Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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We all can relate

I watched Jurassic World last night for the first time (yes, I know it’s been out for, like, three years, but I’m a little behind. I just saw Hidden Figures last week). It’s a good movie for those who like dinosaurs (me! me!), but as a storyteller, I noticed a few things that made me think of writing, plotting, etc. (Note: if you haven’t seen the movie, just sayin’ there will be spoilers.)


Yes, I know it’s one of those all-action, not much in the line of story-telling movies like so many these days. There was more character development in some of the Transfomers movies (yes, I like big, sentient robots too 😀 )

Anyway, that wasn’t what I noticed. The first thing I noticed is something that my writing teacher mentioned in our Master Novel class. A writer has to draw the reader in, and there has to be conflict of some sort. You know the classics: man v. man, man v. nature, man v. self, and man v. society. (I looked this up to verify my memory was working, and discovered now there is one more: man v. the supernatural. Well, I would consider that nature *shrug*)

The conflict is obvious: man v. big bad dinos juiced up by man’s incessant desire to tinker with Nature. How does the saying go? Don’t mess with Mother Nature, she’ll kick your ass. So what if they filled in some DNA gaps with other stuff? You know, like cuttlefish camoflauge DNA or frog DNA (in the first Jurassic Park, that’s what caused the problems in the first place, the spontaneous gender-switch some frogs (lizards too?) will do). What could possibly go wrong?

Character development is at a minimum. The only characters that seem to develop by the end are the main character Claire, who takes the typical “ignore family because of work” to the “family in danger, family is more important” route. The two boys, a teenaged brother and a somewhat younger brother, change from the sulky teen and smart-but-lacking-confidence middle-grader to a stronger, more confident pair who take care of each other.

Yawn.

Where was I? Oh yeah, conflict and drawing the reader in. The part that reminded me of my writing teacher is the drawing the reader in part. Once way to increase conflict and make the reader care more about what happens is to create a bond between characters, either between the one in danger and the hero/ine, or between the protagonist and the antagonist. They did that with this movie, as well as with the first one, Jurassic Park.

In Jurassic Park, the man who started the park, Hammond, invited his grandkids to see the park before it opens. Of course, the kids get into trouble when the dinos get loose, but there is a family tie, which automatically ramps up the tension. In Jurassic World, the woman managing the new park, Claire, is tasked to babysit her nephews while her sister and brother-in-law deal with marital issues. Once again, the kids get into trouble with the super-smart, bad-ass dino gets loose.

See a pattern? Tension is increased when the conflict involves a relative or loved one. Even the first Jack Reacher book had a family tie: Reacher’s brother is killed, and Reacher hunts for the culprit.

A reliable way to draw readers into the story is to use family ties of some sort, because everyone has experienced having a sibling or parent or significant other or favorite/hated relative. We care more about people we can relate to, which is why in my debut novel I include a family tie, where in the first draft I had none. It made a huge difference in how the reader cared about the main character.

The plot was pretty typical action movie stuff. Bad guy/dinosaur/robot/supernatural creature terrorizes hero/ine’s loved ones, good guy’s goal is to save loved ones and beat the bad guy, in spectacular, CGI-laden, heart-pounding, explosion-ridden, magic/mutant power-blasting style.

The other thing I noticed was the ending (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT). Granted, I didn’t sit down and watch the whole thing; I was making fresh salsa for my home-from-college-for-the-weekend daughter during the first 30 min of the movie, so I might have missed something, but when Claire released the kraken–er, wait, wrong film. When Claire released the T-Rex, I had to suspend my disbelief. It was the T-Rex from the original movie, but I don’t remember them mentioning the old T-Rex at all. I could rewatch the whole movie (or I could just rewatch the first half hour) to find out if they foreshadowed the T-Rex, but really? I mean, talk about deus ex machina.

Do not do that in your writing. Seriously. Totally blew the experience for me, because I was wracking my brain for anything about the old T-Rex from earlier in the movie. I might have to rewatch it anyway.

Repeat after me: No magic/unexpected solutions to finish off the bad guy. No pulling a rabbit out of a hat to beat the bad guy if you haven’t told readers about the killer rabbit earlier. Just. Don’t.

Today will be apple bread and chocolate chip cookie day. And little, if any, writing. Sigh.

Have a great weekend!

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Look! Cover Reveal! #amreading #paranormal #urbanfantasy

Hey, lookie here! Check this out–fellow blogger Marcia Meara is revealing her upcoming release. Also, make sure you visit Marcia on her blog, The Write Stuff, where you can find all Marcia’s other books and check out her posts.

COMING SOON!

They’re back!
Jake and Dodger are at it again,
accompanied by their boss, the archangel Azrael.

I am so excited, I can hardly stand it. Once again, Nicki Forde Graphics Design has come up with a cover that does exactly what I wanted it to do. It provides a great-looking image that clearly links the second novella in my Emissary series with the first one. And it does this by putting Jake’s big, red-and-white semi front and center, angel wings and all, but with a completely different background.

In The Emissary 2: To Love Somebody, Jake and Dodger travel both coasts of Florida, day and night, working their emissarial magic wherever they find souls in trouble. For me, the palm fronds over the truck, the ocean in the background, and the moon shining down are perfect.

I can’t give you an exact release date for The Emissary 2: To Love Somebody yet, as I still have a few more tiny odds and ends to finish up, including the blurb. But I’m 99.9% sure it will be available within a week or two, and I’ll have more to share with you then. In the meantime, what do you think?

My heartfelt thanks to all the wonderful bloggers who have helped me share my new cover with the Immediate World! It’s lovely to be part of such a supportive online community, and every single one of you is special to me. Thank you!

NOTE: This is not a stand-alone novella, so now’s a good time to grab the first one. You can read it in an evening and be all set for The Emissary 2. You’ll find The Emissary 1 on Amazon HERE.


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Happy Equinox Day!

Okay, so the equinox won’t be until 8:54 pm (CDT). Then we get to welcome autumn. I love autumn. The colors, the smells, the lack of bugs, the impending arrival of winter–wait. Nope, not one of the things I love about autumn. Then again, if we could have winter through, say, January, so we have a white Christmas and all that, then we can do spring. Who’s with me?

This past week we’ve had rain. Not just any rain. We’re talking record rain for September in MN. We’re talking wheelbarrow rain here.

water wheelbarrow No, that is not a kid-sized wheelbarrow. Nor is it parked under a waterspout. We figure we got somewhere around 5-6 inches over the past week. Or more. We don’t have a rain gauge, just the calibrated dog dishes on the deck.

Needless to say, I was apprehensive about going out to the garden, with all the rain and the mud and the mutant zucchini. I tugged on my trusty garden treads and headed out anyway, because I had a blog post to write. 😀

And this is what I found:

Yep, it was a jungle. Things are winding down in the garden about now. The green beans are done, the zucchini are still going, but I might pull them out soon. The cukes are still going, and the tomatoes are in the thick of ripening season.

Speaking of, tomatoes and tons of rain don’t get along all that well. It’s the main reason I went out to the garden sooner rather than later. Take a look:

If I can get the tomatoes right away, we can eat them before they go bad. But if I can’t pick them soon enough, the mold sets in, and the flies start gathering like rats to a piper. Hubs made a batch of spaghetti sauce this week, and I think we need more bacon (BLTs with homegrown tomatoes are the bomb!)

The kale is looking super, but I’m going to try to wait to pick it until after the first frost (if I can wait that long). Some people don’t like it, but I love brussels sprouts, and kale is in the same family. It’ll sweeten a bit after a frost, and it’ll last until it snows.

kale row

Black (aka Dinosaur) Kale (with curly kale in the back)

I promised someone I’d post pics of the peppers I did last weekend. Hubs and I go through phases where we’ll eat pickled peppers as snacks. Think of the pickled peppers you find in the salad at Olive Garden. You can buy them in the grocery store. They are pepperoncini peppers, and a bit on the spicy side, but not too bad.

This year my hubs asked if I would plant some of those peppers so we could try pickling our own (regular pickles from the store are cheaper than the peppers, but the peppers are so tasty!). Well, I found pepperoncini seeds, and voila!

pepperoncini

Pepperoncini peppers

They are prolific! I have done two batches of peppers already, a smaller test batch (which is half gone 😀 ) and a larger batch, and there are enough peppers still out in the garden to do more. A good thing, because I don’t know how long the ones I’ve already done will last.

pickled-peppers.jpg

Homemade pickled peppers

I planted some small snacking peppers as well, but I couldn’t get a good picture of those. I also see another batch of pico de gallo salsa in my future, even if my cilantro is mostly flowering now. I’m sure I’ll find some volunteer cilantro plants since they reseed like crazy.

On the writing front, I’m plugging along. Only about 700-1200 words a night, but more than zero. Slowly but surely, like the tortoise. Or Dory.

dory

 

So, enjoy the first day of Autumn, and Just Keep Writing!


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A Brief but unspectacular post

Hey there! Contrary to my intention this week, I have no ideas for this post. Usually something will pop into my head as I’m writing (or I just con my Muse into writing the post).

Well, this week is pretty much a bust. If I’d been thinking last night, I would have taken some garden pics to post. I am getting ripe tomatoes, even if a critter is eating some of them. Nothing like getting out to the garden, grabbing a nice, ripe tomato, and finding out the back side is gone and the remains are a party floor for bugs. Yeesh.

Everything else is winding down. I planted pepperoncini peppers this year with the intent to pickle them. I did a small batch a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t wait any longer. Success! So this weekend will be more pickling, along with pico de gallo salsa (at my daughter’s request) and cleaning.

Ugh. BTW, make sure you let me know well in advance if you plan to stop by. Just sayin’.

I follow a lot of blogs, and I’m waaaay behind, so don’t be disappointed if I missed yours over the past week or so. I’m trying to catch up 🙂 .

Also, I’ve talked about the Writers’ Institute that happens every spring at UW–Madison. Last spring I was there with my Writing Sisters, and a blizzard. Next spring it’s scheduled for the first weekend in April, and this week I found out both my workshop proposals were accepted. So I will be there, and with my new book! Murder in Plane Sight is scheduled to be released in March 2019. If you’ve wanted to go to a writers’ conference, this one is stellar! The full schedule isn’t finished yet, but hey, I’ll be there. Come on out to Madison and say “Hi”!

That’s about all for now. Have a wonderful, writing-filled weekend!


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Guest Post–End of Day Cover Reveal #mystery #suspense #amreading

I’m thrilled to help my wonderful blogging friend, Mae Clair, with today’s cover reveal for her second Hode’s Hill novel, End of Day. If you haven’t read the first one, Cusp of Night, what are you waiting for?
Book cover for End of Day, mystery/suspense novel by Mae Clair shows old dilapidated church with bell tower and a cemetery in the background overgrown with weeds

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Supernatural Thriller

Publisher:  Kensington Publishing • Lyrical Underground Imprint

BLURB:

The past is never truly buried…

Generations of Jillian Cley’s family have been tasked with a strange duty—tending the burial plot of Gabriel Vane, whose body was the first to be interred in the Hode’s Hill cemetery. Jillian faithfully continues the long-standing tradition—until one October night, Vane’s body is stolen from its resting place. Is it a Halloween prank? Or something more sinister?

As the descendants of those buried in the church yard begin to experience bizarre “accidents,” Jillian tries to uncover the cause. Deeply empathic, she does not make friends easily, or lightly. But to fend off the terror taking over her town, she must join forces with artist Dante DeLuca, whose sensitivity to the spirit world has been both a blessing and a curse. The two soon realize Jillian’s murky family history is entwined in a tragic legacy tracing back to the founding of Hode’s Hill. In order to set matters right, an ancient wrong must be avenged…or Jillian, Dante, and everyone in town will forever be at the mercy of a vengeful spirit.

End of Day can be read as a stand alone novel or as a follow-up to book one of the Hode’s Hill series, Cusp of Night.

End of Day is available for pre-order through this link

and available to add to your Goodreads to-be-read list here.

Connect with Mae Clair at BOOKBUB and the following haunts:

Amazon | BookBub | Newsletter Sign-Up  

Website & Blog | Twitter | Goodreads | All Social Media

bio box for author Mae Clair


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Endearing characters

zoey awake Rich characters are an author’s goal. If we can create characters that stick with readers after they have closed our book, we’ve done our job.

But we don’t always consider adding an extra little treat to our stories, especially if we write in the suspense or thriller genres.

Pets are something we can add to our stories to enrich them, and round out the human characters. I mean, many readers can relate to a character who has a dog that needs to be walked or a cat that insists on being let outdoors at the most inconvenient times.

In cozy mysteries especially, pets seem to be everything from sidekicks to co-protagonists. In the Fudge Shop Mysteries by Christine DeSmet, Lucky Harbor, a fudge-loving mutt, is both a sleuth and a troublemaker. In the Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich, Rex the hamster is Stephanie’s only roommate. More entertaining is Bob the golden retriever, a galoot who eats anything (including socks and underwear) and later “horks” it up.

Pets aren’t just for cozy mysteries, either. In J. D. Robb’s In Death futuristic police procedural series, Eve Dallas owes her life to the plump cat she names Galahad. Even in a few of the later Special Crimes Unit/Bishop Files books by Kay Hooper, she added dogs and a cat named Pendragon that all seem more than average.

Some of my favorite fictional pets appear in urban fantasy. One of my favorite urban fantasy series is the Dresden series by Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden lives alone in a basement apartment with Mister, a huge domestic cat, as his only freeloader–er, pet. Later, he acquires a foo dog, which is a mythic temple guardian in Tibet (think of those dog/lion statues you always see outside temples) that looks like a Tibetan mastiff. Mouse is one of my favorite fictional pets. He’s huge, but sweet. In Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, Oberon is an Irish wolfhound who adds some comic relief.

If I could choose any fictional pet for my own, though, it’d be a close tie between Mouse and the firelizards from Anne McCaffery’s Pern series. I mean, who wouldn’t want tiny dragons to hang out with?

Adding a pet, or a stray that winds up as a pet, is a great way to give your readers another reason to feel connected to your characters. In my debut novel, I have a pet ferret as a little extra source of endearment. As I’ve been working on Book 2, I didn’t start out with a pet, but the more I write, the more I think a pet is needed. One of the characters went through cancer treatment, including surgery. Her husband would be worried, and lonely while his wife is in the hospital. Then there’s the time he can’t be at home with her while she’s recuperating. What better than a dog–or a cat–to keep them company?

Not every story needs a pet, but sometimes it makes sense. Remember, we want our readers to think of our characters as real people. Real people have pets. Besides, you never know when that pet will be the key to resolving a conflict or reaching a goal.

Amazingly, I have a free weekend–woo-hoo! I see two days of heavy writing in my future 😀

Write Well! Write On!

zoey asleep

 


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Mashup Marketing, Amazon, and a Muse–Guest Post by Staci Troilo #amreading #amwriting

Please welcome my guest today, Staci Troilo. Staci has just released the last book of her Medici Protectorate series (and I am so bummed, but there is the Nightforce Security guys, which is a spinoff written by Staci’s alter ego (well, one of them 😀 ) Kiera Beck). If you haven’t checked out the Medici series, you’re missing out.

And now, heeeere’s Staci!

Hi, Julie. Thanks for inviting me here today. I’ve been crazy busy writing guest posts for my latest release, Tortured Soul, the fourth and final installment of the Medici Protectorate series. As I was about to compose my piece for you, my muse interrupted me. I’m sure my original idea for a post would have been a good one, but I think you’ll like our conversation better. At the very least, you’ll get a kick out of this, since I have you to thank for introducing us.

muse

I’ve transcribed our chat for you:

“Ahem.”

I’d watched him come in the door. He’d risen at dawn and had been doing some form of martial arts in the yard for over an hour. Now he stood in the doorway, his broad, bare chest glistening with sweat. Dark hair, damp on the ends, curled at the nape of his neck. He sipped from my “This Might Be Wine” bottle, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he guzzled the water.

Had to be water. No one built like that drank wine after a workout. Certainly not Mr. Perfect. I had to admit, I might. Okay, I confess—my morning drinks of choice are coffee, mimosas, and Bloody Marys, in that order. Which isn’t really a problem, since I seldom workout in the morning. Nor am I built like a Roman deity. (I’m starting to see some uncomfortable correlations.)

Cara, you’re staring. Again.”

“Sorry.” My cheeks heated as I dragged my gaze up to his and forced myself to blink. And swallow. “Did you want something?”

“You’re supposed to be working.”

“A ha!” Is it bad that I feel perverse glee when he’s wrong about something? “I can’t write right now. I’m working on marketing materials and guest posts.”

“I didn’t say you’re supposed to be writing. I said you’re supposed to be working.”

And just like that, my glee evaporated. “I was. Until you interrupted.”

“If you were working, why were you staring out the window?”

Because my eyes were tired, my brain was mush, and I’d been admiring the view. At least until he came inside. “I was just thinking.”

“You’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.”

“You’ve been doing a lot of exercising lately.”

His lips quirked.

My face flamed hotter, and I looked away—back to my blank computer screen.

He pulled on a t-shirt then dropped onto the sofa beside me. Close. Really close.

I inhaled deeply. To my surprise, he smelled good. Like pine and sandalwood and something sultry and exotic I couldn’t name. Seriously? After an hour flailing about in the summer heat? I vented the breath with an audible sigh.

He touched my arm. “You always sound so tortured, cara.”

Wonder why. Shifting in my seat, I knocked his hand away. My skin tingled where it had been.

“So, tell me. When you’re not fantasizing—”

“I don’t fantasize. I ponder. Plan. Prepare.”

“And now you protest too much.”

Hamlet? Queen Gertrude? What, were you Shakespeare’s muse, too?”

His jaw ticked and his gaze heated, but he didn’t speak. Still, I thought I heard an answer in his silence.

Given the circumstances—given his qualifications—I should probably give the guy a little more respect than I had been.

“Anyway.” I cleared my throat. “Julie has talked to me about marketing and publishing. In some ways, it’s tough for writers who write mashups or multiple genres.”

“How so?”

He wasn’t challenging me. Rather, he seemed genuinely interested. Apparently the business side of writing was outside his area of expertise. Never would have guessed there was something he wasn’t good at.

I reached for my mimo—er, my coffee—and nestled into the corner of the couch. “Well, if you’re going to be a multi-genre author, you’ve got some decisions to make. Are you going to try to maintain only one identity and segment your mailing list? Or are you going to write under multiple pen names, having one identity per genre? There are pros and cons to each.”

“And you chose to use multiple pen names?”

“Only recently. But that’s because of a policy at work.” He knows all about my job at a publishing company and the requirements that came along with it. He doesn’t know what the company is doing for me, though. “The marketing director there is helping me manage these different personas, and we’ve developed names and identities for each imprint that works for the genres I write in. Before that, I wrote only as ‘me’ and tried to target different segments of readers when I released different types of novels. And I was mostly on my own with marketing.”

“Either way sounds exhausting.”

“You have no idea.”

He took another drink. “Is there a way to make things easier?”

“Marketing takes time no matter what kind of author you are. Single- or multi-genre. One identity or many. Unless you have someone doing it for you, it’s not easy. But one of the easiest ways to target the right readers is to categorize your book correctly.”

Cara, correct me if I’m wrong, but you aren’t self-published. You don’t have control over your books’ categories.”

“That’s true of most of my books. But not all. I have a few self-published titles. I learned through trial and error on those. Lately, I’ve been asking questions and watching what my publishers chose for me. Watching what the top authors in my genres are doing.”

He leaned back against the cushions, and I got another whiff of him. It was more than a little distracting, so I sat up straight then bent over my laptop.

“What are you doing?”

“Pulling up Amazon’s site. I wanted to show you a few things. For starters, look at this. All these authors have multiple categories listed.”

“That makes sense.”

“Yeah, but you’re only able to add two categories and seven keywords when you upload on KDP.”

“So how did they get other categories?”

three categories

“You have to request it. Email the helpdesk in KDP with the exact path you want, and they’ll adjust it for you. You have to have the exact words, though. And don’t just rely on their options. If you look at your competitors, you can see paths you want that Amazon doesn’t offer. Copy them and ask KDP for them. That’s how you get the categories Amazon doesn’t organically offer. You have to be exact and specific.”

“But how do you know which categories to select?”

“Look at this.” I pulled up the categories for Hideaway by Keira Beck—one of my pen names. “See how ‘New Adult’ is one of them?”

Hideaway Amazon Ranking

“I’m not blind, cara.”

Yeah, neither was I. That was part of the problem. I turned back to the screen. “That’s definitely not a book about college-aged people, which is what NA was originally defined as. So I asked my publisher about it. They said the category has morphed to mean ‘includes unmarried sexual partners’ and has nothing to do with an age group. Other than the characters aren’t teenagers. If you want to place your book in the proper categories, you need to ask questions of people who might know more than you.”

“I see.”

“Another thing is to make sure you go as deep down into the categories as possible. The more specialized and specific you can get, the better chance you have at finding your targeted readers.”

“Makes sense.”

“And of course, you need to look at what comparable authors are listing their works as. Keeping an eye on them and what they’re doing helps you stay on top of your game.”

“You sure do a lot of looking at other things.” He tipped the bottle up and drained it dry. Never took his gaze off me, though.

I drained my own drink then scampered into the kitchen for a refill. It was really warm in the house.

“I think I’m going to shower then head to One Ugly Mug to watch the game.”

My mind kind of blanked at shower.

As he walked past me, he leaned down and whispered in my ear. “Don’t dawdle, cara. You’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Truer words never spoken.

So, as you can see, my newly-acquired muse has made himself at home. And we’re learning from each other—learning some really interesting things.

It’s hard to pick categories for books. I noticed my publisher chose different categories for my eBook than for my paperback and hardcover. Probably trying to maximize exposure. At the end of the day, I stand by the four rules mentioned above.

  1. Ask questions when you don’t understand.
  2. Request multiple keyword streams from Amazon, particularly ones they don’t offer that you can copy from other authors.
  3. The more specific and specialized the categories are, the better chance you have at finding your ideal readers.
  4. Always stay apprised of what comparable authors are doing.

Do those things, and you’ve won half the battle. Properly positioning yourself will entice Amazon to put their vast promotional machine behind you.

The other half requires developing relationships with your readers. Somehow I think my muse knows a lot about that particular subject. But I don’t have time to have that discussion today. I have promotional materials to write.

TS cover

Blurb:

Protection is safety. Until it stifles.

After months of clandestine battles, the Brothers of the Medici Protectorate finally know who is responsible for the assassination attempts on the Notaro family, the secret descendants of the Medici line. And they’ve never faced such a formidable foe.

Roberto Cozza–Coz–faces this new reality with surprising pragmatism. His powers may make the difference in winning their covert war–if only he can master them in time. It would just be so much easier if he could get his emotions under control, but neither his Brothers nor their charges are making things easy on him.

Toni Notaro appreciates the security provided by the Brothers, but she knows she has her own role to play–and it terrifies her. She is the missing link in Coz mastering his emerging abilities, yet she struggles to bridge the gap between what he needs and what she can offer.

As the Brotherhood hurtles inexorably toward the climactic final showdown, Coz and Toni must find the strength within themselves and each other to master the secrets of his powers, or risk death and defeat for all they hold dear.

Universal Purchase Link

Author Bio and Links:

Troilo Color Photo RT smaller

Staci Troilo writes because she has hundreds of stories in her head. She publishes because people told her she should share them. She’s a multi-genre author whose love for writing is only surpassed by her love for family and friends, and that relationship-centric focus is featured in her work.

Web | Blog | Tortured Soul Info | Medici Protectorate Info | Amazon Author Page | BookBub Author Page | Goodreads Author Page | Twitter | Other Social Media Links