Featuring R. Arundel: The Hardest Part of Writing is…

R. Arundel, author of Face Transplant, delivers a compelling blog on writing.

The hardest part of writing is the middle or, as some have said, the “muddle.” It is relatively straightforward to create an interesting premise and an exciting opening to hook your reader. Also the ending of the book in a thriller will have a climactic end with revelations the reader did not expect. These parts of the book fuel the writer to fill the pages. The middle is a different story.

The middle of the story has to keep the story moving forward with interesting details, fill in exposition needed for the story, fill out the characters, develop subplot. This all has to be done in an interesting and fresh way for the reader to continue to enjoy the book. The opening is usually sketched out with relative ease since this sets up the story and really the only concern is how you will decide to reveal the opening. Likewise the ending really has been determined by what has already been written in the story. The conclusion naturally flows from what has already been written.

The middle can easy become unfocused and meander down paths that really don’t propel the story forward. The other problem with the middle is that it has to keep the fill in essential elements and be interesting. The initial pages can have a breathtaking scene, with details to thrill the reader. This can’t be done for the entire novel or it will lose its effect and the novel will become over the top and totally unbelievable. The middle has to take a more nuanced approach to storytelling. The pacing must vary, the characters must have interesting reveals. My personal approach to the middle is to make sure everything propels the story forward, even if some of the expository details are less exciting than the opening.

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TheFaceTransplant is a compelling tale written by R. Arundel.

Dr. Matthew MacAulay is a facial transplant surgeon at a prestigious New York hospital. When his friend and mentor, Tom Grabowski, dies under mysterious circumstances, Matthew uncovers his friend’s secret: a new technique that allows perfect facial transplants. No incisions, no scars. Tom was able to accomplish this monumental feat with the help of Alice, a supercomputer robot with almost human abilities. While trying to find the people responsible for murdering Tom, Matthew realizes he is the prime suspect. He must flee for his life with the help of Dr. Sarah Larsson, a colleague and reluctant helper, who has a secret of her own, and Alice, who helps them make sense of a baffling series of seemingly unrelated events. The clues carry Matthew and Sarah around the world. They stumble onto a sinister plot of monumental proportions that leads Matthew all the way to the White House.

The Face Transplant is a powerful medical suspense thriller of the first order. The novel was written by a surgeon who weaves politics, medicine, and espionage into a tightly paced, intelligent thriller.

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AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Arundel is a practicing surgeon. This experience brings realism to the story. The novel asks what would happen if a surgeon were to develop the perfect face transplant. This would allow people to have a new face, in essence create a new identity. You can create the perfect double, the perfect Doppelganger.

Contact link: http://www.amazon.com/R-Arundel/e/B00EBCQVEC

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Excerpt:

Guaarrr. It sounds like water draining from a very large bathtub, through a very large hole. I just killed myself. I just killed the patient. Dr. Matthew MacAulay looks down on the operating room table at the gaunt, graying man. Matthew quickly scans the operating theater. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the short wide man in the observation area.

I just killed myself, Sarah, and Amanda.

They have been hijacked into performing a face transplant. The patient is unknown. Mr. Glock, the short wide man, hovers in the far end of the operating room. He made it clear that if the patient did not survive, the three of them would be following him in short order. The 9 mm Glock with a silencer on the end gave credence to his profanity-laced words of warning.

Matthew looks across the operating room table at Amanda Soto, forty-two, an American of Spanish ancestry. She has been his scrub nurse, assisting him in the operating room for the last three years. Divorced, one child.

It will take a few more seconds for the monitors to tell everybody what Matthew already knows. Amanda already knows. She is right across the table. She saw him use the robotic arm to dissect the vessel and mistakenly cut the large artery in the neck. An operating room nurse of Amanda’s experience has seen it all. When Matthew looks into her eyes, they flash ever so quickly an acknowledgment that it is all over. Instead of any words, she quietly unclamps the suction. Now a dull hiss fills the air. To the casual observer, or the short wide man holding a 9 mm Glock pistol in his fat stubby hands, nothing really has changed. Amanda, anesthetist Dr. Sarah Larsson, and Dr. Matthew MacAulay act as if all is going well.

Matthew cannot help but glance over to the man with the 9 mm Glock. In his mind, he names him Mr. Glock. Adrenaline surges through Matthew’s body and time slows. The short wide man, Mr. Glock, has gray eyes. Pale, gray eyes. Very pale, almost tired. Matthew remembers reading somewhere that people with gray eyes have the best visual acuity. They make the best marksmen, the best assassins. He wonders if this was true.

Balloons and Branding

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and horror tales.Jonathan Maberry, a wise author and mentor, once told me that the best way to get readers is not by pushing your book but by “branding” yourself. Perhaps you have a favorite shirt you might wear to signings. Perhaps everything you live and breathe resonates with Star Trek. I’ve been doing mine via Mylar balloons. Why balloons? I can’t say why, but I find it impossible to shop at most supermarkets without being waylaid by the balloons at the floral aisle. How many balloons do I have? A lot. If you’d like to guess how many, there’s a giveaway involved.

Barbara Custer wrote Close Liaisons, a science fiction book featuring aliens and Mylar balloons.Any time you blog or go to a writing venue you’re “on,” meaning that the way you carry yourself will become part of your brand. So whenever you blog, you’ll want to keep it positive. If you had a quarrel at home, leave it there. Give yourself plenty of time to get to an event because if you show up late, people might associate lateness with your brand. “Oh, yeah, that’s Barbara of the Balloons – she takes her time,” and so forth. When I’m with writer buddies, doing the editor letter for Night to Dawn, or blogging, I usually open the top with my latest balloon escapade at the Giant, Acme, or other market. And I find that balloon analogies have a way of getting the point across.

Michael DeStefano wrote this coming of age novel.Sometimes your brand can creep into your books. NTD author Michael De Stefano, for one, loves baseball, and you’ll find a lot of scenes involving baseball in In the Times of Their Restlessness and his other two books. Tom Johnson’s bouquet of balloons is his life in the military, and his experiences and love of science fiction creep into his Jur novels. Rod Marsden brands himself with his love of history in Ghost Dance, among his other books.

So … I guess you’re wondering if Mylar balloons have crept into my books. Well, let me put it to you this way. Did God make little green apples? Does it snow in Pennsylvania during the wintertime?  Heroine Alexis of Steel Rose kept a squadron of Mylar balloons in her hospital room because she felt that the helium in them, being especially poisonous for Kryszka aliens, might protect her from the renegades. You will also meet balloon queens in Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.

The most important part of branding though is having fun. Why is it so important? Because the branding tool enables people to get to know you in a good way. When that happens, good reviews, if not sales, are likely to follow.

So … how do you go about branding yourself and your work? Do you have a special interest in something that works? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop. And if you can guess how many Mylar balloons I have, the person with the closest guess will get an eBook copy of Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.

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An Intense Discussion on Italicizing Thoughts

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and science fiction tales.One evening, I headed to a writers’ group meeting where of all things, we had a discussion on whether or not to italicize thoughts. Why are we talking about this, I wondered? My mind kept wandering back to my visit to the Giant earlier in the day, when a humongous Disney Princess Mylar balloon waylaid me. I still kept reliving the touch of the balloon against my hair as it blocked my view from the other balloons that wanted my attention.

Italicizing thoughts? Indeed. All of my writing life, I’ve been taught that anything in thoughts should be italicized in fiction manuscripts. Actually that’s not true. In the early days, when I submitted, I had to underline my characters’ thoughts, with the understanding that the editor would then know to italicize. That’s not required now unless you’re doing a college term paper. Mind you, people send me work with stuff underlined, and I’ll change it to italics without complaining.

Ah, but when I went to my trusty references, I found that while italics can make a useful tool, something too many is overkill. Italics might definitely work for thoughts that are especially significant. Otherwise, find an unobtrusive way to express thoughts.

Barbara Custer edits Night to Dawn magazine, featuring horror, zombies, and science fiction.So let’s figure this out with a scene describing my balloon purchase. Example 1: The Disney Princess balloon called to me as soon as I entered the Giant. Whoa, I thought, that looks like one pricey balloon. (Internal dialogue) Using “I thought” and italics serves to distance me (the character) from this internal dialogue. Example 2: I examined the balloon, smiling, holding it up to the light, wondering how it would look near the butterflies in my living room. This sentence gives a different way to word thoughts, without italics, along with body language to demonstrate my feelings. This technique brings the thought closer to me. Which way is best? Either will work. It depends on your story and the effect you’re trying to achieve through your character.

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We also had a debate on whether intent was an adjective, and that maybe intense should be the adjective, while intent is the noun. So I headed to my trusty references. Sometimes Google, but often times Chicago of Manual Style.  Here’s another one just to confuse y’all: intensive. So let’s clear up the mystery.

Intense is in fact an adjective, meaning exerting extreme force, or being having strong feelings. So … if you want your book to read well, it may need intense editing. I have an intense interest in Mylar balloons.

Intensive means focused on one topic. So an intensive edit might be focused on characterization.

Cross genre horror / science fiction book by Barbara CusterIntent can work as an adjective or a noun. Intent is synonymous with intention which means a general plan to get something done. Intent is stronger, meaning a firm resolution to get something done. Example: In spite of the distractions from the Mylar balloons, I was intent on finding every item on my grocery list.

As a noun, intent can mean aim or goal. Example: My intent was to get all of the groceries, but the Mylar balloons got the better of me.

So … I’d like to hear your thoughts on italicizing and the use of intent versus intense.

I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop.

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Discussing Your WIP

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

The writing pros advise us to write your next book while shopping your current book proposal. I did just that after I finished When Blood Reigns but I haven’t sought any critique on it. Nor have I discussed details in my blogs, FB pages, or at the writers’ meetings. Only my Mylar balloons know the details.

You might ask, whyyyy?

I never worked in a linear fashion with any tale. I tried writing out an outline first but couldn’t work with it because I’m a pantser. An outline can come after the draft but not before. But that’s not quite the reason for my silence either. A budding story idea will call to me the way the Mylar balloons do at the supermarket. In the developing stages of my first draft, I’ve found that if I start talking up the book too soon, I can wind up deflating the interest and motivation I had for the book. Why? Like the balloons, the creative process needs nurturing and motivation. Steel Rose. Ditto for The Forgotten People. If I feel strongly about a subject, the words will float as easily as the Mylar balloons do through my house. Once I’ve discussed it extensively, I’m talked out. The words then leave me the way air escapes a punctured balloon, and the manuscript goes into a drawer.

This actually happened with a book I attempted to write after Twilight Healer. Pennsylvania’s winters were getting brutal, and cold provides lots of grist for stories. I imagined glass-domed cities and a race of vampires that thrived in the cold, and proceeded to write another book. Trouble was, I discussed the plot with every Tom, Dick, Harry, Mary, and Sue, and the book motivation fizzled out. So when I began Steel Rose, I didn’t whisper a peep to anyone until the first draft was finished. By the time I reached the conclusion, I had enough material for two novels, so I made it a series. Since I already had a first draft in my pocket, I was peachy keen with discussing When Blood Reigns during interviews. I don’t have any first draft for the next book, so for now, what I do have written will stay between me and my Mylar balloons.

Does it sound superstitious? Maybe. But I’ve heard other authors express the same reluctance about discussing their budding work. I’ve learned not to ask other writers too many questions about the WIP. The book will come when it’s ready.

Your thoughts?

 

Wintertime Blues

Barbara's loyal balloons guide her with writing.

The balloons help energize Barbara.

Do you struggle with wintertime blues? I know I do as the days get shorter. I went to a condo homeowner’s association meeting last night and sat in a chair prepared to listen and take notes. Instead, I nodded off to sleep during a good part of the meeting. No one chatted about Mylar balloons, nor did I regale anyone with my latest balloon adventure at the Giant and Acme supermarkets. No seminars on writing techniques or opportunities to get a critique on my WIP. Instead, the conversation centered over graphs, numbers, and charts as the Board discussed the upcoming 2015 budget. Every so often, tempers exploded over some imaginary error a Board member committed. I frankly felt that the Board members deserved serious balloons!

What’s more, the meeting room was cold, enough to necessitate my sweater and winter coat. I suspect the people in charge dropped the temperatures so that the attendees would stay awake and pay attention. Their actions had the opposite effect on me. Cold drains my energy, and during winter I need an average of nine hours of sleep each night. I do my best writing and meeting attendance on my “off” days from work when I’m rested. During the winter, I’m more liable to sleep through a meeting. Come spring, I’ll have more energy for meetings and the like. My doctors mention seasonal affective disorder, but I think of it as the wintertime blues.

Last year, when I worked under a deadline during the winter, I made the writing my first priority when I get home from work, while I still had energy left. I need to start doing that again. Then after seven, I can go through my email, wrestle with my balloons, or browse the online shops. Buying a Mylar balloon should help my energy stores, too.

Do you struggle with the wintertime blues? How does it affect your writing and other activities? What helps you shore up energy during the cold winter? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

Getting through Tough Edits

Gemini WordsmithsThe denizens of hell attack in Barbara Custer's Steel Rose. completed the developmental edit on Blood Moon Rising, the sequel for Steel Rose, and the edits needed are extensive. Many of the fixes involve point of view, repetitive words or phrases, and inconsistencies in the plot. Better that these problems are caught now when I can fix them rather than having a reviewer call them out on her blog later. Yay, Gemini Wordsmiths! All the same, it’s taken several Mylar balloon acquisitions to fortify me for the work needed.

Most of the fixes are easy, and my editors have been patient with my questions. Some things I’m finding out I can look for when revising before sending to an editor. I’ve been struggling with repetition, clichés not so much, but I have seen clichés on others’ manuscripts. Solution: Prowriting Aid. I’ve found Prowriting to be a useful tool for winnowing out clichés, redundancies, and repetitive verbs and phrases. In this way, it works as a second pair of eyes. I regret not using Prowriting for Blood Moon Rising. Live and learn.

The Prowriting Aid didn’t help with the POV problems, however. I’ve noticed POV inconsistencies on other people’s manuscripts, too, problems similar to what you see in the following paragraph.

A bouquet of six Mylar butterflies, a rainbow assortment of red, greens, blues, and purples, called to Cassandra from the display stand. The soft shushing sounds they made when she ran her fingers through them brought a smile to her face. She just had to have them. The cashier, upon hearing the balloon sounds, called out, “Can I help you?”

That last sentence is a no-no because we’re in Cassandra’s head. So how would she know what the cashier heard? A better way to word that last sentence might be: The cashier’s voice impinged on her thoughts. “Can I help you?” he asked.

I can resolve most POV issues without making major structural changes. The plot flaws require more work, the guidance of an editor, plus lots of Mylar balloons to get me through a tough chore. Many of my plot inconsistencies happened in the second half of the book. The first half got evaluated, rewritten, and evaluated again through writers’ conferences, etc. and thus saw editing done before Gemini Wordsmiths got the file. Not so for the second half. If I had my do-overs, I would have completed the first draft before attempting any revisions like the pros recommended. Instead, I wrote two chapters, edited them, moved on to the third and fourth chapters, edited again, and so forth.

I’d like to recommend a blog “10 Words to Search For,” which helped me cut the fat in my manuscripts. Juliet Madison suggested ditching words like very, just, almost, began, and start. I did a Word Search and Find, which enabled me to substitute the word with something better or ditch altogether. The plot issues are the hardest to fix, because even in a horror or SF novel, the world has to stay consistent. The characters should act consistently, too; if not, then I’d better come up with a good reason for the aberration in behavior.

So…what do you find most difficult about revising a manuscript? How do you get through the tougher edits? Do you use any shortcuts for self-editing? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

I’m offering a signed copy of Steel Rose (first prize) and copy of Night to Dawn 26 (second prize) to a random commenter. Overseas winners will receive Starbucks gift cards and PDF copies.

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