HOW TO KILL A BOOK

Peter Gelfan taught me to be passionate about creating strong scenes, and this passion has paid off in the form of two books and two Kirkus starred reviews. I read, read lots, but weak scenes kill books for me. Unfortunately, I’ve acquired stacks of dead books. Building strong, engaging scenes is one of the most neglected items in our author’s toolbox.

Many of my dead books ended in the discard heap because the author rushed to tell me everything. If readers can guess what you’re going to write next why should you bother? As a reader, I want to join the experience you’ve created between your book covers. Help me be a part of your story by filling me with curiosity.

How does an author keep the reader engaged? Action, Dialogue, interior monologue, and descriptions make up the bones of scenes, but the spirit behind these bones comes from the subtext. Subtext doesn’t tell us what’s really going on, but instead tells us what really isn’t going on. Subtext makes us, as readers, curious and fills our minds with questions. Brian Andrews, in his blog on Career Authors talks about the use of subtext in dialogue, setting, and internal monologue. He shows how the identical words can be either ho-hum or perplexing and intriguing.

“I can’t live without you,” Richard said, pulling Wendy into his arms, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Wendy said, melding into his embrace . . .

or

“I can’t live without you,” Richard said, pulling Wendy into his arms, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Wendy said, her gaze going to the middle distance as she let him hug her. (Brian Andrews)

These last couple of days I’ve been researching and preparing a presentation on creating powerful scenes for a writers’ conference. The Southwest Writers & Society of Military Writers’ upcoming conference doesn’t happen for several more weeks; however, during these last weeks of August and the first weeks of September big family events are piling high. So for me, no procrastination allowed. I’m working hard to not roll my eyes (subtext) when I tell someone, “Sure, I’m tickled to help you out . . .”

Check out the links connected to Peter Gelfan and Brian Andrews. When did you last employ your own subtext during a conversation? We could make a game of this, don’t you think?

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Should Authors Give Away Writing Secrets?

Wow, was I befuddled when I attended my first writing conference years ago. I didn’t have a book published. I didn’t know anyone. Yet, everyone else seemed to be “someone” or be on a best-seller list somewhere.

I wanted to hide in my room.

The first evening, a woman in the elevator asked me what I wrote. I blushed hot and stammered a lot, realizing for the first time the value of an elevator pitch. Then she invited me to sit with her and her friends at dinner.

I didn’t have a publisher. No one knew me. Yep! These authors’ friendliness confused me. But now I know why they cared. They wanted me to be the best writer I could be.

Why?

“. . . Every time an audience reads a bad book, watches a bad movie, or attends a bad play, it just gets harder for the next writer, because the audience is increasingly reluctant to care again.” Secrets of Story -Matt Bird

We must care, hold nothing back, and help each other.

It’s no surprise I’m honored and excited to have been selected to present at the Joint SWW-MWSA Conference. I’ll be discussing my process of building hardworking scenes readers won’t forget.

As writers, we all have our favorite way of approaching and executing our stories, but we never get tired of picking up tips that make our writing shine. Looking at the list of presenters, I know I’ll come away from this conference with new energy and ideas for my own writing.

Writing conferences have contributed to my success as an author. I’ve made lifelong friends, found a publisher, learned about the “business” of being an author, and added a profound number of writing tools to my story-writing kit.

Tell me your conference experiences and how writing conferences have helped you.

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NEW MEXICO PRESS WOMEN SALUTE FILM INDUSTRY

364 days of sunshine, tax incentives, and jaw-dropping scenery add up to a perfect union between New Mexico and the film industry. The 2019 conference of New Mexico Press Women saluted the film and media industry at The Canyon Club at Four Hills this last weekend. Authors and film makers discussed print to screen endeavors.

Loretta Hall, Moderator, Don Bullis, Ollie Reed, David Morrell

Discussing Western Movies

David Morrell First Blood and other novels, Don Bullis, No Manure on Main Street and other historical books and novels of the Southwest, and Ollie Reed, Journalist, discussed some most significant and some-not-so-significant Western films, delighting the attendees with their personal stories. Steve Brewer continued the book to movie theme by telling how his books were discovered and optioned for movies.

Steve Brewer, author and owner of Organic Books Bookstore

Discusses Books to Screens
Natasha Cuylear announces the Zia Award with Mare Pearl, Anne Hillerman and Melody Groves


Judith Van Gieson, Keynote Speaker, entranced the audience by describing how several of her books were discovered and optioned for adaptation to the screen. Judith’s books have been published by Harper Collins, UNM Press, and Signet. Several of her thirteen books have earned the Kirkus Starred Review.

Keynote Speaker, Judith Van Gieson

After the keynote speaker, NM Press Women recognized outstanding achievements in communication. I felt honored to have my speech, “Prohibition, a Roaring Twenties Bash”, receive an award.

Judith Van Gieson showing me a screen play

As the president of the NM Sisters in Crime Chapter, Croak and Dagger, it tickled me to see some of our members up front and center at the NM Press Women 2019 Conference. Anne Hillerman is one of our lifetime members. Judith Van Gieson, also a Croak and Dagger member, and I often hang out together, have lunch, and she entertains me with “How publishing used to be.” Sigh! I wonder if anyone in the future will dream about the good old publishing days of 2019.

We all have a tendency to romanticize the past. Do you think today’s publishing world and its focus on books to screen may be adding more value to our works than in years gone by?

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Named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Book of 2018

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TWO KIRKUS, STARRED REVIEWS

Today I received another KIRKUS, STARRED REVIEW for my second book, The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker. (posted below)

Last fall, when my publisher sent my first book, The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, off to be reviewed by KIRKUS, I held my breath. KIRKUS, I heard, could be rather caustic. Back then, I didn’t even know a KIRKUS, STARRED REVIEW existed.

I’m so excited–two for two.

THE FLAPPER, THE IMPOSTOR, AND THE STALKER   

The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker

KIRKUS, STARRED REVIEW

 

From the “Inkydance Book Club Collection” series

by Charlene Bell Dietz

KIRKUS REVIEW

In this prequel, readers discover where a feisty, chain-smoking, elderly flapper got her start—in Chicago in the Roaring Twenties with all of its frenetic craziness.

Seventeen-year-old Kathleen McPherson comes from a staid, upper-middle-class family in Minneapolis, but she is a rebel at heart. When a young classmate is murdered in the park right across from her house one night in 1923, she begins to sense danger. She decides she will absolutely not attend the women’s college that her family has picked out for her. A talented dancer, she and her gifted singer pal, Sophie Dagget, run off to Chicago. Amazingly, they both find work, but that just pulls them deeper into danger. Madcap characters proliferate. Some are good and protective, but others are as dangerous as rattlesnakes. In fact, people from Kathleen’s past in Minneapolis are more treacherous than the notorious gangsters in Chicago. Did her almost lover Chester Davidson fake his death and is he now trying to kill her? What about wacky Ivy Schrader? Is Mrs. Vivian Davidson to be trusted?  And who is this rather creepy Pritchard fellow who nonetheless seems to be a kind of guardian angel? The action never stops and the girls—the annoying Dolly, a former classmate, also shows up—get into one scrape after another. Kathleen falls for a married man who is not really the cad that he seems. The imposter is finally revealed, and readers can have their choice of stalkers, depending on the quarry. Dietz (The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, 2016), whose preceding novel featured Aunt Kathleen McPherson as an aging flapper and spirited amateur detective, has a wonderful time with all of it. The chapters are quite short, with each one featuring an epigraph and an appropriate cliffhanger or semi-cliffhanger. The author’s prose deftly captures her protagonist’s gutsiness and insouciance. Here Kathleen steals a gangster’s car left idling: “She floor boarded it down the street, howling in delight, taking the corner on two wheels.…Her face hurt from grinning.” It is hard to believe that the teenage flapper could be so savvy, so smart, such a survivor, but Dietz makes readers believe as the pages turn. The author is also a master of suspense. Not until the final pages is the stalker (or stalkers) revealed.

A fast-paced historical novel that is both scary and witty, a wonderful combination.

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-945212-65-9

Page count: 308pp

Publisher: Quill Mark Press

Program: Kirkus Indie

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31st, 2018

The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker: A Novel (Inkydance Book Club Collection)

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THREE ANNOYING MISTAKES MADE BY SOME WELL-KNOWN AUTHORS

Maybe this has been going on for a long time, and I just hadn’t noticed. During these last few months several of my favorite authors made some writing decisions that yanked me out of their stories and away from their written magic.

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Writing has changed the way I read. Unfortunately, the critique-police in the left-hemisphere of my brain won’t shut up. I’m also chicken, so I’m not naming these much admired authors. However, I do wish they’d go back to their usual good writing:

ONE: Please don’t recap what’s happened in the previous chapters. I’m reading the darn book so I’ve read it already. This insults your reader’s intelligence by thinking they can’t keep up with who the characters are or what’s happening in the plot.

Unlike writing the book, which takes months, the reader will read the story within a few days or a week or two. Unless the reader takes months to read the book, the characters and plot won’t have evaporated in such a short time.

One of my unnamed authors summarized his plot after every nine or ten chapters. Argh! Yet, he didn’t do this at all in his other books. Why start now?

TWO: Please don’t mislead the reader into thinking there’s something important to the story about a scene’s place and time. An overabundance of meaningless detail slows the story down, misleads the reader into looking for substance inherent to the plot, and then ends up feeling like it’s all a waste of time. Maybe it’s used as padding to make the book longer.  I’ve read books by two excellent authors this last month who kept ruining their intriguing stories by cluttering them up with unnecessary details.

We all know what a hospital room looks like or can imagine the inside of a home in a lower-income neighborhood.  Give us just enough to set the stage, including ambience if needed, preferably with one or two sensory details. Then move on. Lots of detail or description of something unusual enhances the story only if it’s relevant. Your readers have imaginations. Let them use it.

THREE: Please don’t sacrifice your story scene by using the easy way to create clarity. For example: Readers must know who’s speaking during dialogue exchanges. We’ve all heard the word said is invisible. So the simple solution for clarifying who’s speaking is to say, “Let’s go,” she said.

One best-selling author had a half page of short dialogue, each ending with a respective he said or she said. Clarity achieved, but printed and all lined up on the page visually pulls the reader out of the story.  Also, there is no invisibility of said when our receptive language hears this word over and over in a short period of time.

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I want these fine authors to transport me down the paths into their imaginary worlds. I don’t want to be flung out of the story and back into my living room because of some ineffective whim.

What author styles or mistakes annoy you as a reader?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CLUES FOR THE CLUELESS

How do clues work?  This question became one of my biggest worries when I started writing murder mysteries.  At a  conference last Saturday (hosted by Croak & Dagger, the Albuquerque Chapter of Sisters in Crime) Jan Burk, moderator of our panel, asked us that question.  Thankfully, while writing The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur,  I’ve figured it out.  Here’s my simple formula.

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Keep in mind what personal information does the reader or protagonist need to know about the antagonist, and when does the reader or protagonist need to know it.

What little formulas have you developed while on your writing journey? I’d enjoy hearing about them.

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