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The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.—Mahatma Gandhi
When I write a novel I want to have a theme woven within the plot. A theme could be thought of as the soul of a story. Or maybe the skeleton. A foundation on which you build the structure.
People sometime bristle at the idea of having a theme in a thriller. After all a thriller is supposed to be action packed or filled with brooding psychological suspense. A page turner. There’s no time or room for a theme. Think a sudden stoppage of the action for some character to come forward and, with the piety of a preacher about to excoriate his parishioners for their long held sins, tell you, the reader, how you should live, what you should do, or what you must stop doing.
That’s not how theme works. Particularly in a thriller. And I don’t write like that.
A judicious application of make-up should enhance the wearer’s positive features without calling attention to itself. Theme works the same way. It should help propel the story forward in an interesting way without shouting, “This is the theme!” in each chapter.
Themes, although not shouted from the rooftops of books, can be very powerful. They can prick the conscience, move the reader to reconsider a belief, or help shore up a long held opinion.
The best way to read a thriller with a theme is not to consciously search for the theme but to let it seek you out. Don’t worry over what deep meaning the author is trying to convey. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride.
In my novel, Lethal Paradise, the theme is articulated best in the above Gandhi quote which also appears in the front-matter of the book.
I hope you get a copy, read the quote and store it in the back of your mind, then strap in for a rollicking ride. Later, maybe, recall the quote and theme. It just might change your life.
Rising like an emerald from the azure Caribbean Sea the island of Mousseux is an exotic getaway spot of sun, sand, and surf for visitors, sure to elicit unforgettable times of excitement and balmy relaxation.
The above could be an ad agency’s copy for a promotional campaign touting the benefits of vacationing on the fictional Caribbean island of Mousseux, the main setting for my new novel, Lethal Paradise.
Mousseux is a tiny island with a mountainous spine in the center. And like all islands in the region it was created by a volcanic eruption, the lava based soil insuring lush green vegetation from the tip of it’s mountain peaks to the edge of the sparkling beaches.
Speaking of beaches, they are the island’s biggest attraction. It became legend that a French explorer, one Pierre Leclerc, on discovering the island, stated that the beaches sparkled in the tropical sunlight. He therefore dubbed the island “Mousseux”, which means sparkling in French. The name stuck and tourism blossomed and grew in the late twentieth century. Days of lounging on the beach in the warm tropical sun and of sipping Pina Coladas in the cool of the evening flowed.
But, the very attraction to tourists is, ironically, the very reason that Mousseux has a sinister underbelly. The island is a divided nation. On one side of the rising jungle spine is a tropical tourist paradise of luxury hotels, five-star restaurants, and pristine sparkling private beaches. All this is supplemented by a corporate giant of a pharmaceutical company. This side practically oozes money. On the other side of that mountainous divide lies the rub. There, in small clearings within the jungle, are tiny villages containing the island’s poor. They eek out a living by taking menial jobs and gleaning whatever meager natural resources are available. Their beaches are not as pristine. In fact they are rocky.
But, those rocky beaches hold potential for the rich. They can be cleaned up and new hotels, casinos, theme parks, and corporate offices can be constructed along those beaches making the rich even richer.
And the poor are now a liability. A liability to be exterminated. Refuse to swept away by a diabolical act of terror.
Who will stand in the gap for those poverty stricken islanders? Is there anyone willing to risk everything to set things right?
This is the background of my new thriller, Lethal Paradise, a novel of intrigue, cover-ups, and heroism. Please, take a look at it. I think you’ll enjoy a thrilling read.
You’re in the book store’s fiction section browsing the new arrivals. A cover catches your eye. You pick up the book and open it to the first chapter. The narrative waxes on about a cottage in an idyllic rolling meadow with grass so green that it takes your breath away. You continue to read about that bucolic scene for four more pages and feel your eyes closing as your consciousness wanes. Your eyes snap back open as you put the book back and move on to the next.
The opening chapter of your novel is important. Next to the cover, it may be your most important selling point. So, what makes a good first chapter? What draws a reader in and causes him or her to tuck that book under their arm and head for the check out counter or hit that “Buy” button on Amazon?
In the genres of thrillers and action adventure there are certain components that are common to all first chapters. This is not to say that they don’t work in any genre. Let’s take a look at them:
books: Moby Dick, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Pride and Prejudice, The Trial, and
Slaughterhouse-Five. How many did you get right?)
It’s finally happened. My book is ready to drop. After years of writing I had to release my baby into the world. Although, you could call the entire project a labor of love, the final part, the editing, was (putting it mildly) excruciating.
Before I say more about my editing ordeal, I must admit that I would have preferred to hire a professional editor. Even a cursory check of blogs and articles on the internet will bear me out. A professional editor for you book is the way to go. However, I wanted to get the book out as I have several others coming down the pike. Unfortunately, I also had significant housing expenses. The final results: no money for an editor.
Editing is difficult. And really no fun. But, it’s a necessary part of writing. This is how I did it:
LETHAL PARADISE will be available on Amazon. I hope you take a look at it.
In a few weeks I will be attending the Florida Writers Conference. This will be the first writers conference I've been to in several years. I’m certainly looking forward to going. If you've never been to a writers conference you may be asking yourself, why attend? After all it's pretty expensive. And it's likely to cut into your vacation time if you have a full time job. But, there are advantages to attending a writes conference. Here are just a few:
I’ve been working on a collection of science fiction stories for self publication. Now, I’ve finally come to the part I’ve been dreading--creating a cover. I would be the first to agree that the best option is to find a professional designer, give him or her your thoughts on what you’d like, and pay them a ton of cash. I’m sure the results would be breath taking. And would really drive sales.
However, for those, like me, who don’t have money to burn, creating your own cover design may be the only viable option. With this in mind and after doing some research, I’ve come up with seven ideas about book covers:
In a short story collection what story goes where? In my last blog I mentioned that I was putting together a science fiction short story collection for publication, and I reviewed some guidelines on placement of stories. There were strategies like: your best story should be first, your worse should be in the middle, and your longest should be last.
I’ve gone over my stories and I have two that I think are my best. One entitled, Before Your Very Eyes, tells a poignant tale of jealousy and revenge while the other, Memory Criterion, is a story that asks the question: how much of who we are is made up of our memories? A third one that I recently wrote and am still editing is a quirky love story set in a sleepy snowed-in New England village. I’ve tentatively titled it, A Curious Entanglement (that may change). I think it’s my third best.
It may be a coin toss as to which of the three I lead with. If anyone is interested in reading any or all of the aforementioned stories and giving feedback, please contact me.
My weakest story is one I wrote many years ago, entitled Unseen Enemy. It’s about a squad of futuristic soldiers attempting to thwart the government’s use of a doomsday weapon to stop an alien invasion. It’s not a necessarily badly written story (I still find it entertaining). It’s just that my writing has improved over the years. I could leave it out, but I think it still has something to say.
My longest of the collection is a human-alien love story of the boy-meets-girl type. It’s also in the editing stage. I’ve tentatively titled it, Becoming. At just over 12,000 words, I suppose it could be classified as a novelette.
Well, that’s it for now. As I delve further into getting the book out, I’ll blog more about the experience. Stay tuned.
I finally decided to do it. I’ve had a few science fiction short stories written over the years sitting on my hard drive. So, I collected them into a file on Scriviner with the plan to publish them.. I only had eight so I got to work and wrote two more. Now, with ten short stories I was ready. One problem, though. I’ve never published a short story collection before. Which means I went to work researching the ins and outs of short story collections. Here’s what I found so far:
• The title should reflect the overall theme of the collection. But, mine has no overall theme other than each story being a sub-genre of science fiction. A little more checking and I had the solution. The next best idea for a title is the title of one of the stories. Something catchy, something intriging. The one that was always kind of catchy to me was: The Alien Artifact Department. I had my title.
• Length. Was there an acceptable minimum and maximum word count? What if my collection didn’t muster up? You’ve probably seen those paperbacks so thin that there’s no room for the title on the spine. The consensus from my research for a minimal word count was around 40,000. A quick bit of arithmetic told me I was in. I had about 56,000 words.
• The next problem was arrangement of the stories. Which one went where? This struck me a magazine editor territory. But, a little more searching and I had a few ideas. The best story should be first. The worst can be buried somewherre in the middle. Vary the length of the stories. In other words don’t have a series of 7,000 word stories back to back. And, put the longest one at the end.
• I was concerned about needing an introduction. I solved that one by going to Amazon and checking out a few short story collections. You know the “Look Inside” feature that allows you to preview the books. May just had the front matter followed by a table of contents followed by the first story. Guess those intros are for the Stephen King’s of the world.
Well, there you have it. This is what I’ve learned thus far. Still have a long way to go. There’s editing, creating a cover, marketing, etc. As I learn more, I’ll pass it along. So, stay tuned.
Novel writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Ever start reading a novel finding the opening so intriguing that you anticipate a brilliant read only to find yourself half way through thinking "this is a total waste of time"? A lot of authors slave away at the opening in order to hook the reader only to peter out along the way. It's tough to sustain a wonderful narrative. Novel writing is like running that marathon. The good runners don't dash from the starting line giving it all over the first 100 to 200 yards. Instead, they pace themselves, knowing that there are many miles to go before the finish line. They conserve energy when necessary, coasting down hills when they can and turning on the afterburners when they need to pass an opponent. They take advantage of hydration stations along the route. Overall, they maintain a steady rhythmic pace and have strategically evaluated the course beforehand. And, more importantly, they have prepared prior to the race by training regularly and maintaining proper nutrition.
Writing a novel requires similar preparation and execution. You need the long view to complete your great work. Poems can be tackled in a day to a week. Short stories may take a week to a month to write. But, your novel will usually take six months to two years to complete. Over such a long period of time it’s easy to get bored or exhausted and give up. And, this is precisely why you need to approach your writing like a runner engaged in a marathon.
So, what do you need to do to run the course and cross the finish line? Here are a few recommendations:
· Develop a theme. Having a theme is like having members of your entourage along the marathon route at strategic points to cheer you on just as you begin to feel too exhausted to take another step. When you’re knee deep in manuscript pages and feel lost, your theme serves as your guiding beacon. By reviewing your theme your inspiration returns and, now renewed, you are able to continue writing.
· Outline. Outlining your novel before writing is like reviewing the route of the race before you run that marathon. You’ll have an idea of when the writing will be easy and you can breeze through several chapters and when you’ll have to slog through the difficult parts. More importantly, you’ll know where you’re going and have an idea of how long it will take.
· Write regularly. Following a regular writing routine is akin to that steady running pace a marathoner must make to complete the race in a personal best time. Set a goal of x number of pages or words per day. That steady rhythm of daily writing will keep you on pace to complete your work.
· Craft a great opening. If you’ve ever watched a marathon you’ve noticed that at the start of the race the runners get right into the stride they want to maintain throughout the twenty-six miles. Your opening should do the same. The conventional wisdom is that you start your story in the middle. In other words, don’t begin with a long meandering backstory. This was popular in Victorian novels, but not in today’s works. You want to engage your audience from the first paragraph.
· Practice, practice, practice. You won’t find any marathoners finishing a race only to turn into a couch potato until the next scheduled race. Not on your life. They’re constantly training. And so should you. Write short stories. Write poems. Write essays. Write blogs. Between novels, write!
· Read and read some more. Nutrition is important for marathon runners. They watch their weight. They maintain the right balance of carbohydrates and fats. They hydrate. Some even drink beet juice. As a writer your nutrition is books. Read and read some more. Read novels similar to the ones you write and ones in other genres. If you write romances, then read thrillers and mysteries. If you write thrillers, read literary works. Also, read biographies, history, current events, science. You get the idea.
There it is. Take the long view and you can’t go wrong. Because writing a novel is like running a marathon.