Live blogging from my event



 

 Here I am at the Coles The Book People location in the Billings Bridge plaza in Ottawa for my second-ever book signing event. On the table, I have the three paperbacks in my Eastern Front trilogy: Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War. 

Traffic isn’t all that heavy—it’s mid-day at the beginning of what looks like a beautiful long weekend. This might have worked better outdoors.  

It’s interesting to watch the shoppers go by. They seem to come in waves. The babies come in groups—one moment, the mall is quiet; the next, three squalling babies in a phalanx of strollers are crowding the mall in front of my table. 

Most people just walk by, not even looking. They’re not here for books. Some people slow down and look at the books on my table. Occasionally, one will stop and talk.

People seem delighted to meet authors, and eager to share what they know about either the war, history or even books. And a few buy books. One lady even bought the whole set, since I’m offering a special price for all three.

It’s a very different experience than marketing e-books online. I like talking with people interested in the subject, or history. And the tactile aspect of a paper book, rather than the virtuality of e-books, well, satisfying.

I may try this again some time.

Bringing history to life



As you, my faithful readers know, I recently published the third book in my Eastern Front trilogy about the experiences of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury, during the Second World War. Writing those three slim books took me more than 10 years. Not only because the story itself is dark and difficult, but also because it required a lot of research to get the details right.

ArmyofWornSoles-smallerUnderTheNaziHeel.jpgCover-WOOW-500x800 (1)

While there must be thousands of books and other sources about the Second World War, most of it, at least those in English, focus on the western part of it, with a British, American or, sometimes, Canadian perspective. There is relatively little in English about the Eastern Front, where Maurice was drafted by the Soviet Red Army.

My research for the books began with the subject, my father-in-law himself. While he had occasionally mentioned something about his time in the army, at one point in the 1990s I decided I would write a book about his story. So we sat down in his kitchen, and I took notes.

But before I could complete writing the book, Maurice passed away. Which meant that any information I still needed, I would have to find in other sources.

Trusting memory

When I began writing the story, I realized I would have to turn to history books for essential background information about the war, the politics, weapons, organization of the armies and so much more.

Maurice’s memory of his own experiences was excellent, but he did not remember the exact dates, nor the number of his unit. When he told me how he sustained his wound, he remembered the weather, the German fighter planes arcing in the sky. But he did not remember the exact date. I had to do some research to work out when the Germans got to Kyiv, and the extent of the fighting there in 1941.

I also had to research the weapons used. Maurice told me as a Third Lieutenant, he commanded eleven men in an anti-tank unit. When he described fighting against the German tanks, the Panzers, it seemed to me to require some precision. The shell had to hit the tank at just the right angle to penetrate the armour and detonate inside. The challenge was that the modern Panzers had sloping armour to deflect anti-tank shells. The Soviet tanks in the early part of the war, on the other hand, had straight armour, making it easier for an armour-piercing shell to strike at the right angle.

But I neglected to ask him to describe the Soviet anti-tank gun. When I came to write about it, I realized I had no idea what it looked like. The answer surprised me. I had thought of a kind of cannon, but the PTRS-41 and the similar PTRD were strangely delicate-looking. They looked more like long rifles with extended, slender barrels. My first thought was “That little thing can knock out a tank?”

Image source: 13thguardspoltavaskaya.com

It turns out, it didn’t manage to do that very often. The shells could not penetrate the Panzers’ front armour, so the Soviet anti-tank gunners would try to shoot at the sides or back of the tanks, where the armour was thinner. That was an extremely risky tactic, requiring the gunners to allow the Panzers to pass them before shooting.

Finding this information in historical sources brought me back to the notes I took when interviewing Maurice before he passed away. He once told me that his men destroyed a Panzer by shooting at the back, hitting the exposed fuel tank.

As a writer, this was a satisfying—to find confirmation of Maurice’s memories and stories in the history books and websites.

What’s your experience?

Have you ever found that kind of confirmation of a relative’s or friend’s memory or story in an official or historical reference? Share that in the Comments.

How you can win four mystery novels



But first, the third book in the trilogy looms

Walking Out of War, the third volume in the trilogy that began with Army of Worn Soles in 2014 and followed with Under the Nazi Heel in 2016.

ArmyofWornSoles-smallerRegular readers of this blog will know that I had promised to publish Volume 3 by the end of last year. But it just plain took longer than I anticipated.

The good news is that the outstanding editor, Gary Henry, has done his usual great work on it. The matchless David C. Cassidy has delivered another stunning cover concept and is now working on the final design.

It shouldn’t be much longer before you can read the final stage in the story of Maurice Bury’s war. In fact, the almost-final version is in the hands of some faithful, helpful beta readers, and if any readers want an Advance Review Copy (ARC) and are willing to write an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads or any other book review site, I’ll be happy to send one. Just use the contact button on this blog.

What took so long?

Maurice Bury after the war.

Maurice Bury after the war.

The journey to publication started many years ago, when I began talking to Maurice about his wartime experiences. I thought, “This would make a great book.”

Writing the story, though, took years. I ran into a real roadblock almost at the outset, when I was trying to create an outline. I thought for a while of writing parallel timelines, comparing various parts of Maurice’s journey by juxtaposing them in prose. I wrestled with the order literally for months, writing separ
ate chapters and then transitions that I ended up throwing away. Finally, a friend suggested that I just write it as it happened. In other words, linearly. First one thing happened, then the next, and so on.

It’s amazing how we need another party to tell us the most obvious things.

That was when I decided to break the story into three books, one for each phase of his experience:

  • Army of Worn Soles tells of Maurice’s experience as an officer in the Soviet Red Army officer
  • Under the Nazi Heel describes his time as an insurgent fighter against the German occupation of Ukraine
  • and finally, Walking Out of War is the story of Maurice fighting as a foot soldier, walking with the Red Army across Eastern Europe to Berlin for the fall of Nazi Germany.

Even though I had the whole outline completed before I published Volume 1, and had several chapters of Volume 3 complete, finishing it took longer than I thought it would. Months longer.

There were some little details that required more research, which was time-consuming—like what the machine gun that Maurice’s unit operated looked like. Or just when the Red Army reached the Niemen River on the border between Lithuania and East Prussia.

Maurice isn’t around to ask anymore, so I had to turn to history books, including Professor Orest Subtelny’s excellent Ukraine: A History, the Ukrainian Encyclopedia published by the University of Toronto, other books and, of course, Wikipedia.

tdbnletterAs those of you who read this blog will know, I finally found one little bit of evidence that somehow became a keystone: a letter of recommendation for Maurice and his friend, Basily, signed by a Lieutenant John Gardner. Brigadier General (Retired) Michael Joregensen of the Canadian Armed Forces interpreted some of the abbreviations at the top of the letter, which helped me identify the U.S. Army unit that Lieutenant Gardner belonged to: the 692nd U.S. Tank Destroyer Battalion. That little slip of paper, with its faded, misspelled typewritten message, put Maurice in a specific time and place. Suddenly, I saw how the stories he had told me, the notes I had taken and the historical information I had researched all fit together.

Finding that, I was glad I had taken longer to write this book.

When will it be done then, Scott?

As I mentioned, David Cassidy is working on the cover, and a few beta readers have the almost-final draft now. I hope to have their comments in my hands by mid-January, and then I’ll send it to some beta readers for feedback. And barring any disasters, I’ll be able to send advance review copies by mid-February for publishing on the anniversary of its predecessor, Under the Nazi Heel.IMG_0020.jpg

The next projects

Fans of my Lei Crime Kindle World stories featuring FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm will be happy to learn I’m well on the way to a new Hawaiian crime story, and I think this will be my best yet.

A yet unnamed, this novel will reveal more of Vanessa’s youth and also an old flame with a huge problem, one that will make Vanessa choose between her old life and her new career.

Following that, I’ll be working on a new #SydneyRyeKW novella, featuring, once again, the irresistible Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun. I’m aiming to publish that on the next surge of Sydney Rye Kindle World books at the end of April.

How to get all the Vanessa Storm #LeiCrimeKW novellas FREE

Read the first two chapters of the new story, “Soft Summer Rain.” Watch for the clues that will tell you which two 1970s songs inspired it, and you’ll win four mystery novels. That’s right, I’ll send you all the Vanessa Storm e-books for free, including the upcoming volume. To get the story, all you have to do is subscribe to my advance information newsletter, Forewords. Once you fill in the information and confirm your identity, you’ll get a link to download it.

Don’t miss out—four e-books for making a good, informed guess and filling out an online form. You can’t go wrong!

Send your guess to me by email (contact@writtenword.ca)

  • Torn Roots

  • Palm Trees & Snowflakes
  • Dead Man Lying.

Secrets in an old wallet



mauriceI have been stuck for quite a long time in the writing of the third installment of the trilogy based on my father-in-law’s life, Walking Out of War.

Until I pulled a little slip of paper out of a tattered, old wallet and broke the logjam by putting the subject of my story, Maurice Bury, into a real time and place.

Writing this trilogy that began with has taken a lot of research. I don’t want to begin estimating the number of hours, but literally, the effort has spanned more than
10 years.

It began with Maurice’s stories about the war. Then, we sat down to serious interviews, where I took extensive notes.

His wartime experience fell into three phases, the first two of which I have already published in Army of Worn Soles and Under the Nazi Heel.

ArmyofWornSoles-smaller

The third part, Walking Out of War, covers Maurice’s experience as a private in the Red Army from 1944 to 1945. And while I still had those interview notes, Maurice passed away 12 years ago, so I cannot ask him about questions that come up only when you try to write a story like this.

So I had to turn to historical records. Thank you, Wikipedia and Professor Orest Subtelny.

Bringing the story to life

Anyone who has tried to tell an accurate story about the Second World War can tell you how confusing it can be, with many different forces acting in several
different theatres of war at the same time.

I used a range of sources, including some of Maurice’s personal effects. They included a tattered, battered old wallet containing some fascinating documents:

  • alliedtravelpass-tovienna-inside Allied Expeditionary Force D.P. Index cards, signed by Maurice in Cyrillic script
  • a notarized affidavit from Maurice’s aunt in Montreal, mentioning Maurice as a Canadian citizen living in a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Displaced Persons camp in Landeck, Austria
  • Allied Travel permits authorizing Maurice to go from Landeck to Vienna in early 1947.

These and other documents supported Maurice’s story and my notes about going from Berlin to Ingolstadt, Bavaria, and then Landeck, Innsbruck and finally Vienna before coming home to Canada.

But I was still having trouble getting Maurice’s journey clear in my own mind.

 

The final clue

tdbnletterMonths later, I saw a thin pocket in the old wallet that I had never noticed before. From it, I pulled out a thin slip of yellowed paper. Typed with an uneven manual
typewriter was the following:

 

Recen. Co. 692 T.D.Bn.

July 7, 1945.

To whom it may concerns:

 

     The following two men, Maurice Bury, and Tkacz

Bazyli , have been working for us as K. P.s for the last

xxxxx month, and we have found there  work to be very

satisfactory.

We recommend them very highly.

signed,

John Gardner

1st Lt. W.A.

commanding

 

I was very excited. I showed it to a retired Canadian Armed Forces general, who explained some of the abbreviations at the top. “T.D.Bn” stands for “tank destroyer battalion.” And the reference to “K.P.” indicated an American unit.

Maurice had told me that, following the war, he had worked for the American Army, first helping out in the kitchen and then as a translator—he spoke English, German and Russian as well as Ukrainian.

A Google search for the 692nd Tank Destroyer Battalion told me that it indeed had been formed in 1942, arriving in France in September 1944. It was attached to the 104th Infantry Division, and then to the First Canadian Army, which it supported in its attack on Antwerp, Belgium and the crossing of the Maas River.  The 692nd repelled the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, and in February 1945 its accurate artillery fire preserved the Regamen Bridge over the Rhine, allowing the Canadian troops to cross, saving lives. It was also the only unit called upon to break the Siegfried line more than once.

This was the unit that liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

At the end of the war, the 692nd took on occupation duties in an area around the Bavarian-Austrian border.

At last, I had corroborating evidence putting Maurice Bury in southern Germany on a specific date shortly after the end of the war: July 7, 1945. It gave me two other names, as well: Lt. John Gardner, commanding officer of the 692nd on that day; and “Tkacz Bazyli.”

That’s just one of the mistakes in the letter. You’ll notice the other typos, too. “Tkacz” is a Ukrainian surname, and Maurice was friends with a man named Basil Tkacz in Montreal.

Why is this important?

This little slip of paper helped me put the end of Maurice journey out of the war into order.

This little slip of paper makes an anchor. He was in southern Germany, or maybe norther Austria, on July 7, 1945.

It gave me a timeline.

And that has allowed me to finish writing the story.

I know that I promised to release Walking Out of War before the end of 2016, and I’m sad to say that I won’t be able to do that.

I have written the draft and completed the re-write, adding all the little details. But now the manuscript has to go to an editor, a proofreader and some beta readers. It will also need a cover design before I format it and publish it as an e-book and a print book.

But know that it is imminent. All the pieces are in place, anchored with historical detail. So don’t despair, readers. The final installment of the trilogy will be in your hands soon.

 

Alan McDermott: What one of your favourite authors loves about writing



5c77e-alan_profile_pic-300x225Alan McDermott is a good friend. His first self-published novel, Gray Justice, caught the attention of the reading world, propelling him into the bestsellers ranks on Amazon. He has since followed that up with four more novels about Tom Gray and his friends who stop chaos around the world. Now a full-time author, he took a few minutes to tell Written Words what he loves best, and least, about being a writer.

 

Which element of fiction is most important to you as a writer?

Alan McDermott: There are many things that I focus on when writing a book. First off, the story has to have a believable plot and be fast paced, with as much action as possible. If I can’t throw in a firefight, I try to crank up the intrigue instead. Almost as important is getting the little details right. Knowing the weapons to use is crucial, but when it comes to things like the Brigandicuum surveillance system I created, it had to be realistic. Not so much “likely to happen” as “could happen.” I’ve since learned that the United Kingdom’s Communications Headquarters has much of the capabilities I dreamed up, which I find kind of frightening! The only thing I tend to refrain from is too much sexual detail.

What part of writing do you spend the most time on: research, writing, editing, making coffee or cleaning your work space?

Alan McDermott: Sadly, coffee and Facebook! I get distracted quite easily, which is why I like to spend a couple of days a week at the library with just a pen and notepad. I get most of my work done there, and the rest of the time is spent typing it up and making small edits as I go.

Which of these do you enjoy most?

Alan McDermott: Definitely the library! I usually get more done in five hours than I do when I spend two days sitting at home on my laptop. I think it’s the thought of being in an office-like environment that makes me focus, rather than sitting in the living room with easy access to the TV and other distractions.

What do you wish you had to do less?

Alan McDermott: It is not on the list, but I would say marketing. I’m pretty hopeless at it, but thankfully my publisher does a great job with new releases. Being an introvert, I’m not one to shout about my books from the rooftops. Not a good trait for an author, I know.

Which of your books or other works are you personally happiest with? Why?

Gray Vengeance cover

Gray Vengeance by Alan McDermott

Alan McDermott: So far, I’d have to say Gray Vengeance. It is the fifth title in the Tom Gray series, and the one in which I introduced the Brigandicuum surveillance system created by the NSA and used by the British Government. I’ve since learned, through the Wikileaks website, that the UK already has something very close to it, in that they have the ability to hack into phones and computers and effectively take control of them. I’m also pretty excited about my latest book, Gray Salvation, which will be released on March 8, 2016, and my WIP is shaping up nicely, too. There’s a twist in it that I hope few will see coming.

What part of writing or publishing do you think you could help other writers with?

Alan McDermott: Good question! I don’t really consider myself that accomplished that I could offer any kind of advice, to be honest. I realise that I am still learning the trade, and that the huge blockbuster inside me is still a few years off. I know that I’m improving certain aspects of my writing with each new release, but there’s still some way to go before I become the go-to guy for writing advice.

Thanks very much, Alan!

Alan McDermott is a full time author from the south of England, married with beautiful twin daughters. He used to write critical software applications for the NHS, but now he spends his days writing action thrillers.

7d0c4-grayjustice_frontcover_11-27-13His debut novel, Gray Justice, has been very well received and earned him membership in http://independentauthorsinternational.org. He was subsequently picked up by Thomas & Mercer, who published his first five books, with another on the way.

Alan is currently working on his seventh novel.

The entire five-novel Tom Gray series will be on sale from Amazon.com for $2 all through November.

Get Gray Justice on:

 

 

What’s good about writing? What’s not so good? Caleb Pirtle III makes no bones



Caleb Pirtle IIIWhy do writers write? I asked independent writers what they like best and least about writing. In this installment, Caleb Pirtle tells us what makes his writing day.

Which element of fiction is most important to you as a writer:

Characters are my primary focus in the writing of any novel. Most of the characters generally come and settle down in my mind long before I have an idea for the storyline. I work with them. I visit with them. I get to know them like family. Then when I sit down to write those first chapters of a book, the characters all come out to fill up the pages when they are needed. As a result, I don’t have to worry about the fine points of a novel. The characters are in charge of the plot, the action, and the sex. I know my major characters well. They are living and breathing. What fascinates me are the minor players who work their way into a story and refuse to leave. They are in the novel for a reason, and I have no idea what it is until they do what they came to do. However, since most of my thrillers take place in the 1930s and 1940s, I am a diligent researcher because, to be both credible and believable as a writer, it is critical for me to have the setting, the culture, the dress, and the weapons as authentic as possible. Details are vital. There is no room for a mistake.

What part of writing do you spend the most time on: research, writing, editing, making coffee or cleaning your work space?

I spend more time on editing and revising a novel than I do writing it. I research as I go along and work hard and fast to get the bones of the story on the page. Then come the editing, the re-writing, and the revisions.

Which of these do you enjoy most?

I look forward to the re-writing, especially after having a manuscript at the mercy of an editor, a critique group, or a beta reader. It gives me a chance to add the highlights, build better back stories for the major characters, fill the holes I left in the story, and even change directions of the plot a time or two.

What do you wish you had to do less?

The final edits are the most miserable part of the process for me. By then, I have read the story so many times the joy of writing disappears. It is like slogging my way through mud. I quit paying attention to the story at that point and simply become a mechanic with a wrench and pliers to tighten up the narrative and dialogue. When I write the novel, I have blood on my hands. When I finish editing, all I have is grease.

Which of your books or other works are you personally happiest with? Why?

I am happiest with my Ambrose Lincoln trilogy: Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, and Night Side of Dark. They are far different and far darker from anything I’ve ever written before. The novels are noir thrillers set during the turbulent days of World War II. I love the period. I love the suspense that can be derived from missions in parts of the world where no sane man would ever travel. But my hero is not really sane. The government has used electric shocks to the brain to erase his memory. Their reasoning is simple. If a man has no conscience and is not afraid to die, he will tackle whatever assignment he is given without backing down, flinching, or blinking an eye. Before each mission, his memory is wiped clean again. But does he remember more than the government realizes?

What part of writing or publishing do you think you could help other writers with?

What I enjoy most about conferences, workshops, and critique groups is having the time to help beginning writers better understand the fine points of writing—from sharpening dialogue to building believable characters, making sure the hooks throughout the novel keep the reader reading, knowing the intricacies of point of view, and realizing the power of storytelling.

Caleb Pirtle III has always considered himself to be a thief. “I’ve spent my whole life stealing bits and pieces of other people’s lives, experiences, and memories, then writing them down in newspaper stories, magazine articles, and books. both fiction and nonfiction. I would be lost if they had not come along. I am convinced that everyone who walks across the street has a great story to tell if someone will just take the time to listen.”

He has been a reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, winning the Associated Press, William Randolph Hearst and Headliner’s awards, and the chief of media relations for the Texas Tourist Development Agency. He was travel editor of Southern Living magazine, and then editorial director for Dockery House, a Dallas publisher. Two years ago, he founded Venture Galleries with his wife, Linda, and author Stephen Woodfin, to help authors across the US promote, market and sell their books.

Caleb is the author of more than 60 fiction and non-fiction books. Among his latest best-selling titles are Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk, the Ambrose Lincoln series, The Golgotha Connection and Little Lies.

  

Punctuation pet peeves



Courtesy Wikipedia.

There are a few things about punctuation that drive me up a wall. They’re tiny little mistakes, more violations of convention, really, and they don’t interfere with understanding the meaning of a text. But correcting them is so easy to do.

In order to maintain your image as a communications professional, remember these finer points of punctuation.

Hyphens are not em dashes

There are important differences between hyphens, en dashes and em dashes.

  • – hyphen: for joining words; it has its own key, usually between 0 and = on the top row of your keyboard
  • – en dash: twice the width of the hyphen, used to join numbers (“pages 11–20”) in an inclusive series and the names of two or more places (the New York–Vermont border); on a Windows keyboard, it’s Ctrl-Number pad –; on a Mac, it’s Option-hyphen
  • — em dash, twice as long as the en dash, used to join phrases and sentence, or to set off a clause or a phrase in an emphatic, informal way (“I think you should take Route 5—no, wait, Route 105”); on a Windows keyboard, it’s Ctrl-Alt- Number pad –; on a Mac, it’s Shift-Option-hyphen.

At one time, Microsoft Word had an autocorrect feature that replaced two hyphens with an en dash and three with an em, but that does not always happen anymore. Learn the keyboard combinations to be sure.

By the way, you can either put a space on each side of the long dash — like this — or you can use it without spaces—like this. Whichever style you choose, be consistent.

Quotation marks are not the same as minute and second marks

One sure-fire way to tell the difference between a book that has been professionally edited and formatted and one by, well, amateurs, is whether the opening quotation marks curl or angle in the opposite direction from the closing quotes.

They’re supposed to look like this:

“This is quoted dialog.”

UnderwoodEons ago, Noah used an Underwood manual typewriter, which only had straight vertical marks for quotations, like this:

“Two by two,” I said.

See the difference? Real opening quotation marks are like mirror images of closing quotation marks, whether single—‘’—or double “”. The straight marks are actually minute and second marks, used either for time or degress of latitude and longitude.

A lot of word processors, including Microsoft Word, will replace the straight vertical quotation marks — ” — with the appropriate opening “ and closing ” mark. How does it know which one to use?

If there is a space before the mark, Word interprets that combination as indicating the opening of a quote. No space, and Word substitutes in the closing mark.

Which leads to the next problem:

The apostrophe is not the same as the opening single quotation mark

When you depend on automation to do everything for you, you will create mistakes. Apostrophes never have spaces before or after. They indicate that there is a character missing, as in the letters n and o from cannot in can’t.

Where it becomes a problem is in using the mark without checking at the beginning of words, as in “rock ‘n’ roll,” or in abbreviating numbers, as in “the ‘90s.” These marks have their own specific keyboard combinations.

In Windows, type Ctrl with the ` (accent, left of 1), then the ” for the opening double quote. Try it.

  • ” is Ctrl with ‘, then “.
  • ‘ (single opening quote) is Ctrl `, then ` again.
  • ’ is (single closing quote) is Ctrl ‘, then ‘ again.

In Windows, you can also use Alt-key combinations to get special characters. Hold down the Alt key and type 0145, then release the Alt key, to get ‘.

  • Single opening quote: Alt 0145
  • Single closing quote: Alt 0146
  • Double opening quote: Alt 0147
  • Double closing quote: Alt 0148
  • On a Mac, single opening quote is Option ]. Single closing is Shift-Option ].
  • Double opening quote is Option [; double closing is Shift-Option [.

image courtest Wikipedia.

Typing on an iPad virtual keyboard? You can still get all these variations. Just touch the apostrophe key and hold your finger on the screen for a second or so to get a menu of different marks you can choose from. Slide your finger over and release.

We have to maintain the standards

No, they’re not mistakes, exactly. But having these kinds of things in your book or document shows that either

  • you don’t care enough to make the miniscule effort it takes to fix them
  • or you don’t even know that they are mistakes.

Either way, it reduces your professionalism. And in today’s extremely competitive environment, we cannot afford that.

Writing tip: Make sure you write what you mean



Here’s something that bugs me: sentences constructed as “this needs to happen.”

For example, on a news report about the lack of mental health care workers in Nunavut, the journalist said “more nurses need to be hired in Nunavut.” That’s obviously false.

Maybe nurses do need to be hired. Professionals need jobs. But that’s not the point the journalist wanted to make.

This is what I call a “false active” sentence. What the writer was trying to say was “The territory needs to hire more nurses.” Grammatically, it is in active voice—the subject of the sentence performs the verb. However, the idea that the writer wants to express is that the object of the sentence needs the subject: “Nunavut needs to hire more nurses.”

In other words, the sentence is structured in reverse of the intended meaning.

How to avoid the false active

To avoid this, you have to plan your writing a little bit. Answer a simple question: what are you trying to say?

State your main idea in one clear sentence. This will allow you to express all your ideas clearly to your audience. If you cannot express your point in one sentence, you have not made it clear in your own mind. And if not, you cannot hope to make your ideas clear to your audience.

Then, apply that to the entire written piece, whether it’s a news article or a novel or anything in between. Make sure that every sentence, every paragraph and every chapter is actually expressing what you wanted to say.

It all goes back to the writing process that I outlined earlier: get a GRIP. It’s a four-step process that will help you write more clearly.

  1. Goal—why are you writing? What are you trying to achieve, and what do you want your audience to do?
  2. Reader—who are they? What do they need, want, like? Why should they read your writing? What’s in it for them?
  3. Idea—the thesis statement. What you’re trying to say, in one clear sentence.
  4. Plan—the outline. You need this. While some people say that they “write by the seat of their pants,” when it comes to business communications, you have to put your ideas into order. Otherwise, you risk confusing your reader—or worse, boring them so they don’t read what you’ve spent all that time writing.

Admittedly, most audiences can interpret the real meaning. But we’re not always dealing with native English speakers. So let’s be clear, and let’s make sure we are actually writing what we mean.

Being a trinity: Guest post by Bob Nailor



I’m a writer, a speaker, and an editor. Some consider the combination to be some super being but, in reality, I am just a regular man. In other words, I write, I talk and I correct.

I began life as a writer, the proverbial newbie, who felt he knew it all and had the best novel ever written in history. That particular piece has yet to see light of day and it has been over twenty years since I first put pen to paper. In reality, it was originally hand written with a pen on lined paper. Home computers were in their infancy — can you say Vic20, Atari 400 or even Commodore 64? I saved my first electronic version of that story to a 5.25 inch floppy disk and transferred it to updated technology as it became available. The story now resides in a cloud and is undergoing drastic revisions. As a writer, we grow and learn the craft. In other words, we become skilled writers. With luck, that horribly written story should see light of day within the next year.

But I digress. Being a writer, I attended conferences and seminars, absorbing as much knowledge as I could to improve my writing. I grew. I wrote and I got published. I was making a name for myself within the local writing group. I became the vice-president of the local writing group. I continued to attend the local conference. Due to an emergency, I became friends with the local conference coordinator. She had seen me and knew my name after so many years. She asked me to assist her one year and the following year she asked me do a session on science fiction.

I became a speaker. This was a new experience. I was no longer sitting in the audience — I was the person in front. I was now the fount of knowledge for the attendees. I was the person these people sought to talk to and ask questions of. I loved this new sensation of sharing knowledge. There is a great responsibility with being a speaker. The attendees expect you to know your stuff. Don’t attempt to blue-sky (aka BS) the subject matter. Always remember, somebody in the audience may know than you.

During one of the conferences where I was speaking when I was asked to review a short story. The story was good but needed work. I offered suggestions and corrected some glaring errors. The next thing I knew, I was being offered manuscripts to edit. I became an editor.

Is there any difference between an editor and a writer? Yes. A writer puts words to paper and creates a story. An editor reassembles the words to have more impact and be correct.

Photo by Nic McPhee, Creative Commons license

As an editor, I’ve learned to write better, but as a writer I’ve learned that I am too close to my project to be a proper editor. I use a professional editor, Denise Vitola (http://www.thomas-talks-to-me.com/) to correct my work.

One of the biggest mistakes I feel many writers do is to use “that” when it isn’t needed. I, too, am a horrible abuser and delete hundreds of them from my work before I send it out to my editor. An example: He said that he was going to town. The sentence reads perfectly fine without “that” and is stronger.

Notice I said professional editor earlier? A novel needs professional touches. The cover. Edits. Most of my covers have been done by me with the assistance of professional graphic artists. My latest book, “The Secret Voice” has a cover which is a professional photograph by Edison Goodfellow (http://www.edgoodfellow.com/). With the assistance of Steve Lark (http://printedonalark.com/) I was able to accomplish the graphic lettering and colors on the cover. Yes, of course, the book was edited by Denise Vitola.

I feel being an editor has improved my writing and being a speaker has improved my ability to edit and write. How is that? During speaking engagements, I make contact with others and share ideas which then allow my mind to run rampant with even more ideas. Of course, being a writer also improves my ability to be a speaker. They say: Write what you know. I would say the same holds true for speaking: Speak about what you know. Plus, the editor in me allows me to correct both my writing and my speaking.

I guess now would be a good time to lecture about not using your English teacher aunt as an editor. Why? Simple. She will make sure your sentence structure is grammatically correct and punctuation is proper. What she won’t know is how to correct plot, storyline and scenes which makes the story solid. There is nothing wrong with using your English teacher person for this aspect to get the sentences and punctuation correct, but please, use a professional editor who knows your genre to check the story.

Bio:

My name is Bob Nailor. I’m retired from the US federal government. I was a computer geek and still do some programming yet today. One would think I should have plenty of time to write but I actually seem to have less now. So, to make sure that things work out correctly, I try to force myself to sit down and write. That doesn’t always work. Today, writing is fun and I find it relaxing. I get to visit those fantastic and strange places within my mind and well, if I don’t come back right away, there is no longer somebody behind me writing on a pink sheet of paper.

I live with my wife, Violet, in a ranch home snuggled into a small wooded acre in northwest Ohio. I have four sons and currently have ten grandchildren: seven granddaughters and three grandsons.

My interests are travel (have RV, will travel), gardening, music, cooking and reading. So where do I travel? I’ve been in 46 of the 50 states and strangely, Hawaii is one of the states I’ve visited. I have also visited two of our territories—Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. Traveling allows me to add the ambiance to my stories and to some of the characters, also. Gardening is a bit gamey since we live in the country and have the wildlife visiting us constantly—deer, rabbits, raccoons, birds, squirrels and many others. So vegetables don’t always make it to harvest but what does is more than tasty. There are flowers, sometimes too many, to keep me busy. Music? I love New Age music and my favorite group is Mannheim Steamroller—and not just because of their fabulous Christmas albums; I was hooked on them before that. I also have created some of my own electronic music which I’ve been told is pretty good. Should I mention cooking? I love to cook and do gourmet cooking. Having worked with Boy Scouts for several years, I have taught many boys the basics of cooking beyond hotdogs and beans. I have won quite a few contests. As to what I read; well, obviously a lot of science fiction, fantasy and some Christian. Horror, romance, adventure and other genres are also great reads when they catch my attention with an intriguing tag line or cover.

Bibliography:

The Secret Voice—an Amish story set in 1961
Pangaea, Eden Lost—a Barclay Havens, relic hunter mis-adventure
Ancient Blood: The Amazona vampire series, 500 years in waiting
Three Steps: The Journeys of Ayrold—an Irish fantasy for today
2012 Timeline Apocalypse—the Mayan calendar comes to an end
52 Weeks of Writing Tips—tips to improve one’s writing ability

My work appears in several anthologies:

Telling Tales of Terror—essays on how to write horror and dark fiction
Mother Goose Is Dead—a collection of favorite fairy tales, fractured
Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology—a collection of unusual zombie tales
The Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal, Volume 1—various essays
Nights of Blood 2—different takes on the vampire story
Guide to Writing Science Fiction—essays on writing science fiction
Firestorm of Dragons—an eclectic collection of dragon stories
Fantasy Writer’s Companion—essays on writing fantasy
13 Night of Blood—13 amazing vampire tales
Spirits of Blue & Gray—a collection of Civil War ghost stories

Drop by the official website and the blog.

 

 

 

 

 

The best and the worst Rachel Abbott has ever done—as a smart author



Rachel-Abbott (2)Businesswoman, author and blogger Rachel Abbott is my latest victim guest contributor. We all know how smart she is: she sold off her business and now lives in bucolic paradise in central Italy.

The author of Only the Innocent, which has held #1 spot on Amazon for a well-deserved long time, Rachel has generously agreed to tell us about the best and the worst she has done in marketing her book.And naturally, I’ve written a guest post on her blog, but you should only read that after reading this one.

The best and the worst of marketing Only the Innocent

cover image-abbottWhen I launched Only the Innocent back in November 2011, I had absolutely no idea at all what I was doing. I had this idea in my head that all I had to do was upload a Word document, get a cover designed and that’s it! Bob’s your Uncle—as we Brits say (for some reason that I have never fathomed). It means, for those who don’t know, “You’re all set.”

There were two things wrong with this assumption. I thought that:

  • uploading a Word document would be good enough, and
  • I could just sit back and wait for the sales to come in.

I’m not going to dwell on the Word document part of the process—that’s a whole other story. The sitting back and waiting for the sales is the crucial bit, and infinitely more interesting. My mistakes were based on false assumptions, and these are just some of them.

In the first week or two I had some good sales. But then I know quite a few people! Most of them, however, don’t actually have Kindles. They just bought my book because they know me, and downloaded it to their computers or phones.

Mistake number 1: Amazon is all about visibility. “Customers who bought X also bought Y” is incredibly valuable, because it begins to show your book to other readers. But my book was being bought by people who had never bought anything for the Kindle, and therefore there were no books to link it to. So within a week of launch, it was disappearing quickly into obscurity.

I knew that I was going to have to do some promotion myself. Again, I’m lucky because I know how to build a website, and I had already got a Twitter account (albeit with only nine followers). So now I knew what had to be done—but I had no idea how to go about it. Nine followers on Twitter? A great way to spread the word, but how could I increase those numbers? I didn’t know. What about reviews? Should I be asking for them, and if so, where from? I didn’t know.

Mistake number 2: Not preparing myself before launch by creating interest in my novel through social networking, blogging, or having an interesting and informative website. A quick impact at time of launch is brilliant, because while your book is still in the “New releases” list, it has increased visibility. So getting it up the charts at that point would have been a really good move, and relatively easy to achieve with some planning.

Once I had the bit between my teeth, I realised what a vast amount of information there was out on the Web for new authors. So many forums, websites, blogs—the list was endless. And so I spent endless hours surfing around … and going nowhere fast. Every day, I would find another 20 or 30 interesting sites, and each one of those led me somewhere else.

Mistake number 3: Mindless surfing—wasting hours finding out loads of stuff, but too much to absorb. Losing pages that seemed interesting because I had branched off somewhere else. Getting lost in all the information and not actually doing anything at all! All I did was poke around finding stuff out, and then did very little.

And then it hit me. I have spent my life running businesses—but I was treating this like a hobby, and a hobby that I wasn’t even very good at. I forced myself into business mode, and then I got it.

Getting it right: I created a plan and a schedule. I allowed myself a certain amount of time for just searching around, because there were so many nuggets of information and I wanted to learn everything I could. But I limited the time for each. And I created bookmark folders so that if I came across something that looked interesting, I could save a link where I would be able to find it later. All the folders had specific names: marketing, publishing, reviews, etc. Not rocket science!

I set out my priorities, made an action list, and allocated time to each priority. My marketing plan was seven pages long, and read like a proposal to senior management. I was 100 percent in business mode.

I identified my sales channels: Amazon; and via Smashwords, Apple, Nook and Kobo. What could I do to influence sales in each of these areas? I looked at how the sites worked and I prioritized. I saw Smashwords as more of a distributor than a sales channel in itself, and that may have been a mistake, but it gave me focus.

I identified my marketing channels: social networking, website, blog, forums. And for each of them, I decided which was most influential, and which I enjoyed the most (very important). Then I created my action plan for each.

I look at the plan now and realise that a lot of it worked out in a completely different way. Twitter is a classic example. I had allowed myself two hours to investigate ways of increasing my followers—and not just any followers, but people who buy books. And thereafter I had allowed myself ten minutes per day to tweet! I spend about ten times that on Twitter each day, because people talk to me and I talk back. I love it! But that’s okay. This is now, that was then.

So get yourself a plan. Monitor the success of each thing you try so that you are learning about what works and what doesn’t.

It worked for me—and I sincerely hope it works for you.

Now that you’ve read her post, check out her website, where she gives independent authors loads of great insight into the development and publishing of her books, and her blog. And don’t forget to buy her book, Only the Innocent.