Friday, May 24, 2013

Every Other Friday - Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight different languages and optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer.  Her latest release, THE ALMOST TRUTH, came out in December 2012.

You can read more about Eileen, her books, and the things that strike her as funny at  Eileen lives in Vancouver with her husband and two dogs and no longer wishes to be anyone or anywhere else.

Tell me about THE ALMOST TRUTH.
My most recent book is THE ALMOST TRUTH.  It's the story of Sadie, a teenage con-artist. When she suddenly loses all her college money she knows she has to pull the ultimate scam if she's going to be able to escape the small town island life she hates.  When she notices that she looks like the age enhanced photo on a missing child poster, she thinks she's found the perfect con- until she begins to suspect she may actually be the missing girl.

What drove you to write THE ALMOST TRUTH? Who did you write it for?
I rarely can remember where the idea for a book begins, but this book is different.  I was riding on the ferry and saw a missing poster. I was looking at the age enhanced photo and it occurred to me how odd it would be if you looked like that picture. In that instant the idea snapped into my head and I rushed back to my seat to write it down.  I find all my books deal in some way with a character's search for their identity.  One of the hardest things to do in life is decide who you want to be- not who others want you to be- but who you want to become.

What were your biggest obstacles?
I am lucky in that I'm not someone who finds writing hard.  I love the creative process and the chance to "make things up" all day long.  However, no matter how well a book is going there is always a moment that I lose faith in the story.  It most often happens around the 3/4 mark.  It suddenly occurs to me that the story isn't working at all. The characters stink. I have no idea how to make the ending work.  I have a moment of panic where I'm sure the entire book is going to have to be thrown away.  After a few books at least now I recognize that this is going to happen and manage to avoid panicking.  I remind myself that it doesn't have to be perfect, just finished. Once I have it done I can fix almost anything in the revision process.

What are your productivity tips?
I'm a huge fan of setting goals.  I set a weekly word count goal.  I tell myself if I get it all done in two days I could take the rest of the week off, or I can chip away it each day. It's easy to estimate- if a book is going to be 70,000 words and you can do 5,000 words a week you should be able to have a rough (and I do mean rough) draft in about four months.  Then it takes me usually another four months to revise the draft and make it work.

My other productivity hint is to turn off your email and Twitter account while you're writing.  It's so easy to be distracted, give yourself every advantage you can!

Here is the back of the book blurb:

From the author of Unraveling Isobel and The Education of Hailey Kendrick, a smart, romantic novel about a teenage con artist who might be in over her head.

Sadie can’t wait to get away from her backwards small town, her delusional mom, her jailbird dad, and the tiny trailer where she was raised…even though leaving those things behind also means leaving Brendan. Sadie wants a better life, and she has been working steadily toward it, one con at a time.
     But when Sadie’s mother wipes out Sadie’s savings, her escape plan is suddenly gone. She needs to come up with a lot of cash—and fast—or she’ll be stuck in this town forever.
     With Brendan’s help, she devises a plan—the ultimate con—to get the money. But the more lies Sadie spins, the more she starts falling for her own hoax…and perhaps for the wrong boy. Sadie wanted to change her life, but she wasn't prepared to have it flipped upside down by her own deception. With her future at stake and her heart on the line, suddenly it seems like she has a lot more than just money to lose....


Monday, May 20, 2013

Bigger 16 - Making Your Tale Epic

What do you think of when you think of an epic tale? Characters and the great changes they go through, for sure. But you probably first mention the concept.
·      Jaws – Shark terrorizes coastal town.
·      Liar, Liar – Lawyer forced to tell truth.
·      Home Alone – Kid defends household singlehandedly.
·      Jurassic Park – Dinosaurs brought back to life in our time.
These are all good-sized concepts. They all are accessible. When I mention them, you know what I’m talking about. You “get it.” But a full concept, one you can really run with, requires more.  Being accessible is only one of five dimensions needed for a great premise. Let’s look at each in terms of Jurassic Park.
Accessible: People need to “get it” without a long explanation. Jurassic Park - Dinosaurs brought back to life in our time.
Surprising: A premise needs to reach beyond the mundane. Bringing life back from the past in itself does not create a big concept. Someone recently grew an “extinct” date palm from 3,000 year-old-seeds.  Not epic. In Jurassic Park dinosaurs are big. Literally. And they have captured our imaginations since childhood.
Emotional: All good stories need a heart. The Odyssey has a man trying to get home despite great challenges, but the heart of it for me (and what leads to a great ending) is his getting home to his wife. Without Penelope, it is not as epic. The park part of Jurassic Park ties it to Disneyland and other places families gather. And sure enough, people (including children) are in the park, and they are in jeopardy.
Question raising: Along the way from concept to full premise, the ideas should make people curious enough to ask questions. People will have a series of these that must be answered in the story or their expectations will not be met. When Blake Snyder talks about “The Promise of the Premise” in Save the Cat, this is what he is talking about. As a writer, the premise stage is a good time to explore this. In addition, there is an important question worth raising – the story question. What question will people a reader or an audience member look to see answered by the end? 
For Jurassic Park, there are a number of questions that come to mind (and, indeed are developed in the story). How will you feed these animals? How will you maintain control? How will you pay for such an enterprise? What are the legal concerns? Will the animals escape control?
Of course, the story question in Jurassic Park is will the characters we love survive?
Credible: You have to give people a chance to willingly suspend disbelief. Some people cannot abide fantasy and science fiction in any form. (Most men in the U.S. never read novels. They require nonfiction.) Some people require elegant world-building, like Lord of the Rings. For comic book fans, a spider bite might be sufficient. As for Jurassic Park…
Crichton provides an elaborate explanation involving blood-sucking insects, amber, DNA, and frogs. The movie actually includes a short documentary (with, appropriately, a Disney-esque style). Crichton wanted a large audience to swallow his premise. He also used that concern as a jumping off point for research.
Digging in to learn more will create a strong foundation for a big story. It will provide details that suggest plot points. (Using frog DNA enables sex switching for the dinosaurs so they can reproduce.) Crichton actually added another element to Jurassic Park, chaos theory. I don’t think he needed that theory to make the story more believable (though it does). But it became vital to his theme, which is “we cannot fully control nature.”
So, the premise for a big story needs to be accessible, surprising, and emotional. It needs to raise a question. It needs to be credible.
I’ll put these aspects to work on something new. I had a vision of WaterMan, a guy who could seep through cracks, travel through drains, and basically reduce himself to molecular scale, go through small spaces and reassemble himself. As I consider this, I have a precedent, T-1000, the metal guy from the future in Terminator 2. (Most ideas have precedents. If they are not specific enough to raise a lawsuit, see if they develop into something that’s truly yours.)
Accessible: Hmm. Hard to get this correct right off. Water-Man doesn’t quite do it for me. SmokeMan? ParticleMan? I like the idea of leaks. If fresh air can get to you, so can he. (Is it a draft? Or ParticleMan’s chilly fingers?) Okay this still needs some work. For now, my sentence is “A man can turn himself into a mist of particles, fit through tight spaces, and reassemble himself at the other end.”
By the way, this is going from crazy to mundane, but accessibility can be worked from mundane to crazy. Mundane: A teenage boy falls in love with a girl.  Less mundane. A poor teenage boy falls in love with a rich teenage girl. Even less mundane. A poor teenage boy falls in love with a rich teenage girl who has Down’s syndrome. 
Surprising: I think the idea of ParticleMan itself is unexpected. Not a bad superpower for the comic book crowd, though I would like a larger audience.
Emotional: A brilliant government scientist comes home to find his family has succumbed to radiation sickness. (See the sad story of Alexander Litvinenko.) His home has been dusted with particles of polonium-210, and he knows he is doomed, too.  He transfers his mind into his experimental project n animating self-assembling nanoparticles. Then he seeks revenge. (I need to sort out an easy explanation of the science, but the revenge part is what’s important here.)
Question raising: What if you could go through locked doors? Turn water and natural gas lines into your private subway systems? And what about your emotional life? Would you be lonely? Would you miss the touch of others? Finally, how would your new powers make you both vulnerable and able to take revenge? The story question would be, Will ParticleMan find and get revenge on the people who killed his family?
Credible: The idea of memory metals has been around at least since the 70s, and probably inspired T-1000. My glasses frames can be twisted into knots and pop back. And self-assembling systems (where pieces come together to create something bigger and different) are the subject of intense research. Nanotechnology, of course, is a headline item, very similar to what genetic engineering was when Jurassic Park was written.
Self-assembling nanoparticles? Not too much of a stretch. In fact, I just googled that phrase, and I got over 58,000 hits. A lot of opportunity for research and finding the sort of details that could make ParticleMan a winner. (That’s good because this story is just beginning to catch my imagination. Much more to do.)
Overally, the idea here is to explore your concepts across dimensions that will make it more enticing to an audience and that will suggest avenues for research. And more fun.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Every Other Friday - Kourtney Heintz

Kourtney Heintz, the author of THE SIX TRAIN TO WISCONSIN, resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents, and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide. Her YA novel, RECKONINGS, is currently represented by ICM Partners. 
You can connect with Kourtney and learn more about her via Twitter, her Facebook page, her blog and her Website, as well as Goodreads, Amazon Author Central, and Pinterest.

This is the book I always wanted to write. It’s emotionally evocative speculative fiction that captures the deepest truths of being human. For my characters, love is a journey never a destination.

If I have to distill it down to one sentence: When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, her husband Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

It was a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist and is currently available in e-book and paperback.

What drove you to write THE SIX TRAIN TO WISCONSIN? Who did you write it for?
After I recovered from disc-replacement surgery, I was cleaning my bathroom—a simple task that had been impossible to do before my surgery. Back then, I had been in chronic, unrelenting pain caused by a disc compressing a nerve root in my spine. It had been a dark place for me.

A year later, I was pain-free and could look back on that time with more perspective.  I realized how hard it was on the people around me. I thought about what it had to be like for them, dealing with someone who was constantly exhausted and on edge from pain.

I decided to write the caregiver’s side of the story. What it was like to love and nurture someone who was in an incredibly dark place. In my novel, the caregiver is the husband, Oliver. But as I wrote, I realized the person in pain had a side that needed to be told. I ended up alternating point-of-view so that both characters could live and breathe side-by-side.

I wrote this book for women who don’t like traditional romances. They want a love story that fits their lifestyle. They don’t believe in happily ever after. They do believe in the peaks and valleys that come with any relationship. And they like reading about the journey of love and don’t think of it as a destination.

What are your productivity tips?
1)    Know yourself—it’s the only way to set attainable goals. If you’ve never written 5,000 words in a day or a week, do a test run. See how it feels. Keep track of how much time it took. Then ask yourself if you are comfortable committing to that kind of schedule. Be honest—it’s the only way to set measureable goals that you can achieve.

2)    Ask yourself what can I do in two minutes? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Fifteen minutes? Don’t get bogged down in only dedicating large slices of time to writing. Seize two minutes and edit a couple paragraphs or think about that scene that isn’t working. You’d be surprised what a few minutes can do for your writing.

3)    Be creative about where you write. Sure there are times you need to be in front of your computer at your desk. But paper editing can happen anywhere. Waiting at the doctor’s office or for a friend are perfect times to squeeze in some work. And you can always think about plot holes while watching a boring movie or grocery shopping. Just make sure you have a pen and paper or the notes app on your phone to write down any solutions that come to mind.  


Buy Links
Paperback available from: Amazon 
Ebook available from:

Friday, May 3, 2013

Quick Q&A on How To Write Fast

Today, I'm guest posting on the Waterworld Mermaids Blog. How to get started. How to keep going. What I'm most proud of as a writer.
Join and ask your own questions.