Keeping it Real

By Joe Moore

Before we begin, a bit of self promotion. For one day only, Saturday, August 24, Amazon is dropping the price of two of my thrillers (co-written with Lynn Sholes): THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY and THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. TGC is an international bestseller, and both are previous #1 Amazon bestsellers. Download each for only $1.99. Don’t miss reading the first installment of the 4-book Cotten Stone saga (TGC) or how far one man will go to live forever (TPA). Enjoy!


Today is my lucky day. It started right after I poured my first cup of coffee and launched my e-mail. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the first message popped up. It was from an exiled Nigerian king who escaped his country excitewith a fortune in the bank but no way to get to it. Somehow he had found me and asked that I help him get his family’s money; and amount he estimated to be over fifty million dollars. For my assistance, he was willing to give me twenty percent of the funds: a cool ten million.

As you can imagine, I was speechless. But then things got even better. My second e-mail was from none other than the Official International Lottery (you’ve heard of it, right?). Believe it or not, my personal e-mail had been randomly chosen from among all the e-mail addresses in the world as the sole winner: a lump sum of $500k. Considering that there are hundreds of e-mail addresses out there, perhaps thousands, I felt like the luckiest guy on my block. I was whooping and hollering when my wife walked in and asked what all the excitement was about. I told her that minus some small administrative fees I needed to wire transfer to His Majesty and the lottery guys, we were rich beyond our wildest dreams.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Joe, you’re one lucky guy. You might also be thinking that all this good fortune is hard to believe. After all, winning the International Lottery is one thing, but on the same day getting this incredible opportunity to help the Nigerian king is, well, an amazing coincidence. I bet there are even a couple of you that flat-out don’t believe it could happen. You think it’s just too much of a coincidence.

If this were a novel, chances are the reader would be kicked right out of the story. That’s because coincidence, if used improperly or overused, can be considered nothing more than a cheap trick. Using it can lower the writer’s credibility and believability. And if it comes as a blatant trick to solve an unsolvable problem, it could cause the reader to close the book and move on.

Coincidence is defined as something that happens by chance, was never intended to take place, and is usually considered an accident. Improper use often occurs when a writer paints himself into a corner and there’s no way out except to turn to an unbelievable event or the introduction of a new element “out of the blue”.

Don’t get me wrong, coincidence is a legitimate writing technique if it’s properly setup and foreshadowed. The key is to make it realistic. Example: on a given day, running into someone you know at JFK is not realistic. Considering an international airport like JFK has multiple terminals, dozens of airlines, and hundreds of thousands of passengers passing through it daily. How often have you run into someone you know at a big airport like JFK? Not too often, I’ll bet. If it doesn’t happen to you, why should it happen to a character in your story? It’s not realistic.

But let’s say two people are in the same industry. Each year they attend an industry tradeshow. They always stay at the same hotel. You’ve established this somewhere previously in the story. What are the chances of them running into each other in the hotel bar? Pretty good. That’s a realistic coincidence. You’ve already foreshadowed enough information to the reader that when it happens, the reaction is Aha, not No Way.

The secret to using coincidence is to narrow down the chances of it not happening beforehand so that when the event takes place, you don’t make the reader roll her eyes.

A nasty form of coincidence is what’s called deus ex machine, Latin for god in the machine: a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new character, ability or object. Your character suddenly has the ability to fly a jumbo jet without any prior flying experience, or a new character appears just in time to perform a life-saving rescue, someone that up until this point was never mentioned in the story. Don’t go there. It will make your writing weak and lacking in integrity. And it could cost you readers.

So how do you avoid coincidence and deus ex machine? Plan ahead. Take time to foreshadow so your reader doesn’t get blindsided. Map out the story in advance, drop hints, and keep things realistic. And as a last resort, if you must use coincidence, take the time to go back and insert the foreshadowing and hints. Doing so will make you look clever in the eyes of the reader. Lastly, placing your character into hot water by coincidence is forgivable. Getting her out is not.

BTW, one more thing about my fabulous luck with the Nigerian king and the International lottery: according to stats, U.S. citizens lose more than $550 million a year as a result of Internet fraud. I sure hope His Majesty isn’t trying to put one over on me.

Cardboard men and the women who love them

Men characters…can’t control ’em and can’t shoot ’em.
Actually, I guess I could do the latter. And that is just about where I am right now with one of the guys in my work in progress. His name is Josh. Or sometimes Matt. Before that his name was Alex. The fact that I can’t even settle on a name for this guy shows you where I am with him right now. He’s the husband of my heroine and while SHE doesn’t really need him — in fact, that’s part of her character arc — I do need him. He’s important to the plot.
It’s my fault. I gave birth to this creep. I can’t even blame my co-author sister Kelly because when we plotted this book out, I was the one who drew duty on Josh. I put him on paper, I got him up and walking around. So now I have to find a way to deal with him. I thought I was doing okay with him until I ran his introductory chapter past my critique group. They tore Josh to shreds. 
Josh, it seems, is a cipher. In creating him, I committed one of the biggest sins of writing, something I preach about to every new writer I encounter. Namely:
Your villain must not stupid, dull, or incompetent. He must be a worthy opponent for your hero.
Wait, you say, Josh is the villain? I thought he was the husband. (Actually, he might be the villain; I haven’t really decided).  Regardless, the same commandment applies to love interests as well as villains. If you expect readers to buy into a romantic relationship, the man you pick for your woman must be worthy of her affection.
Josh, alas, is made of cardboard. He’s not the sexy UPS man. He’s the UPS box.
I haven’t taken the time or energy to flesh him out. I neglected to give their relationship enough back story to make it believable. I didn’t give enough thought to his motivations. I have been so busy lavishing love and words on my heroine, the cast of fabulous secondary characters — shoot, even the frickin’ scenery — that I just plain forgot about flaccid Josh.
I know why this happened, though I hate to admit it.
This book is not a Louis Kincaid book, so I can’t depend on my deep “friendships” with old characters. I don’t know these new characters yet so it’s harder to plumb their depths. This book is also not a strict thriller like we have written before. It’s closer to psychological suspense, which for me at least requires some stretching. It is still dark in tone as our other books but it is more dependent on relationships and all the shadows, ambiguities and difficulties that presents. 
I think when writing Josh I had flashbacks to my romance writing days, when relationships were the backbone of my stories. There wasn’t the convenient conveyance of violence or an unsolved case to propel the plot forward; you had to build suspense solely through how the characters related to each other. Plus there’s the sex thing. In romance, if you didn’t have sex every four chapters or so there was something wrong with you. But that was a long time ago. I haven’t had to have sex since…well, never mind.
Friends, I am here to tell you. It is not just like riding a bicycle.
The lesson here is: Pay attention to every character and don’t take shortcuts. Go deep and then even deeper when you think about their motivations. I didn’t do my job as a writer with Josh the first time around. I thought I could get away with giving him less than my best. So now, here I am, struggling with rewrites way too early in the first draft. 
This is not a good place to be because first drafts, as I have said often, should be just that — drafts. If you stop and go back for intensive surgery too early in your book’s life you lose your forward momentum. But I have no choice because I know the rest of the book will not fall into place the way it needs to until I go back and fix Josh. So today I will transfuse Josh with some blood, jolt him with the heart paddles, and try to make him come alive on the page.

I should have killed him off in chapter 4. It would have been easier.

Go with the Flow

By Boyd Morrison

I almost always write to music. It’s usually movie scores that get me in the mood for dramatic action and suspense. Some of my favorites are the soundtracks from Aliens, Inception, TRON: Legacy, The Dark Knight, Battlestar Galactica, and anything by John Williams. The music can’t have any words or I find myself singing along and typing those words into my manuscript (“Without a word, the convict drew the shiv and plunged it into the Honky Tonk Women!!”… Damn you, Rolling Stones!).

I know things are going well with my writing when I suddenly realize that fifteen songs have gone by and I don’t remember hearing them. That means I was in a flow state, and that’s when the writing process is really fun.

Flow is a concept first proposed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow describes a state of euphoria and intense focus that is achieved when you are fully immersed in the task at hand. You tune out the world because you’re so absorbed in what you’re doing. For me it’s easy to remember times when I was reading a good book or playing an immersive video game and my wife had to call my name several times before I could pull myself out of the experience. It was like I was really there. I was in flow.

Writing can produce the same experience for me, but it’s more challenging to produce the flow state. However, when it happens, it’s a sweet feeling. For musicians it’s called being “in the groove.” Athletes talk about being “in the zone.” You’re in the flow state when you’re teetering on the edge of competency, when your ability is perfectly matched to the challenge.

Flow has three prerequisites:

1)    The goals must be clear. – I think this is why it’s so hard for writers to get started on a book. My characters’ goals aren’t clear to me at the beginning, so it’s hard for me to write down what’s happening to them. On the other hand, at the end of the book I usually get in the flow and write very quickly because I know where the characters are going.

2)    The feedback must be immediate and clear. – I’m also a stage actor, and the feedback when I’m performing couldn’t be more immediate. You can sense how an audience is perceiving you, particularly with a comedy. But with writing the only feedback we get is from our editors and online reviewers days, months, or years after we’ve typed the last word. That’s why the feedback writers require to continue is not the readers’ kudos, but their internal drive to find out what happens in their own story. I often hear that concept expressed as someone’s “need” to write.

3)    You should have the proper balance between the perceived high challenge of the task and your perception that you have the high skills to complete the task. – This prerequisite could be the problem for many new writers; the challenge often exceeds the perceived skill level for a newbie. Writing a 100,000-word novel is a daunting task if you’ve never done it before. That’s why I think in terms of scenes instead of a whole book when I’m actually writing. If I know what’s happening in that one scene, I can get in the flow.

It’s not surprising to hear that the list of character traits Csikszentmihalyi lists as most important for achieving flow are the traits you’d expect to find in successful writers: curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a high rate of performing activities for intrinsic reasons only.

If you can find the flow when you are writing, you probably won’t have any problem producing novels. The key is setting up your environment so that you minimize distractions that will keep you from entering the flow state. Checking email and Facebook will take you out of flow, so turn those apps off or write somewhere where you can’t access them. And I highly recommend listening to wordless music.

The flow concept has many components to it, so if you want to find out more, you can watch Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk about it. And if you want to learn about the oxymoronic characteristics that the most creative people have, check out his article in Psychology Today.

Do You Know What You Want to Say?

by James Scott Bell

“If you want to send a message, try Western Union.” – Samuel Goldwyn
Do you send a message in your fiction? Nothing wrong with that. You can’t read Atlas Shruggedor On The Road or To Kill A Mockingbird without picking up that the writers had something on their minds that drove them in the writing. And each of those books still sell tens of thousands of copies per year.
But good old Sam Goldwyn knew that if you get too didactic, the story suffers. You have to let the characters live and breathe and act like real people in response to the story elements. You don’t want to manipulate them so much that the reader thinks you’ve moved from storytelling to sermonizing.
Still, at the end of any book or story, an author will have left something for the reader to think about. It can’t be helped. That’s the nature of story.
Which bring us to Theme.  Theme (or as I call it, Meaning) is the “big idea.” It is what emerges once the central conflict is resolved. The famous writing teacher William Foster-Harris believed that all great stories could be explained in a “moral formula,” the struggle between sets of values:
Value 1 vs. Value 2 => Outcome.
You plug in your values thus:
            Love vs. Ambition => Love.
In other words, the value of love overcomes in the struggle against ambition. If one were writing a tragedy, the outcome would be the opposite, with ambition winning, but at the cost of lost love.
Writing teacher Lajos Egri posed a similar idea in The Art of Dramatic Writing. He called it the “Premise.” It is expressed in a moral formula as well, as in Justice overcomes deceit.
The question today, writer, is whether you are being intentional about your theme.
Not all writers know their theme when they start writing. They have characters and a plot idea, and they let the writing unfold as it will. They may not think about theme at all. They may simply write about characters involved in the struggle of the plot, knowing that struggle will eventually end. Most of the time that’s how I approach it in my own writing. But I do, at some point, identify what it is my emerging story is trying to say—because, of course, it’s really mein there somewhere.
But even writers who say they never think about theme end up saying something. It can’t be helped. All stories have meaning, whether the author is purposeful about it or not. Why? Because readers are wired for it. We are always looking for meaning, trying to make sense of the world. Indeed, one of the reasons we have storytellers is to help our fellow creatures through the mythical dark forest, otherwise known as life.
Perhaps, then, it would be wise to be a little more conscious of your theme. Whether you start out with one or find it along the way, try to identify the unifying message. Then you can go back in the revision process and weave symbols, metaphors and thematic dialogue into the tale.
It also helps to know your theme in case you get questions. I wrote a short story that stoked some controversy among a section of my reader base. I got a few emails, and one consternated face-to-face query, asking why I wrote such a disturbing and eerie tale.  
I responded that I was actually trying to write a profoundly moral tale. One that had a very clear meaning (to me, at least). I shaped the plot precisely to be disturbing (think Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents)  because the theme would not be as powerfully presented otherwise.
I would be very interested in seeing if you find the meaning I intended. That’s why I’ve made the story, “Autumnal,” free on Kindle today through Wednesday. I’d love it if you got it, read it, and told me via Twitter what you think the meaning is. Use #Autumnal for the discussion.
As for you, dear author, talk about this in the comments: Do you know what you want to say when you start a story? Are you a “theme-first” kind of writer? Or do you prefer to let the characters duke it out and leave it at that?

Happy Birthday, Hank

Author Charles Bukowski would have been 93 yesterday. That would be a ripe old age even for the best of us but would have been well-nigh impossible for Bukowski, who probably never had a healthy day in his life and compounded his miseries with his alcohol-fueled lifestyle which in turn provided the frank fodder for his prose and verse. Bukowski, the poet laureate and prose prince of the down and out, was capable of inducing laughter or tears from readers within a sentence or two or on many occasions within the same sentence. I attended a reading of his in the early 1970s during which he got me to laughing so hard that he had to stop the proceedings until I fully recovered. Actually, I never really did. Reading Bukowski, let alone listening to him, was and is a life-changing event.
My introduction to Bukowski in was accomplished through a great guy named Mark Clayman who in the 1970s was the owner and operator of “Upstairs Books.”  It was a wonderful hole in the wall located at the top of two short staircases in a brick building in the Spicertown neighborhood adjacent to the University of Akron. One rainy afternoon Mark thrust a trade paperback book (I am deliberately omitting the somewhat scatological title) into my hands and said, “Have you read Bukowski? I swear by him.” He was so sure that I would like the book that he offered me a full refund if I didn’t like it. His money was safe. I have gone through five copies of that book over the years, the replacements occasioned by coffee spills and ill-advised lendings to the wrong people and get-out-of-Dodge moves subsequent to divorce.   I’m still reading and re-reading it, as well as other Bukowski short story collections, his novels, and even his poetry collections (and I NEVER read poetry anymore) some forty odd years later. 

It took a while for the public to catch up with Bukowski. His writing was stark and his subject matter was ugly. His books throughout most of his life were only available through small presses, most of which have since gone out of business. He eventually hit the big time; HarperCollins is his publisher now, and it even has a website set up to commemorate his birthday at http://happybirthdayBukowskidotcom. The subject matter remains the same, however. If you drive hurriedly through impoverished neighborhoods where the only going concerns are sad-looking taverns strategically placed every half block or so, the folks propped up on bar stools inside are the stuff and substance of Bukowski’s work. They would include the author himself, who wrote several autobiographical novels featuring Hank Chinaski, his fictional alter ego. 

Bukowski may have been an unapologetic drunk and a failure at conventional work, but he had no illusions about himself and no reservations about baring his soul for the world to see in prose shot through with an angry but resigned weariness fueled by his near-constant intake of whatever alcohol he could get his hands on at any given moment. At the end of the day, however, he described the ugly beautifully, as well as the frustration and difficulty of writing, the only occupation at which he attained some level of success, and that in spite of himself.
Pulp, Bukowski’s last novel,  was completed and published shortly before his death. It is a vicious sendup of the hard-boiled detective genre, containing exaggerated clichés and stereotypical situations which stand as a deliberate textbook example of how not to write a genre novel, and should therefore be read by anyone who intends to write one. As always, no punches are pulled, so that at times one is tempted to look away from the page even as the pull of his words makes doing so impossible. It is also however, infused with Bukowski’s knowledge and frustration over the fact that time for him was running out. Despite his prodigious output,  the man had so much more left to say.
 If you’re unfamiliar with Bukowski, check out the website I mentioned earlier and sample a book or two. If you have read his work, pull a volume down from your shelf and revisit a stark example of how the job of writing is fittingly and properly done.

Life and Death: Proofreading Your Novel

By Elaine Viets
    Are there more typos in novels these days?
    Readers complain about “it’s” instead of  “its,” “grizzly murders” (beware of those killer bears), and plain old misspellings.
    Yes. There are more typos, in my professional opinion.
    I’m speaking as a professional proofreader. I worked my way through college proofreading everything from phone books (snore) to medical journals, including The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, along with Allergy, Surgery, and more. Reading medical journals gave me a lifelong distrust of doctors.general hospital
     I’ve never forgotten proofing that stirring editorial in The American Journal of Surgery, reminding doctors to count their sponges and surgical instruments before sewing a patient back up.
      I proofread from 1968 to 1972, and made $1.59 an hour, forty cents more than the minimum wage. Each medical journal was proofread three times, by three different people. They were nearly flawless.
    Publishers can’t afford to do that any more. Now you’re lucky if your book is read once. It’s your job to catch those typos.
    Betty Wilson, a master proofreader, taught me the trade. She believed hunting typos was a matter of life and death – and for medical books she was right.
    It’s harder to proofread your own books. Your mind substitutes the right word for the mistake that’s there.
    But Betty’s three-step method will help you catch more. If you’re like me, you’re better at catching typos on paper than on a computer screen, so if you aren’t reading page proofs, print out the manuscript.
    Here’s how I read my page proofs:
    (1) Read the novel through once.
     Find a quiet spot with good light. Then turn off the TV, CD player and other distractions, and pour yourself some caffeine.
    If I’m reading a 320-page novel, I break it into 70 to 80 pages a day. Take short breaks every two or three chapters. Pour more caffeine, scratch the cat, stretch, rest your eyes, then go back to reading.
    (2) Read your book again, holding a piece of plain white paper under each line.
    You will be surprised how many typos you missed the first time.
    When you’ve finished with the white paper read, you’ll be sure you’ve caught every single mistake. Boy, are you in for a surprise. It’s time for Step three.
    (3) Read your novel out loud.
    You don’t need to shout it out. You can mumble quietly in your chair. Your family’s used to that. But reading your novel out loud is crucial. Also, crushingly boring. And hard on the throat.
     This time, skip the caffeine. It dries out your throat.  Drink water. Cold will do, but I use the radio announcer’s trick for scratchy throats. I drink hot water with a slice of lemon. It works.
So does reading your book aloud. You will be shocked to find still more typos. I guarantee you’ll catch at least four more this way.
    Will you get them all? Not this time.
    But you will see the last few typos – when your finished novel arrives.
    DEAD-END JOB FANS: Enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of BOARD STIFF, the ultimate beach book, in time for Labor Day. Hope you get to take my 12th DEJ book to the beach. Hurry! Sweepstakes ends tomorrow, August 16. Click on


Nancy J. Cohen

Are you watching the British crime drama, Broadchurch, on BBC Wednesday nights? It’s a limited episode series that started last week, so you’re not missing much if you pop in tonight. As a mystery writer, I can’t help analyzing the story structure.

Episode one presents the scene of the crime. A young boy is found murdered on the beach. The time and method of death are established. We meet his family, some of whom are keeping secrets. The boy may have been killed between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am last night. Where was the father? Supposedly out on an emergency plumbing call. Oh, really? How lame is that alibi?

Yet not once does the lead detective suggest verifying the plumbing job. This handsome bloke, by the way, is David Tennant of Dr. Who fame. I like him with his scruffy beard. But someone needs to clue him in on finding the facts. Will it be the ambitious reporter? Or did he have a hand in this horrible event to create a story for himself?

David Tennant

And where was the victim’s father the night of the murder? Is he having an affair? Involved in a smuggling scheme? The rugged coastline may have been the site for smugglers in historic times. Perhaps there’s a new gang at work and the boy became a liability.

And how was the boy involved? His best friend isn’t so innocent. The kid erases all his computer and cell phone files after his mum, a detective on the force who’s been passed over for promotion, tells him he’ll be questioned about what he knows. What’s the kid hiding? Could he and the victim have been involved in a shady scheme with the victim’s father?

Then again, the father seems too easy a mark. Maybe he’s the red herring.

As the show progresses, we’ll see more townspeople guarding secrets. Eventually the detective will unravel them until he exposes the killer. And what about his own past? He was sent to this little hamlet after something scandalous occurred in his career. He couldn’t have created a murder to boost his own reputation, could he?


Everyone in this village is a potential suspect. It’s a juicy story in that respect, and I’m eager to see how it plays out. This is why I like whodunit mysteries. We are guessing along with the detective. The small town atmosphere becomes a character in its own right as we learn that not all of the inhabitants are as innocuous as they seem.

So are you going to watch the show tonight?

It takes more than a village to move this writer…

We’re deep in the throes of preparing our house for sale, while simultaneously scouting out new digs in a neighboring beach town. I’ve never had such a hard time moving. Unlike  Clare, who has repeatedly and gracefully moved across oceans and continents, young kids in tow, with nary a complaint, I’m feeling the need to whine about the moving process to anyone who will listen.

Every previous move in my life has been simple and painless: In the past I simply called up some movers, who’d pack up my stuff and drive it in a truck to the next place, and then unpack. Finis! But this time is different, and in a horrible way. We’re lucky that we live in a nice house in a seller’s market. But, as our real estate agent sternly explained after touring the property, the Market here has certain expectations. In particular, the Market expects this type of home to be updated, pristine and uncluttered. The opposite, that is to say, of its current condition.

To meet the Market’s fussy demands, we’re using a Roman legion of professionals to whip our house into shape. The first legionnaire to arrive was a landscape architect, who drew up plans to Update our plantings. He even ordered us to replant our neighbor’s side garden, which flanks the walkway to our front door. (The Market evidently demands an attractive approach to front entrances.) Our neighbors seemed pleased, if slightly confused, by our sudden offer to replace their weedy garden strip with lucious ferns and impatiens. (These neighbors have lived in the same house for more than 20 years; obviously they haven’t heard the news about Updating.)

We did a pre-inspection review (which  gives the Market confidence that you’re not trying to sell it a lemon). The inspection report revealed a number of flaws that needed to be fixed, mostly because safety codes have been Updated during the eleven years we’ve lived here. The required repairs (which included a new roof) are being made by a rotating cast of contractors, workers, handymen, and a friend of ours named Dave who somehow got sucked into the vortex.  There were so many guys tromping through the house at one point that I lost track of who was doing what, or even who they were. As long as they were carrying tools and didn’t appear to be conducting a home invasion robbery, I simply gave them all cheerful waves and tried to stay out of their way.

Next came the Updating of the house’s cosmetics. This phase is being driven by Miriam, an interior designer. Miriam has been selecting Things That Can Stay during the showing of the house, and separating them from Things That Must Go. Everything that doesn’t make the cut will be sold, donated, or moved temporarily into giant metal pods. Miriam is daubing the walls with sample swatches of paint, plus purchasing a few select items that will Update our decor. These purchases are mostly things like colorful pillows, a rug, and timers for the lights. (The Market expects a house to be brightly lit at all times.) Our kitchen is about to become something called “two-tone,” which I didn’t even know was a trend. Miriam is constantly moving stuff around to “stage” things properly. One candleabra has moved its position about so many times, I could swear we’ve picked up a poltergeist.

 Miriam came as part of a package deal with a professional organizer named Heidi. Heidi manages her own crew of assistants. Heidi, a high-energy, smiling refugee from the corporate world, makes her living helping people like us get through complex projects such as Updating. (I’m sure Heidi doesn’t help people like Clare, because people like Clare are obviously well-organized, competent, and resourceful. They don’t need a Heidi.)

Heidi set up timelines for our “project,” and keeps an impressive spreadsheet up to date. She is researching and marketing excess items that are too expensive to sell on Craigslist or in a garage sale. For example: Heidi  discovered that a set of my dad’s old office chairs are Swedish-designer things worth about $1500-$2500 each. Which means I should call them “vintage” chairs rather than old, I guess. Bottom line: one has to be careful when getting rid of anything that comes from my family, especially funky old office chairs.

Watching over all this chaos from a strategic distance is our real estate agent, who made it clear from the beginning that she’d prefer to sell our house empty rather than with us still living in it. I have to say I’m beginning to agree with her. It would be so much easier if we could move everything into pods, check into someplace temporarily, let the professionals do their thing, and be done with the whole mess. Then we could forget about things like colored throw pillows and editing furniture, at least until we find a new house, when I guess the process kicks into reverse and starts up all over again. But my husband has vetoed moving out early as an option. So I’m coping as best I can.  F. Scott Fitzgerald captured my state of mind brilliantly in the last line of The Great Gatsby:

 “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

The writing connection

I’ll bring this discussion back to writing. The publishing industry, as we all know, has been changing at a rapid clip. Indie publishing is in vogue, and longtime readers know that TKZ has a wealth of useful information about indie publishing in its archives. I’ve watched my colleagues step forth bravely into the new world, but I’ve yet to take the plunge. I’ll get there at some point, but I think I’d like to work with a project manager to get through the process, at least the first time out. I’ll need a project manager for indie publishing for the same reason I need Heidi the Project Manager for moving and selling our house–I don’t like dealing with the details of process. It isn’t my strong suit. I want there to be someone professional and trustworthy who can steer me through the whole thing. That person would 1) find a great cover designer for my new book, 2) direct me to a line editor, 3) format my manuscript, and 4) upload it to the appropriate outlets. Basically, I would pay this person to manage my indie publishing project, in the same way I pay Heidi to manage our moving project, or an accountant to manage my taxes. Does such a person or entity exist, or is a market being created? Because I’m one of those people who wants someone else to manage the nitty gritty process details, I’m nervous about falling into the hands of the sharks that prowl the indie waters. I certainly don’t want to pay a lot of money and be dissatisfied with the results.

I know we’ve talked endlessly about the how-to’s of indie publishing here at TKZ, but I’m wondering if there’s a solution for process-phobic people like me. Of course, the ideal solution would be for me to absorb all the good information we discuss here and learn how to master the process myself, but it might not ever happen. Just ask Heidi.

A Transmedia Plan

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Last weekend I attended the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon and there were some great speakers who really helped open my eyes regarding the nature of the media and publishing industry today. 

One such speaker (Luke Ryan) gave a terrific presentation on what he termed  ‘transmedia’ and the need for writers to think beyond their ‘box’ (be it novel writing or screenwriting). He defined the term ‘transmedia’ as (and I paraphrase) ‘a narrative built across multiple platforms that grows exponentially with little repetition of content’. In other words, as writers, we need to be aware of all the different forms of media that could carry pieces of our narrative/story and which engage audiences in their own unique ways. We are in essence world builders and, as such, given the current state of the media and publishing industries, we need to think ‘outside the box’ if we are to grow our brand/story and readership. 

Makes sense, right? It’s also pretty daunting when you think of all the media platforms available. For writers like us some of the key media platforms might include things like:

  • Film
  • TV
  • Graphic Novels
  • E-books
  • E-book ‘shorts’/or serialization (see Jim’s post yesterday)
  • Graphic Novels
  • Apps
  • Social Media
  • Audio books

That’s a vast array of options for a writer but the key message I took away from Luke’s presentation is that we need to consider our work across these forms of media and identify ways in which these other elements might factor into building the ‘world’ we have created in our novels. 

The other key message I took from Luke’s presentation is that this does not mean merely reproducing or repeating content across various forms of media – because readers are hungry for fresh, unique content. An author should therefore look at their work across a continuum of media opportunities. You might have written a thriller but then produce a series of unique e-book shorts that focus on a minor (yet intriguing) character within that book. You might also work with a graphic artist to produce a series of graphic novels that involve stories from the main protagonist’s past. In each of these different mediums you are producing new content which nonetheless feeds into the core story (your thriller).

After listening to Luke’s presentation I was both excited by the myriad of possibilities for my own work and also (I admit) overwhelmed by them. However, I learned that, as writers, we must always be thinking about unique opportunities to bring readers to our stories, to rise above the ‘noise’, and to provide great, unique content that supplements the main stories we write. So I wanted to ask all you TKZers, how do you envisage tackling a ‘transmedia’ platform for your own work? Too overwhelming or are you already ahead of the curve and have a ‘transmedia’ plan of attack?