Too Good to be True

I encountered two inter-connected stories this past week or so that got me thinking.

First, a newer author was talking online about their attempts to garner reviews, blurbs, or any kind of attention from several well-known, high-selling authors in their genre. Each attempt was met with polite form letters from secretaries or assistants thanking them for their interest and stating the “professional” author simply had no time to take a personal interest in their writing.

It’s a bummer, I know. I’ve given away copies of a few of my books to different visiting celebs with no tangible results and no way of knowing if they ever read them.

The thing is, someone like Stephen King or JK Rowling or any other big-name author probably is too busy to answer every single piece of fan mail personally. They get letters by the boatload and they’re probably evenly split between fans telling them how wonderful they are and aspiring or newbie authors asking for advice, help, or a good word. They can’t do it for all of them so they have to make a policy of not doing it for any of them. Not to mention, things like endorsements of other authors’ books are probably restricted by their publisher in some way.

And yes, I literally mean TOO BUSY. I mean 6-8 hours a day, 5-7 days a week, in a chair, at a desk, putting words on paper or editing words already on paper, plus meetings with publishers and agents, plus meetings with the film people, plus scheduled public appearances, plus family time, plus eating, sleeping, showering, and travelling, plus personal destress time … and I’m probably missing a hundred little things. They’re people. They have lives. And they don’t owe complete strangers anything.

The second story is much closer to home. I was at Memory Keepers today with three other lovely ladies (one is the librarian in charge of the group, the other two are old enough to be my grandmothers and they are wonderful). We were discussing future meeting dates and how the Monday evening creative writing group was doing.

One of the older ladies, I’ll call her Marie (that is not her real name), was considering going to the evening writing group but wanted to know if a specific lady was a regular attendee. She was talking about a local author, whom I’ll call Karen (also not her real name). Marie does not particularly like Karen and doesn’t like doing writing-related events at the library if Karen will be there. Why is this connected to the first story? Because the librarian said, “No, Karen isn’t a part of that group. She’s too good for our little group. She’s a professional.

Looking back, she didn’t do the self-publishing workshop in our area a few years back either, and as far as I know, she only does workshops if she’s leading them or if an author she considers bigger than her is leading them.  To be fair, she’s a prolific writer, and she works from home as a full-time writer. She claims she makes a decent income from online sales.

What is the difference between “Karen” and JK Rowling? Probably about a million titles sold. And a few movie deals. And a general level of recognition. Yeah. I get that. I mean, what is the difference between Karen being too busy for local writers’ groups and workshops and JK Rowling being too busy to send a random writer a blurb for the back of their book?

I’m a professional writer and I’m busy. I write multiple hours a day on top of raising two kids, keeping a house, editing for myself, freelance editing, marketing, sales and shows, extended family obligations, my own personal needs like eating and sleeping, not letting my marriage fall apart, keeping two pets alive … but I find time to be a part of local writers’ groups (like Memory Keepers) and online writers’ groups. I don’t post every day. I don’t answer every question. I can’t mentor anyone. I can’t volunteer to beta read anymore. I barely have time for reviews! So I get it. I understand what it is to be busy. But I try to be a little active in the writing community. There are people newer than me, less experienced than me, and if I can steer them clear of some of the common mistakes, I will.

I get the feeling that Karen isn’t too busy. I’m sure Karen could find the time for a 2-hour meeting once a month. Everyone has different loads and different abilities but I do know Karen and I’m sure she could manage it. She doesn’t want to, and that makes her come across as better-than-thou, whether she means it that way or not. Whereas I’m sure many big-name authors miss the little interactions with the community, the critiques and the reviews and the give-and-take and the fan mail – the things they genuinely don’t have time for.

I wish we didn’t have to put our nose so hard to the grindstone to make this whole thing work. I wish big-name authors had more time for the little guy. I wish successful little-guys would stop emulating the big-name authors and stay in touch with their local and online communities. I wish the community was important. I wish we could all spare more time for each other. I wish I could mentor and volunteer more of my time but the tasks that make money are the ones that take priority right now.

The little guys, all we really have are each other. So most of all, I wish successful local (to wherever they live) indie authors wouldn’t get too big for their britches and stay in touch with the up and comers. We all started somewhere. Let’s not leave each other behind.

October Recap

What a busy month! My sister-in-law was in town for some work training and brought her kids (who stayed at the farm) so we had multiple visits with them while they were here. Plus Thanksgiving for two sides of the family, a family brunch for my son’s birthday, and a school-friend party for my son’s birthday. I worked the federal election (which meant 3 evenings of training plus a 16 hour day). The kids had 3 no-school days this month. And of course, Halloween.

Phew.

I managed just over 60,000 words this month (making it the fourth month I’ve topped 50k in 30 or 31 days, plus June where I knocked out 100k in 30 days for a double Nano). My annual total to date is 474,000.

I’ll be slowing down now until the end of the year, taking lots of days off for sales, birthdays, and the holidays. My goal is to write 1500 words every available day until December 19th. That will put me over my annual goal with enough to spare to cover sick days or surprise commitments.

I’ve also started a program with Strongest Families to help me learn to deal with my daughter’s outbursts better. That should wrap up early in the new year. It’s a distance thing (online and phone) so it’s not physically taxing but it is emotionally powerful. Lots of digging. Lots of reflection.

Only 2 months to go. Whatever happens, 2019 will be my most productive year to date (as I just topped my 2018 annual total!)

Writing Collabs

I see this a lot in writing groups: “I’m looking for someone to co-write a book with me” or “Anyone want to collab on a project?” or more general questions about sharing experiences with collaborative writing and how to make it work.

I can answer those more general questions.

First of all, when you are cowriting, you need an idea that appeals to both writers in a genre both writers are familiar with and comfortable in, or at least a genre one writing is familiar with and the other is willing to explore. You need to be on the same page (no pun intended) regarding the plot and overall direction of the book.

When I was cowriting, I was a teenager. My best friend and I were creating a massive fantasy world together with complex magical systems and a large ensemble cast. It was self-insertion, big time, with the main characters being based on she and I, and the majority of the cast based on our friends in some way. It was something fun that we worked on during lunch and on the weekends. She was the inventor, she came up with cool scenes and plot twists and world-building facts. I was the archiver, I kept track of the information and blended it into a coherent story and a stable world. She was also the artist, drawing pictures of characters, scenes, and the map.

It worked for us. Until we graduated and life got in the way and she handed it all over to me.

I haven’t done any further collaborations (and I will explain why later in this post) but I did work for many years as a ghostwriter and some of the tips are the same. Like, a good contract makes a good friend. Even if you are working with a friend or family member whom you trust (unless it’s your spouse, but even then …) have a contract laying out who will do what, how decisions will be made when you disagree, the approximate timeline for each draft, how often you need to check in with each other about the project, the credit/payment split for after its published (no, really, settle that before you put even a single word on the paper, not after its written and ready to be published), who owns the rights to what, how much of it you can share publicly, and what will happen if one of the other backs out of the project. Both of you need to sign it and have physical copies of it.

Be open and honest about what you want to do, what you feel your strengths and abilities are, and what you expect the other person to do. Too often, people are asking for collaborators when they really want ghostwriters. The difference? Collaborators are both active participants in the worldbuilding, writing, and editing process – maybe in different ways, maybe not in perfectly equal proportions, but they are both involved every step of the way, and they receive equal or near equal credit for the work. Ghostwriters receive an outline or summary from a client and do 100% of the writing and self-editing phases, sometimes they even do part of the outlining phase too. Someone who knows they want a ghostwriter generally offers a lump sum in exchange for full rights. Someone who is trying to disguise a ghostwriting contract as a collaboration will say “I’ll come up with the idea, you write it, and we’ll split the profits 50/50”. If you’re going to do all the work, get paid up front and let them do what they want with it, or do your own thing and keep all the money – only agree to a royalty split if they’ll agree to a fair labour split.

Collabs are difficult things. You are taking two authors with different ideas, different experiences, and different writing styles, and trying to create a single book. Back in high school, the style part wasn’t too big a deal – we were still trying to find our creative voices so we were experimenting together, exploring possibilities and variations until we found what we wanted. But we had a lot of long, sometimes tense, conversations about how to blend our ideas. Dragons were vetoed, she didn’t want full-size dragons in this series. Since it started as her idea and I was invited in, I had to let that one go. We argued about types and levels of powers for different characters, about how they would react in different situations, about the outcome of different story arcs …

When you write, you get attached to characters, to snippets of dialogue, to scenes, and you don’t want to cut them in the editing process. That’s where the saying “kill your darlings” comes in. For the most part we approached these problems logically, picking the solution that made the most sense for the story as a whole, but sometimes it was hard. I’d have an idea and it would hurt that she didn’t see the genius of it. And I’m sure my reluctance or refusal to consider some of her ideas stung her as well.

This leads me into why I haven’t done a collab since then, or the biggest reason anyway (I also have no time to deal with that level of project right now). I don’t trust anyone enough to work with them on a writing collaboration.

It comes down to trust. Trust that they will hold to the contract. Trust that they won’t dismiss your ideas and then steal them for another project. Trust that they won’t walk away partway through. Trust that they will listen to you with an open mind and keep disagreements civil and logical.

I don’t understand how complete strangers on Facebook can jump into a writing collaboration project together. I just … how do you know if you like the other person’s ideas? Or their writing style? Or the level of graphic content they want to include (violent or sexual, too much or too little)? You don’t know.

Do these people asking strangers if they want to co-write hold job interviews to find the right person? Do they settle for the best of the bunch or do they hold out for the right person? Is it like hiring a secretary or finding a spouse?

Writing is a deeply personal thing for me, even when I’m writing fiction. I throw myself into it. It is a passion. If I’m going to work with someone, it has to be someone I can trust with those deep secrets, those hopes and dreams, those vulnerabilities and fears.

To be honest, I do miss those long walks while Steph and I talked about Zoedar, brainstorming and creating together. And I think, when my kids are grown and my husband is retired, and my life doesn’t revolve around keeping small things alive and bills paid and food on the table anymore, maybe I will find someone who will take long walks with me, someone who wants to take on the vast process of co-writing a book or a series. Until them, I’m going to knuckle under and get through the mountain of projects waiting to be tackled.

And I wish all the co-writing teams out there the very best of luck and success.

The McCallister Series – Review

Full disclosure time! I signed up to review the four books in the McCallister Series through Silver Dagger Book Tours. They provided me with Kindle copies of each of the books in exchange for my honest review on my blog, on Goodreads, and on Amazon.

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The McCallister Series is a 4-book mystery series by Canadian author, L.V. Gaudet.  She also writes under the pen name Vivian Munnoch. She has 7 books published as L.V. Gaudet and 2 as Vivian Munnoch.

The McCallister Series focuses on a serial killer in a small, semi-rural city. She writes in a way that allows you to see inside the killer’s head without revealing his identity until the end of book 1.

 

McAllister 1 - Where the Bodies Are_372x600Where the Bodies Are – The McAllister Series Book 1

This book begins with a body in an alley but the girl isn’t dead. Jane Doe is kept in a medical coma in the hospital while police work to find her identity – and stop the steadily rising body count.

L.V. Gaudet writes several scenes from an unknown POV – the killer’s. Referred to only as “he” or “the man”, we get to see inside his head without discovering his identity – we get to watch his mental deterioration and see what is driving him.

The pressure really starts to build when Jane Doe goes missing from the hospital and the police find a massive burial site with bodies dating back generations.

 

McAllister 2 - The McAllister Farm_377x600The McAllister Farm – The McAllister Series Book 2

Book 2 takes place almost a full generation before book 1 – but to avoid spoilers I strongly suggest reading book 1 first.

The McAllisters live on a small farm on the edge of a small but growing town. They keep to themselves. William McAllister, the father, goes out of town often on business trips.

This book takes us into the mind of the man who one day creates a serial killer when he’s still an impressionable boy and examines the circumstances around his childhood and early adulthood. This book answers a lot of the backstory questions from book 1.

McAllister 3 - Hunting Michael Underwood_373x600Hunting Michael Underwood – The McAllister Series Book 3

Michael Underwood was introduced in book 1. He is a police officer, and he was working undercover as an orderly at the hospital where Jane Doe was being cared for. It was his job to keep an eye on her in case the killer returned.

Now, both Jane Doe and Michael Underwood are missing and it’s up to Jim McNelly, the detective working the serial killer case in book 1, and Lawrence Hawkworth, a newspaper reporter, to track down both missing people. Both men are convinced there’s more going on, things they aren’t seeing. They have one man in custody, but there are too many questions unanswered yet.

McAllister 4 - Killing David McAllister_391x600Killing David McAllister – The McAllister Series Book 4

In the series finale, L.V. Gaudet wraps up multiple loose ends over multiple story arcs. What becomes of David and Jason McAllister? What about the rest of their family? What is Jane Doe’s fate (I don’t want to post spoilers here so I won’t refer to her by name)? Will justice be served and in what form, or will the killer escape to disappear and become someone new?

The clock is ticking and always there is the fear of another body.

 

 

REVIEW

I have individual reviews of each book posted to Goodreads. I’ve given each book 4 out of 5 stars.

My main reason for the 4 star rating was the simple, often repetitive language of the books. The pacing, story, and mystery were all great, but I found often a word was used twice in a sentence (and not words like ‘the’ or ‘a’), or twice in consecutive sentences.

I found the author’s habit of writing each chapter from a different 3 person POV made it hard to connect to the characters. The chapters were short – you never got to spend enough time with any character to build rapport, and a few times, you were with a POV character only once through the book. I felt I didn’t know anything about the police office, Jim McNelly, or his assistant, the undercover officer, Michael Underwood, or the nurse caring for Jane Doe.

Book 2 was better for character building because it focused less on twisting the reader through a mystery and more on the development of the characters.

Book 3 returned to the POV shifting, but now that I knew more backstory and now that I was further in the series I was able to pick up a little more about the characters.

The series is written in the present tense, which made things interesting. I’m not used to that. It wasn’t bad – she writes it consistently and avoids the major pitfalls of that style choice. I just found that because I’m not used to third person present tense it was difficult to slip into.

Overall I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a dark mystery. There are some gruesome descriptions of dead bodies throughout so I wouldn’t categorize this as a cozy mystery.

 

Thank you to Silver Dagger Book Tours for arranging this review tour and providing the pictures and needed files.

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Long-Term Writing

I started writing my debut novel in May of 2014. By November I was publishing it (keep in mind that this wasn’t the first novel I wrote, just the first novel I published). Pieces took me less than a year to write. Both were just under 70k,

The Rose Garden took me 4 years two write 5 books, and that was with a MAJOR plot-driven road-block while writing book 2. They ranged from 64k-95k. The Underground took me 3 years to write 8 books of 20-32k each.

But Zoedar? I started the Zoedavian Chronicles with my best friend when we were 15 or 16 – half a lifetime ago. I’m 32. I’ve literally been working on this series for half of my life.

Why? Since May of 2014 I have written and published 19 books and 3 short stories. Why is it taking me 15+ years to write a 4 book series?

Well, book 1 of The Zoedavian Chronicles is roughly 83k, longer than all but 2 of the previous books I wrote. Book 2 is roughly 97k, equal in length to the longest of the previous books I wrote. Book 3 is shaping up to be 130k – longer than any single book I’ve written, nearly as long as the ENTIRE Underground series combined.

The 5 book Rose Garden Series is approximately 382k combined. This 4 books series looks like it will be at least 410k. So yeah, length plays a huge roll in how long this is taking.

Also, 410k? At 15 years old? There was no way I could have finished a project that large at that age and had it be any good. (Trust me on this. I wrote a MASSIVE vampire project in high school and it’s not salvageable – believe me, I tried).

The biggest reason this project took me so long? I wasn’t ready. I keep telling writers to write crap, and I mean it. That garbaged vampire series taught me A LOT about writing. But I knew in the back of my mind that I was writing crap, I was writing practice pieces, and THIS project called to me, I knew it was special, I knew it held potential.

And I knew I didn’t yet have the ability to write it.

I tried a few times over the years, starting it, outlining it, refining it, revising it. I made so many changes as I learned more about history, religion, cultures outside of my own, and how writing fiction ties into politics. I’d play with it awhile and then put it aside. I’d make some changes to the outlining or the world-building and then put it aside.

Then I started both Rose Garden and The Underground and I knew I had to finish those series completely before I started any other large-scale projects. Even though, by that time, I was itching to start on this for real.

I’ve gone further with this project than I ever have before. I’m still making changes, with the help of a talented, dedicated, and thoughtful beta reader. I still add to the worldbuilding. I still doubt if I’m ready to really tell this story. But now is the time. I feel good about this. It’s coming together.

Writing a book or a series that takes FOREVER is a unique challenge. You have to stay motivated to work on a single project for a lot longer. You have to resist the urge to eternally edit/revise and never finish writing. You have to be strict about cutting everything that isn’t necessary because over the years I have fallen in love with countless facts and fun bits that don’t further the story. They will find a place somewhere, but not here, not now. And you have to be willing to let go of things that no longer work, like beloved character names or plot twists. And you can’t give in to the urge to rush through it. I’ve been working on this a long time, I am not going to ruin it now by rushing things.

 

A Long Time Coming

Way back in high school (okay, I’m not that old but it was half a lifetime ago) I met this girl and somehow, even with me being a complete dufus and so socially awkward it was past laughable, we became best friends.

She started this story with her two best friends from middle school who she didn’t see anymore, sort of as a way to keep them all together. She added me to it and eventually, the other two were dropped.

We started putting real work into it, instead of just “wouldn’t it be cool if we were princesses from another planet!” We created a map (she drew it, I did the labelling), a language, cultures, races, magical systems, and an entire history. We worked on it so much that she’d dream about it at night. She’d tell me the dreams and I’d record them, compiling them and blending them to create a consistent story line.

We tried a comic adaptation but that didn’t work out.

We started work on a novel but the story shifted too much.

And then we graduated.

I kept tinkering with the world and the story and we’d meet up every few months to chat about it and hash things out. I got married and had kids. She got an awesome career. And at some point, our world was put on a shelf.

Until now.

With her permission, I took it down, dusted it off, and started cleaning up the mess of storylines and versions and adaptations we’d created.

I’m now working on book 3 in the series that we always dreamed of writing. And you can learn all about it here.

The world is called Thelara. The series is called The Zoedavian Chronicles. And her name was Steph. I wish I could see more of her but kids, work, books, friends … life has gotten in the way. But I hope, someday soon, she and I will be getting together for drinks to celebrate the publication of the story we once dreamed of writing.

September Recap

The kids went back to school this month and with that comes routine. I have a set time to wake up, set jobs to do at set times, and a large chunk of a quiet day to write with no kids underfoot. I do have to chase the cat around but that’s life.

Oh yeah. Got a new cat. He’s a white and silver tabby, about 5 months old. We named him Zephyr.

Now that the important news is out of the way …

In other news, our dog has been with us a year. She’s down to a healthy weight now and she’s affectionate and energetic. We’re still working on the listening skills but as a 6 year old rescue, well, there’s only so much we’ll be able to do, I think.

There was a black belt test on the 28th. I wasn’t testing (I don’t get to test again until April) but I attended to help with setup and show support. That night was the Award Dinner for our academy. It was a nice excuse to get fancied up and have a nice meal. I was selected for the Role Model of the Year award, which comes as a delightful surprise.

Nothing Everything Nothing, my first novel, was rereleased as a 2nd edition, with a new cover, a new forward, some minor edits, and some bonus content. The last three books in the Underground series have been released (Turncoats, Sunlight, and Cheyanne and Other Tales from Underground). All 4 are available on Amazon as paperbacks and ebooks.

One show this month with the Lorette Family Fun Days, sold 1 book. Probably won’t do it next year.

Writing. I got back to writing this month. I finished Zoedar book 2 and sent it to the beta reader and started on Zoedar book 3.

Let me tell you a bit about the creation process of this series. It’s been my back burner series for a long time. I’ve written scenes and ideas and scrapped them and written others and none of it was ever thrown out. I had a 108k manuscript written, it was supposed to be book 1. When I sat down to work on this project for real, I decided to add a whole bunch to the beginning and rearrange the existing timeline, creating an all-new book 1 (which used some material from the old manuscript) with book 2 being the bulk of the old manuscript. Which is why those books went so fast.

Book 3 is all new territory. I’ve never gotten this far on this project before. I had outlines and timelines and a map of how the war unfolds, but I hadn’t written any of this down yet. My typing speed is great, it’s the actual creating process that takes the most amount of time. Most of writing a book is staring at the screen trying to figure out what word comes next. When the muse is kind and the words come easily, then daily word counts are no problem.

Because I was so far behind after taking August off to edit, I wanted to push myself this month. I’m now at a point where I should be able to finish on time without having to write several hours on holidays.

Oh, I also did a little more work on my memoirs. Those are coming along slowly and I’m going to be rearranging them in the new year.

September Word Count Total: 69550

Zoedar Book 2 finished word count: 94450 (did 11k of that in September)

Zoedar Book 3 end of month word count: 54003

Zoedar Book 3 projected completion date: end of October at a final word count of 110k+

It’s Just a Dream

While this is a semi-common question in any writers’ group, I have seen it or a variation of it pop up three of four times in the last two weeks in one specific group.

What if my main character wakes up at the end of the story and it was all just a dream?

New writers seem particularly interested in this and ask if it’s doable, if readers will be okay with it, or how to do it well.

In general, my answer is NO. Don’t do this. Let’s look at the reasons why the answer is no, and then look at ways you could still explore this trope without upsetting the reader.

So, why is my answer a fairly hard no? First of all, it’s lazy writing. A lot of writers fall back on this when they have pushed their main character too far, stuck them in an inescapable corner, taken something critical from them, or done something unforgivable to them. But it’s okay! It was just a dream! See, the character is fine. No. Just no. If you’re going to be mean to a character, commit to it, don’t flinch away from it, and don’t cross boundaries you or your reader aren’t comfortable with in the first place. As for inescapable corners – go back, redo your outline, fix the plot holes, put some work into your writing and fix it so the hero can fight or think their way out.

Second, it’s not as neat, cool, unpredictable, or surprising of a twist as you think it is. Alice in Wonderland is perhaps the most famous of these stories where Alice is written into an inescapable situation (at least in the movie version, I’m rustier on the written version, apologies) and wakes up. There’s supposed to be a lingering question as to whether it was a dream or not, but considering that her body never moved from her sister’s side? The Wizard of Oz is another, this time the adventure being the dream/hallucination of the main character while she’s knocked out. Again, there is some question as to whether it was fully a dream or not, and in the books at least, she does go back, and in Oz, they know she was really there. The relationship between Oz and our reality is blurry, and the question of Dorothy’s body during all of this is, as far as I know, unanswered.

Third, you’re cheating the reader. Every hobby has a cost. The cost of supplies, the cost of time, the cost of effort. Reading comes at the price of the book (or a trip to the library), the cost of the time it takes to read that book, and an investment of interest, emotion, and attention. That’s why you write engaging characters in the first place, isn’t it? You want the reader to care what happens. You want them to be scared for your character, to cheer for them, to flip another page to see what happens next, to find out how the character escapes or succeeds. As a reader, when I have invested several hours of my time, as well as emotional energy into a character and a story, I want a satisfying ending. “And then he woke up” is not satisfying. But why? Simple. Because none of the trials, stresses, or dangers that I was invested in, none of the risk I was worried about and none of the rewards I was cheering for, matter. They were never real. So, why did I bother reading this book if none of it mattered? And why would I bother picking up anything else by that author?

But, sometimes dreams can be useful, as short term or long term plot devices. How do you use them properly? (And by properly, I mean, in ways that won’t upset your reader).

  1. Short dreams – dreams that are used to show the character is haunted by or scared of something, dreams that reveal snippets of memories, dreams that reveal prophesies or warnings – these are good, useful plot devices. They can deliver manageable chunks of backstory, they can provide foreshadowing, they can develop a character. I tend to make sure my reader knows it’s a dream – either by adding obviously surreal elements or by saying straight out “she knew it was a dream …” or “that dream always haunted her” or “the memory of the dream stayed with her when she woke” at the start of the dream sequence. This isn’t necessary if the dream is short enough.
  2. Dream entering as a superpower or ability – When a character can mentally enter the dreams of another through psychic abilities or magic. Again, this can be useful for sharing memories or backstory, both with the reader and between characters. It can be used to show how a character could tamper with someone’s dreams and the effects of that. Or, the dream world could be a physical realm with its own rules of engagement and physical risks (like dying here means you die out there sort of thing). This makes it less of a cop-out and more of a portal fantasy. Again, make sure the reader knows when they are in a dream and when they are in the real world.
  3. Replace the dream with a book, a magic realm, or a computer simulation – like The Matrix or The Neverending Story. In Altered Carbon, they had digital spaces too. Again, make sure the reader is aware of the setting, and changes in the setting. One of the reasons that The Matrix worked was because what Neo thought was reality was the simulation and he was woken up early in the movie as part of the plot of the movie – not as an escape from the plot of the movie. You also have characters moving willingly between reality and simulation.

The biggest thing to remember is that readers want REAL STAKES. If you cheat them out of the ending, then the stakes, the risks, the dangers, the growth of the characters, it all means nothing. If you are going to use a dream world, or some variation of it, the stakes have to remain real, the risks have to be real. Don’t cheat your story by weakening the impact of your climactic scene.

Other points to remember: own your story and your writing choices, don’t flinch away from difficult situations or choices; clarity is key, make sure the reader knows at plot appropriate times when characters are dreaming and when they aren’t; waking up isn’t a fix for plot holes or bad writing, do the work, fix your story, find a way to get the characters out.

Author Spotlight – LV Gaudet

Today’s post is an author spotlight/interview with LV Gaudet. This post, and the review I’ll be posting next month, were scheduled by the author via Silver Dagger Book Tours.

LV Gaudet writes dark mysteries and thrillers. She also writes for YA audiences under the pen name Vivian Munnoch. As LV Gaudet she has 7 books, as Vivian Munnoch she’s published 3.

Let’s head straight to the interview!

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Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?

When you are writing about serial killers and you ask someone, “Do you think I should just look this up online or go ask the RCMP (Canadian federal police)?” the answer will be, “No!”

If your McAllister series was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?

Groot. Just kidding. But, hey, wouldn’t that be fun? An evil Groot who scares the daylights out of the movie goers?  Honestly, I couldn’t say. I’m going to say the killer is that lead, since that’s whose story the series essentially follows. Someone charming but not too charming; and not too good looking. I would want the character to ring as real life and you just don’t get that in a gritty movie with plastic good looks. They would also have to play the mood swings well and be able to be disarmingly charming one moment and terrifying black rage the next.

Anything specific you want to tell your readers?

At some point in reading the McAllister series, you might wonder where the story takes place. You might search the books for a name, a location, any clue where the story is happening. That’s kind of the point. Hint: It’s near you. Surprisingly near you, wherever you are. I don’t give it a location because it can be anywhere. It is anywhere and everywhere.

How did you come up with name of these books?

Coming up with the name for Where the Bodies Are was horrible. Nothing felt right. I finally settled on taking a line literally out of the book, ‘…where the bodies are.’ I had to think fast because I had an Indy publisher putting the book out and I needed a title then and there.

The McAllister Farm was easier. They are the McAllisters and they live on a farm. Hunting Michael Underwood and Killing David McAllister are pretty much just explanatory names. They describe what the books are about. And titling the whole thing the McAllister series just made sense since the series focuses on them.

What is your favorite part of this series and why?

That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I can pick just one. Writing the scenes with Nathan, the character who was not even supposed to be in the story, was fun. When timid Marjory McAllister is forced to stand up against the bullying town ladies, watching this nervous little thing shine with her own inner strength. When Lawrence Hawkworth, the cowardly and not-so-moral reporter visits the old town hardware and lumber store and the old guys yank his chain. I laughed at that. I can keep going and going.

If you could spend time with a character from one of your books in the McAllister series whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?

Little Sophie McAllister from The McAllister Farm. Frankly, she’s the only one that doesn’t scare me. We would probably pick some flowers and play with those kittens in the barn.

Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

My characters are all purely fictional people. I use random observations of people and their behavior to build their personalities, but I do not base them on anyone. I even try to avoid using names of people I know just to avoid anyone wrongly thinking the character is based on them. I had to change Jim McNelly’s name for that reason. It was originally John McNelly. Then I knew a John and changed it.

Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?

I’ve seen this analogy used many times in writer groups and blogs, that the characters somehow developed a life and will of their own and refused to listen to the writer. I kind of get where people feel that way, the story can feel like it takes on a life of its own. I think it’s more of where the story needs to go isn’t necessarily where I wanted it to go as the writer. And sometimes I get off track and take the story in an unexpected direction.

Convince us why you feel your series is a must read.

Do you like a story that is dark? Scenes that might shock you out of your comfort zone? Do you want to know where the bodies are?

Maybe I should convince you and your readers why you should not read this series. What if you can’t put it down? What if it makes you second guess what you thought you knew about the world you live in? What if the things you believed you knew about serial killers was just so … much less than the possibilities?

Here are two poems I jotted off that might help convince you why you should not read this series.

Walk In the Woods

When you walk in the woods and your nose picks up that slightly unpleasant musky smell.

When you look at your neighbor with new eyes and wonder… Could he? Is she?

When you see two vehicles parked tail to trunk, alone, silently brooding.

When that car seems to be following you just a little too long.

When someone does not answer their phone.

Do you know where the bodies are?

Where the Bodies Are

Where it is dark, cloying, musky. In

The place no person treads. Where

Bodies silently rot flesh from bone. Secrets

Are hidden in undisclosed graves.

The corpses silently cry. On

McAllister ground far away. In the

Farm of graves insects feast.

Hunting the lost and forlorn. Not a

Michael or any other can hide. In the

Underwood, the dark earth beneath the cowering trees.

Killing is desperation to send the darkness away. Where

David is the man of no name, no face, no man. On

McAllister ground far away corpses silently cry.

Thank you, LV Gaudet!

Even with these warnings, I’ll be reading the McCallister series this month and posting a review of the series on October 17th.

Individual reviews of each book will be posted on Amazon (.com and .ca) and on Goodreads.

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LIST OF BOOKS:

Where the Bodies Are

McCallister Farm

Hunting Michael Underwood

Killing David McCallister

The Gypsy Queen

Garden Grove

Old Mill Road (New Release)

The Latchkey Kids (as Vivian Munnoch)

The Latchkey Kids 2: The Disappearance of Willie Gordan (as Vivian Munnoch)

Madeline and Mocha (New Release as Vivian Munnoch)

Comma Little Bit Closer

Sorry, I’m a sucker for a good pun … and a bad pun…

Today I want to talk about punctuation specifically as it applies to dialogue. Authors should keep in mind that the US, UK, and Canada may have slightly different rules for this. I’m Canadian, and I read mostly works published and formatted for a North American audience.

Quotation Marks

North American industry standard is to use the double quotation mark to indicate spoken dialogue. “Like this”. Depending on the font you use, they will be curlier or straighter. ‘Single quotation marks’ are used to indicate thought (more on thought and inner dialogue later) or indicate that a word or phrase is being stressed or singled out in some way. (No, not ‘those’ apples.)

Dialogue Tags

A dialogue tag is the ‘he said’ or ‘she asked’ that is put before, after, or in the middle of the dialogue line to tell the reader who is speaking it. Generally, they are separated from the dialogue with a comma.

“Talk first,” she said. (Here, the comma is inside the closing quotation mark and the s in she is lower case)

He said, “Talk later.” (Here the comma is before the opening quotation mark and the t in talk is upper case)

“Can we compromise?” she asked. (Here, the question mark replaces the comma but the s in she is still lower case – this also happens when an exclamation mark is used)

He said, “No, we cannot compromise!” (Here, the comma remains between the tag and the opening quotation mark, even though the period is replaced by the exclamation mark. Note, too, that the period in example 2 and the exclamation mark in example 4 are inside the quotation marks)

“Please,” she pleaded. “I just want to know what’s going on.” (Here, the comma comes inside the closing quotation, as in example 1. The period between the tag and the second portion of the dialogue can be a period or a comma, but it must come before the opening quotation mark)

Using words other than said is a contentious point of debate in the writing community. My preference is to let the spoken words and the action/description tags (which I’ll talk about next) convey the emotion and intent of the dialogue. However, if used sparingly throughout the book, words like pleaded, moaned, groaned, gasped, chortled, etc. can be useful in conveying tone of voice.

 

Action/Description Tags

When you replace the ‘he said’ with an action that happens alongside or immediately following the dialogue or replace it with a description of the scene or the character’s emotions, the rules around the tags change.

“Talk first.” She slammed her hands down on the table. (The comma has become a period because these are two different sentences now instead of parts of one sentence)

He shook his head. “Talk later.” (Again, 2 sentences separated by a period)

“Can we compromise?” Her lip trembled as she struggled to hold back tears.

His chair dragged loudly over the floor as he burst to his feet. “No, we cannot compromise!”

 

Combined Action and Dialogue tags

When you combine the ‘he said’ with the action he is performing as he speaks, the rules shift slightly again.

“Talk first,” she said, slamming her hands down on the table. (Here, the comma inside the closing quotation has returned and the action is added to the sentence with another comma)

He shook his head and said, “Talk later.” (Here, the comma before the quotation mark is back and the action has been added before the tag, joined with an ‘and’)

“Can we compromise?” she asked, her lip trembling. (The ‘s’ in she is lowercase again, indicating it is one sentence and the action has been added with a comma)

 

Speeches

Sometimes a character talks too much and the dialogue requires paragraph breaks. To show that the same person is still talking, you open the quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but do not close them until the end of the speech.

He stood before the crowd and began to speak. “My dear friends, it is an honour to speak before you today. Lots of talking. Talking. More talking. Gee this guy talks a lot.

“That is what it is so important to address this issue today. So, I’m going to talk about it a lot. And some more. I have a lot to say!

“I don’t want to keep you all day, but I like the sound of my own voice so I’m going to talk a little longer. So, thank you for coming to listen to me.”

 

Adverbs

Adverbs generally end in ‘ly’. They are words that add a condition to another part of the sentence.

He ran. He ran quickly. He ran desperately. (Quickly and desperately are adverbs).

Adverbs are overused in writing. One suggestion I came across was to use an adverb if it turned an expectation on its head.

She smiled. We know a smile means happy so saying “She smiled happily” is a waste of a good adverb. It doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence or clarify a detail. “She smiled sadly” on the other hand means something very different from “she smiled.”

In dialogue, we often add adverbs to the end of a dialogue tag to add emotion. “He said sadly” or “She said happily”.

As I mentioned with words other than said, I prefer to let the dialogue itself, the actions, and the descriptions, do the heavy lifting. Adverbs in dialogue tags should be used sparingly.

“Talk now,” she said angrily. (because the adverb is tacked on the end, there is no change.

Angrily, he said, “Talk later.” (Again, no change, except to add the adverb to be beginning with a comma.

Don’t combine adverbs with words other than said. Shouted angrily. Sobbed sadly. Cried loudly. One or the other UNLESS it is required (and really, really consider if it’s necessary) for clarity in some way.

 

Thoughts and Inner Dialogue

There are several options, and all of them are correct. The key to writing a character’s thoughts or inner dialogue, or to writing telepathic exchanges in fantasy or speculative fiction settings, is consistency.

Option 1: single quotations. “Speech is written with a double quotation,” he said. ‘But what I think is written in single quotations,’ he thought. (Note that the comma usage around the quotation marks is the same whether it’s double or single.

Option 2: italics, no quotation marks. “Speech is written with a double quotation,” he said. But what I think is written in italics, he thought. (Note that the comma usage at the end of the italics is the same as if there were quotation marks)

Option 3: italics with either single or double quotation marks. “Speech is written with a double quotation,” he said. ‘But what I think is written in single quotations,’ he thought.

I use option 2 for thoughts and option 3 with single quotations for telepathic dialogue. Whatever you choose, you must use a single option for the entire book to avoid confusion.

 

Written Communications

Emails, text messages, PMs on social media, scrawled notes, written letters … sometimes our characters need to write things down or read things that are written down. As with thoughts, there are a few ways to do this, and consistency is key.

Option 1: single quotations

Option 2: italics

Option 3: italics with quotations

(Do not use the same format for written communication as you do for thoughts)

Option 4: Bold

Option 5: Other punctuation marks. In The Underground I use ~ for short messages like texts. ~Answer your phone. ~

Option 6: Block quotes/modified margins – this is when you adjust the margin, so the body of the text has a 1” margin on left and right but a letter or email (especially if it’s several paragraphs) has a 1.5” margin on left and right

Option 7: Use the narrative to indicate it’s written (He read the letter) and use the same quotations as a speech

 

Questions? Leave me a comment and I’ll answer it for you. If you feel I’ve missed a special case/type of dialogue or if you have other options for thoughts and written communications, comment and let me know.