A TALE DU MORT is FREE This Weekend!

Saturday and Sunday, to be exact.

Most of you are already aware, but in case you missed my thousands of tweets on the stress of planning a wedding, I’M GETTING MARRIED!

In celebration (and who am I to resist a perfect promo set-up?) I’ve made A TALE DU MORT free for everyone this weekend. Here’s the Amazon link.

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GET YOUR READ ON and I’ll see you in two weeks with tales of a couple trying to wander London without looking too much like tourists.

How the F*** Do I Name My Characters?

If you’re a parent (or even if you’re not), it’s easy to understand the agony behind choosing a name for this squirming mass of flesh you’ve created. You want something that’ll represent them, something that’ll stand out, but not too much, and God forbid you pick something with an automatic and unfortunate nick-name attached.

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As writers, we go through the same torment. We peruse all the baby name databases. We say their names over and over to see how it’ll sit on someone’s tongue should they read it out loud. We scribble them in notebooks and on napkins and try to imagine a face that’ll reflect the person we want them to be. It’s torture, but it’s vital to the success of a book (in which I define “success” as a book readers talk about or think about after the cover is closed).

First, I want to say that I’m not knocking the Marks and Julies of the fiction world. Names don’t have to be unusual to stand out. It’s all about the name that accompanies the personality. Example: Andrew Yancy from Carl Hiassen’s BAD MONKEY and RAZOR GIRL. Pretty standard name, right? But when paired with the ironic swagger of an ex-detective-now-roach-patrolman, it’s a name that’ll stick in the reader’s mind. He’s Andrew, not Drew or Andy. Yancy is the kind of surname with a nondescript background, so you’re free to mold him any way you like in your mind.

For the writer who wants a more unusual name without throwing in useless consanents and ridiculous accent marks, I give you these examples:

Bunny Munro from THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO. The name “Bunny” is ironic, given his less than soft nature, making it unusual enough to stand out. The same principle goes for Fat Charlie from ANANSI BOYS who is anything but fat and Abby Normal from Christopher Moore’s BLOODSUCKING FIENDS series who would love to be anything but normal.

You could go for something more literal, like SERGE STORMS from pretty much any Tim Dorsey novel who blows through the book like a category 5 hurricane on a mix of speed and coffee. Or there’s Mr. Wednesday from AMERICAN GODS, whose literal meaning takes a little bit of digging. His name is one of convenience, granted to him when he asks Shadow Moon what day it is and then replies, “Today is my day.” That statement alone is a summation of Mr. Wednesday’s character, which gives his name meaning.

Then there are names that carry with them the entire heart of the story. Osceola Bigtree from SWAMPLANDIA isn’t the protagonist, but she carries in her name (and her character) the soul of the book, which takes place in the swampy underbelly of South Florida.

In the end, readers will interpret your character names however they want. I could be totally off about Osceola, but her name stuck with me because I was able to extract meaning and because Karen Russell GAVE her name meaning, even if it wasn’t the same as mine. The name you choose isn’t as important to your characters as the reason behind it. Sometimes, it’s just because the name “suits” a character. That’s PERFECTLY FINE. Names that suit characteristics will make sense and serve to draw a clearer picture for the reader, making your story memorable.

I’ve given you some of mine; Now, let’s hear some character names that’ve really stuck with you, long after you’ve finished reading.

Birthdays and Celebrations– Or: Reasons to Open the Wine Before Noon

While the Google Doodle is blowing up balloons, celebrating being old enough to vote, we’ve got some announcements and shenanigans happening here, too.

First, ALL DARLING CHILDREN has an official (e-book) release date of October 20th. Mark it on your calendars, tell your friends, cuddle your Pooh Bear in nervous anticipation. For now, here’s a cover and blurb:

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Ain’t she GORGEOUS?

All boys grow up, except one.

On the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death, fourteen-year-old Madge Darling’s grandmother suffers a heart attack. With the overbearing Grandma Wendy in the hospital, Madge runs away to Chicago, intent on tracking down a woman she believes is actually her mother.

On her way to the Windy City, a boy named Peter Pan lures Madge to Neverland, a magical place where children can remain young forever. While Pan plays puppet master in a twisted game only he understands, Madge discovers the disturbing price of Peter Pan’s eternal youth.

If that don’t tickle your fairy tale bone, I don’t know WHAT will.

 

Second, I’m getting MARRIED. To celebrate, I’ll be making A TALE DU MORT free on Amazon from Saturday to Sunday. So, you can read (and review! please!) while I’m betting half my stuff that this will all work out just fine.

 

Finally, I want you all to wish Kate Moretti a huge HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY on the release of THE VANISHING YEAR, which Mary Kubica called “a stunner!” I’ll be picking it up today to take with me on my honeymoon. Here’s a cover and a blurb:

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Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

Pick up your copy today and don’t forget to leave her a review. Happy Tuesday!

Moar Prompts to Get You Writing

It’s Monday again, dolls. There’s a chill in the air, apples in my fruit bowl, pumpkin in my coffee, and an itch in my head to do some writing. I can feel you resisting, so here are some prompts to get you going. As always, check back here EVERY MONDAY for more prompts.

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  1. Think of two unlikely heroes and pit them against one another.
  2. Write a poem about a dirty sock.
  3. What would the most popular spell in your spell book be?
  4. Watch a movie without the sound. Write your own dialogue.
  5. Write about a wicked stepmother.
  6. Now write a redemption story for her.
  7. Write the first like of a story titled: MR. LAWSON’S ANGER PIE.
  8. Describe the perfect day for apple picking.
  9. What would a candle made of earwax smell like?
  10. Describe the pet of a woman who owns three restaurants, all named after venereal diseases.

PLEASE share in the comments any of your favorite prompts or the fruits of your labor. Have a great week!

Guest Post with Stephen Kozeniewski

Happy Friday! This week, it’s Stephen Kozeniewski (author of BRAINEATER JONES and HUNTER OF THE DEAD) on the blog, chatting a bit about re-reading books.

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There’s a lot of pearl-clutching these days about what kids won’t get to do that their parents got to do because, you know, every generation has to live identically to the generation before it or else society just, like, completely fucking breaks down.  Just like, you know, the Greatest Generation didn’t live the way their parents did and then the universe imploded in the ‘40s.  I don’t want this to be one of those posts, because those posts are universally stupid and no, I am not being hyperbolic, they are, to a one, completely and utterly moronic.
So this is more of an elegiac post than a condemnatory one.  But I do wonder if kids in the future will ever know what it’s like to have a battered, dog-eared copy of a book that they’ve read cover-to-cover a hundred times.  I mean, maybe they will.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what the future holds.  (Except that the next generation will condemn the one after that.)
But I was thinking about it the other day, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve re-read a book.  I mean, with the internet, there’s so much new content blasting my eyeholes every day I can’t even keep up with one tenth of one tenth of a percent of the stuff I’d actually like to keep abreast of, let alone have a broad knowledge base of the world.  I have to settle for reading a paragraph-long review of a video game I might like to play and hoping I get the gist because I just don’t have 80 hours to devote to playing it, but I want to be knowledgeable about games.  And hell, if I do play a game, then that’s like, six seasons of TV I didn’t blast through on Netflix.
It didn’t used to be this way.  I had magazines – magazines, for God’s sake – that I used to read through so many times that I can still picture the photographs in my mind.  Single issues of “Boy’s Life” and “Nintendo Power” that were just, like, all I had.  So every rainy Sunday or boring weekday afternoon I’d re-read them.  I read every “Warhammer” rulebook I owned more times than I ever played the game.
And then there was THE HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.  I’d be lying if I said I haven’t read that entire series dozens, possibly hundreds of times.  In the tire swing.  In the treehouse.  At school between (and sometimes during) classes.  One night when the power went out and all we had were flashlights.  One night when my father wasn’t working for some reason and we all went out and got McDonald’s.  At my egg donor’s job on more than one occasion when I had to come in with her.
I mean, right now the thought of re-reading something is just so laughably out of the realm of possibility for me.  As I write this, I’m looking at four fat stacks of physical books that I own and ought to have read years ago.  That’s not even counting all the favors I owe in the form of books I should be reading that I just plain haven’t bought yet.  Or all the sorts of hints and dodges that I give people that sort of suggest I’ve maybe read their work while desperately hoping they never point blank ask.
Ingesting a book, grokking it, letting it become a part of you, that’s certainly a dead part of my life.  I don’t know if it’s the times (man) or just my age, or just me personally.  But I do wonder about kids.  I don’t know if they’ll have a HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE (or whatever) the way I did.  Maybe all kids do.  Maybe they ingest books a hundred thousand times because that’s what you do when you’re a kid.  I don’t know if I even want them to.  Maybe it’s better not to do that, and to spend that time wisely broadening your horizons.  I mean, I didn’t.  Then again, I’m a frood who really knows where my towel is, so, you know, I guess it’s kind of a trade-off.

See You at the Twin Cities Book Festival!

That’s right. I’m a BIG DEAL now.

Not really. But I WILL be exhibiting at the Twin Cities Book Festival on October 15th at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. I’ll have paperbacks to sign and sell, there will be a raffle, BOOZE — okay, no booze — and it’ll be a ton of fun.

If you’re in or near the Twin Cities come mid-October, make sure to come say hello! It’s a free event with dozens of authors, publishers, and booksellers celebrating books.

Here’s a link to the exhibitor list: http://www.raintaxi.com/twin-cities-book-festival/exhibitors-and-specials/

YAY BOOKS!

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How the F*** Do I Plot?

I recently finished reading STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron, on the advice of a writer friend.

It was awesome.

It was always debilitatingly depressing. Never before had I read a writing advice manual and walked away realizing that I published four novels having known jack shit about what makes a good story.

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Notice I said story there, and not book.

STORY GENIUS spends a lot of time decoding what makes a person’s brain crave story, and what writers need to do to harness that power over the reader. (We will use this for world domination, eventually. Don’t say you weren’t warned).

I FULLY recommend getting your hands on a copy to get the full extent of Cron’s amazing tips and exercises. But I will tell you the part that resonated most with me.

WHY?

As a parent, it’s the question of doom. It spirals into realms terrifying and unknown and the only way to get out alive is to keep throwing out answers until there are none left. Amazingly, being a parent makes you uniquely adept at answering this question when it comes to plotting.

Most writers already know that something has to happen because something else happened. There’s a general understanding of cause and effect that most of us already adhere to when plotting the external forces that will propel our protagonist through the story and out the other side. What most of us forget is that this question of WHY has to answer questions internally of the protagonist, too. Each event has to have a POINT, and not just, “Well, she has to get from A to B so I’ll put her in a car and then I’ll get a chance to throw some setting in there.” (Real example of my former thought process, no lie).

Here’s an example from a WIP I’m working on now.

I have a scene planned where Gretchen (my protagonist) is picked up from the airport by her awful step-mother.

Enter the ‘why.’

Because her sister (who asked her to come in the first place) is at home with her kid.

Why?

Because he has pink eye.

Why?

Because the little shit can’t be bothered to wash his hands more than once a month.

Okay, so, we’ve got a perfectly logical reason for someone Gretchen hates to be picking her up from the airport. But what does that have to do with her story? Her character arc?

In this WIP’s case, Gretchen’s story arc begins with her desire to cut her family out of her life completely and ends with her realizing that she can’t establish any kind of meaningful relationship with other people unless she forgives her family their transgressions and lets go of the idea that People Will Betray You.

So. The step-mom.

She picks Gretchen up from the airport.

Why?

Because even as Gretchen gets off the plane, she feeds the delusion that she can deal with being back in her family’s orbit from a distance. Having step-mom, the person she hates most, gather her from the airport dispels that misbelief.

Since the reason pushes Gretchen toward her final goal (even only a little) the scene gets to stay. If, when you’re plotting, you can’t think of an internal reason why the scene should stay, it’s time to get out the axe.

Don’t feel bad. It’s easy to forget that a story isn’t just a collection of things happening to a person. They’re events that force the protagonist to change internally, which is where the real story happens.

So don’t write a book; write a story. Ask why.  

THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB – A Review

In trying to broaden my reading horizons, I conducted an experiment in which I chose books from the library based ONLY on the cover. I didn’t read the back and I tried not to pay attention to the name or gender of the author.

Like most experiments, the results were mixed. However, one of the bunch stood out, and that was THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB by Genevieve Valentine.

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From the cover:

Jo, the firstborn, “The General” to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s Manhattan townhouse and into the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.

 The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they’ve come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must balance not only the needs of her father and eleven sisters, but her own as well.

 

At the moment, there are two kinds of books I’m obsessing over: really thought out, well-written thrillers with mostly-female casts and creative fairy-tale retellings. Though THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB has none of the magical realism elements I’ve come to expect from retellings, this book sits near the top of my list of favorites.

Valentine’s inspirations are pretty clear: Hans Christian Anderson’s Twelve Dancing Princesses (a tale that deserves more retellings than I can find) and Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN. Eldest sister, Jo, shares not only Jo March’s name, but also her determination and fierce protective instincts over her sisters. She’s a character that is easy to rally behind.

Another note on character, it’s pretty typical in novels with large casts to lose characters in the hustle of the plot. They either fall to the wayside or become nondescripts alongside the other, more shining characters. Valentine was able to give life to each of the twelve sisters in a way that made them real in the reader’s eyes. Jo may have been the MC, but younger sisters Rose and Doris were the most relatable to me and I felt their plight as more fervently that Jo’s.

If I have one criticism of THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB, it’s that everything seems to come a little too easily for most of the book. Each time the sisters sneak down the back stair, the tension is diminished when time and again, they aren’t caught. In fact, aside from a light-sleeping maid, there aren’t even any close calls. Considering most of the fear the sisters bear comes from what their father would do or think should he catch them, the fear becomes less pressing. SPOILER…… When they are inevitably caught (not in the act, but accused after the fact), what should have been a knife to the chest is more like needle prick.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book despite its lack of traditionally magical elements and, possibly, because of it as well. I recommend it highly.

#MondayMotivation – MOAR PROMPTS

It’s Monday, again, which means it’s time to put away the corset and feather fan, sober up, and get to work.

Thanks to writer friend, Kate Moretti, I’m nose deep in STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron in preparation for writing a new novel that, in my head at least, is something like THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU meets SWAMPLANDIA meets The Brothers Grimm. But OF COURSE I’m having trouble getting started.

Let’s warm up together, shall we? Here are some prompts to get you moving. As always, I’d love to see what you all come up with.

  1. What does a child’s scream sound like?
  2. Begin with, “Mother didn’t like her very much.”
  3. Write about a radio host who’s lost his voice.
  4. Write a scene in which two characters argue without really saying anything.
  5. What does fear smell like?
  6. Describe your favorite painting.
  7. Write a story that centers around a chipped teacup.
  8. Write a six-line poem about cake.
  9. Describe the backyard of a widower.
  10. Rewrite a classic horror tale as a romance.

There you go. No excuses. Get writing.

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Guest Post – READER MEMORIES

It’s FRIDAY, BITCHES!

You know what that means… booze and books until we can’t open our eyes anymore. 

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It also means GUEST POST day. Today’s post is from Barbara Khan, founder of the Baer Books Facebook group where readers come together to chat all things WORDY.

Enjoy!

I don’t remember my mom reading to me. I know she did, every night, in fact. I just don’t have any memories of that. My earliest memory is from 1970. I was three and we were in our little house on Lee Lane. My sister and brother were 13 and 11 respectively, they were in school. I was home with my mom. I imagine she spent many hours teaching me to read. She was the reason I was reading on my own at three. She’s the reason I’m the reader I am today.  Later that same year we moved next door. I know it seems odd to just move next door, but I guess we needed a bigger house, so I think my memories started in that “new” house.

In the new house I  had a play room. I kept all my toys, dolls, games, and books in there. I had a little record player and I used to listen to books on LP. Way before audio books existed! The album covers doubled as a book. I don’t recall any of the titles, but I would put the record on the turn table, sit on the floor and follow along with the story, placing my finger under the words, reading along with the audio.

My mom was a avid reader. I realize that now, but at that time I just knew in the morning when I woke, Mom would be reading, drinking coffee, and smoking her cigarettes. It was the 70’s, everyone smoked! On cold days or in winter, she’d be inside on the couch, summer and pleasant days she’d be outside in her chaise lounge under the ever-reaching arms of the maple tree. That was reassuring, to know exactly where your mom would be.

We went to the library weekly, because Mom had to replenish her supply. Nowadays, I wonder how she picked which books she’d check out. There were no Goodreads or Amazon algorithms. We didn’t get the New York Times or Wall Street Journal to know what books those illustrious newspapers put on their best seller lists. I guess she just took a chance on a book or an author. She would leave me in the Children’s Room, I’d grab a book and sit on the little seat in the alcove, safely watched over by the librarian. Later, we’d fill a paper sack from Big Bear Grocery with our books and head home.

In summer our library run was simple, cross the street to the elementary school where every Thursday the bookmobile would be parked. The big, blue bus had steps at the front and back and where there would be seats on a school bus, there were book shelves. The same people worked there, year after year. Mom greeted them all by name, like they were old friends. I guess they were, old book friends. The check out lady always had her red hair styled in a bee-hive and wore black rimmed, cat’s eye glasses.

The libraries of my life are like old friends to me. The main library with the alcove, the adjoining chapter book section, that building is gone now, replaced by a brand new library with all the bells and whistles. The big,blue bookmobile has been replaced by a small branch library shaded by maples, still within walking distance of my old house.

When I married and we lived in Boston, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be able to walk to the main branch of the Boston Public Library on my lunch break. I would lose myself in the stacks, finding new authors just by wandering the aisles. Visiting the old section with the reading room was like going back in time. The branch near my house was cozy and convenient.

During my time living in Key Biscayne, an island 7 miles from downtown Miami, I became friends with all the people that worked at my local branch. In that way, I guess I’m like my mom. Martha, one of the librarians there, knew my reading tastes so well, she’d reserve new books for me by my favorite authors, without my asking. It was like a face-to-face Goodreads! My daughter and I spent many Saturdays in the Children’s room, reading books at the miniature tables and chairs, carting home stacks of books in the basket on my bicycle.

Now I enjoy interacting on my social media book groups. It’s a place where we all feel a kinship. Nobody judges our ever growing TBR. Chatting about our favorite books and authors is like chatting about old friends. I’ll close with a favorite quote from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”