A Writer’s Guide to Surviving Social Distancing & Quarantine

JordanDane

@JordanDane

No one has to tell me twice to stay home. I work from there as a writer. My commute is from the bedroom to my office. (No. I don’t work in my PJs. Puleeze.)

Don’t mingle? I love people, but I’m a bit of an introvert. I’m perfectly happy entertaining myself in my head. No worries. But in order to flatten the curve of the #CoronaVirus and allow health professionals to get this pandemic under control for the hospital beds and respirators they have, I am determined to do my part, happily. I’m also the primary caregiver to my parents who are in their 90s. They’re in good health, but their age puts them at a disadvantage.

I’m limiting my errands, appointments and socializing for the next few months and am hoping we, as a country, can get this pandemic under control. I’ve cancelled my European trip in July and will target my travel for 2021-2022 when things might be better.

I thought I would share what I am doing during my self-imposed lock down and get a conversation going. Let’s share what we’re up to and make this quarantine/social distancing survivable.

ALWAYS allow time for your daily quota but think outside the box for how to spend your time. This shouldn’t be same-old-same-old time. Treat yourself & bolster your spirit. The last time I had to spend time sequestered at home, I wrote my debut book after I had surgery. Perhaps this inconvenience could be a renaissance of sorts, a rebirth like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Stay positive & fuel your creativity.

Ideas for Writers to survive the #CoronaVirus #Pandemic:

1.) Develop your cooking skills. Treat yourself well by making an effort, even if it’s for a party of one. I have fun posting recipes with pics on social media, like Twitter and Instagram. If you’re feeling generous, try supporting your local restaurants who are suffering during this shut down. They may only be making money on deliveries. Order online with delivery & make sure to wipe down the cartons/containers & throw away the bags. Plastic & cardboard surfaces can carry the virus for 24 to 72 hours–and tip your driver.

2.) Research cooking homemade dog food & treats. My sister and I have challenged each other, from our respective homes, of course. We are cooking our own nutritious dog food with healthy ingredients (meats, vegetables and fruit) with vitamin & probiotic supplements. I recently did the math and I’m saving $20/bag off my old kibble brand. I cook once or twice a month and freeze some to have inventory. It’s fun to be creative for them. My oldest dog is ten and she’s gobbling up her food like she has never done before. I love seeing the joy of my three rescue dogs at meal times and their appreciation shows.

3.) Organize your life. What needs doing? What have you put off? For me, it’s tackling a storage room & my office. I also cleaned out my freezer & made use of what I could to make dog food. These jobs were long overdue. Writing deadlines are pushed to the top of the list normally, but this time of self-reflection has helped me get after projects that will make me feel better in the long run.

4.) Spend time outdoors. It’s spring. Get fresh air by working in a garden, cleaning up, applying lawn treatments. I maintain my home & yard on my own. It’s rewarding, invigorating & a reminder of nature’s renewal. This time of year, it is cleaning up leaves and sprucing up the garden to make way for the new growth. My tangerine tree is blooming and my tulips and bulbs are flowering.

5.) Do an inventory of the favorite things in your home & post pics of them on social media. I saw this on social media and participated. I thought it was a great idea for the home bound. Share a story of why something means the world to you. Tell a story and invite your followers to share their prized possessions. Very touching and interesting.

6.) Post a video of your quarantine activities online if you’re tech savvy. Or read excerpts of your books on video to share with readers. Do you feel comfortable with recording writing craft tutorials? With all the late night shows getting creative on Youtube, I thought–why not share our work with other quarantiners or read an age appropriate book to children? What the hell. I can’t sing

7.) Catch up on research for your next book & dig into a new plot. Daily writing time is important. That should come first, but working on a new project can be invigorating.

8.) Reach out to friends & family on FaceTime or texting or calling. Reassure your loved ones & stay more connected with the people you value most. Not including family, ask yourself–who makes the list of my top 10 contacts? I call this – taking an inventory of the heart.

9.) Focus on your pets. Things have changed in their world too. They see you home more and want your time. Take them on longer walks. It’s good exercise for you. Buy new toys for them, something you can enjoy with them.

10.) Catch up on your reading. Authors should be avid readers. You’ll learn as you enjoy.

11.) Write a letter to someone special. We’re writers, after all. Or keep a daily journal to get in touch with the emotions you might be feeling.

12.) Go on an online shopping spree. Or send a special gift to someone you love.

13.) Plan a vacation for late 2021 or 2022. Save for it. Take your time researching it & make the trip special.

14.) With sports being cancelled across our country, check out what others are doing on TikTok to invent a sport. Here is a LINK. Roomba Curling, window tennis, turtle tic tac toe, Sock Pacman, & ping pong trick shots set up in your home with obstacles.

15.) Take a vitual tour of these great sites at this LINK. Over 30 sites. Animal cameras, national parks, touring famous places across the world, try a virtual trip on Mars.

I count my lucky stars for everything good in my life, despite what’s going on across the globe. I hear & read about horror all over the world and things happening close to home. People are hurting and they don’t have many options if our economy shuts down to a crawl. Be kind to one another and help where you can. You will not regret it.

FOR DISCUSSION:
What are you doing to keep your sanity during this challenging time?

 

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Introverts Unite

So this past week has been a surreal one on so many fronts – my husband’s company ordered him to work from home, my kid’s school is now closed for at least two weeks, we cancelled our spring break vacation, the robotics tournament my boys had been working so hard for was postponed, and the shelves at our local Kings Soopers…well they looked like a scene from the movie Contagion… Despite all this (or perhaps because of it) I came to realize just how introverted a writer I really am.

This realization dawned half way though day one of my husband’s ‘work from home’ week. He started on conference calls just after the boys left for school (this was before the school district announced all schools were to close on Friday) and didn’t stop talking pretty much the entire day. I know I should be sympathetic (I mean who wants to be on back to back conference calls!) – but most days it’s just me, my collie Hamish, and the imaginary characters in my head and I desperately missed the peace and quiet. By day 3, my poor husband was going stir crazy because he, as an extrovert, needed (and missed) having work colleagues around him. I, on the other hand, was longing for solitude:) So when the social distancing decree came down, I wasn’t fazed. Give me a computer to write on (or good old-fashioned pen and paper), a book to read, and some art supplies…and I am pretty much good to go. My husband on the other hand was already writing up a long list of chores we could accomplish:)

Now my husband and I have been married a long time (over 25 years!) so none of this comes as a great surprise – except that we’ve never really had to confront our own personality types in quite this way before. Neither of us were prepared for just how different our introverted versus extroverted outlook would be. One of my twins joked that he’d seen a meme on how introverts have been preparing their whole lives for social distancing – and while I laughed at first…it’s actually true. Though I doubt most of my friends would ever describe me as introverted – I enjoy being with people, am usually very chatty, and can be quite..er…theatrical when I want to be…but recent events have made me more aware than ever, just how much my creativity comes from the absence of people, and the quiet spaces of my day. This all means that there will certainly be some interesting times ahead, as for the foreseeable future I will have my husband and twin sons at home. We will all have to carve out our own quiet spaces (or in my husband’s case, some virtual-people filled spaces) and I will have to find ways to satisfy my introverted need for quiet and solitude.

So TKZers how many of you consider yourselves introverted? What has recent events revealed about your own personality or creativity?

In these challenging times we can all benefit from appreciating our common humanity, embracing empathy, and understanding how we can bridge our differences. In the meantime though…any words of wisdom on how two introverts (one twin and me) and two extroverts (my husband and the other twin) can survive in quasi-isolation??

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Tips & Pitfalls to Writing in First Person – First Page Critique: Organization K

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Today we have the first 400 words of a novel entitled ORGANIZATION K. With it written in first person, I wanted to talk about using first person – benefits and dangers – as well as give our brave author feedback. My comments will be on the flip side. Enjoy!

***

Insane or not, I refused to let Victor assassinate me without a fight.

Exaggerating my daze, I meandered toward the locked exit of Bienveillance Hospital’s Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy. If someone opened the door carelessly, I’d flee. My pale, youthful skin crawled, and I scratched my stubbly cheeks. I was nearsighted and had discarded my glasses, so my surroundings appeared blurry. As I passed a couple staff members in white uniforms and neared possible freedom, blood pounded behind my ears.

An olive-skinned female orderly intercepted me. “Breakfast time, Max,” she said in German with a Turkish accent. She pointed over my shoulder and tapped her foot.

I tugged on my bleached-blond hair’s jagged ends. “Oh joy.”

My former best friend, Victor, might reenter the recuperation prison to murder me. He’d once failed to kill me there. Given my lingering madness, the personnel would disbelieve my claim. Besides, in my disgrace, maybe I deserved to die.

Clenching my teeth, I plodded into a corner of the main common room. The space’s pastel green paint, which matched my ward outfit, reminded me of vomit. Outside the lofty windows, October 2001 fog obscured the Berlin Television Tower. On clearer days, the landmark from ex-East Berlin resembled a giant lance impaling a cratered moon. As an earlier East German, an Ossi, Germany’s tallest structure inspired me to surpass my rivals.

A boyish patient with a fair complexion draped a blanket over his shoulders. Wordlessly, he wandered around the roomy area in sandals and hugged people. He approached me.

My body stiffened, and I crossed my arms. “Go easy on me, man.”

The stranger embraced me. His obliviousness to his bleak position repulsed me. Like pins and needles accompanied a hand waking from sleep, regaining sanity hurt, but the pain came with healing. He released me and strolled away.

At long tables, many fellow sufferers clanked their tableware, grating my ears. The reek of greasy food and disinfectant seeped through the air. My stomach churned.

I rushed into my spartan room and sprawled on the bed or paced on the floor. Zoned out, I stood facing the murky outdoors. The door opened behind me. Someone thumped their boots toward me and stopped. As I turned around, my spine tingled.

Victor waved at me, grinning. “Hey, Mega Max, how the hell are you?” he shouted in German with a slight Californian accent.

I swallowed hard.

***

FEEDBACK & TIPS

This anonymous entry has an intriguing premise of a man confined in a mental hospital with an assassin out to get him, but the way it’s written, it made me wonder if I could suggest ways to make it more effective to draw the reader in. The author is counting on the reader to be curious, but are there other nuances the author could add that would intrigue the reader more?

Tips to Writing in First Person

1.) Start with action – Instead of being in the head of a character as they passively begin a story, have them DO SOMETHING. Is this character really in action? He’s stumbling through a ward and on alert, but it’s more like he’s taking inventory of the setting for the reader to “see it.” The action is TELLING. We’re being told about Victor wanting to kill him. If he’s purely delusional, the first line feels like a cheat to the reader. By the second line, any tension or intrigue the reader might’ve felt is gone when the action goes nowhere.

It might be more effective if Max is agitated and feeling the effects of an unexplained drug, attempting an actual escape from an unknown location. Leave the reader wondering – escape from where? The reader can wonder if he’s a captive, a good guy or bad. Give the reader something to care about with his situation.

2.) Make the reader care – Since this is the start of the story, I know nothing about Max. Yes, he is in a precarious position and vulnerable with an assassin after him, but why should a reader care about him at this early stage? Has the author given enough to get the reader engaged? Rather than focusing on describing the setting of the hospital through Max’s head, why not target his mental state and show the reader how he is vulnerable. Make the reader feel like THEY are held captive with him. I don’t know where this story is going, but I don’t feel enough empathy for Max because of the author’s choice to keep the story superficial.

3.) Show don’t tell – As I mentioned, Max is telling us what he fears. He’s not showing us enough of his emotional state or his vulnerability. He’s too in control and the threat doesn’t seem real – especially since he is locked up in a mental hospital. I’m not buying his fear. The author hasn’t done enough to make me feel it. Since I don’t know the rest of the story, it’s hard to suggest how to rewrite this intro, but the author should make the reader feel the threat and not just tell it.

There are many ways the author TELLS through Max, but below are specific examples:

  • Insane or not, I refused to let Victor assassinate me without a fight.
  • If someone opened the door carelessly, I’d flee.
  • My former best friend, Victor, might reenter the recuperation prison to murder me. He’d once failed to kill me there.
  • Given my lingering madness, the personnel would disbelieve my claim.

4.) Make your character’s voice stand out – It’s a challenge to cram a great deal into 400 words, but why squander the opportunity with generic? I’m assuming Max is the main character. When he enters the scene, make him show why he has earned the storytelling role. Give him an attitude about what he sees and let the reader in on it. Give him color and make him memorable. Think about how movies portray main characters when they first walk into the scene. In the first minutes of Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Sparrow makes a splash for moviegoers. That intro defines him for the rest of the film. Shouldn’t that be how books are written? It takes thought and planning on how to do this effectively.

Make each word count on what he says? Does he have an accent or a unique way of speaking? How does he express himself? The author controls ALL of this. Is Max a chameleon in appearance? Does he have skills that would make it hard to confine him in a hospital or anywhere? Is he charming or funny and can he talk himself out of any situation? If he’s a cynic, why not infuse his surly, sarcastic nature into his dialogue? Less internal thoughts, more dialogue with another character to set up a mystery?

5.) Use your character’s self-deception as an unreliable narrator to manipulate the reader into your mystery. How much are they delusional or unreliable? Is their self-deception in small ways or is the character completely unaware of the situation. With first person, the author has a unique perspective for plot twists and misdirection. Be patient and savor the moment to add mystery and intrigue.

DANGERS OF USING FIRST PERSON

First person is fun to write. It is very intimate if the author stays in the head of the character. The insights into the nature of the protagonist are alluring for an author. Even if you use third person for your book, it can be a great exercise in getting to know your character by writing a scene in first person to get a feel for their personality. But first person also has dangers. Here are a few:

1.) The reader is trapped inside the head of one character. Even if you mix the POV between first and third in your book, the first person character generally dominates the story. It could be a major turnoff for the reader if the character weren’t sympathetic or compelling.

2.) Don’t make the first person voice about YOU. Some authors have trouble distinguishing between their character and themselves. It can be limiting. It’s much more interesting if you don’t limit your imagination.

3.) Overuse of “I” & filtered words – In first person, it is important not to overuse the tedious sentence beginning with “I.” This leads to filtered words and sentences that diffuse the action through the character. It distances the reader from the action. For example:

Don’t:

I watched an angry crowd of protesters marching down the street.

Do:

The angry crowd of protesters marched down the street.

4.) Too much introspection can lead to telling and backstory dumps. Rambling internal thoughts can be boring, page after page. Give glimpses inside your character for insight or plot twists but get your character into the action with their attitude and color.

5.) First Person can be limiting plot-wise, especially if you only use first POV for the whole book. The plot is only seen through one set of eyes. It takes planning to make a plot work.

SPECIFIC FEEDBACK ON SUBMISSION

1.) In general, I found the action uneven and a bit jumbled. Max goes quickly from wandering the ward, into a large day room until we make a leap to a dining room situation until there’s another quick shift into his room. It’s as if the author wrote a quick draft and forgot to fill in details. The author is more interested in describing the hospital than in setting up Max’s story. There’s no real action. The story is taking place in Max’s head by telling.

Here are some sentences where the scene transition was most confusing and had me re-reading. There’s no transition between spaces and the leap from dining hall to private room is too noticeable.

At long tables, many fellow sufferers clanked their tableware, grating my ears. The reek of greasy food and disinfectant seeped through the air. My stomach churned.

I rushed into my spartan room and sprawled on the bed or paced on the floor. Zoned out, I stood facing the murky outdoors.

2.) The author chose first person POV but certain passages & word choices didn’t feel like an internal thought. In an internal thought, Max would feel his skin crawl. He wouldn’t picture his skin as pale and youthful. He might tug at his hair, but not describe the bleached color and jagged ends, as if he were seeing from outside his body.

I’ve highlighted these examples below:

  • My pale, youthful skin crawled, and I scratched my stubbly cheeks.
  • I tugged on my bleached-blond hair’s jagged ends. “Oh joy.”

3.) In the sixth paragraph, the author diffuses the action with a diversion from Max as he looks out a window and sees a historical site. It’s brief, but coupled with all the other distractions, this is a passage that could’ve waited for later in the story.

On clearer days, the landmark from ex-East Berlin resembled a giant lance impaling a cratered moon. As an earlier East German, an Ossi, Germany’s tallest structure inspired me to surpass my rivals.

4.) Californian Accent? At the end, Victor comes into Max’s room and speaks in German with an accent. I may have to defer to others on what a California accent is. I come from Texas and know about a distinctive accent, but I wasn’t aware that California had a unique one. Are we talking surfer dude lingo? This reads as more author intrusion. The author is cutting corners to introduce Victor and let readers know he’s not a local.

SUMMARY

I didn’t make line by line corrections. I wanted the author to reevaluate their introduction by considering my questions for Max and rethinking how this story begins. Give Max more action and give him a distinctive attitude for his voice. Eliminate the TELLING and add depth to this introduction with elements of mystery. I’m pretty sure the author has something more in mind for a plot to fill a book, but this excerpt doesn’t leave me wanting more. Reading into the piece, I would imagine Victor is someone Max knows well. Hence, the nickname Mega Max. That would completely deflate any intended tension written into this intro. I would rather the author give us something real to wonder about. Thoughts?

FOR DISCUSSION

I would appreciate your feedback. I’m sure the author would love more voices weighing in, but besides line edits, let’s try something a little different. Let’s keep the basic premise the same, that Max is in a mental hospital and he fears Victor will kill him.

1.) How would you rewrite Max’s actions? What would you have him do? Think out of the box. Let’s brainstorm as a writing exercise.

2.) How would you make Max unique and give him more character and a more memorable voice?

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Outlining in Reverse

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa – unsplash

Jim Bell’s excellent post from Sunday about plotters vs. pantsers serves as an introduction to today’s subject: Is outlining useful for a pantser? Can it be done? 

The answer is yes…if you do it in reverse order.

Create the first draft.

Then go back and outline what you’ve written. 

In construction, there’s a term called “As Builts.” An architect may start out with an initial blueprint (outline) but the blueprint changes due to circumstances that arise during construction. The finished building is never the same as the original blueprint. Here’s an explanation from Precision Property Management’s site:

“An As-Built drawing should show the building exactly as it currently is, as opposed to a design drawing which shows the intended or proposed layout of the building. This is a critical distinction, because a constructed building almost never corresponds exactly to the original design drawings.”

Like a building, a finished story almost never corresponds to the initial idea. That’s why I don’t outline before writing that initial draft of discovery.

However, once the first draft is finished, I create an outline in the form of as-builts. That’s where the pantser’s errors and oversights show up. And, believe me, there will be plenty.

Oops, I forgot to install reinforcing bars before I poured the slab. Without rebar, the foundation cracks and sags. Gotta jackhammer up the concrete and start over.

Darn, I forgot to include a door that connects the kitchen and the dining room. Better get out the reciprocating saw and cut an opening in that solid wall.

Wow, the shingles on the roof look beautiful…except some of the trusses underneath are missing. The first snowfall causes the whole thing to collapse. Drat.

You get the idea.

Dennis Foley, novelist/screenwriter/educator extraordinaire, introduced me to the concept of “as built” outlines in fiction. He recommends writing in three steps:

  1. Think it up;
  2. Write it up;
  3. Fix it up.

Pantsers feel strangled if we try to adhere to a formal outline during the initial draft. We’d much rather give free rein to our imaginations during Steps 1 and 2.

But, eventually, all that unfettered creativity needs to be organized. Step 3, the “fix it up” stage, is the time to create an “as built” outline.

Outlining in reverse points out structural problems with the plot: events that are out of order, a character who shows up simultaneously in two different places, missing time periods that must be accounted for, lapses in logic, etc. Once those glitches are repaired, the story becomes a coherent sequence of rising complications that ultimately delivers a satisfying climax.

My WIP, Lost in Irma, takes place in Florida during Hurricane Irma in September, 2017, a catastrophe that left 17 million people without electricity. The story covers a two-week period during and after the storm and had to adhere to actual events in the order that they occurred.

The main characters, Tawny Lindholm and Tillman Rosenbaum, are visiting Tillman’s high school coach, Smoky Lido, in New Port Richey when Irma hits. During the height of the storm, Smoky disappears. Tawny and Tillman spend the rest of the book trying to find him. Is he dead or alive? Did he flee because of gambling debts? Was he abducted by thugs he owed money to? Or did he vanish into the storm to commit suicide?

Hurricane-related emergencies overwhelmed law enforcement, leaving Tawny and Tillman on their own to look for Smoky. Power blackouts, gasoline shortages, and unreliable cell service were integral to the plot. They couldn’t make phone calls or search the internet. If they drove, they risked getting stuck in floodwaters or running out of gas.

To pin down significant events on the dates they actually happened, I printed out a blank calendar from September 2017.  I filled in the squares with factual information like: what time did Irma hit New Port Richey (late Saturday night, early Sunday morning); what time did the power go out there (around midnight); when did the Anclote River flood (Tuesday)?

Here’s a link to a handy site that includes sunrise and sunset times for each day, which I also found helpful.

 

Electricity came back on in fits and starts—one street regained power almost immediately while the next block over stayed dark for days longer. That gave me fictional latitude to turn the power off as long as necessary for plot development.

While researching public shelters, I wondered if there was a roster or record kept of people staying there. Astonishingly, no.

I also learned Red Cross maintains an online “Safe and Well” website where victims of disasters can voluntarily register their names, phone numbers, and leave messages for loved ones. But there is no requirement to register.

I inserted that bit of info into the story, adding that the system can’t be accessed if internet and/or cell service aren’t working or your phone is dead with no way to charge it. That added more complications for Tawny and Tillman, who had to physically go through each shelter, looking for Smoky.

What goes into the as-built outline?

Timelines: The chronology of events is important to nail down correctly which is why I use the calendar technique above.

Scene by scene outline – This traces major characters and plot developments. What day is it? What time is it? Where are they? What action happens?

As you can see from the above illustrations, my outlines are low tech. You may prefer to use Scrivener, Excel, or other spreadsheet programs.

Onstage Characters and Offstage Characters:

Typically, the protagonist appears in most scenes, onstage, and the story is often told from his/her point of view. But if characters are not in a scene—in other words, offstage—they also need to be accounted for, especially in crime fiction.

In mysteries, the murderer’s identity may be withheld from the reader until the very end. But the author still needs to know what that character is up to while s/he is lurking in the shadows. S/he may be trying to elude discovery, throw down false clues, or menace the protagonist. I discussed this topic in a 2017 post.

As a pantser, I often get tripped up because I lose track of a character who’s not onstage at that moment. That’s where the as-built outline catches goofs in the sequence of events.

For instance, the hero can’t find the murder weapon in chapter 4 if the killer doesn’t discard it until chapter 6. Even if you don’t show the killer onstage while he’s tossing the gun off a bridge, you still need to know when that action took place in relation to what the hero is doing. A time line helps point out inconsistencies in the sequential order of events.

Altered Timelines: What if you use flashbacks or jump around in time? Pulp Fiction utilized that technique to memorable dramatic effect. I don’t know how Quentin Tarantino wrote the screenplay but I’m guessing the final version of the film was far different from his initial blueprint.

If you decide to mess around with time conventions, it helps to first write the outline in chronological order. Once that’s done, you can rearrange blocks of time and scenes in any order to best serve your plot line.

Writing About History: If you write historical novels, real events must be accurate. Set up a calendar or time line to cover the duration of the story. This may extend over years or even centuries. Plug in the dates of pivotal events.

For a World War II saga, that might translate to a time line like:

1939 – Nazis invade Poland

1940 – Dunkirk evacuation

1941 – Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

1942 – Battle of Midway, etc.

Other genres: Even if you write sci-fi or fantasy where the story world is entirely made up, that world must still conform to its own time system that is consistent and logical within its parameters. Suppose in your sci-fi, time travels backwards rather than forward. Events happen in reverse order of what we’re used to. The story might start with the death of a character, then goes backwards year by year, to their birth. Within that logic system, you would see the effect before the cause, the consequence before the action that triggers it.

Time travel stories especially require a clear time line. When you zigzag back and forth through history, it’s easy to get confused. If the author is lost, the reader will also be lost and likely give up on your book.

Jordan Dane just published a gripping time-travel thriller, The Curse She Wore. Maybe she’ll chime in on her techniques to handle multiple time lines.

As-built outlining may seem bass-akward but, for this pantser, it works.

~~~

TKZers: What are your favorite techniques to organize a plot? 

~~~

 

 

Debbie Burke first used reverse-outlining in her award-winning thriller, Instrument of the Devil. On sale for only $.99 at this link

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The Political Mystery or Thriller

So in my ‘other life’ (not that I have much of one!) I’ve been working down at the Colorado State Capitol for one of our State Senators during the legislative session – a job I decided to take on, in part, to gain a more active understanding of the American legislative/political process and, in part, as potential research (for a writer, everything is book research after all!). Of course, as soon as my writer’s mind started ticking over, I started wondering how I could use what I’ve learned in a novel someday (although, to be fair, I thought the same thing last year when I participated in the police citizen’s academy and still haven’t done it!).

For a foreigner like myself the learning curve is always steep as I didn’t grow up in America and so my understanding of state politics is limited at best (and mainly based on Australian politics…). On the plus side though, I probably bring a different perspective to it all – one that maybe I can use to my advantage  in a future book (?). Unfortunately, my knowledge of political based thrillers and mysteries, however, is also very limited (mainly to those blockbuster novels you see at airports in which the machinations of DC politics and international intrigue collide and the resulting stakes are super high). But what of local politics where the stakes are much lower and the machinations are far more mundane? Is it possible to create tension and drama? Of course, the answer is yes, as a good writer can create tension and drama out of any conflict. But in terms of selling the concept of a political thriller, I’m not sure state politics is all that juicy!

When I think of these kind of thrillers and mysteries, often it’s the life of the president or his cabinet at risk, or the fate of the nation…so immediately you know that there will be high stakes and (usually) a high concept novel involved. At a state political level, often those stakes center on corruption or injustice, which obviously provides a fair amount of dramatic tension but still, the question of what makes a decent political based thriller or mystery has been nagging me…and this is where TKZers you come in! What elements do you think make a great political mystery or thriller? Have you read any great ones that focus on state or local politics (and I mean as a central part of the novel, most mysteries and thrillers necessarily involve a certain amount of politics when they have law enforcement/judicial system involved)…And then there’s the challenges of writing a political thriller or mystery. I meant no one really wants politics shoved down their throats, nor, in today’s polarized society do you want to risk alienating readers…so how do you think a writer can find the right balance when politics is a central part of the novel? Enquiring minds (well, mine at least) want to know!

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Are the 1980s ‘history’ yet?

Thanks to Jordan for posting for me while I had to go unexpectedly to Australia (sadly, it was for a family funeral). I have to admit it feels a little strange to be back on the blog even though it’s only a few weeks…Somehow 2020 seems to have started on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster so I think I might need to re-celebrate the new year sometime in March!

Traveling to Australia can be a surreal experience – not only do you clock in at about 28 hours door to door, but going there you literally lose a day and coming back you often arrive before you left…both of which can play havoc on the body’s internal clock. Luckily, I didn’t suffer too much from jet lag this time – though I did experience what I like to call ‘time lag’. Isn’t it funny how going back to the place you grew up often puts you in a bit of a time warp, especially when (in parts of Australia at least) it’s like nothing’s actually changed in the 25 years since you left!

I’ve never written a book set in Australia but this time round a story which has been swirling around in my sub-conscious began to take form. In fact there are two stories circling in my brain – one of which has a definite historical context, the other that would take place (and least partly) in the mid 1980s. As a historical writer who likes to use a particular time and place to ground my stories I’ve been grappling with the question of whether the 1980s can really be considered ‘history’ yet. My memories of that time period are still clear (I’m not that old yet!) but I think I would still have to do research much like I would do for any historical period. If I was setting my story in the 1960s or 1970s I don’t think I’d even ask the question – but the 1980s…hmmm…I’m not so sure.

When I was in Australia, I was struck by how little it had really changed and how easy it would be to mentally transport myself back to my teenage years. But I was also challenged by the prospect of using the recent past as a historical backdrop – especially given how many recent successful franchises have already started to play on this kind of nostalgia (Stranger Things and The Americans anyone?!)…so I’d have to tread very carefully if I was to ensure authenticity and also avoid the usual 1980s cliches.

In some respects it doesn’t even matter (a good story is a good story no matter how you classify it) but it’s funny how in my own head I identify as a historical fiction writer and (if I’m honest) don’t feel all that confident that I could pull off writing ‘contemporary’ fiction (ah, the joys of the angst-filled writer’s mind!). Approaching the 1980s as a historical era would (perhaps) give me the crutch I need to move forward, but then I wonder, if that’s true…then what really is ‘history’ anymore??

So TKZers, what do you think? How do you classify ‘historical fiction? Do the 1980s even qualify???

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Can You Hear Me Now? Let’s Take a Look at Audio Books

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

 

It’s been awhile since I looked into the current details on creating an audio book. With self-publishing, authors have options these days and I have created my own audio book after a publisher forgot to add those subsidiary rights to the contract. It was a great learning experience and I worked through ACX, which was the first and only way to self-pub in audio back then. These services can merge service providers (voice actors/narrators/production, distributors, & authors) and provide stock contracts between the parties and a means to communicate and create an audio book.

Nowadays, there are more service providers and an author can even consider making their own recording. The first step is to confirm you have your audio subsidiary rights before you proceed with creating an audio book. But once you have done that and your rights are available, an author has options to produce and distribute their own audio book.

Here’s what I learned:

Below are a few service providers for Audio Books to get you started. These are platforms that bring authors together with the people & services you will need.

SERVICE PLATFORMS

ACX.com is a marketplace that connects rights holders (authors, publishers, agents etc) with narrators and producers to enable audio book production. It’s an Amazon company and audio books produced through the site are sold on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

FindawayVoices.com – can help match you with a narrator, or you can publish your own files separately. They have a royalty share option as well as a pay per finished hour contract. The big difference here is that you can set your own price AND set the price separately for retail and library markets. Plus you can use their Authors Direct app to sell audio direct to listeners.

KoboWritingLife – if you use Kobo to create your work, your audio book is eligible for different kinds of promotion. Kobo sells audio books to its readers, but Kobo also works with its sister company, Overdrive, for library distribution, as well as having distribution deals with Walmart and other companies. You can reach the same markets through Findaway but the additional promotion may make it worthwhile to go direct to KWL.

Do a Combo – A new author might choose to do a royalty split with a narrator/production company. It’s generally a more affordable option, but as far as opting for a wider distribution, you can choose a combo. You may choose to go through ACX but with a non-exclusive contract for Amazon/Audible distribution. You may find wider markets in Findaway Voices. NOTE: If you already have an exclusive royalty split agreement through ACX, you may decide to change that to non-exclusive at the time of renewal. You can download your audio file from ACX and transfer it to Findaway Voices when you have the rights to do it.

Whatever you opt to do, be sure you understand how your audio book will be distributed and how your royalties will apply over the long term.

AUDIO PRODUCTION

You have two choices for audio production. You can choose to record the book reading yourself OR you can hire a professional (and a service provider) to do it for you. Speaking as a former high school drama student, it’s tempting to try a recording, but I know better. Despite the benefits of an author knowing the material and hearing the dialogue in their mind, it takes a special kind of voice actor to pull off a great audio book. Merely reading the words is not enough.

For those of you willing to try it, here’s what you would need to do your own recording.

  • A quiet place to record
  • Equipment/Software
  • Time
  • Technical expertise

Depending on your budget, the equipment and software could be as little as $200, but the biggest investment will be in the time it will take you to not only produce a recording, but the effort to edit in post-production. According to Audible, an industry professional reads approximately 9400 words per hour. If your book is 90,000 words in length, it will take 9.57 hours to produce a recording, minimum. This is NOT a speed reading exercise. To be conservative, you should count on doubling that time to account for retakes, breaks between sessions, and allowing your voice time to recuperate.

I found this great link on How To Make an Audio Book: A Do It Yourself Guide. This is a detailed guide if you are serious about doing your own audio book. It goes into specifics of the equipment you should consider from your computer hardware to microphone, to recording environment, and software. The article goes into depth of one person’s experience and what they specifically used. Very cool. It even goes into suggestions on the opening and closing credits and talks about the image used for the distribution cover. There are also specifics on how to edit. Great stuff.

PROMOTION

FOR AMAZON/AUDIBLE – First off, it’s important for your audio book to appear on the book pages for your other formats. It’s not only important for readers to find all your formats, but if your audio is not linked in all formats, the Whispersync technology (a product of Amazon and Audible) won’t be synchronized between your ebook and audio. That’s a nice convenient feature for readers/listeners. PLUS, once Whispersync is available, the reader can purchase the audio book at a reduced price.

If your audio book is shown on an orphan page where it is not merged with the other formats of your book, send an email to KDP-support@amazon.com & include the links to the Amazon pages for all the formats.

SOUNDCLOUD – This is an app you can get on Google Play/Store that will feature an audio clip of your book once you become a member. It allows you to promote on social media and include a sound clip link to give readers as a sample. A sound clip can be an interesting way to attract new readers if you cross post it on social media and have it on your website book page.

Where to Market Your Audio Book on Facebook – There are a number of Facebook groups you can query to find sites to subscribe and promote your audio books. Here are a few:

Audio Book Addicts 6000+ members

Audio Books! Over 3 Million followers

Aural Fixation Over 3 Million Followers

Other AudioBook Promo Sites:

Audiobook Jukebox – submit your audio book for a review. Reviewers can request your audio book for a review, similar to Netgalley.

Audio Books Unleashed – You load your promotion codes for your freebie giveaways on the listing page, and the site gives one to each listener requesting the audio book.

AudioBookBoom – This is a site that’s the equivalent of BookBub but for audio books.

Audio Book Marketing Resource List – This is a huge list of sites where you can have your audio book reviewed or promoted. Tons of links and includes more Facebook gand Goodreads groups focused on audio books.

Paid Advertising:

BookBub has ChirpBooks, which is an audiobook promotion service for limited time price cuts. They are partnered with Findaway Voices because other distributors don;t allow you to set or change your prices for an audio book. You can sign up to be on the wait list on this page.

You can pay to advertise your audio book in AudioFile’s Indie Press Showcase.

I was amazed at all the new things online for authors who might want to retain their subsidiary rights for audio books. I listen to audio book almost every night. It’s a relaxing way to fall asleep – like someone reading you a bed time story in the dark. I also love that retailers, like Amazon, give readers a discounted price for the audio book addition to your library. I’ve gone back to my reading list to see if some of my fav authors have audio book sold at a good price. Things have definitely changed for the better for audio books.

For Discussion

This post is only the tip of an iceberg for all the resources available for audio books and an author’s options. If you have any audio book experiences or resources to share, please put them in your comments. 

Share some of your favorite voice actors/narrators.

Share some of your favorite audio books.

The Curse She Wore – Available for Pre-Order – Releases Feb 10, 2020.

Trespassing on Fate’s turf comes with a price for two broken people–a price they never see coming.

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