Tag Archives: writing

Evolution of a back cover blurb

The novel’s called Subtraction. It’s going to be released on August 1st. And it needed a back cover blurb. (Watch this space for the real cover, coming soon!)

subtraction copy

I spent a day with many Facebook friends working on this, and I am hugely grateful to them. I’m grateful for links to great “how to write a blurb” sites – especially https://kindlepreneur.com/back-book-cover-blurb/. I’m grateful for advice, for revised sentences, new ways of looking at the storyline and words, and … everything. And here’s how it worked out.

Version 1: On a road trip to look for a missing girl, a schoolteacher finds himself. Love, cats and colleagues remind him the world’s not all evil, but can he truly forgive the darkness it hides? Is trust just weakness in disguise, or is it a gift, a freedom and a hope that things subtracted might yet be restored?

Comments –

  • doesn’t really tell the reader anything: road trip, yes, but what happens on the trip
  • on the other hand, does kind of give away the ending.

Version 2: Can subtraction be a positive? Can loss be a gain? And can a lonely schoolteacher find himself (love and cats) on a cross-country road trip in search of a missing child? Subtraction is a story of love, loss and hope as strangers prove to be sometimes kind, dark places hide light, and middle-grade schoolchildren learn about math, acceptance, and generosity.

Comments –

  • Too existential
  • why is he looking for her?
  • Starting with the inciting incident will focus readers on what’s going to happen

Version 3: When a misfit student disappears from math class, her teacher embarks on an epic cross-country journey to find her. But who is he really looking for? Why is the pretty new art teacher so keen to help? And where do all the cats come from?

Comments –

  • too short
  • needs names
  • tell enough of the story – to the middle say – to hook your reader.

Version 4: When autistic Amy goes missing from her special ed math class, teacher Andrew Callaghan is desperate to save her… or save himself. Stella DeMaris, the new art instructor, offers to help. Soon the two erstwhile strangers set off on a road trip across America, held back by memories of Andrew’s past and spurred on by mysterious cats. Andrew imagines Amy’s dead body in every passing shadow, but Stella’s determined to prove there’s hope for everyone, including two misfit teachers and misfit kids.

Comments –

  • Don’t use easy labels – don’t say she’s autistic
  • Try “and save himself” instead of “or save himself,” or it might sound creepy
  • Why does he think she needs saving
  • Readers forget about Amy by the time they get to the cats.
  • Remember, the person reading the blurb doesn’t know the story.
  • Think about 3 sentences
    • Goal
    • Disaster that keeps him from his goal, and potential consequences for him
    • Sum up the journey and what he’ll have to overcome.

Version 5: Andrew Callaghan suspects that his student Amy, who has gone missing, has been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella sees cats, and the path grows harder to find.

Comments –

  • The end is just as important as the beginning, so find a better ending.

Version 6: Andrew Callaghan suspects his student Amy, who has gone missing, may have been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella sees cats. But Amy is speeding ahead of them. She’s not the sort to understand “stranger danger.” Can they find her in time?

Comments –

  • Amy’s danger belongs at the start, not the end
  • How do they know she’s ahead of them?

Version 7: Andrew Callaghan suspects his student Amy, who has gone missing, may have been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella, ever hopeful, sees cats. But where will the cats lead them, and will Amy be dead or alive at the end of the trail?

Comments – it’s the winner! (Well, I always like 7s.) So what have I learned:

  • Ask myself what genre my book is, even if the answer is multiply-defined.
  • Pick out the most important thread in the story and include it in the first sentence of the blurb.
  • Leave out any unnecessary information
  • Provide enough motivation for the main character’s actions.
  • Make sure the ending makes readers want to know more.

Coming soon – August 1st, Subtraction by Sheila Deeth

and here are the blurbs for Divide by Zero and Infinite Sum, the books that came before it. (Each one is standalone – related, but not contiguous.)

Divide by Zero: It takes a subdivision to raise a child, and a wealth of threads to weave a tapestry, until one breaks. Troy, the garage mechanic’s son, loves Lydia, the rich man’s daughter. Amethyst has a remarkable cat and Andrea a curious accent. Old Abigail knows more than anyone else but doesn’t speak. And in Paradise Park a middle-aged man keeps watch while autistic Amelia keeps getting lost. Pastor Bill, at the church of Paradise, tries to mend people, Peter mends cars. But when that fraying thread gives way it might takes a child to raise the subdivision-or to mend it.

Infinite Sum: A slash of red; a slash of black; then Sylvia’s paintbrush turns beauty turns into terror and darkness again. Her youngest child is almost ten, but Sylvia’s world seems destined to fall apart. Her therapist believes the answers lie in her art, but will they be found among boxes and frames in the attic, or in the angry colors she pours onto canvases in class? As memories new and old pile ever higher, Sylvia learns life is more about the infinite promise of joys to come than the sum of things done. Even so, will her nightmares let her go?

And for a writing prompt –

  • write a blurb for the book you’re writing, want to write, or wish you’d written
  • Does the first sentence describe the most important storyline?
  • Is there enough information to motivate the characters?
  • Is the information clear enough to avoid its being misunderstood?
  • Does the last sentence give too much away, or entice the reader to want more?
  • Then rewrite your blurb.
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New Year, New Edits, New Words?

I don’t make New Year resolutions on the grounds that I’ll always break them. But I do make plans, and this year I plan to work harder on writing and editing, read more productively, spend less time looking at or wishing I could create advertisements, and write fewer book reviews. 200+ reviews is just too many for one year, and too much time spent not writing.

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Peter’s Promise on Amazon

With all this in mind, and with my mum – my greatest fan and my best editor – still staying with us, I decided to start each day by editing a section from my upcoming children’s book, Paul’s Purpose. (It’s the sequel to Peter’s Promise, above.)

Of course, I know Paul had many purposes, and so do I: in writing children’s Bible stories I want to:

  • Show the stories of the Bible are set around real people in a real world,
  • Show that the world of history and saints wasn’t so different from the world of siblings and friends,
  • Encourage and entertain middle-grade readers – I want them to think, laugh, and turn pages; I want pre-school listeners to enjoy being read to as well;
  • Encourage and entertain middle-grade educators – I want them to be ready to give and find answers – to model looking for answers on Google, in the dictionary or in the Bible (or anywhere else);
  • Encourage and improve reading and language skills – I like to include some words my readers may not have used before, because the real world is filled with words we all might misunderstand, and
  • Encourage and improve critical thinking skills – I like my readers to ask questions, because without questions, the answers can’t make sense.

So …

After talking with Mum, I’d love to know your opinions.

  • Can I use such words as “erudite” “persistent” and “single-minded” in a children’s book?
  • Can I refer to “virility-fertility rites” (with no further explanation) when my characters complain about what goes on in pagan temples?
  • Is “God’s mark hurts” a sufficient explanation of why a boy might not want to be circumcised, or should I just avoid the whole question, though it seems like it was a pretty big question at the time?

Meanwhile, since I always turn these blogs into writing exercises, here a

Writing Prompt

  • Think of something in the natural world – a bird, a stone, a river…
  • Imagine how it came into being – evolution, hatching from an egg, rain-clouds with dried fish-eggs waiting to hatch…
  • Then tell its story, from its own point of view:
    • One paragraph (or sentence) for the beginning
    • one for the middle, or the present day
    • and one for the end, or end of the world, or “Help! It’s raining fish!”

It’s raining ice here. Keep warm.

 

Writing the Author Bio

No book reviews, no blog posts, and I’ve almost disappeared from Facebook and Twitter: What could be going on? Meanwhile the deadline for the Writers’ Mill Journal, an (almost) annual publication from our local group of writers, came and went and…well…that’s what’s been stealing my attention and my time.

The Writers' Mill Journal Volume 3
The Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 3

For my sins I’m compiler and editor in chief, and we had lots of pieces to be compiled, carefully stored online by our intrepid computer guru, Rom. Now we have a large document with nine sections, nearly 60 pieces of writing, and around 35 pictures. But we, at last, means more than just me; and I’m looking forward to a little more spare time, since I’ve finally sent that doc to our intrepid team of editors. Six editors. 200 pages. Around 35 pages each.

Of course, the journal is only almost complete, as you might see from the heading to this post. It’s one thing to ask our brave authors to write, and write we do, most wonderfully (see last year’s journal above – enjoy!). But asking us to write about ourselves; that’s an entirely different matter. So the author bio page languishes, while sentences and paragraphs drift in email replies to be added to those author names.

First person bio or third is the first question to be asked of course. Does

  • Joe Soap says, “I’ve been writing since I learned to wash my face…” work better than
  • Joe Soap has been writing since…

I’m going for third person–at least, that’s what I said–though several writers insist on first. What do you think? Which sounds more professional to you?

Then there’s the question of one sentence, or two, or a paragraph or two, or a page. For myself, I’ve got bios of varying lengths on almost every website, Facebook and Twitter included, all different, and mostly out of date. I’ve got a mini-bio in the signature line on my emails, also out of date (depending on whether I’m writing from my computer or my phone). I’ve got bios on my books, bios in the back pages of as yet unpublished books, bios on publishing websites, bios re-edited, bios…

But we’ve got 200+ pages, and every page costs, and we run this on a money-less shoe-string. So I asked our authors for just one or two sentences, or maybe three or four.

I sent a sample:

  • Joe Soap has been writing since he learned to wash his hands. He’s the author of several unpublished books, has taught laundry techniques in high school for many years, and can be found online at joesoap.com.

And the answers are still slowly trickling in.

Meanwhile, here I am, finally finding time to write a blogpost. Since most of my readers write, which makes you authors of a kind, I’ll set an author bio challenge this time:

Write (or find your latest) author bio, in all its multi-paragraph glory: Who are you? Then…

  • Pick out the section that describes how long you’ve been writing. Which words are most important? Rephrase them in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes what you’ve done with your life. Which detail is most important. Rewrite it in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes why you write. Which words are most important? Rephrase them in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes what you’ve written. Rephrase this in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes where you can be found online. Which place is most important, or easiest to find, or best linked to everywhere else. Mention this in one short sentence.
  • Now combine your first and second sentences, second and third, third and fourth, and fourth and fifth.
  • Combine the resulting sentences, shortening, deleting, and EDITING until you have just two (one short and one long is good).
  • Now you’ve got a nice brief author bio that might even fit on Twitter!

So here’s mine:

  • Sheila Deeth has been telling stories since before she learned to write. She’s the author of contemporary novels from Second Wind Publishing, childrens animal stories from Linkville Press, and The Five Minute Bible Story Series from Cape Arago Press, and she blogs at…well…here ’cause you’ve found me!

I guess I should go update all those other random bios wherever they lurk now. But first, I’ve still got 35 pages to edit…

How do you choose your point of view?

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First person, present tense narration – they told me both of these were no-nos, but I read them everywhere. Multiple-viewpoint, told in a mixture of first and third person, is another unlikely mix that I seem to read now all the time. Then there are dual-viewpoint novels, with alternating first-person chapters that let you “get into the head” of both the protagonists and “really understand them.” If you’re George R R Martin you’ll write different chapters from multiple different viewpoints and be everyone’s hero. (If you’re me, you’ll write Divide by Zero similarly, then follow up with Infinite Sum – first person, present tense.) But what do readers want? What do stories need? And what should I be doing?

I read these questions asked in a blogpost about multiple-viewpoint-novels recently: http://www.writersonthemove.com/2015/07/multiple-points-of-view-good-or-bad.html. The author ends her post with a question:

So, what do you think?  Have you ever written anything in this style?  Do you have any examples of books you love (or don’t love) told like this?  When you read one, do you find yourself hurrying through one or more POVs to get to your favorite character?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

This, of course, provoked me to think and comment. I have read and written novels told from multiple points of view. Some I love. Some are okay. And some annoy me. But why? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Changing viewpoints are distracting when they feel forced – when the author chooses the POV because it’s time for a change, rather than because the story demands it.
  • They’re annoying when they make the story repetitive – same scene, alternative view, putting narration on hold.
  • They’re frustrating when the view-points feels cloudy and ill-defined – I have to read the chapter title to realize whose head I’m in ’cause they all sound alike.
  • They’re tiring when they flog the story to death – every view-point told with no exceptions till the reader falls asleep.
  • They’re confusing when they’re unnecessarily inconsistent – A thinks B thinks this but B thinks that and C thinks A couldn’t possible think…
  • But sometimes they’re great.Infinite Sum

So here’s my question. Have you read Divide by Zero? What did you think of the multiple view-point, village-tapestry approach? And will you read Infinite Sum, even though it’s a different story, told in a different way?

And here’s a writing exercise

Get ready to write

  • Choose two characters.
  • Choose one location.
  • Choose a time where your characters might meet in that location.
  • Choose a topic they might discuss.

Write

  • Working from the point of view of your first character:
    • Write one paragraph describing your approach to the meeting place.
    • Write one paragraph describing your first sight of the other character.
    • Write one paragraph describing the discussion
      • Include your feelings
      • Include the other character’s responses.
    • Write one paragraph describing the other person’s exit from the meeting.
  • Now repeat the process from the second character’s point of view.

Read and think about it

  • Which version was easier to write?
  • Which version is easier to read?
  • Why?

More flash or less?

It’s kind of ironic: A week after the talk about flash fiction at our writers’ group, I received a most unexpected (and delightful) email from the owner of an indie author and stories blog, the Cult of Me. My short story had won the May contest over there! But are short stories flash fiction, you ask, and so did I.

By The creator of the Art piece- Lars Widenfalk- Poderedellaluna

I had so nearly forgotten entering the contest that I rushed over to read and reread what I’d written. What was I thinking? Then inspiration struck. My entry, though written before the talk, just might be a piece of flash fiction in its own right. Maybe that’s why I can’t remember what it meant. Maybe that’s why it means something different each time I read it.

But what do you think?

Whatever I call it, My Brother’s Keeper is now a winning entry. I’m thoroughly over the moon and enormously grateful. And I can no longer claim not to earn enough from writing to keep me in coffee.

Could this be a good sign for the rest of the year? Tails of Mystery is due for release next month (short stories for children – definitely not flash fiction), and Infinite Sum is slated to come out soon (novel, not flash). If everything always comes in threes, I wonder, could they too succeed?

Well, a girl can dream.

And drink coffee!

And enter contests. Save the link. The Cult of Me offers some great images to inspire your writing dreams (and nightmares).

Rapid Writing Fun

Our writers’ group had a fantastic meeting last week, and a chance comment from the speaker about book blurbs and elevator pitches inspired us to try writing our own blurbs before the meeting ended. This left us unable to do the writing exercise I’d planned, but that’s fine; it happens all the time.

Meanwhile, here’s my WordPress blog feeling sad and unattended, while those writing exercises wait undone. But perhaps I could try storing them here to use when I need some inspiration. And maybe… just possibly maybe… someone else might want to use them too. So, to set the ball rolling, here’s that writing exercise we didn’t do:

crying

Brainstorm:

I read a blogpost that listed ways our features reflect our emotions. Starting with eyes. What do eyes do when you’re

  • Surprised
  • Sad
  • Happy
  • Anything else…?

What do mouths do? Necks? Arms? Heartbeats? What do our feet do?

Looking deeper:

I see your eyes grow round if I surprise you. I can’t see my own eyes. How would I describe the effect of an emotion on my body.

  • Can I smell my sweat when I’m scared?
  • Can I feel the corners of my mouth turn up or down?
  • How does my heartbeat sound?

Rapid Write:

The prompt for our writers’ group’s current contest is isolation, so… Write a paragraph about an isolated character.  Choose where to place him/her/it, and include at least one emotional response. Make sure the response is described from the character’s point of view, and includes some physical manifestations of emotion.