Jordan Dane

Apr 032014
 
Jordan Dane
@JordanDane
 




Paraphrasing the question submitted to TKZ anonymously: What do you think of “online bullies” who post mean-spirited book reviews to discredit the author when they don’t even read the novel.
 
If someone has clearly not read a novel yet writes a review, why should I pay attention to that at all? (I’ve spent too much time already talking about this, so I will move on to my thoughts on reviews, in general.)
 
Recently I heard an actor talk about paying attention to reviews and how it could affect his performance—whether the reviews were good or bad. I find words of wisdom and encouragement in the creative arts--like filmmakers, actors, musicians—because they know what it takes to create something from nothing with passion. So when I heard this actor speak, I could relate his words to my own thoughts. He believed reviews, whether good or bad, detracted from the work in the moment or for the next performance. If a reviewer believed the actor’s performance was emotional and touching in a particular scene, those words would stay in the actor’s head the next time he did his job, when maybe the scene (on page) didn’t call for the same emotion. Negative reviews can act in the same way and cultivate self-doubt (which none of us need).
 
In applying what he said to writing, a good review can sway an author to manipulate the writing to “fit” what the reviewer wrote about the work. It could affect every book in the future in the same manner. Bad reviews can make an author overly sensitive to whatever harsh criticism was written, whether deserved or not. The author could overcompensate and alter their growth. Chasing after reviews, whether good or bad, can detract from a writer's instincts on storytelling. They can make an author doubt the story telling talent that got them published in the first place.
 
I also heard it said, long ago in my energy industry career, that if you don’t value (or know anything about) the credibility of the person giving their opinion of your work, why should you care what they think or say? Easier said than done for some, but I've embraced this sentiment.


As an author, I tend to value Publishers Weekly to give me a sense of a book, but it doesn’t stop me from buying it if the book gets a marginal PW review. If the story interests me, I make my own decision. Any reading experience is subjective for everyone. Because I understand how difficult it is to tell a story on page, I am much more appreciative of an author’s style or voice or plot structure. I love reading many types of books and I try to find “gem takeaways” in an author’s writing, rather than me bristling for the opportunity to reject their work and show how brilliant I can be at “snark.”
 
As a new author, I paid attention to reviews. I don’t anymore and haven’t for a long time. It’s my choice and it’s freed my time so I can spend more hours on writing and honing my craft.  Like the actor I mentioned, I don’t want to be swayed by opinions whether the reviews are good or bad. It’s human nature to sift through many good reviews, but become totally obsessed over a negative one. Snarky reviewers are the worst. They tend to “believe their own hype” and love having the reputation for overly harsh reviews they think are clever. Their reviews tend not to be about recommending good books or encouraging literacy, they become about how unkind the review can be in degrading the work. Fortunately not all reviewers are like this. Most are not.
 
If someone wants to be critical of a writer’s work, I issue a challenge. Write your own book. Cut open a vein and bleed on the page with an honest story and deal with the critics (or note) afterwards. Authors must be willing to tell their stories, without fear. There will always be negative opinions, but my focus has been on my own growth and striving to tell my stories, my way. I want to be the best Jordan Dane I can be and I keep writing.
 
As for sites where readers congregate (like Goodreads, Fresh Fiction, Just Romantic Suspense, Amazon, B&N, and many other review sites), I appreciate their value for readers to talk about books. That’s great. Goodreads, Fresh Fiction, and Just Romantic Suspense in particular are reader communities that promote literacy and they encourage reading (in general) by giving followers a place to focus their interest in books. A lovely thing.
 
I have a profile presence on some of these sites. I RSS feed my blog posts to my author profile, respond to comments, and do giveaways to raise awareness of my projects. Other than that, I don’t sift through reviews, whether they are good or bad. It’s a detractor of time I could spend writing. There will always be one-star reviews, even on noteworthy critically acclaimed books.
 
For discussion:
Readers: How much attention do you pay toward reviews? Do reviews sway you to buy or avoid a novel? Have you ever read really bad reviews on a book you liked? If so, did it change how you look at reviews?
 
Writers: How do you deal with reviews (good or bad) on your work?
Mar 202014
 
@JordanDane
JordanDane


Apologies for the lack of a post today, TKZers. I'm dealing with an increase in personal demands regarding my aging parents. My siblings and I are fortunate that our parents are in reasonably good health and are still living in their HUGE home, but that's where things get crazy. None of us want to intervene in their decision making process. We're sure that will come eventually, but it's hard to know what's best for them when they still have steam left in their mid to late 80s.


Are any of you dealing with something like this?


My dad is adamant he wants to stay put or move into a bigger home, when my mom wants something smaller and newer so there are no maintenance issues. We've discussed my husband and I living with them or moving into a situation where we both buy homes next door, but I am a firm believer in privacy for married couples. My dad is hard of hearing (and won't admit it) and has the TV blaring all day on news stations. I couldn't work under those conditions. We'd have to invest in a headset or make sure he has his own needs taken care of, independent of the rest of us under the same roof. There is no easy solution to the living arrangements, but they are realizing something needs to happen.


They also need services to help them day to day. Services like: grocery delivery, maid service, perhaps assisted living, but my father refuses to start anything that reminds him he is aging. Weird, I know, but his outlook has kept him "young" with an active mind so it's hard to tell him otherwise and I don't know if I want to. He's still driving, but his days of being behind the wheel are numbered. He's beginning to realize it.


So this week my mom has leg pain and is wheelchair bound or on a walker. We've got med appts lined up and I've been taking her since I can question the doctor and make sure she's getting his replies right. She writes down her ailments and goes down her list to make sure she covers things, but it helps to have someone younger with her to make sure she's explaining things right. That way we can both talk about it after and I can discuss further with my siblings.


So I'd appreciate any input from you on how you're dealing with aging parents. I need commiseration, people. Any help?


Thanks my TKZ family!



Mar 062014
 
Jordan Dane
@JordanDane
 

This anonymous submission is called Angry Enough To Kill. I’ll have my critique comments on the flip side. Enjoy!
 
HUNTING SEASON
​Some people say most decisions are reversible, but what do they know? Not this decision. This time, she’s damned if she´ll change her mind and damned if she doesn´t. She's come too far and given up too much. The time to reconsider is past.
 
In the late Fall chill, she quickens her pace along the forest trail, the ground hard and frozen beneath her moccasins. The winter snows have yet to fall in Jackson, Wyoming, and for this, she is grateful. The sawed-off shotgun digs through the backpack into her waist, and she shrugs its weight to the side, rubbing her hands over her arms to warm them, forcing her fingers deep into her gloves. Her mouth is so parched, her lips cling to her teeth.
 
The fog forms and fades away, only to form again in different shapes, hunters ...witnesses.
 
Don’t think. Just get it done.
 
Beside the Snake River, trees pierce the haze. Tendrils of fog slither down the alder standing alone in the center of the clearing, and she imagines them creeping along the ground toward her. Magpies tch, tch, tch. An eagle screeches, wings flapping, and the river churns in the distance.
 
At the side of the clearing, she clambers over a fallen pine, crawling under the boughs she arranged so meticulously the day before. The laces on one of her moccasins have come undone. She ties them, this time with a double knot, loads the tranquilizer pistol and settles down. It shouldn’t be long now.
 
Nothing obstructs her view of the pathway leading from the town to the river. She rests her arms on the log, and waits, like a child playing soldier, but this is not child's play.
 
Something crawls up her neck. She swats at it; a spider lands on her arm. She coughs back a scream, and brushes it off. After a time, her knees ache and she shifts on the damp leaves, releasing a whiff of mold and decay.
 
A twig snaps.
 
Her hand tightens around the dart pistol.
 
Please let it be Devlin.
 
He's whistling, a tuneless wheeze she’s heard before, and he carries a plastic bag. She knows what’s inside: a Sears catalog with pictures of children in their back-to-school clothes.
 
Will he take a leak as he did yesterday and the day before? She tries not to breathe.
 
He hangs the bag on a branch of the alder and…
 
 
My Critique:
Wow. Did I love this. This author creates tension and doesn’t over-explain or “tell” the reader what’s happening. The author shows it and also does a great job at incorporating the setting in an evocative way. The first strong foreshadowing (beyond the intro paragraph) is the word “witnesses.” Good instinct, author. In one word, the reader knows the woman is not there to hunt.
 
Use of Present Tense:
I’m not a big fan of present tense. I’ve seen it effectively used for the young adult market, because it puts the teen reader into the moment with more immediacy. If this is a book for teens, maybe the present tense will work, but in general, the use of it throws me from the work. We’ve talked about this on TKZ before. Anyone have comments on present tense?
 
No Name:
This isn’t a big deal in this strong submission, but is there a reason that the character is not named? Sometimes an author thinks it is necessary to withhold a name and I’ve certainly had my reasons for doing it on occasion (mostly no name characters who will be dead by scene end). But it might help the reader to connect with this character if she’s given a name. Something to think about, dear author.

Stronger Opener:

Option 1: The first option to make this start stronger is to eliminate the first paragraph. It foreshadows what’s ahead, but it reads as author intrusion, like a storyteller giving an omniscient point of view. If it’s deleted, the reader can get immediately into the action and still have a subtle foreshadowing doled out in the narrative to come.

Option 2: Tweak the opening lines to make them stronger. Here are a few suggestions:


<<Some people say most decisions are reversible, but what do they know? Not this decision.>>
This line could be stronger if the author commits to the thought from the character’s POV and not make it a generic saying about “some people.”
 
For example:
Most decisions can be changed. Reversed. Not this one. 
 
Some may have the view that the first paragraph isn’t necessary, that the author could lull the reader into the menace of the story by making it seem as if she’s merely hunting before they learn “who” she’s stalking. Although I like the short and sweet foreshadowing of the first paragraph, it could use more punch.
 
<<She’s damned if she´ll change her mind and damned if she doesn´t. She's come too far and given up too much.>>
These lines are good, but they seem a bit cliché and generic for me. When an idea can be expressed in a cliché manner, I try to find an alternative way to express the thought, but with a more visceral approach.
 
For example:
She'd be damned for what she’d come to do, but damned for doing nothing is worse. He’s given her no choice. Not now.
 
<<The time to reconsider is past.>>
This line seems weak and without emotion, given what the character’s intention is. To pull out my meaning, this time I’ll ask the author an open ended question only they can answer, so I don’t sway the author into my point of view on specific wording. This line needs more punch that foreshadows the danger and commitment ahead.

1.) What does it feel like for her to know she will be a lawbreaker? This isn’t lip service. She’s crossing a moral line and she’ll never get back her innocence.

2.) Does her decision physically manifest in her body? She’s committed to a cause and willing to risk everything.


Sentence Structure:
In the sentence “At the side of the clearing, she clambers over a fallen pine, crawling under the boughs…” That sentence can be made simpler and stronger if the writer eliminates the ‘ing’ from crawling.

Example: “At the side of the clearing, she clambers over a fallen pine and crawls under the boughs…”

I understand the cadence of the structure, but this is something I have to look out for myself. Overuse of ‘ing’ words can force the reader to reread a passage if they get lost in a long sentence and forget what is modifying what.

Also look at the sentence: “An eagle screeches, wings flapping, and the river churns in the distance.” The eagle screeching doesn’t imply the bird is flying. It could be on a branch in a tree. Flying can be assumed, but the sentence would be clearer as follows: “An eagle screeches overhead with its wings flapping and the river churns in the distance.”
 

In critiquing another author’s work, it’s easy to nitpick on word choices and phrasing. We all want to give feedback to help the author make this a stronger submission (in our opinion), but only the author can make the decision on what will be changed. Overall there is a lot to like about this submission. I would definitely love to keep reading. The author has my undivided attention.


Comments, TKZers?
Jan 092014
 

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

 

He's flummoxed because these aren't his hands.


I don’t know of any author who hasn’t been flummoxed (word of the day courtesy of James Scott Bell) by the task of writing a first synopsis. Do they get any easier to write? Not for me. Each story idea presents a unique essence that must be distilled into a short brief. Some authors sell books on proposal (with or without a writing sample), or they use the synopsis to be an initial outline of the story idea (a guide post), or an effective synopsis brief can be a part of a solid query letter or made into a quick pitch to an editor or agent. However you use a synopsis, I thought I’d share what has worked for me.
 
Key Elements to Writing an Effective Synopsis
 
1.) The Basics - Generally a synopsis is 5-7 pages long, double spaced with one-inch margins. Be sure to include your contact information on the first page and I would recommend adding a header on every page (in case an editor or agent drops your proposal and the pages get out of order). My headers have my name, title of the book, genre, word count, and page number (on far right). I often have a tag line that I list at the top, before the synopsis brief. If you are represented by an agent, I would list that near your contact information. A professional presentation will make you stand out in a slush pile.
   
2.) Writing a synopsis shouldn’t be about defining the rules of the game. It should be about why you’d want to PLAY it. Give the editor or agent or reader a sense of your voice and the color of the world you will build. Think of a synopsis as a lure, an enticement for them to want more. Rules are boring. Tell me why the game will be really good, or fun or scary.
   
3.) Whether there is quirky humor or a dark suspenseful undertone to your book, the synopsis should reflect these elements and not merely be a detailed “who does what where.” If your synopsis is boring, chances are any editor or agent will think your book will be lackluster, too. Give them something shiny to grab at.
   
4.) Pitch your book with a high-level synopsis brief at the top of your proposal. This pitch should read like a TV log line – a condensed 1-3 sentences about the main elements of your story – character highpoints, conflict, emotion, what’s at stake. No need for specific character names that will only be a distraction to what your book is about. If you get this short pitch right (sometimes called the “elevator pitch”), you can embed it into a query letter or use it on your website for a short teaser. An editor can use this short descriptive pitch of your book to her house and the committee that decides which book to buy.
   
EXAMPLE:
[Part of this pitch is omitted for confidentiality. I REALLY wish I could share it, but I can’t.]
A depressed and aging widow gets a second wind when she pays a young handyman for services rendered on her unusual Bucket List, in an uncommon “coming of age” story.
   
5.) After the synopsis brief or the pitch, it’s time to introduce your characters. The first time a new name appears in your synopsis, capitalize their full name to highlight who the players will be. A writing sample will introduce your character to the editor or agent in a different way, but I recommend a brief summary of why  each of your main characters have earned their right to be a star in your story. Highlight who they are, what they want, and why they can’t have it. What will their struggle be? What’s at stake for them?
   
EXAMPLE:
LILLIAN OVERSTREET has flipped the channel on her rerun life and given up. She’s convinced nothing exciting will ever happen to her. Her husband’s dead, her only daughter treats her like a doormat, and old age is creeping up on her like bad granny panties and has made her invisible. Her only reason to leave the house is her bowling team of widows – The Ball Busters. She’s mired in a chronic case of depression that has seeped into every aspect of her existence, until her daughter GRACE OVERSTREET-THORNDYKE hires “eye candy” to do the renovation of the family home. [This is only the basic set up and does not include the conflict, black moment, and ending highlights.]
 
6.) Not every aspect of your plot needs to be spelled out, ad nauseam. If there are five main suspects or key secondary characters, give the highlights of who they are and why they earned the right to be in your book and why they could be a game changer. This works for other genres, not just crime fiction. If there are characters who stand in the way of your hero/heroine, showcase who they are and why they are an obstacle.
 
EXAMPLES (Secondary Characters with sense of color/humor):
 
VINNIE DELVECCHIO is the only widower on the Ball Busters team. In the small town of Why, Texas, he runs a Deli where Lillian gets her meat. He’s opinionated and brash with a foul mouth. He teases the ladies at the bowling alley by saying, “If you gals ever need someone to slip you the sausage, you come to DelVecchio for quality meat.” Even though his mind is constantly in the gutter, Vinnie knows how to roll a strike, has his own bowling shoes and a hefty pair of designer balls, but he’s only on a “team of broads” for the view.
   
CANDACE and VICTORIA WINDGATE are twin sisters Lillian has known since high school. The sisters kept their maiden name after both their husbands died in the same mysterious boating accident. No one in town knows how the Windgate twins earned their financial independence or how much money they have, but rumors never run out of steam in Why, Texas. Neither of the sisters can bowl worth a damn. They only come to ‘Why Bowl – Family Center & Tanning Spa’ for the cheese fries and beer.
 
7.) The major plot movements should be highlighted so an editor or agent will know your story has meat to the bone. I like to use a 3-Act screenplay method and have posted about it at TKZ before at this LINK - I use a big “W” to remind me of the turning points to include in my synopsis. (Michael Hauge’s “Writing Screenplays That Sell” was the reference book that sparked my interest in structure and it has helped me draft my proposals.) The highpoints should show the stakes ramping up and the key turning points in the plot as well as the black moment when all seems lost. If there are twists in the plot (especially surprises), showcase those too.
 
Key Questions for a 3-Act '”W” structure:
Act 1 - How does your book start?
Act 1 - What is the point of no return for your character(s)?
Act 1 - What key plot twist will propel your story into the escalation mode of Act 2?
Act 2 - How will you up the stakes?
Act 2 - What is the black moment when all seems lost for your character(s) and how will your character(s) turn it around?
Act 3 - Do I have a plot twist for my readers?
Act 3 - How will your story end and how will you tie up the pieces?
 
8.) The ending should be spelled out. Editors and agents don’t like surprises and want to know how you intend to tie things up. If you are writing a romance, the ending is very important so the editor or agent gets a feel for your take on a romantic full circle. I’ve sold books without full disclosure of who the bad guy is, but generally you should “tell all.”
 
Even if you are an indie author and may never have written a synopsis or included one in a proposal to an editor or agent, it can be a good exercise to understand the essence of your book. A good synopsis will get you thinking about how to create an effective jacket cover description to entice the reader. Writing a synopsis is always a challenge, even if you are good at it, because it boils down your book into a teaser that you hope will lure a reader to buy your book.
 
For the purpose of discussion, tell us what works for you in writing a synopsis. (If you have any tips to add, please share them.) Or share what challenges you’ve had. Let’s talk, people.
 

Dec 192013
 
Guest Post from: L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

As my guest today, I have mystery thriller author L. J. Sellers writing about one of my favorite topics: Villains. LJ shares her thoughts and asks you to share your favorite villains at the end of her post. And be sure to check out the great giveaway contests below. Take it away, LJ!

The villains in thrillers are often extraordinary human beings. Super smart, physically indestructible, and/or incredibly powerful because of their money and influence. As a reader/consumer, those characters are fun for me too, especially in a visual medium where we get to watch them be amazing. But as an author, I like to write about antagonists who are everyday people—either caught up in extraordinary circumstances or so wedded to their own belief system and needs that they become delusional in how they see the world.
 
In my Detective Jackson stories, I rarely write from the POV of the antagonists. That would spoil the mystery! But in my thrillers, I get inside those characters’ heads so my readers can get to know them and fully understand their motives. I’ve heard readers complain about being subjected to the “bad guy POV,” but that’s typically when the antagonist is a serial killer or pure evil in some other way.
 
I share their pain. I don’t enjoy the serial-killer POV reading experience either. But when the villain in the story is a fully realized human being, who has good qualities as well as bad, and who’s suffered some type of victimization, and/or has great intentions, then I like see and feel all of that. And I think most readers do too.


Sellers The Trigger_med
In The Trigger, the antagonists are brothers, Spencer and Randall Clayton, founders of an isolated community of survivalists, or preppers, as they’re called today. As with most real-life isolationists/cult leaders, they are intelligent, successful professionals—with a vision for a better society. But these everyday characters decide to mold the world to suit their own objectives and see themselves as saviors—becoming villains in the process.


From a writer’s perspective, they were challenging to craft—likeable and believable enough for readers to identify with, yet edgy enough to be threatening on a grand scale. On the other hand, my protagonist Jamie Dallas, an FBI agent who specializes in undercover work, was such a joy to write that I’m launching a new series based on her.

The first book, The Trigger, releases January 1 in print and ebook formats, with an audiobook coming soon after. To celebrate the new series, the ebook will be on sale for $.99 on launch day. Everyone who buys a copy (print or digital) and forwards their Amazon receipt to lj@ljsellers.com will be entered to win a trip to Left Coast Crime 2015. For more details, check my website.
 
If that weren’t enough, I’m also giving away ten $50 Amazon gift certificates. So there’s a good chance of winning something. But the contest is only valid for January 1 purchases.
 
Who are your favorite villains? Supermen types? Everyday delusionals? Or something else?
 
Sellers LJSellers medL.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery series—a two-time Readers Favorite Award winner—as well as provocative standalone thrillers. Her novels have been highly praised by reviewers, and her Jackson books are the highest-rated crime fiction on Amazon. L.J. resides in Eugene, Oregon where most of her novels are set and is an award-winning journalist who earned the Grand Neal. When not plotting murders, she enjoys standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.
 
Other social media links for LJ: Website, Blog, Facebook
Sep 192013
 
Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I am so happy to have photographer William Greiner as my guest today. I am one of the lucky authors who had an opportunity to contribute to his book – Show & Tell – a beautiful hardbound book that combines his photographs with short stories from authors with names you will recognize. The book comes from UL Press (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press) and is available now at this LINK

Below is the page image of the photo I wrote about in my story – On Her Special Day. I wanted you to see the fine quality of this book. I've ordered some for Christmas gifts and can't wait to read what the other authors wrote. Welcome, William!

Show & Tell-show and tell, show & tell, william greiner
Cover - Show & Tell
photo (2)
On Her Special Day by Jordan Dane


So why is a book titled SHOW & TELL being blogged about on The Kill Zone?

First, the premise was to give a group of fiction writers (In this case 28 in total, including 6 TKZ writers), a photograph without any information about the image and ask each to make up a story about that image. The resulting stories are fascinating, entertaining and thrilling.

John Ramsey Miller, John Gilstrap, Joe Moore, Jordan Dane, Joe Hartlaub and James Scott Bell, amongst others, apply their writing skills to bring a story to every image.

clip_image002
“A Blur of Motion” by John Ramsey Miller



clip_image004
“The Touch” by John Gilstrap



The idea for this book came to me many years ago after doing a print trade with another photographer. In conversation, it somehow became apparent that this other photographer had a complete different take and understanding of my photograph than what it meant to me. It made me realize we all bring our own notions, expectations and experiences to what we view.

To see what your favorite TKZ author sees & tells, order SHOW & TELL from UL Press, hardbound, 28 photographs accompanied by 28 stories, 183 pages, $35. To order: click this LINK.


William Greiner is a photographer and artist, living in Baton Rouge , LA. For more on our guest, click HERE.

For Discussion: Have you ever seen a photograph that inspired you to write about it? Tell us about it.
May 102012
 
By Jordan Dane
Please enjoy Beware the Wolf, an anonymous submission for critiquing, My thoughts are on the flip side.

***
Hoards of onlookers pushed and shoved to the front as they congregated behind the yellow tape, all hoped to see the mutilated body. Police huddled, compared clues, and discussed the who, the how, and the why of the crime. They may work and eventually answer who and how, but the why will always be a mystery.

Derek Mitchell reached for the tape, ducked below it and entered the crime scene. He waved a moth from his face as he stepped around the temporary lights.

“Hey.” A scowling officer pointed at him.

He held up his ID. “I have authorization to be here,” he said in a low voice. The man retreated.

He turned his head, and studied every detail of the park. Hours before the killing, children played on the slides and swing sets feet from where the body now lay. Oak trees and crepe myrtles surrounded the area, which provided ample cover for the attacker to wait for a victim. The location would indicate a random murder. Only, he knew this victim wasn’t random. The why is what he needed to understand in order to stop future killings.

Uniformed officers searched the flora with flashlights looking for clues, bagging every gum wrapper and lollipop stick, while two detectives stepped back from the corpse and waved the medical examiner forward.

He arrived too late. He needed to examine the body and area before the authorities arrival to detect fragile clues. He approached the examiner. “I need a few minutes to examine the evidence.”

The man nodded and walked back to his van.

He took a deep breath and raised the crimson stained sheet. It appeared to be a wild animal attack. The skull peeked through deep gouges of skin and muscle. The throat open, exposed the larynx, which was the source of blood that now seeped into the ground. Eyes, wide, stared into nothingness.

A shiver ran down his spine. To the human eye, a dog or wild animal killed her. Only he knew the truth. One of his people killed her.

***

Critique

The author sets a dark tone from the start – a crime scene with a dead body—but the punch of the last couple of paragraphs might work better if their essence were moved to the front of this scene to put the reader right into the action as seen through the eyes of a different kind of detective. Derek could be looking right down at the body and gathering “clues” in his own way.

With Derek walking up to the crime scene—and with the scene description so generic without details—these parts could always be described later during the course of the next narratives, if they are still important to the scene. Readers of crime fiction are familiar with aspects of a crime scene. To write it so generally is almost like waving a red flag that the author is glossing over details they may not be as familiar with. This sentence is a good example of too generic with POV problems: Police huddled, compared clues, and discussed the who, the how, and the why of the crime. Derek would not know what’s in the heads of the police or what they’d been discussing, so this reads like a bit of author intrusion.

If the author clues the reader in from the beginning that Derek isn’t quite human, he/she can build in his “abilities” to read a crime scene like a wolf. Derek could sense the fear from the crowd as he searches the bystanders. (Killer sometimes watch the cops work at scenes where they killed.) He could search the faces through the eyes of a predator at night, for example.

Sniffing the air, he could be drawn to the smell of blood and the splatter before he even sees the body. He might overhear snippets of distant conversations between the human detectives mixed with chatter from the crowd, since he has wolf instincts. Don’t go too crazy with this. That could slow the pace. Tease the reader with the set up, but leave more for later. For now, the author should “think” and “react” like a feral wolf. Since dogs/wolves can recognize scents off specific animals, does he have the same ability? Does he “mark his territory”? (Just kidding, but you get the idea.) Use your imagination on what his instincts are and why he’s a cop working “special cases.”

Another point – the author describes the park, right down to the oak trees and crepe myrtles as making “good cover.” Trees and shrubs could be cover, but why mention the variety? This reads like the author is using Derek’s POV to set the scene in a manner that would not be natural for a cop. It’s forced.

I’m also not sure how Derek would know from the start that the victim wasn’t a random kill. He’d have to establish a relationship between the vic and the killer, which is typical cop procedure that is backtracked after more is known about the victim’s life and a timeline of her activities that led up to the killing. But the first step in any investigation is to ID the victim, which isn’t mentioned here either.

If the attacker hid behind cover and waited for any victim to show up, that’s random, yet Derek seems to have an unexplained reason for knowing this wasn’t a random act of violence. Rather than spell all this out in the first 350 words, the author might focus on Derek’s instincts and his ability to read a crime scene in his feral way and leave the details/clues of the case to be discovered later. The intriguing part would be Derek, his instincts and abilities, and the conflict he faces being an outsider to both worlds—as a cop who isn’t human.

The author mentions that Derek “arrived too late,” but I would venture an opinion that he could detect far more than the average human who needs specific evidence to build a case. He wouldn’t need a human ME’s opinion of what happened and fragile clues would be his specialty. Is Derek trying to stay ahead of the cops to wield his kind’s brand of justice? Does he keep secrets to that end? Or does he work with human cops to keep the peace? Derek is the ultimate "lone wolf" cop.

There is definitely enough here to make me turn the pages. There are inherent conflicts in this scenario of an outsider cop working his own cases, sometimes at odds with humans and perceived as betraying his own kind. Plus he’d be tracking a killer with greater abilities to evade pursuit—a classic outsider theme that could be fascinating to explore. Good job of conceiving this plot, character, and conflict!
Apr 262012
 
by Jordan Dane

“Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggoneit, people like me.”
Stuart Smalley, Saturday Night Live (Al Franken)

I’ll be on a panel at the Romance Writers of America annual conference in Anaheim in July – “The Care and Feeding of the Writer’s Soul.” Ever since I committed to doing it, I’ve been pondering my contribution and examining my own practices when it comes to nurturing my writer’s spirit.

But I wanted to open the topic up for discussion here to get your input. If you could create a box of affirmations for the writer, what would be your personal contribution?

On my computer I have been collecting sayings that have meant something to me over the years. These have come from author speaking engagements, emails, or things I’ve found online that inspired me enough to post it where I could see them every day. Affirmations can be reminders of author craft you want to repeat or they can be a way to keep a positive attitude or make progress in your career.

Here are a few sayings on my computer that mostly deal with author craft:

“Stick with the action.” Romance author Dana Taylor
When I muddled an intro action scene with back story, Dana wrote these words in an email after she critiqued the scene.

“Be there.” James Patterson
Patterson was a speaker at am RWA conference in 2004. He filled a ballroom, standing room only. By these two words he meant to put your reader into the scene using all their senses. He also said that he puts as much care into the first sentence of each chapter as he does the first line in any book. (I wonder if all the James Patterson(s) do this?)

“Trust the talent.” Robert Crais
I heard Crais present this on a video he sent via email in one of his newsletters. He talked at length about how he writes in constant fear, but that he trusts the talent that has brought him his success. It reminded me that all people have doubts. That’s human nature, but when you have a natural storyteller inside you, you should trust it.

“Get in, make your point, then get the hell out.” Robert Gregory Browne
Rob spelled this out when he explained ELLE on a blog post. Enter Late, Leave Early. The method is best explained by the TV show “Law & Order” where the scenes are sharp, concise, and don’t over-explain to slow pacing. The barest essentials of the scenes are captured to move the story along and a viewer’s mind fills in the gaps in action. The same works for books.

Here are a few that would be my contribution to keep a positive mental attitude:

“The next pair of eyeballs to see this proposal will be the ones to say, Yes!”
“I strive to be better with every book. My best story is always my next one.”

“I touch new readers with every story.”

“My books are unique because they are filtered through me and my personal experiences. I’m not in competition with anyone, except me, to be the best author I can be.”

Here are a few silly ones:

“I never get my page numbers wrong. I must be good at math.”

“When I kill people on paper, they stay dead. Booya!

As for practices to keep me positive, I have a shredding ritual for any rejection to expel the negativity from my house. Try it. It’s liberating. When I complete any project, I also treat myself with something that isn’t food—time off, vacation, fun evening with friends or family, attend a book signing, buy a new outfit. I used to think that each positive step in my quest to become a published author was only a small part of a longer future—that celebrating too much is a distraction that can swell your head. But now I celebrate everything. Life’s too short not to cherish even the smallest of pleasures.

Please share your thoughts. What would you write and contribute to an author’s affirmation box? What practices do you have to keep your mind positive and your writer’s soul nourished?
Apr 122012
 
By Jordan Dane



High concept story lines are based on an intriguing premise or hook. A hook is the same thing as a logline, best described as a 1-2 line TV guide listing. A short pitch line takes a complex book plot and summarizes it down to an enticing teaser. Generally this teaser is the first step to conveying your novel idea to an editor or agent, whether in a query letter, proposal, or during a pitch session at a conference.

Elements of your hook line should include:
Main Characters
Conflict
Unique Qualities
Setting/Time Period
Main Action
Emotional Element

Important questions to ask in order to define your hook:

Characters – Who is the main character? What does he or she want? What is their goal?

Conflict – What is the obstacle in the way? Who will play the part of the villain? Does the main character have a flaw that adds to the drama of why he can’t get what he/she wants?

Setting/Time Period – What is unique about your setting or time period? Does it contribute to the conflict for the character?

Main Action – What is the most compelling action in the story?

Emotional Element – What is the most gripping emotional element to your story?

Even if your story has been told before, you can add a fresh take or twist on it. An effective hook can make it seem new. High concept hooks can also be based on “what if” questions like:

·         “What if man could clone dinosaurs?” (Jurassic Park)

·         “What if there was a place that stayed dark and vampires never had to interrupt their feeding to sleep?” (30 Days of Night)

·         “What if a defense attorney couldn’t lie?” (Liar, Liar)

Sometimes a high concept idea can be only in the title. So even if a movie or a book doesn’t get top reviews, people still buy it because they “have to” experience it.

·         Snakes on a Plane

·         Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

I’d like to share the hook on two books that I enjoyed reading. These represent daring authors who didn’t take the easy road in determining their plots. Imagine the craft it would take to write these two novels. Better yet, read them and enjoy.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – The story of a 14-year old girl living during the time of the Holocaust, narrated by Death. The hook is the author’s narrator choice. The time period is very compelling and the fact that the girl steals books to teach herself to read during a time when books are being destroyed is a gripping period piece, but to have Death be the narrator puts this book over the top. The New York Times is quoted as saying this book is “life changing.” All I can say is that it changed me.

Thirteen Reason Why by Jay Asher – This is the story of a girl who commits suicide but sends 13 audio tapes to the people who contributed to her making that fatal decision. The audio tapes are an effective hook, but the writer chose to tell the story through one boy who got a recording. He was the one person who had a secret crush on this girl, but did nothing about it. The story is told one night as he listens to the intimacy of her voice in his ear as he follows the map to all the locations she sends him to. Recorded flashbacks mix with the present, but the reader never loses track of what is taking place.

Here is the hook for my latest series with Harlequin Teen – The Hunted series. In this series, kids who can’t speak out, without drawing attention to who and what they are, make the perfect victims on the streets of LA. A covert faction of a church hunts them under the guise of doing God’s work—to stop the abominations from “becoming.” The tag line on the cover will be: They are our future, if they survive.

A fanatical church secretly hunts “Indigo” teens feared to be the next evolution of mankind. These gifted teens are our future…if they survive.

For those of you writing a project now, please share your hook. Take up to 3 lines. Even if you don't have a current project, make something up that you'd like to write and have fun using the questions above. You never know what might pop up.
Mar 292012
 
by Jordan Dane

I am writing the final chapter of my latest project. INDIGO AWAKENING is Book #1 in THE HUNTED series for Harlequin Teen (Fall 2012). I love and hate finishing a book. There is such joy in making the final revision. It's a real sense of accomplishment that launches me into a euphoric state that lingers. I also tend to procrastinate finishing because I never want to let the world and the characters go. The beauty of this project is that I get to keep the fires burning with a series.

To celebrate, I like to do something special to mark the occasion. As luck would have it, I've found the perfect thing. New York Times Bestselling author, Heather Graham, will be in San Antonio on Monday, April 2, at 7PM at the B&N LaCantera to sign her book THE UNSEEN. I made a date with my husband to have a nice dinner too. (Writing a book is taxing for a spouse too.)

THE UNSEEN is set in San Antonio. That alone is enough to give me goose bumps. Heather graciously blurbed my debut book - NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM - before I had my first book on the shelf. I will never forget her kindness. An author of her caliber, I didn't know what to expect. As an author, I'm always prepared for rejection, but her generosity blew me away.

Here is a summary of the plot for THE UNSEEN (Mira, Mar 27, 2012)

1800s. San Antonio, Texas: In room 207 at the Longhorn Saloon, in the long shadow of the Alamo itself, a woman renowned for her beauty was brutally murdered. Her killer was never found.
 

One year ago: In that same historic room, another woman vanished without a trace. Her blood was everywhere…but her body was never recovered.


Now: In the last month, San Antonio has become a dumping ground for battered bodies.

All young women, many of them long missing, almost all forgotten. Until now.

Texas Ranger Logan Raintree cannot sit by and let his city's most vulnerable citizens be slain. So when he is approached to lead a brand-new group of elite paranormal investigators working the case, he has no choice but to accept the challenge. And with it, his powerful ability to commune with the dead.

Among Logan's new team is Kelsey O'Brien, a U.S. marshal known for her razor-sharp intuition and a toughness that belies her delicate exterior. Kelsey has been waiting all her life to work with someone who can understand her ability to "see" the past unfolding in the present. Now she has her chance.

Together, Kelsey and Logan follow their instincts to the Alamo and to the newly reopened Longhorn, which once tempted heroes with drink, cards and women. If the spirits of those long-dead Texans are really appearing to the victims before their deaths, only Kelsey and Logan have the skills to find out why.

And if something more earthly is menacing the city's oldest, darkest corners, only they can stop it—before more innocent women join the company of San Antonio's restless ghosts….


"Graham deftly weaves elements of mystery, the paranormal, and romance into a tight plot that will keep the reader guessing at the true nature of the killer’s evil."
—Publishers Weekly review on THE UNSEEN


I love stories set in San Antonio, my hometown. My debut book was set in SA and I saw the city with fresh eyes to tell that story. The creepy underpinnings of the paranormal is an added bonus, especially when written by such a gifted author. So my treat to finishing my book is Heather Graham and THE UNSEEN.

What about you, my TKZ family? Do you do anything special to celebrate the accomplishment of finishing a book? What is the wildest thing you ever did or would like to do for your next one?

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