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Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Free Association

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seat of the Pants Writers: Tips and Tricks to Overcoming Challenges

Today, I decided that I would finish off this little mini-rant on how it's okay to be a Seat-of-the-Pants (SOTP) writer. Clearly, I'm feeling defensive about being one myself...but that's another story for another day. I'm working on it. :)
There are some significant disadvantages to being either a plotter or a pantster, but this post will focus on a few techniques, garnered from a SOTP workshop at the ACFW conference, that will offset the SOTP challenges.

1) Writing a synopsis - It's sometimes not good enough to a publisher or agent to give "broad brushstrokes," so when it's not you should tape record yourself talking about your book. You'll be surprised at how much you actually already have thought out about the plot but haven't solidified and written it down anywhere.

2) To offset panic - Remind yourself that you're not writing the entire book today. Instead, write one brief bullet point of what to accomplish the next day, focus on dialogue to keep the scene moving along, research until inspiration strikes, reread what you've written so far to come full circle and get your creative juices flowing. Also, schedule in time to be a SOTP. If you think you can write a book in a year, double it to two. 

3) Look at your first draft as your outline. Anne Lamotte says to write the first drat and expect it to be crummy. Chain your internal editor while writing. You can edit later. Also, don't be too attached to anything you've written, as it'll likely be heavily edited (read: cut) later. Also, don't get hung up on creating chapter ending hooks. This is better as part of the editing process.

4) Rabbit trails and tangents have use! The portions of your story that you had fun writing, that kept the whole project interesting to you, but don't serve to drive the plot forward or keep tension on the page can be "Added Value" to your readers. Put these scenes or chapters on your website to give you readers extra enjoyment as they read the chapter that got cut, or find out the story behind the story.

5) When you're stuck - think about the original conflict. What did you want to write this book in the first place? Whether you know the opening scene and ending scene, or just have an idea for a fantastic climax, revisit the one or two blurps or snatches of plot that first attracted you to the story. 

6) To preserve ideas - WRITE THEM DOWN. Don't let ideas slip by, thinking you'll capture it the following day or even be able to remember it by then.

Ultimately, the way any writer writes a story is to get their rear end in the seat, fingers on the keyboard, and just do the work, but hopefully these tips will help the SOTPer.

Q4U: Do you have any other tricks you'd like me to add to the list? Things that have helped you overcome SOTP challenges?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Seat of the Pants: Pros and Cons

I'm continuing my post from yesterday on being a Seat of the Pants (SOTP) writer...and being PROUD of it! Karen Ball called us the "pinballs of publishing," because we don't see things in a linear way. We bounce around, seeing things in possibilities...kinda like we have attention deficit disorder.

Typically, SOTP writers engage in more than one writing project at a time. For me, I usually am writing my monthly article for CFOM, I write blog posts galore, I write on my WIP (or two or three), pound out a prologue for yet another book that I can't get out of me get the idea. We get caught up in the next shiny thing.

However, Karen was quick to point out that our ADD doesn't mean that we're not intelligent or that we can't focus or stick to something or aren't able to finish something. Having one to many irons in the fire is just the way we stay interested.

There is a cost, of course, to this creativity and freedom. It's called REWRITING. Many times, we'll be writing along and then have this excellent idea that we need to incorporate. This requires extensive rewriting. Or while we're writing, our secondary character all of a sudden decides to take the stage by storm, and we go with it, saying, "Hmm...wonder what he's going to do?" only later to delete it because it added nothing to the story.

Another drawback to not plotting is that we will paint ourselves into a corner and have no idea why we are there, how we got there, or where we are planning on going. (In other words, STUCK.) This is really bad when you're 200 pages into the novel and your deadline is upon you, but that's another drawback. Deadlines have a tendency to whoosh right on by, since SOTPers don't really think or write on a schedule, per se.

Writing a synopsis is darn well near impossible. Many publishers want to know up front what the books are going to be about, yet the SOTP writer only knows what the book will be about in broad brushstrokes, not specifics. This can be even more difficult when they want to know your synopses for a series!

Why, you might ask, should we want to have anything with being a SOTP? Oh, there are too many reasons to name (but I'll try):

  • Creativity - you never know what you're getting into. It's "new every morning."
  • Characters unfold and surprise you - and you take them deeper with each unveiling. 
  • We brainstorm and think on our feet and we've got good instincts...that we should trust!
  • We're flexible - not stuck on any one trajectory.
  • Don't have writer's block quite as often.
  • We're excited about what we're writing, and that excitement translates to the page.
  • We have more texture oftentimes to your writing, as we take characters deeper and deeper with each rewrite.

There are things we can do ahead of time (best practices) to offset the downsides to being a SOTP, and I'll go into that tomorrow. See you then!

Q4U: What are some other positives or possible downsides to being an SOTP?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Seat of the Pants Writers: The "Pinballs of Publishing"

One of the biggest revelations I had at the 2012 ACFW conference was a workshop I took under author and editor Karen Ball. It was titled, "There's Nothing Wrong With You."

Seat of the Pants (SOTP) describes the writing process for some folk (this therapist included), as opposed to those who plot every scene and write outlines. Writers fall somewhere along this SOTP-Plotter continuum, and I'm convinced it has a lot to do with personality in general. (So convinced, in fact, that I'm going to try to put together a survey to do some research on the matter further. Stay tuned.)

But for now, I want to ease the anxiety that other SOTPs out there might have. For a while now, I've felt that being an SOTPer was somewhat "less" of a writer, not as preferred, not as good...inferior. Translated: NOT OKAY.

So I promptly bought all these plotting books, among them: Story Engineering, Plot v. Character, Story, Save the Cat, and How to Find Your Story. As I began reading them, my anxiety shot through the roof. No joke. It was overwhelming, trying to figure out which story event would finish out Act I and usher in Act II.

Attending this workshop was like letting the scales fall from my eyes! After going through the pros and cons of being an SOTPer, Karen had several other authors on a panel to answer questions from the audience. Mary DeMuth, Lenora Worth, Jenny B. Jones, Jill Eileen Smith, and Maureen Lang were on the panel, all confirmed SOTPers. They got hives trying to shove their stories into three-act structures too! Synopses are difficult if not impossible for them, since they honestly don't know what's coming next.

And while being an SOTP has its own inherent challenges, it has some great benefits. More important, it is OKAY to be an SOTP.

Q4U: Are you an SOTPer or a Plotter? What are some pros and cons of either one?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Conference Talk (and Winners!)

Just got in at 10:00 p.m. California time from the ACFW conference, where I got up at 6:00 a.m. Central time. I'm exhausted, and want to extrapolate on the conference for this week's blog posts, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

For now, the winners of the two giveaways I had going on my blog last week are:

For Julie Lessman's A Heart Revealed -- Brianna Soloski!

For Alice Lynn's Scattered Pieces - Miss Sharpe!

Stay tuned for pictures and info tomorrow!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weekend Funnies: ACFW Conference Edition

Found Doug Savage's site...hysterical comics! This is honor of all your introverts that I'll meet at conference this week!

For a chance to win Julie Lessman's latest, A Heart Revealed, click here!

For a chance to win Alice Lynn's Scattered Pieces, click here!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Free Association

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

For a chance to win Julie Lessman's latest, A Heart Revealed, click here!

For a chance to win Alice Lynn's Scattered Pieces, click here!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Does Your MC Get the Best Lines?

I signed up to receive Friday email updates from writer Holly Lisle. I'm glad I did, because frequently, I'll garner a little nugget from them, and today finds me expanding on this thought Holly gave me.

Her email newsletter was about giving your protagonist the best lines. In theory, this is a given. The protag is who we're cheeering for, rooting for. He or she is the reason we're writing the book in the first place! They should be the most interesting, the most important, and the one with the most problems, quite honestly.

What Holly said was that she sees the same mistake over and over in both manuscripts and published books: "The villain gets all the good lines. Or the sidekick does. Or the guy in the market who doesn't even have a NAME, for crying out loud." Holly believes that this shows the writer likes the other characters better than the protag.

My first Genesis entry (in '09, the one I most certainly did not final in) was returned to me with comments like, "Your heroine isn't as interesting as her best friend," and "Your heroine isn't very likeable." I was totally offended, of course, until I came down off the mountain to realize that I had made her sidekick more personable, more funny, more in-your-face and opinionated.

Holly indicated that the writer who does this, deep down in side, thinks his or her main character is bland. "Too perfect, too pure, to good to get in there and get clobbered by the bad guys or fall down the stairs and come up with a good smart-a$$ comment when he lands." It's as if the writer is protecting the MC...from the bad things in the world, from the consequences that can happen if he or she is offensive or misunderstood.

In truth, the combined effects of all of the above is that the character is bland. Not interesting. Not memorable. Which is a crying shame!

If you had the chance to read my review of Stephen James' newest book, The Queen, you read that I think he's a master at giving his hero some weaknesses that are pretty powerful and threaten to overwhelm him as well as giving his villain a strength that almost--but now quite--puts him on par with being a normal, non-serial-killing crazy person.

When we put our character on such a high pedestal, we run the risk of not being able to write the very good scenes that show them falling off! When they aren't politically correct, when they lose their temper, when they get sarcastic and snarky, when their halo falls off. We are easier to give in to a secondary character doing these things, because they aren't on the page as longer and we feel a false sense of security that if the reader doesn't like them and their antics, they won't have to read about them very long.

Problem is, when we have fun with these secondary characters--let it loose and let it hang out--it throws are hero or heroine into sharp contrast and makes them appear very dull.

So, as Holly suggests, check your dialogue. Read it through and decide for yourself who you've given the best lines to. If it's not your MC, make some adjustments!

Q4U: Any of you out there have this problem like I did? What did you do to overcome your fear of letting the halo slip?

For a chance to win Julie Lessman's latest, A Heart Revealed, click here!

For a chance to win Alice Lynn's Scattered Pieces, click here!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Therapeutic Review of Scattered Pieces (Plus My First Published Endorsement!)

A few months ago, someone took me up on my "therapeutic editing" services. Alice Lynn had written a book with a heavy psychological element and wanted my expert opinion on whether those scenes (and the story line in general) rang true.

I eagerly put on my editing hat and gave her several suggestions, mainly geared toward the time frame that the story was set in and the psychological premises that dominated my field during that era. Alice looked at my suggestions, made changes and tweaked as necessary, and that book saw the publishing light of day on September 3rd, 2011! Here's the cover:

Let me tell you....I had a blast doing this. It was fun to read therapist scenes and assess for feasibility. Of course, it doesn't hurt at all that the book was splendid, so when the author contacted me for an endorsement, I was all for it. Let me show you a copy of page two (a screen shot taken from my to enlarge) of my very first endorsement:

I didn't write those words lightly. From Chapter One, I truly was captured. Here's a blurb from Amazon:

When Katie’s little brother is snatched in 1946 it tears her family apart. It’s only through her friendship with the irrepressible Marilyn and Marilyn’s handsome brother Tom that she navigates a lonely childhood. In college, studying psychology helps Katie understand her mother’s mental illness and her own fears. And it leads to a client who may know something about her brother’s disappearance. 

Katie essentially narrates her life from the start of the incident when her brother is snatched. Alice delves deeply into the confusion and horror that would arise as a little girl, entrusted to watch her brother, loses him. The moment impacts Katie forever, and nothing remains the same.

I loved that she chooses to go into psychology. This is so true to life! Many therapists and psychologists are in fact, wounded healers, attracted to a field/career of healing in oftentimes vain attempts to fix what's wrong with ourselves. Katie's journey is a page-turner. Once she gets into the clinical part of her schooling, where she sees clients and learns and makes mistakes in that arena...I had to stay up late finishing it. The ending is simply wonderful...very satisfying. This is good stuff, people!

Here's a bit about Alice:

A native Oregonian, Alice Lynn spent her formative years in the Willamette Valley. She has pursued interests that range from horseback riding and amateur theatricals, to sculpting, gardening, and sewing. Her mother, who was a great reader, instilled in her a love of books. Writing seemed to flow naturally after that and has always been a part of her life. She graduated with a degree in psychology from Marylhurst University in 1999. Currently she resides in Oregon City with her husband and three cats. Alice just released her third book, Scattered Pieces.

You can find Scattered pieces at the following online retailers:,, Alice is also the author of Wrenn: Egypt House and Volunteer for Glory.

Connect with Alice online:

For a chance to win Julie Lessman's newest release, A Heart Revealed, click here!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Character Clinic: Tanner Sheppard

Today's character on the couch is Tanner Sheppard, the brainchild of author L. Blankenship. Tanner resides in a science fiction book as an ex-pirate (think spaceships instead of ships). He's killed, betrayed, and slaved people. He was sentenced to fifteen years of inpatient therapy under new PTSD treatment modalities (re-recording the memories and taking the stress out of them so they aren't "panic on tap"), but his friend Maggie broke him out after a year.

Louise wants to know: I’ve done a little reading and I got some helpful feedback from an abuse survivor, but when it comes down to it I have zero experience with the kind of sustained, violent (maybe sexual) abuse Tanner went through… I want to represent it honestly, make his progress an honest fight and not a miraculous recovery. So I’m looking for thoughts on what he’s like when he’s still new to wrestling with the idea of being worth something, of being different. And what sort of steps he may be able to take on his own.

Tanner -

Depending on your age when you had the brunt of the traumatic beatings, whether just physical or sexual, that could have some impact on how you present with traumatic symptoms in therapy and in the present day. The tender psyche of a young child going through those types of things can split into multiple personas as a way to protect the main identity. Later, something can trigger these personas to show up (such as the murder of your dad). This is just FYI.

But as to having a particular formula to follow for abuse victims--that'd be impossible. Based on my experience with clients who suffer from sustained violence or trauma, it's a constant battle, one they never "arrive" from. They can be doing really well and then one memory triggers them into their panicked state and damage control is needed to get them back on track.

For Tanner to even contemplate that he's worth something, he'll have to have someone show him through actions that he is. Whether this is Maggie or one of his sisters or some other mentor-type person...they will have to be patient and consistent with him to help him help himself. If they believe it in, then he will have a less-hard time believing in himself (notice I didn't say easier time). It's an uphill battle.

I'm not familiar with the re-recordings of PTSD memories...unless you mean working with trauma survivors using EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). This theory is controversial, but some swear by it. I've never used it myself, as it requires specialized training in just that theory. It has similarities with exposure therapy (essentially repeatedly exposing a client to what they fear until they become less sensitized to it) and cognitive-behavioral therapy. The idea is that by reprocessing an upsetting emotion/event while bilaterally stimulating the brain (tapping meridians on both sides of the body on the chest, head, face, etc) moves the upsetting emotion that has been stored in the right side of the brain into the left side, where they are processed theory, taking the disturbing feeling away from the memory, which doesn't go away, but remains, just processed differently. (Hopefully this makes's a video that demonstrates it.)

Hope that this helps some. I'll gladly welcome additional questions in the comments section. if you want to take him deeper, click here.

For a chance to win Julie Lessman's newest release, A Heart Revealed, click here!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Therapeutic Review and Giveaway of Julie Lessman's A Heart Revealed


Julie Lessman's newest release made it to my doorstep a few weeks ago and that was my reaction: *sigh*

I love that Julie's books are thick...I know I've got hours of reading pleasure ahead of me. A Heart Revealed was no exception. I joined my old friends, the O'Connor's, and all the drama that each of their lives have...and just smiled and sighed. Smiled and sighed.

Here's a blurb from Julie's website:

The ring on her hand belongs to one man …
but her heart belongs to another.

As a battered woman, Emma Malloy fled Dublin for Boston ten years ago, seeking shelter for a heart badly bruised by both her husband and guilt. But when she falls in love with Sean O’Connor, a man who wrestles with demons of his own, fear and shame almost destroy her … until she is finally set free by a heart revealed.

Julie brings her signature passionate love scenes to this book, though due to Emma being married, the reader has to wait a really long time to see some actual sparks between her and Sean! (Julie, if I could change would have been that long wait!!) But it was oh-so-worth the wait.

The thing I like about Julie's writing is that she truly digs deep into the issues that couples face, and she does so with a brazen boldness that I truly admire and respect. The issues facing Charity and Mitch, Marcy and Patrick, Katie and Luke....issues like the woman wanting a career when the man wants her home raising babies (remember, story set in 1931, but this is still applicable!), a woman worried about her husband's fidelity...these are the types of everyday issues that plague couples across cultures, across decades.

Julie has a priest in the book that might as well be a marriage and family therapist. ( should consider Father Mac getting a license to practice.) I read those scenes with the most intense Father Mac helps several characters connect to and overcome the soul-deep traumas that have seized their hearts and minds for years. This wasn't done in any cliche way, either, and I love that! No church scenes or sermons!

I hope to offer one lucky commenter the chance to win this book for your own reading enjoyment. It can be read as a stand alone novel, but I assure're going to want to read the first book in this Winds of Change series, A Hope Undaunted (which is available as a free download from Amazon right now!), as well as Julie's Daughters of Boston series.

Julie, I ever remain one of your biggest fans.

Leave a comment to be entered to win. As I truly desire for these books to be something special for my readership, please click "Follow" on the left of the screen to become a follower of my blog if you haven't already done so. :)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Free Association

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

Click here for a chance to win Stephan James' suspense/thriller, The Queen!

Click here for a chance to win my Writer's Guide to Creating Rich Back Stories! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Character Clinic: Creven Russet (AKA NOT Edward Cullen)

Today I've got K.A.'s werefox character on my couch today. He resides in a paranormal YA fantasy. He's been banished from his world when there is suspicions that he murdered his father, which he didn't, but saw who did. He's trying to find the man responsible, which is proving difficult from the mortal world. The killer also killed Isabelle's best friend, and Isabelle is Creven's love interest. Creven at first needs her to find evidence, but she becomes too involved and it's too dangerous.

K.A. wants to know: What personality traits do you think this character has? He's egotistical and too similar to another literary character. Is there some personality trait that I've missed, so Creven can be different from him? 

Creven -

It's do sound a bit similar to Ms. Myer's character, and it's made even more comparable in that your love interest in named Isabelle.

I think you should dig deeper into yourself...and find a truly selfish motive to keep Isabelle around (although I believe a name change for her should be in order). And this motive shouldn't be based on your attraction to her. What if you needed a human's blood to cross back into your world? (Totally shooting in the dark here.) If Isabelle became an important ingredient in the necessary storm for you to find your father's killer and bring him to justice, then you'd be one torn werefox when you eventually realize that you do love her.

In my mind's eye, I was picturing a scene where you have to either give up your world and possibly give up your aspirations to avenge your father's killer simply to save her life or to stay in her world with her. But you wouldn't know this was the end, of course, and you'd drag her along on your quest because somehow, someway, you needed her. (Perhaps as proof of the other killing of her friend, and you knew that bringing her into your world for some sort of trial would likely mean the death of her. it IS paranormal, so you could make it that her lungs are too mortal to withstand the air in your other world for long. Who knows? Some reason that for her to fulfill her part, she'd ultimately die.)

The personality trait that will differ you from the other literary character you are so worried about emulating is that you won't give in until the last minute. Ms. Myer's character ultimately throws caution to the wind...and it becomes his greatest downfall as Bella is put in harm's way time and time again.

One other tidbit about Isabelle - I'd make her as different from Bella as possible in that she's not trying to be a part of Creven's world. Bella couldn't leave well enough alone. She sought after Edward, tempted him, even. Make Isabelle resist, really dig in her heels. This'll give you plenty of tension, as Creven really needs her to become enamored of him so that he can fulfill his dark purpose that will ultimately take her life but avenge his father. Maybe Creven even pursues her for this. That would definitely be a twist on Ms. Myers for sure.
Skype Telephone Consultation
This was fun...just brainstorming. I wish you the best as you seek to differentiate yourself from Mr. Cullen. :)

I hope that my readership knows that I do Skype/phone consultations that can go much deeper than this. They are for sale in my Writer's Store...and the price is super cheap to get a therapist's opinion on your plot and characters. Just $30 for half an hour or $50 for a full hour!

Click here for a chance to win Stephen James' suspense/thriller, The Queen!

Click here for a chance to win my Writer's Guide to Creating Rich Back Stories!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Character Clinic: Brynn Wright with Donald Maass Workshop Notes

Today I've got Lydia's character Brynn on my couch. Brynn inhabits a Christian fantasy. She was orphaned at a young age and ended up being adopted by a single painter...whose paints (get this!) are portals into different times! [How cool is that?!]

Lydia wrote in wanting to know: How do I make Brynn more REAL? Right now, she's as 3D as a blank page.

Lydia, I normally write to the characters in my Character Clinic posts, but due to our last couple of emails, this post is just for you. First off, you've got Brynn fleshed out farther than you think you do. She's a 14-year-old orphan whose been let down too many times to want to trust again. I think girls the world over will be able to relate to that.

You've got a rocking concept for the fantasy, with Brynn and her adoptive father and tutor being trapped in the parallel universe without knowing the way out of the paintings...pretty way cool. So there's intrigue, suspense...all the necessary ingredients.

So, I'd like to share with you an exercise from Donald Maass, who wrote Writing the Breakout Novel [book and workbook]. I was fortunate enough to sit at his feet at the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writer's conference when he was the Early Bird presenter. The following are some of my notes (with my own MC's character removed and Brynn's inserted) from that incredible workshop:

The heroic characters sometimes can be too perfect. You have to give them one way in which they are profoundly human and just like the rest of us. To they have one bad habit? One thing they feel funny about themselves? Something they do exactly the way we would do? Show this “flaw” or human trait in the first 5 pages.

What’s the first thing someone would notice about Brynn? How would they sum them up when talking about them to someone else? What would anyone say is the exact opposite of this? If you choose to reverse some traits later in the book, the character becomes multidimensional and more involving to read about.

Work on inner conflict. Pull them in two opposite ways. This engages the reader because it’s interesting. NOT the same thing as inner turmoil, which is wearisome to read about…a character who constantly waffles is no fun to read. The conflicts that the author constructed still linger with us, even thought he events of the story are over. It echoes with us and makes the character memorable. 

Answer these questions:
One thing Brynn would never, ever say b/c it’s completely contrary to her?
One thing Brynn would never ever conceivably do?
One thing Brynn would never ever think or feel? An emotion just out of range for her? An idea that wouldn’t take hold in her mind?

Now write scenes working these very answers into your novel! This makes Brynn more multi-dimensional.

What would make this problem that Brynn has matter more – even more than it does now? Why does the protag care? What makes it more personal? What is it about this problem that gets under the skin of the protag? What is it about the problem that bothers them more than anything else? What do they see in the problem that other people don’t see, discern that’s deeper? What principles are at stake? Why is this problem one that the protag feels personally responsible for? He or she must do this for what reason?

How can this reason be made stronger? Something that happens in the past is typical – the protag has to make up for it. How can the protag be hopeless in the face of this problem? What already has the protag defeated? What does the problem say about them? The hardest, most painful problem for them to deal with – impossible for them. The deeply personal, unresolved thing from their childhood that makes this problem ten times worst?

The answer should be emotional. What defeats her? Gets under her skin? Why? In what way is this problem deeply personal? How does it go to their childhood? How did it shape them? Gets to them every time? Pushes you over the edge?

Once you work through some of these concepts, Lydia, Brynn will fly off the page as a girl as real as your readers are. Give it a try...and please email me to let me know how it goes! Best of luck!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Psychtember Days and Writer's Guide Giveaway!

Today, I'm honored to be featured at Tapestry of Words, a blog devoted to YA authors and readers. Danya, the blog hostess, is featuring books with psychological emphasis as well as counseling professionals.

I decided to post on parentified children (children who exhibit behaviors like that of a parent). It's a pertinent topic for YA writers, so I hope you'll stop by and check it out! Even if you aren't a YA writer, parentified children make for fascinating heroes and heroines, so you'll get something out of it. 

I'm also giving away a copy of my Writer's Guide to Creating Rich Back Stories to one lucky commenter there! Click here!  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Therapeutic Review and Giveaway of Stephen James' The Queen

Stephen James has become one of those authors for me that I know I'll pick up whatever his latest book is. I had the pleasure of being a reviewer for his latest, The Queen, and once again, he exceeded even my highest expectations.

Here's a blurb of the book from Stephen's website:

 While investigating a mysterious double homicide in an isolated northern Wisconsin town, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers uncovers a high-tech conspiracy that ties together long-buried Cold War secrets with present-day tensions in the Middle East. Amid the hazardous winter weather and harsh landscape, Bowers must piece together the puzzle before it’s too late.

In his most explosive thriller yet, bestselling author Steven James delivers a pulse-pounding, multi-layered storytelling tour-de-force that will keep you guessing.

This book is the 5th in a series that all share similar chess piece names: The Pawn, The Rook, The Knight and The Bishop. However, it can be read as a stand-alone novel. Special Agent Patrick Bowers is definitely an alpha hero, but he's made very three dimensional by James' expert use of dominance and submission, or what James' calls "variable status" in his article that I featured here.

Patrick is this uber-capable agent in the field, but he, ah, struggles to maintain the upper hand in his romantic interactions and verbal sparring matches with his teenage step-daughter. It's endearing to read, and makes me want to meet this character....possibly get him on my couch, as I think it would benefit him. 

But above all, James writes the best villains, hands down. Anytime I can actually feel sympathy for a villain, I know that an author has taken to heart the fact that people aren't all bad or all good. They have strengths and weaknesses...this is true to life. The Queen is like a study in character development for villains.

Alexei Chekov is one of my favorite ones to date. Not only does he have the coolest and most unusual "weapon" ever--seriously, how did James think up a bone gun? I had to google that and read up on it--he's also got one killer of an ethical code and even a moral conscious.

But he's a trained killer, a hired assassin! But a refusal to harm women and children, an indignant reaction to being framed for a murder of the lesser sex, a propensity to pay for medical bills of individuals he's taken out with the bone gun, a moment of respect and heroic action to save the life of a man who put his own life on the line to save someone Alexei had to dispose of. Showing us the very human side of this villain is simply genius. I found myself dreading what was going to happen to him by the end of the book simply because I came to like the guy.

You'll have to read it to find out what happens to Alexei and Patrick. You will not be disappointed! One lucky commenter below will receive my review copy of the book. Since I like to give books as a way to thank my readership, if you aren't already "following" this blog, please do so! Leave your comment with your email address and I'll draw a winner on Sunday!

Available September 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday Free Association

The words are........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Red Herrings as Scapegoated Characters in Mystery Genre

Good mystery writers know all about red herrings, clues that are designed to mislead reader and make them suspect the wrong whodunit characters. Of course, the placement of the red herrings is deliberate because you want to keep the reader surprised as to who the true culprit is as the story unfolds. 

In the world of counseling and psychology, families do this all the time. It’s called scapegoating. A common example is when a child gets pinned as the guilty party when in actuality, the dysfunction in the family stems from the mother or father’s relationship.

Families do this to draw attention away from the actual problem and onto someone else. “My absentee parenting and alcohol abuse is not the problem. Little Junior is. See how he constantly throw tantrums?”

Never mind that he throws tantrums as a way to cope when Dad’s drunk and abusive. At least when he’s having a tantrum, Dad doesn’t hit Mom because they both turn their focus onto him.

Writers scapegoat characters all the time, especially in mystery writing. We want our readers to focus attention elsewhere while we hide the truth from them. In counseling, this deflection is not good and actually interferes with the therapeutic process. In mystery writing, this distraction is a necessary evil pleasure that makes the mystery harder to solve. 

Click here to read the rest of my article at Christian Fiction Online Magazine.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Your Character's Favorite Fairy Tale Says About Them

I'm back on the Transactional Analysis bandwagon and I've got a WAY cool post for you today.  We're going to be looking at what your character's favorite fairy tale or mythological story might say about them.

People have life scripts. A life script is the idea that we tend to have an unconscious life plan that we made as a child and follow as an adult. According to the theory, this life plan is basically complete by the time you (or your character) is 7 years old. The life script is a story we tell ourselves about what we can achieve and what's possible for us in the future. 

So what's your character's life script? What are the unwritten rules and expectations that they have set for themselves that they are following and living out? Because as we all know, most people like predictability. Even people who thrive on change...a constantly changing world is that person's predictability. 

One way to determine this is to look at your character's favorite fairy tale/myth.  

It's unconscious, of course, but children often use fairy tales as a model for their own life stories. It doesn't have to be all about princesses and princes, however, although every girl on the way to prom has visions of Cinderella going to that ball, make no mistake!

Ask your character who their favorite hero or heroine is. (Believe me, it's not lost on me the irony of that statement.) Have your character talk about himself or herself as that hero or heroine, but using their (your) own voice. 

For example: "I am Gretel from Hansel and Gretel. I'm poor, but attractive. I really want to help people and I try to be productive with my time, but I always seem to be getting lost and losing my way. Nothing seems to go right for me until the very end...just when I think I'm about to die from the stress of life."

Do you see how a person might gravitate toward a particular character in a nursery tale? Let's look at one from mythology:

"I am Icarus. I always seem to get too close to things and get burned. I find that I'm constantly striking out and doing my own thing and letting my Dad down. I just shoot so high, sometimes....too high for my own good. I let my pride get in the way too often."

Now that you have a feel for the exercise, you should know that life scripts typically come in one of three types: winning, losing, and banal scripts. A winning script allows for the person to get what they want in the end...the happy ending, so to speak. Losing scripts allow for the person living them not to get what they want. A banal script is built on mediocrity--nothing much gained, nothing much lost. 

The idea behind Transactional Analysis is that once you know what your unconscious life plan is, you make the decision to change it (also called Redecision Therapy). Things decided about life from the perspective of a child are limited. A generalized truth for a 6-year-old might not even be true for that same person as an adult today. Scripts can be changed or even discarded.

Your characters are adults...and they are free to write their own story.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Character Clinic: Layla Bunch

Today I've got Sharon's character Layla on the couch. Layla is a 30-year-old resident in a women's fiction book. She's got horrible scars on her body, but absolutely no recollection how she got them. Her parents died when she was 22 and already out on her own, but eventually Layla was homeless and forced to beg to survive. An older woman Roberta took her in, saving her, and she says Layla just doesn't want to remember what happened to her because it was so bad.

Sharon wants to know: Will Layla's memory come back of its own volition, or must there be a memory trigger to make her remember. She's had this selective amnesia for several years. Is that unusual?

Layla -

When the brain experiences a traumatic event, it can do several things as protective measures. What you're describing isn't selective amnesia (which has the connotation that it's convenient for you to have forgotten bits and pieces of your past), but it's more like a repressed memory.

The main feature of this amnesia is an “inability to recall important personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature, that is too extensive to be explained by normal forgetfulness” (DSM IV-TR, p. 520). This is reversible, which is important if your author plans on you remembering your past by the end of the book. Dissociative amnesia is most likely reported as a gap or series of gaps in recall for aspects of an individual’s life history, and you've got a big gap.

In dissociative amnesia, the lost memories are "stored in long term memory, but access to it is impaired because of psychological defense mechanisms. Persons retain the capacity to learn new information and there may be some later partial or complete recovery of memory" (from Wikipedia).

In essence, your brain dissociated (split) for the time period of your tragic past. And yes, whatever it is you're not remember is likely horrific. The scars on your body is a major clue to the traumatic nature of what you're forgetting. And your brain has set up these defense mechanisms to prevent you from remembering--as a form of cognitive protection, if you will.

As for remembering, the sky really is the limit. I've gotten this question a few times, and there just is no formulaic order for how people remember, if they remember. You might remember snatches of the same memory over and over. Something you smell/hear/see/taste/feel might open the floodgates of your mind. Sky really is the limit.

From a reader's standpoint, we're going to want to know why you've got those scars, so for our sake (and reading satisfaction), I hope you do remember.

Best of luck to you. If you want to go deeper, and talk scenarios about how you might remember or other details, you know where to find me. It's only $14.99, cheapest deal for therapy in the world. :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Free Association

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!