between the married couple, the younger “other woman” and the teen-aged daughter led naturally to portraits of three transformational, mid-20th Century decades—and to the title.

By the time I was finished with my makeovers, fabrications, plot twists, and search for a more substantial framework for the story, the characters had taken on their own, fictional lives. The plot moved with its own energy to a far different conclusion from the one in real life and I was able to portray massive personal, cultural and social changes in an entertaining and story-appropriate way.

Kindle  |  Kindle UK  |  Kindle Ca  |  Nook

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Cry of a baby rhino.


That morning, just like every morning, my mother began to stir before the sun rose. Still drowsy, I followed her from the dense bush where we lived to the grassy savannah beyond.
I stayed close to her so she could take care of me. Not that anything bad could happen because my mother was very strong and always knew exactly what to do. Besides, we lived in the protected Nakuru Reserve which the government had set aside especially for us.
Mom and I made our way to the water hole for our morning bath and we splashed around in the water for a while. After, we enjoyed a soothing mud wallow which protected us from the strong African sun and the pesky mites that lodged in our lines and folds and irritated our skin.
Later, when we felt clean and refreshed, I joined the other little rhinos. We ran around and played while Mom settled down to exchange information with the other mothers about places where tender vegetation grew and warnings about hungry lions who might be prowling in the area. Of course, Mom didn’t have to worry about lions—and one day I wouldn’t either. They are so small, slow and pitifully weak compared to us.
I heard the sound of something called an engine, the slam of two doors and a harsh trilling noise I’d never heard before. It was followed by a flash of bright light. Nearsighted like all rhinos, I was blinded, too. For a while, until my eyes adjusted, I couldn’t see what was happening.
I heard the rustling of wings as flocks of birds flew away. The elephants moved nervously for a moment, then froze. A moment later, the mothers and their calves cantered off. Right after the elephants disappeared, the herds of zebra and eland ran away, too. Something was upsetting them but I didn’t know what it was.
Then a loud, sharp boom broke the normal morning sounds of the savannah and I turned toward my mother and asked her what was happening. Instead of answering, she made a wheezing sound and fell down. She flailed her powerful legs and tried to stand up but she couldn’t.
She made a distress call and I sounded a response but she didn’t answer. I was scared and I nuzzled my mom with my nose (my horn hadn’t grown in yet) but she didn’t nuzzle me back the way she always did. Instead, she huffed but this time she didn’t sound like herself. I didn’t know what was wrong but it made me feel weak and trembly. 
A two-legged creature appeared—he looked like one of the ones called tourists but he had a nasty smell and he wasn’t holding the little black thing they use to take our picture. Instead, he walked up to my mom and poked her in the tender spot just behind her neck with the end of his long shiny stick. She huffed in protest but he didn’t stop. Instead, he raised his shiny stick and pointed it right at her and made that loud boom noise again.
This time, my Mom didn’t try to get up and the tourist-creature raised his shiny stick again—the one that made the boom noise. This time he pointed it at me. My heart began to pound. I was scared, more scared than I thought anyone could ever be. My legs began to shake and the awful weak trembly feeling came back worse than before. I was afraid he would make that loud boom noise again.
Instead, another tourist-creature appeared, pulled something he called a knife out of his belt and waved it around. He talked to the first one who went to the van and came back with something that made a loud buzzing noise. He used it to cut off my mom’s horn and I rushed at him to make him stop but he pointed the buzzing-thing at me and I ran away
I hated those two and their nasty smell and their loud noises and I wanted to make them go away but I was afraid of them and didn’t know how. I saw the first one put my Mom’s horn into the back of his van and bend over and wipe his hands on the ground.
The other one came toward me, the one with the knife, and he pointed it right at me. I knew he was going to do something bad to me. I wanted to run away but I didn’t want to leave my Mom.
Mommy! Mommy! I signaled but she didn’t answer.


The elephants of the Kihali Animal Orphanage, located in Western Kenya, are the first to know.
Lanky, dark haired Renny Kudrow—he is Director of the Orphanage, an authority on animal communication, and host of popular television specials called Animals Have A Word For It—will be the second.
He is sitting on the veranda of the main cottage of the Orphanage, drinking his first mug of hot, sweet, milky tea and watching as the night’s dark sky gives way to the light of the rising sun and turns the tall, yellow grass of the distant savannah gold. He has just finished a less-fraught-than-usual phone conversation with his wife, Phoebe, who is living an ocean away in the United States.
He has been doing his best to focus on the orphaned animals the Kihali team rescues and then prepares for return to the wild when they are ready. Instead, he is distracted. He is thinking about Phoebe and their lives in Atlanta—the good times and the bad and the moments that pushed them apart. He is wondering if there is a way for them to be together again when the five Kihali elephants stir restlessly and then freeze.
They silence their usual morning vocalizations and stand motionless in a listening posture, their ears fanned wide. From Maisie, the oldest and the matriarch of the group, to Doris, Kihali’s youngest orphan, rescued after her mother died of Elephant Pox, they are paying attention.
Renny knows they are heeding information being relayed in at least two ways: by infrasonic rumblings too low in frequency for humans to hear and vibro-tactile cues transmitted through the ground and received by their sensitive feet.
They are paying attention to important messages coming from other elephants as far as two miles away.
But what are they saying?
Renny doesn’t know. He knows only that an alarm is being sounded. Somewhere in the 23,000 acres of the protected Nakuru Reserve that adjoins the Orphanage, something has happened. Something that is distressing the Kihali elephants.
“Jomo! Muthengi!” he shouts as he untangles his long legs and jumps up. The two experienced keepers, best friends since childhood, run across the courtyard and scramble onto the open flatbed of the Orphanage’s dinged and battered pick-up.
“Dr. Higgins!” Renny calls as he crosses the courtyard where the elephants, their trunks now extended along the ground, continue to receive messages only they can understand. “Starlite!”
It is the new vet’s first emergency since coming to Kihali. She is already dressed, wearing the same outfit she wears every day—beat-up jeans, a grungy rumpled tee, a pair of well-worn hiking boots. Her fair skin is freckled and peeling from sunburn and her unruly copper-colored hair is braided into messy pigtails. She picks up her black medical bag with its ointments, syringes, antibiotics and anesthetics and races across the dirt courtyard.
“What’s happening?” she asks, breathlessly tumbling into the front seat of the pick-up as Renny is starting the engine.
“I don’t know yet but the elephants do,” he says, glancing at her, irritated by her disheveled, unprofessional appearance.
Using the direction in which the elephants have turned their heads as a guide, Renny hits the accelerator. He speeds as fast as he dares out of Kihali’s gates and over the rutted dirt roads, traveling deep into the Nakuru Sanctuary.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Animals, again. Last week cute baby animals. This week, animals on the verge of extinction.

It’s not just snares, traps and machine guns anymore. Now it’s poison. 
On twitter, @Nmichaelross posted a link to an article in the Guardian reporting that poachers in Zimbabwe poisoned waterholes with cyanide.

80 elephants were killed. For their tusks. The ivory used to make trinkets.
Elephants whose herds once roamed Africa now face extinction.
So do rhinos.

 Rhino horn, made of keratin, the same substance found in fingernails, hair and feathers, is incorrectly thought to have medicinal value. Rhino horn, its value driven by demand in increasingly prosperous Southeast Asia, is now worth more than gold and cocaine.
The big cats—lions, tigers, leopards—hunted for trophies or for their pelts also face extinction.

On World Rhino Day, bestselling author Sibel Hodge wrote about the devastation here. Her novel, The See-Through Leopard, inspired by the slaughter, is a thrilling story set in Africa about the almost-magical healing powers of an orphaned leopard cub.
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Zuri, also set in Africa and inspired by articles about poaching, is a love story about an orphaned baby rhino.
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Friday, September 20, 2013

Cute baby animals. Are there any baby animals that aren't cute?

Two cute baby elephants

One cute baby elephant

Cute baby panda

Cute baby pig
Cute baby seal, a little bedraggled looking

Cute baby rhino and mom

Cute baby rhino and mom
Chic baby rhino in red blanket with friend
Want to read more about a cute baby rhino?
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For more about World Rhino Day, the horrors of poaching and the threat of rhino extinction,  please see Sibel Hodge's  blog.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A woman, a babe, a bitch, a nutcase, a holy terror (not necessarily in that order).

Here they are:
  • Clarice Starling, the FBI agent in Silence of the Lambs (played by Jodie Foster in the film), must face her fears—and Hannibal Lector—to solve the identity of a serial killer but she has no personal life that we know of.  She's a nun, FBI-style, and she doesn’t give up until the case is solved.
  • Jane Tennison, the DI in television’s Prime Suspect, played by Hellen Mirren, is a “woman of a certain age” as they say in France. Her love life is on the gritty side, she drinks too much, she can be flinty—not flirtatious. The men she works with give her a hard time and she isn’t shy about pushing back.
  • Carrie Mathison, the bi-polar CIA agent in Homeland, who has sex with the suspected terrorist. Carrie is also “single,  childless, moody, and she refuses to fit in.”
  • Maya, The young CIA officer, played by Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, is tough-minded, focused and willing to contradict senior officers in her quest to find the al Qaeda terrorist, Osama bin Laden.
  • Nurse Ratched, in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Wikipedia describes her like this: “the ward is run by steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who employs subtle humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine to suppress the patients.”
  • Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, cuts off her favorite writer’s foot with an axe and cauterizes the wound with a blowtorch. Played by  Cathy Bates in the movie, Annie is the unforgettable, over-the-top “difficult” woman in Stephen King’s bestseller, Misery.
  • Riley, as played by Sigourney Weaver, is the warrant officer in Alien. She is courageous, authoritative and has no personal life that we know of. She’s a sci-fi heroine who must rely on her own guts, brains and fearlessness.
  • Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper with no first name in Rebecca, is dedicated to her dead employer, the first Mrs. Maxim de Winter. She is intimidating, manipulative and willing to drive the second Mrs. DeWinter to suicide.
  • Glenn Close, the murderous seductress in Fatal Attraction lives alone, has no family that we are aware of and is psychopathically determined to get what she wants.
  • Judi Dench as M is the head of MI6. She is blunt, unmarried as far as we know although in one scene it is clear she is sleeping with a male companion. She is James Bond’s boss and does not flinch from bossing him around and dressing him down for his recklessness.  
So what does the tough, determined, bossy, or downright crazy woman offer the reader—or the writer?

  • Shock: The “difficult” female character can—and will—do the shocking, the unexpected and, as a consequence, will give your story an immediate jolt of energy. She is the character who doesn’t fit the mold. She is the boss (M), the beginner (Clarice Starling), the domestic employee (Mrs. Danvers).
  • Sizzle:  The “difficult” female character will live in the “wrong” neighborhood, drink too much, have sex with the “wrong” partners—all good ways to add sizzle and wow! plot twists.
  • Stock car races:  She will not take her niece or nephew to Disney World but to a stock car race one day, to the ballet the next and teach him or her how to run a bulldozer, how to roast the perfect chicken and how to rob a bank. 
  • Drama:  She will most likely not be a secretary or a dress designer but a (believable) nuclear physicist,  petroleum engineer or cat burglar. If she is a secretary or dress designer, it’s because she’s got a dramatic secret that will give your fiction a buzz.
  • Rescue:  She will never do the expected or the conventional: she will not give up a career or a promotion for Mr. Right. She will not fall madly in love, swoon into someone’s arms and make irrational choices although she might be an excellent and loyal lover. She can be stubborn, pathological, repellent but she can be the larger-than-life character who will come to your rescue.

So, Ruth, what did she ever do for you?

A holy terror named Chessie Tillman bailed me out of a dead end in Brainwashed, a thriller that takes place in the sour, paranoid 1970’s of Watergate and Vietnam. Because the book is a political thriller, I needed a politician and I had one. I thought. Except he was so stupefyingly boring he brought the plot, the book—and me—to a dead halt.

I fretted and stewed. Bitched and complained. I couldn’t figure out what happened next or who did what to whom. Color me one very very unhappy writer.  Then, popping out from the murk of my unhappiness, along came Chessie.

Senator Chessie Tillman’s parents wanted a boy. What they got was her. She was short, dumpy, and dressed like a rag picker. She smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, swore like a sailor. She had been married three times, each husband richer and more handsome than the one before.  
A roof-rattling orator and take-no-prisoners arm-twister, Chessie Tillman had mowed down men twice her size. In a series of headline-making speeches, she expressed the nation’s disgust with the sleazy goings-on of the Watergate scandal. In Senate hearings she faced down the beribboned generals who were bullshitting the public about the alleged “progress” being made in the high-body-count, vastly expensive, and increasingly pointless war in Vietnam. 
She was blunt, fearless, and had a big mouth. When something bothered her, she didn’t give up and she didn’t give in. America had never seen a politician like her. Right now, sitting behind the desk in her shambles of an office in the Senate office building, she had a new bug up her ass.”

Lesson learned: When in deep doo-doo, don't forget the woman, the chick, the babe, the nutcase, the bitch. She can—and will—come to your rescue.

Question asked: If you're a reader, what over-the-top female characters do you recall most vividly? If you're a writer, has an over-the-top female character ever come to the rescue?

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