Writing Influences – Who are Yours?

I am passionate about writing mostly because, throughout my life, I have been passionate about reading.  When I was a kid, I lived in a neighborhood that had very few children. I lived in a house on a busy road that served as the main access road to a hospital emergency road. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was about 13.

I realized early on that my only escape was reading. I read everything I could get my hands on. Luckily, I lived in a house that had collected a lot of books over the years. My brother is 13 years older, so there were many books that he read as a child hanging around.

somerville-two-familyThe house I lived in was over 100 years old and the full-sized walk-in attic had a finished room that was once a laboratory for a scientist that lived in the house. There were bookshelves with all kinds of very old books and encyclopedias.

wwiI knew that the encyclopedias were old when they listed an event called ‘The Great War’. It hadn’t earned the label ‘World War I’ yet because the books were published before World War II. I also found another book that had a clipped newspaper article wedged in the pages that covered the funeral of President George Washington. It was a fascinating place full of discoveries and fertilizer for the imagination.

bobbseyThe first books I can remember reading that were ‘chapter books’, as the kids call them today, was the Bobbsey Twins series written under the pen name, Laura Lee Hope. The books, published first in 1904 and followed the adventures of two sets of fraternal twins. These books were predecessors to The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books (which I also read). Since my brother was so much older and was married and out of the house when I was seven, these books taught me about families with multiple siblings and made me wish I had a twin or even another sibling closer in age that I could play with.

Around this time, I started writing my own stories. I remember writing a series of illustrated stories based on the character “Tiny the Giant” when I was about eight or nine. Tiny experienced all manner of adventures with special attention paid to his enormous size in relation to his friends. It was sort of a Clifford the Big Red Dog kind of scenario.

godfatherI remember the first adult-oriented book that I read. It was The Godfather. My parents went off with the rest of the adult members of my Italian family to see the movie in 1972. My mom had read the book and then put it on our bookshelves telling me not to read it. Of course, I did, and I was transported by the style of writing. I’m sure there were parts of it that I didn’t understand, but the sense of family among the brutal events of an organized crime syndicate resonated with me.

jawsI also read Jaws after sneaking it out of the library a few years later. I had seen the movie and was amazed at how different the book and movie turned out to be. That was the first of many such experiences.

Flashing forward to my senior year of high school, I had a great English teacher that introduced the class to a number of classics that I still reflect on today. Among them were To Kill A Mockingbird (one of my all time favorites), Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, The Fixer, and many others. It was a refreshing change from books like Ethan Fromme and The Heart of Darkness that I suffered through in my junior year.

Around that same time, I was introduced to Stephen King’s works. I immediately took to these books as I experienced feelings I had never felt before as I read books like Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Stand. These books shed the conventional constraints on back story, character development and length as King transported his readers with rich, complex sagas that scared the bejeepers out of them. It was the first book I ever read that literally scared me enough to keep me awake.

Around this time, I also read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time. That was another series of books that transported the reader to a totally fabricated world with rich, complex characters.

In my adult life, I’ve added other authors that have influenced my reading and writing life. Jonathan Kellerman, Harlan Coben and, to some extent, Dean Koontz and James Patterson have influenced the types of fiction I enjoy. I’ve also gone back to red classic books from authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens and have enjoyed them thoroughly while learning a lot about writing.

frankly_speakingThe pivotal moment in my writing career began about four years ago when I was sitting on a plane waiting to fly from Jacksonville, Florida to Chicago for a project related to my ‘day job’. We were delayed because of weather and I had nothing with me to read. After flipping through the airline magazine, I pulled a notebook and a pen out of my computer bag and began to write a short story based on a news headline I had seen. By the time I landed in Chicago, I had about 3,500 words written and had completed a story that I didn’t think was half-bad. After typing it out, I decided to start working on something more ambitious. My first novel, Frankly Speaking, was born and filled two and a half notebooks with barely legible longhand. I then began sharing bits and pieces of it on a writing group web site where I received some very constructive criticism. The bottom line was, I had a pretty good story and my writing didn’t suck too badly.

The next step was to let my biggest supporter and toughest critic read it. That would be my wife. She is not an enthusiastic reader, but my book captivated her and she encouraged me to publish it.

I first sent out queries to literary agents and received a good number of rejections. I had no idea what I was doing. I then heard about publishing through Amazon and was hooked. I’m not sure I would have ever pursued writing as far as I have without this option. I’m in my fifties and I only have so much time for rejection.

So, here I am, almost four years in and I have five novels in the Frank Rozzani Detective Series complete. Another standalone thriller novel, Blood Orange has seen some success and is now my first book offered in audio book form. I also have a book of short stories, Random Tales, that includes that first story I wrote on the plane to Chicago called Heal Thyself. I have two more books that I’ll likely release this year.

I’ve exceeded my goal of publishing a single book in my lifetime and I’m busy establishing new goals.

That leads me to ask the authors out there, what kind of experiences led you to become an author? What/who influenced you and has the writing experience fulfilled you?

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Indie authors, do you read work by other indie authors?

Over the past two years, I have done book reviews sporadically on my blog. Mostly the reviews were for detective/mystery novels by well-known authors. As an indie author, I avoided reading work by other indie authors. I made some exceptions early on reading books by Nicholas Rossis and my good high school friend Nick Davis. Both of those reading experiences were positive.

Lately, I read works by John Howell, an author and blogger well known to many of you. I enjoyed reading his work and I believe the reviews I posted resulted in some positive exposure for John.

This led me to approaching the reading of work by indie authors in a different light. I’m going to continue to read and review work by indie authors as another outlet for helping the community. I am going to lay out some ground rules, however:

  1. I will not have a set schedule for reviewing indie works
  2. I will not accept requests to review books. I want it to be spontaneous and something I continue to enjoy
  3. If a book is not at a a certain level of quality in terms of formatting, story telling, grammar, etc., I will likely not finish it and will not post a review.

I really want to continue to help indie authors and I think posting negative reviews will defeat that purpose.

Anyway, I’m already in the process of reading an indie author’s book and will be posting a review sometime this week. Hopefully some of you who do not generally post reviews will emulate this process and pick up one of my books or another indie author that needs some exposure.

If you have thoughts on this, please let me know.

Hugh Howey – Hero of the Indie Author

hugh howeyIf you are an independent author and you don’t know who Hugh Howey is, you should. He recently gave an interview to Digital Book World and he doesn’t back down on his opinions about independent publishing. I hope you enjoy this interview:

http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2016/dbw-interview-with-hugh-howey-author/

 

What Steps Do You Follow Leading Up To A Book Launch? – Part 1

I’m about to launch my eighth book in a month or so. As I start laying the ground work to get to that goal, I’ve been looking back on the steps that I’ve taken with each one. I want to look at what’s been successful and what hasn’t. Trial and error has been my method and I’ve tried to hang on to the things that work and that fit in to my schedule.  I’ve tried to look at where to spend some money and where I can do things on my own.

In laying these steps out for you, I’m going to separate things into what worked, what didn’t, what you should pay for, what you shouldn’t, and what order you should do these things in.

Disclaimer: These steps assume that you are an independent author (I prefer this term to self published since we are not physically printing and binding books). If you are a traditionally published author, congratulations to you. I was too old when I jumped into the writing pool and I’ve already had enough rejection to last me a lifetime, so indie-publishing was the ticket for me.

The First Draft

What do you do first? This question may not be as easily answered as you think. You’re probably thinking write the book. That may indeed be the first step. For my first book, it definitely was. I started writing it and soon began to question my sanity. Why was I spending my free time while on glamorous (not) business trips writing a book while all of my co-workers were out having fun. There were many reasons, but above all, it felt like something I should do.

The first draft was written completely longhand in notebooks. Although I would not do that again (my writing is hard to read), it was like taking a first draft and editing it when I typed it in. In this first effort, to my editor’s horror, I punctuated every bit of dialog incorrectly. I could have sworn that the period went outside of the quote.

At any rate, I turned this first manuscript over to my wife first. After 30 years of marriage, I knew she wouldn’t spare my feelings if the book sucked. To my delight, she loved it. This gave me the courage to turn the book over to a generous friend of mine who is a talented editor. She agreed to edit this first book for free (with the promise of later riches).

I highly recommend getting an editor you are comfortable with. My editor’s process is to read the manuscript as a book first and give me her impressions of things that do and don’t work. She then goes through it in iterations for punctuation, grammar and usage. These latter things have gotten better on the first pass with each book. Luckily, I have not run into any insurmountable story elements that have required a massive rewrite.

Cover Design

Traditionally, when I turn that first draft over to my editor, it’s time to get the cover design nailed down. For my first book, I designed my own cover and it looked like garbage. Check it out below: FS Book Cover

For one thing, I am not a big fan of the color yellow, and for another it doesn’t say anything about the story. When I published on Amazon with this cover, the sales didn’t exactly jump through the roof.

I decided to try out one of the freelance sites. I used Fiverr.com. This site offers all kinds of services. Of particular interest to indie authors are the book cover design, editing, and book trailer services. I was particularly lucky that I picked a cover designer for the Frank Rozzani series that really nailed it. For $50 he provided a fully editable, multi-layer .PSD cover for the print book and a front cover for the eBook.

The book is about a young girl that is kidnapped. Behind the scenes, the main character, Detective Frank Rozzani, has mob figures from his past haunting him. From this brief description, I ended up with this cover instead:

Newcover - Small

I was very pleased with it and have used this designer on every cover up until my most recent two books. He was from Pakistan and has disappeared from Fiverr. I was fairly happy with the cover of my last book, which was not one in the Frank Rozzani series. My upcoming book is, however, and I had a great deal of back and forth getting it finalized with the designer.

That’s enough for this post. In my next post on this topic, I’ll be talking about getting a book trailer completed along with getting your social media platforms ready for a new book.

Upcoming posts will talk about press releases and tricks for getting newspaper and television interviews.

Writing Your First Book – Where Do You Start?

Every time I attend an author event, there is always the attempt to separate authors into the two camps of those who meticulously outline and those that write completely by the seat-of-the-pants, affectionately known as ‘pantsers’.

I sat and listened to the virtues of these two camps and decided that I am firmly planted in a third camp. I don’t outline every chapter, but I do like a road map. I consider my method more visual and less rigid than outlining, but, to continue the road map analogy, I don’t like to just get in the car and go in whatever direction the road takes me.

I do let my characters and their personalities drive within the conscripts of my loose road map, but I don’t confine them to one road. If they want to take the scenic route, I’m open to that.

So, how does this process work, I’ll try to lay it out for you the best that I can. I’m gearing this toward the writing of fiction. Non-fiction, in my opinion, works a bit differently.

Step 1 – Come Up With an Idea

Sounds easy, right. It’s not really. A good story has to have a great beginning. In this world of instant gratification and short attention spans, you’ve got to grab your reader from the beginning. I think we’d all agree that you need a good ending. Nothing is more of a letdown than investing your time in a book only to have an ending that disappoints. (Have you read The Firm).

The thing that writers struggle with the most is the middle (often called ‘the muddle’). If your book meanders off into dark corners and doesn’t recover well, you’ll lose your readers.

Make sure your idea is strong and has a strong second act.

Step 2 – The Mind Map

The mind map is a technique I’ve used in my consulting career to storyboard presentations, but it translates well to writing. It is a visual representation of your book that starts with the book title in a cloud in the middle of the picture and connected rectangles surrounding it. Each rectangle represents an idea which could be a chapter. I use one or two sentences in each rectangle to represent the main idea of the chapter. Here is a mind map that I used for my second book, Let Me Be Frank.

Mind Map - Frank 2

When I created this mind map, I left the chapter numbers off so that I would have the latitude to re-order them if needed. This mind map allows me to move into the next phase of building the novel seamlessly.

Step 3 – Set Up Your Tool of Choice

My tool of choice for writing is Scrivener. It’s an industry-standard tool and has some built in utilities that are very useful. The thing I like about it is that it emulates the old corkboard and index card method of writing about as closely as an electronic word processing tool can.

When I open up a new project in Scivener, I go right to the corkboard view and lay out my chapters just as they are in my mind map. Here is what it looks like from the same book.

cork

You’ll notice that none of my chapters have numbers. Scrivener will automatically number them based on the order that I put them in on the cork board. In this view, you can drag and drop to your hear’s content.

I usually set up my entire book before I write. Then I can drill down into the next step.

Step 4 – Set Up Scenes Within Uour Chapters

Just like the chapter view, Scrivener gives me a scene view. As I write each chapter, I set up scenes within it. The scenes usually correspond with a change in the setting. They can be long or short. A chapter can contain a single scene or many. In my view, each chapter is a self contained story, or episode, within the book. A corkboard view for a single chapter is shown below.

cork2

I don’t want this post to be a commercial for Scrivener, but it’s the tool I use and if you’re wanting something that organizes your writing better than just a straight word processor, it’s worth checking out. Like the full book view, you can rearrange the cards on the corkboard to change the order of scenes.

Step 5 – Other Visualization Methods

As I complete each chapter in the book, I like to use other tools to see if I’m on track. One tool that I have talked about in the past that is a popular social media trending tool is generating a word cloud. Word clouds count how many times a word is used in a certain context and generates a graphic with the most used words in a larger size, more prominent color, or both. I did this with one of my detective books and was pleased with the result shown below:

Frank 2 - Chapter 2

In another example, I wrote a short story about a boy named Desmond that sells his soul to an evil character named Lou to become a great jazz pianist. The result is below:

Des Cloud

There are several free Internet tools that will do this.

As for the steps that are left, they include things like:

  • Finish writing your book
  • Enlist the help of an editor
  • Fix the things the editor finds
  • Design a cover
  • Market it
  • Sell it
  • Spend your riches

Of course, I will expand on many of these in future posts. Also, I have a book with many of these tips spelled out in more detail that is available on Amazon that you can get by clicking the cover below.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00054]

I look forward to hearing from fellow authors on the steps you use. Please comment as you see fit.

Author Talk – Featuring Nicholas T. (Nick) Davis

Nick MugshotThis is the inaugural interview for my blog. I wanted to start out with a special author. Nick Davis is a friend of mine. We have known each other since we were students at East Syracuse-Minoa High School (Class of 1980). We had lost touch until a couple of years ago when we realized we had some things in common. We both write books and we both are musicians.

We had a chance to connect last year when I was back in my hometown of Syracuse, New York. We’ve been in touch ever since bouncing ideas off of each other. When I decided to start interviewing authors as a new feature on my Blog, I thought Nick would be the best person to start off with.

His latest book, Dimension Lapse II: Return to Doomsday, is a great read and the second in a series. I posed some questions to Nick about his writing and the book and here they are.


DM: Nick, what’s the title and genre of the book you want to tell us about?

ND: Dimension Lapse II: Return to Doomsday, science fiction

DM: Can you summarize your book in one short sentence?

ND: The story is about a young woman who travels into the future, and into another universe through a wormhole to find out what happened to her father.

DM: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?

ND: I like to think my audience might be young men in their twenties. It’s a fast paced science fiction adventure full of action and suspense.

DM: Well I read it and enjoyed it and I’m in my twenties (plus another thirty). Anyway, how did you come up with the title?

ND: Back in my twenties, I used to watch the Twilight Zone a lot, and when Rod Serling (a Syracuse University grad) spoke about other dimensions of space and time, it gave me the idea. I also was a big fan of Star Trek and other space shows and books of the sixties era.

DM: Tell me about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?

ND: I’m not sure who designed the artwork, I imported it from a free site. I designed the cover using the Adobe Lightroom program. I picked this particular cover because it best represented the story I was trying to tell.

DM: What are your biggest writing influences (another author, another book, a movie, etc.)

ND: I was first influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, but I also loved to read Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein.

DM: Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

ND: Balta, because of his sly and clever nature and quest for power. I designed him after all of the most villainous characters I could think of from literary works and film.

DM: How about your least favorite character?  What makes them less appealing to you?

ND: That would have to be Malone. He is a miserable human being at best, and is always trying to find the easy way out of things.

DM: If you could change ONE thing about your novel, what would it be?

ND: I would have gone further into the Zacharian’s history.

DM: Give me a fun fact or a few about your book or series:

ND: Jeff and Rollings had met before on Mars, but it was so brief they didn’t remember each other the second time around.

DM: What other books are similar to your own?  What makes them alike?

ND: A wrinkle In Time, Dr. Who series, The Time Machine. They all deal with alternate realities and universes.

DM: I know the answer to this, but do you have any unique talents or hobbies?

ND: I also oil paint, write music and play keyboards.

DM: How can we find out more about you and your books?

ND: You can visit my blog at https://ntdavis18dotcom.wordpress.com or my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NTDAVISDIMENSIONLAPSE/.

My novels are available on Amazon, Smashwords, or Lulu, and are in paperback, hardcover, and on kindle and Nook.

DM: What can we expect from you in the future?

ND: I’m working on the third book of my series, and can see at least three more editions added to it. I’m also working on another children’s book.

DM: What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?

ND: After reading it, posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads, and spreading the word of the tales of Jeff Walker, Angelica Avery, and others of the Dimension Lapse universe.

DM: Do you have any advice for other writers trying to get published?

ND: Find an editor early in the game, to avoid the frustration self editing can be, and even if sales are slow, write because you love it and it’s in your blood.

DM: Can you give us an excerpt from your book to intrigue and tantalize us?

Angelica could feel a rush of cold air from the open section of the ceiling that was torn apart by an explosion. Frozen nitrogen covered part of the walls and floor at the far end of the complex. She entered, shocked and unable to believe what she saw. There was destroyed machinery and rubble, and it didn’t look like any of the computers could ever be operational again. Walking through, she could see human bones scattered amongst the rubble, decayed and charred. There was also something else, something alien. Some of the skulls looked like some form of primate, but with only one eye socket, and then there was some kind of insect exoskeleton, which had six limbs, but obviously walked as a biped. There were also decayed pieces of some kind of humanoid, but not quite human.

It was obvious to her there was some kind of battle here, and an explosion as well. The walls were burned from extreme heat, and ash was everywhere. To the right, there was what appeared to be a landing deck for spaceships of some kind, but most of them were shattered or unusable. Angelica now assumed whatever happened, her father was in the middle of it somehow. She started to cry, but stopped, knowing that it would only use her oxygen supply quicker. She was curious to find out if the air was breathable, so she pulled out a small sensor from her suit pocket and activated the button that checked the air quality. Seeing it was Oxygen, but more Nitrous Oxide, and extremely cold, she felt it would be safer to keep her helmet on for now, and keep her suit temperature control at 68°.

Putting the sensor back, she pulled out her pistol again, and walked in the direction of where the catwalk was. The catwalk ladder was wobbly, but she weighed lighter here due to the gravity, and she felt it would hold her. She climbed it carefully, holding tight to her weapon. She still felt the need for a little added protection; there were no guarantees she was totally alone here.

About Nick Davis

Nicholas Davis is a first time science fiction writer who lives in East Syracuse, NY and has been writing off and on since he was 12 years old. Inspired to write by his seventh grade English teacher, and reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings motivated him to write his own stories.

He has a daughter Kelly from a previous marriage, and a wife named Nancy. He has also worked days at a mental institution as a cleaner for 26 years. He is also a solo musician, and plays social functions occasionally, and likes oil painting as well.

His current books, Dimension Lapse II: RETURN TO DOOMSDAY  and Tobias Meets A Friend are available online on Smashwords.com.,Barnes & Noble and Amazonbooks.com.

Nick’s Books

Dimension Lapse

Dimension Lapse II

Tobias Meets a Friend

Amazon’s New Bookstore – Why? What? How?

There has been a lot of media coverage over Amazon’s opening of brick and mortar bookstores. If you’re expecting Barnes and Noble on steroids or Books a Billion, you might want to check out this article. I was expecting a possible venue that would feature indie authors. Silly me. With words like ‘heavily curated’ and ‘surplus stock’ you might want to check out this Forbes article for yourself. Check it out here.